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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Case Against Re-electing Obama

The conventions are over. The GOP and the Democrats have had their parties and spent six days preaching to their respective choirs. Ratings and surveys show us that few people watched the conventions and those that did had already made up their minds.

Unfortunately for me the conventions offered little to clarify my choice. You see, I'm an undecided voter. And contrary to the claims of many a pundit, I'm not undecided because I know too little about the candidates or issues. I'm undecided because I know too much.

I do not want to vote for President Obama because he has not earned a second term. I had serious reservations about Senator Obama in 2008. He lacked much experience and ran a campaign premised on vague promises designed to let voters hear what they wanted to hear. There was nothing in his time as either a state or US Senator that suggested he was prepared to be President. In fact, his qualifications appeared to be his ability to give great speeches.

As I consider his record during the last 3.5 years I believe that my reservations regarding his preparedness were largely validated. After promising to be a post-partisan President, Obama repeatedly deferred to then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to craft his legislative agenda. Pelosi is proud partisan who actively sought to exclude House Republicans from any meaningful discussions of legislation.

Obama's first substantial legislation was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (stimulus bill). More than a simple stimulus bill it was actually a Christmas Tree bill adorned with projects House and Senate Democrats had been unable to enact during the prior 8 years of Republican control. Worse, the bill cynically offered financial assistance to states for cash starved Medicaid and Unemployment programs, but in order to receive the temporary funds states were required to make programmatic changes that would increase costs long after the stimulus dollars were gone. Though the President promised much of the stimulus funds would be directed to "shovel ready jobs," only $111 billion of the $800 billion stimulus went to infrastructure. Estimates are the stimulus created or saved 3 million jobs - but at $800 billion that's about $266,000 per job. This is because most of the funds were not directed to job creation. It was a missed opportunity.

Obama again deferred to Congressional leadership for what would become the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In the House, Pelosi shut Republicans out of the process entirely. In the Senate, only Finance Committee chair Max Baucus actively sought a bipartisan bill. In the end his committee produced a bill that did receive the vote of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. But when it came time to introduce the bill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a version that excluded the bipartisan efforts of Baucus. Throughout the process President Obama consistently refused to engage in the debate. He offered little leadership and frequently confused the process as he seemed to waffle on issues such as whether there should be a public option.

When Democrats lost their filibuster proof majority after the stunning election of Republican Scott Brown in early 2010 - an election that served as an early indicator of public opposition to the health care law that was taking shape - the President held a hastily arranged "bipartisan" summit to discuss ways in which Republicans could be part of the reform process. They talked, he listened, and then he ignored their suggestions. In the end, the White House and Congressional Democrats chose to rely on a procedural trick - the use of budget reconciliation - to pass the reform law. Reconciliation allowed the measure to avoid an expected GOP filibuster.

Though I support universal health care, the manner in which the bill was enacted was unacceptable. Additionally there are two major problems at the heart of the bill. The first is the individual mandate - a requirement that every American purchase health insurance. Senator Obama had rejected such a mandate when running for President, but then embraced it after the election. My real objection the mandate was the claim that the Constitution's "Commerce Clause" empowered Congress to compel a citizen to purchase a private good - health insurance. Contrary to the claims of many a partisan pundit, such a claim of power was unprecedented. Ultimately the Supreme Court rejected the commerce clause argument, but upheld the mandate as little more than a tax under a different name.

The second problem with the legislation is its reliance on expanding Medicaid. The law expects to add 17 million people to the rolls of a program that is already breaking most state budgets and suffers from severe physician shortages. In many ways the Medicaid expansion is a cruel joke. It offers the promise of coverage, but many enrollees will still be unable to receive care.

Though I support many of the President's policy goals, I am repeatedly disturbed by the manner in which he achieves them. In November 2010, voters elected a majority Republican House of Representatives. In response to this voter-imposed obstacle to his agenda the President has shown a blatant disregard for constitutional limits on his power and the separation of powers.

He has made recess appointments while Congress was not recessed. He used executive orders to initiate substantive policy changes to the No Child Left Behind Act and the 1996 welfare reform law - even though the originating legislation makes no provision for such executive discretion. He unilaterally decided that he would not enforce elements of US immigration law in order to end deportation of folks who were illegally brought to America as children. Again, I support the goal - allowing folks to remain in the only country they've ever known rather than deport them for laws broken by their parents - but such a decision should be made legislatively and not unilaterally.

But all of these issues pale in comparison to President Obama's national security abuses. The President has established a "secret kill list" and has authorized the execution of suspected terrorists - including American citizens. How this can be defended or justified is beyond explanation. He authorized military action in Libya in direct violation of the constitution and the War Powers Act. And, the President has taken drone warfare to new limits in North Waziristan where he is responsible for the deaths of not just terrorists, but hundreds of innocent men, women, and children - including a 16 year old American citizen in Yemen.

To borrow a phrase from The Atlantic's Connor Friedersdorf, these many transgressions are simply deal-breakers.

I have problems with Mitt Romney and view votes cast for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein as wasted votes. But for all the things I find objectionable about Mitt Romney, he has never killed a 16 year old American citizen. And that sort of makes the whole "47%" comment seem pretty silly.