Monday, January 28, 2008

Romney: Domestic/Economy

Mitt Romney, in the area of government administration and finance, sounds like a typical conservative in many ways. I found little in the way of truly new ideas, although in his case it sounds like he actually accomplished some of this on a state level. Romney puts a lot of stock into the fact that he was able to get so much done while working with a Democratic state legislature. My response to that would be that Bush made that same claim about his governorship in Texas while campaigning for President in 2000. It just doesn’t work that way on a Federal level. At least he’ll get significant opposition from a partisan body in a permanent limelight.

Will this make it impossible to promote and execute the types of policies he’s talking about? No, as Bush has proven, sometimes it’s possible to work past the public vitrol and come to your goals anyway. Bush has been particularly successful with the current congress, despite its antagonistic nature.

In all, most of the issues he presents have familiar solutions. Make the Bush tax cuts permanent, kill the Death tax, institute a middle class savings plan and middle class tax cut on capital gains. Then there’s limiting excessive tort claims and limiting regulation and tax burden on free enterprise to spur growth and keep up with Asia.

Some of his ideas are actually government growers. Investing in more infrastructure (roads, internet backbone, etc…) , worker re-training, reorganize education to emphasize math and science. These all require more government money. As does his call for more money for research and development in energy to try and ween us off foreign oil.

His energy policy, by the way, also looks familiar. More offshore drilling, nuclear power, liquified coal, ethanol, etc… All things designed to make us more self sufficient in our energy needs.

I think in most of these areas, Republicans agree and there’s not going to be much difference among candidates. Bush has most of these same ideas, but still doesn’t get much back from conservatives, but I think that’s just a communication thing. Romney is much more eloquent, and might have more success with the right.

Deficit spending:

Romney states the obvious for a conservative, that we spend and tax too much. Does this disagree with areas where he intends to spend more himself? Unsure, considering the balance of what he says on his site among all his issue statements. Wants to take the government “apart” in order to rebuild more efficient. “Every business does that or goes bankrupt.” This will be easier said that done. I’m sure there are lots of conservatives and classical libertarians that want to do this very thing, but you’re going up against the machine here. It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing, it’s a bureaucracy thing, and the system itself is going to resist big time. However, he’s in my corner on this issue, so more power to him.

Wants the line-item veto. Wants to impose spending limits and reform entitlements. Given a Democratic congress, the former is going to be easier (but not “easy”).

Health insurance:

He’d want to make health insurance more affordable and accessible to every American. How? Paints some picture of using all the money in health care programs and money being used to support hospital treatment of those w/o health insurance to help people get private insurance . For those who want it, noting that personal responsibility comes into play here. Notes that 45 million people don’t have “health insurance, not health care.” People w/o insurance get emergency care w/o having to pay for it. Nice on paper, but noting that there is a significant population that won’t get insurance (even when it’s offered for free, as we learned here in Oregon), you’re going to get criticism unless you talk about how your going to care for the mentally unbalanced.

Notes that there is a fear of losing insurance coverage as well as the problem of not having any. Says that this is not a Democrat issue, health care is an American issue, but Democrats solution is bigger government. Also promotes a combination of releasing state regulation on health care, making all health care activity tax deductible, and caps on punitive damage awards to reduce overall costs of health care.

Education: Some good and some bad here. Romney says that he would give more control to the local school districts (or states, as the fed would have to concede). But then he wants to expand and improve NCLB. I would prefer to hear a candidate that would get the fed out of education, but then Thompson dropped out of the race.

I do like that he offers a tax credit for home schoolers. Home schoolers often feel taken by the government, having to pay for services they may never use. You can argue that there are lots of services that you and I pay for that we’ll never use, but not many take as large a bite out of our income as education, at least on a state level.

I can find some places to criticize Romney’s policies in the area of Domestic economics and government action, however, overall he’s painted himself as a good conservative on most issues he covers. I wouldn’t have a problem electing him on this score. When we voted Bush in, there was a general sense of his “Compassionate Conservatism” but we really didn’t know what he meant until the gigantic federal programs began to mount. I don’t see any of that flowery language here that would suggest that we can look forward to more of that, but there are areas of concern. Fortunately this isn’t a top 2 or 3 issue for me, so on I go to other issues.

Another well known conservative blogger has put his hat in the Romney camp.

I want to have someone who supports conservative values. In this, we have no perfect candidates. Fred Thompson came closest, but he quit, and I'm not going to cast my vote for someone who has already dropped out. Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, and John McCain all have some claim to a portion of the conservative mandate based on their accomplishments. Of the four, I trust Romney and Giuliani most to continue supporting conservative principles in the face of opposition.

