One Perspective: An exercise in reading political tea leaves

Steven I. Platt, The Daily Record Newswire

It’s the season for national political conventions along with the major and minor storms, some natural, others man-made, which have accompanied them.

For those of us who are addicted observers of the political process and therefore, watching these highly scripted political theater productions more for entertainment than for information, what we are doing is analogous to watching an exhibition football game.

We’re not watching to see who wins, but rather to see how individual players (candidates and their surrogates) as well as coaches (campaign managers, strategists, and technicians) perform in order to better inform our opinions of what to look for in the future and how to handicap the betting on the election in November.

What is clear, particularly in light of the last three and a half years, is that attempts to draw conclusions about what either President Barack Obama’s or Gov. Mitt Romney’s governing style and substance would be from their handling of day-to-day events and issues that arise on the campaign trail inevitably fail the judicial “strict scrutiny test” or even the less rigorous “reasonable relation test”.

President Obama campaigned in 2008 on a platform of “bringing us together.” Clearly, he has not done that by any criteria and by his own admission.

Whether any reader thinks that he hasn’t tried hard enough or has tried too hard probably depends on the reader’s predisposed philosophical, political and economic beliefs. Whose “fault” it is similarly is a matter of opinion more influenced by partisan politics than by any objective fact-finding.

It is not easy — in fact, it is arguably impossible — to “bring us together” when “us” includes the leader of the Republican Caucus in the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, whose early and publically stated number one goal on behalf of his party was to “defeat Barack Obama in the next election.”

On the other hand, President Obama’s making comprehensive universal health care “reform” without a significant cost-cutting component his number one legislative priority for more than one-half of his first term made it easier for the Republicans to demonize him and divide the country.

Fiscal reform vs. health care
President Obama consciously chose comprehensive universal health care reform as a priority over attempting to “change the way Washington works.” He made this choice because his advisors convinced him that health care reform was, at that moment, more important historically and therefore politically than “changing how Washington works.”
Based on that advice, the president chose not to pledge his then-abundant political capital in support of his own Simpson-Bowles Commission’s findings and recommendations on the nation’s fiscal stability.

“The way Washington works” may well have been changed if the president had enthusiastically endorsed the findings and recommendations of the commission. Backing a staged economic program of jobs, deficit reduction and budgetary reform could have unified the majority of the people in this country who this writer still believes are economically rational and politically intelligent enough to grasp the need for the strong but fair tax reform, entitlement reform and moderate mutual sacrifice recommended by the commission.

The choice President Obama made was in the face of contrary advice from at least one of his political advisors, then-White House Chief of Staff and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who advised a more incremental approach to health care reform.

Can there be any doubt that from a purely political perspective this advice was well taken and that the president’s re-election would be easier if health care reform had proceeded incrementally and Simpson-Bowles had been enthusiastically embraced in a manner that would have forced the Paul Ryans of the commission to either compromise on the revenue side or be exposed as obstructionists and ideologues, labels they have spent this entire campaign plausibly denying?

Data-driven decision making

Historians will ultimately decide whether this was the right and perhaps the only time that comprehensive health care reform could have been enacted by the Congress after 60 years of unsuccessful attempts and, if so, whether the price was too great economically and politically.

In the meantime, the 2012 election goes on. The choices that President Obama has already made will clearly not necessarily affect his governing style and substance if he is re-elected.

The substance that would characterize a Romney administration is even more difficult to predict than his style because he has historically said and done whatever he needed to say and do to be elected.

Romney’s style appears to be that of a modern, corporate, data-driven CEO. Let’s hope that is the case because data-driven decision making would surely drive President Romney away from the wacky planks of the Republican platform which he apparently turned over to the far right of his party to craft.

The result is a Republican Party platform which a Romney spokesperson has already said is the “party’s platform,” not “Romney’s platform.”

That’s good news because either these crazy planks — including a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion (with no exceptions for rape and incest), unlimited access to and the right to possess assault weapons and (even stranger) “unlimited clips of ammunition,” and a return to the gold standard — will be summarily dismissed by the Republican nominee, or there will be no President Romney.

The only important question for us to answer remains: “How will the candidate govern if elected?” Stay tuned for further information, if it is provided in an understandable format.


Steven I. Platt, a retired associate judge on the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, writes a monthly column for The Daily Record. He can be reached at