Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The End of Frankenblogging.

Well, that got dramatic really quickly.  I'm headed home to get some sleep, then I'll concentrate on analyzing the results.  WCYB, thank-you all for the opportunity to take part in the American electoral process!

Those maps with the red and blue stuff

Okay, some really decent returns data is beginning to leak onto the worldwide web.  Who am I watching for called states?  I'm actually looking at a few sites.  Notably:

NPR

The Chicago Tribune

The Huffington Post (big advantage?  Virginia, Florida, and Ohio precinct results)

Note there is some variation - thus I'm not calling any races yet.  Cause of ethics.

Sitcom of Errors

Epic question from an anonymous student:

 Hypothetical situation:

The House is taken by Republicans, the Senate by the Democrats, and the Electoral College is tied.  What would you title the sitcom in which Romney is President and Biden is Vice President?
Happy Election Day,
inquiring student

Epic response from a fellow WCYB newsroomer: Slick Mitt & Papa Joe.

My inferior response: Gold, Gaffes, and Guffaws

Mr. Large's Twitting

My student Nate Large just Twettered me.  He asks what I think so far.  Well, Mr. Large - it is too early too call, and Virginia is painfully difficult to analyze - not the least of which because I can't find live electoral results maps!

Update

What do you want to be noticing so far?

In Virginia Romney leads but there are critical precincts still to report.

Indiana went with Romney despite having gone to Obama in the last election.

In Florida and Ohio the Obama leads but again, precincts still are reporting!

WCYB Facebook Questions

Facebook, circa 1911.  Bully!

I'm answering questions over on the WCYB page of Facebook as well - eventually I'll have them over here but that is a lot of cussing-and-pasting (error intentional) and I just don't have time!  Just, you know, flip back and forth!

The Evenin' News

I'm about to hit the early evening news - if you're near a TV and you know where the Dip Dog is, check me out on WCYB or Fox Tri-Cities if you're interested.  If you're unaware of the majesty of the Dip Dog, consider listening to this instead.:


The Commonwealth of Swing

A solid article on the nature of Virginia's swingy-ness from The Economist.


Paths to the White House in the Electoral Framework

The New York Times has made some really interesting calculations regarding the possible combinations of states that could lead to different particular outcomes.  Specifically, Obama has some 431 (84%) different combinations that might result in a win, Romney has 76 (15%), and there are 5 (just under 1%) different routes that might lead to an electoral tie and, as a result, a vote in Congress.

This legitimates two pretty significant assumptions: (1) that the election is highly unlikely to result in an electoral tie though it does remain in the realm of possibility and (2) Romney has to tread a much thinner line than Obama - again, turn-out looks more and more and more like the critical factor.

ADDITION: I played with the protocols a little bit - NYT seems to indicate that if Obama can win Ohio and Florida the election is essentially a done deal.  Worth noting for us election watchers.

Doom Gap

A great editorial in The Economist on the "Doom Gap" between Republicans and Democrats.

Ms Wilmer's Questions: Whence the United States (or - "this may be too complicated for this particular afternoon")

Dammit, Ms Wilmer.  You just wrote me a book.  I.  Curses.  Okay.  Consider:

Once elected the new President will have to work towards the United States' long-term priorities like nuclear arms control and disarmament or the management of relations in both China and in Islamic states. Additionally the President will have to work with current issues as well as the 'surprises' that may come about with changes in other political states. For instance, there are leadership transitions occurring or will be soon in both North Korea and in Russia, both of which could affect the United States' relations with both. Most of the issues can be seen as policy issues, and should the President and Congress make efforts to work towards then it will eliminate or minimize some issues. Without knowing who will win the election, do you believe it is possible for the president to address more long-term foreign policy issues? Or do you believe that the current issues or 'surprises' will required the full attention of the President? Will the United States be able to sustain its international power base in the next generation, should the long-term issues not receive an adequate amount of attention? It is noted that three key components of national power are infrastructure, innovation, and education. Do you agree? And if so do you think the President and Congress will be able to make larger investments in them within the next presidential term?

Geez Louise.  That is a lot.  You'll notice I color-coded parts of this - that's because I'm going to address them each separately.  Dig.

