Whether convincing undecideds, motivating supporters, or debating a Romney supporter in a public forum, it is essential to know your stuff, because in this home stretch, there is no better weapon than on-message surrogates. If you have a portable computer or other online device going into a discussion about Obama, have this open and ready to go; whatever inaccuracies you encounter, you'll be prepared with a quick, clear, and confident answer.
This contrast piece is a sequel to Know Your Stuff, Obama Supporters from 2008, and is the result of four years of collecting research and hundred of hours of work, breaking down the choice we face in this election into six basic categories:
Ethics and Transparency
More below the fold:
- Unemployment rate three years ago (10.2%) vs. Unemployment today (7.9%)
- Stock market three and a half years ago (6500) vs. Stock market today (13000)
- Jobs losses four years ago (-800K a month) vs. Job gains over the last two and a half years (average of +150K a month)
- Gas prices four years and four months ago ($4.12/gallon highest national average in history) vs. Gas prices today ($3.51/gallon national average)
- The last economic downturn as big as the one that began in 2008 was the Great Depression and took over twelve years to get out of, which makes these gains while Europe and Japan have suffered economic meltdowns particularly notable.
- The deficit and all the recent additions to our national debt come from three policies passed by a Republican President and Republican Congress (policies which President Obama opposed but that Mitt Romney supported and runningmate Paul Ryan voted for) - the Bush tax cuts mostly for the rich, the Bush wars, and the Medicare D expansion - together costing upwards of $8 Trillion dollars over ten years, more than eight times the cost of all new Obama policies over a comparable ten year period (the job stimulus bill cost $833B, the bank bailouts cost $42B after what the banks have paid back, the auto bailouts cost $25B after what the auto companies have paid back, foreign aid increases - having gone from about $13B a year under Bush on average to $20B under Obama last year - add up to $70B over comparable ten year periods, Obama's health care law cost under $2B, and Solyndra cost less than $1B): $833B + $42B + $25B + $70B +$2B + $1B = $973B
1. Job Growth and Achieving Stability
During his first days and weeks in office, in response to a huge crash of the economy months earlier and massive job losses, "President Obama and his economic team [were] trying to strike a careful balance, using a light hand to get better information on scope of the problem - to see where the bottom is - and find out how much more intervention will be needed to soften the landing." Within two months of being in office and making an assessment, the President signed a huge jobs and middle class tax cuts bill as well as enacting a mortgage relief plan, both of which immediately began to help average Americans in the job market and the housing market, with the jobs bill creating nearly three million jobs in the first three months months alone and keeping six million people out of poverty despite the unwillingness of many partisans to accept its success; the President also worked with Senate Democrats to push for an additional $300 Billion in job creation at the end of the year, as well as introducing another $447 billion in job creation and middle class tax cuts through his 2011 American Jobs Act, both efforts which were filibustered to defeat by Senate Republicans unwilling to accept the vote of the majority, but that were followed by Obama signing The 2012 JOBS Act with bipartisan support. In addition to creating jobs through these measures and his rescue of the auto industry, the President has increased wages and living standards for American workers, and has stood by the Constitutional rights of workers to assemble/organize, with a series of executive orders on their behalf, while taking the initiative to make recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board so that cases filed by workers wouldn't be thrown out; President Obama has supported major new investments towards technological and research breakthroughs in health and science, laying the groundwork for future jobs and industries that will employ tens millions of Americans in the future, and his successful efforts to improve the economy since he came into office give him a grade of A+ from Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz in comparison to the previous administration. Mitt Romney has been described by his own supporters as providing no alternative plan for the future of the economy, and his policies offer nothing to voters except the promise to slash programs that help voters in the middle class and working poor. Romney has said he's "not concerned about the very poor", he said that 47% of Americans who pay no income taxes (seniors, students, soldiers, veterans, and children) are "victims" who could never be convinced "to take personal responsibility for themselves" so his "job is not to worry about them", and Romney's plan to strengthen the middle class has been described as a sham: "It’s a cruel joke to describe this as a plan to strengthen the middle class, when in reality, it would destroy opportunity, eliminate security, and place vulnerable Americans at the mercy of employers who lack a commitment to anything other than profits." Given that Mitt Romney is endorsed by George W. Bush, that Romney attends fundraisers for his campaign held by Dick Cheney, and that the largest share of the pro-Romney/anti-Obama ads are run by a group controlled by Bush's chief White House adviser Karl Rove, it can be no surprise that Romney intends to continue Bush's economic policies.
