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David Stockman: Supplying Both Sides with Bad Economics

April 03, 2013 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Economy

David Stockman.The Great DeformationIn a controversial New York Times piece that’s been receiving attention from both the left and the right, former Reagan budget director David A. Stockman recently argued that the federal government’s activist role in manipulating our economy for the past eight decades is responsible for our current dire financial straits.

Stockman dissects the history of abuses carried out by the Federal Reserve and notes, correctly, that the Keynesian policy of endless money printing to stimulate demand and promote liquidity leads to long-term, permanent inflation and an erosion of our currency’s value.  He takes to task George W. Bush for recklessly expanding Medicare, Obama for his poorly targeted stimulus bill, and both for their role in the 2008 bank bailout.  He notes that even so-called fiscal hawks like House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan vastly underestimate the severity of our debt crisis and soft-pedal the steps needed to resolve it.

But Stockman gets a lot wrong, too, and the bulk of his error seems to stem from a renegade streak that reflects his desire to prove himself more sagacious than both left and right.  To wit: any analyst who finds equal economic fault in both parties—labeling the problem “bipartisan,” as Stockman does—misunderstands the situation.  Yes, the right deserves blame: Nixon decoupled paper money from gold; Reagan built up massive federal deficits; George W. Bush increased government spending more than any president before him.  But Stockman justifies holding both parties equally accountable by inappropriately coupling spending cuts with raising taxes as solutions to mitigate deficits.  Stockman falls into the trap—as do most liberals—of equating federal expenditures with tax cuts.  In the liberal worldview, both entities are equivalent, because each involves spending in different forms—one on government programs that largely help the poor and middle class, the other on tax breaks that largely favor the wealthy.

But lowering marginal tax rates on high-income earners doesn’t involve spending; it involves not taking money that isn’t the government’s in the first place.  Revealing either his confusion or his deliberate blurring of the issue, Stockman writes, “Washington is piling a soaring debt burden on our descendants, unable to rein in either the warfare state or the welfare state or raise the taxes needed to pay the nation’s bills [emphasis added].”  Cut massive wasteful federal spending, gouge the rich—it’s all the same to Stockman.

Similarly, he bemoans Bush’s “giant expansion of Medicare and a tax-cutting spree for the wealthy…  In effect, the G.O.P embraced Keynesianism—for the wealthy.”  In other words, Stockman thinks letting the wealthy keep their money in the hope they’ll invest and create more wealth is the functional equivalent of burying money and paying people to dig it up.

At times Stockman rails against the size of the entitlement state, but he’s inconsistent in denouncing it.  At one point he complains that Ryan’s “proposal for draconian 30 percent cuts over a decade on the $7 trillion safety net—Medicaid, food stamps and the earned-income tax credit—is another front in the G.O.P.’s war against the 99 percent.”  Is Stockman Reagan’s former budget director or a closet Occupy Wall Streeter?

Stockman betrays further obtuseness when he complains that our two stubborn political parties, caught in “stasis,” won’t resolve our fiscal crisis in one fell swoop, but rather “in carefully choreographed crises over debt ceilings, continuing resolutions and temporary budget patches.”  In other words, the country’s having to white-knuckle it through endless, panic-filled stopgap measures is equally the fault of Democrats who refused to pass a budget for four years and Republicans who desperately tried to get one signed into law during that period.  Neither party is more to blame than the other.

Showing further solidarity with the left, Stockman writes that not only should we end deposit insurance and inexpensive Fed loans for Wall Street, but banks should be “banned from trading, underwriting and money management in all its forms.”  So banks should have to shoulder all the risks inherent in their profession—a sensible idea—but government should arbitrarily restrict the scope and nature of their profit-generating activities?  Isn’t that just the inverse of the problem we have now?

But what really undercuts Stockman’s case is the solutions he presents to resolve our crisis.  While he suggests some sensible ideas involving smaller government, including reining in the Fed and replacing the welfare state with a modest means-tested safety net, he inadvertently reveals an odd, megalomaniacal desire for control.  Under his plan, for example, Stockman would demand “the abolition of incumbency”; he would order “sweeping constitutional surgery” that would require “providing 100 percent public financing for candidates; strictly limiting the duration of campaigns (say, to eight weeks)… [and] overturning Citizens United…”  Stockman is willing to throw out free speech—including our ability to spend money to advocate for political candidates and messages—in the process of saving the country.  Why don’t we just let Stockman pick our leaders right now and be done with it?

Anyone who sees so little difference between the ideological foundations and policy contributions to our economy of our two major political parties—and who botches so many of the specifics in his exegesis of our current woes—either doesn’t have a grasp of the situation or is trying to mislead us.  And Stockman’s restrictive, authoritarian solutions suggest that—as with Democrats and their congenital desire to manipulate other people’s wealth—he really just wants to tell us working-class schlubs what to do.

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Top 10 Conservatives of 2012

November 21, 2012 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Miscellaneous

I usually wait until later in the year to publish this, but honestly—what’s going to change between now and the end of 2012?  Time to leave this miserable twelve months behind and plan for the 2014 midterms.

