Monday, July 16, 2012

Change I can believe in, and counterfactuals

As we've moved into the election season, I've seen more criticisms of Obama's record (as there should be). One of the thing I've seen is this:

This was from a libertarian, and I've seen the same sentiments from conservatives.

Here's what you guys need to understand about liberal/centrist/independent Obama supporters: we actually think there was change. You're really not getting it. Some liberals peel off on some points, but we're grown-ups and we understand that world won't magically change like it's been sprinkled with fairy dust.

The big change was on foreign policy and the war on terror. That was what we cared about most back in 2008. We shifted focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. We actually started targeting terrorists in Pakistan. This is something Bush got very late, but through two horrendous terms he ignored these goals. Obama got it from the get go and was saying it from the very beginning of the Iraq war. If you're under the impression that all Obama supporters want an end to the war on terror, you really don't understand what you're talking about.

There was also a big change with terrorists being held. We actually stopped torturing. We actually started implementing the Supreme Court rulings on prisoner rights. This was all very important change.

Moving into domestic policy, of course the record has been mixed. But we actually got health reform that at least was a step in the right direction. We did not raise taxes in the middle of a recession. We got a good early dose of fiscal stimulus at least.

Things have changed quite a bit. Certainly things are different from what they would have been under McCain.

But there's a grain of truth to the comic above. We haven't gotten everything. Part of the response to this is - as I said before - we're grown ups. We understand we're not going to get everything. And yes that'll frustrate us, but we understand the world isn't perfect.

But here's what you have to understand: the reason why we didn't get exactly what we wanted is because of other politicians that are either (1.) conservatives, (2.) libertarians, or (3.) some linear combination of the first two. I'm not really a liberal, but I'm a fellow traveler. So there are a lot of liberals in Congress I don't agree with. They didn't keep Obama's first term from being the change I wanted it to be.

You know who it was?

People who agree with Gary Johnson and Mitt Romney or some linear combination of those two men.

So, when I look at this November what I didn't like about the last four years gives me more reason to vote for Obama, not less. It gives me more reason to point out what I think the problems are with American libertarianism and American conservatism, not less. Sometimes people seem to think that because we aren't thrilled with everything that's happened in the last four years that means somehow Obama has a problem.

And maybe he does have a voter enthusiasm problem to surmount. He was a young, popular guy in 2008. Now he's an old establishment guy. And it's not really because he's a different guy, it's just because working in the Oval Office for several years makes you an old establishment guy by definition, even if absolutely nothing about you has changed.

But no problem that Obama faces in November among people that liked him in 2008 is going to be remedied by Gary Johnson or Mitt Romney or Ron Paul or the Tea Party or the Republican Party (with the possible exception of some far left pacifist types, but if they're disappointed they weren't really listening to Obama in the first place).

Brad DeLong gives us a nice counter-factual along these lines:

"Suppose that Obama's voters had turned out in 2010 to vote for down ballot offices in as large numbers as they turned out in 2008. Where would the US economy be now?

There would have been no tea party Republican Governors' slashing of state employment, with attendance multiplier effect putting downward pressure on there and neighboring economies. There would have been no debt ceiling crisis to add substantially to economic uncertainty and increase the flight to quality. There would have been Larry Summers infrastructure bank, which would now be pumping out $200 billion a year in badly needed infrastructure investment.

Add all those up, and you get on economy with between $300 billion and $600 billion more of annual spending, depending on the multiplier. That is an economy with unemployment rate in the low 7s or the 6 percents. That's an economy growing at 3 to 4% per year instead of 1 to 2% per year. That some economy with a lower projected deficits and debt to GDP ratio then the economy we have today.
The failure of marginal Obama 2008 voters to turn out for down ballot candidates in 2010 was a disaster for America.

The election of Mitt Romney and a supporting congress this November would be a much bigger disaster for America. Think of the trainwreck that has been the Conservative government in Britain since 2010. And square it."

We're no more supporting Obama because we care about the Democratic Party as an institution than you are voting for Gary Johnson because you care about the Libertarian Party as an institution. And we're not voting for Obama because we think he is an all knowing leader that we entrust with power to make decisions for us than you're voting for Gary Johnson because you think he is an all knowing leader that you entrust with power to make decisions for you. We're doing it because elections have very real consequences, the policy views are very different, and Obama's happen to be - not the best - but considerably better than any conservative or libertarian alternative.

1 comment:

  1. Funny. In viewing this comic I thought it was about House Republicans voting to repeal ACA one more time. Silly me.


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