Four More Years

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As President, Barack Obama has exceeded expectations while building a solid foundation for a recovering America. There’s still work to be done, but he’s earned a second term in the White House. (Photo credit: Barack Obama’s photostream)

Endorsement: Barack Obama for re-election as President of the United States of America.

The new millennium offered the bright promise of an “American Century” following the Soviet Union’s collapse. Eight years later, that promise seemed impossibly out of reach. The world had lost faith in Washington’s leadership, U.S. forces appeared hopelessly mired in Middle Eastern wars, and an American financial crisis triggered a global economic implosion. Not since the Great Depression had the future seemed so bleak for the Land of Opportunity.

Then-Senator Barack Obama won the White House on the hope of change never fully realized. But he also promised to restore fractured alliances, end ill-advised foreign wars, and jumpstart the long and difficult process of repairing the national economy. On these and other measures he has succeeded far more than he failed despite unprecedented partisan opposition. While a capable businessman, Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s record and policies ill suit the Oval Office or America’s future challenges. We must ensure the incumbent’s re-election as President of the United States.

Democratic strategist James Carville was once asked to identify the secret to Bill Clinton’s 1992 electoral success. His famous reply — “The economy, stupid!” — is just as relevant today, with 2008 and 2012 dominated by the Great Recession. While concerns for the nation’s fiscal health are understandable, too many Americans seem convinced that the President has left them no better off than they were before his election. The United States remains one of the strongest economies in a stagnant West, its GDP growth up sharply to 2% in this year’s third quarter while Eurostat forecasts zero growth or continued recession across the European Union.

Closer to home, September’s unemployment rate sank to a 44-month low at 7.8%. The Labor Department recently announced that the country has recovered more than the 4.3 million jobs lost toward the end of recession, meaning the President has created more jobs than his predecessor lost. The economy shed 800,000 jobs per month when Obama took office, a dramatic statistic underlining the depth of the crisis he inherited from George W. Bush. His administration stabilized the situation and oversaw 29 straight months of private sector job growth. His opponent can claim Obama prolonged recession (the National Bureau of Economic Research has the final say on that; it ended in June 2009), but the numbers speak for themselves. The President’s policies worked, though Republicans are unlikely to admit it.

That last line could easily define this election, considering the accomplishments conservatives will never recognize. Middle class and small business taxes are lower now than when President Bush left office and Obama’s latest proposals would return an additional $1,500 to the average family. Ninety-five percent of U.S. workers received a tax cut under his stimulus plan, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and 80% of surveyed economists agree salvaged the crumbling economy. While conservatives have long claimed the bill perpetrated fraudulent “crony capitalism,” independent analysis disagrees. Only 0.001% of stimulus spending through 2011 could be identified as waste or fraud, a remarkable success given its size, scope, and timetable.

The President has been no less successful on other domestic matters. While the public remains sharply divided over his signature health care law (“Obamacare”), there’s no denying he enacted the largest such reform since the New Deal. Barring the individual mandate first proposed by conservatives in the Clinton years, the bill’s individual provisions remain highly popular even among Republicans. The CBO estimates it will cut deficits and medical costs alike when it takes full effect in 2014, while repeal would cost at least $109 billion. Republicans would likewise rollback financial regulations on the timeless logic that deregulation always betters society. The recent financial crisis and subsequent recession suggest otherwise.

The administration deserves equal praise for its brave moves on social issues. Under the President’s leadership, Democrats have secured landmark victories for LGBT civil rights . Obama signed the order ending the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and became the first sitting president to publicly endorse same-sex marriage equality. His White House has shown leniency leniency toward law-abiding illegal immigrants to better focus on lawbreakers, though that doesn’t mean he’s been derelict in his duty. Neither party wants to tackle immigration reform through an election year, but the President’s forged ahead all the same.

Foreign policy has arguably been the President’s greatest success, upturning age-old claims that Democrats struggled as commanders-in-chief. Fulfilling one of his core campaign promises, Obama ended the Iraq War and withdrew remaining American forces in late 2011. Following a successful 2009 military surge, he then began the slow but steady work of ending the war in Afghanistan. And, of course, he authorized the covert mission into Pakistan that ended a decade-long manhunt to kill Osama bin Laden.

More generally, Obama’s election proved instrumental in repairing America’s image abroad. Traveling the world, he promised a new beginning in the Middle East, mutual respect with Russia, and hopeful cooperation in Asia. His opponent painted that engagement as an “apology tour,” a characterization so inaccurate it earned a “Pants on Fire!” designation from PolitiFact. Far from apologizing, the President oversaw NATO intervention in the Libyan Civil War and signed the most-comprehensive sanctions yet placed on Iran. Shifting focus to a rising East, he’s strengthened U.S. ties to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to provide backing against an expansionist China.

