Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Blogging, Decision '08, Environment, History, Iran, Media, Politics — Rick Moran @ 9:34 am

I first became aware of blogger Al Weisel (AKA “Jon Swift”) when I started my “Carnival of the Clueless” linkfest back in 2005. Al submitted a post each week almost from the beginning.

I have to admit to being had by the Jon Swift character. I never read his submissions closely, scanning them for the essence of what he was writing about, and thus was totally unaware for a couple of months that he was skewering conservatives. It wasn’t until I read on some other blog that he was a satirist that I actually began to read what he wrote with that in mind.

I don’t necessarily feel bad or stupid about it. I apparently wasn’t the only conservative unable to divine the author’s intent. In truth, what Al and others on the left sometimes see as right wing nonsense is occasionally anything but. However, his unerring eye for absurdities on the right, and a pitch perfect ear that regurgitated conservative talking points to make them sound ridiculous, placed him in a class all his own as a satirist.

Al Weisel died on February 27. 2010. The tragedy of his death at age 46 was compounded by the circumstances; he suffered “2 aortic aneurysms, a leaky aortic valve and an aortic artery dissection from his heart to his pelvis,” according to his mother who posted the news on his long defunct blog. And he was stricken on the way to his father’s funeral in West Virginia.

Good satire needs to be subtle enough to sound plausible while giving broad hints that lets the reader in on the fun. It is a tightrope few are creative enough, disciplined enough, and talented enough to walk. Al managed it with apparent ease. At all times, he maintained a sincerity so believable, you occasionally did double takes on what he wrote to make sure he was poking fun at you.

I was an occasional target of his saucy barbs, to which I responded with my usual good humor. The fact that Al was amenable to correcting some of the stuff I complained about always impressed me.

Eventually, we struck up a sort of odd email relationship. Whenever I was a subject of one of his satirical lances, he would email me - usually including a pithy comment. I would banter back in kind (although with less joie de vivre and not half as much talent). I was pleased that he invited me to participate in his “Best Blogs of 2007″ roundup. Not too many conservatives could say that.

Eventually, he mostly stopped linking because we were usually on the same wavelength when it came to criticizing conservative lunacy; me screaming about it and he parodying it. I can’t say I missed being the target of his razor sharp wit and poison pen. But he was a joy to read if only to marvel at the elegance and clarity of his writing.

As with many such email relationships over the years, we fell out of touch. The news of his passing has opened the floodgates to memories from my early days of blogging and has helped me recall how every day seemed a challenge to be joyfully faced.

Can’t say that anymore. Age and burnout eventually take their toll on a blogger’s constitution. Al doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. And I have no doubt that he’s already skewered St. Peter in The Heavenly Times for something he said when Al talked his way past him and through the pearly gates.


Ed Morrissey has an old Blog Talk Radio show of his that featured me on the first half hour and Jon Swift the last half hour.



Filed under: Bailout, Blogging, Decision '08, Ethics, History, Politics, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 11:36 am

The best article I’ve read to date on how we have become a bailout nation and why was published about 2 weeks ago in Rolling Stone. It was by the estimable Matt Taibbi and is entitled “Wall Street’s Bailout Hustle.”

I dare you to read it and not be grinding your teeth by the end of it.

Recognizing a certain class bias inherent in Taibbi’s explanations of what the Wall Street banks have wrought doesn’t diminish the impact of this horror story in the slightest. The bottom line, as Taibbi explains is that nothing has changed since September 2008. The same practices that got us into trouble then, have been resurrected and, if anything, are being used with even more gusto by the Wall Street Raiders who are now working hand and fist with the government to rob the taxpayers:

That’s why the biggest gift the bankers got in the bailout was not fiscal but psychological. “The most valuable part of the bailout,” says Rep. Sherman, “was the implicit guarantee that they’re Too Big to Fail.” Instead of liquidating and prosecuting the insolvent institutions that took us all down with them in a giant Ponzi scheme, we have showered them with money and guarantees and all sorts of other enabling gestures. And what should really freak everyone out is the fact that Wall Street immediately started skimming off its own rescue money. If the bailouts validated anew the crooked psychology of the bubble, the recent profit and bonus numbers show that the same psychology is back, thriving, and looking for new disasters to create. “It’s evidence,” says Rep. Kanjorski, “that they still don’t get it.”

More to the point, the fact that we haven’t done much of anything to change the rules and behavior of Wall Street shows that we still don’t get it. Instituting a bailout policy that stressed recapitalizing bad banks was like the addict coming back to the con man to get his lost money back. Ask yourself how well that ever works out. And then get ready for the reload.

Taibbi - sometimes to the detriment of his narrative - uses various plays by con-artists (a society of criminals unique in their vocabulary and history) and compares them to what J.P. Morgan and other Wall Street outfits did to get the trillions in Fed money that have made them so profitable today.

In essence:

A year and a half after they were minutes away from bankruptcy, how are these assholes not only back on their feet again, but hauling in bonuses at the same rate they were during the bubble?

The answer to that question is basically twofold: They raped the taxpayer, and they raped their clients.

Beyond that, either the big banks haven’t learned a thing, or more likely, know a good thing when they see it:

The bottom line is that banks like Goldman have learned absolutely nothing from the global economic meltdown. In fact, they’re back conniving and playing speculative long shots in force — only this time with the full financial support of the U.S. government. In the process, they’re rapidly re-creating the conditions for another crash, with the same actors once again playing the same crazy games of financial chicken with the same toxic assets as before.

That’s why this bonus business isn’t merely a matter of getting upset about whether or not Lloyd Blankfein buys himself one tropical island or two on his next birthday. The reality is that the post-bailout era in which Goldman thrived has turned out to be a chaotic frenzy of high-stakes con-artistry, with taxpayers and clients bilked out of billions using a dizzying array of old-school hustles that, but for their ponderous complexity, would have fit well in slick grifter movies like The Sting and Matchstick Men.

Why we have been sanguine in the face of what Taibbi describes as these “old school hustles” is the result of the extraordinarily arcane nature of the cons being visited on the Fed and Congress by the banks.

To appreciate how all of these (sometimes brilliant) schemes work is to understand the difference between earning money and taking scores, and to realize that the profits these banks are posting don’t so much represent national growth and recovery, but something closer to the losses one would report after a theft or a car crash. Many Americans instinctively understand this to be true — but, much like when your wife does it with your 300-pound plumber in the kids’ playroom, knowing it and actually watching the whole scene from start to finish are two very different things.

Taibbi lists 7 of these con games that the gamblers at J.P. Morgan and other big banks have been running at our expense. Here is a too brief description of a few of them:

* “The Swoop and Squat.” How counterparties - including a French bank - played both sides in the AIG meltdown and forced it into bankruptcy. The big banks had been using AIG to “insure” the toxic mortgage backed securities, for which AIG received a substantial cut, but was unprepared when hundreds of billions in bad paper drowned it.

The “swoop and squat” is the well known insurance scam where your car is boxed in by 2 or 3 other cars and a deliberate “accident” ensues so that the scammers can collect:

This may sound far-fetched, but the financial crisis of 2008 was very much caused by a perverse series of legal incentives that often made failed investments worth more than thriving ones. Our economy was like a town where everyone has juicy insurance policies on their neighbors’ cars and houses. In such a town, the driving will be suspiciously bad, and there will be a lot of fires.

When AIG was drowning, the banks hurried its collapse along:

So Goldman and other banks began demanding that AIG provide them with cash collateral. In the 15 months leading up to the collapse of AIG, Goldman received $5.9 billion in collateral. Société Générale, a bank holding lots of mortgage-backed crap originally underwritten by Goldman, received $5.5 billion. These collateral demands squeezing AIG from two sides were the “Swoop and Squat” that ultimately crashed the firm.

Of course, Goldman demanded the government reimburse them for the full “value” of the $5.9 billion in collateral they ripped from AIG. If the insurance giant had gone through bankruptcy, Goldman would have received virtually nothing. Just one way that Goldman gamed the government and the Fed in gorging itself to bursting.

