Tag: Chris Christie

Yet Another Republican Debate

I was in and out, catching parts of last night’s Republican debate. I missed what the media are assuring me today is the end of Marco Rubio’s campaign: when Chris Christie called him out for repeating the same canned talking points over and over and Rubio responded by … repeating his talking points.

Strictly on points, that was a big deal. Christie has been making this point for a while — and it’s a good one — that he (and Kasich and Bush) have a lot more experience in getting things done while Rubio (and Cruz) are mostly good at making speeches. Rubio does tend to fall back on canned speeches and his record of accomplishment is thin. He isn’t very good at improvising, something that has hurt him in direct interactions with voters and party stalwarts.

But …

This really crosses me as inside-the-beltway media stuff. I really don’t think the voting public is going to care very much whether Rubio is repeating himself. If this were debate club, Christie would have won, but it’s not. Repeating talking points is part of politics (Christie should know, as he never forgets to remind us that he was appointed as a federal prosecutor after 9/11). And Rubio gave an answer on abortion — talking about the rights of the woman the rights of the fetus being in contention — that was off the charts with conservatives in my Twitter feed. I disagree with Rubio on abortion, but his answer, pre-packaged or not, really resonated with GOP base. That’s what they’ll remember.

The other highlight was Jeb Bush finally landing a punch on Donald Trump. Bush hit the Donald hard on Trump’s abuse of eminent domain and the Donald had no answer, eventually turning on the audience as they booed him. I think the second place finish in Iowa and the leveling of the polls is getting to Trump. He’s still leading in New Hampshire, but if he loses, we could see an epic meltdown.

Overall, I think this is still a three-man race, with Christie as a possible dark horse should the leaders falter. I expect Trump to win New Hampshire. But the race is anyone’s to win right now.

A Divergent View

One of the problems Clinton the Inevitable is having is some rumbling from her base. This is not surprising, given that Clinton is a hawk, a favorite of Wall Street, an ardent supporter of the surveillance state and an opponent of drug legalization. I suspect, in the end, it won’t matter. The Democrats will vote for Hillary anyway. But to appease them, she’s having to embrace parts of their progressive agenda, including expanding Social Security.

Seriously:

Progressives have a few such priorities in mind. First, they want Clinton to embrace an expansion of Social Security benefits. It’s an idea that seemed unthinkable during the period of fiscal austerity from which Congress has slowly been emerging, but it has gained steam among Democrats in recent months. Championed both by Warren and by the significantly more conservative Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the proposal earned support from all but two Senate Democrats when it came up during last month’s budget vote-a-rama. “She says her focus is on economic security. There’s no question Social Security is a key part of economic security,” said Nancy Altman, co-director of an advocacy group dedicated to boosting the public-pension system. “So it’s hard to understand why she wouldn’t do it.

Their other goal includes eliminating college loans in favor of a free education. Because, apparently, what this country really needs is another multi hundred billion dollar entitlement that will massively hike the cost of college. Oh, and they also want a pony and an action man figure and toy train.

The progressives know these ideas won’t get anywhere with Republicans in control of Congress. But they are tired of the Democrats being “cautious” (i.e, somewhat responsible) and want them to be “bold” (i.e,. stupid).

I can attack any part of this agenda, but let’s take on Social Security expansion, which I’ve addressed before:

Only an idiot would ignore that Social Security is already running a primary deficit and its “solvency” through 2033 comes from a trust fund that consists of nothing but IOU’s. Only an idiot would ignore the problem that massive retirement guarantees have created in Europe — plunging fertility rates, slow growth, waves of early retirement, even less personal savings. And only the heir to the throne of the kingdom of idiots would propose tripling this problem.

Even if you ignore the political aspects, you’re talking about a massive tax hike which the government will, as it has done with Social Security, loan to itself and spend, leaving us in an even worse situation. Instead of having a Social Security Trust fund with $5 trillion fictitious dollars in it, we’ll have one with $10 trillion. I haven’t seen a proposal this stupid since Algore said he would shore up Social Security with the money we were borrowing from it.

