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The presidential debate, and a four-year retrospective

I managed to catch only about the last fifteen minutes of the presidential debate, but I thought Romney was noticably more articulate and passionate than President Obama. But since this election is basically a referendum on the president's progress so far, I thought I'd try to summarize what has and hasn't happened over the last four years.

First, and foremost, the economy is still quite sluggish. I think Obama squandered a major opportunity in very early 2009, immediately after the inauguration, to tell the country that the Bush years are over, and a new era of prosperity will begin. America was *ready* to believe that--blame the economic troubles on Bush, and look toward a bright future. It's not totally clear this would have worked, but it wasn't even tried. Instead, the president repeatedly and intentionally talked up the fragility of the economy so he could pass the $700 billion pork-laden 'stimulus' handout to favored groups.

Second, and related, the national debt is growing at an unsustainable pace. Bush left the country with a shameful national debt approaching $12 trillion, after years of $0.5 trillion yearly deficits. Under Obama, our government has spent $1.5 trillion we DON'T HAVE each year, for a total debt now exceeding $16 trillion and growing alarmingly. This is unsustainable, and rather than fix the deficit as promised, Obama has made it worse. Whoever wins in November will have an enormous amount of work to do on the budget alone.

But part of the reason for the deficit is the ongoing wars, which to me are not going well. We've left Iraq the lives and limbs of some of our finest soldiers, with vanishingly little benefit to our country. Afghanistan, after a decade of US occupation, is still mostly an ungovernable gravel pit packed with illiterate violent extremists: what have we gained there from the trillions of dollars we have spent, and the thousands of dead and maimed Americans? Libya Obama invaded entirely of his own volition, not even bothering to seek the permission of the US Congress (even Bush got a congressional "authorization to use military force"). The recent killing of our ambassador there not only repudiated the old "we'll be greeted as liberators!" schtick, but revealed our striking thin embassy security force. Obama's "pivot to the east" now appears centered around poking an increasingly belligerent China in the eye.

Finally, candidate Obama promised to close Gitmo, and end Bush's campaign of secret illegal kidnapping. As President, he's not only failed to close Gitmo, he's actually gone beyond Bush to wage a worldwide campaign of extrajudicial assassination, killing not only Bin Laden, but US Citizens Samir Khan, Anwar al-Awlaki, and his 16 year old son. Bin Laden and his terrorist brethren can rot in hell, but the notion that our executive branch can arbitrarily decide to assassinate both US Citizens and innocent bystanders, for secret reasons, outside of a declared war zone, is ominous for the future of due process and the rule of law.

In short, candidate Obama inherited a country entangled around the world in military overreach, sliding toward bankruptcy and dictatorship. Four years later, we're even more overextended around the globe, deeper in debt, and further from the constitutional principles that our country's prosperity was built on. But at least we have a health care law.

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September 2013

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