Lament of an Undecided Voter – Neither Obama nor Romney Is Any Good

In the last few weeks I have heard a lot of news stories about undecided voters. In one story on NPR last weekend, the reporter basically concluded that the only remaining undecided voters were either single moms who were too busy to pay attention yet, or people who only claim to be undecided, but have really made up their minds. I have also seen a lot of Facebook posts talking about, in various degrees, how stupid undecided voters are. In the minds of such people, it is clear what each candidate stands for and thus no one who pays even the slightest attention to the election could possibly be undecided.

I, however, fit none of these descriptions and still, with just over a week to go, I am undecided. Normally I would have decided who I was voting for ages ago, but this is not an ordinary election. In my opinion, both of the main candidates are, frankly, terrible options, and it is really quite difficult deciding which one of them would be less bad.

But first, some background on myself, to convince you that I am not a member of one of the other groups already mentioned. I read the news daily, in a variety of outlets (my top reads are The Economist, the New York Times, and NPR, in that order), and keeping up with the news is vital component of my current internship. I am also in a Master’s program studying International Affairs with a focus on international politics, so politics is what I live and breathe every day, and I live in a city (DC) where politics is constantly on everyone’s mind. So I hope that I am at least modestly informed of the issues.

So back to those issues.

First Obama. My biggest problem with Obama is that he did not really do very much in his first four years, and he does not have a clear agenda for the next four. What he did achieve in his first four years, other than healthcare, often went against his promises. Healthcare, however, was a very positive step in the right direction. It is certainly not perfect, and it will need to be tweaked and altered as it gets going. But just as the US decided that education for all was consistent with the American ethos, I think taking the next step of healthcare for all is a similarly worthwhile goal, and hopefully it will eventually lead to reductions in the cost of healthcare as well.

But apart from this accomplishment, the President has done very little. He promised to respect civil rights, but instead he failed to close Gitmo, ramped up extrajudicial killings (including of American citizens) using drones, and extended the Patriot Act. He dramatically increased the deportation of illegal immigrants while doing very little to pass the DREAM Act (which would give immigrants who came here as children and have no criminal record a chance to become citizens), despite his promises to do so. Only recently did he decide to unilaterally bypass Congress and stop deporting immigrants who would fit the qualifications of the DREAM Act, but this seemed like a blatantly political move aimed at winning over Latino voters.

On the whole he has failed to provide the needed leadership to transcend partisan politics, one of his big promises. While blame also falls on Congress for this, a better leader would have made more progress than Obama has, and I don’t see how it would be any better in a second term, even if it were clear what Obama actually wanted to achieve in a second term. His main argument is that Romney would implement old, stale policies, not that he (Obama) would offer up new ones. That is not very promising.

However, in one area, foreign policy, I generally trust Obama much more than Romney. Obama is not a hawk, despite his continuations of the policies listed above, and in this globalized age, foreign affairs increasingly have domestic importance. We need a president who will be able to work with leaders globally, and Obama is both much better liked abroad, and generally more likely to resolve issues peacefully than Romney. Engagement is better than confrontation.

So in sum, while I may agree more with Obama’s rhetorical stances on many issues, he doesn’t seem to get very much done, and he does not have a clear plan of action for the coming years. He is an idea man, but he has trouble doing. Since the job of the presidency is theoretically 100% doing, I’m not so sure about another four years of Obama.

However, I’m not a Romney fan either. Let’s start with foreign policy since we were just discussing it. I said that Obama is more likely to resolve problems peacefully not because Romney is a hawk but because many of the people who surround him are very hawkish (e.g., John Bolton), and that can cause big problems. More importantly, when Romney talks about foreign policy, he often sounds completely out of touch with reality. Russia is certainly not our biggest geopolitical risk (that truly is Cold War-era thinking). In traditional realist terms, China would be a good candidate for this label, if not immediately then in coming years. Speaking of China, labeling them a currency manipulator, while probably not very important, is a sign of Romney’s general confrontational perspective. Such an action is completely unnecessary and only has potential downside. Romney believes in American Exceptionalism, which is completely false (but I have already talked about that elsewhere), and even if it were true, arrogance is never a good starting point for foreign policy. I also think Romney is overly hawkish on the situation with Iran and Israel, but all Republicans are too jumpy on Israel (the right of Israel to exist does not mean Israeli policy is necessarily good), and Obama has done nothing to improve the chances for peace in Israel either. Suffice it to say, I think Romney would be pretty terrible at foreign policy.

