Opinion

The Great Debate

from The Great Debate UK:

Obama half-term report: must try harder in economics

--Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.--

In the welter of comment on President Obama's second term, one remarkable feature seems to have slipped under the radar. This has been a presidency blessedly free of scandal. When last did the White House remain more or less scandal-free for as long as four years? His predecessor, George W., had the average scandal quotient (Halliburton contracts, the Abramoff affair among others). Before him, there was Clinton, who seemed to clock up a scandal a week – we all remember the sex, but there was also Whitewater, which involved money, allegations of graft and ultimately suicide. Under Bush Senior and Reagan we had the Iran contra affair. As for Nixon, the less said the better. Even the saintly Jimmy Carter had a problem brother and some rather loose cannons among the pals he shipped in from Georgia to staff his administration.

What makes Obama's record all the more remarkable is that he emerged from the mire of the Chicago Democratic Party, a bye-word for corruption for decades past, and in fact the Governor of Illinois was accused of trying to "sell" the new President's abandoned senate seat only a few weeks after the election. Moreover, you can be quite sure that this administration's many enemies will have subjected its dealings to the most microscopic scrutiny in search of even the tiniest flaws, misjudgements and personal peccadilloes. It is truly amazing that they have found so few.

All in all, Barack Obama seems to be a man of outstanding integrity, decency and intellect, a truly uplifting speaker and an inspiring leader.

So why has his first term been such a disappointment?

In my view, his (and America's, and the world's) tragedy is that he was elected in 2008. If he had been in the Oval Office on 9/11, he would surely have responded far better than W – he certainly wouldn't have made the cretinous error of calling for a crusade against al-Qaeda – nor I suspect would he have ever got America involved in a new war in Iraq. If he had been elected in the Eighties or Nineties, he might have ridden the post-Cold War wave to greatness and at the same time made some progress on the ambitious social reforms he dreams of.

Boehner resurrects the antebellum South

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is now in Williamsburg, Virginia, meeting with his House Republican conference at their annual retreat. The GOP House members have likely gotten over the initial shock of the November elections – in which President Barack Obama won more than 51 percent of the vote and the Democratic majority swelled in the Senate.

Though the Republicans lost House seats and their candidates collected more than a million fewer votes than their Democratic rivals, the GOP retained a majority in the House of Representatives. This consolation prize has allowed Boehner to claim that House Republicans have a mandate every bit as compelling as that earned by the president. Conservative champions Grover Norquist and Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) echoed this claim.

“It’s very wrong to suggest that only the president has a mandate,” asserted former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who knows from congressional mandates. “The House Republicans also have a mandate, and it’s a much more conservative mandate than the president’s.”

How Barack Obama killed John Wayne

The reason that President Barack Obama won reelection, as most everyone knows by now, is that older white males, on whom the Republican Party has long relied, are declining in numbers, while women and minority voters, key components of Obama’s base, are increasing.  In the electoral post-mortems, Obama’s victory has been considered a kind of valedictory to white male supremacy. But his win did something else: Obama killed John Wayne on Nov. 6 — with the complicity of roughly 61 million Americans.

Now, Wayne has been dead for more than 30 years, of course. And Obama didn’t even slay his heroic image.  Americans still like brawny brawlers, and apply what I call “The Hollywood Test” in electing their presidential protagonist-in-chief, opting for the nominee who is most like a movie hero. What Obama and his supporters slew, however, was the value system Wayne personified – a whole way of thinking about America. It’s unlikely to resurface any time soon.

From the time he reached stardom in the 1940s, Wayne was not just a movie star, though he was one of the biggest. Nor was he just an icon, though he was one of the most compelling — a whole generation of men imitated his bearish growl and lumbering walk. More important, Wayne presented values that many now associate with America itself.

Why it’s all about Ohio

Looking at Tuesday’s election results, it’s clear the United States has morphed into five distinct political nations. This marks a sharp consolidation of the nine cultural and economic regions that sociologist Joel Garreau laid out 30 years ago in his landmark book “The Nine Nations of North America.”

In political terms there are two solid blue nations, perched on opposite coasts, that have formed a large and powerful bloc. Opposing them are two almost equally red countries, which include the historic Confederacy as well as the vast open reaches between the Texas panhandle and the Canadian border.

Between these two largely immovable blocs stands the fifth nation — essentially the Great Lakes industrial heartland. By winning this territory — which could be called “Bailout Nation” — President Barack Obama built a winning coalition. Though this part of the country has suffered economic decline and demographic stagnation for decades, it is now emerging, as former President George W. Bush would put it, as “the decider” of America’s political fate.

Delegitimization of Obama begins

 

The Republican drive to delegitimize President Barack Obama’s possible second term has started.

As recent polls have allowed for the possibility that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney could win the popular vote while the president carries the Electoral College, the conservative blogosphere has lit up not only with long-overdue attacks on the Electoral College but also with the specious argument that a popular-vote loss for Obama will undermine his mandate and justify continued obstruction by Republican lawmakers.

Nonsense.

Under the Constitution, the Electoral College winner becomes president. Candidates know that when they plan their campaigns, and wise candidates could care less about the popular vote when they plot strategy and deploy resources. The popular vote, therefore, is a misleading measure of a candidate’s success or the strength of a mandate.

