Tag: 2012 presidential election

Do the American People Agree with Obama?

News reports quote President Obama, in discussing the debt ceiling and the ongoing argument over tax and spending policy in his press conference yesterday, saying:

It turns out the American people agree with me. 

Do they? It’s true that a majority of respondents told pollsters that they wanted to raise taxes on someone else. And Congress did that in the “fiscal cliff” legislation.

But what about the president’s insistence on a larger government and essentially no cuts in federal spending? The election day exit polls shed some light on those questions.

51 percent of voters polled said the government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals—8 points higher than in the 2008 election. Only 43 percent of voters said they believe government should be doing more.

49 percent said the 2010 health care law should be repealed, with only 44 percent of voters supporting it.

And 51 percent said they prefer smaller government with fewer services, while 43 percent prefer larger government. As usual.

There are many reasons that Mitt Romney lost the election, from the Republicans’ alienation of everyone except straight white men, to an effective campaign of demonization, to “legitimate rape.” But the polls don’t show that voters agree with President Obama on constant expansion of the size, scope, and power of government.

Susan Rice and the Interventionist Caucus

The Associated Press is reporting that Susan Rice, “appears to have a clearer path to succeeding retiring Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton” now that John McCain and Lindsey Graham have softened their opposition to her candidacy. “If she is nominated for the position,” the AP’s Steven Hurst predicted, ”it may signal greater U.S. willingness to intervene in world crises during Obama’s second term.”

Bill Kristol believes that it would, which is why he supports Rice over other qualified candidates, including especially John Kerry (D-MA). Asked on FoxNews Sunday why he prefers Rice over Kerry, Kristol said:

“Because I think Susan Rice has been a little more interventionist than John Kerry…. John Kerry has been against our intervening in every war that we intervened.”

That isn’t entirely true, of course. For example, Kristol noted that Kerry “was for [the second Iraq war] before he was against it.” But as Ben Friedman writes today at U.S. News and World Report, within the generally interventionist foreign-policy community, Susan Rice is more interventionist than most.

In that context, I understand why the Senate’s small (and shrinking) Interventionist Caucus prefers Susan Rice. I understand why Kristol and the neoconservatives do. But I don’t understand why other people support her so strongly. Although the political class favors costly crusades abroad, most everyone outside of that tiny circle believes in leading by example, and favors, in Obama’s words, more “nation building here at home.” In short, Americans generally favor global engagement, but they reject the neoconservative variety (.pdf).

The recent election was not a referendum on foreign policy. The issue barely registered. Although those who cared most about foreign policy favored Obama over Romney by a 56 to 33 margin, those voters represented just 5 percent of the electorate according to a Fox News exit poll. What’s more, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agreed on most foreign-policy issues. Romney favored more belligerent rhetoric, and huge increases for the Pentagon’s budget, but his prescriptions for the future boiled down to: “What Obama did, just more of it.” More meddling in distant civil wars, more nation building, a heavy U.S. military footprint wherever possible, and more drone strikes with less oversight where ground troops can’t go.

That seems to neatly summarize Susan Rice’s views, also. If Barack Obama nominates Rice to be the next Secretary of State, he will effectively be saying that he doesn’t care what the public wants, and that Mitt Romney was right.

Voting in 2012, Libertarian and Otherwise

Somehow, election results continue to trickle in, and David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report continues to update his spreadsheet of the national popular vote. At this point, he shows President Obama reelected with 50.86 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney’s 47.43 percent. For whatever reason, the late-arriving results all seem to widen Obama’s lead.

The total vote appears to be down by almost 4 million votes from 2008, and Obama has received about 4.7 million fewer votes than he did in his first campaign. Romney received slightly more votes than John McCain did.

Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson received 1,265,000 votes, according to Wikipedia, whose mysterious editors show the votes for every candidate. That’s the most any Libertarian presidential candidate has ever received. It amounts to 0.99 percent, just shy of Ed Clark’s 1.06 percent in 1980. If Johnson had been on the ballot in Michigan and Oklahoma, he would surely have broken 1 percent, though he still probably wouldn’t have exceeded Clark’s percentage. (Michigan and Oklahoma haven’t been very good states for Libertarian candidates.) Johnson’s best states were New Mexico, where he served two terms as governor, followed by Montana and Alaska.

