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Editorial: Barack Obama

To say that Barack Obama was dealt a bad hand when he assumed the presidency is an epic understatement. For the past four years, he has played those miserable cards with skill and fortitude. While trumping the implacable hostility of an opposition loyal only to the idea of destroying him, Obama managed to save an economy that was on the verge of collapse when he entered office, to wind down two ruinous wars that he inherited, and to enact health care reform, the most significant piece of social legislation in almost half a century. After lunch, he saved the auto industry, reformed the student loan system, signed into law financial industry reform and tracked down the elusive Osama bin Laden. The country that was in a shambles four years ago is on the road to peace and prosperity, thanks in large part to Obama. His sober, reality-based approach to governing gives the nation its best chance of overcoming the challenges that remain, and we strongly recommend a vote for the president come Election Day.

The contrast with his opponent, Mitt Romney, could not be sharper.

Romney is not only not a man of principle, he is a man of no principles — save the singular conviction that he is entitled to be president by virtue of having amassed a vast personal fortune. His contempt for average Americans was palpable even before his infamous condemnation of 47 percent of the country as freeloaders. Over the years, Romney has been on both sides of virtually every major public policy issue. In his most recent Mitteration, Romney reappears in the guise of the moderate he was when he governed Massachusetts, apparently having been brainwashed by the radical right-wingers to whom he presented himself as a willing hostage during the primary campaign. (Or maybe it was a case of Stockholm syndrome.) But it is extremely doubtful that he would govern the nation as a moderate. He is the nominee of a party dedicated not merely to returning to the feckless economic and bellicose foreign policies of George W. Bush, but to rolling back the New Deal itself.

There is no reason to suppose that Romney would be sufficiently adroit and courageous to hold back that powerful tide in Republican thought even if he were so inclined.

Among the many compelling reasons to re-elect the president, we will deal here with only a few. The first is the preservation of the Affordable Care Act, which Romney and the Republicans have vowed to repeal and replace with an undefined something. The ACA is far from perfect. In particular, its cost control initiatives are untested. But it does constitute a major advance in ensuring that people have access to affordable health insurance whatever their economic or medical circumstances. If it is preserved, the ACA will become, along with Social Security and Medicare, an essential part of the social safety net when it takes full effect in 2014.

A second urgent reason to re-elect the president is that as the country moves to address its debt and deficit problems, a balanced approach is required — one that assigns to all Americans a fair and proportionate burden, while preserving the essential programs upon which so many millions of people depend. This requires a president who will candidly address the contradiction between the services Americans want and those they are willing to pay for. Obama is far more likely to pursue both those things than Romney, who appears reluctant to embrace the real-world implications of the radical Republican budget plan written by his running mate, Paul Ryan.

Third, the next president will probably have the opportunity to appoint two or more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. The two choices Obama has made to date — Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — are jurists in his own image: moderate, mainstream and mostly, but not dogmatically, progressive. But the addition by Romney of a couple of more right-wing ideologues to the current bloc of four justices for whom precedent is no precedent would accelerate an alarming trend that found expression in the egregious Citizens United decision. Women who think that their reproductive rights would be safe under a Romney administration ought to think again. Roe v. Wade is one vote away from being overturned by the Roberts court.

It is also likely that Obama is the only thing standing between Americans and the resumption of torture committed in their names. Romney has criticized the president for banning the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding, used against terrorism suspects by the Bush administration. There is every reason to believe that he would reinstate these illegal, immoral and shameful practices.

Finally, the Republican Party, and its congressional leaders in particular, have been direct in saying that their only purpose over the past four years has been to make sure that Obama is a one-term president. They have played the obstruction card over and over again. To reward them for doing so is to draw the template for the politics of gridlock far out into the future. Two parties can play that dangerous game and probably will if the voters vindicate the strategy.

In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt, in his second inaugural address, remarked that during the previous four years of the Depression, “Old truths have been relearned; untruths have been unlearned. We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.” For the past four years under the steady hand of Barack Obama, America has been relearning the old truths. Let’s not forget them again so soon.