October 30, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Campaign 2012: into the final stretch

As we head into final stretch of this excruciatingly long presidential campaign, the pundits are obsessed with the "horse race" aspect, checking the latest poll numbers from the swing states. But not many of them have dealt with the tragic absence of serious discussion over painful policy dilemmas that confront this country. I briefly flirted with the idea of voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson, but the stakes are too high in this election to indulge in protest voting. Even though Mitt Romney has fallen short compared to what he could have done in this campaign, I still think he is a capable leader whose policy proposals are for the most part heading in the right general direction.

On Facebook recently, the News Leader asked its readers to say something positive about the candidates they favor. Here's what I wrote:

The more I hear him speak, the more Mitt Romney comes across (to me) as a decent, sincere man who knows what he's talking about. Granted, he often tries too hard to curry favor with various voter groups, getting his words mixed up in the process, but he has a track record of competently governing and working across party lines. I think America needs that kind of a leader.
GOP booth Augusta County Fair

The GOP booth at the Augusta County Fair, in August. That's Al Katz talking with another local Republican.

Romney's missed chance

In the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney had a big chance to appeal to independent votes by stating how his presidency would differ from that of President George W. Bush. It was a "town hall" format, and audience member Susan Katz asked Romney to contrast his views with those of Bush 43. I eagerly awaited a firm, clear response, but Romney lamely said, "President Bush and I are -- are different people, and these are different times." He mentioned that Bush didn't "crack down on China" and wasn't focused on small business. Nothing about the flagrant budget-busting programs of Bush, nothing about the harsh, partisan approach fostered by Dubya's adviser Karl Rove, nothing about getting bogged down in privatizing Social Security and divisive social issues. I was heartbroken. Al Kamen covered that critical moment in the Washington Post.

So does that mean that Romney would follow in Bush's footsteps, policy-wise? [Matthew Poteat shared on Facebook an article by Daniel Larison at The American Conservative: "Expecting Fiscal Responsibility from a Republican Administration: The Triumph of Hope Over Experience."] Here's what I wrote in response to Matthew:

Matthew: I disagree with "The Republicans broke free of fiscal integrity with Reagan" I'm no fan of supply-side chicanery, but the rising deficits in the 1980s stemmed in large measure from Reagan's inability to get the Democrat-controlled House to go along with bigger spending cuts. And under Gingrich after the GOP Revolution of 1994, they DID get spending under control, resulting in surpluses by the end of Clinton's term. Most people fail to grasp the central role of the House in fiscal policy, wrongly crediting (or blaming) the president for everything that happens. But none of that detracts from the main theme of the article, which is sadly accurate. The fact that I think Romney will learn from the past and not repeat Dubya's blunders is indeed the "triumph of hope over experience."

I think it is becoming more and more clear that Romney is under heavy constraints as far as what he can say in his speeches. It's not as bad as the situation faced by John McCain in 2008, but it seems to me that Romney is tip-toeing on eggs shells in a frantic effort not to alienate any members of the Republican "Base," since they are especially prone to defect at the slightest provocation. Sigh...

Obama's missed chance

President Obama also failed to take full advantage of one of Romney's weak spots, namely, the vague tax reform proposals. Instead of challenging Romney on what specific tax revenue enhancements he would push to offset the lower income tax rates which he favors, Obama kept harping on this $5 trillion estimate of increased total debt which some liberal think tank came up with. That's a ten-year figure, by the way, which has virtually zero significance. I don't understand why both parties keep using ten-year budget estimates as the basis for comparing their proposals to those of their opponents. Why do any intelligent people take such long-term estimates seriously??

[More generally, Obama is stuck in a rhetorical rut in which he strikes a defiantly demagoguic, populist stance. It's terribly divisive, and yet he pretends to seek bipartisan compromise. Well, that's not the way his number one signature accomplishment -- Obamacare -- was passed by Congress. More and more, Obama feigns an urban African-American dialect in his stump speeches, stammering for effect in a pose of working-class righteousness. To me, it looks as phony as a three-dollar bill.]

So Obama likewise has failed to "close the deal" by convincing skeptical middle-of-the-road votes that he deserves another four years in the White House. Voting for Obama again would be an even more dramatic example of the "triumph of hope over experience," as I mentioned above with regard to Romney and the Republicans. Speaking of which, anyone who thinks that Obama's second term would be any better than his first term should watch this video, full of virtually identical campaign speech lines from 2008 and 2012: thehayride.com As that blog says, it's "Maybe The Best Ad Of The Political Season So Far."

"Hope and Change"? NOT.

Democrat signs near Afton

Democratic candidate signs near Afton, in scenic Nelson County, Virginia.