Todd Purdum ’82, the national editor of Vanity Fair, and Ramesh A. Ponnuru ’95, a senior editor at the National Review, agreed on this at least Saturday morning during a debate on the upcoming election as part of the Aspire Celebration.
Purdum, a former New York Times White House correspondent, is known for writing harsh critiques of Bill Clinton and Sarah Palin in recent years. Ponnuru, who is also a contributor to Time magazine, is a widely read conservative pundit.
Wilson School Acting Vice Dean Brandice Canes-Wrone ’93 moderated the discussion, warning audience members that this panel would be less dramatic than the debates on television, as both participants had received her questions in advance.
In response to Canes-Wrone’s first question on the importance of the economy in this election, both Purdum and Ponnuru agreed that the election came down to more than just the economy. Nonetheless, Purdum said economic progress in recent years would help Obama, while Ponnuru said the unsatisfactory recovery would hurt his chances, though he acknowledged that there has been some real improvement.
Ponnuru and Purdum also agreed that the candidates had similar foreign policy agendas, but disagreed on the candidates’ approaches to domestic policies.
“In terms of the basic philosophical outlet, they have sharp differences,” Purdum said. “President Obama is not a socialist and Governor Romney is not a libertarian, but there are real differences and real stakes in play here.”
When Canes-Wrone asked them about the role race and religion may play in the election, both speakers noted that Romney’s Mormonism has received little attention. They both said they thought the non-emergence of Romney’s religion as an issue was a positive sign for American politics.
While Purdum said he thought Obama’s race could benefit his reelection as a whole, Ponnuru said being black could hurt his chances in some parts of the country.
“There are clearly places in the country where his race is a terrible drag on him,” Ponnuru noted.
The speakers also agreed that new campaign finance laws and Super PACs would not significantly impact election results.
Trying to encourage discussion on the differences between the candidates, Canes-Wrone asked the speakers if they predicted any contrasts in what the two candidates would do in their first 100 days in office.
“I think things will happen, but fewer things than either candidate is talking about right now,” Ponnuru said. Purdum, meanwhile, said he saw differences between Obama and Romney mainly in style and attitude rather than in substance.
This campaign in particular is unique, Purdum said, because both candidates have been particularly cautious. He attributed this to the speed of information exchange that has resulted from enhanced technology.
“The problem with this is every novel development, whether important or not, crowds out everything,” Purdum said.
Ponnuru said this campaign was unusual because the Obama campaign speaks to the press as if victory is inevitable, while the polls actually show a tight election.
He attributed this strategy to the Obama administration’s inability to run on its two biggest pieces of legislation — the economic stimulus and health care — because they are unpopular.
Ponnuru later pointed to the Obama campaign’s inability to run on its own merits as beneficial to Romney. Ponnuru explained that challengers generally struggle to appear presidential, but Obama’s campaign has helped Romney out by attacking home.
“If you can’t run on your record, you can’t run on people being basically satisfied by the state of the country, and if you can’t run on your future plans, then you try to make this weirdly a referendum on the challenger,” Ponnuru said. “The danger of that is it tends to be make the challenger look more presidential because you’re spending all your time talking about his plans.”
Saturday morning’s lecture concluded two days of panels, discussions and receptions marking the end of the five-year Aspire campaign, which raised $1.88 billion from more than 65,000 donors in the largest fundraising campaign in University history.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/22/31603/