Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eleventh Republican Primary Debate (DC)

CNN held the eleventh Republican primary debate on November 22nd in Washington, DC, cosponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. This debate had the regular cast of eight candidates, and was billed as a national security debate. A full video is here; a version with higher video quality and skipping the introductions is here.

Before this debate, I had a somewhat negative view of most of the candidates, including Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman. I had a more negative view of Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, and a somewhat positive view of Herman Cain. As always, I've summarized the candidates' answers below, although I didn't score them as thoroughly as I have in the past. Usually I try to give a positive or negative score to almost every answer, but this time there were more answers that simply scored zero because they didn't move me one way or the other.

Rick Santorum
  • There was some kind of technical failure that seems to have cut off the recording during part of Santorum's introduction (the same error is in all versions I found and shows up in the official transcript). It sounds like he's saying national security is the "one constitutional responsibility of the federal government," but that sounds more like something Ron Paul would say, not Rick Santorum, and as it cuts back in halfway through his sentence, I'm not sure if that's what he means or not.
  • He supports "profiling," saying, "We should be trying to find the bomber, not the bomb." Who would fit the profile? "Muslims" and "younger males." There's a right way to do profiling, based on psychology, criminal history, that kind of thing. Santorum's got the wrong way to do it. (-1)
  • He says the last time we faced a similar threat on American soil was the Civil War. He says of that time, "of course, Abraham Lincoln ran right over civil rights," and apparently thinks that's what we need to do today. Santorum really out-does Ron Paul in the quest to see who can make Gingrich look sane by comparison. (-2) 
  • "I agree with Ron Paul. We are not fighting a war on terrorism." Rather, he says, we're fighting a war against radical Islam, and the Islamists are saying that they're just going to wait us out. Eventually, we'll get tired of fighting and go home, and then they'll be in charge again. He doesn't address it, but this raises the question of whether there will ever be a point where we can bring our troops home. (-1)
  • He supports Bush's program against AIDS in Africa because "Africa was a country on the brink." He sees our humanitarian aid to Africa as a national security issue because it helps prevent radical Islam from getting a foothold there.
  • He would be willing to compromise with Democrats, but raising taxes would push the economy back into recession and make the deficit situation worse. He's willing to compromise by cutting things that he doesn't really want to cut. (+1)
  • He wants to make sure that products made by companies started by legal immigrants are made in America. Santorum is obviously not a believer in free trade. (-1)
  • He says he has a four-point economic plan, including eliminating the corporate tax only for manufacturing and repatriation of profits. He's less specific on the other two points, which are general regulatory reform and energy policy.
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? The "militant socialists" of Central and South America. He criticizes Obama for delaying the Colombia FTA and for taking the wrong side in Honduras. (+1)

Ron Paul
  • His introduction focuses on "needless and unnecessary wars" and how he's against them. I think everyone's against needless and unnecessary wars, they just don't agree on which ones count as needless and unnecessary.
  • "The Patriot Act is unpatriotic." He says Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist and we dealt with him without the Patriot Act, so we don't really need it. I don't exactly like the Patriot Act, but Paul seems to miss the point that we only caught McVeigh after he successfully bombed the Murrah building. (-1)
  • "You can prevent crime by becoming a police state." He warns about having a policeman in every house and rants for awhile. Ron Paul is a master at making Gingrich look sensible by comparison. (-1)
  • We say too often that we're at war, he says, and points out that we're not in a Congressionally-declared war. He says terrorism isn't a person, it's a tactic, so we can't say that we're in a war on terrorism. Then he goes off and talks about how we're all at risk of assassination now because we can all be loosely associated with terrorist organizations.  (-1)
  • He doesn't believe Israel would attack Iranian nuclear facilities, but he says even if they did, it's none of our business. (-1)
  • He does not support Bush's program against AIDS in Africa because it's foreign aid and he doesn't like the "endless wars" or what we did in Libya. (-1)
  • "They're not cutting anything out of anything." He says thanks to baseline budgeting, the cuts to the military really just mean the budget won't go up as fast as it would have gone up before. (+1)
  • He doesn't like the drug war, and he wants the money spent in Afghanistan and Pakistan to be spent instead on securing the US-Mexico border. He says if you have "an easy road to citizenship," that somehow amounts to a subsidy and it's going to encourage more illegal immigration. (-1)
  • Asked a follow-up about the drug war, he says it's a "total failure." We should at least let sick people use marijuana, and alcohol and prescription drugs kill more people than illegal drugs.
  • Someone from AEI asks about "an al Qaida affiliate, al Shabab" in Somalia, and Paul generalizes to al Qaida and overall Middle East policy. In fact, he doesn't address Somalia at all. (-1)
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? "Overreaction" and getting into another war. He says the Taliban doesn't want to kill us here, they only want to kill us over there. Even if that's strictly true, he misses the fact that we only care about the Taliban because they supported al Qaida who most certainly does want to kill us here in America. (-1)

Rick Perry
  • His introduction is entirely about his wife for some reason.
  • He wants to privatize the TSA (which would be really good) and strengthen the Patriot Act (not so good).
  • Pakistan has shown us that "they cannot be trusted," and it sends the wrong message to the rest of the world to be giving them money. (+1)
  • He still wants to "engage" with Pakistan, just "quit writing blank checks to these countries." He suggests starting some kind of trade zone between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, which is one of the few good long-term ideas expressed in this debate, but I can't see any of those countries agreeing to it any time soon.
  • Given that decades of sanctions against Iran have failed so far, does he think that more sanctions will work? "Absolutely." He wants to "sanction" their central bank in order to "shut down that economy." (-1)
  • He says he "signed six balanced budgets" in Texas. He doesn't mention that the Texas state legislature is required by the state constitution to pass balanced budgets, probably because that would be admitting he didn't actually have anything to do with balancing those budgets. That might be why he says he "signed" six balanced budgets, rather than saying that he actually balanced six budgets. (-1)
  • He says he's had to work with Democrats as governor of Texas. That doesn't have quite the same impact as when Romney says it about Massachusetts. Republicans have held majorities in both houses of the state legislature since 2003, and they've held the majority in the state Senate since 1997.
  • He says he wants a 20% flat personal tax, a 20% corporate tax and a part-time Congress.
  • He wants "a 21st century Monroe Doctrine," and promises "that within 12 months of the inaugural, that [Mexican] border will be shut down, and it will be secure." I guess shutting it down would technically make it secure, but that's absolutely the wrong direction for this country to go in. (-2)
  • He first wants to secure the border with Mexico, and any discussion about what to do with immigrants afterwards is "just an intellectual exercise" until the border is secure. At the same time, he does side with Gingrich's view that an illegal who has been here for some length of time should not be deported.
  • We need to use several different tactics to pressure Syria's government, including a no-fly zone, economic sanctions and covert activity. He says we should take Syria seriously. Later in a response to Romney he seems to step back a bit and says the no-fly zone is "one of the options," not necessarily the option that we should take. (+1)
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? Communist China, even though he thinks they're "destined for the ash heap of history."

Mitt Romney
  • He introduces himself by saying, "I'm Mitt Romney and yes, Wolf, that's also my first name." But as others have pointed out, it's not.
  • "We could do a lot better" than TSA pat-downs, but he'd rather talk about how he agrees with Newt's criminal law/national security distinction. He says there's "a different form of law" for those who "attack the United States" vs those who merely commit crimes against its citizens. However, he stops short of implying that "innocent until proven guilty" doesn't apply on national security issues, as Newt does.
  • He says America's current approval rating in Pakistan is 12%, and we need "to bring Pakistan into the 21st century, or the 20th century for that matter." I wonder if he thinks quotes like that will help raise Pakistani's opinions of Americans. (-1)
  • He wants to pull out the surge troops from Afghanistan by December 2012 and all but "ten thousand or so" of the rest of the troops by the end of 2014. He says that's the timetable the generals on the ground prefer and that's what he'll do. When Huntsman criticizes him for this, Romney says he's been to Afghanistan and we need to keep our troops there until the generals say it's time to withdraw.
  • He says, "They're cutting a trillion dollars out of the defense budget" and putting it into Obamacare instead, and this amounts to spending us into bankruptcy. But somehow spending the same amount of money on the military instead wouldn't be spending us into bankruptcy? How does that work? (-1)
  • He rattles off a list of military programs that he says are being cut and insists that all of them are necessary for national security. He wants "crippling sanctions" on Iran and says he doesn't care if it makes gasoline more expensive. (-1)
  • Mitt agrees with Bachmann that any kind of path to legality for illegal immigrants amounts to amnesty and is a magnet, but he doesn't say a thing about what we should do with illegals already here. He also agrees with Gingrich that we should give visas to people who get degrees in certain preferred fields. (-1)
  • He says, "I'm not going to start drawing lines here about who gets to stay and who gets to go," then immediately says that illegal immigrants should not "get to stay." That sounds a lot like drawing a line about who gets to stay to me, it's just a different line from Newt's and Perry's. (-1)
  • When asked about Somalia, he doesn't talk at all about Somalia, but rather generalizes to foreign policy in general and bashes Obama for a range of things that have nothing to do with Somalia. (-1)
  • "This is not the time for a no-fly zone over Syria," although he does support sanctions and covert actions against the government.
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? What Perry and Santorum said, but also Iran, because that sure wasn't addressed yet. (-1)

