Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Obama for president

IT’S BECOME almost fashionable among some citizens of the American blogosphere (call them the CAPS LOCK commentariat) to insist, especially in recent days and weeks, that there’s no difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney — this being their way of saying there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans.

Today, Election Day, is the day that between 130 million and 140 million Americans will cast ballots (if they’re not among the 31 million who already have). Today’s when this country decides what that difference, between the candidates and the parties they lead, really is.

For every constituent part of the American mosaic, today needs to be the day to re-elect Barack Obama as president of the United States, and to send a clear message that the Romney campaign and the elitist, plutocratic mindset for which it stands is contrary to that of our better angels, as human beings and as Americans.

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The case for the president’s re-election is considerable. The president has helped to move the needle on the American social and economic agenda, accelerating the process of rights and opportunities for women, gays and lesbians, students, Latino Americans, homeowners, veterans and the middle class.

One of his major achievements has been nothing less than a sea change for the people of the United States, for whom mortality is a pre-existing condition. With the Affordable Care Act, this nation has moved closer to the universal health care enjoyed by other countries around the world. Obama’s advance in fulfilling this clause of the social contract is the most expansive step in health care since Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, and a step towards an achievement sought since the Roosevelt administration. The Theodore Roosevelt administration.

President Obama took office with an economy in free-fall, at its worst more than 800,000 jobs lost a month in the waning time of the Bush administration. The president’s $840 billion stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, sought to stop the bleeding; it ultimately led to the creation or saving of more than 2½ million jobs.

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WITH A BOLD stand on a sound principle — it’s better to save something worth saving than let it be destroyed — Obama took charge of the $80 billion rescue of a U.S. automobile industry that was hemorrhaging jobs and at the brink of being an intrinsically American business that Americans didn’t do anymore.

Despite Romney’s now-infamous call to “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” Obama invested in this defining American industry and pulled it back from collapse. Result: More than 1.4 million industry and ancillary jobs that are a direct result of the rescue, and the avoidance of $96 billion in personal income losses, according to the Center for Automotive Research.

What a difference from Romney, his challenger, the self-professed “car guy” born in Detroit. But from what we’ve seen of 17 months of the Romney campaign, we shouldn’t be surprised.

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At its core, the Romney 2012 presidential campaign was built on a negative, downbeat premise: that the national economy would continue to flounder. Despite that enduring primary-season hope of Team Romney, things have improved — at a snail’s pace, it’s true, but in a way that has gradually reversed the ruinous policies of the administration of George W. Bush. Progress is being made.

And progress — an improving national economy — has been Romney’s worst nightmare since the beginning of his campaign. An economy on the rebound organically undercuts the reason for the Romney campaign’s very existence. It’s this deeply cynical perspective — for all intents and purposes, a bet against the country he hopes to lead — that’s part of the DNA of the Romney bid for the White House.

Those who would stick to the laughable fiction that there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans — between Obama and Romney — are prisoners of something close to the same cynicism. It’s the cynicism that extends from a disposable, throwaway age. The president didn’t do everything he promised, they think, so let’s get rid of him and try someone else.

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THEY EASILY ignore the Republican leadership sworn by all but a blood oath to oppose Obama's every policy proposal, almost from day one. They overlook the mountainous deficit the president inherited the day he was sworn in in 2009. And they give a pass to a Republican nominee who’s shown himself, early and often, to be philosophically vacuous, geopolitically incurious and professionally ruthless; a man eager to add “President of the United States” as a line in a résumé, more for bragging rights than anything else.

And they manage to ignore what some rock-ribbed conservatives, among others, have been saying for months about that nominee. One severely conservative conservative, Erick Erickson, the publisher of Red State, gave us the real Mitt Romney on Nov. 8, 2011:

“Mitt Romney ... is a man devoid of any principles other than getting himself elected. As much as the American public does not like Barack Obama, they loath a man so fueled with ambition that he will say or do anything to get himself elected. Mitt Romney is that man. ...

“There is no issue I can find on which Mitt Romney has not taken both sides. He is neither liberal nor conservative. He is simply unprincipled. The man has no core beliefs other than in himself. You want him to be tough? He’ll be tough. You want him to be sensitive? He’ll be sensitive. ...

“Mitt Romney is the silly putty of politicians — press on him real hard and he’ll take on whatever image you press into him until the next group starts pressing.”

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That was written just a few days short of a year ago.

In the year that's followed, we’ve come to recognize a candidate so ethically invertebrate that he would abandon his own campaign’s foreign policy adviser to the conservatives who wanted him ousted because of his sexual orientation; a man of such outsize greed that he would sequester his great wealth in offshore accounts in multiple locations outside the United States; a man so vastly arrogant that he’d go to Britain to attend the Olympics and insult the host country that is our most enduring global partner; a man so enslaved to secrecy and control that he’d refuse to release multiple years of his tax returns, breaking with a presidential campaign tradition started by his father.  

