Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Reactions upon reading today's court ruling against Apple in the ebook price-fixing conspiracy case
I ought to have simply done this as a blog post to begin with, but:
When I started reading U.S. District Judge Denise Cote's written opinion in United States v. Apple Inc. this evening, I originally only intended to post a link to the opinion, with a very short comment, on Facebook, mostly for a few of my legally-inclined friends. But then I started leaving comments on my FB post, and it turned into a sort of "live-blogging" as I worked through the opinion.
Eventually I decided I ought to re-post it all here for a broader audience, with apologies for the disjointed format:
Apple lost in court in New York today on the ebook antitrust case brought jointly by the Justice Department and several states (including Texas). U.S. District Judge Denise Cote's opinion is 160 pages (double-spaced), so it will take me a while to read it. But from the summary of findings (beginning on page 9 of the .pdf file), it looks like a major defeat for Apple. This paragraph (from page 11) seems key in my initial skim:
Apple and the Publisher Defendants shared one overarching interest — that there be no price competition at the retail level. Apple did not want to compete with Amazon (or any other e-book retailer) on price; and the Publisher Defendants wanted to end Amazon’s $9.99 pricing and increase significantly the prevailing price point for e-books. With a full appreciation of each other’s interests, Apple and the Publisher Defendants agreed to work together to eliminate retail price competition in the e-book market and raise the price of e-books above $9.99."
Here's a link if you're interested:
I hadn't realized that 38 different states had joined in this litigation, but I'm pleased to see that the Texas and Connecticut attorneys general were "liason counsel for the plaintiff states" (i.e., carried the ball and probably did most of the work for all the other state plaintiffs).
The financial impact on Apple is uncertain, but treble damages loom: "The Plaintiffs have shown that Apple conspired to raise the retail price of e-books and that they are entitled to injunctive relief. A trial on damages will follow." And at that trial the question won't be whether Apple has to pay — today's ruling effectively decides that against Apple — but just how much, and to whom.
No jury was involved in this, by the way. By consent of all parties, there was a bench trial in which Judge Cote served as factfinder in lieu of a jury.
CEO Les Moonves of CBS (which owns Simon & Schuster, one of the defendants who settled before trial) is pegged as a major conspirator. I remember him from Rathergate.
In footnote 38 on page 71, Judge Cote labels Apple Sr VP Eddy Cue's trial testimony as not being "credible" — which is the polite way to say she thinks Cue was lying under oath on at least some points. The factual recital is just brutal. Apple comes across as the proverbial 800 pound gorilla who bullied not only the consuming public and Amazon (which was fighting to keep ebook prices low), but Apple's fellow conspirators, five of the six big publishing companies. Appellate courts are particularly reluctant to overturn credibility determinations by the factfinder, whether that's been a judge or a jury. Apple's going to have a hard time digging its way out of the hole it's dug for itself.
From pp. 85-86 of the .pdf file:
On January 27, Jobs launched the iPad. As part of a beautifully orchestrated presentation, he also introduced the iPad’s e-reader capability and the iBookstore. He proudly displayed the names and logos of each Publisher Defendant whose books would populate the iBookstore. To show the ease with which an iTunes customer could buy a book, standing in front of a giant screen displaying his own iPad’s screen, Jobs browsed through his iBooks “bookshelf,” clicked on the “store” button in the upper corner of his e-book shelf display, watched the shelf seamlessly flip to the iBookstore, and purchased one of Hachette’s NYT Bestsellers, Edward M. Kennedy’s memoir, True Compass, for $14.99. With one tap, the e-book was downloaded, and its cover appeared on Jobs’s bookshelf, ready to be opened and read.
When asked by a reporter later that day why people would pay $14.99 in the iBookstore to purchase an e-book that was selling at Amazon for $9.99, Jobs told a reporter, “Well, that won’t be the case.” When the reporter sought to clarify, “You mean you won’t be 14.99 or they won’t be 9.99?” Jobs paused, and with a knowing nod responded, “The price will be the same,” and explained that “Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.” With that statement, Jobs acknowledged his understanding that the Publisher Defendants would now wrest control of pricing from Amazon and raise e-book prices, and that Apple would not have to face any competition from Amazon on price.
The import of Jobs’s statement was obvious. On January 29, the General Counsel of [Simon & Schuster] wrote to [the CEO of S&S, Carolyn] Reidy that she “cannot believe that Jobs made the statement” and considered it “[i]ncredibly stupid.”
Yeah, I agree that it was incredibly stupid. And arrogant. Jobs was bragging in public about the price-fixing conspiracy that his company had organized and executed to fix ebook prices. The reason the publishers were threatening to withhold their books from Amazon altogether was because that was the key term in the conspiracy that Apple was proposing. Unless Amazon agreed to knuckle under to the "agency pricing" model that Apple wanted (because it would eliminate retail price competition in ebooks, to Apple's benefit, and let Apple compete with Amazon on the basis of hardware, never price) — Amazon wouldn't be able to sell ebooks at any price.
This whole fact pattern would never make a good exam question in an antitrust course in law school. It's way too easy. There's an arsenal of smoking guns. It's like no one at Apple ever heard of the Sherman Act.
Maybe you aren't an ebook buyer, and because you only buy paper books, you think this conspiracy didn't affect you. Nope (p. 95): "The Publisher Defendants raised more than the prices of just New Release e-books. The prices of some of their New Release hardcover books were also raised in order to move the e-book version into a correspondingly higher price tier."
From p. 103, Jobs is quoted as making the following brag — actually, a stunning admission to which he was blinded by his egotism — to his biographer:
Amazon screwed it up. It paid the wholesale price for some books, but started selling them below cost at $9.99. The publishers hated that — they thought it would trash their ability to sell hardcover books at $28. So before Apple even got on the scene, some booksellers were starting to withhold books from Amazon. So we told the publishers, “We’ll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30%, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway.” But we also asked for a guarantee that if anybody else is selling the books cheaper than we are, then we can sell them at the lower price too. So they went to Amazon and said, “You’re going to sign an agency contract or we’re not going to give you the books.”
Yes, the customer pays a little more, but that's what you want anyway — if you're running a conspiracy to eliminate market competition via illegal price-fixing agreements, that is indeed exactly what you want.
Key finding (from page 120, citation omitted):
In sum, the Plaintiffs have shown not just by a preponderance of the evidence, but through compelling direct and circumstantial evidence that Apple participated in and facilitated a horizontal price-fixing conspiracy. As a result, they have proven a per se violation of the Sherman Act. If it were necessary to analyze this evidence under the rule of reason, however, the Plaintiffs would also prevail.
That's a "belt and suspenders" finding: Judge Cote thinks (and I agree) that this is a "per se" case because of the type of conspiracies and restraints involved and where the players all were in the various supply chains. But she's also saying that even if she's wrong about that point, and even if Apple gets the benefit of the more flexible "rule of reason" standard instead of the "per se" standard, Apple would still lose.
That makes it much harder for Apple to win on appeal.
This is just a methodical thrashing. In every appeal, the first thing the appellate judges (and their law clerks) read is the district judge's opinion. After reading this one, I think almost any appellate judge is going to be favorably impressed with its comprehensiveness and clarity. It's the kind of opinion after which you exhale and say, "Whew! That's going to be hard to fault in any significant way."
Apple is going to have a very tough row to hoe on appeal. I think they're well and truly hosed in this case, although it's not likely to threaten their existence as a company or even delay the next iPhone-whatever.
Footnote 63 (at p. 135) is quite droll, as antitrust humor goes:
Apple uses the term 'competitive' to convey that it wanted its prices to be the lowest in the marketplace, not to convey that it wanted prices arrived at through the process of competition.
That means: "We want all the business, but at a higher, fixed price."
In footnote 66 on p. 143, Judge Cote labels individual Apple and Publisher Defendant executives as "noteworthy for their lack of credibility" — which I would paraphrase as meaning they're "liars lying under oath and they can't be believed."
Okay, finished. The last 30+ pages are devoted to anticipating every argument Apple can be expected to make on appeal and methodically rebutting or undercutting each of them. Judge Cote is a Clinton appointee who's senior status, so she has a lot of experience; and she's clearly learned how to write opinions in a way that make them particularly hard to reverse. The smartest and best federal district judges are usually the best advocates for why their own written decisions ought be upheld — they try to anticipate how the appeal is likely to proceed, and to make their decisions as nearly "bulletproof on appeal" as possible (which is to say, clear, well-reasoned, and correct). And this may be a candidate for the Second Circuit to "affirm on the basis of the district court's opinion" — basically the appellate court, instead of writing its own opinion, just saying, "Yeah, what she said." It's a very high compliment to a district judge when that happens in an important case.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Speculations on the Benghazi terrorist attack's impact on the election
Most American presidential elections turn on domestic policy and issues, not foreign policy or war. Rare exceptions have included 1864, 1916, 1940 & 1944, arguably 1968, and 2004.
I do not believe that the Obama Administration's bizarre and sorry handling of the Benghazi terrorist attacks that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other fine Americans will overshadow domestic issues in the upcoming election. This election is still going to be mostly about the economy for most people, and it should be.
But short of that, I think the Benghazi story is still having a serious impact on the election. I know a lot of good Americans who voted joyously for Obama in 2008, and whose second thoughts and sober reappraisals since have diluted a lot of their zeal. Some of them still have open minds enough to have realized — especially during the three presidential debates — that the synchronized media and Obama-Biden portrayals of Mitt Romney as some sort of scary boogeyman were always detached from reality. Obama basically decided to campaign against Mild Mitt as Lyndon Johnson campaigned against Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Jimmy Carter campaigned against Ronald Reagan in 1980. But when the other 80% of America who only pays attention during the last six weeks before Election Day opened their eyes, they suddenly realized why hard-core movement conservatives have never mistaken Mitt Romney for Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan!
Yet many of those voters still held onto considerable residual fondness for President Obama. They sympathized with him. They felt like they could share and appreciate his own frustration with just how hard his job turned out to be. Many of them were disappointed by what they perceived as his sell-outs — Gitmo's still open, we've still got troops in combat overseas, Drones R Us, etc. But they could mostly forgive Obama for that, and they still believed he was basically a good and honest and competent man who'd never put his political ambition ahead of what's noble and good.
It's just damned hard for anyone to square that with this slow-motion horror show. Just about every corner of the Administration's preferred narrative has completely unraveled; nothing's been repaired; on this entire subject, the Obama Administration is entirely in confused and reeling tatters.
I think it could cost President Obama a fair number of votes outright, but I think it's going to have a much more serious impact on Democratic turn-out.
Even those who still love him can't miss the fact that he's getting smaller every day. Even if they still like him, they just can't continue to pretend that he's earned their vote for a second term. They might very well not be able to bring themselves to vote for Romney. But they are already reconciling themselves to the possibility of staying home, or procrastinating until the polls are closed, or whatever else they need to do to preempt any last guilty sentiments.
I could be completely wrong about this. It's just my hunch. I'm even reckless enough to try a medical analogy, which any lawyer should know better than: This Libya business seems to me like an occult ruptured spleen, one that doesn't present with the usual signs and symptoms that would signal the docs that the patient needs urgent surgery, one that may come on seemingly spontaneously many hours or even days after the original trauma. One minute the patient looks pretty normal and alert, maybe just a bit pale; and the next, they've bled out internally and they're dead.
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Of sidelines, collegiality, and Barack Obama's spectacular ineffectiveness
I've never doubted the reports that the University of Chicago Law School would gladly have put Barack Obama on a "tenure track" if he'd wanted that. They would have converted him from a "lecturer" or "senior lecturer" — both polite ways of pointing out to other academics that someone is neither tenured, nor on a tenure-track — into an "assistant professor." And then, in addition to teaching, he'd have had to produce appropriate proof of sustained scholarship, which in this profession means researching and writing serious articles for publication in law reviews like the one he helped edit when he was a student at Harvard Law. If his articles met the very subjective standards of the faculty, and if his teaching and other professorial work was acceptable, he'd have been granted tenure, and the title of "associate professor"; he'd have started participating in the faculty senate, voting on tenure decisions and law school policy; and eventually he'd have become a full professor (the "Professor of Law" that he's so often and so misleadingly claimed himself to be when away from the law school), and he'd probably eventually have ended up with an endowed chair (e.g., "the Fenster Q. Bigcontributor Chair in Socio-Legal Comparative Studies," or some such). And if Chicago hadn't embraced him for such a career path, literally hundreds of other law schools would have, and gladly, simply on the basis of Obama having been the first black editor-in-chief (a/k/a "president" in their odd nomenclature) of the Harvard Law Review.
Of course, as any career academic or even any one-time graduate student is keenly aware, "faculty politics" is some of the most intense and competitive politics around. But it's not always purely cut-throat; instead it must also be collaborative to be successful. Every academic's individual prestige is linked with that of his institution, and while they are rivals in some respects, all members of a faculty have a shared interest in seeing their institution prosper and grow in repute (and funding) over the long term. That they can and do cooperate to build great institutions of higher learning, and that leaders emerge among them to show the way, is why it's not a mockery that "college" and "collegiality" share the same linguistic roots.
But Obama chose not to go that path, for whatever reasons. He probably had a key to the faculty lounge and washroom, but by his choice, he was never part of the permanent, full-time faculty of Chicago Law School, or any law school.
Similarly, although Barack Obama could have had his choice of partnership-track associate positions at the top law firms in the country, he chose to be merely a non-owner part-time employee, "of counsel" at the small and not particularly distinguished Chicago law firm he joined after Harvard Law School.
Barack Obama was never anyone's fellow tenured faculty member, nor anyone's law partner and business co-owner. He never even tried to be.
I thought of that bit of Obama's personal history when I read this appalling story from Bob Woodward in the Washington Post. It's titled "Inside story of Obama’s struggle to keep Congress from controlling outcome of debt ceiling crisis," but the URL under which it was published contains a short and succinct indictment (italics mine, of course): "A president sidelined." It begins:
President Obama summoned the top four congressional leaders to the White House on Saturday morning, July 23, 2011. The night before, House Speaker John A. Boehner had withdrawn from negotiations to raise the $14 trillion federal debt limit and save the government from a catastrophic default. “Nobody wanted to be there,” Boehner later recalled. “The president’s still pissed.”
They had about 10 days left before the government would run out of money. Given the global importance of U.S. Treasury securities, failing to extend the debt limit could trigger a worldwide economic meltdown.
Boehner said he believed that he and the others — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — had a plan. He told Obama: We think we can work this out. Give us a little more time. We’ll come back to you. We are not going to negotiate this with you.
Obama objected, saying that he couldn’t be left out of the process. “I’ve got to sign this bill,” he reminded the leaders as they sat in the Cabinet Room off the Oval Office.
“Mr. President,” Boehner challenged, “as I read the Constitution, the Congress writes the laws. You get to decide if you want to sign them.”
Reid, the most powerful Democrat on Capitol Hill, spoke up. The congressional leaders want to speak privately, he said. Give us some time.
This was it. Congress was taking over. The leaders were asking the president to leave the meeting he had called in the White House.
Sidelined! Well, yeah, everyone else on the team has effectively sidelined him because he doesn't know the plays, doesn't know how to play his position, pays no attention to the snap count, draws a penalty flag with every other step he takes, and yet trash-talks endlessly. It's not unusual for a player to be sidelined. But it's pretty unusual when the other players sideline the nominal quarterback.
Barack Obama never learned to work and play constructively with others, so he certainly never learned how to effectively lead others.
The closest he ever came was when he was elected as a compromise candidate to head the Harvard Law Review. That was a great honor, but ask yourself: Other than the fact that he was the first black editor-in-chief, have you heard a single other notable fact about his service in that one-year slot? Oh, the HLR published on schedule (more or less, as law reviews tend to do), and it sailed along with the same standards of quality and scholarship that had built its reputation over more than a century. But frankly, the Harvard Law Review — like the Texas Law Review, on whose board I served in 1979-1980, or most other top law reviews — is easily capable of surviving for a year on auto-pilot regardless of the leadership skills of any single editor-in-chief. And I'm reasonably sure that during Obama's tenure, the HLR didn't have to borrow billions from the Chinese to put out its next issue either.
By all accounts, the only legislation of consequence that Obama ever passed as a state senator was that which was drafted by others and decided by the party bosses that, for symbolic reasons, he should sponsor. He passed absolutely nothing of consequence in his brief tenure as a U.S. Senator, served in no important leadership positions, and left not a single fingerprint on the institution of the United States Senate.
And now, when the United States and the world desperately need someone who can not just make speches, but actually lead — not just in public, but in private with his sleeves rolled up to deal with competing congressmen and constituencies — Barack Obama does not know what to do. He has the power of the Presidency, but not a clue how to use it effectively, so he is not taken seriously by any of the other players whom the Constitution makes part of the process of government.
And not only can Obama not lead, he can't even cooperate effectively.
I would feel slightly sorry for him, if he were not destroying my children's future.
"Lead, follow, or get out of the way," it's said. The 2012 election now represents President Obama — refusing even to get out of the way.
Friday, September 07, 2012
Friday morning national hangover
The fantasy from last night:
... And I’m asking you to choose that future. I’m asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country, goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; real, achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation.
We can choose a future where we export more products and outsource fewer jobs. After a decade that was defined by what we bought and borrowed, we’re getting back to basics, and doing what America has always done best:
We’re making things again....
I’ve worked with business leaders who are bringing jobs back to America, not because our workers make less pay, but because we make better products....
After a decade of decline, this country created over half a million manufacturing jobs in the last two and a half years....
We’ve doubled our use of renewable energy, and thousands of Americans have jobs today building wind turbines, and long-lasting batteries....
The reality in the cold morning light:
U.S. employers added 96,000 jobs last month, a weak figure that could slow any momentum President Barack Obama hoped to gain from his speech to the Democratic National Convention.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, the Labor Department said Friday. But that was only because more people gave up looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching.
The government also said 41,000 fewer jobs were created in July and June than first estimated. The economy has added just 139,000 jobs a month since the beginning of the year, below 2011’s average of 153,000.
Dow Jones industrial futures, which had been up before the report, fell soon after it was released.
The report was weak throughout. Hourly pay fell, manufacturers cut the most jobs in two years and the number of people in the work force dropped to its lowest level in 31 years.
In addition to those who’ve given up looking for work, many young Americans are avoiding the job market by remaining in school. All told, the proportion of the population that is either working or looking for work fell to 63.5 percent. That’s the lowest level in 31 years for the labor force participation rate.
Average hourly wages dipped a penny to $23.52 and are only slightly ahead of inflation in the past year.
