Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sixth Republican Primary Debate (FL)

The sixth Republican debate was held last Thursday in Orlando, FL. The debate is available in its entirety on YouTube; Fox News has also published a transcript. This debate had nine candidates, more than any other debate, and was only the second which invited Gary Johnson. I was glad to see that he got to participate, even though the crowded stage means some of the candidates don't get very much screen time.

Since I was running so far behind with the last debate, I actually streamed this one live before I finished watching the previous one. To get my biases out in the open, before analyzing this debate, I had fairly positive views of Herman Cain and Gary Johnson, and somewhat positive views of the Ricks, Perry and Santorum. I had a somewhat negative opinion of Mitt Romney and a somewhat more negative opinion of Michele Bachmann. I have very negative opinions of Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, and if any of those three dropped out tomorrow, I wouldn't miss them one bit.

Just like the other five debates, I've summarized and responded to each candidate's positions below, and I've scored each position positive, zero or negative based on my gut reaction to it.  Since these "summaries" can get quite long, you may want to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

Gary Johnson
  •  As a libertarian, what makes him a better choice for libertarian Republicans than Ron Paul? "I'm not going to presume to make that assumption." Then... why are you here? (-1)
  • Despite his discouraging opening line, Johnson is solid on policy. He would submit a balanced budget in 2013 and would veto any bill "where expenditures exceed revenue." Since revenue and expenditures are usually determined in separate bills, I'm not sure how he'll stick to that promise, but he does say he thinks he vetoed more bills as governor of New Mexico than any other governor in history. He would switch to the FairTax, which I'm not really sold on, but I like everything else he says. (+1)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? As part of balancing the budget in 2013, he would eliminate the Department of Education. (0)
  • "The biggest threat to our national security is the fact that we're bankrupt." He repeats his promise to submit a balanced budget in 2013, including a 43% reduction in military spending. "It's crazy that we have foreign aid... when we're borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar to do that." He also supports flights to Cuba because trade encourages friendship. (+1)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? "My next-door neighbor's two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration." Balance the budget now, not in 15 years, and replace the current tax system with the FairTax. (+1)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? Ron Paul. (-1)

Rick Santorum
  •  Would he support federal right-to-work legislation? He won't say, but he is against public sector unions at any level of government. I don't like that he dodges the right-to-work question, and even though I also disagree with public sector unions, I think it's going too far for the federal government to say whether state and local public sector employees can unionize. (0)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? "The education system doesn't serve the customer... And who's the customer? The parents." Um, aren't the students the customer? Even if he's right, how would he change it? He doesn't say. (-1)
  • Santorum says Perry is "making this leap, that unless we subsidize" college education for illegal immigrants, "they won't be able to go" to college. Thank you Rick Santorum! It's about time someone on stage said that. (+1)
  • Would he send troops back to Iraq if the situation there deteriorated? He doesn't want to take them out of Iraq in the first place, which I have to assume means that he would send them back. (-1)
  • "Just because our economy is sick does not mean our country is sick, and it doesn't mean our values are sick." It's a great quote, but he says it in support of keeping our troops in Afghanistan, which I think we no longer need to do. (0)
  • "Any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military." Repealing DADT "tries to inject social policy into the military." While Santorum is right that sex should not be an issue in the military, policies like DADT make it an issue by saying that open homosexuals cannot serve in the military. "Don't ask, don't tell" by itself is fine, but following that with "if you do tell, we'll kick you out" is not. (-1)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? By appealing to Reagan and defeating Obama. (-1)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? Newt Gingrich. (-1)

Newt Gingrich
  •  Unemployment compensation should be tied to a "business-led training program" and the best way to do it would be to require states to implement the training program, but allow them to experiment to find the best approach. (+1)
  • The federal government borrows 40% of what it spends, so how could Gingrich cut spending by 40%? "Well, the way you described the question, you can't." Then he promises to reveal his plan next Thursday in Iowa and talks about Reagan for awhile. (-1)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? He would "dramatically shrink" the Department of Education, and would like to see "the equivalent of Pell Grants for K-12" that could be used at any school, public or private. (+1)
  • He wants to privatize E-verify, but doesn't understand why employers would oppose being required to use it. Um, how about what Chris Wallace said, that it would turn small businessmen into immigration agents? He also wants to make English the "official language of government." (-1)
  • Newt would get rid of government-to-government aid in favor of incentives for American businesses to invest overseas. "Our bureaucrats giving their bureaucrats money is a guaranteed step towards corruption." (+1)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? By appealing to Reagan and defeating Obama. For the record, Newt used this answer before Santorum did. (-1)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? He refuses to answer. (-1)

Ron Paul
  • He would "veto every single bill that violates the Tenth Amendment." He says there's "no authority" for the federal government to regulate schools, medical care, the economy or individuals' personal lives. (0)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? He spends some time reminiscing about 1980, then says "don't enforce" NCLB, but rather give tax credits to people who want to opt out of the public education system. I like the tax credits idea, but Ron Paul should know better than anyone that the President can't simply choose not to enforce a law he doesn't like. (0)
  • In the past, Paul has said that a border fence could be used to keep people in. Chris Wallace asks if he knows many Americans who want to take their money and flee the country? Paul says that all the other candidates talking about repatriation of dollars shows that these Americans have already left. Then he rambles for awhile before getting to his point: "no free education, no free subsidies, no citizenship, no birth-right citizenship." Birthright citizenship is one of the issues I feel most strongly about, and it is one of the things that has made America great. Paul is absolutely wrong here. And "no citizenship"? What does he even mean by that? (-1)
  • Abortion "is not a national issue, it is a state issue" but he still supports the day-after pill, saying, "We have too many laws already. Now, how are you going to police the day-after pill?" I think someone can be pro-life and still support the day-after pill, if they believe that human life begins sometime after conception. But Paul's position is simply indefensible. If, as stated in the question, he does believe that life begins at conception, the excuse "we have too many laws already" doesn't fly. If human life begins at conception then intentionally ending that human life is murder. It doesn't matter how many laws we have on other topics, murder should always be against the law. If he had said human life actually begins sometime after the day-after pill does its thing, that, at least, would be defensible. But his position, that it's okay to kill that human life because we have so many other laws already, is just abhorrent. (-2)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? "Government destroys jobs; the market creates jobs." He starts off great, but quickly slides into Austrian economics and having to "deal with" the Federal Reserve. (0)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? He refuses to answer because he's in third place, but would answer if he was in first or second. What? (-1)

Rick Perry
  • How would he encourage small businesses to grow and hire people? "What we've done in the state of Texas." That includes lower taxes on small business, "fair and predictable" regulation, and "sweeping tort reform." It's the first question of the debate, and a good start. I think tort reform is mostly overrated, but lowering taxes and tackling regulation are good, safe answers for Perry. (+1)
  • Where is his specific jobs plan? Texas is his specific jobs plan. (0)
  • Megyn Kelly asks, how are 50 separate Social Security systems supposed to work? This was a gimme question and Perry blew it. His response should've been to ask how does anything done by the states work with 50 separate systems? Instead, his answer was that he never really said he wanted to give SS to the states, just that state employees should have the option to have separate systems. Yawn. (-1)
  • Romney's hardcover edition of his book says Romneycare is "exactly what the American people needed" but the paperback edition "took that line out." As ABC reports, Perry is right. The hardcover, published less than a month before Obamacare was signed into law, included the line, "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country," referring to Romneycare. The paperback, published almost a year later, removed that line. (+1)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? He supports school choice, including vouchers and charter schools, but he'd really rather attack Romney for supporting Obama's Race to the Top. Except for being passed as part of the stimulus bill, the Race to the Top is actually not that bad. It awards funding to schools that succeed in meeting certain goals, which is certainly much better than blindly giving money to all of them. It's not as pro-market as Gingrich's or Paul's answers, but I think it's a mistake for Perry to hang his education policy on opposition to Race to the Top. (-1)
  • "There is nobody on this stage who has spent more time working on border security than I have." Texas has spent $400 million on securing the border, and they've used Texas Rangers in doing so, he says. Then he builds a straw man to defend the in-state tuition credit for illegal immigrants, saying, "But if you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart." He still doesn't seem to see the difference between not subsidizing something vs not having it available at all, which is definitely worrisome. (-1)
  • He asks Santorum, "Have you ever even been to the border with Mexico?" To which Santorum replies, "Yes, yes I have." Perry also says, "You put the aviation assets on the ground." Er... okay. I actually agree with Perry that it doesn't make sense to build a fence, but he's not doing any favors to those of us who agree with him with the way he's answering these questions. (-1)
  • If the Taliban in Pakistan got a hold of Pakistan's nukes, what would he do? He doesn't say, but before that, he wants to "build a relationship in that region." With who? Apparently India. That's not a bad strategy since the Pakistanis are most likely to fire their nukes at India anyway, but Perry's answer is so rambling and I have to connect so many dots myself to get to that point that I'm not sure whether he's actually saying what I think he is, or something completely different. (0)
  • Perry "highly respect[s]" George W. Bush, but disagreed with him on "Medicaid Part D" (Medicare, perhaps?) and No Child Left Behind. (0)
  • On Gardasil, "I got lobbied on this issue" by "a 31-year-old young lady who had stage 4 cervical cancer." This 31-year-old was Heather Burcham, who Perry met only after issuing the executive order. (-1)
  • Is Texas' high percentage of people without health insurance the fault of Texas policies? No, Perry says, because the federal government won't grant Texas a waiver to pursue the best policies. I agree with Perry that states should have more power in setting Medicaid policies, but his conclusion does not follow from his premise. Differences between states in outcomes are not the result of following the same federal rules. (-1)
  • Perry had what could have been one of his best responses of the night in comparing Romney to John Kerry, saying he was against the Second Amendment before he was for it, and the same on "social programs," Roe v. Wade, Race to the Top and Obamacare. But, I'm sorry, Perry stammered so much trying to get out this criticism that it simply didn't feel like the targeted attack it should have been. It felt like Perry was on the defensive and didn't know what to say and was lashing out in the first direction that came to mind. (0)
  • When Romney says Perry is retreating from the positions in his book, he says, "Not an inch, sir." (0)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? Get rid of Obamacare, pull back Dodd-Frank and the EPA, lower corporate and personal tax rates and put in place his plan to become energy independent. (+1)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? He would like to "take Herman Cain and mate him up with Newt Gingrich." Now that's quite a mental image for your last question of the night! I like the Herman Cain part of it, but not the Newt Gingrich part. (0)