* “The Dollar Store.” In grifter parlance, this refers to something like what we saw in the movie “The Sting” where a lot of con artists set up a fake front to fool the mark. Goldman and Morgan Stanley applied for, and received in record time, a charter that redefined the kind of bank they were just 5 days after the AIG bailout:

By law, a five-day waiting period was required for such a conversion — but the two banks got them overnight, with final approval actually coming only five days after the AIG bailout.

Why did they need those federal bank charters? This question is the key to understanding the entire bailout era — because this Dollar Store scam was the big one. Institutions that were, in reality, high-risk gambling houses were allowed to masquerade as conservative commercial banks. As a result of this new designation, they were given access to a virtually endless tap of “free money” by unsuspecting taxpayers. The $10 billion that Goldman received under the better-known TARP bailout was chump change in comparison to the smorgasbord of direct and indirect aid it qualified for as a commercial bank.

Before reading this next bit from Taibbi on what the banks did with that new charter, I suggest you remove all sharp objects from within reach plus anything that might be used as a missile to hurl through your monitor:

When Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley got their federal bank charters, they joined Bank of America, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase and the other banking titans who could go to the Fed and borrow massive amounts of money at interest rates that, thanks to the aggressive rate-cutting policies of Fed chief Ben Bernanke during the crisis, soon sank to zero percent. The ability to go to the Fed and borrow big at next to no interest was what saved Goldman, Morgan Stanley and other banks from death in the fall of 2008.


In fact, the Fed became not just a source of emergency borrowing that enabled Goldman and Morgan Stanley to stave off disaster — it became a source of long-term guaranteed income. Borrowing at zero percent interest, banks like Goldman now had virtually infinite ways to make money. In one of the most common maneuvers, they simply took the money they borrowed from the government at zero percent and lent it back to the government by buying Treasury bills that paid interest of three or four percent. It was basically a license to print money — no different than attaching an ATM to the side of the Federal Reserve.

That’s right. They borrowed interest free money from the government and lent it back to us - with interest. This is one con game used by Taibbi that has a direct application to what occurred in the real world.

* The Rumanian Box. This is an age old scam invented by a guy named Lustig where the con man shows the mark a magical machine where you put a blank piece of paper in one end, turn a crank and out pops a $20 on the other end. Here’s how the banks used this concept and bilked the Fed:

The brilliant Lustig sold this Rumanian Box over and over again for vast sums — but he’s been outdone by the modern barons of Wall Street, who managed to get themselves a real Rumanian Box.

How they accomplished this is a story that by itself highlights the challenge of placing this era in any kind of historical context of known financial crime. What the banks did was something that was never — and never could have been — thought of before. They took so much money from the government, and then did so little with it, that the state was forced to start printing new cash to throw at them. Even the great Lustig in his wildest, horniest dreams could never have dreamed up this one.

The big banks threatened to freeze lending even more unless the Feds came up with more goodies. The government didn’t disappoint:

The ploy worked. In March of last year, the Fed sharply expanded a radical new program called quantitative easing, which effectively operated as a real-live Rumanian Box. The government put stacks of paper in one side, and out came $1.2 trillion “real” dollars.

The government used some of that freshly printed money to prop itself up by purchasing Treasury bonds — a desperation move, since Washington’s demand for cash was so great post-Clusterfuck ‘08 that even the Chinese couldn’t buy U.S. debt fast enough to keep America afloat. But the Fed used most of the new cash to buy mortgage-backed securities in an effort to spur home lending — instantly creating a massive market for major banks.

And what did the banks do with the proceeds? Among other things, they bought Treasury bonds, essentially lending the money back to the government, at interest. The money that came out of the magic Rumanian Box went from the government back to the government, with Wall Street stepping into the circle just long enough to get paid. And once quantitative easing ends, as it is scheduled to do in March, the flow of money for home loans will once again grind to a halt. The Mortgage Bankers Association expects the number of new residential mortgages to plunge by 40 percent this year.

The last con game Tabai uses to highlight what Wall Street has been up to is called “The Reload.” This refers to a mark who comes back for seconds.

It’s important to remember that the housing bubble itself was a classic confidence game — the Ponzi scheme. The Ponzi scheme is any scam in which old investors must be continually paid off with money from new investors to keep up what appear to be high rates of investment return. Residential housing was never as valuable as it seemed during the bubble; the soaring home values were instead a reflection of a continual upward rush of new investors in mortgage-backed securities, a rush that finally collapsed in 2008.

But by the end of 2009, the unimaginable was happening: The bubble was re-inflating. A bailout policy that was designed to help us get out from under the bursting of the largest asset bubble in history inadvertently produced exactly the opposite result, as all that government-fueled capital suddenly began flowing into the most dangerous and destructive investments all over again. Wall Street was going for the reload.

Why? Why haven’t we woken up to this outright robbery? Well for one thing, the financial services industry gives generously to both parties, thus allowing them virtual free reign to snooker the taxpayer. But even Obama’s new regulations - being watered down even further as I write this - will be inadequate. And the reason has to do with morals, not regulation:

Con artists have a word for the inability of their victims to accept that they’ve been scammed. They call it the “True Believer Syndrome.” That’s sort of where we are, in a state of nagging disbelief about the real problem on Wall Street. It isn’t so much that we have inadequate rules or incompetent regulators, although both of these things are certainly true. The real problem is that it doesn’t matter what regulations are in place if the people running the economy are rip-off artists. The system assumes a certain minimum level of ethical behavior and civic instinct over and above what is spelled out by the regulations. If those ethics are absent — well, this thing isn’t going to work, no matter what we do. Sure, mugging old ladies is against the law, but it’s also easy. To prevent it, we depend, for the most part, not on cops but on people making the conscious decision not to do it.

My concern about Democrats and liberals bashing bankers has always been that they fail to adequately differentiate between the robber barons on Wall Street, and the friendly, smiling face of a loan officer we have dealt with at our neighborhood suburban bank. Those are the guys who suffer because of the indiscriminate class card played by the left. They have as much in common with the crooks at Goldman Sachs as my pet cat Aramas has with a saber tooth lion.

But I think the key here has been misplaced conservative support for these rogues who we see as the ultimate success stories in the free market. The problem, as Taibbi points out and as we should have realized long ago, is that these guys operate on another level of the playing field altogether. They can’t be effectively regulated by the government because they are so powerful both politically and as economic entities that drive the macro economy, that they, in effect, hold most of the cards. They are partners with the government. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the government is partners with them. There is no competition except among the extremely small group of bankers to which they sometimes conspire with to realize their enormous profits.

Maybe tar and feathers isn’t such a bad idea after all.



Filed under: Climate Change, Decision '08, Politics — Rick Moran @ 9:55 am

Reading this New York Times op-ed by Al Gore gives you the distinct impression that he has been off somewhere communing with the global warming gods and hasn’t been paying attention to the collapse of his “overwhelming consensus” on climate change:

It would be an enormous relief if the recent attacks on the science of global warming actually indicated that we do not face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.

Of course, we would still need to deal with the national security risks of our growing dependence on a global oil market dominated by dwindling reserves in the most unstable region of the world, and the economic risks of sending hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas in return for that oil. And we would still trail China in the race to develop smart grids, fast trains, solar power, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources of energy - the most important sources of new jobs in the 21st century.

But what a burden would be lifted! We would no longer have to worry that our grandchildren would one day look back on us as a criminal generation that had selfishly and blithely ignored clear warnings that their fate was in our hands. We could instead celebrate the naysayers who had doggedly persisted in proving that every major National Academy of Sciences report on climate change had simply made a huge mistake.

A “criminal generation?” This from a Democrat whose global warming “fixes” would bankrupt the western world.

In fairness, Gore makes some good points. Framing our energy policy in terms of national security is a good idea. And highlighting the danger of so much of our debt being bought by China can’t be said enough when the necessity to get a handle on our deficit has become so vital.

And Gore is correct when dismissing snowstorms, and even the Himalayan Glacier kerfuffle as not disproving the concept of climate change. Every time I read an amateur climate skeptic referring to the recent blizzards or cold temps as “proof” that global warming is a fraud, I cringe. It’s winter, people. You make the skeptical community look silly by postulating such stupidity.