The wealthy in this country are already paying an effective tax rate in the high 30’s. As Mcardle points out in a series of rebuttals to progressive talking points, this is a historic high. Contrary to the claim that Reagan and Bush 43 put the rich on easy street, the current tax code is just as onerous as it always was:

In 1986, in the face of a persistent budget deficit of roughly 5 percent of GDP, the Reagan administration undertook a massive tax reform that lowered marginal rates but also got rid of most deductions, which actually ended up raising effective taxes on the highest-income groups; the total average tax rate for the top 1 percent jumped from 24.6 percent in 1986 to 30.3 percent a year later. That’s why you could lower the top marginal rate to 28 percent from 70 percent and only see effective tax rates decline by five percentage points over that period.

But even that didn’t last. The George H.W. Bush administration did a big budget deal that raised taxes. The Bill Clinton administration raised them again, and the effective tax rate for the top 1 percent peaked at 35.3 percent in 1995, slightly higher than it had been at the previous peak in 1979. Even after the Bush tax cuts, the effective tax rates of this top group ran somewhere slightly north of 30 percent, or about where they’d been in 1981, before Reagan’s tax reform took effect. They only dipped back into the 20s under Barack Obama, because of the lasting effects of the recession.

Most of the tax relief of the last thirty years has come in the form of eliminating income taxes on the poor and drastically reducing for the lower middle class.

Progressives cling to the fantasy that we can simply raise taxes on the rich forever. “Hey!” they think, “we’re only taking 35.7% of the rich’s income. We could take another 5-10% easy!” Even assuming it were fair or even possible to take half the income of the “rich”; even assuming this wouldn’t damage the economy, we are already committed to spending that money. We already have trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Obamacare. We already have hundreds of billions committed to interest on the debt and maintaining Obama’s (and soon Hillary’s) wars. We already have a time bomb of public and private pensions that our government may end up bailing out. You can’t just spend money and hope the tax revenue will materialize. You can’t raise taxes on the rich forever. Eventually, you are going to have to raise taxes on the middle class. And eventually, you are going to run into a fiscal wall.

Now, by contrast, Chris Christie this week laid out his plan for Social Security. It includes tapering benefits to people with incomes over $80,000 and raising the retirement age. In the link, Yglesias makes the reasonable point that this hurts poorer seniors the most, who often retire earlier and don’t live as long as wealthier seniors. That’s true, but we still can’t sustain the current system. Maybe you can step the retirement ages a little differently or up the benefits for the most needy seniors. But at least Christie’s plan acknowledges the fiscal realities of the 21st century. At least it’s not based on the pie-in-the-sky belief that we can just raise taxes on the evil stinking rich and pay for … everything.

Contemplating this issue and the opposing views this afternoon, I became a little more optimistic about the 2016 election. A lot of people see the broad Republican field as a weakness. But, in some ways, it’s a strength. Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz … these guys have a very diverse array of views on foreign policy, economics and budget issues. They’re all conservative, in their way. But we’re looking at a real debate about where this country needs to be headed. We’re getting a fairly broad and somewhat sensible palette of ideas from the Republican slate. And that becomes really obvious when you compare it to the toked-up-college-dorm-bull-session ideas emerging from Clinton’s base.

The question, as always, will be: do the American people prefer conservative fact or progressive fantasy? I guess we’ll find out.

Christie Hits A Scandal

Ok, let’s review what we’ve learned over the last five years about political scandals.

When Obama’s attorney general was part of a program that lost track of guns it was walking into Mexico and people were killed with those guns, we were told this was not a scandal.

When an embassy in a hotbed of terrorist activity was poorly guarded and the subsequent attack killed four people and the President’s UN Ambassador falsely claimed it was because of a protest against a video, we were told this was not a scandal.

When the President rewrote his Obamacare law 16 times, this was not as scandal.

When the IRS targeted his political enemies, this was not a scandal.

