Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.
The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
Prisoners of Azkaban
Monday, January 14, 2008
You probably didn't catch it, but something interesting happened in minute 42 of Hillary Clinton's full hour Meet The Press interview Sunday. Tim Russert asked her, for the first and only time during the hour, a question about what she intended to do if elected to the Presidency. (Every other question was about the campaign or her past actions or statements, particularly her vote to authorize the Iraq War - certainly a crucial subject to raise, since that vote has been so little discussed until now.) Here is the exchange:
SEN CLINTON:...What people are talking to me about is the economy. They're losing their jobs. You know, economic activity is slowing down. We need to focus very clearly on what we're going to do to make this economy as, you know, ready to be able to navigate through the potential of a recession. We're slipping toward recession. Some people think we're in recession right now. And I've proposed a very vigorous package of economic action that I think would, you know, forestall and maybe, hopefully mitigate against what is going on in the economy.
Russert wants to know if the Clinton stimulus plan will increase the deficit. That's more or less reasonable, although, as Clinton correctly pointed out, stimulus packages increase the deficit pretty much by definition. But is he being consistent? Clinton's proposed stimulus is a one-time shot of about $100 Bn. Other candidates in the race have proposal to blow far bigger holes in the budget. Every Republican candidate - except for Huckabee and Paul, who propose to eliminate the income tax completely - has called for making the Bush tax cuts permanent, which will cost about $2 Tn over 10 years, and most, again excepting Paul, want to increase the size of the military. What is Russert asking about their plans? It turns out mostly he just wants to know if they're really as anti-tax as they claim to be. What the consequences of their proposals might be is beneath his attention.
Mike Huckabee states on his web site, "I will expand the army and increase the defense budget." On taxes, he is backing the Fair Tax, a national sales tax plan that is cuckoo for too many reasons to go into here; some of them are explained here. it's likely the most ambitious, and the most deeply flawed, domestic proposal put forward by any major candidate in the last few decades. And Russert, interviewing Huckabee on Dec 30, never mentioned it. Instead, he only pressed on apparent contradictions between Huckabee's claim to be an demented anti-tax lunatic and his record in Arkansas of being relatively responsible on tax issues:
MR. RUSSERT: But you raised taxes, and the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, gave you a D and an F for your tenureship as governor. So there have been some legitimate criticisms of you as a Republican for raising taxes and for spending money.
Mitt Romney says, "We must strengthen our military by increasing the size of our military by 100,000 troops and dedicating at least four percent of our gross domestic product to defense." He also proposes to "Lower The Corporate Tax Rate....Lower Taxes For All. Lower income tax rates across the board to reward productivity....Eliminate all taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains for anyone with Adjusted Gross Income under $200,000....Make The Bush Tax Cuts Permanent....Eliminate The Death Tax Once And For All." (As far as I could determine from a quick look at his issues pages, Romney isn't even giving lip service to a balanced budget or even lowering the deficit, which seems to be true of most of this year's GOP crew.)
Here is the only section of the Romney interview where tax policy is discussed:
MR. RUSSERT:As you campaign around the country, you talk about your record in Massachusetts with budgets and taxes and so forth. The Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, gave you a C as governor of Massachusetts. And they say, "His first budget, presented under the cloud of a $2 billion deficit, balanced the budget with some spending cuts, but" "$500 million increase in various fees was the largest component of the budget fix." The AP says it this way: "When Romney wanted to balance the Massachusetts budget, the blind, mentally retarded and gun owners were asked to help pay. In all, then-Gov. Romney proposed creating 33 new fees," "increasing 57 others." The head of the Bay State Council of the Blind said that your name was "Fee-Fee"; that you just raised fee after fee after fee. That's a tax.
What's not a gimmick, of course, is to propose what likely amounts to $2,5 Tn or more in tax cuts, plus spending increases, with the explanation that it will all be fine because there will be unspecified spending cuts.
