By Robert Scheer
It’s crunch time, and I want to be on record, just in case some still undecided independent voter cares what I think. And one might, since I did write a decidedly nonpartisan book on the origins of the economic crisis entitled “The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street.” I have been a harsh critic of Barack Obama for continuing that bipartisan capitulation to Wall Street, but on this and every other matter of serious contention in this election, Mitt Romney is decidedly worse.
A vote for Obama in a swing state is a no-brainer, because, on a host of issues, including immigration, women’s rights, gay rights, health care, campaign finance, income inequality, tax breaks for the rich and the legitimacy of trade unions, there is a vast partisan difference that should not be ignored. It matters greatly who appoints an anticipated two justices to the Supreme Court, which is already dominated by right-wing ideologues.
In a state where a protest vote will not elect Romney, a vote for the Green Party’s admirable Jill Stein, the consistent Libertarian Gary Johnson, or the populist Rocky Anderson sends an appropriate but measured signal of contempt for the sorry state of our two-party system.
That disgust is warranted by the fact that this president has followed the broad ideological outlines of his predecessor on national security. Witness the continuing assault on due process that is the island prison of Guantanamo and the killing of innocent civilians through drone attacks, as well as the unwarranted Nixonian persecution of alleged whistle-blowers Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.
But on all of that, Obama is the lesser evil compared to Romney, who has promised to increase military spending to fight a new Cold War that might, under his stewardship, turn hot against China, Russia, the forlorn Palestinians and anyone else with whom he can pick a fight. Romney is as dangerous as he is inexperienced in such matters. To compensate for his ignorance, he has turned to the same pack of neoconservative ideologues that lied us into Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
On economic policy, Romney has attempted to smear Obama as some kind of big government socialist, although the former vulture capitalist would surely have wasted just as much money as Obama rescuing his friends on Wall Street. Neither candidate would stop the Federal Reserve from continuing to purchase toxic assets to save the banks from their own folly. The candidates split on a bailout of the auto industry, with Obama helping save some decent American jobs, and they disagree about how much the obscenely wealthy should pay in taxes, although sometimes Romney disagrees with himself on that score.
Obama sold out to Wall Street when he appointed Lawrence Summers, who had pocketed more than $8 million in bank and hedge fund fees while serving as a top Obama campaign adviser, to be his key White House expert on the economy. This was an egregious error vastly compounded when he appointed as his Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, former head of the New York Fed and faithful ally of the Bush administration in filling the lifeboats to capacity with bankers. However, Romney blasts Obama for not being solicitous enough in catering to Wall Street greed and defines the extremely minor reforms of Dodd-Frank as an attack on capitalism, when it is anything but.
As Gretchen Morgenson, the sharpest business journalist of our day, noted in a recent column in The New York Times: “Many Americans probably think the Dodd-Frank financial reform law will protect taxpayers from future bailouts. Wrong. In fact, Dodd-Frank actually widened the federal safety net for big institutions. Under that law, eight more giants were granted the right to tap the Federal Reserve for funding when the crisis hits.”
But Romney finds objectionable even the slightest improvement in transparency and accountability in Dodd-Frank, including a much-needed consumer protection agency championed by Elizabeth Warren. He absolves Wall Street and the Bush administration that let greed run wild of any responsibility for the economic mess and, indeed, seeks to cut funding for programs that aid its victims.
Romney’s talk of the deficit is specious. He would spend multiples of Obama’s stimulus on the military, alone, while relegating the unemployed, disabled and impoverished to the hope of charity and warm weather. Consider the millions of Americans kept fed by Obama’s hard-won extensions of unemployment benefits and food stamps during the worst lows of the recession. How would President Romney have handled such a crisis?
To employ the vernacular used in my day job teaching college students, I give Obama a generous B- grade for initiating a national health care plan that, while flawed, is a start, ending discrimination against gays in the military, easing the student loan crisis, signing equal pay legislation and appointing reasonable Supreme Court justices, among other achievements. Meanwhile, the rapacious capitalist turned candidate Romney—poster boy of the 1 percent—denigrates the less economically fortunate among us while growing filthy rich by slicing and dicing good American jobs out of existence and exploiting every tax loophole to aggrandize his own fortune. He earns a solid F and makes Obama look quite good in comparison.