Gregg Easterbrook

An election to anticipate

Oct 20, 2011 15:13 UTC

Tired of cookie-cutter political contests between hauntingly similar candidates? Then you’re going to like the upcoming race for one of the Senate seats in the late Ted Kennedy’s haunting grounds. Elizabeth Warren, best known for creating and fighting for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is hoping to challenge Republican incumbent Scott Brown. They’re both qualified, but they couldn’t be more different — personally or politically.

Brown, a former member of the Massachusetts state legislature, won a 2010 special election to complete the remaining term of the Senator Edward Kennedy. He is well-known for having been named “America’s Sexiest Man” by Cosmopolitan magazine, this distinction coming in 1982, when he was 22-year-old law student at Boston College. Brown spent many years in the Massachusetts legislature, and before that was the New England equivalent of a town councilman. He is well-qualified to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. Brown is conservative on most issues, calling himself a “Reagan Republican.”

Warren, a former Obama administration official, has declared for the Democratic nomination and is the favorite. She has been a law professor at Harvard and at the University of Pennsylvania, and is the author of a highly regarded book about middle-class living standards, The Two Income Trap. Warren is also well-qualified to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. She is left-wing on most major issues, to the left perhaps even of much bright-blue Massachusetts.

In recent decades, U.S. Senate races have tended to produce similar candidates with similar platforms. Rare is the race that pits two qualified contenders with dramatically different worldviews. The 1994 Pennsylvania Senate race between Harris Wofford and Rick Santorum comes to mind (strong left-wing versus strong right-wing positions); as does the 1992 New York race between Robert Abrams and Alfonse D’Amato (insider versus man-in-the-street); or the 2006 Maryland race between Ben Cardin and Michael Steele (bland-to-the-point-of-invisible career pol versus loose-cannon movement conservative). But many recent Senate contests have offered a selection between me-too candidates.

That won’t be the case if Brown faces Warren.

When Brown became the first Republican in a generation to win a Senate seat from Massachusetts, pundits labored to interpret this as a repudiation of Barack Obama. More important was that Brown was the better candidate in the 2010 race. He squared off against a Democratic loyalist named Martha Coakley who, rightly or wrongly, could not shed the perception of being a party-controlled hack. Brown came across as self-assured and unafraid to advance views that are unpopular in his state (opposition to gay marriage, for example).

The former governor factor

Oct 13, 2011 20:25 UTC

If you’re thinking the jumbled Republican presidential field does not matter because whomever gets the nomination can’t win – think again. A Republican could well take the White House in 2012.

At this point in the 1992 election cycle, the elder George Bush held an 89 a 66 percent approval rating (update: on October 13, 1991, according to Gallup data on the Roper Center website). Back then, Democratic figures including Mario Cuomo did not enter the 1992 race because they thought the elder Bush was “unbeatable” – just as today many Republicans are not entering the race, thinking Obama is unbeatable.

But Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton, who, a year before his victory, was a low-name-recognition outsider with personal baggage.

A realistic Dream Act for all

Oct 10, 2011 18:32 UTC

Only in the bitter partisanship of our moment could Texas Governor Rick Perry be denounced because he expressed compassion. In the most recent Republican presidential debate, Perry was hammered for supporting a Texas law that allows illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition discounts at public universities. Now he has apologized for saying those who oppose helping illegals attend college “have no heart.”

Perry was right the first time! Anyone with a heart should support the idea of allowing illegals to qualify for in-state tuition aid – generically, Dream Acts.

California Governor Jerry Brown just signed his state’s Dream Act, putting the far-right Perry and the far-left Brown on the same side of a major issue. Now, the nation’s two largest states will allow illegal immigrants to attend public universities at subsidized tuition rates.

How to fix the flatline economy

Sep 29, 2011 15:40 UTC

The global economy doggedly refuses to re-start. Employment is flat, demand is flat, prices are flat, housing sales are flat, growth is nearly flat.

Stagflation and inflation, the old fears, have given way to the flatline economy. Sometimes flatlined patients can be revived. Clear! But what should the therapy be?

Republicans are responding to the flatline economy by demanding what they are programmed to demand — tax cuts for the upper class. Democrats are responding to it by demanding what they are programmed to demand — more government spending.

Conservatives who hate government, but want government jobs

Sep 22, 2011 16:16 UTC

All the leading Republican presidential contenders except Jon Huntsman are denouncing government, with high vituperation. Yet all have spent some to most of their adult lives as office-holders, enjoying the perquisites of government and pocketing some of the public spending they say they oppose.

