Mondale lost in a landslide.
The problem was not that he told the truth, but that Republican ads twisted his words, alleging that, rather than using the new revenue to pay down the deficit, the Democrat would squander it on a social spending spree.
So can an honest candidate, who doesn’t distort his opponents’ records or rhetoric, win the presidency?
Yes. Now more than ever, with a public highly anxious about the economy and worn down after years of promises that things would get better, the time is ripe for a candid candidate.
To win over the public honestly in 2012, a presidential aspirant would tell us things we need to hear but don’t want to. Such a candidate might acknowledge that the United States will be more affected by — than have and effect on — the dramas unfolding in the Middle East and the European Union. An honest candidate would need to specify how he or she would address the more than $1 trillion budget deficit, which might include defense cuts; eliminating some of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts; taxing employer-provided health-care coverage; slowing the growth rate of Social Security and Medicare; phasing in a higher eligibility age for Social Security; eliminating the payroll-tax limit; and getting rid of the interest deduction for some home mortgages. President Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney aren’t avoiding this discussion, per se, but they’re not offering specific plans for how they’d address the impending crisis, either.
Being honest doesn’t stop at self-representation; a candidate should be able to secure support without misrepresenting his opponent. This may sound difficult, but it has been done before. John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 treated their rivals’ positions and records fairly, forthrightly forecast their governing approaches and hewed to the facts. With the exception of the Democratic attack on the alleged missile gap, which Kennedy may have believed existed, neither the 1960 Democratic nominee nor his Republican counterpart, Richard M. Nixon, distorted his or his opponent’s plans. The Reagan campaign’s attacks on President Jimmy Carter’s record were also factual and fair.
And as political analyst Mark Shields observed: “There was nobody who was in a non-comatose state in 1980 who did not know what Ronald Reagan intended to do as president.”
By comparison, the record this year is dismal. The Obama campaign misused a recent Washington Post article to label Romney as an “outsourcer in chief.” And the National Republican Congressional Committee is suggesting that Obama’s health-care law taxes “heart attacks, sick puppies and even new babies,” when instead it includes excise taxes on some medical devices. Neither candidate wants to take credit for the job losses during his first year in office, as governor or president, but blames his opponent for the losses on his watch.