Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been campaigning for our votes seemingly for the past two years. I have been getting emails from Juliana Smoot and Jim Messina for well over a year. A President gets about 2.5 years after being elected to accomplish something before he/she must inevitably start the process all over again of "reaching out to the base" and "appealing to independents" and "articulating a narrative" and all that other pundit-speak that crackles my ears. Democracy in America has become degenerate. We are run by a plutocracy of wealthy oligarchs who choose behind closed doors the figure heads to personify and articulate the narrow band of policies that they have deemed worthy of national discourse. The Citizens United decision has entrenched the concept that the "monied interests" are the drivers of the political discourse. The reality of our two party system is that there are very few differences existing on pertinent issues such as social security and national defense and executive authority between Republicans and Democrats. We are led to believe that this choice of President is "historic" and "fundamentally altering". We are fooled into thinking that each party offers fundamentally different visions for how the nation will deal with future troubles. The legitimacy of democracy depends on this perception; for if the general population realized that choice A differed from choice B only in ornamental, unimportant ways then the facade-----"of the people, for the people"---- is shattered. I say this as a preamble to the Buckeye Surgeon endorsement for President. Never have I felt so disillusioned with my voting responsibility.
President Obama took office at a time of national turmoil. The economic collapse precipitated by the unmitigated greed and carelessness of Wall Street big shots was of a scale not seen since the 1930's. This was not a cyclic downturn. The entire global economic equilibrium teetered on the edge of cataclysm. Employment numbers careened downward Obama's first 6 months as businesses responded to the complete absence of demand and negative growth in the economy. The automotive industry was on life support. Obama was handed the keys to a smoke belching lemon and asked to drive down an unpaved mountain road in the Andes, via a series of switchbacks, in the dark, without headlights. An unenviable task indeed. But he had no choice; take the wheel and give it some gas. His record is there. It is up to us as voters to judge and deliver a verdict. Let us examine the President's successes and failures.
First the triumphs. Let us be honest. The man took the helm of a sinking ship. He continued and augmented many of the policies initiated by GW Bush, specifically TARP and the auto industry bailout. His stimulus contained 33% tax cuts and came in at a number far lower than what most left-liberal economists determined necessary to restore demand and cash flow. The recovery has been tepid but real. Unemployment dipped under 8% last month and would have been even better if the public sector job loss had been ameliorated with a bigger stimulus. GDP at 2% growth is below expectations but our economy is out-performing Europe, Asia, and other advanced western nations as they struggle to dig out from the Great Recession themselves. In short, Obama policies helped avert a global economic catastrophe. Whether more austerity or a more robust Keynesian approach would have led to a faster, more vibrant recovery is esoteric conversation fodder for the Paul Krugmans and Milton Friedmans of the world. The bottom line is that, under President Obama, we are starting to see signs of meaningful, long term recovery.
Health care reform has been a goal of Democratic Presidents since LBJ. Somehow, against all odds, facing unanimous Republican obstructionism, Obama was able to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). In itself, this represents a watershed accomplishment. Although unpopular by its eponym Obamacare, the legislation becomes quite popular when broken down into components (ends the pre-existing condition bail-out option for insurers, expands health care coverage to 30 million Americans, allows young people up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents' coverage plan, elimination of onerously high deductible plans, etc). No one could have honestly made a moral argument for the continued status quo. The fact that the USA remains the only advanced western nation without a universal health care coverage system is a scandal. Obamacare is a step in the direction of rectifying this injustice.
As a candidate, President Obama vowed he would target Osama Bin Laden as a primary objective in the War on Terror. He did not flinch when Senator McCain called him naive for thinking that he could waltz into sovereign Pakistan if intelligence indicated that Bin Laden was hiding out there. As Commander in Chief, he carried out his promise. Bin Laden now sleeps with the fishes, providing closure and some solace for the thousands of Americans left traumatized by the loss of loved ones in the attack of September 11, 2001. The courage it took to give the green light on such a high risk mission cannot be minimized. Further, he carried out the previously agreed upon withdrawal from Iraq. Our presence in Afghanistan is being mercifully wound down. He has fulfilled his promise to bring the troops home.