ORANGE - Will the president, be he Romney or Obama, be able to address long-term foreign policy issues or will his attention be taken up with current issues?  Well, we have to remember that the presidency is constrained by at least three things.  First, if the president is in his or her first term he has to be concerned with the democratic impulse - the will of the people.  If the people aren't happy, the president ceases to be president.  Thus, in their first term, presidents find themselves restrained substantially by the people.  Secondly, the president is restrained by Congress - if Congress is intractable then the President can do little, if Congress is cooperative the President gains far more leeway.  Finally, presidents are restrained by the degree to which they can legitimately transform the culture and personnel that constitute the American bureaucracy, including the military, State Department, and Intelligence Community.  The irony of the situation, then, is that presidents find themselves at their most powerful during periods of crisis - "surprises" to use the language of Ms Wilmer.  Congresses, filled with people fearing the democratic impulse without end and often within a range of two years or less (in the case of every member of the House and 1/3rd of the members of the Senate) must appear to be accomplishing something when a crisis appears - this means, naturally, that they have to work with the president who has a huge advantage - the bully pulpit.  The people themselves tend to rally behind the president during times of crisis - we call that the "rally-round-the-flag" phenomenon - and of course both Congress and the masses, in their desire to do something in response to crisis, typically respond by demanding reforms to the bureaucracy, which gives the President far-reaching house-cleaning powers.    Of course crisis is unpredictable, which means it is more likely that reform will be difficult - crisis is sharp and chaotic, allowing opportunity - the dull thrum of general decline is far easier to ignore, making it more difficult for presidents to act.  Which of course is not entirely a bad thing - after all, presidents in Latin American states have repeatedly used the legitimizer of crisis to justify an end to electoral republicanism.  So, there is that.

RED - Will the US endure as one of the preeminent powers through the next generation? Certainly.  Likely we'll be the most powerful nation on earth through the remainder of my life.  But if we don't begin to make serious institutional reforms we will not be able to maintain our military and economic supremacy and, more importantly, we risk not merely relative decline but far more worrying absolute decline as well (think of it as the Roman Empire being less able to push around its neighbors compared to the Roman Empire losing territorial integrity or experiencing declining quality of life).

YELLOW - Infrastructure and education, I would say, make innovation possible - I believe Mr. Adam Smith would agree with me as well.  Will we be able to invest in these in the next presidential term?  I believe we must.  Will we actually do so?  I believe this is far more questionable.

Also, I think we can agree - epic title.

Antioch Middle School's Questions

Calculating the Electoral College at Antioch Middle 
Wow - this is fantastic! I just had the Student Council of Antioch Middle School in the glorious city of Nashville in the equally glorious state of Tennessee write me some superb questions on behalf of their constituents. I have a grin the size of the might Tennessee River.

Which is sizable.

Okay, first question from Ferdos, Representative of the 5th Grade.

Who counts the votes?

Ah, a technical question, and a difficult one! Well, Rep. Ferdos, in each electoral district it is done a little differently.  You see, different districts have different ways of taking votes - some do it using paper which folks mark on, others do it with punch cards (where you use a little, sharp implement to poke holes in the card, indicating your vote), and others use electronic voting booths that record votes onto discs or magnetic tape of some type. Regardless, as voting ends the votes are sealed by an official (usually known as an election judge) and taken by police (who are sworn and maintain the same evidenciary level as for a criminal investigation) to a central location for a district where, using some method or the other (depending on the way people voted in that district), they are counted by certified election officials (chosen in different ways in different districts and states).  Often there are observers there, making sure that no one is breaking the law by discarding or miscounting votes.  Finally, once the votes are tallied the results are sent to the capital of the state and to the media then are resealed (in case a recount is necessary).  In the case of presidential elections , the state legislature then appoints, based on these votes, electors to the Electoral College who will vote for president, then seal their votes AGAIN and send them to Congress in Washington, DC.  The governor of the state in question, by the way, sends a certificate saying the vote was done properly called a Certificate of Ascertainment.  Congress meets in joint session (meaning both the members of the House of Representatives are there and the members of the Senate) and the votes are publicly counted by the Vice-President who is also the President of the Senate.  Assuming one candidate gets the majority of the electoral votes, that person becomes the president!


Well done!  Moving on then, to a second question, this one submitted by Marshall, Representative of the 6th Grade and his question:

Why should people vote?

