Rick Perry Lurks

The worst news of the day by far: Rick Perry is about to make a Big Announcement today in San Antonio, regarding his political future. There should be no surprises here – he will run again for governor, and (as he has already warned us) has not ruled out a second presidential run in 2016:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry isn’t ruling out another Republican presidential run in 2016. But he didn’t announce on Sunday whether he’ll seek a fourth term as governor.

Asked about 2016 on “Fox News Sunday,” Perry said: “Well, certainly, that’s an option out there, but again, we got a lot of work to do in this building right behind me [the Texas capitol] over the course of the next couple of weeks that have my focus substantially more than even 2014 or 2016.”

As for whether he’ll run for another term as governor, he said he’s making an announcement on Monday.

Because apparently his disastrous, calamitous car-crash of a 2012 campaign has not conclusively deterred him:

 

Let’s abolish commerce, education and the department of…?

Sigh.

Can someone cheer me up by running a quick poll on a Clinton vs Perry 2016 election?

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Why Republicans Lose

 

Republicans are trapped in a Prisoner's Dilemma of their own making
Republicans are trapped in a Prisoner’s Dilemma of their own making

 

My early prediction – barring some amazing or cataclysmic event or development, Republicans will comfortably lose the 2016 presidential election and a number of congressional seats (compared to the total that they hold after the 2014 midterms).

I am confident about this because of two intractable characteristics of the current Republican party, and their congressional delegation.

The first is revealed by the Huffington Post, and was picked up on by yours truly, in the context of the House GOP’s current stance on immigration reform:

These Republicans don’t deny that weak support from Hispanic voters is hurting GOP presidential nominees. And they concede the problem may worsen if Latinos think Republicans are blocking “immigration reform.”

These House members, however, worry much more about their own constituents’ opposition to the proposed changes. And they fear a challenge in the next Republican primary if they ignore those concerns.

“It’s hard to argue with the polling they’ve been getting from the national level,” said Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, referring to signs of serious problems for Republican presidential candidates if immigration laws aren’t rewritten. “I just don’t experience it locally.”

And the second characteristic is sketched out by Politico here:

For years, GOP senators have been stingy with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, refusing to make large transfers of money out of their personal campaign accounts that could help their party compete in neck-and-neck races across the country. For 2012, Democratic senators transferred nearly five times more to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee than Republicans gave to the NRSC.

And just like last year, an initial look at the Senate map shows a path to the majority. It won’t be easy: Republicans will have to knock off well-financed Democratic incumbents, defend Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and limit the internecine primary warfare that has twice cost them a chance at the majority.

Top GOP senators say that’s exactly the point: Not maximizing the NRSC’s operations could be another unforced error. In short, without more money, you’ll still be in the minority.

So there you have it. Republican senators sitting on huge campaign war chests and facing the feeblest of Democratic opposition, are much less willing to give some of their surplus funds to colleagues and candidates desperately in need than their Democratic counterparts are on behalf of their own colleagues. Because current Republican orthodoxy tells them that Redistribution Is Always Bad, even if it takes place through the NRSC to further their supposed political objectives at a national level.

And Republican house members in heavily gerrymandered districts would rather stay in power and thwart a potential chance to get their party’s hands back on the executive branch of government because, though they all scream that more years of Obama or Democratic rule will spell the end for America, they are more worried still about the danger of a primary challenge from the right if they vote for comprehensive immigration reform.

The problem facing the GOP is so beautifully summed up by Alabama (…) Senator Richard Shelby:

But asked why he hasn’t transferred big bucks out of his massive war chest, Shelby said his donors wouldn’t be happy.

“I raise money out of my campaign for myself — not for you or anyone else,” Shelby said. “I tell my givers who it’s for. If they knew I was going to raise it to give it away, they probably wouldn’t give it away.”

My money. Mine.

Just go ahead and add another four years in the political wilderness to the GOP tab.