Romney’s big advantage is his record of cutting deficits and righting the fiscal ship in Massachusetts. The US certainly needs that medicine, and I am much more inclined to think Romney knows how to do it better than Obama. However, Romney has gone so far to the right in order to make it through the primaries, that the compromising man we saw in Massachusetts is nowhere to be found. Non-partisan groups who have analyzed Romney’s budget show it will not work (just as Obama’s won’t) – you simply can’t tax cut your way out of a deficit. It’s utterly ridiculous, and everyone, including Romney (who increased revenue through various fees and taxes in Massachusetts) knows it. While I am more inclined to trust Romney than Obama on this issue, I doubt the prudence of cutting spending as drastically as Romney sounds like he wants to when our economy is so weak. Our economy is still very fragile, and a big cut in spending while we are still recovering could ultimately widen the deficit more than if we keep spending higher until the economy is back on track.

But by far the biggest issue I have with Romney is that I have no idea who he is. Before the presidential campaign he was a likable moderate. During the primaries he bordered on Tea Party-ism, vying to be the most extreme of the lot (especially, one must note, on immigration). But since the primaries, he has constantly sought to soften his views, eventually to the point that many of them are identical to Obama’s. So who is this man? Will he act more like he did as governor of Massachusetts or more like the far-right candidate we saw in the primaries? Will he really insist on no tax increases and all spending cuts to balance the budget (which is impossible)? Even if he wants to return to his more moderate stances, would an emboldened Republican Party in Congress allow him to? The fact that I really don’t know how Romney would act as president also makes me wonder more generally about his integrity. How can I trust someone to steer the most powerful nation on earth if he is willing to change his stance so often for political gain? True, all politicians seem to do this, but it is particularly obvious with Romney.

In sum, I really don’t like either candidate, and I’m still undecided. I’ve pondered a third-party vote, if only because I wish so dearly that there were a viable moderate candidate. But there isn’t. Perhaps I will decide which one of the candidates is really worse before election day and vote for the other guy. Regardless of my decision, I will not be an enthusiastic voter this year.

PS – I know I have not addressed a host of social issues here, including abortion, gay rights, and many other items. In my view, while I tend to agree more with one candidate or the other on the many different social issues, the things I have discussed above sway my own vote more than these issues in this election (i.e., I don’t really expect social policy to be drastically different between the two going forward, especially with the other concerns weighing on the nation).


Add yours →

  1. If you really don’t like either man or his policies, why not consider each one’s view on the purpose of government? It was the final question in one of the debates and their responses were so strikingly different. Looking beyond the next 4 years, I think the long-term implications of those two different views on what government exists for could be significant.

  2. the problem with giving citizenship to undocumented immigrants according to a comment I read online on a article on illegal immigration: I live in the suburbs of Houston, Tx, where illegals are everywhere you go. The majority I have spoken to over the last 10yrs (not the ones who came 20+ yrs ago-very different)have no intentions on becoming an American and most detest the notion. The majority, especially from Mexico come here to get all the free ‘wellfare’ the are privy to, and believe they are going to take their land back, aka Reconquista de Atzlan. They are taught this in Mexico, I have read it in their school books. Texas will soon end up like Mexifornia, and be bankrupt from the people on the dole, out numbering the working class. Nothing makes me angrier then when I see an illegal wheel up here cart overflowing with groceries, pulls out 3 or 4 Lone Star cards to get it all for free! She’s dressed in Tommy Hilfiger and the like, her kids wearing the same, they wheel the cart out and get into a brand new fully loaded $50 grand Suburban! The only solution to the problem is to cut off the welfare system to all undocumented people period! If they were in Mexico they wouldn’t receive anything, so why wouldn’t they come get the free stuff? This allows them to work cheaper, destroying the wage base, and if a white person gets laid off from their job, they can’t survive, if they can even find someone to hire them to do labor work, as they have zero chance of getting welfare.

    • jonathanwaldroup January 27, 2013 — 8:10 pm

      I am always wary of basing any sort of thinking about huge chunks of people on stories from any one person, but especially someone who is clearly angry about an issue. I actually address some topics on immigration (though I wasn’t focusing exclusively on illegal immigrants) in this blog:

      Also, definitely check out this link, which provides evidence (with more links) that there is widespread agreement among economists of all stripes that low-skilled immigrants improve the economy and have a small POSITIVE impact on wages for the rest of Americans: (about half way down)

      This net positive impact on the economy and wages is the most significant consideration when thinking about immigrants.

