Archive for category 2012 Presidential Race

Dan Santorum?

Those of us who suffered through 2010’s Colorado Republican gubernatorial campaign travesty should have learned some lessons.   So far, the national presidential nominating process is making me regret that Colorado is a trend-setter.

A similar dynamic – discontent with a front-runner, seen as hostile – or at best indifferent – to the Tea Party, and seen as hand-picked by an entitled establishment too timid to settle on actual conservatives to carry the party’s banner.  Both men, who seemed conservative enough in earlier incarnations, are had their bona fides questioned later.  In both cases, the criticism may be somewhat unfair, but it’s also led to a lack of enthusiasm for that candidate, and fueled talk of third-party runs, even before the nomination has been decided.

McInnis seemed to spurn Tea Party support, and then was victimized by a chiron during a national TV interview; likewise, Romney, while not going out of his way to the extent that Huntsman did, has also seemed to be relying on monetary advantages and strategic support of current and former office-holders in key states.

As a result, many Colorado Republicans decided to teach McInnis a lesson on the way to the nomination, only to find that the lesson they taught him left the party with a man who had no business being the nominee, and a party apparatus that was nevertheless honor-bound to support him – if only minimally – in the general election campaign.  (To be fair, many of us held Tancredo’s self-positioning for a 3rd-party run prior to the primary to be subverting rather than honoring his own party’s nominating process.)

Likewise, I believe that many, but by no means all, of those voting for Gingrich or Santorum are doing so in order to teach Romney or the party establishment a lesson, or to stretch out the process as long as practicable, perhaps even thinking it will lead to a brokered convention.  February was supposed to be Romney’s month, with a series of caucuses and primaries in states friendly to him.  Instead, he’s faltered, and Santorum has given conservatives reason to look to him as the last remaining credible”Not Romney.”  I’m not certain that they all actually want to see Santorum on the podium in Tampa accepting the party’s nomination in August.  But that’s where we could end up.

There are obvious significant differences between the campaigns.  Santorum is a two-term US Senator who knows something about fundraising and running a campaign; Dan Maes was not, and did not.  However badly he might do in the general election – and I think he would do very badly – nobody thinks he’s going to walk away with 11% of the vote.  However much Ron Paul may dream of a 3rd-party run, he’s nowhere near as attractive a candidate as Tancredo was to desperate Republicans in 2010.  It doesn’t look as though Romney’s put himself in a position to be torpedoed by members of his own party holding a grudge.  And of course, the gubernatorial nomination was a one-day primary; there was no opportunity to rethink the decision.

But even as more and more people assume that the Republican sold as the most electable will be the eventual nominee, much as people even on primary night assumed that McInnis would pull out a win, Obama’s re-elect numbers on Intrade keep rising.

The Republicans need this election to be a referendum on Obama; in both 2010 and so far in 2012, the nominating process has been a referendum on the front-runner.  Thus far, the Romney campaign has serially been able to create a series of successful one-on-one contests with other candidates.  He’s done so with the help of a national media that was McCain’s base until he became the nominee.  Some conservatives and libertarian-minded Republicans have been all too willing to chew up Mitt’s challengers from the right as not conservative, and now find themselves without a champion.  And the candidates themselves were better at making the case against each other or against Romney than they were at showing how they’d make the case against Obama.

At my own caucus, I closed the discussion by asking people to vote for whom they actually wanted to see as the nominee.  Not to vote as a protest against Romney, or to send a message, or as some cathartic gesture, but to vote for the man they actually wanted to see represent the party in the election.  I did this, reminding people of the consequences of playing games with their vote, which is how we ended up with Dan Maes as our nominee, and John Hickenlooper as governor.

None of which is to suggest that anyone abandon their candidate for the sake of an artificial “unity.”  If you want one of the three others still standing to be the party’s nominee, or believe that he better represents the party, there’s no sense in not supporting him.  But if you mainly believe that Romney needs sharpening or the establishment needs its nose bloodied, you’re playing a very dangerous game.

We’ve seen that movie before, and it ends badly.

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Sigh. Romney.

Michael Barone, that walking encyclopedia of American political history, has often made the comparison between the development of the Tea Party and the entry of the peaceniks into American political life:

Both movements represent a surge in political activity by hundreds of thousands, even millions, of previously uninvolved citizens.

