An Open Letter to Undecided American Voters
Somewhere around two percent of voters are ostensibly still undecided about who they’ll be voting for in the Presidential election. These people are often ridiculed, because it’s easy to make fun of a small minority, but many voters (including myself) are balancing competing interests and also trying to make conclusions about a candidate’s true intentions, which are always masked by a degree of political doublespeak.
In general, I’m disappointed by the tone of the political conversation this year, which is too rarely about policy and too often mean-spirited. Nobody running for President wants to destroy America. Nobody is evil.
The policy positions aren’t even that different: In the end, the purportedly “pro-rich” Romney wants the top marginal tax rate to be 28%; the purportedly “anti-rich” Obama wants it to be 39%. That may seem like a huge difference, but it really isn’t: In 1962, the top marginal income tax rate was 90%. In 1986, it was 50%.
I’m not going to give you a quiz that will tell you who to vote for; these already exist. Instead, I’m going to share what matters to me, and how I decided to vote to re-elect President Obama. This is a partisan attempt to convince you to vote for my guy, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but it comes from a true independent who has voted for many Republicans for state and national offices in the past (and will vote for a couple this year).
Here are the issues that matter to me:
1. The Economy: The Deficit. We can’t continue to take on debt without risking the long term financial health of the United States, but it’s really important to note that almost all of our current debt is extremely cheap, because interest rates are on T-Bills and the like are very low. So our current debt poses no risk to the American economy. (Here’s a further explanation.) But debt could become more expensive in the future, which could be a big problem. Both candidates for President have plans to reduce the deficit: Romney wants to cut spending and end some tax credits and deductions while also cutting overall income tax rates by 20%; Obama wants to cut spending and raise taxes, primarily by rolling back the Bush-era tax cuts on income over $250,000 a year. (Obama also wants to raise the capital gains tax modestly, from 15% to 20%, but this will never happen with a Republican congress.)
It’s not clear whose plan would cut the deficit more, because Romney hasn’t said which deductions he’d eliminate, and neither has really outlined what kind of spending they would cut, except for rhetorical stuff that isn’t very expensive (like federal funding for public broadcasting).
But to me, Obama’s plan is a lot more balanced and measured. It also incorporates a lot of Republican ideas, especially in restructuring Medicare costs to make them more sustainable, and if Obama is re-elected, the Grand Bargain that will need to be struck on deficit reduction will probably focus on spending cuts while also rolling back the Bush-era tax cuts on income over $250,000. I think Romney’s plan is just disingenuous; you don’t cut deficits by cutting taxes. You may spur economic growth (as we saw in the Reagan years), but you’ll never see surpluses that will allow us to better manage our debt (as we saw in the Clinton years). I think the current economic climate calls for a Clinton-esque response rather than a Reagan-esque response.
Some will say that President Obama shouldn’t be trusted with the deficit after growing it so much the past four years. But deficits are supposed to grow during recessions, and even during recoveries. (Indeed, that’s one of the reasons our debt is currently so cheap.) The deficit should shrink during times of economic expansion, which I expect the next four years will be no matter who is President.
2. The Economy: Jobs. Here’s my honest opinion: Presidents don’t create many private-sector jobs. It’s true that regulation stymies some growth that might lead to more employment, but it’s equally true that inadequate regulation can hurt the job market in the long run (as we saw with the banking collapse of 2008). I share a lot of Romney’s pro-business worldview, but most facilitating of private-sector job creation happens in local government, not on the federal side. (If Romney were running for governor of Indiana against Obama, I’d have a harder time making up my mind.)
3. The Supreme Court. The next presidential term will likely see one or two Supreme Court appointments, and while all the ink will be spilled about abortion rights and marriage (both very important issues), the biggest question facing the court to me is about the role that corporations play in our country and whether they should be treated as people under the law. Romney has implied he is likely to look to conservative justices who believe in corporate personhood; Obama has shown that he is likely to appoint judges (whom to me seem centrist but to conservatives seem liberal) who argue against corporate personhood. This is a defining issue of our time, and I don’t think corporations should have the same set of rights as individuals, so this is a big push toward Obama for me.
4. Foreign policy. This is pretty simple: Governor Romney wants to increase defense spending at a time when I don’t think it needs to be increased. I think the Afghan War has been poorly managed under Obama, but it was also poorly managed before. Vitally, he brought an end to the Iraq War (although again, we were put on that road by the Bush administration).
My biggest foreign policy concern is that Governor Romney has advocated for more intervention in Syria and Iran. I don’t think the US should act unilaterally anymore on the world stage. I also don’t want to see us return to the aggressive and hawkish rhetoric of the Bush era. We can’t afford it, and it doesn’t make us stronger.
5. Social issues. I believe in marriage equality and abortion rights, which line up with the President’s positions better than Governor Romney’s.
So that’s how I decided. A lot of people are going to choose differently, and that’s okay. I think President Obama is a better choice at this historical moment, but I don’t think Governor Romney is evil or even that he’d be a bad President. In short, I don’t blame you for being undecided. Thanks for reading.
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