Politics & Policy

A Time for Choosing

A Romney victory would be a step in the right direction.

It is desperately difficult to think of anything new to write about the election, but equally difficult to write about anything else in this space this week. A recitation of what most readers will consider the obvious will be the mouse that emerges from this slightly mountainous writer, trying to shed the weight gained in ten liver-busting days in London, launching a book there and rekindling a few ventures, after an absence from that city of seven years. The British, like most foreigners, tend to like American presidents who don’t play too strong a hand in foreign affairs (other than when saving the same foreigners from aggressive neighbors), who practice collegiality (because it maximizes the generally unearned influence of America’s allies), who praise Eurosocialism, and who apologize for the failings of former presidents. So they rather like Obama, but there is some recognition that he has been no pillar of fiscal responsibility and has been somewhat erratic in foreign affairs. Mitt Romney made a poor impression in Britain, and foreigners generally have their doubts about Mormons and asset-strippers.

Of course, it doesn’t much matter what foreigners think about American elections, but the British are more discerning than most, and at some point, some president of the U.S., fairly soon, will want to try to breathe life back into the alliance system that twelve consecutive presidents starting with FDR — six of each party — led and utilized to the general good of the West, despite the tragedies of Vietnam and some of the more recent activities in the Middle East. Almost nothing coherent has been uttered by anyone of any political standing about serious foreign-policy issues in this campaign, and, as some have remarked, Governor Romney, in the foreign-policy debate, appeared to be auditioning for the post of Mr. Obama’s national-security adviser.

I submit that the principal fact for consideration in the election is that the current regime has taken a cumulative national debt of $10 trillion run up over 232 years of American history and increased it in less than four years to $16 trillion, adding $17,000 of new debt for every man, woman, and child — even newborns — in the country. A large part of the new debt is not covered by the ordinary sale of bonds at arm’s length to public and international buyers, but by the Treasury’s 100 percent subsidiary, the Federal Reserve, and paid for by the cyber-creation of e-mailed Federal Reserve notes. The interest, minimal as it is, paid on these notes, is paid by the Treasury, through the banking system or directly, to the Federal Reserve, which dividends it back to the Treasury. This is an inflationary shell game disguised by tanked-out industries in the inflation calculation — like housing — and if it goes on for four more years the consequences will be disastrous.

George Washington charged the Continental Congress, when he retired as commander of the Continental Army in 1783, to create an indissoluble union, defend the new country militarily, and endow it with a sound currency and treasury. It failed to do any of those. As president of the Constitutional Convention, he outlined the same goals, and carried them out as the nation’s first president, and urged retention of those national attributes on his retirement as president in 1797. The country has been successfully defended, and President Lincoln and his generals established the indissolubility of the Union, but the integrity of the currency and the Treasury are now in peril. President Obama has not given a hint of how he would address the deficit, or even that he recognizes it to be a very serious problem. In his convention acceptance speech, the president said: “Independent experts say that my plan would cut our deficit by $4 trillion.” But what his program promises is an annual reduction of $400 million in a $1.5 trillion annual deficit. Even four years of such a program will cause grievous damage.

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 cbletters@gmail.com.

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