Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not hoping for this or expecting it, but maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Mitt Romney became president.
Never in my life have I supported a Republican for president, and I don’t intend to start now. I’m voting for Obama, and I urge you to do the same.
I don’t even really understand the intense disappointment many liberals seem to feel about the president’s first term. For heaven’s sake, with the Affordable Care Act, he crossed off what had been the top item on the liberal to-do list for decades. He also reformed regulation of the financial industry in ways that even Romney partly approves, or says he does.
Obama navigated us through the biggest economic crisis since the Depression in a way that (in my opinion) deserves a B+. He hasn’t gotten us into any wars, and there have been no major terrorism episodes on his watch. That seems like a pretty good record.
True, Obama added $4 trillion to the national debt. But that was a conscious exercise in Keynesian demand stimulation, not a careless waste of taxpayer dollars. You can argue that it was a mistake. But a smaller deficit — i.e., a smaller stimulus — hardly would have created more jobs.
Obama has also been a disappointment to some liberals for his failure to continue inspiring them after the thrill of his election had passed. At the same time, he has disappointed others by his surprising lack of interest in the details of legislation. He is not a policy wonk. He gave Democrats in Congress more or less carte blanche to come up with a healthcare reform plan. And in other areas — such as, say, debate preparation — he has displayed very little of the Harvard Law Review obsession with minutiae that we expected and many liberals like.
None of this is close to being enough to make me vote for Romney. But I’m not quite feeling the fear of disaster for the country that has colored and energized my opinion of the Republican candidates in most presidential elections of my voting life: Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Dole, a second Bush. (Ford and McCain were well worth voting against but not unthinkable. Some liberals didn’t mind Bush I. I’m not one of them.)
Whether Romney belongs on the unthinkable list depends on how big a liar he is. The bigger the liar, the more acceptable he would be. Not that I approve of lies by politicians. (And not that any politician is waiting for my approval before lying.) But worse than all the flops he’s flipped and phony posturing he’s engaged in would be if he actually won and then tried to govern as the conservative zealot he’s appeared to be for most of this campaign.
If he’s been telling the truth about his beliefs and intentions for the last year or so, he’s plainly unacceptable. But if he’s been faking it — if he’s actually the classic moderate Republican businessman we suspect and not the conservative zealot he plays on TV — then it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he won.
“Not the end of the world” is not much of an endorsement, and not meant to be. And even this depends on Romney taking out that Etch-A-Sketch and reinventing himself yet again (first from moderate businessman to conservative zealot, then from conservative zealot back to moderate businessman). For reasons both political and psychological, it surely must be hard for anyone, including Romney, to perform a double flip-flop of his entire public persona.
He may feel he has to prove that he wasn’t bluffing in his positions on abortion and other social issues. But he already is reverting to a more moderate stance, or trying to, on economic issues and taxes. His tax plan, he says now, might involve a ceiling on deductions for the rich that is lower than his ceiling on deductions for the middle class.
How would a moderate Romney govern? The former management consultant might see governing as a series of concrete problems to be solved. And, ideology aside, he might even be good at it. It might be a good time for Democrats to be out of office and able to rest and rethink. In fact, it might be a good time for anybody to be out of office, if the economy tanks or terrorists attack or the weather offers an especially copious banquet of fires, floods, droughts and tornadoes. In short, maybe a President Romney wouldn’t be so terrible.
(Pause for reflection.)
No, it would be pretty terrible. Vote for Obama.
Michael Kinsley, a former editorial page editor of The Times, is a Bloomberg View columnist.