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Romney’s “Gaffes” vs. Obama’s Graft

February 29, 2012 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Elections: 2012

So far there’s not a whit of evidence that Mitt Romney’s “gaffes” in inadvertently referencing his personal wealth at campaign appearances and debates have cost him a single vote in the 2012 presidential election.

We hear from mainstream pundits and wire service reporters—most of whom wouldn’t dream of voting for a conservative, but are terrified that Romney will be the GOP nominee—how Romney’s horrifying Freudian slips are bound to alienate undecided voters, Reagan Democrats, and moderate Republicans.

Romneys’ unspeakable comments have included: extolling voluntary contracts in the free market (“I like being able to fire people… if someone doesn’t give me the good service that I need”), affirming the social safety net (“I’m not concerned about the very poor—we have a safety net”), challenging candidate Rick Perry on a falsehood (“$10,000 bet?”), and expressing his support for the Detroit auto industry (“Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs”).  These forbidden lines have supposedly frightened off otherwise open-minded voters and driven them straight into the comforting arms of humble everyman Obama.  Good citizens everywhere were supposedly all set to pull the lever for Romney, but are now running screaming at the thought of a president who has achieved phenomenal business success in the private sector and isn’t ashamed of it.

Commentators claim that voters will be dissuaded from choosing Romney because of his “tone-deaf” comments, or the fact that Romney doesn’t “register with ordinary folks.”

I have yet to hear any actual, living-and-breathing voter attest that he will not be voting for Romney because of his remarks on his wealth.

The way I see it, anyone impervious enough to lockstep liberal ideology to be an independent is reasonable enough to cut Romney some slack and comprehend his meaning.  Anyone contemptuous enough of profit, wealth, and capitalism to be offended by his remarks wasn’t going to vote for him anyway.

But Romney’s loose tongue—supposedly the fatal flaw of a candidate so slick he’ll say anything to get elected, except… um, when he doesn’t—is as tight as a spring compared to Obama’s penchant for blowing through other people’s money.

Just for comparison: Which candidate deadpanned “I’m also unemployed” in a coffee shop in Florida with voters, who laughed at his joke; and which candidate glibly proclaimed that his trillion-dollar stimulus package—which was supposed to keep unemployment under 8% but failed to keep it below 10%—was a success because unemployment hadn’t shot up to 15%?

Which candidate affirmed that “corporations are people,” in the sense that “everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people”; and which candidate bashes corporations, even though his presidential election committee raked in millions of dollars in corporate donations?

Which candidate bet a fellow presidential contender $10,000 of his own money, and which candidate has increased the national debt by $4 trillion of ours?

Which candidate said he liked being able to fire people for giving him crummy service and hire more talented workers, in the context of arguing why health insurance should be decoupled from employment and everyday citizens should be free to shop around for different insurers?  Which candidate proclaimed his desire for the productive coal industry and its innocent blue-collar employees to go “bankrupt,” rates for vital electricity service to “skyrocket,” and a permit for the Keystone Pipeline that would have created tens of thousands of jobs for hardworking Americans to be denied?

Which candidate expressed confidence in the coverage offered by the welfare state he disproportionately funds with his earnings; and which candidate lectured a middle-class, self-employed plumber in Ohio to “spread” his “wealth” around to welfare recipients?

Which candidate bought two Cadillacs with his own money, and which candidate flies Air Force One around the country attending fundraisers wasting millions of dollars of ours?

Which candidate modestly suggested, “I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much”—$374,000 in 2011, for making dozens of coveted speaking appearances at companies such as HP, Barclays, and the International Franchise Association, whose leaders were eager to hear his Midas touch business advice and confident that implementing his tips would more than compensate them for his fees?  In contrast, which candidate’s wife received a boost in her salary from $122,910 to $316,962 the year after her newly appointed Senator husband from Illinois awarded $1,000,000 in federal earmarks to the hospital where she worked?

Which candidate noted “I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners” in explaining his connection to the sport, and which candidate has spent three months as president golfing on the taxpayers’ dime?

Romney may have lots of money, but Obama just craves more of ours—for himself, for his family, for his cronies, and for his political ambitions.  I don’t want a president who’s “in touch” with everyday Americans, if being in touch means slapping them on the back while reaching into their pockets and emptying their wallets.

