Election 2012

Obama's Lack of Vision, and Other Good News

When politicians get colossal ideas, libertarians should get nervous.

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Barack Obama was more assertive and combative in the second presidential debate Tuesday, but the inspiring orator of 2008 still had trouble painting a vivid picture of what his second term will look like. He wants to strengthen manufacturing and promote energy independence, but it's hard to find a grand theme or a sweeping vision.

What a relief. When politicians get colossal ideas, I get nervous. A lack of audacity is not a huge defect in my book.

As a rule, I'm allergic to the legendary Chicago architect Daniel Burnham's exhortation: "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood." Big plans generally stir my anxiety. There are worse things—much worse things—than a president who chooses not to aim for the stars.

Not everyone feels the way I do, of course. Republicans jeer that Obama is a spent force, depleted of ideas and energy. Voters, said GOP strategist Karl Rove, think "President Obama does not seem to have an idea of what he wants to do." Mitt Romney accuses him of being "intellectually exhausted."

Plenty of others share the complaint. "Obama has had no vision," laments liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. "What is Obama's philosophy of government?" Politico said his presidency "has undergone a dramatic downsizing—in power, popularity, prestige and ambition."

Democratic strategists James Carville and Stanley Greenberg insist that voters want "bold change" and blamed the president's weak performance in the first debate on his "very modest vision of future change."

As a matter of politics, they may have a point, though when Americans say they want major change, they want it only if it does not inconvenience or cost them in any way. Five years after the Great Recession began, what they want most is for the economy to be as good as it used to be.

They are intent less on transforming the future than on bringing back the past, when unemployment was not a threat, home values were rising and the national debt was irrelevant.

Republicans are in the odd position of warning that Obama is a radical fanatic who would make America unrecognizable—even while charging that he lacks the vigor and creativity to think of anything to do in his second term. If you think Obama has sinister goals, you don't want him to be energetic in advancing them, do you?

But the truth is that he has been soaring in words and earthbound in deeds. Most of the plans he pursued in the past four years were modest and incremental. Given the likelihood of continued partisan gridlock in Washington, there is every reason to think his second term would be even more so.

His stimulus program was not large by the standards of what liberal economists prescribed, and much of it consisted of tax cuts rather than new spending. His effort to increase taxes on upper-income Americans wouldn't go back to the soak-the-rich rates of the 1950s, but to the Clinton rates of the 1990s, which proved compatible with a booming economy.

Even his allegedly socialist health care plan had the goal not of scrapping the private health insurance system, but expanding access to it in a way that protects insurance companies as well as patients.

Lots of people wish Obama would provide some new ideas on how to restore strong economic growth, as Romney insists his program of tax cuts would do. But as Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff wrote this week on Bloomberg.com, the problem with this economy is not that Obama has adopted the wrong policies or has failed to embrace big changes.

It's that "recessions associated with systemic banking crises tend to be deep and protracted," with output and employment painfully slow in returning to their old levels. Compared to other countries hit with similar events in 2007-8, they noted, "the U.S. performance is better than average."

Economies that have been put through this particular ordeal do eventually regain health. But there is no rushing the process, and efforts to do so are apt to cause more harm than good. The most useful thing the president can do about the economy in the next four years—or almost anytime—is to be patient and stay the hell out of the way.

That does not seem to be Romney's plan. If it's true that Obama has no plan, that's a good plan.

NEXT: Ahmadinejad: U.S. Losing World Leader Status Due to Debt Burden, Loss of Legitimacy

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  1. firstianth!

  2. But the truth is that he has been soaring in words and earthbound in deeds.

    Based on the results, I would say his deeds have been positively subterranean.

  3. Even his allegedly socialist health care plan had the goal not of scrapping the private health insurance system, but expanding access to it in a way that protects insurance companies as well as patients.

