Floridians are voting today in a primary battle that could play a crucial role in deciding the Republican presidential nominee. If Sen. John McCain wins, his status as the national front-runner will be cemented. If former Gov. Mitt Romney comes out on top, the battle for the GOP presidential nomination will be up in the air.
So states the homepage at CNN.com. Now let’s see…explain to me again how McCain can have “front-runner” status when he has 38 delegates and Romney has 67? And explain to me again why a win for McCain in Florida would “cement” his status whereas a win for Romney would merely put the GOP nomination “up in the air” when a win by McCain would mean he would lead Romney by only 18 delegates whereas Romney now leads McCain by 29 delegates?
But that’s not really the point of this post. The topic here is whether the security or the economy is more important. Romney is the undisputed leader when it comes to the economy and job creation due to his business background, and McCain is equally the leader when it comes to security due to his military background.
Of course whether you have a job or not doesn’t matter if you’re dead, but those who frame the Romney vs. McCain debate this way are creating a false dichotomy. The real questions should delve at least somewhat deeper and ask the following:
1. What does the President have more control over, the economy or military strategy?
2. How different would the decisions be that McCain and Romney would make in each area?
When it comes to the economy, the President has the ability to affect the economy in the short term (meaning 4-8 years) through four tools:
3. Public relations – That is, the President’s ability to affect the economy through the use of what he says in public by virtue of the fact that anytime he speaks a lot of people listen and what the President says can affect behavior.
4. Congressional influence.
When it comes to defense/security, the President’s tools are:
1. Ability to make military appointments, that is, to influence who is in charge of what.
2. Ability to start “wars” – Yes, of course only Congress has the official capacity to declare war, but when a President can bring as much firepower as the entire military complex possessed during all of WWII to bear on a single region of the world and can put planes in the air and troops on the ground with authority to kill, then we might as well admit that the President can start wars, right?
Of course it gets more complex than this, but in essence the President has the above powers, but does he really use them in the ways in which the popular media would have us believe? That is, like a sole power in the White House issues orders based on gut feelings to which nobody can mount effective resistance?
Whatever party is not in the White House would have the public believe the President wields more power than he really does. In the current situation it allows the Democrats to make a big show of being against the war in Iraq but relieves them of the responsibility of doing anything substantive about it. The same might be said of the Republicans and the military actions taken during Clinton’s presidency.
I suspect if there were a way to truly compare what one candidate would do in a situation vs. another, we might be surprised how similar their decisions would be when it comes to security. I believe this is because for the most part, Presidents tend to delegate many military decisions. After all, it’s a scary business. We’re talking about people dying and being maimed for life. With the stakes so high, wouldn’t you be looking for advice? And wouldn’t you be inclined to take advice from those who seem to be the experts, namely the military leaders themselves?
While I’m sure Bush and Cheney were involved in the US going to war in Iraq, do you really think Al Gore would have made a different decision if he had been President? He may have felt even more pressure to respond, given the expectation on the part of the public that he might be too hesitant. After all, even Bill Clinton was willing to get involved in a messy war.
And so how different would outcomes really be between Romney, McCain, or even Clinton when it comes to security? As much as the Republicans would have us believe Clinton would be a disaster for the military (and emotionally she could be a demoralizing force not to be ignored), I believe Clinton would probably abdicate military strategy almost entirely to the military, while Romney or McCain would merely be more interested, but would also ultimately follow the advice of military strategists, leading to generally the same outcomes.
However, when it comes to the economy, Presidents are more likely to get involved in a meaningful way because the stakes are less dramatic. And so whereas with a military action we might see a President taking advice from many sources and then merely appearing to be a decision-maker when in reality the decision was made by others, when it comes to the economy we might see a President getting down and dirty and working to push certain legislation through. And of course Congress acts the same way. And so while the damage a President will cause to military strategy and defense is minimal (if we can assume the greater the involvement of the government in any particular area, the greater the negative impact), the influence a President might exert on the economy could be far more extreme and might differ more from one candidate to another.
And that’s where Romney has the edge, at least amongst those who see the difference between McCain and Romney being bigger than the difference between the two when it comes to security. Then there’s the issue of whether security is really the biggest factor influencing people. Yes, death by terrorist attack is frightening, and I know the people in New York weren’t expecting it either, but realistically, what are the chances of anyone in the US being killed by a terrorist? It’s not something I worry about when it comes to Presidential elections, in part because I can’t do much of anything about it, and in part because I feel as though whoever gets in will end up doing more or less the same thing to defend against such attacks, which is to essentially make sure someone is over it, and then get out of the way.
But am I worried about the economy? Oh my, yes. The chances of me being directly affected by the economy are virtually 100%, and I see a big difference between the kind of economic legislation we might see with McCain or Clinton vs. Romney. Will McCain tackle Social Security and Medicaid? Will he really cut spending? Does he really understand anything about how the economy works? Remember, we’re talking about a guy who has flirted with the idea of switching his party affiliation.
And so I continue to back Romney because what I want for myself, my family, and others is safety (which I think just about any candidate will provide), and the freedom to succeed and be rewarded for my ingenuity (assuming I find some one of these days).
Here’s to hoping Romney will cement his front-runner status by winning the Florida primaries today.