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Why I Hope Obama Wins

If only American voters knew, in advance, which candidate’s plans would be better for the economy and the world. How fortunate would we be if history conspired to test out their general approaches before we vote on Tuesday? Remarkably, it has. And, no, I’m not just referring to the G.W. Bush presidency, which Romney hopes will turn out better as a sequel. Rather, England and other European nations experimented with the government slashing austerity that conservatives predict will lead to the economic boom we all desire.

If you look at the pink shading, you’ll see the predicted paths of growth for the US and the UK following the financial crisis. Now, check out the real growth for each. The American economy infused with Obama’s policies exceeded the expected growth (purple line); the British Conservatives who cut government hoping to produce market confidence left the UK underperforming (dark blue line).

In February of 2009, Obama and the Democrats passed the stimulus bill in the middle of a tanking economy. Unemployment stood at 8.3% and climbed every month. Fiscal and monetary stimulus slowed the free fall and the economy eventually began to turn around. Now we’ve had 32 straight months of private sector job growth. The unemployment rate is down to 7.9% from a high of 10%.

In Europe, the trend is different. In February of ’09, unemployment was 8.2%. Today, it’s 11.6%.

Despite the positive trend here, what’s the most direct reason unemployment isn’t even lower in the US right now? In contrast to past recessions, we now have a Republican Tea Party congress that prevents any more aid going the states, forcing layoffs of public sector workers (green line).

But what if Romney shifts once in office and doesn’t cut spending as the right-wing fantasizes? It’s possible Romney just repeals Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation and then passes another budget busting tax cut. As the private sector and homeowners continue to deleverage and as the Fed continues its monetary stimulus, we are going to continue out of this economic rut and eventually see faster growth. So if Romney doesn’t torpedo the recovery with short-term fiscal contraction, Americans might associate the repeal of universal healthcare and financial regulation as keys to success. It’d be easy enough to confuse voters with that simple correlation even though the cause of recovery differs.

The historic passage of universal healthcare will be doomed. Another generation will see millions of Americans suffer with inadequate care and go bankrupt from medical bills. Without a universal system, American workers won’t have the mobility to always take better jobs if that opportunity risks their coverage. And the financial system will continue the destructive risk-taking that put us in this economic mess.

It’s vital to remember that Obama isn’t perfect and has broken enough important promises and principles to warrant changing course. Unfortunately, the only viable challenger is likely worse on these same issues. As a consequentialist, I can’t endorse swing-state voters risking the election of Mitt Romney, but it’s worth reviewing where Obama has gone terribly wrong. Lower ticket elections are crucial to pressure executive policy change.

Obama admirably put us on course to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but despite his 2008 campaign rhetoric, he initiated a war in Libya without congressional approval, violating the War Powers Act. His challenger may repeal the ban on torture, but Obama continues to personally accept the horrific treatment of Bradley Manning. Obama has extended the Patriot Act and continues to spy on Americans without warrants or proper oversight. This president also signed the NDAA, which grants the power to indefinitely detain American citizens under his personal discretion.

The president was right to refocus the war on terror against Al Qaeda and Bin Laden specifically, but the increase in drone strikes, often against targets whose identities we don’t know, is an immoral and dangerous power no president should have. As reported in the New York Times, president Obama has also created a secret kill list that includes American citizens living abroad. This unconstitutional power has no checks to prevent abuse or to ensure due process. These abhorrent policies will be left to future administrations to expand and abuse along with the status quo destruction of poor communities through the War on Drugs. If a feasible alternative existed, they should be elected. Disappointingly, our electoral system makes it so Mitt Romney is our only likely substitute. He supports all these programs and his neoconservative foreign policy team seems more likely to start a costly new war with Iran no matter what the unintended consequences.

On the substantive issue differences between the two major candidates, we have a clear contrast. We have a president that supports full equality for gay Americans. A challenger that supports 2nd class citizenship. A president that is more likely to end the cruelty against innocent children of immigrants. A challenger who’s nativist party doesn’t trust the citizenship of anyone who looks foreign. A president that supports the right of women to control their own bodies. A challenger with policies that could end birth control or force women to get unnecessary and invasive vaginal probes. I don’t share the same overwhelming fear of the national debt that many conservatives do during Democratic administrations, but both candidates seem eager to pass a long-term deficit deal. If it must be done; I trust Obama not to do it entirely on the backs of the poor like a Romney-Ryan plan surely would.

Too often voters punish incumbents on squishy feelings or without examining the likely course of policy consequences. Even in The Economist‘s endorsement of Barack Obama it lamented that he didn’t appear polite enough to businesses or social enough with Republican congressmen by playing more rounds of golf with them. This complaint springs from the cult of comity, a theological belief system that believes bi-partisanship and cordiality are goods in themselves. It’s not how policies are made that matters, it’s the results of them.

Nevermind the reality that Republicans agreed before Obama’s election to oppose everything he did. Since the special election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, the legislative branch has been dysfunctionally obstructionist against providing the president any further accomplishments.  Even with the obstruction, Obama’s legislative victories would make most presidents jealous, but it’s necessary to solidify them and ensure they’re carried out responsibly. The Obama administration has staffed its agencies with professionals that want government to work. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the response to Hurricane Sandy. Republicans with their deep ideological aversion to government doing things well make appointments that create a self-fulfilling prophesy. Is anyone surprised that Bush’s FEMA head incompetently bungled the response to Katrina, while Obama’s appointment has received high accolades for his performance?

If you want government to run well and to focus on policies to help all Americans, your best hope is the reelection of Barack Obama.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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