When Obama spied on the AP and Fox News, this was a not a scandal.

When the NSA violated the law and ignored court orders, this was not a scandal.

When Obama started a war in Libya on his own, this was not a scandal.

When Clapper and Holder lied to Congress, this was not a scandal.

The Pigford and GSA scandals were scandals, but we were told they had nothing to do with Obama.

You know what would really have been a scandal? If Obama closed some traffic lanes:

The mystery of who closed two lanes onto the George Washington Bridge — turning the borough of Fort Lee, N.J., into a parking lot for four days in September — exploded into a full-bore political scandal for Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday. Emails and texts revealed that a top aide had ordered the closings to punish the town’s mayor after he did not endorse the governor for re-election.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie, emailed David Wildstein, a high school friend of the governor who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge.

Later text messages mocked concerns that school buses filled with students were stuck in gridlock: “They are the children of Buono voters,” Mr. Wildstein wrote, referring to Mr. Christie’s opponent Barbara Buono.

Now granted those e-mails may have been reveling in an inconvenience rather than ordering one. And granted they were on private, not official e-mails accounts. And granted Christie has denied involvement. But … come on! The man blocked traffic lanes! That’s like a million Bengahzis! The Left wing is all aflutter, proclaiming Christie’s 2016 campaign — which doesn’t actually exist — dead.

I don’t mean to make light of this. If Christie did indeed inconvenience tens of thousands of people as a political retaliation, that is definitely wrong and should have an impact on his political future. The staffer who organized it should be fired and the people of Fort Lee deserve an apology, at minimum.

But … Come. The. Fuck On. The Left Wing has no credibility on this, none whatsoever. They have spent the last five years reflexively defending anything and everything their beloved President does. They have said that even investigating these things is a partisan witchhunt. They mocked the Benghazi hearings as bullshit. Now, all of the sudden, a four-day traffic jam should be the end of someone’s political career?

Look at what I did two paragraphs ago. I looked at an allegation against a politician I like and said it should be investigated and, if he turns out to have been involved, he should be punished. That’s because I don’t see the Republican Party as my tribe of Chris Christie as a tin god. I wish the same could be said about those who are currently dancing in the streets over this while ignoring everything done by … the most powerful politician in the world.

The Democrats Open the Gubernatorial Clown Car

One thing I’ve mentioned in this space before is that while I frequently despair of Republicans on the national level, there has been a surge of Republican governors who are competent, conservative and effective. This can not, however, be said of their Democratic counterparts. Last week, I countered the assertion that Jerry Brown is the Best. Governor. Ever. But two more races are drawing attention to the complete dearth of ideas that is the Democratic Party.

The first is in New Jersey, where Chris Christie looks ready to easily win a second term. Christie is winning because of his first term performance and popularity in the state. But if I were a Democrat, I would be embarrassed by the opposition. I showed last week how Buono completely muffed a softball question in the debate. Her performance has been so bad, however, that the Star-Ledger spends half of its governor endorsement slamming Christie as a fraud only to endorse him because Buono is so awful:

Begin with education. Buono’s close alliance with the teachers union is a threat to the progress Christie is making in cities such as Newark and Camden. She is hostile to charter schools, which now educate nearly 1 in 4 kids in Newark.

Buono opposes the Newark teacher contract, which freezes the pay of the worst teachers and grants bonuses to the best. She wants a traditional union deal, in which no distinction is made. She would return control of the schools to Newark, which would spell the end of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s promising stewardship.

Her critique of Christie centers on property taxes and jobs, but she lacks a convincing strategy to do any better herself. She has a long list of expensive plans, from universal preschool to more aid for public colleges. But she can’t name a single spending cut beyond the traditional promise to attack “fraud and abuse.”

(I think it’s hilarious that the Star-Ledger, in criticizing Buono, inadvertently highlights Christie’s achievements. It’s like they can’t quite bring themselves to admit he’s been pretty good.)

