Friday, February 24, 2012

Rational Military Spending

And by rational, I mean "of or relating to ratios." I raised this point in comments over at Tree of Mamre a few months ago, related to a Heritage Foundation graph. The topic came up again in the debate Wednesday, when Rick Santorum said this:
Some people have suggested that defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60 percent of the budget. It's now 17 percent. If you think defense spending is the problem, then you need a remedial math class to go back to. Defense spending will not be cut under my administration...
Rick Santorum was born in 1958, when "Major National Security" spending (PDF, page 69) was 61.4% of the federal budget, according to the Census Bureau's Statistical Abstract of the United States. So you can give Santorum credit for underestimating, at least. The 2012 edition (PDF) lists total federal spending in 2011 as $3,818.8 billion (page 4), and "National Defense" as $768.2 billion (page 5). Astute observers will note that 768.2/3818.8 = 20.1%, not 17%.* Nevertheless, 20.1% is less than a third of 1958's 61.4%. Is Santorum right?

This is where rationality comes into play, again referring to ratios. These percents are ratios, equal to defense spending divided by total spending. If you have a ratio q = a / b, there are two ways that q can get smaller. If either a gets smaller or b gets larger, while the other stays the same, q will shrink. What happens to q when both a and b move in the same direction? If both a and b increase, q will fall if b increases more than a, and q will rise if a increases more than b. (This may be elementary, but Santorum did suggest a remedial math class...)

In this case, a is defense spending and b is total spending, and Santorum's clear implication is that since q is falling, a cannot be too large. Both Santorum and the Heritage Foundation before him disregard the possibility that q is smaller only because b is larger. Santorum does so even though he had just finished saying he wanted to shrink b because it had grown too large!

According to the PDFs linked above, in 1958 total federal spending was a hair below $72 billion, while in 2011 it was about $3,819 billion. That's a 53-fold increase, although these numbers don't adjust for inflation. Military spending, on the other hand, increased from $44 billion in 1958 to $768 billion in 2011, a 17-and-a-half-fold increase, once again not adjusting for inflation. Military spending has increased, but total spending has increased far more.

Returning to the discussion of ratios, in the case of military spending since 1958, it is clear that b has increased more than a. It is true, as the Heritage Foundation and Santorum both said, that q is smaller now than it was when Santorum was born. That is emphatically not because a has fallen, by any means! The ratio of military spending to total spending has fallen solely because total spending has risen so dramatically!

What does the fall in the ratio of military spending to the total budget mean for actual military spending? Since the total budget has increased by such a vast amount, absolutely nothing! The ratio has zero mathematical significance, and is even misleading since military spending has actually increased since Santorum was born.

Is there some policy reason to prefer this measure of military spending to others, flawed and misleading as it may be? Not that I can think of, not unless your goal is to misrepresent the numbers to reach a predetermined outcome. Controlling for inflation with the GDP deflator, absolute military spending is about 3.17 times higher today than in 1958 in the middle of the Cold War. On a per capita (inflation-adjusted) basis, it's about 1.76 times higher today. As a percentage of GDP, military spending has fallen from about 9.4% in 1958 to 5.1% today, although once again, this is because the denominator, in this case GDP, has risen so much, not because military spending has fallen.

Could current military spending levels be appropriate, or even too low? Hey, anything is possible. But those who want to argue from that position at the very least need to get their numbers straight, and argue why more military spending is needed despite spending three times more than we were in the middle of the Cold War. Getting the numbers and fundamental math concepts wrong, then suggesting that the people who understand the math need a remedial math class, is not the way to make your case-- only Paul Krugman can get away with something like that. Rick Santorum should've known better.

*The ratio was 20.0% in 2010, 18.8% in 2009 and 20.7% in 2008. In fact, the ratio has been 18.8% or higher since 2003; it was 17.3% in 2002, but surely that wasn't what Santorum meant.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nineteenth Republican Primary Debate (FL)

The nineteenth debate was held in Florida on Thursday, January 26th, in anticipation of that state's primary on the 31st. This was the third debate with only four candidates-- Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. The full video is here, and a transcript is here.

To get any potential biases out of the way, I've lately been leaning towards Newt Gingrich as the best of a bad field. I don't like his support for government-sponsored enterprise, and he favors more government involvement in the economy than I do, but he would at least be better than the status quo, and in most areas, I believe he would move us in the right direction.

While I like Ron Paul's support for liberty, I don't like other things he supports and his overall style is just as likely to turn people off of libertarianism. Plus, I don't agree with him on monetary policy, which isn't usually an issue in electing a President, but for Paul it would be. Mitt Romney is too slick and self-contradictory for me, and I simply don't have any confidence that Rick Santorum would do the right thing on economic issues, which is what really matters right now.

As always, I've summarized the candidates' answers below, and scored and responded to them along the way.

Rick Santorum
  • In his introduction, he introduces his 93-year-old mother, who is in the audience.
  • He agrees with Romney's "self-deportation" idea, saying "we are a country of laws." He repeats what he's said in earlier debates that an illegal immigrant who is working is breaking the law, and therefore deserves to be deported. (-1)
  • He is "not with Congressman Paul" on supporting free trade in South America, and then he talks about Honduras for awhile, and how Obama sided with Chavez and Castro in opposing the rule of law in Honduras. Then he says something really bizarre. He says the EU understood "how important it was for diverse people to be able to come together in an economic unit," and implies that we need some arrangement with South America that even goes beyond the EU, although he doesn't say exactly what that would be. Being in "an economic unit" means free trade as I understand it, yet free trade was the central point of Ron Paul's answer, which Santorum said he disagreed with. Am I missing something? (-1)
  • He objects to Paul's answer criticizing Santorum for wanting to use force, saying he doesn't want to use force in South America. He criticizes Obama for holding up the Colombia free trade agreement, so he does want free trade, at least on some level, with South America, so I'm not sure why he said he disagreed with Ron Paul, unless it was specifically about Cuba, perhaps.
  • He says in 2006 he tried to reform Fannie and Freddie in the Senate, but it didn't get anywhere. He wants to gradually reduce the amount of mortgages they can underwrite until they disappear, although he doesn't put a specific timeframe on it. Then the old angry Santorum comes back, hitting on the pointlessness of the Gingrich-Romney spat. He says, "Can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress and used the skills that he developed as a member of Congress to go out and advise companies -- and that's not the worst thing in the world -- and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because he worked hard and he's going out and working hard, and you guys should leave that alone and focus on the issues." (+2)
  • Asked about tax policy, he really struggles with his answer, stammering quite a bit. He links his tax policy to Reagan, saying that even though he doesn't want to reduce the top rate as much as the other candidates, none of the other candidates want the same top tax rate as we had under Reagan. I think that's taking the hero worship a bit far. He also says he believes in the "differential" of multiple tax brackets, and does not believe in the flat tax. He does want to simplify the tax code, limiting it to five deductions which he doesn't list (although I think he's listed them in previous debates), and two brackets, 10% and 28%. He also opposes eliminating the capital gains tax, saying "lower rates are better than zero." (-1)
  • On releasing his medical records he nods and gives a thumbs up.
  • He promises to cut spending every year of his administration, and criticizes Gingrich for "grand schemes" which will cost enormous amounts of money, like his proposals for NASA and Social Security. While I like Santorum's commitment to cutting spending, you simply can't cut spending enough in the long term without reforming Social Security, and Gingrich's NASA proposal, as I understand it, would be accomplished through shifting the resources already spent on NASA towards a better purpose, that being prizes to spur innovation in the private sector. (-1)
  • He says we're not in the same situation as we were 15-20 years ago when we were able to balance the budget but still increase spending on programs like the NIH. He says we need "bold solutions" to fix the debt problem, which is an interesting contrast to his critique a few minutes before of Gingrich's "grand schemes." (-1) 
  • On health insurance, he says, "All three of these folks sound great and I agree with them." He mentions health savings accounts in passing, but then spends most of his answer attacking Gingrich and Romney for supporting the individual mandate. He says Romney supported it as part of Romneycare, and Gingrich supported it for twenty years before Obamacare. It's a good critique, although I wish he would've spent less time on the attack and more time talking about health savings accounts. (+1)
  • Santorum's response to Romney's support of Romneycare is pretty much what mine was. He highlights that Romney "just said that top-down government-run medicine in Massachusetts works well." He also points out that Obama is going to say the same thing in the general election, which is true. Romney and Santorum go back and forth a couple times, and Santorum is the clear winner, even judging by the crowd's response, which otherwise had been very pro-Romney. (+1)
  • What Hispanic leader would he consider for his Cabinet? Marco Rubio.
  • Why would his wife make a good first lady? He mentions the eight children they've had, one of whom died, and says his wife wrote a book about that experience that has saved "at least hundreds" of lives of people who would have been aborted, but were not because of the book.
  • He says, "I've been 100 percent in support of the Cuban people and their right to have a free Cuba," but not to the extent of actually reaching out to them through trade and freedom of travel. His idea of supporting the Cuban people is to make sure Americans can't buy anything from them. (-2)
  • He supports "self-determination" for Puerto Rico, saying, "I don't take a position one way or the other on statehood, commonwealth, independence, that's for the people of Puerto Rico to decide." (+1)
  • The Constitution is the "how of America," while the Declaration of Independence is the "why of America." He's very clear that our rights come from God, quoting the Declaration's line that we are "endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights."
  • Why is he the best to beat Obama? Because he opposed the bailouts, the individual mandate and cap & trade, unlike Gingrich and Romney, and because like Obama, he appeals to the manufacturing sector. He says his appeal to manufacturing is "the centerpoint of my campaign."

