In their closing argument for Mitt Romney’s election, Republicans have criticized President Barack Obama for not having a substantive second term agenda. But this is a red herring argument. Presidents seeking reelection rarely run on a new agenda or approach to governing.
Think about the modern two term presidents. What was the second term agenda that George. W. Bush ran on (other than privatizing Social Security, which was soundly rejected by the public)? What was Bill Clinton’s proposed second term agenda in the run up to the 1996 election? For that matter, what new agendas did Reagan, Nixon, Eisenhower or FDR run on in their second times at bat? Unless you’re a historian who can point to some now obscure campaign promise, the answer is “none.”
Because what re-election campaigns are about are continuity. And even in difficult times, continuity of government can be a valuable commodity.
Today, a strong case can be made that what the nation needs most is continuity. Not continuity of the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., but continuity of direction and the growing confidence that the worst of the financial collapse is behind us and America is on the rebound.
If Romney is elected, that continuity will be thrown out the door. Suddenly, we’ll be re-litigating health care, financial reform, the Bush tax cuts, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (where Romney has not reached closure yet), and our social compact. And all that would be forced on us in the first six months of 2013.
Major programs that have been partially put in place and are ready to take off would be strangled in their tracks and gutted, such as healthcare reform, wall street reform, and the new consumer financial protection bureau. These are not small matters. Undoing existing programs and laws is much harder than enacting them, and the gaping holes they would leave in the healthcare system and wall street reform would take years to fix. What would we do about “too big to fail?” About student loans? About the Medicare donut hole and children with pre-existing conditions (both currently solved under Obamacare)?
And then there’s the fiscal cliff. Solving that problem demands continuity.
With a Romney administration on the way in, Republicans in congress would have no reason to work in the lame duck session to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff, almost assuring that the battle would be punted at least into February while our economy – and the middle-class – fall back into recession.
Just think about the amount of effort it takes to put a new administration in place, and the learning curve for a new president. It will take Romney at least 4-6 months in office just to get a handle on how to govern. And the type of sweeping changes he is proposing – revamping Medicare, totally reforming the tax code, deconstructing regulations on oil exploration and business – will require years of debate and wrangling in congress.
And there’s no guarantee that his prescriptions for deficit reduction and job creation will work any better than the path we’re on now.
With Obama, on the other hand, we can address our serious budget problems once and for all, as politicians and the business community continue to coalesce around Obama’s “grand bargain” of spending cuts and new tax revenues. We can fully implement the Affordable Care Act, insuring 30 million new people, and continue to improve on its cost savings mechanisms. We can make sure Dodd-Frank has the teeth to avoid the excesses that led to the 2008 financial calamity. We can bring finality to the Afghan war and use those defense dollar savings to help balance our budgets. And we can finally move forward to address immigration reform, same-sex marriage, and equal pay in the workplace.
Change and new ideas have their time and place. But this isn’t the time, and Romney’s plutocratic America isn’t the place.
After eight years of the Bush presidency, it’s military adventurism and financial excesses, we’ve come too far to go back now.
Obama promised hope and change, and we’ve made a considerable downpayment on both. Half way across the river is not the time to turn back.
Abraham Lincoln promised social change, but it didn’t fully arrive until a century later. FDR promised economic change, but he need 3 terms to deliver on it. Ronald Reagan promised to defeat communism, but the fall of the Berlin Wall didn’t happen until Reagan was back living in his California home. And the battle to coexist with communism continues to this day.
Change is not measured in units of four years. It is measured in ideas, paths, movements, and results.
Change agents – be they Lincoln or Gandhi, Reagan or Obama – are always ridiculed by those who take comfort in the status quo. But the seeds of change take root when nurtured with time and patience.
At the risk of sounding like Chauncey Gardner, the reforms Obama have planted are starting to bloom. Instead to reaching for the elusive brass ring of Romney’s new change, we need to cultivate the ones we’ve already begun.
Now is the time to for continuity and patience in the garden. Now is not the time for chain saws and weed whackers.