This was a year in which conservative winners were losers: in 2012, most of the top conservatives demonstrated greatness despite falling short in their electoral, legislative, or judicial battles:

1. Mitt Romney – Governor Romney was never as liberal as his detractors insisted—he did nominate Prince of Entitlement Reform Paul Ryan as his running mate, defend capitalism in stark moral terms in rousing campaign speeches, and promise right up until Election Day to repeal Obamacare and issue a fifty-state waiver.  He was never as incompetent as his opposition insisted—anyone who misinterpreted his harmless “gaffes” wasn’t going to vote for him anyway.  Suck it up, conservatives: Romney was our best chance to beat Obama, the most consistently conservative of the final four primary candidates, and simply our best presidential nominee since Reagan.  (Think about it.)

2. Paul Ryan – It was debatable whether Congressman and Pathway to Prosperity author Ryan could do more good by helping Romney get elected or remaining Chair of the House Budget Committee, so it’s hard to be too upset over his share in the GOP ticket’s defeat.  After maintaining a low, peaceable profile on the campaign trail, Ryan emerged with his reputation unscathed and his fiscal aims untarnished.  Four more years and he’ll be the perfect age to run as the conservative JFK—though he’d better take a stab at the Senate first, since our nation has only once elected a sitting House member President.

3. Scott Walker – The one big winner on this list, Governor Walker swatted away the gubernatorial recall effort—launched against him by Wisconsin’s teacher’s union Occupy types—with an even bigger margin than the one he won by in 2010, even if he couldn’t quite swing his state in Romney’s direction.  Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dropped from 9.3% under his Democratic predecessor to 7.3% (and 6.7% in April) in the 21 months Walker held office.  Definitely on the 2016 GOP Presidential short list, or maybe our next Speaker of the House.

4. Anthony Kennedy – Everyone had their nervous eye on Justice Kennedy as the swing vote in the Obamacare ruling; turns out he was the principled one and Chief Justice John Roberts the treacherous sellout.  After the decision upholding Obamacare, insiders publicized Kennedy’s efforts to first persuade, then distance himself from the hopelessly confused Roberts.  After perusing Kennedy’s record and learning that his occasional liberal rulings were mostly on social issues—he comes closer than any Justice to a true libertarian—I developed a newfound respect for him.

5. John Kasich – The economy has been improving markedly in many states that recently switched from Democratic to Republican governors.  After rescuing Ohio despite the tailwind of the national economy via his union-busting activities—second in force and effectiveness only to Walker’s—and helping push unemployment from 9.5% under his Democratic predecessor to 7.0% in September 2012, Governor John Kasich unfortunately was rewarded by watching Obama take credit for Ohio’s recovery and grab the state’s 18 electoral votes.

6. Mia Love – After energizing the Republican National Convention with tales of her Haitian parents’ immigration and lessons of self-reliance, this Mormon mayor from Utah and one-time aspiring Broadway dancer lost by a hair in her nationally scrutinized Congressional election.  Commentators declared that Love “broke the GOP mold,” but failed to note that she “broke the black politician mold” of left-wing, grievance-mongering Democrats.  The 113th Congress will be a lesser place without this firebrand who promised to join the Congressional Black Caucus, then “take that thing apart from the inside out.”

7. Artur Davis – One of the earliest Obama 2008 backers, former Alabama Representative Davis was a one-time campaign co-chair, and delivered one of Obama’s nominating speeches at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.  Davis stunned the political world earlier this year by announcing his switch to the Republican Party and his opposition to Obama’s reelection, and by speaking in support of Romney at the RNC in Tampa.

8. Susanna Martinez – In an instantly classic speech at the RNC, the U.S.’s first female Hispanic governor humorously related her political epiphany after a chat with two acquaintances who were trying to convert her to the GOP.  Despite her and her husband’s being lifelong Democrats, the future New Mexico Governor’s support for small government, lower taxes, and a limited welfare state led her to conclude, “I’ll be damned.  We’re Republicans!”

9. Marco Rubio – Though he lost the Vice-Presidential nomination to Paul Ryan, Rubio’s influence presaged the growing importance of the Latino-American vote and the necessity for Republicans to adopt a sane immigration policy—Romney’s one major policy weakness.  The default choice for GOP Vice-Presidential nominee in 2016, Rubio made his way to Iowa just 11 days after the election and started wowing crowds while raking in fundraising dollars for fellow Republicans.

10. Clint Eastwood – Rachel Maddow snarked that the GOP wouldn’t gain one Romney vote as a result of Eastwood’s hilarious, absurdist appearance at the RNC in which he addressed an imaginary Obama in the form of an empty chair.  Maddow’s right—the GOP isn’t impressed by vapid, conformist celebrities; our pulses are quickened by sturdy accountant types like Romney who roll up their sleeves and create wealth via bold business ventures rather than egomaniacs who bore us with politically correct cinematic trash.

Honorable Mention: Allen West – Tea Party mainstay West lost his House seat in a close election rife with voter fraud, but his two fantastic years in Congress have been well worth it.


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The 2012 GOP Platform: Play by Play

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

I’m not sure if I agree with Phyllis Schlafly that the 2012 Republican Platform is the best GOP platform ever, but it’s not too shabby.  This year’s document addresses the economy, constitutional government, energy, entitlement reform, social issues, and foreign policy, in that order.  Some highlights:

Economy

“The best jobs program is economic growth.”

This may be the one sentence in the platform that best demonstrates that Republicans “get it.”  Whatever your thoughts on big-government entitlements, workless welfare, or unfunded liabilities, all of these programs are made possible only via the engine of roaring economic growth.  (How’s Venezuela’s SCHIP program faring these days?)