We’ve come to know a candidate so relentlessly opportunistic that he would politicize a diplomatic crisis in Libya, jumping in to make sure his hastily proffered statement would hit the morning news cycle even before the details about what had happened were more fully known; a plutocrat so enamored of his class and the insulations of his wealth that he’d huddle with his multimillionaire friends in a candlelit room in Boca Raton and tell them that you and 47 percent of Americans like you are irresponsible, lazy, functionally worthless and utterly deserving of whatever life hands down.

The Republican nominee for the American presidency said, privately, candidly, in May: “All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what ... These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

This man of situational convictions, this rooter against the economy he presumes to rescue, this bearer of a fundamental disconnect between himself and the populism he’s professed, would be president of the United States.

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IT COMES down to a matter of perspective, or of vision: seeing the nation and the world through the twin lenses of practicality and compassion. President Obama has that clarity of vision, that necessary self-awareness of himself and his responsibilities.

As president, he is both a master and an unwilling captive of the institutions and latitudes of the American government over which he presides, a man who recognizes the strength and power of those institutions for what they are and either uses them directly to advance a wider good or, when necessary, pushes against their constraints and limitations when they work contrary to the interests of everyday Americans. And he does it every chance he gets.

He did it with his first piece of legislation, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, a law that put fresh federal muscle behind the principle of equal pay for equal work. He did it with an executive order that barred the federal government from starting deportation procedures for young undocumented immigrants under the age of 30. He did it again when he signed an executive order specifically intended “to identify evidence-based best practices to improve African-American students' achievement in school and college." He signed another one repealing Bush administration restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

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Obama pressed for and won revisions in fuel efficiency standards for cars and other efficiency standards for common household appliances; he signed into law the CARD Act, intended to shield Americans from deceptive credit-card practices; he increased funding for student loans and Pell grants; he increased funding for national parks and forests; and he offered a number of lifelines to homeowners struggling with declining home values, easing the process of refinancing.

For a president whom the conventional wisdom said was cold, aloof and indifferent to the workings of the Congress, Obama has done remarkably well, achieving a success rate of 96 percent on winning congressional votes on legislation on which he took a position — doing better in his first year in office than Lyndon Johnson did.

Obama has wielded the levers of presidential power while recognizing, painfully sometimes, what can and can’t be done with an obstructionist Republican House, a “loyal opposition” more concerned with being opposition than with being loyal. And in times of national agony, from the killing of diplomats half a world away to a hurricane that devastates the eastern seaboard, President Obama has worn the nation's woes with dignity and honor, showing the ability to connect with the American people in a deep and visceral way, with a common touch that reflects common concerns.

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ROMNEY — AND from available evidence the Republican Party as a whole — is a wholeheartedly obedient captive to those institutions and latitudes of the government for what they collectively represent: power for its own sake. Romney recognizes them for what they are, too, but Romney doesn’t push against them; he and the GOP are about advancing those powers that restrict personal liberty, magnify corporate influence, and fatten the wallets of their partners in greed. And they’d do it every chance they get.

Consider Romney’s avowed intent to abolish Planned Parenthood, and its broad and necessary range of services for women and their reproductive rights. Consider his stated desire to load the U.S. Supreme Court with conservative ideologues favorable to the repeal of Roe v. Wade, and the casting of American women of childbearing age back into the Dark Ages. Remember his unfortunate post-Citizens United equalization — “corporations are people, my friend!”

Look back at three-plus years of willful obstruction by the Republicans in the House and the Senate, legislative chicanery that’s damaged the government and retarded the nation’s growth.

Look around at the voter suppression efforts, obscenities that criss-cross this country to varying degrees right now — on Election Day. Look at the actions they’ve taken to choke off participatory democracy, the things they’ve done to make this election less like citizens’ exercise of a constitutional franchise and more like a logistical game of chess.

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THE DIFFERENCES between President Obama and Mitt Romney, and the parties they represent, couldn’t be clearer. It’s these differences, and the contrasting approaches to governing embodied in each of these men, that millions of Americans will vote on today.

For one man, power is an end in itself: the power to cut taxes for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans while leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves; the power to reinforce the distinctions of income, race and class that are this nation’s most pernicious legacy. The power to be what ThePeoplesView feared in a tweet on the eve of the election: “Mitt Romney’s campaign is literally an existential threat to the middle class.”

For the president, power is the lever by which change is delivered for the American people, the people of another community not that dissimilar from the one in Chicago where Barack Obama became a community organizer, learning what he needed to know, years later, in his first quest for the White House: that the United States was nothing less than a larger community waiting for the right organizer. The one we elected four years ago.

There’s more work to be done in achieving what the nation is capable of. President Barack Obama has more than earned the right to complete the journey of recovery we’re on — to finish what he started four years ago. And just as accurately, what he inherited.

Image credits: Obama: The Associated Press. Obama campaign logo, Private Sector job chart: © 2012 Obama for America. GM logo: © 2012 General Motors. Obama comforts New Jersey woman: via MSNBC.

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