Many of the jobs were in lower-paying industries such as retail, which added 6,100 jobs, and hotels, restaurants and other leisure industries, which gained 34,000. Higher-paying manufacturing jobs fell by 15,000, the most in two years.
If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed that the downward adjustment of previous figures for July and June by 41,000 jobs continues a long and depressingly consistent pattern: the Bureau of Labor Statistics, long thought to be one of the most genuinely nonpartisan of Washington institutions, now seems only able to err in one direction (overstating employment), but to do so like clockwork every month. So the 96k claimed new jobs for August — which was well short of the 125k expected by most economists before today's report — will probably be revised downward by tens of thousands, too.
The President bragged about the improvement of manufacturing employment, and promised a million new manufacturing jobs if he's given a second term. But the WaPo's reference to a drop in "higher paying manufacturing jobs" meant that manufacturing jobs in general are higher paying, not that just the number of top-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector dropped. Last month's 15k drop in total manufacturing jobs is the first since September 2011.
Of course, all such changes are completely dwarfed by the number of people who've given up and dropped out of the workforce altogether; there are almost three million more such Americans now than there were this time last year; 368k gave up in August alone, and if they hadn't, the nominal unemployment rate would have risen to 8.4% instead of dropping. And this is the 43rd straight month of unemployment above 8%, even using that understated calculation — can you remember when Dubya was villified for an unemployment rate around 5%?
The POTUS gets the monthly jobs report on the Thursday afternoon before they're released. President Obama knew these lousy numbers while he stood before the country claiming he has turned things around and that his "path leads to a better place." He and his partisans had a fine convention. It's too bad they are so unable to acknowledge — much less cope with — the world outside of it.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Fixed that for ya, Mr. President
Among the websites controlled by the Obama White House is one intended for ready public access to fiscal matters — www.treasurydirect.gov. It even has a section for kids. There, we find this very educational bar chart showing the national debt:
For whatever reason, no one in the Obama Treasury Department has bothered to update the chart since 2009, which of course was only President Obama's first year in office. I was a liberal arts major, and I've only modest photoshop skills, but I do read the headlines and this bar chart is dirt simple to fix:
Of course, the chart is still slightly misleading because the selected dates aren't proportionately scaled along the X-axis, and of course the national debt history begins well before 1990.
But never let it be said that I wasn't trying to help the Obama Administration in its efforts to "tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times." We surely wouldn't want the kiddos to be confused about what Obama has done, and this bar chart certainly tells a story that gives me a sense of purpose.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Sputtering Puffington Host gives Beldar a morning grin
I opened my browser today to the Puffington Host for the specific purpose of seeing how badly "on tilt" the Lefties are after Paul Ryan's speech. Here was my answer:
Immediately I thought back to Datechguy's rallying cry, upon close observation of Team Obama and its partisans: "Ride right through 'em, they're demoralized as hell!"
I confess that I did not read the Puffington Host post linked from that dramatic headline. Perhaps in the Puffington Host's alternate universe, the Democratic whom Obama appointed to co-chair the Simpson-Bowles debt commission, Erskine Bowles, never gushed about fellow commission member Paul Ryan thusly:
Have any of you all met Paul Ryan? We should get him to come to the university. I’m telling you, this guy is amazing. I always thought I was okay at arithmetic, this guy can run circles around me. And he is honest, he is straightforward, he is sincere. And the budget he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, honest, serious budget, and it cut the budget deficit, just like we did, by $4 trillion.
The president came out with his own plan. And, the president as you remember, came out with a budget. And I don’t think anybody took that budget very seriously. The Senate voted against it 97-to-nothing.
Perhaps in the Puffington Host's alternate universe, that GM plant is actually still open, and America's credit rating was never downgraded. Perhaps there, water flows uphill, Obamacare didn't raid Medicare, and one of the most reflexively liberal political blogs at the Washington Post never ran this headline and story:
But regarding those voters who are firmly tethered to this universe, I think Paul Ryan had a very good night, and the hysterical confabulation of this Puffington Host front-page makes me even more confident of that than I was last night.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Assault into the Mediscare ambush
Fight fear with facts. And when appropriate, bring your mother.
Medicare and Social Security can be saved. They can even be improved upon, without diminishing their reliability. But you can't do it by pretending that they can go on forever, or even more than a small handful of years, without major structural changes.
We need to have this debate. We're glad to have this debate. And we will win it, not just because we have the better debaters — and now, we finally do — but because we have the truth.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
A true-life parable from Beldar on low interest rates, "free money," and Democrat logic
In July, for the first time during this millennium, I bought a car. I'm very happy with it and with the transaction by which I acquired it: I test-drove at the dealer closest to my home, did further comparison shopping and took competitive bids on the internet, and then struck a fair deal with no game-playing by me or the salesman I dealt with. But when I was arranging the paperwork, one of his colleagues was tasked by the dealership with selling me something I was not much interested in buying — one of their various extended warranty packages.
For some people and on at least some kinds of purchases, extended warranties can make economic sense. In my circumstances, for a purchase like a car, they don't: I'm at a lower than average risk than many other car owners whose vehicle use is more demanding than mine, I can usually tolerate the kind of cash flow disruption caused by unexpected car repairs, and when you add in the transaction costs and profit margin that's necessarily part of the price for an extended warranty, it just makes more sense for me to rely on the original manufacturer's warranty (which on this vehicle was already excellent) until it runs out, then to self-insure.
So I knew going into the conversation that there was zero chance that this fellow could persuade me, even though he was charming and professional and knowledgeable. I cut through most of the chase and told him my decision, and my rationale for it, right away. He didn't argue with my facts or logic.
But he had to at least give it one last try. So he pointed out that I could finance the entire up-front cost of a multi-year extended warranty using very attractive manufacturer-provided financing at less than one percent interest! "That's like doubling your original manufacturer's warranty using practically free money! It's too good a deal to pass up at those rates, even if you normally wouldn't buy the extended warranty package."
(I'm thinking to myself: Either this guy is a Democrat, or he thinks I think like one. He thinks I'm an Obama voter.)
"So," I asked, "this 'free money' — that means if I finance the cost of the extended warranty package, the manufacturer will loan me the entire cost and I'll only ever have to pay 1% of it back, and they'll just write off the rest at no charge to me, is that it?"
He looked at me with puzzlement; I think he was wondering if he'd overestimated my financial acumen. "No," he replied, "You'd just pay it back over several years' time at this very attractive interest rate."
"So I would still have to pay back every single dime that I borrow, plus a little more," I continued, "in order to buy something that I really don't want anyway and that I otherwise couldn't justify buying. Is that what you're telling me? And you think that because the extra I'd have to pay back is just a little more instead of a lot more, that makes this too good a deal to pass up?"
The confusion disappeared and was replaced with a moderately respectful grin. He pushed the paperwork to my side of the desk. "Check here and here to acknowledge that I explained the extended warranty options to you and that you declined them," he said, "and we're all done." I did, and we were.
Romney picks Ryan
On my recent post entitled Paul Ryan on entrepreneurial capitalism vs. crony capitalism, reader Greg Q commented today: "So, why aren't you gloating yet about Romney picking Ryan?" And my dear friend DRJ, recalling my support for Sarah Palin in June 2008 and my support for a possible Paul Ryan presidential campaign earlier in this election cycle, inquired today in the comments on that same post: "Has any other blogger picked two VPs in a row? Well done, Beldar."
DRJ gives me too much credit: Although I'm happy to see this selection, and I certainly favored and tried to promote both Palin and Ryan as potential Veep nominees months before either was selected, I didn't go on record with a prediction as to whom Gov. Romney would pick this time. And in fact, I'm mildly surprised that he did choose Paul Ryan, although I'm obviously delighted by the choice.
On a superficial level, Ryan is more widely known throughout America now than Sarah Palin was in 2008. As Stephen Hayes wrote in the Weekly Standard on July 23, since John McCain's defeat in November 2008, Paul Ryan has become the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. Speaker John Boehner wields more raw power in the House, but he has relied heavily on Ryan. Boehner deliberately (and commendably) has placed Ryan at the forefront of the House Republicans' opposition to Obama, especially since the GOP recaptured the House after the 2010 mid-term elections. The Dems had already started their slurs campaign against Ryan just based on the threat he posed to Obama from his chairmanship of the House Budget Committee, and when I read Ryan Lizza's grudgingly admiring but fundamentally dishonest profile of Ryan in a recent issue of the New Yorker (which I'm not going to link), I knew the Dems were taking him seriously as a potential GOP Veep nominee.
Nevertheless, to all but perhaps the 10% of American voters who closely follow politics even outside election season, the depth and substance of Paul Ryan and his political philosophy are still largely unknown. Between now and the conventions, the Romney-Ryan campaign will seek to remedy that, and the Obama-Whoever campaign will do what it always does, which is to tell lies designed to frighten and confuse people.
I will go on record with a Veep prediction now, though — not about Ryan, but about his counterpart in the race: If Romney had chosen Rob Portman or Tim Palenty or Marco Rubio instead of Ryan, then Slow Joe Biden and his boss could both have breathed easier. In my view, however, Paul Ryan's selection just moved Hillary Clinton from "possible" to "probable" as Biden's replacement on the 2012 Dem ticket. Look for Slow Joe to find a sudden yearing to become an elder statesman who has more time to spend with his family. I'll bet Hill & Bill are having champagne tonight. Even most of my Democratic friends will admit, if pressed, that it would be a good thing for the country to get Joe Biden out of the line of presidential succession.
To answer Greg Q's question, though: The enthusiasm with which I might otherwise be greeting this pick is not diminished, but is nevertheless deeply tempered, by my conviction that things in America are today much worse than they were at this same time in 2008 — or even, for that matter, than they were in September 2008 during the financial system's near meltdown. We no longer have to speculate how badly a generic Democrat would do as Dubya's successor. We know exactly how abysmally the actual Democrat who succeeded him has performed, and there is absolutely not a reason in the universe to think he will be a whit better or less disastrous if he's permitted four more years to continue dismantling the American Dream.
Romney's choice of Ryan gives me grim satisfaction, then, rather than elation or surprise. It does give me new hope insofar as it demonstrates Gov. Romney's willingness to take on the biggest issues and to move this campaign cycle beyond the ridiculous trivialities that Obama counts upon to distract Americans from his own conspicuous incompetency, his own insufficiency for the office.
But the Dems can't compete with Ryan's principles, which are, very fundamentally, America's principles too. So to keep the conversation on other topics, as they are desperate to do, the Dems will have to pull out all the stops.
Barack Obama's reelection campaign is already the most shamefully dishonest in my memory, which dates back to LBJ vs. Goldwater in 1964. It is about to get much, much worse.
Fortunately, and may God continue to bless him in this regard, one of Paul Ryan's most defining characteristics is his unflappability. Many call Ryan's style "Reaganesque," and it is indeed cheerful and passionate and hope-filled — but Reagan never had Paul Ryan's handle on details.
Those who think the Ryan selection is risky essentially base their projections upon a very poor opinion of the American public's intelligence. But I believe, as did Ronald Reagan, that almost all Americans understand that we can't live forever in a world of magic unicorns and "free" stuff from the government. The magic dust that Obama sprinkled over Americans in 2008 — the magic that he told them could make them fly if only they thought happy thoughts and held Obama's hand — has now all worn off. The entire audience can see the wires, and that most of them are broken. The gap between the Lightworker character as written in Democratic fiction and the tired political hack now playing that part has become more obvious than Mary Martin's bosom. I believe that enough Americans know that it's time to exit the theater as grownups, and to get back to work in the real world.
Batten down the hatches, then, folks. The deluge is here, and the Obama campaign is going to make sure we're all at least waist deep in fecal matter before the voters send that campaign back to the sewers where such nastiness belongs.
UPDATE (Sun Aug 12 @ wee-smalls): I asserted that Ryan's selection improves the odds that Obama will dump Biden for Hillary, but I didn't explain why. The short version is: Pawlenty, Portman, or even Rubio would have whipped Biden in the Veep debate and as a campaign surrogate, but not so badly as to make Biden look much worse than Biden does even with no active opponent. If Romney had chosen one of them, then keeping Biden would have been a closer call. But recall that Paul Ryan is the only Republican politician in the last two years to have obviously bested Obama himself in face-to-face argument in a public forum. And whether you credit Obama with modest or supernatural eloquence, he's certainly aware that Biden isn't in his own league, and he surely knows that Ryan will disarticulate Biden, both stylistically and substantively, in the Veep debate.
Biden turns 70 in late November, and his medical history includes two brain aneurysms. The rationale for him being on the ticket in 2008 (that he would offset Obama's foreign policy inexperience) no longer exists. He brings no constituency that Obama doesn't already have on his own now; among young voters, whose participation Obama wants desperately to encourage, Biden is very nearly as much a standing joke as he is among Republicans. There has always been a decent chance that Obama would dump him in 2012, but of course that would never conceivably have happened until Obama first saw who Romney picked, in order that Obama could know who Biden's successor would be up against. Now he knows.
The best chance the Dems have to respond to the Ryan selection would be asymmetric political warfare — which translates quite neatly into replacing Biden with the most ambitious and most popular Democrat in the country, Hillary Clinton. Indeed, that will mesh like clockwork with the coming Obama pivot to foreign policy as the best possible distractraction, and the only substantive distraction, from the economic ruin he's wrought. The rest of the Obama-Clinton campaign would largely consist of heaping calumny on Romney-Ryan and Mediscare — Dems cannot talk about the economy in anything but the most simplistic, jingoistic talking points, because anything else is poison to Obama's campaign — but SecState/Veep nominee Clinton, along with a newly energized Bubba, would surely be employed to highlight the relative lack of traditional foreign policy credentials on the part of both Romney and Ryan.
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Paul Ryan on entrepreneurial capitalism vs. crony capitalism
Worth your four minutes and twenty-one seconds:
(Hat-tip Robert Costa at NRO's The Corner.)
You want a "jobs bill"? Reform the tax code — flatter, simpler, fairer, with lower rates but no loopholes. Return federal government spending as a percentage of GDP to its historically successful and sustainable 19% level instead of the current ruinous 24-25% that has produced Obama's multi-trillion dollar deficits. Tax compliance will improve (i.e., more people will feel the system is fair and that they have less of an excuse to cheat; simple rules mean easy and more effective enforcement against those who do cheat); productivity will soar (as resources previously used to beat the system are redeployed to create wealth and jobs); and discontent with government will justifiably drop. Tax revenues will soar — and deficits will shrink — which will permit us to reform and save our safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security by increasing individual choice and by reintroducing market economics to healthcare generally and elder-care in particular. The pie will once again start growing for everyone's benefit as free-market transactions create wealth: TANSTAAFL, but every such transaction, by definition, leaves both sides holding something they value more than what they just traded away, and that translates into jobs, savings accounts, investments, and progress.
This photo (lifted from a Richard Brookhiser post at The Corner) —
— nicely illustrates the biggest and most obvious lie told in the Twenty-first Century so far:
"We've tried our plan — and it worked!"
Remarks by the President, Oakland, CA, July 24, 2012.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Paul Ryan: "America Deserves a Better Path"
In my view, the GOP should nominate for President the single currently most consequential Republican leader, the one who's most doing the most, and proving the most effective right now, on the most urgent issues threatening our country — not someone who merely has served in a single state, or whose service was mostly or entirely back in the 1990s. With due respect to Speaker Boehner (who actually I'm pretty sure would agree with me on this), the currently most consequential Republican leader is not him. And again, with due (but sincerely calibrated) respect to them, it's certainly not any of the current candidates.
It's Paul Ryan.
As the tag-line suggests, this video is intended as a preview of what Chairman Ryan plans to do with his House committee, and with this year's revised version of the Path to Prosperity, between now and Election Day. Make no mistake, this is targeted at Barack Obama and his Democratic cohorts.
But I agree with the Weekly Standard's Mark Hemmingway when he titles this "the best political campaign ad of 2012." Hemmingway's wistful subtitle: "Unfortunately, he's not running."
The only thing entirely certain about the GOP convention is that it has to produce a nominee for President and Vice President. In some parallel universe in which candidates could put aside their personal ambition — even the kind of driving, compulsive, relentless personal ambition necessary to campaign for President of the United States — in favor of the good of the Nation (and, therefore, the good of the Grand Old Party), I would hope for a brokered convention at which, on the 10th round of deadlock, some combination of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrinch, and Ron Paul would implore all of their original delegates to cast their next ballot for the chairman of the House Budget Committee. But in this universe, I've still not been persuaded to change my sidebar by anything any of those candidates have done since ... well, since ever.
Ryan, by the way, hasn't endorsed anyone, and has promised not to (he says it would be a conflict with his party fundraising position). Wisconsin is a purplish state that's in play. And his pre-Election Day work for the Budget Committee will necessarily be complete or nearly so by the time of the GOP National Convention in Tampa, after which he's going to be campaigning anyway, if (probably) only (sigh) for his current House seat.
Monday, February 06, 2012
George Romney never had a little tip jar
Of the controversy surrounding Mitt Romney's profession that he isn't "concerned about the very poor," Stephen F. Hayes of the Weekly Standard artfully explains a rather subtle but important reason why "movement conservatives" were dismayed.
They understand, of course, Romney's full intentions and the entire context of the remarks. And like Romney himself, movement conservatives contemplating Romney as the potential GOP nominee wish he could better repress these self-inflicted rhetorical wounds; his considerable communication skills are offset heavily by something of a tin ear.
Yet even leaving these issues to one side altogether, movement conservatives reacted to Romney's in-context argument with disappointment, according to Hayes, because Romney
seemed utterly unaware of a long strain of conservative thought on the morality of capitalism. He seemed oblivious to the argument — central to the conservative movement — that free markets allow the poor to transcend their position, that poverty is not destiny....
This was, in other words, an opportunity that Romney missed, one in which he could have made a compelling pitch for why even the poor ought prefer Obama's defeat. Hayes continues:
But [Romney] received some help from Marco Rubio, who had shared his own story in the Republican response to the president’s radio address a week earlier.
“My father was a bartender,” Rubio said. “And I thank God every night that there was someone willing to risk their money to build a hotel on Miami Beach and later in Las Vegas where he could work. I thank God that there was enough prosperity in America so people could go on vacation to Miami or Las Vegas. Where people felt prosperous enough to have weddings or Bar Mitzvahs and, by the way, could leave tips in my Dad’s little tip jar. Because with that money he raised us. And he gave me the opportunity to do things he never had a chance to do.”
I think Hayes gets it about right when he concludes:
If Romney wants to return to Tampa to accept the GOP nomination, he would do well to spend more time before then with Rubio. And maybe, in a more formal way, afterwards.