Goes on to note that Giuliani stands a far smaller chance of coming out ahead at the end of this, and thus he’s backing Romney.

After all I’ve said on this score, and much of what you’ll hear from those who are endorsing him, Senator McCain thinks that things are not hunky dory in Massachusetts economically. However he tries to argue that experience promoting economic policy trumps Romney’s business and investment experience, and that’s not going to fly considering people aren’t all that hot on congress’ effectiveness right now. And as it happens, Romney’s got plenty to criticize right back.

This article in the Washington Post tells more of the story, and so you can see a mixed bag there. But I’ve noted in the past that the economy works on many different levels and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what effect the government has on how many jobs are created or how the export deficit goes. Since Romney was governor during the recession and subsequent recovery, any losses or gains in the economy of Massachusetts or the state tax rolls has to be weighed against the overall national economic ups and downs. One thing that comes through is that he did in fact raise taxes, in the form of raising fees and closing some tax loopholes, which is not “raising” taxes per say, but…

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Romney: Foreign Policy

What can we say about Mit Romney that hasn’t been said a thousand times in the press. He’s a Mormon, which is a first for a serious Presidential candidate (at least in my memory, which isn’t that good). He’s a Republican governor of a very liberal leaning state. This, the state of Teddy Kennedy and John Kerry. But as the B-52s so eloquently said, “get out of the state, get out of the state you’re in.”

I know little about the time he spent in office as the governor of Massachusetts. He was a Republican, but I would imagine that he ran on a pretty moderate platform to get elected statewide there. Despite what we hear in his campaign, it sounds like his position on certain social issues was fairly flexible.

Above and beyond all this, Romney is now the only serious non-Senator candidate left in the running. Huckabee is still hanging around, but I don’t know if he can pull out another state like he did Iowa. If that’s the case, I wonder if my theory, which I’ve stated here before, that no sitting Senator has beaten a Governor for the office of President in over 100 years. Kennedy was our last sitting Senator to become President, and he beat Nixon, who was Vice President at the time.

Foreign Policy

Romney’s site indicates that he’s for increasing the military by about 100k persons and wants the military budget to be 4% of the national gross domestic product. That’s not the percentage of the federal budget, but how much the country produces. I’m wondering why we need to consider the military budget based on the gross domestic product instead of the budget itself, but perhaps he’s trying to stay away from the “how ya going to pay for that” questions.

Romney wants more money to update the military infrastructure too. That might not be a problem for him, considering that Congress likes to spend. However, he has a few paragraphs in the document on homeland security that say stuff like this:

…we need to ensure that our civilian instruments of national power have the ability to build joint efforts among our civilian agencies and empower Regional Deputies with clear lines of authority, sufficient budgets and the responsibility to develop and execute regional plans and strategies.

What does that mean? He has other stuff in there that uses the “empowers” keyword regarding National Security staff, and I wonder if he’s not going to find that empowering people in his staff isn’t going to be easy. Considering the opposition to the strengthening of federal powers in the name of the war on terror, you might wonder if the nation elects another Republican following an unpopular Republican if that helps Romney or hurts him in this area.

I generally like his flowery talk about how he’s going to reduce bureaucracy and create more interagency and civilian communication and partnerships, but there’s no specifics there.

As for the threat of Radical Islam and Jihadism, Romney gives lip service to what we’ve been hearing from Bush for several years. This is in general, not in specifics, but he does seem to understand the threat as Bush does, and also underlines that the ultimate victory will be when we’ve got the people, the Muslim moderates, on the side of freedom and democracy. He’s proposing some sort of over-arching entity, the Special Partnership Force (SPF, no relation to sun tan lotion), which will have this authority to mobilize “mobilize all elements of national power, including humanitarian and development assistance and rule of law capacity building.” Interesting, but what are the odds that the feds can get that organized. And what would it look like?

Romney hints that the United Nations is failing in its desire to be that one multilateral body that solves everyone’s problems. In his snap quotes on the site he even mentions creating a new international body, but doesn’t give any indication of who would be in it or what its purpose would be. This gives hints of a proposal I saw a few years ago to dump the UN and start over with a League of Democracies, where the members would actually be held to standards. I’m not sure what to make of his leadership in this direction, but he’s definitely playing on conservatives mistrust of the UN, and takes the time to infer that the U.S.’s failure at creating a more multi-lateral unity isn’t necessarily the U.S.’s fault.