The consequences of Obama’s debt

This essay was submitted through the Romney campaign as a response to Lawrence Summers’ most recent column, “This election, Obama is the wiser economic choice.”

The large budget deficits and expansion of the national debt under President Barack Obama, unprecedented since World War II, have him set to bequeath an immensely costly legacy. Each of his deficits as a percentage of gross domestic product has been larger than the previous post-World War II record, for which Democrats excoriated President Ronald Reagan. Between the debt already racked up and what Obama’s FY13 budget projects, each income-tax-paying family will owe more in Obama debt than a new mortgage on a median-priced home and four years of college costs.

Yet more than three years into recovery from the recession, the president has not proposed a program to deal with the massive debt. Indeed, he abandoned even the long-run goal of a balanced budget, adopting the much weaker goal of stabilizing the debt-GDP ratio at the higher projected FY2016 level. But he did not budget for it, appointed the Simpson-Bowles Commission to propose how to do so, then ignored its recommendations. He has no serious proposals to deal with the even larger eventual long-run deficits in Social Security and Medicare, which total several times the current national debt. When Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was asked by Congress what the administration’s plan was, he said, “We don’t have one.” Vice President Joe Biden guaranteed, “No changes to Social Security.”

The neocons’ war against Obama

The neoconservatives who rebuffed the Republican establishment’s warnings about the perils of war in Iraq have now opened another front —against President Barack Obama.

The neocons, unlike the muscular Democrats who led the U.S. into the Vietnam War—including Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk— are not reflecting about what went wrong in Iraq. Nor are they dodging the public spotlight.

They have instead signed on as foreign policy advisers for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.  He is now strongly denouncing Obama as an abject failure, intent on appeasing the world’s dictators. Romney, who has scant foreign policy experience, is now championing a new “American Century,” featuring a pre-emptive foreign policy agenda, a $2-trillion increase in the Defense budget and, most likely, hostilities with Iran — not to mention skirmishes with China and Russia.

What women want is political key

No matter how artificial and canned the candidates can seem at a presidential debate, no matter how competent or ineffectual the moderator — the nominee’s true self will peak out at some point.

Thus did GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney tip his hand when it comes to the all-important female vote — which both he and President Barack Obama have been scrambling after. He didn’t make a huge gaffe or get ensnared in a tough debate about choice. Moving around the stage, he seemed a 1950s throwback who had wandered in from a different decade — one where men were men, women wore shirtwaist dresses (Ann Romney’s uniform) and marriage was between a man and a woman.

Of course what drove this home was Romney’s anecdote about trying to find talented women for his staff when he was governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007. He said he actually went to a number of women’s groups “and they brought us whole binders full of women.” Though he apparently flipped this story: The groups came to him unsolicited.

Romney somersaults on to the middle ground

Do you recall just seven months ago when Romney campaign aide Eric Fehrnstrom let slip that having won the Republican primaries, his candidate would “shake it up and restart it all over again” as if wiping clean an Etch-a-Sketch screen? Romney did just that last night. From a standing start Romney executed a perfect backward somersault, landing with both feet slap-bang in front of a bemused president, who appeared quite taken aback that his rival should plant his feet firmly in the middle ground where elections are won and lost.

Take Romney’s view of regulating the market. In his personal manifesto No Apology, Romney trod a careful path, suggesting that, like his primary opponents who unwaveringly support the untrammeled free market, he was wary of overregulating business. “Excessive regulation slows the creation of new businesses and the expansion of existing businesses,” he wrote. On his website, he promises to “act swiftly to tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama administration has imposed on the economy.”

But in Denver last night, Romney changed his tune, suggesting that he had always been in favor of regulation, whatever impression he may have given in the past. “Regulation is essential,” he declared. “You can’t have a free market work if you don’t have regulation … Every free economy has good regulation.”

Tax reform does not guarantee growth

One of the few thin­gs that President Obama and Mitt Romney are likely to agree on when they debate next week is the need for tax reform. Both candidates have backed streamlining America’s crazy-quilt tax code, and both have said that reforms could boost economic growth. Meanwhile, two key congressional committees held a rare bipartisan hearing last week – with lawmakers from both parties saying that tax reform is needed to rev up the economy.

Yet exactly how and why tax reform would spur growth is far from clear. Many proponents of reform, including Romney, want to lower tax rates while retaining the same level of revenue. But doing that means reducing major individual tax breaks that subsidize key sectors of the economy – including housing and healthcare. Long term, there are good arguments for whacking such subsidies, which tilt heavily in favor of affluent households and distort our economy. But curbing these freebies doesn’t offer a short-term economic fix and, in fact, could hurt growth.

Let’s start with the best-known big tax break – the mortgage interest deduction, which will cost the U.S. Treasury about $100 billion next year, according to the Congressional Research Service. Shrinking this loophole is a good idea in principle, since it primarily benefits more affluent households who have big mortgages and itemize their taxes, but it would be a blow to a housing sector that is still struggling. Smaller subsidies for home buyers would mean weaker sales and less new construction and would keep home values depressed – not an outcome that anyone wants to see right now. Among other things, such reform could be another severe blow to construction workers, who now have the highest unemployment rate of any group.

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