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Friday
Oct052012

Lifelong Learning Lecture: The Presidency of Our Current President

A Lifelong Learning Lecture by John M. Miller
The Cypress – Hilton Head Island, SC – October 5, 2012

 

Where to begin?  There are so many anomalies and discrepancies.  For example, do we have a black President, or do we have a white President?  Genetically he is in fact half-black and half-white, but almost universally he is considered black.  So who – or what – is he, really?

 

Where to begin?  Maybe with “hope and change.”  Hope and Change was the slogan Barack Obama used in his presidential campaign in 2008.  The hope and change which emerged in his first few months in office were certainly not what he was looking for.  Immense changes were to overtake the USA and the world before he even took office in January of 2009, and those changes would obliterate the hope of millions of people.  It wasn’t what he anticipated at all.  Looking back on the last four years provides very different thoughts from those which permeated many people in the summer of 2008, including many of you here today.  Then optimism and glorious feelings reigned; now uncertainty and disappointment are still very widespread.

 

Where to begin?  Perhaps in the presidential primaries of 2007-2008.  When Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were going at it hammer and tongs in early and mid-2008, probably few citizens fully foresaw what was coming after Mr. Obama was elected and before he took office.  During the last quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, three-quarters of a million jobs were lost each month.  That is hardly a propitious way to begin a presidency.  But that was the situation in which Mr. Obama was forced to begin.  Before he even took office, he convened a crisis intervention team.  I can’t remember another presidential transition beginning like that.

 

When it became clear how disastrously the economy had plummeted, Larry Summers, who was President Obama’s chief economic adviser, observed that FDR had been very lucky.  Roosevelt had three years of an atrocious economy before taking office, while Obama began his presidency with what would prove to be four quite atrocious years.  Mr. Obama did what FDR did; he pushed through a huge stimulus bill, totaling $780 billion.  Instantly the national debt rose up with wings like eagles.  Some economists, however, especially those of the Keynesian variety, thought the stimulus should have been twice that much.  The president was fortunate to get what he did, however, because the Republicans strongly opposed him at every turn in that and everything else. 

 

Next the President tried to engineer major health care reform.  His plan was based on a very successful plan devised by a former Governor of Massachusetts, a chap by the name of Mitt Romney. Whether it was politically wise to push that particular plan at that particular point is debatable, and what the results were is also debatable.  But very significant changes were made in how we provide and fund health care, even if the Obama plan was only partially adopted.

 

The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill was intended to render illegal many of the practices which led to the fiscal collapse of the Great Recession.  However, it passed with only three Republican votes in the Senate.  If they take control of the White House and both houses of Congress, the Republicans promise to repeal both the health care bill and the financial reform bill.

 

Seeing government expenditures rising rapidly and revenues falling, the President and the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, privately agreed on a $4 trillion combination of cutting entitlement spending, increasing taxes, raising the debt ceiling, and simplifying the tax code.  Then it all fell apart.  The House Republicans refused even to discuss the proposal, according to the Democrats, and the President backed out of the deal, according to John Boehner.  From then on, as Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, said with astonishing candor, the primary and virtually the only strategy of the Republicans was to defeat Barack Obama – not to win the majority in the Senate or to increase the majority in the House, but solely to defeat the President.  And that has been the basic GOP political posture of the past three years.

 

From the beginning, Mr. Obama’s intention was to become a post-partisan President, a transformational President.  It was a lofty goal which, given the way things turned out, was impossible.  When the Republicans made it painfully clear they wouldn’t cooperate, the President took a few matters into his own hands by executive order, and that enraged them all the more.

 

But it is not only conservatives with whom the President has locked horns; many liberals are not thrilled with him either.  Maureen Dowd, whom no one ever accused of being a conservative, recently wrote a column called “The Ungrateful President.”  She chided Mr. Obama for not cultivating major political donors more effectively.  She said, “Care and feeding has been outsourced to Joe Biden, who loves it, but it doesn’t build the same kind of loyalty as when the president does it.”  She quoted Jonathan Alter, an Obama supporter and biographer, who said of the President, “He comes from the neediest profession of all, except for acting, but he is not needy.  And he doesn’t fully understand the neediness of others….He’s not an ungracious person, but he can be guilty of ingratitude.  It’s not a politically smart way for him to operate.”  Thus some liberals, who detest so much money going into campaigns, are put off by the purported post-partisan politician for not being sufficiently partisan in fund-raising.  He never claimed to be an ordinary liberal, and therefore he irritates many ordinary liberals.