It’s not the federal seat-warmer, bleeding-heart liberal, or self-satisfied wealth redistributor who creates the riches that all these characters appropriate and spread around after the government takes its gluttonous share.  None of these programs—or these bureaucrats’ jobs—would be possible without the risk-taking, foresight, and hard work of the private sector.

One of the few disadvantages of living in an economically prosperous society is that our affluence hides the extent to which the government leeches our productive citizens dry.

The authors also “get it” when they lament a federal budget process that “gave us the insidious term ‘tax expenditure,’ which means that any earnings the government allows a taxpayer to keep through a deduction, exemption, or credit are equivalent to spending the same amount on some program.”  (Democrats, in contrast, often claim that we can’t “afford” a proposed tax cut, as if it were a new pair of shoes.)

Constitutional Government

“We salute Republican Members of the House of Representatives for enshrining in the Rules of the House the requirement that every bill must cite the provision of the Constitution which permits its introduction.”

Ironically, this policy would help Democrats if enacted, in that it would prevent embarrassing gaffes like Nancy Pelosi’s “Are you serious?” response to a query about Obamacare’s constitutionality.

The platform condemns Obama’s proliferation of “czars,” numerous recess appointments, and executive orders that bypass Congress’s authority.  It disparages the President’s failure to consult Congress before going to war, allowance of heavy-handed actions by regulatory agencies, and abridgment of states’ rights via interference with voter ID laws, health care policy experimentation, and land use determination.

Everyone expects a party’s platform to include language condemning the other party’s policies.  But it’s astounding the extent to which the current administration and Democratic Congress have circumvented the processes by which such policies are supposed to be approved.  That the GOP felt the need for an entire section on restoring constitutional government speaks volumes about the current administration’s lawlessness.

Energy

“Unlike the current Administration, we will not pick winners and losers in the energy marketplace.  Instead, we will let the free market and the public’s preferences determine the industry outcomes.”

This stance would prevent billions of dollars in subsidies from going to politically connected companies promoting economically unfeasible technologies, e.g., former solar power manufacturer Solyndra.  It would also demonstrate the continued need for more traditional methods of energy production such as coal burning, and obviate committing prematurely to trendy “green” alternatives that engineers have yet to make cost-effective.

Entitlement Reform

“We salute the Republican Governors and State legislators who have, in the face of abuse and threats of violence, reformed their State pension systems for the benefit of both taxpayers and retirees alike.”

That one sentence, especially the part about “threats of violence,” says it all about Democrats’ intransigent opposition to enacting any hint of entitlement reform.

The rest of the section mostly addresses Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security reform.  While I wish the platform’s language had been tougher regarding phasing out these Ponzi schemes, I understand the need to placate seniors scared by Democratic threats that Republicans want to ruin their retirement and throw them in the street.

Social Issues

I’m glad the authors placed their inevitable “social issues” section near the end, which shows their sense of priority in this era of anemic growth and trillion-dollar deficits.  (Don’t count on the same sense of perspective from Democrats, whose platform I expect to rail frequently and loudly about the phony Republican “War on Women,” and about Romney and Ryan’s supposed ideological proximity to Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin.)  In fact, outside of a plug for “traditional marriage,” this section spends most of its verbiage endorsing economic positions such as keeping the work requirement in welfare reform, repealing Obamacare, and instituting free-market health insurance reforms.

Foreign Policy

The final section revisits the threat of Islamic terrorism and the need for the U.S. to vigorously defend itself without apologizing for its ideals.  The platform decries Obama’s defense budget cuts and affirms that “the best way to promote peace and prevent costly wars is to ensure that we constantly renew America’s economic strength.  A healthy American economy is what underwrites and sustains American power.”

The platform laments Obama’s foreign policy strategy, which “subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates ‘climate change’ to the level of a ‘severe threat’ equivalent to foreign aggression.  The word ‘climate,’ in fact, appears in the current President’s strategy more often than Al Qaeda, nuclear proliferation, radical Islam, or weapons of mass destruction.”  Ouch.

Though economic issues trump national security this election year, I do wish the authors hadn’t waited until the last page to mention the threat of Iran obtaining weapons of mass destruction.  Our prosperity is what makes our strong defense possible, but we’re not going to have much of an economy if Iran is allowed to wreak havoc on the U.S. and its allies via nuclear, biological, or cyber attacks.

Previously published in modified form at Red Alert Politics

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Cutting Waste and Fraud Is Not a Medicare Reform Proposal

August 22, 2012 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Health Care

A candidate who promises to preserve, protect, and defend Medicare, save it from going bankrupt, implement his plan for only those under 55, and let you keep your benefits exactly as they are now if you don’t like his changes: this is the candidate Democrats are portraying as a faceless monster diabolically wheeling Grandma off a cliff.

We’ve reached the apotheosis of the Democratic Party’s political strategy: take the Republican who’s most likely to do it the favor of justifying, rescuing, and strengthening its bloated, big-government welfare programs, and then smear him as their callous, murderous destroyer.

Ten days after Mitt Romney’s Vice-Presidential nomination announcement, liberals are still spreading the meme that Paul Ryan was a suicidal choice, because he dared come up with a serious Medicare reform proposal—gradually turn the program into a voucher-supported private system—and include it in two House-passed federal budgets.  The left waited about five minutes after the VP pick, then cried, “See—Romney didn’t get a Ryan bounce.  He screwed up!”

