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Sheldon Richman: What an anemic presidential campaign

Posted 11/21/12

Thank goodness the tedious presidential campaign is over. It was enough to put a caffeine freak into a coma.

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Sheldon Richman: What an anemic presidential campaign

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If all you cared about was the horse race, you missed how anemic the past year was. Rhetoric aside, the differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were virtually inconsequential; big government was never in doubt.

 That being the case, Obama’s four-year record went largely unexamined.

But didn’t Romney spend the last year blasting Obama’s record?

 Superficially, yes. But that’s all.

The American people re-elected a president (barely) without a full airing of how he spent his first term. This does not bode well for the next four years and beyond.

 Romney couldn’t call Obama to account because he fundamentally agreed with most of what the president did. He could hardly have substantively criticized Obama’s fiscal record: Romney had little specific to say about cutting the government’s deep-in-deficit budget, and he even proposed to leave education and other federal spending intact.

While Romney talked about cutting income-tax rates, he emphasized that he had no intention of cutting government revenues, which represent resources extracted from the private economy. He proposed only revenue-neutral tax “reform.”

 While Romney promised to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the architect of Massachusetts’ Romneycare was hardly in a position to offer a fundamental critique. The insurance mandate is the linchpin of Obamacare, but since Romneycare has the same mandate, what could the Republican candidate say?

His weak federalist defense of state mandates versus national mandates sounded more like a rationalization. Moreover, Romney doesn’t understand what is wrong with America’s overpriced health-care system: the pervasive, monopolistic government privilege and regulation in the medical and insurance industries at both the state and federal levels. There is no free market in health care — something Romney does not get. As a result, he made the fatal mistake of implying that a partial repeal of Obamacare is all that is needed.

He also endorsed economic regulation, just to a vaguely lesser extent than what Obama favors. That only muddled the message.

 Romney showed no sign of understanding the relationship between regulation and privilege, which usually go hand-in-hand.

 So it’s not enough to favor deregulation; a true advocate of the free market favors “de-privileging” as well.
The biggest pass Obama got was on foreign policy and civil liberties, where his record has been horrendous. Of course, Romney could make no principled criticism because he basically approves of the record, though he claimed Obama hasn’t been aggressive enough.

Whatever you think of the outcome of this election, one big question remains: How would the independent-minded, “fiscally responsible and socially accepting” part of the electorate — which is said to decide presidential elections — have responded to a major-party candidate who called for radically smaller government, a noninterventionist foreign policy, and strict respect for civil liberties across the board?

 Sheldon Richman is a senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation, a Virginia-based think tank.