Tag: Republican Party

Boehner Flinches from the Abyss

So for all of the stress, the House GOP leadership (including Paul Ryan), a minority of Republican Congressmen, and a majority of Democrats
passed the tax deal they were offered by the Senate. The Rich (less than 1% of the population) got tagged with a 4.6% increase (horrors!) and caps were placed on deductions, among other meaningless items.

I suppose it is palatable since we have at least gotten the remainder of Bush’s tax cuts to remain permanent. Even Grover Norquist has twisted this and basically said that since the tax cuts had expired, those Republicans who voted for this deal were voting for a tax cut, not an increase. Interesting contortion.

But then there’s virtually no spending cut in this deal. The increased revenue is not going to make a dent in the deficit. For all the drama, we slapped a few million wealthy people with a small tax raise and refused to address the fact that spending is out of control. It’s a pathetic failure of the entire political establishment.

It is easy to blast Boehner today, but what choice did he have? Yes, I personally believed it would have been best to go over the cliff and let the chips fall where they may. However, I knew that Boehner wouldn’t do that. He didn’t want to take the blame for tax increases on the middle class (it’s going to happen eventually anyway) and it was too tempting to target the unpopular minority that is top earners. Also, he likes grand, useless compromises for some reason.

On the bright side, around 2/3 of the House GOP broke with Boehner on this deal and hence have political cover. Boehner has set himself up beautifully for the inevitable coup and primary challenge that he has coming.

I would say that he was courageous to do this IF I actually believed that the deal means anything. It doesn’t. It’s too little, too late, and still comes across as a major defeat for the GOP. We could have gotten a tax deal as useless as this one weeks ago and not had the brinksmanship that managed to make Obama look like a triumphant, responsible statesman.

Boehner must not be returned as the Speaker of the House, even if means leaving the post vacant. The real fight is going to be over the debt ceiling and Boehner cannot be counted on to do right either by his party or the nation.

The Unserious GOP

Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to know why I voted for Gary Johnson this year, here it is in one tweet:

That’s Marco Rubio, rising star of the GOP, boasting that the GOP is refusing to tackle entitlements and insisting that we blame Barack Obama for one of the few good ideas to emerge from the Fiscal Cliff mess.

I haven’t posted much on the Fiscal Cliff mess since I knew the Congress and the President, like dumb students who have known a paper was due all semester, would wait until the last minute. I will not be surprised at all if we go over the cliff. But keep this in mind: the President and his party are laughable clowns. But a big obstacles here — as boasted by Rubio — is that the GOP doesn’t really want to cut spending.

Hey Mr DJ: Brass Balls Edition

The GOP is in disarray!  Congressional Republicans are wavering on taxes as Speaker John Boehner’s eyes well up with tears at the sight of the oncoming fiscal cliff.

What happened?  Obama found his backbone with nothing left to lose now that he has four more years to party it up.  The polls favor his tax increases on the rich and he knows that his media allies will assure that the GOP takes the blame for the resulting tax raises on the middle class, the resulting recession, or both.

Never before has the GOP needed some balls more and yet found them in shorter supply.

A day may come, when the courage of conservatives fails.  When we forsake our oaths to Grover Norquist and break the fellowship of the Tea Party.  That day is not this day.  That day will probably come in December.

This week, we need to gather up and melt down some brass for John Boehner’s balls.  This will require:

1. Any track that uses brass instruments (e.g.: trumpets, saxophones, tubas, trombones)

2. Genres to consider include Big Band, Swing, Jazz, Ska, Blues, etc.

Predictable first selection is In the Mood by Glenn Miller

For last week’s smart shoppers:

pfluffy, who elbowed me in the ribs for that XBox*: Night Boat to Cairo by Madness

Iconoclast, who trampled over me at Best Buy* for the last Blu-Ray copy of The Complete Works of John Hughes Collection: Us and Them by Pink Floyd

Biggie G, who delivered a crippling kick to my kneecap and ran off with the iPad I wanted at the Apple Store*: Super Bad by James Brown

Mississippi Yankee…there I was at Toys R Us*, reaching for that super-cool Thomas the Train set. The second I touched it, MY emerged,  grabbed my hand, and bit it. He didn’t take the train set though.  Just wanted to share the pain. The true spirit of the holidays?  Green Hornet Theme by Al Hirt

*RTFLC thanks its corporate sponsors!

Whither California?

Many of you, especially those of you who live there, know how screwed up the state of California is. For a long time, the Democrats have blamed this sad state of affairs not on their idiocy, their subservience to public labor unions or their refusal to control spending, but on the Republican minority in the legislature.

Looks like they are going to run out of excuses soon:

Mitt Romney lost to President Obama by a landslide 21 percentage points in a state that used to consistently side with the Republican nominee.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein drew only token Republican opposition and won by 23 points.

Democrats, at last count, were gaining four congressional seats in California.

The stunner was the state Assembly, where Democrats apparently achieved a historic supermajority to match the party’s similar feat in the Senate. This means there’s virtually nothing that Democrats can’t pass on their own in Sacramento, relegating Republicans to mathematical irrelevancy.

But it doesn’t stop there.

The Republican slice of registered voters in California slipped below 30%. Only eight years ago it was nearly 35%. Democrats are 44%.

And about that loud anti-tax mantra, the Republicans’ favorite rallying cry: Most voters aren’t listening.

Two tax-increase measures were approved by Californians. Brown’s Prop. 30 won by a surprising 8 points. Prop. 39, ending a tax break mainly for out-of-state corporations, was approved by 20 points.

Skelton blames this on the weak Republican party and their inability to compromise. There may be something to that, but I’m dubious that even a functional GOP could make progress in California. The fact is that the Democratic majority has persuaded the people of California that their salvation lies in more spending, more taxes and more regulation.

Those of you who have read Atlas Shrugged may remember the endgame. The national government kept pursuing collectivists policies. As that drove achievers away and crippled the economy, they responded with ever more collectivism, eventually destroying the national economy.

I am under no illusion that the denizens of California will realize how badly the Democratic Party is screwing them. As the state continues to decay into bankruptcy and economic stagnation, the Democrats will continue to blame Republicans and the public will continue to follow along. As a result, I think we are about to Atlas Shrugged played out in real life.

Ceiling Obama’s Fate

I don’t like Speaker Boehner or trust him.  Which just means I have a lot in common with your average conservative Republican congressman (that and skinny-dipping).  It bothers me that this is effectively the most powerful Republican in the federal government.  He’s going to compromise our best strengths away and we’re going to get screwed.   But I really have no idea what else the GOP in the House should do.

We’re talking about Obama’s legacy here.  A working and lasting deal on the debt and taxes would be the starting point for anything good or bad that happens after it.  Obama missed this chance last time through incompetence and opportunism.  He insisted on holding off on any long-term solution until after re-election and allowed the uncertainty  of the fiscal cliff and Taxmageddon  (as well as Obamacare, now not going away) to drag down the economy for another year and a half. 

