Obama Cares

2012-11-02 – The bumper sticker on my car says “Obamacare.”

The term Obamacare was coined in derision by President Obama’s opponents as if it is self-evident that caring is an inappropriate goal for a national healthcare system.

In 2009, Obama was scorned when he said that he would be looking for empathy in the individual he would name to the Supreme Court to replace retiring justice David Souter (he named Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed). Empathy is somehow thought, by Obama’s opponents, to be an unworthy characteristic in a judge.

President Obama’s opponents elevate selfishness instead. This is not me being judgmental. This is the stated value in the writings of Ayn Rand that Republicans (particularly vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan) revere.

But care (not the profits of insurance companies) is the right goal for a healthcare system. Empathy and understanding of litigants is what judges do (how can you judge without it). And selfishness is only half the human equation (human nature balances selfishness with caring). I believe that President Obama thoughtfully balances the two forces in our human nature. And that is why I will be voting for his reelection.

Of course, being President of the United States requires more than aspirations and values. We are not voting for Thinker of the United States or Emoter of the United States. We are voting for an individual who will take effective action in the areas of national responsibility. So I am going to briefly make the case in a few areas, taken from the preamble to the United States Constitution:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

A more perfect Union. Has Obama been perfect as President in his first term? No. I would have liked to see stronger action to promote job growth. I would have liked to have seen action on housing and mortgages to focus more on helping homeowners rather than on helping banks. I would have liked to see a greater shift from Wall Street to Main Street. And Obamacare could have been structured more to my liking.

But in each of these areas, the Obama administration took great steps forward against vicious opposition from the other party. Stimulus was enacted (though not as much as required). The auto industry was saved (though the other side thought it wasn’t a good idea) and manufacturing jobs are returning to this country. Executive action to reform mortgages was late but is slowly restoring the housing market. The Dodd-Frank legislation took baby steps toward reforming the financial system, and even these steps have provided much greater strength in our banks than is found in European banks.

Is it enough? No. Will Obama’s opponents do more? No. They will do less or they will attempt to roll back what was done.

Establish Justice. President Obama took a stand against the Supreme Court’s undermining of women’s right to equal pay by signing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. He eliminated Don’t-Ask-Don’t Tell in the US military, allowing gays to openly serve their country. He supports gay marriage and has withdrawn executive support for the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. He has administratively stopped deportation of children of undocumented aliens. His opponents would have none of any of this.

Insure domestic Tranquility. Obama’s one major shortcoming in this area is his administration’s continued vigorous support of the war on drugs. This forty-year effort has had zero effect on consumption of drugs in this country. It has brought violence to minority communities. It has enriched drug kingpins. It undermines the legitimacy of world governments from Mexico to Columbia to Afghanistan. And it has resulted in massive incarceration of African Americans. This is a major issue and, oddly, a movement to end this war on drugs is being embraced by some on the right. It would be an area where Obama could achieve positive bipartisan improvement. If he would go there. Maybe he believes a black man can’t tackle this issue. I wish he would. But I don’t believe a Romney administration would tackle it either.

Provide for the common defence. Osama bin Laden. ‘nuff said.

Seriously, President Obama has refocused the Bush war on terror by taking the war to the terrorists. As he promised, he ended the war in Iraq and he has set an end date on the war in Afghanistan. He has taken steps to raise our stature in the Middle East and the world without withdrawing support for Israel.

Doubt of his support for Israel assumes that the government of Israel (or the United States, for that matter) always possesses foresight and the best of all strategies to advance their interests. The Israeli-Arab conflict has existed for more than sixty years. You’d think that people on both sides would recognize the failure of existing policies to end the conflict, yet they prefer to continue doing what they’ve always done. The Obama administration thought they could bring something new, but failed. And it continues to struggle to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. There is no magic strategy and little meaningful difference between Obama and Romney on this issue.

The Arab Spring is both an opportunity and a threat. The story is yet to be told. Libya was a success before it was a failure, but it may yet be a success again. Syria is a disaster. The influence of the United States is not going to come from Iraq-style interventions. Obama seems to know this. It is not clear what Romney knows.

Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves . . . Here is the supposed strength of the Republican worldview. Here is Ayn Randianism. Here is selfishness (but notice that it is only one phrase out of an entire paragraph). But is it a strength? Despite the talk, the greatest growth of jobs has come during Democratic administrations and the greatest growth of deficits has come during Republican deficits. And the historical trend have continued to this day.

