Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day 2012 - Final Thoughts

Today is the final day in an election cycle that has gone on far too long. I began following things back in fall of 2011, when I was curious what the various Republican primary candidates had to say for themselves. I offered an open mind that perhaps they could sway me to vote for them. Now that we're on election day - and I genuinely have no idea who is going to win, with close polls on pretty much all sources - it seems like a good idea to collect my general thoughts on this election.

Here's the thing. I am a fan of Barack Obama's. I've read both of his books and voted for him in 2008. I genuinely like the guy. By and large, I agree with the policies that he's tried to implement, though I continue to be a little concerned about his expanded use of drones and assassinations, but no more concerned than I was about the previous administration's willingness to send troops into harm's way. There's no good way to conduct violent action against the nation's enemies.

The Republican Primaries

Still, just because I like Barack Obama, however, doesn't mean that I necessarily think he's done a bang-up job. He's certainly not the failure that the Republicans have painted him to be, but neither is he a particularly adept leader. He wasted his first two years trying to generate a consensus with Republicans, when it should have been extremely clear that they'd have none of it. There's nothing in his background which shows that he's got any particular skills at financial matters or general organization, and there are ample aspects of the way the government's run over the last four years that can legitimately be called into question.

So I began watching the Republican primary and it quickly became clear that only a couple of those lunatics had any chance of winning against Obama: either Mitt Romney or John Huntsman. Everyone else was just too extreme and would have no real chance of convincing moderates like me to vote for them. In fact, the extremism being displayed even prompted me to start the Vast Middle-Wing Conspiracy page on Facebook.

Romney himself recognized this, in the famous "47%" video that surfaced a while back and which I've discussed previously. In that video, he went on to talk about independents, in a way that demonstrated much more awareness of the realities of the electorate than the 47% part of the talk did:
Those people I told you—the 5 to 6 or 7 percent that we have to bring onto our side—they all voted for Barack Obama four years ago. So, and by the way, when you say to them, "Do you think Barack Obama is a failure?" they overwhelmingly say no. They like him. But when you say, "Are you disappointed that his policies haven't worked?" they say yes. And because they voted for him, they don't want to be told that they were wrong, that he's a bad guy, that he did bad things, that he's corrupt. Those people that we have to get, they want to believe they did the right thing, but he just wasn't up to the task. They love the phrase that he's "over his head." But if we're—but we, but you see, you and I, we spend our day with Republicans. We spend our days with people who agree with us. And these people are people who voted for him and don't agree with us. And so the things that animate us are not the things that animate them. And the best success I have at speaking with those people is saying, you know, the president has been a disappointment. 
So, basically, this tactic worked very early on with me. I conceded that Barack Obama was a bit of a disappointment and allowed the possibility of supporting a different candidate. And, thankfully, the Republicans offered up one of the two sane options from their primary. So now it became a case of asking whether Mitt was a better choice than Obama.

The Case for Either

First, let me get this prediction out of the way: Regardless of who is elected, I believe that the economy will do better in 2013 than it did in 2012. We are on an upswing. If Obama is re-elected, then he'll claim that his policies caused it. If Romney is elected, he'll claim that Obama's policies were a failure and it's his policies that caused the recovery.

In my view, the economy was so bad that it's bound to begin improving. The big question is not who will cause it to improve, but rather which policies are best to be in place when it does improve. Do you want a regulation-free, very corporation-friendly set of Republican policies in place or greater access to healthcare? A somewhat lukewarm relationship with Israel or a U.S. that seems willing to goad Israel into military conflict with Iran, somehow in the interests of "peace?"

On the single most important issue for me - American education policy - Republicans and Democrats are pretty much in lockstep these days, with a heavy emphasis on school choice in both camps.

The Case for Mr. Romney

Though I voted for Obama, I don't agree with many of his supporters that Romney is a rampaging conservative monstrosity that will destroy our country. As Newt Gingrich said during the Republican primaries, Romney is a "Massachusetts moderate" and that's his saving grace. Honestly, Romney is something of a geek. A money geek. A policy geek.

