(This is my long-promised fifth and final post spelling out my thoughts on the 2012 Presidential election. I actually penned this during the conventions but it wasn’t right. It was only during the second debate that everything came together. I doubt my decision will surprise anyone, but I dare say my reasoning may set a few cats amongst a few pigeons.)
So do I want Democrats who arrest, detain, bomb, and surveil like Republicans, or Republicans who spend like Democrats? – Ken at Popehat
Here’s the thing: I have long resisted the portrayal of Obama as a radical Islamic atheist crypto-Marxist Kenyan colonialist. This is not because I have a particular affinity for the man or his policies. Or even because I care too much about “the tone”. It’s because there is a far more succinct and accurate description of Barack Obama.
I can hear the howls of outrage, but let me make my case. He’s certainly not a culture conservative or anything like that. And his associates would want nothing to do with conservatives and conservatives nothing to do with his associates (although I’m told that Bill Ayers and David Koch would make a good doubles team). But when I really narrow it down to the policies Barack Obama has enacted, I keep circling back to the inevitable conclusion: were it not for the letter after his name, they could easily be mistaken for those of a Republican.
Think of the big policies we have objected to under Obama. Think of them clearly and think about how the Republicans have legislated over the last decade. Not what the Republicans have said. Not what they have promised us. But the actual nuts and bolts policies they have pursued and enacted — first under Bush, then when they took back Congress in 2010 and now what is promised by Romney. I know people are tired of Bush but the policies of the GOP have not really changed over the last twelve years: from the year 2000 to the present, they are a continuous unbroken surrender to — or embrace of — Big Government. And I can not but come to the conclusion that the differences between Obama and the Republican Party are relatively small:
Let’s go through them, shall we?
The Stimulus: Surely, this piece of Keynesian waste could only have happened under Obama, right? Well, George Bush engaged in two rounds of stimulus as the financial crisis began, including tax rebates to people not paying taxes. When the GOP took the House in 2010, one of the first things they did was cut a deal to extend unemployment benefits and the Bush tax cuts — most of which reduce lower income people’s taxes to zero or less. They also cut payrolls taxes on the employee side as a stimulus measure. Cuts to the Ex-Im Bank, farm subsidies and transportation have found opposition in the GOP because of the supposed economic impact. Mitt Romney has already come out in favor of higher defense spending under the guise of stimulating the economy. Why is that necessarily better than “green energy”?
A Republican stimulus might not have taken the same form as Obama’s (although 1/3 of Obama’s stimulus was tax cuts). But to argue that the Stimulus was something the GOP would not have done seems absurd given the policies pursued by Bush, supported by the GOP Congress and promised by Romney. Had John Mccain or Mitt Romney been President in 2009, I have little doubt we would have gotten something very similar.
The Bailouts and Crony Capitalism: I’ve been over this before, but it’s always worth remembering: TARP was started under Bush, supported by Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and many Republicans. GM was handed money by Bush and Romney’s alternative was a “controlled bankruptcy” similar to what Obama did. In fact, he made this specific point during the second debate. The big difference might have been more money for investors and less for unions. That’s not nothing, but it’s not a lot either.
The only Republican in the primary who proposed something different was John Huntsman, who said we should break up the big banks through increasing fees. And he got almost as many votes for President as I did. Numerous conservatives hoped Romney would embrace the Huntsman plan to eliminate the need for bailouts. He has not. And needless to say, Barack Obama hasn’t either. More to the point, Obama has allowed the big banks to get bigger than ever.
Obamacare: All of you know that Obamacare, in its initial form, was Romneycare. But Romneycare is not something that fell out of the sky onto Massachusetts. The particulars were hashed out by conservatives in the 90’s as an alternative to Hillarycare. Massachusetts was a test-bed for a plan many conservative thought should eventually be a national policy. And if McCain and especially Romney had been elected in 2008, I have little doubt they would have pushed it on us (although I doubt it would have passed; if Obamacare came from a Republican, the Left would suddenly have realized what a huge payout to big business it was). Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal is basically Obamacare for seniors — a private insurance market with premium support. That may be an improvement over the current monopsony. But let’s not pretend it’s the free market.