Jeepers, Marshall - you cut to the quick!.  This one is a philosophical question that I could spend hours and hours on - and I have! That said, I'll give you a relatively short response, but if you want to read more in detail you can see an earlier post I wrote on just this subject:
(1) Because there is always a chance, small but real, that your vote will affect the outcome of the election;
(2) Because it is the morally right thing to do - a lot of men and women have worked very hard, some of them fighting, some of them dying - to both give us the right to choose our leaders and to preserve this right when tyrants have sought to take it from us.  I'd say we owe it to them to be responsible members of our republic; and
(3) Because we are privileged enough to be able to.  For most of the history of humanity, and in virtually all nations on this planet, most people have had no political rights.  They were subjects. But we here in the United States, as well as the folk of a few other nations historically and today, are truly citizens - we have the ability to change our government through voting, through running for office, and through serving on juries. That is the most amazing type of luxury and only a fool passes up the rare and beautiful that is ALSO good.
Nifty.  Moving on, let's check out our third question - this one from Merna, the Representative of the 7th Grade:
Will things change a lot in our country when we elect a new president today? Do checks and balances do anything to stop the president from having all the power?
Oh Merna - you're tricky - two questions! Nonetheless, let me combine them.

Some things will change, Merna, but others will not.  You see our government has, which I'm guessing you know all about, and also Russian nesting dolls, stacked up inside of one another and affecting each other.  Interesting, right?  Check this out.  The smallest doll is the Constitution - it is the "basic law" - the law which is hardest to change and the law which no other law can contradict.  The legislative branch is wrapped around that - it writes laws which determine how the government is supposed to do what it is told to do in the Constitution - it elaborates, in other words, on the constitutional law.  The Executive branch is the third doll - it exists to fill in the details of the laws given to it by the legislative branch through "orders" - literally the president tells the bureaucracy how to interpret the laws written by Congress.  You may be noticing something, by the way - the trend is for the law to get more more and more complicated and easier to change as the doll gets bigger.  Next we have the bureaucracy which adds to the law by writing detailed regulations that obey the Constitution, the Congress, and the President.  Finally we have the last and biggest doll, the judiciary, which goes back and checks to make sure no one is violating any laws from any level - and this includes bigger dolls violating the rules laid down by smaller dolls.

So, when you ask me, will changing the president change the country, I have to say, somewhat.  The president certainly can make it harder (or easier) for Congress to pass laws, and can interpret laws differently.  But the president still has to obey the Constitution and the Judiciary when it tells him or her to obey the Constitution or Congress.  So somethings surely will change, but these will be details - expect America to be America tomorrow, no matter who wins or loses.

Finally, we have Jazmin, Representative of the 8th Grade - our most senior legislator.  The Madam Representative asks:
Why is the Electoral College so important today? Is it still important in present time?
A good one, and one that a lot of smart people ask everyday.

Imagine, if you will, that you and everyone at your school were going to a movie.  There were a lot of you, and you had decided everyone had to go to the same movie.  There are a lot of different ways you could decide what movie to go to.  You might just vote and decide whatever movie gets the most votes, what we call a plurality, wins.  You might also decide that you'll let every class vote on a movie, letting each class get a certain number of votes in proportion to how many kids were in each class.  Then, whichever movie won within a class all of those second round of votes went to that.  Whichever movie got the most votes in the second round, well, everyone would go see that movie.

Now, why would anyone choose such a complicated way of doing things?  Ultimately, it is so that the smallest classes still matter.  If we imagine each class has different preferences (some like comedies, others horror movies), then we could imagine them saying, "well, I don't want to see that particular comedy as much as another comedy, but I'd rather see it than any horror movie."  Well, if their class is little, they just don't matter - they'll split their vote and lose every time - it is horror movies forever!  On the other hand, if they pool their votes, even though their class is little compared to some, their vote still is much more likely to matter.  Ah-ha!

So, why is the Electoral College important?  Among other reasons, it gives little states like North Dakota and West Virginia the chance to matter.  They don't always matter, but everyone at least has to regard them as mattering just in case - which means they matter. Weird, eh?

The problem is, of course, that sometimes the Electoral College votes differently from the population as a whole.  Right now we feel like that is worth it, a cost to make sure the small states matter.  Someday that might change, but that'll involve a cost of its own.

Well, thank-you all for the wonderful questions - I hope you have a wonderful Election Day!




Presidential Hopeful Visits

Check out this map at The New York Times to see where presidential candidates have visited since the Republican convention - interesting graphic, I think.

Dr. Ray's Question: Does campaign spending reveal preferences of the Federal government?

