The president commissioned the Simpson-Bowles inquiry into the deficit, and ignored it, until last week. He has tried to confect and make tangible the canard that something useful in deficit reduction will be accomplished by soaking the wealthiest 3 percent of income-earners. There is legitimate concern about disparity of income, but that is not a problem that can be addressed in a way that does anything for the deficit. He is deliberately conflating two distinct issues, presumably because of his failure to deal with the principal one. As I have written here before, Mr. Obama is the first incumbent president not to run for reelection on the basis of his record since Martin Van Buren in 1840. (Van Buren was lumbered with a depression caused by President Jackson’s attack on the Bank of the United States, but Van Buren could not run against his great patron, whose vice president he had been, as President Obama continues to run against George W. Bush.) Even Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, who were unsuccessful presidents, gamely ran on their records (unsuccessfully, against the century’s two greatest presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan).
Willard Mitt Romney has wobbled all the way around the compass on almost every issue and shows no sign of having the fundamental grasp of the role, purpose, and destiny of America that its greatest leaders have had, even somewhat compromised ones like Jackson and Nixon. But he has pledged to attack the deficit, starting with the Paul Ryan plan, which can be reconciled with Simpson-Bowles, and perhaps he would break down the extreme hostility between the congressional parties in Washington that George W. Bush and Barack Obama have fostered.
Real health-care reform, since it involves affronting the medical and legal professions, the large pharmaceutical and private hospital and insurance companies, and the para-medical unions, will require both parties, since, ultimately, approximately half of Americans support each. Governor Romney’s reform of health care in Massachusetts was nothing to write home about, and after starting out his seven-year campaign for the presidency touting it, he has been put to flight by the polls, but at least he got both parties working together.
In foreign policy, the greatest issue is Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama has treated this as one of the many prospects that are, as he and Secretary Clinton portentously intone, “unacceptable,” but that are, almost invariably, then accepted. His avoidance of impetuosity has been a strong point, and he was probably correct to clear out of Iraq when he did. Telegraphing the date of American departure from Afghanistan may have been a mistake, but heading for the exit of that horrible can of worms cannot be considered a mistake. The error was his predecessor’s in leading a broad alliance into Afghanistan and then decamping into Iraq on ambiguous pretexts and leaving the allies to hold the bag in a most unpromising correlation of forces. Romney has been characteristically unclear on possible methods in Iran, but has been consistent that he will stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. He has the edge on the issue, and no one should doubt that assumption by the mad theocrats in Iran of a nuclear capability would be a catastrophe.
All civilized people are pleased that the color barrier in presidential elections has been broken; we can probably safely assume that the sex barrier has, also, and that, in a race between a Mormon and a man with a partially Muslim family background (and with two Roman Catholic vice-presidential candidates), the sectarian barrier has been smashed too. That is Barack Obama’s great contribution to American history. His only reelection argument has been a denigration of Romney as an outsourcing asset-stripper and stooge of the “billionaires and millionaires,” cranking up for a war on women. It won’t do.
As I said to a dinner party in London last week: In the U.K. abdication crisis of 1936, the (very tedious) archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, said of the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (parents of the present queen), “I think the Yorks can do it,” and they did. So can W. M. Romney. I hope he gets the chance and predict that he will win, by about 2.5 million votes and 273–265 in the Electoral College. As Tex Ritter sang, when he unsuccessfully sought to be the U.S. senator from Tennessee in 1970 (and to send Al Gore Sr. into regrettably postponed retirement, “God bless America, again.”
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and, just released, A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at [email protected].