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Make Republicans Great Again

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

A lot has been written lately about the impending death of the Republican Party. I have remained skeptical of such eulogies. In fact, I think that the Republican Party could have a strong future in our national politics sooner than later, but it has to start right now.

In far too many words, I will lay out how the Republican Party can reclaim their status as a national governing power, improve the American electoral process, govern efficiently without compromising their (establishment) principles, exploit an impending divide in the Democratic Party to recruit pragmatic centrists, and win over the hearts of Millennials. The resulting country would be stronger, because each party would have empirical evidence that theirs is a viable path forward; each party would value responsible, responsive leadership; and the two parties combined would be more representative of the American electorate, whose center has been criminally underrepresented and whose politics and policies have been drifting left.

Personally, I should note that despite considering myself a moderate, many of the positions I advocate for the Republican Party embracing are not ones I would clamor for myself. I am not daydreaming about the perfect party for me, personally. But such a change would lead to the possibility that I would again be an undecided voter in many elections–a status I haven’t been able to claim for some time.

Step One: Become the Party of Electoral Legitimacy

I got the idea to write this post today when I saw an article about the Allegheny County (PA) District Attorney issuing a statement ensuring that they had no evidence of any impending wrongdoing undermining the electoral results. It struck me, that in an American democratic system, such a reminder needed to be issued. But it is needed; desperately. Because Trump has apparently given up on winning the election and has instead dedicated his time to questioning the legitimacy of the upcoming electoral outcomes. It should surprise nobody that there is a great deal of literature that indicates that the key to successful democracies is the peaceful and smooth transition of power after the votes are cast. That’s just common sense.

And so, yet again, Trump’s behavior is giving Republican officials an opportunity to disavow him. The last time a wave of un-support occurred, many on the left (including President Obama) said that Republicans get no points for distancing themselves now, this late in the process. Many were cynical about the fact that alienating Muslims, Mexicans, and all sorts of others were tolerated, but the electorally powerful block of women was enough to engender real dissent from Republican officials.

So again, if officials were to stand up to Trump, many would question: why now? Why only when it is clear that he will lose? But there is a good answer. Trump has disparaged people; he has disparaged communities; but now, he is disparaging democracy. He is calling into question the quintessential institution of a successfully-governed society. And Republican officials at all levels need to stand up and shut this rhetoric down. They need to show the country that there are two responsible parties; that our democracy can survive Trump; and that our country and some of its most vital institutions are not endangered by their party.

Republican state parties, national leaders, and elected officials should come forward and insist that they will uphold the electoral integrity of the process. They should speak out against voter intimidation. They should promise their support and acceptance of the outcomes of the elections. This message should come as soon and as loudly and as clearly as possible. Our elections are in good hands; their results are paramount and final. The Party will accept the results.

Step Two: Disavow, Disengage, and Re-Brand

When people think about re-branding, they usually think about re-branding themselves, or from within. I, however, am talking about re-branding ardent Trump supporters. I recently read a column that pointed out that in the general election, there are ~40% of people who will vote Republican every time. That explains Trump’s level of support. But in the primary election, the Trump vote, and even the more cumulative “outsider” vote, made up a smaller share of the Republican Party and American electorate. These people who so readily put party above country, or worse yet don’t understand the risks that Trump actually poses to the nation, deserve to be outcast by those in the party who wish to govern and to make progress in American policy rather than simply tear down the institutions that have been built over time. Repudiating Trump will cause an immense backlash from many within the party base, who by and large still want their leaders to support the nominee, but it’s time to officially cast out those demons.

This doesn’t require a great deal of shifting, honestly. Once Trump has been disavowed and a dedication to responsible transition of power has been announced, parrot Paul Ryan’s oft-repeated desire to govern responsibly and fulfill a conservative vision through implementation of the Better Way agenda. Then, simply add that those who stand in the way and do not support the implementation of the agenda are the ones abandoning their country and their party. Those who resist the loudest and most boisterously, then, should be branded as outside of the Republican Party. They key is to brand them in a way that they would also welcome and adopt–I’d pick something along the lines of Radical Nationalists; they might think it a compliment or at least a fitting and acceptable moniker. Tell them that they no longer stand with the party, and let them embrace that role. And in a simple but steady stream of rhetoric, the party has thus ousted those who seek to destroy it.

Step Three: Be the Party of Electoral Reform

Of course, if it were that easy, wouldn’t the Republican Party have asserted its leadership over its unraveling base long ago? Yes, but they needed the fringes on the right to win elections. They needed to move even further right to survive primary challenges. But with the right set of initiatives, the need and fear of primary challenges could be eliminated. If there is one thing that 2016 has made clear, it is that the electoral system is in need of reform. The primary system has delivered two historically unpopular candidates and removed the credibility of the recently-coined edict: “the party decides.”

