Barack Obama’s rise to power brought together the vanity of a man, a social class, and an ideology. The mood of his support base may have gone from utopian to thuggish over the last four years, but the intense self-satisfaction remains. In part because of the incumbent’s own personality, contemporary liberalism (with honorable exceptions) is unable to understand opposition to itself in other than pathological terms. How else to explain how so many people could fail to recognize the greatness of his presidency?
Having decided that only partisanship, insanity, or nihilism could explain resistance to the Obama agenda, the president and his allies have given themselves moral permission to run a presidential campaign of uncommon nastiness and stupidity. Many of the reelection campaign’s main arguments — that outsourcing is a sin that disqualifies practitioners from office, that Romney would reinstate the policies that caused the financial crisis, that leaving religious employers as free as they were in 2011 to decline to cover contraception constitutes a “war on women” — are so utterly without merit that it is hard to believe that Obama and his team believe them.
The Obama record, examined without liberal presuppositions, is unimpressive, even dismal. While he took office amid great difficulties, as you may have heard, he has done little to strengthen the nation in the short term and a good deal to weaken it in the long.
The stimulus that his partisans credit with saving the country from another Great Depression could not have done any such thing, having disbursed most of its funds after the economy had already hit bottom. The chief evidence for its efficacy comes from studies that assume what they are said to prove. The financial-regulation bill left Fannie and Freddie untouched while entrenching the notion that some companies can rely in extremis on federal bailouts. The auto bailout prevented a normal bankruptcy process that would have left both the auto companies (which would have been freer from unaffordable commitments to unions) and taxpayers in better shape.
The Obamacare legislation would probably extend health insurance to many people who lack it. While the evidence that this extension will actually improve their health is scant, it should increase their financial security. This benefit is bought, however, with a reduction in the financial security of the nation as a whole. The legislation appears to bring the books to balance, even to produce a slight surplus, by cutting Medicare. The Medicare cuts are, however, of a type that have repeatedly failed in the past. About the president’s confidence that he can succeed in managing federal health spending to drive efficiency throughout the sector, when previous such efforts have not even succeeded in boosting efficiency within Medicare, all that can be said is that it is typical of the man.
An alternative plan, more in keeping with the traditional American preference for free markets and limited government, would have gradually increased the number of people with access to individually purchased insurance while concentrating subsidies on the relatively small number of people whose preexisting conditions make insurance extraordinarily hard to arrange. That approach, which would have cost less money and posed no threat to medical innovation, was never seriously entertained by an administration committed to the myth of Washington’s omnicompetence.
Obama’s party has controlled the Senate for the entirety of his time in office, and for most of that time refused to draw up a budget. The administration has had notional budgets, but is quite like its Senate allies in refusing to choose among spending priorities or to bring long-term spending commitments into line with what we can afford. Instead it has tried to make the elevated spending levels of the crisis, with the stimulus, into a norm. The president claims to oppose middle-class tax increases, like the Republicans. Unlike the Republicans, he has advanced no plan to restructure entitlements to prevent those tax increases. He has contented himself with launching false attacks on the Republican plan.
The president’s foreign policy has one signal achievement: the bringing of Osama bin Laden to justice. By failing to negotiate an agreement to keep a residual force in Iraq and by advertising his intention, nay desperation, to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, he has, however, weakened our leverage in both places. He refused to support protesters in Iran in 2009 and opposed, when they were moving through Congress, the sanctions against Iran that he now brags about. His pledge to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon lacks credibility. The distrust Obama has engendered among Israelis is well known; also worth recalling is that his obsession with Israeli settlements ended up weakening Palestinian reformers by forcing them to insist on concessions that were never going to happen. Allies in central Europe have been alienated, indeed treated with ignorant and insulting condescension. The opportunity to build on the Clinton-Bush policy of encouraging friendship with India has been ignored. The defense budget has been treated cavalierly, as a bargaining chip in domestic politics rather than a crucial element of our global strategy.
As the weeks have gone by since the murder of Americans, including our ambassador, in Benghazi, Obama’s response to this outrage has come to seem more and more like a symbol and consequence of more general failings: his naïveté about Islamists; his conviction that the world’s esteem for him would transform global politics; his inordinate emphasis on media management; his petulance in the face of criticism. When we suffer a setback in the War on Terror, the president should level with us about what has happened. That honesty is impossible when the president’s conceit is that the war is part of a past he is transcending.
Obama has not so much failed to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution as he has tried to subvert it. When Congress has failed to go along with his liberal policy preferences on immigration, welfare, or health care, he has imposed them by fiat. He has committed to naming judges who will not allow state legislatures to protect unborn life, an extreme policy found nowhere in the Constitution. His well-advertised “evolution” on marriage is likely to result, if he wins a second term, in a federal attack on the laws of most states. He has attacked religious liberty by requiring nearly all employers to provide coverage for things, such as abortion drugs, that many of them abhor; and has provided next to no explanation of how he could possibly have the legal authority to do such a thing.
Mitt Romney’s record, to put it gently, has not always been that of a National Review conservative. The more we have learned about the health-care plan he got enacted in Massachusetts, the less wise we consider it. During his campaign he has too often been unimaginative or vague on health care, federal spending, and taxes. Yet he has also stood, riskily, for a necessary reform of entitlements. He has vowed to be a reliable ally of pro-lifers and judicial conservatives. Without indicating any desire to go to war with Iran, he has treated its nuclear ambitions, and the increased power their realization would gain it, with an appropriate alarm (and we trust Tehran would read his election as a negative development). He has made it clear that in cutting spending he would be mindful that the national defense is the federal government’s foremost responsibility. In choosing Paul Ryan as his prospective vice president he has shown far better judgment than Obama, whose own pick weekly demonstrates that the categories of buffoon and demagogue are not mutually exclusive.
In this election we are proud to stand with Mitt Romney over the vain collectivist in the White House, and we hope the voters will make the same decision.