Monday, August 13, 2012

The Right-Wing Stuff?

If Governor Romney loses in November, I think in the final analysis it will have been because the right (Tea Partiers as well as conventional conservatives) would not allow Romney to run on the things that might allow him to gain traction in the general election.

The sweeping theme of why people voted for Romney in the primary election was because they thought he would be best able to beat President Obama in the fall.  (Yes, a lot of why Romney won those primaries is because higher-income voters voted for him in droves, but so did enough regular-income people to put him over the top.)

It was Romney's un-scariness - in a year that boasted scary primary Republican candidates in a range from: Santorum-to-Newt-to-Bachmann-to-Cain (from most to least likely to actually get the nomination) - that so attracted primary voters.

- Rick Santorum on why birth control is bad.

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- Newt Gingrich wages the War on the Poor

...But after he won the primary, instead of etch-a-sketching his way back to a centrist place, he had to keep kowtowing to the right.  Whenever he has failed to do so, he has gotten raked across the coals, publicly.

He hasn't been able to run on Romneycare.

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He hasn't been able to run on anything else he did as Massachusetts Governor.

He's been jumping through litmus tests for a really long time on abortion, leading to the pro-personhood, anti-planned parenthood, anti-birth control stances.

He's also been jumping through litmus tests on immigration, gay rights, and a host of other issues that make him look extreme - both because the right won't let him do anything else and because Romney wants to be president so incredibly badly that he will say whatever he thinks people want to hear, in sometimes the most damaging way.

The Romney that everybody is left to focus on is the Vampire Capitalist - and that's not a pretty picture for a year when so many people are struggling.

And now there's this guy, darling of the Right:

Paul Ryan is smart, don't get me wrong, but he's a confirmation of everything that people already fear about Romney: that he does not care about anyone but rich people.  Ryan is a confirmation of the policies that Romney has so far been reluctant to define, and proof to any who were wondering about where Romney's loyalties will lie if he gets elected president.  The only way I see the Ryan pick helping at all is if this race truly is only about turnout.  If this race is about independents, undecideds?  Ryan underscores the "I'm not on your side" aspect of Romney's persona. (Side note: doesn't Ryan sound like he's doing an impression of Michael J Fox as Alex P. Keaton?)

Charles Blow mentioned that the Obama Campaign has been Rove-like in its aggression to paint Romney as "out of touch and elitist" - and it's true that Obama's people have been missing no opportunity to pounce (in a way alien to recent Democrats), but Romney's real problems on the likability and narrative front are his own mouth and the conservatives in his party.  The Obama Campaign has simply been picking up the ball once it's been fumbled and moving it down the field.

Romney doesn't seem to understand that he is a poster boy for the serious parallels between this era and the Gilded Age...

..and there is an obvious, tried-and-true counter to Gilded Age politics: Progressive politics.  You know what that led to last time?  The income tax, antitrust laws, greater federal regulation of labor and business practices, the direct election of senators, and women getting the vote.

I'm looking at you: Citizens United, public works projects, electoral college, and voter suppression laws.

And that's why everybody is all of a sudden talking about the Government (Rs) and the Rich (Ds).

But while conservatives seem giddily sure that their arguments on the revival of trickle-down economics and starving the beast will resonate with people (presumably just because people don't like taxes?), I suspect that they are really turning an election that was just about the current state of the economy (and if it's bad, vote Romney, see e.g. Reagan, 1980; Clinton, 1992) into an election about the philosophical debate between those who think there is almost no place for federal government in modern life, and those who think federal government is essential and capable of helping to make the economy and people's lives better.

I simply cannot see how that benefits Romney...


  1. Right on. Again, why doesn't everyone our age realize that? I know our history classes didn't have time, at the end of the year, to hit the Korean War, but they always got to the Depression and alphabet soup programs by April or May. Come on!

  2. I think once you get past the civil war there's a feeling that everybody blends together until Teddy Roosevelt. And even then everybody likes Teddy, but few people realize just how liberal he was :-)

  3. Newt Gingrich clip was messed up, it's now fixed...

  4. So who should Romney have chosen? Olympia Snowe? Charlie Crist? Republicans won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, the Virginia governorship, and historic gains in the 2010 midterms by hammering Obamacare and out-of-control government spending. And then they're supposed to turn around and have Mitt Romney run on Romneycare and take a "moderate" line on spending? I can certainly see why they might want to stick with the strategy that worked so well in 2009 and 2010. For what it's worth, I do think this election is going to come down to turnout - I've read in many places that voters are unusually dug in this year and there aren't a lot of undecideds out there. In that sense, Ryan is a great pick for Republicans. Even if he did turn off independents, elections can be won on turnout. Bush won in 2004 despite losing the independent vote because Republicans turned out in such great numbers. In any case, I don't think Ryan will turn off independent voters. Republicans won independents by a wide margin in 2010 with their message of fiscal discipline and opposition to Obamacare, and Ryan himself has attracted significant independent and Democratic support in his district.

    A couple of other points to which I would like to respond. First, the suggestion that Paul Ryan, like Mitt Romney, "only cares about rich people." I assume this refers to Ryan's fiscal policies. For one thing, I fail to see how wanting to lower taxes for EVERYONE leads to the conclusion that Ryan "only cares about rich people." Yes, his cuts to government spending affect poor people, but that's because THAT'S WHERE THE SPENDING IS! I'm sure Paul Ryan would be happy to cut all those government programs for wealthy people, but they don't really exist. Finally, to the extent that the EFFECTS of Romney's and Ryan's policies benefit the wealthy and cut benefits to the poor, Democrats automatically impugn their character and claim that Romney and Ryan promote these policies because they "only care about rich people." It is simply not possible, apparently, to believe in good faith that economic growth is the best way to lift people out of poverty and that economic growth is best promoted by low tax rates and low levels of government spending. It is also, apparently, impossible to "care" about poor people unless you support transfers of wealth to those people that are coerced by, and controlled by, the government. So if you give lots of money to charity but support the Ryan budget, sorry, you don't actually care about poor people.