Yet, the former Vice President misses the point when it comes to the Himalayan Glacier retraction, and presumably other revelations that have shown the IPCC  as a hopelessly flawed, politicized body. Taken by themselves, these sometimes politicized, sometimes mistaken statements relating to climate change are not compelling evidence of global warming being a total fraud - especially when stacked up against the bulk of studies and scientific articles on climate change that have been published over the last two decades. But he is clueless about the impact of these “errors” on the very people from which he is demanding such extraordinary sacrifice. Even in Europe, skepticism is way up. And despite a virtual blackout in the US of every major story relating to the IPCC’s bumbling, corrupt methods (and its chairman who has been caught red handed in a monumental conflict of interest), skepticism is on the rise here as well.

But the real problem with this little essay is that Gore is taking the now familiar tack of climate change advocates and tut-tutting about the series of revelations that have undermined the science he so confidently - and with the fervor of a religious zealot - believes in.

Weirdly, he mischaracterizes the document dump from East Anglia as an effort by Jones and Mann to push back against the “onslaught of hostile, make-work demands from climate skeptics.” These “make work” demands were citizens seeking confirmation of the science via Freedom of Information laws. In other words, Gore obviously believes we should sit down, shut up, and let him and his buddies reach into our pockets and remove trillions of dollars without demanding proof of the scientific basis for his power grab.

How very democratic of him.

This is an extraordinarily weak and idiotic defense. Poor wittle Jones and Mann. Let us weep for their workload. Let us gnash our teeth at the meanies who put them under so much pressure, that they felt they had not choice but to lie, cheat, cook the books, ruin the careers of fellow scientists who didn’t agree with them, and pressure formerly respected science publications to toe the company line on climate change.

What a crock.

Gore evidently hasn’t read the recent literature:

It is also worth noting that the panel’s scientists - acting in good faith on the best information then available to them - probably underestimated the range of sea-level rise in this century,

Doesn’t he mean “overestimated?”

Scientists have been forced to withdraw a study on projected sea level rise due to global warming after finding mistakes that undermined the findings.The study, published in 2009 in Nature Geoscience, one of the top journals in its field, confirmed the conclusions of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It used data over the last 22,000 years to predict that sea level would rise by between 7cm and 82cm by the end of the century.


Siddall said that he did not know whether the retracted paper’s estimate of sea level rise was an overestimate or an underestimate.

Yes - but remember; the science is settled.

He blames the failure in Copenhagen, not on the common sense objections from China and India regarding the destruction of their economies if recommendations made by the IPCC were adapted, but because the US senate didn’t pass cap and trade.

Finally, this bit of weirdness that shows Gore for what he is; a megalomaniac:

From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption. After all has been said and so little done, the truth about the climate crisis - inconvenient as ever - must still be faced.

Al Gore sees himself as a redeemer - as Jesus Christ. And where is there room in a democratic republic for someone who thinks that the rule of law should be an “instrument of redemption?” Holy Mother, that is the scariest idea ever to drool from Gore’s mouth. The rule of law is just that - the rule of law. There should be no special qualities that animate the enforcement of the law - certainly not a drive to “redeem” anything or anybody. That smacks of titanic hubris to use the law to enforce your idea of “redemption.”

If the shoe fits, Al…

Much of this blog post originally appears in The American Thinker.



Filed under: Decision '08, Decision 2012, Politics, health care reform — Rick Moran @ 11:09 am

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels would be on my short list for presidential candidates if he decided to run in 2012.

Unfortunately, outside of us RINO’s, I would be pretty much alone in that hope. Why this is so says a lot about conservatives and Republicans today.

Daniels represents one of the most conservative states in the union. He was just re-elected in 2008 with the largest vote total in state history despite Obama carrying Hoosierland that same year - the first Democrat to do so since LBJ in 1964. Clearly, he is conservative enough for almost anyone in Indiana.

But outside of his home state? Daniels runs into problems because he is actually interested in governing, rather than posing. He wants to get things done rather than hope for failure on the part of the majority as a path back to power. To that end, he has committed the unpardonable sin of working with Democrats in the legislature to pass health care reform, as well as fight the deficit by strategically cutting spending and - another horror - raising taxes.

Somehow, this makes Daniels less conservative than, let’s say, Rush Limbaugh who doesn’t have the responsibility of governing and can afford to posture about evil Democrats because he doesn’t need them to perform his job.

For most movement conservatives, obstructionism and doing nothing about the enormous problems facing us is definitional. Dismissing the opposition as out to harm America is a litmus test.

But Daniels - a great admirer of Reagan - comes at the task of governing a little more pragmatically.

The results speak for themselves:

On this day, Daniels is describing how, in his first term, he won bipartisan support for a program known as Healthy Indiana, which provides health insurance for Hoosiers who aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but earn too little to afford buying coverage for themselves. So far, 50,000 residents have signed up for the program, under which the state contributes up to $1,100 each year to each enrollee’s individual health savings account. Participants also contribute according to their income, and when the account is depleted, a catastrophic insurance plan kicks in to cover any additional expenses. It’s all paid for with a portion of the state’s Medicaid funds, along with an increase in the cigarette tax that Daniels pushed through a reluctant legislature.

In fact, Daniels is such a believer in health savings accounts and consumer-directed health plans that he made sure one was offered to state employees. So far, he reports, 70 percent of state workers have signed up — including himself — saving millions of dollars each year for themselves and taxpayers.


The good Mitch, by contrast, is a principled but practical conservative who respects the intelligence of voters and would rather get something done than score political points. Daniels is a genuine fiscal conservative who took a $600 million state budget deficit and turned it into a $1 billion surplus but managed to do so without cutting spending for education and even increased funding for child welfare services. He pushed hard to lower property taxes but didn’t hesitate to propose temporary hikes in income and sales taxes to keep the state in the black. He privatized the state’s toll road and then used the $4 billion proceeds to launch a major public works investment program.

He served as Bush’s OMB director and is scary smart. And he doesn’t sound like a tea party patriot in this interview with National Journal:

NJ: What do you think is the biggest lesson that the Republicans haven’t quite learned yet from the last election?

Daniels: Always have a better idea. Let me tell you how this looks from out here — and we’re anomalous. In Indiana, Republicans are the party of change and reform; ask anybody — our opponents, the press, everybody. In the rhythm of life here, four years ago we replaced a 16-year regime that had gone stale.

And so we are the party that restored fiscal integrity. We are the party that addressed health care for the uninsured. We are the party that rebuilt an attractive business environment. We are the party that cleaned up the ethics issues in government — that and much more. We attacked our infrastructure problem in a novel and taxpayer-friendly way.

NJ: That you took a little heat over…

Daniels: Yes, yes, but you know, the results are in — and incidentally, we just won with the largest vote total in the history of elections in our state for any office any year.

NJ: A tough year, too…

Daniels: In a tough year. Obama won the state — you know that. I guess what I’m saying is that when Indiana Republicans meet, I always tell them we cannot control what the party looks like in other places or nationally, but here in Indiana if we don’t remain the party always defining the agenda, bringing the new ideas and standing for constructive change, then people will excuse us from duty. And they should. …

People want to know first of all that you hear them and understand what’s going on in their lives. I work at this incessantly.

Politics is about the winning of power. Governance is about using that power to serve the people. In order to serve the people, you must listen to their concerns, and work with the other branch of government to address them.

Sometimes, like Daniels, you get it mostly right. Other times, like Obama, you get it mostly wrong. Both executives listened to the people but drew radically different conclusions about how to go about addressing their problems.

This week, the president is trying one last time to pass health insurance reform. He is trying one last time to get some cooperation from Republicans. Frankly, I don’t blame the GOP for their opposition after what Harry Reid pulled with the jobs bill, taking a carefully crafted compromise and junking it in favor of a nonsensical measure that barely scratches the surface of our jobs crisis. And I am in agreement that there is so much in the Democrat’s proposal that is overreach that opposing the entire process is probably the only alternative open to principled Republicans.

But I have to admit to having admiration for the president. He is doing what good presidents do; not giving up a cornerstone of his agenda despite the odds because he obviously believes he is right. I want a president to be a stubborn mule when he thinks himself correct. Obama is damning the politics of health care reform and proceeding full speed ahead. I agree that he is perhaps taking his party over a cliff. But he will go down with his flag waving high.

