Why I’m Voting For Mitt Romney And Paul Ryan

On Tuesday, I’ll walk in to the polling booth at the church in New Albany where we vote and touch the screen for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  I recognize that that decision won’t come as much of a surprise for loyal readers of our family blog.  I think it’s only fair to explain why, if only to add one more person’s perspective to the national conversation about this election.

In my view, the most important issue confronting our country is our federal deficit and national debt — the latter of which has passed the $16 trillion mark.  I care about other issues, of course, but I view our debt as the most fundamental issue of all because it involves basic concepts of national sovereignty.  Our debt is so large, and has existed for so long, that we tend to think of it as a kind of abstraction . . . but every dollar of that debt is a real obligation of our country, reflected in an instrument sold by the U.S. treasury to a willing buyer who will be paid a specified interest rate.  With each additional bit of borrowing, we give those people from whom we are borrowing leverage that may allow them to dictate terms — at first, the terms of the debt instruments, by insisting on higher interest payments, and then eventually the terms of how our government operates, by dictating whether we need to adopt austerity measures in how our country operates if we hope to obtain additional loans.  At that point, our national sovereignty is at stake.

We know this to be the case, because over the past few years we have seen it occur in Iceland and Ireland, and in Greece and Portugal.  Those countries borrowed irresponsibly and saw the interest rates on their debt instruments rise as investors became increasingly concerned that the debts might not be repaid and demanded higher rates as the price for accepting that risk.  And, ultimately, outside forces — the International Monetary Fund, European Union bankers, and others — went to each of those formerly sovereign nations and told them what they needed to do if they hoped to continue to borrow money.  Those governments accepted the conditions and agreed to the austerity measures imposed by outsiders because they had no choice.

I don’t want to see that happen here — yet, over the last four years, we have seen the United States move down that very same path, with annual trillion-dollar deficits that have taken our total debt past the unimaginable sum of $16 trillion.  We also passed a significant milestone on that road to perdition when our national credit rating was downgraded.  I don’t think that downgrade has received the attention it deserves.  Imagine!  Credit rating agencies presuming to raise questions about the credit of the leader of the free world, a country so stable that its currency gave rise to the now-antiquated phrase “sound as a dollar.”  But the ratings agencies are so presumptuous, and we are kidding ourselves if we think our many lenders aren’t also carefully considering our credit-worthiness.

I don’t want to wake up one morning and see that our political leaders are having to dance to the tune called by teams of grey-suited bankers from the IMF, or China, or Germany.  If that happens — and if we continue to rack up trillion-dollar annual deficits, it inevitably will — we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what it would mean.  Does anyone think federal funding of NPR or contraceptives, to identify only two of the issues being discussed during this campaign, would survive under the austerity measures forced upon us by creditors?  Does anyone think the bankers would hesitate to require fundamental changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare?  Does anyone think our country could continue to function as a world leader, and a force for good, as a debtor nation struggling to deal with its overwhelming credit problems?

I recognize this is a dire scenario, and some believe it just can’t happen here.  My response is to look at what has happened in Europe, to countries that have just been ahead of us on the irresponsible fiscal policy curve.  Their experience shows, I think, that it can happen here — and it will, if we don’t do something about it.  I’m too proud of this country and what it has accomplished to let that happen without trying to change course.

I don’t think President Obama places a high priority on grappling with our deficit and debt problems.  He’s talked about them, but his actions speak louder than his words.  He continues to propose budgets that would result in trillion-dollar debts for years into the future, and continues to propose the creation of new federal agencies and federal programs as the solution for every problem.  He hasn’t used the bully pulpit of the presidency to encourage Congress to act.  I’ve seen nothing from President Obama to indicate that his performance over the next four years on this crucial issue of national sovereignty would be any different than his performance over the past four years.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, on the other hand, do focus on the issue of our deficit and our debt and have proposed approaches.  I think they understand the fundamental nature of the problem and would make working with Congress to address the issues in a meaningful way their top priority.  I want someone in the White House who will tackle the debt problem, not let us drift into catastrophe.  That’s why I’m voting for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

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Storm Politics

These days, we seem to see everything through the lens of the presidential election — even a potentially catastrophic storm like Hurricane Sandy.

Rather than focusing on the storm and its potential human cost, much of the media buzz today seemed to be  about how the storm would affect the campaign.  Would Sandy interrupt Mitt Romney’s apparent momentum?  Would it allow the President to be “presidential” and therefore give him an advantage?  Would Mitt Romney continue to campaign and risk a backlash from disgusted voters?   Would the storm delay the release of economic figures on Friday, or be used as an excuse to delay the release?  Could the disruption caused the storm and potential power outages affect early voting, or cause the President order some kind of delay of Election Day?

In this instance, the politicians showed better sense than the nattering talking heads.  President Obama — who is our current President, after all — canceled his campaign appearances and focused on doing his job in connection with the hurricane and disaster preparedness.  Mitt Romney canceled his campaign appearances, suspended fundraising activities in the affected areas, asked supporters to help victims of the storm, and turned his campaign offices in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia into centers for collection of relief supplies.  The candidates and their campaigns, at least, recognize that there are more important things than squeezing in a few more campaign appearances when a dangerous storm is hurting some of our fellow Americans.