Other accomplishments include ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell. If you're willing to die for your country in uniform, then you sure as hell ought to be able to openly declare your love for the person of your choice. His evolution on gay marriage, although not politically courageous (over fifty percent of Americans now support it), certainly lends credibility to the momentum gathering steam in numerous state legislatures to pass bills certifying gay marriage as legal and equivalent to the rights of same sex covenants.
Torture was unequivocally denounced and prohibited under President Obama. I am still not convinced that perhaps we aren't still out-sourcing our interrogations to third parties in Egypt or wherever, but the official denunciation of a immoral state crime is comforting. The brazen, lawless waterboarding and sleep deprivation methods celebrated by Cheney and his henchmen have no place in a civilized democracy.
Obama has failed as well. Let us count the ways:
Obamacare, also cited above in the successes, must also be considered a failure to some degree. It is an unwieldy, two thousand page monstrosity of a bill that, in the end, still does not cover 100% of Americans. There are no reliable built in cost containment measures. Huge, lavish concessions were made to the private health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. American health care remains a for-profit enterprise dominated by influential corporate players. The advent of the Accountable Care Organization will ultimately lead to the end of private practice as we know it. The only way to make universal capitation feasible is to ensure that most physicians are employees who receive a set amount of remuneration no matter what they do, no matter how hard they work. Furthermore, the stage is being set to cede control of healthcare provision to giant conglomerates like Kaiser, Mayo, and the Cleveland Clinic. Monopoly has never been good for the average consumer. The unintended consequences of creating regional fiefdoms of healthcare oligarchs on supply/demand issues and cost controls cannot be overlooked.
The economic recovery has simply not been sufficient. Too many Americans are out of work or underemployed. Growth has been historically feeble. After three and a half years, the President has to be held to account for economic performance, no matter how bad things were in 2008. It may not be fair but politics is a rough game. Whining about the policies (however atrocious they may have been) of GW Bush does not play well at the polls. He has been far too passive since the passage of the stimulus bill. He could have seized the upper, moral hand by embracing the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson debt commision and forced the GOP to come to the bargaining table. Instead he has allowed himself to be painted as feckless and uncertain.
Obama's biggest liability in my mind derives from his troubling actions with regards to national security and his infringement on civil liberties. I have already alluded to the killing of Bin Laden as a net positive. Furthermore, he carried out the previously agreed upon withdrawal from Iraq and we are on pace to disentangle ourselves from the Afghan morass by 2014. These are categorical successes in foreign policy. But the National Security State has grown under President Obama, the essential framework of the Bush/Cheney War on Terror paradigm has been essentially preserved, and he has asserted executive power to unprecedented degrees. We are now conducting an off the record, full scale, secretive, completely unaccountable drone program run by the CIA that targets human beings in Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Hundreds of civilians are being killed by cowboys with joysticks kicking back in California Air Force bases. The chaos and devastation that this policy wreaks cannot be calculated. Our missiles and bombs are extinguishing women and children in far away countries; non-combatants with dark skin and funny sounding names. "Militants" is now an Orwellian term for "any military age male within the vicinity of a drone strike". We are double tapping funerals of our victims to wipe out friends and family of alleged "terrorists". The immorality of our actions is so blatantly obvious. But they hate us for our freedom, we are told over and over. No one seems very interested in these facts. Bipartisanship certainly exists when it comes to terrorizing and murdering Muslims in the Middle East. Most outrageously, Obama has claimed the power to unilaterally assassinate an American citizen without due process. He has confirmed the existence of special "kill lists" which may or may not contain more American citizens. There doesn't seem to be a whole hell of a lot of outrage in America over this. After all, the victims have all been Muslims with strange-sounding names. But just remember--- this precedent is being set for Presidents of all stripes. Liberals may not so enthusiastic to defend such tyranny when such established powers are claimed by some future Republican President. The question one must be prepared to ask oneself is this: If you grant the President the power to assassinate American citizens without due process, then what power he is not able to seize under the banner of "terrorism"?
