||11-01-2012 04:47 PM
Michael Bloomberg and the Economist: Socialists
Bloomberg is effusive
of the President:
The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast -- in lost lives, lost homes and lost business -- brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief.
The floods and fires that swept through our city left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding work. And in the short term, our subway system remains partially shut down, and many city residents and businesses still have no power. In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods -- something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable.
Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be -- given this week’s devastation -- should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.
Here in New York, our comprehensive sustainability plan -- PlaNYC -- has helped allow us to cut our carbon footprint by 16 percent in just five years, which is the equivalent of eliminating the carbon footprint of a city twice the size of Seattle.
Through the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group -- a partnership among many of the world’s largest cities -- local governments are taking action where national governments are not.
But we can’t do it alone. We need leadership from the White House -- and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year.
Mitt Romney, too, has a history of tackling climate change. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed on to a regional cap- and-trade plan designed to reduce carbon emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels. “The benefits (of that plan) will be long- lasting and enormous -- benefits to our health, our economy, our quality of life, our very landscape. These are actions we can and must take now, if we are to have ‘no regrets’ when we transfer our temporary stewardship of this Earth to the next generation,” he wrote at the time.
He couldn’t have been more right. But since then, he has reversed course, abandoning the very cap-and-trade program he once supported. This issue is too important. We need determined leadership at the national level to move the nation and the world forward.
I believe Mitt Romney is a good and decent man, and he would bring valuable business experience to the Oval Office. He understands that America was built on the promise of equal opportunity, not equal results. In the past he has also taken sensible positions on immigration, illegal guns, abortion rights and health care. But he has reversed course on all of them, and is even running against the health-care model he signed into law in Massachusetts.
If the 1994 or 2003 version of Mitt Romney were running for president, I may well have voted for him because, like so many other independents, I have found the past four years to be, in a word, disappointing.
In 2008, Obama ran as a pragmatic problem-solver and consensus-builder. But as president, he devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists, which doomed hope for any real progress on illegal guns, immigration, tax reform, job creation and deficit reduction. And rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice, he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.
Nevertheless, the president has achieved some important victories on issues that will help define our future. His Race to the Top education program -- much of which was opposed by the teachers’ unions, a traditional Democratic Party constituency -- has helped drive badly needed reform across the country, giving local districts leverage to strengthen accountability in the classroom and expand charter schools. His health-care law -- for all its flaws -- will provide insurance coverage to people who need it most and save lives.
When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there. The two parties’ nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America.
One believes a woman’s right to choose should be protected for future generations; one does not. That difference, given the likelihood of Supreme Court vacancies, weighs heavily on my decision.
One recognizes marriage equality as consistent with America’s march of freedom; one does not. I want our president to be on the right side of history.
One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.
Of course, neither candidate has specified what hard decisions he will make to get our economy back on track while also balancing the budget. But in the end, what matters most isn’t the shape of any particular proposal; it’s the work that must be done to bring members of Congress together to achieve bipartisan solutions.
Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan both found success while their parties were out of power in Congress -- and President Obama can, too. If he listens to people on both sides of the aisle, and builds the trust of moderates, he can fulfill the hope he inspired four years ago and lead our country toward a better future for my children and yours. And that’s why I will be voting for him.
The Economist lays waste
to both Obama and Romney, but endorse Obama:
FOUR years ago, The Economist endorsed Barack Obama for the White House with enthusiasm. So did millions of voters. Next week Americans will trudge to the polls far less hopefully. So (in spirit at least) will this London-based newspaper. Having endured a miserably negative campaign, the world’s most powerful country now has a much more difficult decision to make than it faced four years ago.
That is in large part because of the woeful nature of Mr Obama’s campaign. A man who once personified hope and centrism set a new low by unleashing attacks on Mitt Romney even before the first Republican primary. Yet elections are about choosing somebody to run a country. And this choice turns on two questions: how good a president has Mr Obama been, especially on the main issues of the economy and foreign policy? And can America really trust the ever-changing Mitt Romney to do a better job? On that basis, the Democrat narrowly deserves to be re-elected.