    Finally, the suggestion that conservatives believe that "there is almost no place for federal government in modern life." Well that's a strawman if I ever saw one. The Ryan budget seeks to get government spending down to 19.8% of GDP by 2022. By comparison, government spending as a percentage of GDP was lower during ALL 4 YEARS OF THE SECOND CLINTON ADMINISTRATION!

  5. If I were Romney I would have chosen Portman. Portman would have been an Al Gore pick. A confident pick. Portman is more than capable of doing the VP attack dog job, he's smarter than Ryan (and far more adept at policy debates), he's more of a grown-up in his political and economic outlook (read: not a devotee of Ayn Rand), and he's from Ohio. I was really afraid of that pick. They could still win. But Romney/Portman would have been a lot harder to beat.

    People think this about Romney largely because that's the narrative of the campaign. But Romney has reinforced that narrative time and again through unforced gaffes. He also has a tendency to laugh inappropriately when asked about anything financial, in sort of an Al Gore debate dramatic sigh way.

    It depends how you define spending. Tax cuts are a form of spending. And there is a ton of spending in defense, and that's not on the table - it's not even discussed in a "let's cut out waste, fraud and abuse" way. What's more important than that, however, is what kind of government expenditure gins up the most economic activity, and that's middle and lower income people getting more money, because they will spend more of it in active commerce.

    So you think Ryan is a big government spender? :-)

  6. PS to be clear, I meant a Clinton-chooses-Gore pick. Lieberman was a bad pick, by comparison.

  7. Portman would have been okay. My concern with Portman was that his service as Bush's OMB director would've meant Democrats would try to run against W for the second consecutive time that he's not on the ticket. I don't know what your basis is for saying he's smarter than Ryan and far more adept at policy debates - just because he's more moderate (allegedly) doesn't mean he's smarter and a better debater. In any case, you said in your post above that you think Ryan is smart. As far as his political and economic outlook, again this just strikes me as pejorative - somebody who believes in free markets and small government is not a "grown-up." And while Portman is from Ohio, I'm not sure what the evidence is for VP picks swinging their home states. Ryan potentially puts Wisconsin in play as well.

    Whenever Democrats and the media get challenged on this "Romney only cares about rich people" stuff, they always point to "the narrative" and Romney's gaffes, as if this something entirely external, ignoring their very concerted efforts to construct this narrative and to reinforce it at every turn, and as if it doesn't really matter if it's true or they really believe it. I'm sure Obama has said certain things (like "spread the wealth around") that "reinforce the narrative" that he's a socialist and a Communist, but I don't go around saying it because I don't believe it and I don't think it's true.

    Tax cuts are not a form of spending, I'm sorry. I define spending as a normal layperson would. Spending means the outlay of money, not forgoing potential income. Yes, there is a lot of money in defense, but as a percent of the federal budget and as a percent of GDP defense spending is relatively low compared to historical levels, and I would argue that national defense is the most important function a government provides, so in terms of prioritizing cuts, those should come last. Re: ginning up economic activity, this is a tremendously short-sighted view of how the economy works. Economic activity is not made up of just consumption - investment is a crucial component of economic growth, particularly long-term growth, as well. Saving and investment is a GOOD thing! Why do we want to discourage that by making one's propensity to engage in consumption the criterion for getting government benefits? If I promise to spend it all, can I have my tax cut?

    Do I think Ryan is a big government spender? In comparison to what he is made out to be? Yes. The huge "cuts" Democrats parade in front of everybody as "radical" and "mean" are only "cuts" in relation to the record high spending levels proposed by Obama or by "baseline" budgeting, which assumes a certain level of growth automatically.

  8. My basis is watching them both on the Ways and Means Committee. Ryan is smart. Portman is smarter. As for the grown-up thing, a lot of people view Ayn Rand as a high school or college phase, not a life-long political theory.

    I think Romney has an economic view that is based on a permanent underclass. That there are winners and losers, and he'll just assume the social safety net is working for losers. Ryan agrees, and would go one step further, by gutting the social safety net. I don't agree. Highlighting those facts isn't about being mean or mischaracterizing what Romney is saying, it's making sure people understand that's what he's saying. There are real consequences for people, for children, when you drastically cut governmental aid for the poor, and it's not like any of them are spurring the economy. Quite the contrary. I'm not sure Romney understands the way the economy works for regular people. That's a problem for a president in a challenging economy. At least with HW he knew not to gut spending for the poor. Romney doesn't seem to get that, despite the Nun bus tour. Obama isn't a socialist, but he does believe in government, and Rs should talk about that, it's good to talk about it. If people don't think Obama's jobs plan is a good idea, they shouldn't vote for him. But they should know about it. And Congress should have voted on it.

    I would consider tax cuts a policy choice more than spending, I guess: everything that distorts our tax code from its progressive income tax core is a policy choice. A policy choice that reduces the amount of money we have. Saving and investment is a good thing, yes. But saving is the opposite of economic stimulus, and that's what we need to drive more of right now, far more than we need to drive saving. So if we are going to make a policy choice, it should be towards driving spending, not saving, for the near future. Besides which, if you do the spending right you can both help poor or low-income people and stimulate the economy at the same time. And if you stimulate the economy enough, you can help low-income people find jobs. So we should be spending money on providing money to states to hire back the state employees they have been laying off (per Krugman), rebuilding infrastructure, and giving unemployment insurance extensions.

    But I digress. What do you think about the back and forth on the Medicare "cuts" Rs say Obama has made in Obamacare?