This is why his first term must be considered to be a failure.  Obama roughly held unemployment in place–unless you want to get into the more complex argument about labor force participation–and that was the issue foremost on voter’s minds.  But Bill Clinton promised that nobody could have fixed the economy in four years and he wouldn’t lie to us, right?  So Obama gets his re-election and another shot at a grand bargain on the debt ceiling and taxes.

Frankly, I’d be more impressed if the federal government woud just pass a real budget in compliance with the law, but they are so fucked that this isn’t even on the table right now.   Whatever Big Fuckin’ Deal these damn fools come up with, it’s going to equally celebrated and meaningless.  They’re not doing what needs to happen, they’re postponing it.  They’re not really doing what they’re supposed to, but making it look like they are.  It’s theatre, but we had best know what the audience is expecting to see on stage: The Rich as the antagonist, who must lose at third act.

The GOP is going to lose plainly on taxes.  Incomes on those who make over $250,000 need to go up because we can’t keep defending these people for no clear reason.  Yeah, yeah, raising taxes now would throw us back into recession or worsen the one we’re already in, depending on your outlook.  The proposed tax increases won’t close the deficit either, I know.   But Obama must have that to show off.  It’s inescapable.  Don’t get me wrong, if we HAD to give Obama a trophy, I’d tell him to take Boehner’s testicles; but he doesn’t want them.  He wants to confiscate more wealth from the wealthy.

I say that the taxes on top earners have to go up because the American people don’t know dick about economics.  Let’s face it.  If they did, they would have shown a lot more curiosity about the lack of a federal budget for nearly four years now and possibly asked some questions about why the recovery was oh so weak.  Oh, yeah: They probably wouldn’t have re-elected Obama either.

My prediction is that the Democrats will get the tax increase on “the rich” while barely giving anything in return.  Don’t get mad about this though.  It’s a loser and the GOP will be better off with it resolved.  It will suck all the wind out of the “party of the rich” arguments if any other part of the deal falls through.

The GOP has the big gun in this argument.  They can always let all of the Bush tax cuts expire.   The demented extremist side of me who would like to collectively kick the electorate in the junk for last Tuesday LOVES the thought of doing this just for spite.  Shitty thing is that this would hurt my household too.  I’m a working schlub, married to a teacher, and we have two kids.   We are that middle class that everyone purports to care about so much and really doesn’t.  Hence, we hate everyone else.

Obama most assuredly does not want to be blamed for raising taxes on the middle class (except for Obamacare, because “kids with cancer” or something).   If the Democrats don’t agree to some spending cuts beyond reducing the military to menacing our enemies with rubberband-fired paper clips, then the GOP must announce that no agreement that realistically reduces the deficit could be reached and they have no choice but to allow the tax cuts to sunset.

The Democrats do not want this and will work hard to prevent it.  The problem is that even though we have the advantage in the form of the great tax increase gambit, we have the biggest disadvantage on the game board: Boehner himself.  This isn’t about him, it’s about Obama.  Both of them want to secure their own legacies and I think Boehner is the less committed of the two.   Worse, he still thinks that something can be worked out man-to-man with this president.  His greatest weapon is that which Obama most fears: tax increases on everybody.  Not beating Obama at golf.

If Boehner does not use the big gun, then he establishes Obama as a good-enough president for resolving the debt stalemate, passes an idiotic compromise that accomplishes nothing for the good of his country, and proves once again how ultimately meaningless it is to give the GOP control of any part of the federal government. 

Obama’s legacy is on the line but all eyes should be on Boehner now.

Economic Populism

Tim Carney has an interesting take on where the GOP should go from here: economic populism. Now economic populism usually means what Obama practices: spread the wealth around class warfare. But Carney is advocating a different kind of populism:

The new Republican populism shouldn’t blame the “47 percent” of Mitt Romney’s imagination, or immigrants seeking to make a better life. The new Republican populism should declare war on the cronies and special interests who use big government to rig the game in their favor and deny opportunity to those trying to climb the ladder and live the American dream.

The GOP is out of power and it needs to play to the disaffected. The disaffected are not the wealthy, an obvious point that conservatives can’t seem to understand. The wealthy got wealthier under Obama, and corporations earned record profits while median family earnings fell. Obama uses these facts to defuse the charges he’s a socialist. Republicans should use them to show that Obama’s big government expands the privileges of the privileged class.

Instead of trying to convince successful people that Democrats will take away their wealth, why not explain to the middle class that big government is keeping them down?

When it came to picking up the economy, the Romney campaign seemed a little too focused on cutting taxes for job creators and businesses. That’s important, yes. But there is a growing perception among many Americans that these policies would be useless because the game is rigged. Banks and auto industries got handouts the rest of us paid for (or, more accurately, borrowed for). Our consumer choices narrow and wages fall. Millions have been out of work, not just for months but for years. And the perception is not that this is just a downturn; the perception is that something has gone deeply wrong.

We’ve talked about the issues underpinning this a million times: massive complex regulations that crush small business while favoring big ones; handouts to crony capitalists; tax loopholes; cable monopolies. Everything our government has done over the last 12 years has served to empower a narrow group of businesses and individuals. And those businesses that do rear up immediately start playing the Washington game, sometimes just to survive. This isn’t a problem of Barack Obama being a corrupt nincompoop. This is a problem of a system that favors corrupt nincompoops.

As bad as things are on the federal level, they are worse at the state and local level. The government of DC — entirely Democratic — has made cabs into a virtual monopoly and is fighting Uber, a private driver app. They recently passed a regulation, as many cities have, trying to effectively abolish food trucks (or at least bring them to heel for political donations and begging for waivers). The Institute for Justice has spent years fighting this, recently triumphing in a case to allow an order of monks to build caskets in defiance of a state-created oligarchy. And these are just two examples.

The Democrats have long charged that we don’t have a level playing field in this country. The Republicans need to jerk the rug out from under them by saying, “You know what? You’re right. And you know who made the playing field unlevel? You did.

John Huntsman dipped his toe in these waters during the primaries, calling for a tax structure that would slowly break up the “too big to fail” banks. But Romney, possibly because of his background, never talked about it. He dinged Obama on the auto bailouts but then claimed he’d have bailed them out in a different way. TARP never came up. He talked about streamlining regulation but only in the context of helping “job creators”; never in the context of fairness. He talked about tax reform in the context of supply-side economics; but never in the context of fairness. And I don’t mean fairness in the way the Democrats do, where you pay for my healthcare. I mean that we all play on a level field. That businesses rise and fall based on their performance, not on their ability to manipulate the tax and regulatory codes.

In the aftermath of the election, people think the GOP needs to change its philosophy and go liberal, despite the rightward shift of the voters. I don’t think that’s the case, per se. What they need to do is back out of the intellectual cul-de-sac they’ve wandered into with the same old talking points and make it clear why conservatism is good for everyone. Not because what benefits the wealthy or big business benefits the rest of us but because the playing field needs to be leveled. That’s an issue that can appeal to everyone — conservative, liberal and libertarian.

