Obama and Romney: Debating the Wrong Issues
By Dr. Wilmer Leon on July 21, 2012
The fundamental debate of the 2012 election is nothing new. The debate of how much power to give the national government goes as far back as the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The Federalists argued for a real division of power between the national and state governments. They wanted a centralization of power in a strong national government. The Anti-Federalists feared a tyrannical national government and argued for greater localized power with stronger state governments. A stronger national government meant order and uniformity but required higher taxes to support it. Stronger state governments would protect the rights of the individual by keeping decision making closer to those who would bedirectly impacted by them.
In the late 1930’s as a response to the Great Depression, President Roosevelt and fellow Democrats proposed and passed the New Deal. The New Deal was a set of programs administered by the national government that reformed banking and finance regulations, used taxpayer dollars to create social safety-net programs such as welfare and social security and created jobs in public works programs. These programs were designed to stimulate the economy, relieve suffering and rebuild a crumbling infrastructure. Roosevelt drew upon the power of the national government to solve monumental national problems.
In the mid1960’s, President Lyndon Johnson and fellow democrats promoted and passed the Great Society programs. The two main goals of the Great Society social reforms were the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems and transportationneeds were launched during this period. The Great Society in scope and sweep resembled the New Deal domestic agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but differed sharply in thetypes of programs it enacted. As did Roosevelt before him, Johnson drew upon the power of the national governmentto address monumental national problems.
In 2012 Americans find themselves facing financial problems similar to those of the Great Depression. America also finds itself facing record home foreclosures, racial disparities in home ownership, racial disparities in wealth accumulation, disproportionate levels of incarceration based on race and 8.2 percent unemployment. All issues similar to the ills that the Great Society was enacted to address. According to Bread for the World, “We live in the world’s wealthiest nation. Yet 15.1 percent of people living in the United States live in poverty… More than 48 million Americans—including 16.2 million children—live in these households.”
In the 2012 presidential race Mitt Romney and President Obama have not focused their campaigns on articulating these issues and providing real solutions to these problems. They are too busy engaging in the politics of personal attacks and character assassination, not the politics of policy.
Romney’s brilliant policy proposals are more deregulation and tax cuts. He seems unaware of the historical realities that the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the Great Recession (Depression) of 2010 were partly caused by deregulation and tax cuts. He erroneously claims that President Obama has done nothing for the economy. On January 16, 2012 Romney tweeted, “More Americans have lost their jobs under Barack Obama than any president in modern history.” According to ABC News, “…the U.S. economy has now been creating jobs for 22 consecutive months… All told, the economy added 1.6 million jobs in 2011 after adding 940,000 in 2010…”
Unfortunately, President Obama and his re-election teamhave chosen to focus their efforts on personal attacks onRomney’s tax returns, Swiss bank and Cayman Island accounts and job outsourcing. In choosing to focus on Romney’s perceived vulnerabilities, the Obama Administration is failing to tout their record. They should be talking about the job numbers. They are not where they need to be but they have trended in a positive direction. President Obama should be talking about success in banking and financial reform, as well as his immigration policy. Since 2009, the annual average number of deportations has approached 400,000, double that of theBush administration. The president should also clearly explain why the Affordable Care Act is a good idea. He has overhauled the food safety system, advanced women’s rights in the work place, ended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), stopped defending DOMA in court, passed the Hate Crimes bill and appointed two pro-choice women to the Supreme Court.
There are a number of decisions and policies that those in the President’s base can and have taken issue with. I will not rehash them here, I have raised some of those issues in previous articles.
The point is, as Americans watch the ads and listen to the rhetoric, real debate about real issues is not taking place. Romney’s not telling Americans what he stands for; he just talks about what he’s against. Meanwhile the president is allowing himself to be defined by his adversaries, instead of standing behind a productive first term. The President is not campaigning to win; he’s campaigning not to lose while the American people continue to suffer.