This is the third of five posts I will put up over the two weeks of the conventions, exploring my thoughts on the Presidential election. Parts 1 and 2 were be reasons to vote for and against Mitt Romney; Parts 3 and 4 will be reasons to vote for and against Barack Obama. Part 5 will wrap up. Keep in mind, this is my thinking as we go through the conventions. It’s likely that things will change between now and Election Day.
This isn’t an easy post to write because the radical wing of the Democratic Party is so repugnant to me. As I write this intro, Rahm Emmanuel is on PBS yammering about Citizens United and I want to put an axe throw the TV to shut him up. And I realize a post telling people why they should vote for Obama is going to get my flamed. Eh, I’m used to it.
But if you hate this one, you’ll like what I’m cooking up on reasons to vote against Obama.)
Four years ago, we knew nothing about Barack Obama. Now we’ve had four years with him in power — two with a Democratic Congress and two with a Republican Congress — to judge him on. He’s been liberal but he hasn’t been as radical as he promised. How much of that is him and how much of that is the opposition is up to you.
But there’s something important to remember as we go through this: Obama is not running to be President for the last four years but the next four. So however much credit you might want to give or deny him on the economy, the wars, foreign policy or whatever, that’s all in the past. It tells us what he might do for the next four but past performance is no guarantee of future results. Is he the man we need in Washington for the next four years?
I don’t think so, but I’ll stick to my format and come up with a few reasons why he might be:
The Debt Crisis: As I said in my anti-Romney post, I have little faith in the GOP’s ability to control spending with a Republican President. Obama jacked up spending his first two years; we’re all in agreement on that. But since he’s had a GOP Congress, spending has grown by 1% per year. You don’t need radical cuts to balance the budget (even assuming the GOP could produce them). 1% per year is the kind of spending growth that will bring the budget into balance within the decade.
However, that’s only part of the story. Long term, we have to get control of entitlements. Surely, that’s a good reason to get Paul Ryan a step closer to power rather than Barack Obama, right?
I’m not convinced. Ryan has a plan to control Medicare spending. But the Republicans and Romney have backed away from it in favor of a Mediscare campaign against Obama. We have run this playbook before. Bush was going to privatize Social Security … and nothing ever came of it. Bush was going to reform taxes … and nothing ever came of it. Not in six years of uninterrupted power.
The reason is very simple: no one party can do it. The issue is far too easy to demagogue. The only way progress has even been made on this is when both parties can share the blame. Reagan and the Democrats in the 80’s; Bush I and the Democrats in the 90’s; Clinton and the Republicans in the 90’s.
We were close last year, if reports are to be believed. Who backed out is debated. But a deal that would have overhauled Medicare and Social Security was close. Tom Coburn, in particular, has been leading the Republican charge on this, trying to piece together the Grand Bargain that everyone know is going to have to happen. With Obama in power, we might get that Grand Bargain. We the Republicans in power, I’m extremely dubious.
Only Nixon could go to China. And perhaps only a liberal can rein in Medicare.
(This sideswipes a point I should make separately: the Congressional election this year is far more important than the Presidential one. Far, far more important. If you believe in fiscal discipline, a divided Washington — with the GOP in control of Congress — is the least worst option. And a GOP Congress will be the only way to keep Obama under control should he win a second term.)
Our foreign policy over the last four years has been far from ideal or even unembarrassing. I’ll get into the problems in the next post. But on balance, I would say foreign policy has been a strong point for this Administration. I realize that the GOP considers chest-thumping and saber-rattling to be the only effective foreign policy and is obsessed with bullshit stories like the apology tour. But consider the following: We haven’t had a major conflict erupt. Iran is still isolated. Osama bin Laden is dead and Al-Qaeda is broken. We are out of Iraq (on Bush’s plan, but out nevertheless) and on our way out of Afghanistan. And, for the most part, we have stayed the hell out of the Arab Spring.
A large portion of the credit here goes to Hillary Clinton, who has turned out to be a solid Secretary of State. But after eight years of Foghorn Leghorn foreign policy, having one in which restraint is not a four-letter word is good.
The Supreme Court
As I said in the last post, I don’t want the conservative wing of the Court to get too much power. They’ve shown far too much enthusiasm for War on Terror and War on Drugs excesses and far too little for ordinary civil liberties. The most likely judges to step down over the next four years are Ginsberg and Breyer, two liberals. A Republican Senate would be very useful here just to make sure Obama doesn’t nominate a complete kook.
He’s Done All the Damage He Can: Now He Gets To Live With It
Very few Presidents accomplish much in their second term. A second term is usually about staying the course, keeping whatever they did in place and seeing how it plays out. There’s a lot we don’t want to stay in place under Obama — Obamacare, for example. But I have little faith the GOP will fix any of those things. I’d just as soon Obama take credit for what’s going to happen over the next four years.
There’s some truth to what Bill Clinton said the other night: that the mess Obama inherited was so bad, it will take more than four years to clean it up (well, that’s what they’re saying now; four years ago it would be done by summer). Maybe he deserves the chance to see this through. At the very least, it will teach the American people a lesson they’ll never forget (never being defined as until a Republican president screws up).
I’m not too sold on any of that, actually. But I promised I’d write it. Next comes the fun part: why we should vote against Obama.
Update: I left out social issues, but there was a reason: I’m doubtful the GOP will actually do anything about them without a veto threat. They didn’t do much under Bush, after all. The ground is also quickly shifting under their feet and I think they will find their positions on gay marriage and abortion to be increasingly untenable.
In any case, I prefer culture issues be resolved at the state level, not the national one.