President Obamney?

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Romney and Obama may have more in common than one might think

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Hatred is too strong a word for the growing dislike of President Obama harbored by many liberals and civil libertarians, but their dislike is sharply edged by deep disappointment, a sense of betrayal, and furious frustration over his tendency to capitulate even when he has a winning hand. If reports of his deal with John Boehner are accurate, a deal that caves in to right wing demands for significant spending cuts and no guaranteed revenue increases, then Obama will look less like the allegedly amiable and flexibly ideological Ronald Reagan (whose image he's sought to appropriate) than the shape shifting Mitt Romney.  

Yes, Romney sorely lacks the art of appearing sincere, which Obama practically perfected; he lacks the president's rhetorical skills. But putting aside personality, presentation, and political posturing (notably on the auto bailout) their policy differences on the economy and the war on terror, drugs, and civil liberty seem relatively insignificant. Romney, like Obama, would continue the Bush/Cheney anti-terror regime, expanding executive power and the national security state; unlike Obama he would not begin a debate about the deficit by demanding tax increases, but the end result would not differ, if Obama ends up where Romney would begin.

Of course, differences between them persist. Romney seems sincere in his relative hostility toward gay rights, as Obama seems sincere in his support for them. But the battle for gay rights is on its way to being won; even a conservative Republican president would probably delay but not derail it. Romney would be much less supportive, in general, of a civil rights agenda involving regulation of workplaces and schools aimed at ending discrimination, broadly defined. But while liberals would despair, civil libertarians would welcome any increased respect for rights of speech and due process being violated by the Obama administration's thoughtless campaigns against bullying and harassment. (If the administration has rejected the best of the liberal tradition - -- strong support for civil liberty and a social safety net -- it has adopted the worst of contemporary progressivism -- repressive political correctness in the name of federally conceived social equality.)

Romney and Obama differ as well on reproductive choice, although these differences seem more politically expedient than real. Anti-abortion conservatives are right to mistrust Romney's "pro-life" conversion. As Massachusetts voters may recall, he was avowedly pro-choice in his unsuccessful effort to unseat Ted Kennedy in 1994 and his successful gubernatorial campaign against state treasurer Shannon O'Brien in 2002. Romney seems likely to remain opposed to abortion rights, in the interests of expediency, and however insincere, his anti-abortion policies (executive orders and judicial appointments) would be highly consequential for women. Obama has disappointed strong advocates for choice; he has "presided over the greatest erosion to women's reproductive health and rights in the past 30 years," Jodi Jacobsen recently lamented in the Catholic pro-choice journal, Conscience. But abortion rights advocates will and should support a muted pro-choice president over an insincere pro-lifer.

In the end, perhaps, what would most distinguish an Obama and Romney presidency would be their judicial appointments (which will help determine the future of abortion rights when overly restrictive state laws are challenged in the federal courts.) Liberals have been, once again, frustrated and disappointed by Obama's slow and timid approach to judicial nominations, but Romney (and any other Republican) could be quick and aggressive in filling the excessive number of federal court vacancies with conservative Republicans (especially if backed by a Republican Senate and relatively non-combative Democrats.) In the end, perhaps, "it's the court's stupid," but in an economic crisis, that's a whimper, not a rallying cry.

Images: AP



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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, and a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. More

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and social critic who has been a contributing editor of The Atlantic since 1991. She writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture and has written eight books, including Worst InstinctsFree for All; Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials; and I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional. Kaminer worked as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and in the New York City Mayor's Office and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. She is a renowned contrarian who has tackled the issues of censorship and pornography, feminism, pop psychology, gender roles and identities, crime and the criminal-justice system, and gun control. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, Free Inquiry, and spiked-online.com. Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio. She serves on the board of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the advisory boards of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Secular Coalition for America, and is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

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