Friday, January 04, 2008

Ronnie’s Not Running in 08

As expected, a number of Republicans in the Blogsosphere have begun to compare their preferred candidate to the patron saint of Successful Conservatism, Ronald Wilson Reagan. The only problem is, Ron’s not running this year, neither in person nor by proxy. Let’s run down the GOP slate and see how the pretenders stack up to The Man:

Mike Huckabee: Huckabeemers are proud that their boy won the Iowa caucus, but the guy still creeps out too many Republicans, and there is little in common between the Huckster and the Gipper. True, both men were Governors, and 4 out of our last 5 Presidents were Governors from Southern or Western states, but that’s where it ends. Note how Hucky likes to trash Dubya? Seems he forgot Reagan’s 11th Commandment. Ronnie never liked Gerald Ford all that much, for example, but even when Reagan ran for the White House in 1976 he was respectful of the President, something which seems well beyond the ability of Governor Huckabee. Iowa may well be the high point for the Huckabeemers, or at least we can hope so.

Rudy Giuliani: The GOP front-runner coming into the fall of 2007, Rudy’s people like to point out Rudy’s strong credentials for personal bravery and a refusal to play along with the media in hopes of winning votes. But Giuliani is a social liberal in most respects, and that kills any further comparison between him and Reagan.

Mitt Romney: Romney has been trying hard lately to sell himself as a new version of Reagan, but Massachusets is not California, and Romney’s no Reagan Republican. For one thing, Romney changed his mind – as he has a right to do – on a number of issues, but unlike Reagan, who made the changes a number of years before he ran for President, Romney’s switches are recent enough to justify the ‘flipper’ tag pinned on Kerry. Romney, for example, opposed the Bush tax cuts in 2003 (he also approved of increasing the federal gasoline tax), but now sells himself as a proponent of lower taxes. He brags that as Governor of Massachussets, he balanced the budget without raising taxes, but that’s not completely true, since Romney increased revenues by implementing new fees and increasing existing fees, as well as closing “loopholes” in the tax law which resulted in taxpayers paying more. And if the taxpayer is paying more, that’s higher taxes by any reasonable definition, no matter how you got there. Yet Romney refuses to admit his past actions, much less explain how his present promises square with his performance. Especially his “universal healthcare” plan as Governor. Look, when a candidate creates a health plan that applies to everyone regardless of what they want, and it increases government control of personal lives, that’s a lot closer to Hillary than it is to Ronnie.

John McCain: “The Gang of 14”. Enough said.

Ron Paul: Ronald Reagan defeated the enemies of America. Ron Paul wants to run from them. Ronald Reagan energized the economy and freed opportunity for personal wealth creation, while Ron Paul embraces financial theories disproven centuries ago. And like Huckabee, Paul ignores Reagan’s 11th Commandment.

Fred Thompson: The Fredheads love to pretend Fred is the return of Ronnie. Don’t be fooled by that for even a moment. Yes, both men were actors and love striaght talk, but Reagan was a Governor, Thompson was a Senator. Reagan’s 1980 campaign was his second run for the White House, following a powerful performance in 1976, while Thompson’s 2008 run is his first, and has lacked punch at many spots so far. Fred’s other problem is Abortion, where his credentials are most un-Reaganlike.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Each of these candidates (except Paul) has qualities which could serve America well, and any of them (except possibly Paul) would be preferable to anything the Democrats could nominate this election. But none of these men rises to the level of George W. Bush, let alone Ronald W. Reagan. It’s disingenuous for any of them to even pretend so.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Kos Progression

Today, I want to write about madness. It’s a pandemic human condition, you know. Throughout human history, there is a tide which periodically washes away sanity and reason, to be replaced for a time by the most irrational assumptions and superstitions, and so far as I can tell there has never been a society yet which has been immune to the unbalancing of order, and even its best ideals are thrown down in manic frenzies, sometimes of the masses, but at other occasions at the whim of a few elites, or even one madman who gains control of the works. Ancient civilzations developed cities and laws and commerce, but also fell into cult behavior, which included human sacrifice and wars for no better reason than the command of a demagogue. Crusades and Jihads were called up on little more than the command of certain Popes and Caliphs, which did no better than to kill hundreds of thousands of men at a stroke, along with the wholesale devastation of cities and farmland. Even in the last century, nations fell prey to similar personality cults, from Chairman Mao and “Uncle Joe” Stalin to “Der Fuhrer” and various “Maximum Leaders” and the like.

But I do not want to give the sense that this madness only appears in warfare, or that it is solely present in the arrogance of political leaders. No, this madness appears everywhere to some extent. We certainly saw it when Dan Rather tried to influence a Presidential election which documents he knew to be forged. We certainly saw it when a foreign-born billionaire tried to buy votes in that same election. We certainly saw it when religious groups demanded the “right” to sway the direction of national policy. We certainly saw it when leading Congressmen and Senators chose to damage U.S. troop morale and advocate the goals of terrorist groups, by opposing the war effort and national security for political gain. We certainly saw it when the most outrageous lies and falsest accusations became the common currency of certain talk shows and websites. Which brings me to the Daily Kos, arguably the least rational of the major blogs.