Wait till Americans hear Paul Ryan debate Joe Biden and field questions from a smarmy, economically illiterate press.  Then they won’t be crowing that Romney committed political hari-kari.

Back in 2010, the left claimed that Tea Party candidates would hurt the GOP in the midterm elections, because Americans wouldn’t tolerate their extremist, far-right views.  Then Republicans won a historic landslide, picking up 63 seats in the House, 6 seats in the Senate, 6 governorships, and 680 state legislature seats.

The left claimed that Marco Rubio would terrify seniors in Florida with his support for privatizing Social Security and his signing a pledge that labeled the program “generational theft.”  Then Rubio returned from 20 points behind to crush his opponents in a three-way senatorial election.

The left claimed that wishy-washy compromiser John McCain was the contender most likely to deliver a knockout blow to Obama in the 2008 presidential election.  Then McCain embarrassed Republicans by offering a tepid, watered-down alternative to Obama’s platform and lost the election.

Pundits imply that Romney should have picked a VP candidate with no strong positions on Medicare—or any other issue of substance—lest he alienate independents.  In fact, if any voters truly are undecided, they’re going to be blown away by what Ryan has to say on Medicare and every other budgetary topic he addresses in his upcoming campaign appearances, because it’s so much bolder and more honest than what almost any other politician has said to date.

Ryan is one of the rare political candidates who’s even more impressive in enemy territory than he is on friendly turf.

Since they don’t like the Big Bad Wolf’s proposal, what are Democrats’ plans for shoring up Medicare?

They have none.  They don’t even think there is a problem.

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy, for example, argues that Medicare is doing just fine, that the only reason costs are out of control is the large number of retiring Baby Boomers.

It doesn’t matter what the cause of Medicare’s looming insolvency is.  The increase in retirees just lays bare the Ponzi-scheme structure of Medicare and other federal unfunded liabilities.

Contrary to some Democrats’ claims, the Medicare problem is not going to solve itself.  Medicare is not, as they argue, more cost-effective than private health insurance.  The federal government prohibits the sale of private health insurance across state lines, which cripples the private insurance industry’s ability to compete and innovate.  No such hindrance exists for Medicare.

Medicare is not more cost-effective than health maintenance organizations.  The IRS hamstrings HMOs by virtually forcing private health insurance plans to be tied to employers rather than employees, which reduces flexibility and competitiveness.  No such obstacle exists for Medicare.

Medicare could never survive on its own, not without sponging off of the much larger private insurance industry.  If Medicare has such a bright future, more doctors wouldn’t be refusing to accept Medicare patients with each passing year.

The irony is that Democrats warn Republicans that Ryan’s nomination will make the Medicare issue unavoidable for them.  In fact, it’s taken Ryan’s nomination to force Democrats to finally stop avoiding the Medicare issue.

What is Obama’s proposal to address Medicare’s imminent bankruptcy?  He reassures us that we don’t need to cut benefits, that we can keep the program solvent simply by reducing fraud and waste.  In his words, “My plan saves money in Medicare by cracking down on fraud, and waste and insurance company subsidies…  My plan’s already extended the life of Medicare by nearly a decade.”

Please.  Every politician who wants to preserve the status quo claims that gobs of money can be saved from a federal program just by reducing fraud and waste.  Everyone wants to reduce fraud and waste.  John Gambino wants to reduce fraud and waste.

Obama also claims he can save hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing subsidies to insurance companies and hospitals—as if they’re going to just altruistically pony up the difference, rather than cutting services or finding some other way to pass the cost on to customers.

Democrats show no interest in acknowledging the fact that Medicare is going broke, that benefits are going to have to be cut—and soon.  They live in a fantasy land where—at best—they pretend they can save hundreds of billions of dollars via rosy projections of improved Medicare cost-efficiency that will take place just a few years down the road, after the next couple of election cycles, by which time voters will have forgotten about their unfulfillable promises.

At worst, they ignore the problem and demonize Republicans for proposing actual solutions.

Previously published in modified form at Red Alert Politics

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Romney Sabotages Campaign by Selecting Articulate Budget Wunderkind

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

Democrats are hiding their terror at Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate by claiming he was a terrible pick, his ideas horrify people, and now Romney will never be able to run from voters’ fears about his callous persona.

Lost in Democrats’ self-deluding hosannas is the possibility that Romney chose Ryan because he agrees with him and that Ryan will help the ticket.

In “5 Things Mitt Doesn’t Want You to Know About Paul Ryan,” ABC News announced that Ryan’s “budget plans include big cuts” that will enable the Obama campaign to continue its “Romneyhood narrative.”

Outside the Norfolk, Virginia rally where Romney announced his pick, Andrea Mitchell cried that Ryan is “not a pick for suburban moms, not a pick for women.”

Candy Crowley declared the Ryan pick “some sort of ticket death wish.”

Walter Shapiro warned that Ryan’s budgets put Social Security and Medicare “in the cross-hairs.”

The New York Times complained that Ryan supposedly was “helping the poor by eliminating their dependence on the government…  yet he has failed to explain how he would make them self-sufficient.”

