Monday, October 29, 2012

David Frum getting real

David Frum has a new editorial up on CNN entitled "Let's get real about abortion."  Anyone who talks about "getting real" on an issue has set himself up a pretty high standard, since he is effectively calling the discussion up to that point unreal -- he is saying that he is bringing sense to the subject for the first time.  Unfortunately, Frum fumbles even a basic understanding of the problem.

To begin with, he regrets that the moderator in a recent Indiana senatorial debate did not follow up one candidate's answer with what Frum admits was an "argumentative" question.  The question was narrowly partisan.  To quote just part of it:
OK, Mr. Mourdock, you say your principles require a raped woman to carry the rapist's child to term. That's a heavy burden to impose on someone. What would you do for her in return? Would you pay her medical expenses?
By the very question, Frum exposes his ignrance of the issue.  He seems to think that requiring a raped person to carry a baby to term implies a responsibility to offer something to the victim in return, as though the government were commonly in the business of compensating victims of crime.  If a criminal robs your house, does the government restore your property?  If a drunk driver turns you into a paraplegic, does the government pay for your medical expenses?  If someone murders you over an argument, does the government pay your family?  In ever case, no.  Your only hope for compensation is from the perpetrator, and that is rarely fulfilled, unless the perp happens to be a millionaire like O.J. Simpson.

Frum's hypothetical moderator continues,
If a woman has her credit card stolen, her maximum liability under federal law is $50. Yet on your theory, if she is raped, she must endure not only the trauma of assault, but also accept economic costs of potentially many thousands of dollars. Must that burden also fall on her alone?
I am flabbergasted at the trifling nature of this argument.  Comparing rape to credit card theft?  We have special laws limiting liability in the case of credit cards because -- well, I'm not exactly sure why, but it probably has something to do with the bank and the merchants sharing some responsibility for validating the user's identity.  But if someone hacks into your bank account and steals a million dollars, you are out of luck (at least over the insurable limit of $100,000), and if someone steals a million dollars in cash from your home, good luck getting that back.  The idea that rape is peculiarly like credit card fraud and not just about every other kind of crime, violent and otherwise, which is not limited by the government, strikes me as inane.

I am remaining neutral on the actual question of abortion for rape victims.  If you think rape victims should be permitted access to abortions, you can surely think of a better argument than Frum's.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Romney Administration

At this point, it's more fun for me to speculate about what will happen after the election than to guess what the result of the election will be, so let's take a moment to think about what major figures might be in a Romney administration.

Sarah Palin:  It would be great for her political career to get some experience as a cabinet officer, but I doubt very seriously she would be picked.  She just attracts so much negative attention, and I would be surprised if Romney wanted to start his administration with that burden.  On the other hand, if things are going very poorly after two years, she might come in and provide some new energy.

Newt Gingrich:  Newt is sort of the elder statesman of the Republican party now, and I find it hard to believe that Romney would not want to include him in some capacity.  It could be in a cabinet post -- I would think he would want to be in on domestic policy -- but it could also be as a White House strategist.

Chris Christie:  He has been a big Romney supporter, and has a large Republican fan base.  If he wants to be president -- and what politican at his level would not? -- then actually serving in one would certainly look good on his resume.  I'd put him at the Department of Education and task him with dissolving his own department.

Bobby Jindal:  Jindal has been widely praised by Republicans for years.  He hasn't made any noises about running for president, but a lot of people would like to see him in the administration.

Susana Martinez:  She declined calls to run for Vice President, but I think a Romney administration would try to pick her up (perhaps as AG).  She has a great story, and her presence further gives the lie to the Democratic talking point about Republicans consisting only of white males.

Allen West:  There are not only two black Republicans in the House of Representatives for the first time in my lifetime, but I seem to be noticing more conservative black columnists than I ever have before.  Putting West in the administration would further emphasize the growing Republican appeal to blacks.  West is also a Tea Party favourite, and Romney will need to secure their support with at least a few appointments (at least one?).

