Friday, January 06, 2012

Why President Obama Will Be Re-Elected

This first week of the year is devoted to posts on the big political picture.

The main reasons that I think President Obama will be re-elected is that:

a) he is the incumbent, so the sizable majority that voted for him last time will want to vote for him again;

b) the economy is improving; and

c) the Republicans will be unable to unite around an exciting and unifying candidate.

President Obama has been a very good president.

Conditions in the country and in the world are improving.

Obama is playing the long game of politics very well. When he was first elected, he knew he had about 18 months to pass the main pieces of his positive agenda.  He did, most importantly by passing universal health care. He has also been relentlessly bi-partisan, working with any Republicans who were willing to help, compromising the way any competent politician must, and keeping his eye on the ball.  He has had even greater successes in foreign policy.  And he has waited until the turn into his re-election year to push back harder against the Republican leadership's intransigence.

The Republicans have played into Obama's hands.  They have positioned themselves as against health care for millions, against saving the auto industry, against regulating the investment "banks" that nearly destroyed the world economy, against regulating the payday lenders that batten on the poor and working class, against supporting democratic movements in the Arab world, against reducing payroll taxes for people who live on their earnings, against raising taxes on the hugely rich.  Most importantly, they have positioned themselves against compromising and working together in the way that government absolutely requires.

To take a signal example, I think universal health care will be a pillar of what most Americans appreciate about government, as they do Medicare and Social Security.  Republicans also opposed Medicare and Social Security, but at least some of them voted for it.  Not universal health care, though - the Republican leadership made sure their party was unanimously against it.  And they call it "Obamacare."  This short-sighted intransigence will come back to bite them for years to come.

The Republican Party is also suffering a three-way civil war among its establishment, social conservative, and libertarian wings.  The Tea Party, in particular, is almost as much anti-Republican as it is anti-Democratic. I believe the Tea Party has shot its bolt and will be irrelevant after this election.  But in the mean time, they will exacerbate the intransigence that is undermining the Republican Party as an actual instrument of government.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Obama Is Mostly Doing an Excellent Job

This first week of the year is devoted to posts on the big political picture.

Yesterday I wrote about my main criticism of President Obama. Today I want to say that, on the whole, I think he has done a masterful job under very difficult circumstances.

President Obama first had to clean up the gigantic mess left by the previous administration. He prevented a major depression, ended a misbegotten war, is winding down a more justified war, killed bin Laden, ended torture, restored America's stature in the world, saved the auto industry, resumed regulating the finance industry, and started protecting the environment again.

Obama also came in to office with a positive agenda. His main achievement was to create universal health care, an objective of Democratic administrations since Truman. He started investing more in alternative energy, rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, working with our allies, and shifting our military focus toward Asia.

He also made the most of some unexpected opportunities, most importantly the Arab Spring. President Obama supported indigenous revolutions against Arab dictators, without sending American troops, spending a trillion dollars, alienating our allies, or creating loathing for America among the "liberated" people. The contrast with the Iraq war is striking in this regard. And the chances of successful democracy are greater than in Iraq, though still iffy in both cases.

One great achievement of the Obama administration is something it did not do: it did not make our enemies do worse things by threatening them. The President did not invent an "axis of evil," pushing them to invest in nuclear weapons against an American threat.

And President Obama achieved all of this in the face of a determined foe whose sole objective was to deny the president any achievements: the leadership of the Republican Party. As Senator McConnell said at the outset of the current administration, the main goal of Republicans is to deny President Obama a second term.

Obama has been a very good president. I hope in the coming year he will prove to be an excellent one.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Obama Is Doing Something Wrong in Fighting Terrorists

This first week of the year is devoted to posts on the big political picture.

On his first day in office, President Obama promised to close the Guantanamo prison within a year. He did not.

Last year he ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen, Anwar Awlaki, by a drone attack in Yemen.

Last week he signed the defense bill which allows the indefinite detention without trial of suspected terrorists.

Each of these acts is wrong in itself and dangerous as a precedent.

I normally support President Obama, so I have tried hard to understand why he did these things, and what principle or theory might lie behind them. I have not come up with a good account. National security, especially when dealing with terrorists, necessarily includes facts that can't be revealed to the public. Perhaps there are good reasons for these acts that are now hidden.

Here are my best guesses.

Some of the Guantanamo prisoners were so badly tortured under the previous administration that they cannot effectively be put on trial or released. Since their testimony was acquired by torture, it is worthless. The Obama administration ended the torture, but cannot undue what was done before.

A very small number of American citizens, such as Awlaki, have indeed become enemy combatants. Awlaki himself openly proclaimed this. Since he was in hiding in enemy territory, it was not practical to capture and try him as a citizen has a right to receive. The drone attack was the only practical way to fight that enemy, as we have with many other non-citizen enemy individuals.

