I thought I would share how I came to the decision to vote for Obama. I know it violates one of those basic social and business etiquette rules: Not talking about politics. I respect everyone's opinions, and love the messy democratic process where people get to express their opinions and vote and majority rules.
This is not going to be one of those nasty types of posts about how bad the other guy is. That fits my general optimistic attitude!
I will break this into four sections – Social Issues, International Relations, the Economy, and the Candidate.
Here are some of my basic beliefs:
- Universal Healthcare is a good and necessary thing. The first sentence of the Constitution says "promote the general Welfare" as a fundamental part of forming this country. The government is the only way to do things like provide for defense, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility and provide these fundamentals to our citizens.
- Social Safety nets. Yes, I believe things like food stamps, unemployment insurance, social security, and Medicare are good things. They provide economic stability to everyone, and in a nation this wealthy we need to promote the general welfare. If you have ever talked with people who benefit directly from these programs, I think you find far more cases of people with genuine need rather than people taking advantage of the system.
- Women's right to govern her own body / Pro-Contraception / Pro-Abortion. While I respect some people's cultural belief that contraception and/or abortion is bad, I think they should not have the right to impose that on others. Women should have free access to contraception as, in reality, the burden of childbirth and child rearing falls on the woman. I find the statements of people like Mourdock and Akin saying they know what God wants in this regard as the most offensive thing I have heard in this campaign.
- Equal pay and opportunity for men and women.
- Pro Gay Marriage and military service. Basically everyone needs to be treated equally. Their personal lives are their personal lives and should not be limited by government control.
- Liberal immigration policy. We are a nation of immigrants and growth comes from the new energy brought by new people.
- Gun Control. Take a look at http://www.bradycampaign.org/ and understand the kind of common sense ideas that could be implemented without restricting the rights of hunters and gun collectors, but greatly reduce gun violence. We have mandated seat belts, speed limits and air bags – maybe it is time to do some similar things with guns.
Reading this list obviously makes me an Obama supporter from this perspective. After 100 years of debate and many false starts, he was able to bring Universal Healthcare to the country. There are many compromises he made in this bill that were in there based on Republican input from previous years (decades). It is all based on private insurance, which in my opinion is a mistake. I found this article on the 5 myths of Obamacare and this article on the Conservative Case for Obamacare to be useful in understanding it better (and hopefully make conservatives a bit more comfortable). I do think it was worth Obama "going to the mat" on making sure tens of millions are properly cared for.
Certainly there are plenty of issues left on healthcare. The two most important are how do you make buying a doctor visit/procedure more like the open market with low cost providers like a Walmart or Amazon are for retail, and how to decide who gets a procedure. Obamacare does not address these issues, but it does not place blockers on solving these issues in the future. I think the free market solves the first one eventually. The second one is difficult, but the current method of providing even basic healthcare to only those who could afford it is not a viable solution either. See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/17/opinion/health-care-reform-beyond-obamacare.html for more on this.
Obama and the Democratic Platform have a much closer agreement with much of the rest of my list. One item I am disappointed in is the issue of gun control. It amazes me that the majority of Americans don't think automatic assault weapons should be so easy to buy. $539 for your AK47 – hurry this is a web-only sale! - http://www.gunsamerica.com/Search/Category/8/Guns/Rifles/AK-47-Rifles.htm. As I wrote back in July after the movie theatre shooting - "Given that Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, Verizon and many more track people's every movement on the web, I find it interesting that federal law prohibits the tracking and correlation of things like a guy buying 4 guns (in stores) and 6,000 rounds of ammunition (on the web where there are no real limits or reporting requirements)."
I travel outside the US and have a number of interactions with non-US citizens. I work with companies that are located outside the US or have many employees outside the US. My daughter Allison also spent a year in Korea and a year in Tanzania. Based on personal experience, I can say the view of the US has improved markedly over the course of the Obama administration. Of course after a neo-conservative administration for 8 years, 2 failed wars, attempts at Nation Building and some severe attitude problems (as perceived by others), it couldn't get much worse.
Obama has brought a balanced, steady, progressive approach to International affairs. He has been able to demonstrate some remarkable accomplishments like getting a very broad coalition to bring sanctions on Iran. He was able to wind down the war in Iraq. He is winding down the war in Afghanistan very effectively.
Obama has also taken a very pragmatic approach to Israel. Though there has been no break thru on Arab-Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, I am not sure the situation is something that can be negotiated by the US, or solved easily, or in a less than a 100+ year timeframe. He has shown very strong support for Israel, which I agree with.
He has also made good decisions in terms of support for the Arab Spring – a very messy process. The thing I like most is that he does not seem to be interested in Nation Building and has a fundamental understanding that the modernization of the Middle East will take centuries. Remember slavery ended in the US just 150 years ago, women got the right to vote just 100 years ago, and the Civil Rights movement was only 50 years ago and we still do not support gay rights in our own country. It takes time – generations - for cultures to move forward. We can advocate basic things like equal rights, rule of law and a fair justice system, but forced nation building is too expensive and we've proven it does not work.
He has also shown toughness of mind. While a part of me is hesitant about drone strikes (guilt without trial, mistakes that will kill innocent people), the rational part of me says this is again a pragmatic way of sending a serious message about terrorism and to engage in this very real war on terror.
This is a very good article by David Brooks, a conservative writer for the New York Times, titled "Where Obama Shines". His summary is:
"Over all, though, the record is impressive. Obama has moved more aggressively both to defeat enemies and to champion democracy. He has demonstrated that talk of American decline is hooey. The U.S. is still responsible for maintaining global order, for keeping people, goods and ideas moving freely. And, partly as a result of his efforts, the world of foreign affairs is relatively uncontentious right now. Foreign policy is not a hot campaign issue. Mitt Romney is having a great deal of trouble identifying profound disagreements. If that’s not a sign of success, I don’t know what is."