That much seems a realistic hope, I think. It's sad, but probably true, that a key reason why Romney is so obviously uncomfortable about his own wealth and success in particular — and perhaps so uncomfortable in his own skin more generally — is that he hasn't internalized and committed to this morality of capitalism. I'm sure Romney understands the theory; on other occasions I've heard him articulate it well (if perhaps too dispassionately for my tastes). But to curtail these sorts of awkward gaffes and turn them into something which could help him win November if he's the GOP nominee, Romney would need to claim, own, and release his own embarrassment over, his own successful striving to achieve the American Dream.
That is probably not a realistic hope, however; and thus the potential importance to Romney, as it was to McCain, of a Veep nominee who can help him mend fences, rally the faithful — and yes, preach the morality of capitalism.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Beldar on the failure of the "supercommittee"
Regarding the unsurprising failure of the congressional "supercommittee," consider this:
Democrats simultaneously insist that (a) they want to raise taxes on America's rich, while (b) rejecting GOP proposals to reform and save Social Security and Medicare by making them be "means-tested." Means-testing would only affect those who are not currently on, or about to qualify for, those programs. For those later beneficiaries, however, the wealthiest subsets would receive lesser benefits than the poorest ones, with the very poorest continuing to be subsidized at current levels (adjusted over time with inflation).
The Dems insist that the federal government continue giving rich people money for their retirement and medical care, in other words, even if those people can quite comfortably afford to pay for those things themselves. But those same Dems also insist on taking a higher percentage of rich people's current income to pay for the costs of ever-expanding government programs, most notably those same entitlement programs which are already operating in the red, with alarming increases on the near horizon that are demographic and actuarial certainties.
The explanation is as old as Tammany Hall: the Democratic Party depends on handing out government largess, including outright graft, to keep its disparate power bases in line. This is why General Electric pays no federal income taxes. This is why Hollywood studios show paper losses on films that generate multi-hundreds of millions at the box office. This is why unions give hundreds of millions in political donations, but more than 85% of that always goes to Democrats. This is why the federal government hands out millions based on allegedly frustrated "intent to be a farmer," or pays tax dollars to prop up commercially nonviable car companies or solar panel manufacturers, while rejecting a badly needed pipeline construction project that would create thousands of jobs at no government expense whatsoever.
If your source of political power is based on hand-outs to favorites, preferences for government-picked "winners," and government-effectuated or government-mandated income redistribution, then you protect that power quite literally at all costs — even costs that will positively bankrupt the government in fairly short order.
If any of this surprises you, then congratulations: You're the guy at the poker table wondering which one of his fellows is "the mark."
This is what the 2012 election should be fought over.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Shocking pix prove that at Bain Capital, Romney and friends had access to at least $100 in cash
I'm shocked — shocked! — to learn that while working at a company with a two-word name, the second word of which is a synonym for "money," a young Mitt Romney had the bad taste to allow himself to be photographed touching some actual cash currency. As republished and described in the Boston Globe:
Despite the pressures at Bain Capital, Mitt Romney kept the atmosphere loose. One year, after posing for a photo for a firm brochure, the partners did another take, the second time holding $10 and $20 bills. From left, Fraser Bullock, Eric A. Kriss, Joshua Bekenstein, Mitt Romney, Coleman Andrews, Geoffrey S. Rehnert, and Robert F. White. (Provided by Bain Capital)
Actually, if any of Bain Capital's deals ever were transacted using $10 and $20 bills, I really would be shocked.
But seriously, the Romney campaign should put this photo up on their website. If Obama wants to continue to run his 2012 reelection campaign on the notion that Obama is pro-job but anti-business despite double-digit real unemployment, that will be interesting to watch.
(Hat-tip: Karl @ Patterico's, in an interesting post about prospective Obama campaign strategies.)
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Beldar on Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan
I commend to you in its entirety this post by my friend Dafydd ab Hugh at Big Lizards — a discussion of Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan that Dafydd entitled, "Nein, nein, nein." Dafydd argues that Congress would inevitably raise a national sales tax once it got that fiscal camel's nose under the tent; that the addition of a national sales tax would encourage states and municipalities to raise their own existing sales taxes; and that our more urgent national problem is spending, while more modest tax reforms could probably suffice for the near term. He concludes:
Herman Cain is a great guy, so far as I can tell; and he can do a great service by focusing debate on what really matters right now: the existential threat posed to the United States by Barack H. Obama and the demented Democrats. He might make a good vice president; one hopes he can learn to handle a bureaucracy in time to run for the big chair again in eight years. But right now, his only trick — 9, 9, 9 — is just a catchy and clever red herring.
I reprint here, too, my own critique (slightly edited) that I left as a comment on Dafydd's post at Big Lizards:
Let's just presume for a moment that as a policy matter, Mr. Cain is correct, and that we should abandon our current federal revenue-raising system in favor of his 9-9-9 plan. Let's leave aside our objections over such matters as whether sales taxes/VATs are regressive, or whether they make it too easy for the government to raise taxes in the future. Let's join in Mr. Cain's optimistic assumptions about how the economy's better performance would make up any revenue gaps between his plan and what's currently in place. Just assume with me for a moment, in other words, that we all want the kind of reform Cain proposes, where we go to a flat tax on businesses, a flat tax on individuals, and a flat national sales tax.
And assume we set out to figure out the optimum rates for each of those three kinds of flat-rate taxes, to accomplish a Goldilocks ("just right") combination of those three, so that they produce as much revenue as the federal government now takes in. Yet those numbers must redistribute the burden of that revenue-raising in a simpler, more transparent, and more equitable way, one that also better encourages business development than our current tax code (and its maze of tax breaks and complexities). Mr. Cain's plan purports to do all of these things, if we accept it at face value.
What are the odds that the optimum number for each of these three new types of federal taxation — each very different from one another — would happen to be the very same single-digit integer?
This isn't economics. It's a gimmick. This is national economic "plan" that was obviously reverse-engineered from a catchy slogan.
Mr. Cain can't tell you why 9-9-9 would be better or worse than 8.311 - 12.897 - 5.135. No one's ever run the numbers on anything except 9-9-9 because those are the numbers that had to be accepted in order for the name to be catchy.
I'm in favor of big, bold reforms. I'm very wary of either a national sales tax or a national business VAT for the same sorts of reasons Dafydd has mentioned. But I'm not going to bother taking seriously something this gimmicky; it's not serious enough to trigger a discussion on any of the policy pros and cons of these kinds of taxation in general, because this plan is tied to rates that were picked specifically and solely because they can be easily chanted by a crowd/mob.
In tonight's GOP presidential debate from Nevada (which I recorded but didn't watch live, and which I have paused as I write this), CNN's Anderson Cooper presided over a very intentional and methodical skewering of Mr. Cain's 9-9-9 plan by every other candidate on stage. One criticism that most of the other candidates voiced — and that both Rick Perry and Mitt Romney hit particularly hard — was that taxpayers/voters would rebel against being required to pay both a state sales tax and a national sales tax.
Somehow, Cain couldn't manage to quite frame the "apples versus oranges" metaphor persuasively, although it's a perfectly valid and logical response: Mr. Cain's plan, at least if you take it at face value and accept its underlying assumptions, wouldn't change taxpayers' existing state tax burdens at all, and Cain argues that the federal taxes that his 9-9-9 plan would replace wouldn't extract any additional revenue out of the tax base, but that it would instead redistribute the same overall federal tax burden more equitably and in a way that encouraged economic growth. So I thought that particular line of attack — while probably quite effective, as perceived by many in the audience — was not terribly fair, and indeed was calculated to exploit confusion and ignorance of either federalism in general or the details of Mr. Cain's plan in particular. Probably by tomorrow Mr. Cain will have figured out how to make the "apples and oranges" metaphor work more smoothly than he did tonight, despite several attempts.
But there are plenty of other concerns and criticisms that are fair to raise, and that lots of people besides Mr. Cain's opponents also find troubling. Dafydd's point is undeniable: what's urgent is that we address current spending, then the mathematically and actuarially certain on-coming train of Baby-Boomer-driven entitlement spending. For purposes of addressing our distressing and chronic unemployment, sputtering economy, and growing stagflation, the other urgent high priority is releasing business from the crush of new Obama-era federal regulations — most of which stifle economic development with inadequate or even no benefit in return — and, of course, the slaying of the worst dragon spawned by Obama, his signature infliction upon the Republic, Obamacare. Doing those things would make for an ambitious agenda for any new Congress and POTUS to undertake before the 2014 elections. And perhaps our new president could then undertake further and more radical alteration of the tax code by gathering a mandate for in that campaign season.
Saturday, October 08, 2011
Beldar's last-ditch plea to House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI): Accept a GOP presidential draft from the conspiracy of present circumstances
Chairman Ryan, I already credit you with being a true public servant. You are already deeply involved in a career that demands inordinate personal and familial sacrifices. I'm a father of four, mine slightly older than yours, and I know that Duty (Writ Large) has already claimed more than its share of your life, at the expense of time spent with your family and friends. I can only imagine how little time you ever have left just for you.
Your countrymen — all of them who care to look — do indeed see your sacrifice, and we applaud it, and we are grateful.
Yet history's greatest civilization today stands essentially leaderless. You understand perfectly both the perils it faces and the urgency of those perils.
You have not been unreasonable to hope that someone else of your approximate caliber, with your same general mix of philosophies, capabilities, and principles, would step forward to lead our party in November 2012, and then our Nation and the world. You've had good reasons to hope you could defer the most severe of personal sacrifices for a few more years, until your kids are older — and it's not like you've been slacking in your current day-job!
But we approach the absolute drop-dead deadlines for 2012 presidential candidacies to announce. And Mr. Ryan, while we have several plausible candidates for our party's nomination, all of whom would be a substantial improvement over Obama, none of them, frankly, is of your caliber. And you know that. They all have in common a burning desire to be president, a quality conventionally thought (with good reason) to be an essential prerequisite for a candidate. But in most other respects, and specifically on the issues on which the 2012 election ought to be fought, as a potential nominee of our party you would surpass any of them.
And here's the clencher, Mr. Ryan: Not one of them has your capacity to parlay a transformational, watershed election victory into a transformational, watershed presidency, because none of them has your capacity to lead a leaderless country into the difficult reforms that are essential to rescue our civilization.
The circumstances of the 2010 election conspired to put you in the chair of the most important committee of the only part of Congress controlled by our party — to do there the most important work that could possibly be done now, which has been to tourniquet the worst of our federal fiscal hemorrhages, and to lay out a credible alternative to the Democrats' continued pillaging of our national fisc and our children's futures. Speaker Boehner has been in the role of Gen. George Marshall, to your Gen. Dwight Eisenhower at D-Day. And you've been nothing short of brilliant in that role.
But November 2012 is first and foremost about regaining the presidency. The leadership which is essential for those reforms to be implemented must come from the White House. Again, you know this perfectly well — as well or better than anyone.
Despite your reasonable hopes, no one of your caliber is stepping up in the required way, to the required degree, for that job. And you have always been best-positioned among them anyway.
Circumstances have naturally and irresistibly conspired to draft you, Mr. Ryan — to take you from the chair of the House Budget Committee into the 2012 presidential race, and thence to the White House in January 2013. Fate is screaming at you, Mr. Ryan. Unplug your ears, and even though it is more than we can in good conscience demand of you, be true to your own destiny and do now the necessary.
Accept the draft of circumstances. Or resign not just your own children, but all of ours, to a fate in which they're to be led, if at all, only by people chosen from a preselected pool comprising only those who desperately want that job (regardless of their qualifications for actually doing it).
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Fi$cal woes in ¢alifornia
It's not often that I link to Vanity Fair, but this article by financial writer Michael Lewis ("Liar's Poker," "Moneyball") is well worth it. Lewis' subject this time is the looming financial crisis at the state and, especially, local government level — one driven largely (but far from entirely) by unfunded pension liabilities. And it is very interesting, utterly terrifying, stuff, but characteristically for Lewis, it's explained in a very human way that's clear and extremely accessible. Lewis has a dry wit and a keen appreciation of the ironic. He explains financial issues through the voices of the colorful individuals he tends to write about. And because he has piqued your interest in those individuals, you tend follow his discussion of the financial issues easily and keenly too, because his subjects' fortunes (literally and figuratively) are being determined by those same financial issues.
Lewis' particular focus is on the poster-child for the problem, California, of which he notes:
California had organized itself, not accidentally, into highly partisan legislative districts. It elected highly partisan people to office and then required these people to reach a two-thirds majority to enact any new tax or meddle with big spending decisions. On the off chance that they found some common ground, it could be pulled out from under them by voters through the initiative process. Throw in term limits — no elected official now serves in California government long enough to fully understand it — and you have a recipe for generating maximum contempt for elected officials. Politicians are elected to get things done and are prevented by the system from doing it, leading the people to grow even more disgusted with them. "The vicious cycle of contempt," as Mark Paul calls it. California state government was designed mainly to maximize the likelihood that voters will continue to despise the people they elect.
But when you look below the surface, he adds, the system is actually very good at giving Californians what they want. “What all the polls show,” says Paul, “is that people want services and not to pay for them. And that’s exactly what they have now got.”
And therein lies a nasty problem. Don't read this article if you're already depressed. Lewis tries to salvage an upbeat ending, but that, too, is another as-yet-unfunded liability.
Despite that, Lewis' article ends up making a powerful conservative statement by necessary implication: What's killing paradise? Government overspending. How to fix that? Lewis doesn't ever say in so many words, but ... well, duh. The cure is obvious, but when and how it will begin being seriously administered, and what chaos will wrack the patient in the meantime (especially in its most afflicted extremities, like California), is still anything but clear.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
Ryan reviews Sachs' ode to nanny-statism, "The Price of Civilization"
Politicians are often credited with op-eds that are published in their names, and that may indeed express their views, but that were mostly written by a staff member or aide. This has been true at least since the days of the Greek and Roman democracies.
When I read Texas Gov. Rick Perry's recent and much-discussed op-ed about Obama's hostility to Israel, my assumption was that Perry didn't write its first draft, and may not have changed a comma in what someone else wrote on his behalf. Perry is nevertheless politically accountable for what it says to the same degree as if he had written it, and there's no reason to think his own views differ a whit from his ghost-writer's. (Indeed, the ghost-writer has failed in his job if his work varies from his principal's views.) Jen Rubin at the WaPo snarked that a "ghostwritten piece so far above [Perry's] current abilities highlights the concern" that "his own foreign policy views are rudimentary." I think that's harsh, but I take her point. Like all governors who run for president, Perry will have to struggle to establish foreign policy bona fides, and that can't be done solely through ghost-written op-eds.
But I was reminded of this topic — politicians and their ghost-writers — just now when I read this review of Jeffrey Sachs' new book, "The Price of Civilization," by someone of whom Ms. Rubin and I are both big fans: Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee. Having heard Mr. Ryan speak extemporaneously, I have no trouble believing that he, personally, penned lines like these:
In "The Price of Civilization," Mr. Sachs is asking the right questions. What is a life well lived? What should our government's role be in building a more virtuous society? What policies should it pursue to promote fulfilling lives for its citizens? If such questions direct us to the moral wisdom of our cultural traditions, they can indeed help to balance the excesses of capitalism and so help us to extend its benefits to all.
Yet Mr. Sachs's gospel of happiness draws not on the inspired tradition of the Founders but rather on the Utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. In the 1780s, Bentham proposed that "happiness," which he equated with "pleasure," could be mathematically measured. It was not sufficient, he thought, for government to protect our rights if it was to vouchsafe our pursuit of happiness. Government must instead quantify "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" and set policies and goals accordingly. There was a science to satisfaction, Bentham claimed, and it was a puzzle that trained experts could solve.
Channeling Bentham, Mr. Sachs calls for the establishment of a national metrics for life satisfaction and sets a 10-year goal to "raise America's happiness." Although the specific measures are hazy, the steps are clear: For people to be happy, their government must increasingly shield them from the challenges of life. The good life is thus defined as one of ever-more pleasure at the expense of work.
But happiness in this world results not from avoiding challenges but from meeting them. Happiness is the recompense of real effort, whether intellectual or physical, and of earned success. It comes from achievement — from doing something of economic, artistic or emotional value. The satisfaction to be taken in producing valuable things brings with it a lasting sense of personal fulfillment. Mr. Sachs's design for paternalistic government will only impede the pursuit of happiness.
Read the whole thing. This man has a talent for communication, and a passion for the ideas he's communicating, but the delivery is simple, fair, and respectful to the views of the skeptical reader. I think that's the secret to Ryan's effectiveness — not just as an explainer, but as a persuader.
And I still wish he were running for POTUS. So this blog's official position continues to be:
Draft Paul Ryan.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Strategic vision in short supply at the White House and Politico.com
Ponder, if you will, this strategically clueless bit of punditry from Carrie Budoff Brown and Ben Smith at Politico.com, as part of an essay entitled "President Obama's deficit plan puts him back in sync with progressives:"
[Obama's new] mocking tone toward Republicans, along with the sharp left turn in his policy prescriptions, aimed to send an unmistakable message to voters who have increasingly questioned the strength of Obama’s backbone: Congress won’t push him around any longer. If Republicans want a deal, then they’re going to have to compromise, too.
That last sentence might have been better written, "If Republicans want to deal, then they're going to have to compromise, too." And therein lies the mistaken premise. The only leverage that Obama and the Democrats had during July's struggle arose from GOP legislators' legitimate concerns that they'd be blamed for the interruption of government services that might have attended a failure to raise the national debt ceiling.
Now Obama and the Democrats face an even more united opposition that includes an absolute majority of the House and, on these issues, probably a working majority of the Senate. They believe that everything which Obama has just proposed — including the many recycled proposals which are so lame that Obama couldn't pass them even when the Dems controlled both chambers of Congress — would make things worse. So no, they don't want a "deal" on these measures, and neither do they want to deal on them: There's neither carrot nor stick in Obama's hand, just crap that he's throwing out there again for the sole purpose (a wholly and transparently political one) of making his base think he's talking and being tough.
That's a very tactical response to Obama's present problems. A strategic view would caution him against such short-term tactics, however: Certainly by November 2012, even Obama's base will have recognized that once again, Obama has failed to deliver on any of the wild promises that he made to make them (briefly) happy again back in September 2011.
If there's anyone at either Politico or the White House who's thinking strategically at all, they would realize that the smartest thing Obama could do now — both for the health of the national economy and for his own political prospects — would be to shut up and do nothing for a few months. That golf game will get rusty if it's not continuously polished, you know. America needs a president who can play a good round of golf more than it needs a president who can dish up the kind of nonsense we're hearing from Obama.