 

But Mr. Obama further mystified many of his fans in 2008 by becoming the first Presidential candidate since 1976 to reject federal funds for his election.  This meant he had to raise funds the way both he and Mitt Romney are doing in this election, by going out to major donors as well as small donors.  Why did he do that, and in retrospect, was it a mistake?

 

The President is also not a wheeler-dealer-arm-twister like Lyndon Johnson. Some members of his party resent that.  He has not delivered on some his campaign promises, such as closing Guantanamo or guaranteeing to get us safely and easily out of Afghanistan.  We shall get out in 2014, but it won’t be pretty, and Afghanistan, like Iraq, will be left to its own sadly inept devices.  Why he ever supported that war and not the war in Iraq is yet another mystery about the man.   

 

For whatever reason, Mr. Obama did not primarily blame George W. Bush for the financial debacle of 2009-2010, and instead blamed the bankers.  He should loudly have blamed both, for both were equally at fault.  But it meant the Republicans also could blame the bankers, because it diverted attention from their central part in the whole financial fiasco. 

 

The President does not like fighting and confrontation.  He much prefers conversation, cooperation, and the use of sweet reason.  When that tack did not work, he has subsequently learned to confront, as his campaign has amply demonstrated.  But he still doesn’t like it.  And in this political climate, can he succeed without well-conceived confrontation?

 

Ultimately, however, Barack Obama’s presidency has likely been jeopardized not because he tried to do too little, but because he tried to do too much.  In other times and in other circumstances, he might have accomplished great things in four years, but in these times and circumstances, he has accomplished only one truly great thing.  It is a really huge thing, but it is just one thing.  By dint of will and uncommon courage, Barack Obama kept the Great Recession from turning into the Second Great Depression.  What he did in his first few months was amazing, later also saving GM and Chrysler.  That alone should make him a shoo-in on Nov. 6.  But it won’t, because there are so many other things at issue, and he didn’t accomplish them nearly as well.

 

How any of us assesses the President is strongly influenced by how the press assesses him, and in turn how we assess the press’s assessment.  Early on, while he was still a state senator in Illinois, the media began to promote him, and they did so all the way through his election as President.  Now many among the press are unhappy with Mr. Obama, and he is unhappy with many of them.  Invariably that happens with everyone elected to any office.  In particular he is irked that the media focus on legislative winners or losers rather than on substance, and he is dismayed by knowing that they give equal weight to both sides of an issue, regardless of the facts.

 

With his type of personality, Mr. Obama would have done better as the nation’s chief executive in the 1850’s or 1860’s, or again in the 1950’s or 1960’s.  Then the media were perhaps kinder and gentler. He often is described as a “cool personality,” as opposed to a warm and fuzzy one.  He is definitely very cerebral as compared to being very warm and fuzzy.  In terms of their personal dealings with politicians, the media prefer fuzzies to cerebrals every time.

 

We all should have concluded by now that assessing Barack Obama is not a matter of looking at facts.  Rather it is a matter of interpreting what purportedly are facts.  That is always true of everyone and everything, but with this President, it is particularly true.  With such conflicting and contrasting summaries by the two political parties and the media on what is happening, what is the truth?  In the midst of all this, does the Obama philosophy sell well?

 

Paul Krugman is an extremely liberal economist.  He insists that Mr. Obama sold out by not demanding a much higher stimulus package early in his first year.  To avoid going into a very slow recovery, Krugman said,  - quote – “America needed a much stronger program than what it actually got – a modest rise in federal spending that was barely enough to offset cutbacks at the state and local level.  This isn’t 20-20 hindsight: the inadequacy of the stimulus was obvious from the beginning.”

 

“A modest rise in federal spending”: a modest rise?  The stimulus was $780 billion dollars!  That’s a fact!  That was more than a quarter of the total anticipated federal revenue for the year 2009!  That too is a fact.  Surely Paul Krugman’s interpretation of what happened in the stimulus is a Keynesian interpretation of facts, and not a statement of facts.