I suspect that if Romney wins the election, the GOP will make a big show of trying to repeal Obamacare. But once that fails (and it will fail, since Democrats are likely to keep the Senate) they will mostly tinker with Obamacare; maybe cut some subsidies or, if we’re lucky, allow major medical to qualify as the baseline insurance. I am extremely dubious that they will change much.
The fact is that these policies have been popular among a certain faction of the Republican Party for a very long time. These policies are popular with Romney and with the people he has surrounded himself with. If it had been called McCaincare, it would have had their support. And once they file the serial numbers off and call it Romneycare II, it will again.
Foreign Policy: As I said in my earlier post, the Romney-Ryan position on Obama’s foreign policy is that they would do the same thing, only more.
Jobs: Barack Obama does not have experience in the private sector and that has, as much as anything, hampered his management of the economy. But neither of the guys on the Romney-Ryan ticket have much private experience either. Ryan, of course, has been in public service his entire life. And Romney’s experience has mostly consisted of buying up businesses, finding legal and financial loopholes to make money, and selling them. His experience with rescuing the Salt Lake City games from the abyss is a positive for his management ability. But Congress is not an Olympic Games. Nor is the corner dry cleaner.
I want to make it clear: there’s nothing wrong with Romney’s work at Bain Capital, really. Private capital helps move our economy and some businesses need overhauls and reform. But my brother, who employs only himself, knows more about the problems facing a small business than Mitt Romney does.
Romney has promised he will create jobs from the top down by overhauling regulation and cutting taxes on businesses. But that’s the same thing, basically, that Obama is promising. And I extremely dubious of either candidate’s ability to deliver. Those tax loopholes and regulations are there for a reason: powerful businesses, include many backers of Obama and Romney, want them there. And neither of these men has shown the ability to stand up to them. Have you hear either man talk about the CPSC?
Maybe this is a slight net in favor of Romney since we can only guess what Romney might do and we have four years of Obama not doing anything to go on. But this particular issue is almost entirely dependent on Congress. If Congress passes the massive regulatory and tax overhaul we do desperately need, I do not see either President vetoing it.
Welfare: Welfare spending has now crossed the $1 trillion threshold. However, it was under the Bush Administration that food stamp requirements were relaxed and Medicaid was expanded. And the Republicans have now controlled the House for two years. The only move they made on anti-poverty spending was to extend unemployment benefits and fight against further reform. Now we are supposed to believe they will reign in anti-poverty spending?
The Budget: Obama’s biggest failure as President, in my view, was running away form Simpson-Bowles. There is simply no excuse for ignoring the recommendations of his own damned debt commission. Had he embraced the outline two years ago, the debt ceiling fight might have resulted in a real solution instead of kicking the can a couple of trillion down the road. This failure alone is good enough reason for anyone to vote against him.
But … Paul Ryan was on the Simpson-Bowles panel and voted against it even after getting concessions on Medicare. And Romney has criticized Obama for abandoning S-B while not offering a substantive alternative. Romney has promised to increase Medicare spending by $716 billion and military spending by $2 trillion. He has promised to increase Pell grants, education spending and federal job training. The only substantive budget cut he’s identifies is PBS (maybe). Obama is, of course, promising the same, only with more money for energy boondoggles and less for military hardware.
Both sides support extending 80% of the Bush tax cuts. Both sides support tax reform with their mouths while proposing more tax credits and complications with their pens. This is not a debate over solutions. This is quibbling over 1% of the problem. The house is on fire and they’re arguing about whether we should use the red fire hose or the blue fire hose.
If our debt is brought under control, it will not be because of Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. It will because of Congressional figures like Tom Coburn who are trying to broker a deal outside of the White House.
Regulation: Obama passed Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. But the Republicans passed Sarbanes-Oxley, one of the most financially destructive pieces of legislation in American history. Has either of these men spoken out against SOX? Moreover, Obama has actually passed fewer and less expensive regulations than Bush did (the link is a year old; I’m dubious that Obama passed more regulations over a GOP Congress; on the flip side, many Dodd-Frank provisions have yet to be enacted). Remember … in the first debate, Romney came out in favor of regulation. And his record in Massachusetts is not that of a deregulator.
Corruption: The Left keeps trying to persuade me to vote for Obama because Romney will welcome lobbyists back into the White House. I find this argument to be both ignorant and hilarious.