Herman Cain
  • The only introduction he gives is that he is a "businessman," and then he says "our national security has indeed been downgraded."
  • He supports what he calls "targeted identification," which sounds like it's just Santorum-style profiling, although he says straight religious profiling is "oversimplifying it." He would be willing to "refine" the Patriot Act, but he thinks for the most part that it's a good law.
  • He would support an Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear facilities if he was satisfied that their plan had a reasonable chance of success. (+1)
  • In a response to Ron Paul, he says he doesn't believe it's very likely that Israel would be able to come up with a plan that had a reasonable chance of success. He's giving Israel a condition that he doesn't think they can meet, but then says it's in America's interest to prevent Iran from influencing Afghanistan. He doesn't clarify how he plans to do that. (-1)
  • He's not sure whether he would support Bush's program against AIDS in Africa because he doesn't know whether it's been successful or not. This is possibly the most common criticism of Cain's campaign, but shouldn't he know that already? (-1)
  • An insecure border is a national security threat. He says terrorists have come into the country through Mexico and says more people were killed by violence in Mexico last year than in Iraq and Afghanistan. He repeats his four-point plan from the earliest debates: secure the border, enforce existing laws, clean up the immigration bureaucracy to make legal immigration easier and allow the states to deal with illegals already in the country.
  • He would not support a no-fly zone over Syria, but would rather work to enact sanctions on Syria's oil exports. He doesn't seem to know what else to say, so he spends the rest of his time talking about growing the domestic economy. (-1)
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? Cyber attacks. (+1)

Newt Gingrich
  • His says his father was in the infantry, and then he compliments Heritage and AEI.
  • He wants to make a distinction between "national security requirements and criminal law requirements." He says that "it's desperately important that we preserve your right to be innocent until proven guilty, if it's a matter of criminal law," but not if it's a matter of national security. Hmm... that's not very reassuring. (-1)
  • Asked to clarify, he says, "Again, very sharp division. Criminal law, the government should be frankly on defense and you're innocent until proven guilty. National security, the government should have many more tools in order to save our lives." He apparently really believes that "innocent until proven guilty" doesn't apply, even to American citizens, on matters of national security. (-1) 
  • His response to Ron Paul is, "Timothy McVeigh succeeded." He wants a law that prevents attacks, not a law that punishes people after attacks.
  • He asks Wolf for a chance to respond to Romney and Huntsman, then says their debate over how quickly to withdraw from Afghanistan confuses him and he'd rather talk about Pakistan. He wants to get tough with the Pakistanis and tell them, "help us or get out of the way, but don't complain if we kill people you're not willing to go after." That takes on a somewhat different connotation after the recent attack on the Pakistan military outpost...
  • He's fine with cutting off Iran's supply of oil to Europe "now" because in the long term we'll be able to develop a "massive all-sources energy program in the United States" to replace that oil. He also wants to cut off their supply of gasoline, then sabotage what he says is "the only refinery they have." That reminds of something else. (-1)
  • He is not willing to say that cuts to the military are "unacceptable" because he believes there are things that the military can do less expensively. (+1)
  • He goes on to say that we're just not "serious" as a country, and that if we were, we could drill into enough oil fields to make the price of oil "collapse" within a year. (-1)
  • He would only bomb Iranian nuclear facilities as a "last recourse" and only as part of a larger war to get rid of Ahmadinejad. He wants to "seriously talk about" that larger war. (-1)
  • On Social Security reform, he supports the Chilean model, and yes, this is Gingrich, not Cain. He says Chile has guaranteed their citizens that if they did not earn returns in the private market as high as their previous government benefits, that the government would make up the difference, and that in thirty years, they've never had to make up that difference, even during the global recession. (+1)
  • He wants special visas for foreigners who earn graduate degrees in certain preferred fields. He wants "something like a World War II Selective Service Board" to individually examine every illegal immigrant and determine on a case-by-case basis who's allowed to stay and who isn't. The decision would primarily be based on how long they've already been here, but would also include factors like whether or not they go to church. Yeah, there's no room for corruption in a setup like that. (-2)
  • He says if someone has been here for 25 years and has family and is part of the community here, we shouldn't take them away from that family, but that if someone has just recently arrived, we should send them back.
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? He cites the Hart-Rudman Commission under Clinton, which he says concluded their were three major threats: a WMD in an American city, an EMP attack and cyber attacks. (+1)

Michele Bachmann
  • She uses her introduction to talk about her family in the military and to send a Happy Thanksgiving to American troops both home and abroad.
  • We need a national security law that's updated to deal with wireless communications. She complains that the underwear bomber was read his Miranda rights "within 45 minutes," saying that terrorists shouldn't be read their rights because "they don't have any." (-1)
  • Pakistan is "one of the most violent, unstable nations" in the world, and that's why we need to give them money. They're "too nuclear to fail," she says. Now that's a phrase her Tea Party base will love... (-1)
  • She calls Perry "na├»ve" because she's afraid that Pakistan's nukes will fall into al Qaida's hands, and end up in American cities. "We have to maintain an American presence," apparently indefinitely since she never says we should try to get Pakistan to give up their nukes. (-1)
  • She says we're not writing blank checks to Pakistan, and we are exchanging intelligence with them. That may very soon no longer be the case, although of course she didn't know that at the time.
  • She agrees with Newt on Iran. She criticizes Obama for giving the Iranians extra time to get a nuke by meeting with them without preconditions. Because not meeting with them at all would've ended their nuclear program somehow. (-1)
  • She repeats for a third time her idea that a $2.4 trillion check is a "blank check." She says we need to talk about balancing the budget, not just cutting the deficit.
  • She agrees with Gingrich about letting in more highly-skilled immigrants, but disagrees with him on giving any illegals already here any kind of path to legality. She sees that as another kind of magnet bringing more illegals into the country. (-1)
  • What issue is she worried about that no one else is talking about? She starts talking about Iraq, but then mentions al Shabab and broadens it to the issue of homegrown terror and people in America supporting and joining terrorist organizations.

Jon Huntsman
  • He has the most introduction-y introduction, talking not just about his family but also his experience as governor of Utah and ambassador.
  • Asked about the Patriot Act, he says we need to be "very careful" with our liberties, but also supports DHS and doesn't raise any specific complaints about the Patriot Act.
  • When someone from AEI asks about drone campaigns in Pakistan, he stalls for a bit but eventually gets around to saying he does support an expanded drone campaign.
  • He says we've run the Taliban out of Kabul and had free elections since 2004, we've killed bin Laden and "upended, dismantled" al Qaida. He thinks we don't need as many troops in Afghanistan anymore, and we could accomplish our goals there with small numbers of special forces, drones and training units to help the Afghanis. (+1)
  • Pressed by Romney, he thinks we could get by with 10-15,000 troops in Afghanistan. That sounds like the kind of compromise where everyone loses. Either he was right in his previous answer, that we've accomplished our primary goals and can now shift to more of a covert/special ops/drone attack kind of campaign, or we haven't, and we need to keep our troops there until we do. (-1)
  • In response to Romney's comment about doing what the generals in Afghanistan tell him to do, Huntsman says the President is Commander-in-Chief, and that although he would listen to the advice of his generals and other staff, there have been times such as Vietnam where the generals have been wrong.
  • Asked about defense cuts, he talks about the national deficit and something he calls "the trust deficit." He wants defense spending to be on the table when we're talking about cuts. "If we can't find some savings in the $650 billion budget, we're not looking closely enough." (+1) 
  • "We missed the Persian Spring," because Obama declined to support the Iranian protesters. Sanctions against Iran won't work because China and Russia won't abide by the sanctions. (+1)
  • What about the Arab Spring? He advocates caution and doesn't want to take sides just yet. I'm not sure why, but he thinks that's different than Obama's reaction to the Iranian protests. (-1)
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? He mentions China, but alludes to the possibly imminent Chinese collapse and says what he's really worried about is our national debt. He also mentions the "trust deficit" again.

Summing the candidates' scores, Huntsman again scored the highest with +1. Everyone else was negative; Cain was at -1, Perry at -2, Santorum at -3, Gingrich at -4 and Bachmann at -5. Paul and Romney pull up the rear at -7 each.

Since this debate, but before I was able to publish this post, Herman Cain has dropped out of the race. With the mounting sex scandals... wait, that's a bad word choice. Erm... anyway, Cain this time didn't talk about 999, but clearly demonstrated his lack of foreign policy knowledge. Most of his answers amounted to relying on his advisers or deflecting from the question to talk about the economy instead. The fact that he had the second-highest score despite this doesn't say very much for the rest of the candidates.

The current frontrunner Newt Gingrich had a few good moments, especially his willingness to cut military spending if necessary. I also like that he's willing to put in place a path to legality for at least some of the illegal immigrants currently in the country. But many of his answers betray a top-down, government-run ideology. The way to choose who to deport, he thinks, is with panels of experts who carefully examine each illegal's personal life, including where they go to church and who they associate with, to decide whether they deserve to stay. On civil liberties, he heavily implies that even American citizens are guilty until proven innocent on national security matters. Newt Gingrich seems to be just fine with "elites" running the show and making decisions about the minutiae of our lives, just as long as he's one of those elites.