Both movements focused on what are undeniably central, not peripheral, political issues: war and peace, the size and scope of government.

Both movements initially proclaimed themselves nonpartisan or bipartisan, but quickly channeled their efforts into one political party — the peace movement in the Democratic party, the tea-party movement in the Republican party.

But new movements prove troublesome for the political pros, and nowhere more than in the most problematic part of our political system, the presidential nominating process. (Is it just a coincidence that this is the one part of the system not mentioned at all in the Constitution?)

Peaceniks and tea partiers naturally want nominees who are true to their vision. They are ready to support newcomers and little-vetted challengers over veteran incumbents who have voted the wrong way on issues they care about.

But the things that make candidates attractive to movements can also make them unattractive to independent voters.

The Democrats struggled with this in the 1968, 1972, and 1976 cycles. The old-timers pushed through the accomplished Hubert Humphrey over the diffident Eugene McCarthy in 1968, but they lost to George McGovern in 1972. He was a more serious candidate than is generally remembered, but he did lose 49 states to Richard Nixon.

The anti-war movement didn’t get started in earnest until 1967, and Lyndon Johnson didn’t declare his intention not to run again until early 1968. The lateness of the primary calendar made it possible for Bobby Kennedy to declare late, and their paucity made it possible for the party elders to anoint Humphrey regardless of those votes. By 1972, the McGovernites had taken over the levers of power, opened up the primaries, and made most of them proportional. This insured a longer primary campaign, and did nothing to prevent a credentials fight over the Illinois delegation at the Convention. In the event, McGovern was nominated with fewer than 60% of the delegates, and defeated with less than 38% of the vote. The military defeatism and the electoral defeats helped usher the Scoop Jackson Democrats out of the party and, eventually, Ronald Reagan into the White House. The Democrats would elect the center-left but feckless Carter, and the decidedly un-peacenik DLC founder Bill Clinton, and it wouldn’t be until 2008 that they elected Obama in an encore of the first anti-war movement.

The Tea Party, while nascent in 2007, didn’t really gather steam until early 2009, almost four years ahead of the next Presidential election, and the Republicans in 2012 have likewise done away with early winner-take-all primaries. So it probably sits somewhere between anti-War 1968 and isolationist 1972. The Establishment is weakened, but  not dead yet. If nominating Romney would be more like 1968, giving Gingrich the nod would look a lot more like 1972.

Of course, as Mark Twain said, history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme. Republicans not being Democrats, should Romney be the nominee, he likely won’t have to accept the nomination in the middle of police putting down riots from disgruntled Tea Party members. It’s unlikely that large cuts in spending will lead many Republicans into a socialist Exodus.

The similarities are alarming enough. Just as Humprhey’s defeat helped discredit the old liberalism, so a Romney defeat – or even a Romney presidency – could finish the job of discrediting vanilla conservatism that George W. Bush started, and open the door for a 1972-like candidacy by a Rand Paul-like figure. I don’t think I’m unduly cynical when I say that that very hope has led some in the libertarian wing of the party to campaign against Daniels, Perry, or Pawlenty as “not conservative,” or “not presidential,” while being willing to go along with a Romney nomination. (They’ll be disappointed. That so many in the Tea Party have cast their lot with Gingrich rather than the catastrophically irresponsible Ron Paul is actually a healthy sign that the word “conservative” will not be re-branded to mean “libertarian.”)

Republicans are looking for a conservative who is both ideologically grounded and a practical politician. While that may have been on offer earlier in the process, it’s not now, with the nomination fight now looking like that Star Trek episode where Kirk divides into two separate personalities, one nice but passive, the other more aggressive and less principled.

Romney’s problem is that even if you consider his public persona to be authentic, he seems rather timid for a man who built his career risking capital at the gaming tables of private equity. A early Marco Rubio endorser, he has Chris Christie’s support, but campaigns like Charlie Crist. His reaction to individual Social Security accounts as fiscally irresponsible confirms his image as narrowly technocratic. He campaigns as the safe, sane, sober, responsible alternative to both Gingrich and Obama, and it may well be that the American people want safe, sane, sober, and responsible after the drama of the last four years, even if it does represent a lost opportunity to do more.

Those who caricature Gingrich’s appeal as mere media-hatred, though, miss the point. Such an appeal, while superficial, isn’t just limited to Republicans; ask Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Showing backbone in clear, simple terms is not nothing, although it’s not enough.  And it seems to give way to an opportunism of its own at inconvenient moments.