There are many other interesting possible appointments to consider, but I'll stop there.  One other point of interest is that Barack Obama, should he lose, would be the second-youngest ex-president ever (Theodore Roosevelt was younger by a few months).  He would have a long public career ahead of him, including possible future runs for the White House.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Second Debate

The second debate was a strong showing from both candidates.  I tend to agree that Obama won, but only by a little.  Then again, I've already made up my mind, and I'm trying to judge by what undecideds would think.  This brings up the question, are there really people who are undecided about which candidate they would vote for?  Or are they just undecided about whether they would vote for the current candidate for their usual party?  That makes a huge difference in how to score the debate.  I'm sure it's some of both, but I would love to know the breakdown.

Two strong debate performances from two very presidential-looking and -sounding guys.  They may have the two best voices of any pair of candidates in my lifetime.  Obama's is stronger, but Romney has that reassuring, whispering quality that I think makes his a little better.

I agree with those who feel that Romney missed several chances to respond, and not all of them were because the moderator cut him off (or allowed Obama to).  In particular, Obama and Biden and the campaign generally have been driving this theme that Obama will go after anyone who hurts Americans.  That was the message on Osama bin Laden, and that was the message he gave about the four people killed in Libya.

I don't understand why Romney doesn't give the obvious reply:  it's not just about killing people who kill Americans.  We didn't fight in Afghanistan for 8 years just to hunt down Osama; that would be an insane waste of resources.  We were fighting to dismantle al-Qaeda, and, more generally, create a situation where the Afghan government will be friendly and strong enough to prevent al-Qaeda establishing a haven there again.  The death of the Americans in Libya is not just about killing the perpetrators (good luck finding a whole battalion of attackers in any case), but about Obama's naive approach to Muslim nations generally and to the Arab Spring revolts in particular.  I can understand the he wants to appear to be standing up for America, but reducing foreign policy to killing our attackers is the kind of simplistic approach that liberals usually deride in conservatives.

Another slow curveball that Romney should have hit was Obama's line that "we have built enough pipelines to go around the earth once."  Is there any point to that statement?  Does he mean to demonstrate that we have so much pipeline that we couldn't possibly need to build more?  If that's the case, I don't know why he harps so much about  the need for roads; in interstate highways alone, we have enough roads to go around the earth twice, and I'd venture the other roads would at least triple that.  It's a classic example of a useless statistic.

Since Obama is harping on the 47% comment, I wonder why Romney hasn't brought up Obama's famous "If I don't get this done in 3 years, this is going to be a one-term proposition" quotation.  By his own reasoning, he shouldn't even be running again.  Then again, he also denied in 2006 that he would run for president in 2008, so we know what that's worth.

I am among those who don't understand what is funny about Romney's "binders full of women" comment.  Nobody in the audience laughed, it didn't strike me as funny at the time, and I don't get the humour even now that I have thought about it.

Another of Obama's big talking points is all the jobs he saved at GM.  Although I'm convinced that this is one of his biggest mistakes, I'm not sure how effectively Romney could respond without offending a lot of people in Michigan (although that assumes Michigan is actually in play).  He has to explain that GM going bankrupt wouldn't mean that the automobile factories in Michigan would suddenly stop running, but rather that they would be purchased by one or more other companies who would continue to run them, probably more successfully.  I think K-Mart is a good example, but I'm not sure they actually filed for bankruptcy.

