Posts Tagged ‘ michele bachmann ’

The end of Michele Bachmann’s candidacy

I’m calling it right now. We have just seen the end of Michele Bachmann’s Presidential candidacy. Yes, technically she is still running for President and will continue to do so for some time. But, she is no longer one of the major players in the Republican field and has basically zero chance of being the Republican nominee.

How did this happen? The death knell was Florida’s Republican straw poll results. But that just capped off a long drop that started when Rick Perry entered the race in early August and was furthered by Bachmann’s bad debate performances and gaffes on the campaign trail.

Bachmann was once the leading “anti-Romney” candidate in the field. For a period of time, she was the candidate that conservatives and Tea Partiers looked to to carry their banner in the race. Conservatives and the Tea Party, as a whole, have never really trusted Mitt Romney and would obviously prefer that one of their own be the party’s nominee. For awhile, Bachmann was the right’s preferred candidate. Now, they have a new champion, Rick Perry.

As you can see from RealClearPolitics’ poll data chart, Perry’s rise took a significant amount of support from Bachmann and also, seemingly,  Herman Cain. Right now in national polling, Bachmann is sitting just below Ron Paul and just above Newt Gingrich. In other words, she is only as popular as candidates No Hope and Without a Prayer. She is done.

The Florida straw poll results show that the passion for a Bachmann presidency is gone. Straw polls are dominated by the most hardcore conservative activists and voters and can indicate the base enthusiasm for certain candidates. Bachmann finished in dead last in Florida, right behind Jon Hunstman. Let me repeat, Bachmann garnered less votes in this ultra-conservative contest than Jon Huntsman.

Now many of you will say “well, Bachmann wasn’t even participating in this contest, so its no surprise that she didn’t do well.” That is partially true. She would have done better had she put resources in the contest, but why didn’t she? The high-water mark of the Bachmann candidacy was her win in the Iowa straw poll. Certainly, if she had won this straw poll, that would have kept up her momentum. Ah, but there’s the rub. Bachmann didnt think she could win this contest. It wasn’t some accident that kept her from participating,  it was the reality that she would have been embarrassed even more by the loss if she had participated. So, her campaign decided to save face and punt on this contest. That begs the question: if Bachmann can’t even win these conservative straw polls,  what chance does she have in the primaries?

There’s also the fact that many candidates do well in straw polls, even if they are not directly participating in them. Perry (or “Parry”) made a good showing at the Iowa straw poll despite not being on the ballot. Romney finished in third in the Florida straw poll  and, like Bachmann, he wasn’t participating in the contest. If  Bachmann’s support has dried up at these kinds of events to the point where she comes in dead last and is too scared to even participate, then she has no chance of going anywhere in this campaign.

Recent events just underscore that Bachmann was no more than a late summer flash in the pan. Now watch as she just fades out of the conversation…

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Reaction to the Sept 7th Republican Presidential debate

We heard lots of information and opinions get thrown out on stage at the Republican Presidential debate last night. Here are my opinions, corrections and commentary on what the aspiring Presidents said.

Job Creation

All three of the former governors (Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney) claim that their record shows  they would be the best job creator as President. They have also found ways to trash the job records of  their opponents. How can all of these guys have simultaneously been both one of the best and one of the worst job creators as governor?

Its because these “job creation rankings” are just junk. Depending on how you measure, anyone could be the best job creator in the nation! There are so many different ways to measure “jobs created” that doing so is meaningless. Do you measure net jobs or total jobs created? Do you measure over the entirety of a governor’s tenure or only certain portions? Should you compare a governor to his predecessor or take into account the national picture? You can judge the numbers in any way to make yourself look good. Romney actually made a good point in the debate when he noted that economies states are very different and governors really have little control over how well the economy does under their tenure.

Ben Bernanke

Both Newt Gingrich and Romney took shots at the Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, saying that he should be fired because (in Gingrich’s words) “I think he’s been the most inflationary, dangerous, and power-centered chairman of the Fed in the history of the Fed,”  and in Romney’s words “I think Ben Bernanke has overinflated the amount of currency he’s created.” (video here) So here’s the question: has inflation even been that bad under Bernanke?

