This is a quick one on the morning of the US elections.
Here is what we know: We know that Obama is a reflex interventionist to the tips of his fingers and toes. We have seen this throughout his first administration and we saw this throughout the debates. He is an unreformed Democratic liberal whose first, and only, instinct is to address every problem with a new rule or a new spending program. This is a man who, during the middle of a short-term economic crisis and a long-term financial crisis, decided that the most important thing was to create another massive “entitlement” of dubious merit and funding: Obamacare. For those of us who believe that the government is the biggest part of the problem and the smallest part of the solution, he cannot be the choice.
Romney has been deliberately evasive and changeable in his policy pronouncements. This drives the educated part of the voting public, and the pundits, mad, but unfortunately the 15 second attention span of the American electorate and the American media may make it a requirement. With Romney, we have to read between the lines, look at his past record and look at the man. We also have to adjust for the biases imposed by his “base” and the requirements of being nominated in a Republican party gone at least partially mad.
Romney is at least pointing in the right direction on some of the most important issues facing America. Radical tax reform is an urgent issue; we know that we will get nothing from a second Obama administration on this front, but at least Romney is talking about widening the base, reducing the rates and simplifying the monstrous US tax code. With respect to the deficit, we will not get the promised tax cuts – I assure you that Romney can do lower mathematics – but at least we will get a presumption that the deficit should be addressed primarily through expenditure cuts and not through tax increases. In the field of energy policy, Romney at least understands that Obama’s attempts to “pick winners” in the alternative energy space is warmed-over folly. As for regulation, I am sure that with every appointment and in thousands of small and nearly invisible ways, the Obama administration is slowly strangling entrepreneurship in America; with Romney, lower level bureaucrats will understand that “trickle down government” is no longer the plat du jour. Romney will not be as radical on any of these fronts as I would like, but at least he will stop us marching resolutely in the wrong direction.
It is in the fields of social policy and defense where we have to do the most reading between the lines. The Republican Party has gone mad in this area and Romney has had to pander to this madness, but I am confident that he will find a way to ignore it, at least for a first administration where he will rightfully be able to claim much greater priorities. He will have plenty of room to satisfy his “base” simply by ignoring many of the changes that Obama was willing to implement, such as same-sex “marriages” (which, for those of us who actually believe in the meaning of words, would not be a bad thing). He will do nothing to change the status quo on abortion. He will actually reinforce the separation of church and state; the history of the Mormons, who were forced into the wilderness to practice their admittedly wacky religion, makes them no friend of government in this sector.
Defense is the one area where I fear that Romney may be a true believer, although my base case is that it is mostly campaign bluster and he is much more focused on domestic policy. We must cease trying to be Team America: World Police. We cannot afford it and it is counterproductive. We are now dealing with parts of the world which are irreparable and which are so fundamentally opposed to American values, and so fundamentally suspicious of American actions, that we cannot intervene here with any hope of success. Our policy with respect to these parts of the world can only be to sit on the sidelines and watch the barbarism unfold, and to take actions – notably with respect to energy policy and homeland security – to make sure that we are not collateral damage. In the presidential debates, there were hints that Romney gets this joke; let’s hope that this proves to be true.
So there it is, the choice before us. This is not 2008 when Obama was running against an erratic and irresponsible John McCain, yoked to a complete imbecile who was going to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. That was a true Hobbesian choice. Romney is an intelligent, talented and experienced executive whose track record, in the private sector and in government, is reasonable and certainly infinitely stronger than the non-record on which Obama was elected. He is not likely ever to be a great president, but at least he will stop the pronounced drift to statism that we currently experience.
I think that the choice is clear. Now, let’s hope that the voters in the swing states agree. If not, there is always Switzerland.
Roger Barris, Switzerland