Obama and Romney: More Pragmatic Than We Think?
Obama — Imagining a Second Term
The far left and the far right agree about one thing — four more years of President Barack Obama would be a nightmare. But for many of us, four more years would offer exactly what Obama promised the first time — hope. We hope that if he earns a second term, Obama, not beholden, will do exactly what he planned to do before the inherited economic mess interceded. We hope he will do what Bill Clinton, who squandered his second term in scandal, could never do — and that means achieve “big” things.
Indeed, Obama, the pragmatist, could do what is right and what is possible — without worrying about re-election.
What might that entail?
- Finish health care reform and enshrine “Obamacare” so that, much like Medicare, previous opponents will no longer argue for dismantling the program in the coming years
- Appoint pro-business, but socially liberal, Supreme Court Justices (should Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy or another step down), which would put a true Obama imprimatur on the Supreme Court (after Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan) for the next 25 years
- Keep the United States out of war with Syria and Iran, as he did with Libya
- End the Cuban embargo
- Push China on human rights, while engaging economically
- Continue to improve international relations after the nadir of the Bush years
- Work on deficit reduction and tax reform, while reducing unemployment
What Obama will not do is take away folks’ guns or push gun control. He also understands that business is not evil and is the key to the recovery.
So, while the partisan rhetoric may heat up in the campaign, it is important to remember that Obama is a pragmatist at heart. Obama’s embrace of Bill Clinton is a signal that he is willing to cooperate with business while also taking a look at cutting some social programs and unnecessary spending. This will not resonate with the left, but may bring in independents, who could provide the margin needed for victory.
If Obama manages to fire up the electorate enough to secure victory, his legacy could mean no new war, a liberal Supreme Court, and much needed economic recovery.
Romney — What Would a First Term Mean?
If Romney snatches victory, what will that mean for the country?
The answer depends on which Romney shows up — the “Massachusetts Moderate Romney” (MMR), or “Tea Party Tough Romney” (TPTR).
Like Obama, Romney is truly a pragmatist, and many suspect his newfound positions are not etched in stone. This would be good news for moderates, but exactly what the right wing fears. His shifts in the first debate, when he said he would keep segments of “Obamacare,” leave many wondering about his “core” positions. This particular statement is counter to his previous declaration that on day one he would end “Obamacare.”
Romney’s first-term accomplishments would depend on how well he and his team can work with Congress. If he avoids the mistakes of an isolated outsider like Jimmy Carter, Romney as “MMR” could try to fashion a bipartisan strategy to undertake tax and Medicare reform and deficit reduction.
Despite his criticism of Obama and bellicose statements, Romney may find that the reality of governing is surprising, and that he is more like Obama than he thought. The use of remote force via drones and international coalitions and sanctions may be better than committing an already stretched military to larger conflicts with Syria or Iran.
Clearly, the biggest difference would be in who Romney would appoint to the Supreme Court. If “MMR” Romney appoints a David Souter-like Justice, that is one thing; but if “TPTR” acts to appoint a young Alito or Scalia clone, Romney could move the Court in a conservative direction for the future.
Lastly, both “MMR” and “TPTR” would push business de-regulation. While the impact of these policies might jolt the economy in the short run, long term they would probably not bring sustainable prosperity, and could lead to a new banking or housing collapse.
In November, after the debates and the votes are counted, Obama and Romney — two partisans — may see pragmatic moderation as the only way to get anything done in the polarized political environment. A re-election will free Obama in his second term to make bipartisan deals, and Romney may be willing to risk being a one-term president to make compromises, as well as to accomplish any change. However, their Supreme Court choices will be dramatically different and will have a longer lasting impact on our country than any four-year presidential term.
Beverley Earle is the Gregory H. Adamian Professor of Law and Chair, Department of Law, Taxation and Financial Planning at Bentley University.