Note: With this note, this post checks in at just nearly 2,600 words, perhaps my longest post I’ve ever written. I honestly don’t think it will be the last time that I discuss politics leading up to the election, but I don’t see my opinion changing before than unless something super dramatic happens. I encourage discussion, but all comments are moderated and I reserve the right to not publish hateful or ignorant comments. Thanks for reading!
I don’t often delve into politics on this blog, primarily because it it such a decisive issue, but also because they are other capable folks that do it for a living. Though I majored in political science once upon a time, I don’t find myself an expert on any portion of our political system. That is not to say that I don’t think it is important, and I try to vote at least every two years, if not the local elections in off-cycle years. However, the conclusion of both of the conventions, events which I watched a grand total of 20 minutes, have prompted me to post what will probably be my only election post this year. Unless something dramatic happens between now and November 6th, I plan on staying quiet until the election. So if I have been engaging you on the election through various forms of social media, I won’t be doing so anymore, at least publicly.
Politically, I am registered unaffiliated, but I tend to lean mostly liberal, or at least the U.S. definition of liberal. After being raised in the second-most conservative state in the union, I moved to one of the most liberal in 2001. I don’t know if either of these things helped me develop my political ideology, but I tend to vote for Democrats in most elections. I voted for Al Gore in 2000, which helped him close the gap on George W. Bush in Utah, which Bush won by about 40%. I honestly don’t remember who I voted for in 2004. I wasn’t a fan of John Kerry, and I definitely did not vote for Bush. If I had to guess, it was probably the Libertarian candidate, but with the way the Electoral College works, Kerry still won Connecticut by 160,000 votes. Finally, in 2008, I voted for President Obama, so it was the first election which my candidate ended up winning the election.
Maybe it’s my fault for living in states that have been at the various ends of the political spectrum, but my individual vote hasn’t really counted for much for the past few elections. Frankly, I am more concerned by the election of our Congress, which ultimately has more impact on what happens in this country. Unfortunately, the state that I live in now hasn’t elected a Democrat Senator since 1944, and, while we currently have a Democrat in the House of Representatives, I’d be surprised if that was the case come January. Due to the 2010 Census, we in Utah get another Representative, and the Republican-controlled state house “gerrymandered” the new districts, pretty much preventing a Democrat from getting elected again anytime soon. But I could be surprised.
Now that we have covered this bit of background, we can move onto the current election. Even though my vote will technically be wasted due to living in Utah, I will be voting for Barack Obama again in November. Furthermore, I will be also be voting for the Democratic candidates in the Congressional elections, hoping to get rid of Orrin Hatch after 36 years in the Senate, and hopefully closing the gap a bit on Jason Chaffetz in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District. I would be personally be surprised if Mitt Romney gets within 80 electoral votes of the president in the general election, but I am fearful that the Republicans will win enough seats to extend their majority in the House and take over the majority in the Senate. Even an Obama reelection would be terrible under this scenario, since the Republican leadership has made it clear that they want to politicize every issue, resulting in things like the downgrade of the U.S. Credit rating last fall.
With that all said, why am I voting for President Obama again? He is just the better option of what we have. I admit readily that he had a so-so first term; he could have done more, especially in the first two years when the Democrats still controlled the House, but he was still finding his footing as any new president does. Nevertheless, I think there are three reasons why I’m willing to give him another chance over Mitt Romney:
1) Foreign Policy – There have been failures during his first term, but there was also a lot of success. He did something that George W. Bush failed to do in seven years of his presidency: he took care of the person responsible for the terrorist attacks on 9/11. I will probably always remember where I was on 9/11/01, but I will also remember where I was on 5/1/11 when the President announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by Seal Team Six. Beyond that, because of the capable and underrated performance of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, we have thus far avoided full-scale war with Iran, and we also participated just enough in the Arab Spring.
It’s not easy to say that a President McCain would have invaded Libya, Egypt, Iran, and everyone else instead of using diplomacy, but I could imagine that he would have at least done something of the sort. I also feel that if Romney is elected president, we will be invading Iran to prevent them from going nuclear relatively quickly. War is not always the answer, and President Obama proved this by finally getting us out of Iraq and setting the stage for a withdrawal from Afghanistan over the next few years. Not only will this prevent more Americans and our allies dying in a war that has been going on too long, but it will also free up a lot of money to start helping with budgetary concerns and the like.
Some things to work on in a second term for the president, when he doesn’t have to worry about reelection in 2016: Israeli-Palestinian peace, closing Guantanamo Bay and ending the embargo on Cuba, and working with the United Nations and others on continuing to keep Iran in check. We should also continue to rebuild relationships with some other countries around the world, like Pakistan, and help private, non-governmental agencies with the plight of AIDS and famine in Sub-Saharan Africa. If we don’t start to help them out, I could easily see a future world threat developing out of that region.
2) Domestic Policy – The next two kind of go together, but the domestic policy I mention is more about the non-monetary issues in the country. The President already ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military, a step in the right direction that was about 15 years too late. Though I am not homosexual and it doesn’t affect me directly, I am a humanist and everybody should be allowed to love whom they want regardless of their position in the military. And with the military only accounting for around 0.5% of our current population, it really isn’t that big of a deal.