Not very practical of me but a president who digs in their heels when they feel they’re right is someone who “gets it” about the job. History has tapped him on the shoulder. That’s a powerful incentive to make your mark and do so your own way.

Daniels hasn’t had the national responsibility but he didn’t hesitate to raise taxes and cut popular programs to balance the budget. While his health care reforms have been market friendly, the state subsidy to the uninsured would probably be viewed with a jaundiced eye by most movement conservatives. He privatized the state’s tollroads but took the money and funded infrastructure projects.

In short, Daniels has allowed necessity to guide his actions rather than ideology. That, and his decidedly dour take on CPAC does nothing to enamor him to “true” conservatives:

Daniels said he wasn’t at CPAC because it was “a lot of rowdyism and barbs cast at the other side. I think that’s appropriate at a certain time. But that’s not my lane right now.”

Daniels was arguing for the GOP to embrace “a friendly and unifying tone” and that his primary political focus was the upcoming elections for the Indiana legislature.

He argued that the problems facing the country — deficits and economic stagnation in particular — were so dire that they demanded serious policy work, not red meat politics.

“For the first time, I’m concerned about the future of the American experiment,” Daniels said.

When red meat politics is all you understand, and when you view cooperation with the enemy and any straying from a narrow, ideological worldview as apostasy, you are not going to fathom a character like Mitch Daniels nor ever consider him for national office.

I love rowdyism myself. This blog likes to mix it up and I pride myself on my ability to trash liberals with the best of them - when they deserve it. But Daniels is repelled by the kind of hysterically exaggerated critiques of the left that flowed so easily from so many at CPAC, depicting Obama with a horns and tail while ginning up fear and outrage over what might be done in his name. That alone disqualifies him in this current climate of “savagery.”

And that is the republic’s - and the Republican party’s - loss.



Filed under: Decision '08, GOP Reform, Politics, Tea Parties, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 11:20 am

Republican leaders were treated well enough by attendees at CPAC. They clapped in all the right places. They cheered lustily at every Obama put down. They dutifully applauded at the 100,000th mention at the conference that the GOP had learned its lesson and were now born again fiscal conservatives.

Then attendees went ahead and gave Ron Paul a victory in the presidential straw poll.

National Journal’s Hotline on Call, picking winners and losers, tags the GOP as a big loser:

What the straw poll did show is that many conservatives aren’t happy with the GOP. RNC chair Michael Steele’s fav/unfav rating is upside down, and 37% say they view GOP leadership in Congress unfavorably too. Many speeches included reminders that the GOP had its chance and lost power because of excess spending. If anything, CPAC showed the GOP is courting the Tea Party movement, but Tea Partiers aren’t sold yet.

A man much admired by many tea partyers, Glenn Beck really let the Republicans have it during his keynote address:

Beck also recalled Reagan’s use of the phrase “morning in America” from one of his TV campaign ads. “It is still morning in America, said Beck. “It’s shaping up to be sort of a nasty day, but it’s still morning in America.” Beck blamed “progressivism” in both parties as the “cancer” in U.S. politics.

“It’s big government, and we need to address it as if it is a cancer,” Beck, on the other issues facing politics. “You must eradicate it. … We need big thinkers and brave people, with spines, who can make the case [that] … it’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be ok. We’re going to make it.”

“It’s not enough to not suck as much as the other side,” said Beck, on how Republicans can regain their ideals. “The first step to redemption is admitting you have a problem. … When they do say they have a problem, I don’t know if I believe them. … They’ve got to recognize they have a problem. … ‘I’m addicted to spending and big government.’”

Beck also made the observation that, “One party will tax and spend. The other party won’t tax, but spend. It’s both of them together. I’m tired of feeling like a freak in America.”

And so it went for most of the conference. The crowd saved their biggest applause for those out of government (Gingrich, Cheney), or those challenging the establishment (Rubio), or for those who are quirky, loony politicians who want to go back to a gold standard while eliminating the Fed (Ron Paul).

“It’s not enough to not suck as much as the other side,” is very good advice from Beck. Too bad the GOP isn’t taking it. The fact is, the Republicans can make huge gains in the House and Senate simply by presenting themselves as a less sucky alternative to the Democrats. They don’t need any specific ideas. The certainly don’t think they need a new agenda.

Whatever pablum emerges as a GOP platform for 2010 I guarantee will look a lot like 2008, 2006, 2004, 2002, and 2000. They may drop anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion stuff further down the page. And there will be a something about returning to “constitutional government’ which, while I find a lot of what Obama and the Democrats are doing to be inimical to liberty, I don’t recall the Supreme Court coming out and pronouncing their agenda “unconstitutional.” For people who claim a fealty to a strict interpretation of the Constitution, I find it fascinating that they declare stuff the administration is doing “unconstitutional” when that document implies such determinations are made by the Supreme Court and not conservative activists.

Of course, judicial review is not written into the Constitution but since Marbury vs. Madison, the high court’s jurisdiction in matters pertaining to the interpretation of what is constitutional and what isn’t hasn’t been questioned. Hence, while I agree with those activists who question the constitutionality of some of what Obama has sought to do, I think it nonsensical to declare willy nilly that just because there is no mention of health insurance in our founding document, that the attempt for a government takeover of health care is, by itself, unconstitutional. It’s a horrible, stupid, ruinous idea. But unconstitutional? I will wait for the Supreme Court to decide that question.

Also, this loyalty to our Constitution seems to have its limits with many activists. I seem to recall a passage in there about Congress being granted the sole authority to declare war or something. This is a problem for many (not all) strict constructionists who appear to want government to treat what’s in the Constitution as the Revealed Word on some things, but others? Not so much.

But never fear, there will almost certainly be language in any GOP manifesto for the election that will seek a “return” to constitutional government. Asking those conservatives when we abandoned that kind of government would elicit some fascinating responses, no doubt.

All snark aside, the Republicans are in a bind. They put on a full court press at CPAC to attract, flatter, and praise the tea party movement, while seeking to move them into the GOP orbit, as Hotline explains:

The Tea Party Movement: Virtually every speaker paid homage to a movement that remains loosely defined, praising fiscal restraint and a renewed energy among activists protesting the Obama admin’s policies. The media had fun interviewing the guy in the tri-cornered hat and “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, but GOP leaders are doing their best to incorporate, and kowtow to, the movement. Anyone who can show they lead a local Tea Party group is leaving CPAC with an enormous sense of power, and the GOP is all too happy oblige.

I have no doubt that a sizable segment of the tea party movement - perhaps even a majority - will resist the siren song of Steele et. al. and remain outside the party structure. But the conservative/libertarian bent of the movement makes it inevitable that there will be some synergy between the establishment and the new grass roots simply because they are a natural fit. The Democrats aren’t interested in conservative reform and have kicked the flirtatious libertarians to the sidelines. Since there seems - at the moment - to be little energy among the grass roots for a third party, that leaves them only one place to go.

The GOP will make big gains in 2010 simply by being less sucky than the Democrats. But the difference between picking up 25 seats in the House and 4-5 in the Senate, and a Republican tsunami that sweeps the Democrats from power will be the GOP’s ability to offer a positive agenda that speaks to the fears and concerns of ordinary voters. Without something to vote for, the great independent middle of the electorate who broadly support a platform that espouses fiscal sanity and an end to legislative overreach by the Democrats, will not give Republicans the smashing victory they are capable of achieving unless there are specific initiatives that deal with their everyday problems.

It’s not enough to say you’re for the Constitution. Holy Jesus, you might as well say you’re for apple pie, and grandmothers. Republicans are going to have to earn this one by convincing the American voter that they hear their cries for help, and will respond by passing legislation that deals with the specific causes of their misery; jobs, the deficit, skyrocketing health care costs, and a promise that what happened on Wall Street that initiated this mess, won’t happen again, among other things.

Can a party and a movement that has worn its disdain for government action of just about any kind on its sleeve convince people that it now sees government as part of the solution?

That would be a trick worthy of Houdini.



Was the Austin terrorist John Stack a right wing loon?

Sure - because as we all know, liberals love to pay taxes and never get mad at the IRS.