Newt Gingrich
  • In his introduction, he mentions that Jacksonville will be "the site of the next nuclear aircraft carrier battle group."
  • He wants to "fix legal immigration" to make it easier to immigrate legally than to do it illegally. This right here is the only real solution to illegal immigration, and I wish he spent more of his answer talking about it. As it was, he spent the rest of the answer talking about his draft-boards to decide case by case whether illegal immigrant grandmas should get to stay or not.
  • He's run an ad calling Romney "the most anti-immigrant candidate" according to Wolf Blitzer. Asked if he still believes that, Gingrich says yes, of the four on stage, Romney is the most anti-immigrant candidate, based on his attacks on Gingrich's plan to allow some illegals to stay in the country. They go back and forth a few times, neither of them saying very much of substance. Gingrich says grandmothers aren't going to self-deport, so we should allow them to "finish their life with dignity under the law."
  • In response to Romney's "language of the ghetto" ad, he says he never mentioned Spanish or called it that, but he does think English should be the "official language of government." He doesn't want people "trapped in a linguistics situation" because they don't know English. This argument simply doesn't make sense. What Newt is saying here is that there is a clear economic incentive for people who live in the United States to learn English... but that they won't do it unless government requires it. This is the kind of logic Obama has been following with the whole contraception mandate thing, and it doesn't work any better for Newt. (-1)
  • When Wolf Blitzer says they've verified that the "language of the ghetto" ad actually is from Romney's camp, Romney asks Gingrich directly if he said that. Gingrich says no, and that what he did say was taken out of context-- that we're better off if children learn English.
  • This time he's done his homework on his Freddie Mac relationship and comes out swinging, saying Romney has invested in not just Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, but also Goldman Sachs. I think this is just about as relevant as Newt's own work for Freddie, which is to say not at all, but it's still nice to see that he finally found a good answer on this issue.
  • That is, until Romney's answer, which pretty well blows Gingrich out of the water. Romney says they're in a blind trust (where the executor does not tell the owner what he's investing in to avoid conflicts of interest), and that Gingrich himself has also invested in Fannie and Freddie. Newt walked into his own trap on that one. (-1)
  • Regarding what he would actually do about Fannie and Freddie, he says he'd break them up into "five or six separate units," then slowly wean them off federal financing over a five year period.
  • In the wake of Santorum's call to "focus on the issues," Wolf Blitzer asks Gingrich whether he's satisfied with Romney's tax record release. Gingrich takes Santorum's stance and calls it a "nonsense question." When Blitzer insists, saying that Newt had brought it up on the campaign trail, Mitt speaks up and criticizes Gingrich for saying something on the campaign trail that he's not willing to defend face-to-face. Gingrich comes off looking pretty bad in the exchange, and goes on the offensive against Romney, criticizing him for having a Swiss bank account.
  • He says he wants a "Mitt Romney flat tax," where he brings everyone's taxes down to the 15% that Romney pays. He repeats his line that he wants "to shrink the government to fit the revenue, not to raise the revenue to catch up with the government."
  • Like Paul and Romney, he says he'd be happy to release his medical records, and adds that having watched Ron Paul campaign, Paul is in great shape.
  • Asked about his plan for a moon base, he doesn't actually talk about it. He does, however, say that the current bureaucracy at NASA has mismanaged our space program, and that with a focus on private sector involvement through prizes like the old aviation prizes, we could have a private sector race to the moon. He doesn't mention it, but the success of the Ansari X Prize and the excitement over the Google Lunar X Prize seem to support his position. (+1)
  • He says he agrees with Paul that space exploration should be done by the private sector, and that 90% of the spending under his program would ultimately come from the private sector. He wants "to get NASA out of the business of trying to run rockets, and to create a system where it's easy for private sector people to be engaged." He thinks that with private sector involvement, we'll eventually get to a point where space launches are commonplace. (+1)
  • In response to Romney's charge that he's telling every state what they want to hear, he says part of the job of the President is to pay attention to what the states want. In response to Santorum on the spending issue, he brings up the balanced budget of 1997, saying they doubled the size of the National Institute of Health even though they balanced the budget, because they prioritized. "It is possible to do the right things in the right order to make this a bigger, richer, more exciting country." (+1)
  • He says he agrees with Ron Paul that Social Security should be off-budget, but doesn't address the charge that if it had been off-budget, he wouldn't have balanced the budget.
  • Responding to the health insurance question, Gingrich very concisely says what I think Ron Paul was trying to say. "Dr. Paul is right. She ought to get the same tax break whether she buys [health insurance] personally or whether she buys through a company." He also advocates association insurance, and he says that we need to repeal Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley to get the economy going again. (+1)
  • On the individual mandate, he says he had founded the Center for Health Transformation, and had talked about the individual mandate with an escape clause at the state level, not at the federal level. That doesn't exactly make it better... (-1)
  • He speaks up after Ron Paul to say that health care was "fundamentally more flexible and less expensive" back when Paul was a physician in the 60s.
  • What Hispanic leader would he consider for his Cabinet? Susana Martinez, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and possibly Marco Rubio for "a slightly more dignified and central role than being in the Cabinet."
  • Why would his wife make a good first lady? "First of all, having gotten to know them, I think all three of the wives..." of his competitors would make good first ladies. Newt needs to be more careful about referencing "all three wives" in his answers... In his actual answer, he says she's very artistic, especially with music.
  • He mentions the "Romney attack machine," and claims it's distorting history to say that Newt wasn't as close to Reagan as he claims. Yawn.
  • He's "proud" of the Helms-Burton Act that reinforced the Cuban embargo in 1996, and he wants to encourage a Cuban Spring through a "stated explicit policy, that we want to facilitate the transition from the dictatorship to freedom." From where I'm sitting, those two statements don't fit together. (-1)
  • He stands by his statement that Palestinians are an invented people, saying they are "technically an invention of the late 1970s," and that they used to just be Arabs. He says Palestinians could have peace "any morning they are prepared to say Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we're going to live side-by-side."
  • He says he agrees with Romney that the President should seek God's guidance in making decisions. He adds that "if you're truly faithful," your belief will "suffuse your life" and be evident in whatever you're doing. He also makes clear that he believes there's a war on religion, and he would stand up to prevent that as President.
  • Why is he the best to beat Obama? He cites his involvement in "the two largest Republican sweeps in modern time," 1980 and 1994, and says he'll run "a big election with truly historic big choices."

