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Republican convention hard act for Democrats to follow

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney left his vice presidential running mate Rep. Paul Ryan R-Wis. pose for

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and his vice presidential running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., pose for photos with campaign staff before a walk through on the stage of the Republican National Convention on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:46PM

Republicans in their national convention in Tampa set a pretty high bar for the Democrats for their gathering in Charlotte next week. The GOP program kept to the great issues of jobs, taxes, spending and entitlements at the core of the nation’s economic malaise and stayed away from the character assassination tactics at the heart of Democratic strategy so far in this presidential race.

Yes, President Barack Obama came in for a lot of tough talk for his policy failures crippling the country with the most anemic economic recovery in modern history. But absent were the reprehensive kind of personal smears like those hurled by the Obama campaign and its surrogates at Mitt Romney — he’s a tax cheat, he could be guilty of a felony and he’s somehow to blame for the cancer death of the wife of a laid-off worker.

As I listened to the speeches, I was struck how often the word “our” was employed, not in the context of Republicans but rather to refer to the country as a whole and all Americans. National unity, not divide and conquer, was the recurring theme.

There was none of the ugly politics of resentment characteristic of Obama and the Democrats. Republicans weren’t resorting to any tactic like slicing and dicing the country into the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent to serve a crass political goal of inflaming hostility toward successful men and women. No one tried to conjure up anything like a “war on women” as Obama and the Democrats have as an expedient smokescreen for his failures. No one advocated anything like abusing the First Amendment protection of religious freedom to try to separate the Catholic Church and its charities and hospitals from the mainstream of American life.

It may seem like the campaign has been going on forever, but for most Americans it really begins only after Labor Day, after the two parties have formally nominated their candidates. That, in part, may explain while the hundreds of millions of dollars spent so far by both sides have hardly moved the polling needle — it’s still essentially a tied race.

Also, one senses the country is different in a fundamental way than in past election years. The trauma of the 2008 panic and recession, the tepid recovery, the persistent unemployment and the damage to that core measure of economic security for so many American families, housing values, have shaken traditional attitudes.

One indicator: The savings rate for Americans has been trending up since last December, and total U.S. household debt fell 0.5 percent in the most recent quarter. Families saw their own economic prospects damaged by reckless spending and borrowing, maybe not in their own lives but in the fallout they’re feeling from the housing collapse, i.e. the irresponsible behavior of individuals and their banking and government enablers.

Another indicator is the GOP’s embrace of protecting and saving Medicare. In the past, bringing up Medicare reform was ballot box poison. This time polling indicates Americans are open to that discussion.

If there is a new awareness of the dangers of unrestrained spending, reckless borrowing and living on the credit card like there’s no tomorrow, that’s bad news for Obama. Those are exactly the practices that brought financial collapse, and they are exactly the policies of Obama’s White House.

It’s no wonder Democrats prefer character assassination and the politics of resentment to a discussion of the big issues.

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