Mr Obama’s first term has been patchy. On the economy, the most powerful argument in his favour is simply that he stopped it all being a lot worse. America was in a downward economic spiral when he took over, with its banks and carmakers in deep trouble and unemployment rising at the rate of 800,000 a month. His responses—an aggressive stimulus, bailing out General Motors and Chrysler, putting the banks through a sensible stress test and forcing them to raise capital (so that they are now in much better shape than their European peers)—helped avert a Depression. That is a hard message to sell on the doorstep when growth is sluggish and jobs scarce; but it will win Mr Obama some plaudits from history, and it does from us too.
Two other things count, on balance, in his favour. One is foreign policy, where he was also left with a daunting inheritance. Mr Obama has refocused George Bush’s “war on terror” more squarely on terrorists, killing Osama bin Laden, stepping up drone strikes (perhaps too liberally, see article) and retreating from Iraq and Afghanistan (in both cases too quickly for our taste). After a shaky start with China, American diplomacy has made a necessary “pivot” towards Asia. By contrast, with both the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and his “reset” with Russia, he overreached and underdelivered. Iran has continued its worrying crawl towards nuclear weapons.
All these problems could have been anticipated. The Arab spring could not. Here Mr Obama can point to the ousting of tyrants in Egypt and Libya, but he has followed events rather than shaping them, nowhere more so than with the current carnage in Syria. Compared with, say, George Bush senior, who handled the end of the cold war, this aloof, disengaged man is no master diplomat; set beside the younger Bush, however, Mr Obama has been a safe pair of hands.
The other qualified achievement is health reform. Even to a newspaper with no love for big government, the fact that over 40m people had no health coverage in a country as rich as America was a scandal. “Obamacare” will correct that, but Mr Obama did very little to deal with the system’s other flaw—its huge and unaffordable costs. He surrendered too much control to left-wing Democrats in Congress. As with the gargantuan Dodd-Frank reform of Wall Street, Obamacare has generated a tangle of red tape—and left business to deal with it all.
It is here that our doubts about Mr Obama set in. No administration in many decades has had such a poor appreciation of commerce. Previous Democrats, notably Bill Clinton, raised taxes, but still understood capitalism. Bashing business seems second nature to many of the people around Mr Obama. If he has appointed some decent people to his cabinet—Hillary Clinton at the State Department, Arne Duncan at education and Tim Geithner at the Treasury—the White House itself has too often seemed insular and left-leaning. The obstructive Republicans in Congress have certainly been a convenient excuse for many of the president’s failures, but he must also shoulder some blame. Mr Obama spends regrettably little time buttering up people who disagree with him; of the 104 rounds of golf the president has played in office, only one was with a Republican congressman.
Above all, Mr Obama has shown no readiness to tackle the main domestic issue confronting the next president: America cannot continue to tax like a small government but spend like a big one. Mr Obama came into office promising to end “our chronic avoidance of tough decisions” on reforming its finances—and then retreated fast, as he did on climate change and on immigration. Disgracefully, he ignored the suggestions of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson deficit commission that he himself set up. More tellingly, he has failed to lay out a credible plan for what he will do in the next four years. Virtually his entire campaign has been spent attacking Mr Romney, usually for his wealth and success in business.
Mr Obama’s shortcomings have left ample room for a pragmatic Republican, especially one who could balance the books and overhaul government. Such a candidate briefly flickered across television screens in the first presidential debate. This newspaper would vote for that Mitt Romney, just as it would for the Romney who ran Democratic Massachusetts in a bipartisan way (even pioneering the blueprint for Obamacare). The problem is that there are a lot of Romneys and they have committed themselves to a lot of dangerous things.