The good Dr. Daniel Ray of the glorious Commonwealth of Virginia asks:


Does the disparity of spending in swing states vs non-swing by all parties involved highlight the shortcomings of the electoral college system in ensuring that the system equally values (in monetary and public policy terms) each citizen regardless of what state they happen to live in? If so, what's the benefit of this system that outweighs that shortcoming?


Geez.  A doozy.  An official doozy.  Let's get to it.

First, the spending in both swing and non-swing states really comes from a variety of sources - the candidates pockets, of course, the parties, and political action committees (the last of which have virtually unlimited spending rights as long as they remain adequately ambiguous in their phrasing).  

Secondly, the spending is really a reflection less of the benefits those states derive from the Federal government and more of their potential to influence the presidential election.  This, in turn, is not so much a reflection of the total population of those states (though of course, in determining the number of electors in that state it is not insignificant) but a reflection of the closeness of the state.  This is, itself, a factor derived from the fact that most of these states are houses divided - they have highly distinct regional subcultures which are economically and electorally divided and politically activated.  Consider - there are really three Ohios - Rustbelt Ohio, midwestern agricultural Ohio, and Appalachian Ohio.  The same is true for the other states, for instance Virginia with the "conservative" Appalachian west and southwest, Southside, Tidewater, and Eastern Shore and "progressive" northern and central Virginia. 

What this means is that changing a percentage point in terms of outcome could result in a different electoral outcome within the state which means that ALL of the electoral votes shift one direction or the other.  

Okay, but to the point - does this mean that swing states tend to correlate with fiscal and legislative priorities of the Union?  Well, there is reason to suspect that the answer is no - specifically given that the Presidency largely has influential power over legislative priorities, as opposed to Congress whose powers are far more explicit and immediate.  How can we tell? Easily enough: 

First, the swing-states are generally regarded as including Ohio ($73 million), Colorado ($29 million), Florida ($67 million), Iowa ($25 million), Nevada ($22 million), New Hampshire ($21 million), North Carolina ($24 million), Pennsylvania ($8 million), Virginia ($53 million), and Wisconsin ($12 million) [source - National Journal]

Secondly, the states (and District) that receive the most funding from the Federal government (figures are in dollars paid to these states versus dollars paid by taxpayers of these states) are New Mexico ($2.63), West Virginia ($2.57), Mississippi ($2.47), the District of Colombia ($2.41), Hawai'i ($2.38), Alabama ($2.03), Alaska ($1.93), Montana ($1.92), South Carolina ($1.92), and Maine ($1.78) [source - Mother Jones]


Just eyeballing this data, I'd say that folk spend money where they need it to win, but Congress spends money where people are poor or where Americans maintain and train their military forces.  

So, does the spending illegitimate the system? Not really.  Do I think it an enormous waste that borders on offensive?  Oh, you betcha'. 

News at Noon!

Okay folk - just back from a break to the WCYB newsroom for the 12 o'clock news - if you saw me, you're already laughing with me.  If not, hopefully this will help.

Mr. Thomas' Question:

A fair question and one not easily answered from Mr. Dakota Thomas of the glorious Commonwealth of Virginia.  


It looks like this year, just like in 2000, we may see a President elected via the electoral college who did not win the majority of the popular vote. How likely is this, and what might the implications be for the newly elected President? Will they still have a clear mandate?

Well, I would say a couple things - first, I'm not certain it is particularly likely - it is possible, perhaps more likely than normal, but the weakness of third-party contenders (or should I say exclusion) has led to a limited ability by them to split the vote.  Secondly, I think that, given the statistical data coming in, it seems likely that Governor Romney would have to achieve a "perfect storm" scenario to neither lose (slightly more likely) or defeat (less likely, but still possible) President Obama outright statistically. 

Like so much about this election, however, I would insist that this depends upon turnout - who turns out and where, in terms of factions, will be largely the deciding factor.  

Finally, as to the mandate concept - honestly the election of the presidency, being as it is governed by an electoral college with a secondary governance by Congress, was never an office about mandate - it was about concession in operations.  Congress, and the House of Representatives in particular, which is far more definitively governed by classical democratic-republican principles and in which the legislative mandate is invested, well, that is where mandates lie. 

Finally, even if we conceptualize the president as being a mandate-driven office, well, it simply isn't going to have a good mandate this time.  Fact.  Fate accompli.  Fancy words, much like the last several preside

Ms Menez's Question: What tools does the US have vis-a-vis China?

