If President Barack Obama is re-elected, health care coverage will expand dramatically, taxes on the wealthy will go up and Wall Street will face tougher regulation. If Mitt Romney wins, health coverage will shrink, taxes on the wealthy will fall to levels not seen in 80 years and financial regulation will be rolled back.
Given the starkness of this difference, you might have expected to see people from both sides of the political divide urging voters to cast their ballots based on the issues. Lately, however, I've seen a growing number of Romney supporters making a quite different argument. Vote for Romney, they say, because if he loses, Republicans will destroy the economy.
OK, they don't quite put it that way. The argument is phrased in terms of “partisan gridlock,” as if both parties were equally extreme. But they aren't. This is, in reality, all about appeasing the hard men of the Republican Party.
If you want an example of what I'm talking about, consider the remarkable — in a bad way — editorial in which the Des Moines Register endorsed Romney. The paper acknowledged that Obama's signature economic policy, the 2009 stimulus, was the right thing to do. It also acknowledged that Obama tried hard to reach out across the partisan divide but was rebuffed.
Yet it endorsed his opponent anyway, offering some half-hearted support for Romneynomics, but mainly asserting that Romney would be able to work with Democrats in a way that Obama has not been able to work with Republicans. Why? Well, the paper claims that, in office, Romney would be far more centrist than anything he has said in the campaign would indicate. (And the notion that he has been lying all along is supposed to be a point in his favor?) But mostly it just takes it for granted that Democrats would be more reasonable.
Is this a good argument? The starting point for many “vote for Romney or else” statements is the notion that a re-elected Obama wouldn't be able to accomplish anything in his second term. What this misses is the fact that he has already accomplished a great deal, in the form of health reform and financial reform — reforms that will go into effect if, and only if, he is re-elected.