Editor’s note: Hayden Padgett, a columnist for the Daily Bruin and fourth-year political science student, is spending his fall quarter in the nation’s capital.
Through the better part of two months, I have been working in a senator’s office in Washington, D.C. as part of UCLA’s Center for American Politics and Public Policy program.
As a proud politics junkie, living in this city during an election year is thrilling.
For most Bruins, tomorrow marks the first time they will vote in a presidential election, an experience at once exciting and daunting. On one hand, we are helping to pick our leader for the next four years, and on the other, we will have to live with whoever is chosen for just as long.
While political groups on our campus may be ardently fighting for their candidate, the battle in D.C. feels far larger than the rivalry of two men.
Within the Washington bubble, it is clear this election is not a choice between two different candidates, but a choice between two divergent ideas of what kind of government this country should have.
Many see 2012 as the year that will push the United States firmly towards liberalism or conservatism. This is quite a different choice from presidential elections during the past two decades.
For example, the 2008 election mainly focused on individual policies regarding healthcare and the Iraq War. 2008 emphasized specific policies and events, 2012 is about the bigger picture.
To use common political vernacular, the real election of 2012 is a decision between big government and small government.
Media outlets, including the Daily Bruin, make much of the differences between the candidates: who they are, their personal histories, what they hope to achieve as presidents. Analysts provide their audiences with clear distinctions between the candidates so that one can be chosen over the other.
But every once in a while an election transcends the individual candidates and addresses fundamental political ideals.
This was the case in 2010 when Republicans took majority in the House of Representatives, not because American voters liked the Republican candidates more, but because the majority of voters believed Congress was not representing their political beliefs.
It was an election about ideology, not candidates. Around Washington this year, the same sentiment is in the air.
This battle of ideology has been waged before. The 1980 election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan saw Reagan’s ideas of limited government defeat Carter’s policies of social welfare.
However, much of the ire against Carter came from the recession that hit during his term, which tabled any conclusion to big government-small government debate.
This year holds the promise of an election that finally ends that debate. A vote for Barack Obama affirms the ideal that a large, central government is best for America and a vote for Mitt Romney affirms the ideal that individual state authority and a small, federal government is best.
So when you draw the blue curtains and cast your vote tomorrow, consider more than the man, think to the ideology as well and the distinctly different futures each holds for the country.