Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remarks on last night’s Republican debate

Contenders for the Republican presidential nomination were posed questions by CNBC business journalists. I think that most businesspeople regard the journalists as experts.

Courting the Tea Party with libertarian rhetoric

The candidates know that Tea Partiers are furious about bailouts and stimulus packages. If you do not disavow the notion that some entities are “too big to fail,” then you are anathema. So all of the candidates, except Huntsman, went out of their way to bash it. Romney, who has earned a reputation for flip-flopping, had said previously that the Wall Street bailout saved the world from economic collapse. Evidently he’s decided that he must feign insanity to get the nomination.

The rhetoric generally went, “We should have let more of the big banks fail. We should let people lose their homes. A flat tax is fair, and will grow the economy.” Romney, however, favored tax relief for the middle class. Huntsman emphasized that there should a limit on the size of banks, and also indicated that the home mortgage situation is more complex than the other candidates made it out to be. Kudos to Huntsman.

The journalists seemed genuinely shocked by the apparent obliviousness of the candidates to the impact that collapse of the seventh-largest national economy, that of Italy, would have on the global economy. The candidates who spoke to the matter all agreed that, just as no business is too big to fail, no nation is too big to fail. “No American bailout for Italy!” What’s disgusting in this is that the current president, and not the next, must address the problem of Italy. Obama is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position. And the Republican strategists love it.

Question only the character of Democrats

When a journalist mentioned allegations that Cain had engaged in sexual misconduct, and then asked him a challenging question about character, the audience booed. In all honesty, it took me several seconds to comprehend that they were booing the journalist. Many of them regard Bill Clinton as an awful president because he accepted a woman’s offer of a blowjob. The hypocrisy is sickening.

Not to make little of sexual misconduct, but I see the allegations as a sideshow. Cain lies blatantly about the centerpiece of his campaign, the 9-9-9 taxation plan that obviously would increase the federal deficit while benefiting rich people like himself. The news media report that the entire spectrum of economists regards the plan as bunk, yet the guy remains at the top of the polls. Only when it comes out that he was accused of sexual harassment does anyone raise questions about his character. Bizarre.

Talking point — singular

Cain answered every question he possibly could by saying something like, "First, we have to grow the economy. And my 9-9-9 plan will do that.” It’s one thing to see a disciplined candidate return as quickly as possible to talking points, but something quite different to see a candidate do little but reiterate a single talking point.

Earlier in the race, I thought that Cain’s objective was merely to hammer “9-9-9” into the skulls of the ignorant, and thus effect the sort of change in public opinion that his good friends, the Koch brothers, love dearly. Now I have to wonder if he actually has found a highly effective way of duping the Tea Party.

Gingrich the pseudo-candidate

Newt Gingrich is a testy old man who is “running” merely to mouth off. Sadly, he has the best thought-out views of anyone in the crowd. But he’s failed miserably in getting media coverage of them. He needs to curb his antagonism.

“I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

[Added in edit:] Rick Perry has stated many times his plan to abolish the Departments of Education, Commerce, and Energy, so his inability to dredge up “Energy” in the heat of the debate really was, as he says, a case of brain-freeze. My response to this is much like my response to Cain’s alleged sexual misconduct. Why, when the plan itself is patently stupid and corrupt, would anyone make much of an insubstantial gaffe?

The Department of Energy is largely responsible for encouraging the development of alternative energy sources, and the motivation of the governor of an oil-producing and oil-refining state for doing away with it is all too obvious.

The four-year high-school graduation rate in the U.S. has been about 70 percent for four decades. Most of the states are performing poorly in education, so “hand the responsibility back to the states” is a stupid response to a national crisis. No Child Left Behind was, predictably, a debacle. But let’s recall that it was a hasty imposition on all states of what George W. Bush had decided was right for Texas. There was no solid evidence that the Texas program was working. The fundamental problem is not that the Department of Education is getting in the way of the states. Instead it is that the adoption of educational methods in the U.S. is predominantly based on ideology, rather than evidence. School boards and bureaucrats say, “Ooh, that sounds right. Let’s do it!”

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