The Election Post Mortem

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else – Winston Churchill

I think our Constitutional Republic is the least worst form of government. That sounds like damning with faint praise but it’s not. It’s a triumph. We can argue and disagree and governments can change hands (or not) without a drop of blood being spilt. No matter what the result, that is preferable to the previous hundred thousand years of human history. No matter how bad you think Obama or Romney are (or would be), there is no country and no time I would rather be in than American in the 21st century. We stagger and take wrong turns — see the Churchill quote. But the arc of American history, while tangled, is still toward progress.

Whatever the results last night, we Americans will soldier on and do our best, as we always have. I think it was one of the Reason commentators last night who said it’s ironic that we vote in the real bastions of civil society: schools, churches, community centers, etc. We are the strength of this country, not the men in expensive suits thinking they can change the world.

So what did I think of the results?

Ballot Initiatives:

On the whole, I was pleased with how things went on the ballot initiative front. Virginia passed reform for one of the worst imminent domain regimes in the country. Gay marriage won in Maine, Washington, Maryland and Minnesota, consistent with a rapidly shifting public opinion on the issue. Marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington and for medicine in Massachusetts, which should give us some amazing legal battles. And issue 2, which would have given unions perpetual power, was defeated in Michigan.

The big blight was California, which continues its slow decline. They passed issue 30, which will “temporarily” raise taxes. They defeated issue 32, which would have limited union payroll deductions. They defeated issue 34, which would have ended the multi-hundred-million dollar death penalty regime that has resulted in zero executions recently. They passed issue 35, which could lead to heavy sentences on anyone connected with prostitution and they passed issue 39. The redistricting issue 40 passed and issue 36 passed, which will only impose three strikes on felonies. But overall, this was a horrifying slate of voting for California.

The House:

This was probably the single most important fight of the election and the Republicans won. This means they will control the purse strings for at least the next two years. They can force a deal on the deficit, although I suspect they will have to cave a little bit on taxes (I’ll have more on this later).

Allen West and Joe Walsh went down in flames while Michelle Bachmann barely held on. Alan Grayson is apparently back in. So the clown college contingent is unchanged. But I can’t tell you what a relief the Republican victory in the House is. If it were a choice between Romney and a Democrat House vs. Obama and a Republican House …

The Senate

I’ll have more on this below when I talk about Romney. But I want you to think of these names: Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Murdouck, Todd Akin. Right now, the split in the Senate is 52 Democrats, 45 Republicans and 2 independents, both of whom are likely to side with the Democrats. Let’s posit a Berg win in North Dakota. That’s 54-46. Had it not been for those four looney tunes blowing extremely winnable seats, the Senate would be tied. Hell, without their bullshit, we might have seen Thompson pull out Wisconsin or Allen pull out Virginia and Republicans would have the Senate.

Just to be clear: I like that the Tea Party is challenging the establishment. I do not like that they have put up four far religious right lunatics in winnable races. The problem is not that they put up conservatives. The problem is not even that they put pro-life religious right people. Sane pro-life conservative christians have won their races. It’s that they put up people who were so far out on the wing that even Republicans didn’t want to touch them. A Republican senate would have been very nice things to have for the next two years, particularly when it come to SCOTUS.

That said, we at least have enough senators to filibuster. Although I think the filibuster abuse needs to stop, I’m not against it’s occasional use to stop bad laws.

I’m disappointed that Scott Brown lost but I really think he should come back in two years to try to take out John Kerry. Kerry’s an institution but I don’t think he’s invulnerable, especially after two more years of Obama. And wouldn’t you just love to see another Kerry concession speech? Come on, I know you would.

The President

Ah, the big one. I know we’re going to have a long discussion about this. But here are my initial thoughts.

I do not think Mitt Romney was that bad a candidate. I think he’s a good man and a capable manager and he ran a solid campaign. That really came across in his short but gracious concession speech last night. And the surge in the polls he enjoyed was a reflection of America realizing that. I think his flip-flopping hurt him. We’re used to politicians tacking to the base in the primaries and the center in the election; but Romney completely reversed on many issues. That did not go unnoticed by the electorate. I spoke to at least one person last night who voted for Romney because she wanted something different but admitted she didn’t knew what she’d get with him.

Romney’s being criticized for not attacking Obama enough, but I find that absurd. He spent three debates raking Obama over the coals. In the closing days, they ran ads in Pennsylvania that were all about the President and barely mentioned Romney. If you want to get tactical, the problem was not that he didn’t attack Obama enough. The problem was that he didn’t give people enough to vote for except vague promises to balance the budget in about 10 years, maybe.

I’m reminded an awful lot of the 2004 campaign. The Democrats thought it was enough to just run against Bush and his unpopularity would carry the day. But Kerry never gave us an idea of what he wanted to do.

But I think the problem is far deeper than that. We seem to be missing the writing on the wall, which is that 2008 was not an anomaly. The Republicans have now lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. Why? Well, check out the Presidential cross-tabs. Check out which groups Obama and Romney won:

Obama: women, everyone under 40, blacks, latinos, asians, liberals, moderates, catholics, jews, muslims, non-religious.

Romney: men, everyone over 40, whites, conservatives, protestants (especially evangelicals).

There’s some overlap in those, of course, but the message is clear: Republicans are rapidly becoming a party of old white protestant men, the one demographic that is not growing. What’s particularly alarming is the plunge in certain demographic groups. Republicans used to get 80% of the Muslim vote; now they get less than 5%, almost certainly because of anti-Islam rhetoric from the party fringe. Bush 43, to his enormous credit, made great efforts to court the Latino vote and regularly polled in the mid-40’s. Romney got 27%, almost certainly because of anti-immigrant rhetoric. The drop in Latino support alone is basically Obama’s margin of victory. Young people have been driven away by anti-gay rhetoric. I’ve said that I think the near-record 18-point gender gap is more a product of different philosophies than the “War on Women”. But the remarks of people like Akin certainly didn’t help.

Just to be clear: none of that is Romney’s fault. He dropped culture issues as fast as he could. He tried very hard to be inclusive. I think it very likely he would have governed as a social moderate. But the simple fact is that Republican brand has become toxic in many segments of our society. And this isn’t about pandering. These people are Americans; their voice matters.

There’s going to be a lot of soul-searching over the next four years and certainly cries to avoid “moderates” and “RINOs” in the future. But the way I see it is that the Republican Party needs to focus itself like a laser on fiscal and economic issues. Mitch Daniels had the right idea: declare a truce on culture issues. Try to maintain the existing framework of abortion law (parental notification, no public funding, etc.) while not extending it. Move to a neutral position on gay issues while protecting religious freedom. Come out in favor of serious immigration reform with the difference from the Democrats being rigorous enforcement. Purge the Todd Akins and Michele Bachmanns of the party to find people more like Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan: conservatives who are religious and proud of their faith but not crazy; men who embrace immigration but reject law-breaking.

Ed Morrissey:

We do not need to change our values, but we do need to find ways to communicate them in an engaging and welcoming manner. We need to think creatively about big issues, philosophy, and how we can relate conservative values to the needs of a wider range of voters. Conservatism cannot become constrictionism, or the realignment will continue, and it will become ever more difficult to win national elections.