Beyond these scare tactics, the media have identified other supposed Ryan weaknesses that doom the Republican ticket.  ABC noted that Congressional approval ratings are dismally low, and… you know, Ryan is in Congress, so, like, draw your own conclusions.  (They failed to point out that Ryan is the one factor keeping those ratings from being in negative digits.)

In The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza called Ryan’s fourteen years’ of Washington experience “light.”  The Times wailed that Ryan “has no foreign policy experience and has not spent significant time in the private sector,” which once again proves that Democrats hold our #2 to a higher standard than their #1.  (See Palin, Sarah, “Youth and Inexperience, Controversial Associations, Lack of Foreign Policy Credentials.”)

Undergirding the giddy consensus that Ryan was an awful pick is Democrats’ fumbling, grasping explanation for the choice: Romney is desperately worried about his electoral chances and had to risk something wild and crazy.

Election handicapper Nate Silver claims the pick shows Romney is “bearish” on his prospects.

Walter Shapiro implies that Romney’s pick was calculated to shore up his weaknesses and that Romney changed his mind at the last-minute “to placate the GOP base.”

Lizza claims that Romney chose Ryan because he “seems to have realized that his spring and summer strategies have been a failure.”  The selection “demonstrate[s] that Romney is not able or willing to distance himself from the base of his party”—as though it were the core duty of any presidential nominee to tick off his constituents.

Ezra Klein calls the nomination “an admission of fear from the Romney campaign…  Ryan upends Romney’s whole strategy.  Until now, Romney’s play has been very simple: Don’t get specific.”

That last bit inadvertently gets at the reason behind and consequences of Romney’s choice:

Democrats argue that Ryan is a terrible pick because he’ll force Romney to run on entitlement reform proposals that are popular with the public in the abstract but horrific in the details.  The Times posits that “Romney has settled on a strategy of maximizing his support among conservatives rather than trying to win over independent and centrist voters.”

Wrong.  Entitlement reform proposals appeal to independent and centrist voters—if we have a Paul Ryan to articulate and justify the details.

Consider just one example of how the Obama campaign’s strategy of demonizing Ryan is already failing: their claim that Ryan is “bad news for seniors” because of his Medicare stance.

A recent Gallup poll revealed that seniors are the age group most favorable toward Ryan’s Medicare proposal.  Why?  Because Ryan has made it clear that his plan doesn’t affect anyone 55 or older, and only gradually phases in reforms.  Seniors have had a lifetime’s worth of experience of budgeting and planning, and are most likely to appreciate Ryan’s characterization of the absurdity of our unlimited entitlement spending and its role in our debt crisis.  Senator Marco Rubio similarly won his seat in 2010 in a landslide in Florida—Senior Citizen Central—by articulating the necessity for entitlement reform.

Young people poll least favorably toward Medicare reform, probably because they’re too immature to realize how dire the government is rendering their long-term financial situation.  A young’un like Ryan may be able to drum into their heads why it’s in their interest to enact entitlement reform.

Obama sees people as helpless, vulnerable saps sucking at the government teat from cradle to grave; Romney views them as confident, self-reliant actors capable of planning for their future and taking pride in their self-made success.

The Ryan pick connects this optimistic vision of America’s potential with responsible government reform in a more detailed and thoughtful manner than any other modern presidential campaign.

Previously published in modified form at Red Alert Politics

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Ryan: Romney’s Only Choice

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

The best objection I’ve heard to Mitt Romney’s nominating seven-term Wisconsin Representative/financial wunderkind Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate is that Ryan could do more good for the country’s financial health as Chair of the House Budget Committee.

The 42-year-old Ryan has certainly done some amazing things in his dozen years in Congress—most notably rolling out his 2010/2012 “Path to Prosperity” proposals, which would cut trillions from the deficit, turn the Medicare program into a voucher system, and simplify the tax code.

But Romney can do even more to fix our budget woes as President than Ryan can in Congress.  And Romney is most likely to end up President with Ryan on the ticket.

Ergo, Ryan must join Romney.

How formidable a Romney-Ryan ticket would be.  Ryan has demonstrated a masterful ability to articulate budget and spending issues in such a way that everyday voters can understand just how thoroughly Democrats are screwing us over.  He’s managed to put serious entitlement reform proposals on the table for the first time in a decade.  He’s resisted caving in to faux-conservative RINO-bait like temporary payroll tax cut extensions.  He’s earned the deep respect of conservatives while getting under Obama’s thin skin and driving fear into the hearts of liberals, all while wearing a smile.

True, Ryan has a long career ahead of him, and there would be plenty of time for him to serve as Vice-President or President if he chose.  He can absolutely do more in concrete terms for the nation’s fiscal stability where he is now than as Vice President.

But consider last spring’s protracted Republican primary nomination fight.  Everyone knew Romney was the candidate Democrats most dreaded Republicans would select—because they knew he had the best chance of winning.  A party can generally deduce its most effective electoral strategy by doing what the opposite side most fears.  I’d bet good money that in an election year in which the economy is not just one of the biggest issues but the only effective issue, liberals would be most terrified at Ryan being selected as Romney’s running mate.  (Such a ticket would include not one, but two candidates with more knowledge of economics in their pinkies than Obama.)

