No president seeking reelection in modern history has failed to run on his record. McKinley won the war with Spain and defended gold against the bimetallists; Theodore Roosevelt defended the Square Deal; Woodrow Wilson “kept us out of war” in 1916 (though he would ask for a declaration of war five weeks after being reinaugurated). Franklin D. Roosevelt was reelected on his record three times and never even mentioned his opponents; Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all defended their performance in office aggressively and were confirmed in office. Taft, Hoover (“Prosperity is just around the corner”), Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush also vigorously defended their own records, albeit unsuccessfully.
But the spectacle we have now — of an incumbent presuming to run for reelection while going to preternatural extremes to avoid discussion of his record, and representing his opponent and his backers as a bunch of greedy crooks instead — is a degradation of the whole process. This indignity is aggravated by Romney’s inability to turn the tables and hold Obama accountable for his shortcomings, and to defend himself effectively from the assault on his career, even though he has a much more impressive CV than the incumbent; and also by the increasingly cocksure frivolity of the Democrats’ sense of entitlement to pour pails of vitriol over their opponent without any effort to justify their own abandonment of almost every promise they made four years ago. They have not only mismanaged the economy and bungled foreign policy (especially with regard to Iran, the reset backwards of relations with Russia, and the general truckling to anti-Americanism in the under-developed world and international organizations); they have betrayed the initial appearance of slick professionalism exuded by Obama in pulling the Clintons’ party out from underneath them in 2008.