Obama promised he would shut down Gitmo. Four years later, the Cuban dungeon remains open and fully operational. Obamaphiles will whine about how Republicans prevented it from being closed. This is an unadulterated falsehood. Obama merely proposed to move the prison to an abandoned facility in Illinois. Unsurprisingly, both Democrats and Republicans were unenthusiastic about the transfer of a gulag to American soil. The mere geographical location of a facility does not in any way mitigate the sins of indefinite detention. Men who may or may not be guilty of anything are rotting away in cages without any available recourse to a fair trial. This is what ones finds in totalitarian regimes, not open democracies.
Obama promised the "most transparent administration" in American history. Instead he has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers. Bradley Manning, who leaked diplomatic cables that revealed acts of American corruption and illegality, including the infamous Apache helicopter video, spent 10 months in solitary confinement without facing charges. Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers under a corrupt interpretation of the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous Presidents combined. Interestingly, however, he has refused to investigate/prosecute the transgressions of the Bush/Cheney torture regime, as mandated by the Geneva protocols for international justice. Retroactive immunity was granted to the giant telecoms for going along with Bush's illegal warrantless wiretapping surveillance program. Finally, we have seen no major prosecutions of the perpetrators from the financial collapse on Wall Street. All those bad loans bundled into AAA rated collateralized debt obligations and not a single thief has gone to jail. Hope and change, alas.
The performance of President Obama has been decidedly a mixed bag. A middling economic recovery, stagnant wage growth, high unemployment are all reasons to vote for the challenger. But, as a voter, I don't think it is enough to simply vote for the anti-Obama. One must carefully consider the consequences of voting for the alternative candidate. In this case, it means trying to get a handle on Willard Mitt Romney, Republican nominee for President.
Writing about Romney is not an easy proposition. I have spent over a year following the Republican primaries, the early debates, and then the campaign of Romney. I can say only one thing with absolute certainty: I have no idea who this man is or what he truly represents. Never before has the American electorate been presented with such a cipher as the choice for Commander in Chief. I don't get the sense that he has any undergirding principles that guide his decision making. His primary purpose seems to revolve around winning this particular election, period. What will he do? His tax/debt plans make no mathematical sense. He will repeal Obamacare but replace it with what? He will fix the American economy but how? Trust me! Somehow, he has been able to get through almost two years of campaigning without outlining in specifics exactly what he plans to do once elected President. I find this troubling.
What we do know about him, in his record and statements, he has disavowed. He passed Romneycare in Massachusetts but now condemns a similar plan implemented at the federal level, while at the same time accusing Obama of "taking Medicare away from seniors". He was once pro-choice when politically advantageous but now is strongly pro-life, with a running mate who would make abortion illegal even in cases of rape or incest. He says he will fix the debt but refuses to specify how cutting taxes even lower (currently at a thirty year low) while increasing defense spending would mathematically work. He says he is a man who cares about "all Americans" but then, when amongst wealthy backers, speaks about how 47% of us are parasites on the heroic capitalist entrepreneurs like himself. His vision of capitalism is the same kind that has led to historically unequal distributions of wealth and income---- the financialization of the economy whereby companies are sliced and diced by wheeler-dealer hedge fund managers in Brooks Brothers suits and jobs are shifted to lower paying locales in Asia and Latin America and all that matters is the optimization of wealth for a select few. His running mate is a young man who hands out copies of Ayn Rand's juvenile fiction to his staffers as a a guide to public policy and has assumed the mantle of "serious fiscal conservative" despite an actual voting record that supported every single one of GW Bush's irresponsible federal spending initiatives (an unbudgeted prescription drug benefit expansion and two wars paid for by the national credit card). Earlier this year Romney proclaimed himself to be "severely conservative" but now is suddenly a man who wants to preserve education spending ("I love teachers!") and health care entitlements. He is suddenly the "Peace candidate" despite surrounding himself with unrepentant foreign policy advisers from the Bush era who continue to cling to discredited doctrines of neoconservatism and pre-emptive war and Amerian Middle East imperialism (Dan Senor, John Bolton, etc). He is a man without a coherent plan. He is the guy at the poker table all-in with a pair of twos, but we all know he is bluffing with that strained, rictal frozen grin. Somehow this man has positioned himself to be the next President of the United States without presenting any data or objective evidence for his constantly shifting claims and promises. His entire candidacy is based on the notion that his name is not Barack Hussein Obama.
