John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Romney talks himself into role

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America cannot afford another term with Barack Obama

Mitt Romney has been just a name and an all-American face to most people until this week. Now, to millions who watched the election debate, he looks very much like a President. And President Obama does not.

Romney was talking not just to America but a world that is still waiting to recover from the global financial crisis. It has been four years and the world's leading economy is still on life-support, still receiving injections of stimulant from its central bank and business is not responding.

It is not making new investments and hiring more staff. The economy is barely growing, unemployment is more than 8 per cent.

I think Romney knows why business is not responding and it has nothing much to do with Obama's taxes and spending and regulations and healthcare that Romney criticised so genially and reasonably this week.

After four years of stimulus, business is not responding probably because it knows the stimulant can't last. John Maynard Keynes invented an antidote to depression but he didn't tell us how to get the patient off the drip. The 1930s didn't really recover until World War II.

The chairman of the United States Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, is said to be an expert scholar of the Depression. And he doesn't know how to get the economy off the drip.

In a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana this week, Bernanke tried to convince investors that though the Fed now says it will keep its interest rate near zero until at least mid-2015, this did not mean it expects the economy to be weak for that long. He said his board intended to keep the rate low well after the economy strengthens.

To orthodox economists that sounds like inflation. No wonder investors are getting out of the US dollar and the currencies of well-governed countries such as New Zealand are rising too high. We have a lot riding on this election.

Bernanke and the Federal Reserve board were not once mentioned in the candidates' debate, which was a good thing. It pays to keep monetary policy out of partisan politics.

But this time last year, when some of the wilder contenders for the Republican nomination were criticising the bank's "quantitative easing" (creating money by buying government debt) and supporting a bill to give Congress more monetary oversight, Romney was asked for his view.

Fortunately he didn't support the bill but said that if elected he would replace Bernanke. "I'd be looking for somebody new," he said. "I think Ben Bernanke has overinflated the amount of currency he has created."

Under Romney things could get rough for a while but investors would see reality ahead. He was utterly convincing in the debate when he said he knows what gives companies confidence to expand and hire people. All the criticism he has taken for his venture capital firm has served only to burnish his business credentials now.

Obama sensibly said nothing about Bain Capital in the debate. Obama looked a beaten man, hesitant, lacking conviction, unable to look Romney in the eye and hanging his head as his record was criticised.

What happened to the phenomenon of four years ago? The trouble with breaking a barrier is that as soon as it's broken it ceases to matter, and if the barrier was racial it becomes unmentionable. Once in office Obama was just another President grappling with gigantic problems, and less assertive than any I can remember.

Israel blandly defied his ultimatum to stop settlers stealing more Palestinian land on the West Bank and he did nothing. He left his signature health care plan largely to congressional Democrats.

American foreign policy has made some good decisions on his watch, particularly its response to the Egyptian revolution. It quietly helped get Mubarak out of power without bloodshed and it seems to accept that Arab democracy will be Islamist.

Its security strikes against terrorists, notably Osama bin Laden, have been more effective than George W. Bush's wars.

It may be to Obama's credit that he is content to stay behind the scenes, letting these things seem to happen of their own accord. But perhaps they don't have much to do with him.

I can't remember an Administration that made less news. Apart from Hilary Clinton, who is leaving now, we hardly hear of anyone around him. Offhand, I can't name his current chief of staff or even the White House press spokesman. How many here knew who was Defence Secretary until Leon Panetta visited last month?

Early on, Obama had a couple of reputable economic advisers in Lawrence Summers from the Clinton Administration, who left, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. There doesn't appear to be any economic drive in his White House now.

Nice man, but I don't think America can afford to give him a second term.

- NZ Herald

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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