Mitt Romney
  • In his introduction, he talks about his wife, his sons, his daughters-in-law and his grandkids.
  • He repeats his plan to require employers to check an immigrant's national ID card to hire them, saying the employer would be "severely sanctioned" if they hire someone without a card or with a counterfeit card. Nevermind the implications for a national ID card for citizens that I've raised before; Romney raises a whole new issue with counterfeit cards. If it's up to individual businesses to determine whether a card is counterfeit or not, just how much is that going to add to the cost of hiring someone? When businesses are already not hiring because they're overburdened with regulation and taxes, Romney wants to add a new regulation specifically targetting new hiring. How does anyone think that's a good idea? (-2)
  • In the same answer, he says we have a "responsibility" to the millions who are "waiting at home" in other countries to be told they've reached the front of the line and can immigrate legally. Apparently that "responsibility" doesn't extend to actually making it easier for them immigrate legally. It only extends to punishing those who aren't "waiting at home" because of our archaic immigration laws. (-1)
  • He says Gingrich calling him "anti-immigrant" is "absolutely inexcusable" and "repulsive." He says they have "differences of opinion on issues," but he doesn't deserve such "highly-charged epithets." They go back and forth a few times, neither of them saying very much of substance. Romney points out that his father was born in Mexico and his wife's father was born in Wales. The crowd absolutely loves him, for some reason.
  • Romney ends the immigration argument by saying "our problem is not 11 million grandmothers... Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants, would like to have." This is the crux of the bad economics that informs immigration opinions like Romney's. If 11 million illegal immigrants are takin' our jerbs, what jobs are the legal immigrants taking? For that matter, if immigrants only take jobs without creating more jobs (if they only add to labor supply and not labor demand), why doesn't that also apply to Americans who move between states? Or between counties? Or if you're Don Boudreaux, between households? (-1)
  • Wolf Blitzer asks about a Romney ad that claims Gingrich called Spanish "the language of the ghetto." Romney says he doesn't know anything about it, even though it apparently includes the legal notice "I’m Mitt Romney and I approve this message." (-1)
  • He says, "I believe English should be the official language of the United States, as it is." But it's not. The United States has no official language and never has. In the United States, our culture is determined by the people, not the government. (-1) 
  • When Wolf Blitzer says they've verified that the "language of the ghetto" ad actually is from Romney's camp, Romney asks Gingrich directly if he said that, and when Gingrich says no, Romney said we should "take a look at what he [Gingrich] said," seeming to stand by the ad's claim.
  • He criticizes Gingrich for working for Freddie Mac during the housing bubble, offering the memorable line, "we should have had a whistle-blower and not a horn-tooter." When Newt says Romney has investments in Fannie and Freddie, Romney says it doesn't matter because they're through a blind trust and mutual funds, then says Gingrich also has invested in mutual funds that have invested in Fannie and Freddie. 
  • He says his Swiss account had been managed as part of his blind trust, and had been fully reported in the US. Then he says, "Let's put behind us this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money," which is funny, because that's what Gingrich was trying to do before Romney insisted they talk about it.
  • He says, like Paul, that he'd be happy to release his medical records.
  • He says Newt's plan for a moon base would cost too much, and he'd rather spend the money on housing. He doesn't really have a plan for space, but would develop one in office through consultation with academia and industry. He likes manned spaceflight, but that's as much as he's willing to say. (-1)
  • He attacks Gingrich for advocating huge new spending projects in every state they visit on the campaign trail. While that's something I'd noticed in past debates, particularly South Carolina, attacking him for it on space is a bit weird. Gingrich has advocated a prize-based space program for years, going back to when he was in the House.
  • On health insurance, Romney says pretty much what Paul and Gingrich said on the tax disparity in health insurance, and like Gingrich, he says the other thing we need to do is get the economy going again. To do it, he says he'd lower corporate taxes, lower regulations, open up energy and crack down on China. I can't help but notice that one of these things is not like the others...
  • He says Romneycare is working "pretty well," and Massachusites like it 3:1. He says, "the people of each state should be able to craft programs that they feel are best for their people." He also says he would repeal Obamacare on "day one." I have a hard time believing that someone who still stands by the individual mandate as a good program would be that quick to repeal it at the federal level. I understand the federalism position, but giving any level of government the power to force individuals to purchase a private product as a condition of being alive is not a good idea, to put it mildly. (-2)
  • What Hispanic leader would he consider for his Cabinet? Brian Sandoval, Susana Martinez, the Diaz-Belart brothers, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mel Martinez, Marco Rubio and Carlos Gutierrez. If you interpret this question as "name as many Hispanic politicians as you can," Romney wins hands down.
  • Why would his wife make a good first lady? She's battled both multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, and will be able to reach out to Americans who are suffering, especially young women.
  • Gingrich was "of course" closer to the Reagan era that Romney was, since Romney was in the private sector at the time.
  • He wants more free trade agreements throughout South America, but opposes free trade with Cuba. He says freedom for Cubans is a "God-given right" that we shouldn't do anything to support until "Fidel Castro finally leaves this planet." Since Fidel is no longer in power, I'm not sure why that should matter unless, as I pondered in the last debate, Romney doesn't actually know that Raul is in power now, not Fidel. (-1)
  • Asked about peace between Israel and Palestine by a self-identified Palestinian-American Republican, Romney says, "the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, we stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel." It's a very strong answer, and he says it with conviction, on a question where it would have been very easy to tone down the rhetoric and play to both sides. (+1)
  • He says he agrees with Ron Paul on religious beliefs, though he adds that he would seek God's guidance on critical decisions. He says America was founded on "Judeo-Christian values and ethics," and he would uphold those values.
  • Why is he the best to beat Obama? We need to change Washington, and he is the only candidate left who has not spent his career in Washington.