    Umm, yeah that’s one way to look at it…

  4. Chapman- Vote for Obama, he doesn’t believe in anything!

    1. Say what you will about Mitt Romney, at least he has an ethos…

  5. It’s hard to have much vision when your head is up your ass.

    1. And the view ain’t pretty either.

  6. Chapman is comedy gold

    Economies that have been put through this particular ordeal do eventually regain health

    I know the beating is pretty severe but you will most likely survive it. So come on, lets get all hopey changey just one more time.

    1. Our economy has weathered some ridiculous excesses–most, courtesy of our government–but that doesn’t mean we can just keep piling on. Eventually, a parasite will sicken and, if untreated, often kill its host.

      1. Yeah. That has to be the dumbest justification for voting for a Presidential candidate I have ever heard.

        1. I normally don’t get into this, but I see no libertarian angle whatsoever for supporting Obama in any way at all. None. Unless you count the hopes of some that more Obama will accelerate a collapse.

          I don’t hold to that theory, as I suspect more, not less, authoritarianism if things really go to hell.

          1. Yeah, the only libertarian rationale for voting for Obama is some variation of the old Marxist slogan “The worse the better.”

            Personally, I try not to conform my actions to old Marxist slogans.

          2. Speaking of no libertarian angle, ProL, do you live in Congressional District 12? I do, and I’m so far unable to find any redeeming quality in any of the candidates running for Representative.

            1. No. Your guy is the one that took over when Putnam left, right? Is there an LP candidate?

              1. It’s Gus Bilirakis (R) who inherited the old District 9 from his father. With the redistricting this year, he’s in District 12 now. He talks about balancing the budget, but also panders to the elderly voters by opposing any changes to SS or Medicare. He’s also a big supporter of NDAA, Patriot Act, and a huge immigration and drug warrior.

                The other options are:

                Jonathan Snow (D) – a dumbass 25-year old big government progressive. He doesn’t stray from the DNC platform.

                John Russell (NPA) – a gigantic government progressive. His main campaign issue is universal healthcare.

                Paul Elliot (NPA) – His main issue is the debt and budget. Some of what he says is reasonable, but then he goes off on fixing the tax code so that the rich pay their fare share. He also says that Drone-assassinations are perfectly okay, and the Congress has no role in the use of the military.

                So, it’s a choice between Shit-Sandwich, Shit-Sandwich, Shit-Sandwich, or Shit-Sandwich.

                1. How do you inherit a congressional district?

                  1. How do you inherit a congressional district?

                    His father held the seat for 24 years, then didn’t seek reelection one year and the son ran instead. He won on name recognition. Most people didn’t even know it was a different guy.

                2. Oh, I forgot about redistricting. Bilirakis is okay on economic issues, though I agree that he isn’t okay enough. You aren’t going to get a total libertarian, so someone who is at least willing to cut something is passable. For now.

            2. Check out the independent candidates for Senator, though. They’re actually both decent.

              1. I still can’t believe the GOP put up such lousy candidates for Nelson’s seat. Major Nelson needs to go, and most people want him to go. But Mack?

                1. Mack is a living stereotype – the stupid rich kid wanting to play Senator – that Democrats have of Republicans. He’s Nick Newport, Jr. come to life.

              2. I like Chris Borgia. Where I disagree with him, it’s usually in degree rather than substance. Reading his positions, I get the impression that he’s a libertarian in the making, if not one already.

          3. I would never in a million years vote for Obama, but I can see one reason to vote him in a 1:1 against Romney – Romney ain’t gonna do anything to slow government growth, and he could actually manage to be worse than Barack Obama on civil liberties and foreign policy.

            Before anyone gets the wrong idea, it would be incredibly, INCREDIBLY hard to be worse on civil liberties and foreign policy than Obama, from a Libertarian point of view. But Romney, Mr. “I Will Fight Medical Marijuana Tooth and Nail”, and Mr. “I Have To Bomb Iran To Protect American Uberawesomebadassedness”, seems to mostly criticize Obama in these areas for not doing enough.

            It’s not like Romney will cut back on foreign adventurism, the drug war, deficit spending, executive overreach or violations of the BoR. You could make a good case that he’s just as likely to be worse.

