Voters put democracy indifficult spot

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Do you smell the desperation? The polls show the race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama has narrowed so tightly there is suddenly talk of a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College.

With 270 needed to win, that means the GOP-dominated House could decide the election. That would definitely outdo the 2000 election, when George W. Bush lost the popular vote but won the election by the Supreme Court voting 5-4 along partisan lines. Not the best scenario for democracy.

The problem, of course, is not really with the candidates. The problem is us. We are so divided that there is no majority party and little likelihood there will be.

We saw in the town-hall debate that Romney and Obama can't stand each other. It was jarring to see Romney talk over the president in a shocking lack of politeness. It was also disconcerting to see Obama's eye-rolling disdain for his opponent. That debate was a mirror for us all. Most of us can't talk civilly about our political differences.

The two men don't agree on how to fund government, what government should do, what the tax rates should be, what rights government should guarantee for women, gays and lesbians and children, what role the United States should play abroad, the extent of environmental damage, what restrictions government should put on employers or what the future of this country should look like.

They don't agree on social issues, economic issues, regulatory issues or foreign policy.

In the 21/2 weeks before Election Day, Romney is trying hard to convince women that they should not vote against him because he would appoint judges who would outlaw abortion and government-paid contraception, he would cut social programs and he appears to have strange beliefs about women, such as his delight at being presented with "binders of women" when he was governor of Massachusetts looking to add more females to his administration. (But when he left office, there were fewer women in top state jobs than when he arrived.)

Rock and a hard place

Romney's strategy is to convince voters that because he made millions buying and selling businesses he knows what is best for the national economy and to convince them that although Obama inherited a bad economy, his efforts to improve it were wrong.

Obama's strategy is to convince voters that Romney's economic plan would cut taxes for the rich, raise them for the middle class, cut the social safety net, raise military spending, reduce regulations on businesses and bring back what Democrats think got the nation into the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Romney's big problem is that he can't or won't explain the math behind his proposals. Obama's big problem is that he can't or won't explain what he would do differently in a second term, if anything.

Many voters feel trapped between a rock and a hard place.

The good news for Romney is that while his social views anger millions of women, the economy is dominant, and many are willing to take a chance because he is not Obama.

The good news for Obama is that the economy slowly is improving and he seems more consistent than the multi-tiered Romney. Obama's best argument is that Romney has made so many conflicting statements, nobody knows what he would do or who he is. So Obama constantly accuses Romney of lying.

Thus, many of us will vote our gut instincts -- deciding whom we trust more. If it's a tie, we'll all lose.

Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email: amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.