This will require a new set of national leaders for the Republican Party and conservatism. We need men and women who can think creatively, produce a positive agenda that isn’t defined by an oppositional nature, and who can eloquently communicate that agenda and the values that drive it. That should be our focus over the next two years before we start thinking about who to nominate as the party’s presidential nominee — and if done properly, that process will naturally produce the right leader for conservatism. And if that is done properly, too, perhaps we’ll be in position for another realignment four years from now.

As I said during the convention, I see hope on the horizon. Nicky Haley, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Susanna Martinez, Scott Walker — these are serious conservatives who are more interested in governing and leading than in demonizing the opposition. These people are making serious changes on the state level, rescuing entire regions from fiscal apocalypse and putting together broad coalitions. These are the men and women who can rebuild the GOP into the center right party it is supposed to be: one focused on fiscal responsibility; one that believes in a hand not a handout; one that respects and sustains faith while not pushing it.

And this works. Scott Walker won his recall and the Republicans took back the Wisconsin legislature last night. Christie may have a tough fight next year, especially if the very popular Cory Booker runs; but he remains popular. Other Republicans are finding equal support and success with this approach.

(And, in fact, I would say Mitt Romney was a part of that renewal. He did earnestly try for a broader appeal. Had he not, this would not have been as close as it was.)

The GOP has now spent six years wallowing in the darkness, trying to find its voice. Its only unification was a hatred of Democrats and of Obama in particular, interrupted by the occasional circular firing squad and ritual suicide.

We literally can not afford that anymore. I’m cooking up a post on what I expect for the next four years, but the short story is that, while I don’t expect apocalypse, I don’t expect things to improve much either. I think we might be able to limp through to 2016, but not much beyond that. Beyond that, we really do need change we can believe in. And that requires a much healthier GOP.

Random Post Scripta: Anyone notice that, apart from a few idiots, Romney’s Mormonism never came up? I am extremely grateful for that.

Gary Johnson is polling at 1% right now. The media will ignore this obviously. But I’m not sure the politicians will, especially if Johnson can build on that in 2016 (preferably at Clinton’s expense, not Daniels’).

In the end, we spent billions of dollars to flip two states over to the GOP. This was a status quo election. What was the message from the electorate? I have to think it was a lack of confidence in either party. It was mostly a “come on now, grow up” message.

I find the talk that this was a fundamental shift in America to be hilarious, especially the talk that this is fundamental shift to the Democrats or to dependency. There was very small shift last night — and it was to the right. NYT’s cover page has an awesome graphic showing how the country moved redder this time. But I think the insanity of the GOP fringe tempered that rightward shift just enough to keep Obama in office.

I’ll post more analysis as I come by them. I linked to Morrissey’s essay above, which is worth your time. Here’s Ken at Popehat and Bernstein at Volokh and you should read everything Doug Mataconis is posting at Outside the Beltway..

I didn’t say much about Obama because there’s nothing much to say. He held serve. He had a formidable ground game, just like he did in 20122008. But I have to think he’s looking at a narrow re-election (he’s the first incumbent to lose popular vote be re-elected while losing popular vote share since Roosevelt in ’40 and ’44), zero coat-tails, a Republican House and a slight rightward shift nationally. If he wants any sort of legacy other than a massive pile of debt, he’s going to have to work with the Republicans. There’s simply no other way.

Election 2012: V. The Post Party Era

(This is my long-promised fifth and final post spelling out my thoughts on the 2012 Presidential election. I actually penned this during the conventions but it wasn’t right. It was only during the second debate that everything came together. I doubt my decision will surprise anyone, but I dare say my reasoning may set a few cats amongst a few pigeons.)

So do I want Democrats who arrest, detain, bomb, and surveil like Republicans, or Republicans who spend like Democrats? – Ken at Popehat

Here’s the thing: I have long resisted the portrayal of Obama as a radical Islamic atheist crypto-Marxist Kenyan colonialist. This is not because I have a particular affinity for the man or his policies. Or even because I care too much about “the tone”. It’s because there is a far more succinct and accurate description of Barack Obama.

A Republican.

I can hear the howls of outrage, but let me make my case. He’s certainly not a culture conservative or anything like that. And his associates would want nothing to do with conservatives and conservatives nothing to do with his associates (although I’m told that Bill Ayers and David Koch would make a good doubles team). But when I really narrow it down to the policies Barack Obama has enacted, I keep circling back to the inevitable conclusion: were it not for the letter after his name, they could easily be mistaken for those of a Republican.

Think of the big policies we have objected to under Obama. Think of them clearly and think about how the Republicans have legislated over the last decade. Not what the Republicans have said. Not what they have promised us. But the actual nuts and bolts policies they have pursued and enacted — first under Bush, then when they took back Congress in 2010 and now what is promised by Romney. I know people are tired of Bush but the policies of the GOP have not really changed over the last twelve years: from the year 2000 to the present, they are a continuous unbroken surrender to — or embrace of — Big Government. And I can not but come to the conclusion that the differences between Obama and the Republican Party are relatively small:

Let’s go through them, shall we?

The Stimulus: Surely, this piece of Keynesian waste could only have happened under Obama, right? Well, George Bush engaged in two rounds of stimulus as the financial crisis began, including tax rebates to people not paying taxes. When the GOP took the House in 2010, one of the first things they did was cut a deal to extend unemployment benefits and the Bush tax cuts — most of which reduce lower income people’s taxes to zero or less. They also cut payrolls taxes on the employee side as a stimulus measure. Cuts to the Ex-Im Bank, farm subsidies and transportation have found opposition in the GOP because of the supposed economic impact. Mitt Romney has already come out in favor of higher defense spending under the guise of stimulating the economy. Why is that necessarily better than “green energy”?

A Republican stimulus might not have taken the same form as Obama’s (although 1/3 of Obama’s stimulus was tax cuts). But to argue that the Stimulus was something the GOP would not have done seems absurd given the policies pursued by Bush, supported by the GOP Congress and promised by Romney. Had John Mccain or Mitt Romney been President in 2009, I have little doubt we would have gotten something very similar.

The Bailouts and Crony Capitalism: I’ve been over this before, but it’s always worth remembering: TARP was started under Bush, supported by Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and many Republicans. GM was handed money by Bush and Romney’s alternative was a “controlled bankruptcy” similar to what Obama did. In fact, he made this specific point during the second debate. The big difference might have been more money for investors and less for unions. That’s not nothing, but it’s not a lot either.

The only Republican in the primary who proposed something different was John Huntsman, who said we should break up the big banks through increasing fees. And he got almost as many votes for President as I did. Numerous conservatives hoped Romney would embrace the Huntsman plan to eliminate the need for bailouts. He has not. And needless to say, Barack Obama hasn’t either. More to the point, Obama has allowed the big banks to get bigger than ever.

Obamacare: All of you know that Obamacare, in its initial form, was Romneycare. But Romneycare is not something that fell out of the sky onto Massachusetts. The particulars were hashed out by conservatives in the 90’s as an alternative to Hillarycare. Massachusetts was a test-bed for a plan many conservative thought should eventually be a national policy. And if McCain and especially Romney had been elected in 2008, I have little doubt they would have pushed it on us (although I doubt it would have passed; if Obamacare came from a Republican, the Left would suddenly have realized what a huge payout to big business it was). Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal is basically Obamacare for seniors — a private insurance market with premium support. That may be an improvement over the current monopsony. But let’s not pretend it’s the free market.

