November, 4th 2012

The Day After Tomorrow

– Liz Mair

It’s finally here, or about to be.

Yes, Election Day is the day after tomorrow. And after four years of watching the effort to remove President Obama from office play out (and periodically contributing to it in direct, professional ways), the time has come for me to make some firm decisions, and share them publicly.

Readers of this blog and my followers on Twitter will know that this election has proved a somewhat painful one for me, going back to 2009.

Having served on the RNC team in 2008, and having been a longtime fan of John McCain for years before then, while I was proud that America proved wrong the pundits who claimed our country was too racist to elect an African-American President, I was saddened that America made what was, in my view, the wrong choice as between Obama and McCain four years ago.

Like many Republicans, within weeks of President Obama being sworn into office, I began thinking about who I would like to succeed him as President—because it was apparent that his approach was not one with which I agreed.

Jon Huntsman, one of my top choices, took himself out of the running by agreeing to serve as Obama’s ambassador to China. Mark Sanford, my other top choice, took himself out of the running by virtue of his personal behavior and the excruciating press conference he gave explaining it.

Being a long-term critic of Mitt Romney, I was unwilling to jump aboard the Romney ship, especially given my deep-seated disagreements with Romney on health care policy.

My concerns about health care policy did, however, provoke me to take a closer look at a guy who I instinctively thought would be a good choice for me—Tim Pawlenty (whose record on health care is, incidentally, really good and worth a look for people who believe Republicans have nothing to offer on that front beyond free-market rhetoric or watered-down liberal “solutions”). I boarded the good ship Pawlenty, but exited it when it became unfeasible for various reasons to remain on it; subsequently, Jon Huntsman resigned and entered the race—intriguing to me, but (I felt) unlikely to pan out.

And then Rick Perry decided to enter the race, after it became clear to me that Pawlenty would be exiting it early and at a point where the practicalities of me being involved in a presidential race looked far better.

While there are certainly areas of disagreement between myself and Perry (basically, they come down to “gay issues”), I felt that on the majority of issues that I vote on—free trade, the size and role of the federal government (which ties in with spending), tax policy, health care and immigration— he was the best fit, and a far better choice than Romney. I also felt he had some interesting and worthwhile ideas where things like education reform (also something where Pawlenty has shown leadership within the GOP) were concerned, and by far the best jobs record.

So I boarded the good ship Perry, knowing it was in shaky territory when I did, but being willing to have a go at something even if the odds were decent that it would capsize (as it ultimately did).

From the middle of 2009, I believed it was overwhelmingly likely that Romney would be the GOP nominee. And that was an unsettling thing to me, because I do have deep disagreements with him and haven’t exactly loved his philosophical flexibility and willingness to pander to different audiences.

I tried, on behalf of two different clients, to stop Romney from running away with the nomination, something that speaks to the fact that I have had issues with him as a presidential candidate.

But he did win the nomination, as I expected. And now, Virginia appears to be coming down to the wire. So I am publicly stating my commitment to vote for Mitt Romney for President this Tuesday, despite the lingering concerns I have about him.

Here’s why I think you might wish to consider doing the same if you share my perspectives and live in a swing state also.

First of all, let’s start with a discussion about Barack Obama.

Let me be clear (pun intended): I do not think Obama is a bad guy. Among other things, I think he’s a great father and husband.

But I have been convinced, ever since I started scrutinizing his record, statements, and personal and professional history at the RNC in 2008—where I was privy to the vast majority of opposition research on Obama including tidbits that to my knowledge have never been covered and make him look even worse than he already does, in my opinion—that Obama simply doesn’t have the kind of motivations I want in a President. It is a problem that no matter how nice of a guy I may think he is in his private life, I simply cannot get over in order to think well of him in a political context.

I have inflamed liberal and conservative opinion by saying this before, and I will inflame both by saying it again, but it is my firm belief that Obama’s sole purpose in politics and his only genuine interest is self-aggrandizement. I do not believe that he believes in anything, except for self-aggrandizement. His liberalism is incidental, not the product of an actual belief in progressive policies, and to the extent he cares about particular policies, it is because he believes they will enable him to get ahead and benefit himself and his friends, not because he believes they are good, productive, or beneficial.

