The US Presidential election campaign has been lacklustre and uninspiring, but then again I don't know what else to expect. I called the 2008 campaign braindead, because a man who wins on the basis of single word slogans like "change", whose own history was decidedly leftwing, didn't deserve the reins of power just because he represented a step-change in race relations in the USA.
Vacuous image obsessed Americans hopped on the Obama rhetoric in 2008 of "hope" and "change", which much of the mainstream media lapped up without questioning what that really meant. Obama was a celebrity, promising slogans and it is hardly surprising that reality shakes up the airhead image that was created around him. He is now just a politician, as I predicted after he was inaugurated. He was the man who gave Gordon Brown a DVD set as a gift, after Brown had given him an impressive set of gifts with historical significance attached.
On foreign policy, I said in 2008 that:
Obama's foreign policy is essentially to talk to everyone, and focus on Afghanistan rather than Iraq. He'll be liked internationally and he'll be tested, by the enemies of the USA, and that will be the supreme test - to see if he hesitates or can be decisive to take military action when required.
His highest profile achievement was the pursuit and execution of Osama Bin Laden. Notable yes, but it is ludicrous to suggest there has been any sort of real victory in Afghanistan or against Islamism under Obama. On foreign policy, it is worth checking what has been achieved in the main arenas of interest for the US:
- Arab "spring": Obama's Administration has been unremarkable. It was slow to endorse the overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. However, this was the man who went to Cairo to seek understanding and talk of shared values, and did nothing about Libya until the UK and France were willing to help in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. On Syria, it seems Russia can actively intervene, but Obama dare not even try to impose a no-fly zone over the country. Meanwhile, Obama stood by whilst the Bahrain regime turned its guns on those seeking freedom in that country. Obama's leftwing supporters would excoriate a Republican President keeping silent over that, but apparently it's still ok for US allies to kill and incarcerate those seeking freedom. Iraq increasingly is becoming a client state of Iran, but let's not talk about that.
- Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Nothing to see here. Israelis have voted for a hardline regime that is unwilling to compromise, Hamas has treated the election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a reason to do the same (although there are major differences between them).
- Iran: Iran's economy is in turmoil because of tougher sanctions, which is good. Yet it is difficult to see how things would have been different under John McCain. Iran seems more likely to give up nuclear capability out of economic desperation than anything else.
- China: Obama has played a bit of a tough line on trade with China and to his credit, the US has stood with its allies Japan and the Philippines against Chinese aggressive rhetoric and actions on disputed islands. It is hard to see what else could be done, beyond bolstering America's domestic strength.
- Russia: Obama's one capitulation here has been to withdraw promises to install anti-missile defence systems in eastern Europe. Ignoring Russia's aggression in Syria remain a weakness.
- Trade and international economic policy: Obama has been uninterested in free trade and the WTO's attempt at revitalising the Doha round failed, in part, because Obama is suspicious of free trade. The later appearance of a handful of trade agreements notwithstanding, this has been the biggest foreign policy failure of Obama. A grand deal on liberalising world trade could have done more to boost the global economy.
On domestic policy I said in 2008:
Obama's domestic policy is also nothing new. Tax cuts for many, tax hikes for "the rich", he wants to grow the Federal Government with umpteen new spending promises and to radically reform health care. He offers the status quo on social security and education. He has a consistent record of supporting "pork barrel" subsidies and programmes.
Of these his big achievement is "Obamacare", a policy rooted in some sound principles, and one Romney can't oppose honestly given he implemented something similar as Governor of Massachusetts. However, it means he now fines people for not buying health insurance. Obama has failed miserably to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all of which threaten to bankrupt the US.
On economic policy, Obama has raised overspending to US$3 trillion per annum. He has been master at "stimulus" spending, using borrowed money to engage in pork barrel funding of companies and public works projects. One of his latest is high speed rail, which will cost billions, fail to deliver on economic and environmental grounds, but is just part of his totemic belief that government can do great things with other people's money.