This is why becoming the party of electoral reform would be a hugely popular move. And through initiatives completely within party control (at the state level), the need to pander to right-wing voters could be greatly reduced or eliminated. How? By opening primaries. Republicans famously have full control over 23 state governments (governors and legislature), plus 8 more governorships (either with mixed or Democratic legislatures), and a legislature under an independent governor. This control gives the party a HUGE amount of leeway to implement electoral reform. This move would be popular among independents and political disaffecteds, but would also allow the large swath of Republican-leaning independents to have a say in the primary process.

These efforts should be targeted. Look to traditionally blue states with Republican Governors. Look for states where Trump did very poorly in the primaries. Look for states in which Senator and Congresspeople have felt safe and empowered enough to openly oppose Trump. A mass effort of strategically opening primaries across the nation could mitigate the prospect of far-right primary threats and create goodwill among political moderates in one fell swoop. This is an essential part of any plan to put Republicans back into play nationally without sacrificing the ability to govern effectively.

Step Four: Govern

This one is going to be difficult to swallow. The President is going to be Public Enemy #1, Hillary Clinton. One path would be to let the anti-Clinton sentiment unify the party into 4 more years of obstructionism–something Republican Senator John McCain has indicated is on the docket. This would be the easy path.

However, Speaker Paul Ryan has repeatedly said that he would look for areas of common ground and work to implement them. He usually follows that with some quip about there being very little common ground to work with. And so I took it upon myself to open up Hillary Clinton’s website, and open up Speaker Ryan’s Better Way website, and I looked for common ground. There isn’t a TON to work with, but there is enough.

Speaker Ryan and Clinton can improve workforce training initiatives. Both would like to increase early childhood development. They actually have a decent amount of room to work with on health care, if they can get past the dicey political rhetoric of Obamacare and repeal; simply putting forth several of the measures they view as a “replacement,” rather than continued focus on “repeal,” could uncover many overlaps. Crucially, after a thorough vetting, the Republicans in the Senate (likely to be in the minority) should confirm Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. That will hurt, but it is the responsible thing to do.

This is not a call from a political naïf for a kumbaya government. There are irreconcilable differences, such as the approach to addressing poverty, the approach to reforming entitlements, and upper income taxation. Republicans should not abandon their principles and let Clinton do as she pleases, but simply move government along, find areas of agreement, and try not to mention the word shutdown for a few years. When it comes time for subsequent elections, Republicans should be able to say that they fought Clinton on a number of issues, but that they also managed to accomplish some of their legislative priorities despite a hostile president.

There is one area of agreement that I have left out thus far, and this will be a crucial to a Republican plan forward. Clinton has acknowledged that the corporate tax code is among the highest in the world. She has called for reform and closing of loopholes. She has said proposed several measures through the corporate tax code to punish companies that leave the US for tax avoidance and reward those that bring money and jobs back. She has been rumored to be in favor of a repatriation holiday and possibly a lower corporate tax rate. She favors full expensing of investments, and a lower, simpler tax code for small businesses. Paul Ryan’s Better Way agenda calls for many of the same things. He prefers full expensing for all businesses, and likely a lower corporate tax rate than Clinton would prefer. But there is a LOT of common ground here. I can see very little chance that a Republican House, a split Senate, and a Clinton presidency would not result in a large-scale corporate tax reform. And doing so will likely benefit the country, while also being a huge victory for the Republican Party.

Step Five: Drive the Wedge

One of the most important developments for this plan is happening outside of the Republican Party and outside of their control. And that is the leftward shift of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders galvanized a new generation on the left. Elizabeth Warren is lionized. And while yes, the more center-left, pragmatic Clinton won the primary fairly easily, the Democratic Party platform, as well as the tone and content of the messaging from the left have undergone a sort of metamorphosis in the past several years. No time in recent history has the word “socialist” been as politically acceptable. No time in recent history has social justice so dominated the conversation. Clinton is an unpopular candidate who will win the election because Trump is an unacceptable candidate, but there are fissures on the left, and those fissures could create the opportunity to pilfer the centrists from a party they see moving left of them. And those fissures will crack wide open when Clinton partners with Republicans to pass corporate tax reform.

I’m not saying that the Democrats would run a primary opponent against her. I’m not saying that they would abandon support altogether. But I am saying that corporate tax reform would ramp up the rhetoric from the left in a hurry. It would provide a boogeyman to point to: “look at the Democrats lurching left! Opposed to working together and making compromises that better the country!” The American public forgets in a hurry. Two years of responsible Republican governance could quickly flip the script and make the Democrats the ones that sound unwilling to make a deal, such will be their discontent with yet another corporatist at the helm of their party. This is a recruiting opportunity. Show centrists that there is a responsible alternative now, dedicated to governing; willing to push out the extremists from their party. Show them how distanced you are from the Party of Trump.

Step Six: End the Culture Wars

Up until this point, I have laid out a path to oust the extreme and ungovernable right wing from the Republican Party and form a coalition of establishment Republicans, right-leaning independents, and centrists dismayed by the Democratic move to the left. Certainly, if all goes well, that might be enough to re-form the Republican Party into a viable party on the national level in a way that many couldn’t currently fathom. However, there’s an important voting bloc remaining that may be a secret weapon: Millennials.