2. Standing Up To Wall Street
President Obama was fearless to play the nationalization card in negotiating to push the big banks towards recovery in a way that would also make them responsible to taxpayers and not just the other way around, even at one point taking Wall Street bailout funds and redirecting them towards Main Street, and then proposing that $200B from the bank bailouts instead go towards job creation. While it can certainly be argued that breaking up the banks should have been followed through on, and that there should have been more Wall Street prosecutions for the mortgage swap crash, Obama's record on standing up to Wall Street can't be ignored: he forced the execs of companies like AIG who owe taxpayer money to take pay cuts, he forced execs of failed banks across the country to pay for the financial losses they caused, his administration implemented the biggest mortgage fraud crackdown in history, he reached a settlement to get banks to pay homeowners relief for the housing crash, he pushed for and signed into law financial regulation that cuts Wall Street financial sector profits by as much as 20%, he signed into law credit card reform that protects consumers from big finance, and his administration probes of Goldman Sachs and AIG resulted this past April in Goldman paying a restitution settlement totaling tens of millions of dollars. That's objectively the biggest crackdown on Wall Street elites since FDR - by far. With Obama's financial regulation law, "the Senate bill largely reflects the administration's initial blueprint, despite the fervent efforts of lobbyists and lawmakers of all stripes to alter it"; this law, which helps protect whistleblowers who report illegal activity, was described by consumer protection advocate Elizabeth Warren as something that: "will go a long way toward preventing the kinds of abusive practices that brought our economy to its knees... getting to this point was a tough slog, and President Obama deserve[s] a lot of credit for producing a strong bill.” This Obama financial reform law also included a bipartisan proposal by Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders to audit the Federal Reserve, going against the historical position of both party establishments for decades, and making the Obama administration the first to support Fed transparency with an audit, something Mitt Romney threw a journalist out of a campaign event for asking about. The President has shown himself to be willing to stand up to Wall Street in a way that many members of his party have not, including Cory Booker, Harold Ford Jr., Mark Warner, and even Bill Clinton, all of whom at some point became apologists for the financial sector and its large political donations; the willingness of Obama to break from that corporate coddling streak of the prior Democratic party establishment is notable, because otherwise Wall Street has a determining influence over both parties and therefore all of our laws, leading to economic crises like the one we went through in 2008. For comparison, if elected, Mitt Romney would be the first financial sector CEO President in American history; after they crashed our economy, the question is whether financial CEOs deserve an extra golden parachute with the Presidency attached.
3. Taxing The Middle Class Less and The Rich More
Under Obama, taxes are the lowest they've been in sixty years. President Obama signed into law the payroll tax cut extension, which gave back American workers $40 in every paycheck, succeeding against repeated opposition from Republicans in Congress, and over the objections of Mitt Romney, who "indicated he would not support an extension of the payroll tax holiday". Obama has cut taxes for small businesses multiple times and has kept a continued focus on lowering small business taxes and helping small businesses have the help they need to be successful; Obama's plan, which would kick in at the beginning in 2013, is to keep taxes on the middle class at their lowest level in decades but return taxes on the rich up to where they were under the Clinton years. Mitt Romney's tax rate in 2010 was already only 13.9%, about half of what middle class Americans paid, and if elected, he would personally stand to gain $20 million if his tax plan were enacted; Romney's tax plan is described by Business Week as having "missing details" when it comes to how to pay for it: "the Brookings Institution and the Tax Policy Center showed that, even allowing for the faster growth predicted by Romney’s own economist, there aren’t enough tax deductions to account for the cost of the lower rates for the rich — raising taxes for the middle class would be the only way to make Romney’s promises add up."