Rick Perry loves shutting things down, whether it's the US-Mexico border or the entire country of Iran. After this debate, I'm not sure there's anything he wouldn't shut down. (Except maybe the Department of Energy?) The other Rick's best moment of the night, in my opinion, was at the very end, when all the candidates were asked what they're worried about that no one else is really talking about. Santorum was one of the few who actually answered the question, and was persuasive about it.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, was in rare form in this debate. No matter what the question was, whether it was the border, foreign aid or Somalia, he was able to turn his answer around until he got to talking about the "endless wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I'm not sure either Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann said anything I agree with in this debate, other than throwaway lines like how we "could do a lot better" than the TSA. Not only did Romney contradict himself on illegal immigrants in a single sentence, but he also got his own name wrong. Bachmann spent half of the debate saying how much she agrees with the current frontrunner and the rest of the time mostly talking nonsense.

The highest scorer of the night, at least in my estimation, was Jon Huntsman, despite pushing some concept he calls the "trust deficit" and even going back to talking about "our core." The only reason he scores so highly is that half of his answers didn't rise to the point of being scored at all, either positive or negative. Of the five answers that I did score, four contradicted each other (in two pairs). He says we've accomplished our goals in Afghanistan... but he wants to keep upwards of ten thousand troops there just in case we haven't. He criticizes Obama for not supporting democracy in Iran, and then turns around and says we shouldn't yet support democracy in the Arab Spring. His best answer of the night that he didn't later retract was when he said, "If we can't find some savings in the $650 billion budget, we're not looking closely enough."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Family Forum (IA)

I debated (yuk-yuk) whether or not to cover this "non-debate debate" called the Iowa Thanksgiving Family Forum. On the one hand, there were only six candidates present; Romney and Huntsman declined their invitations. Is it really a debate without the current front-runner? On the other hand, there were only six candidates, giving each of the participants more time to give more detailed answers. At the same time, this was billed as a social issues forum. Since social issues have (understandably) been on the back burner for most of the other debates, this is an opportunity to hear their viewpoints on some issues that they don't typically get to talk about.

The full video is here, as well as on YouTube (with better sound quality). It was not broadcast on any television network, not even C-SPAN. The forum was held at an Iowa church, so the video starts with a Christian song, and the event is opened with prayer. Throw in an ad for the sponsor and a couple speeches (including one by an Occupier) and the candidates don't actually take the stage until 36-and-a-half minutes into the videos linked above.

Considering the "non-debate debate" nature of this forum, and the fact that many of the questions are very personal religious and philosophical questions, I'm not going to be scoring these answers the same as I usually do. I also won't add quite as much personal commentary as I usually do, in the interest of finishing this entry before the election.

Ron Paul
  • The first question goes to Paul, about the phrase, "So help me God" at the end of the President's oath of office. He says that he understands the phrase to signify that the oath of office isn't just a promise to the nation, but a promise to God.
  • "The goal of government isn't to mold society," but to preserve liberty. He believes culture influences the law, but the law should not be used to influence culture.
  • Just because someone might make a bad choice, doesn't mean we should step in and make that choice for them. He says that's what the Left does on economic issues, and the Right should not do it on religious issues.
  • If someone makes bad choices, they should take responsibility for those choices, and they don't have the right to ask the government to take those responsibilities.
  • The US Constitution limits the federal government, not the states. Even when states are wrong, it's up to the states to correct their own wrongs, although he seems to draw an exception for slavery and "civil liberties."
  • He would support a federal abortion amendment, but doesn't think enforcement should be federal. He says crimes involving violence, including murder, are handled at the state level. (He's wrong about that. Murder is covered under federal law, under circumstances as diverse as drug-related drive-by shootings, rape, torture and occurring at an international airport.)
  • He supports using Congress' authority to define the courts' jurisdictions by removing their jurisdiction over matters of abortion.
  • He gives a mini-autobiography. He says he grew up a Lutheran and went through catechism, but was also influenced by Billy Graham. He talks about earning his medical degree and the different experiences of being a doctor, then learning economics and getting into politics.
  • When the topic turns to struggles and mistakes, he tells how as a teenager he was very athletic but suffered some kind of injury and was never able to physically get back to the same competitive level. I can't help but notice that answers in this part of the forum seem a lot more rushed than everyone else's. He really doesn't seem to be comfortable with this level of personal discussion.
  • He would not support a marriage amendment, although he does support the Defense of Marriage Act. In general, he would like marriage to be handled by the states, although he would prefer for it to be handled by the church, independently of government.
  • He believes in St. Augustine's theory of Just War, and that the Constitution is in place to guide us to follow that theory. He says all wars since WW2 have been "illegal, unconstitutional, immoral and all were unwinnable." He says the wars of the past ten years have cost 8,500 American lives (which is true only if you include 9/11) and added $4 trillion to the national debt (which may or may not be true if you count indirect costs projected out to 2020, but is nowhere near true if you're counting actual allocated funds).

Michele Bachmann
  • In her first answer, she relates the President's oath of office to her testimony as a Christian. She says she was 16 when she prayed the sinner's prayer and sought to give her life to God.
  • She doesn't like that pastors can't talk about politics from the pulpit, but she doesn't explicitly mention why (the tax exemption for churches).
  • She says she has "a Biblical worldview," especially in regards to "marriage, family and children."
  • The problem with Obamacare is that it "trumps the states," and that's why she wants to repeal it. She later says that Obamacare means taxpayer-funded abortions, and that this coming election will be our only opportunity to repeal it.
  • Congress needs to limit "subject matter jurisdiction," meaning they need to create certain topics that the judicial system is not allowed to hear cases about. She implies she would remove their jurisdiction over gay marriage, and says explicitly she would remove their jurisdiction over offshore oil drilling leases, which she says are always sued by environmental groups. She also repeats her promise to get the price of gas back below $2 per gallon.
  • She tells the story of her parents' divorce; her father left and she didn't see him again for six years, leaving her mother with four children. She says that experience led her to take in 23 foster children as an adult, which in turn led her to get involved in education reform, which in turn led to politics.
  • She asks, "Why is it that the big decisions always get made by the Supreme Court?" She wants to pass a federal marriage amendment to make sure that the final decision on gay marriage is made by the people, not by judges.
  • She wants to expand the educational choices that parents have, but like Santorum stops short of using the phrase "school choice." She says teaching right and wrong has to come from the parents.
  • War is justified if America is attacked or threatened with attack and there is a "clearly defined American vital interest" in going to war.

Rick Santorum
  • We have lost the sense that our rights come from God. He says we should not be like Islam, where civil law and religious law are the same, but that civil law should still "comport with the higher law." He cites abortion as an area where current civil law does not comport with God's law.
  • He says when he won his first Senate race, he "had a constituency of one," that one being God. He also says he came to the Senate and found God because of the support that he found there. Now that's not a characterization of the US Senate you often hear!
  • Faith and family are the most important things, even above policy, and he says if you have faith and family "in line," everything else will probably fall in line too.
  • He says the Left has co-opted our educational system and through that our culture, and that this is why so many people are hostile to the kinds of things they're talking about in this forum.
  • He talks about "no-fault freedom," or freedom without responsibility, which is what he says the Left advocates. Freedom isn't about what you want to do, but "what you ought to do," and he'll tell you what you ought to do.
  • "Gay marriage is wrong," then quotes Lincoln to say the states do not have the right to do wrong. He's for a marriage amendment, and says he's the only one on the stage who came to Iowa to help get out the vote against the judges who had passed gay marriage in Iowa. Later, he says gay marriage "radically changes the entire moral fiber of our country," and as President he would actively speak out against it.
  • If Gingrich would eliminate a single court he disagrees with, Santorum would eliminate the entire Ninth District. He says that Congress, as an equal branch of government under the Constitution, has the same authority to determine constitutionality of a law as the Supreme Court does.
  • He tells the story of his youngest daughter, who was born with a congenital disorder that kills 99% of children with it within their first year. It's a very moving story, and he obviously tells it straight from the heart. It's deeply personal; he relates how for several months he restrained himself from loving her because losing her was almost certain, before he realized that he was treating her as less than a person because of the disorder. For him, this strengthened his resolve to fight against abortion.
  • "The family is the bedrock of our society." He wants to fight gay marriage in the states because he sees the pro-life movement's failure to fight abortion in the states in the 70s as one of the contributing factors to Roe v. Wade.
  • He says the educational system is broken, and that we need a system that focuses on the customer. That customer is not the child, but the parents. He wants more customization of educational options rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to education. That includes measuring more than just academic achievement, although he doesn't specifically say what else he would measure. He also doesn't use the phrase "school choice" or other buzzwords associated with vouchers, charter schools, etc., so it's not clear that he's for or against those options, or how he wants to achieve the customization of education.
  • He wants to put the last ten years of war into the broader context of the 1000+ year struggle between Islam and the West, and he believes it all comes down to Iran. He really steps up the rhetoric with a list of reasons why Iran is our enemy, and finishes by saying he wants to make clear to Iran that if they do not shut down their nuclear research facilities, we will work with Israel to eliminate those facilities.