And this is something we need to delve into a bit more. How is it that this decent, patriotic, mixed race man with a funny sounding name, who ascended to the Presidency with a clear electoral mandate in 2008, how is it that he has been demonized from day one as the Anti-Christ? Why is this? His healthcare reform bill was a knock-off of the exact same system implemented by Governor Romney in Massachusetts. The mandate and insurance exchanges are all ideas that take their provenance from white papers written in the 90's by the exceedingly conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. Obamacare preserved the absurd private health insurance industry. Particularities of PPACA, such as eliminating the pre-existing condition loophole, allowing post grad students to remain on their parents health plan until age 26, and gradually limiting deductible maximums, are all extraordinarily popular. But somehow this President is a leftist socialist who orchestrated a "government takeover" of healthcare (lie of the year in 2010 according to Politifact). The automobile industry was rescued on his watch and the execrable TARP program occured in his first six months on the job; both programs were started by GW Bush and were approved by bipartisan affirmation. But it is Obama who is the goose stepping Nazi Leninist statist. Osama Bin Laden is dead, we have decimated the leadership of Al Qaeda but somehow Obama has been painted as a feckless commander who "projects weakness" to the world and goes on apology tours. During the worst economic crisis since the 1930's Obama could not get a single vote for a stimulus bill that was one third tax cuts and involved far less deficit spending than advocated for by lefty economists like Paul Krugman. His American Jobs Act, presented last summer, as employment numbers lagged and millions of Americans suffered, was summarily shot down, again without a single GOP vote. Healthcare reform, again, based on the the ideas of conservative policy wonks, and then enthusiastically embraced by the Massachusetts governor in 2002, could not get any Republican support. Not a single tax was raised during his first term. But it is Obama who is painted as the divisive one, the partisan ideologue who refuses to back down and compromise for the betterment of his country. This is the Karl Rove playbook, to a tee---look inside yourself and identify your own worst characteristics and then project those traits onto your opponent. Construct an alternative reality and double down on the Great Lie whenever challenged. It is cynicism of the very highest degree.
The vitriol and personal villification this decent patriotic American has been subjected to is astounding. The lack of respect for this man started the moment he took office. The Birther nonsense. The pseudo-intellectualism of him being a Kenyan Anti-colonialist. The dog whistle digs that he is a "food stamp President", "un-American", an alien usurper, a sekrit muzlim. At his healthcare speech before a joint session of Congress, a Republican legislator from the south interrupted him by crying out "liar!". Why is it that a black man with an Arabic-sounding middle name would find himself a target of such obloquy? What could it be based on?
This is not about Mitt Romney. He seems to be a decent enough man, a good family man, who has achieved great success in business. His ability to shape shift and pander allowed him to slither his way to the top of the ticket and, now, find himself in a dead heat for the Presidency. He is rather a symptom for what is happening in the Republican Party right now. I consider myself a conservative in the classic, true sense: Respect traditions without rigidly adhering to ideology. Change should always be gradual and specific, rather than Utopian and widespread. Slow incremental adaptation to the demands of a polity as times change. A mistrust of Grand Solutions. These characteristics have been buried under a strict inflexible dogmatism of American Exceptionalism, cut taxes no matter what the fiscal demands may be, Government as the Enemy, Militarism as Patriotism, and Social Conservatism as the only way to live one's life. I do not recognize the current iteration of the GOP. It is unserious, untrustworthy, and contemptuous of the vast majority of Americans. Romney is merely the perfect vehicle for the degeneracy of the current GOP. He is exactly what they deserve. A loss may hopefully return a more moderate outlook to the party of Lincoln. However, Americans right now deserve better. And hence, albeit with some strong reservations, I endorse Barack Obama for a second term as President.