Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why you should vote for Obama

The Economy

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.

Foreign Policy

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.

Social Policy

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.


  1. Wrt to the bailouts, there is the "bail-in" alternative, where shareholders (or asset holders in general) have their claims converted into liquid assets for the bank. I haven't read this article yet (I just founded it when I did a Google search so I could link you to something), but I'm sure it explains the concept better than me:

    I was on the fence wrt to who I plan to vote for. I think I'm veering towards Romney, even though I dislike his foreign and military (funding) policy. Obviously, there's a difference between you and I in our position on counter-cyclical policy, although I oppose cutting short-term welfare (including recession-years unemployment extension).

    I don't know too many details, so I might have things completely wrong (and I'd appreciate being told so, because it might cause me to shift my vote). It might be vague and ambiguous how they have it planned out, but I like the idea of a decrease in tax rates, but the elimination of loop holes. Income tax rates, IIRC, don't really impact the top income quintile as they do others, and so eliminating loop holes in capital gains taxes might be a better policy. For me, raising tax revenue to decrease debt is not a big issue; growth in income is more important. That means I don't see the debt issue as all that important either, which might be a mark against Romney in my book, but not a big enough one (and, while I don't see debt as a major issue, it doesn't mean I support necessarily deficit spending, counter-cyclical or otherwise).

    I think you're right that Obama doesn't have a disadvantage in foreign policy. But, I disagree with your point about Iraq. Obama is falling the Bush withdrawal plan pretty much down to the letter, AFAIK. Since I see Obama and Romney as fairly similar here, foreign policy is not at the top of my list of reasons to vote for one or the other. Nevertheless, I agree with you that: (a) Obama's attitude towards Israel is probably better than Romney's; (b) foreign policy is not a reason to not vote for Obama.

    1. I think Bush likely would have left Iraq too - as you say it was his plan. But I do think it would have been easy for either of them to go back on it, and Obama hasn't. Small combat forces that engaged occassionally would have been easy to push through, but as far as I know combat operations are unequivocally over.

      I don't understand the "he's just continuing Bush" taunt. Bush wasn't a monster in all respects. His mistake was getting into Iraq in the first place. If "continuing the Bush policy" means moving out of Iraq finally and using drones I have no problem with that.

    2. Romney has been repeatedly asked to identify which "loopholes" he wants to eliminate and he has refused to do so. His whole economic plan is gifts to millionaires and magical thinking for the rest.

    3. Daniel,

      Yea, I don't get the Bush line, either. Obama inherited two new wars and he had to deal with them. Very few people, except some libertarians, see it as feasible to withdraw from these occupations the second you gain power. I mean, I sympathize with the libertarian view; I don't see benefits from staying in Iraq or Afghanistan. But, Obama has respected the withdrawal timeline. Not only that, but had Bush not made a withdrawal plan maybe we would have seen a quicker withdrawal under Obama. But, otherwise, why risk further political fallout "just" to reduce the occupation by a year? Especially when combat operations ended in 2010; I'm not sure a sooner cessation of combat was really realistic.



      Yea, that's the common criticism. But, I assume that Romney will have to push his tax reform through the legislature. In order to gain Democratic support he might have to make concessions; if he wants to cut income taxes by 20-percent across the board, he might have to close loopholes on capital gains taxes or even outright raise them.

    4. It's also possible that Romney hasn't made clear what loopholes he plans to eliminate, because by doing so he'll undermine his campaign. The people impacted the most by loophole reduction are the wealthy (capital gains) and the middle class (mortgage-related loopholes).

  2. Another very important reason is that to concede to partisan opposition whose only goal is to have it their way would greatly reward partisanship and make governing less successful. Yielding to ideas devoid of support from data would encourage ignorance and avoidance of facts.