I’m not sure that Gingrich would lead to a 1964-type down-ticket meltdown. At the beginning of 1972, Nixon’s Gallup approval ratings were well over 50%, and stayed there until the onset of Watergate. Obama has nowhere near that level of public support, and an impending Presidential defeat would let Senate and House Republicans campaign all the more effectively as a check on Obama’s power. In 1972, the Democrats picked up a net 2 seats in the Senate, and lost only 13 seats of a 255-seat pre-election caucus in the House. Johnson’s approvals touched 80% when his party went from 258 to 295 seats in the House, and from 64 to 66 seats in the Senate. Even a Gingrich candidacy wouldn’t result in that kind of wipeout, although it would probably cost us a shot at the Senate.

Sadly, that might be enough. Unlike the Democrats, we can’t afford to wander in the political wilderness for another couple of decades. If Obama were re-elected, and we failed to retake the Senate, Obamacare would be permanently enshrined into law, and the American citizen transformed into a subject. Obama is willing to use executive power up to and beyond the fullest extent permissible by law. Congress’s best means of asserting its part of the check-and-balance system is the power of the purse. But Senate Democrats have deprived Congress of that power, putting government spending on auto-pilot by not even bringing a budget up for a vote. So failing to take the Senate would put all the burden back on the House Republicans to find a credible way to threaten – and if need be, go through with – a government shutdown, without committing political suicide in the process.

If nominating Romney is enough to help us carry the Senate, even if it isn’t enough to get us back to the White House, it will put the party in a position of strength to challenge him, especially given the Senate partisan profile up for re-election in 2014.

This isn’t a matter of giving in to the Establishment.  If there were no other credible choices, if this were 2008, post-Colorado, and I were left with a meaningless vote, that would be one thing.  But there’s nothing the matter with concluding that while the party Establishment was too quick to line up behind Romney in the first place, I can make my own choice to support him now, for my own reasons, at a time when my vote – fortunately – still matters.  It’s called deciding, and that’s a very different thing from having something decided for you.

To this extent, Barone’s final paragraph is instructive: “Tea partiers will grouse if Romney is nominated. But maybe they need patience and perseverance. One lesson of history is that a movement can reshape a party. Another is that it takes time.”


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Don’t Panic

Always good advice.  Right now, there are a lot of Republicans who need to calm down and maybe make that second cup decaf instead of hi-test.

In the run-up to Iowa, one of the oft-repeated themes was that the presence of Gingrich had made Romney a better candidate, by forcing him to clarify his answers and deal with actual criticism and competition.  If Mitt is smart – and since he’s been running for President for five years, and really seems to want the job, he had better be – he can use the latest Gingrich surge to make himself an even better candidate.

First, let’s acknowledge Gingrich’s deficiencies as a general election candidate.  He doesn’t exactly have the highest Q-rating in the world; seen as angry in 1994, he’s seen as angry today. Americans may be angry, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they want their President to be.  If President Romney would be a tremendous lost opportunity, he can plausibly argue that candidate Gingrich would be worse. A President inclined to run against Congress couldn’t ask for a better foil than a former Speaker.  And while I think Dan McLaughlin has done a credible job of showing that Gingrich is more Fabian than revolutionary in his conservatism, that won’t keep the Dems from rooting through the vast literature of Gingrich writings, Gingrich interviews, Gingrich TV appearances, and off-the-cuff Gingrich comments to reporters to “prove” how radical he is.

However, none of this is helping Romney very much right now, and it would behoove him to understand why.  It’s not just Gingrich’s combativeness in the debates that’s winning him points.  It’s a general trust that he’s capable of articulating a conservative vision on conservative principles, over a broad range of topics.  When Juan Williams tried to turn an economic statement into a racial one, Gingrich pushed back, and answered the question completely without regard to race.  When both Romney and Santorum attacked his promotion of individual Social Security accounts as either unrealistic or undesirable, was there any question who better understood entitlement reform?  Conservatives see that, and are at least intrigued by the idea of having someone in the White House who will make the case, every day, for conservatism.