What Obama displays is not even the usual, predictable, basic power-seeking you get with politicians, or the typical ego trip. It’s far more emblematic of what you find in machine politics than what you find in politics more broadly. It is no surprise, given that Obama comes out of Chicago, where machine politics is the norm, and accruing power and prestige is an end in itself. But it is deeply saddening, given Obama’s posturing four years ago as representing some “new,” cleaner, shinier variety of politics—posturing that even I wanted to believe. And it is not a characteristic I particularly want in a president. Self-aggrandizement as the sole objective—indeed, the raison d’être— is not something that I think deserves to be rewarded, especially as, in Obama’s case, it has led the president in question into both policy inconsistency and instituting and pursuing policies that I believe are downright bad. It is an added annoyance and perhaps even a danger that the rise of Obama has also helped to generate a weird, cultish following that excuses all manner of behavior I consider obviously bad, and certainly hypocritical or inconsistent on Obama’s part.

This conveniently leads us to a discussion of the fundamental policy problems with Obama—the thing that far more voters have seized upon.

Let me start by saying that in 2008, when Obama won the Democratic nomination, I was happy about it, for two reasons. First, I never believed McCain would attack Hillary Clinton as hard as he did Obama, let alone as hard as he would have needed to in order to beat her. But second, and more importantly, Obama was far better on policy from where I sat.

Obama’s campaign rhetoric suggested he thought civil liberties needed better protection than they had received under the Bush administration. Obama was for a version of health care reform that wasn’t a nationalized version of Romneycare, which I have opposed since its inception and continue to oppose (sorry, Romney). In fact, Obama strongly opposed the individual mandate as a candidate (a big plus in my book). Obama appeared to be less at ease with protectionism than Clinton. Obama had sponsored the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. Clinton sounded a far more confiscatory-taxation friendly note than Obama did. And my gut had always told me that Hillary was far more big government-friendly than a guy who, for all the mockery of his community organizing days, at least seemed to think by virtue of his initial job choice that community, as opposed to government, might play some kind of an important role in society.

There was plenty that I opposed Obama on: As a candidate, he was already proposing massive new spending that was obviously unaffordable and unwise. Obviously, he was comfortable with tax increases. I thought his comments about sitting down with Ahmadinejad early in an administration were daft. I didn’t like that he was sounding any kind of protectionist note. I loathed his votes for poison pill initiatives that brought down comprehensive immigration reform. I thought his purported post-partisanship was complete BS given his deeply partisan record in the Senate. But would he have been better than Clinton? Yes, I believed he would, and actually, I still think I’d prefer him as president to Hillary, on policy.

However, Obama has flip-flopped on some things he campaigned on that actually really matter to me. His record on civil liberties is terrible, just like Bush’s was terrible, and no amount of strawman-construction or detraction from it by his fans can change that fact. Given how much I carped about Bush on civil liberties, Obama is definitely not getting a pass from me on this. Furthermore, Obamacare contains the individual mandate, on which Obama has himself flipped a full 180 degrees, and shamelessly, and over which I have been sounding alarms since 2006 in the context of Romneycare.

Add to that that he has, as expected, spent boatloads of money and exploded the deficit (just like Bush!), not delivered well enough on jobs, not done enough to advance free trade, and not done enough to advance immigration reform, and we have a problem.

He engaged us in Libya without congressional approval, which I do believe he should have obtained (knock Bush for Iraq all you want, but Bush did at least ask Congress to approve our engagement there), and he made some major foreign policy missteps like signaling “more flexibility” in a second term to Russia, and generally weakening our relationships with key allies like Israel and the United Kingdom (sometimes through silly oversights, assumptions, or careless words or behavior).

And yes, his behavior with regard to the drug war (cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries in California) also irks me a great deal.

Ultimately, what has happened in Benghazi scares the crap out of me, as someone with friends in the diplomatic corps, and my sense is that while it’s impossible to fully protect your civil servants abroad, especially in dangerous countries, intelligence is never perfect, and hindsight is always 20/20, the Obama administration dropped the ball there.

He’s the boss, and I feel the buck should stop with him.

I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008, obviously, and I certainly won’t be voting for him in 2012. But in my estimation, no one else should be voting for him in 2012, either, given this track record, and given my interpretation of his rationale for wanting a second term (it really is all about him; it’s really not about you, or me, or anyone else).

But not voting for Obama doesn’t mean voting for Mitt Romney, of course.  There are other options on the ballot; there is the option of writing in; there is the option of not voting at all. I have considered all of these options, apart from not voting. But there are reasons why, if you think like I do, you should consider voting for Romney—and not just failing to vote for Obama.

