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Sunday, November 04, 2012  

Pre-Election Grab-Bag

No tedious endorsements this year, and my planned philosophical defense of voting for guys who keep secret kill lists and promise to re-introduce torture to American security policy (you choose!) seems, well, like kind of a waste. So I'll just throw out some predictions and some good-faith reasons to vote for either presidential candidate.

First the fun stuff, predictions:

The president will carry Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Virginia for 294 electoral votes.
Romney will carry Colorado, North Carolina, and Florida for 244.

I could see Obama winning Colorado and Florida, or Romney winning Ohio, New Hampshire, or Virginia, but the conservative pundits who are predicting 315 or more electoral votes for Romney are doing so in contradiction to all the publicly available data. The prospect for conservatives repeating the rude awakening liberals felt in 2004 is very much on the horizon; one wonders what it would do to the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

In the Senate, Joe Donnelly will beat the self-destructing Richard Mourdock in Indiana's open seat. Murphy will beat McMahon in Connecticut. Kaine will edge ahead of Allen in Virginia, and I have a hunch that Baldwin will outlast Thompson in Wisconsin. It looks like Angus King will win in Maine (and caucus with the Democrats) and the Republicans will pick up open seats in Nebraska (despite a charmingly devoted run by former senator Bob Kerrey) and North Dakota. Warren will defeat Brown in Massachusetts and Flake will narrowly defeat Carmona in Arizona. The Montana and Nevada races look to be real nail-biters; I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Shelley Berkley will beat Dean Heller by a whisker in Nevada, and Tester will come up a little short in Montana. That would leave the Senate with 54 Democrats (including two independents) and 46 Republicans, though the consensus view seems to be that Democrats will hold 52 or maybe 53 seats total. The result will leave a somewhat more polarized Senate, as red-state Democrats and blue-state Republicans have a tough night.

In all honesty, I've paid no attention to the House or governor races at all.

Less interesting than who will win is what will the consequences be for either man's victory? I've been thinking about this for a while, and I want to try to make the case for either guy without either praising or blaming them for past records, or for their skill in deploying rhetoric to suggest disagreements that don't exist between them in any meaningful degree. So what follows is meant to be a strictly forward-looking argument.

Legitimate reasons to vote for Obama:

1) A whole lot more people will have health insurance if Obama wins re-election. This is pretty clear. The Affordable Care Act is set to insure tens of millions of currently un- or under-insured Americans in 2014, either through the bill's expansion of Medicaid or through the new insurance exchanges. While Romney has echoed others in his party who have pledged to "repeal and replace" the ACA, the details of the replacement are all hand-waving at this point. One reputable estimate puts the gap in insurance rates between an Obama second term and a Romney first term at 50 million people.

2) Obama is probably less likely to start a war with Iran. While the true instincts of either man in this area are essentially unknowable, it seems very probable that Romney is likelier to commit himself, from the start, to positions that simply can't be sustained without military action. His advisors are largely neoconservative in outlook. Obama's policy has been one of coercive sanctions and diplomatic pressure, but he seems more willing to contemplate the kind of deal that could conceivably emerge than Romney could be.

3) The long-term deficit will be smaller under Obama. Public perceptions notwithstanding, Obama has engaged in a quest for a "grand bargain" on taxes and spending that someone, maybe Yglesias, has called "Ahab-like." Romney has expressed no openness to a grand bargain and no interest in pursuing one, and his coalition won't demand one. Obama will face a lot of pressure from liberals to protect the entitlement status quo, and a lot of resistance from conservatives to any deal that raises revenues, but depending on how he plays the "fiscal cliff," he could put himself in the driver's seat for brokering a big deal.

4) The abortion status quo is likely to be preserved. There is little chance that future Obama nominees will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, though they are also unlikely to roll back any of the laws made at the state level in recent years that restrict abortion. The issue will continue to be fought out in scores of lower-level legislative skirmishes that will be useful in mobilizing both sides, but the core holding of abortion as a matter of privacy and personal autonomy is likely to survive.

Legitimate reasons to vote for Mitt Romney:

1) He might attempt some tax reform. My guess is that Obama wants this, too, but after running as the stalwart defender of the mortgage interest deduction, it might be hard to pivot to a reform agenda. Romney is right to want to curtail these things, and his idea of putting a total dollar value on the deductions that can be claimed seems like a good idea that could actually become law.

2) The short-term deficit will be much higher if Romney is elected. This is true, and this is actually a good thing. Romney will cut a lot of programs that help the poor, but the core programs that drive federal spending are not going to be touched, and tax revenues will not increase. This is a good thing for short-term growth. Meanwhile, if history is any guide, the heretofore sluggish Fed will push on the gas a little harder when a Republican is in office.

3) Romney is likelier to change the abortion status quo. Romney's own views on this issue, among others, are unknown and probably not very meaningful. His Supreme Court picks may not end up being hard-right ideologues, but there's no doubt in my mind that his nominees would be more likely to overturn Roe and shake up the politics of abortion than Obama's would be. This is one of the few ways in which a Romney presidency could move us toward rather than away from the mainstream of the developed world--unless, of course, you imagine that the no-exceptions federal abortion ban would follow directly on its heels. That won't happen, however, precisely because the more casually extremist pro-life politicians are insulated from the consequences of their extremism by Roe. Whether you're pro-life or pro-choice, the legal regime we have is profoundly distorting of our national politics and it creates a co-dependent relationship between activist groups that is not healthy.

A few wild cards:

Climate change. Obama wants to do something and probably can't do much, Romney doesn't want to do anything (or does he?) and could perhaps do the same amount if he chose to be clever about it.

Immigration. Romney ran as a restrictionist and will probably be beholden to that view in his party. Obama wants reform but probably can't get it. He's deported a lot of people, needlessly, in order to create the political space for a deal that never got made.

Humanitarian interventions: Apart from John McCain, Romney's own party won't roast him for keeping boots off the ground and planes out of the air in all the world's hotspots, though they'll support him if he doesn't show that much restraint. Obama's advisors are comfortable with the "responsibility to protect" doctrine and they also know that public opinion and congressional authority offer no meaningful resistance to little wars like Libya.

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 11:53 PM
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