I suspect that if Romney wins the election, the GOP will make a big show of trying to repeal Obamacare. But once that fails (and it will fail, since Democrats are likely to keep the Senate) they will mostly tinker with Obamacare; maybe cut some subsidies or, if we’re lucky, allow major medical to qualify as the baseline insurance. I am extremely dubious that they will change much.

The fact is that these policies have been popular among a certain faction of the Republican Party for a very long time. These policies are popular with Romney and with the people he has surrounded himself with. If it had been called McCaincare, it would have had their support. And once they file the serial numbers off and call it Romneycare II, it will again.

Foreign Policy: As I said in my earlier post, the Romney-Ryan position on Obama’s foreign policy is that they would do the same thing, only more.

Jobs: Barack Obama does not have experience in the private sector and that has, as much as anything, hampered his management of the economy. But neither of the guys on the Romney-Ryan ticket have much private experience either. Ryan, of course, has been in public service his entire life. And Romney’s experience has mostly consisted of buying up businesses, finding legal and financial loopholes to make money, and selling them. His experience with rescuing the Salt Lake City games from the abyss is a positive for his management ability. But Congress is not an Olympic Games. Nor is the corner dry cleaner.

I want to make it clear: there’s nothing wrong with Romney’s work at Bain Capital, really. Private capital helps move our economy and some businesses need overhauls and reform. But my brother, who employs only himself, knows more about the problems facing a small business than Mitt Romney does.

Romney has promised he will create jobs from the top down by overhauling regulation and cutting taxes on businesses. But that’s the same thing, basically, that Obama is promising. And I extremely dubious of either candidate’s ability to deliver. Those tax loopholes and regulations are there for a reason: powerful businesses, include many backers of Obama and Romney, want them there. And neither of these men has shown the ability to stand up to them. Have you hear either man talk about the CPSC?

Maybe this is a slight net in favor of Romney since we can only guess what Romney might do and we have four years of Obama not doing anything to go on. But this particular issue is almost entirely dependent on Congress. If Congress passes the massive regulatory and tax overhaul we do desperately need, I do not see either President vetoing it.

Welfare: Welfare spending has now crossed the $1 trillion threshold. However, it was under the Bush Administration that food stamp requirements were relaxed and Medicaid was expanded. And the Republicans have now controlled the House for two years. The only move they made on anti-poverty spending was to extend unemployment benefits and fight against further reform. Now we are supposed to believe they will reign in anti-poverty spending?

The Budget: Obama’s biggest failure as President, in my view, was running away form Simpson-Bowles. There is simply no excuse for ignoring the recommendations of his own damned debt commission. Had he embraced the outline two years ago, the debt ceiling fight might have resulted in a real solution instead of kicking the can a couple of trillion down the road. This failure alone is good enough reason for anyone to vote against him.

But … Paul Ryan was on the Simpson-Bowles panel and voted against it even after getting concessions on Medicare. And Romney has criticized Obama for abandoning S-B while not offering a substantive alternative. Romney has promised to increase Medicare spending by $716 billion and military spending by $2 trillion. He has promised to increase Pell grants, education spending and federal job training. The only substantive budget cut he’s identifies is PBS (maybe). Obama is, of course, promising the same, only with more money for energy boondoggles and less for military hardware.

Both sides support extending 80% of the Bush tax cuts. Both sides support tax reform with their mouths while proposing more tax credits and complications with their pens. This is not a debate over solutions. This is quibbling over 1% of the problem. The house is on fire and they’re arguing about whether we should use the red fire hose or the blue fire hose.

If our debt is brought under control, it will not be because of Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. It will because of Congressional figures like Tom Coburn who are trying to broker a deal outside of the White House.

Regulation: Obama passed Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. But the Republicans passed Sarbanes-Oxley, one of the most financially destructive pieces of legislation in American history. Has either of these men spoken out against SOX? Moreover, Obama has actually passed fewer and less expensive regulations than Bush did (the link is a year old; I’m dubious that Obama passed more regulations over a GOP Congress; on the flip side, many Dodd-Frank provisions have yet to be enacted). Remember … in the first debate, Romney came out in favor of regulation. And his record in Massachusetts is not that of a deregulator.

Corruption: The Left keeps trying to persuade me to vote for Obama because Romney will welcome lobbyists back into the White House. I find this argument to be both ignorant and hilarious.

Other Issues: Many issues were not discussed at the debates because both sides agree. Both sides support the War on Drugs. Both sides support indefinite detention and the NDAA. Both sides supported SOPA until the population screamed bloody murder. Both sides support free trade when it suits them but wallow in anti-China rhetoric. Neither is a real friend of science. What does it tell when you Elon Musk and an energy drink company have more ambitious space exploration programs than NASA? And neither side wants to address the problems in our criminal justice system.

Let’s look at that last point. One of the most telling parts of the debate the other night was when the candidates were asked about gun control. Both quickly segued to other issues since gun control, as an issue, went out with parachute pants (little noticed point: in the debate, Obama acknowledged that the second amendment is for self-defense). But neither mentioned that crime is down to levels not seen in half a century. Neither mentioned one of the biggest drivers of poverty, job destruction, violence and despair in our cities: the War on Drugs:

A check in the “Have you ever been arrested?” box is a handy way for an employer to winnow down a stack of job applications. Why take the risk? In New York City, half a million people are stopped and questioned by police each year without probable cause. In some communities, nine in ten residents have been stopped. Aggressive stop-and-frisk policies have lead to thousands of arrests of people who have done nothing wrong, or have been tricked by police into committing a misdemeanor.

What are the substantive differences between these two parties? Abortion? Gay marriage? Unions? Let’s be honest: almost everyone in this election is voting against the other guy. What, apart from your distate for his supporters, is driving that?

It’s been quipped that Obama’s first term is really “Bush’s third term” and I think there’s something to that. Obama has been better on foreign policy; worse on domestic. A huge fraction of his blunders have been continuing old policies. But I could very easily imagine the last four years having unfolded in a similar fashion under Bush, McCain or Romney (with the possible exception of the two SCOTUS appointees). So is that the choice we face for the next four years? Bush 4A or Bush 4B?

I have voted Libertarian in the last two elections. I had that luxury since I lived in Texas, which was not a swing state. And, frankly, Pennsylvania isn’t a swing state so I have that luxury again. But I would vote for Gary Johnson even if I were in a swing state; even if mine were the only vote preventing either a Romney presidency or an Obama presidency. I recognize and respect the case to be made that one should vote for the lesser of two evils (although read Mataconis here). I’m just not seeing that either of these is the lesser. Again, see the epigraph that starts this post: do I want Republicans who spend like Democrats or Democrats who bomb like Republicans?

