Despite the best efforts of the mainstream media, the presidential election of 2012 has a sense of apathy that is typically reserved for the midterms. The incumbent, President Obama, is struggling to recapture the charisma that rocked the nation four years ago and his opponent, Willard Mitt Romney, lacks an ideological core. It’s not surprising that we Indian Americans have been particularly uninvolved voters.
At the heart of this election is a simple question—do we want to preserve the America we gave up home and hearth for—a land of opportunity, a level playing field, and a welcome haven for hard-working immigrants?
Even before the Republican primary contest began in late 2011, Romney’s candidacy was both a source of concern and cause for optimism in Democratic circles. Personally and politically, there was very little daylight between the two—both Obama and Romney favored pragmatic approaches to solutions and had reached across the aisle to craft compromise solutions to pressing issues. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), one of President Obama’s signature achievements, was almost a replica of the Governor Romney’s health care reform in Massachusetts.
Then, faced with primary opponents who appealed to the more ideological and extremist elements of the Republican Party, Romney began a tack to the right. This change of direction would require him to disavow many of the positions he had held and repudiate his own governing stance.
By the time Romney accepted the Presidential nomination on August 30, 2012, with Republican wunderkind Paul Ryan by his side as his pick for Vice President, it was clear that the platforms of the two political parties were clearly delineated. The election which, for an incumbent, should have been a simple referendum on the economy has now become a clash of ideologies.
In the coming election on November 6, therefore, voters have two distinct visions to choose from. Here are the two candidates’ positions and records on issues of importance.
Obama: A study by Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics and an advisor to John McCain’s presidential campaign, and Alan Blinder, a former Federal Reserve vice chairman and advisor to President Clinton, estimates that the Stimulus Act created about 2.7 million jobs. The President’s approach has been one of injecting government funding into the economy by way of infrastructure spending, alternative energy projects, and broad-based tax cuts. Unemployment, which peaked at 10% soon after the President took office, stands currently at around 8%. GDP growth, which dropped to a negative 6.7% in the early months of 2009, now stands at a poor but positive 1.5%.
For his second term, Obama’s vision is to boost American manufacturing through a combination of tax subsidies and tax deductions for domestic production, investment in alternative energy programs and infrastructure, and additional funding for support services like teachers, police, and firefighters whose jobs were decimated by state budget cuts.
Romney: Mitt Romney’s economic vision calls for reducing taxes, spending, regulation, and government programs. His tax plan calls for reducing marginal tax rates by 20% across the board, reducing corporate taxes to 25%, repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax and eliminating the Estate Tax. He also supports laws that would reduce membership to and funding of labor unions. He commits to reducing non-defense discretionary government spending by 5% across the board. (Note: This includes the Park Service, Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard, among others.)
Romney’s vision, which calls for lower regulations to spur economic growth would also repeal Obamacare, repeal the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and remove Sarbanes-Oxley requirements for medium-sized companiesRomney believes these measures would lead to a growth of 12 million jobs in the next four years.
Obama: The Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was passed into law on March 23, 2010, is touted by the President’s campaign as his crowning achievement. Despite having several features favored by the Republican platform in the 1990s, the act created enormous controversy while it was being debated, and is often used as a flashpoint by conservatives to rally supporters. In brief, the ACA aims to reduce future health care costs for citizens by a combination of generating efficiencies in the system, adding more people to the insurance pool through the individual mandate, and stricter guidelines on coverage. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the act would reduce spending by about $200 billion in the period 2012-2021. The most important provisions of the law with respect to universal coverage come into effect in 2014.
Romney: In the most ironic twist dealt to the Romney campaign during the Republican primaries, the candidate had to pretzel his way around the fact that as Governor of Massachusetts he presided over reform that served as a blueprint for the national law passed by President Obama. Romney has since justified his position by suggesting that health care should be left to the states and has promised to repeal Obamacare.
As part of his health care plank, Romney proposes to reduce medical malpractice damages, allow insurance to be sold across states, create high-risk pools for patients with pre-existing conditions, offer a “premium-support payment,” or government issued vouchers in lieu of Medicare and limit federal standards and requirements on both private insurance and Medicaid coverage.
Obama: The President has been vocal about his support for alternative energies as well as funding and tax breaks for energy efficiency. The administration has approved the construction of 16 commercial-scale solar facilities, five wind, and eight geothermal projects on public lands. The President made an agreement with auto manufacturers to improve the overall fuel economy of the nation’s passenger auto fleet to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
For the next four years, Obama’s vision is to move forward with an all-of-the-above plan for energy production that includes oil, coal, wind, and solar.