 

Remember the flap when, by executive order, the President said every insurance company would have to provide free contraceptives, sterilization, and abortions in their health insurance plans, and the Catholic Church went ballistic?  There is more to the facts than just that, but the furor which resulted caused the President very rapidly to back down on his directive.  What did he and the Department of Health and Human Services actually mean when they ordered that directive?  What were the facts?  Different people interpret what happened very differently.

 

Under President Obama, the US has committed military personnel to train troops of other nations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to fight what we consider enemies of the US.  We have people in Africa teaching “our good guys” how to defeat “their bad guys.”  If you think Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Syria are complicated situations, they are as nothing compared to Africa with its ancient tribal unrest and religious animosities and artificially constructed borders and sociological complexities.  Not many people are concerned about these facts, however.  Republicans probably approve of the Obama policies, and so remain quiet, while Democrats don’t want to rock the boat in the midst of a very important election.  But what should we be doing?  And is the President correct in his decisions regarding these rather clandestine operations?

 

In defense of the President, however, being President from 2009 to 2012 has been more difficult than for any previous Presidents except Lincoln and FDR.  The American people are so polarized, and the solutions to our problems are so excruciatingly hard.  For example, in the 2010 election a Republican candidate for the US Senate said this: “President Obama is leading an extreme, left-wing crusade to bankrupt America.”  That in itself sounds like a rather extreme statement.  Is that a fact?  The statement was made, incidentally, by a man named John McCain, whom Barack Obama defeated for the presidency two years earlier.  But Mr. McCain was running in the Republican senatorial primary in Arizona against a very extreme right-winger, and he felt he needed to say something he knew was not true in order to secure his re-nomination and re-election, which he managed to do.

 

Remember the man who tried to explode a bomb in his BVDs in an airplane on the way to Detroit?  A certain politician declared the President deliberately allows such attacks because he refuses to take terrorism seriously.  The terrorist threat – quote – “doesn’t fit well with the view of the world he brought with him into the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit well with what seems to be the goal of his presidency: social transformation – the restructuring of American society.”  “Social transformation” is a conservative code phrase for “socialism.”  Are those facts, either that the President is willing glibly to allow terrorist attacks or that he intends to establish the USA as a socialist nation?  The speaker in this case was a man named Richard Cheney.  Who is more likely to shoot from the hip, the current Vice President or the previous one?  How does a President respond to such allegations?  And how long can he remain silent before “going rogue” himself?

 

Republicans accuse the President of having either no energy policy or an ineffective energy policy.  With respect to oil, here is a fact: The US now has more oil rigs in operation than the rest of the world combined.  Mr. Obama is very lucky.  During his watch we started finding domestic oil in an astonishing volume by fracking, frack you very much.  For a while recently we were exporting more oil than we were importing.  But all that oil does create carbon in the atmosphere.  Thus the President’s energy ideas are very subject to discussion, and facts may be used in support of or in opposition to many ideas regarding energy independence.

 

Barack Obama is a man with an intentionally long view.  He is convinced whatever he might do on behalf of our nation will require many years to go into full effect, well beyond his time in office.  Liberals fault him for doing too little too slowly, and conservatives fault him for doing too much too fast.  Facts can be marshaled both ways.  But how are we, the electorate, to interpret the facts --- and the man?

 

If Barack Obama was ever Mr. Nice-Guy, he is that no longer.  He discovered some time back that conversation, cooperation, and sweet reason don’t work in this political climate.  So he has taken off the gloves and waded into the fight.  He, like his two opponents on the other team and the sidekick on his team, sometimes play a tad too loose with supposed facts.  In referring to this, London Times columnist Tony Allen-Mills wrote, “One of the reasons that Obama has jettisoned his high-minded distaste for negative campaigning may not be the aggression of his enemies, but the disappointment of his friends.”  At the moment, might that be a motivating factor for all four candidates for national office?  In saying intentionally outlandishly partisan things, are they actually trying to persuade the undecided, or are they playing to their base (what a revolting word – and concept – that is!)?  Has politics become so ugly because measured speech has become so useless?

