The Economist today announced that it would endorse Barack Obama in the 2012 United States presidential election. After examining Mr Obama’s record and exploring whether America can really trust Mitt Romney to do a better job, the paper concludes that Mr Obama narrowly deserves to be re-elected. The key areas on which The Economist bases its decision are:
The economy: The most powerful argument in Mr Obama’s favour is simply that he stopped it all from being a lot worse. America was in a downwards economic spiral when he took over, and his responses—an aggressive stimulus, bailing out General Motors and Chrysler, putting the banks through a sensible stress test and forcing them to raise capital (so that they are now in much better shape than their European peers)—helped avert a Depression.
Foreign policy: As with the economy, Mr Obama was left with a shabby inheritance. He has refocused George Bush’s “war on terror” away from states and more squarely on terrorists. After a shaky start with China, he has made a necessary diplomatic “pivot” towards Asia. His record with the Arab Spring has been mixed: too often he has seemed to be led by events, rather than shaping them. But compared with Mr Bush, he has been a safe pair of hands.
Health reform: Even to a newspaper with no love for big government, the fact that over 40 million people had no health coverage in a country as rich as America was a scandal. Although Obamacare is flawed—especially in its failure properly to control costs—it represents a step forward.
While the newspaper recognises Mr Obama’s successes, it also acknowledges his failures. “No administration in many decades has had such a poor appreciation of commerce,” it argues. Mr Obama has shown no readiness to tackle the main domestic issue confronting the next president: that America cannot continue to tax like a small government and spend like a big one. And he has run a woeful campaign, devoted to attacking Mr Romney.
Mr Obama’s shortcomings have left ample room for a pragmatic Republican—especially one who could balance the books and overhaul government. Mr Romney has, at times, looked like such a candidate. The Economist would have voted for the Romney of the first debate or the one who ran Massachusetts in a bipartisan way. The problem is that there are a lot of Romneys—and they have committed themselves to a lot of dangerous things. In foreign policy, Mr Romney seems too ready to bomb Iran and he has vowed to label China a currency manipulator—a pointless provocation to its new leadership that could easily lead to a trade war. At home, although he would slash red tape, he wants to start with huge tax cuts and dramatically increase defence spending. He is still in the cloud-cuckoo-land of thinking that America’s fiscal problems can be solved entirely through spending cuts. Backing business is important, but getting the macroeconomics right matters far more.
Mr Romney has an economic plan that works only if you don’t believe most of what he says. And for all his shortcomings, Mr Obama has dragged America’s economy back from the brink of disaster and has made a decent fist of foreign policy. Thus, The Economist says “this newspaper would stick with the devil it knows, and re-elect him.”
The full leader will be available in the November 3rd issue of the newspaper.