Romney hasn’t closed the deal with Republicans, even at this late date, because he’s been campaigning on his biography.  His selling point is that as a businessman, he knows something about creating jobs.  That’s great if the economy is still staggering a few months from now.  But if the employment rate drops a another 1.0% or 1.5%, campaigning as a job-creating resume is going to be a lot less effective. (Yes, I know that the unemployment rate is less important than U6 and the labor force participation rate.  You know what?  Nobody cares.  The unemployment rate is important politically for the same reason the Dow Jones Industrial Average is important: it’s a statistic with a memory.)  The problem with nominating people whose biographies fit the moment is that the moment can change or the biography can find itself suddenly vulnerable, and you can find yourself rooting against peace and prosperity, to boot.

The good news for Romney is that with all the primaries and caucuses before April now proportional, the race is designed to go on longer.  If he can explain why it makes no sense to claim to love capitalism while hating capital markets, he can reassure Republicans that it’s not all a pose.  If he shows he can articulate not only why Republican candidates should be pro-business, but why Americans should be pro-capitalism, he’ll win going away.  If he can explain why common American principles should lead Americans to support someone with his experience and ideas, he’ll be a much stronger candidate and eventually, a much stronger President.

The fact that Romney is getting tested this way in the primary, and that the nomination is, as of this writing, still very much in doubt, has got to be frustrating, but it’s all of a piece.  By hoping to parley a weak front-runner status, bolstered by establishment support, into being everyone’s second choice, he’s allowed the nominating process to become a referendum on his fitness to represent the party and its ideals.  He’s won minds but not hearts.  And just as campaigning is about more than the written and unwritten rules, so governing is about more than technical and managerial proficiency.

The situation has got to be equally frustrating to Gingrich supporters, inasmuch as Gingrich the foil is still preferable to Gingrich the nominee for most Republicans.

But for Gingrich the professor, teaching profound political lessons to Mitt Romney may end up being his most valuable contribution.

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Defensive Gymnastics

Last night, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich went head-to-head on the long-term solvency of Social Security.  Gingrich proposed – again – individual accounts, modeled after the highly successful Chilean “Little Passbook” system.  (From Gingrich’s remarks, the system’s architect, Jose Pinera, was slated to give a presentation on the subject later, but you can see him speak here.)  Santorum pointed out the plan’s Achilles’ Heel, the cost of covering defined benefits to current and soon-to-be recipients during the transition.

Instead, Santorum, and then Romney, proposed more tweaks to the system, of the kind that have gotten us into this mess in the first place.  Santorum’s solution, raising the retirement age a couple of years, isn’t going to solve a mismatch caused by declining birth rates and decades-longer life spans.  Romney’s seemed unaware of the existence of 401(k) accounts and IRAs.

To erstwhile Romney supporter Jennifer Rubin, however, not only is Santorum’s limited vision correct, it’s an excuse to boost the un-nominatable Santorum at the expense of Gingrich, who poses a real national threat to her candidate:

…we have a huge, nagging debt right now and he’s going to make it worse with his plan. And while Santorum was certainly right on substance, Gingrich’s glibness may have successfully concealed how really silly is his policy proposal.

In short, aside from the political hurdles (George Bush died on his sword over individual accounts) Gingrich’s Social Security plan is, as Santorum claimed, irresponsible.

Individual accounts funded by individual contributions – defined contribution accounts – are the right answer, and the longer we wait, the greater the cost, the greater the burden on the country’s finances.  But to Rubin, the right answer, easier to implement today than tomorrow, is “irresponsible,” while ineffective tweaks and redundant savings plans are “right on substance.”

And this is only a taste of the defensive gymnastics, the excuses for timidity, the defenses of unnecessary compromise (and yes, folks, there is such a thing as necessary compromise) that a Romney presidency will likely bring.

No wonder those promises of “electability” are beginning to seem a little suspect.

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Certainly my favorite part of the school day.  For presidents trying to make appointments to administrative posts, not so much.  While presidents have always been able to make temporary appointments while the Senate is in recess, there has been a recent gentlemen’s agreement that presidents won’t make such appointments during Senate recesses of less than three days.  This allowed the Senate to declare interim “non-working” sessions to technically avoid recess for that length of time.

Republicans are now – yet again – learning the value of gentlemen’s agreements with Democrats, President Obama making four recess appointments yesterday despite disagreement about whether or not the Senate is actually in recess.  (Much has been made of then-Senator Obama’s opposition to recess appointments, but a change of position on the limits of executive power was to be expected once he became President.  Such institutional tension is part of the Constitution.)