Mitt Romney
  •  "To create jobs, it helps to have had a job," implying that Obama has not. He repeats the first four of his seven jobs points from the third debate. I'm glad he's no longer talking about our trading partners as our "opponents" (calling them "the other guys"), but then he talks about "crack[ing] down on cheaters like China." I think Romney would be really bad on trade, which is one of the most important ways to grow the economy. (-1)
  • "I don't try and define who's rich and who's not rich. I want everybody in America to be rich... I want people in America to recognize that the future will be brighter for their kids than it was for them." (+1)
  • He wants to use his tax plan to help those who have been most hurt by Obama, which he says is the middle class. His tax plan would allow those with incomes less than $200,000 to pay zero savings taxes. I'm one of those, so that would be nice for me, but it will do jack-squat to get the economy moving. (-1)
  • "There's a Rick Perry out there that is saying... [Social Security is] unconstitutional and it should be returned to the states. So you better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that." That's an awesome response to Perry, and it gets a point even though I disagree with Romney's status-quo approach to Social Security. (+1)
  • "This [Romneycare] is a state plan for a state. It is not a national plan... please don't try and make me retreat from the words that I wrote in my book. I stand by what I wrote. I believe in what I did." It's worrying enough that he still believes in what he did with Romneycare, but it's even worse that he basically denies removing that line from his book. As mentioned above, ABC reported that Perry was right. The hardcover included the line "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country," referring to Romneycare, while the paperback removed that line. (-1)
  • Is Obama a socialist? Romney stops short of calling Obama a socialist, but says he has been inspired by the "socialist democrats" in Europe. Romney, on the other hand, believes in capitalism and that government is too big. (+1)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? "We need to get the federal government out of education." He would stand up to the teachers unions and support school choice and standardized testing (apparently at the state or local level). (+1)
  • What about Perry's charge that Romney supports Obama's Race to the Top? Romney says, "I don't support any particular program that he's describing" then goes on to describe Race to the Top and how he supports those ideas. So, which is it, Mitt? (-1)
  • If you're a US citizen from any state other than Texas, he says, you have to pay almost $100,000 more than an illegal immigrant does to go to college in Texas. "We have to have a fence," plus "enough Border Patrol agents to secure the fence." (-1)
  • "You don't allow an inch of space to exist between you and your friends and your allies," speaking about Israel. Then he criticizes Obama for awhile, and finally says it is "unacceptable" for Iran to gain nuclear weapons. (+1)
  • Nothing has changed for the 92% of Massachusites who had health insurance before Romneycare passed, nevermind that both health care costs and wait times have increased since the reform. He says Romneycare was aimed at providing "market-based, private" insurance to the other 8%, nevermind that legally requiring someone to buy a product has nothing to do with market-based anything. (-1)
  • He wrote a book two years ago and stands by it, while Perry has already retreated from a book he wrote six months ago. And the money quote of the whole debate: "There are a lot of reasons not to elect me, a lot of reasons not to elect other people on this stage, but one reason to elect me is that I know what I stand for, I've written it down." I haven't seen it yet, but I guarantee there will be at least one ad using Romney's "There are a lot of reasons not to elect me," probably in black-and-white with scary background music. (-1)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? Patriotism, and leadership. "We are a patriotic people. We place our hand over our heart during the playing of the national anthem. No other people on Earth do that." (-1)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? Like Newt, he refuses to answer. (-1)

Michele Bachmann
  • How much of every dollar earned should Americans get to keep? "I think you earned every dollar, you should get to keep every dollar that you earn... When people make money, it's their money." That's good rhetoric, but she starts off sounding like an anarchist, favoring no taxes at all. She backs off that a bit when she says, "Obviously, we have to give money back to the government so that we can run the government," but she never gives a number for how much she thinks we have to give back. It's a tough question, but it's already been answered by candidates like Cain (with his 999 plan) and Huntsman (with his 8-14-24 brackets from the last debate). (-1)
  • What would she do about No Child Left Behind? She would "pass the mother of all repeal bills on education," hereafter referred to as MOARB. She would close the Department of Education and send the money back to the states and local governments. (0)
  • She would build a fence "on every mile, on every yard, on every foot, on every inch" of the southern border. For someone who didn't want to raise the debt ceiling, she's pretty glib about spending the tens of billions necessary for such a fence. (-1)
  • Cuba is a state sponsor of terror, so we should "never have flights" between the US and Cuba. Cuba was designated a "state sponsor of terror" in March 1982, almost 30 years ago. How much longer do we have to wait for trade restrictions to work? (-1)
  • She believes that freedom of religion means there is no government-established church, but that religious people should still be able to exercise their religions "in the public square." (+1)
  • Does she stand by her comment linking Gardasil to mental retardation? She says, "First, I didn't make that claim nor did I make that statement." Really? Here's two videos of her making that claim. Yes, it is in the context of the story of the woman who came up to her after the last debate, but it's clear in the videos that Bachmann believes what she is saying and is using it to try and score political points against Perry. If she really doesn't believe that claim, it's even worse that she would repeat the story not once, but twice. (-1)
  • How is she going to turn this country around? Repeal Obamacare. (0)
  • If she had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would she choose? "A strong constitutional conservative," but she won't answer beyond that. (-1)

Herman Cain
  • Chris Wallace asks exactly what I want Cain to answer: With his 999 plan (introducing a national sales tax alongside the income tax), isn't there a danger that a post-Cain President would raise all three taxes? "No, there's no danger in that." The 999 plan eliminates the capital gains and estate taxes and replaces the corporate and personal income taxes with flat taxes at the lower rate. But he never says why a post-Cain President couldn't turn his 999 plan into a 20-20-20 plan. (-1)
  • If forced to eliminate a federal department, it would be the "out of control" EPA, which he would then rebuild to be more "responsible." While that's probably good in itself, in the long run that just replaces one federal department with a better federal department; it doesn't eliminate anything. (0)
  • He repeats his proposal to use the Chilean model, personal retirement accounts, for Social Security. He says not only has Chile successfully used it for 30 years, but so have 30 other countries. (+1)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? "All of the programs at the federal level where there's strings attached, cut all the strings... Get the federal government out of trying to educate our kids at the local level." I'm not sure what programs he would keep or what he's for or against here. (0)
  • "Peace through strength and clarity... If you mess with Israel, you're messing with the United States of America." (+1)
  • Cain says that he would have died from his cancer under Obamacare because he was able, under the current system, to get multiple rounds of chemotherapy and surgery within nine months. Under the bureaucracy of Obamacare, he says he would have been treated on the bureaucrat's timetable. "We need to get bureaucrats out of the business of trying to micromanage health care in this nation." (+2)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? By providing leadership. "Ronald Reagan was the one who said that we are a shining city on a hill. We've slid down the side of that hill. Americans want somebody who's going to lead them back up to the top of that hill." (0)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? "This is a game," like Newt said, but "I'll play the game." He would choose Mitt Romney if Mitt was willing to sign on to 999, but otherwise would choose Newt Gingrich. (0)