Whether that would resonate with the rest of America is hard to tell, but we did sink a lot of money into GM and Obama's representatives took an active role in decision-making there for a while, which I think most Americans would agree is not the role of government.  Isn't this exactly the sort of "corporate welfare" that the Occupiers complain about?  Or does it only count as corporate welfare if the bailout is for banks and investment firms?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What a President Can't Do

I know that presidential candidates have to make themselves seem invincible to win elections, but it is still depressing to watch.  If hell freezes over and I ever became a presidential candidate, I imagine blowing the election in a debate something like this:

Moderator:  "Mr. Croxton, when will your administration get unemployment below 6%?"
Me:  "Never."
Mod.:  "Never?"
Me:  "No, not my administration.  The president doesn't determine who works and who doesn't.  That's a decision made by millions of private individuals."
Mod.: "So you think the government has nothing to do with the economy?"
Me:  "Of course not, that would be absurd.  The federal government can do a great deal to hinder economic activity, and it can do a little to promote it.  But it makes no sense to speak of a president 'getting unemployment below 6%.'
  I will not promise what the unemployment rate would be because it is out of my control.  I will also not promise a certain rate of growth in the economy, or a rise in morals or personal happiness.  The president has only the vaguest influence over all of those.
  I can't even promise that crime will go down or that violence against America will cease, but I will promise that I will do everything possible to make sure we prosecute criminals and defend the country against attackers.
  Moreover, even the things I can do, I can't do all at once.  I will strictly limit the number of things that I promise to do on 'Day One' of my presidency.  I will keep a list and make sure I can do every item on it.  Some things will have to wait until day two, or three, or fifty-six.
  Most of the things a president can do by himself are very limited.  Congress is the most important branch of government, and as president I will not try to usurp its role.  I will continue to propose laws and submit budgets as other presidents have done in the last century, but I will not act as though Congress has a responsibility to do everything I want, and I will not now promise to do things that I know only Congress can do."

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ryan v. Biden

I don't like to watch national political debates.  They make me nervous, way more nervous than their consequences warrant.  Perhaps this is partly the experience of dealing with the Bushes, for whom I constantly felt embarrassed.  Naturally, I missed Romney's terrific debate performance last week.

I thought Biden was effective tonight.  Not that his arguments were better, but it sounds more credible when you say things repeatedly and loudly and indignantly, and he did that.

I thought the moderator was awful.  When Biden interrupted Ryan, her most frequent response was not to try to moderate by giving each an appropriate chance to speak, but by asking a new question -- effectively cutting Ryan off.  She also pressed Ryan on several issues and only once, mildly, pressed Biden.

Ryan was remarkably patient, more patient than was good for him, I thought, in the early stages.  Unfortunately, when two people are talking over each other, the one who falls silent first seems to be yielding, and Ryan constantly gave in.  It was the moderator's job to prevent this sort of thing, but she abdicated.  At least Ryan showed that he was statesmanlike.

I'm not sure what he should have done otherwise.  I would have been tempted to continue talking when Biden interrupted, which Ryan did some toward the end.  What I really would want to do in that sort of situation is step out of character for a moment and make a meta-comment.  You're in a supposedly respectable debate, you're expected to behave in a certain way, including not making comments about extraneous things.  But I don't think I would have been able to refrain from commenting on Biden's interruptions.  Ryan did, once, talking about the ground the Democrats had to make up, but I don't think it was really effective.  What I would have preferred would have been for him to say, "When you can't make an effective argument, it is tempting to interrupt your opponent to prevent him from making a point."  And to repeat that line at the start of every time he got to talk after Biden had interrupted him.  It's probably better that he didn't.

Biden did what the Obama campaign wanted him to do:  attack repeatedly and paint the Republicans as heartless.  On the other hand, Ryan probably also did what he needed to:  appear as a legitimate candidate for vice president.  I have a hard time judging how debates would be perceived by independent voters, but I don't think this one went drastically one way or the other.

One side point is that I think Obama missed a big opportunity in not elevating Hillary Clinton onto his ticket.  In 2008, he didn't need her, and my guess is he preferred to have a vice president who wouldn't upstage him.  In 2012, he could have benefitted greatly from the additional energy she would have brought to the campaign.  It would have been similar in some respects to McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate, with the exception that Clinton has already served 8 years in the Senate and 4 years as secretary of state; in other words, she is already a credible candidate for national office, no questions asked.  It may turn out that he doesn't need her this year, either, but my feeling is that he would have been significantly better off choosing her.