Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Economist gives Obama a tepid endorsement

I thought this was interesting -- in one of the most tepid endorsements I recall reading for a political candidate, the economics-centric The Economist magazine has decided to support Obama.  Not because Obama has done a great job with everything, but because they just can't figure out who Romney is. Some key excerpts from the endorsement:
Mr Obama’s first term has been patchy. On the economy, the most powerful argument in his favour is simply that he stopped it all being a lot worse. America was in a downward economic spiral when he took over, with its banks and carmakers in deep trouble and unemployment rising at the rate of 800,000 a month. His responses—an aggressive stimulus, bailing out General Motors and Chrysler, putting the banks through a sensible stress test and forcing them to raise capital (so that they are now in much better shape than their European peers)—helped avert a Depression. That is a hard message to sell on the doorstep when growth is sluggish and jobs scarce; but it will win Mr Obama some plaudits from history, and it does from us too...

No administration in many decades has had such a poor appreciation of commerce. Previous Democrats, notably Bill Clinton, raised taxes, but still understood capitalism. Bashing business seems second nature to many of the people around Mr Obama. If he has appointed some decent people to his cabinet—Hillary Clinton at the State Department, Arne Duncan at education and Tim Geithner at the Treasury—the White House itself has too often seemed insular and left-leaning. The obstructive Republicans in Congress have certainly been a convenient excuse for many of the president’s failures, but he must also shoulder some blame. Mr Obama spends regrettably little time buttering up people who disagree with him; of the 104 rounds of golf the president has played in office, only one was with a Republican congressman.

Above all, Mr Obama has shown no readiness to tackle the main domestic issue confronting the next president: America cannot continue to tax like a small government but spend like a big one. Mr Obama came into office promising to end “our chronic avoidance of tough decisions” on reforming its finances—and then retreated fast, as he did on climate change and on immigration. Disgracefully, he ignored the suggestions of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson deficit commission that he himself set up. More tellingly, he has failed to lay out a credible plan for what he will do in the next four years. Virtually his entire campaign has been spent attacking Mr Romney, usually for his wealth and success in business...

Mr Obama’s shortcomings have left ample room for a pragmatic Republican, especially one who could balance the books and overhaul government. Such a candidate briefly flickered across television screens in the first presidential debate. This newspaper would vote for that Mitt Romney, just as it would for the Romney who ran Democratic Massachusetts in a bipartisan way (even pioneering the blueprint for Obamacare). The problem is that there are a lot of Romneys and they have committed themselves to a lot of dangerous things...

Mr Romney’s more sensible supporters explain his fiscal policies away as necessary rubbish, concocted to persuade the fanatics who vote in the Republican primaries: the great flipflopper, they maintain, does not mean a word of it. Of course, he knows in current circumstances no sane person would really push defence spending, projected to fall below 3% of GDP, to 4%; of course President Romney would strike a deal that raises overall tax revenues, even if he cuts tax rates...

However, even if you accept that Romneynomics may be more numerate in practice than it is in theory, it is far harder to imagine that he will reverse course entirely. When politicians get elected they tend to do quite a lot of the things they promised during their campaigns. Fran├žois Hollande, France’s famously pliable new president, was supposed to be too pragmatic to introduce a 75% top tax rate, yet he is steaming ahead with his plan. We weren’t fooled by the French left; we see no reason why the American right will be more flexible. Mr Romney, like Mr Hollande, will have his party at his back—and a long record of pandering to them...

This newspaper yearns for the more tolerant conservatism of Ronald Reagan, where “small government” meant keeping the state out of people’s bedrooms as well as out of their businesses. Mr Romney shows no sign of wanting to revive it..

We very much hope that whichever of these men wins office will prove our pessimism wrong. Once in the White House, maybe the Romney of the mind will become reality, cracking bipartisan deals to reshape American government, with his vice-president keeping the headbangers in the Republican Party in line. A re-elected President Obama might learn from his mistakes, clean up the White House, listen to the odd businessman and secure a legacy happier than the one he would leave after a single term. Both men have it in them to be their better selves; but the sad fact is that neither candidate has campaigned as if that is his plan...

The Economist’s readers, especially those who run businesses in America, may well conclude that nothing could be worse than another four years of Mr Obama. We beg to differ. For all his businesslike intentions, Mr Romney has an economic plan that works only if you don’t believe most of what he says. That is not a convincing pitch for a chief executive. And for all his shortcomings, Mr Obama has dragged America’s economy back from the brink of disaster, and has made a decent fist of foreign policy. So this newspaper would stick with the devil it knows, and re-elect him.
 Like I said, tepid.  You can read the entire article here.

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