  3. Stimulus spending is, well, counter-productive at best. Keynesianism doesn't work.

    We only "left Iraq" because the Iraqis wouldn't sign up to our desire for a favorable status of forces agreement (favorable from the Obama administration's perspective that is). The body counts with regards to civilians suffering from the consequences of drone strikes are pretty abysmal (2% o those killed being supposed bad guys - frankly we ought to be carpet bombing with that level of error). The fact that the Obama administration has to hide its most controversial actions re: foreign policy in Orwellian terminology ought to also frankly give one at least pause. "Kinetic military action" (as opposed to a static one?), "the disposition matrix," etc. are all terms coined by the Obama administration to obfuscate what is happening out there in the real world. When you have ex-administrative officials arguing that the Obama administration is obsessed with drones because they provide a metric of the type used in Viet Nam - "body bags" - well, you know you've got a group of people heavily involved in insider bias.

    Obama has marched on with the unitary executive theory, applying it to domestic policy issues like immigration, etc. and thus assaulting the basic constitutional framework of the nation.

    1. Where in God's name did you get that 2% number? I used the source Greenwald and the NYU/Stanford study recommended and they had much higher figures - several times the accuracy rate of conventional warfare.

      Care to offer citations? That should raise red flags for you. Why wouldn't they carpet bomb if that's really the accuracy rate?

    2. The 2% number comes from the Stanford survey.

      ~Third, publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. The strikes have certainly killed alleged combatants and disrupted armed actor networks. However, serious concerns about the efficacy and counter-productive nature of drone strikes have been raised. The number of “high-level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2%.[4] Furthermore, evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks. As the New York Times has reported, “drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.”[5] Drone strikes have also soured many Pakistanis on cooperation with the US and undermined US-Pakistani rel­ations. One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.[6]~

      And no comments about the Obama administration's language?

    3. Oh - well what is "high level targets"? Does that mean ten most wanted or something like that? I am taking the militant/combatant share from the data sources that Greenwald and the report promote. I'm sure not all those militants are considered "high level". So?

      That's a very different claim.

      What percent of the kills from conventional warfare do you suppose are "high level"? Much, much, much lower than 2%.

      I'm on record as opposing his classification of militants, if that's what you're referring to. That's precisely why I used the data sources that Greenwald and the NYU/Stanford study discussed.

    4. The point is that for all their grand claims about the effectiveness of drone strikes according to their own standards of what they are looking for these things are just not that effective.

      That ought not be that surprising; the claims made about smart weapons and their ability to limit civilian casaulties (sorry, "collateral damage"), etc. during the second Gulf War turned out to be at best over optimistic.

  4. And I meant to end with this crescendo!

    "Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs." - George Orwell

    1. Love the essay.

      Can't say I support how you're applying it.

    2. You mean to criticize the Obama administration for its double-speak? Sorry.

    3. The language you called Orwellian is language I've never even heard of and I'm a pretty well informed guy.

      So no, I can't say I support you twisting Orwell. There are the usual politically motivated linguistic banalities out of the administration, as there are in any administration. That's culturally impoverishing and perhaps relevant to bring Orwell in on, but not the threat that Orwell was discussing. Actually the one that comes the closest to Orwell's concerns about actually warping language is Ron Paul. I wouldn't argue that he reaches that threshhold - don't misunderstand me. But he comes closest.

    4. Not as well informed as you think that you are apparently. It is language that has been well reported and has been used by the current administration; indeed, after Rhoades used the term "kinetic military action" (March 23rd, 2011) there was all sorts of headscratching and the like about its use. The administration went to great effort to describe blowing up stuff in Libya as anything other than a war; indeed, administration officials went so far as to claim that since the Libyans weren't firing back it could not in any case be called a war or anything like that term. The administration did a great deal of violence to the English language when engaging in such double-speak and of course they did so in order to avoid the unpleasant thought U.S. weaponry was killing people.

    5. I will confess, I do remember a little bit of "wtf is a matrix?" talk around Libya. So I was not being entirely honest with you. But I don't know the details of it - that is true.

      My point is that you are taking some innocuous milspeak and bringing Orwell in over it. I think that's dumb.

      btw - could you please start using a consistent pseudonym if you're going to keep commenting?

    6. This isn't military speak; these are terms used by both the President and his civilian spokespeople.


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.