Rick Perry
  • He says the President's responsibilities are beyond "human intellect" and he could not do it without the help of God. He also says he has been driven to prayer many times as Governor of Texas.
  • Our laws and policies are built on values, and it's up to us to make sure that those values are "our values." He doesn't think pastors should necessarily talk about politics, but that they shouldn't be afraid to call out political leaders who aren't following their church's values.
  • The Founding Fathers had a much narrower view of the role of the federal government than we currently have, both domestically and internationally. He wants states to have more power in education and health care, and he wants to curtail our spending on foreign aid.
  • The states cannot say no to the federal Constitution, which he says in apparent disagreement with Ron Paul. He doesn't say this explicitly, but it sounds like he would favor both an abortion amendment and a marriage amendment. 
  • He says in Texas, homosexual couples cannot adopt children and he implies that he'd like to see a similar nationwide law.
  • About halfway through the video, there's a short break where everyone gets up and walks around. At the end of the break, the moderator asks the candidates to take their seats, and most of them do (Newt wandered further than the rest and was the last to reach the table). But Perry reaches his seat, then stands next to it and waits for Representative Bachmann to sit down first-- an interesting insight into his personality.
  • He shares the story of growing up in a very small town, saying he graduated in the top ten-- out of a class of thirteen. He says he first became a Christian at the age of 14, but only "truly gave [his] life to Christ" at age 27 after coming home from the Air Force.
  • He says he always wanted to be a veterinarian, that was his goal in going to Texas A&M, "and then he introduced me to organic chemistry, and I became a pilot in the United States Air Force."
  • The role of the government in support of the common good is narrowly defined to issues like public safety, but he includes immigration law under public safety. He repeats his statement from a previous debate that we need to "shut that border down," then shifts to talking about his flat tax proposal.
  • He says he understands the job of Commander-in-Chief because he's led the Texas National Guard while governor. Of the candidates who answered the question about the moral justification for war, Perry's was the broadest justification-- "when America's interests are in jeopardy." He also says we shouldn't let Congress set the rules of engagement, but those should be determined by the commanders on the ground.

Herman Cain
  • About the phrase, "So help me God" at the end of the President's oath of office, he says he is "ultimately responsible to God Almighty."
  • He sees a great divide between "people of faith" and "people of non-faith," and says that people of faith need to not just push back but to fight back against people of non-faith by not being afraid to express their faith in the public sphere.
  • He says the tax code is a form of "intimidation" to pastors, because they're required to not talk about certain topics from the pulpit or they'll lose their tax exempt status.
  • "Freedom without responsibility is immoral." Your right to liberty does not include taking someone else's life, including if that someone else is unborn. He later says the Occupiers are the perfect example of "freedom without responsibility is immoral."
  • The federal government has the power to tell the states what to do when the states are wrong, and the measure of whether or not they are wrong is the principles established in our founding documents, especially "all men are created equal." He holds up the individual mandate as an example of where the states can say no to the federal government.
  • He would support either an amendment or a federal law banning abortion, assuming Roe v. Wade is overturned.
  • He says he joined the church at age 10, but that when he was diagnosed with cancer it was a real blow to his faith. He struggles to tell the story of his wife's support after he was diagnosed with cancer, nearly coming to tears.
  • He says he feels like he wasn't home enough with his kids when they were growing up because he was focusing on his career.
  • If the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, he "would lead the charge to overturn the Supreme Court." He's not clear exactly what that means, but apparently he thinks it can be done legislatively.
  • The common good is enforcing laws, and establishing a level playing field, so that people are treated with fairness & respect.
  • He would not go to war without clearly defining why we're going to war and what the definition of success would be. He believes the moral justification for war rests on defense; he makes no mention of "American interests," only actual defense of life, liberty and property.

Newt Gingrich
  • He ascribes our current woes as a nation to the attempt to create a secular country. He quotes the Declaration of Independence to say that if we recognize that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, then we'll also be able to solve the rest of our problems.
  • He contrasts the French and American Revolutions, and says the French Revolution was a secular, anti-clerical revolution which through history has influenced academia; since academia influences the media and courts, this is why many people are hostile towards religion.
  • He says the Occupiers have no sense of responsibility, and tells them to "go get a job after you take a bath."
  • He believes that under the 14th Amendment, Congress has the authority to legislatively define personhood, and can thus do an end-run around Roe v. Wade. A cursory reading of the 14th Amendment shows it takes a fair amount of "interpretation" to reach that conclusion.
  • He would reinstate Bush's conscience clause, and extend it to adoption agencies on the matter of homosexual adoptions. He would also cut funding to any state or local jurisdiction that did not allow faith-based adoption agencies to choose not to adopt to homosexual couples.
  • He cites a specific justice in San Antonio who recently ruled against school prayer and explicitly said Congress needs to retaliate by eliminating that court.
  • He shares a story about a friend's child who was born with a rare heart defect and brain tumors and went through six years of in-and-out surgery as a child. He says next year's election will be about whether we want bureaucrats to make health care decisions for children like that or if we want a system "that cares about every life at that depth."
  • He reiterates his position from a previous debate that he would not be comfortable with an atheist President. In fact, he says, such a person "terrifies" him because they misunderstand human limitations. He briefly alludes to his marriage problems, but mostly glosses over them. He says although he wasn't drinking, two AA books helped him realize where he had gone wrong and helped him get himself back together.
  • If the Supreme Court overturns DOMA, he says Congress can just re-pass DOMA with a clause saying it can't be reviewed by the courts. This strategy sounds very dangerous to me. As soon as Republicans start adding clauses like that to their legislation, Democrats are going to do it too. There's probably a few Democrats who wish they'd done it to Obamacare. Do we really want to invite the end of judicial review in this country?
  • Asked if he believes in a "common good," he says the role of the government is to create a framework where individuals can seek that common good on their own.
  • "We should not go to war if we can avoid it," but if we can't avoid it, we need to use "overwhelming power." Like Ron Paul, he agrees with St. Augustine's theory of Just War. He says he would be harsher against Iran than Santorum.

Overall, most of the candidates seemed to let their guards down in this forum. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich were the notable exceptions. Paul kinda seemed uncomfortable with all the touchy-feely emotional stuff going on and really rushed through his answers during those rounds. Newt seemed very aloof, and not Romney-style above-the-fray aloof since there really wasn't a fray this time. Just aloof. Given the opportunity to talk about his marriages, he basically just glossed over them. In a normal debate, it would've been a perfectly fine answer, but compared to Santorum, Cain and Bachmann's soul-bearing, it just seemed lacking.

I hesitate to judge the candidates on their personal answers, but I do have to make a comment about Rick Perry. Where Santorum, Cain and Bachmann seemed very sincere in their answers, especially Santorum, Perry simply didn't. Now maybe it's a cultural thing or a generational thing, maybe things are just different in Texas, maybe it's just how he expresses himself, so what follows is just my observation.

I'm an Evangelical Christian. I grew up in an Evangelical church and went to a Protestant high school. I am intimately familiar with the codewords and buzz phrases Protestants use to communicate their Protestant-ness to each other. Again, maybe it's just me, but in my experience, the more sincere someone is in living the way they claim to believe, the less they actually use those codewords. Perry's answers sounded like he was reading them out of the dictionary. It's like two students, one of whom can only repeat what the teacher said word-for-word, while the other can explain the teacher's point using their own words. Which one do you think really understands the material?

In case it's not clear, Santorum was the second student. As much as I disagreed with a number of the policies he advocated in this forum, I think this was precisely what he needed, and it's a real detriment to his campaign that it wasn't on any television network. He may have gotten more screentime in this debate than in the all others combined, and he really shone in this format. When he's gone on the attack in past debates, he often came across as just petty and angry. This time there wasn't a hint of pettiness or anger, just sincerity and belief. I still don't think he's the right candidate for the Presidency, but my opinion of him as a man is a lot higher than it was before this forum.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tenth Republican Primary Debate (SC)

Both the ninth and tenth Republican debates were held last week. This entry covers the tenth debate, hosted by CBS in South Carolina. Like the ninth, this debate featured the eight members of the regular cast. The full video is available here, and a transcript is available here.

Before watching this debate, I had a somewhat positive view of Herman Cain, somewhat negative views of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, and fairly negative views of Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman.