But it’s worse. The other race is in Virginia. This should be a gimme for the Democrats. The McDonnell Administration has been hit by scandals and the state, thanks to the exploding public sector in the DC/NoVa area, has been trending blue. The Republican nominee is Ken Cuccinelli, a deeply divisive attorney general who only won the nomination by changing the rules. So the Democrats looked around and nominated … you won’t believe this … Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe is such an awful candidate that the Richmond Times-Dispatch decided to endorse … no one:

The Democrat stumbles when he proposes major spending hikes, which he claims can be financed by the federal dollars the state would receive by expanding Medicaid. He offers an easy answer to a tough question … On energy generally, McAuliffe has spun like a top and now supports items he once opposed, such as the exploration for energy sources off Virginia’s shores … McAuliffe styles himself a businessman and entrepreneur. He inhabits the crossroads where the public and private sectors intersect and sometimes collide. His experience with GreenTech does not generate confidence. He located the plant in Mississippi, which is not known for its social enlightenment. The company has not lived up to expectations. If it eventually does, no credit will accrue to McAuliffe, for he has, he says, stepped away from it. He is not the reincarnation of Henry Ford. His ignorance of state government is laughable and makes Rick Perry, the notorious governor of Texas, look like a Founding Father.

I’ve watched this race for a while and McAuliffe crosses me as someone who thinks it is basically his turn. He’s been involved in politics for a while, dammit, and he thinks he deserves this. He doesn’t know the issues and doesn’t seem terribly interested in learning about them. He doesn’t know Virginia government and doesn’t seem terribly interested in learning about it. And he’s the best the Virginia Democrats could come up with. Seriously.

The T-D comes close to endorsing Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis but shies away because of his lack of experience. I find that spineless. I endorse Sarvis and if I still lived in Virginia, would vote for him. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in not being a buffoon. As it is, McAuliffe is leading in the polls. Whatever failings Sarvis may have, he’s got be better than McAullife. If you think McDonnell has had scandals, just wait until that jackanapes is in the Governor’s mansion.

Next year may even more amazing. The Democrats want to run Wendy Davis for governor of Texas. You may remember her from the abortion filibuster earlier this year as well as … well, nothing. Davis’s only real claim to fame is filibustering a bill that had the support of two-thirds of Texans. Whatever you may think about abortion, this is not an issue that is going to win Democrat the Texas state house. In my own state, Tom Corbett has become deeply unpopular but it’s not clear that the Democrats will nominate anyone in 2014 who has more credibility than Shakes the Clown.

The Republicans at the national level have been criticized for being out of ideas. But I think that applies even doubly so to Democrats at the state level. They seem to think that because they see Republicans as evil monsters, everyone else does too and all they need to is prop someone up who can spew liberal bullshit long enough to win. They’re in for a rude shock in the next year.

Christie With the Anti-Zinger

I know Chris Christie isn’t the most popular person in much of the GOP right now. But the other night, he really looked good against Barbara Buono, whom he is likely to easily defeat for re-election. And this moment was great:

I could be cynical here, but Christie has always crossed me as a guy who says what he thinks. That was classy.

These sort of questions occasionally pop up in debates. Any politician worth his salt knows that you always take the opportunity to say something genuinely nice about your opponent (and most politicians have some likable or admirable qualities once you get past their lust for power). Setting aside anything about Christie, I think this demonstrates that Buono doesn’t really have the political common sense to be governor.

Charles Ramsey and Ruslan Tsarni Should Get A TV Show

One of the almost refreshing things to emerge from the Boston bombing was Ruslan Tsarni. Uncle Ruslan didn’t waste a moment in front of the cameras, blasting his nephews as losers, expressing his love for America and conveying his embarrassment for what had happened. It was rare to see someone not going with the default “more in sorrow than anger” mood that tends to characterize these events. He said what I think a lot of people were thinking.