Don’t believe me? Here’s Paul Begala wanting to make April 15 “Patriot’s Day:”

Happy Patriots’ Day. April 15 is the one day a year when our country asks something of us — or at least the vast majority of us.


This country has showered me with the blessings of liberty. So what do I owe my country in return? Paying my fair share of taxes, it seems, is the least I can do. Thanks to President Obama and the Democratic Congress, 95 percent of Americans will get a tax cut this year. No one — not even the wealthiest 1 percent — will have to pay higher income taxes until 2011.

But no one kisses the ass of our IRS overlords with more nauseating obeisance than Matt Stoller:

I just paid my taxes, and I have to say, I always take pride when I do so. I don’t like having less money to spend, of course, and the complexity of the process is really upsetting. But I am proud to pay for democracy, and I feel when I do send money to the DC Treasurer and the US Treasury that that is what I am doing. The right-wing likes to pretend as if taxes are a burden instead of the price of democracy. And I suppose, if you hate democracy, as the right-wing does, then taxes are the price for paying for something you really don’t want. Personally, I find banking fees, high cable and internet charges, health care costs, and credit card hidden charges much more abrasive than taxes, because with those I’m just being ripped off to pay for someone’s summer home.

To which I responded:

When liberals like Stoller make noises of satisfaction like an infant who has just soiled their diaper just because they obeyed the law one wonders what lefties like our Matt do when they come to a complete stop at a stop sign. The celebrations must go on far into the night.

Obviously, liberals love it when they are racked and stretched by the IRS - even for honest, piddly-sh*t transgressions. They get off on a government agency that can make your life miserable - and, as Mr. Stack suggests - unlivable once caught up in the maw of IRS enforcement procedures. The trauma and torture wears one down, as forcefully and unrelentingly as tectonic plates grinding against each other.

Here’s Amanda Marcotte who suggests that Mr. Stack was indeed a left winger but that he was trying to goose right wing nuts into picking up on his IRS jihad:

Stack’s beef with the IRS seems to have developed from personal problems stemming from possible tax evasion on his part. But it appears to have turned into a full-blown ideological stance, and again, it’s clear that he hopes others who share his ideological stance—and believe me, there are a lot of crazy right wing nuts in the area who do, and I have no doubt Stack was aware of this—will act on his wishes. This is what I mean by a mish-mash. Most of his ranting seems very left wing, but if you’re living in central Texas and you do something like this, you’re sending a signal to right wing nuts, and you know it.

“Most of his ranting seems very left wing…” but ignore that, pay it no mind. It disturbs the narrative that this fellow was a tea party type.

What was that “left wing rant?”

And while they appear to make it look like it’s all about anti-government and anti-IRS, they fail to mention his anti-Catholicism, anti-Bushism, anti-capitalism and pro-communism.

I guess it doesn’t fit the preferred narrative

No, it doesn’t. But when has that ever stopped anyone on the left from jumping to conclusions? Recall that suicide of the federal worker in Kentucky that the left flayed conservatives over before it was discovered he took his own life and wasn’t murdered by “anti-government extremists.” Or Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan’s “PTSD transference” where he heard so many bad things about Iraq coming from his patients that he snapped. I wrote here about both right and left jumping to conclusions about Hasan but in the case of the Austin terrorist, there is a clear, and laughably ignorant attempt by many on the left to tie Mr. Stack to tea partyers.

Why can’t a nutcase just be a nutcase? Why does he have to be “motivated” by political views at all? I’m not a mental health professional, but I’ve read enough to know that trying to glean intent from a diseased mind is a ludicrous sport for amateurs. The reason someone commits suicide in the first place is that the natural, healthy, normally functioning mind breaks and the primal urge of self preservation is either short circuited or is prevented from working properly. This does not happen in minds that are in love with logic or reason.

The left is ascribing a rational thought process to an irrational man. If it weren’t so stupidly obvious that there’s is a political attack rather than a serious attempt to reach a conclusion based on observation, investigation, and a familiarity with how mental disease can lead to suicide, we might excuse liberals for simply being dumb. But tis the season for idiotic political bloviating so we’re stuck with nonsense like this:

Joseph Stack was angry at the Internal Revenue Service, and he took his rage out on it by slamming his single-engine plane into the Echelon Building in Austin, Texas. We now know this thanks to the rather clear (as rants go) suicide note Stack left behind. There’s no information yet on whether he was involved in any anti-government groups or whether he was a lone wolf. But after reading his 34-paragraph screed, I am struck by how his alienation is similar to that we’re hearing from the extreme elements of the Tea Party movement.

I was not struck by that at all. What struck me was this guy’s lack of a clear ideology - something that some of the less reason challenged liberals recognized and, to their credit, are writing about.

Or this:

5. He was mad at the IRS, and left what CNN reports was a suicide note on a local website, detailing his trials with the agency. In fact, a lot of his rhetoric could have been taken directly from a handwritten sign at a tea party rally.

The question of whether this guy was a terrorist is a no brainer; of course he was. Maybe the FBI and Homeland Security refuse to call incidents like this “terrorism” because of the increased paperwork involved in reporting it that way. Otherwise, the only explanation that makes sense is they don’t want to make a big deal out of the incident.

But in this case, we have a terrorist without portfolio. His motivation, given the building housed a regional IRS office, seemed to have been revenge more than anything. His ranting about wanting to inspire people is just that - the mouthings of a madman who wanted to give his death a twisted kind of meaning. It’s not logical or rational. It is delusional.

Maybe some day both sides will realize that the only people they are fooling with their politicization of the insane are themselves.



Filed under: Decision '08, Ethics, Government, Politics, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 9:45 am

First, let’s dispense with the notion that Obama has not cut taxes for a very large majority of Americans. In fact, the administration went a step further and “refunded” monies to people who don’t pay any taxes in the first place - a giveaway little noticed at the time.

But most critics are focusing on the payroll tax cut that grants an individual an extra $400 a year in take home, and a married couple filing jointly $800. This is a tax cut - period. Of course, at the end of the year when you do your taxes, your calculated tax includes that extra cash so your refund may be slightly smaller. It’s not like you didn’t earn the money and don’t owe taxes on it. The government just decided to allow you to keep a little more of what you earned each pay period by reducing the amount they withheld from your check in payroll taxes.

Some administration opponents are trying to make the case that because this does nothing to decrease the average American’s tax bill that it is not a tax cut. Technically, they may have a case. But if you ask the average taxpayer if taking home more cash every week is a tax cut, they would almost certainly say yes.

It was a good plan, although fairly modest in its workings. It didn’t help the economy much at all and the reason most Americans think their taxes haven’t been cut is probably due to the fact that the average taxpayer’s take home pay was increased by only around $13 a week.

Also, concentrating solely on the reduction in withholding is disingenuous. There were other tax cuts in the stim bill (they didn’t work either) as well as extensions or enhancements of Bush era tax cuts that the president - being disingenuous himself - is claiming as his own.

Here are a few:

First time home buyer credit: Enacted under Bush, enhanced up to $8000 credit for buying a new home.

Reduction or elimination of sales tax and use taxes paid on qualified new car purchases. (Expired 1/1/10).

American Opportunity Tax Credit on college scholarships. Changed the name from the “HOPE scholarship credit” and enhanced and relaxed rules for broader participation.

Expanded and enhanced energy tax credits already in place.

Then there are “tax cuts” that primarily targeted Americans who don’t pay any taxes at all. Including these measures allows the president to say he has “cut” taxes for 95% of Americans:

Child Tax Credit. The Stim bill enhanced the child tax credit by making a larger portion of the credit refundable for 2009 and 2010. Even if you paid no income tax, you can still receive the money.

The Stim bill increased the Earned Income Tax Credit. This is another refundable credit that allows taxpayers that pay no income tax to get thousands of dollars “refunded” to them.

There were also a couple of items in the stim bill that either extended Bush era cuts for small business or enhanced existing programs.

What we can glean from this thumbnail summary is that both sides are right, and both sides are being disingenuous in picking and choosing what constitutes a tax cut and what doesn’t. The facts, however, are clear; taxes were cut for a large majority of Americans while the president is taking credit for some tax cuts not of his own design.