In line with the end of DADT, I was pleased to see the Democrats include Freedom to Marry in their party platform, while the Republicans went out of their way to try and define marriage as between a man and a woman in their own platform. I presently live in a state that amended its constitution to define marriage as only being legal between a man and a woman, and it is unfortunate that Utah is not the only state with such a provision. While I would like to see a federal amendment that would ultimately reverse these various amendments and statutes, the chance of such an amendment gaining traction are probably slim to none in our current political environment. Again, why does it matter who marries who? How does two men or two women marrying change a heterosexual marriage? This is one thing I don’t ever see changing, but I remain hopeful.
Finally, the biggest victory, though it is slightly tainted in its final form, was the passage, of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” While the Republicans have been tripping over themselves announcing that they will repeal it as soon as they are elected, millions of previously uninsured Americans will soon have health coverage. In a country that spends more money than every other country on healthcare, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be covering more people. It isn’t socialism; it’s humanism. We should care about our fellow Americans, no? There is a lot of hypocrisy in American politics, but the biggest one is probably Mitt Romney campaigning against Obamacare, a system that he implemented in Massachusetts while he was governor there. Sure, it might be a little different in execution, but it is pretty much the same thing.
What I would like to see during a second term: real education reform, standardizing education across state lines to some extent. The repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act at the federal level, with the subsequent passing of the Respect for Marriage Act. The continuing defense of the right to choose for women, and something to reduce the prevalence of assault rifles in the hands of ordinary citizens.
3) It’s the Economy, Stupid! – The economy hasn’t been all that great over the past decade or so. There truly isn’t one thing that caused these failings. We live in a complex economy, with various inputs and outputs. There is no magic button that can be pushed to fix everything all at once, much to the dismay of most of the folks on the Right. Unfortunately, the office of the president gets a lot of blame, or a lot of praise, depending on the direction of the economy. In reality, there is little that the president can actually do to affect the tides either way.
What can the president do to help though? Not a whole lot. A friend wants a plan to how to fix the economy, and I’m afraid I don’t really have one, or at least one that the president can directly impact. In a perfect world, we could close some of the gaps between Social Security taxes collected and benefits paid by removing the max amount of income that is taxed for social security. Stopping at $110,100 a year doesn’t seem to be cutting it, and we can only keep pushing later retirement ages for so long. With our current obesity epidemic, we may start seeing a drop in life expectancy over the next few generations, not the increase that has been happening over the past. I would also allow folks to invest their own social security money for the future, truly making them responsible to save for their future. If they want to speculate in the stock market, they’ll be the ones eating cat food at 70. If they just want to leave it in T-bills or other “safe” investments, they could provide themselves with a decent amount of income in retirement. I don’t think this would be a good idea for everyone, but younger people might benefit more since they have (hopefully) a long time of earning wages to make up any gaps.
The next thing would be to fix our tax system. Another friend says that I am not opposed to high taxes for the wealthy because I am not wealthy. While this may be true to some degree, I don’t think my effective tax rate should be higher than Mitt Romney’s. While I agree that 13% of his income is probably more than I have earned thus far in my working life, it is still too low a number. At a certain point, I think that a person only needs so much money; what are you going to do with $5 million that you can’t do with $4 million? If we raised the top marginal tax rate, or simply moved to a tax system with fewer exemptions and (legal) loopholes, everyone would pay their fair share and we would be able to afford a lot more of the things that are important in this country. As for my feelings on taxes when I am a wealthy person? Ask me when I am wealthy.
Another issue I often see is discussion of the countries current national debt. While I don’t feel that it is super important to pay off this debt, we can’t keep recklessly spending without thoughts on this debt. One avenue to fix it would be the adoption of a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution; such an amendment would require all federal budgets to be balanced. In theory, if we aren’t continually running annual deficits, and paying for things as they are budgeted for, the debt will at least stay the same before it starts shrinking. However, one problem with this, that would be addressed with the fixing of our tax system, is that we have very unpredictable tax receipts year to year. Between non-filers, evaders, and currently legal loopholes, we are missing out on billions, if not trillions, of annual tax revenues. Fix the taxes, fix the budget, and the debt is not nearly as big a deal.
Finally, unemployment is a problem in this country, and underemployment is even worse. However, when compared with the rest of the world, or historically, we are actually not doing that bad. Among “major” countries, the U.S. trails only France, which is currently rocking unemployment over 10%. We could be a lot worse off, however. The Eurozone countries as a whole have an unemployment rate of 11.3%, with Spain at 24.4% and Italy at 10.7%, to name a couple. Outside of Europe, South Africa, one of the most industrialized and “modern” countries in Africa, checks in at 24.9%. One way to fix this would be to raise the minimum wage in this country. It has worked in Australia, where a minimum wage of around $15 US has helped push unemployment to around 5%. Another solution would to just put people back to work on the government’s dime, similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority and Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. An increased tax base would help pay for the costs of these programs, and there is plenty of infrastructure in this country that could be improved, especially considering that many municipalities have been neglecting these improvements in light of budget constraints.
Will these things happen? I don’t know, but I am more willing to give President Obama another shot than I am to turn it over to somebody new. The country wasn’t in the greatest shape when he took over in 2009, but it could have been a lot worse at this point. The next eight weeks or so will be filled with a lot of rhetoric from either side of the political spectrum, some of it true, most of it false, and all of it in an attempt to get your vote. I don’t care who you vote for personally, just that you go out and vote, or, if you choose not to, to just shut up about how things are horrible for you. Just remember that it could always be worse and that we live in one of the best countries in the world. It really isn’t worth getting into shouting matches on Facebook over it.
Until next time…