Other Issues: Many issues were not discussed at the debates because both sides agree. Both sides support the War on Drugs. Both sides support indefinite detention and the NDAA. Both sides supported SOPA until the population screamed bloody murder. Both sides support free trade when it suits them but wallow in anti-China rhetoric. Neither is a real friend of science. What does it tell when you Elon Musk and an energy drink company have more ambitious space exploration programs than NASA? And neither side wants to address the problems in our criminal justice system.
Let’s look at that last point. One of the most telling parts of the debate the other night was when the candidates were asked about gun control. Both quickly segued to other issues since gun control, as an issue, went out with parachute pants (little noticed point: in the debate, Obama acknowledged that the second amendment is for self-defense). But neither mentioned that crime is down to levels not seen in half a century. Neither mentioned one of the biggest drivers of poverty, job destruction, violence and despair in our cities: the War on Drugs:
A check in the “Have you ever been arrested?” box is a handy way for an employer to winnow down a stack of job applications. Why take the risk? In New York City, half a million people are stopped and questioned by police each year without probable cause. In some communities, nine in ten residents have been stopped. Aggressive stop-and-frisk policies have lead to thousands of arrests of people who have done nothing wrong, or have been tricked by police into committing a misdemeanor.
What are the substantive differences between these two parties? Abortion? Gay marriage? Unions? Let’s be honest: almost everyone in this election is voting against the other guy. What, apart from your distate for his supporters, is driving that?
It’s been quipped that Obama’s first term is really “Bush’s third term” and I think there’s something to that. Obama has been better on foreign policy; worse on domestic. A huge fraction of his blunders have been continuing old policies. But I could very easily imagine the last four years having unfolded in a similar fashion under Bush, McCain or Romney (with the possible exception of the two SCOTUS appointees). So is that the choice we face for the next four years? Bush 4A or Bush 4B?
I have voted Libertarian in the last two elections. I had that luxury since I lived in Texas, which was not a swing state. And, frankly, Pennsylvania isn’t a swing state so I have that luxury again. But I would vote for Gary Johnson even if I were in a swing state; even if mine were the only vote preventing either a Romney presidency or an Obama presidency. I recognize and respect the case to be made that one should vote for the lesser of two evils (although read Mataconis here). I’m just not seeing that either of these is the lesser. Again, see the epigraph that starts this post: do I want Republicans who spend like Democrats or Democrats who bomb like Republicans?
This isn’t a purist decision. I disagree with Johnson on plenty. And it’s not a fit of pique, either. I make the decision affirmatively. I don’t believe that either of these men will be a disaster for this country. Obama will be neutralized by a Republican House. And for all my barbs, I was relieved that Romney won the GOP nomination. I don’t think he is crazy or dangerous and I’ll be fine if he wins the election. And his surge since the first debate has been because millions of Americans have come to the same conclusion.
But neither do I believe that either man is the one to get us out of the hole we’re in. Either way, I think we’re going to get four more years of kicking the can down the road and hoping that the economy magically rescues the system.
Moreover, I think the Presidential race is possibly the least important election this year. Of far greater import:
1) Congress. Helping the GOP retain Congress is a far more critical battle than the White House. While I described Republican policies as a continuous decade-long surrender to Big Government, there have been some hopeful signs in the last two years. Just enough that I want them to keep hold of the House, especially.
I’ll be voting for my Republican congressman (I’m still unsure if I can pinch my nose tightly enough to vote for former Democrat and abortion absolutist Bob Smith for the Senate). One of the neglected stories of the last few weeks is the huge surge in the Democrats’ prospects of keeping the Senate, including a likely victory for Elizabeth Warren. As far as Massachusetts moderates go, it’s much more important to me for Scott Brown to win than for Mitt Romney to.
2) Ballot issues: Washington and Colorado are trying to legalize marijuana. Both initiatives have gotten key endorsements from law enforcement but are facing stiff entrenched opposition. In California, Prop 35, which purports to battle “trafficking” is polling well but shouldn’t be: it is such a badly written piece of legislation that simply renting a room to a prostitute could get someone arrested. Props 30 and 38 propose to raise taxes (yes, again) while Prop 32 would limit the power of unions. Prop 37 would label GM foods. In Maryland, there are two critical ballot initiatives coming up: one on gay marriage and one on Maryland’s obscene gerrymandering. Virginia has a critical question on eminent domain. Give me victories on all of these and I’d take Jill Stein in the White House (Ok, not really).