 

On April 2, 2012, the President gave a very important speech at an Associated Press luncheon.  It is astonishing that we on our side of the great herring pond heard so little about it, but it was given considerable coverage in the British press.   Trying to suggest that he is not a far-out leftist, Mr. Obama said, “What leaders in both parties have traditionally understood is that investments in infrastructure, education, health, etc. aren’t part of some scheme to redistribute wealth from one group to another.  They are expressions of the fact that we are one nation…. It doesn’t make us weaker when we guarantee basic security for the elderly or the sick or those who are actively looking for work.  What makes us weaker is when fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the goods and services our businesses sell, or when entrepreneurs don’t have the financial security to take a chance and start a new business.”

 

On the other hand, in that AP luncheon speech the President did take a partisan swipe at the Republican mantra of “trickle-down economics.”  He said, “In this country, broad-based prosperity has never trickled down from the success of a wealthy few.  It has always come from the success of a strong and growing middle class.”

 

Writing a long essay about this little-reported speech in the American press, Matthew Parris of the London Times said, “His text was pitched quite coolly to a notional person.  That person was a humane, intelligent and fair-minded individual…. The speech was an appeal to this individual’s reason and sense of justice.  It did not assume the hearer agreed, but believed that he or she could be persuaded.”   

 

So I would ask, will it work?  Is it working?  Some Republicans are implying that the President is either naïve or not very bright.  Anyone who truly thinks that is either naïve or not very bright.  But --- is it working?

 

We have a good friend who heard an expression somewhere which my wife and I are now using with growing frequency, especially these days.  Our friend said, “The masses are asses.”  It’s worth repeating: The masses all too frequently are asses.  However, she told us a new politically correct phrase which she says the news media now use for such folks.  They are called “Low Information Voters.”  I like it; “Low Information Voters.”  It’s like the 9th grader who was asked what he was studying in school, and he said, “World War 11.”  Anybody who doesn’t know the Roman numeral “II” and instead talks about the Arabic number “11” is probably going to grow up to be a Low Information Voter.

 

What follows is not a fact.  It is an opinion.  Barack Obama may give the American public too much credit for sufficiently understanding what he is trying to say and what he wants to promote.  My wife sometimes offers that same opinion about her husband.  It is a problem.  But should one talk down to the masses, or try to lift them up to a higher level of thinking?  In the next month, what approach shall President Obama choose to follow, talking down or talking up, since he has just one month?

 

A man named George Edwards is the director of the Center for Presidential Studies at Texas A&M University.  For twenty years He has carefully studied presidential speeches as persuasive methods of communication.  In a New Yorker article about George Edwards, writer Ezra Klein says Edwards “believes that by the time Presidents reach the White House their careers have taught them they can persuade anyone of anything.”   Klein then quotes Edwards directly.  “Think about how these guys become President.  The normal way is talking for two years.  That’s all you do, and somehow you win.  You must be a really persuasive fellow.”

 

Then Ezra Klein gives his own summary of Edwards’ summary.  “But being President isn’t the same as running for President.  When you’re running for President, giving a good speech helps you achieve your goals.  When you are President, giving a good speech can prevent you from achieving them.”

 

Ladies and gentlemen, those are some very cogent thoughts.  Could it be that Barack Obama seems to be failing as President because what he did best he can no longer do very successfully?  Might it be that he who is as good a communicator as Bubba or Ronnie when campaigning can no longer be persuasive, because now he is a President and not a Presidential candidate?  Like some species of animals, do we Americans devour our own?  Do we?

 

Has the American form of government lost its vitality and its viability?  Is a beleaguered Presidency with a constantly battling bicameral legislature the best way to run the American railroad?  Might we better off, or at least no worse off, if we had a parliamentary government?

 

Well, I am not so foolish as to go into that, at least not now, especially when I still have some other fish here to fry.  So I shall attempt to fry them.

