The Economist and The Financial Times are conservative pro-business publications that prefer to prefer Republicans whenever possible. Both are now saying that Mitt Romney makes preferring the Republican in 2012 impossible. Both are reluctantly endorsing Barack Obama because — each says in its own upper-crusty, polite British way — that Mitt Romney is reckless and untrustworthy.
The problem is that there are a lot of Romneys and they have committed themselves to a lot of dangerous things.
Take foreign policy. In the debates Mr. Romney stuck closely to the president on almost every issue. But elsewhere he has repeatedly taken a more bellicose line. In some cases, such as Syria and Russia, this newspaper would welcome a more robust position. But Mr. Romney seems too ready to bomb Iran, too uncritically supportive of Israel and cruelly wrong in his belief in “the Palestinians not wanting to see peace.” The bellicosity could start on the first day of his presidency, when he has vowed to list China as a currency manipulator — a pointless provocation to its new leadership that could easily degenerate into a trade war.
Or take reducing the deficit and reforming American government. Here there is more to like about Mr. Romney. … Yet far from being the voice of fiscal prudence, Mr. Romney wants to start with huge tax cuts (which will disproportionately favour the wealthy), while dramatically increasing defense spending. Together those measures would add $7 trillion to the ten-year deficit. He would balance the books through eliminating loopholes (a good idea, but he will not specify which ones) and through savage cuts to programs that help America’s poor (a bad idea, which will increase inequality still further). At least Mr Obama, although he distanced himself from Bowles-Simpson, has made it clear that any long-term solution has to involve both entitlement reform and tax rises. Mr. Romney is still in the cloud-cuckoo-land of thinking you can do it entirely through spending cuts: the Republican even rejected a ratio of ten parts spending cuts to one part tax rises. Backing business is important, but getting the macroeconomics right matters far more.
Mr. Romney’s more sensible supporters explain his fiscal policies away as necessary rubbish, concocted to persuade the fanatics who vote in the Republican primaries: the great flipflopper, they maintain, does not mean a word of it. … However, even if you accept that Romneynomics may be more numerate in practice than it is in theory, it is far harder to imagine that he will reverse course entirely. When politicians get elected they tend to do quite a lot of the things they promised during their campaigns. …Indeed, the extremism of his party is Mr. Romney’s greatest handicap. … The Republicans have become a party of Torquemadas, forcing representatives to sign pledges never to raise taxes, to dump the chairman of the Federal Reserve and to embrace an ever more Southern-fried approach to social policy. Under President Romney, new conservative Supreme Court justices would try to overturn Roe v Wade, returning abortion policy to the states. The rights of immigrants (who have hardly had a good deal under Mr. Obama) and gays (who have) would also come under threat. This newspaper yearns for the more tolerant conservatism of Ronald Reagan, where “small government” meant keeping the state out of people’s bedrooms as well as out of their businesses. Mr. Romney shows no sign of wanting to revive it.
The Financial Times: “Obama is the wiser bet for crisis-hit US”
The more serious objection to Mr. Romney is that he has gone through so many contortions to win his party’s nomination that it is hard to see how he would govern in practice. His wishlist includes an aspiration to raise Pentagon spending by a fifth while cutting everyone’s taxes and still somehow balancing the books. Such fiscal alchemy is an exercise in evasion, not a recipe for sustainable economic recovery.
Mr. Romney’s latest positioning as a pragmatic centrist appears to fit far better than his earlier incarnation as a rock-ribbed conservative Republican beholden to the Tea Party. The trouble is that it is impossible to be sure. His protean persona relies more on market research than any innate political philosophy.
As in his response to Hurricane Sandy, Mr. Obama has shown that purposeful government can be part of the solution rather than the problem. Four years on from the financial crisis, with extreme inequality an affront to the American dream, there remains a need for intelligent, reformist governance. Mr. Obama, his presidency defined by the economic crisis, looks the better choice.