This isn’t a purist decision. I disagree with Johnson on plenty. And it’s not a fit of pique, either. I make the decision affirmatively. I don’t believe that either of these men will be a disaster for this country. Obama will be neutralized by a Republican House. And for all my barbs, I was relieved that Romney won the GOP nomination. I don’t think he is crazy or dangerous and I’ll be fine if he wins the election. And his surge since the first debate has been because millions of Americans have come to the same conclusion.

But neither do I believe that either man is the one to get us out of the hole we’re in. Either way, I think we’re going to get four more years of kicking the can down the road and hoping that the economy magically rescues the system.

Moreover, I think the Presidential race is possibly the least important election this year. Of far greater import:

1) Congress. Helping the GOP retain Congress is a far more critical battle than the White House. While I described Republican policies as a continuous decade-long surrender to Big Government, there have been some hopeful signs in the last two years. Just enough that I want them to keep hold of the House, especially.

I’ll be voting for my Republican congressman (I’m still unsure if I can pinch my nose tightly enough to vote for former Democrat and abortion absolutist Bob Smith for the Senate). One of the neglected stories of the last few weeks is the huge surge in the Democrats’ prospects of keeping the Senate, including a likely victory for Elizabeth Warren. As far as Massachusetts moderates go, it’s much more important to me for Scott Brown to win than for Mitt Romney to.

2) Ballot issues: Washington and Colorado are trying to legalize marijuana. Both initiatives have gotten key endorsements from law enforcement but are facing stiff entrenched opposition. In California, Prop 35, which purports to battle “trafficking” is polling well but shouldn’t be: it is such a badly written piece of legislation that simply renting a room to a prostitute could get someone arrested. Props 30 and 38 propose to raise taxes (yes, again) while Prop 32 would limit the power of unions. Prop 37 would label GM foods. In Maryland, there are two critical ballot initiatives coming up: one on gay marriage and one on Maryland’s obscene gerrymandering. Virginia has a critical question on eminent domain. Give me victories on all of these and I’d take Jill Stein in the White House (Ok, not really).

Probably the most important fight this year is going on in Michigan. The unions are trying to get an amendment passed that would bar Michigan forever from being a right to work state or limiting union bargaining power. This is a bill that may finally kill Michigan’s government. Have you heard a peep about it? This is far more important than the White House fight.

3) Us. One of the encouraging things about the last few years is that the American people are waking up. For all the criticism of the Tea Party, serious solutions to the debt issue would not be on the table at all if it weren’t for them. This was not, contra the Left, an astroturf effort to get Republicans back in office. The Tea Partiers are serious about changing the fiscal trajectory of this country. I’ve talked to many who have told me they will accept spending cuts; they will accept entitlement cuts; some will even accept higher taxes … if it’s part of a real solution. That’s far more thought, wisdom and patriotism than you will get from the entire sneering staff of MSNBC, CNN and PBS combined.

Even more encouraging was the battle over SOPA. This was a bad bill that had bi-partisan support. But the American public woke up. And people of all political persuasions took our government by the heels and shook them while yelling, “Stop it!”. And our politicians listened.

I’m not sold on the benefit of a protest vote. But a protest vote as part of a rising tide of opposition to the dimwit policies of our government? That’s something I can vote for. Maybe Johnson gets 1% this year. That’s enough to raise an eyebrow but not to make either party sweat. But if it can be built on, it’s enough scare some people. Ross Perot may have been crazier than a shithouse rat, but I strongly believe his influence on two elections scared the pants off our political establishment to the point where Bill Clinton was suddenly a budget hawk (although, to be fair, Bill Clinton was pretty easily talked out of his pants).

No matter who wins on November 6, it will be up to us to hold their feet to the fire. Both parties have promised debt reduction and an improved economy. We have to hold them to it not just at the ballot box but in unceasing unending relentless pressure. No spending bill should move through the house without a million phone calls. No Patriot Act renewal should pass without a million letters in opposition. If Congress makes a Grand Bargain on the budget, we have to make sure that neither of these guys dares to veto it. Every time Obama or Romney decides to bomb someone without Congressional authority, there should be pickets outside manned by everyone: liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. We all need to manning the trenches. We can’t ignore bad behavior because it’s “our” guy or only jump on bad behavior when it’s “their” guy.

This is not a fight of liberal against conservative. This is not a struggle of Democrat against Republican. The idea that either of our political parties gives a sweaty utility closet fuck about our liberty is absurd. This is a war of government against all of us. A war of the busybodies against those of us who want to be left the hell alone. How we get to freedom, what particular freedoms we emphasize, where we curtail that freedom so that society may function: that is a subject for vigorous debate. But by letting ourselves be duped into supporting Nanny Blue or Nanny Red, we have forgotten to hold the line; we have ceded ground to the idea that government should be able to do whatever the hell it wants … as long as it’s our guys in charge.

(And, I’m going to be frank, the liberals have been worse at this dereliction of citizenship. Obama’s War on Terror excesses have not generated a fraction of the anger among liberals that Bush’s spending did among conservatives. If George Bush had drone-bombed a 16-year-old, they would have been trashing the streets.)

That is why I refuse to vote for either of these guys. It only encourages them. It only persuades them that their infringements on our liberties — be they economic, social or legal — will be tolerated, approved and rewarded. It only persuades them that they can talk liberty on the campaign while they kill it in the legislature.

And it’s why, no matter which guy wins, I will spend the next four years tweeting, blogging, writing and raging against the machine in this little corner of the internet (well, in my spare time. I also need to work, eat, sleep, raise Sal 11000 Beta, go to the bathroom).

If Romney wins, we can’t do what we did with Bush and go happily to sleep. And if Obama wins, we can not sink into despair. The fight never ends. But nor is it ever hopeless. Ever since we recognized that governments were necessary, free people have been fighting to keep the monster under control. And, despite recent setbacks, our record over the last few centuries is very very good.

That monster needs to be held at bay, no matter which face it’s wearing for for the next four years. And if we keep our eyes open and our powder dry, it will be.

Election 2012: II. Why We Should Vote Against Mitt Romney

(This is the second of five posts I will put up over the two weeks of the conventions, exploring my thoughts on the Presidential election. Parts 1 and 2 will be reasons to vote for and against Mitt Romney; Parts 3 and 4 will be reasons to vote for and against Barack Obama. Part 5 will wrap up. Keep in mind, this is my thinking as we go through the conventions. It’s likely that things will change between now and Election Day.)

Next week I’ll put up two posts looking at Obama’s record. And I’ll probably get into a little bit now. But a fundamental principle, for me, is that Obama’s suckiness does not automatically make Mitt Romney a good alternative. Going forward for the next four years, is Mitt Romney the guy we want in charge? I can think of several reasons why electing Romney would be a bad idea.

The Deficit

Look, I’ll get into Obama’s deficit record next week. I’m not going to excuse his failures on this. But will Mitt Romney make the probem better or worse?

There are many reasons to believe the latter. If we are to believe his campaign promises, Romney plans to increase defense spending, not cut Medicare or Social Security and cut taxes. The math simply does not work. It would mean cutting other spending by at least 40%. That’s 40% of federal law enforcement and border control. That’s 40% of education, which might sound fine but would mean many inner city schools would have to close. That’s 40% of science, 40% of infrastructure, 40% of intelligence. More if interest rates go up.