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The 2012 Democratic National Convention revitalized the President’s liberal base, providing a much-needed reminder of his administration’s many accomplishments. (Photo credit: Barack Obama’s photostream)

President Obama has accomplished all this and more despite an opposition determined to remove him from office no matter the cost. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during the 2010 midterms that “[Republicans’] top political priority over the next two years should be to deny [him] a second term,” while the “Party of No” opposed nearly every Democratic initiative since 2008. Proposals Republicans had previously championed turned to socialism (individual mandate healthcare), government waste (economic stimulus), or financial irresponsibility (raising the debt ceiling, which President Reagan did 18 times and President Bush 7). If Congress feels burned on bipartisanship, perhaps they should recall that charity begins at home.

For his part, Mitt Romney’s record proves too contradictory while his policies remain shrouded in secrecy a week from Election Day. Consider his term as Governor of Massachusetts, a position he largely abdicated in his final year to spend 212 days out of state in preparation for his failed 2008 presidential bid. While he lauds his job creation credentials today, Romney claims government can’t create them and left the Bay State 47th in that category. On the other hand, he did indeed balance the state budget each and every year. Of course, that’s made easier by a constitutional balanced budget requirement and a willingness to raise certain fees by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Massachusetts holds other pitfalls for Romney, with his signature state health care plan a virtual twin to Obama’s national model. His campaign insists that the difference is in the details, that Romney never proposed taking an individual mandate system nationwide. The problem is that he did, penning a 2009 USA Today op-ed urging the President to do exactly that. The liberal Commonwealth forced Romney to endorse a number of causes he would prefer voters forget, including gay rights and access to abortion. Where does the Governor really stand on these and other difficult issues? No one knows, and that’s unlikely to change in the White House.

The Romney/Ryan plan for 2012 promises an economic renaissance without giving voters the details. Vice Presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan claims six studies back their math, but most come from fellow conservatives and none of them add up. By and large, the fact checkers are against them. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center declares that even were Romney to eliminate every possible loophole or deduction (he won’t come close), the wealthy would still receive a net tax break while 95% of Americans faced net increases. His remaining economic arguments are largely retreads of those advanced by the very man who caused the Great Recession.

Most damning, the drastic austerity measures he and Republicans propose have been revealed as worse than useless. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), once a stalwart champion of European austerity, has reversed course to label those policies outright damaging to economic recovery. Pointing to the relatively strong American economy, they and others have instead endorsed stimulus of exactly the kind overseen by President Obama. That really says it all.

On almost every other substantive issue, Romney either endorses existing executive policy or capitulates to far right Republican forces. His foreign policy recommendations read identically to Obama’s, differing only in degree, while his first overseas trip insulted and politicized key American allies. At home, his choice of Randian Paul Ryan as running mate speaks volumes. His campaign may be able to convince voters to ignore his rightward shift in the Republican primaries, but they should remember how often he’s changed as the ballot box demands. No president should be so beholden to partisan interests.

A final word? Consider the opinions of those who know the GOP ticket best. An eight-term congressman, Paul Ryan should at least expect to carry his home state of Wisconsin. Mitt Romney was raised in Michigan, where his father captained a Detroit auto titan and served three terms as governor. They’ve trailed President Obama in both states for months. Worse is Massachusetts, where Romney claims bipartisan approval and economic success. Bay Staters remember it differently, and he stands to lose the Commonwealth by a staggering 22 points.

Barack Obama has accomplished a great deal since assuming the presidency, even while battling poisonous misrepresentation from partisan opponents. The economy has rebounded to slow but steady recovery just three years after hitting rock bottom. The President resisted a far right surge and expanded protections for women, minorities, the LGBT community, and other disadvantaged Americans. Foreign relations have stabilized and the United States has regained its military and diplomatic legitimacy overseas. Governor Romney would undo much if not all of this progress, turning to failed Bush-era policies or worse to appease his party’s extreme.

The “American Century” may have been lost with the World Trade Center, but that doesn’t mean a bright future for America is forever out of reach. “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” the Romney campaign asks, expecting a resounding “No.” But given the facts, the United States is far stronger than we dared to dream when Senator Obama won the White House. Incomes have risen and jobs returned despite Republicans’ best efforts to derail the President. In context, he’s done in three years what it took Franklin Roosevelt seven and a World War to achieve; end of recession and renewed economic growth.

Are we better off than we were four years ago? Absolutely. And we all know who to thank.

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