75 Days to the US Elections — 21 August 2012

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, has a lot of power in this election. The Fed has to decide if it wants to go into another round of Quantitative Easing. Basically, if it does, it will stimulate the economy a bit before the election and make things look a bit better. If it doesn’t, then what you see now is the way things will look in November and right now that doesn’t work in Obama’s favor since a majority of people polled view him unfavorably with regard to the economy, and elections in the US tend to turn on the economic side of things. The Fed did not move in August and I would say that September is its last chance of doing anything before the election that anyone might notice.

I would like to vote for Romney but I have real reservations about him and I know that so do many other Republicans. He is hiding his wealth and there might be a scandal out there that ruins his electability. Even if it is not major, the coverup never looks good and it just doesn’t look good that he is so wealthy and hiding something when other people who run for president show their cards. He would be better off showing what he has and getting the issue of his wealth off the table.

I like the choice of Ryan as running mate. It will help keep the campaign one about issues. Ryan is young looking but not a lightweight — nobody will mistake him for Dan Quayle. However, I think that Ryan was not the best choice. It will probably ensure that Florida is won by Obama (they love social security and medicare there), and while he appeals to the party’s conservative base, he is not moving the needle with centrist voters which is what the Republicans need to win a general election. It is a mistake they made with Sarah Palin — you can’t win the general election by focusing your efforts on getting the base of your party to be supportive of your ticket.

The Romney ticket is not going go get a lot of Jewish votes beyond the Orthodox. But they will talk a lot about Israel, because Jewish money goes to candidates who accuse their opponents of being anti-Israel, even if relatively few Jews vote for a candidate based on his views of Israel.

So far the only thing that distinguishes Romney from Obama is the sense that he wants for the super rich to pay less taxes. Other than that, I have a hard time seeing the difference between the two of them. I’ve heard the line about tax cuts for the middle class for 30 years and have never seen the Republicans once lower taxes for anything but the very upper classes or come anywhere close to balancing the budget. On foreign policy, I don’t see him saying that he would do anything different than Obama except talk tougher which of course is easy to do when you’re the challenger and have no responsibility for doing anything.

I actually think that the US under Obama has been much more covertly involved around the world than we will know for the next several years. For instance, I know there is a lot more going on in Qatar, UAE and Turkey than people realize. People in Israel tell me that they are getting more from Obama than they got from Bush Jr. on the military side of things.  I think that Hillary Clinton is going to go down in history as one of the best secretary of states of the century but that is just a feeling — I don’t have any evidence and I am aware of the criticism about her never getting her hands dirty in the job. I really think that Bush Jr. accomplished very little around the globe in advancing US interests and that the speak softly but carry a big stick approach that I am seeing with Obama is working much better.

So far Obama’s health care reform hasn’t hurt me or my business — in fact it forced changes that significantly lowered my company’s health insurance costs. We’re doing a lot more business than we were 4 years ago, my taxes haven’t gone up, and my stock portfolio is up 40%. I really have nothing to complain about and I felt much worse under the Republican presidencies of the past two decades where they never raised the cap on skilled immigration, raised all kinds of fees, never lowered any taxes because the Alternative Minimum Tax always picked up where the other tax brackets left off, and never did a single thing that helped me as a small business person. One year there was a much ballyhooed tax rebate of something like $400 — the cash back I get from American Express is over 5x that amount.

I also know that a good number of Americans are going to be choosing between voting for a Black Christian who might be a secret Moslem but he goes to church and takes communion so who knows, and a White Mormon who seems kinda weird except that people can’t figure him out so who knows, and guess what — they are probably going to either sit out the election or vote for the Black Christian that might be the devil but it’s now the devil they know. There are just a lot of people out there in the heartland who would have voted Republican but are not going to vote for a Mormon, and the pollsters are not going to count them when they tell you who is voting for what, which is one reason I think the polls will be misleading this year. That is unless Ryan as a White Catholic can get these people to look at him as a hunting real Midwest Man kinda guy and vote for the ticket. Which is a possibility if there are enough Catholics and Protestants who will vote for a Catholic. I do know that Obama has thoroughly pissed off Catholics this past year with his abortion stance and there is a real opportunity for Ryan to pick up those votes.

So actually, given all the above, I can’t think of a good reason to vote for Romney except for the idea that people voted for “fundamental reform” when they voted for Obama and they didn’t get it. If you think that you might get a new deal from a Republican party that will go back to its conservative roots and be able to push through legislation in a Congress, then you would vote for him and hope for the best. So far, I think it is unlikely even with an advocate like Ryan on the ticket. Congress is filled with partisan lackluster people who hate each other and it is not possible for either party to push through its legislative program without the other. I do think that there is a consensus for cutting the budget,  raising revenues, lowering some tax rates and making the tax code simpler, but I also think that lobbyists totally dominate the Congress and that fundamentally it will not change. Even after the recent financial market and banking disaster there has been almost no reform because of lobbyists. Except that Romney wants change and Obama doesn’t. That alone is a good reason for me to vote Romney because the US needs fundamental reform, and so far when Obama had his chance to make a real reform he ran away from the Simpson Boyles compromise. The US needs a grand bargain to put the company on a more solid trajectory for the next decade or two and to stop lurching from crisis to crisis. If the next president does nothing else but gets that done it will be enough. I don’t know if Romney will cut those deals; what we know of him from his Massachusetts governorship was that he wasn’t so effective. But I think that Romney’s best chance is that if people agree with his view of things, they will believe that he will actually fight for the values he believes in, while Obama had the chance and didn’t.

Personally, I can get along with either one given the fact that not much will really change and the last 4 years has been good for me.

Fortunately, the US economy has reinvented itself quite apart from the politicians designing policies to propel the economy. We are moving away from a debate about carbon taxing, and global warming is being fought by a combination of investment and discovery where other kinds of alternative energy are being exploited that are cleaner. A new generation of manufacturing is returning to the US for the right reasons and the demographics of the US favor a young and dynamic work force. There is much good going on in the US and the same cannot be said for Europe, South America, China, Japan and Russia. American companies are becoming more diverse to mirror the world around them. And around the country you see pockets of reform as industry engineers solutions to problems that government hasn’t solved, such as commercial aviation navigation and fuel efficiency, health care expenditures and information sharing, transportation of commercial goods, and e-commerce. The housing market is recovering as supply meets demand and people shore up their balance sheets.

To a great degree, it doesn’t matter who runs the country. Government isn’t working and companies are picking up the slack. Just do no harm.

I think that the biggest foreign policy issue, Iran, is going to be a draw. Israel will either deal with Iran with Obama in October if he is on the ropes or after the election based on some kind of understanding that they probably have made with him. I don’t think that Romney will be more or less likely than Obama to engage Iran — Israel will drive this issue based on its own interests and I think that Obama is prepared to deal with Iran militarily if he has to because he really has no choice unless he wants to go down in history as a complete failure. He can’t stop Israel from doing its work but he can coordinate with it to ensure a better outcome and so far what I see is an American buildup in the Gulf to be ready to deal with Iran, and Iran losing its perch in Syria and Lebanon as a counterweight with which to threaten Israel, and becoming much more vulnerable to the military strike that will come its way. The calculus is moving toward giving the US a free kick against Iran .

Under this scenario, I think that Obama is likely to win a second term unless Romney can make a case and show how he will make things better. I’m not running out to vote for the guy unless he can convince me that it will be worth my vote to have him in the White House. America knows next to nothing about him and nobody votes for the veep candidate; Romney can start by making his case at the National Convention next month.

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