 

The President has increasingly used drones to attack terrorists or Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere.  I am convinced there has been far too little closed and then public debate about the ethical and political effect of using drones.  For every terrorist killed, five or ten or twenty newly recruited terrorists may emerge from the carnage of innocents which the drone missiles almost guarantee.  It is alleged the President personally approves of every high-profile drone strike.  Is that politically or militarily wise?  Is it even a wise use of his time?  If drone warfare becomes even more widespread than it is already, we shall have become a military force of an entirely new and untested order, and is that a good thing?  Drone strikes have increased five-fold from George W. Bush to Barack Obama.  Drones kill one-third the civilian casualties compared to bombs or artillery, but the rule of international laws and norms is called into question by them in ways that do not occur under more conventional warfare.  I have read that the Air Force is now training more drone joy-stick operators than airplane pilots; is that a good or wise policy?

 

The President has been hesitant to take military action against Bashar Assad in Syria.  Once again, as in Libya, he may prefer “to lead from behind.”  I think that may be the best choice, but is it?  I realize we are in the midst of an election, but why aren’t we hearing at least some serious thoughts about what the President is thinking?

 

And what should we do about Iran?  The President insists all options are on the table, but he and every President usually say such a thing about all kinds of things.  The President shall surely refrain from attacking Iran as an electoral ploy, because it is impossible to predict what the results would be for the election.  But what will he do after Nov. 6 if he is re-elected?  We apparently severely bollixed up the Iranian military and nuclear computers, and I guess that is ethically acceptable, except that any current or future enemies (read “China”) can consider that fair game against us, since we did it to Iran.  And anyway, the program to do the bollixing started under W., don’t you see, so this President only finished what that President started, don’t you see.

 

Now let us turn to some domestic issues.  The President did far too little to promote the Simpson-Bowles Commission report.  It suggested some very sensible proposals to cut spending and raise revenues, which Mr. Obama knows must be done.  Had he strongly backed their ideas, it is possible that even recalcitrant Republicans would have reluctantly fallen into line, because the Commission was, after all, totally bi-partisan, even if member Paul Ryan voted against it, a fact he cynically misrepresented in his acceptance speech as GOP Vice-Presidential candidate.

 

The President knows that Wall Street was culpable up to their most glowing spreadsheets in the financial collapse of 2008 and following.  Yet he goes to them for big contributions to his campaign funds, and he is getting big contributions, although not nearly as large as in 2008.  I understand the need for money, especially since he is being hugely outspent this time by his opponent, which is the reversal of 2008.  Even so, is it a legitimate tactic to ask money from these people, some of whom should probably go to prison rather than to big fund-raising bashes?

 

The President has attempted to govern as a left-of-center pragmatist.  By no means is he the ultra-leftist he is portrayed as being by his opponents.  Nevertheless, can he win re-election by honestly telling a confused electorate that he is a left-of-center pragmatist?  On the “masses are asses” assessment, surely not.  Furthermore, he can’t even crow about his greatest legislative achievement, the Affordable Health Care Act, because it is so unpopular with many of the masses, who, in my utterly objective opinion, are truly Low Information Voters, if not also uncomprehending asses.

 

Many people are saying it is the economy which likely will scuttle Mr. Obama, if in fact he is scuttled on Nov. 6.  That may be true.  If it is not to be the factor which sinks his electoral ship, he must become more effective at convincing the masses about why the economy cannot possible have recovered by now, considering how badly it had been damaged before he even took office and during his first few months.  The world economy is still in the depths; why should the US economy be noticeably better off?

 

In a tome he calls The Little Blue Book, George Lakoff describes the GOP as being the Authoritarian Father to the American people, while the Democrats attempt to become the Nurturing Parent.  Republicans emphasize the private life and Democrats the public life of the American people.  Those are very thoughtful observations.  If they are valid, the President would be wise clearly to address the differences in philosophy during the next month.

 

In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney said of Mr. Obama, “You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s doing as President when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”  Whoever came up with that line (and I would be astonished if it were Mitt Romney), it would definitely behoove the President to acknowledge the validity of the statement for many of his supporters and to launch a defense for why it has been so terribly hard for him to have accomplished much at all of what he intended when he became the 44th President of the United States.

