The state of the 2012 campaigns
It’s interesting to me that exactly one year ago today, Michelle Bachmann, while far from a shoo-in, looked a lot closer to the White House than Mitt Romney. On August 13, 2011, Congresswoman Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll, an unofficial kickoff to the primary season and an interesting look at what Republicans think of the field.
Needless to say, times changed. Michelle Bachmann barely made it past the Iowa caucus, as she suspended her campaign the day after a disappointing finish there. Other candidates like Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum had their time in the drivers seat, but eventually faded. Whether or not the Republican primary was a war of attrition probably depends on who you ask. But whatever it was, Mitt Romney endured and at the end of this month, will become the Republican nominee for President.
On Saturday, Romney announced that Paul Ryan would be his running mate, which ended a bad week on an extreme upswing. Many analysts have stated, and I agree with them, that Ryan’s entry represents a fresh start to the campaign for Romney, and should really reboot the campaign as a whole.
Romney’s choice of Ryan further indicates that Romney would like to make this election entirely about the economy, and with good reason. The unemployment rate has tracked down since last August, but not decisively. The argument can even be made that this shallow decline in the unemployment rate is simply a reversion to the mean; that an unemployment rate of 9%+ is anomalous and eventually will self-correct itself somehow.
Meanwhile, the average price of a gallon of gas, while somewhat volatile, is set to break the record. Fallout from the 2008 bank crisis and the debt crises in Europe continue to dog the economy. Our national debt will cross $16 trillion before election day, and will have increased by over $6 trillion since President Obama took office. The President’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, has been met with trepidation at best by corporate America. Under President Obama, Congress has failed to pass a budget since 2009.
Needless to say, if you don’t like those numbers, Paul Ryan should serve as a welcome contrast. The chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan introduced a major budget plan of his own this year which he says if implemented, could reduce our debt, reform entitlement and stimulate the economy all in one. If he and Romney are elected, it stands to reason that they’d try to pass some version of that budget plan.
President Obama’s biggest gaffe on the campaign trail so far was his infamous “you didn’t build that” speech. Republicans latched onto that comment out-of-context and made a bunch of ads, while the democrats cried foul.
But President Obama reframed this point, implying that because republicans don’t want to increase spending, they don’t want roads, policemen or schools. What he’s ignoring is the fact that police departments, roads, and schools are funded mostly by local or state governments, not the federal government. This is an important distinction for conservatives to remember, because it’s one that President Obama would like to eradicate or blur: President Obama’s agenda is to grow the federal government and make it more powerful and influential than it is today.
Romney and Ryan have to make this distinction clear to the American public and make it clear why that distinction exists (see the 10th Amendment) and why it’s a good thing to keep around. Making cuts in the federal budget doesn’t mean those services can’t be provided; it just means the federal government is deferring those services to the state or local municipalities.
And regarding “you didn’t build that”: Romney’s counterexample about the school bus driver getting credit for a student making honor roll is spot on. The student, and to a lesser extent, the parents, put in extraordinary work to achieve grades above the average; the bus driver, as pleasant or as skilled as he or she might be, was simply doing his or her job.
As I’ve said, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement was the Affordable Care Act. To say the act has been controversial is a drastic understatement. After being shoved through the legislature without anyone really reading it, more and more surprises have come to light as more of the Act was made public. The Act’s constitutionality was challenged (because it imposes a penalty on people who are able to but do not buy health insurance), but was ruled constitutional in another controversial decision. More than two years after being passed, several studies have shown the act is costing more money than it was supposed to, that premiums have gone up, not down, and Americans still doubt its effectiveness. Mitt Romney has vowed to take steps to repeal and replace the Act if elected, but if he’s not elected, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.
Paul Ryan gives Mitt Romney a little more credibility on this issue, who has been challenged because he passed a state-wide healthcare act when he was governor of Massachusetts. Republicans in the primaries compared him to President Obama; democrats said he flip-flopped on the issue. The fact is that a state-wide healthcare program is completely different than a federal healthcare program: the state budget wasn’t $16 trillion in debt, a state is a smaller and more homogenous jurisdiction than the nation, and the state is protected constitutionally because rights that are not granted to the federal government are reserved for the states. But nonetheless, Paul Ryan’s record is cleaner and as a budget expert, Ryan can speak with more clarity on how much the act costs.