Does anyone seriously think the GOP is going to cut spending 40%? Does anyone think they can cut enough to allow for tax cuts? Let’s take a look at the causes of the deficit in the next decade. The graph below is a little deceptive as it anticipates that stimulus spending will wane (it hasn’t and doesn’t) and does some other shady accounting about entitlements and taxes (e.g., bracket creep, SGR, etc.). But no matter how you slice it, Bush’s tax cuts are a large contributor to the debt (Obama has extended them and plans on extending them for everyone but the rich; so they are his now). After that, you get the economy, structural deficits and the war.

That would be bad enough. But there’s something in that graph that the CBPP would rather not talk about: that spending increased massively on all fronts during the Bush era. This is hidden in the graph because we were enjoying a bubble-fueled boom in revenues. The graph then sees the lack of those revenues — due to the economy and tax cuts — as the cause of the deficit rather than the huge spending increases that accompanied them. It regards bubble revenues and bubble spending as the new normal. So parts of that orange and dark blue should be labelled “Bush era non-defense spending”.



The simple fact is that the last time we gave the GOP unfettered access to the national purse, they went wild. And we are still paying the price for their profligacy.

“Oh, shut up about Bush!” you say. OK. Let’s talk about the current situation. When the Republicans had both Congress and the White House, federal spending increased 6.4% per year. Under Obama, it has increased … 6.4% a year, including all stimuli, bailouts and automatic stabilizers. But in the last two years, it has increased about 1% per year. You want spending restraint? We’re getting it, thanks to a divided government.

I’m drifting a bit into “reasons to vote for Obama” territory, but it is a simple fact that our government has exercised more spending restraint when it has been divided than when it has been united. Federal spending has been basically flat for two years now. The GOP has opposed all of Obama’s new spending initiatives. I do not trust them to have that same discipline when Romney is in the White House. Does anyone really think Romney and the Republicans will combine to keep spending growth at 1% per year as Obama and the Republicans have? With the promises they are making to increase defense spending?

We are already hearing big-spending rumblings in the GOP, who now want to undo the sequester, at least as far as national defense goes. Here is a plot of the defense spending as currently envisioned under various scenarios:

That sequester slice is the one Republicans are branding as “devastating”. They have even dragged out Keynesian arguments about how the cuts will “destroy jobs” as a reason to void them. In short, they have identified increasing spending as a top priority. Does that sound like a bunch of budget cutters to you?

Look, you can posit that Obama wants to spend like mad. I’ll agree. So what? Congress controls the purse strings. And since Obama and the Republicans have had to share power, those strings have been the tightest in two decades. I have little confidence they will show the same restraint with President Romney.

The GOP is Still Crazy

I made this bullet point before the convention. And I am still worried about the GOP focus on cultural issues. I could see, without a veto threat, the GOP pushing forward personhood laws, more cuts to birth control and strengthening of DOMA. But the RNC ameliorated some of my fears, showing a GOP that was more optimistic, more plugged in and more focused on real issues like the economy. The impression was that they have done what I’d hoped: taken the best elements of the Tea Party and incorporated them into a coherent vision of constrained government.

Still, I’m known to be optimistic about these things. And giving them power is a gamble that they’ve figured things out.

Foreign Policy

If we elect Romney, the aggressive foreign policy of the Bush years will return. He has surrounded himself with and the RNC highlighted neocons who favor a larger military and a more aggressive global engagement. There are many on his team who favor attacks on Iran and think getting involved in Syria would be a good idea. And the idea that we should aquiesce to whatever Israel wants — rather than treating them like every other ally with whom we occasionally squabble — was on full display.

(To be honest, it’s sometimes hard to tell what the GOP wants on foreign policy. They’ve mainly been defined as opposing whatever it is Obama is doing. So we should get involved in Libya. No we shouldn’t. Well, we should, but we should lead from the front. But we don’t want to spend too much or get any American soldiers killed. And it’s unconstitutional anyway. There’s a good case to be made that no one knows what the fuck these guys will do on foreign policy when they’re in charge again. That’s not an argument for giving the State Department back to them.)

2016

If Romney wins this year, he’ll be running again in 2016. That means that Condi Rice, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley … will not be running in 2016. And I have far more confidence in those guys than I do in Mitt Romney (although Ryan would obviously still be VP).

That having been said, you don’t pass up an opportunity in 2012 because of what might be available in 2016. Every election has to be decided on its own merits. Because, at some point in the next four years, the President might face a decision that could change the course of history.

The Supreme Court

Four years ago, I disputed the notion that Obama would radically tilt the Court to the Left by pointing out how much older the liberal wing was than the right wing.

The two oldest judges on the court are liberals (and Ginsberg, in particular, is looking frail). The three youngest judges are conservative. The average conservative age is 60.8; the average liberal age is 75.5. Even if Obama is in for eight years, he is most likely to replace two liberal judges on the Court. And even if one of the conservatives were to be in a tragic blimp accident, that would shift the court to being as radically crazy liberal as it was during the Rhenquist years.

The idea that Obama is going to leave us with a Burger-style radical liberal Court is frankly hyperbolic. Unless the entire Court is wiped out during a meth-fueled orgy, Obama will, at most, shift the court somewhat to the left. True, the Court won’t become more conservative. But considering how conservative is defined these days—a unitary executive, untrammeled federal power, the suspension of habeas—that’s fine with me.

And, indeed, the only judges Obama has replaced have been liberals (Stephens and Souter). The new judges do not seem ridiculous radical. Liberal, yes. But the Court has produced good decisions recently on immigration, broadcast deceny and even a 9-0 decision reining in in the EPA. For all the pain of the Obamacare decision, it was the conservative Roberts who cast the critical vote.

That math has changed a bit since I wrote that in 2008. Here’s the age of the various SCOTUS justices:

Conservative: Roberts (57), Scalia (76),Thomas (64), Alito (62)
Moderate: Kennedy (76)
Liberal: Ginsburg (79), Breyer (74), Sotomayor (58), Kagan (52)

The conservatives now average at 65, the liberals at 66. The Court is very well-balanced. But preserving that balance over the next four years will be tricky. Ginsburg, Breyer, Scalia and Kennedy are the oldest judges. And while Scalia will not leave the Court until the pry his dead body out of the bathroom, anyone over 70 has to be considered a potential replacement.

Ginsberg and Breyer are probably the two that will most need replacement in the next two years. I would prefer that they not be replaced by conservatives and tilt the balance even further. That, of course has to be weighed against the danger that Kennedy or Scalia are replaced by Obama. (I’ll talk about this in the context of re-electing Obama in the next post).

Conclusion

Looking over this list, it really boils down to two issues: the deficit and foreign policy. And that really boils down to one issue: Romney seems poised to give us a return to the bad old days when Republicans spent worse than Democrats, got us involved in foreign quagmires and focused on culture issues to distract from it.

The last few weeks have reduced these concerns a little. The selection of Ryan is a big indicator that Romney intends to take spending seriously. But they are not gone. And that Romney is surrounding himself with Bush people, advocating Bush policies and pushing Bush rhetoric makes me nervous.