I think it very revealing of the philosophy of both sides in this argument as it relates to taxes in general and how the government funds itself.

Whose money is it anyway? It appears to me that on the left, there is the feeling that whatever you earn belongs to the government and it is up to government to decide how much of your money you can keep. Admittedly, this is put rather crudely but I think it an accurate reflection of what liberals believe, at least subconsciously. It is philosophically satisfying for many liberals to reduce what the government withholds from your paycheck because it signifies the government’s power to determine how much of your own property you are entitled to - even if the amount is paltry as it is in the stim bill.

Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that your earnings are your property and that the citizen consents to have the government take that portion it needs to operate efficiently. Ideally, we give our consent by electing representatives whose philosophy reflects that basic, underlying creed of personal liberty and the sanctity of private property. If taxes become too high, we elect people who promise to ease the burden. That also, is a form of consent.

I never hear the word “consent” from the left when it comes to a citizen parting with their property for taxes. Is it an important distinction? I believe it is indeed and that this fundamental outlook on taxes highlights a huge divide between right and left.

So perhaps all the hub-bub on the right about Obama not cutting taxes for the vast majority of Americans has more to do with a basic disagreement over whose money we’re talking about to begin with. Liberal governments appear to take an entirely different view of property than conservatives ones. This manifests itself in support for expanded eminent domain powers by the left, and a more limited definition of “private” property.

But if we’re going to criticize the president, let’s do it for his disingenuousness in claiming credit for tax provisions he had absolutely nothing to do with creating.



Filed under: Decision '08, Government, History, Politics, The Rick Moran Show, health care reform — Rick Moran @ 11:29 am

It would be easy to dismiss the deficit reduction plan offered by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) a couple of weeks ago as a non-starter politically. Indeed, ordinarily I would castigate either a Republican or Democrat for offering such a pie in the sky, politically unfeasible plan with regard to anything.

But what makes Ryan’s deficit reduction plan worthy of serious discussion is what it portends for the future; that the longer we go without addressing the underlying causes of the deficit, the harder it is going to be to save the US from bankruptcy.

Even liberals were impressed. Ezra Klein totally disagreed with it but called the plan “daring.” Ygelsias said of the plan that Ryan “has gone where I thought no Republican would dare to tread.” But the establishment Republicans tiptoed around Ryan and virtually disavowed his efforts at finding a way forward. Ryan himself said he wasn’t speaking for his fellow Republicans, thus letting them off the hook.

Ryan’s plan can be considered very stiff medicine indeed. He calls for the elimination of Medicare and Medicaid as we know it by substituting vouchers that seniors can purchase to buy their own insurance plans. The value of these vouchers will go up in succeeding years but - and here’s the kicker - they will not rise as fast as the cost of medical care. Basically, it is rationing health care through individual choices.

Bruce Bartlett writing in Forbes, gives us the barebones outline of Ryan’s bitter pill deficit reduction plan:

[I]t is really heroic that Rep. Ryan did not shrink away from confronting head-on the necessity of slashing entitlements for the elderly in order to achieve his goal of abolishing the federal debt without an increase in the tax-to-GDP ratio.

On Social Security Ryan would reduce initial benefits for retirees by changing the benefit formula. Private accounts would be established immediately for those under age 55 that would be partially funded by payroll taxes.

Ryan would also raise the age to qualify for Medicare from 65 to 69 years and 6 months for people born in the year 2022. After the year 2021, the Medicare program as we know it would cease to exist. Instead of receiving health benefits through Medicare, those over age 65 would instead receive government vouchers worth $5,900. These vouchers would be adjusted for age and health status, which would put the average voucher at $11,000. Medicare beneficiaries would buy private health insurance with the vouchers.

These amounts are considerably less than estimated Medicare spending per enrollee in 2022, so there is a sharp cut in spending right off the bat. Furthermore, these amounts would only be indexed to half the historical rate of price inflation for medical care. This means that the real, inflation-adjusted voucher amount would fall continuously. To cover the shortfall, Medicare beneficiaries would either have to pay out of their own pockets for medical care or buy private insurance over and above what could be purchased with the Medicare vouchers.

Ryan also calls for the elimination of the tax exclusion for employer health care plans. This would mean a huge tax increase for workers who would have to pay income tax on the cost to the employer of their insurance.

The plan is political poison - but illustrative of the kinds of draconian measures that will be necessary to get us out of this deficit mess. In this way, Ryan has done a huge service to the American people by having the political courage to present this plan with all its pain, and the political opening you can drive a Mack truck through if you were a Democrat seeking to make hay out of it.

The GOP showed in the health care debate how easy it is to demagogue Medicare cuts; just pretend that you never supported the idea of cutting Medicare and lambaste the Democrats for wanting to cut $500 billion over 10 years. You instantly become a hero to seniors who go nuts if you even whisper about cutting Medicare. They don’t know that as recently as 2007, Republicans were calling for similar cuts in Medicare. And thus will be the fate of any politician or party who seeks to fiddle with Medicare reimbursements or costs.

This is a recipe for total disaster, as the former GAO chief David Walker has been trying to tell us for the last 4 years:

“History has shown that when America faces difficult challenges and when it rises to the occasion, anything is possible,” he said in an interview. Yet “a fiscal cancer,” he said, “is growing within us, that if we don’t treat, can have catastrophic consequences.”

For more than a year that’s been Walker’s message to Americans. It is part of what he calls a Fiscal Wakeup Tour, an itinerant, bi-partisan lecture panel known as the Concord Coalition, which is traveling to college campuses in advance of the 2008 presidential elections. Accompanying Walker are economists from the left-leaning Brookings Institution and the conservative Heritage Foundation (usually Isabel Sawhill from the former and Stuart Butler from the latter). They may disagree about the potential solution, but they are in accord that a problem exists.

The crux of the campaign: to spread the word that Americans and their government are living beyond their means and that fiscal fecklessness is imperiling the country’s living standards.

Here we are, 3 years after that column was written and the prescience of Walker and others who have been shouting in the wilderness for so long about how absolutely imperative it is to address our long term deficit problem becomes obvious. We are only at the beginning of our “unsustainable” deficits. With the debt ceiling primed to rise above our GDP for the first time, we will get a very close look at what Walker, Ryan, and others have been grousing about; less and less government spending devoted to items like defense, education, the environment, and aid to the poor with more and more of the budget being forced to fund social security and Medicare.

When I profiled Rep. Ryan here, I highlighted the kind of muscular conservatism he stands for; meaty, intellectually coherent, and now add politically courageous to that thumbnail.

Bartlett challenges the tea party movement to embrace Ryan:

I think it is irresponsible to say, as almost all tea party goers do, that they are unalterably opposed to tax increases without specifying spending cuts–large cuts in popular programs that go far beyond foreign aid, earmarks and even a budget freeze. And if they are serious they must admit that coming anywhere close to budget balance cannot be done without slashing Social Security and Medicare benefits. There’s no way around that and anyone who says so is either ignorant or a fool.

When I see people like Paul Ryan addressing large tea party conventions and receiving standing ovations for his budget plan, maybe I will begin to think it is possible to avoid a massive tax increase. But right now, I don’t see even the tiniest glimmer of understanding among the tea party crowd about the true nature of our budget problem and what it would take to avoid a major tax increase.

The next time I see pictures of a tea party crowd I will be looking carefully for signs that say “Abolish Medicare,” “Raise the Retirement Age” and “Support the Ryan Plan!” I won’t hold my breath waiting.

Indeed, those familiar with this site know that I have, on several occasions, called out conservatives for their lack of specificity in defining what they mean by “limited government.” Where would you cut? Whose ox would you gore? How would you be able to do it when the political winds blow so strongly against you? In response, I’ve gotten vague intimations of some kind of “Super-Federalism” that would transfer most of what the federal government does now to the states, or a “let them eat cake” attitude where many on the right wish to roll back not only LBJ’s Great Society, but also FDR’s New Deal. Some wish to go even further and set up what would amount to a pre-constitutional government where the states would be supreme - “an Articles of Confederation on steroids” I’ve called it.