That these appointments substantially shift the balance of power to the executive and away from Congress is clear.  Some have been suggesting that impeachment may be the only way to deal with this, and I have to admit that, despite my reluctance to throw that term around, that was my initial reaction, as well.  However, with a little more research and reflection, I consider that route to be extremely unlikely for a number of reasons.

First, over at the Volokh Conspiracy, John Elwood argues that the appointments are actually constitutional.  His claim is that even if the Senate is not in technical recess, it is in functional recess, as it has denied itself the ability to provide the constitutionally required advice & consent. It would be unthinkable to impeach either a President or his appointees if there’s been no crime committed.

However, Elwood points out that the matter has not been adjudicated by the courts, and any regulatory actions taken by the appointees could be challenged on the basis that they didn’t have the right to hold the office.  These are high-profile offices, which will provide ample opportunities for such challenges.  Whether or not the courts will go further, and remove the appointees from their offices, or simply invalidate their acts and require repeated and persistent challenges to a regulatory authority could also determine whether or not the maneuver will succeed in spite of being found illegal.

The act establishing the consumer protection office also provides room for a statutory challenge short of a constitutional one – it explicitly requires Senate approval before the Secretary of the Treasury can transfer authority to him.  Courts traditionally prefer to make decisions on statutory bases rather than constitutional ones where possible.

So much for the legal considerations.  The politics of the situation also militates against impeachment, even assuming a timely and  clear court decision that the appointments were unconstitutional.  First, Fast and Furious provides far better grounds for impeachment against underlings like Attorney General Holder.  Starting with the abuses of power there makes much more sense.  Second, in an election year, unless there is a clear an undeniable abuse of power and criminal behavior, it will be almost impossible to persuade the public that impeachment proceedings are anything other than political.

The political and legislative overhead involved in something as momentous as impeachment is huge.  To pass articles of impeachment out of the House, knowing that they will be inevitably rejected by Senate Democrats determined to defend the administration at almost any cost is to invite a repeat of the public’s judgment on the 1998 Clinton impeachment.  Worse, repeated impeachments – even talking too freely about impeachment – risks devaluing it.

Ultimately, the political calculations by the President are probably even more important to him than the legal ones.  In the matter of the financial regulators, loud and ineffectual opposition to the appointment will simply reinforce his public position as Defender of the Little Guy Against Wall Street, in a year when his re-election strategy will be to rename Mitt Romney, “Wall Street.”

Moreover, it’s a preview of coming attractions in 2012, and Obama’s second term, should he win one – his determination to use executive powers to their fullest, in the absence of effective Congressional opposition.  The Democrats have already shown their willingness to govern without a budget for years on end, and thereby prevent Congress from exercising oversight through the power of the purse.  They’ve also shown the political skill to frame the debate in narrow enough terms to make Republican opposition to that seem “obstructionist.”  That’s really what’s at stake here.

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Black Monday

No, not at the stock market, although there was plenty of bad news there, too yesterday.

October 3, 2011 was Black Monday for the Obama Administration.  One long-developing scandal finally threatened to decapitate the most politicized Justice Department since John Mitchell, and another from Obama’s campaign past burst onto the scene, undermining the President’s carefully-tended post-racial image.

CBS News obtained documents that Eric Holder knew about Operation Fast and Furious long before he said he did, in sworn testimony before Congress.

New documents obtained by CBS News show Attorney General Eric Holder was sent briefings on the controversial Fast and Furious operation as far back as July 2010. That directly contradicts his statement to Congress.

On May 3, 2011, Holder told a Judiciary Committee hearing, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

Yet internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.

CBS then links to three different memos that Holder would have received – and we can easily believe there were others – discussing Fast and Furious over the 10 months prior to Holder’s testimony.

In other words, the Attorney General of the United States lied under oath to a Congressional committee in order to save himself, confuse investigators’ timelines, and give himself more time to construct a “narrative.”

The Justice Department has an explanation, naturally:

The Justice Department told CBS News that the officials in those emails were talking about a different case started before Eric Holder became Attorney General. And tonight they tell CBS News, Holder misunderstood that question from the committee – he did know about Fast and Furious – just not the details.