One week before Hillary, Russert was blessed with the sacred presence of Saint McCain of the Straight Talk. McCain thinks it would be dandy if American troops remain in Iraq for the next 100 years. He also advocates, "The development and deployment of theater and national missile defenses....[Enlarging] the size of our armed forces to meet new challenges to our security....As requirements expand in the global war on terrorism so must our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard be reconfigured to meet these new challenges. John McCain thinks it is especially important to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to defend against the threats we face today....Modernizing American armed forces involves procuring advanced weapons systems that will help rapidly and decisively defeat any adversary and protect American lives. It also requires addressing force protection needs to make sure that America's combat personnel have the best safety and survivability equipment available." He'd also like to, "permanently repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)...Make the Bush income and investment tax cuts permanent....Reform and make permanent the research and development (R&D) tax credit." Although McCain tries to make it look bigger with promises to ban various types of taxes that don't currently exist, it's a modest plan by current GOP standards. And that's remarkable because, after all, in pledging to make the Bush cuts permanent and eliminate the AMT, McCain is actually promising substantially larger tax cuts in an era of a large and growing deficit than Bush promised while running with a surplus - yet his tax cuts are the lightest of any Republican candidate. I won't actually quote from the discussion of taxes, which is somewhat longer than for other hopefuls, but just note that Russert is interested solely in McCain's admittedly desperate attempts to reconcile his votes against the Bush tax cuts with his current pledge to make them permanent. The potential effects of making those cuts permanent is never raised.
When Giuliani appeared on Dec 9, he had not yet unveiled his recent tax cut plan, which would make the Bush tax cuts look positively Lilliputian. He had made vague commitments to, "keep America on offense in the Terrorists’ War on Us" and "cut taxes and reform the tax code". Here is the only tax discussion which took place:
MR. RUSSERT: Would you pledge to balance the budget if you were elected president?
Fred Thompson, who goes in for button points in a big way in his "white Papers", wants to "
At the same time, lets:
The last one (which actually costs the IRS relatively little money) is original and might even qualify as wonky, if the whole thing wasn't done with such obvious contempt for the basic wonk skill of addition.
Thompson also complains that, "Congress has consistently refused to balance the budget and address the deficit" and does say he will balance the budget. Those magical, unspecified spending cuts - is there anything they can't do? We may never know, because, when Thompson did his MTP gig on Nov 4, the subject never came up.
Five out of five mainstream Republicans have proposal that would blast holes in the federal budget bigger than the iceberg made in the Titanic - and not one got a single question on it. (Ron Paul actually was pressed fairly hard on his plan to eliminate the IRS, confirming that he is definitely not part of the in crowd.) However, Hillary and Ron Paul weren't the only ones to get a grilling on their fiscal soundness. Here are some excerpts from the interviews with Biden and Edwards: (No similar questions were asked of Richardson or Obama, and I couldn't find a transcript for Dodd.)
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah. Here’s what you say about energy: “Biden would make a substantial national commitment by dramatically increasing investment in energy and climate change research” “technology" “Health care” “expand health insurance for children” “relieve” the “families and” business “of the burden of expensive catastrophic cases.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator Edwards, Friday you spoke to the Democratic National Committee about health care. I want to show that clip and come back and talk about it.