Ms Lisa Menez asks:
I would like to know what is the real room of maneuver for the new President against Chinese policies . . . [both candidates argue China uses unfair competitive practices] . . .but what kind of measures can be taken against the country which provides you capital and which is one your best business partner ?
 A fantastic question, and a tough one to answer in this the next few minutes . . . but I will try.  

Ultimately, we're in a bit of a pickle.  China owns a substantial amount of both American debt and American currency as part of its national reserves.  This means they have a bit of an ax over our necks - if they were to demand monies owed and/or try to rapidly transfer all of their currency to other forms of reserve they could cause an economic disaster in the United States.   This is a powerful disincentive for the United States to engage in a trade war with the PRC.  China's position is further improved by the fact that our incomes, as Americans, are functionally subsidized by the fact that China produces so many consumables at a very low cost to the United States.  This means our wages purchase more.  We start a trade war and the real value of American wages drops radically.  

On the other hand, we have some cards in our hand too.  Specifically, the United States is a driving force behind Chinese development - not only because of our vast consumption of Chinese goods and our substantial investment in the infrastructure of that state, but also because our sponsorship of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea has helped those states to remain both able and disposed to supporting Chinese development.  Break with the United States and not only will American capital fly, but most capital from East Asia as well.  Furthermore, China (kinda') trusts the United States.  The US is not a nation that is particularly unpredictable in its international relations and we have never fought a war with the PRC.  Sure, we have our tiffs, but they are what they are.  Thus, the American presence in East Asia is seen as handy in so far as it prevents an arms race in the region.  Think about it.  China destroys the US economy. The US decides to withdraw most of its overseas troops back to its borders.  The South Koreans, Japanese, Taiwanese, Filipinos, Thais, Indonesians, and Pakistanis all respond by radically increasing their available forces.  The counter-response is increases in military spending by Russia, India, China, the Central Asian states, Bangladesh, the remaining Southeast Asian states, and of course North Korea.  This results in a reflexive cycle of arms build-ups that destroys the regional economy of not just Asia, but likely Eurasia and the Middle East as a whole. This is particularly problematic for China - consider its location - right now in an arms stable Asia China not only can focus its military spending on improvement of quality, rather than maintenance of quantity, it also can spend a comparatively low proportion of its income on its military.  Change that and you get the hard truth of political-economic development - every yuan spent on military affairs is one not spent on infrastructure development, education, or research.  Chinese growth would radically decline and, probably, the state would become substantially destabilized.  

So, what tools do we have?  Not many, but neither does China.  Our best bet then is to do what we've been doing - support the expansion of rule-of-law in China, support the establishment of a true regulatory state in China, encourage educational exchanges, and of course push for unified, interstate fronts that demand Chinese economic, legal, and environmental reform using intergovernmental bodies like the WTO and IMF.  

Finally, we do have to accept something - we have a China that is developing along roughly capitalist lines - we got what we wanted - but now we are seeing the cost: an environmentally dirty, economically chaotic and wild-west-esque political-economy.  China is a huge, developing political-economy - to expect it to be a huge, developed political-economy is to demand the impossible. 

My concerns going into today's election about the election itself....

Let me express my concerns as the American public go to the polls today.

(1) Good, old-fashioned corruption.  It is a concern in every election in every nation on earth and, while some corruption is inevitable in every election, the closer the election the more significant it becomes.  This election has concerned international observers so much that, in addition to the traditional OSCE observers the US will have United Nations observers as well.

(2) Electronic voting.  I don't like it.  I don't like the lack of hard, physical paper.  I don't like the manner in which corruption is so damn easy and virtually undetectable.  And I don't like that it is ill-adapted to conditions of crisis, like so much of the northeast is in today.

(3) That brings up another concern - Hurricane Sandy and the convergent snowstorms have left large numbers of people without transportation, communication, or electricity.  Will everyone be able to poll?  Will everyone be informed?  Will they even have the time to poll given the demands on their time of merely surviving and cleaning up?

(4) Inadequate coverage of the minor parties.  Yeah, I know the metaphysics of voting, the tyranny of the two-party system endemic to our institutional arrangement.  Whatever.  The fact that for a couple of decades third-parties have gradually grown more important to our political discourse in the United States and, this year, they were entirely left out of most public discussion and completely drowned out o the private discussion in terms of advertising is disconcerting to me.

