Posted: Oct 18, 2012 7:07 AM by CBS News
Mitt Romney has faced harsh criticism during his campaign for a lack of policy specifics: Democrats have pointed to a lack of details in his tax plan and what he would put in place to replace the health care law, among other issues. Yet President Obama has done little to outline his priorities and promises for the next four years, and with just 19 days left until Election Day, some are calling on the president to be more specific.
"Clearly, the big problem we've got with this president, I think across the board, is that he just hasn't shown any vision for this country," Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, said Wednesday on a conference call for reporters. "It is totally a failure in leadership that this president is presiding over."
Priebus' criticism isn't a surprise considering his party affiliation. But members of the president's own party have lobbed similar criticism.
Democratic consultants Stanley Greenberg and James Carville of Democracy Corps released a memo earlier this week that said the president has offered only a "modest vision" of the future. They argued that voters want to hear a "bold case" for "bold policies." The memo was released after the first debate, where the president was widely seen as having done a lackluster job defending himself and challenging Romney.
Andrew Bellman, vice president of Democracy Corps, said the president did a better job presenting his vision for the future in the second debate on Tuesday. He pointed to his closing response, where the president summed up his governing philosophy by saying, "everybody should have a fair shot and everybody should do their fair share and everybody should play by the same rules."
But Bellman said the president has "a lot more work to do" to inform voters of his priorities for the next four years -- and added that he is running out of time.
Mr. Obama's decision to offer relatively few details concerning his agenda differs from his 2008 presidential run, when he promised to pass health care reform, immigration reform, climate change legislation, an increase in the minimum wage, an expansion of Pell grants and he vowed to close Guantanamo Bay.
"It's always easier for a challenger to be more specific, because in many ways incumbents are proposing an extension of the ideas they've laid out already," Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist who worked as an adviser on both of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, told CBS News.
Democratic strategist Mark Mellman added that "we like to say the elections are about the future, but they tend to be about the past" and voters mostly judge candidates based on what they've already done.
Another Democratic strategist told CBS News that the Obama campaign "made a strategic choice" to avoid talking about the future and instead focus on tearing down his opponent Mitt Romney. The decision, the strategist said, was a response to the mood of the electorate, the status of the economy and likely a host of other factors. There's no reason to think the president will now change tactics and offer additional details about his agenda.
"That strategic model has gotten them a close race," the Democratic strategist, who has worked on presidential campaigns, said. The benefit of that model, he said, is that it creates challenges for Romney in getting his message across and appearing credible. But the problem is that it doesn't provide voters with a clear picture of the future.
The decision by an incumbent to make the race about an opponent is "atypical," he added, though it has been used by at least one presidential incumbent.
"The Obama 2012 campaign is a mirror of the Bush 2004 race," McKinnon said. Although Mr. Bush ran on the aftermath of September 11, he and Mr. Obama faced similar optics: An uneasy electorate not incredibly enthusiastic about another four years but skeptical about the alternative candidate.
President Bill Clinton chose a different route for his re-election campaign. He talked about his accomplishments and unveiled his central theme of building a bridge to the 21st century that included policy prescriptions pertaining to Medicare, Medicaid, balancing the budget and working with Republicans.
But the Democratic strategist said Mr. Clinton had no choice as his approval ratings dipped to 37 percent the year before his re-election.
"It was Bill Clinton against Bill Clinton," the Democratic strategist said, noting that Mr. Clinton was so successful repairing his image that he was hard to beat.