It makes you that maybe there’s some hope that our political leaders, ultimately, have their priorities straight, even if the news media doesn’t.

(In)Tolerance

Recently, I was having lunch with a friend for whom I have great respect.  She expressed that she believes she possesses great tolerance — with the exception, she said, of those with a differing political opinion.

That statement was a great clarifying moment for me.  Here was this person, highly educated and intelligent, who is basically saying that she just can’t tolerate differing political opinions.  I think of that conversation as an “a-ha moment,” an epiphany of sorts, as to all that I find troubling in today’s political environment.

There is nothing original in saying this, but I must say it nonetheless:  I am sick, to the point of a primal scream, of this presidential contest, and of our political landscape in general.   I have reached the point where I can barely stand to watch television.   MSNBC or Fox — really, what’s the difference anymore?  Their viewpoints, sure.  But their rigid dogmas and rabid discourse?  It’s just different sides of the same coin.   I enjoyed every minute of watching the debates (as flawed as they are, the pureist thing yet in this election), but had to tune out as soon as the debates ended and segued into the talking heads and spin room.

Where is reason?   Where is intelligent, respectful discourse?  Where is objective reporting?   My j-school professor Marty Brian, God bless her, must be turning in her grave….  There is no presumption of good will or good intentions, no even slight extending of the benefit of the doubt.  They are bad; we are good.  They are wrong; we are right.  They are evil; we are honorable.

My friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances are about equally Republicans and Democrats (is that unusual these days?), and I know that it’s not that clear-cut.  I have a “D” after my name, but my friends of differing political opinions are good people — but also people whose life experiences and independence of thought (imagine!) have led them to reach different points of view from my own.   My Republican friends (my Republican-leaning husband included) don’t hate gays. They aren’t racist.  And my Democratic friends aren’t looking to create a welfare socialist state that redistributes all income and suppresses free enterprise.

Some will say I’m naive — and maybe I am.  I can see shades of gray (does that make me squishy?  I don’t think so).  But before you label me naive,  remember how inspired so many of us were, four years ago, by that gentleman who encouraged us to rise above dogma and reach across the aisle and try to get along?  Sadly, that particular experiment didn’t work out so well (there’s plenty of blame to spread around), and today those words seem almost provincial.

Of course I have my “line in the sand,” and I know there are extremist people out there who wish others ill will.   But in my humble opinion, the vast, vast majority of the people in this country, regardless of their political persuasion, have good intentions and aren’t the extremists we are led to believe.  We can’t reasonably assume that one’s party affiliation tells us the content of one’s character.

As I was writing this, I happened upon an interesting article addressing this same notion.  (In the spirit of keeping it non-partisan, I won’t credit the publication.)  It more artfully captures what I find so disappointing and divisive in today’s political environment.   Allow me to quote just a few passages….

“For the past generation or two, Washington has been the not so hallowed ground for a political war. This conflict resembles trench warfare, with fixed positions, hourly exchanges of fire, heavy casualties on both sides, and little territory gained or lost. The combatants wear red or blue, and their struggle is intensely ideological.

“Before the 1970s, most Republicans in official Washington accepted the institution of the welfare state,  and most Democrats agreed with the logic of the Cold War. Despite the passions over various issues, government functioned pretty well. Legislators routinely crossed party lines when they voted, and when they drank;  filibusters in the Senate were reserved for the biggest bills;  think tanks produced independent research, not partisan talking points. The “D” or “R” after a politician’s name did not tell you everything you thought about him.

“….The people Washington attracts now tend to be committed activists, who think of themselves as locked in an existential struggle over the fate of the country, and are unwilling to yield an inch of ground.

“…The War Between the Colors reflects a real divide in the country, the sorting of Americans into ideologically separate districts and lives.

” …the fighting never really stops.”

A “National” Election, Fought Only In A Handful Of States

Our “national” elections have become increasingly odd.  Many states are written off by the campaigns from the start as being solidly in one column or the other.  Residents of those states never see candidates (except for the occasional quick fundraising trip) and don’t have to endure the avalanche of TV commercials, robocalls, in-person visits, and candidate motorcades.

If you look at the RealClearPolitics electoral map, you see huge states that have become “flyover country” for the campaigns.  In California, Illinois, and New York — three of our most populous states — the President is far ahead.  The average of recent California polls, for example, has the President up by 14 points.  I’m sure many people in those states wonder what the heck the fuss is about; they go about their daily lives and rarely encounter people who support the other guy.  The same is true, but in the other direction, in states like Texas — where the most recent poll, taken at the end of September, has Mitt Romney leading by 19 points — and across a huge swath of the South and Midwest.  People in those states no doubt are similarly astonished that President Obama is even keeping it close.

