As soon as the town hall debate between the president and Governor Romney was over, the emails (I don't do Twitter) started rolling into my inbox from friends on both sides of the divide, all convinced their candidate had won. My own sense was that of a human resources person interviewing applicants for a position that had to be filled, but with no one having the qualifications.
I have gone from Republican to Independent because of the Republican Party's repellent social positions, and I voted for the president in the last election because I was working in the Defense Department and could not countenance even the remotest possibility that Sarah Palin might end up my boss. Four years later, these remain the best reasons for my decisions, which I don't regret. However, it is mortifying to find that there aren't more substantive reasons for supporting this administration, and a negative reason for changing my vote to the other side.
Let's first look at the president and that negative reason. Four years ago, even many of the president's supporters fretted before the election over his lack of executive experience. Their fears have come home to roost. The president is without leadership skills, and has not demonstrated vision. He has done a terrible job working with Congress. I know the Republicans hate him, but Bill Clinton got stuff done working with a group that impeached him.
The president's tenure has not been without successes, but almost everything has been badly done. An exception was the auto bailout, which seems to have been a straight-line success. But his biggest achievement, health care legislation, is a mess in which he abdicated leadership in favor of a misguided Congress. An effective president could have worked to pass small, critical pieces of the law, such as disallowing exemption for pre-existing conditions, or allowing kids to be covered by their parents' insurance, rather than the 2000+ page disgrace that surfaced. A piecemeal approach would have made the Republican mania for repeal problematic when faced with popular support.
TARP, the stimulus package, was another example of an important idea badly done. It was the classic example of, "Throw some stuff against the wall; something's gotta stick." It seems that every economic pundit feels the program was either too big or too small, and badly targeted. It has done nothing much to provide stimulus, and an honest analysis of the unemployment figures shows that we're really getting nowhere in getting people back to work. The administration continues to compare couples who earn $250,000 a year to Warren Buffett, an insulting oversimplification, and why is no one mentioning the marriage penalty within this policy?
In foreign policy, the president has mercifully drawn down in Iraq, and is doing so in Afghanistan. But there is aimlessness to much of what we do. The sanctions against Iran are hurting, but what if they don't do the job? The administration has done nothing to indicate a worthwhile way forward for Israel and the Palestinians, Syria, Turkey, China, South America, the EU, etc. The defense pivot to Asia? Puleeze!
As for the governor, he failed to clarify how he could pay for a 20 percent tax cut. His explanation during the debate was so off-the-cuff and vague that it merely accentuated the impression that he either has no idea of how to do it, or that the particulars are so distasteful that he has no intention of revealing them before his election.
His ideas on how to grow the economy are boilerplate. Even his energy independence policy is flawed. The fact that we now have the technology and discovered sites to become energy-independent for dozens of years doesn't change the fact that what we need most are revolutionary ideas that will find sources that are cleaner, more economical, and, hopefully, renewable.
There was not a lot about foreign policy, which will be the exclusive focus of the next debate, but the governor has repeatedly backed the war wing of his party, and has proposed levels of defense spending that make no sense whatsoever. His comment that the Navy is the smallest since 1917 overlooks the fact that a modern destroyer could sink an entire World War II task force. He is always quick to offer that all options are on the table for Iran, and he seems willing to back Israel to the extreme that has allowed Israel to eschew common sense in dealing with the Palestinians.
Mostly, the governor apes the policies put forward by the more extreme portions of his party. This includes repeated reference to the role of religion in national leadership. This is patently offensive in a nation that has as one of its bedrocks the separation of church and state. The Republicans continue to ignore the simple truth that this is a nation with a lot of Christians, not a Christian nation. Religion should not dictate social, or any other, policy.
My son recently asked me where all the talented leaders went. Talent and greatness always demand a premium; there really isn't all that much greatness available. It's out there, but it's been scared away by the "I know you are, but what am I?" political system nested in the Washington bubble, and concerned only about re-election and garnering power for its own sake. The leaders are in places where they are actually able to lead, without being encumbered by hacks who are afraid of any idea that will show them up. The leaders are mostly busy earning money and running model corporations that display the vision so lacking in our leadership.
My own political gestalt has evolved to where I have become convinced that every country has the government it deserves. I never thought that I'd be forced to look in the mirror, apply that principle, and recoil from what I saw. We're drowning, the lifeguard's chair is empty, and there are no swimmers in sight.