Ryan’s plan shows it won’t be easy, that it won’t come by only cutting spending, and that not only our lawmakers, but voters as well must become responsible citizens of the republic in order to bite down - hard - and do what is necessary to save us from our own profligacy. A nation that defeated fascism, communism, and can rise above its own sordid past and elect a black man president can do anything it sets its mind to.

Just give us a couple of hundred more Paul Ryans, please.



Filed under: Decision '08, Politics — Rick Moran @ 10:57 am

This is a fascinating analysis by Daniel Larison, comparing a poll in 2006 that showed a fierce, anti-Bush feeling among voters, and a similar poll taken earlier this week that showed a sizable, but less widespread anti-Obama feeling.

The NBC/WSJ poll that came out earlier this week has some interesting results. The midterms are just over nine months away, so it seemed worth checking the questions related to the elections. The generic ballot shows a Democratic edge of 2 points, 44-42, but we should bear in mind that the RCP average for the generic ballot continues to show the GOP ahead by 3. More interesting, only 27% of respondents said that they would be casting their votes to send a signal of opposition to Obama. 37% said they will be signalling support for him, and 38% said they will not be sending any signal about Obama. That does not exactly fit the picture of a public recoiling in horror from Obama.

Contrast this with a comparable question about Bush in ‘06. Throughout 2006, anti-Bush voters had the edge over pro-Bush voters by 15-18 points. Prior to the 2002 and 1998 midterms, when the presidential party gained seats in the House, pro-Bush and pro-Clinton voters edged out the opposition voters by 12 points in ‘02 and 5 points in ‘98. What distinguishes the ‘02 and ‘98 results from ‘06 and this year is that in the earlier elections there were far more neutral voters for whom the President was not a direct factor. Nonetheless, as the ‘02 and ‘98 results suggest, when there are more pro-presidential voters than anti-presidential voters the presidential party tends to have better-than-average midterm elections. Interestingly, Obama’s numbers here are almost a reverse of Bush’s ‘06 numbers: where 37% wanted to show opposition to Bush and just 22% wanted to express support, 37% want to show support for Obama and 27% want to express opposition. While this is just one result, it wouldn’t seem to herald the collapse of Democratic majorities caused by massive anti-Obama sentiment sweeping the land.

Larison points out that this doesn’t mean the Democrats won’t lose lots of seats. But it does suggest that the wellspring of support for Obama probably means a flip of the House and Senate are out of the question.

Now that the euphoria surrounding Scot Brown’s senate upset win is dying down, time for a little realism to be injected into our discussions of mid-terms. There is little doubt that the prospect for huge gains by Republicans is still on the table - Obama or no Obama. With an approval rating in the low 20’s, the Democratic Congress can lose dozens of seats all on their own, thank you. Their base is discouraged, while the enthusiasm among Republicans nationwide is huge by contrast.

The GOP is emulating the Democratic success in 2006-08 by recruiting high quality, known commodities in competitive districts. Many of these candidates are self-funding, which is a definite plus in any race:

Republicans have suggested they already have about 80 quality candidates, and they continue to expand their scope. They said they plan to have a candidate in all 435 races, including in Illinois, where the filing period has passed and the party will have to maneuver to fill out the ballot.

Sessions wasn’t the only one talking but about recruiting.

Chairman of the moderate House Republican Tuesday Group caucus, Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.), told The Hill that candidates are going to “come out of the woodwork, across America, even in the Northeast and New England.”

“It’s a clarion call to everyone in Washington that the electorate is dissatisfied with this alarming agenda coming out of Washington,” Dent said.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), vice-chairman of the NRCC, went one step further: “Recruitment has not only gone well up until this point, but I think it will go on steroids, henceforth.”

Of course, it helps when it is perceived to be a GOP year. Some of these same folks who have thrown their hat in the ring, politely declined in 2008 when confronted with the prospect of a Democratic sweep.

And there are at least 20 former GOP members of Congress who lost their seats to Democrats who are trying to make a comeback:

The heavy dose of the past for Republicans was capped in recent days with the announced candidacies of former Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.), Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.).

The four of them give the Republicans’ 2010 recall effort a notable 2006 flavor.

All four lost their seats in 2006, and they join former Reps. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), John Hostettler (R-Ind.) and Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) from that class in trying to revive their party. That means seven of 22 GOP incumbents who lost four years ago are seeking some kind of comeback.

For Simmons, Hostettler and Hayworth (who announced a bid against Sen. John McCain this weekend), they will run for the Senate. The others are eyeing a return to the House, including Bass, who has an exploratory committee, and Pombo, who is running in a district neighboring his old one.

Six members of the 2008 losing class are either running again or are considering it, but the size of that class is still up in the air. Former Reps. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) are already in, and former Reps. David Davis (R-Tenn.), Bill Sali (R-Idaho) and Virgil Goode (R-Va.) may run for their old seats.

They start out with a huge advantage in that they don’t have to spend a million dollars on building name recognition. That, and the fact that many of them lost by less than landslide margins to the Democratic incumbent and you have the makings for some real barnburners in November.

It takes more than attractive, well known, and well funded candidates to win a lot of seats. It takes an coherent platform for the candidates to run on. Brian Faughnan of RedState attended the GOP retreat yesterday and reports:

I’m also told to count on an updated version of the Contract With America (no surprise there). But I’m told to expect it later, rather than sooner. One staffer pointed out that a Contract which comes early will be forgotten by voters by election day. One that comes late is more likely to be remembered, and to feed some excitement about the coming agenda. Former Speaker Gingrich (I was told) had made this point in his comments.

I suppose there’s logic in that but an alternative take on this is that Republicans can’t come up with a positive agenda at the moment and have deferred work on it until they can come up with a something. Recycling the Ryan health care bill is probably not a good idea if Obamacare fails, but getting together on some deficit cutting measures is almost certainly in the offing as is some sort of tax cutting jobs measure.

As bad as it is for Democrats right now, the fact that Obama does not appear to be a game changing stone tied around their necks along with a singular lack of GOP policy alternatives at the moment, means that even their House majority seems safe for now, with the senate clearly out of reach.

Faughnan again:

While a session with pollsters Kellyanne Conway and David Livingston was not open to the press, Republican Members were delighted after the presentation. One told me that the pollsters stressed the importance of winning independent voters, rather than turning out the base. They said that a critical reason for the GOP landslide in 1994 was that independents favored the GOP by a 14 point margin. The latest polling - the GOP was told - puts Republicans ahead by 15 points.

Livingston and Conway also stressed that voters are not personally rejecting Barack Obama, and they cautioned against being seen as opposing the president personally. They said that it is his policies which are unpopular, and candidates should be careful to draw the distinction. They told the conference that simply opposing the Democrats will net 20 House seats or so; proposing a positive agenda of their own would net 20 more.

That sounds about right, although I think it is a little optimistic to expect another 20 seats will fall if the GOP can ever get their act together and come up with an agenda that will gain the support of indies without turning off the enthusiasm of the base. Other political pros are not as sanguine. Rothenberg gives the GOP a 28 seat pick up scenario. Cook has a possible 25-35 seat swing for the Republicans. Both gentlemen are saying that it could get worse for the Dems if the economy doesn’t improve.

It’s hard to be the opposition for two years and then turn around and try to be positive in proposing what should be done to make things better in the country. I think this will be the greatest challenge the GOP will face as they are forced to pivot from standing athwart history screaming “stop” to the Democrat’s far left agenda, to trying to address the concerns of ordinary Americans. Simply presenting themselves as an alternative to the Democrats will get them only so far. The test of leadership - and the resulting electoral popularity - comes in articulating a vision of how you would govern.

I was encouraged with what I saw at the televised retreat yesterday. For the first time in a long time, the Republicans actually presented viable alternatives to many of Obama’s prescriptions for the country. This is not to say they didn’t have them (the Ryan health care bill was introduced last May), it’s just that they didn’t promote these alternatives in a consistent, articulate manner.

Imagine rather than screaming “socialist” every day since Obamacare has been an issue, the GOP had calmly and repeatedly countered with Ryan’s common sense health care reforms. Every day getting in front of the cameras and daring the president to call them the “party of no” while exposing his lies about working toward a bi-partisan solution. I daresay if the American people had become as familiar with the Republican alternative as with Obamacare, they may very well have preferred the GOP’s solutions.