4. Spending and Deficits
Obama signed an executive order eliminating unnecessary spending and waste in federal programs, and then followed that up by signing into law The Improper Payments Act to cut wasteful government spending further, saving $50 billion of taxpayer money over ten years; his deficit reduction policies have included $124B in deficit cuts from the health care law over ten years, $126B in deficit cuts from the Pentagon over ten years, and an additional $1.2T of sequestration deficit cuts over ten years. For comparison, Romney has argued repeatedly against government spending money to help people, and in then in the next breath said serious cuts to government spending would put the economy in a recession, with his inability to show confidence in a consistent position raising doubts about his basic grasp of the economy. President Obama has also pushed for ending $36.5 billion in government subsidies towards big oil and gas companies, and he has increased revenue to the treasury by making the IRS finally crack down on wealthy individuals who stash their money in other countries to evade paying the same taxes that working class Americans have no choice but to pay: "At the center of the agency's offshore effort has been its legal cases against Swiss banking giant UBS AG (UBSN.VX), which has agreed to turn over nearly 5,000 names of individual American clients and paid $780 million to settle a criminal case for aiding tax evasion." For comparison, if elected, Mitt Romney would be the first President to have had millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account. Just as importantly, Romney would be the first President in history to have entered office having personally profited as a private citizen from adding to our national debt and deficit, as private equity firms like Bain Capital make a lot of their money by taking equity financing taxed at 36.4% and putting it into the column of debt financing, which is taxed at -4%; their profit margin in such balance sheet transactions therefore comes entirely on the back of the taxpayer, a net 40% windfall on every such transaction thanks to government subsidies. Worse yet, unlike with the bank and auto bailouts where the idea was at least saving a major industry from collapse, there was no potential financial industry collapse prevented by the debt buying subsidies private equity firms profited from - only a financial collapse caused by all the bad debt purchased and swapped. Of all industries, only private equity actually was paid by taxpayers just to crash the market, and so former private equity CEO Romney sits home and collects $20M a year in capital gains (more than most working Americans earn in a lifetime) as a payoff from years of profiting off of taxpayer money while inflating public and private debt, when getting wealthy in America in that manner wouldn't have even been possible for most of our history; that's all legal, but were he to be elected President on top of that, let alone on a campaign of being a debt reducer, it would be the ultimate victory for government subsidization of corporations and increased government spending and debt. After all, if someone were to become President with such a record, one has to ask what legitimate economic conservative movement would even claim to be left in this country going forwards; it would have been bought out completely at that point by corporatist conservatives who advocate a continued state of corporate socialism for elites and individualistic capitalism for everyone else ("Can't afford to buy food or gas, consumers? Don't ask for a government handout, it's a free market! My oil company/private equity firm/drug company wants billions in taxpayer money! Give it to us or everything will collapse!")
5. Bipartisan Leadership
Obama balanced economic appointments that were business friendly like Tim Geithner and Larry Summers with progressive consumer activists like Elizabeth Warren, he balanced Republican Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke with the appointment of progressive Janet Yellin as second in command of the Fed, and he balanced out the appointments of his fiscal commission between progressives like labor leader Andy Stern and business leaders like former Young/Rubicam CEO Ann Fudge and Honeywell CEO Dan Cote. Romney is "the most far-right major party nominee in generations...frequently feign[ing] moderation", but with a record that shows an inability to work with the other side; this all may explain why Republicans from Colin Powell to Susan Eisenhower have endorsed President Obama, as have former Republicans Michael Bloomberg, Charlie Crist, and thousands of Republicans across the country.