Romney’s got a short paper on nuclear terrorism as well. Here we’re talking about dangerous countries that have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon of some sort, which could be a number of countries, but Romney focuses on Iran here. Again, he’s with Bush for the most part, but takes it a step further than where Bush has gone (which is back to the UN) and calls for political isolation. Which is fine, but I wonder about his proposal for some Ambassador at Large who’s primary focus is to “prevent nuclear terrorism.” Not a job for the meek.

I find it interesting that the sole other document on Romney’s site regarding foreign policy issues is one that talks solely and specifically about Latin America. He talks clearly about being tough with difficult national leaders like Castro and Chavez, while maintaining that we need to make a better effort to support nations that are on our side, who have more stable democracies. He mentions trade agreements, and specifically we need to keep an eye on the current trade agreement possibility with Columbia which is going to suffer from a congress that’s antagonistic toward it for some reason.

Again it’s interesting that he talks about our hemispherical neighbors instead of other parts of the world (minus the middle east, which he covers elsewhere). I wonder if a Romney administration pays as much attention to this part of the world that Bush has with other parts of the world, including Africa.

I listened to some of his speech clips that he has available on his site regarding the issues listed above and to me it sounds like Bush, but better. What I mean by that is that the issues aren’t all that different, but Romney is a much better speaker and communicator. One of the problems that Bush has faced over the last 8 years is that he stinks behind the podium. He’s not the best speaker in the field, and his public relations department needs to take a vacation. I’ve often felt like Bush had very well reasoned and correct thinking in his actions over the course of his presidency, but you’d never know it from the words emanating from his lips. The rise of talk radio and blogging has been cleaning up after dinner for him. This wouldn’t be a problem with Romney.

In conclusion, in all of his policy statements, it seems that defeating “jihadism” and competing economically with Asia are his two biggest priorities. In the light of the current state of affairs I would agree with those two statements, although I’ll handle the competition with Asia thing later when I look at his economic policy.

Here’s a portion of an interview with Romney on his foreign policy and difference between a Romney administration and the Bush administration. And here’s an article he wrote for Foreign Policy Magazine.

While his ideas and issues conform with many conservatives and with the current administration, where he suffers in the primaries is in the area of experience. John McCain is giving him what-for regarding his vast experience in the foreign policy realm. Of course, one could argue that some of the Democrat candidates have more foreign policy experience that Mit, but considering the vast differences in stated policy, I think that what the candidate stands for has more to do with whether he should get the nod and not just experience. Most Senators would say they had more experience with national and international issues that a Governor who’s never held a federal office, but that doesn’t mean anything to me, and according to history (my theory on governors getting elected over Senators to the Presidency) I think most Americans lean that way to.

One of the members of the PowerLine blog thinks that Romney is becoming the candidate of the more conservative element of the Republican Party, even with the perceived flip flopping on social issues. He’s got a strong message on foreign policy and was recently endorsed by National Review, which is going to carry some weight with conservatives. From the Review:

Romney is an intelligent, articulate, and accomplished former businessman and governor. At a time when voters yearn for competence and have soured on Washington because too often the Bush administration has not demonstrated it, Romney offers proven executive skill. He has demonstrated it in everything he has done in his professional life, and his tightly organized, disciplined campaign is no exception. He himself has shown impressive focus and energy.

It is true that he has less foreign-policy experience than Thompson and (especially) McCain, but he has more executive experience than both. Since almost all of the candidates have the same foreign-policy principles, what matters most is which candidate has the skills to execute that vision.

So for the most part, I’m on board with his foreign policy. This is a big one for me too. I was in Thompson’s camp earlier this year, and Fred was very articulate and specific in his ideas and policy statements. He was the only pseudo-libertarian in the race, as far as I was concerned, and with him dropping out, I’m forced to look hard at the more conservative of the rest of the field. In this I mean conservative in its modern sense, not classical. Free trade, free market, tough foreign policy and small government.

Next post I’ll look at some of these other issues for Romney.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The issues

For the next few posts I’ll be looking over a few of the top candidates for the office of President from both parties. I have a few areas that I’d like to focus on, and I’m mostly going to contain myself from going off about how dirty they’re playing in the campaign front. I’d like to say that I’m considering all the candidates from a purely issues-point-of-view, but I’d be lying. How a candidate conducts him or herself on the campaign trail, in my mind, reflects on what type of person they are. In the end, it’s only a part of my evaluation of the candidate. There are probably many things that go on during a campaign, and not all of them are under the direct control of the candidate themselves.

