Friday, October 12, 2012

The presidential race at this point

The GOP's central thesis for undecided voters is that President Obama is a nice guy who gives a good speech but is incompetent to lead the country--can't get things done--while Romney may not give as nice a speech and may not be as nice a guy but he's a very successful businessman who is supremely competent and can get things done.

The Democrats' central thesis for undecided voters is that President Romney is a blustering incompetent in foreign affairs and untrustworthy in domestic policy--that he may be able to work with a Democratic majority in the legislature, but with a Republican majority he will be efficient all right--efficient at leading the American middle class over the cliff, because he sees anyone who isn't as successful as him as a moocher. And that Mr. Romney is a closet extremist on social issues like abortion.

Some points:

1. Foreign Policy

The Republican Party always attacks the Democratic contender's proven strengths. Here it's foreign policy, where President Obama has been generally highly effective. The GOP attacks about Libya are bogus. It's tragic that four American foreign service personnel were lost on Obama's watch, and at least some blame attaches to his administration for it.

But the last Republican administration saw us losing nearly three thousand Americans to a sneak attack on Bush's watch. Like Obama on the loss of four Americans in Libya, the Republicans said of 9/11 that no one could possibly have known what was coming, and at the time of the attack the Republican administration didn't say who did it because they didn't know until some time had elapsed, and they weren't about to make accusations without knowing.

The other reason for the GOP's constant attacks on Obama's foreign policy is that they're trying to peel off Jewish voters by playing to their fears about the revolutionary changes taking place in the Middle East.

The profound falseness of the GOP narrative stems from its underlying assumptions that
(1) any American president could shape events in the Middle East to the extent the GOP says a Democratic president should be able to do (watch how they'll pivot if Romney gains the White House and is no more able to shape events than Obama was);
(2) all the Arab Spring has produced is the takeover of the Middle Eastern countries by Islamofascists.

The latter is a grotesque oversimplification of what's gone on there but it plays to the fears of American Jews. Both assumptions imply that we should have thrown in our lot with the Arab countries' dictators. It's hard to overstate how disastrous such an approach would have been.

President Obama and his party should have known that the GOP would attack on foreign policy. Obama appears to have made the error of believing that because he's done so well in foreign policy that the GOP wouldn't attack this area. But the GOP always attacks its opponents' strengths. Not to have realized this is idiotic.

In fact a President Romney would do about the same things abroad that President Obama has done, if you look at Romney's specifics. This is all just invoking the Republican myth that all Democratic presidents are soft on our enemies and unreliable towards our friends. It is possible that Romney would act on the NeoCon macho go it alone bombs away! approach that got us into a protracted war with the country that hadn't attacked us.

Note that today in Iran many members of Iran's business class--not college students and liberals there--were demonstrating against Iran's administration, because the sanctions President Obama has spearheaded are hurting their business severely, and Iran's administration has behaved so as to let this happen.

2. Domestic policy

Both sides completely avoid the plain fact that under our Constitution, domestic policy is at least 2/3 the province of Congress. No American president can pass a bill. He can sign it or veto it, he can wrangle over its terms beforehand--but he can't pass a bill. Particularly a spending bill. He has some scope, and a bully pulpit of course. But the ball is mostly in Congress's court.

And the next Congress will be dominated by the Republican Party.

This means that even though the once-again moderate Romney (after the "severely conservative" Romney of the last two years) is proposing moderate-sounding things (by today's GOP standards), he is still the candidate who stated he would turn down ten dollars of spending cuts if the price were one dollar of tax increases.

And he is still the man who most assuredly would sign every bill a Republican Congress sends him to sign, no matter how "severely conservative" that bill was about spending, abortion, or anything else.

The question about Romney isn't his policies but whether he would sign bills enacting the Congressional Republicans' policies.

The question about Obama isn't his policies but what compromises with an extremist Republican Congress's bills he would accept and what he would veto.

If the President is re-elected there will be four years of GOP brinksmanship--continual threats to bring government operations to a halt, continual sending of bill to the President that they know he will veto, four years of an embattled President dealing with a Congress dominated by people who consider compromise immoral.

If Romney is elected there will be four years of swift, efficient restructuring of the country around hard-Right ideas, carefully done in such a way that it would take at least twenty years of Democratic control of Congress and the Presidency to overturn--because at the end of the next four years the Supreme Court will have a secure five-vote hard-Right corporatist majority that will overturn Democratic reforms until they age out and can be replaced with moderates.

3. Atmospherics

Romney and Ryan prove that you can be arrogant, condescending, and wildly long as you do it all with a smile and a gently furrowed brow conveying "more in sorrow than in anger." Toward the end of the first presidential debate Romney strongly implied that Obama was a corrupt cronyist president--but it went under everyone's radar because he impeached the President's character with a smile...and because the President let it go without saying one word about it.

And at least half the country judges the debates from what they see, not what they hear. Just as the Presidency is usually won by whoever's better looking.

Plus, as I have noted before, after the Republican Party became a tribe, it ceased to care whether its leaders tell the truth. Lyin' Ryan was lying factually nearly half the time during last night's debate. I challenge you to find one comment from any right-wing media mentioning this fact. Lyin' Ryan's "facts" were expressed succinctly and directly. Apparently that's all that matters to most GOP voters.


The fact that President Obama failed so badly in the first presidential debate bespeaks some  kind of genuine failure on his part--part and parcel of his continued failure to explain his policies coherently to the public.

This certainly aggrieves people like me who agree with most of his policies.

CEO Romney and Representative Ryan, to paraphrase some wag, state policies in way that is clear, easy to understand...and wrong. I don't mean ideologically wrong. I mean factually wrong.

I prefer an incoherent person who's right over a coherent person who's wrong. I prefer someone who's lousy at debating and right about being President to someone who's the opposite on both counts.

Next Tuesday's presidential debate will be hugely watched. I sure hope President Obama takes it more seriously this time. Judging from his rueful remarks since the first debate, I believe he will.

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