If the first claim is true, the Administration will need to produce documentation not only about that earlier case, but also a broad paper trail about the Department’s handling of it.  Remember, they need not only prove that such a case existed, but that the attorneys involved were discussing it, not Gunwalker.

As for Holder’s claim that he “misunderstood the question,” go to the link and watch the testimony yourself.  Rep. Issa asks a simple, straightforward question: “When did you first know about the program officially called, ‘Fast and Furious?'”  Holder then says, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

I’m not sure what there was to misunderstand, unless such misunderstanding was deliberate.  Whatever one thinks of Holder’s politics or the way he’s corrupted the Justice Department with politics, he’s a government lawyer with long experience testifying before Congress in various capacities.  The idea that he didn’t understand the meaning of “when did you first hear?” is simply not credible.

The MSM has been singularly sympathetic to the Obama Administration, but its coverage of Fast and Furious has actually been pretty decent, given their time and space constraints.  The Washington Post in particular has devoted significantly more space to this than it has, even, to campground signage in west Texas.  With the emergence of direct evidence that the Administration, in the person of its Attorney General, has been not merely stonewalling, but also actively lying in order to cover up the scandal, the phrase “Worse than Watergate” begins to take on real meaning.

Combine that with evidence that Elana Kagan did the same during her Supreme Court confirmation testimony, in order to place herself in a position to defend the Progressives’ signature Obamacare legislation, and a patter begins to emerge of administration contempt for Congress, parallel to its contempt for the people its supposed to be governing.

At the same time, Andrew Breitbart uncovered photos of then-Senator Obama campaigning in 2007 with the New Black Panthers.  (John Sexton over at Big Government has found the video of Obama’s speech that he gave at the same event, along with the take that the New Black Panthers’ Malik Shabazz had on Obama’s remarks.)

Barack Obama has carefully constructed an image of himself as post-racial, and used that image to great political effect.  Sharing a stage with bigots and racial provocateurs like the New Black Panthers, even if only to shore up his authenticity among Black voters, does much to undermine that image.  Now Attorney General Holder’s decision to drop a case that had already been won, against the Panthers in Philadelphia, begins to look less like just racial bias – a damning enough trait in a Justice Department – but also like political payback.

Normally, candidates get a couple of “resets” during a campaign.  After they’re elected, it’s their record, not their campaign, that we judge them by.  And for the most part, after they’re nominated for the next office, most of the primary campaign is forgotten.  This can be useful, allowing the public to focus on the debate at hand, and deferring to the judgment of those who had to make previous nominating and election decisions.

But with a too-friendly press, such deliberate amnesia can also be manipulated, and in this case the MSM has been derelict in its duty.  Only Juan Williams, evidently, commented on the joint appearance at the time, and the rest of the MSM ignored it, no doubt because it didn’t fit their narrative.

Barack Obama campaigned to white America as a post-racial healer, one who, for the price of a vote, offer absolution for its past racial sins.  And yet, in the very speech where he quotes a latter from a pastor encouraging him to be true to his ideals, he’s compromising that image.  Moreover, with such a tissue-thin level of achievement up to that point, and with a lamentable record as President, the facts of his past presidential campaign which were never vetted properly at the time become relevant to our judgment about him now.

Both of these, politically and substantively, are far more important than west Texas campground signage and whatever the appropriate level of contemporaneous outrage should have been, and far more important than astro-turfed “rallies” whose job it is to distract us and to change the subject.

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The Candidates Return to

And in the due course of time, every four years, presidential candidates return to Iowa. As a service to readers, I’m trying to keep an eye on the Council Bluffs calendar (and Sioux City on Sundays), so I can sneak over and record as many events as I can. While we see the debates, it’s often at these meet-and-greets that the candidates get a chance to do the retail politicking that will win or lose them votes.

This afternoon, it was Rick Perry’s turn, with an event at Tish’s Restaurant. He spoke for just under 11 minutes, didn’t take any questions, and dived right into the crowd to shake hands. He took a few more shots at Romneycare than we’ve seen before, updating the stump speech to talk about a Beacon Hill Institute report about its effects on the Massachusetts economy.

As these events are designed to do, it drew supporters, opponents, and undecideds, and Perry seemed to score his biggest applause on his standard line that he, “will work to make Washington as inconsequential as possible.” One Romney supporter I spoke with said that the crowd – about 120 people – was about the right size for a top-tier candidate event at this point in the cycle.

