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Leader: The world cannot afford a defeat for Barack Obama

A Romney victory would greatly increase the chances of war with Iran, embolden the most reactionary elements in Israel and further accelerate climate change.

If Barack Obama has fallen short of the expectations of many of his supporters, it is partly because they were so high to begin with. During his election campaign in 2008, Mr Obama spoke lyrically of “hope” and “change” and promised a new era of post-partisan politics. His unique status as his country’s first black president encouraged the sense that the limits of the possible had been redefined. Liberals embraced him as the man who would close Guantanamo Bay, bring peace to the Middle East and slow “the rise of the oceans”.

But Mr Obama did not reckon on the recalcitrance of a Republican opposition that has sought to undermine his presidency at every turn, or the intransigence of leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Binyamin Netanyahu. Four years on from his election, Guantanamo Bay remains open, the Middle East peace process has collapsed and the oceans have continued to rise. Yet, if the initial adulation for him was excessive, then so, too, is much of the subsequent disdain.

Mr Obama entered office in more difficult circumstances than any US president since Franklin D Roosevelt. The economy was in the deepest recession in 70 years and losing jobs at a rate of 750,000 a month; the automobile industry appeared destined for bankruptcy; the US was embroiled in a ruinous and unjust war in Iraq. It was, as we said at the time of his election, “the in-box from hell”. In view of this inheritance, he has performed creditably.

Early in his presidency, he acted to prevent another Great Depression by introducing a fiscal stimulus of $787bn, a mixture of tax cuts, infrastructure projects and increased unemployment benefits. Republican claims that the stimulus was “a failure” are entirely unsupported by evidence. A study by Mark Zandi, a former economic adviser to John McCain, and Alan Blinder, a former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, concluded that the policy had created or saved 2.7 million jobs and added 3.4 per cent to US GDP. The US economy has now grown for 13 consecutive quarters, a record that compares favourably with that of the austerity-fixated UK. A more appropriate criticism of the stimulus is that it was too small – yet it is doubtful that a bigger package would have passed Congress, and the final bill, 50 per cent larger in real terms than the entire New Deal, stands as a considerable achievement.

Similarly successful, as Nicky Woolf reports on page 18, was the government-led bailout of Chrysler and General Motors, an intervention dogmatically opposed by the Republicans. “Let Detroit go bankrupt,” declared Mr Obama’s opponent Mitt Romney in November 2008. Should he fail to win Ohio, a state that no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying, that could be his epitaph.

It is in the sphere of foreign policy that Mr Obama has disappointed. While fulfilling his pledge to withdraw all US troops from Iraq, he has vastly expanded the use of predator drones in Pakistan, a form of warfare that is neither just nor efficacious. In the Middle East, he has been con­sistently outmanoeuvred by Mr Netanyahu, who, in violation of international law, has continued the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Yet any temptation to suggest that the world can afford a defeat for Mr Obama is dispelled by the prospect of a Romney presidency. A victory for the Republican candidate, who, as Mehdi Hasan writes on page 38, has surrounded himself with Bush-era neoconservatives, would greatly increase the chances of war with Iran, embolden the most reactionary elements in Israel and further accelerate climate change.

On the domestic level, Mr Romney’s pledge to reduce government spending by a fifth would likely plunge the US into a double-dip recession, while his plans to cut taxes for the rich and slash spending on Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies and job training would result in a marked redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest. Mr Obama’s health-care reform act – his single greatest domestic achievement – would be repealed and Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court judgment that established the legal right to abortion, would be overturned. Let no one claim that there is nothing to choose between the candidates.

Mr Obama stands in a noble liberal tradition that supports an active state as a precondition for individual flourishing. His opponent, by contrast, stands for a shrivelled public realm in which the market rules all and the poor are treated with contempt. In order that the former vision may triumph, Mr Obama must be returned as president on 6 November and Mr Romney decisively rejected.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2012 issue of the New Statesman, What if Romney wins?

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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.

For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.

IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.

Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.

Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.

Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.

The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.

His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.

He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.

I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.