  7. His stimulus program was not large by the standards of what liberal economists prescribed, and much of it consisted of tax cuts rather than new spending.

    What the??? Is Chapman really Shrike?

    1. it all makes sense now – just needs more Christfag.

    2. was not large by the standards of what liberal economists prescribed,

      Remember Krugnuts saying it was not near large enough to do what they wanted to do.

      1. What Chapman is saying is strictly speaking true. But it is kind of like calling the Holocaust “not large by standards of what Nazi thinkers prescribed”.

        1. But it is kind of like calling the Holocaust “not large by standards of what Nazi thinkers prescribed”.

          Now you are getting it.

    3. I have thought for awhile that one or more of the more infamous socks originates from Reason itself. Especially when, eyeballing many of the threads, over half the comment traffic is either the sock, or the rest of y’all responding to it.

      Jeez, was Reasonable invented in vain?

  8. But as Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff wrote this week on Bloomberg.com, the problem with this economy is not that Obama has adopted the wrong policies or has failed to embrace big changes.

    Regulating the shit out of anything that moves and creating a giant uncertainty in health care costs had nothing to do with the lousy recovery.

    1. But he’s going to bring manufacturing jobs back (somehow)!

      Spoken like a man who has never worked in a factory or anywhere else.

      1. Manufacturing jobs and trains!

        FORWARD into the new 20th Century!

    2. At this point, the economy must have what – 3, 4, 5 trillion dollars a year in deadweight loss? A President who was actually serious about deregulation could get massive economic growth just by cutting away some low hanging fruit there.

      1. Cato says it is 1.5 trillion dollars. Just cutting it in half would produce 750 billion in wealth per year.

  9. Compared to other countries hit with similar events in 2007-8, they noted, “the U.S. performance is better than average.”

    Remain calm, all is well!

    1. Vote Obama, we are doing better than Greece.

      1. There is no rational basis for voting for Obama unless you are employed by virtue of him being president. Even social welfare recipients vaguely know that no one is really going to take away all of the goodies–the GOP never actually does that.

        While I think people should vote for Johnson, at least it’s not wholly irrational to vote for Romney, who doesn’t seem as hellbent on fucking things up more than they already are.

        1. A vote for Romney at least has the logic of punishing Obama. What does a vote for Obama do?

          1. What does a vote for Obama do?

            Reaffirm that you are not racist?

            1. That is about all they have left isn’t it?

            2. Great bumper sticker:

              I’m not racist. I don’t like Biden, either.

    2. Take heart, Southern Miss!

      Other teams with an 0-6 record have lost games by more points!

      1. Is Southern Miss 0-6? That is a shame. They have always had good teams in the past.

        1. Really good. It’s worse for them, since they’re used to that. In 2011, they were 11-2, and it was their 17th consecutive winning season. They won their bowl game against Nevada, the team that took out Boise State, and finished the year ranked #20.

          Sad state of affairs. I’m sure they’ll come back. I hope our country does, too.

          1. And they beat an undefeated Houston team at the end of the season in 2011 as well.

          2. They’ll come back. Most teams have a hiccup at some point.

            1. Football teams that have been put through this particular ordeal do eventually regain health.

    3. And Jerry Sandusky did pretty well in his court case.

      Of the 52 counts of boy-rape originally charged, he was only convicted of 45!

      1. And Sandusky’s rapes were mild by the standards most pedophiles prescribed.

        1. And unlike some people, he didn’t kill and eat his victims, either!

          All around, he really isn’t such a bad guy, considering.

  10. Even his allegedly socialist facist health care plan had the goal not of scrapping the private health insurance system, but expanding access to it in a way that protects insurance companies as well as patients of scrapping the Constitution.

  11. “When politicians get colossal ideas, libertarians should get nervous”

    On what planet is Chapman a libertarian?

  12. What a relief. When politicians get colossal ideas, I get nervous. A lack of audacity is not a huge defect in my book.

    And you voted for whom in 2008? The Prince of (lowering) The Tides was it?

    Is there any length you will not go to justify your fuckhead vote?

    1. I think we know the answer…

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