Sunday, October 19, 2008

What to expect from an Obama Presidency?

I have not given up all hope that John McCain can somehow still win this election; I just gave the RNC another campaign contribution on Thursday. Realistically, however, a look at the polls and electoral map and with only days to go before the election and the state of the economy overriding all other issues; unless something like a miracles happens, we can assume Barack Obama will be The One. We might as well get used to it. Not only does it look like Obama will be President but for the first time since 1938, both houses of Congress and the Presidency will be in Democratic hands.

What can we expect? I know that during campaigns, it is the mission of all politically motivated people to magnify the differences between the candidates and picture your candidate as having all the right answers and the other candidate has having all the wrong answers. Let us be honest: neither candidate would take the country in a radically different direction. An Obama Presidency will not spell the end of this great nation. There will be another election in four years and we will probably be no worse off than we are today. Our position in the world may actually be improved and our economy may be stabilized no matter who is elected. The difference between the two candidates is not the difference between light and dark but the difference between shades of gray.

Below are several issues and how I see them playing out under an Obama Presidency and Democratic Congress:

General Foreign Policy:
I really do not see that the world will be much different under an Obama Presidency than under a McCain Presidency. One of the major criticisms of Obama is that he pledged to meet with any foreign leader without preconditions. Much has been made of that, but that is much to do about little and Obama has since modified that remark. I suspect Obama’s foreign policy positions will be moderated by the professionals in the State Department and Joe Biden. We must admit that George Bush has lowered America’s stature in the world and resulted in America not being very well liked or respected. Obama could be a fresh beginning and restore America’s image in the world. On North Korea, Iran, Darfur and other world hot spots, I don’t think either candidate would radically depart from current US policy. I would be more comfortable with McCain at the helm, but do not expect Obama to make a terrible mess of things.

The War:
Obama has set a timeline for withdrawal but has given himself wiggle room to back off of that if conditions worsen. In any event, given the success of the surge, it looks like 16 months is a fairly reasonable time line. I agree in principle with the McCain position of being guided by conditions on the ground, however the practical impact of the two positions is not that different. Obama was never as irresponsible as Richardson or Kucinish or some of the other Democrats in promising an immediate withdrawal regardless of the consequences. I do not think Obama would want to see the region dominated by Iran or a resurgent Al Qaeda in Iraq. I am not too concerned.

I actually think Obama is wise to see that we need to pay more attention to Afghanistan. So, I look for good things. I agree with Obama that we should have stayed and fixed Afghanistan rather than invading Iraq. Obama will put more attention back on Afghanistan were we are losing a war.

I think Obama was foolish to publicly say we would invade Pakistan to pursue Al Qaeda, although I think that is what we need to do. However we should do it while telling Pakistan in secret and in advance that we are doing it and while publicly denying we are doing it, or allow Pakistan to publicly condemn us for doing it and after we have achieved our objective, withdraw and let Pakistan save face. Obama’s policy is not wrong; he is wrong to publicly announce it as a policy. Once elected, I think again, the professionals at State and Joe Biden will moderate Obama. Obama is young and inexperienced and naive; he will learn. I suspect he will learn fairly quickly.

I actually think Obama has the better policy and will end the senseless and counterproductive isolation of Cuba. One of the last two remaining Communist countries in the world will rapidly modernize and become Communist in name only.

Health Care:
Health care is one area where I think the John McCain position is vastly superior. However, Obama has not presented a vision of universal, single-payer healthcare. Under Obama, all health care will not be nationalized. For some individuals who do not have health care, they will have it under Obama, but nothing will be done to transform the health care system. We will simply go just a little further down the wrong road, but I expect no major change.

Government Growth, Government Spending, taxes, the Economy, and Trade:
I do not expect a major advancement of socialism under Obama as many Republican pundits fear. The President is Commander in Chief of the military but not the economy and actually has limited influence. With the Congress having just spent $850 billion on a government rescue plan for the economy and our nation having record deficits, there is nothing left to feed the beast.

Republicans in power became big spenders; out of power Republicans may regain their principled opposition to intrusive government and devotion to fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, it looks like Republicans may be so reduced in number in the Congress that they cannot prevent the Democrats from cutting off debate and passing any program they like. However, there are a significant number of so-called Blue dog Democrats who believe in Pay-as-you-go and in fiscal responsibility. The Republicans and the Blue dogs and the reality of a broke government without deep pockets, I suspect, will curtail government expansion. Attention will be focused on getting markets moving again rather than new initiatives.

New free trade expansions and globalization may be curtailed under Obama, but maybe not. There seem to be as many protectionists and economic nationalist among the Republican rank and file as among Democrats so the advancement of free trade may not be that much different regardless of which party is in office. I think the leadership of both parties believes in free trade, but neither party can get too far ahead of the public. I am not sure the Democrats will be anymore likely to cave to protectionist sentiments than the Republicans.

On taxes, I think Obama’s plan to soak the rich and redistribute wealth will inhibit investment; however, all other factors do not remain constant. I doubt that Obama’s tax plan will be that detrimental if other fiscal and monetary policies are correctly formulated.

Global Warming and energy policy:
I was glad to see we had candidates of both parties who accept the science of global warming. It has been an embarrassment to me that the Republican Party has been the flat-earth party on this issue. In a time of economic meltdown and war, very little was said in the campaign about global warming.