Romney-Ryan 2012 would bring the perfect balance of capitalist vs. populist worldviews, seasoned vs. fresh governing approaches, outside vs. inside-the-Beltway experience, and private vs. public sector service.  To pot-stirring liberals who cry that Romney’s private sector experience proves he cares nothing about the public sector, he can simply respond: Look who I saw fit to choose for my running mate.

No pairing—not Romney-Christie, not Romney-Rubio, not Romney-Daniels, all and many more of which would be fantastic—would cost liberals more sleep over the next three months than Romney-Ryan.  I’m guessing David Axelrod’s nightmares right now is a hovering image of a smiling Romney and Ryan standing side-by-side.  (And just think of the entertainment value of a Biden-Ryan Vice-Presidential debate!)

Some will object that Ryan’s Path to Prosperity proposals are too draconian and extreme for voters.  And by “some,” I mean confused Republicans who still haven’t learned that conservative principles win elections.  (See Gingrich, Newt, “right-wing social engineering.”)

As Jonathan Karl notes, “[The] attacks will come anyway (Democrats already speak of the ‘Romney-Ryan Budget’).  Picking Ryan for VP would put on the ticket the person best able to respond to those attacks.”  While I believe Romney’s ability to articulate conservative economic principles is underappreciated, Ryan can do it even better.

As for whether Ryan’s proposals will scare off timid voters: remember last summer when Democrat Kathy Hochul beat Republican Jane Corwin in a special election in NY-26, a result supposedly due to the landscape-changing fallout from Ryan’s apocalyptic Medicare proposal?  The Huffington Post was gloating about it for weeks.  No?  Don’t worry—no one else remembers, either.

In choosing between a candidate who excites millions of Americans or soothes John Boehner, I’ll take the former.

Romney and Ryan’s economic plans are utterly in sync; pairing up on the same ticket would be a natural fit for them.  Ryan’s plan is more detailed and even more conservative than Romney’s—a boon for jaded conservatives who’ve learned that we have to have our facts perfectly straight down to the last punctuation mark in order to counter Democrats’ lies, and that we have to aim especially high to get even a fraction of what we want.

If it were a step down for this Badger State policy wonk and budget guru to hold the Vice-Presidency, I would suggest we urge Ryan to take one for the team.  But Romney-Ryan 2012 would have the advantage to Ryan of setting him up to run for president in 2020.

Finally, the primary duty of the Vice-President is to step in if the President becomes incapacitated.  Given that more primary voters arguably wanted Ryan than Romney to run for President, I think Ryan’s pretty much got that criterion sewed up, too.

Does Romney want to cut to the chase, win this, and kick Obama out of office?  If so, there’s no sane choice of running mate other than Paul Ryan.

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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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A Conservative Who Can Talk

September 28, 2011 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Elections: 2012

Christie

FiveThirtyEight whiz Nate Silver recently asked whether Chris Christie is the anti-Romney or the anti-Perry.

The answer is yes.

Christie is the anti-Romney, because he genuinely and unapologetically embraces and enacts conservative policies, at least on fiscal matters—in particular entitlement reform, the most important policy realm our nation currently faces.

Critics charge that he’s not consistently conservative on issues such as global warming and gun control.  Yet Rick Perry critics complain that he’s not consistently conservative on issues such as immigration and the HPV vaccine, and most people wouldn’t call Perry a liberal.

Christie is the anti-Perry, because he knows how to identify, articulate, and justify his positions, using fiery, uncompromising rhetoric that doesn’t sound rehearsed, and isn’t afraid to say things that tick off hallowed interest groups.

Critics charge that he’s arrogant, has a temper, and insults people.  Yet his style has proven wildly popular with voters who are fed up with politicians who can’t or won’t stand up to bullying public employee unions that are bankrupting the nation’s most populous states.

If Mitt Romney held more consistently conservative positions on the major issues of the day, he’d be able to articulate them to voters.  But he doesn’t.

If Rick Perry were more articulate and had a better understanding of the issues, his positions would be conservative enough for most Republicans.  But he isn’t.

The other candidates still in the running all have their weaknesses, with most embodying one of the fatal flaws represented by frontrunners Romney and Perry.

Ron Paul is blisteringly conservative on economic issues but crazily isolationist on foreign policy, to the extent that he thinks Iran should be allowed to build nuclear weapons to defend themselves against the U.S., and to the degree that he approvingly quotes Osama bin Laden’s reasons for attacking us on 9/11.  Newt Gingrich led the Republican Revolution of 1995 and enacted welfare reform, but is prone to making insane statements such as claiming that repealing ObamaCare involves as much abridgment of people’s liberty as enacting it.

Michele Bachmann is a solid conservative, but is prone to gaffes and sloppy slips of the tongue such as her mindboggling insinuation that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation.  Herman Cain is a successful former businessman with sensible ideas about the economy but a stunning, blissful ignorance about foreign policy.

Michael Barone correctly notes that just about the only remaining feasible Republican presidential candidates who both are conservative enough and know how to speak without sounding like idiots are Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, and Chris Christie.  Daniels is concerned about his family’s privacy and has decided not to run; Ryan is young, early on in his career, and clearly has no intention of running in 2012.

That leaves Christie, who has certainly denied numerous times that he is running, but whose supporters and staffers seem to be leaking rumors that he may change his mind.  Christie has spent the past few months jetting around the country speaking at high-profile Republican fundraisers, giving speeches at prominent venues such as the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and meeting with potential donors.