He has maintained the blind faith in printing money, he has done little to deal to one of the core causes of the financial crisis - government guarantees of mortgages through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and he believes the way to fiscal prudence is in raising taxes, and trimming spending around the edges.
Mitt Romney is hardly a hero for freedom. He wants to significantly increase military spending, although it is unclear why. His promises to balance the budget without raising taxes are welcome, but it is unclear if he really has courage to cut spending enough, especially when he talks about restoring funding for Medicare that he claims Obama cut. Romney is mister flip-flop. It is easy to find hypocrisy and contradictions in what he has said.
Romney's religious beliefs should make any rational person pause. Mormonism is a weird cult that doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. Yet he hasn't pushed faith in this election at all. Obama supporters and Obama himself claim he would ban abortion and deny women contraceptive choice, but there is no evidence for this. Beyond Obama's willingness to continue taxpayer funding for contraception and stem cell research (which a libertarian opposes on principle as being not a legitimate function of government), there is little between them substantively (abortion law is not going to change, no matter what).
So what is left between them? It's the economy.
There are two broad visions on offer here, and it can be seen in how both men see the timebomb that has been building up for decades. Public debt, the budget deficit and the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Obama has made it worse and blames Bush for it, he's right about the latter, but he's done little to deal with it.
Obama's view is that taxes need to go up, and there needs to be some spending restraint, with $1 increase in taxes for every $2.50 cut in spending. In other words, he wants revenue to rise to match government spending. He does, fundamentally, belief that more government is good for the USA. He has consistently increased spending on subsidies in agriculture and energy. His statement that "you didn't build that" when talking about how businesses rely on roads that they didn't build, is a core belief that business needs government to do more that protect private property rights and individual freedom, but that government should provide services.
Romney's view is that taxes should be reduced, but that he will achieve this by simplifying and cutting tax deductions (which are complex) to fund it. He will offer an option of private social security accounts for those below a certain age, and will raise the social security age and reduce the rate of inflation adjustment. At least he acknowledges there is a problem. He essentially wants to move to a voucher system for education, which holds out some hope to break the dominance of state provided schools captured by teachers' unions. However, the big difference with Obama is Romney doesn't believe taxes should rise to meet government spending.
So if there is one thing to vote on, for lovers of freedom, it is that Romney will prefer to shrink the Federal Government over raising taxes.
With Paul Ryan, a cautious enthusiast of Ayn Rand, helping out, and with the Republicans likely to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives (if not get one in the Senate), there is a chance for the direction of US economic policy to change. Add on top of that Romney's willingness to establish a national commission to look at restoring the link between the dollar and gold, and there is not just a reason to vote against Obama, but vote for Romney.
Indeed, having gone through his policies, I find little that is contrary to smaller government and more freedom. Romney is a better candidate than either of the Bushes, John McCain or Bob Dole.
So on that front, it is clear to me that faced with the choice, American believers in less government should vote for Mitt Romney. Barack Obama should not have four more years to of overspending and debasing the dollar with mediocre results. He should not continue to hook more Americans on corporate welfare and totemic energy and transportation projects funded by borrowed money. He should not continue to pander to the envy ridden hatred of success that demands more taxes and he should not be allowed to tip the Supreme Court into the hand of moral relativists.
Under Obama the economic freedom ranking of the USA has dropped from 15th to 18th, on size of government it is ranked 73rd! On regulation it is ranked 31st in the world (24th in 2009). On freedom to trade it is ranked 57th in the world.
Romney might reverse some of that, and the future prosperity and strength of the USA depends on the country ending its fiscal incontinence, ending its monetary debasement and allowing the capitalist free-enterprise system that built the world's greatest economy to grow once more, within the boundaries of the rule of law, property rights and individual rights. For it is that which will defend the USA in the long run, against the corrupt authoritarian corporatist "capitalism" of China.
$16 trillion public debt and counting will not.