Sunday, October 21, 2012

In 2008 we made history. Now it's time to build a future: Romney for President

I’m proud to be a classical liberal. I’ve been a liberal since I was a child, espousing civil rights, environmental protection, fiscal prudence, energy independence, gun control, educational uplift, stands against military dictatorships, etc.  I’ve never voted for a Republican for President.  Guess there’s a first for everything.  After thorough consideration and much discussion, I must, reluctantly but forcefully, endorse Mitt Romney for President. Let me first make a disclaimer, then lay out my long-held reservations about Governor Romney, the case against re-electing President Obama,and then explain how and why the case against Romney is overcome by the case for him .

Disclaimers: My decision is greatly influenced by my views on Obamacare, which I think is detrimental to patients, physicians, and American medicine.  Therefore, I am sure that biases my decision. At the same time, I endorsed Mr. Obama in 2008. Hence, I believe that my choice is based more on what I think is good for the country than what is good for me.

The Case against Romney: I started out this campaign season joining the effort for Jon Huntsman, but unfortunately Mr. Huntsman’s candidacy never gained sufficient traction or resources.  Gov. Romney’s candidacy was never attractive as he is an intellectual chameleon: he supported abortion, gay marriage, and gun control (and of course the template for Obamacare) in Massachusetts, but is against them now. Now, politicians notoriously tack with the wind, but nonetheless I would like to know, at least a little bit, what and who I am voting for.   He can often have a tin ear, and his record as Governor was, at best mediocre (47th in jobs creation).  An equally important thing to consider is the potential that a Romney presidency could enhance the power of the fringe elements in the Republican party – the supporters of Todd Akin, and Congressman Broun, who calls evolution, call embryology and the Big Bang theory “lies from the pit of hell”, and assorted crackpots. But there are crazies and nutcases on the other side as well.  

The Case Against Obama
The reader no doubt will ask why I do not discuss the case for Mr. Obama. Quite simply, he himself has not made one: he has not laid out a second-term agenda. “More of the same” is just not much of a case. Certainly, the President has had significant achievements. The killing of Osama bin Laden certainly should garner him much credit – both Mr. Bush and John McCain endorsed treating the Pakistani government as an ally (McCain attacked Obama in 2008 for saying he would bomb in Pakistan if necessary), coddling the Pakistanis’ duplicity. Mr. Obama has been much more clear-eyed when it comes to Pakistan, and that is no mean achievement after decades of American wrong-headedness. Further, “flipping” Burma from being a Chinese satellite to a path of democracy, deepening an alliance with Australia, weakening Iran’s currency and gasoline supplies, and mending relations with certain European nations have been good things.  However, “leading from behind” in doing little to help guide the Arab Spring or help the people of Syria, weakening our strategic protection of and relationships with Eastern Europe (Poland, Czech Republic). It makes no sense why we should intervene against governments in Egypt and Libya in 2010-2011 when we had no basic fight with them, while we abandon the citizens of Iran in 2009 and the people of Syria in the last 2 years to governments that are far more brutal and actively opposed to our interests. Essentially, the message that has been communicated to governments around the world is that if you are our enemy, you have our green light to do whatever you want to your people, but if you are our friend, watch out as we may very well throw you under the bus. In summary, on foreign policy, we have a mixed bag. 

But the key argument against Mr. Obama is domestic policy.  Obamacare I have argued against previously, and I think it is bad for patients and doctors, and incredibly bad for the federal budget.  The piece d’resistance of this administration's failure is jobs.   Mr. Obama’s administration borrowed and spent >$800 billion in a stimulus bill, predicated on the premise that this spending would reduce unemployment to 5.4% by now. By his own standard, he has failed.  Even worse than the headline unemployment rate, the civilian labor-force participation rate has declined from 65.7% in Jan. 2009  to 63.6% today, the worst record on encouraging work of any Presidency since data has been kept, in large part because current policy (both for employers and individuals) taxes jobs and discourages job creation. Further, when Mr. Obama ran for office, he lambasted President Bush for a horrible fiscal situation, calling the national debt run up by Mr. Bush “unpatriotic”. Mr. Bush added $5 trillion in his 8 years to the national debt.  Mr. Obama hit the accelerator, adding $5.3 trillion in less than 4 years. For the first time since World War II, this has made our national debt larger than our GDP!  And for what? The economy remains in the tank, and Mr. Obama has made no credible budget for years (nor has the Democratic Senate), and his budget projects more trillion-dollar deficits in years to come.  Mr. Obama came in and rather than focusing on the economy, he got 2 pieces of legislation – Obamacare, and the stimulus, and neither of them was intended to, nor has, helped the economy.  The stimulus was a bailout of unions and states, not a jobs program, not investment in infrastructure, or long-term R&D, or improving education quality.  