      That said, here is another link with some interesting discussion about illegal immigrants and welfare in particular:

      There may well be room for improvement on distributing welfare appropriately, but the bigger problem is that many on the right side of the aisle seem to want to kick out people who improve our country (see my other points in the blog post too).

      • After reading that comment online I contacted the person who posted this comment who lives in the suburbs of Houston Texas and went to the suburbs of Houston Texas and talked to the illegal immigrants there and observed them doing what he said they were doing and by talking to them and observing them I learned exactly what he said in that comment online. That is how I know for sure it is true. I verified the facts for myself. The problem is that massive immigration destroys identity. You need to get rid of the subsidies. We subsidize illegal immigration. We reward it with easy citizenship either birthright or amnesty. We Force our states and our local communities to pay for the healthcare and pay for education. Why wouldn’t they bring their families. We wouldn’t have so many illegal immigrants there if they didn’t know they were going to get amnesty. You promise them amnesty. You promise them no sweat you can get medical care, free education, automatic citizenship, food stamps, and social security you are going to get more of it. We could be much more generous with our immigration. We do not need illegal immigration. We don’t need to reward people who get in front of the line. There is a lot of jobs here that go missing, and some of the workers that come over here provide a great service but I would like to get it out of the area of illegality, and providing a free service. We have always had workers come to this country but they have to be legal. We have to deal with the welfare state. We cant allow the illegal immigrants to qualify for social security after working here for 18 months. We just flat out cant afford it. People are hurting they cant keep up, with paying their bills. When they see people in line using food stamps, they’ll be in the emergency rooms, they will demand bilingual education in the schools, and the costs are going up, school taxes go up. We should get rid of the incentives and work for a real solution which means you do it legally and you have a healthy economy, and we would probably have a lot of people come in back and forth working in this country. There was a time when we had just workers coming back and forth. That was when they didn’t expect to get easy amnesty. Because of our economic conditions we do need workers, but if we had a truly free market economy the illegal immigrants would not be the scapegoat. We would probably need them and they would be acceptable. But because of economic conditions they have become the scapegoat. You cant solve this problem of illegal immigration as long as you have the runaway welfare state, excessive spending and the wiping out of the middle class through inflation because that is what directs the hostility is people are hurting. And then when we have all these mandates on the hospitals and on our schools and no wonder the incentives are there. The incentive for a lot of our people not to work because they can get welfare, and then there is a lot of incentive because they know they are going to get amnesty. They gave it to the illegals in the 80s. And they put mandates on the states to compel them to have medical care. Then you say that is compassion. But what happens if the hospital closes, and then the people here in this country dont get medical care. Our hospitals are literally closing in Texas because they cant afford the free healthcare, and the free education. So you cant divorce it from the economics. You have to get rid of the incentives. No amnesty, and no sourced benefits because obviously they will bring their families, and it just wont work if you try to see this in a vacuum and you have to deal with it as a whole, as an economic issue as well. If they come for welfare benefits then you know they are illegal then yes deny them the benefits and if they commit a crime send them home. When you know they are there. Today in many cities you are not allowed to ask their immigrant status. You know it might be on the forum. The policeman told me dont ask that question. Well they cant ask that question to find out if they are illegal. It would be breaking the law they are arrested. It is politically incorrect to ask a person their immigrant status because that would say well if you are breaking the law maybe you should go home. I get a little worried when we talk about the tamper proof id for illegals who are immigrants because how do you do that. Anyone who is a immigrant or looks like an immigrant would have to have an id and then you cant discriminate so everybody is going to have an id. I think it is opening the door for the national id. We should be very careful about that. Fortunately our foreign policy has been designed to spend money and making our efforts protecting borders between North and South Korea between Syria and Iraq i dont think we should be involved in. Besides you know some of our border gaurds are out in iraq, I think they would be better of on our borders you know protecting our borders not in iraq so yes I think we have to deal with it if we dont deal with it carefully yeah we are going to lose some votes on it but quite frankly the law is the law and we should enforce the law.

  3. Cultural conflicts will always be with us. They only become a serious threat to national solidarity when they combine within a single social welfare state that pits various ethnic groups against one another in the pursuit of their share of the productive pie. Even the Us has moved in that dangerous direction. When Cultural differences are to pronounced, integration becomes impossible. That is why it is better for many cultures to stay relatively separate and homogenous. Studies have shown a base culture can absorb up to 10 percent of another diverging culture without to much conflict, but when the invading culture begins to compete for dominance and majority rule, conflict is certain and violent. Look at Palestine, the Balkans and Europe.

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