He himself seems to resent, on at least some level, the fact that he hasn't been able to focus on his intellectual policy arguments. In the leaked video from last spring, he said:
Well, I wrote a book that lays out my view for what has to happen in the country, and people who are fascinated by policy will read the book. We have a website that lays out white papers on a whole series of issues that I care about. I have to tell you, I don't think this will have a significant impact on my electability. I wish it did. I think our ads will have a much bigger impact. I think the debates will have a big impact…My dad used to say, "Being right early is not good in politics." And in a setting like this, a highly intellectual subject—discussion on a whole series of important topics typically doesn't win elections.
I didn't actually read Romney's book, but I did read his jobs plan. Though it over-simplifies things and places blame for dwindling jobs squarely on Obama's shoulders without providing the larger context of where the economy was at when Obama stepped in, the plan itself isn't half bad. Nor, frankly, is it that aggressively conservative. Despite the deeply anti-government rhetoric of the Republican primary and subsequent campaign, the jobs plan itself includes such near-socialist gems as:
Government has a role to play in innovation in the energy industry. History shows that the United States has moved forward in astonishing ways thanks to national investment in basic research and advanced technology.

There is a place for government investment when time horizons are too long, risks too high, and rewards too uncertain to attract private capital.
The above quotes make it clear that, at least in this policy statement, Romney understands the critical role government must play in scientific research. The emphasis of his plan is on "long-term" economic recovery, so if this understanding is genuine then we can expect a Romney administration to recognize these funding needs and to back them up with money.

Also, Romney implemented the Massachusetts healthcare plan. When repealing Obamacare, he can't just leave people without a replacement, so he's going to have to move forward on some sort of policies that will help insure people with pre-existing conditions are eligible at somewhat affordable rates. When he outlines the list of points that need to be included in his healthcare plan, it actually sounds remarkably like Obamacare.

In some ways, a moderate Romney has a lot of potential advantages. The Republicans would presumably cooperate with him more than they have with Obama, which means that Congress could return to actually doing something. Democrats don't quite have the backbone to completely hamstring a president for 4 years solid, to throw the entire country under the bus for political advantage, so they'll grouse a bit but will finally cooperate with a Romney administration as well. Honestly, just having a Congress that's able to do anything will be such a change that it might improve the morale of the country..

Of course, this argument is all founded on the idea that Romney is able to govern as a "Massachusetts moderate" ... but that's certainly not how he's campaigned. And that, ultimately, is why I voted against him.

The Case Against Mitt

Since I like Obama, Romney really had to make a pretty strong case to get me to switch support to him. I was still giving him the benefit of the doubt into the debates, although I was not impressed with much of what I'd seen.

For the last four years, I've watched the Republicans steamroll over the President of the United States. The President's biggest leadership failure has been his inability to win over any significant Republican cooperation on any issue. So the big question for me was whether Romney would be able to stand up to his own party.

Unfortunately, absolutely nothing during Romney's campaign showed me that this would happen. He chose Tea Party favorite Paul Ryan as his running mate. Better than Michelle Bachmann, to be sure, but still far too ideologically conservative for my tastes. When Rush Limbaugh called a college girl a "slut," Romney didn't condemn it, he just said he wouldn't have used those words. (Of course not, he's a Mormon!)

Time and time again, Romney has refused to stand up confidently against the extreme elements of his party. I have seen no evidence that a Romney administration would fight for anything that I value in the face of his party's interests.

There may well be a Mitt Romney somewhere in there who will be a great president, one that I will admire. So far, I haven't really seen it. If elected, though, I do hope he shows up to lead the nation.

If Romney is elected, I hope he does such a fine job that in 2016 there is no question about who I'm going to support.

And if Obama is re-elected ... then I really hope the 2016 primary season is a lot shorter than this one was, because I don't think I can deal with this level of crazy from both parties.