Paralysis Rules

The looming budget crisis raises a key question: Can either candidate close a deal?

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Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

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So the real question for the next two months is: Which of these candidates is more likely to make the deal? I have mixed feelings about that. President Obama's policies and priorities seem more reasonable to me than Mitt Romney's--more reasonable, at least, than the policy mirage that Romney has presented so far, stained by the preposterous extremism of the Republican Party's base. But Obama has had no luck over the past four years in luring Republicans toward compromise, and if he wins this election, the GOP backlash against the "moderate" Romney types in their party is likely to make flexibility on taxing and spending more difficult.

Romney may be in a better position to negotiate, for two reasons: First, he knows how to do it, having spent a lifetime as a businessman making deals and four years as a Republican governor haggling successfully with Massachusetts Democrats, passing significant legislation like a universal, individual-mandate health care plan. Indeed--and this is the second reason--Romney's biggest advantage is that he'll have some Democrats across the table. They tend to value government more than Republicans do; they're more willing to compromise to keep it operating. Of course, any real attempt to engage the Democrats would probably destroy Romney's credibility with Rush Limbaugh and the other stupendous citizens in his party.

What a conundrum! And yes, how depressing. The frustration in all this for me is that I believe there are real answers to the problems we face, from education to economic growth to health care. I've seen and reported on them. There should be real cause for optimism. But I don't know how we get from here to there.


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