Obama, Romney, and Reality
The United States of America is about to undergo another presidential election. This fills me with a measure of dread; I live in America, you see, and at no other time is disinformation and invective at such a fever pitch in my country than the months leading up to a presidential election. It’s especially disheartening to see what passes for “news” sometimes in the US—we have freedom of the press here, and consequently there is no law preventing our nominal “news outlets” from slanting, spinning, or outright lying. This has the unpleasant effect of causing large swaths of the least informed residents of my home country to immediately become convinced of the correctness whatever point of view they currently hold, regardless of any facts about the real world we actually live in.
I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, like the majority of the population—not because I got swept up in quixotic notions of Hope and Change, but because Barack Obama ran a more sincere campaign than his opponent, and I responded to his purported worldview and intentions for leadership. I still maintain that Barack Obama is a better choice than the man he ran against in 2008 (and that man’s running mate, who deserves neither mention by me nor further consideration). But I would not be honest if I failed to mention that, as a president, Barack Obama has left me wanting. However…
I’m hearing from Republican members of my family that Barack Obama is a socialist whose collectivist policies have savaged America and its economy in the past four years, and that the only hope is the severe conservatism of Mitt Romney. (I have greatly softened the tone of the actual rhetoric which has been presented to me.) This perplexes me, because my disappointments in Barack Obama spring from his being altogether too much of a right-wing president. I feel as though, in many respects and on many issues, Obama has been far too conservative a leader.
Now, what is going on here? Someone unfamiliar with me may therefore conclude that I am some hard-line Communist, replete with shirts bearing Che Gurvara’s visage and well thumbed copies of Das Kapital and the Little Red Book. This is incredibly inaccurate. According to this online quiz, I am smack dab at the precise intersection between liberal, centrist, and libertarian philosophies. (I don’t believe most intelligent thinking people can encompass their entire beliefs in one –ISM, but for simplicity’s sake, the quiz result is a handy guide.) So, I’m not very far left by any stretch.
So what gives? How can I view Barack Obama as a too-cautious, pragmatic conservative, while a substantial portion of the population (including unfortunate members of my family) see him as a dark-skinned Trotsky? One of us obviously is 1) incapable of actually seeing the actual real world in which we actually live and/or 2) doesn’t know what words such as “conservative,” “socialist,” “communist,” and “capitalist” actually mean. The constant, current Republican refrain is “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” which instantly brought 1984 to mind:
…[T]he huge and simple question, ‘Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?’ …ceased once and for all to be answerable. …[I]n effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister’s face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision. They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones. And when memory failed and written records were falsified — when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested.
—I, Ch 8
Okay, let me tackle this a different way. Let’s start by looking at Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is the Republican candidate for President of the United States of America. He has only held public office as the Governor of Massachusetts, from 2003-2007. Romney described himself as a “severely conservative” leader while in office in Massachusetts. What makes someone “severely conservative?”
Now, some facts. He didn’t technically raise taxes, but he did increase governmental fees while in office, including driver’s, marriage, and gun license fees, court filing fees, boating licenses, etc. He taxed gasoline by two cents. He did cut spending, but not in ways that necessarily benefitted his constituents. For instance, he cut spending on higher education in his state, which had the net effect of raising tuition fees by 63% in state-run colleges. Cutting state spending also caused local communities to raise their property taxes to make up for the sudden lack of funds.
Is this conservative? Okay, he himself didn’t raise taxes. Check. But raising these kinds of civic fees simply means that Massachusetts residents made up for it by paying more for other things. I suppose this is “conservative” for getting the state off the hook for spending on these particular things, and forcing constituents onto the hook for these same things. What would the actual benefit be to residents who suddenly find the amount that they have to spend has actually seen a net increase? But I suppose this question is a non-starter, as a Republican would not go so far as to ask it in this situation. Bottom line: people are still giving money to the government, just in a different way. Is it enough that revenue streams have switched from one column to another? I still do wonder if this behavior is severely conservative.
Mitt Romney also commanded town clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He later viewed this as a mistake, but it seems to me that a severe conservative would never have gone along with this at all, reluctantly or otherwise.
He brought universal health care to Massachusetts. As a severe conservative, he reasoned thusly: The state was spending an inordinate amount of money on expensive health care for people lacking health insurance. After all, in a rational and beneficial society, when someone comes into the hospital, the hospital is obliged to treat and stabilize them; it is not always practical or possible to determine the status of someone’s health insurance before this. For the state to save money, it made sense to ensure that since everybody uses healthcare at some point, that everybody should be in the insurance pool. So the Massachusetts Health Reform Law passed by Romney in April of 2006 mandated that all Massachusetts residents acquire health insurance; failure to do so would result in a modest tax penalty. Those who could not readily afford any private health care were eligible for state subsidies. This plan became commonly known as Romneycare.