What makes the Kos significant, is its influence with leading Democrats. Kos does not speak for the Democratic Party of the United States, but it does carry interviews with some high-profile Democrats, and it does get the attention of every leading candidate in the Democratic Party. Given Kos’ incendiary and perjorative posture, this behavior increases the virulence of the Leftist rhetoric, and suppresses the voice of reasonable Democrats and moderate liberals; one is compelled to recall the response to Senator Joe Lieberman’s support for the war effort in Iraq. Lieberman did not support the Bush Administration’s policies, nor did he say anything to damage Democrats’ political positions – he simply chose to support the troops and to note that Iraq needed to be stabilized. For this he was hounded by Kos and similar thugsites, and lost the Democratic nomination for re-election in his Senate campaign. When Lieberman won anyway as an Independent, Democrats simply pretended they had not tried to drive him out of the party, while Kos held its breath while waiting to see if Lieberman would prove sufficiently radical. Since then, Kos has addressed Lieberman in angry and petulant tones, as if Lieberman were the one who owed an apology.

What’s interesting to me, is that the Kos crowd marched along to its present angry position from a much calmer and rational one. While the Kosites may have been more inclined to unreasoned assumptions then other people, they still chose to move towards greater hate. In the same way, political candidates have moved towards friction and deliberate discourtesy to opponents and the other party. It’s not enough to say you can do a better job, now you have to punch in some scare tactics, suggest that the other guy would be hopelessly inept or else a criminal, that very bad things would happen if they were elected. And this spirit of aggression gets fed by a growing segment of the population, an almost mindless echo chamber of hatred and groupthink. We’ve seen it before, of course, but it’s always trouble when it pops up again. Politics is rancorous enough, without giving in to the worst among us.

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Election and The Economy

Ignore the trade deficit. That’s one way a smart candidate can win the 2008 election in terms of the economy. I will come back to explain that statement, but the disparity between that advisory and the behavior of the front-running politicians demonstrates just how poorly most understand the economy and how a nation’s chief executive should run it.

Bill Clinton ran in 1992 on the theme, ‘it’s the economy, stupid’. And in that time, it was true. Regardless of whatever else we want to say about President Clinton’s performance, the economy hummed along while he was in the White House, which if nothing else shows he knew when to not mess with it. Of course, ol’ Bill deviated from the customary accounting methods used by the government to claim his “surplus”, which never existed in any material sense, but since the United States government has not used anything much like GAAP in my lifetime, I can’t really say too much against Bubba, except to observe that his Administration’s bookkeeping was more creative than most.

No matter whether the party in power is Republican or Democrat, the plain fact is that they plan on spending your money. Lots of it. Sometimes a President gets to feeling a mite guilty about how much they grab from the taxpayer, and they give just a little of it back. Of course, when this sort of thing happens, the other party gets nasty and tries to claim that the tax cuts will lead to terrible consequences. This claim is generally a lie. And when we talk about lies and the government and the economy, this leads us to talk about the trade deficit.

“Nothing is more absurd than this doctrine of the balance of trade." Those words come to us from Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations, and he wrote this in summation of his great experience and a long-considered debate back in 1776. Trade, when it began, was just what the name suggests, a person trading something they are willing to give up, for something they want to get, with each party pleased with the agreed terms. For all the fancy talk, that is what trade is now. Just because we use cash instead of barter, and in many cases buy on credit, does not change the fact that trade is always a transaction where both sides are satisfied with the deal. No one, despite the protestors, is forcing you to buy a certain brand or from a certain country. And despite the politicians trying to say otherwise, no nation in history has been undone because of a trade deficit. Look, for example, at Japan. During the 1970s Japan was going great guns, and all sorts of people were worried about the “inbalance” of trade. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Japanese investors were buying up American real estate and companies. Everyone was crying gloom and doom, surely we’d end up no longer the United States, but some dismal possession of Japan. Yet, within a decade, everything was largely back to where it was. This is because the Japanese were no more immune to bad business decisions than Americans were, and the market corrected itself in a number of ways, leading to some startling reversals. No, that does not mean that stupidity gets a ‘reset’ button, but it does mean that panicking because one nation happens to have more cash than other nations at one point or another is just silly. If you’ve ever played ‘Monopoly’, you know that just because one player has a lot of cash does not mean that the player is going to win; a lot of things can and do happen. And that board game is a very simplified environment; it is essentially impossible to buy an entire country, especially in a global economy.