Ethics and Transparency
President Obama has barred lobbyists from lobbying federal advisory panels, limited government records hidden from the public, and signed the Stock Act which bans Congressional insider trading; watchdog groups have given him high marks on ethics and have described administration transparency in the legislative process as: "no White House has been more open". Obama is the first modern President of either party to have articles written about how his large donors are upset because they get no special perks or access, about how he doesn't take marching orders from the interest groups that support him, and about how he doesn't believe in political schmoozing as part of the job, putting into action his promise for a new kind of politics. President Obama is the favorite candidate of small donors with over four million Americans giving to his campaign, in comparison to Mitt Romney having 82% of his donations last year in amounts of a thousand dollars or more; this year's donation numbers show that 68.4% of Obama's money has come from donors giving less than a thousand dollars, while only 36.2% percent of Romney's money has come from donors giving less than a thousand dollars. The top nineteen out of Romney's twenty largest donors are banks and other financial institutions, compared to only the bottom two of Obama's top twenty largest donors being banks and other financial institutions. Lobbyists have been central to Mitt Romney's campaign, and John McCain has criticized Romney for having most of his ads paid for by SuperPACs funded by undisclosed foreign donations; in contrast, President Obama has repeatedly pushed for the DISCLOSE act to ensure transparency in where political donations are coming from. Mitt Romney has changed positions on every issue to the point where his "mass of contradictions" makes it impossible to know where he stands. Romney lied about how long he worked at Bain Capital, was even caught in a lie falsely claiming that his father marched with MLK, and has shown a lifelong streak of using power to bully those who are weaker than him; he has failed to follow the example of all other modern Presidential candidates by refusing to release several years of tax returns, and he has refused to answer any questions from the public for nearly a month. Romney has shown the willingness do anything to get elected, once joyfully holding up a sign comparing President Obama to Osama Bin Laden, and recently accusing Obama of sympathizing with terrorists in the days immediately following an attack that killed Americans, shortly after making a birth certificate joke suggesting that President Obama is not an American; to top it off, after Hurricane Sandy, Romney’s campaign bought food donations just for supporters to be photographed by the media handing them back to Mitt Romney.
President Obama ended torture with an executive order as soon as he came into office, where Mitt Romney's plan is to bring torture back; while Obama's efforts to close Guantanamo Bay prison were blocked by Congress, he has continued to reduce the number of prisoners by repatriating them to other countries, whereas Romney has said "I will fight to keep Guantanamo Bay open". President Obama has appointed Supreme Court Justices like Sonya Sotomayor who argue against corporate personhood, while Mitt Romney says "corporations are people"; Obama has appointed and will continue to appoint Supreme Court Justices who believe a woman's freedom from government extends to her own body, while Romney has promised to appoint pro-life Justices who will have the real opportunity to reverse Roe vs. Wade in the coming term. President Obama has fought for equal rights for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation, in everything from equal benefits for federal workers to repealing the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy to taking the lead for equal rights at the UN, to refusing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and requesting it be found unconstitutional to coming out in support of equal marriage rights for all Americans; in contrast, Mitt Romney demoted and pushed to resignation one of his campaign advisers for being openly gay. President Obama has strengthened Justice Department prosecutions of civil rights abuses and was commended by Amnesty International for signing the Tribal Law and Order Act; he has pushed for Net Neutrality, protecting equal civil rights and freedoms when it comes access to the Internet, and he signed The Local Community Radio Act, protecting equal civil rights and freedoms when it comes to accessing the airwaves. Obama has also loosened federal government restrictions on cities and towns who owed money they borrowed for Hurricane Katrina relief by forgiving their government loans; he has prevented the federal government from cracking down on individuals simply for smoking or possessing marijuana, or for operating legal medical dispensaries that keep their supply within state borders, ending the previous administration policy where cancer patients died in federal prison for using marijuana as medicine, a policy that Mitt Romney would reinstate. President Obama has protected human rights by changing immigration laws so that those who arrive in the United States fleeing torture or persecution abroad will no longer automatically be welcomed with handcuffs and months in a jail cell."; Obama has targeted companies who hire illegal workers instead of just targeting the workers, and has changed US policy to allow children of illegal immigrants avoid deportation, an issue where Romney has described his position as "we'll look at that setting as we reach that". President Obama has respected the First Amendment religious freedoms of non-believers and acknowledged their place as part of America; Mitt Romney would reverse that policy as soon as he came into office.
President Obama has worked hard to preserve the environment which contains all our economic resources, with his EPA denying permits for mountaintop removal, and at one point two months into the Obama administration actually halting all of them. On the biggest issue where environmental activism has made a stand in this administration, the Keystone Pipeline extension, Obama came down on the correct side against it when all the chips were down. Obama is also responsible for progressive environmental cabinet appointments, the Wilderness Lands Law, the China Climate Deal, the Copenhagen agreement, Cash For Caulkers, $2.3B on green energy, EPA regulation of coal ash, EPA enforcement of the Clean Air Act, preventing Arctic Drilling, adding deepwater drilling regulations and a mortatorium, appealing in court to keep that moratorium in place, EPA shutdowns of coal plants, cutting fed govt greenhouse emissions, veto threats to stop legislation weakening the EPA, protecting whales, an additional $2B in solar power, the new law to reduce formaldehyde emissions, the offshore drilling ban, solar panels for the Defense Department, pushing to end oil subsidies repeatedly despite uniform opposition, the EPA limiting greenhouse gases from new power plants, and perhaps most important of all the EPA's higher fuel efficiency standards. These policies all carry the understanding that with extreme weather events increasing in frequency, the cost of losing the environmental resources our economy thrives on far outweighs any cost in making them last; in contrast, Mitt Romney's first pillar of a plan packaged as allegedly strengthening the middle class simply reads: "Increase domestic drilling, reduce regulations on the coal industry, and complete the Keystone XL pipeline."
