Opinion

Gregg Easterbrook

Who would Obama rather run against: Mitt or Newt?

Dec 15, 2011 15:44 UTC

By Gregg Easterbrook
The opinions expressed are his own.


Conventional wisdom says the Republican presidential nomination will go to Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich. This could change – don’t be surprised if it changes more than once. But suppose conventional wisdom proves correct. If you were Barack Obama, which would you rather run against?

A follower of polls might say, “Of course Obama wants to run against Gingrich.” An Obama-Gingrich race could end with a walkover for the incumbent, as happened in LBJ-Goldwater of 1964 and Nixon-McGovern of 1972.

Gingrich, some thinking goes, has a borderline personality. His past is full of strange diatribes on a weird range of subjects. As Ronald Reagan sometimes confused movies with reality, Gingrich confuses science fiction novels with reality. He threw a temper tantrum about his seat on Air Force One. Hardly anyone likes him personally. He was a transparent opportunist with Fannie and Freddie, organizations that voters hate. Gingrich is proficient at bloviating, and the one time in his life he held actual responsibility as Speaker of the House he did a terrible job. Would you trust the nation’s budget to a man who ran a $1 million tab at Tiffany?

Gingrich hectors others about their personal lives, while presenting himself as a champion of traditional values. Yet he admits betraying not one but two wives. Some kind of new low in politics was achieved when Gingrich formally pledged to stop committing adultery. Gingrich wears the letter H — for hypocrite — around his neck as Hester Prynne wore an A around hers in The Scarlet Letter.

These are sound reasons why Obama might prefer to face Newt. They are reasons the Republican National Committee is said to be feeling panicky about a Gingrich candidacy. Newt has the potential to lose by a spectacular margin, dragging Republican Senate and House candidates down with him. The Republican establishment has not forgotten how much damage he did to the GOP during his administration of the House. Run against a guy even your opponents despise? Sounds promising.

The shock awaiting if the ‘super committee’ fails

Nov 17, 2011 17:19 UTC

Action by the debt-reduction ‘super committee’ is due in less than a week. You will not be surprised to learn the super committee may only announce grandiose goals, while “deferring” specifics to some unspecified future point.

If, after months of hype, the super committee turns out to be a Potemkin committee, taking no action against the tide of government red ink, here is what will happen: Absolutely nothing.

That’s why falling dangerously arrears on national fiscal policy is so seductive – in the short term, nothing happens. Greece, Italy, Portugal – their governments made irresponsible decision after irresponsible decision, and nothing happened. So the irresponsible decisions continued.

Romney touches third rail – and lives

Nov 9, 2011 21:37 UTC

Increasingly, Mitt Romney seems the Republican candidate who has given serious thought to governing – to what specific policy actions he would take if he became president. The other Republican candidates seem mainly concerned with self-promotion and applause lines, while Newt Gingrich’s “Day 1 Project” seems more like a dress rehearsal than a real concept for governing.

If Romney is the serious challenger to President Barack Obama, then his fiscal policy speech a few days ago bears inspection. It was notably better than most campaign speeches, and contained both gold and dross. Here are some highlights:

Gold: “We cannot with moral conscience borrow trillions of dollars that can only be repaid by our children.” Reckless borrowing, with the invoice passed to our children – nobody in power in Washington right now will be asked to repay the national debt – is not just numbers, it is a moral issue. Romney recognizes this.

Rick Perry + Al Gore ≠ global warming logic

Nov 3, 2011 20:06 UTC

When Al Gore was in the White House, global warming was a disaster of the first order. Republican presidential candidates are now saying it is anything from a fraud to trivial.

Both sides claim sound science, and both are wrong. In politics, “sound science” means whatever supports your preconceived positions.

For American voters, climate change is an issue offering lessons in how to reject political nonsense on the extremes, and find the middle. If we can’t find the middle of a generation-long concern like climate change, one where modest steps are sufficient for the moment, how will we ever tackle immediate issues such as jobs, debt and the looming retirement of the Baby Boomers?

Politicians should stop crying “fire!”

Oct 27, 2011 20:52 UTC

The Senate just rejected President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on millionaires in order to “create or protect 400,000 jobs for teachers, firefighters, police officers and other first responders.” Whether the country needs more teachers and police is a fair question for debate. But firefighters? Firefighting is already featherbedded.

With stricter building codes, built-in sprinkler systems and the near-universal use of smoke detectors, incidence of structure fire in the United States has declined dramatically in the past generation. In 1985, there were about 2.5 million reported fires in the U.S. Since then, fires have declined steadily, down to 1.3 million last year. The report also shows that fire deaths are down from 6,000 in 1986 to 3,100 in 2010. That’s a 48 percent decline in both fires and deaths caused by fires.

Over that same period, the number of career (not volunteer) firefighters has risen from 238,000 in 1986 to 336,000 in 2010. That’s a 41 percent increase in publicly paid firefighters during the same period that safety technology has been able to decrease the occurrence of fire.

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.

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.

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.

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