Denver Bar Association
October 2012
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Presidential Election 2012: The Uniting—and Dividing—Characteristics of the Candidates

by Doug McQuiston


he presidential election is four short weeks away. It’s time to make your choice.

I know what you’re thinking. As The Docket’s token conservative, you are expecting me to unload about what a "terrible person" President Barack Obama is, and to lament the imminent fall of the republic if his challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, does not win.

Nope. There’s plenty of that drivel out there, on both sides, for your reading (and viewing) enjoyment. What I’d like to discuss are the fascinating similarities the two candidates share.

Don’t misunderstand. On every federal-level policy issue you can think of their differences could not be sharper. Clearer still is the wide gulf between their core visions, both of the country, and for it. To paraphrase Obama, voters have not had such a clear choice in a generation.

But your decision ought to be based on the candidates’ policy differences and visions for the country’s future, not any wild-eyed notion that one guy is a "socialist foreigner" and one guy is a "filthy-rich right-wing extremist." The founders demand more of you than that, and it’s about time we measured up.

So, what personal similarities do I see in these two candidates?

First, despite interesting family backgrounds (Obama’s father was born and raised in Kenya, later coming to the United States to attend college; Romney’s was born and lived in Mexico in his youth), both are "natural-born American citizens," despite what you may have read on some of the weirder websites. Both love their country, though in starkly different ways. Both are constitutionally and experientially qualified to serve as president.

Both are good family men—a trait I put a lot of stock in. Both seem devoted to their wives and kids, and both have done an excellent job raising them (though, to be exact, the president is still only in the middle innings). I find their shared devotion to family to be their most important, and reassuring, personal similarity.

In a recent interview with "60 Minutes," Romney said he "lives for" his wife, children, and grandchildren. He chooses to spend any spare moment with his wife Ann and their large family. His wife teared up in that same interview, as she described his utter devotion to her during the darkest times of her struggle with multiple sclerosis. If you wonder how "human" Mitt Romney is, you can see the interview online at He may be reserved in the glare of the spotlight, but he is fully human.

Obama has talked about that same devotion to family in interviews. Even with the demands of his job, he sits down to dinner with his family almost every night, and afterward he helps his daughters with their homework. Those moments are not staged and he gets my respect for them. How men treat their wives and children, in good times and bad, is in my view a window into their character. Both pass this test with room to spare.

I see another glimpse into these two men when I look at their spouses. Both of their wives are strong, intelligent, opinionated, and fiercely dedicated to their husbands. I take comfort in this similarity, too. I know (from my own personal experience being married for 33 years to a strong, intelligent, opinionated, and dedicated spouse), that in their darkest, most fearful moments, both men will have the counsel and steadying hand (and occasional kick in the rear) of a strong woman helping them through. That is a good thing, because we have many dark and fearful moments ahead.

How about politically?

Both are reasonably bright, and both are solid on the stump. Both are equally predisposed to verbal gaffes in spite of their innate intelligence. This proves only how difficult it is to run for president these days, because every word is videotaped, and every slip is played ad nauseam on the evening news and all over the Web.

Both made "unconventional" running mate picks. Obama was urged in 2008 to pick Hillary Clinton. Some accounts say he made the ask and was turned down. He was then urged to pick a middle of the road moderate, such as Evan Bayh. Instead, he went with the Gaffemaster, Joe Biden. Even this year, when Obama was urged to dump Biden and go with Clinton, he stuck with Biden. It speaks to Obama’s loyalty (though, some would argue, not his judgment).

Romney’s pick was even more explosive. He was expected to go "safe," and make the "corporate" pick. He surprised many when he picked Paul Ryan, the most fiscally conservative, hard-charging budget hawk in Republican politics today. Paul Ryan was everything the pundits thought Romney would reject: young, energetic, passionately and unapologetically conservative. He is a true believer, and eager to run to the sound of the guns in a real ideological battle. Overnight, he changed the race into one about big ideas, win or lose.

Next, both Obama and Romney are relative party "outsiders." Neither would have ever been nominated back in the old, smoke-filled room days when party hacks chose the candidate. It speaks distinctly about their perseverance and political skill (and about the waning power of the party system), that they achieved the nomination despite their respective "bucking" of their parties.

But don’t let their similarities fool you into thinking there is "no difference" between them. The nation demands that we suspend our cynicism, to some degree, at election time.

The policy and vision differences these two candidates offer as you head toward the polls are so sharp, and so deep, that your choice (when you think about it for awhile) will be easy. If I discussed these differences at any length, there would be room for nothing else in this month’s issue of The Docket. So, I will summarize my thoughts about them, based on where your political leanings may lie:

For Romney supporters: Obama believes in government; Romney believes in you.

For Obama supporters: Romney doesn’t understand and can’t, and Obama does and can.

That simple contrast is the keystone on which your choice rests. Both candidates claim they will deliver prosperity, stability, safety, and economic growth. The incumbent has had four years to do that his way. He promises even more of the same in the next term. If you like how things went the last four years, and want even more of it, then your choice is clear—vote to re-elect the president. If you believe the last four years have fallen short of where we need to go, and we badly need a new direction, the challenger is your man. Simple as that.

But rest assured that whomever you choose, the republic will survive, and a decent man will occupy the White House. D

Doug McQuiston has been a lawyer in Colorado for more than 30 years. He is a member, contributing writer, and past chair of The Docket Committee. He would like to thank Ryan Jardine for his input on this column.

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