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Why I Voted for Barack Obama Today

November 6, 2012

Amazing how the Simpsons is still pretty funny after 25 years…


In the interest of full disclosure, I thought I’d list the reasons why I voted the way I did. I know conservative media regularly accuse professors of politicizing the classroom, but an honest discussion of why one chooses the way one did can also be useful exercise of citizenship. (See Drezner for an example of what I was thinking of.) So with that goal, not demagoguery, in mind, here we go:

1. The Tea Party Scares Me

This is easily the most important reason for me. Regular readers of my own blog will know that I vote in the Republican primary and write regularly about the Republican party, but almost never about the Democrats. (Even in Korea where I live, my sympathies are with the conservatives.) I don’t see myself as a Democrat. I see myself as a moderate Republican, like Andrew Sullivan or (less so) David Frum. Unfortunately, the Tea Party has made the GOP very inhospitable for moderates.

Given Romney’s propensity to blow with the ideological wind rather than stake a claim somewhere, I think it is likely he’ll get bullied by the hard right once in office. Following Kornacki, my problem with Romney is not his ideology – because I don’t know what that is – but the party from which he stems, run, as it is, by increasingly radical, Christianist, southern right-wingers. I find it simply impossible to vote for a party so contemptuous of science, so willing to violate church-state distinctions, so committed to a heavily armed citizenry, so obsessed with regulating sex, so strutting and belligerent toward the rest of the world, so unwilling to compromise on taxes to close the deficit, etc. Hint to the RNC: the rest of the country is not Dixie; please stop dragging us down this road. This southernization of the GOP in the last 20 years has made it harder and harder for me to vote for national Republicans, even though I vote for them a lot in Ohio. Not surprisingly, I find Andrew Sullivan’s conservatism quite congenial.


As I argued before, Romney won the primary by pandering to the Tea Party, not by confronting it. He did not by carve out his own moderate GOP base against it. Instead, he coopted voters who preferred Santorum, Bachmann, or Perry, by calling himself called himself a ‘severe conservative’ and all that. (All this is why I ultimately voted for Ron Paul in the GOP primary.) This means that once he’s POTUS, he’ll be under regular right-wing pressure. Old, rash promises from the primaries will be replayed on TV, and Romney won’t have the moderate coalition to push back. Grrr. I just wish Romney had fought the primary as who he was, rather writing all these Tea Party checks he’ll get bullied to cash. I might have voted for him then. Too bad Huntsman got no traction…

2. I don’t really know what Romney wants to do with the presidency.

In 2004 and 2008, I felt like the ideological choices were pretty clear. The candidates were distinct, and choices were meaningful. This year, I really have no idea, primarily because of Romney. He’s just all over the place, and his epiphanies and changes of heart regularly follow his electoral needs rather than any believable personal growth. (This, on abortion, is a good example of what I mean; who knows what he’ll do?) Romney also doesn’t disclose much – most obviously how his budget math would work. His secrecy just confuses me more as to what he’ll do as POTUS. So it’s not clear to me why I should vote for Romney if he is only the not-Obama. As I argued after the first debate, my sympathy for Romney evaporated when he so shamelessly etch-a-sketched himself. Not-Obama is not really a reason. Here is a nice piece from a former Gingrich primary staffer that illustrates just how slippery and unknowable Romney really is. It notes how many Republicans were calling him a liar already during the primary. That should be worrisome for everyone, regardless of partisanship.

3. I am very uncomfortable giving the POTUS to a creature of Wall Street just 3 years after the Great Recession.

I am amazed this issue gets so little play. Has everyone forgotten already how much damage the financial industry did just a few years ago? The scale of the bailouts required? (If you have, go watch this and this.) I don’t actually mind that Romney worked for a capital fund. They play a necessary and useful role in the economy, and the issue has been unfairly demagogued by everyone from Newt Gingrich to Barak Obama. The bigger question is whether Romney has the professional distance to properly regulate Wall Street. Until the first debate, he seemed to want to roll back Dodd-Frank entirely. (Now of course, no one really knows. See point 1 above.) Assuming he still carries about the values of the class where he worked for many years and made his wealth – particularly that disturbing corporate raider/Gordon Gekko posturing (see this famous pic, if you haven’t already) – I wonder if that is good for the county when almost everyone, but Republicans on the Senate banking committee, believes Wall Street needs a tighter regime.

4. Romney’s foreign policy team is filled with neocons, and I think he’ll start a war with Iran.

His instincts seem to be centrist. I thought his performance in the 3rd (foreign policy) debate was pretty good. He said smart, sane stuff about Pakistan and China. But his advisors give me the chills, and the big foreign policy voices on the right – the WSJ, Heritage, Weekly Standard, AEI, Washington Post editorial page – are still unwilling to honestly admit that American overreached under Bush. I would like to see a far more cautious US foreign policy that doesn’t spend nearly so much money – the defense budget is far too large – and shifts the burden more to our allies. Let Japan and India deal with China first before we ‘pivot’ and spend even more on aircraft carriers. More generally, I would really like to see a significant de-militarization of US foreign policy and domestic culture. The neocons of the Romney camp make that pretty unlikely.

5. The gridlock-producing, scorched-earth GOP opposition to Obama should not be rewarded.

Obama’s efforts to turn around the economy, and just about everything else, including appointments required for the government to function properly, were blocked by astonishingly extreme Republican opposition. Romney, disturbingly, marketed this as a reason to vote for him: the GOP House would not loathe him intensely, so he therefore might actually get legislation through. But morally, that’s a terrible, cynical position. It allows Republican radicals to hold the country hostage by effectively shutting down policy-making until they get the president they want – which is what the Tea Party did in the summer 2011 debt-ceiling fiasco. The response to that shouldn’t be capitulation, as it effectively undermines the two-party system by allowing progress only when Republicans are in the White House. That’s awful, and undemocratic. It effectively denies legitimacy to any Democratic president by obstructing him at every turn.

The GOP House has blocked record numbers of appointments in this presidency and even filibustered the debt ceiling hike, despite 70 years of pro forma votes for it in the past. So if you vote for Romney, because the GOP Congress will work with him while they’ll continue to stone-wall Obama, then you’re effectively allowing the most radical elements of the GOP to blackmail the country. That kind of behavior should not be rewarded; it should be punished – even if in practice Romney’s opportunism is accurate because Democrats won’t be nearly so leninist-obstructionist if he wins. Again, Kornacki makes this point quite well. Also, I still suspect that a fair amount of the extremist response to Obama on the right is identitarian (racial and cultural panic), rather than political. He’s hardly the ‘socialist’ he’s made out to be, and that kind of paranoia should not be validated either.

In short, I am not really voting for Obama or against Romney. I am mostly voting against the Tea Party and the southern-rightist radicalization of the GOP. I suppose I could have voted for a libertarian or other third party (I found this tempting), but the logic of strategic voting in strict two-party system means that’s a wasted vote.


Here are a few more read-worthy endorsements:

I found the Washington Post editorial endorsement of Obama a good statement very close to my own views.

I also thought the Economist endorsement of Obama was pretty much on target.

Here is nice run-down of all the suspicions I have of Romney – the manipulation, the refusal to share information, the susceptibility to tea-party bullying.

If you actually really like Obama, Chait’s endorsement is for you.

Here’s a good endorsement for Romney from Douthat, and here is probably the best I’ve seen, and closest to my own views, from Frum.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

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Associate Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy, Pusan National University, Korea
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Twitter: @Robert_E_Kelly