There's indeed a chance that if Obama will shut up, some legislation might pass both chambers of Congress which would reduce undue government burdens on the economy and, as part of an overall revenue-neutral flattening and broadening of the tax base, close tax loopholes. See my immediately preceding post regarding House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's broad reform and rescue plan, the Path to Prosperity. Parts of that plan, or analogs thereof, could probably make their way separately through both the House and Senate, via the proposals of the "supercommittee" or otherwise. By getting government out of the way, that legislation would actually stimulate the economy (or, much more accurately, permit it to begin healing itself). And if Obama would just shut up, then when and if such legislation passes, he could (and doubtless would) claim a share in its prospective success. And there might, for a change, actually be some success to take credit for!
But it doesn't take much strategic vision — or, really, anything other than my ordinary spectacle-assisted vision — to recognize that my speculation has an impossible premise, too: The earth will reverse its own rotation before Obama manages to shut himself up, ever, about anything.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Ryan reacts to Obama's "jobs plan"
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is making it really, really hard for me to give up on him as a potential 2012 GOP presidential nominee.
Chairman Ryan is always utterly consistent and thoroughly well-informed on fiscal matters, and much of what he said this morning about Obama's "new" job plan was no surprise because Obama has just recycled past policies (e.g., a temporary cut in payroll taxes) that have been repeatedly tried by both Democrats and Republicans, but that have always failed. Ryan's response is a clear, vital statement of specific principles and ideas, and those who've heard Ryan speak in the past will recognize much of what he had to say about those failed policies, and their alternatives, today.
I was struck in particular today, though, by Chairman Ryan's calm, lucid response to one of the most effective parts of Obama's and the Democrats' class-warfare demagoguery, the "Buffett's Secretary" argument:
WALLACE: Let's turn to taxes and there's a lot to talk about. I want to break it down in some bite-size pieces.
First of all, what do you think to all — over the papers today, I guess, the New York Times reported that, first, this idea of a new minimum tax rate for millionaires to insure that they pay at least the same percentage of their money that they get their income as middle income taxpayers?
RYAN: Great. So, I guess what he's saying he's going to raise on capital at ordinary income tax rate, raising capital gains and dividends. Look, if you tax something more, Chris, you get less. If you tax job creators more, you get less job creation. If you tax investment more, you get less investment.
At a time when experts are telling us, including, I said the fiscal commission, we should lower tax rates on investment and job creation by getting rid of all of the loopholes so we can create economic growth. So, we think this is going in the wrong direction. Let's not forget that under the current law that the president has already passed, the top tax rate on individual and small businesses in 2013 goes to about 44.8 percent.
So, we have employers in Wisconsin that pay that tax rate are competing against countries that are taxing their businesses from 16 percent in Canada, almost 21 percent going in England, 25 percent in China. The world taxes their businesses at about 25 percent and he's saying we're going to tax these job creators at above 45 percent with this new tax. What it does is it adds further instability to our system, more uncertainty and it punishes job creation and those people who create jobs.
Class warfare, Chris, may make for really good politics but it makes a rotten economics. We don't need a system that seeks to divide people. We don't need a system that seeks prey on people's fear, envy and anxiety. We need a system that creates job and innovation, and removes these barriers for entrepreneurs to go out and rehire people. I'm afraid these kinds of tax increases don't work.
WALLACE: But, Congressman, this is being called the Buffett rule, because it comes after Warren Buffet, the multibillionaire owner of Berkshire Hathaway said, I end up — because I get so much of my money from capital gains — I end up paying a lower tax rate than my secretary who gets her money in salary. What about the question — what about the question of fairness, sir?
RYAN: So, what he's saying, what he forgets to mention on that, that's a double tax. Capital gains and dividends are taxes on money that has already been taxed once before based on income. So, a person who's paying an income tax is paying the first level of tax on that money and then when you pay capital gains and dividends tax, you are paying that tax again on that money that earns it. What it does — and we've done this before — we have raised capital taxes gains and dividend taxes, we hurt economic growth, we stifle investment in our economy. So, if we tax investment in job creation more, you will get less of it. Like I said, this is — this looks like to me not a very good sign, because it looks like the president wants to move down the class warfare path.
Class warfare will simply divide this country more. It will attack job creators, divide people and it doesn't grow the economy.
Go to budget.house.gov and see a video we put up that shows a common sense idea that has a lot of bipartisan support in Washington these days to lower tax rates on these things by going after the loopholes.
Here's the video he just referenced. I think it's both simple and brilliant. And if the notion of the current tax laws letting General Electric Corp. get away with paying no federal income taxes nearly makes your head explode — a feeling shared by many Democrats, Republicans, and independents — then you should definitely watch this video:
I want this man to be president. This unflappable competency doesn't just appeal to me, it sings to me in ways that, frankly, neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Perry has yet been able to do.
Non-candidate Ryan continues to draw lots of attention
The NYT has some interesting factoids about and quotes from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). The bow-hunting and budgetary-wonk comments may appeal to slightly different audiences, but I suspect there actually may be a lot of cross-over appeal.
Ryan insists he's not interested in running, and indeed, that he's unwilling to be drafted. But when Gov. Rick Perry telephoned Ryan from the campaign trail this week, the substance of the report necessarily highlighted ... Ryan:
Perry also said he spoke Friday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and backs the House Budget Committee chairman’s fiscal proposal.
“I talked with Paul Ryan today and told him that I thank you for standing up and having the courage and I’m proud to join you in having this discussion were having with America.”
This is further confirmation, folks, of what I wrote back on May 17th: Ryan's plan is the plan for the GOP in 2012. There is no practical choice in the matter, given the House's overwhelming and repeated record votes approving it, the large numbers of GOP senators who voted in its favor without success, and the large volume of other GOP leaders who've endorsed at least its broad outlines.
However, by genuflecting in Ryan's direction (albeit over the phone) and, more importantly, by publicly embracing the Ryan budget, Perry may also be trying to soothe any remaining itch that Ryan might still feel to test the presidential waters.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Ryan's candidacy would force the 2012 election campaign beyond platitudes about the debt crisis
This report on a conversation between Paul Ryan and Chris Christie strikes me as important — indeed, electrifying (emphasis mine, elisions in original):
[S]ome of the most interesting developments last week took place away from the cameras in the solitude of the Rocky Mountains, where Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan consulted with friends and family about whether he should join the race. Ryan has been quietly looking at a bid for nearly three months, since Indiana governor Mitch Daniels called him to say he wasn’t running. But that consideration took a serious turn over the past two weeks, following a phone call with New Jersey governor Chris Christie in early August.
Ryan and Christie spoke for nearly an hour about the presidential race, according to four sources briefed on the conversation. The two men shared a central concern: The Republican field is not addressing the debt crisis with anything beyond platitudes.
Ryan, on the other hand, is the author of the detailed “Path to Prosperity” budget that passed the House last spring. His plan proposes structural reform to ensure the long-term viability of Medicare and other entitlements.
Christie has echoed Ryan’s concerns. In February, he gave a tough speech at the American Enterprise Institute, chastising Republicans for their timidity on entitlement reform and spending. “Let me suggest to you that my children’s future and your children’s future is more important than some political strategy. . . . We need to say these things and we need to say them out loud. When we say we’re cutting spending, when we say everything is on the table, when we say we mean entitlement programs, we should be specific,” Christie lectured. “Here is the truth that no one is talking about: You’re going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security.... We have to reform Medicare because it costs too much and it is going to bankrupt us... And we have to fix Medicaid because it’s not only bankrupting the federal government, it’s bankrupting every state government. There you go. If we’re not honest about these things, on the state level about pensions and benefits and on the federal level about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, we are on the path to ruin.”
Gov. Christie was characteristically blunt in that speech. And his very point is that bluntness is not only worth the risks, it's not only the right thing to do, it is absolutely essential.
Anyway, as they say, read the whole thing, and decide for yourself. But it sounds to me like both Gov. Christie and Chairman Ryan are coming to a shared conclusion that events — and even destiny — are impelling a Ryan candidacy. And they are right.
Let me say something else just as important, and just as blunt:
Barack Obama is going to base his 2012 campaign on demagoguery against the Ryan budget whether Paul Ryan is the GOP nominee or not.
Pretending it didn't pass the House, pretending it wasn't voted for by most GOP Senators — these are not options on the table. And you are simply delusional if you think Obama is going to fail to get the best possible use he can out of the Ryan budget as a political weapon, or that there's any way the GOP nominee can keep Obama from his best efforts.
So our choice is who we want to have as our side's spokesperson in defending and, indeed, advocating the Ryan budget.
The truth, if communicated clearly and forcefully, is a platform we can indeed win on. The Ryan budget would have kept our national debt rating from being downgraded. The Ryan budget would actually save Social Security and Medicare from the collapse that is a mathematical certainty under existing law. The Ryan budget will dispel the cloud of dread over the economy, and free the private sector to restore job growth and prosperity, thereby resulting in more government revenue collections without any increase in tax rates or brake on productivity. It's not perfect, and in some respects it may not go far enough, and it contemplates a slower rate of change in the national direction than many conservatives want. Nevertheless, it is real, and it is specific, and it is on the table. The medicine it contains will be bitter but we can honestly expect it to be effective, and there are no other alternatives.
Our side owns it. If you can't see that, you've had your eyes closed and your head in the sand since at least February. And given that we own it, we must not fail to make the best use of it that we can — boldly and without any trace of shame, for what is shameful are those who deny the problems and seek to maintain the status quo!
In poker, you want to be pushing all your chips in when you have a "monster hand." You may still lose. But that is the way you win big. Election Day in November 2012 will be the showdown, folks. So yeah, I'm not just willing to take the risk of doubling down on the Ryan budget by nominating Paul Ryan for POTUS — I'm eager to do that. I'm eager because it's the rational, logical, calm choice for this situation.
Or if you want, in honor of the changing season, a football metaphor instead: Sometimes you decide not to play it cautious, and you don't keep that blocking back in to guard against the maximum blitz that you know is coming. Sometimes you smile when your QB spots that blitz, and because he is the team captain and a star in whom you have more confidence than anyone on your team, you want the ball in his hands to exploit the vulnerabilities created by that blitz. Paul Ryan is our Roger Staubach or Joe Montana. (Or being from Wisconsin, maybe he'd pick Bart Starr or that Brett whatever-fellow. You know what I mean.)
Conservatives must take their counsel on this matter from George S. Patton (himself quoting Danton or perhaps Napoleon or Frederick the Great): "L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace!" If we are not bold enough to tell the truth, we will not win, or deserve to, and we cannot put things right.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Beldar on Ryan's vulnerabilities
John McCormack has an eloquent analysis on the Weekly Standard's website entitled "Paul Ryan's Vulnerabilities: Are they any worse than Romney's or Perry's?" I commend it to you in its entirety, in part because I think the conservative pundits McCormack is quoting and responding to have themselves made thoughtful and articulate points, but more because I think McCormack's responses about Ryan are persuasive. (I don't agree quite as much with McCormack's comments about Romney's and Perry's vulnerabilities, but I agree with his premise that all candidates have vulnerabilities.)
My own highly selective take on two of these arguments:
On my friend Ed Morrissey's "executive experience" issue, take a step back and ask yourself this: Why exactly do we value this?
The simplest and obvious answer is: "Because the American Presidency is an executive office." It's a true answer. It's only a partial answer, though, because no other executive office of any sort or position can ever be more than fractionally as challenging and important as the POTUS.
For all the other types of executive experience in positions other than POTUS, we're just using executive experience as a predictor of, and to some extent a proxy for, the ability to exercise POTUS-caliber executive responsibility.
Nevertheless, I humbly submit that we value executive experience in general because it often correlates with effectiveness in identifying problems, finding solutions, and then effectively implementing them. People who effectively enlist others to join together to accomplish those things thereby prove themselves as leaders. This is true when running a business, or when running an armored division, or when running a state government's executive branch.
A typical legislator from either chamber of the U.S. Congress is, by definition, one of a very large crowd. But occasionally — rarely in the last few decades, but more often earlier in American history — a legislator stands out from that crowd through conspicuous leadership and accomplishment. And I don't mean leadership to the press microphones, either, or empty speech-making. I mean identifying problems, finding solutions, and then effectively enlisting others to join together to implement them.
Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors, I do not disparage anyone else on the national stage, including any of the other existing or rumored candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, when I say this:
Paul Ryan's crafting and shepherding of the Path to Prosperity (a/k/a "the Ryan Budget") through the U.S. House of Representatives this year, followed by his vital participation in the subsequent passage of "Cut, Cap & Balance" in the House, have been the most important and most impressive acts of conservative leadership and accomplishment on a national stage of the past several years.
Now, technically speaking, that was not "executive leadership," I guess, because it's been happening under the Capitol Dome instead of in some other Washington building. But the vast bulk of our team's practical political effectiveness during the last two years — relying on political power gathered through the coalescence of the Tea Party movement and then the 2010 elections — has been focused through the House of Representatives and, specifically, the House Budget Committee. Paul Ryan's committee. That's exactly where the walk's been getting walked, as best we can walk it with the Senate and the White House still in the hands of the Democratic Party.
It's no knock on Rick Perry or Mitt Romney to point out that neither of them has yet done anything as consequential on a national stage as Paul Ryan has done just in this calendar year. So sure, their careers give us important indicators from which we can draw inferences about their potential executive abilities as POTUS. But in sharp contrast to the situation with all those legislators who've merely been great talkers in Congress instead of great doers — and I'm thinking in particular of a certain short-time U.S. Senator from Illinois who accomplished nothing and led no one as a legislator — we do in fact have ample indicators of leadership from Paul Ryan's career and accomplishments.
That's precisely why other GOP congressional leaders like John Boehner have been urging Ryan to get in the race: They've had the best opportunity to view and appreciate Ryan's leadership abilities in the most important and urgent recent events on the national political stage.
So if there's anyone whose demonstrated accomplishments ought to qualify for some "advanced placement credit" to make up for another sort of past accomplishment as an "executive," it's Paul Ryan. Simply put, we already know that Paul Ryan can lead, because he's been conspicuously busy all this year — leading.
As for my friend Allahpundit's "crippling the cause" argument: I'm sorry, but that's just backwards. To complete the four-year project that began the day Obama was elected and that can't be finished until the day he's defeated, and to change the direction of this country, we can't run a cautious campaign. We must win a mandate. We must have an ideas and values election, a watershed election with the same degree of political repudiation that voters delivered to Jimmy Carter in 1980 and reaffirmed when Carter's Veep, Walter Mondale, tried again in 1984.
We don't win by running away from entitlement reforms. We win by being the grown-ups, which means by exposing and confronting the problems, and by demonstrating that we have detailed and common-sensical solutions to them. We win by being honest, by promising to make choices that are hard but necessary, and by freeing the economy so that Americans — not their government, but Americans — can again create the growth and jobs essential to our hopes and futures. Ryan articulates that vision in measured, realistic terms, without sugar-coating but also without despair. He is convincing in explaining why the Democratic alternative is a vision of a declining America, of shared scarcity, of government-dictated rationing and control and leveling by driving everyone downward.
We must educate and persuade. We must prepare for, and withstand, the most incredible blistering demagoguery that the Democratic Party's spin-doctors can concoct and spew forth — and it will make Niagra look puny, friends and neighbors, and it will be 24/7/365 from all the usual suspects every day until Election Day 2012.
If fiscal sanity can triumph, it will be through the patient persistence of Paul Ryan as its champion. The idea that he will be of more value to our team by staying in the House grossly understates the importance of the presidency in our fundamental constitutional structure, and the idea that we ought to groom him for another four years is just cowardly unless you're already fully resigned to more Obama hopey-changitude through late January 2017. Conservatives need our most effective national leader in the most consequential national office. And ultimately, that is the most powerful argument for a Ryan candidacy.
UPDATE (Sat Aug 20 @ 6:45pm): Further thoughts, prompted by a comment below:
As I've said here before, I've voted for Gov. Perry many times, going back to his first state-wide Texas race for Agriculture Commissioner; I've also voted for Sen. Hutchison many times, but I voted for Gov. Perry over her in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary; and I can easily imagine circumstances in which I'd vote for Gov. Perry again. I'm keenly aware of Gov. Perry's flaws — not because they are terrible, but simply because I've been watching him closely for so many years, and he's human — and I disagree with a few of his substantive positions. But at some point, if Chairman Ryan persuades me that he really won't accept a draft from his party and his country to run for POTUS in 2012, then I'll have to choose among the other GOP candidates then in the race, and that may indeed turn out to be a choice for Gov. Perry — in which case I would enthusiastically support him and campaign for him in both primary and general elections. I don't think it's terribly likely, but Ryan and Perry would actually make a strong and balanced ticket.
But with Ryan, we don't have to just imagine how he would stand toe to toe — and win convincingly — in a debate with Barack Obama on a topic like Obamacare. Anyone who cares to watch can see that, because Ryan's already done it — on camera before a national audience while literally on Obama's home turf at the White House. Watch for the look on Obama's face starting just after 1:40 in that clip, right after Ryan declares of Obamacare that "what has been placed in front of them [i.e., the Congressional Budget Office] is a bill that is full of gimmicks and smoke and mirrors." You can read Obama's thoughts: "He's got me. I'm busted."
A mere two minutes later (at 3:38 in the video clip), after Ryan has masterfully exposed Obamacare's most shameful gimmicks with precision and utter clarity, Obama looks exactly like a man who's been exposed for having crapped his pants in church and who therefore can't wait for his first chance to rush out of the room:
Folks, in my 30 years of practicing law, I've seen this sort of look over and over again from the witness stand — always from someone who's been caught in a series of lies, and who's about to double-down with more lies when he stops hiding his mouth behind his hand and again begins to speak. Behind those narrowed eyes is fear, and the reason he needs his hand covering his mouth is to help himself master a wave of panic.
And the 2010 performance wasn't a fluke or a one-off: Ryan did it again when he faced off against Obama in June of this year — so effectively, so audaciously, that Ryan received a standing ovation from all of his GOP colleagues who were with him there in the room. As Jennifer Rubin notes today:
[T]hose who don’t understand what all the buzz is about should take time to go back and watch or read the transcripts of [Ryan's] debate with Obama at the health-care summit, his SOTU response, his debate with David Brooks at the American Enterprise Institute, his response to Obama’s GMU tirade on the budget and his speech at the Alexander Hamilton Society. Then, they might understand why enthusiasm runs high for him among the best and the brightest in the GOP. Is there a single candidate who could have done all that, plus constructed a budget, devised a tax reform scheme and presented a Medicare reform plan? Republicans better hope there is, be it Ryan or someone equally impressive. Otherwise, as scary as the economy is and as devoid of ideas as the president is, he may get himself reelected simply by pointing at the other guy and saying, “Do you really think this is presidential material?”
