(Swans - November 5, 2012) Well I suppose this is a major election year in America and it is an election that sags in energy and inspiration: contrary to the election of 2008 in which we had one dull but well meaning candidate in John McCain and a soaring rhetorician in Barack Obama. My job here isn't to convince the reader of the favorability of one of the candidates in the 2012 election but to discuss some of the problems underlying each candidate's governing philosophies.
In the political boxing ring we have one the one side the incumbent, Barack Obama, who is the current president of the United States. As a Democrat, he presumably wears the liberal trunks but Obama is certainly no liberal. Of course we have to be careful in using the term "liberal" to describe anyone for the matter today. Classical liberals, for example, have more in common with political conservatives than political liberals. A classical liberal advocates free markets above all else, much along the lines of John Locke and Adam Smith: respectively, the English and Scottish philosopher commonly identified as gods of the European Enlightenment.
Obama does not entirely believe in free markets since it must be protected from the excesses of business. We could see this clearly in his continuance of the Bush bailouts to the banking industry and the subsequent automobile industry bailouts to Detroit automakers. Obama has also advocated for the public funding of education. Classical liberals view schools not as public investments but as factories that produce the next generation of workers. In the view of the classical liberal, schools that produce bad or ill skilled workers ought to falter according to the mechanisms of the market which does not reward businesses that produce bad products. Therefore, to continue to prop up these institutions-public schools-with public funds derived from taxation is useless; hence, parents should be given vouchers to pay for private schools that produce better educated or better skilled workers. But by this logic, the market should punish makers of bad products such as cigarettes which have been scientifically proven to cause a myriad of health issues. Additionally, Chinese consumables that consumers would find a-plenty in Walmart or Target ought to not sell at all considering that these consumables are generally regarded as inferior to American made products and the Chinese are universally known to pay very low wages to their manufacturing workers. Yet Walmart and Target still are affordable options to American retailers that presumably hawk superior products. Even I would be more inclined to buy a pair of Chinese made jeans from Target instead of the Gap. The Darwinian logic that thus regards public schools as competitors in the free market is suspicious because it conflates students with manufactured products. Additionally, this type of thinking regards the educator too along the lines of a saleable product when teachers perhaps do more than educate. Teachers often serve as counselors, coach sports teams, or hold office hours after classes to help students with their studies because provided the short time in school learning (maybe an hour for class), students may require more contact with the teacher to facilitate the learning process. Contact time is not only limited by the short class schedule but also enrollment levels: as a teacher myself, I find it difficult to reach each student in my class when the class size is extremely large. At the secondary level, cost cutting is probably more of the culprit in low student achievement than incompetent teaching simply because school districts and city budgets that are in dire straits financially are reluctant to hire more teachers.
Obama's liberalism (we have to be guarded about that word again) identifies more with his positions on social policy. Yes he is in favor of gay marriage after some "evolution" of his original position. I do not know why some people claim that they have "evolving" views on a particular topic when what they really want to say is that they just can't decide definitively where they stand or that they can recognize that their position on a topic is questionable even to them. But I always want to ask someone who has an "evolving" view whether or not natural selection plays a part in their deliberative processes. We've taken an explicitly scientific term and turned it into a term that describes the process in which one evaluates one's on view on a subject.
Yes, he is in favor of affirmative action. Of course this subject will probably come more into play after the election when the Supreme Court decides the Texas admissions court case.
These are areas in which I and most people see Obama as siding with liberals (should I say "progressives" instead here?)
Yet on gun rights, he said in the most recent presidential debate (in New York) that he believes in the Second Amendment, a position advocated by some political or social conservatives who may fall in a white rural demographic. But this is Obama as a panderer in chief because he knows that he cannot win an election if he does not appeal to independents or conservatives who endorse gun rights. Not only is this a position that panders to these voters but it is a position that does not seek to address substantively what the Second Amendment guarantees and what the Founding Fathers intended. They certainly did not intent that even law abiding citizens should have access to assault rifles or high yield weaponry that can kill many people in a short amount of time. Obama, in the same debate, discussed hunters in the context of the Second Amendment: the idea of the gun as essential to some people's livelihood (read: the livelihood of white rural voters) but even I can order venison over the internet. In an age in which even isolated rural voters have access to grocery stores or internet businesses that sell food, there seems no reason for me to support gun rights because certain people solely depend upon it to live. But the fact that there are less lethal ways of defending one's self or one's property or less lethal mechanisms for doing so seems to suggests that gun ownership is not sacrosanct or some God given right that is inscrutable.
On international policy, he is hawkish and has, on the issue of terrorism, supported the Bush policy of indefinite detentions and military tribunals for suspected terrorists. Guantánamo is still open for business in his administration: these are policy endorsements that certainly offend liberals who are still inclined to vote for him.
Back to economics, I think that contrary to the view that Obama has supported -- namely the wealthy should "pay their fair share" -- makes Obama a socialist, I believe that he tends to have more in common with market enthusiasts. While he has often decried the high tax rates that corporations pay, soaking the wealthy with increase taxes is no more socialist than what market enthusiasts, such as his opponent Mitt Romney, have often supported. Romney believes that higher taxes for the wealthy hurt small businesses, which he contends is the main engine for job growth. So by his logic, no taxes or tax increases should befall the wealthy or small businesses because by reducing their tax burden, businesses will invest more and thereby produce jobs. This same type of trickle down economics infects Obama's own economic views because taxing the wealthy will drive up public revenues that will save or create jobs (in the public sector obviously). Both perspectives look for the wealthy to spur economic growth by either taxing them or giving them tax cuts. Neither emphasizes the role that middle class and lower class workers have or can have in spurring economic growth.
Now that I have brought Romney into the discussion, I'd like to look briefly at his credentials. Of course as an investor and former head of Bain Capital, Romney loves to emphasize his "business experience" as a qualification for the presidency. I do not feel that I need to really discuss how Bain Capital was responsible for the outsourcing of jobs (much of this has been exhaustively documented) but his politics is what scares me. In his rush to embrace conservative votes, he has embraced a repeal of Obamacare (which is modeled upon his own Massachusetts health care plan that he authored as governor of that state), embraced a constitutional ban on abortion (amazing that we are still dealing with this issue, considering that states that do not support Roe v. Wade have effectively weakened its application), and embraced gun rights. On the first issue, I already mentioned that Obamacare is modeled on the Romney legislation in Massachusetts; on the second issue, Romney supported abortion in limited cases as Massachusetts governor. But why are those limited cases not generalizable? If abortion to save a mother's life is acceptable in Massachusetts, then why is this case unreasonable in a more conservative state such as Mississippi or South Carolina? On gun rights, I can't trust Romney on this as much as I can trust Obama because it seeks to appeal to a particular demographic that continues to misread the Second Amendment and the Founders' intentions.
So I really don't have more to say about these candidates except for the fact that neither of them is particularly appealing: why should any politician be appealing in the first place since their positions on the issues often change after they are elected? All that I can say is that neither candidate has earned my vote for this election cycle.
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About the Author
Harvey E. Whitney, Jr. is a doctoral candidate in history at Florida State University and teaches medieval and modern global history at Howard Community College in Maryland. To learn more, please visit his Web site at http://hewhitney.com/. (back)