By now, you’ve heard about the three girls who were imprisoned in a basement in Ohio. A video interview with the neighbor who discovered and rescued one of the girls is rapidly going viral. It is worth a watch as he expresses amazement and what happened and uncorks a number of great spontaneous lines (“I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”)

I was thinking about this in the car this morning and realized just why those two videos are so much fun. It’s because genuine emotion and spontaneous expression are so rarely shown in the media. Our culture has become relentlessly programmed and focus-group tested. From “reality TV” that isn’t real to movies that are statistically tweaked for mass appeal, there’s a whole industry out there designed to crush spontaneity.

Our politicians have become so sanitized and so on-message that they have made the Information Age boring as hell. Everyone has the same talking points, everyone is on a script. Barack Obama is the apotheosis of this: everything he says sounds it has been passed through the political equivalent of Autotune.

Yeah, America. Boo, cynicism. Government can’t solve everything but it can solve many things. Bipartisanship. It’s all Bush’s fault.

Of course, Obama also illustrates why the media has become so dominated by focus-group blahness. On the rare occasions when Obama does speak off the cuff, he often sticks his foot in it (red lines, bitter clingers, etc.)

Chris Christie is the opposite of this in many ways. He’s always saying what he thinks and, often, what everyone knows deep down. But his honesty is often a double-edged sword. The same statements that make conservatives cheer make liberals cringe. And when he earnestly praised Obama’s Sandy response, the outcry was fierce. Rand Paul is the same way, often saying exactly what he means and contradicting his own party. But this has also made him enemies on the Left, particularly with some of his bumbling comments on racial issues.

But, as human beings, we are far closer to the Christie/Paul model than we are to the Obama one. No one sees an event — whether it’s something trivial or something momentous — and carefully maps out their feelings. They react. Sometimes they overreact. Sometimes they say things they don’t really mean. Sometimes they say and do things that contradict what they really believe. But we’re not media creatures and never have been.

Tsarni and Ramsey are a great contrast against a media that’s constantly wringing its hands over what drives men to do evil things and always telling us that horrible things could happen at any moment. Basically, neither man seems to give a shit about being “on message”. Uncle Ruslan was angry and appalled by the bombing. He didn’t somberly pontificate on what drove his nephews to kill and maim a bunch of innocent folk. He was outraged and said so. Charles Ramsey didn’t worry about whether someone would think his comments were racially insensitive. He was dumfounded by what had happened and said so.

More of this, please. Life isn’t scripted. Why should everything in the media be?

Christie and Obama

Chris Christie has never had any problem criticizing Barack Obama. A few weeks ago, for example, he uncorked this:

However, in the wake of Sandy, Christie has been praising Obama for his response to the crisis. This has prompted conspiracy theories about him having secret (or not so secret) 2016 ambitions.

Now, I’m as cynical as the next guy, but … really? Does Christie cross people as that sinister? I think Jeffrey Goldberg has the best theory:

Christie, in my experience, is a deeply emotional and highly sentimental man, and he is torn-up about the devastation along the Jersey Shore. The support he’s received from President Obama — the support he receives from anyone — at such a wrenching moment, makes him inordinately grateful. And President Obama has been extremely attentive.

Exactly. As I said earlier on Twitter, Chris Christie wears his heart on his sleeve. He says what he thinks and he doesn’t pull punches. This is, in fact, one of the things we like about him. Seeing the devastation wrought on the Jersey Shore of his youth, the Shore he has taken his children to many times, has clearly hit him hard. You can see it in his face; you can feel it in his statements. And having a President he has been highly critical of call him up and say, “tell us what you need” moved him.

Of course, I may be buying into Christie’s genuineness too much. And maybe Goldberg’s alternate theory — that Christie just wants to meet Bruce Springsteen — is the right one. But for the moment, I’m taking this for what it is: the gratitude of a man who is deeply hurt by what his state has endured. And I think it’s a sign of how weird our politics has gotten — just yesterday, I was reading about people only wanting to date politically like-minded mates — that we immediately assume a sinister motive? As Franklin Harris noted on Twitter, politicians used to play nice in the aftermath of a crisis. Katrina was the exception, not the rule.