The Obama plan to reduce the deficit may not be great (but see my comment on the “fiscal cliff” at the end of this post) but it is at least plausible. The Romney plan explicitly adds trillions to the deficit on a blank-check promise to make it up in impossible-to achieve spending cuts. Romney has been going around saying that his (again unspecified) plan would add 12 million jobs in the next four years. The study this is based on assumes the status quo: namely Obama’s status quo. These 12 million jobs are Obama’s, not Romney’s.

“. . . and our Posterity.” Of course the deficit has a huge potential impact on our posterity. But another impact on posterity is found in our national education policy. Through Obama’s education secretary, Chicago’s Arne Duncan, we have begun a national search for methods to elevate instruction through the Race to the Top. This is not a national mandate, but is rather a national experiment, calling on states and local educators to devise effective new programs. It is a long process, but positive results are beginning to show. And it’s not always appreciated by entrenched interests. Both parties say they support training for 21st century jobs, but the Obama administration has supported community colleges and has expanded student loans.

There is a lot behind my decision to vote for Obama. Much in the issues that have been debated during the campaign. These are not all the issues I care about, though. So let me just mention two issues that have not been much discussed: labor and . . . well, We the People.

Labor. The campaigns like to talk about Wall Street and Main Street. What about the neighborhoods? I think that Americans prosperity depends on more than business owners and their financiers. America’s prosperity also depend on the people who do the work. During my lifetime, labor unions have been broken and they have lost their way. But advocacy for working people doesn’t have to come just from unions. I just don’t see it coming from anywhere else – not from Democrats (who should be ashamed) and definitely not from Republican (who take pride in being union bashers).

I suppose I have greater trust in Democrats to stand by working people, but it is weak. I’m not looking for policies that would destroy business in favor of labor. Business and labor are not separate. I may dispute how the pie is divided, but shrinking the pie is not good for anyone. Where is the serious discussion? Maybe we need a “race for the top” to look for ideas to improve the position of labor, just as we are looking for ideas in education.

We the People. This campaign has been brutal. The hostility is the greatest I’ve seen. (Though, to put it in perspective, the country saw greater political hostility in the Civil War, labor strife in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the civil rights struggles.)

It is time to put the “We” back into we the people. This country is hugely diverse. Liberals call those on the right racist. But disdain for simple, struggling, working white people is hardly better. Pipe down! We share much.

There has been a suggestion that hostility and obstruction is so high in Congress, that Obama will be able to do nothing. I do think that Obama has been somewhat ineffective in wheeling and dealing with Congress (but he did get Obamacare and Dodd-Frank). He could do better.

The suggestion is that Republican hostility will only increase with Obama’s reelection and the hostility could even culminate in another impeachment effort after the 2014 mid-term election, as happened with Clinton. The suggestion is that Romney will move to the center after the election and will be able to create coalitions between Democrats and the less extreme Republicans.

This is crazy in two ways: First, I find it weird to suggest that we should vote for Romney on the hope that he will repudiate positions he’s taken in the campaign. How would he do this? Would he repudiate his position to add anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court? Would he abandon his position on “self-deportation” of undocumented aliens? Which positions will he repudiate? Which will he hold fast to? Why would I take a chance on this? Second, is the idea that we should reward obstructionists by voting for them, in the hope that they will stop if reelected. Isn’t that a kind of extortion?

(I would prefer a reform of our electoral process in two ways: to reduce the influence of money and to end a primary system that drives parties toward their extreme elements. But more on that in some future post.)

In my opinion, gridlock in Washington would be preferable to unleashing the right-wing agenda. But these are not the only choices. President Obama has a golden opportunity to break the gridlock in the coming debate on the “fiscal cliff.”

The fiscal cliff results from a combination of two factors. First: current low tax rates are set to automatically expire at the end of 2012; if nothing occurs, taxes will go up. Second, in the last debt ceiling debate, Congress agreed to huge spending cuts that would automatically go into effect if no different spending deal is enacted before the end of 2012.

No one, right or left, is happy with this state of affairs. A new President will be able to use this agreed unhappiness as a lever to gain concessions on a fix. This lever will give either Obama or Romney a strong position to achieve their stated policies in the tax and spending areas.

For the reasons stated above, I want this power in the hands of a person who cares about me and my family. I want this power in the hands a person with empathy. I want this power in the hands of a person who has demonstrated effective, if not perfect, strength in leading us through a difficult recovery. I want this power in the hands of Barak Obama.

And I will be at the polling place at 6 AM to cast my vote for him.

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