Sunday, October 28, 2012

For President

The Scary Lawyer Guy Blog endorses Barack Obama for President. While his steady leadership over the past four years would be enough to commend voters to give Mr. Obama another term in office, the feckless and, at times, breathtakingly cynical campaign run by his opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, makes the decision that much easier. 

When the President ran for office in 2008, his was a campaign predicated on rebuking the failed foreign and economic policies of George W. Bush. The American people were able to see the President's cool headed rationalism even before he took office. As Wall Street was melting down seven short weeks before Election Day, Mr. Obama presented a calm, reasoned public face and wisely received counsel from people like Warren Buffett and Paul Volcker, offering reassurance to a jittery populace that a 47 year-old Senator with a mere 4 years of national service would be up to the task of running our country at a time of maximum peril. 

After riding into office on a huge surge of personal popularity and a victory unmatched by any Democratic candidate since LBJ in 1964, Obama's honeymoon was remarkably short-lived. Lock step Republican obstruction literally started the day he took office (readers are encouraged to track down Robert Draper's Do Not Ask What Good We Do for more detail) and his early attempts at bi-partisanship were snubbed, first, when he proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a/k/a "the stimulus") in an attempt to draw Republican support (in the end, no House Republicans and only 3 Senate Republicans voted for it), and then, modeled what became the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a/k/a "Obamacare"), on a proposal first introduced by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank. And even as Republicans were stirring astroturf protests at town hall meetings and at least 161 of their amendments were incorporated into the final bill (for more on this:, not a single member of their caucus crossed party lines to vote for the final bill. Even so, the ARRA and Obamacare stand as two signal legislative achievements. The former put a floor beneath the economy and then helped propel it to growth, while the latter has so many salutary benefits that just noting its expansion of covered health care to 30 million people does not do it justice. 

Had Republicans in Congress worked with the President instead of making a political calculation that they benefited more from obstructing him, critical investments in our infrastructure and protection of thousands of public sector jobs in areas like teaching, law enforcement and first response would have been made. Instead, by dangling economic calamity at every turn, Republicans boxed Obama into corners that resulted in yet more tax cuts in the form of extensions to Bush-era policy and reductions in federal spending that have hindered a more robust economic recovery. But even so, Obama has doggedly pursued economic policy that has borne fruit. His decision to move Chrysler and GM through quick, structured bankruptcy proceedings has paid off handsomely as both companies are now not only solvent, but hiring more new workers. Lesser noticed decisions including one to require higher average mile per gallon standards (so-called "CAFE standards") and investing billions in alternative energy will result in lower auto and carbon emissions over the next decade. 

Indeed, Obama's record of job creation since the stimulus went into effect is even more impressive when Republican obstructionism is taken into account. The country is well on its way to 3 straight years of private sector job growth, the stock market has rebounded smartly from its late-2008 bottom and corporations are flush with trillions in cash. In addition to these important achievements, the President's efforts around immigration reform and ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" are in some ways, more notable because they came with greater political risk. At other times, Obama has shied away from big challenges, the investigation of the Wall Street crash led by former California Treasurer Phil Angelides did little and it took well into the third year of Obama's term before a task force (headed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman) filed its first complaints stemming from the housing bust. Meanwhile, his attempts at aiding homeowners has been largely ineffectual and much of the Wall Street reform passed by Congress (Dodd/Frank) was watered down before passage and is being further eroded as lobbyist's work behind the scenes to dilute rules being promulgated by various agencies.

On foreign policy, the President has been beyond reproach. As he discussed in the third Presidential debate, tireless efforts to mend alliances and reach out through diplomacy has helped place crushing sanctions on Iran and quickly helped overthrow Qaddafi. In Iraq, the President ended our commitment to that war of choice and is on a path to close out our commitment in Afghanistan within two years. His signature achievement, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, showed Obama at his best- first, he recommitted resources to the hunt for the terrorist mastermind, then, when a lead looked promising, kept at his cabinet officials to collect intelligence; finally, when a decision needed to be made, he went for the riskier option, a commando raid, instead of the easier one, a bombing raid, both to confirm bin Laden's death and to minimize the risk of harm to innocent civilians. He has also gone after China for trade violations and signed free trade agreements to expand access for our goods and services. 