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Liberalism Is a Terrible Idea; It’s Just Been Implemented Properly

February 22, 2012 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Economy

Poor Greece is on the verge of defaulting on its bills and declaring bankruptcy.  Credit rating agencies S&P, Moody’s, and Fitch long ago downgraded Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain (the PIGS) and gave them negative outlooks, with Greece getting Cs across the board.  (Cuba, Pakistan, and Burkina Faso are a few of the nations with better ratings than Greece.)  If Greece runs out of money and fails to pay €14.5 billion to service its debt on March 20, European markets could be badly shaken.

Greece’s financial woes are the result of its unsustainable social welfare entitlement state, whereby working adults are promised generous pensions and early retirements, and younger generations must cough up the money to pay for these, though they won’t receive similar benefits when they retire.  (Sound familiar?)  The government has been borrowing to subsidize these pensions, but it’s not enough—partly because Greece has one of the lowest birthrates in the world, and partly because swaths of young educated Greeks are fleeing the country and emigrating elsewhere to find work.

The European Union—the ill-advised, 27-member collective of largely Western European nations—adopted a common currency among 17 of its members to facilitate trade.  Greater economic stability was supposed to result from the fact that if certain members were in trouble, other members would better be able to bail them out until they got back on their feet.  But the PIGS’ problems are long-term, structural flaws that will lead to greater financial ruin with each passing year.

The wealthier, larger, more financially secure countries—especially Germany—resent perpetually having to rescue these flailing nations.  They’re suspicious that bailing the PIGS out will be temporary fixes, that these nations won’t enact reforms needed to right their economies.  Given that parties to the left of Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos’ Socialist Party have been dominating the polls ahead of April’s early national elections, who can blame Germany for mistrusting Greece?

For a while, it seemed German Chancellor Angela Merkel would decline Greece’s request for a bailout—their second since 2010—and let the country declare bankruptcy.  Merkel relented, on the condition that Greece enact widespread austerity measures, subject its spending to greater EU scrutiny, and reduce its public debt to “only” 120% of its GDP by 2020.  Austerity measures would include cutting government agencies, jobs, and wages; pensions; higher education subsidies; and health care benefits.  In return, private holders of Greek bonds would take a 70% cut in the value of their holdings.

Meanwhile Germany is drafting backup plans, whereby Greece would leave the euro if it fails to reduce its debt and implement austerity cuts and privatization of state functions.  German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and nations such as Austria and Finland openly question Greece’s potential to rebound.

Everyday Greeks, steeped in the European entitlement mentality that promises them a comfortable living their entire lives, are livid.  For weeks, thousands of citizens have protested, rioted, and looted in a display of spoiled petulance that makes Occupy Wall Street look like the Tea Party.  They have fomented violent clashes with police, instigated mayhem and injury, and caused millions of euros of damage to public and private buildings.  Protestors came out en masse on Sunday before decisive talks among the Eurogroup in Brussels over whether to implement the Grecian bailout.

In Greece as in the U.S., everyday folks blame the government for not collecting enough taxes from the rich—which would only stifle job creation and do little to alleviate Greece’s debt crisis.  They scapegoat banks for mismanagement, and lament the government’s failure to prosecute financial executives—as though throwing a few bankers in jail would solve their problems.

The mainstream media have conspired in the protestors’ mission by labeling the austerity cuts “punishing,” as though not getting as much as you want for free is an intolerable deprivation.  Prodigality appeasers insist we rescue Greece and blindly trust their commitment to reform.

One New York Times commentator concluded a lengthy profile of struggling Greek citizens thusly: “Greece’s traditional infrastructure may not be the ultimate answer to its problems… but it may make difficult times less painful.”  Yes, and Greece’s traditional infrastructure is what brought about those difficult times in the first place.

Just as Paul Krugman and other leftists repeatedly, recklessly exhort the U.S. government to spend even more money it doesn’t have on stimulus, lest the country slip further into recession, EU bailout critics warn that austerity cuts will further hobble Greece’s economy.  The Guardian’s Fabian Lindner declares, “Europe is in dire need of lazy spendthrifts” to whom countries like Germany can export goods.  Lindner predictably argues that because Greece has instituted five sets of minor austerity cuts that haven’t yet worked, it should reverse course and ramp up government spending again.

Defenders of statism praise communism, and its relative socialism, by gushing, “It’s a great idea in theory; it’s just never been implemented properly.”  In fact, communism and socialism are terrible ideas, and have been implemented squarely in line with their supporters’ intentions, minus any desperate freedom defenders’ last-ditch efforts to fight off government’s encroachment on citizens’ lives.  What we’re seeing in Greece is exactly what we could have expected after a half-century of full-fledged implementation of the modern welfare state.