Jon Huntsman
  • "We've learned some important lessons" in the economic downturn. "We have learned that subsidies don't work and that we can no longer afford them." And that's why he wants to subsidize natural gas. (-1)
  • "We're not gonna raise taxes." He wants to fix the "underlying structural problems" by eliminating loopholes and having three rates for individual income taxes, 8%, 14% and 23%. That's different from the 8-14-24 he said in the last debate. It's a minor difference, but I'm not sure which one he actually means. He would also lower the corporate tax rate to 25%. These are decent reforms as far as they go, and if this was the compromise reached at the end of the day, I would be happy. But starting the negotiation with Democrats with these levels of taxation is giving up too much too quickly, and could easily lead to a "compromise" that does nothing but maintain the status quo. (0)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? "Localize, localize, localize." He signed the second school vouchers bill in the US, he supports "early childhood literacy" and opposes "unfunded mandates" from the federal government. (+1)
  • Huntsman keeps talking about fixing "our core" but he never says what that means. He does have a good quote: "After ten years of fighting the war on terror, people are ready to bring our troops home from Afghanistan." But then he goes back to talking about our core. (0)
  • "Only Pakistan can save Pakistan. Only Afghanistan can save Afghanistan. All that I want right now... is for America to save America." That's a bit too isolationist for me. (-1)
  • "We're fundamentally approaching health care reform the wrong way." He calls Obamacare "a one trillion-dollar bomb." But he doesn't address the actual question about the Obamacare requirement that young adults be covered by their parents' insurance up to 26-years-old, other than saying it reminds him of his daughter who has juvenile diabetes. (-1)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? He "would drop three things on the doorstep of Congress." (Does it make me immature that this quote makes me think of flaming bags of crap?) First, his 8-14-23 tax reform plan; second, regulatory reform including repealing Dodd-Frank and Obamacare; third, energy independence through "converting to natural gas." Regulatory reform is necessary, but I'm not sure how he'll accomplish "converting to natural gas," or why, if it's a good idea, the market won't do it on its own. (0)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? He expects Romney and Perry to "bludgeon each other to death" and compares them to Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. He would choose Herman Cain as his running mate. (+1)

While I sympathize with the dog owners who inspired the change from the previous bell, I stream these debates on my computer, and I do use Gmail chat. Using Gmail chat's new message notification sound for the time's-up bell in the debate had me wanting to check for a message every time it went off.

Chris Wallace says that Cain survived stage four colon and liver cancer, and before even asking the question, the audience erupts into applause. For all the bad press that the Republican crowds have been getting for cheering the death penalty and booing the gay soldier, I haven't heard anything about the long, spontaneous applause for surviving cancer.

Summing my gut reactions for each candidate, only two scored positive in this debate-- Cain got +3 and Johnson got +1. Gingrich and Huntsman both got -1 and Perry got -3. The rest had a four-way tie for last place; Santorum, Paul, Romney and Bachmann all got -4.

Ron Paul was his usual self, with a few good points surrounded by rambling nonsense. Michele Bachmann was more or less the same, just with less rambling and fewer good points. Rick Santorum got off a couple good shots at both Perry and Huntsman, but he fell flat on his face when defending his own ideas. Which really is a pity, because I like Santorum overall.

Mitt Romney, in my opinion, has done badly in every debate so far except the previous one, which seems to have been a fluke. This debate, he looked good on rhetoric, but bad on substance. He repeatedly defended Romneycare, and showed none of the clarity or insight he did in the previous debate. He essentially supports the status quo on taxes and Social Security; he seems to oppose free trade; and he wants a border fence. His best line of the night was, "There are a lot of reasons not to elect me."

Rick Perry wasn't much better. He's the anti-Mitt in more ways than one. Where Romney is pretty good on rhetoric and weak on substance, Perry is pretty good on substance but weak on rhetoric. He had several verbal flubs throughout the night-- "put the aviation assets on the ground," "Medicaid part D," etc. He's also made Texas his whole campaign, but whenever he's asked to defend policies he's followed in Texas, he just resorts to emotional appeals.

Newt Gingrich for the most part avoided his anti-media campaign this time, which is the only reason he scored so highly. He had a few good ideas, like unemployment compensation training programs, Pell Grant equivalents for K-12, and replacing direct foreign aid with incentives. He continues to come across as someone who would be much better behind the scenes of someone else's Presidency.

Jon Huntsman is the downer candidate. Our country is "sick", and we have problems with "our core" and "we're watching a great American tragedy." To a certain extent, the job of the challenger is to point out how bad things are under the incumbent. Listening to Huntsman, I certainly get the message that things are bad, but I never get the feeling that he believes he can actually make them better. Huntsman seems to see himself as a guy with a bucket trying to bail water out of the Titanic.

I liked Gary Johnson in the first debate, and I was counting on him to be the sane libertarian alternative this time as well. But he kept deferring to Ron Paul, even saying that he won't "presume" that libertarian Republicans should vote for him rather than Ron Paul. Johnson's great on his policies when he talks about them, but in this debate it felt like he was just there to sing backup for Ron Paul.

Herman Cain continued to be the best candidate on stage, and from the other commentary I've read on the debate, I'm not the only one who thinks so this time. He was on-message the entire debate, and didn't have any flubs like the most of the others did. At the same time, asked directly about the weakest point of his 999 plan, he completely avoided the question. Since his candidacy will rise or fall with that 999 plan, he needs to come up with a better answer to his first question of the night.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Online Polls from Sixth Debate

In the sixth Republican debate, held in Orlando, Florida, Fox News polled online viewers on a number of questions and then reported on three of the results during the debate. Those questions, the results and my own answers are below. The questions and results are based on the video of the debate here and the transcript here.

I define rich as someone having an annual income higher than:
I was surprised at the result here, with a full 44% of respondents saying someone with an annual income of $999,000 would not be rich. My answer was the lowest available, $100,000, and only 13% agreed with me. My reasoning is that US median individual income for 2010 was $26,197 (table P-7 here). Someone making $100,000 a year makes almost four times more than the median American. If that's not rich, I don't know what is.

If we're talking about households rather than individuals (as I assumed), I might have chosen $250,000, even though I think that's a bit high. For households, an income of $100,000 puts you in the second-highest quintile; the upper cut-off for the second-highest quintile is $100,065 (table H-1 here). I think being in the top-fifth of American households probably qualifies as being rich, so maybe the right answer is slightly higher than $100,000. Even so, the lower cut-off for the top 5% of American households is $180,810, so an annual income of $250,000 puts someone solidly into the top 5%. If that's not rich, once again, I don't know what is.

If you had to cut a government department, what would you cut?
This result wasn't surprising at all. The Department of Education is a huge target for both conservatives and libertarians. I think it could certainly use reform, but I'm not convinced that eliminating the Department entirely is the best way to reform education policy in this country. The same goes for the EPA. They've definitely overstepped their bounds of late, but regulating externalities like pollution is one of the core functions of government.

The Department of Labor could probably be recombined with Commerce, and I'm sure many of the regulations it enforces could be streamlined or eliminated with no ill effects. At the same time, a lot of its agencies perform necessary government functions, like the BLS and OSHA. I think at least some of the opposition to the Department of Labor comes from its name, which some see as synonymous with unions. I didn't realize this until writing this entry, but in fact, the National Labor Relations Board (which does probably deserve to be eliminated) is an independent agency, separate from the Department of Labor.

I voted to eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As the Department responsible for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, HUD has been possibly the most abject failure of any federal department over the last two decades. Even if it hadn't overseen the housing bubble, there's simply no reason that I can see that we need a federal housing policy, or a federal urban development policy. I don't know of anything the federal government does that is more local in nature than urban development. Even the name begs for the department to be localized.

What is the best way to fix immigration in the US?
The third answer read out loud during the debate was "deport all immigrants," which received 22% of the vote and was the second-place answer. I don't remember the exact wording of the options that night, but I hope that either the actual option read "deport all illegal immigrants" or that these 22% of people interpreted it that way. Conflating the illegal/legal immigration issues is something I expect from liberals, not conservatives.

My answer was to "create a path to citizenship," and 35% agreed with me, more than any other answer. However, a stronger fence and more border patrol agents go hand-in-hand, and it's hard to see someone supporting one of those while opposing the other. Combined, the "stronger border" options get 39% of the vote.

I support a path to citizenship out of practicality, although I would prefer to call it a "path to legality." Not everyone who comes to the US wants to stay permanently, and not everyone who stays permanently wants to become a citizen. Our immigration policy has to recognize that fact. But I do support some kind of path to legality for illegal immigrants already here because the other two options are simply impractical. With upwards of ten million illegals in the country, it is practically and fiscally impossible to deport them all. But leaving them alone and maintaining the status quo, where ten million people are in open disobedience of the law, is also impractical. It breeds contempt for the law and for America as a country, as evidenced by the 2006 protests. The only way forward is through some kind of path to legality.