Millennials are the largest generational demographic in the nation, having surpassed baby boomers in size. Naturally, young people don’t vote as often as older generations, but they also present an opportunity for a political realignment that this nation so desperately needs. Millennials are less likely to identify with either party. They are among the most likely to back a third party candidate this year, showing a vast discontent with their options and a big opportunity to be persuaded and recruited. They are also incredibly likely to favor gay marriage. And while some polls have shown them to be pretty hostile toward abortion, the same polls indicate that they do not identify as “pro-life,” primarily because the image has been so tarnished by Republican-driven rhetoric in the culture wars of the past.

I’m not saying become a pro-choice party. I’m not saying become a pro-gay rights party (ok, both of those would be pretty great to me personally, but I recognize that there is enough of an electorate out there who disagrees with me that reversing yourselves might cause more trouble than its worth). But at the very least, stop emphasizing them; stop talking about them. The Republican Party has already in theory rejected “culture wars” in matters of social justice, though the white nationalists supporting Trump have made that more difficult to believe. But in moving forward, it might be a great appeal to unaffiliated and undecided voters to just be the party that prioritizes economics and job creation and lays out a conservative vision to address poverty and just simply stops pushing and pushing back on the social issues. This is the one thing that prevents moderate democrats from ever crossing the aisle. And after years of harsh rhetoric, backing off from these topics could provide the breath of fresh air needed to legitimize the party for the next generation.

Conclusion

So that’s my blueprint to move forward. The result of these actions should over time lead to a center-right party battling more of a leftist party and leaving the right-wing nationalists relegated to the current role of libertarians–angrily throwing forth a longshot nominee every four years; exactly where the fringe of this country deserves to be.

But remember, it all starts right now. It all starts with ditching Donald Trump and making a strong, ardent case for electoral legitimacy and peaceful transfers of power.

On the Shutdown Blame Game

October 1, 2013 2 comments

If your social media experience today is anything like mine, you have some conservative or right-leaning friends crying “a pox on both your houses,” while your liberal or left-leaning friends are chanting “Down with the GOP!” Some could interpret this to mean that right-leaning friends are more fair, clear-eyed, and rational about the situation while left-leaning friends are being partisan nincompoops. In many situations, that could easily be the case. However, in this specific scenario, it’s simply that this whole shutdown is entirely the House Republicans’ fault. Let me explain the many reasons why this is true.

(For ease of writing, I’m going to refer to Republicans and Democrats instead of specifying “a large block of House Republicans including their leadership,” or “the Democrats in the Senate.”)

Play the Cards You Have

This is a fairly simple concept. How realistic is it for each side to secure that for which they are asking? Back when poker was a big television event, viewers always had the luxury of knowing which cards each player held. Well, in this situation the Republicans are waiting on a flush draw and the Democrats already have a full house. The only way Republicans can win is to convince the Democrats to fold a superior hand. I’m talking about vote counts. The House Republicans continually pass bills which have no chance of winning a majority in the Senate, where there are 54 Democrats who support Obamacare. Meanwhile, multiple reports have indicated that there are enough Republicans in the House who would vote for a “clean” continuing resolution that a vote would pass.

So the Republicans keep passing bills that will not pass the Senate. And the Democrats keep passing bills that will pass the House. All they have to do is put it up for a vote. The Democrats’ plan has the support of the majority in both chambers of congress. Clearly, on “winability,” it’s advantage Democrats.

The Electoral High Ground

There was an exchange just before midnight during the Ted Cruz non-filibuster in which Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia conceded that Sen. Cruz was elected by a wide margin in both the primary and the general election on a clearly-stated opposition to Obamacare, and thus felt legitimately honor-bound to fight for its removal. Sen. Kaine then went on to explain that other representatives were equally honor-bound to do the opposite, and there were more of them.

You see, in the 2012 election, Obamacare was a pretty front-and-center issue. Yes, the economy was on everyone’s mind when they took to the ballots, but the outcome of Obamacare was clearly known to be a consequence of this election. The results were that Democrats received more votes for the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. They picked up seats in both chambers, expanding the Senate majority and narrowing the gap in the House. The American people weighed in, and the Democrats got more votes. The Republicans were able to maintain the House majority only due to a combination of geographic realities and some gerrymandering (more the former than the latter; sorry liberals). But the conclusion remains that more voters cast votes for representatives promising to uphold the law than to repeal it.

Moral High Ground

You’ll notice, thus far, that I have not made any arguments about the merits of Obamacare itself. That’s because I find them irrelevant to the issue of a shutdown. There have been numerous government shutdowns in the past, and while a handful centered on abortion issues, the vast majority of the times that the government couldn’t agree to funding levels before a deadline passed occurred because the government couldn’t agree on funding levels. This is a budgetary debate. There are many, many things that take place within the government with which I do not agree. I don’t think that there is a single one that I find worth failing to meet the obligations of elected office, governing, and funding that government. I think that to inflict real harm on the nation’s economy and several hundred thousand federal employees over an ideological agenda is simply wrong.

