By MARSHA MERCER
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wrapped up a bus tour of rural America in Michigan, where he rolled out a crust for an Honest Abe cherry-apple pie. When it came to policy, though, the five-day trip offered only crumbs.
President Barack Obama flew to an international summit in Mexico that yielded moody photos of the president on the world stage along with reassuring words about progress – and little of substance.
To hear Romney talk, Obama is a job-killing big spender who wants to put America on the path to Europe. Obama contends that Romney wants to slash taxes for the wealthiest while cutting the jobs of teachers, firefighters and police. Fact checkers say both camps are stretching the truth.
For voters who are sick of the endless “trust me – not him” attacks -- and that’s most of us, right? -- there’s good news. The stars may be aligning to force Obama and Romney to show their policy hands.
The Supreme Court likely will issue blockbuster decisions this week on health care and immigration. If, as many analysts expect, the court strikes at least part of the Affordable Care Act, Obama will be called on to explain the next phase of his health reform strategy.
Publicly, the president says he believes the law will be upheld and has made no contingency plans. At fundraisers behind closed doors, however, he reportedly has said he won’t give up on reform. He needs to tell the rest of us his plans.
Romney promises to repeal “Obamacare” his first day in office, but he also promises to save the most popular parts of the law, such as parents’ insurance coverage for children up to age 26. Romney has been vague about whether he’ll ensure that people with pre-existing conditions are covered under his plan. He will be pressed on how his plan would work, absent the linchpin of the individual mandate, which requires everyone to purchase insurance, spreading the cost.
On immigration, Obama showed the power of the incumbency last week when he announced that his administration would stop deporting young people who were brought to this country illegally as children, if they meet certain conditions. Up to 1.4 million children and adults who are in the country illegally could benefit from the change, according to an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center. Nearly two-thirds of likely voters support the change, a Bloomberg poll found.
Romney, who took a hard line during the primaries against illegal immigration, is heading for a kinder, more bipartisan stance. The immigration plan he sketched Thursday included more favorable treatment for “the best and brightest” immigrants and a path to citizenship for military veterans. Romney needs to say whether he would repeal Obama’s non-deportation rule.
Raising the stakes on immigration will be the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s strict immigration law. The Obama administration challenged the 2010 law that requires police officers to ask for immigration papers if the officers believe individuals they’ve stopped are illegal immigrants. Other provisions make not carrying immigration papers and unauthorized work crimes.
Although Nov. 6 is nearly five months away, the calendar also prods Romney and Obama to focus on issues. Thirty-two states allow early voting, and the start dates vary. Voting begins in Iowa Sept. 27. That’s fewer than 100 days away.
Iowa is one of the swing states Obama won last time that Romney visited on his “Every Town Counts” bus tour. The Obama administration released a 32-page report touting its help for rural areas, and the Obama campaign promises an unprecedented ground game in the battleground state.
In a close election, analysts say, rural voters in a few swing states could determine who wins the White House, or Hispanic voters could, or African American or gay voters.
One thing does unite voters as we choose the next president, and that’s the need to look past clever slogans and symbols. Policy may not be as easy as pie, but it matters a lot more.
© 2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.