Furthermore, what is evolving is a growing nationalization of various sectors of the economy – finance, medicine, automotive, real estate, etc.  Is that a good thing? What has always distinguished America from Europe is that nationally (and in most states), are biggest cities are not our capitals – there is a separation of government not only from church but from the cathedrals of finance and power. Yet Washington DC is one of the few booming areas in the countrynow, due to increasing concentration not only of power but revenue streams (which will only increase in a second Obama administration).  The increasing incestuousness of government with industry has resulted in not just Solyndra and A123 (spectacular failures of misallocated capital) but regulation creep that strangles new competitors.  Government should focus on monopoly/oligopoly-busting and leveling the playing field, not increasing bureaucratic complexity that favors only big companies with armies of lawyers or individuals/companies with the right politicians’ ear.    Four years is proof enough that Mr. Obama is not, and likely never will be, focused on growing the pie, but on achieving his vision of social justice through central planning. 

The standard defense by Mr. Obama's defenders (and himself) on his dismal economic record is that he inherited a bad situation. Leaving aside that it is unseemly to whine about a bad hand for 4 years and that it is customary for Presidents to take blame or credit for the economy on their watch (as well as their own metrics for success), let's examine Mr. Obama's performance against those of Presidents FDR, Reagan, and Clinton, who also inherited bad economies.  Mr. Obama received an unemployment rate of 7.8% in Jan. 2009, which is where it is in Sept. 2012; civil labor-force participation rate fell from 65.7% to 63.5% in that period. Mr. Clinton received an unemployment rate of 7.3% in Jan. 1993 and brought it down to 5.2% by Sept. 1996, while increasing labor-force participation from 66.2% to 66.9%. Mr. Reagan was greeted by 7.5% unemployment in Jan. 1981 which he brought down to 7.3% in Sept. 1984, while increasing labor-force participation from 63.9% to 64.4%.   FDR brought the unemployment rate down from 25% in 1933 to 14.3% by the end of his first term.  By any standard, Mr. Obama has failed, and should not chalk up his failure to his predecessor.

Last but not least, a little-discussed topic in this election has been respect for rule of law.   I find it quite disturbing that the US bombed Libya without any congressional authorization, that the Dept. of Justice smuggled weapons into Mexico without that country's knowledge (Fast and Furious), that President Obama has unilaterally and selectively waived enforcement of laws in immigration, welfare policy, and even Obamacare, and that he has authorized what can only be characterized asassassination of a US citizen on foreign soil.  Say what you will about President Bush, he did get congressional approval for military actions overseas and never assassinated US citizens.  In a second term, without reelection, one would imagine that Mr. Obama would only feel even more unbridled by matters of law. Indeed, the history of second terms (Nixon; Reagan; Clinton) is not reassuring on this score. 

The Case For Romney:
As I mentioned at the outset, I am not a big fan of Mr. Romney. But I do have confidence that he will enact pro-growth policies and be more fiscally responsible than Mr. Obama.  I think he will focus on jobs, open up energy from Canada, promote free trade, and move towards a tax code that is more fair for everyone. I think the Republicans will repeal Obamacare and its hideous regulations and hidden taxes (which besides its impact on medicine, are a major drag on economic growth) and move towards useful entitlement reform.   Could I be wrong? Sure. But in this particular case and this particular time, I really think that the current path is very wrong. And what Mr. Romney is offering is an economic prescription that, at least in theory, is pro-growth. 

The President has repeatedly contrasted the Clinton years vs. the Bush years, strenuously trying to tie himself to Bill Clinton’s aura and Mr. Romney to George Bush. But the truth of the matter is that in 2012, neither Bill Clinton nor George Bush are running for President. In 2008, the country was not better than it was in 2000, and we changed direction. In 2012, the country is not better than it was in 2008. The question is in 2016, will we better off with a Romney Presidency or 4 more years of the current course; I believe Mr. Romney offers more hope for credible and useful change. In 2008, Americans made history by electing President Obama.  In 2012, it’s now time to build a future, and I believe the best choice this year is Mitt Romney.