Survey Says

One point often made is that the American people are against Obamacare and therefore the Democrats should listen to them and give ground. While this flies in the face of election results, polling data speaks fairly clearly. However, very few of those polls ask the proper follow-up question. The CNN Poll does. When asked whether they disapprove of Obamacare because it is too liberal or not liberal enough, a solid 11% of the respondents say they disapprove because it’s not liberal enough (that’s 11% of the total population, not 11% of those who disapprove). Suddenly, those election results make a lot more sense, don’t they? If you assume that those who disapprove of Obamacare because it is not liberal enough are more likely to back a Democratic agenda, then suddenly the 10-12 point majority opposing the bill swings the opposite direction.

On top of that, every single poll out there indicates that shutting down the government is wildly unpopular under any circumstances, for any reason. So on the health care bill, the public is siding less with Republicans than Republicans seem to think, and on shutting down the government the public is adamantly opposed to the Republican tactics. Make DC Listen!

Negotiation 101

The Republicans are reprimanding Democrats for not negotiating. “The President will negotiate with [insert terrorists, Iran, Russia, etc] but he won’t negotiate with Republican leaders,” they cry! Well, let’s look at where both parties stand.

Democrats want: To fund the government (at previous levels)

Republicans want: To fund the government (at previous levels) and to delay/defund/weaken/cripple Obamacare.

So let me get this straight. You want to negotiate when only one side has any demands? Funding the government is good for everyone. Not funding the government is bad for everyone. The Republicans are not offering any concessions. They are simply offering fewer demands each time and calling it compromise, but they are still the only one with demands.

And guess what. Time just ran out. People today will begin enrolling in Obamacare. The default position wins the day. When one side is asking for major changes, and the other side is asking for, well, nothing, it’s tough to negotiate.

Precedent

Okay. Let’s say the Democrats go along with this and delay key aspects of Obamacare for a year. They won’t, but let’s say that they do. Now, a year goes by. A legislative body has to enact a new spending bill to keep the government open, and Obamacare is about to go into effect. The House has voted approximately 40 times to repeal this law, so the odds are that a simple delay is not their end game. What is to stop Republicans from, once again, taking a stand against the bill and holding the operational purse strings of the federal government for ransom? Nothing. There is nothing stopping them from using what leverage they have over federal funding to continue to attempt to derail this law. And if they succeed using this tactic once, why on earth would they not try it again in a year?

Wrapping Up

In closing, the Democrats have a more-achievable position; they have passed a funding bill which has the support of a majority in both chambers of congress; they have electoral results on their side; they have polling data on their side; and they have a stronger negotiating position. The only way this works out for Republicans is if the Democrats fold a winning hand. I don’t see any rational justification for them to do so. Hopefully, we remember these lessons in November 2014.

On Republican Victories that Weren’t

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

I often like to think about what might have been. I’m not going to contemplate a world without partisanship. I’m not going to ponder a world where everyone works together and sings kumbaya. Those are nice ideals, but within the reality of one-upsmansmanship and party message control, I can still see clearly a very different political path from 2009 to now; a path that starts with Republicans claiming a victory that was rightfully theirs, and would drastically change the political landscape in which we currently live.

It starts with a simple story of an idea: the individual mandate. As outlined here by FoxNews, the individual mandate made it’s way from the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation in 1989, into Republican-sponsored health care bill proposals in 1993 (by current mandate opponents such as Chuck Grassley), enacted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2006, and finally into another congressional bill proposal in 2007 co-sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat. Mitt Romney even referred to the rule as his “personal responsibility mandate.” In short, this idea was entirely of Republican origin and remained a popular means of reforming health care and reducing costs within the Republican party until very recently.

Let’s now think back on the 2009 health care debate. The Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, but did not quite have a filibuster-proof majority. They desperately wanted to have a public option in their health care legislation. Ultimately, the death of Senator Ted Kennedy and the strong opposition and threats to join Republicans in a filibuster by Democrat-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman crushed that plan. The end result is that a massive health care bill focused around Republican ideas and modeled after a Republican governor’s plan passed through the Democrat-controlled congress without having a public option attached. Just imagine if that’s how the story played out in the messaging.

Imagine that Republicans, seeing the embrace of a conservative ideal, participated in the framework and negotiations structuring the law. Imagine that upon the failure of the public option, a bipartisan bill was passed with Republicans claiming victory for the bill and their role in its success. Their idea had won the day. They had defeated the public option. They had, in effect, hijacked the President’s attempt at a signature piece of legislation. They had brought him along to an individual mandate he opposed in his primary against Hillary Clinton. What if what is now the signature polarizing piece of legislation of Obama’s administration was instead spun, messaged, and ultimately viewed (Republicans are pretty good at message control, after all) as a strong Republican minority exposing the President’s weakness. What if Obamacare was Boehnercare? What if, in 2012, Mitt Romney ran partly on the platform that the President’s greatest accomplishment was simply piggybacking off of his largely successful Massachusetts legislation? Might he have looked stronger? Maybe even won the election? Would Democrats still be clamoring for enough seats and votes to add a public option to the bill?