The stronger fence and border patrol also won't work for practical reasons. The border is so porous already that sealing it would cost tens of billions of dollars at a time when we're already borrowing more than 40% of what we spend. Keeping the border sealed would cost tens of billions more. The only reason people immigrate illegally is because we've made it so difficult to immigrate legally. Get rid of the quotas and the waiting lists, and simplify the immigration process, and illegal immigration will fall dramatically overnight.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fifth Republican Primary Debate (FL)

Alright, I was way late on this one. I have no idea where the time went, but this debate entry is for the fifth debate, held on September 12th, not the sixth debate which was held Thursday night. The official CNN video of the debate is here (also parts 2, 3 and 4). This debate had all the same candidates as the previous one, which is a first.

To get my biases out in the open, before watching the debate, I had a fairly positive view of Herman Cain, and somewhat positive views of Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. I had a somewhat negative view of Michele Bachmann, fairly negative views of Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, and very negative views of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

Just like the other four debates, I've summarized and responded to each candidate's positions below, and I've scored each position positive, zero or negative based on my gut reaction to it. Since these "summaries" are kind of long, you may want to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

Jon Huntsman
  • He wants us to know he has "the experience and leadership necessary to move this country forward." (0)
  • The only thing that should be off the table in reforming Social Security is the drama going back and forth between Romney and Perry. He likes the Ryan plan. (0)
  • We're watching "a great American tragedy." His economic plan is to 1) reform the tax code by eliminating loopholes while lowering the individual rate, 2) reform regulations- "We cannot go forward with Obamacare" or Dodd-Frank, 3) wean ourselves from our "heroin-like addiction to foreign oil." Yikes... heroin-like? Anyway, the first two points are good. (+1)
  • "This country needs more workers." Then, he repeats his three-point economic plan. It was good the first time he mentioned it, but not good enough to get a second point for repeating it. (0)
  • He wants to eliminate tax loopholes and corporate subsidies. He would have three individual income tax brackets: 8%, 14% and 24%. He would also lower the corporate tax to 25%. (+1)
  • "For Rick [Perry] to say that you can't secure the border, I think is pretty much a treasonous comment." I'm really glad to hear the crowd booing this statement. Since I've said similar things, I guess Huntsman would consider me treasonous too. That puts Huntsman out of the running for me. I can't imagine ever voting for someone who thinks I'm treasonous. (-2)
  • We need to fix Homeland Security by... something about H1B visas (they're broken but he doesn't say how or what he would do to fix them) and bringing in foreign capital to raise real estate prices. The crash of the housing bubble was at least a proximate cause for the Great Recession. Reinflating that bubble is one of the last things we need. I agree that Homeland Security needs to be fixed, but I don't have any confidence that Huntsman's idea of fixing it would be anything like my idea of fixing it. (-1)
  • "The time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan." The Afghan people should take responsibility for their own security, and we can help Afghan women and children through NGOs and volunteer organizations. (+1)
  • What would he add to the White House? His Harley Davidson motorcyle. (0)

Herman Cain
  • He says he is "the only non-politician on this stage." (0)
  • Is Social Security a Ponzi scheme? "I don't care what you call it, it's broken." "Start with optional personal retirement accounts." Second... personal retirement accounts as an option. I can ignore the flub because I really agree with the policy. "Instead of giving it to the states, let's give it back to the workers." Cain is right on when it comes to Social Security. (+1)
  • "Throw out the entire tax code" and replace it with his 999 plan. Cain says that others criticize him, saying, "You don't know how Washington works. Yes I do. It doesn't." Cain's got some great one-liners in this debate. I'm still undecided on the 999 plan, although I am warming to it. (+1)
  • Can you be both pro-worker and pro-business? Yes, because he "was a worker before [he] was an executive and before [he] was a business owner." He also came from a "pro-worker family." "The two are not mutually exclusive." The easy answer here would've been that you can't be pro-worker without being pro-business, since workers only get paychecks if the business brings in revenue. Instead, Cain talked about his family and his pizza chain. (0)
  • Yes, he says, the Fed should be audited, and should be given a single mandate. Then he says the US-Canadian exchange rate used to be 1.22, now it's "totally reversed." As someone who visits Canada at least once a month and used to live there, I can say Cain is absolutely wrong here. The two currencies are more or less at par, and have been about at par for a long time now. (-1)
  • How would he bring down the cost of medical care? Repeal Obamacare, then pass "market-driven, patient-centered reforms" such as tort reform, restructure Medicare (although he doesn't say exactly how), and allow association health plans (like the National Restaurant Association of which Cain was once CEO). These are all good things, although I wish he talked about Medicare more. (+1)
  • To become energy independent, remove barriers that have been put in place by the federal government, starting with "an EPA that has gone wild." He wants to create a "regulatory reduction commission for every agency starting with the EPA." (+1)
  • What would he add to the White House? A sense of humor, "because America is too uptight." (+1)

Michele Bachmann
  • She's authored bills to repeal Dodd-Frank and Obamacare, and founded the Tea Party Caucus. She's the first candidate to get applause for her introduction. (+1)
  • We've made a promise to seniors already on Social Security, and we need to keep that promise, but we also need to reform the system for those who aren't yet receiving benefits. She also says Obamacare "stole" money from Medicare. "I'm a person that's had feet in the private sector and a foot in the federal government." She started off strong, but how many feet does she have? She would've done better to stick to Social Security. (0)
  • We have to change "the principle" that government pays for everything and return to "personal responsibility." (+1)
  • Were the Bush tax cuts responsible for the deficit increase? She waffles, basically answering yes without actually saying yes, then talks about the debt ceiling and repatriating corporate money. (-1)
  • She would not reappoint Ben Bernanke. She's really upset that the Federal Reserve makes loans to private businesses and --horror!-- foreign governments. Does she have any idea what it means for the US dollar to be the world's reserve currency? Or the lender of last resort? Does it matter to her that all the loans have been repaid with interest? Politicians like Bachmann are precisely the reason why I don't want to give politicians more control over the money supply. (-2)
  • Does she agree or disagree that Bernanke has committed "treason" as Perry says? She says, "That's for Governor Perry to make that decision." That doesn't sound like something a candidate for Vice President would say, not a candidate for President. (-1)
  • "To have innocent little twelve-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done." That sounds good, but that gets dangerously close to coming out against all vaccines. (0)
  • She raises the issue of Merck's campaign contributions to Perry. Merck being the maker of Gardasil stood to get quite a bit of money from a state-mandated Gardasil injection (even with an opt-out). It's a good point, and I love the back-and-forth between Perry and Bachmann on this issue. (+1)
  • You can't solve Obamacare with an executive order, which is a great point that needs to be said more often. But then she says individual mandates are unconstitutional at both the state and federal levels, which is going too far. I think it is very likely unconstitutional at the federal level, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has upheld the law in Massachusetts. She also gets very worked up about repealing Obamacare; this is clearly her issue, I just wish she'd lay off the "unconstitutional" rhetoric a bit, especially at the state level, where she's probably wrong. (0)
  • "The American way is not to give taxpayer-subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws." She says the immigration system worked well until the 1960s by requiring that immigrants had "a little bit of money in their pocket." What happened to "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore"? (-1)
  • What would she add to the White House? "A copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights and that's it." ...She has to know the Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution, doesn't she? (0)

Mitt Romney
  • He emphasizes his private sector experience, and says he can get the economy growing again. (0)
  • "The term Ponzi scheme, I think, is over the top and unnecessary and frightful to many people." Perry has called Social Security unconstitutional and said it should be handled by the states. He also criticizes Perry for calling SS a failure, and just like the last debate, uses the fact that "tens of millions" of Americans have received SS benefits as evidence of the program's success. Although I like Romney's combativeness here, I definitely do not agree with him on policy. (-1)
  • When Perry says, "I think we oughta have a conversation," Romney immediately shoots back, "We're having that right now, Governor." (+1)
  • He would not repeal Medicare Part D, but would reform it. "We're not going to balance the budget just by pretending that all we have to do is take out the waste." It's about time someone said it! Then he says first, cut, cap and balance, then grow the economy to raise revenue. He mentions "restructuring" the economy again, which is worrying, but I like most of what he says. (+1)
  • Texas has a lot of advantages, and he has private sector experience. Then he repeats his seven-point plan from the third debate. Thankfully, he gets rid of his "opponents" line in favor of "the other guys." (+1)
  • The Fed should have some oversight, but "we need to have a Fed... because if we don't have a Fed, who's going to run the currency, Congress?" (+1)
  • A national sales tax has advantages, but Mitt says it would hurt the middle class while helping the richest and poorest. He would rather keep the current system, but eliminate interest, dividend and capital gains taxes for "middle-income Americans." I get the impression from this answer that Romney would more or less keep the tax code the way it is, which I think is a mistake. Eliminating savings taxes for the middle class would be nice, but there's a reason why most of the middle class doesn't care about the capital gains tax in the first place. This plan won't have much of an effect, but it's just enough to distract from real reform. (-1)
  • Health care "isn't working like a market," it's "working like a government utility" because consumers are separated from the cost of health care. To fix it, he would encourage health savings accounts. This is exactly what I believe. I'm still a bit worried about Romneycare, but saying things like this goes a long way to convincing me that Mitt would be alright on health care. (+2)
  • If you think Obamacare and Romneycare are the same, "boy, take a closer look." Romney says Obama raised taxes, cut Medicare, put in place a "panel that ultimately is going to tell people what kind of care they can have" while Massachusetts didn't do any of those things. He also says Romneycare addressed the 9% who were uninsured, while Obamacare addresses 100% of the people. When it comes to the individual mandate, Mitt is wrong here. The individual mandate applies to everyone; that's what makes it a mandate. Whether he's right or wrong that Romneycare didn't do the other things that Obamacare does is mostly immaterial, because it's the individual mandate that is the real problem. (-1)
  • If Latinos "came for a handout, they'd be voting for Democrats." Well, Mitt, Latinos voted 60% Democrat in 2010 and 67% for Obama in 2008, so what does that mean? "Of course we build a fence, and of course we do not give in-state tuition credits to people who come here illegally." I like the second part, but not the first. (0)
  • What would he add to the White House? He would return Winston Churchill's bust to the Oval Office. Nice, subtle jab at Obama. (+1)