I certainly don’t think so. Sure the price of gas is up, but the Fed doesn’t have much to do with that and most other prices seem to be stable. But let’s look at what the experts have to say. According to the consumer price index (CPI) numbers from the OECD, the US has had less inflation over the past four years than the average industrialized country and less inflation than Europe as an average. We can also compare inflation over the six years of Bernanke’s term to the previous six years under his predecessor, Alan Greenspan. Using data from the St. Louis Fed, (Bernanke started in early 2006), we can see that inflation has been roughly the same over six years of Bernanke as it was over the previous six years of Greenspan.

Then after you think back to the inflation of the 1970s, it is clear that these criticisms of Bernanke are completely false and misleading.

Rick Perry

Perry seemed to be the big story of the night, considering he is now the front-runner for the nomination and this is his first time on the debate stage. Perry got plenty of questions and made many juicy comments. Among them, he again called  Social Security a Ponzi scheme. I really don’t know how that’s a good way for a politician to describe one of the most beloved and useful programs in US history, but there it is.

Perry also stumbled when he said that the science wasn’t settled on global warming, going as far as to say that global warming deniers are like Galileo. I would say that people who deny scientific evidence because it conflicts with their economic views are more like the people who denied Galileo’s scientific evidence because it conflicted with their religious views, than they are like Galileo. That seems to have been a terrible analogy.

Perry probably won a lot of conservative backers with his defense of his state’s use of the death penalty. Texas executes more people than any place this side of Iran, so the moderator, Brian Williams, asked Perry if he was ever kept awake at night wondering if he had sent an innocent man to the execution room. Perry responded he has absolute faith in the system. So Perry has absolute faith in a government bureaucracy to be right 100% of the time when it comes to life and death, but distrusts the government at all other times? The only thing the government can do perfectly is kill people? Talk about a contradiction. O, and here’s an innocent man put to death in Texas in 2004.

Finally, Perry was assaulted by Rep. Ron Paul, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann over trying to mandate that young girls in Texas receive the HPV vaccine (there was an opt-out for opposed parents). Laying aside for a second the fact that Perry received a few thousand dollars in campaign contributions from the maker of the vaccine, this was a good idea of Perry’s. The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get an HPV vaccine and I believe this was a good public health decision by Perry.

Michele Bachmann

And I saved the most laughable for last. Michele Bachmann repeated her assertion that as President she would get gas below $2.00 a gallon. Oil is a freely traded, global commodity and no amount of drilling in the United States is going to significantly lower the price of gasoline, certainly not in the short term. Huntsman called Bachmann out on this at the debate because there is no way a President can seriously make a promise like this.

All in all, it was an entertaining debate. If I had to pick, I’d say that Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman both looked Presidential on the stage and acquitted themselves the best. They would be formidable opponents for Obama.

What does the Tea Party stand for?

I’ll admit it, there are some things that I get about the Tea Party, but mostly, the thinking of Tea Party members is somewhat of a mystery to me. I understand the populist anger against an increasingly dysfunctional government and an anemic economy. What I don’t understand is Tea Party politicians’ proposed solutions to our problems.

Mostly, this is because the Tea Party very often contradicts itself and their actions rarely live up to their rhetoric. In theory, the Tea Party is in favor of low taxes, cutting the deficit, setting the Constitution as the revered document at the center of government, giving the government back to “We the People” (as opposed to special interests) and promoting states’ rights.

Now that the Tea Party has elected many members to Congress and has a couple preferred Presidential candidates, we can judge how its actions match up to its stated goals. The results are not pretty, and mostly just confuse me.

States’ rights

The Tea Party may claim to be for this in theory, but in practice, it gets more complicated. Turns out, two of the Tea Party’s favored candidates for President, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, do not want states to decide on the legality of gay marriage. After initially endorsing states’ rights il/legalize gay marriage, both have said that they favor a national, constitutional amendment against gay marriage. On abortion as well, Perry and Bachmann have taken stances that appear to indicate that they want abortion to be illegalized on the national level. These stances have not hurt them with the Tea Party base at all and have probably helped the two candidates. On these issues, it appears the Tea Party opposes states’ rights when it is otherwise convenient for them.

Giving the government back to “We the People”

Tea Party members seem to have quickly forgotten all that talk of getting rid of special interests in Washington. Dana Milibank recently looked into the only bill that Tea Party Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia has proposed since entering Congress. Scott filed his bill on behalf of a big agricultural grower in his district who was illegally discriminating against American workers to hire Mexican migrant workers. Scott’s bill would make it much harder, if not impossible, for abused workers to sue when their rights are infringed upon.