If the U.S. continues down its current path—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid going broke, new entitlement programs like the prescription drug plan and ObamaCare being piled on, and Democrats and many Republicans unwilling to consider reforms—then we’re going the way of Greece.  The major credit rating agencies have already downgraded the U.S. and threatened to devalue us again if we don’t address our debt.  But when the U.S. defaults, there’ll be no one to bail us out.

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Santorum’s Sham Conservatism

February 15, 2012 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Elections: 2012

Michael Barone titled a recent column “Romney Appeals to White Collars, Santorum to Blue.”  Santorum’s appeal to blue-collar workers—at least those who believe in hard work, small government, personal responsibility, and self-driven upward mobility—is highly suspect.

Santorum woos primarily conservative voters who obsess over opposing abortion and gay marriage.  These voters would gladly hand over the country to a big government “compassionate conservative,” so long as he channels his policies on social issues from holy men in white collars.

Mitt Romney downplays social issues relative to Santorum (which isn’t hard) and focuses on economic issues, emphasizing his private sector business experience running Bain Capital and the Salt Lake City Olympics.

How are “blue collar voters” supposed to get excited about a candidate whose strongest campaign positions are outlawing abortion and gay marriage rather than stopping the federal government from micromanaging our economy via taxes, regulations, and shovel-ready-job-killing “green” initiatives?

Santorum boosts “faith-based initiatives”—basically welfare redirected toward religious rather than secular agencies.  He calls for expanding Medicare, and authored a “Social Security Guarantee Act” that promises never to cut seniors’ benefits—in fact increases them every year.

As a Pennsylvania Senator, Santorum earmarked record amounts of money for public education and proposed more funding for the demonstrably worthless Headstart program.

Santorum sponsored a “Fair Care” act that would require taxpayers to subsidize continued health benefits for laid-off workers, and a “CARE Act” to deal with drug addiction, and wants more federal funding for organizations like “Healthy Start” and “Children’s Aid.”

He corralled federal funding to pay for low-income Americans’ heating bills.  He blocked federal legislation that would have made tiny cuts to food stamps.

He wants the U.S. to spend even more millions we don’t have to fight AIDS in Africa and genocide in the Sudan.  (Bono’s a big Santorum fan.)

He proposed a “Gasoline Affordability and Security Act” that would ban gas “price-gouging”—in 2005, years before the economic crisis and $4-a-gallon gasoline caused liberals to lose their minds over the fact that our gas prices were only moderately less expensive than Europe’s instead of much less expensive.

He bailed out Pennsylvania dairy farmers via the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program.

Why, Santorum is positively Reaganesque!

As Jonathan Rauch noted, Santorum favors “national service, ‘individual development accounts,’ publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, economic literacy programs in every school in America, and more.  Lots more.”

And Santorum brags about all of this, on his website and in his campaign literature and in his books and on TV and in radio appearances and at voter rallies.  And then he has the temerity to lecture the GOP that he is the most conservative of the 2012 lineup.

In case you were wondering, Santorum dabbles in environmentalism when he has the time.  He secured $100 million in earmarks to build an expensive, inefficient “clean coal” plant in Pennsylvania.  He diverted funds to pay for restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and preservation of farmlands, natural resources that could otherwise have supported greater commercial fishing and agricultural activity.

If Santorum were merely a garden-variety big government type, I would call him a “Democrat” and move on.  But Santorum claims a different mantle.

Santorum has been making the rounds expressly rejecting the libertarian brand of conservatism, going so far as to say he has “real concerns” about the Tea Party, because they focus too much on economic and not enough on social issues.

Rauch notes that Santorum favors “promotion of prison ministries, strengthened obscenity enforcement, and covenant marriage”—all hot-button issues at the top of voters’ priority list this year.

In a disgusting interview with NPR in 2006, Santorum lamented, “[T]he left has gone so far left, and the right in some respects has gone so far right, that they touch each other…  This whole idea of personal autonomy—well, I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view.  Some do.  They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low…”

Take away his opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and Rick Santorum doesn’t have a conservative bone in his body.

Santorum’s followers see his crusade as blinding white and pure, because it centers on the moral absolutes of two narrow religious issues on which at best half the country agree with him.

Given his 18-point loss in his senatorial reelection bid in his home state of Pennsylvania and his spiritual inclinations, it seems that Santorum’s true calling—and most suitable vocation after he loses the Republican presidential nomination—is that of a small-town preacher, or perhaps a Salvation Army volunteer.

While Rick Santorum courts evangelicals in a holy war to save fetuses and the exclusive legal status of opposite-sex marriage, Romney focuses on the issue that interests conservatives, moderates, and independents—our next president’s hands-off handling of the economy.