As always, I've summarized all the answers for each candidate below, along with my gut reactions. Since the "summaries" can be quite long, you may want to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

Jon Huntsman
  • On Afghanistan, "It's time to come home... This nation has achieved its key objectives in Afghanistan. We've had free elections in 2004. We've uprooted the Taliban. We've dismantled Al Qaeda. We have killed Osama bin Laden." (+1)
  • He clarifies that he doesn't want to completely withdraw from Afghanistan, and would keep certain kinds of troops there like "enhanced special forces," but far fewer than 100,000. So, is it time to come home or not? (-1)
  • The use of waterboarding has diminished our credibility on the world stage to support "liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets." (+1)
  • How do we deal with China? Don't get into a trade war, because that will just hurt us. We need to reach out to the younger generation in China who want change. (+2)
  • How would he tackle debt and spending? "The Ryan Plan." He would send Medicaid, education and economic development to the states, and if Romney wants spending to be 20% of GDP, Huntsman wants it to be 19%. (+1)
  • "When you have a loose nuke, you have no choice." He would send in the special forces to take care of it. (+1)
  • Europe is our second-largest export partner (second to Canada) and if they go down, they're taking us with them. But he doesn't have time to say what he wants to do about it. (0)

Michele Bachmann
  • She says the 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan should've been 40,000 troops, then criticizes Obama for announcing a timetable for withdrawal. (0)
  • She would reduce foreign aid to "many, many countries," but not to Pakistan, because Pakistan has The Bomb. Because giving money to every country that has nukes will absolutely convince Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear ambitions! (-1)
  • She would use waterboarding again, because it was "very effective." Really? Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. Most of the "confessions" he made were just made up stories to get the waterboarding to stop. What little actionable intelligence we did gain from Mohammed took years to get out of him and more years to lead anywhere. That doesn't sound like a "very effective" technique to me. (-2)
  • She wants to get rid of the military's cost-plus system of paying for things and move to a fixed-cost system. This is simple common sense, and I wish more Republicans were willing to talk about it. (+1)
  • Asked about the military's health care, she says she wants to "modernize" the system but doesn't go into any further details before getting sidetracked by Obamacare. (0)
  • Killing bin Laden was a good thing. Killing al-Awlaki was also good, because he was a major recruiter, and had recruited the Ft Hood shooter, the underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber. (+1)
  • The last time Republicans controlled the budget, the annual deficit was $160 billion. This October, the monthly deficit was $203 billion. You know things are bad when a deficit of $160 billion is cited as the good ol' days. So her solution? Get rid of food stamps. (-1)

Ron Paul
  • Going to war in Iran is "not worthwhile." He also points out that Constitutionally, the Commander-in-Chief does not make the decision to go to war; that authority rests with Congress. (+1)
  • Waterboarding is torture, it's illegal under US and international law, it's impractical, and he even calls it un-American. (+1)
  • He's against doing anything in Syria, and says "the Syrians oughta deal with their country." I think that's what they're trying to do. (-1)
  • He says, "We're pretending we're at war" because Congress hasn't declared it. Then he flirts with some paranoia that we're all going to be targeted and killed. (-1)
  • Killing bin Laden was a good thing and should've happened sooner, but killing an American citizen (al-Awlaki) is different. He says over 300 individuals have been tried for terrorism in civilian courts and it's worked out just fine. (+1)

Herman Cain
  • "Our enemies are not the people of Iran, it's the regime." He would assist the opposition movement, something Obama dramatically failed to do. He also says they can only afford nukes because of their oil wealth, and that increasing our energy independence would bring down the global price of oil. Talk about long-term thinking! (+1)
  • He would not help the Iranian opposition "militarily," but rather "help the opposition within the country." I don't know what that means. (0)
  • Is Pakistan a friend or foe? "We don't know." He wants to see some commitments made by Pakistan to advance some kind of regional agreement. (+1)
  • He has said he would rely on the advice of his generals, but how would he know when to overrule them? By relying on the advice of his other advisors. Hmm. (0)
  • He "does agree with torture," but would trust the military to decide what is or is not torture. Because that's gone oh-so-well in the past. (-1)
  • Waterboarding is an enhanced interrogation technique, not torture, and he would return to using waterboarding. (-2)
  • The Arab Spring has "gotten totally out of hand." Obama was wrong to support the protesters in Egypt, and he's wrong to support democracy in Yemen. Cain is 100% wrong here. As a free society, we have a duty to support democracy in any country that wants it. (-2)
  • He would keep Gitmo open, would not send captured terrorists to civilian court, and would reauthorize enhanced interrogation techniques besides waterboarding. (0)
  • It's "unclear" where we stand with Pakistan or Afghanistan, and he would want to talk to Pakistan before going after terrorists within Pakistan who are crossing the border to attack our troops in Afghanistan. (0)
  • Victory in Afghanistan is not yet clearly defined, and he would make sure that definition is clear, although he doesn't say what the definition would be. (0)

Mitt Romney
  • Asked if going to war with Iran would be worth it, he bashes Obama for awhile, then gets into a tiff with the moderator about timing (at 50 seconds the moderator says 60 have gone by and Romney says 30). He then says we have to make clear that we are willing to go to war in Iran if necessary. (-1)
  • He would work with the Iranian "insurgents" and "if all else fails," he would "of course" go to war. He also says we need "crippling sanctions" on Iran, either rejecting Cain's statement that our enemies are not the people of Iran but the leaders, or showing that he hasn't thought about who is crippled by "crippling sanctions." (-1)
  • He's fine with Obama's 2014 timetable for withdrawing from Afghanistan, but he doesn't like the September 2012 timetable for drawing down the surge because that's right before the election. (-1)
  • Anyone who is "bearing arms" for an "entity" we are at war with is "fair game," and can be targeted and killed even if they are American. Then he spends most of his time to talk about how great America is. I'd like that answer to be a bit more nuanced, but overall I think he's right. (+1)
  • The way to handle China is through trade, specifically through punishing American consumers with tariffs if they don't "play by the rules." (-1)
  • "Of course it's time for the Assad dictatorship to end," and he would use covert means to do it. I'm glad to hear someone supporting democracy, but Mitt has the same problem with the word "covert" that Newt does. (0)
  • He wants to cap federal spending at 20% of GDP. He would eliminate Obamacare and the National Endowment for the Arts, including public broadcasting. He also wants to return Medicaid to the states and limit it's growth to inflation-plus-one-percent. Then he repeats his plan to cut federal employment by 10% and tie public sector compensation to private sector compensation. (+1)
  • Pakistan is close to being a failed state, and in dealing with Pakistan, we have to work within that context. We have to make clear to them that either they go after the terrorists within Pakistan or allow us to do so. (0)

Newt Gingrich
  • He gets on international television to say we need "covert," "deniable" operations in Iran like "taking out their scientists." Um, Mr. Speaker, your mic is on... Even though I agree, and I think this is probably the second-best way to deal with Iran, that doesn't strike me as something you want to say on TV. He also says, "I agree entirely with Governor Romney" about Iran. (-1)
  • How do we achieve peace without negotiating with the Taliban? "I don't think you do." He wants to broaden the "strategic" discussion to include Pakistan, and says between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, Afghanistan is the "least important" strategically. What would he do about Pakistan, and how would he achieve peace? He doesn't say. (0)
  • He agrees with Perry that the foreign aid budget should start at zero for every country each year, and should stay at zero for Pakistan, but he's a lot more articulate about why he believes that than Perry is. (+1)
  • He's worried that the Arab Spring will turn into the Anti-Christian Spring, and wants the State Department (ie, the diplomats) "intervening" on behalf of Egypt's Coptic Christians. (+1)
  • He's criticized Romney on the campaign trail, so would he like to do it to his face? "No, no." Hmm, I remember another candidate who did the same thing. What was his name... Paw... Pawlen... no, can't remember it. I'm sorry. Oops. (-2)
  • How would he "think outside the box"? He'd do what Reagan did; he'd oppose a UN program that conservatives have opposed for nearly twenty years; and he'd increase military spending. On the good side, he repeats his support for adopting Lean Six Sigma at the Pentagon, but overall I think Newt just doesn't know what "outside the box" means. (-1)
  • The correct thing to do in a war is "to kill people who are trying to kill you." Newt apparently follows the Malcolm Reynolds philosophy on foreign policy. He says al-Awlaki's killing was not "extra-judicial" but that it was and should be "outside criminal law." I wonder what he thinks "extra-judicial" means. (0)
  • Newt's angry that Obama didn't support Mubarak in Egypt, because dictators are great when they're our dictators. (-2)
  • On Syria, he would take covert operations against Assad, but would not take direct military action like imposing a no-fly zone. Once again with the misunderstanding of the word "covert." (-1)
  • There are "four interlocking national security problems"-- the debt & deficit, energy, manufacting and science & technology. He wants to have a training requirement to unemployment compensation. He also wants to open up offshore drilling. (+1)
  • We can't trust our current intelligence network because we rely too much on our allies' intelligence. (0)

Rick Perry
  • We can sanction the Iranian Central Bank and "shut down that country's economy." Because economic devastation always brings down dictators and never gives rise to new ones. (-1)
  • In Afghanistan, "the mission must be completed," and withdrawing on a set timetable is "irresponsible." With bin Laden dead and al Qaida crippled, this raises the question of when he would consider the mission to have been completed. (0)
  • He says the foreign aid budget should start at zero for every country, then "have a conversation" about which countries should get aid. He doesn't think Pakistan should get any at all because the military and "secret service" is running Pakistan, not the politicians. (0)
  • The "most important thing from a strategic standpoint" is either his experience in Texas or securing the southern border. (-1)
  • China will end up "on the ash heap of history" not because of historical, economic or political forces but because they don't have "virtue." Hmm. And then somehow he turns that into saying that "fighting a cyber-war" with China is one of the most important issues the next President will face. (-1)
  • Someone from Twitter asks if his "foreign aid should start at zero" idea also applies to Israel. He says, "absolutely," but also expects that after starting at zero, they will still get "substantial" aid from us. (0)
  • He was in the Air Force, and he wants to use whatever techniques are necessary to save lives (referring to waterboarding). "This is war. That's what happens in war." (-1)
  • France and Germany should deal with the crisis in Europe. They set up the euro to compete with the dollar, so now it's up to them to keep it going. (0)