Likewise, Rachel Maddow recently chronicled the law adjustments and bureaucratic hoops Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped through to let one of his top contributors build a uranium dump site in Texas. Nevermind the fact that this radioactive dump is built perilously close to a source of Texans’ drinking water.

It just seems that Tea Party politicians don’t care about sticking up for the little guy.

Putting the Constitution first

For a group that prides itself on its reverence for the Constitution, the Tea Party sure has a lot of proposed changes to the Constitution. In particular, Tea Party members seem to want to repeal amendments 14, 16 and 17  to the Constitution and to add a few more, for good measure. What kind of “Constitutionalist” party is this? It seems like Tea Party types would rather scrap the whole thing than put the Constitution up on a pedestal. How can a movement say that it wants it government to be “based on the Constitution” when it also wants the Constitution to be changed so fundamentally?

Lower Taxes

The Tea Party has staked its entire populist message on the fact that it wants low taxes. This is one of the hallmarks of the Tea Party movement. Which is why I find it very curious that the Tea Party arose in a period where taxes are lower than they have been in modern history. Taxes (which Tea Partiers claim are too damn high) are at their lowest point since 1950. How very curious…

The other contradiction that has recently emerged is that Tea Partiers do not actually want lower taxes, well at least not if you’re poor. Turns out, Tea Partiers want to raise taxes on the poor. The Tea Party only wants lower taxes for corporations and the rich.

Cutting the Debt

Tea Party members always lament the deficits  that the government has  been running in recent years. However, they also stand in the way of solving those deficit problems in a responsible fashion. The Tea Party wants to continue the irresponsible Bush tax cuts, which is the principal driver of our long term debt. They also want to eliminate the IPAB which, contrary to the Tea Party’s claims, is about the best chance we have for getting our Medicare costs under control.

The Tea Party does not really want to deal responsibly with our mounting fiscal issues. Their proposed solutions are to cut spending on the poor and vulnerable, cut investment in the future and to privatize and voucherize Medicare. I suppose this could just be considered a policy difference between myself and the Tea Party on how to reduce the debt. But when your policy proposal for fixing the debt involves implementing or repealing policies that will reduce the debt and then using the fiscal calamity that results from your policy choice to justify huge structural changes to American society, I think its safe to say you are not serious about debt-reduction.

The only explanation I have for all these contradictions is that the Tea Party is not a a new political movement, but rather a revival and re-invigoration of far-right wing thinking, and Republican politics.

GOP Presidential Candidates Series: Tim Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty is conservative to the core. That’s the message his campaign has been screaming from the rooftops. Every single ad, policy proposal, or public statement seems to be designed to tell the Republican electorate that this former 2-term governor of Minnesota is the “real deal” when it comes to conservative bona fides. But no, his campaign will tell you, Pawlenty is not one of the “crazy” conservatives (like Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain) that make corporate CEOs and Republican party elites very nervous. He is the kind of candidate that is both exceedingly conservative (let me tell you) and also a dependable good ‘ole boy.

Pawlenty has a long record as a fairly successful and mostly uncontroversial politician. He has risen through the ranks of the GOP, rising from the city council to become governor, while notably foregoing a a US Senate run to make the higher-ups in the party happy. He is unremarkable in demeanor, has taken almost no controversial stances (his past support for cap-and-trade, now repudiated, is a notable exception), has picked limited fights with democrats in the past, and has good relations with the party elite.

In short, Pawlenty is an extremely generic and uncontroversial Republican candidate. In many years, the Republican nomination goes by default to such a candidate.

However, the Republican party already has a default heir apparent for their nomination-Mitt Romney. Romney ran for the nomination four years ago, has  a considerable donor base, experience running a national campaign, high name-recognition and a national network of former supporters  to call on. However, he also has a flaw–the health reform he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts is nearly identical to end-of-the-world law Obamacare!

Hence the Pawlenty campaign’s focus on his conservatism. Pawlenty is trying to present himself as a credible alternative to Romney among voters who are concerned about Romney’s past support for an individual mandate, health reform, abortion rights and gay rights. Pawlenty is showcasing his conservatism at every turn so that he becomes the anti-Romney in this campaign among establishment Republicans and party elites.

However, there are also challenges for Pawlenty on the “conservative” front. There are several other candidates in the race who have much stronger conservative  credentials than Pawlenty, among them Bachmann and Cain. If the nomination becomes a race to see who is the most forceful conservative, Pawlenty can’t hold a candle to the charismatic and absolute conservatism of Bachmann and Cain. So, Pawlenty has to present himself as comparable to those Tea Partiers on the conservative front, but much more electable, and with a proven record as a public servant.