Certainly, we would not be here. Certainly, Republicans who embraced health care reform and undercut the President by taking most of the credit for it would not be orchestrating a government shutdown as a last-ditch effort to defund a bill based on a long history of their own conservative ideas.

Then again, if the Republicans didn’t shift the current debate to Obamacare, Democrats would probably be pressing them to undo the “sequestration” cuts in the new fiscal year. As it is, the Democrats are offering a “clean” continuing resolution, accepting the funding level reductions enacted by sequestration as the new status quo…. yet another Republican victory for which they are too partisan to notice and accept credit.

An Open Letter to Elected Republicans

November 6, 2012 1 comment

Hey guys,  I know it’s been a little bit of a rough day/night for you, and I want to be sympathetic, but I won’t pretend I’m not pretty pleased with the outcome. We all know that you and I have our differences. I imagine losing the presidential election to the incumbent despite poor economic conditions is pretty sobering. You’re probably looking in the proverbial mirror wondering what went wrong. More importantly, you’re probably wondering where does the party go from here. You tried the maverick in 2008. You swung right with the Tea Party in 2010. You went with prototype president version 2.12 in 2012. And yet, Barack Obama is still the president.

There are a number of possible reactions. Was Romney too moderate? Should the party push farther to the right? Maybe the party should continue to blur the lines between being a Republican and a Libertarian. There’s always the option of using a vast media propaganda machine to undermine the legitimacy of the 2012 elections, thus undermining the legitimacy of the Obama administration (thus also undermining the entirety of the American political process, but that’s collateral damage deemed worth it to many). Of all the reactions that you could have, however, I would like to offer one simple suggestion.

Govern. I know, it sounds crazy, right? But after 4 years of trying tooth and nail to limit the actions of the government and the administration, you’ve received a loss. The plan did not work. In 2014, and again in 2016, if you want to make gains and see results, perhaps you should consider giving the people something concrete for which they can vote. Show us that you can work with others and not just against them. We understand that you’re really good at obstructing. We realize that the congress elected in 2010 passed the least amount of legislation of any in recent history by a long shot. Well done.

Now, in a center-right country with a weak economic recovery, you still lost to a Democrat. Maybe what’s missing is the “center” in the center-right. Maybe the rigid adherence to ideology at the expense of results is holding you up. Maybe, over the next two to four years, you should try to give the people something to vote for instead of someone to vote against. Move on from this loss quickly; don’t dwell on the election and try to undermine its results or question its mandate. And when you move on and return to legislation, don’t point fingers across the aisle, but instead look inward and ask, “what can I do within my principles and within the legislative reality that will improve my country?” Try for collaborative accomplishments. I promise you, this strategy more than any other will lead to the results that you want. Until/unless that happens, look for more of the same: a center-right country begrudgingly electing Democrats.

Good luck,
Max Gross

On Why I Will Not Vote for Mitt Romney

October 2, 2012 3 comments

This is part 2 of a 3-post, pre-debate series on my feelings about each candidate and why I am voting the way that I am voting this November. Part 1, “On What I Don’t Like About Barack Obama,” can be seen here. Part 3, “On Why I am Voting for Barack Obama,” can be seen here.

When I was growing up, I remember commenting to my mother that it was silly that people voted so passionately on issues that were “less important,” rather than focusing on the real issues which I believed that the government should be tackling. By these less important issues, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was talking about social issues. I just couldn’t understand why the government was even concerned with things such as abortion and gay rights when there were budgets to make and foreign policy to craft and safety to ensure and safety nets to weave. I now understand that these issues are so important to people because there are people who feel exactly the opposite of me. They can’t understand how the government could sit idly by and let things like abortion and homosexuality go forth unhindered. And thus, my desire that the government not concern itself with such things is matched by others’ insistence that the government be active in that arena. And it was this realization that pretty much ruled out most Republicans for me for the foreseeable future.

However, there are times when my childhood instincts kick in; there are times when events call for other issues to be prioritized above the social issues. At times like these, I might consider voting for someone even with a stated refusal to believe in and/or understand basic science or what I consider common decency if that person was clearly and uniquely qualified to address a specific crisis. The fiscal and economic mess in which the country currently finds itself is actually one of those times. If there was a Republican who I thought was clearly the most able to bring the nation back to fiscal and economic health through responsible and compassionate means, I would absolutely be willing to give that man four years. Mitt Romney is not that man.

I have previously stated that the Republican idea of lowering taxes (especially for the wealthy) to spur economic growth is a myth. Today, I had the pleasure of listening to Bruce Bartlett–a former Treasury Department official under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush–in person as he frankly stated that this Republican assertion is bunk (he used coarser language). The data backs up the viewpoint of Bruce Bartlett and me. I honestly am not entirely sure how the opposing view persists in the face of so much data, but that’s an entirely different blog post that I’ve already written.