Rick Santorum
  • Victory in Afghanistan would come when the Taliban is "no longer a security threat" to Afghanis or Americans. (0)
  • On Iran, he says he agrees with Cain and Romney and disagrees with Newt, which is odd because Newt said he agreed "entirely" with Romney. (-1)
  • He agrees with Bachmann on Pakistan, saying we have to be their friend because they have The Bomb. (-1)
  • Our military aid to Pakistan is spent in the US on US military hardware that creates jobs in the US. So not only does Keynesian stimulus work just fine when it's military spending, but it's somehow a good idea to give actual US military hardware to a country that Santorum himself says has factions that want to turn it into another Iran. (-2)
  • He would have a "very clear agenda" and would only hire people who agreed with that agenda. Because the President should never have to listen to opposing viewpoints. (-1)
  • What would that "very clear agenda" be? Making sure Iran doesn't get nukes, and he hopes that we're involved with Stuxnet and other covert operations against Iran. Again, even though I agree, this is not the kind of thing you want to say on TV. (-1)
  • He stands by the Geneva Convention, but says when terrorists don't follow the rules, they don't get the benefits. Of course, the terrorists say the same thing about us, but he doesn't address that. (-1)
  • What if one of Pakistan's nukes got into terrorist hands? He would work with the Pakistani military to recover it, but can't answer more precisely without knowing the details of the hypothetical situation. (0)
  • Given that special forces are being trained to deal with this, would he use those special forces? He says, "You don't cowboy this one," and would not go into Pakistan to "interdict a nuclear weapon," but would rather work with the Pakistani government to secure it. Since we're currently training special forces to do something Santorum doesn't want to do, does that make him more of a dove than Obama? (-1)

The focus of this debate was foreign policy and national security, and except for a few references to government spending, they pretty much stuck to that topic. Most questions were explicitly about national security; other features of foreign policy, like trade and the European crisis, were given short shrift.

I always watch these debates online, but I was surprised when the moderator announced in the beginning that only the first hour of the 90-minute debate would actually be broadcast on live television. Are the networks sponsoring these debates getting tired of how many there are?

Rick Perry got a question from Twitter that was a follow-up to one of his answers from a previous question. Although other debates have featured questions from Twitter, this is the first time I can remember a random citizen being able to respond to a candidate's debate answer and get a response from that candidate in the same debate. What Great Stagnation?

Summing my reactions for each candidate, Santorum got an astounding -8 (out of nine questions), which I think is the lowest I've scored any candidate in any debate. Tied for second-worst were Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich at -4. Herman Cain was slightly better at -3, while Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney were slightly better still at -2. Ron Paul got +1 and Jon Huntsman scored higher than ever before with +5.

Jon Huntsman's strongest point is clearly foreign policy. A two-time ambassador, he has clearly put a lot more thought into these issues than some of the other candidates. Ron Paul had a great speech against waterboarding, but wasn't very strong in the rest of his answers. Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, things waterboarding is "very effective." She was, however, the only candidate to mention the Pentagon's cost-plus system of financing.

If Ron Paul is an isolationist, Mitt Romney is an interventionist. There's no country he doesn't want to step up the rhetoric on, it seems, whether it's Iran, Pakistan, Syria or China. He wants a trade war in China and a real war in Iran. The new anti-Romney, Newt Gingrich, is a clear fan of covert action, but apparently doesn't get the irony of announcing this on television. He also had a true Pawlenty moment, where he decline to repeat to Romney's face a criticism he had already said on the radio.

For all that Herman Cain has been criticized for not knowing about foreign policy, he held his own in this debate. Which isn't to say I agreed with him-- I scored Cain lower in this debate than in any previous debate, most because of his support for waterboarding and opposition to the Arab Spring. Where he lost points wasn't because he hemmed-and-hawed or gave any indication that he didn't know what the question was about. Rather, he knows what his positions are; they're just the wrong ones in my opinion.

As far as I can recall, this marks the first time in any of the ten debates where a candidate didn't even get a single positive mark from me, and this time it happened with both Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. Santorum seemed particularly clueless, but maybe that means I'm just more libertarian than I thought I was.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ninth Republican Primary Debate (MI)

Both the ninth and tenth Republican debates were held last week. This entry covers the ninth debate, hosted by CNBC in Michigan. This debate returned to the regular cast of eight candidates-- Huntsman is back and Johnson is still out. Although the full video was available on Youtube, apparently it no longer is, as CNBC has pulled those versions due to copyright. The official CNBC version can be seen in three parts here. A transcript can be found here.

Before watching this debate, I had a somewhat positive view of Herman Cain, somewhat negative views of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, and fairly negative views of Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman.

As always, I've summarized all the answers for each candidate below, along with my gut reactions. Since the "summaries" can be quite long, you may want to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

Rick Santorum
  • Asked to defend his manufacturing-only corporate tax cut, he doesn't really. He just attacks Obama and talks a bit about energy. He doesn't seem to get the moderator's point that cutting taxes only on manufacturers is exactly the kind of economic distortion that the rest of the candidates rightly want to move away from. (-1)
  • North Dakotans want "federal help" to deal with the oil rush there (apparently that makes sense in whatever alternate reality Jim Cramer comes from). Santorum rightly says no, they shouldn't get it. (+1)
  • Santorum goes on to say that the unemployment rate for those without a college education is in the double digits, while for those with a college education it's 4-5%, and that's why he supports a manufacturing-only tax cut. Apparently, no one with a college degree works in manufacturing, and everyone in agriculture or the service sector has a college degree. (-1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? He says he supports health savings accounts and block grants for Medicaid, and led on those issues as a Senator in the 90s before any of the other candidates. (+1)
  • He says one of the reasons he's proposed his manufacturing-only tax cut is because he knows Democrats will get behind it too. He also says he understands "that the Wall Street Journal won't like that I'm picking one sector over another. I don't care." Well, that settles it, I guess. (-1)
  • When the moderator asks if any candidate opposes the Social Security payroll tax cut, Santorum raises his hand along with Cain and Perry. (-1)

Michele Bachmann
  • Since the 1980s, the worldwide average corporate tax rate has fallen dramatically but the US corporate tax rate has not. She wants to lower that rate, repeal Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, "legalize American energy" whatever that means and build a border fence (somehow building a border fence is now a job-creator). (0)
  • Why is Romney wrong on the progressive-vs-flat tax question? She would rather say Obama is wrong for something about Axelrod. She then repeats her claim from the last debate that everyone should pay some taxes and doesn't mention Romney once. The Romney-Bachmann dynamic continues to be interesting. Considering her poll numbers, she may well realize that her best shot at getting into the White House at this point is as part of a Romney administration. (0)
  • The moderators again try to pit her against Romney, pointing out the inconsistency between Romney's "let the markets work" approach to housing and her "hang in there moms" speech from the last debate. Again she sidesteps the question and instead talks about Fannie and Freddie asking for bailouts. It sounds like she now agrees with Romney, which is good, but an interesting flip from the last debate. (0)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? She would eliminate state health insurance barriers, and allow Americans in any state to buy health insurance from anywhere in the US. It's great to hear someone say this, because these state barriers absolutely need to be torn down. Of course, this begs the question of why we would stop at the US border-- we can buy food, clothing and many other things that come from outside the US, so why can't we buy health insurance that comes from outside the US? Like the other candidates, Bachmann also wants to eliminate the tax on individually-purchased insurance and she wants tort reform. (+1)
  • She opposes the Social Security payroll tax cut because it causes that program to go into the red "six years ahead of time." (-1) 
  • She's worried about what our reliance on Chinese goods means for national security, and says that the interest we pay on our debt to China essentially built their aircraft carrier. Presumably, she means this one. She does say, however, that the way to solve the problem is to stop spending so much, which I like to hear. (0)

Newt Gingrich
  • Asked why Republicans support tax reform to create jobs, and if there are any other paths to job creation, Newt would rather bash Bernanke for awhile, then throw in some feel-good stuff about Reagan and the Contract with America and top it off by bashing Obama. (-1)
  • Can companies both be profitable and create jobs? "Obviously," he says, but the media, academics and Occupiers don't "have a clue about history." He cites Henry Ford who apparently built his first car in his garage at home and Bill Gates who dropped out of college to found Microsoft, and asks were they in the 99% or the 1%? It's great rhetoric, but I could do with less anti-media ranting. (0)
  • Newt says Romney is right to let the market work in housing and to not prevent foreclosures. He also says there's two things we have to do to fix the housing market-- repeal Dodd-Frank and fix the rest of the economy. (+1)
  • Asked about the work his firm did for Freddie Mac in 2006, he says it was not lobbying, but it was advising, and he says he advised them to not give loans to people without credit histories, but they did anyway. This is the first I've heard of Newt and Freddie Mac, so I don't know how much of this is true or not. (0)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? That's an "absurd question," apparently, and he'd rather talk about Lincoln-Douglas debates. (-1)
  • Pressed on what he would replace Obamacare with, he dodges for a bit, then finally answers the question. He would go back to the doctor-patient relationship like Ron Paul and Mitt Romney said, give Medicaid to the states like Rick Perry and Mitt Romney said, and give out lots of subsidies to brain research, because subsidies are great when they're for things that he supports. (-1)
  • Given that Social Security is now in the red, does he support extending the payroll tax cut? He does, and says we need to deal with Social Security separately from the rest of the budget. He says we should give workers the option to switch to a Galveston- or Chilean-style personal retirements account system, and that "the Social Security actuary" has said such a reform would stabilize the program. (+1)
  • "We are at the end of the welfare state era." He cites the College of the Ozarks as a model for the future of education. He says, "You cannot apply to it unless you need student aid, and they have no student aid." Students are required to work 20 hours a week in the school year and 40 hours over the summer, and 92% graduate owing no debt. (+1) 
  • Interestingly, he says he'd defer to Huntsman on questions about China. He says we need to address our taxation, regulation and attitudes that make American labor more costly than Chinese labor. He also says that he doesn't think anyone has a good strategic answer to what to do about China (and isn't offering one himself). For someone who is usually as meticulous and well-read as Newt Gingrich, this is a pretty surprising answer. (0)