When signing the National Defense Authorization Act, the president issued a statement that he objected to the provisions of the act that allowed for indefinite military detention and would not allow them on his watch. His opponents put this poison pill in the law precisely to embarrass the president. Since he had to sign the law in order to pay the troops, he accepted this compromise, while still rejecting this provision of the law.

I think these guesses on my part are the best case for understanding how President Obama could be party to these bad acts. Still, they only mitigate the evil; they do not justify it, nor end it.

I understand that we are fighting terrorists - enemy individuals and loose organizations that really do threaten us. The normal tools that states can use in fighting the armies of other states are not available. We have had to develop new tools to fight these enemies effectively.

I believe the Obama administration has made some effort to make the war against terrorists more legal than it was, and to make it still more legal and ethical as we go forward.

But I believe that President Obama has not done enough to fight these enemy individuals and organizations in a way that is in accord with American constitutional principles. This is my biggest disappointment with the Obama administration.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Three-Way Fight Among Republicans

I am starting the year with a week of Big Picture posts.

Republicans normally nominate the person whose turn it is to run for president.  They typically pick a candidate who did respectably in their previous primary.  By that logic, it is Mitt Romney's turn.

Some newcomers also run in order to get in line for a future race, or at least to position themselves for a post in the next Republican administration.  I believe Jon Huntsman, my favorite of the Republican candidates this year, ran for this reason.

When I look at the rest of this year's Republican field, I see two things.

First, I think all the other establishment politicians in the party believe that Barack Obama will be re-elected.  Therefore, they decided to sit this one out.

Second, the Tea Party is a wild card. This movement is as much against the Republican establishment as it is against the Democrats. None of those who are running are exactly Tea Partiers.  Tea Partiers are mostly very conservative white Christians, drawn heavily from the petite bourgeoisie, who are the bedrock of any Republican coalition. I think Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann come closest. They are drawn to libertarianism, so they think well of Ron Paul.  But mostly they are not really against government, as true libertarians are.  Rather, Tea Partiers are against government spending money on people they regard as undeserving. All the Not-Romney candidates have been trying to mobilize the Tea Party, but none have a lock.

Herman Cain got into the race, I believe, to raise his speaking fees.  That is his main source of income.  Ironically, if he had not become the front-runner, this strategy might have worked.  Too much exposure, though, destroyed his credibility (if not his marriage).

Newt Gingrich, I think, never expected to be the nominee.  He does, though, wish he still mattered politically, so he ran to raise his profile. He may even get his wish.  I think, though, he has also raised his negatives, reminding a new generation of Republicans why the previous generation of Republican leaders pushed him out of leadership.

Rick Santorum is, I believe, actually the strongest social conservative in the race - which is saying quite a bit. He is a very traditional Catholic - not an evangelical Protestant.  One consequence of this fact, not usually appreciated by secular political commentators, is that traditional Catholics are not beholden to free-market capitalism, large corporations, or big banks.  This is also why Santorum is not the candidate of the Republican establishment.

As I write this, the Iowa caucuses are unfolding. Romney, Santorum, and Paul are leading.  I think the Republican race will continue with these three, or people representing the three Republican camps.

The Tea Party and the social conservatives will try to fend off the gravitational pull of the establishment candidate.

I expect that Romney, the establishment candidate, the my-turn candidate, will be the eventual nominee.

Monday, January 02, 2012

The World Is Better Off Than It Was a Year Ago

I like to start each year with a week of reflections on the big picture.

The worst dictator in the world died.

The worst terrorist in the world was killed.

Three Arab dictatorships were overthrown, which is good; by their own people; which is better; with Western help, but not Western domination, which is best of all.

Three other Arab dictatorships may be overthrown the same way. As well as the military dictatorship of Burma.

The world economy is slowly improving.  Europe has been able to avert economic collapse, and is slowly dealing with their currency and debt crisis.

China is cooperating more with the West in trade and in stabilizing Western debt.  China has also been helpful in containing North Korea.

Conditions are improving for women's education, careers, public lives, and general freedom throughout nearly all nations of the world. 

Conditions are improving for sexual minorities in most nations of the world.

Religious freedom is improving in most nations of the world.

World population seems to be stabilizing.

Let us not take for granted stable democracies in almost every corner of the Western hemisphere, the Northern hemisphere, and most of the Pacific island nations.

The generation-long trend of declining violence continues in nearly all nations.

All the great powers are working together to reduce the threat of war, both among great powers, and among little states.

To be sure, there are a few very bad actors in the world, some of them controlling states. And there are always uncertainties to worry about.  The world economy is recovering, but not recovered. The global warming trend may be getting worse. And bad things happen to individuals every day.

Still, the world as a whole is better off than it was a year ago.

There is a great deal to be thankful for, and hopeful about, in the world today.