Ron Paul
  • In his introduction, Ron Paul is the only one to actually talk about real issues, bringing up in a few seconds monetary policy, a gold standard and military policy. (+1 for bringing up the issues, even if I disagree on some of them)
  • On immigration he makes a good point, saying "the way we're handling our borders is actually hurting our economy," although he seems to be talking about loss of tourism rather than more general deadweight loss. But then he repeats his old talking point about bringing the resources now on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and putting them on ours. Is he talking about actual militarization of the border with this talking point, or is he talking about financial resources? He's never made that clear, at least that I've seen, but it's an important distinction.
  • What should we do about left-leaning governments in Latin America? Paul says, "I think free trade is the answer," including with Cuba. (+2)
  • In South America, we can get what Santorum wants without resorting to using force or payouts to "bully" those nations around. I don't think Santorum was talking about using force-- I think Paul here is jumping to the wrong conclusion. Although to be fair, I don't know what Santorum really did mean, so maybe I'm wrong.
  • On the Fannie and Freddie spat between Gingrich and Romney, and on their investments, Paul says, "that subject really doesn't interest me a whole lot," and instead he talks about actual issues surrounding housing. He says Fannie and Freddie should've been auctioned off years ago; that he opposes the Community Reinvestment Act; and that he wanted to shut down their special line of credit from the Fed ten years before the crash. It's a great answer. He brushes off the inconsequential bickering that Romney and Gingrich got themselves mired in and zeroes in on the real policy issues that the campaign should be about in the first place. (+2)
  • He wants to get rid of the Sixteenth Amendment, which allows for the income tax. He goes on to say, "I understand and really empathize with the people who talk about the 99 percent and the 1 percent." (-1)
  • Asked about his age and health, he says he would "obviously" be willing to release his health records, and is willing to challenge any of the other candidates to a 25-mile bike ride in the Texas heat.
  • He supports space spending for national security, but doesn't think we should spend any money on space science. He says he doesn't like the idea of government-business partnerships, but he misses the point that Newt's prize structure is designed to avoid explicit partnerships in the first place. Contracts aren't awarded to government partners, and indeed no contracts are awarded at all-- rather, the prize money is awarded to those who actually succeed at the tasks. (-1)
  • Regarding the balanced budgets of the 90s, Paul says the national debt actually increased in those years because it doesn't count Social Security. I'm not sure about the details here, and Paul doesn't go into them.
  • An audience member says she's unemployed and can't afford health insurance. I think I agree with Paul's answer, but it's not a very direct answer. He says people should have individual health insurance, not employer-provided health insurance, and that we should get a total deduction for health spending on our taxes. I like that as far as it goes, but he goes back and forth between that idea and medical inflation, ending by saying the government caused the recession. It dilutes his answer and I wasn't actually able to figure out what he was saying until I went back to the transcript and picked it apart. Still, I do agree with most of it. (+1)
  • Asked whether Santorum or Romney was right about health care, he says, "I think they're all wrong," because they're just "arguing about which form of government you want," when we should be getting government out of health care. He's right, but I think he missed the point that that's what Santorum was also saying.
  • What Hispanic leader would he consider for his Cabinet? He won't name any names, but rather talks about issues, saying he would want someone who understands monetary policy and non-interventionist foreign policy. (+1 even if I mostly disagree with him on those issues, because he's the only one of the four to use this question to actually talk about issues)
  • Why would his wife make a good first lady? He says they've been married for 54 years, they have five children and 18 grandchildren, and she wrote a cookbook.
  • On Cuba, he says, "as well intended as these sanctions are, they almost inevitably backfire and they help the dictators and hurt the people." Right on target, although he does take awhile to get there. (+1)
  • His religious beliefs affect his character and his lifestyle choices, but they wouldn't affect his Presidential decisions, as those would be based on the oath of office and his campaign promises.
  • Why is he the best to beat Obama? He mentions that polls have indicated he would do well in the general election, and says the message of liberty appeals to people in both parties, because it supports both free markets and civil liberties.

Adding up the scores, Romney once again was the clear loser with -9. Santorum got -2 and Gingrich 0, and Ron Paul took a surprise lead with +6, which I think is the highest I've ever rated him.

As in other debates, Mitt Romney really said very little I agree with. He defended the individual mandate and had a whole lot of nonsense to say about immigration. His best answer by far was the one he gave on Israel and Palestine towards the end of the debate, but by then it was too little, too late.

I didn't think Rick Santorum did himself any favors in this debate, either. He did the best in his attacks on Gingrich and Romney over health care, but he was much weaker on the economy and downright confusing on trade.

Newt Gingrich had a very ho-hum debate. A lot of it was focused on meaningless issues, like his and Romney's investments, or how close he actually was to Reagan. He momentarily tried to get past that, at Santorum's urging, but quickly went back to it when it was clear Romney wasn't going to leave it behind.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, had a great debate. Where the other three got angry and protested the pointlessness of the questions, he quietly and persistently pressed the issues in question after meaningless question. There were times he seemed to jump to the wrong conclusions about the others' positions, and other times he diluted his answer with some rambling, but when he was on target, he was really on target. It also helped that the issues where I disagree with him were mostly kept out of this debate.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Social Security and The Payroll Tax Cut

Last Friday, Congress passed another extension to the payroll tax cut. It looks like this one will last until the end of 2012, at least. This has always been an issue that seemed like a slam dunk to me, especially for conservatives and libertarians. We spend so much time saying taxes are too high, so when one of the most liberal Presidents in living memory actually wants to cut taxes, why would we ever say no? Nevertheless, many Republicans and even a few libertarians I admire have resisted this tax cut, allowing the media to paint this most recent extension as "handing President Barack Obama a major victory in this election year" (that's Reuters at the Yahoo link above).

Even though this isn't likely to come up again for another ten months or so, I left a comment on Coyote's post above, and I'd like to echo those ideas here. If taxes are too high, I think we should cut them any chance we can, because we don't get too many chances. But the main issue with the payroll tax cut, for me, is how it relates to Social Security reform.

The Personal Case for Reform
I'm young enough that two things are true for me when it comes to Social Security:

1) The Cliff. The program isn't going to be there for me when I retire, not without major cuts to benefits or major tax increases. The most relevant graph is on slide 15 of this CBO report, reproduced at right. Although revenues are projected to stay rather constant, outlays are already greater than revenues and are expected to grow even more. That is, they're expected to grow until the trust fund runs out in the late 2030s, and the "payable benefits" line has a dramatic cliff. Suffice it to say, my earliest-possible retirement date doesn't come until after that cliff.

There are some (relatively) minor changes that could be made to push that cliff back a few years, such as raising the retirement age, raising the tax rate, changing the cost-of-living adjustment calculation, means testing benefits, etc. We might even push it back a few decades, but this ignores that in 2008 (PDF), the cliff wasn't supposed to come until the late 2040s. In less than four years, the cliff is some fourteen years closer. Considering demographics, including the high probability of advances in life extension, pushing the cliff back will only be a temporary solution (and we may not succeed at pushing it back in the first place).

2) There is still hope. If we do manage to enact meaningful reform (meaning some kind of personal accounts that move us away from pay-as-you-go), my retirement is far enough in the future that I have time to save up enough for my own retirement within the new system.

For these reasons, I personally hope that we switch to something like the Chilean model as soon as possible.

The Societal Case for Reform
Obviously, not everyone will be persuaded to do what is best for me alone, but I also believe that this is the best approach for the rest of society as well. The two facts above are even more true for everyone younger than me, and they are also mostly true for those a few years older than me. On the other hand, no serious proposed Social Security reform touches those who are already on benefits, and most don't change the program at all for those 55 or older, so those two groups won't see any difference anyway.

Those who stand to lose the most from immediate reform are therefore those in the 40-55 age range. However, given probable medical advances in the coming decades, those who are now in their 40s and 50s can likely expect to live to their 80s, 90s or beyond. They will live past the approaching cliff, and will have to deal with the same cuts in benefits that I would. The difference is that, unlike me, they might be able to push the cliff past their own deaths with only minor reforms.

The Payroll Tax Cut
The Social Security trust fund is held in Treasury securities. Like all Treasury securities, when the securities in the trust fund are redeemed, they are paid for from the general fund. Since the Social Security Administration is now running on a deficit, redeeming the Treasury securities it holds, Social Security benefits are already being paid for, in part, by the general fund. That general fund comes from all the other taxes we pay. The Social Security trust fund is real, but it is funded through general tax dollars, not through some special pile of cash we've kept separate from the rest of the economy somehow

This is a marvelous accounting gimmick. Indeed, from my view, the biggest argument against Social Security reform today is the false idea that nothing is wrong because we have the trust fund. Therefore, anything we can do to dispel this idea will be useful in achieving real reform early enough to make a difference for people like me.

How do we dispel this false idea? Well, education, partly through blog posts like this, is one way to do it. But a more effective way is to erase the accounting gimmick itself-- that is, draw down the trust fund until no one is able to ignore that coming cliff. The payroll tax cut accomplishes exactly that. If we keep the tax cut in place, Social Security runs a larger annual deficit, and has to draw down the trust fund faster than planned. The sooner we draw down the trust fund, the sooner we'll see real reform.

With the payroll tax cut, we're more likely to see real Social Security reform sooner. Add to that the libertarian-minded benefit of cutting any tax and the economics-minded benefit of giving every worker a little extra take-home pay, and, as I see it, extending the payroll tax cut is a clear victory for the good guys.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Libertarian Purity Test

Bryan Caplan, who blogs at EconLog, has a "Libertarian Purity Test" that I decided to take. Out of 160 points, I scored a measly 47, four points below his threshold for "medium-core libertarian." For scores between 31-50 points, he says, "Your libertarian credentials are obvious. Doubtlessly you will become more extreme as time goes on."