My worst fear is that in order to “do something” the Democrats may pass a program similar to the cap and trade bill that was proposed last year. That would be damaging to the economy and do nothing to curtail growth of harmful CO2 emissions. Also, it would give the public a feeling that we had done something and would forestale really doing something. Given the state of the worldwide economy, I think Democrats will be more rational and responsible than they were when the previous cap and trade bill was presented and I do not expect them to pass anything that resembles that bill. But, maybe I just have too much faith in people’s common sense. I don’t know.

So, while I do not expect President Obama and Congress to do something really stupid, unfortunately, I don’t think they will do much that addresses the problem. Unless we put a price on carbon emission and make clean energy comparatively cheaper, I do not expect much curtailment of carbon emission. So while I don’t expect any significant reduction in greenhouse gases under Obama, I really didn’t expect it under McCain either. I believe addressing global warming should be a priority; I was prepared to be disappointed no matter who was elected.

On energy policy, I expect the US to be marginally more dependent on imported oil under Obama than it would have been under McCain. I think McCain’s policy of offshore drilling and development of new nuclear power plants was the correct path. We may see a marginal but insignificant increase in alternative fuels under Obama, but I do not expect any major reduction of oil imports. We will limp along without much change.

Abortion and Roe v. Wade:
I am pro life, but think that abortion is here to stay. We are not going to pass a right to life amendment to the constitution, ever. Even if McCain had been elected and we had gotten another conservative on the Supreme Court, I did not expect Roe v. wade to be overturned. Conservative jurist believe in the doctrine of stare decisis and precedent and would probably be reluctant to revisit the original right to privacy doctrine on which the Roe v. Wade decision was based. The most we could hope for under a more conservative court is a nibbling away at the edges. In any event, an overturn of Roe v. Wade would do very little to reduce abortions. An overturn would simply throw the issue back to the states where state courts and state legislatures would deal with it. While I would hope that would happen, I hope it would happen because I believe in a strict interpretation of the Constitution and federalism. I think it would have minimal impact on the number of abortions, however. I simply do not see this issue as all that important anymore.

The Supreme Court:
While a McCain win could have moved the Court in a more conservative direction, an Obama win will probably not move it in a more liberal direction. The most likely court retirees are Stevens, Souter, or Ginsburg, all members of the liberal wing. So, one liberal jurist will be replaced by another liberal jurist and the country will not be any worse off.

I have no clue what to expect under Obama. Given his association with ACORN and his general liberal voting record, we may see an increase in programs that condemn people to government dependency and institutional poverty. However, their was very little discussion of these issues in the campaign so I don’t think we have reason to think that expansion of the welfare state will be an Obama priority. I have been disappointed that under eight years of Republican rule, there was no meaningful effort to extend the welfare reform initiated during the Presidency of Bill Clinton.

I think that even most liberals have come to realize that making a segment of the population permanently dependent on government handouts was a failed policy, so I doubt we will see a return to the Great Society-type welfare programs. Obama may initiate programs designed to help lift people out of poverty. I hope so.

I expect a marginally worsening of the quality of American education, due to the Democratic Party’s debt to the teachers union, which opposes almost all innovation and accountability. On the other hand, educational improvement may come from state experimentation and ideas may spread state to state rather than coming from the top down. While I supported No- Child, I was always conflicted because I think education should be a state and local responsibility rather than a federal responsibility.

This was not talked about much in the election but I suspect that either Obama or McCain would pursue a policy of comprehensive immigration reform similar to what was proposed by President Bush. My fear is that Republicans, out of office, will pander to the public’s anti-immigrant mood rather than moderate their stance, as they would have if McCain had been elected. I do not expect any meaningful immigration reform under Obama, but neither did I expect it under McCain.

Assuming Obama is elected, I will be disappointed but I will wish him well and hope for the best. I will be more fearful about the future of our nation and the world under an Obama Presidency, but only marginally so. Obama may rise to the occasion and actually make a good President. Regardless of which candidate is elected, I don’t really think it would have changed my life much or the course of history. There will be other elections, and the pendulum will swing back. Our country will be fine.

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  1. If Obama becomes President and congress is held by Democrats, I hope that you are correct and that they don't attempt to push their political vision of more government to solve problems or to save us from ourselves.

  2. This is a very well-thought-out piece. Pretty serious writing. I agree with so much of what you say I find myself quite surprised that you are a Republican...ha ha...oh WAIT! You are a "disgruntled" republican. Any chance you may actually vote for Obama?

  3. Thanks Doug, No there is no chance I will vote for Obama, I was just trying to make the point that the world won't come to an end if he is elected. Rod

  4. I appreciate your measured assessment.

  5. I have been living in American for last 4 years. Though I dont have voting rights, still the politics intrigues me. I am so puzzled how Obama can appeal to people. He is like Hugo Chavez or Ahmedinejad who can not do any good to their people an country. The election is so unfair and the people choice seems ridiculous. I cannot imagine 4 years of Obama. He is going to ruin the nation. Either he would not do what he says, or he would increase the tax burden or he would increase the deficit. Gad save America

  6. Kirank, Thanks for visiting. I just went to your blog and read the profile and the "American Crisis-an inside view from an outsider" post. I enjoyed it and found your perspective interesting. I wish you well and hope others discover your site. I will be reading more. Thanks, Rod