The Urgency Imperative: Reagan vs. Carter Then, Romney vs. Obama Now

On Labor Day, 1980, Jimmy Carter’s presidential re-election campaign was ahead by 4 points. On November 4, 1980, the incumbent lost by 10 points. As I learned firsthand back then, a lot can happen in two months.

Today, as the RealClearPolitics average shows Mitt Romney down by less than a point in his White House bid, the challenger needs “the fierce urgency of now,” to borrow a phrase often used by Barack Obama in 2008–although he hasn’t used it much since. Ronald Reagan had that sense of urgency back in ’80, and it worked for him; we have yet to see whether Romney and Paul Ryan can make that message of urgency work for them.

Amidst the message flubs in Tampa, there were, in fact, voices of urgency–but not enough of them.

Urgency was heard, for example, in the voice of Condi Rice. She will be forever remembered for her role as a foreign policymaker during the Bush 43 presidency, and she defended the Bush record in her speech. Yet it was her message on education–and yes, hope–that was more important for the national future. Describing an educational system still dominated by public-school monopolies, condemning children to lousy schools and soaking taxpayers at the same time, she said that it shouldn’t matter what zip code you live in. That is, a child’s destiny should not be determined by the bad luck of geography. And so, Rice added, “we need to give parents greater choice, particularly poor parents whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools. This is the civil rights issue of our day.” Amen to that. True education reform is the civil rights issue of our day, and the Obama administration is on the wrong side.



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