Tax Breaks For Gold Medals

Though neither of them have any intention of doing anything about it, in the run-up to the November elections both main political parties in America are at least making noises about the need to reform and simplify the massively complicated tax code in the United States. This is urgently needed – a thick, impenetrable layer of deductions and tax credits doled out by previous Congresses to the favoured special interests or wavering voting blocs of the day have led to an almost incomprehensible system, one which means higher marginal rates overall for everyone and one which benefits almost no one apart from the well-connected and their tax accountants.

So when “rising star” Republican Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, proposed a tax break for US Olympic medal winners on the cash bonuses that they receive from the US Olympic Committee, you would think that the “first do no harm” rule might apply, and President Obama and others would shoot down the idea. Right?

No. President Obama actually supports this opportunistic piece of pandering, according to Matthew Yglesias, writing at Slate:

If they gave out awards for dumb new policy ideas, President Obama and Republican rising star Sen. Marco Rubio would both be medaling this week. Their achievements? Rubio’s completely pointless bill offering a tax break to recipients of Olympic medals and—even worse—the president’s decision to hop on the bandwagon rather than show the country he has a firmer grasp on the issues than his adversaries do. In the scheme of things, of course, winning Olympic prizes is not an important sector of economic activity, and the medals’ tax status doesn’t really matter. But the overall shape of the tax code does matter a great deal, and the speed with which a bipartisan consensus emerged around making it worse bodes quite poorly for efforts to make it better.

Yglesias goes on to provide some essential background that some early supporters of this harebrained scheme appear to have missed:

In this particular case, the issue is that the U.S. Olympic Committee—the nonprofit group that organizes Team USA for the games—rewards athletes with cash bounties for medals won. Gold medalists receive $25,000, silver medalists get $15,000, and bronze medalists receive $10,000. That’s income, so come spring of 2013 when medalists are filling out their tax forms, it’ll be reported and taxed like any other income. Their after-tax income will be higher if they do win a medal than if they don’t. There’s no “extra tax bill” waiting for anyone. There’s simply extra income, and the income would be taxed. (Some people have confused this with the idea that the medals themselves come with a hefty tax bill, but the real tax issue is about the cash prizes.)

Precisely. This is not about suddenly being landed with an unexpected tax bill just because you worked hard and won an Olympic medal. This is about the IRS treating the prize money that the winning athletes receive as an incentive from the US Olympic Committee as income, which it is, and taxing it at the appropriate marginal rate.

Of course, the number of London 2012 Olympic medal winners as a percentage of the US population is miniscule, so the policy, if enacted, would do no real harm to tax returns or anything else. But the blatant favouritism of rewarding Olympic athletes alone with this tax break, while making other “worthy” types pay normal rates of tax, would set yet another ridiculous and rather alarming precedent:

In terms of fairness, it seems like a strange slight to winners of other kinds of prizes. Are Olympic medalists worthier than winners of the Nobel or Pulitzer prizes? And of course exempting all prize income from income tax could merely encourage all kinds of people to restructure their income as prizes. The J.P. Morgan Memorial Prize for Achievement in Investment Banking, anyone?

And then the money quote:

The underlying issue is that taxes aren’t supposed to be a cosmic judgment on the underlying worthiness of people’s activities. The earnings of a great artist and a reality TV show producer are taxed the same. That can seem a bit perverse at times, but having Congress try to assess which professions are important and which are bad would be much worse.

Republicans always talk about how the government should stop trying to “pick winners”, accusing President Obama of doing this with his subsidies for various forms of green energy (and apparently turning a blind eye toward their own efforts to help their own favoured industries). Well, I would submit to Senator Rubio and President Obama that the successful US Olympic athletes have already picked themselves as winners through their achievements in London. They are to be congratulated and afforded all the respect due to a champion, but their accomplishments do not entitle them to a tax break, particularly at a time when the tax code is crying out for simplification.