(5) New voter identification laws.  I'm not against them inherently, but I am concerned about the intent of many of them and equally the fact that most were implemented with limited public discourse, discussion, and time.  The courts are clearly concerned as well, given the number of states in which they have suspended the new laws.
It is still early, but what questions do you-all have that you would like me to address?

The Live Blogging Begins

Liveblogging!

10 in the AM and I have voted (and entertained two adorable kids who were in line with their mom behind me – made everything far more pleasant) and now I’m setting up camp here in the WCYB newsroom.  I know.  Fancy. 

What does that include? Well, a couple of things.  First, I have my references – books.  I know. Arcane.  I thought I’d share, though, for the insight it might provide. 

1.       My copy of The Oxford Essential Guide to the US Government, essentially a hand-encyclopedia on the subject that also includes the full-text of most of the foundational documents of US history;
2.       My highlighted, inkstained, post-it noted copy of The Federalist Papers;
3.       Levy’s Origins of the Bill of Rights;
4.       The Portable Edmund Burke;
5.       Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom;
6.       Thomas Paine’s Common Sense;
7.       Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations;
8.       John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration; and
9.       My granddad’s old copy of Smithey and Phippins’ Virginia Oratory.

I also have one of my old stitched notebooks, highlighters, pens (red and black), a brown fedora, and a Dr. Who-esque scarf.  I keep looking for a steady IV of caffeine, but I will make due until that becomes available.

Okay, here we go.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Quick Sources for Election 2012 Coverage

The election is coming up tomorrow.  My schedule is very simple.  I wake up.  I shower.  I eat a piece of whole grain bread and a couple of eggs (brain food).  I drive to my local polling place. I vote.  I get in my car, I drive to Bristol and I set up shop for my liveblogging commentary and coverage of the election.  Throughout the day I'll be taking brief breaks from liveblogging to do live television coverage on WCYB and WEMT, the Tri-Cities' and Mountain Empire's local NBC and Fox affiliates, respectively.  I plan on being on the air, either online or televised till at least midnight, so get ready for some excitement. 



REMEMBER! All voters this year will be required to either have bowler derbies or handlebar moustaches, so please, have yours ready to present to your local pollworker.

That said I am not, nor should I be, the only source of information you turn to tomorrow.  Thus I have included this list of sources that you can turn to for both coverage and online communities to discuss the events of the day. 

Governmental Coverage

The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division: In particular see their section on Electoral Monitoring and Observation and their Voting section.

The Federal Elections Commission

Partisan

The American Reform Party

The Constitution Party

The Democratic National Committee

The Democratic Socialists of America

The Green Party of the United States

The Libertarian National Committee

The Obama/Biden Campaign

The Republican National Committee

The Romney/Ryan Campaign

The Socialist Party USA

Nonpartisan Organizations

The American Civil Liberties Union: You might be particularly interested in the Voting Rights section.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems: Focus on the United States section.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe: Elections.

Media

The Atlantic: Politics

The Chicago Tribune: Election 2012 coverage. . .

The Christian Science Monitor: Three little letters - USA.

CNN: Election Center 2012

The Economist: Check out the US Elections 2012 section.

The Los Angeles Times: Politics Now.

The New York Times: Head straight for the Politics section.

The Newshour with Jim Lehrer on PBS: Especially check out "Vote 2012" and "The Rundown"

NPR: Election 2012

PBS: Election Coverage 2012

Politico: 2012 Live

The Wall Street Journal: Election 2012

The Washington Post: Coverage details.

 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

That Question Everyone is Asking Me: Who the High Holy Hell Should I Vote For?

Okay folks.  We're nearly there.  Nearly to that moment where the American citizenry vote on their nation's leadership - and while there will be state and local elections within the next year, there won't be another Federal election for two years, and not another presidential election for four years.  And I think most of us are just fine with that.  Grin.

That said, I have gotten one question over and over again, on the phone, in class, in the halls, by e-mail and Facebook.  Who, they say, should I vote for?  I'm always a bit surprised when people haven't made their minds up yet, but then again, I understand why.  Folk are worried about the near future - our economy seems fragile, we've got a lot of men and women in harm's way overseas, and educational and healthcare numbers, both in terms of cost and benefits, seem more than a little problematic.  It has made us a little irritable, as a nation, and I think that is okay. We just have to remember - it is okay if we disagree, as long as we do so like civil, intelligent, law-abiding folk.

