Election 2012

A Choice Between Two Different Futures? Or a Choice Between Two Different Parties?


On the final night of the Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made their pitch to America's voters: The theme of the night was choice — not just of candidates, but of governing visions on issues like the economy, deficits, and taxes. "When all is said and done—when you pick up that ballot to vote—you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation," said Obama. "On every issue, the choice you face won't be just between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice between two different paths for America. A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future."

But as we've pointed out so many times here at Reason, on so many major issues, the two major party tickets have awfully similar track records.

Romney passed a Massachusetts health care overhaul with a mandate, subsidies for regulated private insurance, and an expansion of Medicaid. Obama passed a national health care overhaul with a mandate, subsidies for regulated private insurance, and an expansion of Medicaid.

Barack Obama pared back Medicare payments by $716 billion over the next decade. Romney has promised to repeal those cuts, but Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman and the GOP's vice presidential nominee, included those same reductions in his own budget plan, which was passed by a majority of Republicans in the House.

Shortly after taking office in 2009, President Obama passed an $800 billion stimulus. In the aftermath of President Bush's $150 billion 2008 stimulus, Romney insisted that a second stimulus was needed, and later gave qualified praise to Obama's stimulus, saying that it will "accelerate the pace of the recovery," just not as much as if it had been designed differently.

Romney has praised the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the president who passed it, saying "President Bush and Hank Paulson said, 'We've got to do something to show we are not going to let the whole system go out of business.' I think they were right." In 2009, Obama begged legislators in Congress not to scuttle the program.

The two tickets are not carbon copies of each other, but even where they disagree they are often closer than they pretend to be.

Romney, for example, has proposed to reform Medicare by converting it into a premium support system that relies on private competition. Obama opposes this plan in part because it would "end the Medicare guarantee." But in fact, Romney's proposal would keep government-run, fee-for-service Medicare as an option.

Obama wants to return to Clinton-era tax rates on income earned over $250,000, and Romney wants to lower marginal tax rates. But neither candidate is explicitly proposing to raise income tax rates on the bulk of earners.

A major part of the Democrats' message this week is the argument that a Romney presidency would return us to the era of President George W. Bush. But what happened during the Bush years? Record spending, record debt, a slew of civil liberties abuses, a failed and expensive war on drugs, an impossibly complex immigration system and shameful treatment of immigrants, and a new health care entitlement in the form of Medicare Part D. And what did a change in White House power bring? Record spending, record debt, a slew of civil liberties abuses, a failed and expensive war on drugs, an impossibly complex immigration system and shameful treatment of immigrants, and a new health care entitlement in the form of ObamaCare. A clear choice? If so, it's less a choice between visions than a choice between parties.

NEXT: Reason Staff Live Tweets the Final Day of the 2012 Democratic Convention Now!

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  1. “If so, it’s less a choice between visions than a choice between parties.”

    I’ve had all the visions of Obama I can stand. I’m quite willing take a look at the only possible alternative for the next four years.

    1. …better the evil you know…

      1. “When faced with a choice of two evils, I pick the one I’ve never tried before.” — Mae West

    2. This attitude is why we ended up with Obama in the first place. How about we stop supporting shitty candidates, regardless of party? It’s not like your vote is in any way going to affect the outcome of the election

  2. Medicare is not going to disappear in my grandkids lifetime. It will definitely change, as it has repeatedly in the last thirty years, so stop making the perfect fantasy the enemy of the good(ish) prospect.

    1. Except Romney and Ryan aren’t good. At best, they are “less bad”

      1. It’s a start.

        1. No it’s not. Any more than Bush was. They’re still moving in the wrong direction. That’s not a start

          1. Talking about the limits of government funding and bringing consumer choice, accountability and price consciousness into healthcare is not moving in the wrong direction.

            And that is how moving in the right direction will start, whether this year or in 2052.

            1. Talk? Talking about something is the start? Wow. The Republicans talk every election. And every election there are suckers who buy it. Romney wants to increase spending, regulations (and don’t buy his bullshit, there will be more regulations after a Romney presidency just as there were more after the Bushes and Reagan), raise taxes on the middle and lower classes, continue to erode civil liberties and invade privacy, start more wars abroad and continue to beef up an already bloated military. Those are all moving in the wrong direction. But gee, Ryan has a plan to give people the OPTION to choose premium support Medicare instead of traditional Medicare. And is there any evidence this would actually reduce costs? Choice is good, but when things are subsidized, it tends to distort those prices, and I could see this system easily leading to politicians bribing seniors by offering more support than the other guy, and paying off insurance companies at the same time.

              1. I’ve never bought into the fatalism branch of libertarianism.

                The truth is that we are freer today than we were a generation ago and freer then than we were two generations ago and freer then that we were three generations ago.

                The broad trajectory of our nation and society has been towards more freedom for decades. And yes there have been plenty of setback and false starts and retreats along the way. But still, I’d rather be an adult today than 1970 or 1940.

