It's easy to have fun with the news that two stalwart defenders of the free market, the Financial Times and the Economist, have both endorsed that crazy Muslim socialist Barack Obama for president of the United States.
But that's not the surprising part. Both publications endorsed Obama in 2008. Both are willing to (grudgingly) compliment the president for arresting the plummet toward an economic depression, and both are reasonably happy with his calm approach to foreign policy.
What's surprising is that they didn't endorse Romney. Because they desperately, desperately would have loved to do so, if Mitt had just given them one good reason. The Economist headline captures this regret: "America could do better than Barack Obama; sadly, Mitt Romney does not fit the bill."
Sadly! One gets a strong visual image here of an English peer of the realm, tapping the ash off his stogie while staring moodily at a map of the world, and declaiming: "The British Empire had so much to offer; sadly those ungrateful wretches in the colonies wanted nothing of it."
In a normal universe, stodgy believers in the primacy of the free market over Big Government would be falling over themselves to endorse a titan of business. Romney's alienation of what should have been his core demographic is shocking.
Both publications claim that, notwithstanding Obama's successes, his term has been a disappointment. (The Economist rues his "anti-business" stance, and both editorial writers are very unhappy that the president somehow did not manage to solve the budget deadlock.) But they still can't bring themselves to believe in Romney -- of whom, the Economist writes, brutally, "Mr Romney has an economic plan that works only if you don’t believe most of what he says."
For both papers, the primary issue comes down to trust. Romney's constant shifts in ideology make it difficult to believe in anything he says. Even worse, if you take him at face value right now, he makes no sense.
The Financial Times:
The more serious objection to Mr Romney is that he has gone through so many contortions to win his party’s nomination that it is hard to see how he would govern in practice. His wishlist includes an aspiration to raise Pentagon spending by a fifth while cutting everyone’s taxes and still somehow balancing the books. Such fiscal alchemy is an exercise in evasion, not a recipe for sustainable economic recovery.
Obama’s shortcomings have left ample room for a pragmatic Republican, especially one who could balance the books and overhaul government. Such a candidate briefly flickered across television screens in the first presidential debate. This newspaper would vote for that Mitt Romney, just as it would for the Romney who ran Democratic Massachusetts in a bipartisan way (even pioneering the blueprint for Obamacare). The problem is that there are a lot of Romneys and they have committed themselves to a lot of dangerous things.
Previous generations of Economist and Financial Times editors might have convinced themselves to believe in the inner-capitalist Romney rather than in the severely conservative-moderate Romney, but this time around, the nature of the GOP beast seems to have scared them off. The Economist puts it best:
the Republicans have become a party of Torquemadas, forcing representatives to sign pledges never to raise taxes, to dump the chairman of the Federal Reserve and to embrace an ever more Southern-fried approach to social policy.
There's your the bottom line. The Republican brand has become so sullied that the ultimate defenders of market-based economics don't want to trust it with more power. Far better to let a Big Government interventionist hold the reins, than the 2012 incarnation of the GOP. That tells you everything you need to know about the state of American politics, this November.