If you aren’t American, the possibility that this election could hinge on abortion rights may seem absurd. Surely the stagnant world economy, the relative decline of U.S. power and climate change, just to name three, all trump reproductive freedom as issues that should be at the top of the national agenda.

But up close the focus on abortion is less bewildering. If, like Todd Akin, the Missouri congressman whose comments about rape focused the United States’ attention on the subject of abortion this week, you believe embryos are full-fledged human beings, no issue is as important as what you view as the continuing and legal murder of these innocents. If, on the other hand, you are a woman of childbearing age who happens not to share Akin’s beliefs, no issue is as important as the right to control your own body, which the congressman’s view threatens.

Having said all of that, the spotlight on abortion rights is also the product of a family feud inside the Republican Party. Republican grass-roots activists are desperate to propel the issue to the top of the national agenda, while the party’s elders — and their presidential nominee — are equally desperate to stop us all from talking about it.

If Mitt Romney has his way, the focus will eventually swing back to the issue that most voters spend the most time thinking about: the economy. And if that happens, a man worth talking to is R. Glenn Hubbard, a top Romney adviser who served as the chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers and is now the dean of Columbia Business School.

Hubbard sees this election as one that offers Americans a sharp choice about the kind of country they want to live in. “The real issue for the public is to figure out which narrative do we want,” Hubbard said in a conversation in his office on the Columbia campus this week. “We can have a bigger government, if that’s the public’s choice. It’ll just require higher taxes on every American.”