If it seems like Pawlenty is defined as a contrast to other candidates, its because that is what his campaign is based on. He is running as everyone’s second-option. He wants to be everything to everyone in the Republican party. Pawlenty’s own story is acceptable, but not compelling, he is conservative, but not unproven and unpredictable. He will be the electable alternative to Bachmann and Cain among conservatives and Tea Partiers and he will be the true conservative for establishment Republicans who may worry about Romney.

Now let’s look at how Pawlenty has tried to showcase his conservatism. He recently released an ad bragging about causing the first-ever government shutdown in Minnesota state history by refusing to sign a budget raising taxes on the richest Minnesotans. Instead, he and the legislature compromised on raising taxes–oops! I mean raising “fees”–on cigarettes (conservatives don’t raise “taxes,”  they increase “fees”). The ad also says he fought unions by causing one of the longest transit strikes in the nation’s history. The ad portrays Pawlenty as a fighter who will harm thousands of innocent people–do anything really– in order to stick it to unions and protect the richest Minnesotans from paying a bit more in tax. I guess the image of a governor who is willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable in order to score cheap ideological points plays well in Republican circles.

Pawlenty was one of the first candidates to urge the government not to increase the debt limit (see? he’s sooooo conservative). Why? He says it will “force hard choices now” and keep America from becoming Greece. Well, doesn’t Pawlenty know that failing to increase the debt limit will mean the government has to discontinue 40% of its spending this year? Does he have a plan to do just that? Absolutely not. No one does. Doing so would be impossible and unthinkable. No one has a plan to do that. Pawlenty says that this “hard  choice” on the debt should involve cutting nothing from defense while “means-testing the cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits,(this is actually a good idea, but it won’t do anything to keep us from hitting the debt ceiling) capping and block-granting Medicaid payments to states,(cutting Medicaid) and moving Medicare to a more efficient, pay-for-performance model (already being done through Obama’s ACA, and no one knows how well it will work).” Note that the savings from these action would NOT solve our debt ceiling problem or even come close to it. But Pawlenty has released a detailed economic plan, so let’s take a look at that.

Pawlenty’s economic plan is sheer madness. Pawlenty proposes to solve all of our nation’s problems by (you guessed it) LOWERING TAXES! Its a plan so incredibly simple, he can’t believe more people havn’t thought of it! In his plan massively lowering taxes on the rich will both solve our deficit problems and launch us into a period of prosperity unknown in modern American history. It will cause 5 percent growth for a decade. Never mind that America hasn’t seen 5% growth for any 3 consecutive years in modern history, let alone 5% growth for a decade. Pawlenty has found the secret: tax cuts for the rich. So what will these magic tax cuts look like? Let’s compare them to the Bush tax cuts:

No one will ever be able to out-conservative Pawlenty on economics. As Ezra Klein says, Pawlenty makes Bush look like Robin Hood. Pawlenty basically looked at the Bush tax cuts and said “the problem with them was that they didn’t give enough money to the rich, if they would only have shoveled MORE money to the top 1%, we would be in an economic paradise now. O, and these tax cuts will actually raise revenue.” How does cutting taxes raise revenue? I don’t know, but that cognitive dissonance makes about as much sense as anything else in his plan. The right-leaning Economist completely trashes Pawlenty’s plan saying

And no matter what party you belong to, you should find it troubling that Mr Pawlenty’s ridiculous economic plan could ever be considered acceptable by a large portion of the population.

But of course Pawlenty has a response to these reality-based critiques of his plan: anyone who doesn’t think it will work just doesn’t believe in America!

Though he has an interesting political strategy, if any of the things that Pawlenty says he wants to happen actually do happen, America is in trouble. I can’t endorse someone who glorifies shutting government down, wants the US government to default, backs the Republicans’ terrible balanced budget amendment, claims to be a serious candidate while laying out completely unfeasible economic plans, and proposes to balance the budget on the backs of the poor while passing massive tax cuts for the rich.

For past entries in the series, see: Herman Cain.

Is Obama to Blame for our Deficits?