Some of the answers, especially in Part III, that he considers "libertarian," I would consider straight up "anarchist." I think libertarianism is distinct from anarchism in that libertarianism realizes there are some legitimate roles for government, while anarchism does not. While Caplan would consider a score of 160 a "perfect libertarian," I would consider that person an anarchist, not a libertarian. Otherwise, why the need for two separate words, other than branding?

Part I has 30 questions, and I answered "yes" for 25 of them. Below are the five questions for which I answered "no" for various reasons.

Are worker safety regulations too strict? I have no idea one way or the other. Back in my factory days, I remember safety was usually heavily emphasized, and I don't know how much of that was due to regulation or not. On the other hand, a heavy emphasis on safety seemed appropriate.

Does the Federal Reserve have too much discretionary power? It may, although I don't think it should follow some programmatic rule. On the other hand, I don't feel like I've researched "free money" theories adequately enough to be comfortable supporting them.

Should marijuana be legalized? If I was building society from scratch, I would probably make it mostly legal, and I think it at least should be allowed in certain medical situations with the same oversight as other prescriptions. On the other hand, I'm not persuaded by most of the arguments of the pro-legalization crowd; I think they tend to overlook path dependency.

Should all sex between consenting adults be legal -- even for money? Leaving aside the issue of prostitution, there are cases I believe where sex between consenting adults should not be legal -- for instance, between a police officer and someone they have under arrest.

Does the U.S. intervene too much in other countries? Perhaps, although there are also cases, such as Syria at the moment, where I think the US does not intervene enough.

Part II has 20 questions, and I answered "no" for 16 of them. Most of these questions take the form "Should we abolish X?" Although I believe many of these things should be curtailed, sometimes dramatically, I don't necessarily support complete abolishment. Some questions where I want to comment, including the four for which I answered "yes":

Should we abolish Social Security? Should we abolish Medicare? I think both of these programs would be dramatically improved through privatization and some kind of personal account scheme along the lines of the Chilean model. I'm sure progressives would call it abolishment, but I wouldn't. Privatization of these programs, which would ultimately move them completely off-budget since the personal accounts would pay for themselves, also allows me to answer "yes" to the two questions about reducing taxes and spending by 50%, when combined with some other reasonable cuts.

Would you abolish at least half of existing federal regulatory agencies? Yes, although this is mostly because I think we should consolidate many of the regulatory agencies to eliminate overhead.

Should immigration laws be abolished? I interpret this narrowly as laws regarding actual immigration. That is, I do not think governments have any business saying where people can live or work based simply on where they were born. On the other hand, I do think there is a role for border security, although I would prefer it to be far less intrusive and arbitrary than it currently is.

Should the Supreme Court strike down economic regulation as unconstitutional? While I'm tempted to say yes, I don't know enough about what would constitutionally be considered "economic regulation" to be comfortable actually saying yes. Constitutional law has some bizarre definitions from an economic viewpoint, like the tax/penalty distinction.

Part III has 14 questions, and I answered "no" for 12 of them. The two for which I answered "yes":

Should highways and roads be privatized? I'm not sure they all necessarily should, but in general I think we'd be better off with more privatized infrastructure.

Is it morally permissible to exercise "vigilante justice," even against government leaders? Certainly not always, and not in general. But in certain very narrowly-defined cases, I would say yes, it may be morally permissible. For example, most people probably consider Claus von Stauffenberg a hero, even though what he tried to do amounts to "vigilante justice" against a government leader.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Eighteenth Republican Primary Debate (FL)

The eighteenth debate was held in Florida on Monday, January 23rd, in anticipation of that state's primary on the 31st. This was the second debate with only four candidates-- Rick Santorum, who had won Iowa; Mitt Romney, who had won New Hampshire; Newt Gingrich, who had won South Carolina; and Ron Paul, who is yet to win any state. The full video is here, and a transcript is here.

To get any potential biases out of the way, I've lately been leaning towards Newt Gingrich as the best of a bad field. I don't like his support for government-sponsored enterprise, and he favors more government involvement in the economy than I do, but he would at least be better than the status quo, and in most areas, I believe he would move us in the right direction.

While I like Ron Paul's support for liberty, I don't like his support for conspiracy theories, his wholesale adoption of Austrian economics, or his opposition to the Fed, all of which could easily make things worse in this country, and do lasting damage to the libertarian cause. Considering his reputation as a principled anti-politician, it's been very interesting as a libertarian to see how the areas where he supports more government power so neatly line up with his own interests.

Speaking of positions lining up with one's own interests, Mitt Romney really is the consummate politician. He's never afraid to contradict himself within a debate or even within a single answer, and if he sees the inherent contradictions in his beliefs, he gives no indication of it. I generally don't like criticizing people for changing their views, since that's something we should encourage when it's genuine, but sometimes it really seems like even Romney doesn't know which side of the issue he's supposed to be on now.

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, clearly believes in his positions. I just think they're the wrong positions. Like Obama, Santorum believes that the economy is something to be controlled, to be directed. He wants more manufacturing, whether or not that's what the economy really needs, and he wants the general election to be about social issues and family values, whether or not voters will actually care. I respect him as a man, but not as a candidate.

As always, I've summarized the candidates' answers below, and scored and responded to them along the way.

Rick Santorum
  • Eleven-and-a-half minutes into the 86-minute debate, Santorum gets his first question, about his own electability. He says the idea that it's a two-person race has been fashionable and been proven wrong again and again. He says he won Pennsylvania twice, and can win it as President.
  • When it's pointed out that he also lost Pennsylvania, very badly, he says that year, 2006, was a bad year for Republicans all around, and the Republican gubernatorial candidate lost by more than he did. But he says rather than hunkering down and trying to slide by, he stood up for what he believed and lost.
  • He says he doesn't criticize Romney for his success in the private sector, but rather for supporting the bank bailouts. He says if Romney and Gingrich really believe in capitalism, they should also support "destructive capitalism," referring to Schumpeterian creative destruction, although he doesn't call it by name. He says we should have allowed those companies to go through the bankruptcy process. He's absolutely right, and it's nice to hear a reference to creative destruction even if not by name. (+1)
  • He says the government, through Fannie and Freddie, did make it easier than it should have been to get a mortgage. He says now we should "let capitalism work," by creating a special tax deduction for homeowners' whose homes have lost value so that they "get some relief from the federal government." I don't think he understands what that word "capitalism" means. (-1)
  • The sanctions against Cuba are "an important doctrine" that we've had for fifty years and we should keep. Because they've worked so well for the last fifty years! (-1)
  • He says Obama's Iran policy has been "a colossal failure," and says they've committed acts of war against us already by holding hostages, by sending IEDs to Iraq and Afghanistan, training people to fight us there, attacking ships and embassies and plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador. He says, "It would be reckless not to do something to stop them from getting this nuclear weapon."
  • He says that the economy is bad because of the 2008 oil price spike, which has for some time been one of my favored explanations for the whole recession, albeit one that doesn't get much coverage in the press. It's nice to hear someone mention it directly. He says the best way to help Florida's tourism economy is to keep gas prices low through developing domestic oil resources, including expanded pipelines in the Gulf and the Keystone pipeline. (+1) 
  • On immigration, he says that illegal immigrants don't just break the law once when they cross the border illegally; rather, they continue to break the law by working as illegal immigrants, which is itself illegal. For me, this highlights the sheer idiocy of our current immigration law. When something as basic and fundamental to human life as working at any job is illegal, the problem is not with those who break the law. The problem is with the law itself. (-2)
  • Terri Schiavo's parents were his constituents when the whole controversy erupted, and at the time he advocated that an impartial federal judge take a look at the issue, but he had not advocated for Congressional action. He says in the same situation, he would do the same thing again. Asked specifically about DNR orders, he says he does not believe they are immoral, but doesn't address the broader right to die issue. (+1)
  • He says the "biggest issue" in the election will be Obamacare, and he criticizes Romney for Romneycare, and Gingrich for supporting the individual mandate for so long. He also criticizes both of them for supporting Cap and Trade and the bailouts, saying they're no different from Obama on the issues that got the Tea Party started. (+1)