Or what would have been the result if, last February, the GOP had actually come up with a counter-stimulus - one without all the bells, whistles, political payoffs, and wasteful spending in Porkulus - and gone in front of the cameras every day touting it?

If they had, they wouldn’t have the credibility problem they have today. The GOP may very well come up with “Contract for America II” but how will voters respond to it if all the Republicans have been doing for two years is trying to get people to believe that the president is destroying America? Most people do not believe that, or anything close to it, and wonder about a political party that tries to make that case.

Thankfully, the Democrats have screwed up so badly that a couple of dozen seats are likely to fall into the GOP’s laps no matter what they propose. I just wonder that if the Republicans fall short of overturning Congress, they will recognize too late that a marvelous opportunity has passed them by thanks to their near-nihilistic antipathy to using government rationally, and conservatively, to make a difference in the lives of America’s citizens.



I’ve been wanting to write about this for two weeks but didn’t find the time to think it through until the last couple of days.

James Poulos at American Scene (formerly Political Editor at Culture 11), writes provocatively about taxes:

The forceful way in which the tea partiers are putting this conservative resistance at the center of our political debate today should remind us of what went wrong for Republicans during the two Bush presidencies. The Bush presidents, different in so many ways, both turned the GOP toward corporatism in a way that significantly limited their success as candidates and presidents. (Reagan had neither problem. This is the root of Reagan nostalgia.) The lesson is a simple one: first and foremost, the Republican party is supposed to deliver not economic nor cultural but political goods.

The tea partiers, in insisting that economic policy derives from and reflects political principles, and not the other way around, help make this clear. Take taxes. When taxes are too many and too high, the economy suffers. But, as this decade has brutally taught us, taxes do not necessarily enrich the state, but they always aggrandize it. The evil of taxes is not primarily economic but political. When a government learns how to use taxes to coerce, control, and manage the behavior of its citizens, a country is placed on a perilous road — not to serfdom, necessarily, but to tyranny, a tyranny that lords over even the rich and famous, even when they happen to profit from its favor. The GOP is supposed to keep this kind of tyranny at bay, and when it comes near, the GOP is supposed to ward it off.

It’s in this regard that, over the past ten years, the GOP has failed. The trouble with RINOs is that, in their liberalism, they are often either blind to the threat of tyranny or they do not really see it as a problem. This is not because they ‘fail to understand the nature’ of tyranny. Tyrannical regimes can rule over dynamic, exciting societies, over huge numbers of people full of promise and purpose. They can focus resources on big challenges and execute amazing feats of efficiency and publicity. Just ask the growing number of American commentators suffering from China envy.

How does government use the tax code to “to coerce, control, and manage the behavior of its citizens…?” Let me count the ways. The government has declared smoking to be a hazard to your health and taxes the beejeebees out of it to discourage you from taking it up and encouraging you to quit. Coming soon, a federal tax on sugary sodas, salty snacks, fast food - again, trying to control your eating habits to keep you trim, slim, and out of the doctor’s office where you will be a drain on the health care system like other obese people.

Of course, the code is replete with such examples of government encouraging or discouraging - i.e. trying to control - behavior and Poulos, in what I see as some very original thinking, makes a case that real conservatives should oppose such laboratory experiments:

Moreover, liberals of any party seeking primarily to foster or facilitate cultural change typically have little desire to focus their attention, much less their careers, on preventing the government from aggrandizing itself. A government that routinely manages economic behavior through its economic policy is well able to routinely manage social and personal behavior that way. In theory, there’s no reason why lots of Republicans can’t be ‘socially liberal but fiscally conservative.’ In practice, social liberals, of any party, have a vested interest in a government that rules not only by law but by economics.

In fact, tea partiers help everyone understand that ‘fiscal conservatism’ is a misleading phrase. A ‘fiscal conservative’ is for balanced budgets and well-calibrated taxes and against wasteful spending. A tyrannical government, if it has any brains, is for solvency and efficiency too. ‘Fiscal conservatism’ can license the aggrandizement and abuse of government power. It might be necessary to economic conservatism, but it isn’t sufficient. Alone, it isn’t conservatism at all, and under the right conditions, ‘fiscal conservatism’ can actually destroy its namesake.

By granting a homeowner the ability to write off interest paid on their home loan, isn’t the government encouraging a certain kind of economic behavior? Of course they are. And this is where I’m not sure Mr. Poulos’s thesis holds. The macro effect of lots of home buying is a net plus for society in that such a large chunk of the economy is related to the care and feeding of our domiciles. Buying a home helps create a demand for more homes - residences that need to be built, furnished, and maintained. Do the resulting economic benefits outweigh the clear desire of government to “control” our behavior? Or is this comparing apples and oranges - freedom and tyranny?

How about the old fashioned dependent deduction? When it was at $500 in the 1950’s, it could be argued that this sum, realized through savings on a parent’s income tax bill, was subsidizing the feeding, clothing, and education of children of that era because the amount paid for a significant portion of a child’s needs. Coming from a family of 10 kids, I can testify to its efficacy in encouraging child bearing.

I think Mr. Poulos is enough of a realist to see that some of these “targeted” tax schemes aren’t necessarily “tyrannical” in the sense that we trade liberty for security by embracing them. The net effect is that the community is served by writing exemptions and subsidies into the tax code that benefit almost everyone. If a desired end in promulgating this kind of behavior modification is a better community - and the examples above regarding home interest and child deductions would seem to fit that model - whatever danger there is that government is aggrandized is mitigated by the net gain for society.

The problem - and I think Mr. Poulos would agree - is that such beneficence comes from the central government, rather than local political authorities. In a more perfect world, this might matter more than it does. But I think it unrealistic to expect that the desired community improvements can be granted or realized by any political entity save the largest - that being the federal government. If that government aggrandizes power unto itself as a result of these incentivizing measures - and this is true given that the increased employment and business activity brings in additional tax revenue - it is the consequence of consensus within the community of the beneficial nature of these schemes and not a power grab by the feds.

But the president’s tax cut proposals for small business might be a different matter:

The proposal, similar to plans he pitched during the presidential campaign and last year in Washington, would give employers a $5,000 tax credit for every net new worker hired this year and reimburse businesses for the Social Security payroll taxes they pay when they increase payrolls faster than inflation.


Though all businesses will be eligible, the administration would keep the focus on small companies by limiting the total maximum credit to $500,000 per employer. The payroll tax credit would be based on Social Security payrolls, and wouldn’t apply to wage increases above the current taxable maximum of $106,800.

Start-up firms would be eligible for half the credit, which the White House calls the “Small Business Jobs and Wages Tax Cut.”

Here is an example of the federal government artificially creating a demand for new workers by, in effect, attempting to influence the business decisions of individual firms. It’s not coercion, but is it tyranny? Given the $30 billion price tag, I can guarantee the measures will not enjoy the same level of support in the community as the home interest tax write off. And the chances that the the benefits will be as widespread as the child deduction are very small.

In this case, according to Mr. Poulos’s provocative thesis, you could say that the federal government is indeed aggrandizing power and influence at the expense of the community. In hard economic times, this may be accepted by the majority but that doesn’t make the power grab any less “tyrannical.”

The idea that the way our tax code is written can lead to a kind of tyranny is connected to the kind of society in which we have made for ourselves. Alexis de Tocqueville was quite enamored of our national mania to tinker with everything in order to make it more serviceable or valuable. It is only natural that this idea would find its way to government - that we can tinker with society through the tax code’s incentive/disincentive structure in order to improve the life of the citizen by modifying his behavior, and punishing poor choices.

But almost every time we “target” tax cuts, or incentivize certain behaviors at the federal level, we pay a price by ceding personal liberty and responsibility to government. And government becomes richer, and more controlling because of it. Some conservatives, as Poulos points out, are not immune to proposing these tax schemes. But his point that “economic policy derives from and reflects political principles, and not the other way around” is well taken.

Generally speaking, the tax code should be used for the purpose of raising revenue and not trying to modify human behavior. If Republicans keep that in mind the next time voters grant them the power to govern, we’ll all be better off for it.

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