 

Ryan Lizza is an outstanding writer on politics for The New Yorker.  In the June 18th issue of this year, he wrote a very sagacious article called The Second Term, which had as its subtitle, What would Obama do if re-elected?  The long article said the issue which most concerns the President is climate change.  If his views on that subject are accurate, he is probably correct in putting it as his No. 1 priority.  However, the President is very wise to mute that concern, because millions of people still think the very concept of climate change is a hoax.  Further, the majority of us are sufficiently short-sighted that we insist other issues must be addressed before that one.

 

So what other things might he address in a second term?  Immigration reform, nuclear proliferation, and improved infrastructure are three of his main concerns.  He believes he can work with Republicans on those.  Energy policy and tax reform are other large issues he wants to tackle.  However, as Ryan Lizza says, he will have only eighteen months for trying to accomplish anything.  After the Congressional election of 2014, he will be a very lame duck, as is any second-term President, following the mid-second-term elections.  His own former chief of staff, William Daley, declared, “After 2014, nobody cares what he does.”  It is not surprising Mr. Obama has not said much about what he truly wants to do, because to do that may guarantee his election defeat.  The same is true for Mr. Romney.  When so many of the masses are asses, you have to articulate as little as possible, while also doing that as shrewdly as possible.

 

What do the people want done?  On that there is almost no agreement on anything.  We are evenly and strongly divided on virtually every substantive issue.  So the President must try to decide what can be accomplished, despite what he might most want to accomplish.  Whatever he does, he will not have a powerful mandate for doing it.  George W. Bush thought he had that after the 2004 election, especially about his changes in Medicare, but he miscalculated.  To succeed, the President must not appear too confident during a second term, however he actually feels.  Otherwise he may accomplish little, if anything.  Further, he will need some key Republican leaders who are willing to work with him, or nothing at all will happen.  Who knows whether he might be so fortunate?  If he is re-elected, it may in part be because the electorate disapproves of Republican legislative obstructionism, even when some people might otherwise support the GOP and its presidential candidate.

 

I shall now attempt to bring this already lengthy lecture to a conclusion.  The Presidency of the United States of America has grown too large for any person satisfactorily to operate within its ever-broadening parameters.  We expect too much for anyone to do everything we want a President to do.

 

That being said, has Barack Obama done as well as possible with an impossible challenge?  Almost everyone would say No.  The President averages two speeches a day in some months, far more in election season.  That takes a lot of his time.  He needs to highlight personal sacrifice among us much more frequently, but the nature of the times prevents him from doing that.  We don’t want to hear what we don’t want to hear.  Unless Congress very quickly becomes bipartisan, between the election and January 1, we are guaranteed a much worse recession than we have known for the past four years because of fiscal sequestration.  And unless Congress becomes more bipartisan after January 20 of 2013 than they were for the previous four years, whoever is President will have very bleak prospects.

 

Mitt Romney is the only one of the Republican candidates for the Presidency who ever stood a chance of becoming President.  Everyone else who fell by the wayside in the winter and spring is far too conservative even for an America turned far more conservative.  However, when Mr. Romney deliberately misused the “You didn’t built it” quote, which was deliberately taken out of context, and used the misleading “We Built It” quote in his acceptance speech at the convention, he identified himself as an ordinary politician who is too willing to play fast and loose with the truth.  Further, by naming Paul Ryan as his running mate, conventional wisdom would conclude he cannot win the election, because the Ryan political baggage is simply much too heavy for far too many.

 

How else could Mitt Romney lose?  Let us count the ways.  By having Bibi Netanyahu as a genuinely close friend.  It is like having the Unabomber as a good buddy.  By floating the name of John Bolton as a possible Secretary of State.  That would be like putting a certifiable fanatic into the most important diplomatic post in the world.  By talking about bombing Iran or calling Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe;” by brazenly hinting at a trade war with China, including big tariffs; by calling for more defense spending, when we can’t afford to spend more on anything, let alone that on which we have spent too much forever; by not having much more strongly condemned the ramblings of “Legitimate Rape Akin” for his incredibly insensitive remarks.

 

Barack Obama is not a far-leftist, nor is Mitt Romney a far-rightist.  However, we have not learned that from the campaign thus far, nor shall we in the remaining four weeks.   Neither wants to risk saying who he really is, for fear he will lose some crucial votes in some crucial swing states.