Could Barack Obama, hailed by his fans as the greatest debater and orator in the history of the Republic, actually refuse to debate Paul Ryan in the general election if Ryan becomes the GOP nominee? Why, that's unthinkable! Exactly as unthinkable, indeed, as was the possibility in 2008 that while excoriating Republicans for trying to buy their way into power, the Democratic nominee might forego federal campaign financing that he'd solemnly promised to accept, and to instead use shady credit card contributions, including from illegal foreign donors, to outspend said Republicans by a three-to-one ratio.
On the national political stage, Ryan has already emerged as his generation's most effective leader, and not just in word but in deed. I can applaud and approve of the leadership and state-level accomplishments of Gov. Perry, or of other governors like Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Nikki Haley, or Scott Walker. I can appreciate the skill with which Mitt Romney rescued the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, succeeded in business, and swam upstream as a GOP governor in the bluest of blue states. They all have executive experience that, objectively, Ryan lacks. But they all lack the national-level experience that Ryan has. And no one, at any level in or out of government, has the incredible mastery of national domestic policy and the ability to effectively change it for the better that Ryan has already shown.
We don't have to speculate on whether Ryan could perform as POTUS. The actual legislation he's already written and passed through the House would already have turned this country around. All that stopped him was a handful of Democratic senators who lacked the courage to break party discipline and a president who can't be voted out until November 2012. Already, with only one-half of one of the three branches of the federal government behind him, Paul Ryan has performed courageously and brilliantly; his near-miracles in the House are achingly close to being absolute miracles for the country as a whole. And no state governor, no matter how experienced or effective as an executive, can make that claim.
The GOP has developed a "deep bench" during the eight years that George W. Bush was in the White House and the three years since then — and I'm very proud and excited about that. But Paul Ryan is the MVP.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Obama's claim that America has "always been and always will be a AAA country" is half-true at best, but wholly misleading and quite dangerous
From Jake Tapper:
In his first public reaction to Standard & Poor’s decision Friday to downgrade the nation’s credit rating, President Obama reassured markets today that “no matter what some agency may say, we've always been and always will be a AAA country.”
The half-truth is that since the current rating agencies have been in existence and since they've been giving this sort of letter grade, American government debt instruments have indeed qualified for a AAA rating. The major ratings agencies, including S&P's predecessors, got their starts rating railroad companies in the last half of the 19th Century. But America has been selling debt instruments for many, many more decades than there have been credit rating agencies and letter grades for their ratings.
In fact, we've been selling debt instruments since before there was a United States of America in its present form: the individual colonies had issued "bills of credit" as far back as the early eighteenth century. Our earliest diplomats (including Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson) spent much time trying to finance our revolution through borrowing abroad.
But for the first several decades of our national history, our national credit was not good — and even the substantial risk premiums extracted by our lenders would likely not have been enough to induce them to make the loans were they not also motivated by political concerns. (The French, especially, had their own reasons to want to see the American revolution persist as a thorn in the British lion's paw.)
So no, if Obama meant to convey an impression of a longer "always" than just the last few decades, or if he meant to convey a general impression rather than make a technical statement specifically about ratings by rating agencies, then America has not always been a AAA country. That's basically a phenomenon of late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, because even as late as our Civil War we often had hard times finding foreign financiers for our government debt.
Nor, of course, is it at all certain that America will "always be" a AAA country. The ratings downgrade last week was from only one agency, and it was the smallest downgrade available. Consider the difference in our deficit and our spending between, say, 2007 and now: If a rating system isn't sensitive enough to pick up on the fact that we're spending multiple trillions every year now, and running deficits every year between 1.2 and 1.5 trillion dollars, it's a pretty damned insensitive rating scale, isn't it? What's amazing, frankly, is that the other agencies didn't also downgrade our government debt instrument ratings.
But only a complete moron — someone like David Axelrod, who's not very smart and really doesn't care at all about being truthful — could deny that America's finances are at risk. If they're mismanaged as badly as they have been since the Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress, we will drive our government debt instrument ratings into junk bond territory well before the next American census.
And that's precisely why Obama's statement is wholly misleading and dangerous: We have a problem. Denying it or soft-pedaling it is neither honest nor helpful. Even if you think it's a problem that should be solved primarily by tax increases (see my comment about morons and one in particular, above), you still have to acknowledge that we cannot survive as a country — debt ratings be damned — if we don't stop adding $1.5T or so to the deficit every year while the demographic freight trains of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security continue barreling toward us with the inexorability of Baby Boomers getting older.
This is the opposite of leadership. Even if you're a Democrat and you're spitting mad at the GOP and the Tea Party and the rating agencies, you have to admit that Obama is not leading the way toward any kind of solution to this problem. When he's not showing his ignorance of history, he's simply alternating between impotent inaction, pedantic lecturing, and finger-pointing.
We don't yet have double-digit inflation and interest rates, nor gas lines for miles, so I suppose stalwart Obama defenders can argue amongst themselves as to whether he's already become a bigger domestic-policy failure than Jimmy Carter was. But he's certainly giving Carter strong competition in the race to the bottom.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Barack Obama & Co. are themselves history's best argument in favor of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution
I refuse to watch "Meet the Press" — I'd rather be waterboarded — but if NRO's Katrina Trinko accurately quotes former Obama campaign manager and current White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe's statement on that program today, I'm appalled:
White House senior adviser David Plouffe emphasized that the White House is unwilling to accept any deal that does not provide a long-term debt ceiling hike.
“This debt ceiling cloud has harmed our economy. Why on earth would we want to go through this again in the next few months?” Plouffe said on Meet the Press.
Got that? It's not the spending that's the problem, it's the limit on government borrowing to finance more government spending that's hurting the economy, according to Plouffe. Having a statutory limit on the amount of money the government can borrow — even a limit that can be raised by another mere statute, at the behest of simple majorities of House and Senate plus presidential signature — is "harm[ful] to our economy," according to the Obama Administration.
Obama and his party are obviously entirely content to go years without any budget, and now they're bitching about having any debt ceiling, any maximum amount on the national credit card.
So do not be fooled, friends and neighbors, when Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi suddenly pretend to be fiscal hawks, devoted champions of cutting government spending. The entire Democratic Party is still devoted to the same mindset which was revealed by reporting on Obama's first budget efforts back in 2009. As I wrote then, Obama insiders had boasted to the New Yorker that
[b]ased on their "core beliefs," the [Obama Administration's] "smart people" simply decided "what we need to do," and that's how much the federal government will now spend — with no effort being made to base the budget on what revenues the government may take in, and with no "top-line budget number" to limit the appetites of those "smart people" as they set about to vindicate their "principles" by hurling huge chunks of federal cash in their general direction.
The danger is not merely that they're clueless. The danger is that they're still actively and passionately devoted to exactly that which has gotten us into this mess. They are completely unrepentant; they will neither act responsibly nor accept responsibility. And they will keep making things worse until they're out of office, be that in January 2013 or, heavens forbid, January 2017.
This is the strongest argument yet for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.
UPDATE (Sun Jul 31 @ 3:30pm): Here's some video from the same appearance, although it doesn't include the sentences Trinko quoted. My transcription therefrom (starting at 0:56):
The House Republicans mysteriously — because I don't know of anyone who watches this who would think this is a good idea — wanted us to go through this whole three-ring circus again in four or five months. We're not going to do that because it's bad for the economy.
So I suspect Plouffe not only made the "bad for the economy" remark, but deliberately repeated it at least once. It's today's talking point.
Insisting on compliance with the debt ceiling is "bad for the economy." Refusing to give Obama a big enough bump in the amount that he can increase the deficit to carry him on through the 2012 election is "bad for the economy." Having everyone focused on whether Washington is on a path to national bankruptcy or taking the first tentative steps toward a return to fiscal sanity is "bad for the economy." This is all the Republicans' fault, you see:
It's outrageous that here we are, 60 hours away from the United States of America potentially defaulting for the first time. And the reason we're here is that particularly Republicans in the House, but Republicans generally, have been unwilling to compromise.
Good heavens, the arrogance of this liar!
The "reason we're here" — the reason we're in this national financial crisis — is because the Obama Administration has spent government money at a rate unprecedented in human history, and as recently as February of this year submitted a ridiculous excuse for a budget that would have continued that spending spree.
Could the Republicans' "unwillingness to compromise" merely be an unwillingness to continue down that disastrous path?
Nah, we must be racists.
(Or, perhaps, racist Sith Lords. Nancy Pelosi made a huge point yesterday of accusing Speaker Boehner of going over "to the dark side" for supporting a balanced budget constitutional amendment. Seriously.)
Plouffe even blew off David Gregory's request for an assurance that our troops fighting abroad will continue to be paid timely. That's how heavily invested the Democratic Party is in creating unnecessary fear and turmoil. And that's disgusting.
UPDATE (Sun Jul 31 @ 3:45pm): Here's an MSNBC story that contains the same sentences Trinko quoted, plus a video clip that I haven't watched yet and probably won't. (I'm already at toxic levels in my exposure to Plouffe for one day. I need a shower.)
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Beldar and Krauthammer agree: The Constitution must dictate — and is indeed dictating — conservative strategy and timing in the budget struggles
Dr. Krauthammer's latest column makes the point I've been making again and again since April, both on my own blog (in most thorough detail, here), and in comments I leave on many other blogs (e.g., on Patterico's, here):
The current struggle over spending, the deficit, and the debt ceiling absolutely must be viewed in the context of a four-year struggle that began the day Barrack Obama was elected. It is a struggle that cannot be completed in less than four years because of structural features of our Constitution — features that conservatives should cherish, protect, and continuously keep in mind for use to best advantage. In his words:
We’re only at the midpoint. Obama won a great victory in 2008 that he took as a mandate to transform America toward European-style social democracy. The subsequent counterrevolution delivered to that project a staggering rebuke in November 2010. Under our incremental system, however, a rebuke delivered is not a mandate conferred. That awaits definitive resolution, the rubber match of November 2012.
I have every sympathy with the conservative counterrevolutionaries. Their containment of the Obama experiment has been remarkable. But reversal — rollback, in Cold War parlance — is simply not achievable until conservatives receive a mandate to govern from the White House....
... [U]nder our constitutional system, you cannot govern from one house alone. Today’s resurgent conservatism, with its fidelity to constitutionalism, should be particularly attuned to this constraint, imposed as it is by a system of deliberately separated — and mutually limiting — powers.
Given this reality, trying to force the issue — turn a blocking minority into a governing authority — is not just counter-constitutional in spirit but self-destructive in practice.
Neither Dr. Krauthammer nor I are being terribly clever in pointing this out. It's junior-high level civics. Even the math is dirt simple, since one can figure out the entire situation without having to deal with any numbers greater than 435. But this is a truth that no amount of speech-making or clever posturing or principled defiance or back-room deal-making can change. So my warning to fellow conservatives from last April is now, I submit, even more urgent and apt:
We must not be foolish by being short-sighted, not even with the best of intentions. We must maintain discipline — and as with any discipline, this will be unpleasant to tolerate in the short term.
We're fighting about FY2012 and beyond, and the White House is using Twitter to try to sway public opinion. We are very modern and instantaneous and networked. But we're using exactly the political mechanisms that were envisioned and debated, and crafted in dynamic tension, and balanced and paced, by the framers of the Constitution in Philadelphia, oh so many decades ago. And from the depths of history, our Founding Fathers aren't calling today's precise tune, but their handiwork is certainly still dictating its stately (four-year) pace.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Harry Reid's claim that a "bipartisan majority" voted against the Boehner bill is an intentional fraud
Harry Reid, United States Senator from Nevada, Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader, lied through his teeth to the American public tonight on national television. (Otherwise, why bother?)
The "revised Boehner bill" passed today by the House was immediately tabled by the Senate — without debate, without opportunity for amendment or improvement — on a vote of 59 to 41.
Reid immediately appeared before the television cameras, and the first words out of his mouth were: "Tonight a bipartisan majority in the Senate rejected Boehner's short-term plan."
So who who were the six members of the GOP in this "bipartisan majority"? Perhaps it was Scott Brown from Massachusetts, or maybe Susan Collins or Olympia Snow from Maine? Listening to the vote totals and then to Reid's smug claim of bipartisan support, I ground my teeth, as did doubtless many thousands of other conservatives, wondering who the RINOs would turn out to be this time.
But nope. Shame on me for putting my tooth enamel at risk based upon Harry Reid's basic honesty or the lack thereof. According to Josiah Ryan and Alexander Bolton of TheHill.com:
Six Republicans [who] joined Democrats to table the Boehner resolution were Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), and David Vitter (La.).
I've added hyperlinks to five of those names that lead to the respective senators' official web pages; I'm confident that by tomorrow I'll have a similar link for Sen. Hatch, but he's a bit slower in explaining his vote in his website.
The plain truth — known to Harry Reid and every U.S. Senator and every reporter and every American who's been following the details of this struggle closely — is that every one of these six GOP senators voted against the Boehner bill because they believed it did not adequately address the nation's long-term spending problem. Not one of these GOP senators was part of a "bipartisan majority" who agreed with Harry Reid and the Dems on anything of substance. Rather, these are the six senators who were to the right of Boehner, the House majority, and every other Republican in the Senate.
But Harry Reid wants the tens of millions of Americans who don't bother to look up who voted how — much less to look up the positions of each of the six GOP senators who voted against the Boehner bill — to believe that a bipartisan majority of the Senate believes the Boehner bill went too far and was too drastic. He claimed as a matter of objective, historical fact that his side had a "bipartisan majority."
That's fraud. That's an indefensible lie, told for the patent and sorry purpose of deceiving people who don't know better, or who want to be deceived (categories that overlap substantially with each other and, alas, with Democratic voters).
And that's Democratic Party politics in the 21st Century, friends and neighbors. If you're a Democrat, that's your party's representative, and you need to own him along with Obama and Pelosi:
Harry Reid. Shameless liar. And really, really bad at it.
If he weren't so ineffectual, he'd be a national tragedy, instead of just a national farce.
(P.S.: That phone call (at 0:35 in the clip) might just have been God calling Sen. Reid. He's maybe left Sen. Reid a voicemail — something including the words "lightning bolt" and "once too often." Certainly that would explain Sen. Schumer's snatching and hurling the phone away after merely glancing at the caller ID.)
UPDATE (Fri Jul 29 @ 10:40pm): The Salt Lake Tribune confirms my interpretation of Hatch's vote. He's to the right of Boehner, not to Boehner's left and in Reid's camp.
Let's cover the moon in yogurt
I want this man as my party's presdiential candidate and then, our country's president.
He is the anti-Obama.
(Hat-tip to K-Lo at The Corner.)
Dems' and MSM's shared concept of "compromise" means "anything and everything the House GOP does will be D.O.A. at the Senate"
George Orwell would be very, very proud of the AP reporter who wrote this sentence in a report on the House of Representatives' passage today of the "modified Boehner plan" to cut spending and raise the national debt ceiling:
At the other end of the Capitol, Senate Democrats waited to reject the bill as swiftly as possible in a prelude to another attempt at compromise.
I'm thinking I'm going to track down Inigo Montoya and give him this AP reporter's name. Because that word — "compromise" — certainly does not mean what he obviously thinks it means. And I think that reporter, David Espo, has six fingers on his right hand.
If there's a government stoppage or shutdown, I'm offering to debate who's to blame with any and every Democrat or Democrat sympathizer in the cosmos. My only stipulation is that we have to start by comparing the two different bills that have now actually beeen passed by the GOP House to cut spending and raise the debt ceiling with all of the bills written down and introduced by the Democrats for that same purpose in the last 800 days.
While I'm waiting for someone to take me up on that offer, I'm still standing by my September 2009 assessment of the Obama Democrats:
Amateurs. Incompetents. Ideologues. Full-time politicians turned half-wit government officials. Brilliant leftists who, confronted with the real world, are exposed as clueless idiots and children.
Of course, I'm willing to compromise on both that offer and that assessment — by first and instantly rejecting every competing alternative.
More wish from the grump
I just watched President Obama's latest press briefing on the on-going budget struggles. I continue to be perplexed how roughly half of the United States willfully blinds itself to the glaring contradiction in every one of Obama's speeches on this topic: He simultaneously attacks conservatives and apportions all the blame upon the GOP (lately, the House members), while insisting that everyone (except himself) needs to be more bipartisan and compromising.
Once again in this press conference, the entire gist was "If only everyone was as reasonable as me, we'd have this annoyance behind us." Of course, his version of "reasonable" continues to consist of buzzwords like "balance," meaning tax increases, which no one from either party in either chamber of Congress thinks can possibly be included as part of the debt ceiling increase. Obama's version of "getting specific" consists of him mentioning by name the specific legislators (Reid and McConnell) whose plans he sorta kinda likes at least in part. That even those plans are still vaporware as of this moment — as compared to Cut, Cap & Balance, which is (a) specific, (b) has already passed the House, and (c) would definitely raise the debt ceiling, if only about a half dozen Dem senators and Mr. Grumpy-in-Chief would go along — Obama utterly ignores.
Here we are — days from a potential default — and the last specific budget submitted by the President of the United States is the budget which Obama submitted in February, which was voted down in the Senate in May by a 97/0 margin. Even Slippery Rock State doesn't often take that stiff a whipping. (Of course, they're not afflicted by a coach who insists on directing both teams, and pouts and stamps his feet when he can't.)
If you cannot see how pathetic this is as an excuse for leadership, you're an Obama zombie. A leader gets results. Obama isn't even leading his own partisans, though; he can't even speak credibly for the House or Senate Dems, he can only scold.
If this gets solved, it will be no thanks to him. It will be despite him and his petulance. I'm not a bit annoyed that we're having this great political struggle: It was exactly what was demanded by the voters who delivered the House to the GOP in November 2010. But I am annoyed at having to hear so much blather, without end, from the worst poker player to inhabit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the last 100 years.
UPDATE (Fri Jul 29 @ 11:20am): I just heard Harry Reid tell the press outside the Senate this bit of delirium (my quote from DVR'd TV broadcast; boldface mine):
What is being done in the House is not a compromise. It's [the anticipated "revised Boehner plan"] being jammed through that [sic], with all kinds of non-transparent dealings, people shuffling in and out of the Republican leadership's offices. So we're — we're recognizing the only compromise that there is, is mine. We — ours is truly a bipartisan piece of legislation. And we, we — Republicans realize that. I've had a number of Republicans come up to me. I had one Republican come and say, "Thanks for your legislation." And we had meetings with a number of Republicans last night, various of my senators, and they, they feel concerned that we're not arriving at a compromise, moreso than what we have now. And we want to do that.