Here, we’re discussing Mitt Romney’s plan. As is well known by now, a Tax Policy Center report claimed that Romney’s plan is mathematically impossible without raising taxes on the middle class or abandoning revenue neutrality. Republican Marty Feldstein has argued that the Tax Policy Center Report is wrong. And then an article in Forbes pointed out that Feldstein’s numbers might be feasible, but they would constitute a likely tax increase on all those making above $100,000. As you can see, the Romney plan is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a mythical version of growth economics that makes the rest of the debate moot. Romney’s views on the capital gains taxes further benefit the rich, and fly directly in the face of Ronald Reagan, a man Republicans love to channel but whose policies they choose to ignore. Reagan counted capital gains as conventional income for taxation purposes, and yet investment did not dry up.

Outside of tax policy, Romney wants to make blunt, across-the-board cuts to non-defense discretionary spending without accounting for which departments can or can’t absorb those cuts without affecting potentially important services. This is a lazy man’s budget cut devoid of the sort of in-depth analysis I would prefer for important decisions. Meanwhile, he wants to increase defense spending to 4% of the GDP. A fiscally responsible plan rarely involves increasing your largest expenditures while cutting taxes. On top of that, he wants to repeal the federal health care bill that was so closely based upon his state bill that learning about their tenets separately seems redundant (and I have been taught about both of them in a classroom setting over the past month).

So leaving aside the reputation of being an out-of-touch rich guy; leaving out the comments about the 47% that do not pay federal income taxes; leaving aside even the social issues with which I vehemently disagree, I could not vote for Mitt Romney. His prescriptions for the economy are recycled, debunked economics that clearly plays favorites to those who need no additional help. His answers on the budget are to make cuts that disregard who is impacted, but most likely hit the safety net and the poor the hardest. And his qualifications for doing these things are that he is, himself, a representative of a special interest group–rich business owners who make their money through capital gains. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but claiming that running a business prepares you to run the economy is like claiming that being a student qualifies you to be a teacher. Like his budget ideas, and like his tax policy, it just doesn’t add up.

On What I Wanted to Hear from Obama

September 7, 2012 Leave a comment

President Obama gave his official acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last night, and it was by normal standards, a good speech. It was a good speech in the same way that candidate Obama was known for giving good speeches. It was full of hope and optimism; it was level-headed and mostly fair-minded; it provided a laundry list of goals. But it was not an effective speech. In my mind, the convention speeches exist not just to rally the political base, but also to grab onto what few undecided or loosely-committed voters are left in the process who may be tuning in for the first time–or who at the very least will be hearing about politics somewhat more than during non-convention weeks. In this regard, I think Barack Obama failed.

As I noted about the Republican National Convention last week, there are always certain goals in terms of themes to hit and arguments to be made during the course of a convention. In my unprofessional opinion, the goals for the president this week should have been to 1) cast a positive light on his record and 2) explain how his next four years would be better for the American people than Mitt Romney’s next four years. This approach would still allow him to attack the policies of his opponent, but would also fight back against two key arguments made by his detractors: that he is avoiding his record because he has nothing to brag about and that he lacks a clear vision for America’s future or the ability to deliver on that vision. Embedded in that task, though, is to also make a case for his vision.

Seen through that light, I can’t say that I was overly impressed. The speech started out very strong, with a simple reminder that campaigns can wear on all of us as minor issues become major distractions from the real job at hand. He also did an excellent job of subtly highlighting his vision for the role of government (though I thought it should have been far less subtle). In fighting the notion that he is nothing but a big government quasi-socialist, Obama stated that “not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.” He clarified that government “has a role” in preparing the American workforce for the jobs that are available at home, but added that “teachers must inspire; principals must lead; parents must instill a thirst for learning, and students, you’ve gotta do the work.”

However, it wasn’t all shying away from government. Obama also stated that “those of us who believe government can be a force for good should work harder than anyone to reform it, so that it’s leaner, and more efficient, and more responsive to the American people.” (emphasis added). Meanwhile he called on the notion of citizenship and working together to push back against the idea that he attributes to his opponents: “that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way; that since government can’t do everything, it should do almost nothing.” These lines were probably pretty good and should probably have been included in any version of his speech.

But enough about what he did say. Let’s talk about what Obama should have said. If I were Barack Obama, early into the speech I would have addressed my opponents’ biggest criticism head on. I would have stated that “my opponent claims that I have no record on which to run. My opponent says I’m running away from my record instead of running on my record. So let’s address my record as president.” Then, issue by issue, I would follow format of 1) What I’ve done; 2) The positive effects of that action; 3) What still needs to be done; 4) My plan to accomplish part three.

For instance, Obama could have said of health care that he signed into legislation the largest health care reform bill in modern American history which will extend coverage to X number of people, end denial based on pre-existing conditions, set up transparent insurance exchanges in each state. However, more must be done to slow the rising costs of health care and to ensure that Medicaid and Medicare become financially viable. My plan to do so is ______.

