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History is a strange thing, warped as it is by the curve of time, leanings of its writers, passing of the eras. An individual in history, or a movement, can see opinion wax and wane long after the event, viewed through a prism unimaginable at the time. Some see their reputation rise and fall, others fall then rise, the standings of every person in history at the eternal whim of revisionist trends, with a rare few weathering it all to remain as they were, for good or ill. Winston Churchill was a hero, then a war manger unceremoniously ejected from office, only to be nationally mourned at his passing and later voted the Greatest Briton; Margaret Thatcher was a popular Prime Minister, elected three times with vast majorities, her reputation pummeled subsequently by the left, but with a successful biopic movie now solidly rebounding to iconic status; Jimmy Carter was viewed as a disaster, and still is, just as Reagan was viewed as a triumph and continues to grow in stature. Not only is the past a foreign country where they do things differently, to paraphrase L.P.Hartley, they often viewed things differently also.
With just a short time until the US election, the polls pointing to a tight race, and momentum behind the challenger Mitt Romney, it may not be long before the historians are unleashed upon the current resident of the White House, Barack H Obama, elected as he was in 2008 upon a wave of expectation. That expectation was of course never going to be met, Obama's campaign being deliberately vague and allowing every individual to project their own hopes, beliefs and ideas upon the blank canvas – rallies and his website even having an ideas wall, for supporters to write their ideas, often at odds with other ideas on the same wall – allowing the candidate to unite a bizarre coalition to win under the banner of "hope and change", a collection of voters that could never all be satisfied at once. Personally I never understood it – "Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy," as my preferred candidate Mayor Giuliani wisely put it – but it obviously worked: people Left and Right, socialist, liberal, conservative and libertarian, united behind Obama – particularly in Britain – a man who I had wrote off as inexperienced, preachy in tone and stunningly narcissistic. This was after all the man who described defeating Hilary Clinton in the Democratic Party primary as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal", a line that I still cannot watch without laughing, suggesting as it does Messianic powers.
Of course though I solidly opposed Obama that didn't mean I did not wish him well once the results were in, the contest over, as the wave of optimism and hope – though greatly overhyped – did offer opportunities, a potential to recast America's standing with the world and usher in a new era of post-racialism, healing not the earth but the scars of segregation and slavery. So too did I, indeed everyone, wish Obama well for more selfish reasons, the success of the global economy, the security of the free world, the advancement of trade, industry and prosperity, all intrinsically tied to the success of the United States. If goodwill and hope were gold and silver then there'd be no national debt.
Unfortunately however hype did not live up to reality; hope – a euphemism in this case for "fingers crossed" – did not turn out to be an adequate strategy; change – ill defined, vague, poorly conceived – did not transpire to be a destination all that desirable. Obama, having begun in his campaign what has been dubbed the Apology Tour, advanced a narrative that seemed to confirm to our enemies their arguments against the U.S., that America had "shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive", and stating that "at times we sought to dictate our terms", an apologist rhetoric which in office was matched by actions that to adversaries suggested a contraction in American ambition, geo-political scope and reach: canceling the East Europe missile shield, which I dubbed here at ConservativeHome at the time an act of betrayal to both Europe and the United States; deciding not to secure a military base in Iraq, given its proximity to Iran; pushing for sequestration, an automatic budget cut across the board to the military if a new debt deal isn't agreed by Congress next January; the projection of a naïve and almost student-like attitude to foreign policy and security, from wanting to close Guantanamo Bay through offering to "be more flexible after the election" to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a phrase I can't imagine Reagan, JFK or Eisenhower ever uttering. When terrorists attacked the American Consulate in Libya, after several attacks in previous weeks, the response was to blame a YouTube video – which Obama now denies – arresting the creator, and fanning protests by highlighting the video in a return to the apologist rhetoric. Shockingly Obama misses over half of all security briefings, presumably including the repeated requests for extra security in Benghazi.