Mitt Romney
  • Europe is big enough to solve their own problems, and we should not bail out European banks or governments. He's "happy" participating in the IMF and other global institutions like the World Bank, but he doesn't want "a TARP-like program" aimed at Italy. (+1)
  • The moderator says Romney was for the automaker bailout before he was against it before he was for it again, and Romney says now he's against it again. He says they should have gone through a "private bankruptcy" process, and he brushes aside his flip-flopping with some fluff about how great Detroit is. (-1)
  • Pressed on his flip-flopping, he says he's "a man of steadiness and constancy" and that people who know him know that. But he has a great quote: "I've been married to the same woman for 25 -- excuse me, I'll get in trouble, for 42 years" as the camera pans out to show Newt Gingrich standing next to him. (0)
  • The moderator says that while at Bain Capital, Romney had the authority to fire or keep CEOs of companies they bought. He asks if Romney would keep Herman Cain as CEO given the recent harassment accusations, to which the crowd loudly boos. Romney says that it's up to Cain to respond to the accusations, and the American people can make that decision for themselves. (+1)
  • Do corporations exist only to maximize profit, or do they have a social responsibility to create jobs? Romney says the two go together. Profits are used to grow businesses, so a profitable business will be a growing business, and a growing business creates jobs. Although that's a bit simplistic, it's still a great feel-good answer. (+1)
  • He wants a "flatter" tax code but not an actual flat tax. He says he'd like to lower taxes for everybody, but right now he wants to focus on the middle class, because they're the ones who have been hurt by "the Obama economy." (0)
  • Why doesn't his 59-point plan address housing? Because "it's not a housing plan, it's a jobs plan." He also agrees with what Newt said about housing. (0)
  • Pressed about letting housing prices fall, he says the reason we have a crisis in housing is because government "played too heavy a role" in the housing market. He says that when the problem is caused by government, the solution isn't more government. If Romney talked like this all the time, I'd like him a lot more. (+1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? Send Medicaid to the states, treat individually-purchased insurance the same as employer-purchased insurance, encourage health savings accounts like Ron Paul said and institute tort reform. Once again, if Romney talked like this all the time, I'd like him a lot more. This is the answer that he needs to give every time someone brings up Romneycare. The fact that in seven debates he's only said this twice, and spent the rest of the time defending Romneycare, makes me question whether this is what he actually believes. Still, I like it, and I hope I hear it more often. (+1)
  • The governor who passed Romneycare says the problem with health care in America is that "government is playing too heavy a role." Again, if he hadn't spent so much time in the past defending Romneycare's heavy role for government, this would be a lot more believeable. But it's still nice to hear it. (+1)
  • Asked directly about Romneycare and the individual mandate and what that means in relation to his previous comments, he pretty much falls apart. Then deflects to talk about Medicaid. (-1)
  • Asked whether Republican primary voters should be nervous about Romney's history of compromising with Democrats, he says when he was governor, the legislature was 85% Democrat. He had to compromise with them "to get anything done." (+1) 
  • He doesn't want to raise any taxes, including the payroll tax. He wants to cut spending by cutting programs like Obamacare, cutting the federal government workforce by 10% and linking public employee compensation to private compensation. (+1) 
  • China is cheating on trade, therefore the US should cheat too. In one sentence he says "I love free trade" and also that he would slap tariffs on China. Protectionism for everyone, yay! (-2)
  • China's currency policy is equivalent to predatory pricing. Apparently he hasn't seen this graph, which shows that the value of the yuan in US dollars has fallen by about a fifth since 2007. (-1)

Herman Cain
  • How do we prevent Italy's collapse from affecting the US? Focus on the domestic economy; get our own economy growing again with sound money and less government spending. Italy is beyond the "point of return" and there's "not a lot" we can do for them at this point. (0)
  • Asked about the sexual harassment accusations, he says, "The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations." Hmm, that could be taken more than one way. He then says, "the voters have voted with their dollars," alluding to his apparent fundraising success since the Politico article. (0)
  • Asked about 999 not being a progressive tax, he says it's simple, transparent and fair, because "it treats everyone the same." (+1)
  • Why souldn't 999 become 19-19-19? "Tax codes do not raise taxes, politicians do." The tax rate under 999 would be obvious, and politicians trying to raise it would be "very visible," which would allow people to "hold the politicians' feet to the fire" and prevent them from raising it. (+1)
  • What's his solution for housing? First, switch to 999. Second, eliminate harmful regulations (he alludes to Dodd-Frank but doesn't mention it by name). Third, eliminate uncertainty by... switching to 999 and eliminating harmful regulations. Not the most eloquent answer ever, but I think it's good policy. (+1)
  • What specifically would he do about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Turn them into "private entities" and get the government out of the housing market. (+1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? HR 3000, and here we apparently have one of Cain's practiced phrases (apples and oranges, anyone?), as he says "the legislation has already been written" three times in 30 seconds. Still, from what I can tell, HR 3000 is a good piece of legislation. (+1)
  • Boeing should "absolutely not" have to shut down its plant in South Carolina. Asked about Santorum's manufacturing-only tax cut, he says 999 "makes every sector grow." Then he says "bold" several times. (+1)
  • When the moderator asks if any candidate opposes the Social Security payroll tax cut, Cain raises his hand along with Santorum and Perry. (-1) 
  • Asked about California hiring a Chinese company to build a bridge, he says, "There's something wrong with that." Given that the Chinese company was the less expensive option, and considering California's widely-publicized budget woes, there's something wrong with Cain's answer. He also says that 999 contains provisions to discourage imports, in apparent violation of WTO rules. (-2)
  • The volatility in the stock market is driven by uncertainty in the business environment. I'm not sure how much that's actually true or not. Then he says there are three big problems with Dodd-Frank. The first problem is that it doesn't do anything about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.The second and third problems with Dodd-Frank are Dodd and Frank. That's a nice applause line for the base. (0)

Rick Perry
  • Does Romney's apparently flip-flopping really just show a flexibility that's needed to govern? This was really a softball question and the moderator pretty much gave him the answer by saying "you are running as a politician with strong convictions," but Perry instead responds to the previous round of questions about bailouts of Italy and the automakers. He says, "if you are too big to fail, you are too big." (+1)
  • Can companies both be profitable and create jobs? "They better be," whatever that means, and then mentions his tax plan- a 20% flat personal tax and a 20% corporate tax. I'd like to hear more about that but he doesn't get the time to get into it. (0)
  • The moderator says GDP figures lately have been negative for housing, and Perry says not in Texas. How would he translate that to the country as a whole? Get rid of regulations that kill jobs, whether it's the EPA, Dodd-Frank, Obamacare or any other regulation passed since 2008. (+1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? On Medicare he wants to give people "a menu of options" but doesn't say what those options would be, and on Medicaid he wants to give it to the states, presumably through some sort of block-grant system although he doesn't get into specifics. (0)
  • He says his flat tax will balance the budget by 2020 (that is, the last year of his second term). Then comes his shining moment of the night: "I will tell you, it's three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the uh, what's the third one there...?" There's lots of laughter, and the moderator tries to get him to say the third one. Repeating the list, he starts with Education, and then seems to have trouble even remembering Commerce, and finally he says, "I can't. The third one, I can't, I'm sorry. Oops." So much ink has already been spilt on this answer that there's not really anything I can add. (-1)
  • When the moderator asks if any candidate opposes the Social Security payroll tax cut, Perry raises his hand along with Cain and Santorum. (-1) 
  • He says the Department of Energy is the third one he would cut that he couldn't remember before. He twice ignores the moderator's question about cutting defense in favor of talking about reforming Social Security. His preferred reform is apparently to "blend price and wages," presumably in the cost-of-living adjustments? He's not really clear at all here. (-1)
  • He wants to "force these universities to be efficient," and he wants governors to take more direct roles in education, apparently dictating what graduation rates and tuition will be. "You have to have control," he says. (-1)
  • He says regulators have "cozy relationships" with the lobbyists of the corporations they're supposed to be regulating. When people break laws or "are pushing the bounds," they either need to be prosecuted or removed from their jobs. Presumably, he's talking about people in government, but he doesn't actually make that distinction, leaving open the possibility that he wants the government to remove private individuals from their private sector jobs for "pushing the bounds." (0)

