Outside of the Middle East, Romney’s rhetoric has largely consisted of tough-guy talk of the kind that turns sometimes cooperative, sometimes recalcitrant strategic competitors into potentially threatening adversaries. For instance, he calls Russia “without question, our number one geopolitical foe” and accuses it of “always stand[ing] up for the world’s worst actors.” Likewise, Romney complains that China has “run all over us,” stealing American jobs and waging a “trade war” against the United States. Romney has said that he would haul China before the World Trade Organization on charges that it was manipulating its currency to ensure the relatively cheap prices of its exports.
Just how he plans to do this, given our massive reliance on China to continue to buy Treasury (and private sector) bonds—to say nothing of its role in issues like regional security and environmental degradation—Romney doesn’t specify. But should he try it, we can be reasonably certain of the result: chaos.
And while Barack Obama’s environmental commitments, both foreign and domestic, have certainly failed to live up to the promise of his campaign, no one should expect any progress on global environmental issues from President Romney. No matter how alarming the threats we face, Romney’s business-first philosophy combined with the Tea Party’s anti-“gummint” fanaticism has created the political equivalent of a brick wall through which literally no environmental regulation will manage to pass. As the New York Times editorial page observes, the post-Massachusetts Romney emerged a “proclaimed skeptic on global warming, a champion of oil and other fossil fuels, a critic of federal efforts to develop cleaner energy sources and a sworn enemy of the Environmental Protection Agency.” Moreover, as with immigration, his post-primary rhetorical efforts to shed the “climate denier” label have not been accompanied by any serious shifts in policy.
Under President Romney, the United States will almost certainly ignore the threat from global warming. Indeed, his party is already seeking to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate carbon emissions. House Republicans have even proposed legislation—called the TRAIN Act (for Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation)—to cut its power to regulate anything at all. A Republican Congress will also reduce or perhaps entirely eliminate subsidies for green energy, while preserving the tax breaks and subsidies for the oil and gas industries and opening up almost all US parklands, wilderness areas and offshore waters to drilling.
These are merely the highlights—and perhaps the most direct consequences—of a Romney win. But there will be many others as well.
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Some progressives argue that, nonetheless, President Obama has been such a disappointment that his defeat would not be an unmitigated loss for social justice movements. It’s true that with a Republican in the White House, more progressives would feel freer to give full voice to their complaints about America’s continued violations of civil liberties in its pursuit of suspected terrorists; its widespread use of pilotless drones to kill alleged enemies without due process; its inability to make any progress against global warming; its coddling of the criminals in the Bush administration, as well as those in the banking and housing industries who helped cause the 2008 crisis; and so on. But this freedom would come at a great cost: namely, seeing all of these problems—together with pretty much every other cause that progressives hold dear—worsen to a degree that most of us cannot even imagine. Protests will mount. Denunciations will fill the air. And the circulations of left-oriented publications and websites like this one will skyrocket. But the victims of these policies will suffer. Indeed, the millions of Americans who have been forced to live on the edge of financial collapse, or whose health is dependent on affordable and reliable healthcare, will see their margin of survival disappear.
Despite the many disappointments of his presidency, Barack Obama remains a vehicle for progressive change in America, one whose weaknesses reflect the weaknesses of the left in a system dominated by money, democratic dysfunction and a myopic media. Those are our real problems—not the attitude of the individual in the White House. And not one of them will improve once the power of the presidency is bestowed upon those who have created those problems and continue to profit by them. Indeed, nearly all of them will reach (and some may exceed) crisis proportions. And what that will lead to, no one—certainly not your author—can predict, save for one thing: chaos.