Varying in expertise from literature to economics to political science, “The Ramapo News” invited three Ramapo College professors to offer their opinions on the presidential candidates, campaigns and the state of the country.
Professors Peter Scheckner (Literature), Murray Sabrin (Finance) and Jeremy Teigen (Political Science) responded to questions ranging from understanding the political rhetoric to the country’s state of affairs. Let’s see what they had to say.
Mitt Romney has been viewed by some as a good business manager with empathy towards his workers. He has also been called an insensitive capitalist. Who do you think is the true Romney?
Peter Scheckner: Romney has become a multi-millionaire with offshore investments. Through Bain Capital, he bought up companies and fired workers. I’m not believing that Romney is about the welfare of workers.
Murray Sabrin: I’m more interested in what Romney would do as president rather than what he did with Bain Capital. These are two different institutions; one is running a company for profit and the other is running the federal government with military commitments and regulations that stifle businesses and a debt that is exploding with unfunded liabilities. The question is what has Romney said in this campaign that makes me confident that he will address these issues. The answer is zero. The cake has been baked. The problems are so monumental we need an “extreme makeover” in the federal government, and he has not enunciated them in the campaign.
Jeremy Teigen: It is excruciatingly difficult to run for office and becomes even more so the higher up the ballot you go. Romney feels the need to demonstrate competence. He repeatedly says, “I know how to balance a budget.” He needs to tap strongly in his non-political background more than his background as governor. It comes with a great deal of missteps when you are trying to appeal to the voter. He seems to get caught with microphones that are on as well as not knowing when they are not on.
Do you think the criticism toward Barack Obama that he did not do enough in four years to stimulate the economy is justified?
PS: I feel that more money could have been invested in the stimulus but Obama did not get any support from the Republicans especially with Obamacare.
MS: I reject the idea that government can stimulate the economy. Innovation, creativity, risk-taking entrepreneurship stimulates the economy, which comes from free people working to create better products. Obama stifled the economy with stimulus money, which gave an aura of doing something to solve the recession.
JT: To me it is not a question of the actual economic proposals that the candidates offer, but rather the American peoples’ perception of not the status quo but the future. The actual economic program is less important than “do Americans believe these last four years and the economic melees can be laid solely on the Bush administration?” Obama is making that case while Romney is placing the lack of improvement on his opponent.
Is it political rhetoric for the candidates to say what the public wants to hear? If so, how do voters sort through that to make an educated decision?
PS: Yes, but everyone does it. I do think Obama is better than Romney in fulfilling progressive promises. I do not think the president has as much power as people think he has and is controlled by forces beyond his control. Obama was never a real progressive but played to the middle, not unlike Clinton.
MS: Voters for the most part are to blame for the problems we are facing. They elected the president and members of Congress so the public has to take ownership of the mess we are in. Governments do not create wealth-the private sector does. In the last 50 years, more people have depended on the government to sustain themselves, and government has enabled this with social programs.
JT: Democracy doesn’t give us good outcomes, it gives us poplar outcomes. We have a system of putting people in office based on their perception. Candidates must go through an elaborate dance of huge fund raising, winning over their core party’s constituency in the primaries and then do a subtle tap dance towards the middle. We may not like to admit it, but we don’t like to hear the symbolic stuff. We need more than a comparison of his budget to his budget to make a decision.
Now that the debates are over, do you think they made an impact in determining voters’ decisions?
PS: Naturally, it remains to be seen. Obama didn’t even show up for the first debate, and his supporters wondered what he was thinking. He seemed to make it up in the other debates. By and large, I think people have made up their mind and see clear differences between the two. Romney is playing up to the women’s vote, and I don’t know how much people are paying attention at this point.
MS: Elections are determined by independent voters. Now it is a matter of who the people trust and who will make a better economy.
JT: The role of debates in deciding the outcome is minor. We can see bounces in the polls, but no debate performance can dig you out of or remove you from a 5-6 point advantage of the polls. The debates could have been the thing that pushed Romney to a more even footing.
What is your opinion of America’s foreign policy?
PS: America is in a bad way and has been for years with these wars of discretion that did not have to be fought. We spend so much money, trillions of dollars if you add in all the medical and post war costs, and we are verging on a chronic recession. These Middle East countries have seen American military footprints for so many years, not because we love the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is about the energy and gas in the region.
MS: We have been in the wrong place at the wrong time for too long. If there is one place the American government should not be involved in, it is the Middle East. We should have friendly relations with every country so we can trade with them. That will create a robust economy rather than try and impose democracy on a country that does not have a culture based on the principles that founded our country. It is arrogant of us to try and do so.
JT: What is difficult for Romney is that he is constrained. We do not like our candidates to differ dramatically about foreign policy. Romney has to make the case that much of the chaotic events of the Middle East is beyond the control of the president. Romney’s claim is he would be more of a leader, but it is nebulous. That is why people perceive the last debate as a victory for Obama because so often Obama could say, “So glad you agree with my foreign policy.”
What character traits influence voters’ decisions in the campaigns?
PS: It has been said it is probably more likely to find a sabertooth white tiger than an undecided voter. Politics are so coated by race, class and gender that it is very difficult to find people who are undecided.
MS: There are two things: likability and trust. Mr. Romney’s likability is not very high nor is his trust factor. He has been all over the place in promoting various points of view. As Senator [Ted] Kennedy said when he was running against him for the senate seat, “He is the multiple choice candidate. He’ll take whatever position is beneficial to his candidacy.”
JT: Leadership and integrity. I don’t mean to recite the Boy Scout law, but leadership is a nebulous thing to measure but common six-pack voters have an ability to perceive that.
Assuming the fundamental policies of the Republican Party and Democratic Party are understood, how do undecided voters determine what sways their position?
PS: Republicans use the s-word for socialism, the c-word for communism or the f-word for fascism, and many Americans say you are right. It is scary that people are not critical-thinking. We outspend the world with military spending, and we wonder why there is no money for higher education.
MS: It comes down to people’s perception in the role of government. I concluded 40 years ago that we really only have one party in Washington, the Washington Party, and they vie for control of the White House. We have an untenable structure where people have been told: we have benefits but you don’t have to pay for them. That is a prescription for disaster.
JT: Ninety percent of partisans vote for their candidate. People mostly maintain their partisan loyalty virtually throughout their life. It is a mystery how true independents are motivated.
Are we better off now than we were four years ago?
PS: It depends on who you ask. People who are dropping out of high school and not graduating from college or graduates with horrific debt are not in a better state. A lot of people are not better off, but I don’t know that it is Obama’s fault. I think the Republicans and Democrats have to take responsibility for supporting these horrific wars. Funding is drying up and students are graduating with huge debt. The system is failing a lot of people and both parties are at fault.
MS: In the sense that we are out of Iraq and winding down in Afghanistan, we are better off. But we may not be better off if we get involved with Syria and potentially Iran. My greatest fear is that we have effectively declared war in Iran with sanctions. They haven’t done anything to us and we have been the aggressor.
JT: If you ask the two candidates that, you would get vividly different answers. It depends on what you mean by better. Both candidates would say yes, but Romney would say the slop of increase should have been steeper. Obama says that if we put your policies in place we would have been worse off.