So, who should you vote for?  Are you kidding? That isn't my job!  My job is to help you make good decisions - to stay aloof, insofar as possible, from politics.  I might tell you who I am voting for in a social setting, mind you, but that is never to say I am advocating someone else do so - that is a matter of conscience.  That said, I think what I can do is help you final, wavering folk to make a decision of your own by summarizing the issues, to a degree.  So, well, that is what I've done below - social issues are in green, foreign and military policy, as well as immigration, are in red, and domestic issues are in blue (imperfect, but something).   For your consideration:


President Obama
Governor Romney
Abortion Rights
Pro-Choice
Adjusted Pro-Life (save in the instance of rape, incest, or risk to the woman’s life); seeks reversal of Roe v. Wade.  This is a reversal from previous position as pro-choice. 
Afghanistan
Has implemented Petraeus plan (surge, emphasis on training and infrastructure, draw-down with intention of handing over security and statecraft to local forces).   Seeks a 2014 withdrawal of forces, though with a permanent training and support force till at least 2024.
Nearly identical to the President’s plan, including support of 2014 withdrawal.
Birth Control Rights
Seeks to require work-based healthcare plans to guarantee free birth control.

China
Seeks to use intergovernmental organizations (especially the WTO) to force the PRC to improve its environmental, monetary, and trade policies vis-à-vis the US.  Far more aggressive than previous presidencies in this regard.
Asserts the PRC is a currency manipulator and violates universal principles of intellectual property so such a degree that severe trade sanctions are justified.  
Debt Solution
Plans to raise capital gains taxes and increase income taxes for those making more than $250,000/year. 