Rick Perry 
  • He wants to "make Washington DC as inconsequential in your life as [he] can." (+1)
  • Social Security is "slam dunk guaranteed" for seniors and almost-seniors. At the same time, we need to "reform" and "transform" Social Security. "We're not gonna take that program away." We shouldn't scare seniors like Romney is doing, he says, but have a conversation so that the younger generation will have a retirement program there for them too. (+1)
  • Would he repeal Medicare Part D? No, because we have a $17 trillion hole in our budget. Hmm, I'm not sure how his conclusion follows from his premise, and I'm also not sure where his premise comes from. Is $17 trillion the ten-year deficit? He doesn't say, but it's sure a lot more than the one-year deficit. (-1)
  • Obama is going to pay for the tax cuts in the new stimulus bill by raising taxes. The first stimulus created zero jobs, and the new one will also create zero jobs. We need to lower the "tax burden" and "regulatory climate." "People are tired of spending money we don't have on programs we don't want." (+1)
  • To create jobs, pass federal tort reform. I'm sure that would be good, but that's not going to solve the unemployment problem by itself. (0)
  • He says Texas has actually cut taxes by $14 billion, contrary to Paul's claim of taxes doubling. Who's right? According to, Texas' primary statewide individual tax is the sales tax, which has remained steady at 6.25% since 1990. According to ABC, Ron Paul's local property taxes have doubled while Perry has been in office, but that's because the value of his property has doubled (not to mention that the state government does not determine local tax rates). Perry gets the point. (+1)
  • "If you are allowing the Federal Reserve to be used for political purposes that would be almost treasonous." As far as that goes, he's right. But he's talking about Obama and Bernanke; he seems to completely miss the irony that the other Republican candidates have spent the last five minutes calling for more political control over the Federal Reserve. (0)
  • Was his Gardasil executive order a mistake? "It was, indeed. If I had it to do over again, I would've done it differently." That's good, but then he turns around and defends himself by comparing the opt-out measure to parental choice. I suppose opt-out is more of a choice than forced injections, but opt-in would have been far better. (-1)
  • He says Merck gave him a $5,000 donation, and his campaign raised $30 million. "If you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended." That's an interesting response. It's good to point out the perspective of what $5,000 means for a political campaign these days, but the way he words it leads seamlessly into the question, "Well how much can you be bought for, Governor?" (0)
  • Obamacare isn't right for the country, and Romneycare wasn't right for Massachusetts, "but at the end of the day, that was their call" in Massachusetts. (+1)
  • The federal government has been "an abject failure" on immigration. He supports "strategic fences in metropolitan areas" but the idea of a full border fence "is just not reality." He's not the most eloquent person on stage, but he's right. (+1)
  • If you are working towards your citizenship while living in Texas, you pay in-state tuition, Perry says. "The bottom line is, it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way, no matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what-have-you... I'm proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them you're gonna be on the government dole." He started out pretty good, but subsidizing someone's college education is still giving them government money. I agree that it's better than being on welfare or unemployment, but it's a weird place to draw the line. (0)
  • Perry calls giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition "giving them the opportunity to go on to college." Someone on that stage needs to point out the difference between going to college vs having the government legislate a lower tuition for a select group. (-1)
  • He says he agrees with Huntsman on Afghanistan that "it's time to bring our young men and women home… but it's also really important for us to continue to have a presence there." Presumably, he means bring home the troops, but keep the government contractors and so-called nation builders. (-1)
  • What would he add to the White House? "The most beautiful, most thoughtful and incredible First Lady that this country has ever seen." (0) 

Ron Paul 
  • As President, he will "promote the cause of liberty, and obey the Constitution." (+1)
  • He won't comment on whether Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, but he says it's "broke." He tried but failed to pass legislation preventing the SS trust fund from being used to pay for wars. He wants "the young people" to be able to leave Social Security. (+1)
  • Would he repeal Medicare Part D? We never should've done it in the first place, but it's not high on his list of things to repeal. We're already reforming SS because there's been no cost-of-living increases (never mind that it's because there was little to no inflation during the recession). We need to get out of overseas wars and cut the Departments of Education and Energy "and get rid of them." (-1)
  • Taxes in Texas have doubled, spending has doubled and the debt has tripled under Perry, and also we should cut spending at the embassy in Baghdad. I'm still waiting for the one question where Paul doesn't refer to the wars. Also, it turns out Paul is wrong on taxes in Texas (see above for more). (-1)
  • "Executive orders have been grossly abused by all administrations for a lot of years" but there are certain tasks, like ordering troop movements, that are appropriate for executive orders. Paul says, "I would never use the executive order to legislate." (+1)
  • What should be done with someone who chooses not to purchase health insurance if something happens and they need health care? "That's what freedom is all about, taking your own risks." He starts off really good and says when he was a doctor before Medicaid, "we never turned anybody away from the hospital." But then he starts talking about "the inflation" and says we should "legalize alternative health care." I suspect all the alternative doctors here on the West Coast would be surprised to find out that it's currently illegal. (0)
  • Paul draws a distinction between military spending and defense spending. He would "slash" military spending. "We're under great threat because we occupy so many countries." He says we have military in 130 countries and 900 bases around the world. I like his point about having too many bases in other countries, but it's simply wrong to say "we occupy so many countries." Even if Iraq and Afghanistan ever were "occupied", both nations are currently run by democratically-elected governments, and our troops remain in those countries only with the permission of those democratically-elected governments. (-1)
  • What would he add to the White House? Common sense and Austrian economics. I'm sorry, but Ron Paul's common sense is neither common nor sensical, and Austrian economics is best in small doses. (-1)

Newt Gingrich
  • He wants to change Washington, and it will be "a long and difficult struggle against the forces of reaction and special interest." (0)
  • Would he raise the Social Security retirement age? "No, not necessarily." He gets a good dig in against Obama, whips the crowd into the most raucous cheering yet and... complains that they're eating into his time. Wow, this guy really doesn't want to be President, does he? (-1)
  • Once he gets past the anti-Obama phase of his answer, he basically aligns himself with Cain for personal retirement accounts. (+1)
  • How do you balance the budget? Modernize and eliminate waste to get "hundreds of billions of dollars." Newt apparently doesn't realize the deficit is now measured in the trillions. He criticizes the Supercommittee and plugs a group called Strong America Now, then talks about Medicare fraud. Eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse" is good, but we need a lot more than that if we're going to actually balance the budget. (-1)
  • "The American people create jobs, not government." He would work with Democrats "on principle, not on compromising principle." Compromise is a fact of life in politics, but this is probably as much as we can expect at a partisan primary debate. (0)
  • "Doesn't [Obama] realize that every green tax credit is a loophole?" For oil, "we can depend on Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela" or we can develop domestic supplies. I don't like the "energy independence" rhetoric, since I have no problem buying oil from Canada (who sells us 2.5 times more oil than Saudi Arabia does), but we could definitely stand to relax restrictions on domestic supplies. (+1)
  • Those who argue that eliminating tax loopholes is a tax increase "are technically right." "I don't want to have any tax increase at any level for anyone." That's a good soundbite, but did he basically says he's fine with tax loopholes after criticizing Obama for supporting tax loopholes. (-1)
  • Should we reduce defense spending? He doesn't actually answer the question, but instead lists problem areas and says, "We are greatly underestimating the threat to this country." I get the impression he would not reduce defense spending, and might actually increase it. (-1)
  • What would he add to the White House? First, he'd kick out the czars, then bring in ballet and a large chess set for his grandchildren. (0)