As with foreign affairs, so too has the Obama Administration's handling of the domestic agenda and economy – the engine by which peace through strength is made possible – served to weaken the United States, though unintentionally, and embolden foes. The federal government has run annual deficits of over $1 Trillion, record figures not unnoticed by Iran and others, for each of Obama's years in office, and the President's plan – to merely reduce the deficit, not to balance the budget – relies on increasing taxes on job creators, investments and businesses, in stark contrast to the economic orthodoxy espoused by Presidents Reagan and Kennedy, rejecting JFK's proven stance that "restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenues to balance our budget, just as it will never produce enough jobs or enough profits…the soundest way to raise revenues in the long run is to cut rates now." Likewise Obama pushes a top-down, government-driven approach to the economy, whether arguing to entrepreneurs that they "didn't build that…someone else made that happen" or investing taxpayers' money in doomed ventures such as solar power provider Solyndra, and rather than discuss necessary reforms to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – which are otherwise racing towards insolvency – the President has recast himself as the candidate against change, before shifting the topic to obscure and trivial matters such as funding for Sesame Street or whether it's acceptable to put C.V.s in binders. All of which seems rather irrelevant or even insulting when over the last four years incomes in America have dropped an average of $4,300, twenty-three million are struggling to find a good job, 47 million people are on food stamps – an increase of 15 million – and a national debt of $10 trillion just four years ago is now $16 trillion and rising by the second.
Yet amid the sea of insanity – adverts featuring Big Bird, campaign rallies set to the Sesame Street theme tune, protesters wearing binders – America and the world has been offered a chance of hope, change, and most of all realism. Of course Gov Romney doesn't have the charisma of Reagan, nor the military background of Eisenhower, but the core elements of both leaders' outlook are bolder and more explicit in the Romney ticket than with any candidate of the past three decades, and his business background is second to none. Romney, like Reagan, was a successful governor of a liberal state, accomplished at working on a bipartisan basis, and as with Reagan has put rebuilding the economy, jobs and prosperity – based on the solid and tested principles of a free market economy – as the central focus of his campaign, pledging to make America more competitive through lowering the costs of doing business and manufacturing, reducing the deadweight cost of government, thereby increasing equilibrium output. When JFK embarked on a near identical plan tax revenues increased by an average of 8.6 percent a year in the four years after his tax cuts were implemented, the deficit eliminated by the end of the 1960s; similar policies under Reagan created 8 million jobs in just over two years.
That such a private sector based recovery will be good for America is beyond doubt, but the benefit for the wider world cannot be understated. The old addage that when America sneezes the world catches a cold may have changed a little – Europe already has far worse, the Eurozone wheezing unhealthily onwards – but the fact remains that the United States, the world's largest economy and greatest consumer, is the only force with the potential to reboot the sluggish global economy.
Likewise America is also the only force with the potential to keep peace through strength, an Eisenhower strategy that is core to Romney's foreign policy as it was Reagan's. Whereas Obama has given signals to adversaries of a weakening American stature, both in rhetoric and deed, Romney knows that the world needs America and the security of America needs a strong U.S. involvement in the world, yet in contrast to the Bush era – and in a return to the Eisenhower strategy – that involvement must be built on a solid foundation, firm but never flash, and framed in a clear manner. As well as increasing defence funding – including delivering the expanded naval fleet required to meet growing needs, in stark contrast to Obama's defence cuts under sequestration – Romney plans to create North American energy independence by approving the Keystone Pipeline and drilling on federal lands, both blocked by Obama, and stop Iran's nuclear weapons scheme through strength – the certainty of massive retaliation – just as the Soviet Union was restrained in the same manner. Romney's intention of eliminating the deficit, as a moral, economic and strategic necessity, echoes the warnings of Eisenhower that America "must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow."
With Mitt Romney however America is being offered more than just policies, it's being offered hope; a realistic hope, built on real experience, with Romney's career – at management consultancy Bain, their venture capital spin off Bain Capital, and as Governor of Massachusetts – in stark contrast to that of Obama. And whereas in Obama America has a president that recently declared that "the mistake of my first term was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right…the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people", as if what is needed is a children's storyteller, the Romney alternative is that of a successful businessman and governor, who can see where problems are and fix them, whether that be entitlement reform, government spending or other matters. The difference couldn't be bolder or more defined.
Of course every election is important, and every campaign claims the difference is stark, that their victory is vital, but this time it's true: America is in trouble, and with it the free world, with the options facing the electorate wildly different. In the end the best argument for Romney comes from my favourite President, Eisenhower: "We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage [if we] want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow." The world needs America, and America needs Mitt Romney.