INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Presidential Politics 2012 — Does It Really Matter?

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By GEORGE TOSHIO JOHNSTON

(Published in The Rafu Shimpo on Nov. 8, 2012)

For this column, dear reader, I’m breaking the normal format of writing about media with regard to Asian Americans and Asians, thanks to a “little thing” called the presidential election.

I’m doing that because it’s a topic that is bigger and more important than what I usually write about, so your pardon is requested just in case you were pining for ruminations on the usual subject matter.

As I write this, ballots are being cast. So, unlike me at this moment, you probably know who won, barring another Bush-Gore 2000 fiasco.

Looking back at my ITNS columns from 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama was the Democratic Party’s nominee and winner in the presidential race, I actually wrote three columns with Obama as the topic.

Since then, however, I’ve not bothered to write about Obama. But now’s a good time, and also a time to weigh in on Mitt Romney, too.

Unlike 2008, when it was the Republican duo of McCain-Palin vs. the Democratic team of Obama-Biden, this year Obama is the incumbent and Romney is the Republican challenger.

As in 2008, I think both presidential candidates are good, decent, patriotic men. Neither have any major skeletons in the closet. (If Obama had any significant dirt in his boxers, the Clintons would have found it in 2008, and if Romney had any in his magic drawers, Obama would have ferreted it out by now.)

Regarding Obama and Romney as individuals, however, I feel I have much more in common with the president. Obama’s age, international upbringing, multicultural-multiracial background, love of basketball, being a father to two children and so on are simply more in line with me and my life. I just relate better to him than his opponent.

Romney, meantime, has a lot of similarities to former President George W. Bush, in that they’re both fortunate sons of privilege with fathers who were major political players. It’s almost as though they’re cast from the same mold but that Romney is smarter and made from a higher grade of plastic or metal.

While Romney is preferable to Bush in my book, my biggest beef with him is his private equity business background with Bain Capital. Having been the victim of what Newt Gingrich called “vulture capitalism,” I’m just not sympathetic to his brand of business. Romney and his ilk don’t invest in companies for the long term, to make them stronger, and more competitive and viable. They simply do leveraged buyouts, breaking up companies into smaller units to be sold off, increasing profitability by cutting staff and outsourcing jobs with the goal of making money for themselves, usually within five years. If the company goes under and people lose their jobs, oh well.

Sorry, but I just don’t like that.

I’m also not too keen about Romney’s flip-flopping (can I say zori-ing for this paper?) on issues. I actually prefer and respect someone from the same party like the aforementioned Newt Gingrich more because you know where he stands.

At the same time, Romney is, essentially, a moderate. While he has had to pander to the far right to get backing, he’s simply not a far-right man. If he became president, the checks-and-balances system we have would preclude him from veering that too far in that direction anyway. If he becomes our next president, I can live with that.

Obama, in the meantime, has had his share of foibles, too. He took a gamble on prioritizing ObamaCare early in his administration, when he probably should have been more focused on ways to improve the economy following the economic meltdown he inherited. I realize that it was a calculated risk, just like going after Osama bin Laden the way he did. But unlike the winning gamble he took in the case of going after bin Laden, with ObamaCare he must have felt that he needed to do it while the odds (and makeup of Congress) were in his favor. I understand that; while he did win the ObamaCare gamble, I question his prioritization.

Also, there are apparently many business leaders and bankers who never faced legal repercussions for shenanigans that led to the economic meltdown of late 2008. Is Obama simply waiting for a second term to go after them? Maybe it makes sense politically, especially if the statute of limitations won’t have run out. Otherwise, why wait?

Also, ObamaCare notwithstanding, I am not in favor of bigger government. But I also realize there are areas in which the government is the only way to get certain things done, like clean, renewable energy independence at a national level. I’ve not heard either of them address that topic in any significant way, even though to me it is the key to us solving just about every one of all the major issues facing us as a nation.

Frankly, I don’t know if either man is up to the task of getting things right and prioritizing what is most important as a nation, especially in these fractious, partisan times.

Regardless of who won, neither man will be able to snap his fingers and make everything fine. Some of the powers we ascribe to the presidency are simply unrealistic; there are certain things out of the control of whoever’s in the White House. You get the credit when things go well and the blame when it does not, even if it’s not your fault or intention.

I think what the president can do, however, is set a tone, serve as an example. The tone set under Bush’s eight years, for big business, seemed to be “do whatever you want to make a your money, even if it’s detrimental to the nation, economy and environment.” I think Obama and Romney are both far better in that regard than Bush — but between the two men, I’d have to give Obama the edge.

Regarding the economy, in the coming years conditions appear such that it finally looks to be ready to improve, even though it will still take years to get us out of the deep hole we’re in. Romney or Obama, whoever is in the Oval Office when things improve, will get that credit.

At this writing, most observers don’t seem to know which way the U.S. presidential race will go. It seems tighter than it was in 2008. Once the dust settles and we have our next president for the next four years, we as a nation will have to do what we keep telling Congress and the White House, and the Democrats and the Republicans, to do — work together for what is best for the United States of America.

Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

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George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2012 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.

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