Econ 191: April 17, 2011: Fiscal Policy in a Depressed Economy
Econ 1: Spring 2012: U.C. Berkeley: Files for April 18, 2012: Inflation Economics

Why Every Sane American Really Ought to Vote for Barack Obama This Year

Last winter Michael Cohen snapped under the strain of watching yet another Republican primary debate:

Gingrich might look good among this line-up. But that's not saying much: [T]he bombastic Newt Gingrich, the clueless Rick Perry, the robotic Mitt Romney, the cranky Ron Paul, the charisma-free Jon Huntsman… the unbalanced rightwing paranoia of Michele Bachmann… Herman Cain – a man who had about as much business running for president of the United States as I do running for Pope.

But at some point on Thursday [December 15]… I reached my breaking point. It wasn't one exact moment but rather the culmination of listening to the merry gang. There was Rick Santorum telling us that Iran "is ruled by the equivalent of al-Qaida"; Bachmann saying that the courts are not the final arbiter of law in America; Gingrich outlining his plan to impeach "grotesquely dictatorial" judges when he disagrees with their opinions; Perry saying that Hamas is coming across the Mexican border; Romney stating his opposition to discrimination against homosexuals while restating his opposition to gay marriage; Huntsman trying to be sane and Paul – Ron Paul – being the voice of reason….

Once the Republican primary fight seemed like great comedy. Then it evolved into farce. Now, inevitably, it's become tragedy. After all, one of these individuals might well become the next president of the United States.

How far down the rabbit hole has the party descended? Consider the curious case of Mitt Romney. A pro-business, socially liberal conservative (at least when he started off in politics) with a technocratic tinge and the clear brains and looks to be a logical presidential candidate. Not necessarily the most appealing candidate (the aroma of insincerity wafts off him in Nixonian quantities) but in the current Republican field he is clearly the most presentable…. [T]he intellectually dishonest argument that his health care proposals for Massachusetts are qualitatively different from the "tyranny" of Obamacare – legislation that practically gives Republicans the vapours. On immigration, he attacked Perry and Gingrich for their temerity in threatening to treat illegal immigrants with basic humanity. He has endorsed the deeply unpopular budget plan of House budget chairman Paul Ryan that would basically do away with the social insurance Medicare programme – because Gingrich once opposed it. To appeal to social conservatives he has exhibited policy contortions on everything from gay rights to abortion. His campaign has even bragged about putting out campaign ads that aren't true. In the words of Greg Sargent, political blogger at the Washington Post, "Romney's ability to lie, dissemble, distort and equivocate so effortlessly" is the great underreported story of the 2012 campaign.

Yet, Republicans obsessed with defeating Barack Obama, the socialist, Muslim interloper-in-chief, simply refuse to accept the idea of Romney as their standard bearer….

The latest flavour of the month is Newt Gingrich, who is not only the poster child for DC insiderism but was last relevant in US politics when the Spice Girls were burning up the charts. The rise of Gingrich, while surprising, makes sense. Sure he has engaged in occasional apostasy from rightwing dogma; and yes his crippling narcissism and lack of self-discipline almost single-handedly destroyed conservatism in the late 1990s. But no political leader in America more accurately articulates the conservative id than Gingrich…. Every conservative bogeyman is there: liberals, environmentalists, homosexuals, out-of-touch elites, foreign policy appeasers – all coalescing to put their leftwing agenda ahead of the economic needs of the American people. This is the sort of red-meat rhetoric that effortlessly rolls off Gingrich's tongue and it is his most singular though odious contribution to American politics….

Romney might still win…. But the real winner will likely be Barack Obama. In just the past two weeks he has signed off on the idea that the military should be involved in combating terrorism on American soil and overruled his own Food and Drug Administration on allowing over-the-counter access to morning-after contraceptives. It's as if he's playing a game with liberals to see how far he can push them and still maintain their support. After months of Republican debate-watching, my guess would be pretty far. As for the rest of the American people, they may not love the job Obama is doing, but considering the slow descent of Republicans into virtual self-parody they may have little choice but to re-elect him. It's a healthy reminder that sometimes in politics it's more important to be lucky than to be good.