Elsewhere I have written at length about why we should encourage Christie in particular to run, including the fact that Republican candidates for governor did well in 2010 in part by emulating his substance and style; that he knows how to take the fight to his opponents; that his popularity among Republican voters is underreported; and that his electability among independents and Democrats is underappreciated.

Christie’s not perfect.  But where is the glaring RomneyCare albatross–whose defense Romney cheekily deleted from the paperback version of his book No Apology—in Christie’s past that will come back to haunt him in the general election, when voters are focused perhaps foremost on repealing ObamaCare?

Christie’s not perfect.  But where are the embarrassing misstatements—like Perry’s lame, botched attack on Romney’s flip-flopping in last week’s debate in Orlando—that lead us to fear Christie will flounder in debates with the supposedly golden-voiced Obama?

Contrast Christie, if you will, with the Republicans’ 2008 nominee, John McCain, who combined the worst aspects of Romney and Perry: liberal policies and inarticulateness.  Republicans should never again have to suffer the ignominy of a nominee who differs only a little bit from the Democratic candidate—or who can’t convincingly explain why he’s to the right of Barack Obama.

The conservative establishment prefers Romney to Perry because they believe him to be more electable.  Some commentators, such as columnist Sandy Rios, believe Republicans will break for Perry over Romney because people “prefer an honest hesitator over a slickster with all the answers.”

But why should Republicans have to choose between a conservative and someone who can talk?

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MediScare: Anatomy of a Fraudulent Campaign Theme

June 01, 2011 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Elections: 2012

mediscare

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at Congressional Democrats’ withering scorn for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system, a plan to which their party has yet to offer an alternative.

This is the party that vituperatively opposed all GOP spending cuts for the past two years, yet unlawfully failed to pass a budget during that period.

The party that insists on calling Republicans the Party of No should be labeled the Party of No Ideas of Their Own.

Charles Blow, for example, filled a recent column with purple prose elucidating why voters find Ryan’s plan repugnant: “[T]he electorate is hurting—a pulsing mass of tender nerves, hypersensitive to things that portend pain, reflexively reacting to the thump of even the softest mallet.”  (And most of them don’t even read the New York Times!)  He continued: “This is not to say that Medicare isn’t in crisis.  It is.  But, we don’t have to gut it to save it.”  He then spent precisely zero space suggesting any alternative solutions.

Blow and other liberals have been crowing about the obscure special election Democrat Kathy Hochul won in NY-26 last week.  They claim that Republican Jane Corwin lost because of Ryan’s recently proposed Medicare plan, since seniors in the district were terrified that electing her would increase the chances of their Medicare payments being cut.

Never mind that Democrats inserted into the race a fake Tea Party candidate who siphoned off up to 9% of the Corwin vote; that the previous officeholder was a Republican embroiled in a sex scandal; or that Corwin was a lousy candidate who failed to utter a word in defense of Ryan’s proposal until days before the election.

(Hey, how is it that thundering losses in the 2010 midterm elections weren’t a referendum on ObamaCare, but loss of one seat in a murky district in upstate New York constitutes a wholehearted rejection of conservatism?)

The irony of Democrats’ MediScare campaign is that Ryan’s relatively mild-mannered proposal is the only plan that would save Medicare.  Continuing to fund Medicare at current levels, the Democrats’ strategy, will bankrupt it.

For those who love Medicare and want to see it continue (which I don’t—but hey, to each his own), the scariest choice is doing nothing to reform it.  In contrast, the most reassuring strategy would be a course of action similar to Ryan’s.

I suspect that if pollsters asking voters whether they want Medicare cut presented the real alternative to that possibility—namely, the fund going bankrupt and an unelected board of bureaucrats rationing care for everyone—the public would be a little more receptive to Ryan’s plan.

Democratic naysayers are rife with general notions of how to deal with entitlement reform, but all of these consist of reflexive opposition to any steps Republicans want to take.

For example, Ryan has quite reasonably proposed reducing Medicare benefits for wealthy retirees—who need them less, if at all—to save money.

But leftists like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders oppose even cutting benefits for the wealthy: “The strength of Social Security and Medicare is that everybody is in.  Once you start breaking that universality and you say that if you’re above a certain income [you’re out], two years later that income goes down and 10 years later it becomes a welfare program.”

Would that Social Security and Medicare were only welfare programs!  They’d sure cost a lot less.  They’d also restore a lot more freedom to the middle class in deciding how to invest their money and plan for retirement.

But for liberals, it’s all about control.  Their message to the wealthy is: We’ll tax the bejesus out of you, but then we’ll deign to give you benefits you don’t need, and then exercise complete control over when and how you receive them.  Aren’t you grateful?

For conservatives, it’s all about liberty.  Their message to the wealthy is: We won’t bother you with government-run insurance you don’t need, and we also won’t harass you with exorbitant taxes for the sin of being productive.  Go do your thing!

Sanders, an avowed socialist whose views are nonetheless inches away from the Democratic mainstream, proves once again that liberals are instinctively upside-down on every public policy issue of importance.  Even when it makes sound fiscal sense to steer benefits toward the poor and take them away from the rich, liberals somehow find a way to oppose that progressive notion.