Rick Santorum
  • He's a two-term Senator from a state with a million more Democrats than Republicans. Considering he's the strong social conservative of the race, it's worth remembering that he's won elections in Pennsylvania. (+1)
  • On Social Security, is he with Romney or Perry? "Well the question is, who's with me?" Nice rhetorical answer. He says he wanted to raise the retirement age in 1994 in the "second-oldest per capita" state in the country and still won the election because he "had the courage to tell them the truth." It's all good rhetoric, and he's not scowling this time like he was in the last debate, but even though he says he has a "truckload" of ways to reform SS, he doesn't mention any of them except raising the retirement age. (0)
  • Would he repeal Medicare Part D? No, because it uses private insurance incentives and has come in 40% under budget. He would expand that same idea to the rest of Medicare. (+1)
  • He agrees with auditing the Federal Reserve, and thinks the Fed should have a single purpose, "sound money", rather than a dual mandate, sound money plus full employment. Then he repeats his plan from the third debate to eliminate the corporate tax only for manufacturing. I'm undecided on the single vs dual mandate, but I do know that giving politicians in Washington even more control over the economy (ie, auditing the Fed) is a bad idea. To believe in auditing the Fed, you have to believe that the recession would have been better if Obama, Pelosi and Reid had only had more control. (-1)
  • Perry believes his Gardasil policy was right, but he "went about it the wrong way." Santorum believes the policy is wrong; school vaccinations are in place to combat diseases that are spread at school. "There is no government purpose served" by inoculating against sexually-transmitted diseases. This is exactly the kind of issue that gets Santorum most excited, and he is very much in his element on this answer. (+2)
  • Immigration is "an important part of the lifeblood of this country" but he wants to "build more fence." He doesn't want to deal with illegal immigrants already here until after the border is secure. This has sadly become the standard Republican line on immigration, but just because everyone says it doesn't mean I have to like it. (-1)
  • Perry tried to attract Latino voters by providing in-state tuition to illegals, but Santorum would attract Latino voters by... making English the official language. Yeah, that's gonna go over well among Latino voters. "We are a melting pot, not a salad bowl." (-1)
  • Santorum calls Paul "irresponsible" for blaming the US for 9/11. "We were not attacked because of our actions. We were attacked… because we have a civilization that is antithetical to the civilization of the jihadists." Santorum is partly right-- our civilization is antithetical to that of the jihadists, as is excellently outlined over at The Tree of Mamre. At the same time, we were in part attacked because of our actions-- actions taken in support of Israel for decades, and in support of Kuwait during the first Gulf War. These are not actions that we should be ashamed of. Saying that we've been attacked for supporting Israel is like saying we defended someone being bullied and then the bully turned on us. That doesn't make our actions wrong. (0)
  • What would he add to the White House? With seven children, a bedroom. (0)

I thought the titles CNN gave each candidate were interesting. I cringed when they said, "Ron Paul, the Libertarian," even though I knew it was coming. Identifying people like Ron Paul with libertarianism is why 59% of Americans say they are “fiscally conservative and socially liberal" but only 44% say they are "fiscally conservative and socially liberal, also known as libertarian" (source).

Interesting sidenote: During the singing of the anthem, Santorum and Romney both sing along (silently since they're off-mike), while none of the others do. Once the crowd starts singing halfway through, Huntsman also starts singing. Interpret that as you will.

Summing my gut reactions, Cain and Romney both get +4, Perry gets +2, Santorum +1, and Huntsman 0. Paul gets -1 and Bachmann and Gingrich bring up the rear with -2s. Perry easily got twice the screen time some of the others did, but that's because he was defending himself all night.

I usually try to avoid commentary on these debates until after I've had the chance to write these entries. This time, I was running so late and commentary on Bachmann's comment about vaccines and mental retardation was so ubiquitous that I couldn't avoid it. While watching the debate, I kept waiting for her to say it, but she never did. I was a bit disappointed to find out that she only made that comment after the debate. Sticking solely to what she said in the debate itself, Gardasil was one of her was strongest issues. Playing to vaccine fears after the debate, and fears of the Fed during the debate, she certainly lived up to CNN's title of "the Firebrand." She made the US-vs-state-constitutions mistake again in this debate, which makes it even more maddening when she wraps herself in the mantle of the Constitution.

Newt Gingrich, for being labelled "the Big Thinker" by CNN, didn't have a lot of big thoughts in this debate. He contradicted himself on tax loopholes, fell back on "waste, fraud and abuse" for balancing the budget, and joined the Cain camp on Social Security. That is, when he wasn't complaining about the crowd cheering for him.

Ron Paul had another good debate. He stayed coherent most of the time, and actually had two responses where he did not refer to wars or the military. He brought up some good libertarian talking points, like the vast number of countries where the US military has troops and the proper use of executive orders. On the other hand, he also went to bat for alternative medicine, claimed we were occupying "so many countries" and made a clear error in fact regarding taxes in Texas.

Jon Huntsman, "the Diplomat," lost me with his "treasonous" comment. That's a very serious (and non-diplomatic) word, and while other candidates have used it before, Huntsman is the first and only to use it in a way that includes me. Rick Santorum had some good moments, but lost points on auditing the Fed and on immigration.

Rick Perry, again, was on the defensive a lot. Santorum got probably the best shot at Perry, pointing out that Perry still believes his Gardasil policy was right, just that he went about it the wrong way. He defended himself well against Ron Paul, but not so much against Bachmann, Romney or Santorum. I agree with Perry on the border fence, and he had a few good one-liners, but he didn't do his campaign any favors in this debate.

Mitt Romney got in some great digs against Perry, and his stance in this debate on health care is almost exactly the same as mine. Plus, he recognizes the importance of the Fed. I scored him higher in this debate than in any others, but at the end of the day, I keep getting the sense that Romney is the status quo candidate. He wants to keep Social Security more or less the way it is, he wants to make only minor changes to the tax code, and even his support for the Fed could be cast as just wanting to keep things the way they are.

Herman Cain, as before, was the best candidate on the stage from my point of view, and would've been even better with more screen time. His only real stumble was wanting to audit the Fed. I'm still not completely sold on the 999 plan, but I think it's a step in the right direction, and I agree with him completely on Social Security and his idea of regulatory reduction commissions. I also love his last answer of the night, that he would bring to the White House a sense of humor.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fourth Republican Primary Debate (CA)

The fourth Republican primary debate was held Wednesday night in California at the Reagan Library. The full debate is now available on YouTube. Once again, Gary Johnson was not invited. This was the first debate with Rick Perry and without Tim Pawlenty, but otherwise had the same participants as the third debate.

Before watching this debate, I had very negative opinions of Paul and Gingrich and somewhat negative opinions of Bachmann, Romney and Huntsman. Santorum and Cain were slightly positive for me. I was basically neutral about Perry; he's done some good things but he's also done some bad things, and I've tried to keep an open mind about him until I was able to see him debate.

Once again, I've summarized and responded to each candidate's positions below, and I've scored each position positive, zero or negative based on my gut reaction to it.

Rick Santorum
  • Americans want "someone to get something done," then cites his own experience in government as evidence that he has gotten things done. He thinks Democrats in the Senate will vote to eliminate the corporate tax rate. (-1)
  • Rick Santorum refers to himself in the third person and points to welfare reform in the 90s as an example of how he wants to help the poor, and he would enact similar reforms for food stamps and housing assistance. (+1)
  • It was right to create the Department of Homeland Security because there was "no information sharing" between agencies with "conflicting authority." (+1)
  • Santorum says parental rights are more important than states' rights, and he says Perry could've had an opt-in for the HPV vaccine. (+1)
  • He's the son of immigrants, and immigration is great, but they need to come here legally. He doesn't want to talk about what to do with immigrants who are already here. (-1)
  • The problem with Libya was Obama's indecisiveness and confusion. He opposes the "isolationist" standpoint of Huntsman and Paul, and wants us to be "a force for good." Is it really isolationist to leave Afghanistan after ten years? (-1)

Newt Gingrich
  • Does Gingrich's forward for Perry's book mean that Gingrich supports Perry? "No, but that means if he wants to write another book, I'll write another forward." That's a good line, but then he complains that Obama hasn't come to the Reagan Library and talked to the candidates. Um... Gingrich does understand that this is a Republican debate, doesn't he? (-1)
  • Asked about the individual mandate and the Massachusetts/Texas comparison, Gingrich would rather debate the moderators. Again. And the news media. Again. Newt really doesn't understand the idea of a debate, does he? (-1)
  • We need the Department of Homeland Security because of the threat of WMDs. He said he helped design the DHS but it was implemented poorly and now needs reform. (0)
  • Charter schools is the one area Gingrich says he agrees with Obama. He wants a "Pell grant for K-12" so that every parent has school choice. (+1)
  • We need to have a legal guest worker program, make English the official language and make immigrants learn American history to become citizens. Well, Newt, we already have a guest worker program, and immigrants already are required to learn American history to become citizens-- they have to pass a test. Does he really not know these things? I'm starting to think Newt's running a joke campaign. (-2)
  • He would fire Bernanke tomorrow because he's been "the most inflationary" chair "in the history of the Fed." Does Gingrich know what "inflationary" means? Never mind that there have been months of actual deflation under Bernanke, does Gingrich not remember the double-digit inflation of 1979-81? (-2)
  • There are three good ways to increase revenue: job growth, drilling for oil and developing Alaska. (+1)