I am also very cognizant of the impact of the first black president as a message to the world about America's leadership by example of equality and freedom. It is not possible to describe the positive impact this has had.
We are NOT in a Depression because of some very bold moves at the end of the Bush Presidency (TARP), and the beginning of the Obama administration (Stimulus) and the Fed monetary expansion. If not for all three of those things happening, we could well be seeing 20%+ unemployment today.
The TARP response was necessary to restore confidence in the idea of money. The Stimulus plan was basic Keynsian economics to try to mitigate the severity of the decline. As many have argued, it was not enough. And certainly the Republicans were cleverly aggressive to know that if they wanted to win the White House, they had to hold back stimulus and the economy.
Of course the real hero in saving the economy was the Fed. One of the basic formulas you learn in Macroeconomics is that the Economy = Money Supply * Velocity. If Velocity drops by 20%, then the economy will drop by 20% without a corresponding increase in the Money Supply. It was fortuitous that Ben Bernanke was a true scholar of the Great Depression and understood the types of bold moves needed. His huge quantitative easing in early 2009 was the thing that saved the US and world economy.
I wrote a bunch of blogs on the economy back in those days. This one - http://bobbickel.blogspot.com/2009/01/galbraith-revisited.html – does a good job of summarizing why the Depression of 1929 happened and the parallels to today are scarily similar. These are deep, fundamental, systemic issues that a single Presidential term can not change.
And of course the type of precipitous decline (losing 800,000 jobs per month at the peak) is not an easy one of reverse. Absorbing the amount of excess debt, crash in real estate values and more takes a lot of time to work thru the system. Given these "headwinds" (appropriate as Hurricane Sandy blows outside as I write this), Obama has held a steady hand working for tax cuts for small business and the middle class.
In many ways, the economy is doing very well. Record levels of corporate profits (which should trickle down, right? - opps I said I was not going to be sarcastic/negative), the stock market has fully recovered, and jobs are being created even with the decline in government jobs over the past 4 years as government shrinks.
I also support Obama's position that revenue needs to rise to move toward a balanced budget. I agree with Warren Buffet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffett_Rule) that rich people should pay more in taxes. I have done fairly well over the past dozen years. And in many ways I got a double bump because most of my gains were considered as capital gains (a 15% tax rate today). I can say flatly that my actions over the past 20 years or planned actions over the next 20 has nothing to do with the tax rate. None of the companies I helped create were formed or successful because of tax considerations.
Reagan was very successful in lowering the tax rate, but I think the "tax reduction thing" has been overdone and does not have the impact it had in those days. Taxes need to rise – at least for those making more than $250K per year.
As an example of the crazy compensation deals done, take a look at how the Hedge Fund owners are getting a great tax rate on huge dividends (15%) that are simply financed by taking on more debt. The strategy goes like this – take a company private, issue debt, and use that debt to pay dividends to the shareholders. This is not real investment in a business to grow it, it is simply a way of manipulating tax laws. Here is an example article - http://dealbreaker.com/tag/petco/. $54 Billion has been issued this year alone. This is not tax policy encouraging investment, it is simple minimization of taxes. And don't get me started on the Carried Interest of all my VC friends (sorry, I think it is income).
I also agree with Obama's aggressive investments in business. They have been bold and creative, such as saving the auto industry and TARP clean-up. These investments have largely been paid back and are providing jobs in a very economical way to taxpayers. I also agree with his efforts in alternative energy sources. Other governments (eg. China, Germany, Netherlands) are being far more aggressive in moving forward to support these emerging businesses. Take a read of http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/bookshelf/hot-flat-and-crowded. It is a great book that explains how the world is getting Hot, Flat and Crowded. And if our hope for the world is that everyone in it has the same opportunities as Americans do today, carbon based fuels is not the answer. While people point fingers at lost investments, that happens all the time – some research works out and some does not. Obama had to be aggressive and find not just some University projects to fund but also partnered with private investors in new energy projects. As an entrepreneur, I am not big on Monday Morning Quarterbacks.
While Obama's detractors use scare words of "Socialism" and "Class warfare", the actual experience of his 4 years has been a moderate, middle of the road. While the debt has been high, it is fair to say it helped prevent a Depression. It is also fair to say the combination of opponents who killed any revenue increases, and the fact the US was burdened by the costs of wars, previous programs and policies led to a very high baseline debt that was not moveable. Finally, it needs to be noted that the US is NOT in a debt crisis as our borrowing costs are at all time lows (the US currently can issue 30 YEAR bonds for under 3% per year), inflation is non-existent (there has been fear of deflation during the beginning of his term, a terrifying prospect), and the stock market forecasts an optimistic future. So all the business people are doing well – scored by Profits, Interest Rates, Stock prices, and the % of the national income and wealth the 1% are getting.
In summary, I believe in Obama's position of having a balance between enough incentive to make risk worthwhile, and the equal opportunity to be able to have the chance to succeed. With the coming fiscal cliff, I think it is important to have this kind of balanced view.
So Obama hits most of my qualifiers above.
As for Obama as a President, I like him. He works hard. He is smart. He has balance. He thinks before he speaks. He has proven to be a steady hand. He has a proven track record. As much as politicians can be trusted, I trust him.
I vote via absentee ballot since I am often on the road. So my vote is in – for Obama.