01/11/2012 14:23 GMT | Updated 01/01/2013 05:12 GMT

The Third Presidential Debate and America's Divided Ideology

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Ideology in America is a funny thing. All Americans believe in the ideas that form the morals and the principles of their political institutions; embedded in their Constitution and the Bill of Rights is the notions of liberty, equality, freedom and majoritarian rule. However, on the issue of how best to practice these ideals, Americans, and in particular their parties, are divided.

It was strange then, that in the third presidential debate at Lynn University in Florida, Mitt Romney courted the mainstream, agreeing with every substantive position of President Obama's. Unbound by the neo-conservative ideology that has deep roots in the Republican party, Romney came off cool, pragmatic and unnervingly presidential.

Romney's domestic vision of America on the other hand is in extreme contrast to that of the Democrats. This vision will dramatically cut taxes, abolish the Affordable Care Act and roll back social security. If elected, Romney will push an agenda that will significantly undo the role of government in the national life.

Divided down the middle, the President and the Republican nominee have wildly different views on how American should move forward. How can it be then, that in an election that has been highlighted by the left, the right, and the void in the middle, can Romney find common ground on foreign policy?

It is hard to know, of course, the reason for this. However, one possible explanation may lie in the lessons learnt from the Bush legacy.

President George W. Bush left the White House in 2008 as the second most unpopular President ever. America had grown tired of the Wars they waged in the Middle East. Launched under false premises, the Iraq war cost a trillion American dollars and around forty-five hundred American lives. The Republican president, with broad support within his party, went aimlessly into Afghanistan - a war that still lingers today. I think it would be fair to say, that with the moderation Romney displayed in the third debate, the Republican elite have learnt their lesson.

So how has the political fallout from the Bush era - who, under his presidency, saw the largest economic collapse his country has seen since the Great Depression take place - not translated into a more moderate domestic agenda? How, in fact has the Republican leaders doubled down on their ultra-conservative vision of an economically prosperous America?

Perhaps, it is because Obama has taken most of the fall for America's economic collapse, leaving the Republican Party relatively unscathed - after all, the financial crash was a result of three decades driven by neoliberal motivated ideology from both Republicans and Democrats. Maybe, and more pertinently, it highlights the trouble with ideology: beliefs and morals often outweigh rationality.

Undoubtedly, if Obama is elected for a second term there will be a shift in norms. A second term will give him time to cement his policies as he follows up legislative measures, elects supportive appointments to federal agencies and courts, and the chance to veto any appeal on his policies. An elected Romney, on the other hand, will see the G.O.P.'s political agenda justified, sustaining it for years to come.

What would the Republican vision look like under Mitt Romney? It is hard to know exactly what Mitt Romney believes in or what he stands for. So far Romney's candidacy has trumpeted his past successes in private equity and his ability to balance a budget. Romney, no doubt, was good at this; he is approximately worth a quarter of a million dollars. However, a political template based on the values of efficiency and profitability is limited. Romney's vision rewards winners and punishes losers and a democracy cannot simply lay people off, leaving them on the wayside.

Ideology in America is a funny thing. United under the one flag they are divided almost down the middle by their morals and principles. On November 6, the nation in effect, will decide to continue on the path that has been struggling for the past four years, or following the road that led them to crisis in the first place.