                Advancing liberty requires getting your hands dirty(so to speak), convincing people on specific issues, and accepting a small part of what you want and going back later for more.

                All of which is pretty much impossible with a fatalistic attitude of superiority.

                1. And that has nothing to do with what I said. It depends what you mean by free btw. Technology has allowed people to do more things, but political and economic liberties have been eroding for years

  3. When all is said and done – when you pick up that ballot to vote – you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation

    Indeed, the choices are stark. Between incompetence and an unknown quantity of executive ability that we can speculate may be competent enough based upon a pretty long track record. Not an endorsement of Romney, but issues are only a part of matter at hand.

    1. Not to defend Obama, but being a successful businessman has jack shit to do with being a good president. You can’t run government like a business, and regardless, there are plenty of businessmen that I wouldn’t want anywhere near the White House. Again, this is not a defense of Obama (in case Cenotaph is reading this)

      1. That’s true but a businessman, of any sort, will have a better handle on how regulations and taxes affect people and the economy, than a government parasite or an ivory tower top (wo)man will.

        1. That assumes the businessman cares about how those regulations affect people, and now how they can be used to enrich his cronies. You don’t think there’s a ton of businessmen out there that would love to run the government and have direct power over regulatory agencies? And I don’t mean to promote the free market. I’m not saying Romney personally is worse or even as bad as Obama, just saying that being a businessman tells us nothing about how good a president he will be

          1. I’m pretty jaded but i don’t think that evil rich businessmen seek public office to get richer. Usually they do so out of some genuine desire to make things better. Which can lead to bad results if they think that involves ‘fixing immorality in society’. But there is zero evidence that that is Romeny’s motivation. And I opposed him in the primaries and will not be voting for him in November.

            1. Didn’t say that his motivation was to get rich. I think he’s a power hungry egomaniac, like most presidents. I just said that just because he ran a business doesn’t mean he gives a shit about the free market or small businesses

              1. I think it makes him more likely to than the run of the mill professional politician.

                You seem to have a lower opinion of someone that spent his life engaging in voluntary exchanges than you do of people that spend their life lying and stealing to gain control of state violence.

                1. No I don’t. Nowhere did I say that. I’m just arguing against the meme that business experience means anything when it comes to politics. And let’s not pretend Romney hasn’t spent a large portion of his life lying and stealing to gain control of state violence

                  1. If you notice, Cali, I was speaking strictly on the matter of executive temperament. Romney has it, cultivated in the private sector for the most part, but that wasn’t germane to my argument. Notice that I avoided mentioning the relevance of being a businessman and folded that into the general idea that having a successful career as an executive is only an indicator of possible success in another executive capacity. I did this so I would not sound like the layman, ‘businessman for president, rah! rah! rah!’. I was pretty darn careful about that as to avoid the counterargument you laid out. I really, really hate it when that happens. It’s like driving around town, careful all the way, and then getting totaled by a plane dropping out of the air once you are back in your driveway.

  4. cont.

    From the new Woodward, a little insight:


    Vice President Joe Biden was labeled the “McConnell whisperer” by White House aides for his ability to cut deals with the often implacable Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The vice president led a parallel set of bipartisan talks that reached breakthroughs without the president’s direct involvement.

    House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is depicted as more in touch with the Republican caucus that elected Boehner speaker, particularly with its strong contingent of tea party freshmen who came to Washington pledging to put the brakes on federal spending at any cost.

    Cantor, Woodward writes, viewed Boehner as a “runaway horse” who needed reining in, given the realities of his own caucus. The Boehner-Obama talks started without Cantor’s knowledge, and Boehner later acknowledged to the president that Cantor was working against the very deal they were trying to reach, according to Woodward.

  5. cont.

    Intriguingly, Cantor and Biden frequently had “private asides” after larger meetings, according to Woodward. After one of them, Woodward writes that Biden told Cantor: “You know, if I were doing this, I’d do it totally different.”

    “Well, if I were running the Republican conference, I’d do it totally different,” Cantor replied, according to Woodward.

    Woodward writes: “They agreed that if they were in charge, they could come to a deal.”

    Damn right Biden would have been better. Even if he and Obama agreed on every issue, Obama doesn’t have the right personality for the job. There is a stark contrast in that regard.

    That’s my best assessment for Romney, but I’m still not voting for him. There are many areas I would prefer he wasn’t effective that he may turn out to be.

  6. “When all is said and done – when you pick up that ballot to vote – you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation,”

    Why do I feel like I hear this every election? This and “this is the most important election of our lifetime!”

  7. Well, like the ex Liberatary VP candidate say, Romney might not be a Libertarian, but at least he believes vaguely in capitalism, which is more than Obama and the Democrats.

    Sure the Republican party stinks. But at least they are generally receptive to the ideas, outside of social conservatives like Santorum.