I repeat, I've asked my friend Senator McConnell to meet with me to try to work this out. And I'm confident he will, I hope, come back with some suggestions that he has. The stakes couldn't be higher....
He's deranged. The compromise from the House is agreeing to raise the debt ceiling at all.
"Thank you for your legislation"? What legislation would that be? Reid and his party haven't introduced any legislation. They have talking points they use when they're talking to the public and the press, and they have (very, very different) deal points that they've been discussing behind closed doors, but they don't have any damned legislation! The one truthful statement in the whole speech is that Reid is indeed waiting and hoping to get McConnell's "suggestions"! And yet Reid — this pompous old fool, this pathetic Polonius to Obama's Hamlet — still insists that "the only compromise that there is, is mine"!
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Ryan outlines "serious flaws" in Gang of Six proposal, promotes Cut, Cap & Balance instead
I had a violent negative reaction to the "Gang of Six" from the moment I heard of it. I expressed my political concerns about it on Monday when I called the Gang's GOP members "chumps," and I feel even more convinced of that having learned more details.
The devil, of course, is always in the details. But I trust House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's command of them, and I therefore commend to you his take on the so-called "Gang of Six" plan. (Hat-tip to the indispensable Jennifer Rubin at the WaPo.)
Ryan notes that "[t]he plan is not a budget. It is a set of talking points and graphs that outlines an ambitious proposal that has serious flaws but also the potential for worthwhile budget and tax reforms." He then gives this executive summary:
The proposal put forward by a group of seven senators today is a useful addition to the budget debate. I share the frustration that these senators appear to have with the U.S. Senate’s inability to pass a budget in over 800 days. While the proposal lacks detail in many respects, it includes some reforms that could help put our country on a sounder fiscal footing. Most importantly, it reflects a bipartisan recognition that lower tax rates are essential to help spur economic growth. Unfortunately, it increases revenues while failing to seriously address exploding federal spending on health care, which is the primary driver of our debt. There are also serious concerns that the proposal’s substance on spending falls far short of what is needed to achieve the savings it claims. Nevertheless, this effort serves as a sign that we can work together on a bipartisan basis to make a serious down payment now to avert the debt-fueled economic crisis before us.
As always, Ryan has numbers where numbers are to be had, and a sharp eye for puffery and flim-flam from the Dems; he's actually fairly diplomatic in this analysis, and he takes care to point out and give credit for the good ideas and positive developments that can be spotted amid the dross. But it's mostly dross.
The Gang of Six proposal doesn't even qualify as voodoo economics. It's just an outline, a prediction of future voodoo that can't possibly even be turned into a real plan by August 2. So yeah, we're not being offered even the beanstalk. It's all about the magic beans, a promise, and a wink from the likes of Dick Durbin (if the membranes that protect his reptilian eyes could actually retract for him to wink).
This is not something on which the GOP members of the Senate ought to continue investing time and energy. There are still moves to be made, but they're going to come from the House, not the Senate, and the GOP senators need to swallow their damned egos and get in line. They're not covering themselves with glory, they're tripping over their own feet. We expect and deserve better from them. And we specifically need them to be trying to build public awareness of, and support for, Cut, Cap & Balance:
I think Paul Ryan may be the only guy in America who I don't mind hearing use the phrase "cash-flow" as a verb. This is seven and a half minutes of distilled common sense, and I think it's worth your time to listen to it.
No, Cut, Cap & Balance won't pass the Senate. But what happens to it in the Senate is important: In the dance of negotiations and legislation that will take us to November 2012, it's not the last step, but it is indeed the very next step. Senators of both parties need to be forced to go on record on it because, yes: Names are being taken, and those GOP legislators who fall short of our justified expectations are going to have to answer for that.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
GOP Sens. Crapo, Coburn & Chambliss are the GOP chumps enabling Obama's "Gang of Six" farce
STOP BEING CHUMPS!
You think you're being public servants who are negotiating in the interests of your constituents. You're not.
You've become pawns for Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. You're good men operating from good intentions, but by letting yourself be used in this way, you're actively betraying your cause, your party, your constituents, and ultimately your country.
The Democrats — be they the three Dem Senators in your "Gang," or Sen. Reid or Minority Leader Pelosi, or their revered master at 1600 Pennsylvania — are perfectly capable of coming up with spending cuts if they want spending cuts. They've been capable of doing that since their party controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, beginning in January 2009. It is not a coincidence or an accident or an oversight that we haven't had a federal budget voted out of the U.S. Senate in over 800 days, it's by their design.
If the Dems wanted to negotiate in good faith, they could have before now. They still could now. They will negotiate in good faith now if it suits them, and won't if it doesn't. And it's increasingly clear that they simply don't want to — that, instead, their Messiah's concluded his re-election hopes depend entirely on contriving a government shut-down for which he can blame the GOP.
It's time for the Dems to put definite spending cuts in writing and to commit to them. That hasn't happened yet. No deal can happen until it does. The public expects and demands that the Dems finally, at the eleventh-and-a-half hour, get specific. And yet you chumps are giving them another pass!
You're doing nothing now but helping Obama create the political lie on which he wants to run for re-election. Every bit of your energy will end up serving only one purpose: letting Barack Obama pretend that he's been trying to get a "bipartisan solution," but that he's been blocked from that by "unreasonable Republicans."
You're not only being chumps, you're being suckers. It's not excusable, and everyone in and out of Washington except you can see how you're being used.
Ask Jiang Qing (a/k/a "Mrs. Chairman Mao") and her three friends how well it worked out for them in 1976, having been part of the original Gang of [Small Positive Integer].
If you three don't think there are conservatives all over the United States who will eagerly support a primary challenger to your right over this incipient betrayal, you'd better think again.
If you think being part of this "Gang of Six" is a good thing, or by this juncture even an acceptable thing, with the people who elected you, then you're brain damaged.
UPDATE (Tue Jul 19 @ 11:55pm): This analysis by Dan Mitchell includes a list of the supposed benefits of the Gang of Six quote-unquote plan, and then its "bad" and "ugly" components too. I think he's also presuming good faith on the part of the Dems in their future performance of promises about the "yet-to-be-written" terms; differences in how the anticipated legislation would actually be written will make hundreds of billions of dollars in differences to taxes, spending, and the deficit. I don't think that presumption is justifiable given these same Democrats' demonstrated unwillingness and inability to pass responsible fiscal legislation.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Obama vs. Ryan: Fake vs. real "adult discussion" of the budget. [Update: Obama announces Medicare eligibility age to drop to 60, or something]
This week, President Obama has deliberately, consciously tried to seize recognition as "the grown-up in the room" during contentious meetings over the debt ceiling and budget.
My Democratic friends are convinced that's accurate. They believe — they insist — that Obama's offered up meaningful cuts in entitlement program spending for Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. They believe that just because Obama says it. But he hasn't offered up meaningful entitlement spending cuts; Obama's just talked about doing so, without actually committing to any specifics (except for specifically and categorically ruling out any reforms to any Obamacare provisions).
I think that falls in the category of pretending to be a grown-up. It works on those who want to believe it and who aren't very diligent in looking at supporting facts (or their absence).
So once again, I offer you Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP chairman of the House Budget Committee. Ryan has instant recall of all the important data, and a thorough and deep understanding of competing policy arguments and considerations. I commend to you in its entirety the transcript of Rep. Ryan's appearance on my friend Hugh Hewitt's national radio show Thursday. A sample (boldface mine):
Look at the difference between our two parties. Look at what we’re fighting for, and look at what they’re fighting for. We want to limit government, and we want to cut spending. We don’t want to raise taxes in this economy or at any time on people, because that’s not the problem. What are the folks on the other side of the aisle, our friends on the other side of the aisle, want to increase spending, want to increase taxes. I haven’t seen a time where the contrast and the difference between two philosophies has been more clear. That’s what I would look at over the next two weeks. We will hopefully, next week, show you how we would fix this problem with our cut, cap and balance plan. It’s a plan to fix this mess, this fiscal mess, to deal with this debt limit. You’re seeing what the other side wants, just let’s just borrow more money, okay, we maxed out this credit card? Let’s go get another credit card. And that’s the basic two positions. So what does that tell you? We have divided government. Are we going to get everything we want? No. We have the House. We don’t control the Senate or the White House. Will the Democrats get everything they want? No, because they don’t have the House. So you’re going to see a product of divided government come in the next two weeks. But let’s not lose the forest for the trees, and that is where do we stand on the issues, and how would we fix it if we had our druthers, and where would they go if they had their way.
"No-Drama Obama" may be the least deserved nickname ever given an American president. This week he's tried to play the role of "Father Knows Best (Now Shut Up Dammit Before I Shred Grandma's Social Security Check)." I credit a great many other GOP leaders with trying their respective bests in what's increasingly become a muddled approach. But in my opinion, Ryan is the consistently adult voice from either side on all these issues. And in any policy debate setting that prevented Obama from having the Marine Band interrupt with "Ruffles and Flourishes," Ryan would eat Obama's lunch and then drink his milkshake.
UPDATE (Sat Jul 16 @ 4pm): I asserted above that Obama has refused to commit to any specifics on cuts to entitlements, while pretending to have done so and insisting that he's done so. But look at the weasel-wiggling when ABC News' Jake Tapper put the question to Obama very directly yesterday (boldface and italics mine):
[Tapper:] You’ve said that reducing the deficit will require shared sacrifice. We know — we have an idea of the taxes that you would like to see raised on corporations and on Americans in the top two tax brackets, but we don’t yet know what you specifically are willing to do when it comes to entitlement spending. In the interest of transparency, leadership, and also showing the American people that you have been negotiating in good faith, can you tell us one structural reform that you are willing to make to one of these entitlement programs that would have a major impact on the deficit? Would you be willing to raise the retirement age? Would you be willing to means test Social Security or Medicare?
THE PRESIDENT: We’ve said that we are willing to look at all those approaches. I’ve laid out some criteria in terms of what would be acceptable. So, for example, I’ve said very clearly that we should make sure that current beneficiaries as much as possible are not affected. But we should look at what can we do in the out-years, so that over time some of these programs are more sustainable.
I’ve said that means testing on Medicare, meaning people like myself, if — I’m going to be turning 50 in a week. So I’m starting to think a little bit more about Medicare eligibility. (Laughter.) Yes, I’m going to get my AARP card soon — and the discounts.
But you can envision a situation where for somebody in my position, me having to pay a little bit more on premiums or co-pays or things like that would be appropriate. And, again, that could make a difference. So we’ve been very clear about where we’re willing to go.
What we’re not willing to do is to restructure the program in the ways that we’ve seen coming out of the House over the last several months where we would voucherize the program and you potentially have senior citizens paying $6,000 more. I view Social Security and Medicare as the most important social safety nets that we have. I think it is important for them to remain as social insurance programs that give people some certainty and reliability in their golden years.
But it turns out that making some modest modifications in those entitlements can save you trillions of dollars. And it’s not necessary to completely revamp the program. What is necessary is to say how do we make some modifications, including, by the way, on the providers’ side. I think that it’s important for us to keep in mind that drug companies, for example, are still doing very well through the Medicare program. And although we have made drugs more available at a cheaper price to seniors who are in Medicare through the Affordable Care Act, there’s more work to potentially be done there.
So if you look at a balanced package even within the entitlement programs, it turns out that you can save trillions of dollars while maintaining the core integrity of the program.
[Tapper:] And the retirement age?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to get into specifics. As I said, Jake, everything that you mentioned are things that we have discussed. But what I’m not going to do is to ask for even — well, let me put it this way: If you’re a senior citizen, and a modification potentially costs you a hundred or two hundred bucks a year more, or even if it’s not affecting current beneficiaries, somebody who’s 40 today 20 years from now is going to end up having to pay a little bit more.
The least I can do is to say that people who are making a million dollars or more have to do something as well. And that’s the kind of tradeoff, that’s the kind of balanced approach and shared sacrifice that I think most Americans agree needs to happen.
"I'm not going to get into specifics." That could, and should, have been Obama's entire answer, because he once again refused to give any specifics at all. They maybe might "go in the direction" of raising eligibility ages, huh? As someone currently 53, that's an absolutely content-free statement of zero use to me in planning for my retirement. I am sure, however, that "We're willing to look at [fill in the blank]" amounts to a current savings of zero dollars in government expenditures. It's a promise of exactly nothing. It's an insult to your intelligence. It is something only said to stupid people to placate them.
Americans are left to parse this one peculiar bit of specificity from Mr. Obama: "[S]omebody who’s 40 today 20 years from now is going to end up having to pay a little bit more." Really? So we're going to lower the eligibility age to 60?
We have a president of the United States who thinks it's entirely cool to hold a press conference where he just makes up transparently silly numbers on the spot and spews them out into an uncritical media for eager consumption by eager-to-be-fooled groupies.
The only thing this long, rambling answer does is renew some familiar class-warfare themes and repeat always-broken promises of savings through magical (and soon-to-be-found! any day now!) efficiencies. We're once again assured that Barack Obama is all about punishing people for being prosperous. But solutions?
None. Nothing resembling substance. Just petulance, arrogance, class warfare, and smug self-righteousness.
PRESS: Be specific about structural cuts to which you're willing to commit!
OBAMA: Hey, guys, how about a joke about me joining AARP? I'm almost 50!
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Obama's airplanes and hedge funds fairy tale
This piece by John McCormack in the Weekly Standard, which is based in part on this piece by ABC News' Jake Tapper, is a superb short-form breakdown of the $418 billion in tax increases that Obama wants as a condition for going along with any significant spending cuts.
It's stunning — shocking, appalling — to compare the numbers to Obama's demagoguery.
Obama wants Americans to believe he and his party are only trying to close loopholes and make bad guys contribute their fair share. The numbers first expose, then destroy, that fairy tale.
If we're to demonize corporate jetsters, that will bring in all of $3B.
The price of being in the "hedge fund" industry will shoot up another $20B.
We start to get to significant numbers, finally, with "$45 billion by eliminating oil and gas company subsidies." Okay, so now our national demons are supposed to be those who work and invest in the American energy industry? That would be the same industry we'd like to see make America more energy self-sufficient, as a national security matter, wouldn't it? We want to punish our domestic energy industry so that, what, foreign energy companies can do better in comparison? The same industry Obama has already punished brutally through restrictions on off-shore drilling, and offshore and onshore drilling in Alaska? The same industry whose shareholders include vast numbers of private pension funds, mutual funds, 401k plans and IRAs, and retirees? And the same industry that happens to be most concentrated in the states (like Texas) least likely to vote for Obama in 2012? So are we to hope that our energy industry (and the jobs it represents) are to be crippled? Or are we instead to hope that these $45 billion in tax increases are simply passed along to American consumers in higher energy costs?
I'm thinking that $45B in tax revenues is a drop in the national bucket of our overal fiscal situation, but when targeted as punishment to be inflicted upon a single critical industry, it's significant enough to do some serious and long-term damage to the national economy, quite probably in a substantial multiple of that $45B.
Even in the face of a fragile and stagnant national economy with massive unemployment, Obama wants to add almost a third of a trillion dollars in new taxes. Obama wants to impose those hundreds of billions in new taxes not just on billionaires, or on millionaires, or on oil companies or hedge funds or jet owners — but on ordinary American individuals who earn $200,000 and couples who earn $250,000. We're going to punish them by restricting their deductions for some seriously antisocial fat-cat behavior: owning their own homes and making charitable contributions. The nerve of those filthy rich quarter-millionaires!
That's an income level which would fairly be considered "handsome" in a place like Houston. But it would be middle middle-class in many American cities with much higher costs of living. And all over America, that's gonna hit lots of middle-aged, utterly middle-class couples with college-aged kids. That's gonna hit a huge percentage of small business owners. That's going to hit two-income couples comprising teachers and nurses and firemen, bank assistant managers and car salesmen, farmers and bookkeepers and lab techs and QC analysts and ... well, pretty much the most individually productive people in the country.
The effects of these tax increases won't be measured in missed meals, no. But those effects will be measured in postponed or abandoned dreams-come-true that ought to have come true, and could have and should have: Dreams of hard-working not-rich people. Dreams whose realization oftentimes would've supported or even created jobs for quite a few very-not-rich people.
And what comes next? Do the math on the future interest costs of the borrowing to support these deficits. Taxing those who make merely $200k quickly stops making even a dent. And so next it will be individuals making $100k, and couples making $150k, whose taxes must be increased. And so on. It is mathematically impossible to tax our way out of this problem. That's a spiral down into national bankruptcy.
So Obama needs a class war to divert attention from all that. The pool of enemies who must be punished, those who must see more of their wealth confiscated to feed the government's maw, is expanding. If your family isn't in it yet, you may be on the edge, or you've been aspiring to be in that territory, or you at least know many families who are — families whom you've never before thought of as "rich," much less "evil" and needful of national punishment.
One would have to be not only mathematically challenged, but utterly innumerate, to believe Obama is being candid in the way he's trying to sell these tax increases. It's not just a regular smoke-and-mirrors trick. No, Obama's trying to knock us unconscious by beating us over the head with the mirrors, and to force us to inhale so much smoke that we pass out or hallucinate.
If you can't see through this blatant class warfare to recognize the economic reality beneath it, you really ought not be trusted with a credit card or a checking account.
Paul Ryan is right: Obama and the Dems are entirely committed to the notion of a declining America, ever more thoroughly taxed and regulated, compelling shared scarcity as we become just another country — another Belgium, maybe another Greece.
We've got to insist on better. We need a GOP presidential candidate who can stand toe to toe with Obama while calmly, methodically, and accurately exposing his lies and his exaggerations, whether it's on taxes, spending, health care, government regulations, or foreign policy.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Beldar quibbles with Krauthammer over Perry and the Texas economy
Dr. Charles Krauthammer said tonight on Fox News, at the tail-end of his comments about the possibility that Texas governor Rick Perry might enter the GOP presidential race for 2012:
I would just add, there's one factor in the Texas story which can't be overlooked: It's got a lot of oil, it's an oil state. And oil has done rather well. Other states don't have that much.
We all occasionally make trite remarks, and Dr. Krauthammer's tendancy to do so is far, far lower than my own. Certainly anyone who's trying to evaluate Texas' relative success compared to some other states, both currently or historically, ought to factor in natural resources.
