South Boston News & Record
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High stakes, clear choices: Endorsements by The Mecklenburg Sun and South Boston News & Record
SoVaNow.com / October 31, 2012Seemingly without exception, all presidential elections rank as the most important of a lifetime — until the next one. Still, the 2012 campaign does present a stark choice between two candidates who could hardly represent more divergent directions for America. One offers consistent, intelligent leadership animated by the belief that everyone deserves a fair shot and a level playing field — because the most prosperous societies are those that expand from the middle out and the bottom up. The other candidate rejects accepted facts and tested solutions in pursuit of an agenda that would benefit the few at the expense of the many.
The choice of our next president shouldn’t be a difficult one, but we live in stressful and confusing times, where even wildly misguided ideas can get a second look. With the election less than a week away, now comes the final chance to whack away at the myths that have grown up over the past four years and make the case for the presidential candidate — and the other contenders on the ballot this November — who can lead America to a better future.
Without further ado, The Sun endorses:
Barack Obama for president. Yes, there have been disappointments along the way during Obama’s four years in office. The economy has not recovered sufficiently from the wounds it suffered prior to his 2009 inauguration. Some of the fault for this sluggishness lies with the president’s policies — it always does. But let’s be clear: this has not been an ordinary downturn. In an ordinary downturn the Federal Reserve would have been able to engineer a recovery by slashing interest rates, the textbook response of risk-averse policymakers. Presidents who have overseen past recoveries — and reaped favorable poll numbers as a result — often have done little more than piggyback on the work of the central bank.
The Great Recession of 2008 has been different for a simple reason: the heavy burden of debt taken on by households and businesses during the go-go years of the past decade has rendered the rate-cutting approach inoperable. People struggling with debt are not inclined to take out more loans as a solution to their problems. Instead, households cut back on their spending, an entirely rational response. But when too many households cut back, consumer demand as a whole weakens, which sets off a vicious feedback loop that results in job cuts and even less money circulating throughout the economy.
It’s a vicious cycle. And it might even sound like a case for giving Mitt Romney a try if not for one thing: President Obama acted smartly and, dare we say, boldly to keep the disaster from growing even worse. Exhibit A is his administration’s decisiveness in saving the U.S. auto industry — a move that was greatly criticized at the time but stabilized the domestic car makers and other companies that make up the auto supply chain. Bailing out Detroit saved upwards of a million good-paying jobs, some of them in Virginia. It was a gamble, with tremendous potential downside consequences, but Obama took the bet and it has paid off. Today the America automotive industry is back, and it wouldn’t have happened without his courageous leadership.
The stimulus bill — Obama’s other much derided response to the Great Recession — arrested the tailspin that began in the waning days of the Bush administration, when America was shedding 800,000 jobs a month. The stimulus, while not perfect, saved or created an estimated 2.5 million jobs (even honest economists on the right concede this reality). Importantly, the stimulus kept states and localities from having to lay off teachers and cops and tens of thousands of other public service workers. Standing by and allowing this decimation of services would have been disastrous, in purely economic terms, to say nothing of the impact on local communities such as our own. The federal stimulus saved upwards of 50 teaching jobs in Mecklenburg County. Those are jobs we couldn’t afford to lose, then or now.
If elected to a second term, President Obama has vowed to renew his push for pro-growth policies that, sadly, have been blocked by the Republican Congress: increased spending on infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges that are sorely needed and that will put people quickly back to work; tax cuts for small businesses and manufacturers; and a long-term fix for the country’s deficit problems. That last one is key, and requires a clear understanding of the distinction between household debt and government deficit spending. While individuals may have no option other than austerity during difficult times, governments that pursue the same policy only end up exacerbating the crisis. (For evidence, look only across the Atlantic, where Europe’s austerity drive has been a disaster, pushing much of the continent back into recession). Fortunately, President Obama has pursued the opposite approach — investing in priorities such as education, transportation, science and research that increase America’s long-term productive capabilities while providing jobs now. This is exactly the sort of stimulus that America needs: short term in duration, lasting in impact.
America also needs to get its long-term finances under control — which first and foremost means containing soaring health care costs, a huge driver of federal deficits. Obama’s health care law takes important steps in this direction, although much work remains to be done. As the country confronts the long-term challenges of shoring up Medicare and Medicaid, however, we need leaders who will implement necessary reforms without tossing overboard the middle class and others who depend on these programs. President Obama is by far the better choice for this assignment. Mitt Romney, by contrast, is offering economic proposals that are steeped in same old voodoo that has failed in the past — massive tax cuts for the wealthy, slashed services for everyone else. His “ideas,” such as they are, are particularly ill-suited for the moment at hand.
Romney’s slippery, dishonest stances are especially worrisome where Medicare is concerned. He has made a fateful promise to voucherize the program for near-seniors, a step that would jeopardize Medicare in a few short years — and leave current beneficiaries with no guarantee that Medicare will be safe for them, either, contrary to Romney/Ryan campaign rhetoric. Across-the-board, Romney’s platform represents the worst combination of reckless policy, class warfare (waged by the rich against the poor) and phony math that a major party presidential candidate has ever foisted on America. Compared to Romney, George Bush is practically a CPA. It would be a disaster for the country if his policies were allowed to prevail.
