In 2008, Barack Obama was The Seattle Times’ choice for president. Four years later, we endorse him again, with less enthusiasm. But he is a better choice than Mitt Romney, and could still go down in history as a good president.
Foreign affairs: President Obama inherited two wars, one defense secretary and too many assumptions from George W. Bush. American forces should have been out of Iraq and Afghanistan by now.
In newer crises, Obama has done better. He wisely limited the U.S. commitment in Libya and kept out of Syria despite the hectoring of U.S. Sen. John McCain. He is right not to let Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk him into an attack on Iran.
On these matters, Republican nominee Mitt Romney is at his worst, parading his eagerness to use force. Romney has no experience in foreign affairs, and it shows.
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Trade: The state of Washington depends on trade, and had reason to worry four years ago when candidate Obama threatened to scrap the free-trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. In office, he left it alone and pushed through a good trade agreement with South Korea.
Now it is Romney who rashly promises to pick a trade fight with China.
Spending and debt: What’s needed here is steady, long-term reduction in the nation’s debt. Obama hasn’t done it, and it may be his greatest failure. Romney promises to rein in entitlement spending, but to protect military spending.
The financial system:Obama should have pushed for a separation of investment banking from commercial banking in a new version of the Glass-Steagall Act, which safeguarded the financial system from 1933 to 1999. He should have broken up the top four or five big banks, ending “too big to fail,” and he should have moved more aggressively to make complex securities transparent and take trading out of “dark pools.”
Romney will not do these things, but Obama still could.
The Main Street economy:Romney knows leveraged buyouts, but he has little understanding of the needs of employers on Main Street America.
Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on the $250,000 bracket, and to set the death-tax rate at 45 percent, shows that he also is out of touch. He promised an active antitrust policy but mostly has not delivered. Romney would probably not, either.
Media control: In 2008, Obama promised to use the Federal Communications Commission to block the consolidation of the news media into a handful of giant corporations that threaten the functioning of our democracy. He has not done it.
Romney is not going to do it — but Obama still could.
Education: One of the president’s jobs is to use the bully pulpit for education. Obama has done this well, and deserves credit for defending charter schools and other education reforms within the Democratic Party.
Health care: During a year of economic crisis, when that should have been his focus, Obama instead spent his political capital on the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” — and did it on a party-line vote.
It has little cost control in it. It need not be repealed, but it will have to be fixed.
Partisanship: Obama promised to bring a less partisan style, but he has been aloof, with few friendships across the aisle. If in the past two years, the House Republicans have cooperated little with him, he has also cooperated little with them.
Bob Woodward’s new book, “The Price of Politics,” hangs the collapse of the debt-and-spending talks in 2011 as much on Obama as on Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
Bottom line: Obama’s presidency has been disappointing, but he still has promise. Romney would be too much of a gamble.