Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why Barack Obama Deserves a 2nd Term...

On November 6th, I'll be voting for Barack Obama to serve a second term as President of the United States.

It is with some reservations I do so.

Ideologically, I routinely find myself most closely aligned with Jill Stein, candidate for the Green Party. Mr. Obama usually fares no better than second in most online surveys I've taken to see which candidate most closely matches my priorities. If I lived in a state other than the one I do reside in, Ohio-I might well vote for Ms. Stein. However, as I do not want to see Mitt Romney become President, my vote and interests are best served by voting for Mr. Obama in what should be a fairly close race in  the Buckeye State. I know full well that no third party candidate has any chance whatsoever of winning and this is not the time or the place to make a purely symbolic gesture with my ballot.

That said, at the end of the day and given the lack of a viable alternative, its a fairly simple call to support Barack Obama.

Areas of Support: 

The Economy
is,  by many measures, improved over where it was when President Obama took office. Where the country was losing more than 800,000 jobs a month in early 2008, we have seen steady and consistent positive job growth for thirty straight months. Likewise, the GDP growth rate has shown positive for the last 13 months, after negative growth in five of Obama's first six months in office. The Balance of Trade figures since early 2008 show a modest improvement in the import/export ratios. Both Business and Consumer Confidence data shows steady improvement since the early days of this administration. After twenty straight months of negative US Industrial Production, we've seen thirty-three months of positive production numbers. Consumer Spending data also shows a steady increase since April of 2009. US Retail Sales have also grown since a record low in December of 2008. Personal bankruptcies have fallen every month for the last two years. The Stock Market, after hitting a low of around 7000 in early 2009, has risen to its second highest level of all time.

Clearly a work in progress, its hard to argue that the under-pinnings of the economy aren't fairly strong. The Obama administration freely admits there is more work to be done and if re-elected, hopefully an improved level of cooperation from Congress could facilitate a quickened rate of improvement on many of the above metrics. The overall unemployment rate of 7.9% is the lowest since President Obama took office, but its nothing to gloat about. Unless you compare the United States to European Union countries such as France, Italy and the United Kingdom, (not to mention Greece) which are all in worse shape than we find ourselves. Its important to keep in mind there's a global financial crisis currently in progress and for all our troubles, there are other places which aren't doing nearly as well as we are.

Auto Industry Bailout: Another decision made by President Obama that provided a positive effect on the economy. While Mr. Romney said "we should let Detroit go bankrupt," even conservative financial publications like "The Economist," tipped their hat to the Administration on the bailout, saying, "Given the panic that gripped private purse-strings," the magazine wrote in an editorial. "It is more likely that GM would have been liquidated, sending a cascade of destruction through the supply chain on which its rivals, too, depended." With the knowledge that government intervention in business for any reasons is rejected as over-reach by some, Obama pressed on regardless of the opposition. The industry now enjoys aggressive hiring, expansion and profits, which to me, indicate a good and right call.

Fiscal Issues: I support Mr. Obama's balanced plan of $2.50 of spending reductions in exchange for $1.00 of new revenues. This "I'll tell you how I get it to work after the election" doesn't work for me. Various independent tax organizations have evaluated the Mitt Romney tax plan and concluded it doesn't work for them either. I support President Obama's approach of keeping taxes low for the middle and lower classes, while asking the wealthiest among us to pitch in a little more, similar to the tax rates of the Clinton era. I also support his intentions of rewriting the entire tax code, including business taxes. Simplify the code, reduce loopholes and incentivize corporations to repatriate their operation back on the mainland.

Supreme Court Impact: The next President may get to nominate as many as two new Supreme Court Justices in their four years in office. The most likely Justice to resign is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 78 and has had a variety of fairly serious health issues in recent years. Usually considered a liberal leaning justice, she  will likely resign her office should Obama win a second term so a like-minded replacement can be nominated. If Mitt Romney wins, Ginsberg may consider trying to stick around until the 2016 presidential election with hopes of a Democratic victory before she vacates her seat. Again, her health issues will likely determine her course of action. The other Justice likely to leave could be Anthony Kennedy, considered a "swing vote" on the Court. Appointed by President Reagan, Kennedy may time his departure to coincide with a Republican Administration to set up a like-minded replacement if not a more conservative mind.

Two issues likely headed to the Court over the next few years will be Roe V. Wade and the Defense of  Marriage. If Justice Ginsberg leaves, I anticipate a fairly normal nomination process to find her replacement. If Justice Kennedy leaves as well, I suspect his replacement process will be anything but normal. Given my support of Roe V. Wade the over-turning of DOMA, my interests would be best served by a second term for Mr. Obama.