Mitt Romney
  • He says the election is "about leadership," because we're "looking for a person who can lead this country in a very critical time." I know this is a popular turn of phrase, especially among conservatives who criticize Obama for not leading. But I don't want a leader. I don't want to elect someone to tell me what to do. I want someone who, once elected, will get the government out of the way and let us all lead our own lives. (-1)
  • He says while Gingrich was in government, Romney himself was running his own business, and when Gingrich "had to resign in disgrace" and became an "influence peddler," Romney was turning around the Olympics and the state of Massachusetts. He also brings up Newt's couch moment with Nancy Pelosi, and his "right-wing social engineering" quote. It's a pretty effective line of attack. (+1)
  • He trumpets his own Reagan connections, saying the conservatives in New Hampshire supported him even more than they had Reagan. He also criticizes Newt for being the first Speaker to leave the House completely, and also for his lobbying connection to Freddie Mac.
  • The moderator points out that in the previous debate, Romney had said he wanted to focus on Obama instead of the other candidates, yet he's dramatically upped his negativity towards Gingrich. He says, "I'll tell you why, which is I learned something from that last contest in South Carolina," where he lost horribly to Gingrich. He goes on to talk about the attacks coming at him, and says if he's being attacked, he's going to go on the attack too, but it's still an unfortunate soundbite.
  • Asked about his own tax records, he deflects to talk about his tax plan. Normally, I find not answering the question annoying, but in this case, he's actually talking about a relevant issue instead of the inane question. He says he wants to eliminate savings taxes for those making under $200,000, lower the corporate tax rate to 25%, and do something "akin to" the Bowles-Simpson plan. That would be a good start, at least. (+1)
  • He's "proud of the fact that I pay a lot of taxes," but also says he doesn't pay a dollar more than legally required. He also says he disagrees with his father's precedent of releasing twelve years of tax returns, and says instead he'll release two. He says he expected attacks from the left on his success in private business, but he didn't expect such attacks to come from other Republicans.
  • He says he would have paid zero taxes over the last two years under Gingrich's plan, which brings the capital gains tax to zero.
  • He attacks Gingrich for being hired by a lobbyist at Freddie Mac, implying Gingrich was himself a lobbyist, and for his public support for GSEs. In the ensuing back-and-forth, they often talk over each other, touching on unimportant issues like Bain's gross revenue, but on the whole, Mitt shows he has a lot thicker skin than he used to when Perry was still in the race. He stays cool, he keeps pressing the attack, and even if the whole topic is generally unimportant, he still comes out ahead. (+1)
  • He agrees with Ron Paul on getting the government out of housing, but he also wants to "help people see if they can't get more flexibility from their banks." I'm not sure how he wants to use government to do that.
  • "Markets have to have regulation to work-- you can't have everybody open up a bank in their garage." ...I'm not sure what to say. You know, either you believe in the free market or you don't, and if you do, you don't say things like that. (-2)
  • What would he do if Fidel Castro died and "half a million Cubans" took that as an opportunity to escape and come to Florida? He ignores what he'd do about the half a million Cubans, and says he would "work very aggressively with the new leadership" to move them towards openness, but he would oppose allowing travel and trade to Cuba. His answer suggests he may not know that Raul Castro, not Fidel, has actually been in power since 2008... (-1)
  • He says Iran closing the Strait of Hormuz is "of course" an act of war, and then makes a surprising claim-- "Our Navy is now smaller than any time since 1917." Could that be true? In a word, no. It's not true as measured by the number of active-duty ships-- there were fewer under Dubya. It's certainly not true that the modern Navy is less capable than 1917, when, for example, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines simply didn't exist. (Indeed, the above link notes that the Pentagon's official policy is that "at any given time, Iran faces more U.S. sea power than most of the world’s navies — especially its own — can offer.") Even Fox News says our Navy is "larger than the navies of the next several nations combined," and that under Obama there are already plans to increase the number of ships by nearly 10% over the next few years. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in 2009, when the number of ships was 285, the same as it is now, that the Navy's "battle fleet is still larger than the next 13 navies combined — and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies or partners." Romney is pretty decisively wrong here. (-2)
  • Asked how we end the war in Afghanistan without talking to the Taliban, he says "by beating them." I think that's a fairly simplistic way to look at it... (-1)
  • He wants to "encourag[e] people through every means possible" to learn English, because they need to learn English "to be successful." If that's true, and if you believe in the free market, you should expect people to learn English on their own, without government "encouraging" them to do so. That said, most of his answer focuses on teaching children in English in school, and that I think is a good thing, because they are children. At the same time, I don't think adults who don't speak English need to be treated like children too. (-1)
  • He speaks up to say he agrees with Gingrich on the DREAM Act-- that he supports allowing illegal immigrant children to gain citizenship through military service, but not through attending college. (-1)
  • He advocates "self-deportation," rather than rounding up illegal immigrants, saying that if we make it impossible for them to get jobs in the US, they'll deport themselves. He again mentions his plan to require a national ID card for immigrants, and again makes no mention of the requirements that would place on non-immigrants. (-1)
  • Asked about sugar subsidies and donations to his campaign from the sugar industry, he very quickly says he doesn't like subsidies, and then switches to criticizing Obama on just about everything, from unemployment to housing to oil to NASA. It sounds partly like a closing statement and partly like he really didn't want to talk about sugar subsidies and had to quickly find something else to talk about.
  • Space exploration "should certainly be a priority." He criticizes Obama's handling of NASA for hurting Florida and people on the space coast. Now I support space exploration, but the purpose of funding NASA is not to provide jobs to Floridians. It says something about Romney's economic beliefs that this is the first benefit of space exploration he mentions, even before science or commercial or military benefits.
  • His number one success in "further[ing] the cause of conservatism" is... raising a family. Wow. Not that raising a family isn't important, but it's not something I'd list first, especially not when the other three people on stage also have raised families. At least his answer gets better, citing his private sector experience, and his work as governor of Massachusetts, particularly cutting taxes, putting money in the rainy day fund and requiring English immersion in schools. No mention of health care reform, though.
  • Asked specifically about health care, he does defend Romneycare, saying it's "working for our state," and that Massachusetts has the constitutional authority to do it. He then says the federal government does not have the constitutional authority to do it, and he would repeal Obamacare. By emphasizing the federalism argument, he accepts that government forcing you to buy a private company's product is acceptable and even good under certain circumstances. I just don't accept that. (-1)
  • "We're still a great nation, but a great nation doesn't have so many people suffering." So, which is it? (-1)