That global economy is another reason not to sweat a deficit. If we are back in the barter days, there’s not going to ba a lot of trade. Why? Because the guy you are dealing with will only have a few things you may want, and it is not easy to find a point where both sides agree on a trade. Is that sweater worth a whole cow? What do mean, he won’t take eggs … you get the idea. Now, a look around your town and what do you see? Yes indeed, some folks do better financially than others, but that doesn’t mean the rich guys own the town, does it? Money can’t buy happiness and all that, the point is that there’s more to even financial success than a flash of cash. Also, these weasels who go on about a trade deficit are forgetting that this is not the United States making deals with other countries, this is individual consumers buying things and individual companies and sellers supplying the products. They are, it may surprise you to learn, happy to accept our money at the agreed price, and none of them have any real intention of desctroying our economy, since doing so would ruin the value of the money they worked so hard to get from us.

So, in the end the “trade deficit” is largely a myth, so far as the government is concerned. Oh sure, the statistic is real, and to a limited extant it is a quality which should be watched, but in the political sense it’s a non-starter. This is because there is not much, at all, that the government can do to help things. They can, and often do, make things worse, with such tactics as tariffs and quotas and the like; all this does in actual effect is anger the country from which the products are coming, while making our own citizens pay more for products they want or might even need. The government does its job to make sure that certain strategic products are not sent overseas (we should be careful not to let China have the technology to make ICBMs or Stealth Bombers), but China is simply not going to take over America by making inexpensive plasma television sets or novelty items. And before anyone gets the idea that China is some deviously brilliant nation which will outwit the United States, I may need to remind you that all that contaminated food and unsafe tires and so on that we got so angry about, is still being sold to China’s citizens, who lack the means to protest in the way that the American media can. Also, the regime in charge of China has been importing wheat and other basic foodstuffs for a generation, because they thought the “Great Leap Forward” was a winning plan.

Should the United States government track what comes in and goes out of our country? Absolutely. Should we play gatekeeper on certain dangerous items and consider the intentions of foreign governments? Of course. But using scare tactics to create a boogey man so that citizens will grant even more control over their lives to the government? That should disqualify any candidate for federal office.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Politics 201 – A Refresher

Friday afternoon, I was listening to Hugh Hewitt talk with Mike Gallagher, and they briefly discussed negative campaigning. I was surprised to hear Hugh claim that citing supposed deficiencies in your opponents’ positions was somehow not negative campaigning to him. Strange, if an educated Law Professor in LA can miss that one, it’s clear that we need to go over the basics.

There are four basic types of campaigning; Informational, Advocational, Negative, and Dirty. Most candidates will use something from all four types during a campaign, especially national campaigns which last more than a month or two.

Informational campaigning happens when a candidate is trying to announce to the public who they are and what they stand for. The chief goals are to increase name recognition and create a unique position in the voter’s mind for the candidate;

Advocational campaigning happens when a candidate releases advertising and other media designed to persuade the public to vote for him or her. Advocational campaigning is different from informational campaigning in that advocational campaigning attempts to achieve specific gains in support, which is generally represented by poll response and fundraising results. However, advocational campaigning can also lay the groundwork for later strategy, such as the ‘Super Tuesday’ primaries;

Negative campaigning is the flip side of advocational campaigning. Where advocational campaigning gives reasons why a voter should support a certain candidate, negative campaigning gives reasons why a voter should not support a certain opponent. Any advertisement or statement which discusses weaknesses or flaws in an opponent is negative campaigning;

Dirty campaigning is behavior which is generally considered unethical in attempts to influence an election. Examples of dirty campaigning are sadly abundant, ranging from bribery, scare tactics, lying about beliefs and behavior, especially in an attack on a political opponent, to attempts to manipulate conditions to prevent losing.

It should be noted that the lines between these categories can sometimes be indistinct. For instance, Kerry supporters considered the ads by Swift Boat veterans in the 2004 campaign to be dirty campaigning, because they felt the charges were false, while Bush supporters felt the ads were negative campaigning but legitimate, because the claims were accurate. Other times the lines are quite clear; LBJ’s ‘Daisy’ ad in 1964 for example, which implied that electing Barry Goldwater to the White House could result in Nuclear War, was clearly dirty in character.

The reasons for these different categories of campaigning are structural and conditional. The front-runner in a political race, for example, enjoys name recognition and a generally positive image, and so would be reluctant to use negative campaigning, and would be very likely to forbid dirty campaigning, as these types could damage the candidate’s public perception. Candidates behind the leader or in a tight race, however, would be far more tempted to use negative campaigning, as it is necessary to change the public’s preference for the front-runner in order for another candidate to take the lead. All modern political candidates decry dirty campaigning, yet the two most lopsided Presidential elections (1964, 1972) both incorporated dirty campaigning, which implies that carefully-applied dirty tricks can be very successful.