As for the rest of what constitutes the White House brief — foreign affairs, domestic security, social policy — Barack Obama has been a very good-to-excellent president. His foreign policy has been especially adept (punctuated only by the tragic death of America’s ambassador and three other State Department employees in Libya) which is a testament to the efforts of his superb Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. (It is also a testament to Obama’s leadership; after a hard-fought primary campaign against Clinton in 2008, Obama had every knee-jerk reason to leave her out of the Cabinet, but fortunately for America this president doesn’t govern by petty emotions or whatever else may be rumbling in his gut).
Obama also has named two fine justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, to the Supreme Court, which highlights what would lie ahead for America should Mitt Romney gain the power to reshape the court after the lines of the execrable Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Women especially have much to fear from a Supreme Court that turns a blind eye to the excesses of right-wing politicians — Virginia being an interesting case study in how this transformation might work, with passage this year in the House of Delegates of a bill that mandated invasive vaginal probes of women who seek abortions. The war on women is a genuine part of the agenda of the snarling faction of the Republican Party, which has become the tail that wags the dog of the GOP. Mitt Romney has shown zero inclination to stand up to these right-wing excesses, giving moderate-minded voters one less reason to support his candidacy.
Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate. Politics being a team sport, it would be pointless to suggest that Kaine’s priorities in office are likely to vary greatly from President Obama’s should both men emerge triumphant in this election. And indeed, there is no reason for Kaine to shy away from the association with the President (nor has he). But while all the reasons given above for voting for Barack Obama are also good reasons to vote for Tim Kaine, more deserves to be said about the differences between Kaine and his GOP opponent, George Allen. Simply put, Kaine possesses the intellect, temperament and political skill to be a fine U.S. Senator — one who no doubt will do Virginia proud by promoting moderation and bipartisanship in Washington. This is a sharp contrast with Allen, who held the Senate seat once before and proved to be an utter failure at the job. Kaine is by far the superior choice for Virginia and the nation.
That George Allen is even taken seriously as a candidate for public office after disgracing himself with the infamous 2006 “Macaca” video — in which the then- Senator unleashed a nasty stream of bigotry towards a dark-skinned Indian-American, all captured on camera — speaks to the constipated character of today’s politics; seriously, is Allen the best candidate the Virginia GOP could come up with this year? Alas, Allen is trying to recapture his place on the political stage despite a long history of rhetoric and deeds that represents exactly what the country doesn’t need more of right now — extreme, unyielding partisanship. The only way voters can break the grip of rancid partisanship is to punish its worst purveyors. Sending George Allen to well-deserved defeat would be a promising start.
John Douglass for 5th District Congressman. Douglass, a retired Air Force brigadier general from Fauquier County, is waging an uphill battle against one-term incumbent Republican Robert Hurt, but hopefully the citizens of the 5th District won’t let the oddsmakers determine their votes and instead will support the best man for the job. Unlike George Allen, Robert Hurt exudes nice-young-man appeal, but the agenda he has aligned himself with — a cross of no-holds-barred corporatism and Tea Party malarkey — is terrible for the 5th District. If implemented, Hurt’s platform would make life immeasurably more difficult for working households across the 5th, many of which are barely getting by as it is. Douglass can and will do better.
Hurt’s wrong turns in office include his support for privatizing Medicare, slashing Medicaid and loosening environmental regulations that protect two of rural Virginia’s greatest assets, its clean air and water. Hurt also has distinguished himself — although “distinguished” is obviously not the right word — as a Congressman who spends a great deal of time fighting imaginary battles, as evidenced by his bleating about so-called “job-killing” regulations that don’t actually exist. Considering all the problems confronting our part of the 5th District in particular, it’s a damning indictment of Hurt that his big accomplishment in office would be to sponsor a bill barring farm dust regulations that the EPA has no intention of implementing.
Douglass has jumped on Hurt for his ties to the uranium industry (Hurt’s father is an investor in Virginia Uranium Inc., which is seeking to mine upstream from us in Pittsylvania County) and he has further promised to introduce legislation in Congress that would bar uranium mining in populated areas. Good for him. The uranium issue exposes two sides of Robert Hurt: first, his know-nothing insistence that regulation is unimportant or an outright bad thing (Hurt contends uranium mining is strictly a state issue; in actuality, the federal government regulates mining); and second, his fealty to big-money corporate interests. The shame of it all is that Robert Hurt easily could develop into an independent voice for the Fifth District and for reasonable leadership, but instead he has been content to be a predictable, unimaginative, cookie-cutter Republican backbencher.
By contrast, Douglass shows pluck and, especially on the uranium mining issue, a genuine appreciation for the need, from time to time, to reign in unbridled corporate power when the rights of citizens are threatened. Would anyone seriously choose Hurt over Douglass in fighting such this battle, or any other? Douglass may be new to politics and new to Southside Virginia — he hails from the far northern tip of the 5th District — but he’s shown in short order that he has guts, always an admirable quality. Hurt meanwhile has done nothing to separate himself from a Congress that has approval ratings in the single digits. John Douglass would not accept mediocrity so readily.
So there you have it — a straight-up vote for Obama, Kaine and Douglass. True, these recommendations are entirely in keeping with the philosophies expressed for many years in this space. But an impartial evaluation of the candidates should lead any thoughtful person to the same conclusion. Rarely do elections present such clear choices and obvious contrasts as this one, and rarely is so much at stake. Please vote next Tuesday, Nov. 6.