The next four years will be fraught with formidable challenges for the nation but also rife with opportunities. That will be the case whether incumbent Barack Obama or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is elected president.
Because of both his record over the past four years and his vision for the future, we think Obama is the better candidate to lead the nation forward.
After four years of economic hardship, it is possible to forget how this crisis began, how dire it was and how much progress the nation has made in putting it behind us. While former President George W. Bush began the process of inching the nation away from the precipice by winning approval for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), most of the burden of dealing with the worst recession since the Great Depression fell on Obamas shoulders.
His stimulus program did not restore economic stability overnight, but it undeniably prevented the nation from lapsing into a depression. It could be argued that the stimulus wasnt large enough to immediately jump-start a vigorous economy and bring employment to pre-recession levels, but it must be remembered that Obama had to work with Republicans in Congress who were intent on opposing any stimulus or, at most, a very limited one.
Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated up front that his partys highest priority was limiting Obama to one term. Despite such dogged opposition, the presidents program succeeded in slowly reducing unemployment and spurring economic activity, especially in the manufacturing sector the auto industry, in particular. The stock market has rebounded and, in recent days, even the housing market has shown new signs of resurgence.
But if he wins another term, Obamas most notable legacy is likely to be his Affordable Care Act, not so lovingly referred to as Obamacare. Once fully in place, this landmark program would provide access to health insurance for 45 million Americans who now are without it and, according to projections by the Government Accountability Office, significantly reduce the cost of health care over time.
Romney has pledged that one of his first acts in office would be to seek the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Yet neither he nor the principle opponents of the health care reforms have offered a plausible plan to accomplish what Obamacare does.
One good reason to re-elect Obama is to ensure that these vital reforms are not repealed or chiseled down to nothing.
On the international front, Obama has ended the war in Iraq and is winding down the war in Afghanistan. He also has ruthlessly pursued al Qaeda around the world, hunting down and killing many of its leaders, notably including Osama bin Laden.
Obama deftly amassed an international force to aid rebels in Libya without putting American boots on the ground. And he has supported the Arab spring although he could be faulted for hesitating so long to do so.
Significantly, Obama also has succeeded in convincing much of the world, including Russia and China, to enact sanctions against Iran to prevent that country from developing a nuclear weapon. While Iranian religious leaders have yet to relent, the sanctions have succeeded in severely undermining Irans economy.
We have no doubt that Obama would pursue a military option against Iran if necessary, but that it would be a last resort, which is appropriate. We dont believe Americans are eager for another war in the Middle East.
Other accomplishments include education reforms, repeal of the militarys dont ask, dont tell policy, an executive order allowing young immigrants raised here to remain in the country and increased fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks.
But what would the future look like under Obama as opposed to Romney? In many cases, the contrasts are evident.
Romney has pledged to balance the budget without raising taxes or cutting military spending, but rather by domestic spending cuts and closing tax loopholes and deductions. Obama has stated that his plan to reduce the deficit includes both military and domestic spending cuts, but also increased taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
Neither plan may be adequate to the task of whittling the nations enormous debt. But we think a balanced approach is required, including not only spending cuts but also increased revenues. And we fear that Romneys tax cuts would further widen the already troubling economic inequality.
Unfortunately, with Romney it is difficult to tell what his exact economic policies would be. He has not specified which programs he might cut nor which loopholes he might close, and few economists find his plan credible.
Our misgivings about Romney stem not only from his lack of specificity about his agenda but also his constantly changing viewpoints. Romney, like any politician, is entitled to tailor his pitch to different audiences, but he vacillates so much that it is hard to tell what his core convictions are or, for that matter, whether he actually has any.
He instituted the model for Obamacare in Massachusetts but now threatens to repeal it on the national level. He once was pro-choice, but now says he would support repeal of Roe v. Wade. During the campaign he criticized the presidents foreign policy as irresolute, but at the third debate appeared to agree with nearly everything Obama said.
His swings have been equally disconcerting on issues such as gay rights, immigration and climate change. Would we be getting the severely conservative Romney or the newly moderate Mitt as president? Who knows?
Obamas tenure has not been perfect. While he inherited debt from Bush, he also bears some of the responsibility for creating trillion-dollar deficits each year he has been in office.
If Obama is to be a credible leader in a second term, he has to get serious about addressing the debt. And that will entail confronting members of his own party on the issue of reducing the cost of entitlements. It also should entail embracing much of the plan devised by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission.
Obama took a hands-off approach to writing and passing the Affordable Care Act, allowing Congress to take the lead until the final hour. That probably made the process more difficult and divided than necessary.
Questions also remain about the administrations handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and whether it was straightforward with the American people in the aftermath. Had the administration been warned about the likelihood of such an attack? Did it respond in an appropriate and timely manner? Did it later try to cover up the facts surrounding the attack?
The issue could pose problems for the president and members of his administration even after the election.
It also should be noted that Romney boasts real experience as an accomplished businessman and effective manager who might be able to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats in Congress.
It is possible that Romney would seek a path of moderation once freed of the need to appeal to the more extreme members of the GOP base. But, as noted, with Romneys shifting views, that is far from certain.
All things considered, we think Obamas balanced approach to deficit reduction, his commitment to preserving the social safety net, his success on the world stage and his thoughtful approach to governing make him the preferred candidate.