From all indications, most Canadians would vote to re-elect Barack Obama as U.S. president if we could, just as we would have done in 2008. One opinion survey four years ago indicated that as many as 92 per cent of us favoured Obama-Biden over McCain-Palin. The pre-election endorsements of Obama by Colin Powell, Michael Bloomberg and The Economist magazine, all of whom might have been expected to endorse Romney, will make the comfortable choice even easier for many Canadians.
There are many qualities we like in Obama, including his intelligence, compassion, surmounting of early upbringing obstacles, and his family. Both his books, Audacity of Hope and Dreams from my Father, are compelling. In short, many Canadians continue to have confidence in the president and to extend him the benefit of various doubts since he moved to the White House.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney, despite having a family cottage in Canada and thus more direct exposure to our country as a youth, is harder for many of us to identify with. He epitomizes the much-criticized 'one per cent' in a difficult economic period for many across America, Canada and the world. He is also obliged to accommodate the Tea Party faction in the Republican party, essentially contemporary political Know Nothings, who have made it difficult for him to be what he undoubtedly is: a Massachusetts moderate.
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New York Times columnist David Brooks recently offered some interesting predictions about the kind of administrations each candidate would offer.
Obama would probably seek to enact the sensible program he recently laid out in an interview: recreate the budget deal of two years ago ($2.50 of spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases); cuts in corporate taxes as part of business reform; attempted immigration reform; implement Obamacare; increase spending on infrastructure. The rest would be about smaller items like more math and science teachers and increased foreign affairs initiatives to build a legacy.
Romney would begin with the conviction that the status quo is unsustainable: the mounting debt is ruining America and "byzantine tax and regulatory regimes are stifling innovation and growth." Under a Romney administration, Brooks thinks the federal government would spend about 21 per cent of the GDP instead of about 24 per cent. Importantly, Romney would respect the main lesson of the election campaign: moderation wins. Among other lessons, this means he'd have to increase taxes on the rich, reduce his tax-cut promises and abandon the draconian spending reductions in his running mate Paul Ryan's budget proposals.
In short, for Brooks, an Obama win probably "means small-bore stasis; if Romney wins, we're more likely to get bipartisan reform … He`s more likely to get big stuff done".
While foreign policy is one of Obama's perceived advantages over Romney, he has certainly fumbled some major issues abroad, including climate change and the Doha Round of world trade negotiations. Whether Romney or anyone could have done better internationally as president is open for debate, especially during a global economic crisis and the rise of new players on the world stage.
Among Obama's accomplishments are his ending of George Bush's "global war on terror", removing American soldiers from Iraq, and his handling of the Arab Spring in some countries. On other issues — Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Pakistan, North Korea, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict come readily to mind — there have been few strategic gains.
There is enormous but little-focused-upon-by-the-media concern about China and the continuing loss of manufacturing jobs across the United States. As a consequence, only about nine per cent of Americans now work in the sector, when probably at least one quarter are needed for a successful modern economy. It is disingenuous for Obama and business CEOs to brag that America exported $100 billion last year to China when it imported almost $400 billion. Beijing cheats on most of its World Trade Organization commitments, but its continuing manipulation of its currency is doubtless the most destructive in terms of good jobs disappearing in America, Canada and all countries trading with China. Romney is right about the urgent need to declare China a 'currency manipulator' and to add 20, 30 or whatever percentage the tampering is determined to be to the price of every import from China.
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On reversing the problems affecting America, Canada and so many economies, which candidate is better equipped? Martin Wolf, one of the world's leading financial columnists, identifies some clues. At the end of Obama's first year in office, the world was on a path very similar to the calamitous one taken in the 1930s, but managed to adopt policy responses that included expansive monetary and fiscal policy and support to the financial sector.
Wolf believes that a debt crisis inside the U.S. and a meltdown of the Eurozone are today the most likely triggers for another major crisis. He adds that there is no consensus today on what is the "right macro policy-that is the right monetary policy, the right fiscal policy, and the right policy on dealing with debt overhangs." Whichever candidate has convinced more Americans that he can restore the American economy and get back to reasonable employment levels and growth is likely to win tomorrow.
Very reluctantly, and primarily because of Obama's weak stand on jobs and China, I'd vote for Romney.
David Kilgour is co-chair of the Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and a director of the Washington-based Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD). He is a former MP for both the Conservative and Liberal Parties in the south-east region of Edmonton and has also served as the Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific and Deputy Speaker of the House.
(Photo courtesy Reuters)