First of all, I believe this will be a close election, but one in which it has from the get-go been more likely than not that Obama will win. If that is a problem for you on any level, then you owe it to yourself to take a look at Romney, and do it seriously, before Tuesday.

Let’s be candid: If you’re like me, you’re going to find there’s a lot not to like. I won’t rehash it all here; for me, the sticking point with Romney really always has been, and always will be, Romneycare, which has now evolved into Obamacare.

But with that being said, and with me throwing Romneycare out there first, let’s just agree on one thing: While I think it is highly unlikely that as President, Romney would repeal Obamacare (because he won’t have a sufficiently conservative Congress to do it, because he can’t do it all through executive actions, but most of all, because I believe he actually does like and believe in some of the cornerstones of Romneycare and Obamacare), there is zero chance of Obamacare being repealed with Obama, and some (albeit small) chance of it being repealed or tweaked in some major way under Romney.

Moreover, there is a strong chance that Obamacare will be tweaked in small, but meaningful ways under a President Romney, and that that will happen quickly. Whether you loathe Obamacare as is, or think it just can’t function as currently constructed, Romney is the only person capable of winning this election who even has a rhetorical commitment to repealing and/or overhauling Obamacare.

But that’s not really why I am voting for Romney. The real reasons I am are the following:

  • Paul Ryan: Unfortunately, Romney hasn’t run on the Ryan plan or spending cuts that Paul Ryan has voted for (including in the area of defense, where I believe not-insignificant spending reductions can and should be made). But at least if Ryan becomes Vice President, there’s a chance he’ll badger Romney enough on a daily or weekly basis to get him to take entitlement reform, tax reform, and spending cuts more seriously than he currently does. Also, I like Paul Ryan, and if we can give someone like him, as opposed to one of the Huckabee-like big government social conservatives (who remain surprisingly dominant in a “Tea Party-infused” GOP), a leg up on becoming President someday, I say that’s a good thing on balance. 
  • Dodd-Frank: It sucks. In addition to entrenching too big to fail, it also imposes a bunch of new regulations that are problematic especially for community banks, who weren’t the bad guys who led to the financial crisis, and it risks regulatory muddle by making various entities responsible for the same oversight, threatening to create a situation where the left hand does nothing because it thinks the right hand is, while the right hand is effectively taking a nap or spending hours a day watching porn from its Washington, DC headquarters. Romney gets this, and more. It’s probably the area of policy where he has the most to say that conforms to my views.
  • Taxes: I have a lot of issues with Romney on taxes, but at least he’s committed to attempting tax simplification for some proportion of the population. He also understands that double-taxing US companies is a bad idea and that what Obama has proposed would effectively do that, whereas Obama, the former law professor, doesn’t actually appear to understand our tax code (I find that worrying). 
  • The deficit: I don’t think Romney is nearly as committed to slashing spending as I would like him to be, but I do believe he’ll be better on the deficit than Obama, who I think has zero commitment to spending restraint and will, in practice, be forced into extending the Bush tax cuts he wants to end. 
  • Rand Paul: I always keep in the back of my head that Rand Paul endorsed Romney, because his belief is that Romney is in the generally right terrain with regard to things like auditing the Fed, protecting Internet freedom, and wanting Congress to vote on foreign military engagements. Rand Paul may be naïve (he wouldn’t be the first libertarian to be proved to be). But I also think it is likely that he has extracted some private commitments from Romney on these things, and the Romney people know the Paul forces can cause trouble for them if they don’t vaguely adhere to some of what was (presumably) discussed. This is at least marginally helpful.

On a whole range of things that matter to me personally, neither of these guys will be better than the other. But Romney scores better than Obama on at least a few of my top concerns as a voter.  And there is a chance, albeit not an overwhelming one from my standpoint, that he can pull out a win this week—so I am prepared to back him.

If you live in any of Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida or Virginia, and can’t decide between Romney and Johnson or writing in, I’d urge you to have a think about the above. My rationale may not be enough to get you to push the Romney button. But it is enough for me—just.

And Mitt, if you happen to read this and if you do prevail on Tuesday, please know that I’ll be enthusiastically in the bag for a second term if you really do slash spending, bring down the deficit, reform entitlements, reform the immigration system, ditch the worst aspects of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, govern like a free-trader, and hold to the general status quo on social issues. Oh, and have lunch with Paul Ryan weekly and take him seriously.

If you govern demonstrably more like a civil libertarian than Obama has, hell, I’ll even max out for a second term.

Onward to Tuesday. [intro]



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