Democrats claim that 20 years from now, seniors will be getting less from the government to cover their health care costs.  Yes, and if Democrats get their way, not only will seniors will be getting less, the government will be deciding how they spend it, via an unelected Medicare rationing board, rather than letting them shop the market for the care they like best.  Now which party’s plan does the public prefer?

Another political axiom the MediScare campaign proves is that liberals will always take the route that proves most politically feasible, regardless of whether it fails to address the public policy conundrum under consideration, unfairly smears their opponents, or makes no logical sense.

Thus, even the Times’ Gail Collins had to admit, “There is no escaping our fate. We are going to spend the next 17 months hearing about how the Republicans want to kill off Medicare…  By the fall, there will be ads showing the Republicans hacking their way through rows of bedridden seniors with scimitars.”

What’s most frightening: Democrats’ brazenness in hiding behind MediScare so as not to have to address the Medicare crisis, the public’s likelihood of falling for MediScare, or Republicans’ failure to explain MediScare’s utter absurdity?

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Newt Gingrich: The New John McCain

May 18, 2011 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Elections: 2012

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Now that Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee have been neutralized as 2012 Republican presidential primary candidates, it’s time to get to work discrediting the thoroughly inadequate and inappropriate front-runner wannabe, Newt Gingrich.

The former Speaker of the House, who initiated the groundbreaking Contract With America in 1994, then pissed away the Republican Congress’s momentum out of timidity after President Bill Clinton was reelected, had his chance to influence the course of national events.  With the notable exception of the successful Welfare Reform Act of 1996, he failed in his mission.

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” candidate Gingrich revealed that he had fallen for the trap of thinking that not raising the federal debt ceiling means that the U.S. will default on its debt, or that default is necessarily a bad thing.  He told host David Gregory that if Obama and the Democratic Senate don’t compromise with House Republicans, he would favor an endless, niggling series of tiny budget cuts and “a debt ceiling [increase] every three weeks” until a long-term solution was reached.

Gingrich thinks the individual mandate component of ObamaCare—the most contentious, despised, and constitutionally dubious element of the bill—is a dandy idea.  He’s quick to clarify that he thinks such an undue violation of our individual freedoms should be carried out on the state level, not the federal level—though that’s not what he said a few years ago.

Gingrich cut a cutesy commercial with Nancy Pelosi in which the odd couple argued for Congress to act more precipitously to adopt anti-global warming legislation, though now he claims to oppose a cap-and-trade system.  He continues to support wasteful ethanol subsidies.

Gingrich famously partnered with race huckster Al Sharpton to promote greater federal involvement in the country’s educational system, based on the fantastic job Washington has done so far.

He opposed the Wall Street bank bailout proposed in the fall of 2008, until moderates in his party pressured him to change his mind, such that by the end of September he suddenly supported it.

Tea Party activists were aghast at Gingrich’s inexplicable endorsement of RINO Dede Scozzafava—who subsequently endorsed the Democrat in the general election after she lost the primary—over true conservative Doug Hoffman in the 2009 special election in NY-23.

On foreign policy, Gingrich opposes waterboarding as an interrogation technique, even though it was demonstrably successful in helping gain intelligence that led to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.

But Gingrich’s biggest blunder so far was his mindless, shallow condemnation of House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity, which would cut $5 trillion from the budget over the next 10 years and take the painful and necessary step of instituting Medicare entitlement reform.  According to Gingrich on “Meet the Press,” such a plan is “right-wing social engineering.”  Reminder to Newt: Implementing a shortsighted, wealth-redistributing, unsustainable “social insurance” program in 1965 was “left-wing social engineering.”

According to Gingrich, undoing Medicare is too radical, even though instituting Medicare was too radical.  As Orwell might say: Redemption = sin.  Theft = generosity.

At this rate, Gingrich is on track to become the left-wing’s GOP darling, the John McCain of 2012.  He’ll be praised to high heaven by the New York Times editorial board for his forthrightness, bipartisanship, and flexibility—and then he’ll lose in a landslide to Obama, whom The Times and every other liberal media outlet will endorse in the general election before you can say “My friends…”

Proving that his only consistency is inconsistency, Gingrich disavowed his comments on Ryan and the individual mandate the next day.  His opposition to Ryan’s plan lingered in his stated reversal, however: “I think we should be very careful about imposing things on the American people.”  The implication being that privatizing Medicare is just as much an imposition on people as instituting Medicare.  Relief = imposition.  Slavery = freedom.

Gingrich added, “I don’t think you want to come in and to say to every single American, we’re going to come in and change uniformly for all of you in the most fundamental way what happens to you when you are 65.”  Rather than clarifying his position, Gingrich’s comments demonstrated only that he doesn’t understand the first detail of Ryan’s plan, or that he’s shamelessly misrepresenting and oversimplifying it to cover up for his blunder.

Gingrich thinks the will of the people should be respected in implementing major social legislation, but evidently the constitutionality of the legislation is of no great concern, nor does he harbor any presumption that more intrusive legislation should inherently be held to a higher standard of scrutiny than less intrusive legislation.

In a charitable characterization, Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey said, “It’s typical of Newt to be whimsical.  We always say: Newt always has so many great ideas.  Well yeah, but then he shifts between them at such a rate it’s pretty hard to track it let alone keep up with it.”

Gingrich used to be considered a man of principle, but desperation for political relevance has made it clear that he, like McCain—and Huckabee, Trump, and too many other contenders in the GOP field—has no principles.

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