Against this impressive record of achievement, his opponent's campaign has been shamefully dishonest except when it has been laughably malleable. As a candidate during the GOP primary, Governor Romney was in lockstep with the right wing of the Republican party by supporting ideas like 'self-deportation" of "illegals," a Mississippi personhood amendment that would have given 14th Amendment protections to fertilized eggs, defunding Planned Parenthood, saber rattling against Iran and had a lone foreign policy excursion so gaffe laden he managed to offend every host country he visited. He then attempted to solidify that support by selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate, a man most famous for proposing a federal budget that would savage the social safety net, turn Medicare into a voucher program and kick millions off Medicaid, food stamps and other needed government support services. When his campaign looked dead in the water, he executed an exquisitely timed "pivot" to the middle in front of 70 million people, resuscitating "Moderate Mitt" to an electorate that does not follow politics as obsessively as those Inside the Beltway. Romney's toggle was deeply cynical and done either without concern for the positions he was jettisoning or no care for the impact. Either way, such mendacity is disqualifying for a person seeking to lead our nation.

Romney also showed himself to be unqualified when it comes to running our foreign policy. A purported hawk regarding Iran throughout the campaign, he framed his policy as far more dovish during the third and final Presidential debate and after criticizing the President for setting a timetable for our withdrawal from Afghanistan, embraced the very same policy at that debate.  Romney has talked a tough line regarding trade with China but lacks credibility on the subject. His own investment firm dealt with companies that outsourced jobs to China, he criticized the Obama Administration for lodging a complaint against China in the WTO regarding tire imports and the idea he could deem China a "currency manipulator" without retaliation from a nation that owns roughly $1 trillion of our debt is foolish. Most recently, he flatly lied by saying Chrysler was going to move jobs to China, when in fact the company has no such plans, but is hiring more workers in Ohio to ship Jeeps to China. This type of tissue-thin grasp of complicated matters of national importance was rightly called out when done by Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, but the lack of media reprobation has been surprising, particularly because Mr. Ryan's resume in this area is even thinner. 

Viewing the Governor in as favorable a light as possible, one is still left with grave concerns about his ability to lead. His single term in office was marked by a lone (but important) legislative achievement - state-wide health coverage - that he refuses to acknowledge as identical to Obamacare, while demonizing the latter for things it does not do (taking money from Medicare recipients) and failing to note what it does do (bend the cost curve down and expand coverage). His vetoes were overridden more than 700 times and he spent much of the last two years of his term (he didn't bother running for re-election and left office with an approval rating in the 30s) moving rightward in anticipation of his first run for national office.  His campaign telegraphed his sharp turn to the center months ago (the famed "Etch A Sketch" remark by senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom) and he was caught on tape lambasting nearly half of Americans as layabouts uninterested in anything but suckling at the government teat. He has stonewalled requests by the media and his opponents to release his tax returns, which would not be that disturbing except his own tax proposals disproportionately benefit people like him, who collect most of their income from dividends, interest and capital gains. 

Ultimately, Romney has shown himself to lack seriousness about the job of President. As a former adversary, Jon Huntsman, described him, he is a well lubricated weather vane, which may have served him well in securing his party's nomination, is not something our country can afford, particularly when the nation still faces so many challenges. In short, there is simply no way to know how Romney would govern and he has not earned the right through his prevarications to get that chance. His campaign has admitted it cares nothing for fact checking, rolls out ads such as one about the Obama Administration relaxing welfare standards, that are flat out lies, and has been less accessible to the media than any nominee of either party in recent memory. When one considers that at the end of his term of Governor some of his aides purchased their government computer hard drives and many records from his time as head of the 2002 Olympics are not accessible, this penchant for secrecy and obfuscation are also worrying. His first debate "Etch A Sketch" cemented the view that he will say (and do) anything to be elected, but voters must ask themselves what a person willing to shed any position and make any statement (no matter how false) to win an election, will do once in office. We should not have to find out. 
Far from the caricature of him espoused by his most ardent critics, Obama has governed far closer to George H.W. Bush than Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His signature legislative achievements were based on, respectively, a Heritage Foundation proposal (health care) and mainstream Republican orthodoxy (tax cuts). On foreign policy, Obama has doubled down on the Bush Administration's use of drone strikes and of course, directed the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden. In the meantime, he has projected American might forcefully where he thought it in our national interest and responsibly where he thought coalition building was warranted. He has expanded funding to the VA and addressed issues like PTSD and homelessness among our veterans while leading on civil rights issues of the day. As to a second Obama term, the President has highlighted the need to resolve, once and for all, the smorgasbord of tax policy, entitlement spending and domestic priorities that have been delayed for too long, pass immigration reform and complete our Afghanistan withdrawal. These are ambitious goals but the President has proven himself to be a dogged and tenacious leader, one who has more than earned another four years in the White House.

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