Ron Paul
  • "You have let it liquidate," and by "it" he means Italy. If we keep bailing people out and propping up bad debt, we'll end up like Japan. (0)
  • In the first year, he would cut a trillion dollars from the federal budget. He mentions five departments, but it's not clear just from this answer whether that trillion would involve eliminating those five departments or simply cutting a trillion from those five departments. (+1 for cutting a trillion, even if it's less than what Gary Johnson would cut)
  • Then he gets into monetary policy, and says that interest rates are too low, and "one person" (Bernanke) shouldn't get to decide what the money supply is (never mind that the Board of Governors usually makes decisions by consensus). He thinks interest rates should be set by the market, a position that for me has always raised more questions than answers. (-1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? Return power to the doctor-patient relationship with medical savings accounts that can be deducted from your taxes just like current employer-purchased insurance. Ron Paul is exactly right on this issue. (+2)
  • He eventually wants to "move [Medicaid] back into the economy," although I'm not sure what exactly he means by that. He does say that he would not do that in his first year. (0)
  • He says the problem with housing is price-fixing, and Fannie and Freddie are fixing the price of mortgages too high. He would either get rid of them completely or sell them off to the private sector. (+1)
  • The moderators play a clip of some students saying how bad the cost of college is, and Paul very nicely turns it around and says, "I think you've proved the policy of student loans is a total failure." He makes a good point that in markets with competition, like cell phones and computers, quality keeps going up while prices come down. At the same time, in markets with government intervention, like education, health care and housing, we end up with bubbles. In his mind, it all comes down to the Fed, which we should audit, and then end. He's spot on for most of this answer, but I think his conclusion does not follow from his premise. (0) 
  • "There's a lot of crony capitalism," but he says he doesn't know enough about Perry to say one way or another whether Perry is a crony capitalist. Considering Perry is Ron Paul's governor, and has been for almost 11 years, you'd think he would know a bit more about the man. Since, in my opinion, this is potentially one of the most dangerous aspects of the Perry candidacy, Paul's answer is worse than a cop-out. (-1)

Jon Huntsman
  • What would he do about Italy? He'd rather talk about our domestic situation and how we might end up looking like Italy if we don't get our own spending under control. He also wants to "get back" to having "properly-sized" banks so that none of them are "too big to fail." (+1)
  • "I want to be the President of the 99%. I also want to be the President of the 1%." So... what does that mean? He doesn't agree with the Occupiers' "anti-capitalism messages" but he does agree that we shouldn't bail out corporations. (0 because his first quote confuses me)
  • What would he do about banks that are "too big to fail"? He's asked several times point-blank whether he would break them up and dodges every time, so apparently the answer is no. But he would support a tax on "too big to fail" banks. (-1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? Sit down with the 50 governors and figure it out. He also wants to harmonize medical records and somehow "close the gap on the uninsured" but without a mandate. Just a lot of fluff. (-1) 
  • The government still owns stock in GM, is behind 90% of mortgage origination and the Federal Reserve has greatly expanded the money supply. What would he do about this? He says, "I would clean up the balance sheet," and then bashes Obama for awhile. Then he brags about being the only one on stage who has actually instituted a flat tax (in Utah). Since as far as I know, his national plan is not a flat tax, I'm not sure why that's relevant. (-1) 
  • He thinks the policy of throwing tariffs at China is "pandering," but pressed, doesn't want to say that Romney himself is pandering for proposing that policy. He's against tariffs, and rightly points out that when we accuse China of having an overvalued currency, they'll point to quantitative easing and say so do we. (+1)

For the most part, this was another nice, generic debate. There were no fireworks, and the moderators mostly stuck to questions about the economy. The questioning was definitely better in this debate than in most of the others. These moderators clearly knew something about the subject material, often more the candidates. There were some good philosophical questions, like the profit-vs-jobs question, but there were also questions that got down to specifics, like what to do after Obamacare is repealed.

Adding up the scores I gave each candidate shows some narrower results than usual. The Ricks, Perry and Santorum bring up the rear with -2 each, with Huntsman at -1. Bachmann and Gingrich tied at 0, while Ron Paul scored +2, the first debate where he's actually scored positive. Romney and Cain tied for first with +3 each.

Rick Santorum spent the debate defending (or not) his manufacturing-only tax cut, and it was very nice to see the problems with that idea addressed, even if he doesn't really stand a chance at this point. Jon Huntsman's answers had a lot of fluff and several were just confusing as he seemed to try to appeal to everyone.

Michele Bachmann was very much a non-entity this time, twice turning down opportunities to go after Romney. Her best answer was on health care, where she said she wants to eliminate interstate insurance barriers, something I haven't heard any of the other candidates address. Ron Paul had a lot of very good answers this time, and for the most part stayed away from the zaniness for which he is so well known. He kept the ranting to a minimum, and only once said to end the Fed (and that at the end of a long answer that was really good in every other way).

After the debate, everyone was talking about Rick Perry's flub, where he said he wanted to eliminate three federal departments and couldn't remember what the third one was. This is far more than a stylistic error. For Perry, departments to be eliminated are just words on a list to be remembered. Combined with his "you have to have control" quote, this debate raised some serious issues about Perry's actual beliefs. He is running as "an authentic conservative," but the philosophy underlying some of his answers seems to indicate otherwise.

Newt Gingrich seems to have had an off-night. He had a few good answers, but was mostly more general than he usually is, and pretty much said we should listen to Huntsman on China right before contradicting Huntsman on China. He did not at all come across as the new anti-Romney that many are painting him as. Herman Cain, on the other hand, had a pretty good night, with the crowd booing the question when he was asked about the sexual harassment accusations. Even so, he continued to showcase his lack of foreign policy experience, seeming to misunderstand the questions about Italy and China.

In a lot of ways, this was Mitt Romney's debate. Not only did he seem to get more questions than anyone else, but he had great answers for the most part. He had solid conservative/libertarian answers on health care, supporting health savings accounts and other conservative solutions. His worst part of the night was his insistence to carry on with his recent anti-China rhetoric, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Less Poor than Ever Before

This is old news, but I recently rediscovered the Brookings Institution's "Poverty in Numbers" report [PDF] thanks to Bryan Caplan. The results of their analysis are so stunning that they bear repeating.

In 2005, over 1,300 million people lived in extreme poverty, defined by Brookings (and the World Bank) as living on less than $1.25 a day. By 2010, that number had fallen to less than 900 million, and if trends continue, that will fall to less than 600 million by 2015. Considering that this is happening while the human race is adding about a billion people per decade, this should put an end to Malthusian fears of overpopulation once and for all.

Expressed as a percentage of the population, the trend is even more astonishing. In 1981, the global poverty rate was higher than 50%. In 1990, when the UN established the Millennium Development Goals, the poverty rate had fallen to 41.6%. The MDG target of 20.8% by 2015 was already met in 2008. According to Brookings, in 2010 the poverty rate was 15.8%, and if trends continue, that will fall to only 9.9% by 2015.

To put that another way, not only have we achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving the global poverty rate seven years early, but we are on track to halve it again by the MDG's deadline.

Not only is the overall poverty rate falling, but poverty is falling in every region studied by Brookings. The slowest progress is in Sub-Saharan Africa, but even there we have reason for optimism. For decades, the number of poor in Sub-Saharan Africa just continued to grow. Since 2005, for the first time on record, the total number of poor in that region has fallen. Also for the first time on record, the Sub-Saharan poverty rate fell below 50% between 2005 and 2010. If trends continue, it will fall below 40% by 2015.

It's worth noting that this is not a pre-recession report painting an overly rosy picture. The result was released in January 2011, and these results are despite an extra 64 million people kept in extreme poverty by the Great Recession. As the report says, "if not for the financial crisis our results would be even more dramatic than they are."

To emphasize just how dramatic these results are, the global poverty rate is lower than at any other point in human history. There has truly never been a better time to be human.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Good News Day

Scott Adams, the man behind Dilbert, recently wrote a Good News Day post. Although I get Dilbert delivered to my inbox daily, I don't follow Adams' blog, so I didn't know about this until it was highlighted at Carpe Diem. Adams lists 17 reasons to be optimistic, and although I don't agree that all of his reasons are necessarily good and/or true (Social Security, for example), it's still an awesome list, and I'm really happy to see it. There are also lots more awesome reasons to be optimistic in the comments. Some highlights:
Energy: Amazingly, some say the United States is well on its way to being energy self-sufficient, thanks in part to huge new oil fields in North Dakota and hundreds of other developments in conservation and green energy. One good example is a recent discovery that the United States has far more geothermal potential than anyone predicted.
Cars: Gas mileage is better, safety is better every year, and GPS navigation is simply awesome.
Terrorists: Bin Laden is dead and so are dozens of his commanders. Al Qaeda has probably never been weaker.
Kids: I read somewhere that the IQ of kids has increased so much that we have to continuously adjust what qualifies as the "average" score of 100. An average kid in 2011 is a relative genius compared to an average kid a few decades ago.
Communication: We're all lucky to be alive in the age of the Internet.