Health Care: My position is well-known to readers of Reasonable Conversation. I support the Affordable Care Act and look forward to its full implementation over the next few years. On a moral level, (I consider access to affordable basic health care/insurance a right, not a privilege,) on a selfish level, (I want my children to be able to stay on my health care plan as long as they can,) and on a fiscal level, (health care costs have been rising at a dangerous rate for a long time now-we must chart a different course quickly.) The ACA is the best path forward. Mr. Romney intentions are to repeal and replace the ACA on his first day, which is impossible if the Democrats hold onto the Senate. He can, however through the granting of waivers and such begin to weaken the ACA rather quickly. Not only would it create a level of chaos across the country  as people wondered what would or would not be covered any more, the insurance companies who would again be tasked with trying to modify its policies once again. Finally, no one really knows what he would replace it with.

Education: The "race to the top" program implemented by this Administration has proven to be both effective and cost friendly. Utilizing a traditional Republican approach encouraging local schools to figure out what works best for them, rather than a Federally imposed "cookie-cutter" approach, results have been encouraging. I also like the expansion of Pell Grants and increasing the role of Community Colleges going forward. As the Father of three daughters, two out of high school and one a senior, this resonates strongly with me and my wife.

Leadership: While I'll soon criticize Mr. Obama for his mysteriously half-hearted attempt at defending his health reform efforts, I give the him high marks for showing great flexibility in the construction of the ACA. Refusing to allow the supporters of a single payer plan so much as a seat at the table during committee hearings, the elimination of any "public option" in the final draft of the Bill and the use of a long time Republican idea, the individual mandate to ensure personal responsibility, all showed me that the President was very willing to respect Republican wishes and utilize traditionally preferred Republican methods in implementing health care reform. Its not Mr. Obama's fault the loyal opposition refused to cooperate on virtually anything related to health care. Understanding that support would not be forthcoming from the other Party, he was smart to work on healthcare reform when he did. Even with full control of the Congress, albeit for only four short months, it was a herculean task to get it through. Even though he knew it would be hotly contested and quickly burn up his election capital, the President pushed forth anyway. Rather than proceed with a safer agenda, Obama went for healthcare with full knowledge that by doing so he may have cost himself a second term in the White House. Not to mention the inclusion of traditional infrastructure work programs i.e. construction jobs for roads, bridges, etc., in his Jobs Act, which are long standing investments that the Republican Party has consistently enacted. (Except this time...) While some excited types like to suggest that our President has pursued a "radical, left-wing agenda," its difficult for me understand the sudden reversal on supporting long standing republican idea as anything but pure politics and obstructionism.

Mixed Feelings:  

Foreign Policy: I give the President high marks for reaching out to the Muslim world as he did early in his Administration. I also approve of a more deliberate way of working with Israel than we'd seen in the past. To be clear, there's no doubt through words and deeds, Mr. Obama believes in a strong alliance with Israel. His "chilly" relationship with their Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, doesn't bother me. On the big things, I see them on the same page. Regardless of how we feel about any ally of ours, American interests come first and if Mr. Obama serves to pull the Prime Minister in a less hawkish direction, frankly both countries may benefit long term. I disagreed with his decision to "surge" additional troops into Afghanistan, as its clear to me the "mission" is rife with problems and precious few solutions. Pakistan is another problem needing to be dealt with.

National Security: Obama deserves credit for his role in bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice. He deserves credit for saving American lives by an increased use of drone technology, a topic I'm conflicted on as I'll discuss shortly. Al Qaeda has been greatly damaged by this Administration's policies, yet still capable of inflicting damage. I'm concerned with the issue of the attack on our Consulate in Banghazi, which saw four Americans murdered. Given the timing of the event, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, I'm curious why greater security measures weren't in effect. There's still much to understand about this tragedy, of course. Obama deserves high marks for his coalition building resulting in buckling sanctions on Iran. Its telling, however, how much the Obama foreign policy strategy resembles the Bush strategies. Another example of how this President has attempted to govern with a moderate hand.


National Defense Authorization Act: The list of reservations I have about re-electing Barack Obama President includes his signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which I think potentially reduces our rights to due process and sets up indefinite detention with no burden of official charges being filed. While President Obama is on record stating that he will only use these expanded powers against those who would do us harm, I'm not comfortable with ANY President having powers such as these.