But the price of oil has varied fairly dramatically over the past three years. Texas is far behind Alaska in crude oil production, and failed-state California is close behind Texas in the number three position.
While there have been new and exciting energy discoveries in Texas in the last few years that have contributed to the statewide economy and have led to local booms in exploration and drilling, most of the value of the energy business to the Texas economy is based now on what's above the ground — people, expertise, and technology — rather than below it.
With due respect to Dr. Krauthammer, then, oil is a factor in Texas' economy and in particular its creation of new jobs — but it's not the most important factor, and it's much less of a factor now than it was 30 years ago.
When he is at his best, Gov. Perry — who is not a humble man by nature — is appropriately humble about his personal role in Texas' relative economic success during these hard times. Rick Perry didn't create that prosperity. No state governor has such power, and certainly not Texas' governor. No American president has such power over the country, either.
Rather, Perry has continued a long tradition that goes back to the days of Stephen F. Austin, when Texas was still part of Mexico. Texans expect government to perform some core functions competently, and then otherwise to get the hell out of their way.
By and large, Gov. Perry has stayed the hell out of the way, just as have his predecessors going back a long, long way. Texas has been a right-to-work state, for example, as long as that term has had meaning. Texas has never had a state income tax, and proposing one has been the political equivalent here of swallowing a dose of cyanide the size of a football. And people still come to Texas because it doesn't matter much who their daddies and mommies were; rather, what matters is what they will accomplish for themselves when they get here and are given a chance.
Holding fast to first principles is easier when you don't have to swim upstream, and in context, it's no knock on Gov. Perry to point out that he hasn't ever had to. And whether he remains a speculative candidate or a more active one, he'd be truthful, and smart in the long run, to point that out himself — aggressively, and indeed reflexively every time someone gives him more credit than due for the Texas economy. Rick Perry is due some considerable credit, mind you, for not screwing up — but he'll earn much more by placing the lion's share of the credit where it's due, which is not on himself or any government official, but on the free market and its Texas participants whom he has had the privilege of representing as a public servant.
Thursday, June 09, 2011
Apocalyptic financial numbers
Here's a comparison for James Taranto's Best of the Web Today column:
Barack Obama's worst week was about more than bad data. The two great legislative monuments to the first Obama term, the remaking of the health-care industry and the Dodd-Frank financial reform, look like they've got serious structural cracks. A McKinsey report estimates that a third of employers will abandon their health-insurance plans come 2014. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the failure (or inability) of Dodd-Frank's regulatory arm to write new rules for the $583 trillion derivatives market has the financial sector in a panic over its legal exposure.
— Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2011.
The International Swaps and Derivatives Association said Tuesday that the true size of the global over-the-counter derivatives market is closer to $401 trillion, not the $583 trillion estimate given by the Bank for International Settlements late last year.
— Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2011.
I don't know about you, but I feel much better after reading that second blurb. $182 trillion difference here, $182 trillion difference there, and pretty soon you're talking about some real money!
(This discrepancy aside, the Henninger article is well worth your read, and scary as hell.)
Thursday, June 02, 2011
Ryan, preeminent champion of fiscal sanity (and the GOP), again goes unblinkingly toe-to-toe with Obama
I don't know, but I'm guessing that since she's technically writing a "blog" for the Washington Post, the WaPo editors permit Jennifer Rubin to write the headlines for her "Right Turn" feature. I'm a fan of hers, and we're both fans of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), as per this post of hers titled Paul Ryan stands up to Obama on Medicare reform:
At the meeting between House Republicans and President Obama, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) again demonstrated that he is the head of his party, and the most effective combatant to go up against Obama in 2012. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, got a standing ovation from his colleagues during the meeting....
... Obama, when presented with the facts, is hard pressed to repeat his demagogic talking points because he knows Ryan is fully capable of calling him on it. The president refuses to give up the fiction that Ryan’s plan is a voucher system when in fact the money doesn’t go to Medicare recipients. One supposes that ignoring reality will be a mainstay of the Obama reelection campaign.
The GOP presidential contenders should be on notice. Unless they have a precise grasp of the president’s plan (handing Medicare over to an unelected 15-member board to curb care) and an alternative plan they can spell out in detail, they’re in for a rough time. Come to think of it, does anyone but Ryan currently meet that description?
Ryan has faced down Obama before in pretty much this same manner — maybe before you were paying attention? — in 2010, during Obama's stage-managed "White House Health Care Summit." There are several other capable debaters in the GOP race, or speculated as being interested in entering it, and I'm not implying anything negative about any of them, but:
Doncha know, friends and neighbors, that Obama would have flop sweats imagining himself debating Ryan for all the marbles in November 2012?
Events are choosing the candidate, if we will only heed them. To a considerable degree, 2012 will be a referendum on Obama; but to win that referendum, the GOP must also present a serious, detailed, and grown-up alternative. We have such an alternative, and its author can not only use it effectively to educate the public, but he can also explain in precise detail why the Obama/Dem alternative (including but not limited to Obamacare) is indeed the direct path to the cliff's edge and then over it.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The inevitability of a Ryan draft
I've heard others make the argument before, but none better than Dr. Krauthammer in these lines:
[J]ust because the Republican Party lost the [congressional] special election [in New York], it doesn’t mean it is completely a lost cause for the party going into 2012. Krauthammer said the GOP can make it a winning issue. But to do that, he said, it requires Ryan running as a presidential candidate to expertly explain his policy proposal.
“People are now writing, ‘Well Ryan — the boomlet for Ryan to a candidate is over,’” he continued. “I would say exactly the opposite. You now own this. Get the one man who can explain it, argue it and actually change minds on this. You need leadership on this or otherwise the Republicans are going to sink on this.”
I'd add this: The GOP needs Ryan promoting the Path to Prosperity from the GOP presidential nominee's position because otherwise, entitlements will not be reformed. The stakes aren't merely the GOP's success in retaking the White House, nor even the GOP's broader failure or success nationally in both federal and state elections, but rather our nation's basic solvency.
The rationale for Ryan's candidacy springs directly from the election result of 2010 that returned control of the House to the GOP. And lo and behold, we have a GOP Budget Committee Chair who's a grown-up, who's doing his job — who's leading. He is the most articulate and effective policy debater of either party since Bill Clinton when he was at his very best. And in fact, we've seen Ryan stand up for himself and his ideas quite powerfully in a head-to-head, no-teleprompter debate against Obama during the infamous White House Health Care Summit in February 2010. Friends and neighbors, that's what we call dramatic foreshadowing.
Since then, Paul Ryan has become the most consequential GOP politician in the country. We recognize our leaders by the fact that they're leading and, yes, being followed. As of Wednesday's Senate vote, more than 96% of the GOP members of Congress are on record voting for the Ryan budget, the Path to Prosperity. As was frequently exclaimed among the tractor-back philosophers on the prairies of west Texas whence I sprang, "Quod erat demonstrandum!"
It's just a question of whether and when people's perspective on the presidential election catches up with that reality.
I wasn't alive in January 1952, mere weeks before the New Hampshire primaries, when Eisenhower finally revealed that he was a Republican and permitted himself to be drafted for a run at the GOP nomination. There were other formidable candidates, including Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, Gov. Earl Warren of California, and ex-Gov. Harrold Stassen of Minnesota. But Ryan's position now seems to me like I think Ike's candidacy must have seemed then: The situation has chosen the man.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Watch the media spin hard to stick to their "GOP senators bail out on Ryan" narrative
Democrats and the main pundits of the mainstream media — but I repeat myself — have been saying for weeks that there would be huge GOP defections when, as a symbolic gesture, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put the House's budget (principally authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan) up for a vote in the Senate.
Idiots and the main pundits of the mainstream media — but I repeat myself — might think this vote is somehow meaningful, and they indeed will insist that it is meaningful, whether it is or not, because that is their agreed-upon narrative. To them, facts and events don't matter; only their interpretation.
But here's the undeniable fact about today's events: That the GOP would lose this vote was conclusively determined in November 2010 when the GOP failed to retake the Senate.
When the outcome of a vote is 100% preordained, as the outcome of this one has always been, party leaders will often decide not to "whip the vote," meaning they decide not to twist any arms of their party's legislators, and not to waste political capital. If voting with the party would put a particular legislator at risk of losing reelection, then keeping the seat becomes more important than a symbolic show of unity.
Democrats and the main pundits of the mainstream media all understood this as recently as the House vote on Obamacare, in which then-Speaker Pelosi discreetly "released" several House Democrats to vote against it: No one has ever doubted San Fran Nan's ability to count noses and votes, and she and her crew knew exactly how many of their majority they could cut slack for without it becoming a close result. No one in the press or the punditocracy declared that the Dems had suffered some enormous schism. But now when Senate Minority Leader McConnell does the exact same thing, they manage to forget that rationale entirely. Thus, for example, a WaPo political blog post that treats a one-vote difference between the number of House and Senate GOP defectors as a sudden and ominous development for the GOP:
The budget plan, which was drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and which passed the House in April with the support of all but four Republicans, was rejected by the Senate Wednesday on a 40-to-57 vote.
As was the case in the House vote, all Democrats present in the Senate voted against the measure; they were joined by five Republicans, a sign of the wariness with which some Republicans have come to view the budget plan, particularly members who may face tough reelection bids in 2012.
The Republicans voting against the plan Wednesday were moderate Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), as well as conservative freshman Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who argued that the plan did not go far enough in cutting spending.
Back in November 2010, even when they were flush with the glow from the GOP's landmark victory in re-taking the House, if you had asked most Republican strategists the likelihood that by late May 2011, all but nine of the 288-or-so Republicans in Congress (i.e., more than 96%) would go on record voting for a serious, grown-up, transformative, but therefore politically risky budget — one that actually addresses the explosive growth in entitlements — they'd have laughed at you. "Maybe the young guns and the freshmen Tea Party products might go out on that limb," they'd have said, "but not practically the whole House and Senate GOP." But if you had somehow persuaded them to take you seriously, then they probably also would have been able to predict at least four of the GOP senators who wouldn't go along.
Sens. Snowe and and Collins from Maine and Sen. Brown from Massachusetts have purple constituencies. Their voting with the Senate Dems today surprised absolutely no one in the Senate, and shouldn't surprise you either. Sen. Murkowski, of course, famously couldn't win her home-state GOP primary; her defection is no surprise either.
And the Paul family, father and son, together represent a quarter of the GOP's House defections and a fifth of the Senate's — both of them because they think the Ryan budget doesn't go far enough. They obviously share a bull-headedness gene, and I wish they would figure out that voting with the Democrats is almost never, ever a useful way to demonstrate one's adherence to conservative principles. Obviously, however, if you want an accurate head-count of who wants real budget cuts and spending reforms, you subtract both Paul votes from the anti-Ryan headcount and add each to the enormous majority of GOP senators and representatives (with those two, over 97%) who've gone on record voting for Chairman Ryan's Path to Prosperity.
I'm altogether pleased with this vote. And of course, there was this other event in the Senate today that you will tend not to see emphasized in headlines, that you will instead tend to see downplayed or left entirely unexplained, and that you will probably tend to see mentioned "below the fold" — if at all — by the mainstream media (boldface mine):
Immediately after the vote on the Ryan budget, the Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal. The Obama budget did not secure the support of a single lawmaker, with all 97 senators present voting “no.”
I humbly submit that any news report which contains that fact ought to be headlined something like, "Lightworker drops to zero-wattage output."
Again, as a matter of substance, this is no surprise: The Obama budget was dead on arrival. But you're lookin' for symbolism? The Senate, under exclusively Democratic leadership and almost exclusively with a Democratic POTUS, has now gone 755 days without approving a budget for a full fiscal year — and before we're done, it will probably have gone longer without approving a budget than the entire Kennedy administration lasted. And now not a single U.S. Senator of either party will cast even a symbolic vote in favor of Obama's budget, and yet there is no Democratic alternative at all.
So indeed, one party, in frantic fear of further electoral backlash in November 2012, is backpedaling furiously from its conduct between 2009-2010 and now. (I expect that any day now, it will be revealed that it was false intelligence from the CIA that lured all those Democrats into voting for the 2009 "stimulus" — undoubtedly false intelligence whose seeds were planted by Dick Cheney, perhaps in collaboration with Osama bin Laden, who's conveniently unable to deny anything anymore.)
The other party is actually hanging pretty tough for the most part, and pretty much on track. Oh, there's a whole lot more to be done: The Dems' fiscal recklessness, and what it's doing to our economy and our future, will be the key issue on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. We need to wrap that issue around Obama's and the Dems' necks on every one of the 531 days until then.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Ryan's silver lining in l'affaire de l'explosion Gingrich
John Hinderaker at Power Line has posted an interesting analysis by an unidentified reader on the subject of Ryan versus Gingrich. I'm not assuming that Mr. Hinderaker thereby necessarily agrees with everything (or even anything) his reader has written, but among his reader's most provocative assertions was this initial one:
The Ryan budget represents, in part, a political power play by its author. Ryan understands that his plan has no chance of becoming law this year or next. His goal is to shape the budget debate and, if possible, dictate the Republican position in that debate. I have it on very good authority that Ryan specifically intended through his budget proposal to constrain the eventual Republican presidential nominee on the core issues that his plan raises.
If I understand this correctly, it amounts to a grave charge that Paul Ryan is mounting a well-conceived, practical, and sustained effort to be, as the chair of the House Budget Committee, a national leader in passing the House budget into law as soon as that can be accomplished. If true, this seems to me a very desirable feature, not a bug. I'm unconcerned and, instead, favorably impressed by these accusations of competency and effectiveness. Is there something not to like about those qualities, or Chairman Ryan's demonstration of them?
Mr. Hinderaker's reader goes on:
[F]rom the perspective of a legitimate contender for the Republican presidential nomination[,] ... Ryan's power play seems unwelcome. A rational candidate would always want the maximum freedom to stake out policy positions. And he certainly would not want to come under pressure a year and a half before the election to take a potentially unpopular position on Medicare reform.
Rational (in the short run) and gutless, perhaps.
Friends and neighbors, we can't kick the can down the road to some time past the 2012 presidential election before we come to grips with the entitlement programs that most imminently threaten our national solvency. We can't put the showdown off until some future election.To win the 2012 election, to re-take the White House and re-take the Senate with a decent majority, we must —
- hold Obama and his party accountable for their dismal economic record since January 2009;
- prove that the GOP has a rational, detailed, and credible plan to fix things (a "path to prosperity"), even though it (like any such plan) must contain hard and unpopular choices that the Dems will relentlessly (and transparently) demagogue regardless of their substance; and
- vividly confirm that Obama and his party blocked the GOP plan even though they have nothing to offer but more of what we've seen since January 2009: the same old tax-spend-and-regulate, albeit on a scale that would have staggered even Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt.
For all that to happen, it is absolutely essential that long before November 2012, and certainly by the end of the GOP primaries, the GOP's congressmen, senators, and presidential candidate all speak with one voice on the federal budget. Whether Ryan's that presidential candidate (as I'd like to see) or not, because of the House vote, it's already essentially certain that — perhaps with GOP senators' tweaks and improvements — the Path to Prosperity will be the substance of what that one voice needs to be saying.
In law, there's a concept called "ready, willing, and able." Sometimes one side to a proposal or a contract will demand that the other demonstrate that it can actually perform in accordance with its representations. To satisfy that demand, the other side demonstrates that it stands ready, willing, and able.
So simply put, unless and until someone on the GOP side comes up with improvements to the House plan or something to replace it outright, the GOP needs to make the strongest possible showing that before the November 2012 election, the GOP, as a party, stood ready, willing, and able to pass the House budget and send it to Obama. To the credit of Chairman Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and nearly the entire House GOP, the House has already done that with a message-sending record vote in which all but four GOP representatives voted for the Ryan plan.
It was already improbable, but the recent collapse of the Gang of Six makes it nearly certain that Senate isn't up to independently replicating or superseding Chairman Ryan's and the House GOP's work. I hope that some GOP senators may suggest useful improvements or modifications to the Path, and I'm certainly not ruling out that possibility. (Nor are Chairman Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and the House GOP.) But the election results from 2010, plus the four-year presidential election cycle, effectively dictated the relative potential contributions of the House and Senate GOP contingents for the leadup to the 2012 election.
The 2010 election also put the resulting GOP Chairman of the House Budget Committee into position as the House's key member on the 2012 election's key issues — and Chairman Ryan is performing appropriately, I'd even say superlatively, from that position.
Now we must put every Democrat in the Senate on record on cloture votes — repeatedly — on not only the House budget and any proposed improvements to it, but also as many other spending votes as possible. And it's entirely likely that we'll have several more opportunities for that: In addition to whole debt ceiling issue, we're likely to have several more continuing resolution struggles while the Senate remains deadlocked, all the way through Tuesday, November 6, 2012, on any comprehensive budget for FY2012 (much less FY2013, which begins on October 1, 2012).
So I respectfully but emphatically disagree with Mr. Hinderaker's reader: It's entirely rational to expect serious GOP presidential contenders to start taking definitive positions on entitlement reforms now, early enough in the primary process for it to matter. If any rational candidate has an equally detailed budget he or she wants to offer up in lieu of the Path to Prosperity that the House is now committed to, then great — just lay it out there, take the same risks that Chairman Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and the House Republicans have, and act like a grown-up who's deserving of the public's respect.
But Mr. Gingrich laid out neither improvements nor credible alternatives. He didn't contribute to solving any problems, he just tried to sprint in the opposite direction from Chairman Ryan because he (Mr. Gingrich) was afraid that taking a stand would make him politically radioactive. To clean up a bawdy Texas idiom, Mr. Gingrich stomped on his own genitals in the process, and then sent his flak out to proclaim, "Oh, but look — through the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia! — at how surpassingly fine and big those genitals are!" Brave Sir Newt, ex-history professor and author who now demands script approval and re-write privileges from history. Real life doesn't offer the same opportunities to "revise and extend remarks" that the House or Senate traditionally, and by unanimous consent, permit their members to use to massage the Congressional Record.
I'm not saying Mr. Gingrich is into, or even close to, John Edwards territory yet in terms of self petard-hoisting, but I can't see how he salvages his campaign. Who's going to write this guy a campaign check now? Only those who also bet on 90-to-1 longshots at the horse tracks, methinks.
