The Economist’s Obama Endorsement

by Ramesh Ponnuru

The Economist’s endorsement of a second term for Obama starts out weak and gets weaker. It opens with a bunch of to-be-sure criticisms of the president. Most of them are vague, and some of the others are daft. (Obama is faulted for having “retreated” on climate change, even though his EPA is likely to impose regulations and Obama had few legislative options short of finding a way to abolish the Senate.)

The main point of the editorial is the unacceptability of Romney. The editors write:

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. 

The assumptions here are that a) Romney will find no tax breaks to scale back, b) he will proceed with the tax-rate reductions anyway, and c) that Romney’s defense plans should be compared, not to Obama’s or to CBO projections, but to 2013 spending. I’m not a fan of Romney’s tax plan–and explain why at length in the latest issue of NR–but this is not an honest and accurate way of presenting the issues.

The editors continue:

Mr Romney is still in the cloud-cuckoo-land of thinking you can [balance the books] entirely through spending cuts. . . . 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%. . . .

It is much more common to come across this kind of dismissal of the idea that you can solve the budget problem entirely through spending cuts than to see an actual case for why you can’t. You can, mathematically. Politically, you might not be able to; but it’s not as though the politics of the type of grand bargain The Economist has in mind will obviously work either. As for the defense cuts, you know which “sensible supporters” of his say he wouldn’t push defense spending to 4 percent of GDP “in current circumstances”? The ones who work for his campaign!