Another interesting controversy that stemmed from the Affordable Care Act was the contraceptive debate. It came to light that employers would have to provide contraceptives for female employees who wanted them, as a preventative measure. Organizations who are against contraceptives (mainly Catholics) objected, and so a Congressional hearing was convened. Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student (which objected to the contraceptive requirement), was called to testify for the democrats in favor of enforcing the contraceptive requirement for all organizations, and she testified that contraceptives can cost a woman over $3,000 over the course of law school.
The controversy erupted when Rush Limbaugh, as a joke to make the point that contraceptives do not cost that much, called Sandra Fluke a slut. Naturally, the left erupted. President Obama himself called Sandra Fluke to offer his support. Sponsors, fearing a boycott, started to leave Limbaugh’s show and he was forced to apologize for his admittedly crude choice of words. But when Sandra Fluke (who naturally became a fixture of Obama’s campaign) introduced the President at a campaign event on Friday, she said:
When it comes to a woman’s right to make her own healthcare choices, they want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century. Mr. Romney’s running as the candidate of conservative values. There’s nothing conservative about a government that prevents a woman from making her own healthcare decisions. He says he’s the candidate of freedom. But freedom’s the chance, the opportunity to determine for yourself the care that you need when you need it.
If you read that and felt like you missed something, you’re in the same boat as me. Somehow, this became a debate that conservatives aren’t fighting. No one’s arguing that women shouldn’t have access to birth control; what conservatives are wondering is why we, the taxpayers, are suddenly responsible to pay for it. The second part of Sandra Fluke’s argument sounds a lot like an argument against the Affordable Care Act, which to me sounds like most liberals are of the impression that the government is going to get out of your way when you ask them nicely. To quote Ryan Howard: “manage me, but don’t just boss me around. Manage me when I’m in the mood to be managed.”
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a fairly easy argument to make here: no one’s trying to take away a woman’s right to buy contraceptives; no one’s even trying to have an argument about abortion. The argument needs to be why the U.S. government needs to be involved in those decisions at all.
Perhaps President Obama’s strongest part of his first administration has been foreign policy and national security. This is thanks in large part to Hillary Clinton, Obama’s primary opponent turned Secretary of State. Obama’s track record is pretty impressive: killed Osama, killed Gadaffi, ended combat operations in Iraq and is ending combat operations in Afghanistan.
But there are blemishes, the worst of which being the national security “leaks” which have exposed in-progress operations in Iran and Afghanistan. The leaks caused republicans, military personnel, even democratic Senator Diane Feinstein to question the White House which she quickly recanted.
It’s impossible to know who is leaking the information at this point, but it’s relatively obvious that since the leaks are regarding operations in progress, they endanger national security. It’s less obvious, but still evident, that the leaks bolster Obama’s record, since these covert operations are really the only operations happening.
The other major blemish is Obama’s treatment of Israel, which can best be described as “cordial.” The Obama State Department has kept quite a distance from Israel as its enemies regroup. First, Obama ignored the pro-democracy protests in Iran. Then, he let the Arab spring happen in Egypt and Libya, which led to two nations under the control of the Muslim brotherhood, one of which used to be a crucial ally in the region. There’s massive civil unrest in Syria; Iran just test-fired a ballistic missile; even Russia is starting to get testy with Israel.
And right now, Israel is basically on their own. Mitt Romney took the time on his trip to Israel at the beginning of the month to make a note that this treatment would cease under his watch, that America and Israel would be far closer. Israel can certainly take care of itself to some degree, but there is no country on the planet with so many enemies so close. Israel needs our support. Under President Obama, that support has been tepid; under Mitt Romney, that support should be much stronger.
To me, those seem like the main issues. Ultimately, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would love to make this election about the economy, because Obama’s ideas for the economy aren’t working. The unemployment rate is still at 8.3%, more Americans are on food stamps than ever before, and the price of gas, healthcare and the national debt keep going up. President Obama believes that the answer to these problems are simply to add more government. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan believe the solution is to make the government smaller. It shouldn’t go without saying that the Romney/Ryan solution is harder in the short term but won’t implode in the long term, while the Obama/Biden solution is easier in the short term but will ultimately end up resulting in a Europe-style meltdown.
Four years ago, I wrote an open letter to President-elect Obama, with the solemn hope that President Obama’s first term would go well, and that the country would be better off in four years. It hasn’t been a complete disaster, but I can’t say I’m happy with where the country is headed after four years of President Obama. I’m excited about Paul Ryan’s entry into the race (this time last year, I was saying “why isn’t this guy running?”). 86 more days until election day. We’ll see what happens.