Today I will tackle the question: How much of the debt accumulated since Obama became President can be “blamed” on him? Obviously, one of the harshest criticisms Republicans level against the President is that he is to blame for the large deficits that have characterized our budget under his presidency, but is this deserved? For the moment, we will leave aside the question of whether it was wise to sign into law the tax cuts and spending programs that he did, and just focus on getting a number on the amount of the debt he is responsible for. Rep Michelle Bachmann (who is running for President)  has famously used this chart to pin blame for our recent deficits on Obama:

Its a bit hard to read, but the deficit in 2009 was $1.41 trillion and according to the most recent graph on her website, the deficit in 2010 was $1.29  trillion. The projected deficit for this year is 1.5 trillion and since we’re almost exactly halfway through the year, we’ll call it $.75 trillion for a total of 3.45 trillion in debt accumulated since Obama took office.

What I will count into law are spending programs that Obama signed into law. So, to start we have the stimulus program which, to date has cost $654 billion.

The next big ticket item is the Affordable Care Act, the president’s healthcare reform measure. Contrary to popular belief, It is entirely paid for, and will even give us a surplus of over the next decade. The original bill was supposed to save $138 billion over a decade, but I believe that’s been downgraded to about $114 billion over 10 years. It was signed a little over a year ago so we’ll say that the Affordable Care Act gives a debt surplus of +$11.5 billion. 

Pres. Obama passed a budget for fiscal year 2010 and FY 2011 (fiscal year 2009 was signed into law by President Bush). Using the spending in Bush’s final budget as a baseline, Obama signed an increase in discretionary spending of $168 billion in FY 2010 and the continuing resolutions covering most of FY 2011 followed the same trajectory as FY 2010, so we’ll say he increased the deficit by $126 billion during the first 9 months of this fiscal year. Note: these include the costs of the wars, using Bush’s last budget as a baseline. That gives us a grand total of -$294 billion in spending as part of the normal, discretionary budget process.

Money for the bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as for Wall Street and the auto companies was approved and signed by Pres. Bush, though some of  it was disbursed by Pres. Obama. Because we are dealing with money signed into law by Pres. Obama and not money simply spent under his presidency (which would be unfair and would open up a huge can of worms I am not prepared to go into) we will not count their costs against Obama.

There have also been several other measures that were passed in order to aid the economic recovery. These totaled (table 1) $93 billion in 2010 and in 2011 they will total $270 billion. The recovery measures for 2011 were passed as part of a tax cut package extending the Bush tax cuts, which were set to expire at the end of 2010. Now, Obama worked out this deal with the Republican Congressional leaders who provided many of the votes for the package, so its not really fair for Republicans to brandish this package as a weapon against Obama on the deficit, but in looking at the package from a non-partisan stance, its clear that it has Obama’s signature on it, so it will count against him. Extending the Bush tax cuts will cost $375 billion in 2011.  After slicing the appropriations for 2011 in half (the year is half over) Obama signed into law -415.5 billion in tax cuts and government spending to aid the recovery.

In total, the stimulus program has cost -$654 billion, the Affordable Care Act has gained us +$11.5 billion, Obama has raised discretionary spending by -$294 billion and extra measures to aid the recovery have cost us -$415.5 billion to date, for a grand total of $1.352 trillion in spending signed into law by President Obama to date. That means Obama is “responsible” for, at most, 39 percent of the $3.45 trillion in debt accumulated since he took office. So, perhaps the lines on Michelle Bachmann’s famous graph should only be two-fifths as tall as they are.

But, (I’m sure some of you are thinking) how is  this possible? How has our deficit  gone up so much in the past two years, but yet Obama  has signed bills accounting for less than half of the balance? The thing about recessions is that during recessions, people start paying less in taxes because they have less money total, so they have less taxable income. There are also more people who rely on government programs like unemployment checks, food stamps and Medicaid during recessions. (As Paul Krugman explains) Drawing in less in taxes and giving out more in automatic government aid obviously increases the deficit, but since these changes happen automatically (Obama didn’t sign them into law) and we can’t blame the recession on Obama, he cannot be blamed for their effect on the deficit. (Note: All expansions of unemployment assistance beyond the usual 26-week period are counted against Obama, even though in the past all Presidents have expanded unemployment during recessions)

*Fair disclaimer: This analysis does not measure the cost of interest on the borrowing initiated  by Obama, which would tend to raise his total. Nor does it take into account the increased economic activity that undeniably resulted from the spending and tax breaks he signed into law, which would tend to lower his total.*

For a final primer on how our debt happened and what will drive it in the future, here’s Ezra Klein.