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 behind thinking that number meaningful 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: “At least Mr Obama, although he distanced himself from Bowles-Simpson, has made it clear that any long-term solution has to involve both entitlement reform and tax rises.” Obama has never outlined any long-term plan to fix the deficit. In public he has never proposed any reductions in entitlement spending other than the ineffective ones contained in Obamacare.

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!

Under President Romney, new conservative Supreme Court justices would try to overturn Roe v Wade, returning abortion policy to the states. The rights of immigrants (who have hardly had a good deal under Mr Obama) and gays (who have) would also come under threat. This newspaper yearns for the more tolerant conservatism of Ronald Reagan, where “small government” meant keeping the state out of people’s bedrooms as well as out of their businesses. Mr Romney shows no sign of wanting to revive it.

Under a President Romney, I assume that same-sex marriage will continue to advance in the states; I also assume that The Economist would write as much soon after a Romney victory. Reagan was of course at least as hostile to abortion as Romney. (Abortions, by the way, do not generally take place in bedrooms, and acts of homicide committed in bedrooms are not generally considered off-limits even to small governments.)

They return at the end of the editorial to the notion that Obama saved the country from another Great Depression: another bit of conventional wisdom for which there is little evidence. Perhaps that was the editorial assignment: “Write something that endorses Obama while catering to every prejudice of people who consider themselves sophisticated.” Mission accomplished, if so.

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