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Published: June 2012
Democratic elections tend to be about picking the lesser of two evils. Roger Willis, a self-described cynical British Tory, finds himself defending Barack Obama on issues ranging from domestic matters of gay marriage to Obama’s foreign policy in the upcoming November elections in the United States of America.
WHEN IT COMES to the question facing Britain’s American cousins in November, an affinity towards traditional Republican principles of low taxation, minimal government interference, and defense of private property is soundly trumped by an aversion to the low quality, minimal competence, and defense of the indefensible that the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, represents. Voting is, more often than not, a public ritual of anointing the best of a bad bunch, and in this case, there are reasons to root for the incumbent over the incapable. Mr. Obama’s flawed but steady progression from his 2008 election to his next electoral challenge is far more agreeable than the contrast of the emergence of the recent protracted and pyrrhic primary campaigning by the Romney advocates.
The “special relationship“ flourishing
Photo: The Washington Note
Despite maintaining opposition to much of what Obama stands for in principle, a British Tory can still appreciate what Obama’s presidency has achieved in terms of potential. A great example can be derived from Obama’s 2010 health care reform, which served as a centerpiece for his presidential campaign. Obama has used a sledgehammer to crack a nut in overseeing a piece of legislation, which, as the Supreme Court could conceivably rule shortly before Election Day, is plainly unconstitutional. Though the bill arguably oversteps the responsibilities of the Federal Government, encroaching on the rights and responsibilities of state governments in the process, one cannot deny the need for such a reform to take place in the United States. Obama has achieved what none of his predecessors could in a long line of White House incumbents dating back to Teddy Roosevelt who envisioned universal health care. The fact is that the United States needs some kind of basic health care provision beyond Medicaid. For all the shortcomings of the bill and Obama himself, both have arguably made the future implementation of such a system, which does not contravene federalist principles, a question not of if, but when. Meanwhile, despite the well-publicized similarities between the aforementioned bill and the so-called “Romneycare” package passed during his opponent’s tenure as Governor of Massachusetts in 2006, Romney himself has been forced to down play this aspect of his legislative record in order to placate the right wing of his party. Thus, all but guaranteeing that a Republican White House would remain intransigent to this fundamental necessity. In this case, Romney would appear to be the candidate most in need of effective healthcare. How about a strong, daily dose of reality?
In regards to a different kind of sickness – that plaguing the American economy – let us remind ourselves that whilst many a critic has (rightfully) pointed to the severe shortcomings of the $787 billion stimulus package signed into law during Obama’s first days in office, its failure serves as more than a reminder of the calamity that is Keynesian economics. In all fairness, such a flawed course of action was, and is, symptomatic of the poisoned chalice that Obama inherited in winning the presidency. Once he took office he was presented with an almost impossible situation in terms of improving the material wellbeing and jobs prospects of the American citizenry and so, at the very least, he can be seen as having maintained consistency in this area. Given Mitt Romney’s curious support for a future stimulus and his opposition to the American Recovery and Investment Act, it is perhaps too optimistic to hope that Romney’s recovery from cognitive dissonance can take place before the recovery of the economy itself.
In terms of measures containing more symbolism than substance: Obama’s recent endorsement of gay marriage, in addition to the more palpable results of his repeal of the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which prevented openly gay men and women from serving in the military, has placed further distance between the two candidates. Placing Obama’s political opportunism on the subject aside (having expressed support for gay marriage in 1996, and opposition in 2008, prior to his miraculous change of heart), America deserves a president who recognizes that in a nation where gay couples already enjoy recognition in many other areas of civil and public life (albeit with notable discrepancies from state to state), the logical conclusion would be to turn the issue of gay marriage from a question in the abstract to a reality at the altar. Regardless of this reality, within the context of the omnipresent American cultural war, many Republicans continue to worship at the altar of homophobia as was reflected in Romney’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
Beyond the domestic realm, and contrary to the protests of his detractors, the direction that Obama has taken concerning America’s external relations, whether rebalancing a military withdrawal from Iraq with heightened emphasis on Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the reorientation of long term American interests towards the Asia-Pacific region, has remained true to his pre-election stance. In doing so, he has also remained true to a foreign policy vision that has revitalized and revamped the global presence of the world’s sole superpower, at least for the twenty-first century. In strengthening ties between America and its treaty-bound allies in the region – Australia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines – Obama has firmly brought his country into a post-Cold War world in which NATO has lost its relevance. This is not to say that NATO itself has lost relevance in an institutional or functional sense, but rather, America’s European partners within the alliance have lost relevance as a result of neglecting to maintain adequate defense spending and instead opting to free ride on the back of the unsustainable defense budget of its largest contributor. Thus, Obama has begun to realize that one must jettison the European lame duck if one is to balance the Chinese dragon. Though not without merit, the fact that Romney’s only major foreign policy disagreement with Obama is his claim that a NATO military withdrawal from Afghanistan should not take place before 2014, suggests that he could hardly better his rival in this area.
So, from the politics of medication to the politics of matrimony, Mr. Obama would certainly appear to be the best of a bad bunch in the year 2012. With Mr. Romney being hostage to the right wing of the Republican Party on a host of hot-button issues and barely distinguishable from his opponent on a number of others, this year’s presidential election is less about change we can believe in and more about the same that we can put up with. Hence, while things could not be much better than they currently are, Americans ought to remind themselves that things could nonetheless be much worse.