 

There is one ability Mitt Romney has which Barack Obama definitely does not have.  Mr. Obama is very uncomfortable with Wall Street, and Mr. Romney loves Wall Street.  Broadly stated, it was by way of Wall Street that the Romney fortune was made.  Obama is very uneasy asking for big money; Romney revels in it.  Obama is no schmoozer; Romney readily schmoozes with the very rich, because they are the people he had been closest to for his whole life.

 

In 2004, when John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, George Soros gave $27.5 million to groups opposing the President.  The Republican National Committee accused Mr. Soros of having “purchased the Democratic Party.”  This year, several major Republican donors, such as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, have each declared they will give $100 million or $250 million or possibly even a billion dollars to Super PACs.  They desperately want Barack Obama defeated.  It is quite possible that Super PACs will purchase both houses of Congress by inundating closely-contested House districts and Senate races.  No one is paying close attention to that, but it could happen.  Then the American people must ask, Will the Republican Party thus also have been purchased?

 

In 2000, when Al Gore became the Democratic candidate for President at his party’s convention, Barack Obama had so few connections to party bigwigs that he couldn’t even get a floor pass to the convention hall.  This was just eight years prior to receiving the Democratic nomination for the Presidency.  Mitt Romney has personally known very high rollers for decades.  Democrats choose to believe that liberals give money to candidates out of altruism, while Republicans proudly admit to giving it out of self-interest.  Given Mr. Romney’s long-standing friendships with very wealthy self-interested Republicans, and oft-stated views about not raising taxes much if at all, it seems a safe wager that between now and Nov. 6, there will be hundreds of millions of dollars, or in the low billions, of attack ads flooding the media in swing states.

 

I hope you do not conclude that this has been a full-blown endorsement of the Presidency of President Barack Obama.  It most certainly is not.  However, I will go so far as to say this: Whatever were the observed excesses of the Democrats over the past four years, they are likely far less odious than the promised excesses of the Republicans over the next four years would be.  Whoever would have been President the last four years would have had a very hard time seeking re-election, given the way the term started.  Mr. Obama has not thus far been a great President, nor even, perhaps, an especially good one.  He could yet become the post-partisan transformational President he aspires to be, but if so, it obviously would require his re-election.

 

On the other hand, should Mitt Romney win, and should he be able to disengage from the radical rightists who will have elected him, he might become a more effective President than Barack Obama has been.  If Romney would be unable to disengage from many of the zealots who elected him, he likely would turn out to be a much worse President than his predecessor.

 

Now, on October 5, 2012, I shall suggest a political scenario which many people, both Republicans and Democrats, will perhaps find absurd.  Despite everything you may sense, feel, think, or believe, Mitt Romney could still win the election on November 6, 2012.  (You may deduce that Mr. Romney’s excellent showing in the first Presidential-candidate debate on Oct. 3 will win for him, but I highly doubt it.  By Nov. 6, the polls shall likely be where they were on Oct. 2 or September 20.)  But should Mitt Romney actually

 

win, it won’t be because Mr. Romney campaigned more effectively, or had better ideas, or had a better campaign staff, or has the more winsome personality, or because his base is more revved than the other party’s base.  His campaign has been astonishingly gaffe-prone.  Instead it will be because the election will be bought and paid for, courtesy five men in black robes, and an untold number of very wealthy donors who shall personally benefit far more from a Romney election than an Obama election.  Too many of the masses are Low Information Voters.  It is Low Information Voters who are likely to be swayed by the flood of attack ads in the media could be sufficient to tip the scales in this extremely close election.  Non-thinkers don’t think, but reactors react.  Attack ads appeal to reactors, and Low Information Voters are reactors.

 

I very sincerely hope my bleak hunch is wrong, not because I am all that enthusiastic about Barack Obama, or all that opposed to Mitt Romney, but because American democracy will have taken a precipitous fall into a very deep chasm, and our future will be far, far, far more uncertain than it has been over the past four or forty or two-hundred-forty years.  If this election is decided by the Citizens United decision, American government shall take decades to recover, if it ever recovers at all.  And upon that cheerful note, fellow citizens, I complete my summary of the Presidency of President Barack Obama.