Obama's record on the economy hasn't been great, but I think there are two things to keep in mind: (1.) he has to work with Congress, and (2.) you have to think of the alternative - Romney, or Johnson (a relevant choice for many of my readers). More stimulus would have been ideal, and Obama could have worked harder but I don't know if he could do anymore on that. I can't think of anything he really did terribly with respect to the economy. It would have been nice to avoid the bailouts. I'm honestly not knowledgeable enoguh to say what the alternative ought to have been. People are being very sloppy in the way they discuss "bankruptcy", which obviously doesn't mean that the capital and jobs disappear. But would letting the banks go bankrupt be best? Maybe an alternative you hear is the Sweden solution of nationalization and reorganizing. There's obviously a lot unappealing about that, but I'm not sure we were going to get an appealing option. So the question is, how bad was the bailout? I can't imagine it made the crisis at the time worse, which means it kept the recession from being as deep as it could be. And it was also something that started before Obama, so I have to think about whether it would have made things better or worse if he had changed that policy mid-stream. I don't accept that this violates the rule of law or anything like that. I don't see how there is not a general welfare argument for dealing with systemically important banks, distasteful as we may find it.
From a long-run policy perspective, I think Obama has made a good start with health reform, which (along with entitlement reform) will be the most important factor for growth. He has made good Fed appointments, and he hasn't been calling for any kind of worrying class warfare when it comes to tax policy. For all the blustering about the 99% and the war on the rich, etc., the guy has only been talking about rolling back the Bush tax cuts. I don't know any non-ideological wealthy that are terrified about what's going to happen. This goes for welfare policy as well. The trend has been to devolve welfare policy and build in work incentives. It's a centrist Clinton sort of goal that I share, and it is one that might not have survived a more liberal administration in a depression. But generally it's held up and there is no sign Obama wants to dismantle that. The moves we've seen have been about broadening the safety net - like expanding SCHIP to higher income brackets, not removing work incentives from welfare for low-income families. That's all positive, in my opinion.
A lot of this is out of his control. The Congress has been the major constraint, and the situation was going to be awful regardless. It's hard for me to get concerned that we haven't moved forward on the long-term debt yet when we're in the middle of this crisis. Ultimately everything I don't like about Obama, Romney and Johnson would be far worse on.
Although I think this is an election about the economy, I think Obama holds up well on foreign policy. I don't understand the pestering from libertarians on this. Obama promised to move out of Iraq and move the focus back to the war on terrorism. That was the dominant foreign policy promise of the 2008 campaign, and it is precisely what he's done. Obama showed judgement by opposing the Iraq war from very early on. He's also showed concern that we were ignoring the war on terrorism from early on. In both of these cases he could have dropped the ball. It would have been easy to let Iraq wear on, and it would have been easy to soft-pedal the war on terror given how war-weary the public has been. He's done neither of those things. Moreover his strategy on terrorism has improved on what we had seen on prior years, relying on drone warfare and surgical operations against terrorists wherever they are. Of course war is still hell when it's conducted with drones. But the accuracy is higher (even by the body counts of skeptical organizations - not using administration definitions of militants), and you don't need to occupy village after village to use them. The question is, should we be in the fight against al Qaeda and affiliated groups or not? I think we should - you may disagree. If we should be in the fight, the most sensible way to conduct the fight is with drones.
I like the fact that Israel is frustrated we aren't offering them a blank check anymore. It's not Obama's job to be a yes-man for Netanyahu. We are clearly still strong allies with this critical Middle Eastern democracy, but with tensions as high as they are with Iran (an obvious indirect security threat but not an immediate security threat), I want Netanyahu thinking twice about launching a strike on them.
I don't think Roe v. Wade is going to be threatened. I don't think anything is going to stop progress on gay rights (granted it could be slowed). I don't think people should take these sorts of hot button social issues as seriously as they do. Thankfully there has been less of this over the campaign. Regardless of the awful things that have been said by a few candidates, Republicans aren't misogynist by and large. The one exception to my "don't pay attention to this - it's dumb" message is the Supreme Court. But it's been a while since we've really had an ideologue option for the court precisely because the confirmation battles are so contentious. It doesn't sound like the Democratic majority in the Senate will be filibuster proof and it's certainly not going Republican so any justice appointed in the next four years by either Obama or Romney are similarly not going to be ideologically extreme.
The Big Issues...
...are anything we can do on the macroeconomic front, better tweaking of health policy, and entitlement reform. I'm not optimistic about any of these. I think Romney could be very bad for the first one. I think both have about as good a chance at making headway on the second one - I doubt there will be much movement on that front. I think Romney could also do a lot of harm on entitlements.