One consequence of this conduct was well described by Matthew Yglesias in a recent discussion of one of Russert's Village confederates: "Fiscal responsibility, as defined by The Washington Post, means something like `new spending must be financed by unpopular tax hikes unless it's spending on a war or the military or spending proposed by Republicans; also, budget deficits are an acute problem if a Democrat is president or if they're forecast to occur far in the future as a result of Social Security.` That, obviously, is a political framework designed to make progressive governance impossible while simultaneously giving lip service to the desirability of spending money on important priorities like health care, education, clean energy, infrastructure, etc." It's also important to note that modern Republican policy on taxes and the budget is utterly indefensible in any serious, reality based analysis, and that fact would quickly come out if Republican politicians were closely questioned on this topic by probing, informed reporters. Which they never are, so even most well informed people have wildly inaccurate ideas about the size of the deficit and what would have to be done to fix it. This extremism also seems to be out of touch with an overwhelming majority of voters. Exit polls in NH showed that, even in that traditionally anti-tax state, a majority of the Republican voters felt that reducing the deficit was a higher priority than cutting taxes. Not one GOP candidate agreed with the GOP electorate. Those voters went for McCain, who has legitimate standing as a spending hawk, but no longer has any honest claim to his reputation as a deficit hawk.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Reports today are that turnout in NH is off the charts, with apparently more demand for Democratic than Republican ballots. That's good news for Obama, of course, who is a prohibitive favorite if he wins tonight with a healthy margin, as seems likely. It's bad news for McCain, who needs those independent votes. (I'm pretty sure that McCain in 2000 lost every primary in which only Republicans voted.) But don't worry, however the votes come out, it's a Big Win For McCain in the media.
The interesting question, for NH and beyond, is where Huckabee fits in. Bill Kristol's first column suggests that the dean of neocon pundits is willing to accept the rise of Huckabee. This will spread, and has always been inevitable. Who is Huckabee? A Southern governor, a fundamentalist evangelical with roots in the Christian Right, a man who likes to talk about the poor but whose policy proposals pretending to help the poor are in fact geared to the extremely rich, a candidate who criticizes his predecessor for an overly aggressive foreign policy but has advisers committed to at least equally aggressive views, a man who feels comfortable running for President although his grasp of public policy is roughly that of a village idiot. This is an agent for change? This is the guy who is more like Dubya than Jeb is. That there was even hesitation to accept him shows the deep power of ruling class condescension in the leading circles of the Conservative movement.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
One prediction is safe to make for the upcoming Iowa/New Hampshire fetes: the big story coming out of one or both will be John McCain's brilliant comeback. That's not because McCain will do extremely well: he might, but it's far from certain. It's because that's the story the the political media are dying to write: McCain does better than expected. And since expectations are such a flexible bar, almost anything will give them an excuse to write it. If Ron Paul wins NH in a landslide and McCain finishes 3rd, the media story coming out will be that McCain did better than expected.
McCain gave another example of his famous straight talk this weekend, absurdly pretending his attack ad on Romney wasn't an attack ad, because he was merely quoting attacks from others, and simultaneously waxing indignant over Romney's (much less nasty and personal) attack ads. (You can see the ad here.)
McCain: I didn't say those words. Those were the Concord Monitor and the Manchester Union Leader's words. They were their words.
Huckabee has, quite appropriately, been hammered for his press conference at which he announced he wouldn't run his new negative ads and proceeded to show them. For Saint McCain, naturally, no criticism.
My own guess on Iowa today: the Democratic side will be determined by where the backers of non-viable candidates go in the second round of voting. I think they'll go away from Hillary, giving either Obama or Edwards the victory. The big question will be whether her lead in NH holds. If it does, she's still a prohibitive favorite to take the nomination. If she loses both, she's in very big trouble. If Obama wins both, he's the next president.
On the dark side, I think Huckabee will win Iowa. If Romney does, he may be unstoppable straight through to the convention. I think Huckabee is the most likely winner of the GOP nod, because he's most in synch with what the party is today, but this is still hard to predict.
Note: anyone who really cares to take the time can look in my archives and see my past record on predicting elections. Let's just say, based on precedents, you might be able to make big money betting against my picks. But no guarantees I won't actually be right this time.
Update: Who needs returns? Bob Schieffer on CBS just announced that the McCain surge is the big story from Iowa. How many votes did McCain get? Who knows - Schieffer didn't bother waiting for results to announce the story.
Kos now has results up from about 1/4 of the Repub caucuses. If these early results hold, the actual big story is that McCain is doing below expectations, while Thompson is in 3rd place and doing better. Huckabee has been called by a few networks as the winner.