The Libertarian Party reports that seven Libertarian statewide candidates in Texas and Georgia received more than a million votes.

Don’t forget to read the new ebook The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center, which discusses how the millions of libertarian-leaning voters in America tend to vote. (It does not have 2012 results.)

Is America a ‘Center-Libertarian Nation’?

Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey writes:

Many debates have broken out about the meaning of last week’s election, including over whether conservatives should still push their claim that America is a “center-right nation.”…

After 32 straight losses for same-sex wedding laws, four states approved marriage-equality proposals last week. Two other states legalized marijuana for recreational purposes….

But Americans appear to remain more receptive to conservative viewpoints on spending, debt and the size of government. A bare majority, 51%, of voters last Tuesday told exit pollsters that government should do less, with 43% saying it should do more….

A more precise verdict would be that the majority of the country remains slightly right of center when it comes to supporting lower spending, decreased debt and smaller government.  But America appears to have shifted left of center in allowing more liberal policies on drugs and the institution of marriage. So, left on social issues and right on economics. If you eliminated the desire to tax the rich, it would sound like we had a center-libertarian nation.

Good points! And of course reminiscent of arguments we’ve made here at Cato, including Brink Lindsey’s “libertarian center” and of course the work David Kirby and I have done on “the libertarian vote,” now available in a convenient ebook.

How Not to Fact Check a Presidential Debate

After last night’s debate, I watched the postgame on the Fox News Channel.

They had some problems with their fact checking.

They got off to a solid start, going through the back-and-forth on whether or not the Obama administration attempted to get a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq that would have exempted U.S. troops from being subject to Iraqi law and therefore left them in the country. Governor Romney was right on that one, and Fox called it for Romney.

Then Chris Wallace decided to “fact check” the repartee over Romney’s point that the U.S. Navy has fewer ships than it has had since 1917. Just as a refresher, here are the relevant bits:

ROMNEY: Our Navy is old — excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now at under 285. We’re headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me.

I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947.

[…]

OBAMA: …I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works.

You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities…

So how did Fox fact check this go round? Here’s what Chris Wallace said:

Well, as it turns out, in the middle of the debate, after he heard this, a Marine tweeted Fox News and said, “The Marines still use bayonets,” so it may not be clear who doesn’t really understand what the military currently uses.

I always thought Chris Wallace was a pretty sharp guy, but this makes me question that judgment. The point wasn’t that bayonets don’t exist anymore, or that they aren’t issued to Marines—they are. The point was that fighting wars is very different than was fighting wars in the early 20th century. Bayonets are not causes of mass death in combat as they were, say, right around 1916 (see photo). The point was that simply tallying the number of ships isn’t apples to apples because one American warship can do so much more today than one warship could back then.

The more precise point would be that we currently measure our navy in terms of tonnage. But don’t take it from me, take it from former Bush/Obama defense secretary Robert Gates:

As much as the U.S. Navy has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, for example, in terms of tonnage, its battle fleet is still larger than the next 13 navies combined—and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies or partners.

Wallace’s idea that what he was doing was somehow a “fact check” overlooks the point that there wasn’t a fact in dispute. There was an argument, slightly more complicated than a simple factual dispute. And Obama’s argument, that the nature of militaries and combat has changed dramatically—nuclear weapons, anyone?—since 1916 and that we measure combat power differently as a result, was clearly correct. Even trying to count the number of bayonets would have been a silly effort to miss the point.

It is disappointing in the extreme to see VP candidate Paul Ryan on television this morning in one breath seemingly understanding Obama’s point, then immediately claiming not to understand the point (“to compare modern American battleships and navy with bayonets, I just don’t understand the comparison…”)

Election 2012: Thank God it’s almost over.

Romney’s 4 Percent: A Goal not a Promise, but Still Expensive

The advisers who introduced Mitt Romney to the idea that he should spend at least 4 percent of GDP on the Pentagon’s budget are busy clarifying what he means. But “their comments,” conclude Bloomberg’s Gopal Ratnam and Tony Capaccio:

only add to the uncertainty about how much a President Romney might add to the Pentagon’s budget and when, what the additional spending would buy other than more warships and how he’d propose to pay for what analysts say may be as much as $2 trillion in added spending while also whittling down the federal deficit as he’s promised.