Take foreign policy. In the debates Mr Romney stuck closely to the president on almost every issue. But elsewhere he has repeatedly taken a more bellicose line. In some cases, such as Syria and Russia (see article), this newspaper would welcome a more robust position. But Mr Romney seems too ready to bomb Iran, too uncritically supportive of Israel and cruelly wrong in his belief in “the Palestinians not wanting to see peace”. The bellicosity could start on the first day of his presidency, when he has vowed to list China as a currency manipulator—a pointless provocation to its new leadership that could easily degenerate into a trade war.
Or take reducing the deficit and reforming American government. Here there is more to like about Mr Romney. He generally believes in the smaller state we would rather see; he would slash red tape and his running-mate, Paul Ryan, has dared to broach much-needed entitlement reform.
Yet far from being the voice of fiscal prudence, Mr Romney wants to start with huge tax cuts (which will disproportionately favour the wealthy), while dramatically increasing defence spending. Together those measures would add $7 trillion to the ten-year deficit. He would balance the books through eliminating loopholes (a good idea, but he will not specify which ones) and through savage cuts to programmes that help America’s poor (a bad idea, which will increase inequality still further). At least Mr Obama, although he distanced himself from Bowles-Simpson, has made it clear that any long-term solution has to involve both entitlement reform and tax rises. Mr Romney is still in the cloud-cuckoo-land of thinking you can do it entirely through spending cuts: the Republican even rejected a ratio of ten parts spending cuts to one part tax rises. Backing business is important, but getting the macroeconomics right matters far more.
Mr Romney’s more sensible supporters explain his fiscal policies away as necessary rubbish, concocted to persuade the fanatics who vote in the Republican primaries: the great flipflopper, they maintain, does not mean a word of it. Of course, he knows in current circumstances no sane person would really push defence spending, projected to fall below 3% of GDP, to 4%; of course President Romney would strike a deal that raises overall tax revenues, even if he cuts tax rates.
However, even if you accept that Romneynomics may be more numerate in practice than it is in theory, it is far harder to imagine that he will reverse course entirely. When politicians get elected they tend to do quite a lot of the things they promised during their campaigns. François Hollande, France’s famously pliable new president, was supposed to be too pragmatic to introduce a 75% top tax rate, yet he is steaming ahead with his plan. We weren’t fooled by the French left; we see no reason why the American right will be more flexible. Mr Romney, like Mr Hollande, will have his party at his back—and a long record of pandering to them.
Indeed, the extremism of his party is Mr Romney’s greatest handicap. The Democrats have their implacable fringe too: look at the teachers’ unions. But the Republicans have become a party of Torquemadas, forcing representatives to sign pledges never to raise taxes, to dump the chairman of the Federal Reserve and to embrace an ever more Southern-fried approach to social policy. Under President Romney, new conservative Supreme Court justices would try to overturn Roe v Wade, returning abortion policy to the states. The rights of immigrants (who have hardly had a good deal under Mr Obama) and gays (who have) would also come under threat. This newspaper yearns for the more tolerant conservatism of Ronald Reagan, where “small government” meant keeping the state out of people’s bedrooms as well as out of their businesses. Mr Romney shows no sign of wanting to revive it.
We very much hope that whichever of these men wins office will prove our pessimism wrong. Once in the White House, maybe the Romney of the mind will become reality, cracking bipartisan deals to reshape American government, with his vice-president keeping the headbangers in the Republican Party in line. A re-elected President Obama might learn from his mistakes, clean up the White House, listen to the odd businessman and secure a legacy happier than the one he would leave after a single term. Both men have it in them to be their better selves; but the sad fact is that neither candidate has campaigned as if that is his plan.
As a result, this election offers American voters an unedifying choice. Many of The Economist’s readers, especially those who run businesses in America, may well conclude that nothing could be worse than another four years of Mr Obama. We beg to differ. For all his businesslike intentions, Mr Romney has an economic plan that works only if you don’t believe most of what he says. That is not a convincing pitch for a chief executive. And for all his shortcomings, Mr Obama has dragged America’s economy back from the brink of disaster, and has made a decent fist of foreign policy. So this newspaper would stick with the devil it knows, and re-elect him.