So presented here, for the record, is the current version of his stump speech.




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Monty Python and the Jobs Speech

This from the guy who claimed that he was a better political director than his political director.

For those of you who have better things to do than watch the national media try to keep their presidential Google Calendars updated, the President of the United States just suffered the worst stuffing since Joe Theismann threw Rocket Screen into the hands of Jack Squirek.

Trying to bigfoot upstage the Republican presidential debate scheduled for next Wednesday at 8:00 Eastern Political War Time, Obama tried to schedule what he’s billing as a major policy address on jobs to a joint session of Congress.  Only someone apparently declined to remind him of local protocol.  The President doesn’t get to summon Congress to hear him address them from on high.  He asks permission to speak, and has to be formally invited.  He may have tried to forget the results of the 2010 elections, but Speaker John Boehner hasn’t and the Speaker declined to sign off on the deal.

The President had a couple of options.  He could request a time before the debate, and let the Republican candidates jointly deliver the rebuttal.  Or he could pick a time after the debate, and risk having the TV cameras catch Dingell, or Conyers, or Akaka, or Inouye, or Lautenberg get an early start on their beauty sleep.

But the Speaker – and the networks covering the debate – wouldn’t budge.  Instead, he chose to accept the Speaker’s invitation for Thursday night.

Opposite the season opener of the NFL.

Telestrator vs. Teleprompter in a battle for the hearts, minds, and remote controls of America.  Good luck with that, Mr. President.

The game is New Orleans vs. Green Bay.  How appropriate that the man with the permanently sub-zero approval index will be going up against the Frozen Tundra.  Seriously, doesn’t he ever get tired of losing to Wisconsin?

It’s like the bridge scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

“What is your name?”
“Barack Obama.”
“What is your quest?”
“To get re-elected.”
“What is the date of your speech?”
“September seve – no!  Eighth!  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

We’ve all been having a good time placing bets on when Obama will be attacked by some small, usually harmless water mammal, but this really is the sort of thing you could imagine coming out of the Carter White House.  And it’s completely self-inflicted.  If he gets the reservation for the 7th, he reminds everyone of the petty, thin-skinned, machine politician whose tactics don’t work so well at the national level.  If he changes the date, he either looks weak or uninformed, and unlike blowing right through “God Save the Queen,” there’s no State Department protocol office to blame for this one.

Boehner could have been gracious, but why?  Obama hasn’t exactly done anything to earn it.  He invited the Republicans to a Health Care Summit, and then shot lasers out of his eyes when Paul Ryan had the temerity to question his arithmetic, which was worse than Standard & Poors’s.  He used the State of the Union address to demagogue the Supreme Court, with the result that a number of justices have just stopped coming to that annual ritual.  He invited the aforementioned Paul Ryan to a budget policy address, only to publicly embarrass him and propose nothing of his own.  And then, after Cantor and Biden, and then Boehner and Reid thought they had debt ceiling agreements, he submarined each of them, leaving them to wonder why he was wasting their time.

A small man occupying a large office runs the risk of having it shrink wrap him at his desk, and that’s pretty much what’s happening to Obama.

You get the feeling that this is a president who wants to be Lyndon Johnson, but ends up looking like James Buchanan.  He’s politicized virtually every aspect of governance, and sicced the NLRB, the Justice Department, and the EPA on his political enemies.  But at the same time as he completely gets the vast administrative power of the Presidency, he equally completely doesn’t get its symbolic power.   Which is why since John Boehner took the gavel back from the hands of America’s children, he’s gotten the better of Obama at every turn.

Odds are the speech itself – if anyone’s listening – will just confirm it.  He’ll have nothing new to offer but more of your – or rather your grandchildren’s – money, and he almost certainly will allude to his preferred speaking slot.  He’ll leave a couple of blank spaces until Wednesday night for the speechwriters to throw in some lines challenging the Republican themes of the night before, and the press will praise his courage.   Even if he does claim to drop a couple of substantial regulations, the departments won’t actually change policy (see offshore drilling), or the regulations will show up in some other context.

So the President, with Democrats having loudly proclaimed that this was the summer to prepare the battlefield for next year’s election, finds himself out of ideas,  at the mercy of events, with people having tuned him out, ready to fire him, focused on interviewing his replacement.

Are you ready for some football?