Dov Zakheim, a former Pentagon comptroller in George W. Bush’s administration, told Ratnam and Capaccio that Romney’s 4 percent promise is a goal that “is not going to be achieved overnight or perhaps even by the end of the first term.” How quickly Romney reaches his 4 percent target, Zakheim explained at an event last week organized by the group Military Reporters & Editors, “will very much depend on the state of the economy and very much depends on the offsets you’ll be able to find within the defense budget,” but he affirmed that “Every effort will be made to ramp up as soon as possible.”

Differing assumptions about the pace of Romney’s increase explain the continued confusion surrounding his 4 percent plan. Zakheim had earlier claimed that the $2 trillion estimate cited by Obama “is essentially an assumption that we go to 4 percent of GDP from the get-go.” The Romney campaign, he explained, doesn’t intend to “come in with a massive supplemental” to the current budget to boost defense spending.

Others, including vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, have criticized the $2 trillion figure, but have failed to offer their own estimate of the likely costs of Romney’s promise. In particular, Romney supporters have singled out an analysis by Travis Sharp of the Center for New American Security (CNAS), and have accused Sharp and CNAS of running cover for Obama. In earlier remarks to reporters, Zakheim asserted that the $2 trillion was concocted by Democrats, for shock value, and that it should therefore be taken with a grain of salt.

As to the question of how the additional Pentagon spending would be paid for, James Carafano at the Heritage Foundation shared some ideas with Ratnam and Capaccio. Romney may be able to reach the 4 percent of GDP goal by the end of the first term and still cut deficits as he has promised “with two caveats,” Carafano explained. Romney would have to get “tax reform done and address long-term entitlement spending.”

Slowly but surely, we are starting to understand Romney’s promise. And who said presidential campaigns were a waste of time?

A few clarifications are still in order, however.

First, the claim that the $2 trillion figure was created by Democrats and the president’s supporters is false. I first estimated–before Travis Sharp did–the likely costs of Romney’s four percent pledge here. Since then, I have twice revisited my estimates (here and here), settling most recently on two figures: $1.85 trillion in additional spending if Romney reached the 4 percent target in 4 years; $1.7 trillion if he reached it at the end of his second term. I noted, also, the remaining unknowns: what is included within the base budget, and GDP (I have deliberately used CBO projections, the most conservative – Obama/OMB and Romney believe that GDP will grow faster). I also note that a number of others, none of them obvious “Obama supporters”, have questioned Romney’s 4 percent promise, including Byron Callan, a defense industry analyst with Capital Alpha Partners LLC, and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s Todd Harrison.

Second, the two “caveats” at the center of Carafano’s supposition that Romney could achieve his goal by the end of his first term without increasing the deficit are more than that; on the contrary, the belief that Mitt Romney can achieve long-term entitlement reform and fundamental tax reform within the next four years strains credulity to the breaking point.

The fundamental reform of “long-term entitlement spending,” though badly overdue, is not seriously on offer by either Republicans or Democrats, and would not generate significant savings in the short term, in other words, by the time that Romney wanted to ramp up military spending. His spending, therefore, would grow the deficit, at least in the short term.

Equally dubious is the presumption that far-reaching tax reform – the elimination of some deductions in exchange for lower marginal tax rates – is likely any time soon. For starters, many fiscal hawks oppose any reform that results in higher revenue. More revenue, by definition, is a tax increase, something that is still verboten among most Republicans. And with good reason. “The American people know,” said Michelle Dimarob, spokeswoman for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), “when Washington politicians call for higher taxes it is to fuel more Washington spending.” “Americans,” Dimarob concluded, ”don’t want to pay more in taxes to bailout Washington.”

She’s right, and they don’t change their tune when the Pentagon is doing the spending. This study (.pdf, Q56) found that a plurality (including 52.2 percent of Republicans) are opposed to paying higher taxes in order to fund a still larger military. Other recent polls have found that Americans support military spending cuts (here, here and here), and barely one in four Americans (27 percent) believe that we should be spending more, according to a recent Rasmussen survey. In short, Pentagon spending boosters might succeed in pushing through a tax increase, but this would likely be unpopular with voters.

So, after all of this, I’m still left with two nagging questions: will Mitt Romney’s promise to spend more on the military win him votes? And, if he is elected, can he achieve his goal of spending 4 percent of GDP on the Pentagon without raising taxes or increasing the deficit?

