2012

So I’m back, for the time being, and I really don’t know when I’ll get back to the kind of posts I was making before–I have hundreds of links ready, but I don’t know where to start as far as writing them up goes.  Right now, though, I want to post something else.  I want to finally put into writing my idiosyncratic case for reelecting President Obama.

I supported John McCain for president in 2008 (actually, since before the primaries began).  I don’t regret that, and I might get into my reasoning soon if anyone cares to hear.  My support for Obama this year thus puts me in the tiniest of minorities–two percent of the country according to Gallup, or less than the three percent margin of error in that poll.

The Republican Party took exactly the wrong lesson from its loss in 2008: there was a tacit decision not to nominate someone like McCain again, even though no other Republican could reasonably be said to have had a better chance of winning in an election so thoroughly haunted by the presidency and presence of George W. Bush.  In keeping with that decision, which was confirmed by the rise of the Tea Party and its 2010 victories, candidates like Jon Huntsman (of which there was only really one, Jon Huntsman) never even made it beyond a few percent in the polls and never passed necessary thresholds of credibility in the conservative media.

And so it came to pass that Candidate Romney, deemed too conservative for the nomination in 2008, had to move even further right to survive attacks from challenger after challenger characterizing him as too moderate in 2012.

More Conservative Than Bush

President Bush was too conservative for America.  His hawkish brand of neoconservative foreign policy and its lack of success in Iraq, the Patriot Act and his other home-front actions in the war on terror, his staunch support for supply-side tax cuts, his push against stem cells, his judicial appointments–all of these were reasons why his approval ratings dropped so low.  So why are the American people considering electing someone whose stated positions on nearly all of these and other issues are as conservative as, or more conservative than, Bush’s?

Romney’s immigration policy is far more conservative than Bush’s.  His foreign policy is more conservative than Bush’s: Bush didn’t call for a substantial expansion of the Navy in the closest approximation to peacetime we’ve had in a long time, his neoconservatism at least drew upon rather liberal notions of humanitarian intervention and the “responsibility to protect” rather than raw national self-interest, and his policies on Israel and Russia were considerably more moderate than Romney’s are.  Romney opposed Bush’s bailout of GM and Chrysler.  And in one of the only areas where Bush was more conservative than Romney–Social Security reform–I happen to hold a relatively conservative point of view, and agree more with Bush.

Everything Except the Economy

This election is about the economy, except that it really isn’t.  Mitt Romney’s economic policy plan asserts that it will create 12 million jobs in one presidential term.  Turns out that’s well within expectations from private sector forecasters for a second Obama term–we are in a recovery, after all, even if it’s a really awful recovery, and some forecasters (in particular, Mark Zandi, who is usually not worth listening to but did happen to advise John McCain in 2008 and thus probably isn’t biased towards Obama) even go so far as to say their job forecasts don’t depend at all on the outcome of the presidential election.  This is all in keeping with the view that the federal government in general, and presidents in particular, have much less influence over the course of the private economy than they usually claim–but “elect me: I won’t be able to do anything about the terrible economy” isn’t usually a winning platform.  Sure, it’s still possible for a government to make incredibly stupid decisions and cause economic shocks–FDR’s 1937 monetary tightening comes to mind, as does the looming possibility of a constellation of fiscal shocks set to occur on Jan 1, 2013 (the so-called fiscal cliff) though to a much lesser degree–but arguments about the Bush tax cuts, the medium-term deficit, tiny stimulus packages, and the like are all much more political than they are economic. If Europe survives, and the fiscal cliff is averted, and nobody does anything really stupid, the American economy–and not a plan, president, or party–will create something in the neighborhood of 10 million new jobs over the next four years.  And whoever we happen to elect in November will, of course, still claim credit.

So what is this election really about?  Everything else. Whoever is elected will most likely have the ability to appoint one or two new Supreme Court Justices, and will most likely have the chance to substantially change the makeup of the Court for the first time since Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall twenty years ago.  Electing Romney means creating a Supreme Court–and a federal court landscape–that could end by judicial fiat 80 years of commerce clause law, 40 years of abortion law, decades of affirmative-action law, a steady march towards more humane punishment, and many, many other progressive achievements.  Reelecting Obama means creating a Supreme Court that could end by similar fiat DOMA and corporate free speech.  I have immense trust in the current justices, especially Chief Justice Roberts, and I don’t think the Court would take any of these decisions lightly.  But at the end of the day, American presidents have become very very good at choosing Supreme Court appointees, and what should really be legal questions have, in the context of the election, become political ones.