    So why not try to grow the liberatarian wing of the Republican party so it drowns out the social conservative side? At least the crazy, ban pornography, rape doesn’t make you pregnant types…

    1. Because fantasizing about the libertarian version of apocalypse and utopia are more fulfilling that working with filthy stinking peons to effect actual change.

      1. You know, you can work to take over the GOP without voting for shitstains like Romney

        1. I am and I’m not.

          Entirely as a pragmatic matter. But there is no doubt that he is very much preferable to a second Obama administration. And if I lived in a swing state I would vote for him.

          1. The odds of your vote deciding the election in a swing state are the same as in any other state. Zero. I don’t know why people say this

            1. Calidissident- your comments on this thread are so masturbatory I can only hope you don’t fill out a ballot any time soon. No, make that ever.

  8. I watched Obama’s speech at my liberal friend’s apartment. I had plenty of fun pointing out how just about every distinction Obama tried to make between himself and Romney was fabricated.

    At first I was met with denial: “No, Obama spent less than Bush!” “Obama didn’t extend the Bush tax cuts!” “Romney’s plan has vouchers!”

    At each point I would look up the relevant proof on my phone and show it to him. He stopped trying to deny my points and told me to stop commenting so that he could watch the speech. Another liberal friend said that my points might be correct but I “shouldn’t be so condescending.”

    I got kicked out of the apartment after my “Jawohl mein fuhrer!” comment.

    Deep down they knew I was right though. It only takes a seed of doubt.

    1. Deep down they knew I was right though. It only takes a seed of doubt.

      It won’t have any effect.

      No idea why seemingly rational people hold on. they don’t even come at like say tulpa who is making rational choice of the lesser of two evils. They just out and out stick with the team.

      Tribalism maybe?

  9. Don’t know if anyone caught it but Nick tweeted that there was little or no difference between the two parties.

    Ann Culter tweeted back: this is why i hate libertarians.

    funny stuff.

    1. Ann Culter tweeted back:

      Was this intentional, or a Freudian slip?

    2. Of course she hates libertarians. She makes her living promoting the fantasy that there’s a difference between the Ruling Party brands, and libertarians are the people who call her out on her bullshit.


      1. Exactly right…

  10. The only people with tolerable choices are the voters in Nevada, where you can vote for “none of these candidates.”


  11. Any time a candidate says that there are clear differences between them and their opponents you know there really isnt. If there are clear differences, you dont need to say so, they are clear.

  12. The differences are in the civil liberties department. Those differences are especially noticeable if you happen to be in the LGBT segment of the country. Dunno if the Republican platforms open hostility to us makes Romney a better candidate in your eyes or not but its a huge difference.

    1. that’s one small slice of civil liberties where the dems are better. but they are far worse on other issues like political speach. and on execution by drone, fourth amendment, warrantless surveillance, there is no distinction.

    2. The only place where the two major parties differ on LGBT issues is that the DNC finally caved and made gay marriage a part of their agenda this year. That and I guess non-discrimination in employment laws that you would oppose if you were a libertarian anyway. Thanks for being a single issue voter though. Team Blue needs you. This is the most important election of your lifetime!

      1. Yes I’m a single issue voter – survival is my issue.

        If Team Red weren’t so hot to enshrine homophobia into law I’d give them very serious consideration. I don’t like Team Blue nor am I comfortable with anti-discrimination mandates but with no other alternative I don’t have much of a choice, do I?

  13. “Would you prefer to be shot in the right kneecap or the left kneecap?”

    “Um, I’d really rather not be shot at all.”

    “You anarchists are all the same – just a bunch of authority resenting adolescents spouting frivolous theories that will never work in the real world.”

  14. Eurasia is at war with Oceania. Eurasiahas always been at war with Oceania.

  15. Well done, Peter! It’s like Troy says about the clapper moving to the right, then to the left….it’s the same old bell!

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  18. There is some truth in this article but not enough to justify as sound journalism. I feel this crop of GOP has learned. The author fails to note that the Ryan 716B is truly a cut of government spending, while Obama’s is spent on Obamacare. That is a significant difference and the author ought to acknowledge it in fairness.

    Sound economic policy calls for government action in cases when AD crashes like it did in 2008-9. The corrrect action involves lowering of taxes, rollback of regulations, and increased spending on infrastructure projects that were on the board for the future. Romney is right that something should have been done and I doubt he would have pursued the same goal of Obama, preservation of his political allies.

    TARP, at least that capital investment in the Banks portion (CPP), was a sound move and resulted in a substantial profit for Average Joe and stabilized the financial markets. Every day the credit freeze persisted, small businesses were getting clobbered. Now is the time to break those banks up and allow them to pursue their own asset mixes so they aren’t all clobbered at the same time again. Romney was right to support that action and state that GM and Chrysler should have gone through standard bankruptcy courts.

    The author has simply strayed too far from reality in order to maintain his theme. That is just bad journalism. The truth should come first even if it isn’t so “neat”.

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  20. Excellent article…I don’t care what anyone says: I am finding a way to vote for Ron Paul…

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