Take for instance an article I read about the primary in Florida. Both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton have taken jabs for campaigning there when there was a general agreement between the two parties not to do so because the Democratic Party is trying to punish states that selfishly pushed their primary up to elevate its own self-importance. The reality there is that the campaigning on both sides is being driven by the local groups in charge of both campaigns, and the candidates haven’t been able to reign that in (or perhaps they could but are looking the other way purposefully).

I’ll divide this post into 5 categories, Foreign policy, which includes the current conflict, domestic economics, immigration, since it’s such a hotbed issue, social stuff and Constitutional issues. Foreign policy is anything that has an outward looking focus. The war on terror, or rather national security is part of that, as well as international trade, foreign aid, treaties and our participation in international bodies.

Domestic economics includes all this economic, including the budget in general. It includes things like social security, health care, education, facilities and infrastructure and a whole host of other things the government probably shouldn’t be doing. In this I also want to see what candidates say in regards to stimulating the economy. There’s not a lot that our government can and should do to manage the economy. This is as pure a capitalist system as there ever was one, and our economy, the number of jobs available and the flow of capital keeping things moving, growth and the like, is mostly driven by market forces. As we all know, market forces are driven be perception. And so the market sways this way and that with the political tides because the federal government is too powerful a force not to affect it. Truly, the economy should largely be left alone. For instance the latest tumble and scare on Wall Street happened because of the mania surrounding the housing market. The forces there should have taken care of themselves, and today largely are. However, you’d never know it from the candidates for President and the national news.

Immigration is this election cycle’s big hot potato. Many of us were not alive the last time we had this serious an issue in immigration. Earlier in the 20th century we still had immigration issues that surrounded racism and melting pot fear. It encompassed many decades and several ethnic groups (Poles, Slavs, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, etc…). Right now the issue is Mexicans. And really it’s not about Mexicans, it’s about people who are here without passing through the border in an official capacity. They’re here illegally, and that applies to any ethnic group really, but the media focuses on the Latin American contingent as it’s the largest, making it seem like an ethnic issue, and the powers that be just allow that rhetoric to breed unabated.

Social issues are how the government deals with things like marriage, abortion, euthanasia, personal privacy and the like. Constitutional issues are those that have to do with how the government is structured and run and most importantly the naming and function of Supreme Court justices.

So here we go. Are you ready?

Super Ruby Tuesday '08

It’s been a while, but the wait should not be taken as a sign that I have fallen off the earth. Nor should the reader assume that I have given up on politics, world events, science and religion just because I have not put fingers to the keys for a while. It’s been a very hustle and bustle holiday season, and for a change I was very involved in other areas of my life. Suffice to say that this is a moment in that life that I’ll probably be getting back to soon.

I continue my attempt to make this an essay only blog. And by that I mean that I don’t want to have short comments to a link that I found. I can voice my short opinions to friends and family, but you all have the entirety of the net at your disposal, and you can read stuff for yourself. This space is for lengthier ruminations.

Which leads me to the purpose of this one. It’s Presidential election time again. I’ve been paying attention to the constant campaigning, much to my detriment, for the last few months, and I have to say that I’m disappointed that many of the states decided that they were going to seek some quasai elevation of their self importance by dragging out our election cycle a few more months. In addition to that politicians and parties seem to think that the American public enjoys politics so much that they’d better get going nearly a full 2 years before the next President puts his tush in the Oval Office.

But far from what the press is informing all of us about, I thought I would take a look at what the candidates (who are left) are all about. What are their policy platforms? Who’s been saying what about what this country needs and what the issues are, as opposed to what they’re saying about each other?

I’m taking the Republicans first. I find myself more attracted (if only just) to the general platform of the Republican Party these days, and many of my friends also lean in that direction, so in the interest of our upcoming primary (and in case I don’t get to the other party until May), that’s where I’m starting. I’ll then saunter over to the Democrats, which should be fun considering how close this race is so far.

Let me take this opportunity to say how disappointed I am that Fred Thompson has dropped out. No, I guess he didn’t have much of a shot considering how far behind he’s been in some of these primaries and caucuses. I’m going to miss the opportunity to vote for someone who’s as close to my political values as anyone has been in a while. While I’m still pretty socially conservative, personally, politically I yearn for the federalism that the founders intended and a smaller and less corruptible government in DC. I don’t see that in the policy articles or speeches by the other candidates. And so I’m in that spot of picking from the lesser of many weevils. The big question is going to be, who is going to be left for us in lonely Oregon to vote for come May?

Lots of love.