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Obama’s Evergreen Goes Brown

Barack Obama and Harry Reid may not be able to produce a spending plan, but at least they have their old campaign talking points from 2008 to fall back on.

With the Senate having failed to produce a budget in over 2 years, the President’s budget having succeeded in uniting Washington to a degree not seen since it was under threat of attack 150 years ago, and neither willing to commit a spending plan to paper, they can be relied on to Blame Bush!

The White House has put out a graphic purporting to show that – surprise! – 8 years under President Bush added more to the national debt than 2 years under President Obama.  (They play with the numbers, by assuming that the cut in marginal tax rates didn’t stimulate growth, for instance.)  That President Bush wasn’t exactly a fiscal conservative like FDR isn’t a secret to anyone.  In its day, what was seen as recklessness spawned Porkbusters, the Tea Party in embryo.

But let me remind you of this chart, originally in the Washington Post:

It’s been updated by the Heritage Foundation:

Much as Babe Ruth redefined baseball by showing what could be done when you try to hit home runs, so has Obama redefined deficit spending by showing what happens when you really put your heart and soul into it.  You’ll notice, by the way, that the latter graph compares the CBO to itself, rather than to the White House budget, because, haha, there isn’t a White House budget.

Note also how the color bars in each graph look the same, only they’re shifted to the right by two years in the update.  It’s evident that 2010 and 2011 haven’t worked out as planned.  It’s no wonder that Tea Partiers don’t really believe in out-year cuts; the deficit reduction hasn’t occurred because Obama’s policies and those of Congressional Democrats have stifled economic growth, and because they’ve been happy to govern illegally, without a budget for two years, leaving federal spending essentially on auto-pilot.

The other argument you hear is that Paul Ryan’s budget made use of the same accounting trick that Harry Reid’s budget-avoidance bill does: counting savings from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars we won’t be fighting.  But Ryan’s plan was an actual budget.  There were always holes, but the difference between “will spend” and “would have spent” means a lot less when you’re drafting an actual plan, than the difference between “will spend” and “will take in.”  Ryan applied that $1,000,000,000,000 to a headline.

Reid proposes to let the President spend it between now and Election Day 2012.

The Democrats won’t produce a budget because they can’t, only they don’t want you to know that until after the election.  So much for them.

The Tea Party folks have a different complaint, namely that Boehner’s Plan doesn’t go far enough.  I’d like to see more cuts, too.  But the idea, as I recall, was to use the debt ceiling deadline as a means for forcing a debate, forcing changes to the spending that is current and planned.  It was never realistic to run the entire federal government out of the House of Representatives.

To  that extent, the plan has been wildly successful.  It has exposed the Democrats as dangerously delusional about the state of our finances, whose only current idea is to soak you to ratify a massive increase in the scope of our economy directly controlled by the government.  The Boehner Plan re-adjusts the baseline, keeps the debate on the front burner pretty much through the election, and does it without raising taxes.  These are major victories, and they would not have been possible without the Tea Party.  Period.

That said, this particular fight is one of many. Pushing too hard right now, bringing on a technical default, or, more likely, putting incredible discretionary power in the hands of a teenage president, won’t be Sherman marching through Georgia, it’ll be Napoleon marching to Moscow.

There is considerable frustration abroad that we can’t simply win this thing already.  But politics isn’t about that.  Regardless, we’ll have to keep watching, pushing, and prodding.  There aren’t any final victories in politics, either over the other party or within your own.  The best use of this battle is to pocket the gains, and use the process to help prepare the battlefield for the next fight.

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GE, We Bring Bad Ideas To Light

In  a prior post, I mentioned that Obama’s favorite courtier CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, was part of a Jobs & Competitiveness Council, ostensibly tasked with finding ways to put Americans to work.  It’s the kind of thing that government always says it’s doing, anyway.  After all, we have a Commerce Department, a Labor Department, an Education Department, and dozens, if not hundreds, of bureaus, agencies, subalterns, and fiefdoms devoted exclusively to this problem.

From the bureaucracy’s point of view, they’ve spent decades of time, billions of taxpayer dollars, and millions in campaign contributions to get where they are, and they’re not going to let a hand-picked set of toadies show them up.  The beauty of it is that either their success or their failure shows that our actual redundant population lives and works within 10 miles of the Capitol.

If by now anyone at all has any faith left in this kind of commission, it should be put to rest by its initial recommendations.

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