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Obama Isn’t Concerned About the Very Poor

February 08, 2012 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Elections: 2012

The media have been aghast over GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney’s remark in an interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien last week that the very poor in this country can go to hell.  The comment supposedly reinforces Romney’s image as a cold, heartless country club Republican who eats orphans for breakfast.

Of course Romney said no such thing; what he said was, “I’m in this race because I care about Americans.  I’m not concerned about the very poor—we have a safety net there.  If it needs a repair, I’ll fix it.  I’m not concerned about the very rich—they’re doing just fine.  I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90 to 95% of Americans who right now are struggling.”

Only a party with a very dull, tiresome axe to grind would willfully misunderstand the obvious meaning of Romney’s words.  (Then again, this is the party that heard “I like being able to fire people…  If someone doesn’t give me a good service… I want to say, ‘I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me’” as proof of a sadistic streak.)

Romney’s message was that he was using his campaign to focus on how Obama’s policies have hurt the vast middle class, the bulk of whom don’t receive federal assistance.  As he clarified, “Of course I’m concerned about all Americans—poor, wealthy, middle class, but the focus of my effort will be on middle income families who I think have been most hurt by the Obama economy.”  Call it the Goldilocks campaign: He won’t dwell on the upper 5%, he won’t dwell on the lower 5%—he’ll focus on the 90% in between.

Being offended over Romney’s innocuous remark is like being offended because a university offers financial aid to only its poorest students, but enacts structural reforms to save the rest of its students tuition money.

Don’t we have enough politicians endlessly lamenting the plight of the poor—most of whom, by the way, eventually escape poverty, usually when they grow out of their twenties?  I’m not holding my breath for politicians to defend hardworking, job-creating billionaire software engineers or hedge fund managers, but is it so wrong for a politician to empathize with the middle class every now and then?

Conservatives who argue that Romney should have encouraged the poor to prosper on their own instead of promising them more handouts are missing the point.  Romney wasn’t offering a policy prescription for low-income Americans; he was trying to get a pesky liberal journalist off his back by assuring her he wasn’t about to slash the left’s cherished social programs.

The same commentators who claim Romney will say anything to get elected are the ones who complain he’s perpetually screwing up by being too honest.

Since the media is so interested in divining presidential candidates’ degree of empathy for the poor, how about we dig into the vast trove of encomiums Obama has piled up for the middle class:

“I’m a warrior for the middle class.”

“We can’t have special interests sitting shotgun.  We’ve got to have middle class families up in front.”

“Responsible businesses are forced to compete against unscrupulous and underhanded businesses who… take advantage of middle-class families.”

“In an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class.”

“I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans.”

Where’s your love for the “very poor,” Obama?  Don’t they need a warrior, too?  Shouldn’t they be allowed to sit up front?  Aren’t they harmed by unscrupulous and underhanded businesses?  Don’t they pay taxes?  (Well, no, actually, they don’t.  I’ll give you that one.)

Obama gives a shout out to the middle class every five seconds, yet the media never accuse him of pandering for votes the way they do Romney.

Meanwhile, Romney reaffirms his commitment to the social safety net and promises he’ll make it bigger if whiny Democrats insist, and he’s blithely accused of tossing sacks of kittens in the river.

(Let’s not forget Obama’s luxurious three years of parading around on the taxpayers’ dime in the middle of a brutal recession: his endless expensive vacations, tony outings, golf games, and lavish White House bashes—celebrity concerts, conga lines, Alice in Wonderland recreations—to which I’m sure few of the “very poor” were invited.)

More important than rhetoric is the effect candidates’ policies have on the poor.

As The New York Times reported in September, the number of households living below the poverty line has increased to its highest level since the Census Bureau began reporting the statistic 52 years ago.

The Times also noted that median household income declined more in the two years since the recession supposedly ended than it had during the actual recession.  Declines have been greatest for African Americans and those without high school diplomas, groups historically overrepresented among the “very poor.”

As a result of Obama’s growth-stalling, business-strangling, debt-accumulating policies, one in seven Americans is on food stamps, and Medicaid enrollment has surpassed 50 million recipients—both record highs.  One out of six households relies on some form of government assistance.

But it’s all good for Obama, so long as he can hobble the economy and slow the rate at which the “rich get richer,” even if it means hurting the poor.  As Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once noted of her opposition in the House of Commons, the socialist left “would rather have the poor poorer, provided that the rich were less rich.”

