Monday, October 22, 2012

The Fundamental Issue In This Election

I'll get to my positive case for President Obama's reelection in a minute, but I think the case against Mitt Romney is more fundamental. As time goes on and the Bush years begin to pass from current events into the annals of history, the abject failure that was the Bush presidency becomes more apparent. Increasingly, one need not be a rabid partisan to wonder if President Bush led the worst two term administration in the history of the United States. He inherited a recession, but bequeathed a near-depression. His main policy achievements either drove us into a deep structural deficit (Medicare Part D, 2001 and 2003 tax cuts) or are widely despised (No Child Left Behind). His reckless foreign policy lies in moral and practical ruins.

Faced with a presidency that can credibly stake a claim to being among the worst in American history, we ought not reelect the party of that presidency until that party has done some soul searching and put some genuine distance between itself and its former leader. The scale of the disaster was such that new principles and new policies are the least that should be expected. The Republican Party has comprehensively failed in this task. Indeed, those who have tried to engage in it, such as David Frum and Bruce Bartlett, have been written out of the party. As a result, Mitt Romney is running, truly, for a third Bush term. There is no substantive difference. When directly asked about these differences at last week's debate, Romney offered some rhetoric designed to imply there were some, but was unwilling to actually state a single policy difference with President Bush.

This is disqualifying.

Now, here's what I'm looking forward to in a second Obama term.

--The full implementation of health care reform, resulting in tens of millions of additional Americans gaining health insurance while providing a framework for reducing health care costs in the future. President Obama is clearly passionate on this issue and will see it through; Mitt Romney has promised to repeal it.

--More fiscal and monetary support for a weak economy. President Obama has proposed a jobs bill that would create over a million new jobs relatively quickly. This crisis is vindicating traditional Keynesian economics and we can borrow more money now at absurdly low rates. We can put people to work right now at very little cost. We ought to do so. Mitt Romney has promised sharp fiscal cuts and argued for monetary retrenchment.

--Deficit reduction that is fair to the poor. President Obama has been fighting for this for nearly three years now; Mitt Romney wants to gain significant savings on the backs of the poor, by block granting Medicaid for example.

--Responsible tax policy. President Obama will raise new revenues, which will be needed unless we just decide to blow up our social compact. Mitt Romney promises even more tax cuts.

There are many areas that I expect President Obama to disappoint me in a second term. He has continued the racist war on drugs. He has continued a reckless foreign policy. He has deported hundreds of thousands of innocent immigrants. But frankly, Romney seems inclined to be more severe on all these fronts. I do not pretend that President Obama is a perfect candidate, but we are not measuring him against an ideal. The other choice is to entrust government to a party that has become intellectually and morally exhausted and has not yet done the hard work of rediscovering its roots.

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