If Romney is elected, he will repeal Obamacare.  Almost nothing else about his platform and plans is as certain as that is.  But it still isn’t very clear.  He has promised to repeal the Medicare payment cuts that finance much of the system, and he would be politically very hard-pressed to avoid repealing two other parts that provide significant amounts of revenue: the mandate and its tax penalty/penalty tax and the various taxes on medical devices and expensive insurance plans.  There is a lot of political support for many of the insurance-provider mandates in the law, like the provision that requires children to be covered by their parents’ plan up to age 26 and the provisions that force insurance companies to offer plans to everyone in a community at the same price regardless of preexisting conditions or other risk factors, but keeping those would destroy the insurance system through dramatic rate increases unless combined, as in Obamacare, with a mandate and/or subsidies.  In short, it is the provisions that raise revenue that cause the entire Affordable Care Act to poll badly, while the individual provisions that make up the other side of the ledger consistently poll well–so Romney’s actions are certain to be a boondoggle either politically or fiscally, and likely both.

If Romney is elected, the entire Republican national-security establishment will return to office.  I think they are, on the whole, smart people who made, under Bush, a series of extremely difficult decisions in an honorable way.  But their principal criticism of Obama has been his choice of drones, and thus killing terrorists, over capture-and-interrogate missions.  And so Romney, who once said we should double the number of prisoners in Guantanamo rather than closing it, would likely reverse that choice to some extent–relitigating the torture debate, rekindling international condemnation, and swinging the “intelligence pendulum” back to the security-over-liberty side from its current more neutral position.

If Romney is elected, discretionary spending on crucial programs and infrastructure will be cut substantially to make way for a larger military–even though nondefense discretionary spending makes up a smaller portion of the American economy than it has in sixty years.

If Romney is elected, a destructive, unnecessary, counterproductive, and thoroughly open-ended war with Iran that neither the American people nor the Iranian people nor even the Israeli people remotely wants really might actually happen.

Last Chance for Action

We need another four years of Obama now, rather than some other Democrat in 2016 after a failed Romney term, because some things absolutely cannot wait.  In the second decade of the twenty-first century, we cannot countenance a president who denies anthropogenic climate change, not for four years that stand to be some of the most crucial in the history of climate policy.  Because of the rise of fracking and the Obama administration’s regulations on coal mining, we aren’t building coal plants any more–and American carbon emissions are back down to levels last seen in the early 1990s.  (Despite accusations from West Virginia politicians of an Obama administration “war on coal,” there’s actually more employment in the coal industry than at any time in the last 20 years, because labor-intensive underground mining is replacing environmentally destructive but labor-light mountaintop removal mining again.)  Because of tax credits that don’t even come close to removing the inherent, unjust advantages that fossil fuels have in not having to pay for their negative environmental externalities, wind power is as cheap as coal, growing exponentially, and already provides a meaningful fraction of American electric power.  Because of improved CAFE mileage standards and government-spurred innovation in electric cars and batteries, these trends will continue and will spread around the developed–and, soon, developing–world.  And because the Obama administration successfully ended Harry Reid’s dictatorship of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the form of Gregory Jaczko, nuclear innovation will continue to press forward and Romney can’t claim he’d do any better.

We’ve also waited far too long for movement on immigration policy, some of which has finally started to come from the Obama White House.  Romney won’t say for sure whether he’d withdraw the executive action that created a simulacrum of the DREAM Act in the executive branch, but his past policy statements and actions make it clear to me that he probably would.  Immigration is at the same time a civil rights issue, a foreign policy issue, and an economic issue–increased immigration, and increased integration of current immigrants into the economy and society are together the best stimulus we could ask for, and they’re free.

Last Chance for a Party’s Future

I have been a Republican for as long as I’ve thought the least bit coherently about American politics.  I’ve become less and less certain of that identification over the past few years, but I still think the party is a crucial repository of some of the most important philosophical, economic, and social truths in American intellectual discourse.  They are the party willing to buck political correctness and insist that, sometimes, culture really does matter and not every instance of disparate impact is an instance of discrimination.  They are the party willing to buck the Beltway wisdom and argue, every so often, for tax and entitlement reform.  They are the party willing to listen to economists on the importance of truly private property and the counterproductive aspects of price controls like minimum wages and rent ceilings.  They are the party that always insists more strongly on the crucial constitutional notion that our federal government is one of limited and enumerated powers.  They are the party that insists, at the top of its lungs and at the beginning of its platform, that economic freedom really does matter–and that it constitutes an essential component of the idea of America.

And so I want the party to survive.

I think the best way to ensure that is to force them to rethink their past few years, out at pasture, and to bring Republicans home again to the real world, with all of its vibrancy, all of its problems, and all of its changes the party seems to have missed.

The best way to do that is to find people who represent the best of the Republican Party, and push them to leadership roles in the next few years and presidential candidacies in 2016, 2020, and 2024.

But first, we have to tell the party that they’ve steered way, way off course.  And the best way to do that is to vote for President Obama.