Romney: Romney’s vision for energy independence calls for streamlining regulation to fast-track projects for both the oil and the nuclear power sector, amending the Clean Air Act to remove carbon dioxide from its purview, opening federal lands for oil drilling, and approving the Trans-American Keystone oil pipeline.
The Romney campaign has made quite a bit of hay with the failure of federally funded solar company Solyndra. However, the candidate allotted state funds to solar energy producer Konarka Technologies as Governor of Massachusetts; the company filed for bankruptcy in June 2012.
Obama: The Obama Administration’s failure to make significant progress on immigration has been a severe disappointment to Hispanics, who form a strong base of the Democratic Party. Deportations of undocumented immigrants have actually increased under the current administration (a record 396,906 deportations) and funding for border increased by $600 million under Obama’s watch. The President supported legislation to create a pathway for legalization of undocumented immigrants, but the legislation did not make it through Congress.
However, in a move that was both politically astute and compassionate, the President ordered a stop to the deportations of younger illegal immigrants who came to United States as children and have no criminal history. He also supports the DREAM Act, which would provide a path for citizenship to the same group.
Romney: Mitt Romney does not support the DREAM Act and has promised to veto it should Congress make it law. He has recommended “self-deportation” and stricter penalties on employers hiring undocumented workers. He has shown support for parts of the AB 1070, the Artizona immigration bill, and defends state-based immigration action as a right. In his “moderate” persona, Romney had once supported a 2007 bill that provided a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but he has since criticized the plan and called it “amnesty.”
Obama: On foreign policy, Obama has had a strong impact. The killing of Osama Bin Laden, while providing closure to a country shaken by the attacks of 9/11, also demonstrated an expansion of the scope of presidential powers. While the President has made good on his campaign promises to remove troops from Iraq and focus on Afghanistan, civil libertarians have been appalled by the frequency and unilateralism of drone strikes in the troubled areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the President has shown a commendable reluctance to commit troops to conflicts in the Middle East, and was able to get multi-lateral support for sanctions against Iran and aid to rebels in Libya.
Obama has also worked to improve relations with countries like Japan, Australia, South Korea and the Philippines. He has asked for a level playing field with the United States’ biggest creditor, China, in the form of freer currency movements and fairer inter-country regulations.
Romney: In campaign speeches Romney has suggested that withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014 is important to his presidency, that Russia is America’s pre-eminent foe, and that the interests of the state of Israel are critical to American interests.
He has also saber-rattled for a possible strike on Iran and, in general, has appealed to the military hawks in the Republican Party. He has also vowed to preserve/increase defense spending, and “restore” America’s role as the arbiter of the world. A recent trip abroad to bolster his foreign policy credentials received mixed reviews.
Contraception and Abortion:
Obama: From signing the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act to making contraceptive coverage mandatory, Obama has taken several steps that make clear his stance on women’s issues. The ACA expands health care services for women by preventing insurance companies from raising premiums based on gender and the administration’s education initiatives support and fund STEM education for girls. Obama is pro-choice and his voting record has earned him a 100% rating from pro-choice groups.
Romney: Early in his gubernatorial campaign Romney showed his support for abortion rights, despite a history of pro-life religious beliefs. He is quoted as having said that his political positions conflicted with religious values because they believed in “a woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion ever since the October 1963 death of his brother-in-law’s sister, Ann Hartman Keenan, from complication following an illegal abortion.”
Romney abandoned his support for abortion rights in 2005. During the Republican presidential primaries of 2012, he toed the party line on abortion and has promised to defund Planned Parenthood if elected. His plan to repeal Obamacare would also have the impact of removing contraception coverage from most insurance plans, and he has said that he supports a constitutional amendment that life begins at conception. His running mate, Paul Ryan, has an even narrower definition of abortion.
A Pew Research poll conducted in June 2012 showed that 65% of Indian Americans approve of Obama’s presidency and an astounding 84% voted for Obama in 2008. The Indian American vote will make a particular difference in key battleground states like Virginia and Nevada. It remains to be seen if Obama still has the same level of support this time around.
Ideologically the choice may be clear, but pragmatically, there is reason to be pessimistic. In the polarized environment the country finds itself, the only hope in the near term is for one party to convincingly hold the reins of power in both executive and legislative branches, so that its vision may be clearly implemented and judged. Pick your side and go all in.
Vidya Pradhan is a freelance writer who hosts the weekly radio show Parent Talk on KZDG 1550 AM. She also runs the community blog Water, No Ice and was the editor of India Currents from June 2009 to February 2012.