Cynics will claim Democrats are merely fostering a permanent underclass to ensure a solid voting bloc—a damning enough accusation.  But for Obama, who is more redistributionist at his core than any Democratic president since FDR, there is a darker motive behind his policies:

Obama would rather be less concerned about the poor if it means he can demonstrate even greater contempt for the rich.

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Dear Newt: Please Stick Around as Long as You Like

February 01, 2012 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Elections: 2012

Much has been written about 2012 GOP presidential primary frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich’s weaknesses as candidates.

Less has been written about how they stand up next to each other, and whom the comparison favors.  A close look at their records makes it clear that Romney can only benefit from Gingrich staying in the race as long as possible.

Gingrich will likely help Romney in two ways: first, by making Romney seem more conservative to hesitant members of the Tea Party wing of the GOP.  This will happen via Gingrich’s patchwork quilt of liberal positions on such issues as Romney’s role at Bain Capital (“Exploitive!”), Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity (“Right-wing social engineering!”), and Nancy Pelosi’s cap-and-trade bill (“Bipartisan!”).

Second, Gingrich may push Romney to the right on some issues, nudging his competitor to come out more forcefully for the conservative aspects of his platform and commit to them more unwaveringly as campaign promises.

(This is in contrast to the advantage Romney gains by Ron Paul staying in the race, which is for Paul to make Romney seem like a spring chicken with a manly laugh instead of an old goat with a girlish giggle.)

Newt’s attacks on Romney from the left will help Romney develop defenses against the charges the Obama campaign will inevitably fling at him in the general election.

And positions on which Gingrich is good—for example, his promise to repeal Obamacare on his first day in office—may spur Romney to take ever bolder stances.  If you have any doubts about Romney fulfilling his oath to issue a 50-state executive waiver, Newt’s upping the ante on Obamacare will make it harder for Romney to back down.  Newt’s grandiosity, however annoying and impracticable, will prod Romney to promise and act bigger.

(Give Newt credit, I guess, for proposing too many ideas rather than too few.  It’s just that voters get suspicious when the ideas include things like giving the moon statehood.)

Newt’s arrogance and intemperance will make Romney seem even-handed and statesmanlike.  Take Newt’s petulant refusal to debate Obama in the general election if the events are moderated by “the media.”  And they say Newt won’t help build party unity!

What of Newt’s endless, reckless assaults on Romney?  Won’t they hurt Romney in voters’ eyes?  I doubt it.  Being called fickle by Newt is like being called a blowhard by Al Sharpton.

But it’s not only Newt’s venomous attacks on Romney that will drive voters to side with the former Massachusetts governor.  Newt’s pathetic justifications for his dips in the polls and poor recent debate performances belie his claim that Romney is the forked-tongue prevaricator in the race.  My favorite Newt excuse, on his Tampa debate with Romney last week, is: “I stood there thinking, ‘How can you say these things you know are falsehoods?’  That’s why I was quiet, because there was no civil way to call him out on what was in fact a series of falsehoods that were astonishing.”  Because if there’s one thing we know about Newt, it’s that he’d rather be quiet than uncivil!

Or consider this half-baked zinger, which Gingrich offered as a rationalization for why Romney would win the Florida primary: “He can bury me for a very short amount of time with four or five or six times as much money, most of it raised in Wall Street from the guys who got bailouts from the government.”

Let’s unpack this obfuscating, run-on defense, which sounds like something a Democrat would say.  Under normal circumstances, we tend to accept that candidates who raise lots of cash have many passionate supporters.  Gingrich himself has been bragging about how much cash he raised after his unexpected South Carolina victory.  Now suddenly campaign cash is bad?

“A very short amount of time” implies that Romney will best Gingrich in the polls for just a few days, maybe a few weeks—a mere blip in the unstoppable wave of his opponent’s gathering momentum.  Um, wait—doesn’t that precisely describe Gingrich’s standing?

As for Wall Street: Which former GOP Speaker of the House supported the September 2008 bank bailout?  Why, that’s right—Newt Gingrich!

Gingrich has threatened to stay in the race until the 2012 Republican National Convention in August.  I say bring it on.

Romney doesn’t give the GOP exactly what it wants as a candidate, but what he gives us is better than what any of the remaining candidates gives us—and Newt’s presence in the race makes Romney an especially appealing contrast.  Rick Santorum obsesses over social issues and is an unreliable fiscal conservative.  Ron Paul is terrible on foreign policy.  But Newt is in a category of his own: erratic and reckless, bombastic and bloviating, he alienates independents, many conservatives, and probably his own dog.

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