Wall Street Journal: Romney Should Be a Neocon, but Hide It in Debate

Would you buy a foreign policy from this man?

Imagine a world in which the Iraq War had gone exactly as marketed. The United States invaded in March 2003. The Iraqis, with the help of Ahmed Chalabi, rapidly transitioned to become a stable, liberal democracy allied with the United States against Iran. The marvelous and smooth transformation had ripple effects throughout the region: a handful of Arab states followed suit, and the United States had drawn down to under 30,000 troops in country by September 2003, setting up a basing agreement with the new Iraqi government to stay indefinitely. Few American lives were lost, the swamp of terrorism was drained, and an oil pipeline has just been completed running from Iraq to the Israeli port city of Haifa.

Imagine, at the same time, that opponents of the war, despite having gotten every major judgment about the prudence and consequences of the war comically wrong, had been vaulted to positions of power and prestige in foreign affairs commentary. Meanwhile, the war’s proponents, despite their support for a strategy that yielded huge strategic dividends for the United States at a low cost, were banished to the wilderness, heard from sporadically on a few blogs and at a think tank or two.

It would be strange, wouldn’t it?

And yet that situation is roughly analogous to the one in which we find ourselves today, except in real life the war was an enormous disaster, just as its opponents predicted, and the proponents of the war are the ones in denial about its implications. Foremost among the salespeople for war who have yet to come to grips with the facts are the members of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board.

But hey, let’s let bygones be bygones: they’ve got some advice for Mitt Romney in his upcoming foreign policy debate.

First, the good news: Even the editorial board of the Journal seems to understand that speaking openly about their plans for more wars would be bad politics. Accordingly, the Journal doesn’t “expect Mr. Romney to offer an explicit defense of the Bush Doctrine” and they worry about the implications of Obama charging Romney with wanting to get the United States into a third (and fourth) Middle East war. This is in keeping with the previous assurance of Bret Stephens (pictured above) that Romney wouldn’t start any new wars. Romney should deny wanting any more wars while doing a number of things that make them inevitable.

Second, the bad news: Instead of suggesting that Romney actually trim the neocon sail a bit, the article suggests Romney continue his strategy of wheeling out a fog machine and saying “leadership” and “strength” instead of discussing details. The American people who tune in Monday night deserve to hear some specifics. Not the level of specifics that would satisfy the people who think about international politics for a living, sure, but some specifics. Instead, while suggesting that Romney “offer[] a serious critique of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy that doesn’t descend to clichés,” the article suggests clichés but not seriousness.

This blends with the ugly news: like an insular clique of Bourbon royalty, the neocons at the Journal appear to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing about strategy over the last 10 years. To the extent their suggestions do go beyond clichés, they are a reminder that Bush-era neoconservatism still lies at the center of their world view, and the world view of the Republican establishment. A few examples:

  • The war in Iraq, we are informed, had “already been won when Mr. Obama became president.” Mission accomplished? Come again?
  • Obama turned that win into a loss by failing to secure “a viable alliance with Baghdad and a bulwark against Tehran.” When you have allocated yourselves 1,608 words, you may want to show your work about how this could have happened.
  • Another Obama failure is that he allowed Israel to have a partially independent defense strategy. He should have “provide[d] Israel with reassurances that it needn’t consider its own military options” on Iran. If Israelis should just rely on the United States to defend them from the most important threats facing their country, why does Israel have such a powerful military in the first place?
  • Obama’s “policies of premature military withdrawals [in Iraq and Afghanistan] have increased rather than diminished the chances that we will be at war in the Middle East again.” How? In which countries?

One could go on. But more broadly the piece suffers from the flaw that has characterized the whole foreign-policy discussion in the election: the idea that the outside world begins at Algeria and ends at Afghanistan. The sprawling essay says exactly nothing useful when it comes to the most important foreign policy challenges facing the United States: the prospect of a European implosion, the wreckage of our war on drugs in Mexico, and preventing American entanglement in a prospective World War III in Asia.

The essay closes by invoking Robert Gates’s invocation of Ronald Reagan, who said that he had lived through many wars but none of them began because the United States was too strong. Gates and the WSJ’s editorial board probably ought to think a little harder about whether the United States blundered into any costly quagmires as a function of its overweening strength and insulation from the costs of its strategic choices. The answer is obvious.

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