One final note:

Reasons not to not vote for Mitt Romney

There are a number of things that have been thrown out as reasons we shouldn’t vote for Mitt Romney that I consider to be either bullshit or irrelevant. His Mormon faith is chief among those. His involvement with Bain financial is another. Putting his dog on the roof; some bullying incidents when he was a kid; his taxes; his interest in dressage. I consider all of these irrelevant.

(Update: Late breaking something else that doesn’t matter: whether or not Paul Ryan is lying about his marathon time.)

If you’re going to vote for Romney, the reasons are because he might repeal Obamacare, could keep the radical wing of the GOP in check, could get the economy booming and might even back off the War on Drugs. If you’re not going to vote for him, it’s because we might enjoy a return to big spending, tax cutting and war starting.

And either of those are dependent on what you think of the other guy, who will be the subject of the next two posts.

Election 2012: I. Why We Should Vote For Mitt Romney

(This is the first of five posts I will put up over the next two weeks, exploring my thoughts on the Presidential election. Parts 1 and 2 will be reasons to vote for and against Mitt Romney; Parts 3 and 4 will be reasons to vote for and against Barack Obama. Part 5 will wrap up. Keep in mind, this is my thinking as we go through the conventions. It’s likely that things will change between now and Election Day. A few guidelines before we start.

1. I’m not a Republican anymore. I define myself as a conservative-libertarian but I’m not convinced those interests are served by the GOP in its present form. If I thought electing Ralph Nader would be best for this country, I’d endorse him.

2. I’m not going to endorse that idiot Ralph Nader. Just so we’re clear.

3. These posts are about the candidates themselves. “He’s not Obama” is not a reason to vote for Mitt Romney. “He’s not Mitt Romney” is not a reason to vote for Barack Obama. I’m sick of these “the other side can’t win” arguments. This is sort of a stream of consciousness as I think about both men.)

So Mitt Romney is now the official nominee. I will say, going in, he would not be my top choice or even in my top 50. But of the weak field we had this year, he was the best option. And I don’t think he’d be a disaster if elected.

So why should we vote for Mitt Romney? Well, here’s a few reasons off the top of my head:

Repealing Obamacare: There are parts of Obamacare that are not horrible. There are slivers that could form part of a much more sensible healthcare reform. But we don’t get those parts; we get the whole convoluted overwrought thing. And, despite the CBO’s optimism, I’m convinced that the whole thing will make the healthcare system far worse, far more expensive and far more unaccountable. If Obama is re-elected, Obamacare — or some version of it — is here to stay. Electing Mitt is our best chance to get rid of it.

Will Mitt Romney and the GOP repeal Obamcare? That’s the $716 billion question. Given current projections, doing so would inflate the near-term deficit. And, as I previously noted, there are parts of Obamacare that are popular. It will be very easy for the Democrats to demagogue throwing 25-year-olds off their parents’ insurance or restoring the ability of insurance companies to rescind coverage or deny coverage. The fact is that repealing Obamacare will throw millions out of insurance plans. Does the GOP have the stomach for that? Can they overcome an almost certain Democratic filibuster? There’s only one way to find out.

Romney the Chameleon: Mitt is not an ideologue. He may sounds like one this year, but his history reveals a man centered on one idea: getting elected. And the only thing he wants more than to be elected is to be re-elected. To that end, he’ll say what the GOP wants to hear. But, in the end, he’s going to try to find things that work, even if the contradicts GOP canon (we all saw how well Bush fulfilled his promises). As we’ve seen before, he has no problem misrepresenting his policies. He’ll have no problem cutting Medicare while demagoguing Medicare cuts or raises taxes while saying he’s cutting them. Maybe an unprincipled man is just what this country needs.

I’m not being sarcastic here; I’m being totally honest. Political principles can be very dangerous things, especially given the commitment of the GOP to some bad ideas (e.g., cutting taxes to fix the deficit; federal personhood; aggressive foreign policy). Someone who can placate the party base while pursuing doable practical policies can govern effectively. The question is going to be: How will Romney govern against how he has campaigned?

Mitt is at least vaguely familiar with the private sector: Let’s not confuse running Bain Capital with starting a small business. But Mitt has made tough decisions — shuttering unprofitable factories, for instance — that are critical to a functional economy. He at least listens.

I think Mitt also has a slightly better notion of what’s wrong with the economy — that we’re working out from under a huge pile of debt. Now he’s officially opposed the policies that could help, like Quantitative Easement. But if there is a candidate out there who understands that the government needs to quit trying to help and let things recover on their own, it’s Mitt.

Only Nixon Could Go To China: This will be a recurring theme in these posts. The basic idea is that only a Republican can advance liberal ideas and only a Democrat can advance conservative ideas. The catch phrase reflect the reality of Nixon making nice with communist China. Had a liberal President made peace with China, he would have been pilloried for it. But because Nixon was such a staunch anti-communist, his detente was possible.

We have seen this throughout the last twenty years. A Republican would never been able to get NAFTA or Welfare Reform passed or reined in government spending the way Bill Clinton did. A Democrat would have not been able to jack up spending and pass a zillion regulations the way Bush did. A Republican would not have been able to ramp up War on Terror excesses the way Obama has. They would have been pilloried by the opposition. Politicians do move in ways the other party opposes: Obama on gay marriage; Clinton on abortion; Bush on tax cuts. But there are a number of key issues where the opposition is simply too entrenched, the issues too easy to demagogue.

There are a number of issues where this country needs to move “left”: the War on Drugs, medical marijuana, imprisonment and civil liberties. Obama can not move to the left on those issues; indeed, he’s gone hard right on all of them. But Mitt can. If there is any President who might back off of the War on Drugs, it’s going to have to be a “severe” Republican. In fact, Republicans like Chris Christie have been leading the charge on overhauling our drug laws. Hell, Mitt might even be able to make some market-oriented moves on global warming — as Bush did — instead of Obama’s cap-and-trade absurdity.

The Abyss: One impression I’ve gotten over the last few days is that the GOP may be … may be … coming to their senses. Susanna Martinez, Nikki Haley, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie … there’s been a parade of people who are actually interested in governing. The tone has been negative … any campaign against an incumbent will be … but the venom of 2004 and 2008 seems very diminished.

I worry that if Romney fails to win, the GOP will react by thinking they erred in going with a “RINO moderate” and go with some rockhead ideologue like Santorum or Bachmann. It’s nice that these people are principled. But it’s impossible to govern that way when the country is half Democrat and very concentrated on the center right.

The Debt: Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan has put the debt issue front and center. There are some issues with Ryan’s plan: it doesn’t balance the budget for a long time and cuts taxes before we’ve gotten our debt under control. But electing Romney would be a clear sign that we will not put up with trillion dollar deficits.

—–

Anyway, discuss. But keep in mind this is about reasons to vote for Romney, not against Obama. I’ll put up that thread next week. What about Mitt Romney, specifically, excites you? What about Mitt Romney, specifically, makes you think he would be a good President? What about Mitt Romney, specifically, makes you think he can get the economy moving and balance the budget?