What the United States needs is a substantive election with a vigorous debate between the great parties about what we must do, collectively, to solve our most pressing problems. It seems clear that isn’t going to happen. Instead we can look forward to months overflowing with distortions, vicious attacks, character assassinations, mud-slinging innuendos, and manufactured outrages over trivial matters. Hypocrisy will be in full bloom wherever you look, filling the air with the rancid smell of bullshit.
The truth is we must choose between two mediocre candidates for President at a time when America needs a great president. Those who think voting for a third party or independent candidate is the solution are living in a fantasy world. Come January 2013, either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be sworn into office and will govern for the next four years. God help us all.
The central theme running through Obama’s attack ads against Mitt Romney boils down to a simple sentence: Mitt Romney belongs to a moneyed class that likes to write rules that benefit themselves.
What’s damning about this line of attack is that there is some truth to it. I’m not claiming Romney is corrupt, but it is fair to say his sympathies are with those intent on enlarging already substantial personal wealth. The type who chaff under regulations, are irritated by even modest tax burdens, and are intensely focused on the profit margins of their investments.
It is from this sliver of the wealthy that a small number, in both quantity and as a percentage, of bad players engaged in reckless activity that directly caused the financial crash of 2008. There have been few arrests of these individuals because very few people did anything illegal. They were operating in largely unregulated segments of the market. Regulations are derived from laws people must abide by or face criminal charges. No regulations means you can do almost anything you want, even bring the world economy to it’s knees, without breaking any laws. The people who crashed the economy weren’t evil villains twirling mustaches and chortling as they escapes with bags of money. They were, by and large, ultra-rich investors making ever riskier gambles in a game rigged to minimize the maximum amount they could lose. Risks was socialized, profits were privatized. The ultra-rich helped create that system not out of malicious intent, but because of the understandable desire to make more money without risking much of what they already have.
Obama’s entire campaign, so far, is geared toward driving home the fact that Romney was one of the greatest beneficiaries of this system. That Romney’s native sympathies lies with the ultra-rich investors, not the broad swath of society badly hurt when the housing bubble burst and the economy crashed. It is an effective attack because Romney’s own policy ideas, what few he has put forward, support that notion.
Romney’s message is more scattershot than Obama’s, but seems focused on repeating that Obama is incompetent with regards to the economy. There is ample evidence to support this charge. Romney wants to claim he is a ‘Mr.Fix-it’, a hard-headed realist that can diagnose and correct what ails our sputtering economy. This claim is slightly supported by his record in both the public and private sector, but is dramatically undermined by the paucity and inadequacy of his policy proposals. It is tempting to look at his record and speculate on how he might govern. The problem with that is, at one time or another, Romney has supported every side on every major issue. Romney greatest consistency is that he always adopts the position polling best with the voters he is currently trying to woo.
With Regards to Character
There are a lot of wingnuts making outrageous claims about both Obama and Romney. The truth is these men are more alike than different. Obama is a left-leaning centrist, Romney is a right-leaning centrist. They both have pasts that offer up embarrassments they would like to downplay, but neither man exudes the reek of scandal the way Bill Clinton and George W. Bush regularly did. Both men are bright, hardworking, pragmatists more interested in solutions than politics.
What the Future Holds
Neither Obama nor Romney have put forward an agenda for the next few years. All either man has offered is sound bites and fury signifying nothing.
Romney is an etch-a-sketch; you can draw on him whatever you like and it’ll be erased the next time he is shook-up. If elected, he will likely spend most of his administration reacting to events rather than pursuing specific legislation and policies. If Republicans hold both the House and Senate they will dictate that Romney spend his first few years undoing the legislation and policies enacted under Obama. Romney has shown little skill at or knowledge about foreign affairs; he will probably fumble for at least two years in that area, but on the bright side it seems doubtful he could be as awful as George W. Bush was. His ability as commander-in-chief is as untested as Obama’s was in 2008.
With Obama at least we have nearly four years of his governance by which to judge what he *might* do. He clearly wants to do “big” things; health care reform, Wall Street reform, find long term solutions to our debt and deficits, etc… He administration is mostly competent, Eric Holder being one notable exception. When compared to the Bush administration, which bred incompetence (see ‘Heck of a job, Brownie’ for one of many examples) and infighting, Obama’s administration almost looks stellar. If only their actual accomplishments matched their appearance.
Obama has been surprisingly strong on foreign affairs, especially given how little experience he had when first sworn in; I suspect Joe Biden’s and Hillary Clinton’s advice has strongly steered his policy.
As commander-in-chief Obama has had impressive successes: Osama Bin Laden’s death and the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi to name his two most major achievements. He pulled us out of Iraq without that turning into a debacle. Afghanistan is no worse today than when he took office, and might be slightly better if you squint the right way. The world is less hostile towards America than it was under George W. Bush, and Iran is more isolated. Pakistan is a mess; but let’s admit it, no one has the slightest idea what to do about Pakistan. Anyone claiming differently is lying.
On domestic issues Obama seems to flounder more than plan, react more than act. In this way Obama reminds me of George H.W. Bush, only without the gravitas or impressive credentials.
Obama has grown as a leader, especially in the last year, and runs an efficient if not terribly effective White House. In blunt terms, he hasn’t fucked up so much as to be unacceptable, nor fought for what matters enough to make him desirable.
The Best Possible Outcome?
I find myself hoping Obama wins the presidency, the Democrats to reclaim control of the house, and the Republicans to gain control of the Senate. At the very least, this would upset just about everyone equally.
But from a practical there’s-shit-we-need-to deal-with perspective, this outcome would give us a Speaker of the House with proven ability to get significant legislation passed, Nancy Pelosi, and a Senate Majority Leader capable of twisting arms and getting votes, Mitch McConnell. (Let’s all admit it, Harry Reid and John Andrew Boehner are incompetent and should not be in their current positions.)
Why Obama over Romney? Because 1) experience in the White House matters, 2) I don’t really trust Romney, 3) Obama is far from the worst president we’ve ever had, and 4) ideologically I’m a lot closer to Obama than I am to Romney. (Hello, my name is Richard Davidson, and I am a pragmatic liberal.)
With powerhouse legislators like Pelosi and McConnell in charge of Congress, both highly motivated to do something about the economy and the long term debt and deficits, there is a real chance of getting substantial bipartisan legislation passed on the most pressing issues: Medicare reform and tax reform. Obama would be in an ideal position to negotiate the compromises needed to get such legislation passed, and has shown marked interest in addressing these problems. Solving the problems posed by Medicare expenditures and our outdated tax structure would largely eliminate the current deficits and go a long way toward lowering long term debt. Tax reform in particular could add a significant boost to the economy, reduce complexity (which fosters corruption), and also increase revenues.
Plus, with these three in control of government the Affordable Care Act will be treated as a fait accompli. Efforts to repeal the AFC will be forced to give way to debates on how to address its problems with a focus on reducing the rate of health care inflation. Roll that in with Medicare and tax reform and America’s future starts looking pretty bright.
That’s my thoughts on this election year and the pathetic candidates we have to choose from. These opinions are mine alone and represent no one but myself. I’m certain there are plenty of people, on both the left and right, who will disagree with some or all of what I’ve said. Feel free to share your thoughts. Between our differences lies a common love of country, and bridging our divides will make the United Stares stronger.