An Anti-Endorsement: Challenging The Economist’s View of Obama

Like lights being hung at Christmas time or pumpkins at Halloween, election season always offers us its own customs– some as meaningful as family and cultural traditions, some as shallow as window dressing. No election season would be complete without the much-anticipated candidate endorsements by the nation’s many newspapers. In an age of developing media when the newspaper seems to be on the decline, it marks an occasion on which, by force of tradition, we still turn to America’s oldest news medium. This year, the results have been rather surprising, with the New York Times standing alone as the only New York metropolitan paper to have endorsed the president for a second term while crucial, nationally-respected papers such as the Iowa Register have sided with Mitt Romney. Granted, the results are often unsurprising. The Times‘ choice, for instance, was noteworthy not for the fact of its having chosen Obama, but only for the shameless praise which it lauded on him with little reservation or composure. Other publications that chose to endorse President Obama did so with at least a pretense at having deliberated thoroughly before casting their support. The Economist, for instance, presents a prize example of the sort of denial and evasion that most leftist publications have had to engage in to justify what is, in fact, dogmatism.

The British publication’s choice of candidate is no surprise, as Europe and much of the world outside of the United States overwhelmingly prefers the president, swooning over his egalitarian rhetoric without reference to or concern for his flagrant disregard of the values which America has embodied in its greatest periods, his disdain for individual rights, or, for that matter, his utter failure to get the government’s regulatory and interventionist policies out of the way to allow businessmen to get America’s economy back in working order (to the contrary, he increased those policies significantly). They make excuses for his every shortcoming and turn a blind eye to the persistence of the policies which they unyieldingly criticized his predecessor, George W. Bush, for having implemented. Thus, it is not out of surprise that I criticize The Economist‘s endorsement but only out of a will to show the extent to which they have to distort and evade the facts of reality in order to make that endorsement appear to be anything but the same statist groveling that has led Europe on its many ventures down the road to serfdom, stopping once a generation to retrace its steps and afford it a bit more leeway from the impending disaster which its views, if practiced consistently, would inevitably lead.

The Economist begins its endorsement by establishing its criteria in the form of two questions: “[H]ow good a president has Mr. Obama been, especially on the main issues of the economy and foreign policy? And can America really trust the ever-changing Mitt Romney to do a better job?” The criteria, taken alone, are quite excellent and to the point. It is in making the ensuing assertion, “On that basis, the Democrat narrowly deserves to be re-elected”, that they fail.

The ensuing reasoning commences by calling his first term “patchy”, which is a leading contender for understatement of the year. On Obama’s economic record, they state that “the most powerful argument in his favour is that he stopped it all being a lot worse.” This is an entirely arbitrary and unfalsifiable claim that is too frequently offered up in defense of policymakers without anything resembling sufficient grounding. In the first place, contrary to popular political rhetoric both from politicians themselves and the media, neither the president of the United States nor Congress nor any other part of government is responsible for an economic recovery or the prevention of an economy’s worsening in an active and central way. It is America’s businesses which have been responsible for its successes in good times and its recovery in bad. Policymakers improve the economy or forbid its worsening to the extent that they get government out of the way and capitalism to function. As example, one need only look to the actions of one of America’s most underrated presidents, Warren G. Harding, in response to the recession of 1920-21. There, one finds a prime illustration of presidential action in the face of economic calamity. The Economist, however, highlights Obama’s use of “an aggressive stimulus, bailing out General Motors and Chrysler, putting the banks through a sensible stress test and forcing them to raise capital” as having helped to “avert a Depression.”

To take these claims individually, beginning with the stimulus, it is an even more absurd embodiment of that same arbitrariness of before to claim that the $787 billion stimulus bill was in any way a success– even by the White House’s own standards. In projecting unemployment with and without the stimulus prior to its enactment, the White House claimed that without any stimulus unemployment would reach or exceed 9%, but that with said stimulus, it could be held to a maximum of 8% before declining rapidly to approximately 5% today. To the contrary, once the stimulus was enacted, unemployment climbed to a high of 10.1% and has only dipped to 7.9% in the last quarter. To put that in perspective: unemployment is approximately as bad today, three and a half years after the White House’s projected peak unemployment, as the White House claimed that it would ever be in the darkest days of a recession with the stimulus. More than three million jobs were, in fact, lost in the twelve months after the stimulus took effect. How does the administration now claim with a straight face that the actions it took were in any way a success? A classic economic policy tactic: if you don’t like the numbers, change the methodology. The White House began to refashion its failures as successes by measuring not only jobs added, but “jobs saved”, relying on no particular objective measurements, but claiming credit for having averted non-existent catastrophes. Though some objected to this, they were aided in such distortions by an all-too-eager media ready to promote the president who they had helped to elect. In the case of The Economist, it seems that that tactic is still paying dividends with journalists who, rather than look to the hardships that the American economy still faces, would rather instill an implicit fear of the “avert[ed] Depression” that never came and encourage readers to feel grateful to Obama for every catastrophe that does not befall them.