Michele Bachmann
  • What are the worst regulations holding back jobs? First is Obamacare, second is... well, she says she had two and never got to the second one. She got sidetracked talking about her foster children. (-1)
  • We shouldn't think "that the repeal bill will just come to our desk" and executive orders won't be enough. She completely sidesteps the question about Romney and the individual mandate, but what she says is still good. (+1)
  • We could create 1.2 million jobs by eliminating energy regulations, she says. The price of gas was $1.79 when Obama took office, and we should have a goal of lower energy prices. While I like what she says she wants to do, I think it's dangerous to set a specific price level as your goal. That's only one step away from an explicit price ceiling. (0)
  • It's wrong for "state or federal government" to require inoculations. There's a huge difference between most vaccines and the HPV vaccine, but you wouldn't know it listening to Bachmann. (-1)
  • In Mexico we're dealing with "narco-terrorists." Oh my. Not to build a fence is to yield our sovereignty to Mexico. (-1)
  • Reagan would agree with us on rejecting a 10:1 cuts-to-taxes deal, and her evidence is that he agreed to a 3:1 cuts-to-taxes deal while President. Right. (-1)
  • The US military has "maintained global order" and she doesn't want to cut the military's budget. Also, it was wrong to go into Libya. (-1)
  • She stands by her statement that she wants to drill for oil in the Everglades, but it would be done in a responsible way. Then she bashes Obama for awhile. (0)

Mitt Romney
  • Criticizing him as a "buy-out specialist" is "not terribly accurate" and even though Massachusetts was 47th in the country in job creation under Mitt, he claims to have created more jobs in Massachusetts than Obama has in the entire country. He also says he helped create "tens of thousands" of jobs while at Bain Capital. (+1)
  • He says private sector experience is "critical" if you want to "reshape and update America's economy." Hm. I don't think most Republicans are looking for a President to use government to "reshape and update" the economy. (-1)
  • Perry taking credit for Texas' lack of income tax, right-to-work law, oil reserves and general conservatism is "like Al Gore saying he invented the internet." Massachusetts' unemployment rate was below the national average for three out of Mitt's four years, he says. (+1)
  • On his first day as President, he would grant an Obamacare waiver to all 50 states because its "a bad law." Then he goes on to defend the individual mandate in Massachusetts. Apparently the individual mandate was not one of the bad parts in Obamacare. (-1)
  • Can a President do anything about gas prices? He can "make sure we stop sending about $500 billion a year outside our country, in many cases to nations that are not real friendly with ours." Wasn't that one of McCain's favorite talking points? Romney isn't going to promise gas below $2/gallon, but he does promise that "we can become energy secure." (+1)
  • You can't say Social Security is a failure "to tens of millions of Americans who live on Social Security." I would say the fact that tens of millions of Americans do live on the program is itself a failure. "Under no circumstances would I ever say, by any measure, it's a failure." (-2)
  • On the HPV vaccine, Perry "went about it in the wrong way" but "his heart was in the right place." (-1)
  • What would make the border secure? A fence and more agents, and somehow "turn off the magnet" of businesses that hire illegal immigrants. (-1)
  • Is he a member of the Tea Party? Basically no, but he agrees with what they think. (0)
  • "We have a crisis in confidence in part because we have an absence of leadership." Obama is "over his head." He wants to "change" a lot of policies, but keeps this answer at only the vaguest of levels. (0)
  • Taxes should be "part of the American experience" so he's not concerned about raising taxes on the 47% of Americans who pay no income tax. (-1)
  • On the other hand, he goes on to propose no taxes on money that is saved by those earning less than $200,000. I like that idea. (+1)
  • He would not reappoint Bernanke, and then talks about a plan he proposed in Nevada apparently. (0)

Rick Perry
  • Perry says he created a million jobs in Texas while the rest of America lost two-and-a-half million. Regarding whether those jobs were low-paying or not, it's "a little bit hypocritical" for anyone to criticize any job creation at this point in America. (+1)
  • Texas created more jobs in the last three months than Massachusetts did in four years under Romney. Romney is right to point out the differences between the states. While this is a good talking point for Perry, it's a bit of a cheap shot. (0)
  • Romneycare was "a great opportunity" for the rest of the country in the sense that it let us see that an individual mandate would not work. (+1)
  • Asked to defend why Texas has the worst percentage of uninsured, he says Medicaid should be block-granted and his wife is a nurse. (-1)
  • "Let me just respond to the last, um, individual..." What...? Does Perry not know who his fellow candidates are? It's clear from the rest of his answer that he was talking about Santorum. Too bad for Perry there's nothing else in his answer to help him recover from that. (-1)
  • He has a good answer in response to Paul's accusation that he supported Hillarycare, and turns it around on how Paul left the party during the 80s because of Reagan. I don't know whether I like Perry's policies, but I definitely like his style. (+1)
  • Those on Social Security now have nothing to worry about, but we still need to transition out of the program for the younger generations. Social Security is "a monstrous lie" and "a Ponzi scheme." (+2)
  • He doesn't know "what's more strong for parental rights" than having an opt-out provision in the HPV vaccination requirement. How about an opt-in? (-1)
  • He stands by the educations cuts he made in Texas, and says something about being next to Mexico. (0)
  • What would make the border secure? Boots on the ground, and... predator drones? You're kidding me. He wants to fly predator drones in active missions over American soil. (-1)
  • He would not have agreed to a 10:1 cuts-to-taxes ratio as was asked of everyone else in the last debate. He wants a balanced budget amendment. (-1)
  • Asked about Bush's military policies, he stumbles for a bit, tips his hat to Obama and the Navy SEALs for getting bin Laden, and then talks about Keynesian economics. He's also glad that Obama kept Gitmo open. (0)
  • We should not put American troops at risk unless there is a "clear reason that American interests are at stake" and "a clear exit strategy." (+2)
  • It's "nonsense" to put the American economy "in jeopardy" with climate change legislation. I don't agree with Perry on the science side of it, but I do agree that we should oppose carbon taxes and the like. (+1)
  • Asked about executions in Texas and whether any of them could have been innocent, he says Texas has a "thoughtful," "clear," process to lead to executions. I don't agree, but as governor of a state that frequently uses the death penalty, he didn't really have any other option here, and he handled it pretty well. (0)

Ron Paul
  • Does he support a federal role for safety regulations or air traffic control? No, he doesn't, but he wouldn't end these programs right away. Government regulations that are necessary, he thinks can be done at the state level, and the current interpretation of the Commerce Clause is "outrageous." (+1)
  • Asked a follow-up about regulation, Paul stumbles around blaming bureaucrats and lobbyists for something-or-other, then gets back on point and says "the consumers of America are smart enough" that they don't need the "federal government hounding them" with regulations. (0)
  • Getting rid of the minimum wage would "absolutely" create more jobs. The minimum wage is just another mandate like the individual mandate. "I can get you a gallon of gasoline for a dime." Because a silver dime is worth $3.50. Whaaaat.... I'm not even going to bother describing the myriad ways Ron Paul is wrong. (-2)
  • He agreed with Reagan's message, but not with the huge deficits of the 80s. (+1)
  • Asked about Perry's conservative credentials, Paul says something about him being a social misfit, or maybe the HPV vaccine itself is a social misfit, I'm not really sure. Then he finds his footing and says as President, he would not use executive orders to write laws. (+1)
  • The airlines would be better at security than the TSA, and 9/11 happened because the government told pilots not to resist and that they couldn't have guns. (0)
  • We never should've had FEMA. He'll tell you what he'd do instead, but he'd rather talk about air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan. (-1)
  • We need to remove the incentive for illegal immigration by not requiring free health care and education for illegals. We're killing thousands with the drug war, and the border fence is designed to keep us in. Now I don't like the idea of a border fence any more than Paul does, but he went full-on conspiracy theorist with this answer. (-1)
  • School lunch programs are fine at the local level, but the national welfare state is unconstitutional. He resists "this whole idea that there's something wrong with people who don't lavish out free stuff from the federal government somehow aren't compassionate enough." (+1)

Herman Cain
  • Cain outlines his 999 plan. He wants to throw out the current tax code, and replace it with a 9% personal income tax, a 9% national sales tax and a 9% corporate income tax. "If 10% is good enough for God, 9% ought to be good enough for the federal government." I'm undecided on whether I like the 999 plan overall, but Cain sure knows how to sell it. (+1)
  • "An individual mandate to buy something is not constitutional." He worked with Gingrich against Hillarycare, now he's fighting Obamacare and running against Romneycare. He wants "patient-centered, market-driven reforms", tort reform, HSAs and association health plans. (+2)
  • With the moderators going back and forth between Perry and Romney, Cain edges himself in. For Social Security, he advocates the Chilean model, based on personal retirement accounts. (+2)
  • Let's fix FEMA and DHS rather than eliminate them, but get rid of the TSA because the federal government isn't good at micromanaging. (+1)
  • Cain repeats his four-point plan on immigration that he's laid out at every debate so far. At least he's consistent. (0)
  • Cain talks about his 999 plan again, and says the government shouldn't be picking winners and losers. (+1)