Hold on. I’m sorry, but I’ve just had an incredible sense of déjà vu. This sounds remarkably like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by Barack Obama. Don’t Republicans hold up Obamacare as evidence of a governmental takeover of the health care system, and as clear evidence of Obama’s socialist/statist leanings? I’m not sure I understand. Much like in the Massachusetts law, the government does not provide any services to anyone. People are expected to acquire their own private healthcare, specifically to ensure that the state is not on the hook to pay for anybody. I’m not sure I understand quite how that is Socialist in any way. The strongest argument I have heard against it says basically that the federal government does not have the right to force people to buy anything. This is correct. In fact, this is exactly why Obamacare and Romneycare are both constitutional. If you read the Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare as constitutional—not some media outlet’s interpretation or summary, but the actual words that John Roberts actually wrote in his decision in the real world—you’d see that the Court held that the government does not have the right to compel anyone to buy a product or service. What it does have the right to do is impose a modest tax penalty against citizens who do not have health insurance. Health insurance is different from, say, auto insurance, in that you can choose not to drive a car, and therefore be exempt from a state’s auto insurance requirement.
But Obamacare and Romneycare both rely on the private sector as a solution to this spending problem. The government is not providing a service or spending money on one, which is what, I gather, led severely conservative Romney to the individual mandate. A single-payer system, or public option (which is what many on the left actually did want), would entail the government spending or providing. So… how is Obamacare socialist again? I’m not sure I can imagine the mental processes necessary to reach that conclusion, unless the person making said conclusion is mistaken about what Obamacare actually is, or what any of the words in the Affordable Health Care Act actually mean. Obamacare and Romneycare: what makes one severely conservative and the other anti-capitalist collectivism?
It seems to me, if anything Obama is doing is tilting America towards some kind of Eastern Bloc status, they are the things that Republicans began doing, and Obama is continuing. Like renewing the Patriot Act, which allows the United States Government to wiretap and otherwise spy on American citizens. Carrying out drone strikes—overseas, but in part to kill American citizens without constitutionally-protected due process of law. (For those who say the treasonous don’t enjoy constitutional protection, I would remind you that treason is one of the few crimes specifically mentioned in the Constitution—see Article III, Section 3, which is very, very specific on this point.) Prosecuting personal use of marijuana. Continuing to indefinitely detain people, including United States citizens, without levying any charges against them.
I have to ask, what is socialist now about anything mentioned above that wasn’t socialist when a Republican President was doing them? And if they were wrong (or “socialist”) when a Republican President was doing them, why weren’t Republicans up in arms about them until a Democratic President began to do them? I don’t see this behavior as much among Democrats, who feel that these things are wrong no matter who is doing them. If anything about Obama’s Administration is Orwellian, then I have to think it is Republican behavior towards it on this point.
But I just want to be clear: this person who is a raging socialist, who is defacing the country and turning it into a crazed Soviet Socialist regime, is the same man who:
- Expanded the taxpayer-funded, faith-based programs of his predecessor. This has angered many progressives who say that this is a clear violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. (I suppose you could say pushing a clearly religious agenda is a bit collectivist, although the modern Republican Party seems quite okay with it as long as the religion is Christianity. Note their opposition to Shari’a Law.)
- Bailed out private banks, who were largely responsible for the recent economic depressions.
- Bailed out large private companies to stave off more disastrous recession, and kept these companies in private hands; a far cry from having the government take over the task of rebuilding infrastructure.
- Hired economic advisors from Wall Street
- Has actually reduced overall federal spending since Inauguration Day
- Made tax cuts an integral cog of his stimulus package
- Kept the Bush tax cuts in place
- Oh, et cetera, et cetera…
In fact, most all of Obama’s actions in office seem to have been strongly favored towards capitalism. Forbes magazine (and other outlets) has accused Obama of “crony capitalism.” How can you be a crony capitalist if, you know, you’re not even a capitalist? Obama resembles 1990s Republican more than anything.
I would also like to ask what are the similarities to policy described in the preceding paragraphs and the other “–isms” that Republicans mistakenly believe to be synonymous with “socialism”—Marxism, Communism, Maoism, et cetera? I continue to contend that you can only think Obama as any of these if 1) you don’t know what the words mean or 2) you don’t know what it is that Barack Obama has actually done in the real world we actually live in.
Look, if you want to have a philosophical conversation about how best to lead the country, great, let’s do that. But I cannot have a rational, intelligent conversation with you about the candidates for US President if you don’t even know or comprehend facts. You can’t make an intelligent argument against Barack Obama’s methods of governance if you are mistaken about what those are. And you can’t criticize Barack Obama for doing the exact same things Republicans do, but not criticize those Republicans.
In the end, my main argument in this post is that it is only through immense self-delusion that Republicans think all the things they do about Barack Obama, because if you look at the things he actually does in the actual real world we actually live in, no Republican arguments against him make sense. I’ll give Orwell, who actually was a committed, card-carrying Socialist, the last word:
… His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.
—I, Ch 3