The Case for Obama and Against Liberal Despair

The same counterarguments apply to the second argument. It is difficult to see how Romney's announced policies would be less deleterious to the country than Obama's over any given span of time. Romney's 20-percent income tax rate cut, plus other tax cuts, would add about $6 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years. His plan to increase military spending would add another $2 trillion. As a former analyst of the federal budget, I know that his claim that he could not only make these policies revenue neutral, but actually reduce the deficit, is simply eyewash intended to bamboozle low-information voters. We have 30 years of empirical evidence that tax cuts -- especially those directed at the wealthy -- neither pay for themselves nor correlate with economic growth. More likely, his scheme is a continuation of the "starve the beast" philosophy: Provoke a deficit "crisis" that can only be solved by cutting programs the GOP doesn't like -- to include Social Security and Medicare. Currently, income inequality and the ratio of CEO pay to employee pay are national scandals -- does anyone think they would improve under a Romney presidency?

If we are to give the third argument credence, we should stock up on canned food and ammunition. "The worse the better" is a Leninist argument suitable for those wishing to overthrow a harsh authoritarian system -- and replace it with a similar one, but with themselves in charge, just as Lenin sought to replace Tsarist autocracy with Leninist totalitarianism. Very likely, though, disaffected Americans who claim to hope for a heightening of contradictions don't think with such ruthless consequentiality. No doubt most who say it do so because they think it sounds clever and mildly shocking. But attempts at self-government, imperfect and riddled with failure as history has shown them to be, demand serious adult thinking. The "lesser of two evils" political options that these people incessantly complain about are an existential fact of politics, just as many of our most important personal decisions in life boil down to choosing the lesser evil. We might as well wonder why man was born to suffer and die.

The most compelling argument to support Obama has nothing directly to do with him or his performance in office, but goes to the heart of what self-government is supposed to mean. Since Obama's inauguration, Republicans have engaged in an unprecedented -- in my lifetime, anyway -- campaign of obstruction, feral negativity, and brinksmanship. On one occasion, they brought the country to the edge of default and a resultant credit downgrade. "The worse the better" has become, in fact, a Republican political strategy whenever they are out of power. To reward a party for such obstructionism would be like rewarding the Southern fire eaters of antebellum congresses for their efforts at shutting down the debate over slavery with the gag rule.

In his "closing argument" speech on November 2, in West Allis, Wisconsin, candidate Romney all but threatened the country with a government shutdown and national default should Obama be re-elected, saying that only that he, Romney, could work with the congressional Republicans who pushed the country to the brink in the summer of 2011.

I have written elsewhere how the reactionary right and its rich contributors had mentally seceded from the Third French Republic and doomed it to defeat, occupation, and a sordid regime at Vichy. The parallels with some of our own seceding plutocracy are uncomfortable. But it was the case that many French citizens of the left and center also became disaffected from the republic. If the regime is corrupt and the process is rigged, why bother participating? Many American progressives are similarly infected with a kind of facile despair to the point where they confuse half a loaf with no bread. But citizenship demands that you get your hands dirty and consent to compromises that are sometimes repellent. In 28 years on Capitol Hill, I did not see a foreign policy carried out by presidents of either party that did not have elements that were morally repugnant, fraudulent, hypocritical, or all three. Citizens must get their hands dirty nevertheless. The alternative is to cease to be a citizen and let others do the work. I am certain they would be happy to oblige.

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Mike Lofgren was a congressional staff member for 28 years, 16 of them with the House and Senate budget committees. He is the author of The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted.

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