On Nov. 4, 2008, people everywhere across the nation stood transfixed to their televisions, straining to catch a glimpse of whom our democracy had decided would be fittest to shepherd our country out of a recessionary disaster. And in an overwhelming victory Barack Obama was swept into office with the wind of huge popular support at his back to staunch the bleeding of jobs, disentangle ourselves from the morasses in the Middle East, and pass legislation on immigration and climate change. The nation collectively held its breath as it waited to see if President Obama could deliver on his message of hope and change.
It’s been a long four years.
According to Gallup, President Obama’s approval ratings are down 19 points from his post-election high four years ago. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows that a majority believes that the nation is headed in the wrong direction. Immigration and climate change bills never materialized, and the tension surrounding the country’s rocky relationships in the Middle East has ratcheted up. And the real unemployment rate remains at 14.7 percent.
President Obama’s second campaign is remarkably devoid of change, or hope. This time, it is Mitt Romney who now represents the country’s best hope for change.
To be sure, no single person could have solved crises so great in number and magnitude in only four years. And President Obama has taken positive action to stem the loss of jobs, as well as making great strides on a number of social issues. But though these accomplishments are positive on the surface, they belie a more pessimistic story when viewed through a magnifying glass. The vast majority of bills passed through Congress during President Obama’s tenure occurred during the first two years—when Democrats were firmly in control of Congress. In 2010 the story changed. Though the Senate remained in Democratic hands, Republicans won control of the House of Representatives. With that, the legislative process ground to a halt. Congress passed 385 public and private laws from 2009 to 2010. That number was sliced in half during the following two years, and many of those laws were only temporary stopgap measures that never became permanent.
The dysfunction of Washington was epitomized by the debate over raising the debt ceiling during the summer of 2011. A necessary measure to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt was mutated into a holy crusade against spending that almost led to the country defaulting, imploding the entire world economy. President Obama, to his credit, extended an olive branch numerous times to House Republicans. But they single-mindedly thumbed their noses at the peace offering, resulting in a hair-raising roller coaster ride that ended only when a vote to raise the debt ceiling was traded for a promised $1 trillion in cuts. But again due to Washington dysfunction, the $1 trillion in cuts never materialized. Now, defense, education, infrastructure and myriad important budget items are on the chopping block. Should Congress fail to act, these programs will all receive the axe.
Frankly, if President Obama is reelected, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be able to avert catastrophe. House Republicans have refused to compromise with the president, leading to a political paralysis that has prevented action on pressing issues, including government assistance to ensure lower food prices, action on energy development, and most damningly, the inability to pass a budget. Does anyone really believe that the same Republicans who so vociferously stonewalled anything the President put forward will suddenly have an epiphany about the power of compromise and cooperate with the president after the elections? Anyone who thinks that the anti-Obama fever of House Republicans will break after November 6 and a glorious age of cooperative lawmaking will be ushered in is delusional. They have been convinced that shadows are reality; a second term for Barack Obama will not make them leave Plato’s metaphorical cave.
But House Republicans would be willing to see the light and work with a President Romney. Instead of President Obama’s offering of votives in vain to petulant House Republicans, Governor Romney would be able to convince them to come to the table ready to compromise. If President Obama is reelected, the mandatory $1 trillion in cuts will likely devastate the country’s economy, not because President Obama wants it to occur, but because he will be powerless to stop House Republicans from driving the car over the fiscal cliff. Governor Romney would have the power to broker a deal and thereby prevent our fragile economy from collapsing overnight.
Despite the empty rhetoric both candidates employ on the campaign stump, Governor Romney is not a conservative. He is a moderate. His long struggle in the Republican primary is evidence of that. He managed to secure victory in his 2002 campaign for the governorship of heavily Democratic Massachusetts by almost the same margin that then-Senator Obama won in his race for the presidency. His tenure as governor featured him working with the huge Democratic majorities in the state legislature to pass a state ban on assault weapons, increased penalties for drunk drivers and a health care reform law that expanded coverage to 98 percent of Massachusetts. Famously, it served as President Obama’s model for his own health care reform bill. In addition, one of the jobs of the president is to work with hundreds of conflicting interests and manage their demands. This simple fact results in presidents forced into pragmatism and moderation, something even Ronald Reagan found it incumbent upon himself to do.
Although both candidates are guilty of oversimplifying complex problems, Governor Romney has raised serious issues that the Democratic Party fails to address. His plan to reform Social Security is a start. Because Social Security is funded by workers to pay for the retired, and our population is gradually aging, there is less funding for Social Security and more payouts to retirees. This is not a complicated problem; it’s only arithmetic, as Bill Clinton would put it. But Democrats continue to insist that there is no problem with Social Security and it is solvent into the foreseeable future. Governor Romney’s plan to repair the Social Security program is itself by no means perfect, but having a plan is a starting point for a dialogue, and is infinitely better than having no plan, as is the case with the Democrats.
In the areas where the president has latitude to take action on his own, Governor Romney’s positions are not much different from President Obama’s. Governor Romney supported the president’s course of action in Egypt, where Egyptians deposed despotic Hosni Mubarak in a revolution. Both candidates declared that they “will stand with Israel if it’s attacked,” and supported “crippling sanctions” against Iran. The distinction between the two candidates is more stylistic than it is based on policy. If anything, Governor Romney displayed a better understanding of the world than most candidates, recognizing that the United States’ relationship with China is symbiotic, not parasitic, and observing that the United States needs to maintain a positive relationship with Pakistan because of its geopolitical importance, despite recent calls to eliminate support for the country.
Governor Romney is certainly not correct on all the issues; for that matter, neither is President Obama. But a Romney Presidency would look much different from a second Obama Presidency. Critical issues that our country needs to solve, such as energy policy and entitlement reform, will be addressed. The nation’s foreign policy, better than it has been in years, will be fine-tuned. And most importantly, laws will actually be passed. Unlike President Obama, Governor Romney will be able to moderate between House Republicans and Senate Democrats to form difficult compromises our country desperately needs. President Obama is a good person with good ideas. But through no fault of his own, he simply lacks the leadership authority to change ideas into reality. Governor Romney will be able to translate ideas into action and do his country a great service in the process.