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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Republican(?) Debate Wrapup

You call that a Republican debate? Nearly every question from Matthews and Co. portrayed the economy in the worst possible light, and in nearly every instance the answers proffered by the candidates agreed with the premise of the question and sometimes even raised the gloom-o-meter a click or two. Judging by last night’s performances, there are only two candidates worthy of conservative support.

Gov. Huck was perhaps the most egregious of all the viable candidates on the stage; he bemoaned the fact that, in this economy, an unskilled, uneducated individual might need to work two jobs to make ends meet. Well no kidding, Gomer. When has this not been the case? No amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth are going to alter this economic reality. Huck’s grandstanding only contributes to the unfounded sense of grievance that some possess, and which is encouraged by Democrat politicians. It should not be given the prominence in a GOP economic discussion, as was the case last night by Huck.

Perhaps the most distressing overall impression conveyed by these guys was their foolishness and economic ignorance regarding free trade. The trade deficit is too high; “X” number of manufacturing jobs has been lost overseas; we have only one steel plant that can provide armor for Humvees; blah, blah, blah. Duncan Hunter provided that last chestnut of wisdom, which would truly represent a problem if we were buying steel from Iran. But we can get all the steel we need from Japan, at superior prices. What’s the problem? There isn’t one, but such a statement makes for good demagoguery. The one-sided (negative) view of trade on display last night was truly alarming, coming from what I thought were members of a modern Republican party, as opposed to a Hooverite GOP. Free trade is good for this country. I thought Republicans knew this, but obviously demagoguery is just an easier sell.

John McCain has his share of weird moments. He joined the chorus lamenting the decline of manufacturing jobs (a decline that has been underway for decades). He agreed with a nonsensical question from Matthews asking whether a return to the 1950’s ecomomy (single wage earner, wife at home barefoot and pregnant) wouldn’t be desirable, as if we’d all be better off if 50% of our workforce (arguably the most productive) were idled. And in answering a question about the current high level of economic anxiety, he seemed to suggest that, should an elderly worker be forced by layoffs to move from a high paying job to a lower paying job, the government should step in and make up for the loss of income. Could he have actually meant to say something so foolish and pandering? McCain also looked all angry, all the time.

Gov. Romney was mostly fine in his answers, generally not accepting the flawed premises of the mostly-inane questions. He did, however, say something very revealing that has gone largely unremarked upon by the chattering class. While debating Giuliani about the merits and use of the line item veto, Romney stated (paraphrasing): If you’re going to cut taxes, you have to also cut expenditures to balance the ledger.

This essentially overturns 25 years of Reaganite tax and budget policy, and returns us to a more liberal/Nixon/Ford brand of budgetary thinking, when Republicans obsessed about deficits at the expense of growth-inducing tax cuts. As budget projections inevitably show budgetary growth over the long term, tax cuts are seen to never be “affordable”.

Reagan put tax policy before budgetary considerations, and let the deficit chips fall where they may. George W. Bush has done the same thing. And in the end, the dreaded deficit monster was proven to be a negligible matter. Romney, it appears, will choose a different path, where government spending requirements will be on par with tax policy. Tax cuts will need to be “paid for” in the old green eye shade way that old time Republicans insisted upon.

Perhaps this reflects “good government”. But it certainly wasn’t good politics (or good economic policy) for the decades before Reagan came along. It’s very much akin to the Bob Dole, Tax Collector for the Welfare State mentality that ruled the GOP for so long. I think Romney let the veil drop, showing himself to be a moderate, Northeastern Republican of the George H. W. Bush type on taxes. If voters pick up on this revelation, Romney’s campaign will be seriously damaged.

Fred Thompson seemed to flag as the debate wore on (he seemed bored having to listen to the no-hope participants recite their lines), but overall his answers were fundamentally sound on taxes, trade, national security, etc., and he proved himself to be the capable communicator everyone assumed him to be. And he did nothing to shake the impression that, of all the candidates, he is the one with the most firmly established conservative, limited government beliefs. The impression is that he isn’t just conservatively inclined in lifestyle and outlook (such as President Bush) but rather a student of conservative ideas, operating from a learned, conservative philosophical base. This is his fundamental appeal, an appeal that is missed by a punditocracy obsessed with policy papers. Supporters of Thompson don’t need his “Health Care Plan”, for example – they trust that whatever he ultimately proposes will adhere to conservative principles. No other candidate in the race has that sort of baseline credibility.

Mayor Giuliani's performance lapped field, IMO. He was particularly effective talking about taxes – his enthusiasm for supply-side economics is palpable and very encouraging. He has established himself in this campaign as the prime mover in two main pillars of the GOP platform – national security and economic liberty. Whether he can reconcile his personal deficiencies with the values platform of the party is the only remaining question, and of course that is the question about Rudy.

Overall, Republican voters should be discouraged by last night’s debate. If this group is at all representative if GOP officeholders, it’s clear that free market economics are on the run in the party. Rudy and Fred (and Mitt to a lesser extent) provided some relief from the gloom and doom atmosphere, but they held mostly a minority viewpoint on that stage. That can't bode well for GOP prospects in 2008 and beyond.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anyone see the New Brighton Council/Mayor Debate on October 8th?

If so, what did you think?

10/12/2007 3:04 AM  
Blogger Daria said...

I know at least some of the contributors to this blog saw it (there are also replays on cable) and posts are forthcoming. There were a lot of statements made that need verification and analysis and that pesky day job gets in the way for most of us. Maybe if we all quit our jobs and went on welfare... ;)

Overall, Hook's prediction that the event would be a typical LWV "all hold hands and sing Kumbaya" get-together rather than a hard hitting forum turned out to be correct. None of the participants messed up badly, but I thought overall the challengers as a group offered much more to the voters than the incumbents and former incumbent.

More to come...stay tuned!

- D

10/12/2007 7:14 AM  

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