America, we are told, is at a crossroads in this election.
For Republicans, this is our last chance to reverse the inexorable move to bigger and bigger government. For Democrats, this may be our last chance to protect the social safety net that’s been built up over the past 80 years.
In a deeply polarized nation, each side is playing winner-take-all politics and their visions of the future are apocalyptic. But they are also somewhat grounded in reality.
If President Obama is reelected, his health care reform program, perhaps the single biggest expansion of the welfare state since Medicare and Medicaid, will remain intact. All its legislated provisions will go into effect, and the appropriate agencies and Cabinet departments will do the rest.
Also, the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill will go through the rule-making process at the various agencies and ultimately most of its provisions will take effect, too.
Under a new Obama administration, the Keystone pipeline will get environmental review—and may be approved—but new drilling on public lands is unlikely.
What is likely is a huge showdown with Republicans over, you guessed it, the Bush tax cuts, spending, and the debt limit.
If it turns out well, there could be a “grand bargain” of the kind the president discussed with House Speaker John Boehner last summer—a mixture of spending cuts, revenue increases, and some reduction in entitlements that would put the country on better fiscal footing. If it doesn’t, well, as Yogi Berra might say, it would be déjà vu all over again.
If Mitt Romney is elected, Obamacare will be rolled back either through outright Congressional repeal or refusal to implement its provisions. Much of Dodd-Frank won’t take effect, either. The Keystone pipeline will be approved and a Romney Energy Department will likely open public lands to private oil drilling. Expect environmental and other regulations of business to be gutted. (This is all in his platform, folks.)
I think Romney would have a better chance of cutting a deal on the fiscal cliff, because, well, he’s also a Republican, he wouldn’t support raising revenues too much, and he’d have Vice President Paul Ryan as his chief salesman to House Tea Party members.
He’d also cut corporate taxes and allow companies to repatriate overseas earnings tax free, although I think the grandiose 20% individual tax cuts he proposed until recently might never happen.
And, as Jonathan Chait laid out in an excellent piece in New York magazine, Romney and Ryan would have an easier path than many think to slash Medicaid and move Medicare to a more private, voucher-based system. Never underestimate the ability of Republicans to entice enough “blue dog” Democratic Senators to vote their way.
If he’s reelected, the president would appoint moderately liberal Supreme Court Justices to fill any slots vacated by the retirement of Justice Ginsburg, Breyer, Kennedy, or Scalia, all of whom are in their seventies. A President Romney has vowed to appoint very conservative Justices like Samuel Alito Jr.—and the Republican base would hold him to it.
The big intangible, of course, is leadership. The president has shown it at times, but not consistently and much less since his “shellacking” in the 2010 midterm election. He has taken unpopular stands, especially on health care reform, but he’s not a natural schmoozer and his inexperience showed at crucial moments. His postpartisan aspirations haven’t come to fruition, though that’s not entirely his fault.
Mitt Romney isn’t charismatic or touchy feely. He is, however, brilliant with numbers and organization. He’s also pragmatic and would try to work with whatever Democrats he could. If he abandoned his ridiculous across-the-board 20% tax cuts, he might have a chance of fixing our budget and debt problems.
But it’s unclear what he stands for, because he’s flip-flopped more than any modern presidential candidate. Will he be the Moderate Mitt of the last month or the “severely conservative” Romney who won the Republican nomination?
Romney has never stood up to the extremists in his own party; in fact, he’s pandered to them. Some of them—especially discredited neoconservatives in foreign policy—are close advisers. Does he have the guts or conviction to slap them upside the head when it counts? So far, he hasn’t come close.
So, that’s the choice in this election: a sitting president with some real accomplishments who has shown uneven leadership and offered few new big ideas for a second term and a challenger who has some good ideas and a decent record in his one term as Massachusetts governor but has never displayed the courage of his convictions.
Both are flawed candidates who nonetheless would take the country in very different directions. It’s the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t again, but this time with a twist: The stakes are very high indeed. Choose wisely.
Also Read: The Case for Obama