Newt Gingrich
  • Criticized between debates by Romney, who had said Gingrich would provide an "October surprise a day," Gingrich likens himself to Reagan who started off 1980 behind and had been criticized for his "voodoo economics," yet went on to win. Newt says he wants to change Washington and challenge the Washington establishment and that requires someone who isn't afraid to be controversial when necessary. I think it's one of the great ironies of this race that "the establishment" has become synonymous with someone who spent most of his life in the private sector, and the challenger to the establishment is someone who has spent decades in Washington and was once third in line to the Presidency. (-1)
  • When the moderator asks Gingrich about "your problems" and leaving the speakership in the 90s, Newt points instead to his accomplishments before leaving, including welfare reform, balancing the budget and low unemployment.
  • Responding to Romney's attack, he says Romney said "at least four things that were false," but "I don't want to waste the time on them." Instead, he plugs his website. Really? What happened to Newt being a good debater? (-1)
  • He criticizes Romney's grasp of history, saying he was reprimanded on the ethics charges after asking Republicans to vote yes to get it behind him, and that this was done in January 1997, nearly two years before the election of 1998 that led to Gingrich stepping down. He says even in 1998, they still won a majority, even if the margin was lower than he wanted, making him the first Speaker since the 20s who had overseen three consecutive Republican victories. He then criticizes Romney for overseeing a loss of governorships while he chaired the Governors Association, and a loss of Republican seats in the Massachusetts legislature while he was governor.
  • He talks about his idea for a "gold commission," examining switching back to the gold standard, which he's bantered about in his campaign but which hasn't before this gotten any attention in the debates. He says there are issues where he disagrees "very deeply" with Ron Paul, but that they agree on more between each other than either does with Obama. (-1 for the gold standard stuff)
  • Talking about Mitt's tax rate, he says he wants to bring everyone down to Mitt's 15% rate, not make him pay more. (+1)
  • In response to Mitt paying zero tax if the capital gains rate goes to zero, he says his "number-one goal is to create a maximum number of jobs," and zero capital gains tax is the way to do that. (+1)
  • He says he's "never, ever" been a lobbyist. He says there are people on the relevant housing and oversight committees willing to testify that he never lobbied them, and they even brought an expert in to speak to their four small businesses about "the bright line" between what they can and cannot do before being a lobbyist, and they've stayed away from that line. I know I'm not exactly in the mainstream here, but I don't see anything explicitly wrong with actually being a lobbyist, so I'm spending of this part of the debate watching the clock and marvelling at how little discussion of the actual issues there has been with the debate nearly one-third over.
  • He points to telephone and electric utilities and federal credit unions as good examples of GSEs, and defends the GSE model in general. He seems to support GSEs as a matter of principle. I think GSEs are an improvement over complete government control of an industry, but they're a step back from a true free market. I don't get the impression that Newt sees the importance of opportunity cost here. (-1)
  • He says his company was paid $300,000 a year by Freddie Mac, but his individual portion was closer to $35,000 a year. In a back-and-forth where he and Romney often talk over each other, he asks what Bain's gross revenue was to make the point that what Freddie Mac paid his company was not what he was paid. He ultimately says he supported Medicare Part D as a private citizen speaking openly in public, not as a lobbyist speaking in private. Although he makes some good points, he comes across as very flustered in this exchange, and even if the content is mostly irrelevant, it still makes Newt look pretty bad. (-1)
  • He says "of course" the financial system is overregulated, and if we repealed Dodd-Frank today, we'd see an improvement in the housing market tomorrow. (+1)
  • He wants "to do everything we can to support those Cubans who want freedom," and advocates "aggressively" encouraging a Cuban Spring. The moderator asks if he means covertly or overtly, and although Newt says we need to "every asset available," he stresses covert operations. It'd be nice if there was less talk of actual aggression and overt action, but I really like that he's not afraid to stand up for the freedom of Cubans. (+1)
  • He says Americans like peace, and we didn't want to go to war in Afghanistan, or in Japan in WWII, but we did because we were defending ourselves. He criticizes Obama for appearing weak before Iran, and says that weakness just encourages them to think they could actually succeed in closing the Strait of Hormuz.
  • The moderator says that despite Gingrich wanting English to be the official language, he's been sending out press releases in Spanish. Gingrich says it's okay for a campaign "to go to people on their terms in their culture," but not for government services like printing election ballots to do the same. He argues from an historian's perspective that we need "a central language" that gives us "a common bond." I know a bit too much about my Scottish heritage to accept government intervention pushing the English language. (-1)
  • He supports the part of the DREAM Act that would allow people brought to the country illegally as children who then join the military to "earn" their citizenship, but does not support extending the same privilege to those who go to college. (-1)
  • On sugar subsidies, he says "an ideal world" would have "an open market," but that he spent so much time and effort trying to reform agriculture as Speaker--and failing--that he thinks the agriculture lobby is probably too strong to see any real change. It's an odd and refreshingly honest way to answer the question. (+1)
  • He compares the Terri Schiavo case to people on death row, saying that they automatically get an appeal to a federal court, but that Schiavo didn't. He supports the "right to have your own end-of-life prescription," but that it's also appropriate to have "a bias in favor of life," and have judicial review over cases like Schiavo's. (+1)
  • He wants to see "vastly more" of NASA's funding go towards encouraging private sector innovation through prizes like the old aviation prizes and the current X prizes. He sees some of those prizes being for establishing a permanent presence on the moon, for getting to Mars, and for building a series of space stations. This is possibly Gingrich's strongest area, and if he doesn't win the Presidency, I hope he at least gets put in charge of NASA. (+2)
  • He says the Bush tax cuts likely prevented the 2001 recession from getting worse, but he also points to the regulatory burden holding back jobs. He mentions the North Dakota oil boom, and says it's possible because that oil was found on private land. He says if it had been found on public land, North Dakota would have 8+% unemployment like the rest of the country, instead of 3.2% like they have now. (+1)
  • On what he's done to advance conservatism, he has a very long list, from working with Goldwater and Reagan to helping elect the first Republican House majority since 1954 and the first re-elected majority since 1928. (+1)
  • He says he agrees with Santorum that the issues facing the next President will be very difficult to solve, especially in the face of "entrenched bureaucracy," which is why he asks people to be "with" him instead of "for" him. It's a nice pat stump speech kind of answer to a pretty pointless question.

Ron Paul
  • Paul doesn't get his first question until about fourteen-and-a-half minutes into the 86-minute debate. He downplays the idea that the election can be decided by three states, and says he's doing as well or better than the others in polls against Obama. He also says the House was "chaotic" and "a mess" under Gingrich, and continued to be a mess once Gingrich left. He says Gingrich didn't step down as Speaker voluntarily, but rather would not have been able to win because he didn't have the votes within the House.
  • Asked if he would "go your own way," he says, "Well, I have done a lot of that in my lifetime." The moderator clarifies, and asks about a third-party candidacy, and says he doesn't have any plans to do it. Asked if he would support a Gingrich candidacy, he says he likes Newt's attack on the Fed and his talk about gold, and just wants him to change his foreign policy.
  • In a wide-ranging answer to a question on housing, he criticizes the Fed's lending during the financial crisis, TARP, federal control of interest rates and government involvement in housing. He says government created the housing problem, so the best thing to do now is "get out of the way."
  • He would do "pretty much the opposite" of Newt when it comes to Cuba, although he says he doesn't like "the isolationism of not talking to people." Then he goes on to criticize the sanctions, comparing them to "the Dark Ages," although that wasn't at all the impression I got from Newt's answer.
  • In regards to Iran, "the act of war has already been committed," and we're the ones who did it, by blockading Iran. (-1)
  • He says "obviously" we need one language at the national level "for legal reasons," but that he's fine with states or local governments providing services like ballots in multiple languages. I don't quite follow what "legal reasons" would necessitate a single language at the national level but not at subnational levels, and he doesn't get the time to elaborate.
  • Asked about a joint federal-state program to restore the Everglades, it's clear he doesn't know anything about the program. Which is fine, because neither do I.
  • On Terri Schiavo's case, he prefers if such cases are kept at the state level, and takes the opportunity to remind everyone to get a living will.
  • He says he defines conservatism as "small government and more liberty." He says most conservatives don't want to cut overseas spending, but we can't afford it anymore. (+1)

Of all the debates, I think this one felt the most pointless. It was almost entirely a Gingrich-Romney debate, with Santorum and Paul not even getting questions until more than 11 and more than 14 minutes into the debate, respectively. The only substantive issue covered in the first half hour was tax policy, and that was only covered by Romney in an attempt to dodge the actual question about his own tax records. And while it's nice to see local issues brought up in some debates, apparently NBC thinks Terri Schiavo is still a pressing issue for Floridians.

Summing up the points, this debate makes very clear that I support Not-Romney. The three Not-Romney candidates were pretty close; Gingrich got +3 while Paul and Santorum both got 0. Romney blew them all away with a -9.

Contrary to my expectations, Rick Santorum got the most points on economics, with his references to Schumpeterian creative destruction and the oil price spike explanation for the Great Recession. He lost the most points on immigration and foreign policy, specifically his opposition to illegal immigrants having jobs and his support for continued sanctions against Cuba.

