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).