That’s why it is so curious to live here in “Battleground Ohio.”  Everyone is focused on us.  The Washington Post carried a story yesterday calling Ohio the “Bull’s-Eye State.”  The National Review website has a special section called “Battleground Ohio” that features stories exclusively about Ohio.  The National Journal running total of ad spending shows that more than $160 million has been spent in Ohio alone, and as the last week before the election approaches the spending of the President, Mitt Romney, and their supporters are spiking.

Here in Ohio, you can’t watch any TV program without seeing a host of political ads.  Yesterday, in our tiny sliver of northeast Franklin County, located in the middle of the state, we had campaign workers visit our door (we used hyped-up Penny and Kasey as an excuse not to talk to them) and today we’ll probably see more.  The candidates keep coming, and coming, and coming, holding rallies on airport tarmacs and in high school football stadiums.  We’ve grown used to the ads, the stopped traffic as candidate limousines barrel past, and all of this attention.

I do wonder, however:  what is the reality in this supposedly national election?  It is the frenzied activity in Ohio and a handful of other “battleground states,” or is it the quiet inactivity in the vast majority of the country?  How can an election produce any kind of meaningful mandate when the experience of voters during the campaign is so profoundly, diametrically different?

What If They Gave A Debate And Nobody Cared?

With all of the focus on the Buckeye State in the presidential election, we Ohioans can be excused for forgetting that we will be voting on many races on November 6.  For example, we’ll be deciding whether to retain incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown or elect Republican Josh Mandel instead.

Normally a Senate race is a big deal, but this year I’m not hearing anyone talk about the Brown-Mandel contest — and I work in an office where many people, from both parties, are very interested in politics.  The candidates have had three debates, but only one was broadcast on TV and I don’t know anyone who watched it.  I’m sure that all of the debates were fully covered in the daily newspapers, but Kish and I don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper any longer, and I haven’t seen any coverage of the debates when I’ve visited state news websites.  As a result, I assume that not much happened — no gaffes, no knee-buckling zingers, and probably not much of in the way of any kind of news.

I think that means lots of people will be voting on Election Day without much information.  If Ohioans know anything about the race, they know that Sherrod Brown backed the GM-Chrysler bailout.  Brown mentions that whenever he can; if he could walk around carrying a large flashing billboard advertising that fact, I think he would.  Mandel, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to politics who presents himself as a fiscal conservative tax-cutter; if most Ohioans know anything about him, it is that he served in the military post-9/11.  The campaign ads haven’t done much to address the information deficit, either.

An electorate with ADD is going to be unpredictable, and therefore the polls — which indicate that Brown is ahead by anywhere from one to nine points — probably don’t mean much.  People will get into the voting booth and make a decision, and name and party affiliation will likely tell the tale.  Fortunately for the incumbent, Brown has always been a magical name in Ohio politics.  If Mandel is going to win, he’d better hope that Mitt Romney wins and has very long coattails.

The President’s Speech

During a recent interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama said that kids have “good instincts” and added:  “They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.’”  Does it matter that the President used “bullshitter” in an apparent reference to Mitt Romney?  It’s just one word, after all.

I think it does matter, for two reasons.  First, the presidency remains an aspirational position — although I recognize that may be an old-fashioned view.  The President is the Leader of the Free World and the head of the world’s greatest democracy.  We want the President, through his words and deeds, to represent the best about America.  It’s what people mean when they talk about a candidate for the job appearing to be “presidential.”

Prior Presidents understood this, and paid careful attention to their public conduct and public speech.  They were careful to keep their vulgarities hidden behind the walls of the Oval Office.  When President Obama forsakes the high tones that traditionally accompany that office and uses crass language like “bullshitter” instead, it reflects a depressing coarsening of our culture.  If even the President uses gutter language to refer to his opponent, in an on-the-record comment, what does that say about our society and American culture?

Second, the President’s comment, as well as much of his recent behavior, is fundamentally contrary to the approach and persona that attracted and inspired so many people in 2008.  In that election, reporters covering an Obama speech often referred to his “soaring rhetoric” — and it was soaring.  During his “hope and change” campaign, the President consciously sounded high-minded themes that were fully consistent with the aspirational aspect of the presidency, and refrained from name-calling, cheap stunts, and other tawdry political tactics.

That is what makes the “bullshitter” reference so jarring.  It suggests that the Obama that so many found so appealing in 2012 is gone, if he ever existed.  It’s hard to envision the 2008 Obama calling someone a “bullshitter,” or making the harsh and patronizing comments about aircraft carriers and submarines in the most recent debate, among other less than idealistic behavior the President has exhibited during this campaign.  That conduct directly undercuts some of the most appealing aspects of candidate Obama in 2008, and makes people feel like they were hoodwinked when they pulled the lever for that candidate four years ago.  Americans don’t like to feel like they’ve been played for fools.

A Taste Of Battleground Ohio

Those of you loyal Webner House readers who don’t live in battleground states are being deprived of the opportunity to enjoy endless campaign ads.  As a public service, we hereby offer those who don’t live in the Buckeye State the opportunity to watch two new campaign ads — one from each campaign, with the Obama campaign ad above and the Romney campaign ad below — that will be played, over and over and over again, at every commercial break, from now until Election Day.

Welcome to the world of Battleground Ohio!