President Barack Obama speaks in the White House Briefing Room in Washington, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, after returning to the White House from a campaign
President Barack Obama speaks in the White House Briefing Room in Washington, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, after returning to the White House from a campaign stop in Florida to monitor Hurricane Sandy. (Jacquelyn Martin)
Thursday November 1, 2012

When President Barack Obama took office four years ago, the United States was on the verge of economic disaster and burdened by two divisive and financially crippling foreign wars. Today, the economy is on the rebound, the war in Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. The nation has challenges but it is in a better place now than it was in January 2009 and we urge voters to continue on this path when they go to the polls to elect a president on Tuesday.

While it is difficult to pin down Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose campaign strategy is to be all things to all people, his speech before Boca Raton high-rollers in which he disparaged 47 percent of the electorate is revealing because it wasn't for public consumption. This was the real Romney. Austerity for the middle class and tax breaks for the wealthy were a recipe for economic failure under George W. Bush (the man who cannot be named in GOP circles) and will be again if repeated under Mr. Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan. Until recently, Mr. Romney's belligerent statements on foreign policy recalled those of Mr. Bush, whose cowboy policies brought the Iraq nightmare down upon the nation.

Mr. Romney offers the prospect of more of what has already catastrophically failed. Worse, his party is determined to reopen old wounds on women's rights and other social policies that will only further divide a nation that needs to work together to meet the challenges ahead.

Presidents don't get credit for what doesn't happen, which is why Mr. Obama did not get the credit he richly deserved for averting what could have been a second Great Depression upon taking office. His $840 billion stimulus package gave a critical boost to the economy and his bail-out of the automobile industry saved jobs not only in Detroit but wherever else that industry reaches, including Berkshire County.

The president demonstrated how government can strengthen the nation, which Mr. Romney, a prisoner of calcified Republican ideology, is forced to deny. He is left to advocate for long-discredited "trickle down" economic theories, in which more tax cuts and loopholes for multi-millionaires like himself will magically grow the economy from the top down. He preaches government austerity even though economic retrenchment is causing joblessness and dragging down the economy all across Europe and will do so here if put into practice.

The unemployment rate remains too high but would be lower if House Republicans had not rejected a job creation program offered by the president a year ago. Washington Republicans regularly blocked the president's programs out of a transparent desire to hurt him politically even if their actions also hurt the nation's economy. That said, Mr. Obama's biggest failure has been his refusal to fight for his economic programs with the same energy his opponents have employed in fighting against them.

The president did fight successfully for health care reform, and passage of the Affordable Care Act means, among other improvements, that insurance companies will not be able to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and immunizations and mammograms will be guaranteed to all. Although "Obamacare" with its many reforms is based on "Romney care" from Mr. Romney's tenure as Massachusetts governor, Mr. Romney wants to repeal it and says the uninsured should go to emergency rooms, which will expand the health care costs Obamacare will reduce. The voucher program that is at the core of Mr. Ryan's health "reform" would make Medicare more costly for seniors.

President Obama ended the war in Iraq and is ending the war in Afghanistan, although too slowly. He brought Osama bin Laden to justice and has weakened al-Qaida. His selection of former rival Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was brilliant, and together they have forged a foreign policy centered around diplomacy, with military action employed when necessary and only after careful thought.

Mr. Romney's interventionist stance on foreign policy early in the campaign was so reckless it was as if Iraq had never happened. He has since flip-flopped to a less aggressive approach but he has shown not only a willingness to trigger another conflict but a disconcerting ignorance about and indifference toward world events that affect America.

The president was slow to come around on gay rights issues, but his support of same-sex marriage may lead to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which undermines the rights of gay couples even in states like Massachusetts, where they can legally marry. The military's hypocritical "don't ask, don't tell" rule disappeared on his watch. Mr. Romney opposes same-sex marriage and defends DoMA, a law that exemplifies the kind of big government interference in the lives of individuals that Republicans pay lip service to opposing.

Along those lines, Republicans across the country have filed and passed proposals to criminalize abortion and put women seeking legal abortions through invasive procedures, demonized Planned Parent hood, tried to deny access to contraceptives, and come up with horrific new definitions of what constitutes rape. Mr. Romney has disavowed some of these plans and claims, tap-danced around others, but as president it is unlikely that he will stand against his own party's onerous views on women's rights, views advocated by his arch-conservative running mate. In contrast, Mr. Obama has been a principled defender of the rights of women and all minorities, including the Hispanics targeted by discriminatory laws passed in the states under the guise of a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Women's rights, including those guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, which ended the era of illegal, back alley abortions, could be in jeopardy if a vacancy on the Supreme Court emerges in the next four years. Mr. Romney would likely nominate another far-right judicial activist who would vote with those on the court who have not only proven weak on civil rights but gave us the Citizens United decision enabling corporations to further corrupt the electoral process with cash. In Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama chose eminently qualified moderates to the Supreme Court who understand that the court should defend established civil rights not weaken them.

Mitt Romney has certainly come a long way from the days in which he successfully campaigned for governor of Massa chusetts as a pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights moderate Republican. In his evolution into a "severe conservative," he demonstrated that there is no principle he won't abandon, no position he won't compromise to get elected. Winning office is all he is passionate about.

He demonstrated his ruthlessness in pushing acting Governor Jane Swift of Williamstown out of the way in his pursuit of the Republican nomination for governor in 2002. That ruthlessness was certainly demonstrated during his tenure as CEO of Bain Capital, whose impact was felt in Pittsfield with the demise of KB Toys. Bain Capital made fortunes for Mr. Romney and its investors while bleeding companies dry and putting people out of work. This is no way to run a business, and as Mr. Romney cites his business acumen in his campaign for president, it is no way to run a country. His "47 percent" speech exposed him as a plutocrat who contemptuously dismisses millions of Americans (including some who support him) as burdens upon the nation.

President Obama's aloofness and leadership failings frustrate his allies, but he has always sought to govern for the whole nation, not a favored few, and in the process he has stood up for the poor, who need government the most, and middle class Americans, who will suffer if the proposals of Mr. Romney and the retrograde policies of Mr. Ryan as a congressional leader are enacted. America has moved forward under President Obama and we fear it will regress if he is denied a second term. The Berkshire Eagle endorses Barack Obama for re-election as president.