This a bit like a used-car salesman claiming to be a consumer crusader or a high-class madam denouncing Internet porn. Why does anyone believe politicians who shake their fists against government while comfortably ensconced as government insiders?


* Rick Perry, the putative Republican frontrunner. After college he joined the Air Force – an admirable form of service, and also a secure government job. Afterward, he spent seven years in cotton farming, where federal price supports insulate growers against free-market competition. Since then, Perry has been a government employee: first in the Texas state legislature, then as Texas Agriculture Commissioner, then lieutenant governor, then governor of Texas. Now Perry is campaigning for a federal job with a $400,000 salary and very substantial subsidized lifetime benefits.

Why we need to increase taxes on the rich

Sep 15, 2011 15:41 UTC

“President Obama announced plans Monday to fund his $447 billion jobs bill largely by raising taxes on wealthier families.”

Washington Post lead article on 9/13/2011

Bravo! It’s about time a national leader had the courage to use the T word. There is no solution to the federal debt fiasco that does not involve raising taxes on the well-off. Washington’s decade-long allergy to the word tax – or its reliance on silly euphemisms like “surcharge” or “revenue enhancement” – must end. Barack Obama did the country a service by putting this on the table.

Here’s the part the left will not like. Assume the president’s jobs bill is enacted, and is funded not by yet more borrowing but by raising taxes on the well-off. That will pretty much tap out “tax the rich” as a political strategy and rally cry. Unless the economy really takes off, further progress against the debt will need to come from entitlement cuts and raising taxes on the middle class.

Why federal construction spending doesn’t translate to GDP growth

Sep 8, 2011 15:54 UTC

On Labor Day, President Barack Obama vowed to put “our construction workers back to work rebuilding America ,” a theme he is expected to repeat in his address to Congress tonight.

There’s plenty of rebuilding to be done. But a combination of top-heavy bureaucracy, union rules, cost-plus profits and graft have made recent federally funded construction projects insanely expensive and slow. The result is more national debt without much contribution to economic growth. Consider:

*Boston’s Big Dig, mostly funded by the federal taxpayer though benefits went exclusively to Massachusetts, was supposed to take 10 years at a cost of $6.2 billion in today’s dollars. Instead it took 21 years and cost $22 billion.

The first bogeyman of the 2012 campaign

Sep 1, 2011 14:16 UTC

If an election is coming, that means each side needs a bogeyman. The Republicans have chosen first, and theirs is the Environmental Protection Agency. Michele Bachman calls the EPA “the job-killing organization of America,” promising to “padlock” its doors. Tea Party leader Eric Cantor says environmental rules are “job-destroying”. Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he “prays daily” for the EPA to be restricted.

Soon Democrats will choose their bogeyman – The Rich are the current frontrunner.

Elections often are dominated by bogeymen – Republicans claim Democrats don’t care about national defense, Democrats claim Republicans want to eliminate Social Security, that sort of nonsense. Environmental bogeymen are appealing to some factions because the issue involves regulatory arcana that hardly anyone understands, and because environmental subjects are poorly reported in the mainstream media.

Popularity contest: How to fix presidential politics in time for 2012

Aug 26, 2011 14:53 UTC


In 2000, the Electoral College put the wrong person in the White House. Al Gore won the popular vote, but George W. Bush took the presidency. In 2004, this came amazingly close to happening again. Bush had a clear edge in the popular vote, but a slight difference in the Ohio outcome would have made John Kerry president.

Ah, the Electoral College. Because a Constitutional amendment would be required to abolish it, and the low-population states would never agree, we are stuck with this anachronism, right?

No. The next president might be chosen solely on the basis of the popular vote, without Constitutional contretemps. This is closer to happening than you – and politicians – might guess.

Gov. Rick Perry, hypocrite

Aug 17, 2011 20:56 UTC

New presidential-nomination candidate Rick Perry wears his religion on his sleeve, and as a churchgoing Christian, that’s fine with me. But if you’re going to boast of your faith, brace for being seen through that lens. Jesus often denounced “scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites,” a group he called “blind fools.” That is not good news for Perry — who seems a capital-H Hypocrite.

Consider the large prayer rally Perry led this month at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. The Texas governor took considerable bashing from the media elite over this event, pundits wringing their hands about separation of church and state. There was no Constitutional problem. The First Amendment bars government from mandating religion, but does not require that government officials shun faith. A recent federal court decision, sanctioning presidential statements that encourage voluntary prayer, makes that clear. As a Christian, I hope the Houston rally brought sinners to grace.

Though fine in Constitutional terms, Perry’s ostentatious public prayer was hypocritical in terms of scripture. Jesus taught, at Matthew 6:5: “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in synagogues and at the street corners, so they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”