President Obama signed the health care law preventing anyone from going bankrupt just because they got sick, an effort Presidents tried and failed at for over a century; the legislation cuts overall government spending by almost a hundred times the cost of paying for the law, while preserving the Medicare fund and saving thousands of dollars a year for middle class Americans and small businesses - but most importantly, thousands of Americans are alive today who wouldn't be without the health care law, more than the number of Americans who perished on 9/11. For comparison, Mitt Romney says that on his first day he would repeal the health care law that saved all those lives. Obama has also been the first President to crack down on the special interest lobbying power of the tobacco lobby by signing a law to place them under FDA regulation; he has also overhauled and strengthened the FDA, empowering them to ban antibiotics in livestock production, and he also signed the Food Safety Bill described as "the most sweeping overhaul of America's food safety system since 1938". The President has also cracked down with safety recalls against foreign merchants in a distinct break from his predecessor.
President Obama kept the focus on decimating Al Qaeda from the beginning in Afghanistan, killing Bin Laden as well several other top Al Qaeda leaders, and beginning the Afghanistan withdrawal, having already withdrawn all US troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011; Obama's proposed supporting role of the US towards Libyan independence allowed Khaddafi to be removed from power by his own people at a cost of no US troops killed during the conflict and at the same price of just a single day of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; as a result of our measured intervention, Libyans have been so grateful that instead of launching years of attacks against us like the Iraqis, who resented our invasion and occupation, Libyans actually stormed the compound of extremists involved with the killing of four Americans and retaliated in our defense. Obama has pushed his Department of Defense to end the preemptive military strike doctrine, he signed an executive order ensuring the Attorney General is made aware of "any intelligence activities that involve possible violations of Federal criminal laws", and he has consistently promoted a position different than any modern incumbent President in either party of setting up no new permanent bases in other countries, the clear line stopping the US from a never-ending chain of invasions and occupations; 17 out of 24 Mitt Romney foreign policy advisers are neoconservatives from the Bush administration who support unnecessary and disasterous US invasions of Iran and Syria. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan represent the least experienced ticket on national security and foreign policy in modern history, with zero foreign policy knowledge between them, falling miserably short of Obama being elected in 2008 with an International Relations major and four years on Senate Foreign Relations committee and Biden having three decades on the Senate Foreign Relations committee; Romney "acts...as if he learned his foreign policy at the International House of Pancakes, where the menu and architecture rarely changes", revealing a lack of basic competence to the point where "a number of arms control specialists said they were startled by some of Mr. Romney’s assertions, like fretting about intercontinental ballistic missiles mounted on bombers." Mitt Romney inexplicably declared Russia America's #1 geopolitical foe, and then sent his son to tell the Russian leader Vladamir Putin never mind; Romney also managed to offend our number one ally Great Britain on his "embarrassing" foreign trip, "rais[ing] more questions about his preparedness to be President", and his reaction to the death of the US ambassador in Libya was described as "displaying a naked opportunism" and a "cynical, dishonest effort to take advantage of this national tragedy for his own political ends". Perhaps worst of all in showing a basic competence to be commander in chief, Mitt Romney and his advisers showed an inability to handle intelligence secrets by advertising and boasting about intelligence briefings he received on the trip abroad, the existence of which are always kept secret as a matter of basic protocol: "[Romney] then appeared to breach protocol by disclosing that he had received an unusual briefing from Sir John Sawers, the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), on the situation in Syria. An adviser boasted to The Daily Telegraph that Mr Romney had also previously met the head of the Security Service (MI5)."