To be or not to be … a second term for ObamaPosted: June 12, 2012
I’m watching the Economist Debate on US elections with the proverbial jaundiced eye. It’s not exactly a good sampling of folks that will most likely be voting in the election. However, the comments are extremely interesting and as of this moment, Obama’s being judged by the readership as worthy of a second term. Why I bring this up is that there are two think tank guys arguing the opposing sides and their fascinating arguments reveal a lot about why we can’t get a decent conversation about issues going on in this country at most levels of policy making.
- Michael Barone is arguing the Republican side of things. He’s a Senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This is supposedly the ‘brains’ of the conservative movement and one of its mouthpieces wrapped up in “research” and “journalism”. Let’s just say he’s a propaganda tool and leave it at that. As such, this is the level of his argument. Death Panels!!! Liberal Elites!!! Socialism!!!! If this is the brains behind the conservative moment, be very afraid. Let me offer up a sample.
America needs to reform its industrial-age entitlement programmes, especially Medicare, to better suit our information-age society. Entitlements are on a trajectory to gobble up all federal revenues and more, and their centralised command and control design leaves no options but death panels and default. Unfortunately, Mr Obama has shown no serious interest in entitlement reform. He ignored the recommendations of his own Bowles–Simpson commission and sabotaged the “grand bargain” negotiations by suddenly demanding $400 billion more in tax increases. He has responded to Republican proposals such as Paul Ryan’s budget plan with campaign demagoguery of the crudest sort.
I’m no Obama fan but this characterization is about as real as the pictures of Obama riding the Unicorn while wielding the rainbow sword. Paul Ryan’s budget plan was full of unsubstantiated number fudging. The grand bargain always included tax increases on the uppermost bracket and Romney/Dole/Chaffey Care–a brain child of the conservative Heritage Foundation–is anything but command and control. Well, unless you want to consider Insurance and Drug companies having command and control over everything the basis for “command and control”. I found Obama way too eager to sell off social security and medicare so that criticism is just delusional. So, basically, the argument against Obama is just more lunatic fringe propaganda here. It’s not an argument. It’s a mythic diatribe. The only thing it needed was a reference to “who is John Galt”. Frankly, the liberal arguments against Obama are much more compelling including the ones that find his extensions of the Patriot Act and use of drones positively Cheneyesque. But, Glaston is not going to argue against the Bushy Cheney imperialistic presidency so that’s no where to be found.
So, is the argument for Obama any more compelling? Again, I’m looking at the folks here. I’m not making any case either way on my own terms.William A. Galston provides the counter argument. He’s the Ezra Zilkha Chair for the Governance Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. This is the supposed liberal counterpart to AEI. Here’s what Galston believes are Obama’s accomplishments-to-date.
But Mr Obama’s most notable achievements have come in the three wars he inherited. He engineered a military withdrawal from Iraq phased so as not to surrender hard-won gains, and he has devised a reasonable timetable for ending the decade-long war in Afghanistan in a manner that safeguards our core long-term interests As for the war on terrorism, Mr Obama has proceeded with focus and verve, and the results have been more than satisfactory. The bold mission that killed Osama bin Laden was the frosting on a very large cake. American drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen have decimated al Qaeda’s leadership. While the international terrorist network continues to pose a substantial threat, its leaders are on the defensive and in hiding as a result of Mr Obama’s policies.
Back at home, Mr Obama’s social policies have produced similarly good results. In the area of education, he chose a reform-minded secretary and backed him to the hilt. The result: a number of useful initiatives, including the “Race to the Top” programme that catalysed substantial change at the state and local level at modest cost. Mr Obama has also done more for gay rights than any president in history. But when looking at the president’s non-economic domestic record, the focus inevitably falls on health-care reform.
Mr Obama’s reform has long been unpopular and remains so today. But this does not mean it is bad policy, or that it will remain unpopular. If the legislation is fully implemented, it will succeed in expanding insurance coverage and in ridding the system of some of its worst defects, such as denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It also includes attempts to restrain health-care costs, now growing at a rate that portends fiscal disaster if allowed to proceed unchecked. Even its most controversial aspect, the mandate, is a policy conservative Republicans once supported (and Mr Romney included in his reform of Massachusetts’s health-care system). It is for good reason that health-care reform represents a signature accomplishment for Mr Obama, one that had eluded previous Democratic presidents for three-quarters of a century.
I come, finally, to the economy, the issue on which—barring a military confrontation with Iran—the election will turn. To assess the president’s record accurately, some context is essential. As economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart have shown, financial collapses differ from even deep cyclical downturns. Growth and household incomes are slower to recover, while unemployment, deficits and public debt are higher. And these effects persist for many years. So putting Mr Obama’s record up against Ronald Reagan’s is to make an apples-to-oranges comparison.
The real question is how Mr Obama has done in relation to previous financially induced crises. And the answer is: not badly. He averted an all-out meltdown of the American and global financial system and the onset of a second Great Depression. His stimulus programme, though imperfect in design, helped to stem job losses at a crucial moment in the downturn. (A majority of American economists concurs in this view, as does the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.) His intervention saved two American car firms and as many as 2m auto-dependent jobs. His programme to recapitalise the banking sector, which was necessary but unpopular on the left, has left America’s financial system better off than its European counterparts. And his new architecture for financial regulation, which was necessary but unpopular on the right, addresses many of the excesses and imbalances that had crept into the system.
So, you can go read all the comments and the longer arguments by both these guys. Frankly, the more I know about Romney, the more I am resigned to vote for Obama. I’m not sure that’s a particularly compelling argument for any one to make but as far as things I really care about, Romney is anathema to them all. What’s worse? Obama’s pathetic retreat from conflict over important issues or Romney’s do and say anything just make me King manner? Frankly, I’m sticking with the known quantity at this point. Huzzah!