Come Dine With Me, Says Obama

I wrote yesterday partly about cults of personality, with relation to some of Vladimir Putin’s recent shenanigans. I thought no more of it until I saw this tweet from President Obama’s Twitter feed:

This gushing quote led to this article from the Obama-Biden campaign website, in which a firefighter known only as “Jim” gushes about his excitement at winning a competition to have dinner with the president, and about how “normal” a guy Obama is. Some exerpts:

After walking to the restaurant, says Jim, “There was a lot of excitement. I felt like we were in the middle of the universe. Think about it: You’re in this restaurant, and you know nobody is coming in, you’re not going anywhere, there’s a lot of protection, and it’s for one guy who’s coming to have a meal with you. It’s a wild feeling. Our nerves were still kicking in—but I kept telling everyone, ‘It’s a good nervous.’ I wasn’t so much worried about what I would say to him, because I’ve watched him over the last few months and I knew deep down inside he was going to be a normal guy.”

And this:

“But then, he caught me off guard because he started asking me about being a firefighter! I wanted to know so much about him, but he was such a normal guy who just wanted to have a conversation. He turned to me and said, ‘You’re a firefighter, right? How long have you known you wanted to do that?’ I told him I have a picture of me as a little boy wanting to be a firefighter, and he said ‘Oh, so you’re one of those guys!’ He wanted to know all kinds of things, like how many fires I go into, how many guys do we have at your station, and I thought ‘Here’s the President of the United States, and he’s asking me about my job—this is just so cool.’ He really wanted to know!”

And finally this:

“Thankfully, he was exactly the way I imagined he would be. Like I said, I’ve been watching him, and he just seems so normal, and that’s exactly what he was. I wish I could have sat there for four hours and talked to him—he was just a good guy, normal. You’d never guess you were sitting there with the President.”

I’m pretty sure that he isn’t that normal (average Joe doesn’t typically ascend to the highest office in the land) and that I would guess that I was sitting there with the president if I had been in Jim’s place.

Now maybe I got out of bed on the wrong side today, and I certainly don’t want to pour any scorn on Jim the Firefighter’s evident joy and excitement to have met the president, I think that it is a wonderful thing. But given the fact that political opponents and a lot of more-or-less impartial observers tend to recoil a little at Obama’s tendency to make things about himself, about his taking credit where credit should perhaps be shared, his frequent use of the word “I” in speeches and so on, I’m wondering how wise it is to set up a competition to have dinner with the president, and then publish glowing testimonials from the winners in which they reveal how spellbound they were by his brilliance and normal guy charm.

So is this just a harmless way of re-enthusing the base about Obama’s likeability (given the fact that few people other than committed supporters are likely to see it), or is it part of a faux-pas which plays into a Republican narrative about the president’s ego and supposed cult of personality? I’m not quite sure myself, but if I were Obama’s campaign manager I might look to tone down this particular avenue of promotion. Neither he or Romney are ever likely to be seen as the guy you want to have a beer with (and a good thing too – I would want the leader of the most powerful country in the world to perhaps be a bit too busy and intelligent to want to entertain me over a pint), and I see little point in trying to change perceptions on this front.

Not that it is anywhere near as bad as similar online efforts in less fortunate countries, such as Vladimir Putin’s website for children, discussed in this old article from BBC News online:

On this new website, you can visit Mr Putin’s office – there you’ll find a virtual Vladimir sitting with his back to you – click the cup of tea on his desk, and he’ll answer some important questions.

No, not things like “Does democracy in Russia have a future?” or “When will the conflict in Chechnya finally end?”

Questions like these:

“Are you allowed to touch the President with your hands?” The answer – “no”.

Or “Who’s more important, the President or your mother?” Answer – “your mother”.

And “What should you do if you love the president too much?” Answer – “just calm down.”

Mind you, for those Russian schoolchildren who may already love their president a little “too much”, this site is bound to be a hit.

I think the “Come Dine With Obama” promotion is a little tacky, and that it will ultimately be a futile attempt to make the president seem more in touch with the common man, but at least it’s not like this Kremlin scheme, much as some on the right would like us to believe that Obama is attempting to recreate Soviet Russia in Washington DC.

On a lighter note, I was also reminded of this rather more humorous riff on the same subject from The Onion, this time about former president George W. Bush.

The End Of America As We Know It? Hardly.

Andrew Sullivan posts an excellent retort to Mitt Romney’s fear mongering that the United States is about to make a binary flip from being a free enterprise nation to having a “government-run economy”, based on this illuminating chart:

As you will note, the line indicating growth in corporate profits (in billions of dollars) obstinately refuses to go in the direction that it would need to point in order to signify the government-led smothering of the private sector that Romney wants us to believe is currently taking place.

