Who Deserves Your Vote?



Many of you may be under the misapprehension that I am enamored of Obama.  I am not.  He has done some indisputably good things (abolished Don’t Ask Don’t Tell so that any citizen can serve in our military, signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Act that assures equal pay for equal work, implemented regulations so that credit card companies can no longer gouge their customers with hidden rate increases, withdrawn our troops from Iraq, road-mapped a withdrawal from Afghanistan, fomented the demise of a tyrant without involving troops on the ground, dealt crushing blows to the Al Queda network, etc), but he's also made some incredibly poor decisions, like handing over the stewardship of the financial crisis to Timothy Geitner, the New York Federal Reserve governor who was the regulatory non-factor during the run-up to the 2008 financial meltdown.  Implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act, while good in theory and intent, has become a nightmare of regulatory red-tape for smaller banks while the too-big-to-fail ones for which it was intended continue business as usual.  Likewise, putting Jeffery Immelt, the CEO of GE, in charge of fixing the unemployment situation while he’s sending his own company’s jobs to China is not a great idea either, especially since he was simultaneously exploiting the outsourcing segments of the tax code.  Possibly the most egregious affront was putting two former Monsanto executives in positions of authority at the FDA and the USDA.  These decisions were contrary to the primary responsibility of the government which is to protect its citizens, not exploit them. *


On the flip side, people who are concerned about the economy seem to favor Romney because of his portrayal as a financial magician.  But while his strength might be finance, all evidence points to his expertise being limited to a very narrow application: creating debt and personally profiting from it.  I'm not convinced that's what the country needs.  His record at Bain speaks for itself: of the 77 companies which they took a controlling stake in, 67 under-performed the S&P 500 index.  For all intents and purposes, they might as well have put the money in a savings account.  The remaining 10 investments yielded 75% of Bain’s earnings, but of those, four of the companies went bankrupt under the crushing debt they were saddled with.  So only 6 out of 77 investments really benefitted everyone involved.  For you baseball fans, that’s an .078 batting average, which is pretty much an automatic ticket back to the minors even if he did hit 6 home runs. 


He likes to refer to his experience as head of the Salt Lake City Olympics as proof he knows how to turn around a bad project.  However, there’s no question his success was aided by $600 million from Congress and another $1.1 billion in indirect funding in the form of transit and infrastructure improvements.  That amount is 150% more than the previous seven Olympics on American soil combined.  That Olympics also was marred by a contracting scandal, six doping busts which included two gold medalists, and a claim that the Games were profitable despite the fact that the $1.6 billion in tax payer funding was considered part of the “profits”.


He campaigns that his term as governor of Massachusetts was marked by bipartisanship and balancing the budget.  Like Romney, the two previous governors had been Republicans.  However, I’m not sure how bipartisan a relationship is if one side amasses 778 vetoes of legislation in one four-year term.  That averages out to one every other day.  It certainly doesn’t seem bipartisan that 775 of those vetoes were over-ridden by the legislature, sometimes unanimously.  About the only thing both parties agreed on was to fight Romney himself.  Among his attempted vetoes were bills that funded stem cell research, increased funding for preschool education, established more stringent hate crime laws, provided emergency contraception and one in which the legislature provided a budget amendment to stop contracting with companies that outsourced state work to other countries.  As for balancing the budget, he did it by implementing a gasoline tax that quadrupled delivery fees, increasing fees for drivers licenses, cutting funding for higher education (which led state colleges to increase tuition by 63%), and transferring the burden of safety net programs to the local governments, which forced property taxes to increase by 20%. 




Even though on the books it looks like he balanced the budget, long term debt increased by $2.6 billion.  While I do not fault Romney for all the economic problems of his state, manufacturing job losses were twice the national rate and there’s really no way to make finishing 47th out of 50 in job creation look like a good thing.  He trumpets Massachusetts’ record on education but much of the groundwork had been established nearly a decade before under Governor Weld.  When he left office, Romney’s approval rating was 34%, third lowest among all governors.  His policies were so unpopular that his Republican would-be successor lost by 20 points and the Republican Party lost seats in the legislature in the next election.


Most troublesome is his grasp of foreign policy.  A man who thinks “Syria is Iran’s route to the sea” (Syria does not border Iran and Iran has two coasts of it’s own), who does not understand the difference between a secular strongman (Syria’s Assad) and a religious oligarchy (the ruling clerics of Iran), whose first instinct upon hearing about the Benghazi incident was to "bomb them", who thinks that our biggest geopolitical foe is a country (Russia) who sells us nuclear warheads to be turned into fuel rods that provide 80% of our nuclear power, who thinks our biggest problem with China is currency manipulation and not the theft of trillions of dollars in intellectual capital, who somehow managed to offend the English (our closest ally) on a goodwill mission and who thinks the number of weapons is more important than the power and effectiveness of those weapons…  this is a man who is utterly clueless about the rest of the world and has no business as the primary emissary for our way of life or as commander-in-chief. 


The greatest negative for a presidential candidate is short-term thinking and Romney exhibits this in spades.  Look at the body of work: at Bain, they specialized in takeovers and quick turnarounds.  The long term health of each company was of secondary concern.  He took over the Olympics in the middle of the planning, secured a bunch of money to spend his way out of the morass and then moved on to the next score.  He served one term as Massachusetts governor in which he tried to veto practically everything, and he now disavows the one signature achievement while he was in office, the health care law that became the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  His constantly changing stances on everything from taxes to the Middle East indicate that the only thing he is interested in is saying the right thing that will get him votes.  There is no core path to a long term goal; there are only short-term platitudes – “we’ll make America strong”, “we’ll fix the economy”, “we’ll teach the rest of the world how great we are.”  How?  “well, we’re working on that.  I’ll tell you after the election.”  What he hasn’t been forthright about is that 17 of his 24 policy advisors are former George W. Bush advisors.  So we have a pretty good idea about what his solutions will look like.  He supported Bush’s unregulated TARP bailout but opposed the federally-managed bailout of the auto-industry.  Instead, he advocated a government guarantee of a privately-managed bankruptcy even though there were no banking institutions in any shape to do so at the time, which would have essentially made it a TARP-like handout. 



So all the things Romney supposedly brings to the table – improving the long-term outlook of business, a bipartisan approach to government and lowering costs for consumers – he actually doesn’t bring at all.  In some cases, it’s the opposite.  Given the choice between the less than ideal Obama and Romney (which is looking an awful lot like a redux of George W. Bush), it's really a no-brainer: President Obama is a more sound choice for the next four years.





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* I didn’t get into the health care law because we’ve yet to get a handle on its full effect.  We’re seeing some of the costs early on but how much they will be offset by the insurance exchanges created by the law remain to be seen.  We’ve also yet to see how much costs will go down due to people engaging in more preventative care rather than emergency care due to more people being covered and more people paying into the system.  At this point, it’s pointless to argue about those kinds of things.  What is important is that something was done that needed to be done.  And just like Medicare, which has gone numerous changes since its passage in 1965, how much we need to fix, repeal or applaud will be determined later when we have actual evidence to examine.