Probably the most important fight this year is going on in Michigan. The unions are trying to get an amendment passed that would bar Michigan forever from being a right to work state or limiting union bargaining power. This is a bill that may finally kill Michigan’s government. Have you heard a peep about it? This is far more important than the White House fight.
3) Us. One of the encouraging things about the last few years is that the American people are waking up. For all the criticism of the Tea Party, serious solutions to the debt issue would not be on the table at all if it weren’t for them. This was not, contra the Left, an astroturf effort to get Republicans back in office. The Tea Partiers are serious about changing the fiscal trajectory of this country. I’ve talked to many who have told me they will accept spending cuts; they will accept entitlement cuts; some will even accept higher taxes … if it’s part of a real solution. That’s far more thought, wisdom and patriotism than you will get from the entire sneering staff of MSNBC, CNN and PBS combined.
Even more encouraging was the battle over SOPA. This was a bad bill that had bi-partisan support. But the American public woke up. And people of all political persuasions took our government by the heels and shook them while yelling, “Stop it!”. And our politicians listened.
I’m not sold on the benefit of a protest vote. But a protest vote as part of a rising tide of opposition to the dimwit policies of our government? That’s something I can vote for. Maybe Johnson gets 1% this year. That’s enough to raise an eyebrow but not to make either party sweat. But if it can be built on, it’s enough scare some people. Ross Perot may have been crazier than a shithouse rat, but I strongly believe his influence on two elections scared the pants off our political establishment to the point where Bill Clinton was suddenly a budget hawk (although, to be fair, Bill Clinton was pretty easily talked out of his pants).
No matter who wins on November 6, it will be up to us to hold their feet to the fire. Both parties have promised debt reduction and an improved economy. We have to hold them to it not just at the ballot box but in unceasing unending relentless pressure. No spending bill should move through the house without a million phone calls. No Patriot Act renewal should pass without a million letters in opposition. If Congress makes a Grand Bargain on the budget, we have to make sure that neither of these guys dares to veto it. Every time Obama or Romney decides to bomb someone without Congressional authority, there should be pickets outside manned by everyone: liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. We all need to manning the trenches. We can’t ignore bad behavior because it’s “our” guy or only jump on bad behavior when it’s “their” guy.
This is not a fight of liberal against conservative. This is not a struggle of Democrat against Republican. The idea that either of our political parties gives a sweaty utility closet fuck about our liberty is absurd. This is a war of government against all of us. A war of the busybodies against those of us who want to be left the hell alone. How we get to freedom, what particular freedoms we emphasize, where we curtail that freedom so that society may function: that is a subject for vigorous debate. But by letting ourselves be duped into supporting Nanny Blue or Nanny Red, we have forgotten to hold the line; we have ceded ground to the idea that government should be able to do whatever the hell it wants … as long as it’s our guys in charge.
(And, I’m going to be frank, the liberals have been worse at this dereliction of citizenship. Obama’s War on Terror excesses have not generated a fraction of the anger among liberals that Bush’s spending did among conservatives. If George Bush had drone-bombed a 16-year-old, they would have been trashing the streets.)
That is why I refuse to vote for either of these guys. It only encourages them. It only persuades them that their infringements on our liberties — be they economic, social or legal — will be tolerated, approved and rewarded. It only persuades them that they can talk liberty on the campaign while they kill it in the legislature.
And it’s why, no matter which guy wins, I will spend the next four years tweeting, blogging, writing and raging against the machine in this little corner of the internet (well, in my spare time. I also need to work, eat, sleep, raise Sal 11000 Beta, go to the bathroom).
If Romney wins, we can’t do what we did with Bush and go happily to sleep. And if Obama wins, we can not sink into despair. The fight never ends. But nor is it ever hopeless. Ever since we recognized that governments were necessary, free people have been fighting to keep the monster under control. And, despite recent setbacks, our record over the last few centuries is very very good.
That monster needs to be held at bay, no matter which face it’s wearing for for the next four years. And if we keep our eyes open and our powder dry, it will be.