Note: Failed in 1st term debt reduction promises.
Plan to cut budget till it is under 20% of the US GDP, but is lacking in specific proposals. Plans to increase military and Medicare spending (again, unspecific in plans).  Plans to cut income and capital gains taxes.  Supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
Energy
Moratorium on deep-sea drilling but, nonetheless, the US has substantially increased its overall domestic energy production under Obama, including petroleum. Goal of cutting petroleum imports in half by 2020.
Seeks US/Canadian total energy independence by 2020, largely through aggressive fossil fuel development.
Environment
Supported legislation regulating mercury vapor and atmospheric heat-trapping chemicals. Failed to get Congressional support for support carbon emission regulation.
Supports deregulation, fuel exploitation in protected areas, and is an anthropogenic climate change skeptic.
Financial Markets
Supports Frank-Dodd and the Consumer Protection Act.
Plans to deregulate financial markets further by seeking the removal of Frank-Dodd and the Consumer Protection Act.
Free Trade
Signed bilateral agreements with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea, though negotiations began under Bush administration.  Has not fulfilled his campaign promise to renegotiate NAFTA.
Supports NAFTA and seeks the establishment of a Trade Promotional Authority which would remove Senatorial ability to amend trade agreements, limiting them to “up or down” votes.
Gay Rights
Has steadily become more libertarian on this issue, now supporting legal recognition of gay marriage.  Supported end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Has failed to get Congressional support to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, but has ended enforcement.  Supports the right of gay couples to adopt.
Opposes both same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage and supports a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Acknowledges the right of gay couples to adopt, but seems to approve to states’ rights to decide on this issue.
Guns
Has pursued no significant changes with regards to gun control.  Has claimed he supports renewal of assault weapons ban.
Favors strict enforcement of existing gun laws and has supported state-level assault weapons bans.
Healthcare
Will continue implementing the Affordable Care Act.  
Has pledged repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a “start from scratch” effort to reform healthcare, readopting some provisions of the ACA, which was largely based upon Romney’s healthcare plan adopted by Massachusetts. 
Immigration
Has, by executive order, ended deportation and guaranteed work permits to those brought as minors to the US.  Has sought clearer paths for illegal immigrant acquisition of citizenship.  A record number of illegal immigrants have been deported under his presidency.
Supports the DREAM Act.
Favors a border fence along the Mexican border.  Opposes granting legal status for illegal aliens in college (DREAM), but supports it for those serving in the military.  Favors an immigrant status system and punishments for employers of illegals who did not attempt to confirm their status.
Iran
Opposes a first-strike on Iran but maintains option as viable if Iran demonstrates nuclear capability.  Has begun trying to frame negotiations along similar lines to those with North Korea, now using the P5+1 multilateral model, forcing Iran to negotiate with the US, PRC, France, Russia, UK, and Germany simultaneously.   
Seems more aggressive towards Iran, but without any concrete statements as such.  Would allow Israel to deal with Iran without repercussions.
Iraq
Successfully completed Petraeus’ plan developed and begun in late Bush administration, including withdrawal.  Key failure is the inability to establish a Status of Forces Agreement which would have left 5000-odd US troops in situ – fell apart because US demanded legal immunity for its troops. 
Has been critical of lack of a Status of Forces Agreement.
Israel
Opposes continued construction of internationally unrecognized settlements in Palestinian territories; insists 1967 borders be respected; reiterates all traditional support of Israel and has offered no changes in policy, military and financial, and has pledged support to Israel in the event of a war with Iran, no matter who initiates it.  
Closely associates himself with Israeli hardliners; seems willing to oppose the current international agreement on returning to the 1967 borders. Plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem if elected.  Supports Israel’s right to preemptively strike Iran.
Libya
Committed air forces to support Libyan uprising, maintains support for new regime despite the Benghazi crisis.
Claims high-level malfeasance in the Benghazi crisis. 
Military (General)
Endorses a plan, developed with both major parties in Congress, to decrease total manpower in the Army and Marines over a 10-year period.
Propose a substantial increase in military spending on the order of $100billion/year by 2016, focusing this income on warship development and troop strength. Has criticized Congressional Republicans for risking military funding by being uncooperative on budgetary matters.
Primary & Secondary Education
Through executive order suspended least popular elements of No Child Left Behind and established the Race to the Top grant program.
Supports both Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Race to the Top grant program.  Seeks to support “parental choice” programs (voucher programs).
Russia
Only significant win in policy vis-à-vis the Russians is a new arms limitation treaty.
Has openly asserted Russia to be our greatest geopolitical threat. Seeks the renewal of START negotiations.
Social Security
Inadequate long-term plan; some inflationary adjustments.
Seeks status quo for those 55 and above but seeks to raise the retirement age for those under that age and decrease benefits along a progressive plan, though the degree to which is unclear.
Sub-Saharan Africa
Has slightly increased funding for research and healthcare since the Bush years.
Insists the US must become more aggressive with regards to American interests in Africa, particularly in response to growing influence of China.
Syria
Has called for the Assad to leave office. Has declined to commit military forces to support resistance.  Pursues international consensus against Syria though Russo-Syrian and, secondarily, Iran-Syrian alliances likely will prevent this.  
Wishes to find and unite pro-American forces amongst the Syrian opposition and funnel, using intelligence assets, weapons to them.  Won’t rule out military options without interstate support.
Taxation
Seeks to extend Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000.
Wants to extend Bush-era tax cuts and cut income taxes an additional 20%, end capital gains taxes for families making less than $200,000, cut corporate tax rates from 25% to 35%, and compensate by closing loopholes in the code, but has failed to describe which loopholes.
Terrorism
Ended Bush-era policies legitimating “enhanced interrogation,” a euphemism for torture.  Failed to end most Bush-era policies otherwise that he insisted he would end, including closing the Guantanamo detention centers. Has expanded use of drones against cells in southwest Asia.  
Insists foreign terrorism suspects have no constitutional rights.  Accepts the validity of at least some “enhanced interrogation.”
Tertiary Education
Has supported substantial increases in available funding for individual students, both positive (grants, etc.) and negative (tax breaks).
Seeks a freeze on Federal funding for tuition (arguing that increases result in more rapid tuition inflation) and the
Unemployment
Supports both private and corporate stimuli and has used both. 

Note: Inherited and has not alleviated persistently high Bush unemployment levels of around 8% (claimed).
Favors a trickle-down model, cutting corporate and high-income taxes.  Favors decreased regulation, including health, welfare, and environmental. Emphasizes balanced budget plan which, however, lacks details.


Okay, so that is a solid start, I think (hope) we can all agree. But, something else of note - there are other issues - I want to suggest to two things.  First, if you don't see the issues that matter most to you, please, consider looking at the candidates' official platforms on their respective websites - Mr. Obama's here and Mr. Romney's here.  Secondly, if you still don't feel like you know enough, or you feel that you need further elaboration, please, let me know on the bounce - I'll do my best to help you find what you need.


Sources: 

“Obama, Romney Poles Apart on Domestic Issues.” Voice of America. 

“Obama and Romney on the Issues.” The Wall Street Journal. 

“Where Obama and Romney Stand on Big Issues.” ABC News.