The Republican presidential candidate has been giving speeches bemoaning the notion that President Obama doesn’t understand capitalism or the free enterprise system, and that this ignorance is leading Obama to implement policies that are harming the economic recovery. Romney has advanced this line of attack frequently, most recently at a campaign event in St. Louis, Missouri, though to be fair, he seems willing to ascribe Obama’s supposed failures to ignorance rather than malice:

I do not believe this has been done with evil intent or ill will. But for a family watching their house being sold at foreclosure, or the family that is forced to spend their kid’s college savings just to make ends meet, the results are just as devastating.

Oh wait, perhaps not:

I will not be that President of deception and doubt. I will lead us to a better place.

Then, of course, comes the obligatory lie about Obamacare, the Affordable Healthcare act:

Today, government at all levels consumes 37 percent of the total economy or G.D.P. If Obamacare is allowed to stand, government will reach half of the American economy. And through the increasing controls government has imposed on industries like energy, financial services and automobiles, it will soon effectively control the majority of our economic activity.

This line only works if you are ill-informed enough to actually believe that Obamacare effectively appropriates and nationalises the entire US healthcare industry, bringing it under government ownership as opposed to just regulating the industry to a higher degree and increasing the customer base of the insurance companies through the individual mandate. So it’s basically a big fat lie, though Romney is clever enough to choose his words carefully, stating “government will reach half of the American economy”, a quite meaningless phrase, but one that deliberately and incorrectly suggests ownership and control of half of the US economy without actually putting him on the record as having said so.

And finally, the crux of Romney’s argument:

One must ask whether we will still be a free enterprise nation and whether we will still have economic freedom. America is on the cusp of having a government-run economy. President Obama is transforming America into something very different than the land of the free and the land of opportunity.

We know where that transformation leads. There are other nations that have chosen that path. It leads to chronic high unemployment, crushing debt, and stagnant wages.

I don’t want to transform America; I want to restore the values of economic freedom.

This is what really irritates me about the Romney argument, this idea that there is a binary choice between “free enterprise” and “government-run”, that America has always dwelt on the free enterprise side of the line and that Obama wants an old-school socialist planned economy. It is borne out of the total allergy to nuance or shades of grey currently affecting the Republican party, and is one of the main reasons why I cannot bring myself to support them at the moment.

Of course there is no such binary choice. What percentage of GDP would have to be consumed by government spending for “free enterprise” to officially be declared dead according to the Romney definition? 37%, the current figure? 50% + 1? Something else? All conservatives – myself included – want to see government spending account for as small a proportion of GDP as possible, and most would agree that the current level – in Britain as well as in America – is too high. But the size of government has expanded under both parties, and though Obama may be guilty of failing to reverse the trend, he has at least slowed the rate of increase in the size of government, when the stimulus measures are factored out. For Mitt Romney to suggest that the US is teetering on the brink of becoming a planned economy under Obama when government spending accounts for 37% of GDP is not only the worst type of scaremongering, it also ignores the significant contribution that his own party made to the problem.

And as for this narrative about Obama seeking to “transform” America, to turn it into something unrecognisable from before – while it may be the only narrative that Romney can hope to ride to the White House in November, it is also untrue. Obama is a centre-left politician implementing mostly centre-left policies, some of which would actually have enjoyed a measure of support among Republicans if they had been proposed by a President Bush, Cheney or McCain. But for Romney to get out the vote, he must convince his supporters of something patently untrue, that Obama is a radical, a dangerous subversive trying to alter the fabric of America.

I’m an economic conservative, I believe in a small state and limited government involvement in private markets. But given the choice between someone on the centre left who is making an honest effort along Keynesian lines to solve the economic difficulties facing America and someone on the right who screams “socialism!” where none exists, and who remains in denial about his own side’s complicity in the downturn and the detrimental effect that his policy proposals would have on the recovery, I have to hold my nose and support the centre left guy.

Which is a shame, because it would be nice to have a genuine choice in 2012.