By all accounts, Christie is doing a fantastic job managing this crisis. Why should we be upset if he wants to throw some credit in the Feds’ direction? Especially if the reports that FEMA has learned from Katrina and is doing a better job are true?

Sandy

The Frankenstorm is due to pass over us with the eye about 15 miles from my house sometime in the next 24 hours. I expect to lose power but we’re on high ground and staying home and the storm will have vented much of its fury on New Jersey, so we shouldn’t be in any real danger. (Thank God we have New Jersey to shield us from this stuff.)

Use this thread to post any updates or thoughts. It’s looking very bad but not catastrophic at this point. I just wish the networks would stop the hazing ritual of putting reporters on the beach for this stuff. It’s ridiculous.

Political implications are minimal. Nate Silver has some discussion here. We might see some weird polling numbers (although Gallup is suspending polling until the crisis has passed). I don’t think this will impact the Presidential race unless Obama badly mismanages it. And that appears unlikely since Chris Christie is doing a lot of the heavy lifting and, by all accounts, doing a fantastic job. If you’re in New Jersey and still have power, his Twitter feed is island of calm reassurance.

Anyone else in the path of this, stay safe. And see you on the flip side.

Backing Off the War

Our War on Drugs is getting stupider and more corrupting by the minute. But … there may be some people out there who are not so dumb.

Flanked by former prisoners being trained at a food kitchen in Camden, [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie called for expanding the state’s Drug Court Program — which offers non-violent drug addicts treatment and counseling rather than prison sentences — by making it mandatory for certain offenders.

About 8 percent of those who participate in the drug courts, which are available statewide and accept about 1,400 new participants each year, are convicted again — as compared to 43 percent of drug offenders released from prison, statistics show. Also, drug court participants cost taxpayers about $11,379 a year, as opposed to the $38,900 for the average prison inmate.

Through an executive order, Christie also created a task force that will, for the first time, coordinate the state’s programs to help prisoners return to normal life.

“We’re not giving people the skills they need, and we’re not giving them the treatment they need to overcome some of the problems that led them to crime in the first place,” Christie told a small crowd at Cathedral Kitchen in Camden, which serves food to the city’s poor and needy.

I have thought for some time that if we are ever going to end the War on Drugs, the impetus for it has to come from the Right. Democrats are too spineless to expose themselves politically. Only Nixon could go to China. Only Clinton could reform welfare. Only Republicans can back off a war on our own people.

Note particularly the cost savings. The Drug War is fucking expensive. Prisons, guards, cops — they cost money. People who go from smoking a joint to full-time criminality cost money and deprive us of working taxpayers. Treating people’s addictions is both cheaper and more effective.

Even the current GOP front-runner, a notorious drug warrior who thinks we should model our policies off of Singapore and drug test for federal benefits, is starting to get the hint.

It has always struck me that if you’re serious about trying to stop drug use, then you need to find a way to have a fairly easy approach to it and you need to find a way to be pretty aggressive about insisting–I don’t think actually locking up users is a very good thing. I think finding ways to sanction them and to give them medical help and to get them to detox is a more logical long term policy.

The day we realize that this country’s drug problem is, first and foremost, a medical problem, we will have taken a step back from the abyss. It’s good to see that a few people are starting to get it.

Christie Tees Off

More Chris Christie common sense porn:

He essentially asks the question everyone else is asking: what was Obama doing while the Supercommittee floundered? Why can’t Washington do what everyone knows must be done — cut spending, reform entitlements and, possibly, raise taxes?

Now to be fair, Obama was very active in the deal that created the supercommittee and gave us some budget cuts. And a grand bargain was supposedly left on the table. We are also now facing a “dual trigger” situation where inaction will result in defense spending cuts and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts — although neither is automatic and both will probably be put off.

But the budget crisis is too big for “woulda coulda shoulda” bullshit. Obama also walked away from Simpson-Bowles and has gone conspicuously silent on the budget since. He has been campaigning while the budget is hammered out in Congress. That’s not his job description.