On the military, Obama could have said that he ended the war in Iraq and ordered the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden, but we still have troops in Afghanistan and terror remains a force against which we must be vigilant. With the input from my military advisers, I have a plan to wind down the fight in Afghanistan and on the home front, [insert security plan here].

On the financial collapse, he could have outlined the purpose and intent of the Dodd-Frank Act, the mortgage relief plans and settlement, and how they helped… but also what they failed to accomplish. And then he could have laid out an idea for how to accomplish more on those fronts (especially the home markets).

On jobs, he could highlight the reversal from job loss to job gains and the declining trend of the unemployment rate, but stated the obvious that too many Americans are still without work. Instead of using this as an opportunity to mention that his jobs bill is still stalled in Congress, he could have re-stated or re-packaged some of the more popular ideas from the bill as a means to move forward.

By now you get the idea. The point I’m making by dragging this exercise out for so long is two-fold. First, you’ll notice that I left a lot of blanks in there. That’s because even after beginning his speech by criticizing his opponents for stating what they want to do without how they want to do it, Obama’s speech mostly went on to do the same. That is a very basic mistake that was picked up on immediately by Fox News and several others.

Secondly, though, is to highlight that on virtually every single issue facing the country right now, a plan has been hatched, action taken, progress made, and more is left to be done. I have yet to get around to writing my blog about what I don’t like about Obama and his presidency, so for now you’ll have to take my word that I think he’s solidly mediocre. I think he has made mistakes. I think the recovery could have and should have gone better. But I also do not think he is moving the country backward because all observable data save the national debt tells me that isn’t the case. On every single issue, work is being done. I didn’t even mention energy (higher domestic oil production, lower foreign reliance), women’s rights (I’m talking Lilly Ledbetter, not contraception), gay rights (repealed don’t ask, don’t tell), and a host of other issues.

If I was Obama (or even his speechwriter), I even would have stepped into the debt conversation last night. I would have said that I hate debt and deficit as much as anyone, but that our country was in a crisis and it needed help; that George W. Bush, John McCain and Barack Obama all saw that reality–and there’s not much on which all three of those men agree. I would have acknowledged that debt caused more challenges for the future, and that now that we are on the road to recovery, the debt issue has to be tackled. On that note, I would have been certain to point out that no tax cut (to my knowledge) has ever reduced a deficit. Even when accelerated growth occurs, it is not enough to supplant the lost revenue. But I would have focused on making it known that skyrocketing debt was a function of the crisis and that since the initial bailouts, government spending has grown at only a snail’s pace.

Such a speech would have made clear to the American people that 1) Obama has a record and cares about the issues important to you, 2) Obama has moved in the right direction toward mutually-agreed-upon goals, 3) Obama is not so out of touch that he doesn’t understand the shortcomings of the past three years, and 4) he has substantive plans to make the next four years better than the past three years. If I felt those four things were true, it would be pretty easy to vote to give this man more time. Absent those things–which is the reality of his speech–you have to wonder if maybe he is a bit out of touch (like his opponent). Absent them, if you were on the fence going into the night, you might still vote against his opponent, but you probably won’t vote for your president.

On the Republican National Convention

August 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Chances are, I watched more of the Republican National Convention than you did. In fact, chances are I watched more of the convention than any sane person should. I wanted to watch it the way most Republicans would watch it, so I tuned to Fox News. But when I realized that the networks talked over and had commercials during many speeches, I muted Fox News while watching the convention on CSPAN. That way, not only would I see everything at the convention, but I could also see how it was being covered by Fox News. Suffice it to say, I’m sort of overloaded, but I want to reflect on what was or wasn’t accomplished this past week, as well as some quick-hitting thoughts at the end.

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Going into the convention, there were some pretty clear-cut expectations as to what the goals of the convention should be. The most talked-about goal was to help Mitt Romney connect to the American people by getting to know him better. I wrote in advance that I thought this was a mistake. I think when people said we need to know him better, what they really meant was that we need to know a different Mitt Romney, but I think we already knew Romney. As he himself stated, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” Getting a closer look at Romney might not lead to greater connectivity, but simply reaffirm that his experience is not typical. This connecting with Mitt effort revved up on the final night of the convention, with people from Romney’s past–people who are not professional speakers–brought onto stage to help paint a fuller picture of Mitt Romney, culminating with the man himself.

I must admit, this did not go as poorly as I expected. The parade of people from the past, however, was terribly flat and boring. It is good to have eye witness accounts to the fact that Romney seems to be a good person and has been successful. But to watch that story get told through a series of short speeches was not a made-for-tv moment. Nor did it engage or connect me, despite some of the wonderful things being said.

Romney’s speech, however, exceeded my expectations, and probably because he didn’t seem to focus on connecting with people, but on saying what he wanted to say. After an expectedly blase beginning, he had a couple of very strong lines. I think the speech really turned when he contrasted Obama’s lofty goals and promises with Mitt’s own very simple promise to help you and your family. Romney let the convention do what it could to get to know him better. He, however, focused on the job at hand, and I think that was an excellent decision for him.

