A week from today well likely know the winner of the presidential race, which both campaigns have called the most important election of our lifetimes.
By DAVE HELLING
That seems a little arrogant. Sure, the election is significant, but its hard to believe its more important than, say, 1980 or 1992 or 2000. All presidential elections are important.
What does seem true is the election presents voters with their clearest choice in many years.
Not on specific policies. Both candidates have done their usual good job of muddying the water on taxes, spending, foreign policy, immigration reform, defense spending. The best line comes from Time columnist Joe Klein, whos written that Mitt Romneys plans are ridiculous and Barack Obamas are non-existent.
But the overall philosophies of the two candidates and their parties are sharply, distinctly different, as cleanly divided as Ive ever seen in 35 years of covering politics.
Republicans focus on business, individual responsibility and liberty. Democrats focus on labor, community and progress. Those goals dont have to be mutually exclusive you can love liberty and progress, for example but partisans dont seem to get that. Its almost as if Republicans and Democrats in 2012 live in different worlds.
Its also comforting to remember that Americans have fought it out on this front for more than two centuries. Are we a Jeffersonian democracy of small-enterprise, family-centered individuals and loosely associated states? Or are we Hamiltonians, members of a strong and centrally organized federation that can intervene in the economy to help favored industries and individuals?
Weve never really answered that question, at least on a permanent basis. The pendulum has swung from the gritty determination of the western pioneers to the oligarchies of the railroad, petroleum and steel barons to the progressive, security-oriented impulses of the Great Depression. Weve argued over states rights, prejudice, ignorance, sickness and defending freedom, here and overseas.
Americans have long battled literally, shed blood over how to best promote the general welfare, as the Constitution promises.
This year, the pendulum swings again.
Perhaps, though, as we all cast our ballots, well remember that America seems to work best when the tension between individual rights and community responsibilities settles into a rough balance. We often argue at the extremes, but we seem to do best in the middle the messy middle where most of us actually live our lives.
Lets hope politicians remember that on Nov. 7. If so, the 2012 election could actually be the most important of our lifetimes.
To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to email@example.com.