IntroductionNow that the election hysteria has died down somewhat, it is time to unburden a bit. In particular, the focus of this blog post will be disappointing, misleading or downright churlish behavior from Republicans, the Romney campaign, or right-leaning talk radio. It would be fair to describe my own politics, self-described as "pragmatic libertarian", as a mix of libertarian, conservative and liberal policies. While I have plenty of criticism of Obama and his policies, that is for another post (coming soon!).
Top goal: Make Obama A One-Term PresidentMitch McConnell made his famous pronouncement on the eve of the 2010 mid-term elections. Sean Hannity's talk radio show quickly made this a daily bumper. From a strategic perspective, this makes sense. Of course the Republicans want to make any Democrat in the White House a one-term president. The Democrats, in 2004, wanted to make Bush a one-term president.
Making this the GOP's top marketing and action plan puts America second. The benefit of all Americans, the health of the country should always come first. If the GOP's enemy proposes a sound policy, the GOP needs to support that policy.
Nowhere was this more clear than in the area of outer space exploration, NASA and the nascent private sector spaceflight industry. President Obama's administration has been strongly supportive of private spaceflight, while Republicans, worried over NASA [government] job losses in Florida and Alabama, are pushing back against this private sector growth. (Examples at link, link, link)
Certainly one cannot be naive enough to presume that the GOP would simply roll over and rubber-stamp Obama and Democrat policies. Nor can it be ignored that both Democrats and Republicans engaged in a symbiotic, partisan relationship where each would produce legislation that pleases the base, but has zero chance of becoming law.
But the economic and structural problems facing the country are significant enough that we need Adults In The Room that are able to pass legislation that the number crunchers agree will address looming solvency problems. If you cannot pass meaningful legislation to benefit all Americans, why bother sitting in Congress in the first place?
The President Is To Blame, For All ThingsFrom 2000-2008, one could see examples of Bush Derangement Syndrome everywhere. Seemingly reasoned arguments would suddenly devolve into tossing about of schoolyard names like "Bushitler" (Bush + shit + Hitler, apparently) and "Shrubbie" (a bush is a shrub, get it? har har) and the like.
Particularly galling was the throwing around of terms like the Bush Regime and Imperial Presidency. The vast majority of Bush's actions were approved by Congress. Congress approved the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq War and many other actions taken during Bush's terms. Democrats calling it a "regime" was an intentional cheapening of our highest elected office. It was the Democrat partisan strategy at the time.
What do Republicans and talk radio do? Follow their lead. Any use of the term "Obama regime" is certainly, on one level, mocking the prior behaviors of Democrats. But at the same time, it cheapens every action taken by any American president, of any party. It takes the presidency down a notch. Call me old fashioned, but I do think The President Of The United States is a position and calling worthy of respect and the benefit of the doubt.
For strategic (partisan) reasons, Republicans play down or spin away any good news relating to America, while a Democrat is in the White House -- just like the Democrats did, during Bush's terms. This leads to the sad situation where you cannot cheer for America and American excellence... if the leader is your not party. Disappointing, and intellectually dishonest.
Further, both Democrats and Republicans exaggerate the impact of the presidency. Democrat marketing would have you believe that Obama is the catalyst for everything wonderful that happens in the nation. Republicans would have you believe that Obama caused every negative economic indicator. The truth is far more complex, and since 2006-2007, the economic crisis, and the Federal Reserve/TARP response to it have dominated our economy. Obama's stimulus was probably the only policy whose successes and failures may be credited to Obama. Bush, Ben Bernanke and the '06 Congressional Democrats really do deserve more of the credit and blame for economic conditions 2008-2012, than Obama.
The repetition, by right-leaning talk radio, of phrases like "the failed [past tense] Obama presidency" or "the Obama economy" [used as a negative] is an intentional branding message. Those phrases are repeated daily, multiple times per radio show.
Repeat these enough, combined with Priority #1 being Making Obama a One-Termer, and you create an atmosphere where it is simply given that Obama is obviously doing everything wrong [even though you have not really looked in depth at the policies]. Personally, I have, and disagree with many Obama policies, but the point here is larger: if you start with the assumption of "Obama is obviously wrong" there cannot be any rational discussion, and policy development cannot move forward.
The partisan bits of Fox News, notably Sean Hannity, really begin to remind one of George Orwell's Two Minutes Hate. From wikiquote: "The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in." Sean Hannity's show is nothing but a repetition of the same talking points.
Romney Criticism #1: No PlanOne of my core criticisms of all candidates and elected parties, during the 2012 election season, was a lack of an economic plan. No one, not Obama, not Romney, not Congressional Democrats nor Congressional Republicans, no one has put forth a concrete economic plan that addresses looming debt, entitlement and pension issues. That has a ghost's chance of becoming law (yes, I know both Obama and House GOP published political-theatre budgets)
While Romney is no different than his peers, if he wanted my vote, he should have been. Romney's tax plan, jobs plan, etc. provided various specific bullet point changes, but they were not tied into an overall budget that people could crunch, and agree improved the long-term numbers. Tax cuts are indeed stimulative -- but that's a policy tool, not a plan. Spending and revenue sides need to balance.
Our national challenges demand leaders that can actually produce a plan, not an a la carte menu of choices that sounds great to the base, but will never appear in legislation.
Romney Criticism #2: Which Romney Do We Have Today?The 2012 Democrat attempt to brand Romney as "extreme conservative" was as predictable as it was false. Romney was clearly the most moderate of all the candidates in the GOP primaries, and the Democrats would call anything disagreeing with them "extreme right."
But it did not help that Romney himself represented multiple brands: should we elect Romney the outside-the-Beltway business leader, Romney the cross-the-aisle GOP governor of a blue state, Romney the anti-abortion conservative of the GOP primaries, or Romney the pro-choice moderate of the general election?
As an engineer, I do want people to change their minds, if facts lead to a different conclusion than originally thought. Politicians should be given space to say "I was wrong." But Romney never did that, just changed the marketing and platform as each contest suited. That makes sense strategically -- you are giving the electorate in each case what it wants -- but it that does not provide much useful information about how Romney will behave if elected.
In general, I never got a sense of "this is who Romney is." Most politicians spew hot air to get elected. Obama's exaggerated, soaring rhetoric and slew of broken promises are well known. Romney seemed like a good, charitable, moral fellow personally. But it was never clear who Romney was, besides "not Obama."
Romney Criticism #3: That 47% IssueThat 47-Percent Issue is raised as a criticism on many levels. First, Romney should realize that, in the age of mobile Internet, there is no such thing as a private conversation. Anyone speaking to a specific group of donors should expect that their words, however officially "off the record," may be leaked. Second, Romney's response ("inelegantly stated" became "just completely wrong" as reporting increased was weak. For such a huge swath of the electorate, one would have thought a more forceful response would have been warranted ("Screw you, I'm the guy for the 47%, and here's why").
More generally, Romney and GOP do not seem to have much of a message at all for the low level worker. The US economy is ever more a service economy, which striates society into many "service workers" and a few, highly paid knowledge workers (managers, engineers, like me). Our leaders must show some recognition of this new reality.
Obama and surrogates definitely ratcheted up the anti-business rhetoric, and no doubt pushed many into the Romney camp who simply do not like to see "success punished." That is a negative, anti-Obama reaction and not a pro-Romney reaction. Romney was clearly a "pro business, low taxes" brand, but he did not seem to make an effort to explain the basics, explain why he thought his election would benefit the average American worker.