Apart from any remaining insinuation that there's something wrong with Chairman Ryan doing his job in pushing for the House budget, I do agree with Mr. Hinderaker's reader's observations in his or her penultimate paragraph, and in part with the observations in his or her concluding paragraph (link and ellipsis in original):
Where do things stand now, In light of the well-deserved backlash? Just about where Ryan wants them to stand, I believe. As the estimable policy star Yuval Levin, one of Ryan's biggest cheerleaders, put it yesterday, "Whatever else may be said about this week's Gingrich contortions, one thing is clear: Paul Ryan and the House Republican budget have the strong support of an exceptionally broad array of conservatives — from the DC establishment to the talk radio world to the grass roots and the Tea Party.... All contenders for the Republican nomination should take note."
They should, indeed. But those contenders with a serious chance of facing the full electorate, not just a broad array of conservatives, should proceed with caution. It was Gingrich's rush of blood to the head, not his instinctive understanding of the risks associated with unequivocal support for the Ryan budget, that landed him in so much trouble.
This pre-primary season is turning out to be — appropriately! — the Season of Political Land Mines. I am grudgingly grateful to Donald Trump for throwing himself on the Birther landmine and thereby simultaneously removing both the single most ridiculous issue and candidate from the GOP fold.
Mr. Gingrich's explosive misstep, by contrast, didn't spare the rest of his party from collateral damage, but rather inflicted it in non-trivial amounts, and on an issue of surpassing importance. And Mr. Gingrich has no legitimate excuse for such clumsy fratricide; if he wanted to remain gutless on entitlements reform for some further weeks or even months, he ought to have had the political skills and sense to simply remain vague. I agree that Mr. Gingrich was rash, but I disagree that other candidates ought to consider emulating Mr. Gingrich's substantive gutlessness, whether rashly or not.
Ultimately, however, I agree that the silver lining in l'affaire de l'explosion Gingrich is indeed that it's helping focus the party on, and unite the party behind, the Path to Prosperity. That makes all the more compelling the potential — albeit still entirely hypothetical — presidential candidacy of the Grand Old Party's best spokesman on the Path. With no implied disrespect to Speaker Boehner, I agree with Yuval Levin that Chairman Ryan is increasingly revealing himself to be the GOP's most consequential and even indispensable national leader.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Health-care reform in two sentences
Our plan is to give seniors the power to deny business to inefficient providers. Their plan is to give government the power to deny care to seniors.
Exactly.The reason health-care costs are out of control is because no centralized command and control system — including the existing Medicare and Medicaid schemes — can be effective at allocating resources effectively. Only a competitive marketplace can do that. But as long as individuals can insist, "I want everything, without regard to cost or benefit," they will so insist. And the Dems will let them do that forever, until the money runs out (at which point the system will collapse) or until the government-imposed rationing leads to a miserable lowest-common denominator sort of healthcare for everyone.
Inform people. Empower people to make choices. Hold people responsible for their choices. Rinse and repeat. Healthcare will get better and cheaper as a result. The example of how that works is the computer (or smartphone or iPad or whatever) set-up you're reading from right now — a combination of high-tech goods and services which provides power and convenience that was inconceivable at any price thirty years ago, but that's now priced so low that almost everyone in our society can find some access to it, with prices continuing to drop as quality and variety continue to increase.
Individuals, even brilliant individuals, cannot possibly be smart enough to make the right choices as regulators for everyone. Aggregated populations of health-care consumers, in a marketplace that's competitive and with a free flow of knowledge and free choices, will allocate resources more efficiently and — because competition includes (but isn't limited to) price — will end up making better care available to everyone over time.
Some people will make stupid choices that will result in bad consequences. Thus it has always been, and will always be, and no legislator or bureaucrat can change that. But even those bad consequences will be less harsh than what everyone will suffer if we continue on the path of pretending that government can provide everything and make everyone's choices.
Friday, April 08, 2011
Scary thought experiment
Where would government spending be if the GOP had not won the House in 2010?
Did you work for that victory? Maybe, like I did, you sent more in contributions to good conservative candidates in tight races outside your home state. Maybe you spent an hour or three making phone calls in coordination with one of the GOP's on-line get-out-the-vote organizations.
Maybe you just showed up at the election polls and cast your vote, when maybe in some other off-year elections you hadn't bothered.
Compared to the norm, compared to most reasonable expectations, compared to anything but completely unrealistic fantasies: What a return on your investment you've seen tonight!
Bonus thought problem: Of all the political memes of the last few years, has any been more dramatically proven wrong than the one which went like this:
"Ahh, this Scott Brown election is Massachusetts is being over-read by the GOP. This is just a fluke, a combination of a hunky Republican running against a weak and self-contradictory Democrat in a special election for an open seat. It's certainly not the beginning of some political tsunami."
(Cue the intro theme music from "Hawaii Five-O," cut to dramatic shots of crashing waves!)
Obama takes ownership of every penny of federal overspending
From Obama's televised speech tonight on the short-term budget agreement (my transcription from DVR, italics mine):
Like any worthwhile compromise, both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them. And I certainly did that. Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful. Programs people rely on will be cut back. Needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances.
Obama's handlers obviously didn't have time to polish the narcissism from this short speech, but now we know exactly what Barack Obama thinks of Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats: They're an extension of his will, puppets dancing at the end of the strings he alone holds.
I think Obama's assessment is actually pretty accurate — he's the proverbial 800-pound gorilla among a troop of preening baboons, and whenever he stirs himself to smack them around or goads them into a shrieking frenzy of poop-slinging, they do what he bids.
But the side effect of this is that Barack Obama can no longer hide behind the fig leaf of separation of powers. Obama can no longer plausibly claim to be representing the interests of the entire American people — just the interests of his party and its motley collection of special interest groups. When, for example, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (D-FL) asserts of the GOP House's "Path to Prosperity" that "This plan would literally be a death trap for seniors," that is — not literally (which doesn't mean what she thinks it means) but politically — Barack Obama himself engaging in the most egregious and obvious fear-mongering and demagoguery. And if you're not among those he's already invited to the graft-and-handout trough, then you're on the other side.
Politically, if there was any doubt remaining among the naïve, that doubt has been conclusively erased:
Barack Obama is personally responsible for every penny of federal overspending. Period.
Barack Obama is personally responsible for every penny of federal overspending. Period.
Beldar on the budget deal to keep the government open
In response to the just-announced compromise reached by Congress to keep the federal government open, I have three immediate observations:
This is only a start. But there must be a start, and as starts go, given that the GOP only controls the House of Representatives, this is a good one.
As I write this, I'm watching Barack Obama on TV with the Washington Monument in the background. Obama's practically claiming that he's going to be meeting tourists there tomorrow morning to punch their entry tickets. It is absolutely delicious to watch this politician brazenly pretend that he — Barack Obama — just done a great and brave thing by agreeing to these tens of billions in budget cuts, when every person in the entire world who's watching this knows he and his party are responsible for the spending orgy this deal begins to reverse. Sometimes, as a lawyer, I'm perfectly happy for a hostile witness to tell a huge, huge whopper while he's in the spotlight — a lie so obvious and dramatic that it settles over the courtroom like the smell from a crate of rotten eggs that's just been hurled to the floor. "Stinky" Obama just did that. You watch, he'll end up eventually trying to take credit for Rep. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" — Obama intends to run for reelection as a fiscal moderate (again)! But no lie could be more obvious.
Politics is sometimes very subtle, but this hasn't been. The causal connection between last November's election and today's budget cuts is as clear as anything in American history — on the same order of obviousness as Lincoln's election and the bombardment of Fort Sumter to start the Civil War.
Good job, Speaker Boehner & Co. I am proud of my party's Congressional leadership, and it's been a while since I've felt that way.
Thursday, April 07, 2011
Beldar assesses risk to the GOP from a government shutdown to be lower now than in 1995
I've previously argued here, and in comments I've left on other blogs, that the House GOP ought not force a government shutdown over whether an interim funding bill includes controversial de-funding of particular programs like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS/NPR) or Planned Parenthood. Rather, my advice has been to defer those measures to the fight over the FY2012 budget. Some have misunderstood me to be suggesting we delay those fights until some time in calendar year 2012, but that's not at all what I've said or meant.
Rather, since the premiere this week of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-WI) amazingly ambitious budget for FY2012 (which starts on October 1, 2011), we're already embarked on that fight — and that fight is vastly more consequential in the big picture than anything that is going to be done through interim spending bills. Insisting on cutting those controversial programs now gives the Dems undeserved and repeated opportunities to demagogue, and that may permit them to repeat their political triumph from the government shutdown in 1995 (which effectively guaranteed Bill Clinton's reelection).
Instead, the time to fight those fights — and they'll always be controversial, I don't dispute that — is as part of the fight on the FY2012 budget that, if handled right, will produce hundreds of billions of cuts in current spending, and trillions over the next decade. There are a lot of voters who will swallow hard at GOP cuts to programs those voters personally favor, but who will nevertheless choke them down if and only if they're part of a big dose of essential medicine that will genuinely restore financial sanity to our government. And you can't win over those voters through a hostage-taking strategy that shuts down the government over only a few billion dollars.
What Speaker Boehner and the House GOP are doing now, however, isn't necessarily inconsistent with my proposed strategy. Indeed, he's right not to back off on those hot-button issues until he's used them to extract every penny of spending cuts he can through these stopgap funding bills. The one-week extension passed through the House today is consistent with that strategy. And ultimately, if a few tens or even hundreds of millions in continuing expenditures on noxious programs is the cost of another $8-$10 billion in cuts above the $33B the Dems are already on board with, that's a very good trade in the short term.
However, you can't push to the limits at the negotiating table unless you're genuinely serious about facing the possibility of a shutdown. There's reason to hope that we're better prepared for that now than we were in 1995 (when it seemed we were completely, and recklessly, unprepared). But neither side knows, nor can know, how the public will react, and what political risks for November 2012 that presents. To extend my poker metaphor from last week, we've seen the flop, but we're still waiting for the turn and the river.
I'm no pollster, and in fact I'm intensely skeptical of public opinion polling as a proxy for the only polls that count — electoral polls on election day. But I think there are two fundamental differences between now and 1995 that both reduce the political risk to the GOP now, as compared to then:
First, notwithstanding what the public opinion polls may say about the number of "independents" or "swing voters," America is more polarized now than it was in 1995. That's the result of the Clinton impeachment, the 2000 election contest, the anti-war protests during the eight years of strong leadership on the Global War on Terrorism that George W. Bush gave us, and — more than all of the above put together — the systematic, unrestrained, and rapacious looting of the public fisc in which Barack Obama and the Democrats have been continuously engaged since January 2009. I just don't think there will be as many voters swayed by a shutdown as there were in 1995 — and of those who may be, quite a large percentage of them are Obama voters from 2008 who've since already realized that his halo is made of tin foil.
Second, although one can correctly point to a long list of contributing causes, any third-grader should be able to understand that the most obvious and direct cause — what lawyers would call the "proximate cause" — of a shutdown now would be the Democrats' explicable and inexcusable inability just to do their damn jobs last year.
Not a single voter sent Obama and his partisans to Washington with a mandate not to pass a budget for FY2011. The Dems controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress until January 2011 and yet couldn't pass a budget; indeed, they didn't even make a serious attempt. And that's just dirt-simple, and as obvious — and as obviously embarrassing — as a loud fart in church.
I will grant you that there are millions, and probably tens of millions, of voters who don't meet my hypothetical "any third-grader" standard in their political sophistication.
But they're already part of the Democratic base anyway.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
House GOP's budget cuts $6.2 trillion over 10 years
So we now know exactly how good a poker face Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has: The eye-twinkle and the very, very slight hint of a smile when Chris Wallace was quizzing him on Sunday morning about the size of the House GOP's proposed budget cut gave away nothing. But Rep. Ryan must have been mightily amused when Wallace managed to pry out of him that the cuts might be somewhere north of $4 trillion.
In fact, as revealed in Rep. Ryan op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal (no subscription required), the House GOP's budget for FY2012 promises to cut $6.2 trillion over 10 years as compared to the federal budget proposed by President Obama. That such enormous cuts can be contemplated is, of course, a function of the gigantic increases in federal spending already made since January 2009 and expanding over the future in the budget proposed by President Obama.
The details will be the basis for intense — and emotional — debate over the coming months. Absent another 9/11-scale surprise, I expect it will become the single most important issue in deciding the 2012 election.
I've reprinted above the chart from Rep. Ryan's op-ed. It focuses on how this budget will compare to Obama's when measured by federal debt as a percentage of gross domestic product. Don't be disappointed by the fact that there isn't a sharper drop-off to a negative slope in the green-colored portion: Current spending in absolute dollar terms will indeed show a much greater drop.
The op-ed is pretty good, albeit necessarily wonky. Read the whole thing, because I couldn't possibly summarize it here.
I'm reminded of the line variously attributed to Frederick the Great or French revolutionary leader Georges Jacques Danton, but in either event much beloved by U.S. Gen. George S. Patton: "L'audace, encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace!" This is indeed audacious. This is a fight worth having, and vitally worth winning.
Friday, April 01, 2011
The budget battle as a no-limits poker tournament
I may draw, with this post, the sort of vehement disagreement and even scorn that Mitch Daniels triggered with his talk of a truce on so-called "social issues."
My temptation is to anticipate that by at least re-capping my conservative credentials and service as a blogger in the cause of sanity since 2003. I'm going to mostly resist that, but I'm going to hold any comments pretty tightly to the actual topic here, which is this:
I'd like to see NPR and PBS stripped of federal funds. Planned Parenthood, too. In fact, I have a shockingly long list of federal programs that I'd like to see de-funded — many of them primarily because they ought to be designed, supervised, and funded, if at all, at a state or local level. And after reading my list you'd be tempted to nominate me as the biggest Grinch of the 21st Century. But:
Right now the Dems are desperate to change the subject before the 2012 elections, away from total spending, and onto specific programs that offer the best emotional hooks for use in their next campaign. The Dems are committed to — and as Sen. Schumer's timely accidental admission against interest shows, expressly hoping for — a federal government shut-down that they can demagogue Republicans with. And they will use these issues to systematically shore back up, and re-invigorate, every single special interest group in the entire Democratic coalition, and they will use the government shut-down to go after independents.
To my constitutional conservative friends and neighbors, I have to point you to the Constitution, to the very structure of our government. From that fundamental structure flow what I believe to be inescapable political facts right now:
We can't effectively undo what Obama/Reid/Pelosi hath wrought without effective voting control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, much less begin to effect the sort of repairs that are needed.
This therefore is a four-year project, not a two-year project. It started on election day in November 2008, when we lost. It will not — can not — conclude on anything other than its constitutionally determined date: The second Tuesday of November in 2012.
Obama can and will veto any package containing those controversial targeted programs. He badly, badly wants to do that, and he will do it, but of course he'd rather do it at the least political price.
So even if a GOP-written bill axing of these programs were to get through the Senate and the House, it won't become law. The only way that legislation shutting down these programs will become law is in January 2013, if we win in November 2012. Otherwise not.
And therefore absolutely no one's pet Democratic program that they're eager to see axed — not even all of them together — can be permitted put seriously at risk the result of that election by insisting upon them now. Instead, we need to fight over those programs only as part of the overall 2012 budget fight, so that at the same time he vetoes the Congressional enactment which includes (at least some of) those cuts, Obama also has to veto the entire budget.
- And when he does that, even if the result then is some kind of government shutdown, then it's been for the best — and broadest possible combination — of reasons. That fight, and that veto, makes the budget the #1 issue in November 2012, sweeping the GOP to control of both chambers and the White House.
We are still early in what will become a winner-take-all game of high-stakes poker with only two players. From January 2009 until the Scott Brown special election, we had a very small stack, but we got back in the game, and regained at least a respectable stack of chips in the 2010 election. In a two-player match, though, you can't win until you've got the bigger stack: Until then, if you go all in and win, your opponent will still have chips left. What's important is to wrest away the chip lead over time. And bide your time waiting for a strong hand on which you've gotten good action, when pushing all the chips in and winning means you've won not just that hand, but the tournament.
Barack Obama's and the Dems' explosion of the federal budget is, in poker terms, potentially a monster hand for our team. If that is the main issue in November 2012, we win back the White House, we win 60+ in the Senate, and we deepen our lead in the House. And then starting in January 2013 we sweep the table.
Now, I'm not saying we ought never fight those fights on those wasteful Dem programs that should get the axe. There are indeed constituencies in the GOP or among independents who will swing our way on those same issues, and if we can get them to do that at the same time, that energizes our base. But the time to fight those fights is not now, but as part of serious debate on the overall 2012 budget — we've got the big enchilada on the table.
(I know, it's disgusting to mix food metaphors with poker, and I'm sorry for that.)
Then it's not "those nasty Republicans killed my ____ program that I love, and they didn't even really solve the budget problems, my favorite program got killed as part of the 'token' cuts so I will go to the polls and hate you evil Republicans forever," yada yada.
Budget misery, like other kinds of misery, absolutely loves company. We present all our cuts as part of the 2012 budget in a comprehensive package in which everyone — yes, including those noxious programs, too — has to share in a really big haircut (in some cases to the scalp).
(Now I've got hair on the poker table along with the big enchilada — as thoroughly disgusting a mixing of metaphors as has ever appeared on this blog.)
I'm not saying roll over, I'm saying hold as firm as we can on the House bill now in the Senate. But let's don't push in our whole stack prematurely on a "development hand." We cannot win if we do not stay focused on the big picture, meaning winning in November 2012. And before we push in all our chips on a bet that would do that for us, we need to have gained the bigger stack.
And by November 2012, we will have taken every cut we can possibly wring out of them now and — and vastly more importantly — we will have the benefit of a further steady drumbeat on the much bigger drum of the 2012 budget.
We're still going to lose that fight on the 2012 budget, folks. We cannot win that fight while Barack Obama is in the White House. This is a four-year project.
Once again — because of Constitutional impediments — we cannot win the whole tournament unless and until we win that election. That election becomes the last hand. That's where we go all in. Everything we do now must be with a view toward positioning for that hand.
We must not be foolish by being short-sighted, not even with the best of intentions. We must maintain discipline — and as with any discipline, this will be unpleasant to tolerate in the short term.
If you don't grok poker, then we can talk about sprints and marathons, or keep going until we find a metaphor that makes it vivid to you.
If you think I'm wrong, don't waste your breath reciting how bad the problems are, or even how dissatisfied you are with the lack of big progress so far. Nothing you say is going to change the structural features of this problem, because they tie directly into constitutional anchor principles. Saying I'm not being a "true conservative" will get you put in commenter time-out. Tell me why instead a symbolic, vetoed interim bill now cutting off funding to any single Dem pet program, or even any combination of them, is worth the risks of dividing our focus and firepower and wasting it prematurely. Convince me it's worth the risk of four more years of Mr. Obama and his Magic Unicorn.