Jon Huntsman
  • A recession "is not the time… to enter a trade war." He talks about Reagan and how he knows Mandarin and how Americans are optimistic; then he points out that Utah was #1 in job creation when he was governor. When he gets down to making his points, I like the points that he makes, but he spends a lot of time blustering. (0)
  • Is it ever appropriate for government, federal or state, to force people to buy health insurance? "Absolutely not" and also he has seven kids. He says health care reform in Utah covered more uninsured than in Texas (which isn't difficult since the moderator already pointed out that Texas has the most uninsured). He wants to do nationally what they did in Utah, based on expanding the marketplace and harmonizing medical records. (+1)
  • Is it realistic to promise $2 gas? "Of course not." That's good, but then he careens off into talk about leadership and teleprompters. Then he says that according to the Milken Institute, the actual price per gallon of gas that we pay is $13, when you include troop deployments and sea lane costs. Whoa, hold on. Could that be true? The short answer is no, not really. The long answer is at the linked blog post, giving Huntsman the distinction of becoming the first candidate in the 2012 race to require a separate blog post to debunk something he said in a debate. (-3)
  • He wants to fix homeland security, but he'd rather complain about how the debate isn't talking about jobs. (-1)
  • Immigration is a human issue, and our legal immigration system is broken. He says Vancouver is the fastest-growing real estate market in the world "because they allow immigrants in legally." This makes me wonder whether Huntsman knows that Canadian immigration policy is set at the national level. But more importantly, he says the legal immigration system in the US is broken and fails to tell us anything about how he would fix it (other than focusing on it). (-1)
  • He wants everyone to take a pledge not to take any pledges. Oy. (-1)
  • Brings the troops in Afghanistan home. Then he talks about fixing "our core" whatever that means. Still, I like that he wants to bring the troops home. (+1)
  • Huntsman seems to agree with the moderator that some of his opponents are "anti-science" but refuses to name names. "We can't run from science. We can't run from mainstream conservative philosophy." He believes in climate change and in evolution. (0)
This was definitely the most lopsided of debates so far. I tried to keep track of how many questions each candidate got. Although I may have missed some, Perry got at least 17, while Santorum, Gingrich and Cain only got five each. Romney got 12, while Paul, Bachmann and Huntsman all got 8. Since Perry was the new guy, it makes sense to get a few extra questions, but there's no reason at all why any candidate should get more than three times as many questions as others.

Summing my gut reactions for each candidate, Cain was the clear winner with +7. The only other candidate with a positive score was Perry with +3. Both Santorum and Paul got 0, while Romney got -3. Bachmann, Gingrich and Huntsman tied for last place with -4 each.

Herman Cain was great this time. Almost every time he opened his mouth he was right on target. He didn't have any flubs in this debate and almost everything he said was exactly what I wanted to hear. Not only is he right on policy, but his style and poise were very Presidential this time. If the election were today, I would vote for Cain. It's really a shame that he's doing so poorly in all the polls.

I was impressed with Rick Perry. This is the first time I've really paid attention to him, and he did really well. He wasn't afraid to go on the offensive, which is exactly what I want to see. I absolutely loved that back-and-forth between Perry and Romney. Policy-wise, I definitely don't like the whole Gardasil thing, and there were a couple other points Perry made that I disagreed with. Even so, I love that he's willing to tackle Social Security in an honest way. I'm most nervous about the fact that he's governor of Texas. In a Perry-Obama race, Perry will be painted as the reincarnation of George W. Bush, which will make it very hard for him to win.

Rick Santorum felt like something of a non-entity in this debate. He only got five questions, and none of them mattered all that much. He also seemed to be scowling every time the camera focused on him. Ron Paul did surprisingly well. He stayed mostly on topic and managed to avoid having too many paranoid rants, If it weren't for his comments about silver dimes and the border fence, he actually would've scored positive.

For the first time, Mitt Romney was actually on the defensive this time, and I don't think he handled it well. He fought back against Perry, but later defended Perry too. He's no longer above the fray like he wants to be, but he still clearly wants to stay above the fray. But more importantly, he said, about Social Security, "Under no circumstances would I ever say, by any measure, it's a failure." Social Security is already in the red, and the next President will be forced to deal with it. When they do, I want a President who will be honest about what needs to be done. In this debate, Romney made clear that he would not be that President.

Almost everything Michele Bachmann said was wrong. Actually, that goes for Newt Gingrich too. The difference is that Bachmann's mistakes were errors in policy (she keeps trying to answer "both"). Newt's mistakes were errors in fact. Not to mention, his continued campaign against the media just gets more annoying every time he does it. After eight years of the horrible relationship between Bush and the media, do we really need a candidate who is actively antagonistic towards the media?

And then there's Jon Huntsman. He actually made some good points, and I like his overall approach better in this debate than in the last one. Still, that line about $13 gas is more than I can take.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Jon Huntsman and the Price of Gas

    Things have been busy around here, so I haven't finished my evaluation of the fourth Republican debate yet. However, one point was raised by Jon Huntsman in the first third of the debate that required some research.

    Huntsman says that, according to the Milken Institute, the actual price per gallon of gasoline that we pay is $13, once you include troop deployments and the cost of keeping sea lanes open. Where does that money come from? Well I certainly don't pay $13 at the gas pump, and if the oil companies were paying $13 in costs for every $4 gallon of gas they sell me, they'd have gone out of business long ago. Clearly, he's implying that government is paying the extra cost.

    Who knows what the government pays for, so I thought I'd take a closer look at those numbers. The United States uses about 3.3 billion barrels of finished motor gasoline per year according to the US Energy Information Administration. A petroleum barrel is 42 gallons, so that's about 138.6 billion gallons of gasoline. If gas is about $4, Huntsman is talking about an extra $9 per gallon, or an extra $1.25 trillion. (This rises to $2.3 trillion if you assume he's talking about all finished petroleum products rather than just motor gasoline.)

    It sounds like he thinks the extra costs come from military activities that ensure access to oil, but the entire military budget in 2010 was about $0.8 trillion, less than two-thirds of the extra $1.25 trillion. Even if every single penny of military spending was used to secure oil resources, it still doesn't cover the extra $1.25 trillion that Huntsman claims we're spending.

    In fact, total federal discretionary spending in 2010 was $1.3 trillion. For Huntsman to be right, more than 96% of the federal discretionary budget would have to somehow be rerouted towards paying for gasoline without anyone except Huntsman and the Milken Institute knowing what was going on. If this was the case, it would deserve a hell of a lot more than a passing mention in a debate. If this is what he actually believes, he shouldn't be talking about anything else!

    So what about that Milken Institute? Can they shed any light on how their numbers add up? Well, I'm not even sure that Huntsman's number actually comes from the Milken Institute. Here's their website; a sitewide search for "$13" doesn't yield anything about $13 gas, and none of their publications seem to relate to gas prices. If they have an explanation for Huntsman's number, I sure couldn't find it. I have contacted both the Huntsman campaign and the Milken Institute for clarification, so we'll see if either can explain what he meant.

    In the meantime, however, I was able to find this Scientific American article from July, which cites a report from a group called the Economics for Equity and the Environment (E3) Network. According to E3, the extra $9 per gallon doesn't come from sea lane costs or troop deployments or anything like that. Rather, it comes from the unaccounted-for social cost of carbon emissions, caused by environmental damage, which they claim is $900 per ton of emissions. The Obama Administration's working estimate, published in 2010, is significantly lower, at $21 per ton.

    Now the Obama Administration has been wrong before, so maybe E3 is right and $21 is too low. According to this brief (PDF), the UK estimated the social cost as somewhere between $41 and $124/ton. Still, even the higher $124/ton is less than 14% of the $900/ton necessary to reach the extra $9 per gallon that Huntsman claims we're paying. This 18-page report (PDF) from E3 details why they believe $21/ton is too low, but I've yet to find any report from E3 on why the appropriate number is 43 times higher. From the reports that are available, it's clear that in order to reach $900/ton, you have to make extremely pessimistic assumptions about our ability to adapt to climate change, about the possible benefits of warmer climate in some areas, and about future economic growth. However, even if Huntsman is extremely pessimistic on climate change, that still has nothing to do with troop deployments or sea lanes.

    Now I'm not saying Huntsman was deliberately misleading about where his number came from or what it meant. I'm just saying the number he gave doesn't make sense on its face, that I couldn't find the number he claimed at the source he gave, and that the only source I could find that gave the same number used a completely different explanation. Oh, and their explanation requires assuming a social cost to carbon emissions about 43 times higher than the Obama Administration assumes.