As for General Motors and Chrysler’s bailouts, I will only say that as of the end of this past summer, reports were still rolling in as to the ever-increasing cost of the government’s involvement in those companies. Reuters’ last reported development held that the cost of the bailouts to the U.S. Treasury was upwardly adjusted by $3.4 billion to a total of $25.1 billion. Though some payment has begun to roll in from those companies to compensate the government for its injection of funds in 2009, it has proven not only to be an economically unwise policy decision, but is yet another flagrant abrogation of the individual rights of American citizens that their tax dollars should be redirected to poorly managed companies in a blatant political ploy by the president to appease unions and solidify a Michigan voting base. It is an intriguing irony that leftists who so scathingly characterize big business in America as corrupt and favor-seeking pay no regard when their candidate is directly responsible for such favoritism and seeks to spread it to other industries, having praised the bailouts and stated plainly, “Now I want to do the same thing with manufacturing jobs, not just in the auto industry, but in every industry…”

To the issue of Obama’s purported assistance to the banking and financial industry, I will say only one thing: Dodd-Frank. That a single legislation could so dramatically increase the cost of doing business to the entire financial sector, the engine of American capitalism, should alone forbid any president who presides over it from claiming to have been a benefit to the economy of the United States. That he could endorse such violations of the individual rights of American investors and businessmen excludes him from any consideration as a moral or rational individual. It is through actions such as this that politicians like President Obama curse the economies over which they presided for years after their tenure. So much for the “plaudits from history” which The Economist anticipates Mr. Obama to receive.

In foreign policy, The Economist claims that Obama has “refocused George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ more squarely with terrorists, killing Osama bin Laden, stepping up drone strikes, and retreating from Iraq and Afghanistan (in both cases too quickly for our tastes).” On the matter of having refocused the war on terror, this is true. President Obama has refocused what was an uncertain and too broad-sweeping conflict with no clearly defined course and objective, which definitively ignored the region’s major threats in favor of carrying out the world’s largest armed welfare mission, into a range-of-the-moment series of symbolic victories and assassinations which amount, ultimately, to no coherent long-term goal. All the while, the symbol of Islamic totalitarianism, the Islamic Republic of Iran, strives to develop nuclear weaponry and Obama deliberately waits until weeks before the election to turn negotiations over our national security into a boon for his campaign. In an episode of poetic justice, that effort was quashed by leaks and the reporting of Iran expert and former spy Reza Kahlili. They also note his having had a “shaky start” with China, another striking understatement referring to his entirely hypocritical chest-puffing towards China beginning in 2010 over supposed “currency manipulation”, of which no nation on Earth is more guilty than the United States via the Federal Reserve. Since that time, despite The Economist’s implication that his “shaky start” was followed by a stronger finish, the Obama administration has been consistently aggressive toward China at a time when our imperiled economy can most benefit from positive relations with a major trading partner and when China’s internal power struggles between old ways and new make positive relations with freer economies than its own crucial to its development and flourishing.

The Economist‘s endorsement does come with several caveats, for which it deserves credit. It appropriately excoriates the White House for its anti-capitalistic rhetoric, but then proceeds to praise, if not the implementation, then certainly the spirit behind the passage of ObamaCare. It criticizes the president for having failed to address the discrepancy between taxing and spending in America, though I gather that their preference would be far more in favor of raising taxes to account for that imbalance than fiscal prudence or any proper respect for individual rights would counsel. In order not to repeat the previous writings of this publication, I will abbreviate objections on several of these matters by directing you to where they have been explained more thoroughly (ObamaCare, Obama’s anti-capitalism, responses to conflicts in the Arab world since 2011, and the threat of Iran).

Finally, The Economist explains its reasoning for siding against Mitt Romney. Though we differ on our reasoning, I cannot say that I am altogether enthusiastic about Romney as a president. I do not believe that he has what it takes to reverse the trend of overwhelming government growth, but he has what it takes to slow it down. He is not a cure for our troubles, but a treatment for the symptoms. Where The Economist indicts him for inflammatory remarks about China’s currency manipulation, I cannot disagree– though I can point out that Obama has used the same rhetoric since 2010 against China, removing any discrepancy between the two candidates on the issue. Where they point out Romney’s having misspoken in relations with Russia, I concur– though one wonders if Obama’s advertisement to Medvedev that after his reelection he would enjoy more “flexibility” in relations is truly indicative of the kind of president that Americans want representing them to foreign powers. In The Economist‘s assessment of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, they find him “cruelly wrong” in perceiving that Palestinians do not truly desire peace with Israel, though the actions of Palestine’s leadership at the United Nations in the past year would place reason clearly on the side of Romney. Where it finds Romney’s approach on fiscal matters too moderate, I concur— though I find it difficult to reconcile its seeming concern for fiscal prudence with its endorsement of ObamaCare, the single largest tax hike in American history that is slated to burden the nation with all the more debt and fiscal turmoil for years to come should it not be repealed.

Ultimately, I believe that The Economist is right to be concerned about how effective a Romney presidency might be, but not because, as it suggests, of Romney’s undying allegiance to small government conservatism, but because he has not shown the regard for individual rights and the proper role of government that is needed to mount true and rational reforms. In the meantime, however, Romney is the only option that Americans have if the economic and political future of this country is to be secured. The current trajectory of our nation is untenable and is unlikely to change course while vested in the hands of a nihilist who is, in every way, inimical to American values. As Leonard Peikoff recently wrote, “Obama is an unprecedented threat to America. Romney is a precedented one.” Regardless of the reservations which many of us have about Mitt Romney and his convictions, his dedication to the values of capitalism, for those who value American prosperity and individual rights, there is no choice in this election. Tomorrow, Americans will go to the polls to make what may be the most fundamentally important vote in our lifetimes. I encourage all who read this, who value America as something more than a name and a flag, but as a set of ideas about man and his relationship to the universe, to vote unreservedly for Mitt Romney in your own self-defense. More truly than at any point in our lives and in our history, America depends on it.

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