Questionable Appointees in the Treasury/Economic team: Also on the list of concerns is President Obama's choices for key leadership in our Treasury department, especially Tim Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury and Larry Summers, Director of the White House National Economic Council. Geithner had a prominent role in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, which some felt contributed to the overall global financial crisis of 2008. Geithner also had some personal income tax issues, which brought negative publicity to the Obama Administration. Summers signed off on an investment while President of Harvard which resulted in a loss of roughly a billion dollars. A former hedge fund director, Summers has a history with several Wall Street firms and to then see him as a major player representing the Federal Government, let's just say more than one set of eyebrows were raised. It strikes me as odd that President Obama would tap two long time Wall Street insiders to work on Wall Street reform which wound up, not surprisingly, less than what we probably needed.

Social Issues: As the candidate of "hope and change" in 2008, Mr. Obama wasn't exactly leading the charge on many social reforms in his first few years. Gay rights, drug reform (medical marijuana use), immigration reform, gun control (not even a gesture to revisit an automatic weapons ban), campaign reform and immigration were all areas many expected him to flex his Presidential muscles on, which never transpired. True, he did finally get around to "coming out" for gay marriage, but it seemed more of a campaign device to ramp up his base as opposed to a pressing moral goal. In his defense, he did instruct his Justice Department to not pursue any Defense of Marriage cases, (DOMA,) which he deserves some credit for. This strategy of backing off most of these social issues had a demoralizing effect on the base, which may cost Mr. Obama a second term if we see turnout light on election day.

Drones: President Obama's use of drones overseas, especially in Pakistan, is also a concern. While the reduction of risk to the lives of American military personnel is highly desirable, too many innocent civilians have been injured or killed in the many attacks this Administration have ordered. Some reports suggest that upwards of 700 innocent injuries/casualties have happened through the use of drones. My concern is that to be dropping bombs on sovereign nations doesn't do much to improve foreign relations around the world and certainly not in the Middle East. Its a matter of time until Countries we don't like gain access to these weapons and begin to use them on us. I'll admit I'm torn on this issue. I like the reduced risk to our guys, but the collateral damage and deaths we're causing in countries we haven't received permission to drop them in I think is a real issue that we'll have to answer for one day.

The Environment: Despite his constant mentioning of a "green friendly" agenda, the President basically punted on any "Cap and Trade" legislation. I understand the politics of it and that it just didn't make the cut given his priorities, but we still expected something meaningful in this area.

Housing/Mortgage Relief: Federal programs intended to provide relief to distressed home owners have been poorly communicated, under-utilized, and mostly ineffective.

Poor Salesmanship/Communication: The last major reservation I have is related to President Obama's public defense of his administration's goals and legislative achievements. The President has been far too timid in defending his health care reform as well as other programs. We knew early on that the Republican party wanted no part in helping this President achieve a landmark piece of healthcare reform legislation. The push-back from the GOP, conservatives in general and the media, came fast and relentlessly. We waited for the White House to defend itself and its reform to no avail. What finally came whimpering out of the Oval office was a weak, wandering and unfocused rebuttal. Rather than use his political capital to educate and re-assure the American People on what the Affordable Care Act was and wasn't, the Obama team barely fought back at all and as a result, lost the messaging war. There were no billboards, television ads, radio ads, mailings, etc. until the damage had been done. The avalanche of criticism from the right on everything from "big government takeover of healthcare" to "death panels" tainted the entire effort. The lack of defense from Mr. Obama, I think, allowed the ridicule and hyperbole to grow unabated, which reflected poorly on the White House. The office of the Presidency deserved a heartier defense of the ACA. When you have a bully pulpit-you should use it assertively, not apologetically.


Barack Obama has not been everything we hoped he would be. He has been a steadying influence in some ways, a divisive figure in others. He has disappointed both Progressives for not being liberal enough, while at the same time, enraged a subset of Conservatives for being a radical, socialist leaning President. Both groups can bitch all they want, but America still maps out politically as a bell curve and most voters aren't members of either group. Healthcare insurance for everyone via a massive expansion of private insurers is probably the exact sweet spot in these times. Some will say he blew the advantages he held as he entered office by not pushing a more progressive agenda. Other will say he has been too radical. In the end, Barack Obama is a mostly moderate, slightly left leaning President. Which, given the times, seems to be the type of leader we can best utilize right now. If Mitt Romney had run as the moderate most consider him to really be, and perhaps selected another like-minded moderate such as Jon Huntsman, my decision would've been much, much harder. Since we didn't get that version of Romney, but rather the "severe conservative" model, there's no serious consideration for supporting the Romney/Ryan ticket.

In the end, President Obama isn't as great as many wanted him to be, nor remotely as evil/anti-American as others suggest he is. I want to see how Mr. Obama leads America for the next four years. In my opinion, he's the best choice for my family, my business and my Country.


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