I think the most unreported aspect of this convention was the redefinition of the Romney campaign to the “optimism” campaign. It went on subtly all week, but really was driven home when he spoke. When your opponent ran a race on “hope” four years ago, cornering the market on optimism is a very tall task, but I think it’s one that was very well-executed. By the end of the week–and especially Romney’s speech–a viewer may have the subconscious impression that the current administration thinks that this is the best we can do, while Romney, Paul Ryan and the Republicans have faith that America and the American people can do better. It was a well-crafted change in tone and message, and it’s something for which I believe the Romney campaign and the convention organizers deserve credit.

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Another primary goal was to turn women around to Team Romney by expressing that the real women’s issues are simply economic issues, not issues having to do with reproduction and its associated functions. I think that this had mixed results. The pandering to women was a little too over-the-top; a little too blunt. You know when someone gives you a sales pitch, and they’re so enthusiastic that a little alarm goes off in your head saying “wait, I’m being sold, here,” and you begin to trust what they’re saying a little bit less? That happened all week on the issue of women.

It started off with Ann Romney. Her speech was pretty good. It accomplished the goal of getting people to believe a little bit more in Mitt Romney (“he. will. not. fail.”), but then again if your wife doesn’t love you, who will? The earlier segment of the speech, though, seemed awkward. In discussing that women bear a bit of a greater burden when times are tough, Ann Romney went on to name every familial role a woman can occupy, took an awkward pause, and then yelled “I love you, women!” Here’s the transcript of that segment: “We’re the mothers. We’re the wives. We’re the grandmothers. We’re the big sisters. We’re the little sisters, and we are the daughters. You know it’s true, don’t you?  I love you, women!”

Yes, Ann Romney, it is true that if you are a woman, you are at least one of those things. I’m not sure, however, that any of the women who do care about reproduction would be convinced by anything she said here. And isn’t closing a gender gap all about changing minds?

The outreach to women continued all week, and again got hit a little too bluntly in a speech by a Romney, with Mitt Romney devoting a segment of his speech devoted to the issue, discussing the women who worked in his cabinet, the women who start small businesses, the women he mentored, etc. Overall, I doubt that this convention did much to close the gender gap.

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Quick Hits:

-I liked Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett’s remarks on the opening day. He seemed like a reasonable person who went out of his way to note that the policies he put in place did not come at the cost of environmental or socially beneficial factors.

-I found it really interesting during the parade of House and Senate candidates that were given air time to see what people chose to focus on with their very limited speaking time. One guy gave a speech almost entirely about coal. It’s good that he did, though, because too many of the others sounded like mimeographs of each other.

-The decision to move the roll call into Tuesday pre-prime time in order to avoid having too much of a national audience watch Minnesota and Nevada indignantly nominate Ron Paul, while also only calling out vote totals for Romney and no other candidates was probably smart. But it does add to my distaste of parties and increase their “creepy factor,” trying to silence division and dissidence within their walls. Ron Paul supporters, take note: Republicans want your votes but not your voices.

-If you are a black Republican, a Hispanic Republican, or even speak a little Spanish and are Republican, the Republicans wanted to hear from you this week. Except Fox News, who decided not to air Ted Cruz’s speech in favor of commercials and an interview with Scott Walker.

-On that note, Artur Davis is an excellent speaker. No wonder he’s been chosen to speak at conventions two straight election cycles, albeit for opposing sides. Davis had a line in which he said, “let’s put the poetry aside,” which was ironic only because his speech had such a great rhythm and rhetoric to it, as well. It was more rhetoric than substance, but honestly, conventions aren’t a really good place for substance.

-I liked Governor Chris Christie’s speech a lot. The “us” and “them” part wasn’t my favorite, but he depersonalized it, never mentioning President Obama by name (only once by “Mr. President”), and he lectured both sides of the aisle on actually getting things done. It reminded me a little of my own post on representative democracy.

-I know I’m not a Republican because I hated Paul Ryan’s speech, wasn’t a fan of Condoleezza Rice’s speech, but loved Christie’s. These opinions seem to run counter to the Republican convention reactions.

-Speaking of Rice, America’s reputation abroad neared an all-time low during the administration for which she was Secretary of State. I’m not saying that it was her fault, but it made her lecturing about being strong and posturing seem less impactful to me.

-Speaking of Republican reactions (two bullets up), I have a lot of politically active Republican friends on facebook, but didn’t see much from any of them this week. All polling says Republican enthusiasm is up, but I just found that contradictory anecdotal evidence to be strange.

-Jeb Bush said some things I didn’t like and agree with, but I also think that it is an important first step to hear Republicans admit that the current system (particularly in education) is not providing equal opportunity. This may be cause for further exploration and reflection after convention season is done.

-Marco Rubio was awfully religious in his introduction of Mitt Romney. That seemed like a strange choice. That said, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and possibly Condoleezza Rice are gearing up for an epic primary in 2016 or 2020.