Mitt Romney had a decent debate until they started talking about actual issues. Once they got away from the opening spat between him and Gingrich, Romney fell off a cliff. He once again defended Romneycare, made a ridiculous claim about the Navy, and repeated his national ID card plan. More significantly though, after spending a good portion of the first half hour defending capitalism and his own experience and understanding of the free market, he completely forgot about the it in the rest of the debate. He thinks we need regulation to prevent everybody opening their own banks in their garages; he wants to use "every means possible" to push the English language on people; he sees NASA's purpose as creating jobs for Floridians. Plus, he defends Romneycare again. If he supports capitalism and the free market, he certainly has different definitions for those terms than I do.

Newt Gingrich took most of the debate to find his footing, making a few unforced errors early on and letting Romney get under his skin. He also repeats his support for GSEs (note that my opening comments were written before watching the debate), and for making English the official language, two things I do not support. On the other hand, he said almost exactly what I wanted to hear on Cuba, and once again got to talk about his plan for NASA, which is probably his strongest point on any issue.

Ron Paul didn't get a question until more than one-sixth of the way through the debate, and even then his question was about Gingrich. He didn't get much of a chance to make a very big impression in this debate either way. I really don't like his tactic on Iran, saying that we have actually already committed an act of war, since that implies Iran would be perfectly justified in attacking us at this point. But even that was something he said in passing almost, and he balanced it out with his discussion of liberty and the role of government at the end.

Overall, this debate makes me feel a bit better about Santorum and a bit worse about Gingrich, and a lot worse about NBC's ability to conduct a relevant debate.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Seventeenth Republican Primary Debate (SC)

The seventeenth debate was held in South Carolina on Thursday January 19th, in anticipation of that state's primary on Saturday. Rick Perry dropped out before the debate, making this the first debate with only four candidates-- Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. The full video is here, and a transcript is here.

To get any potential biases out of the way, I've lately been leaning towards Gingrich. Ron Paul is too involved in conspiracy theories, and despite my libertarian leanings, I think having Paul as the national spokesman for libertarianism hurts the cause far more than it helps. Romney, Santorum and Gingrich all have their own special big government preferences, but if I have to put up with one of them, I'd rather it be Gingrich. Romney seems like he's not even sure himself what he believes, contradicting himself debate to debate, and sometimes even within a debate or within a single answer. Gingrich and Santorum know what they believe, but for the most part, I think Santorum believes in the wrong things. Santorum would try to make the general election about social issues and family values, when I think all the voters care about right now is the economy. Gingrich, for all his faults, understands that.

As always, I've summarized the candidates answers below, and scored and responded to them along the way.

Rick Santorum
  • In his introduction, he thanks the people of Iowa for his just-announced victory there.
  • Asked if Gingrich's past is an issue, he says, "I thank God for forgiveness," and that although voters will look at all of the candidate's personal lives and personal failures, he thinks America is "a very forgiving country." It's a very personal answer to a question that didn't demand it, and it shows real thought and real conviction in what he believes. (+1)
  • He says, "I believe in capitalism for everybody," and criticizes the focus on "high finance" and the lack of support for manufacturing. He makes it clear that when he says "capitalism for everybody," he means more for manufacturing than for the service industries, and that this is the tack he plans to use to get votes from "conservative Democrats." (-1)
  • Veterans "should have preferences" when they return to work in the private sector. Because that's exactly what the millions of non-veterans looking for work need right now, is to be told categorically that they are literally second-class citizens who must be turned down for a job if there's a veteran looking for the same job. What are non-veterans supposed to do, just all join the military? It's one thing to offer benefits directly to veterans, since that amounts to the same as a severance package in the private sector, but it's quite another thing to impose hiring preferences for veterans onto private companies, whether through the tax code or any other method. (-2)
  • He criticizes Romney for not just putting Romneycare into place, but standing by it. He cites increased costs in Massachusetts, increased wait times, and the fact that many doctors aren't even taking new patients anymore. Once again, he's obviously done his homework. He then criticizes Gingrich for supporting the individual mandate as recently as 2008. It's a very hard-hitting attack on both of them, and he pulls it off well. He then pivots and brings up his support for health care savings accounts, saying he's supported a bottom-up solution for twenty years while Romney and Gingrich "were playing footsies with the left." (+1)
  • He says over half of the 8% of Massachusites who were forced to buy insurance under Romneycare are "fully subsidized," and criticizes Romney's characterization of their insurance as private. He says Romneycare is a top-down, government-run program, and Romney won't be able to make an effective case against Obamacare because of it. (+1)
  • In response to Gingrich's suggestion that he and Perry should drop out of the race (which Perry did), Santorum says he did better than Gingrich in Iowa and New Hampshire, and it's not "cogent" to suggest that he should be the one to drop out. He accuses Newt of "grandiosity" and says we shouldn't have to worry what our candidate is going to say next. He says Gingrich has plans, but lacks the discipline to carry them out.
  • His response to releasing tax returns is that he does his own returns, they're on his computer at home, and he's not at home to access them, so he'll release them when he gets a chance to get back home. I don't doubt it's honesty, but it's also a nice, subtle attack on the others, and a way to paint himself as the everyman in this campaign.
  • What would he do about companies like Apple, which employs ten times more people in China than in America, despite being an American company? "I'm the only person on this stage that will do something about it." And that is exactly the problem I have with Santorum. In a globalized market economy, I don't want US politicians criticizing American companies for hiring people overseas. I want the government to get out of the way and let globalization and the market economy work. Santorum is no different than Obama when it comes to the economy-- he wants to manage it, to control it, to pull the levers until he gets the outcome he wants. Now he wants a different outcome from Obama, but his method is the same, and it's the method that's killing us. (-1)
  • When Paul raises his right-to-work history, he repeats that as a Senator from a state without right-to-work laws, he didn't want to overturn that state law at the federal level, but as President, he would. (-1)
  • He says that, like the others, he opposes SOPA because it goes too far, but that unlike the others, he agrees with SOPA's basic premise, that something more needs to be done to prosecute copyright infringers. He ignores the point Gingrich and Romney made that existing law can be used, and equates their position with saying that the internet should be a "free-for-all," which neither of them actually said. (-2)
  • If there was one thing about his campaign he could do differently, he says, he wouldn't change a thing, and he's happy to be in the "final four."
  • He says the first act an illegal immigrant takes in the country is to break the law, and they should be punished, no matter what. He wants immigrants to respect our laws, even when those laws are arbitrary and capricious or specifically designed to make things more difficult for the people who are supposed to respect them. I think that's a very curious concept of respect. (-2)
  • When Romney says the Massachusetts Supreme Court expanded Romneycare to cover abortions, Santorum says that "every governor" and "every state legislator" knows that when you mention "medical care" in a bill you have to specifically exclude abortion or the courts will interpret it to include abortion. He says he won't whisper that he's pro-life like Romney, or avoid social issues in private like Gingrich, he'll stand up for the pro-life position publicly. (+1)
  • He criticizes Paul for having a National Right to Life voting record of 50%, and says protecting life is a federal issue, not a state issue. (+1)
  • Unlike the others, in his closing statement, Santorum doesn't focus on Obama. He says he agrees that we have to beat Obama, but the best way to do that is to provide a clear contrast with a "conviction conservative." He says he can provide the needed contrast on the bailouts, on health care, and on global warming that Mitt and Newt cannot. (+1)

Mitt Romney
  • In his introduction, he tells us about his family. He has five sons and 16 grandkids.
  • Asked if Gingrich's past is an issue, his answer, in its entirety, is, "John, let's get on to the real issues. That's all I've got to say."
  • On jobs, he mentions taxes, regulation, energy security and cracking down on China, but says the biggest thing we need to do is get rid of Obama, saying he's "practicing crony capitalism" in the GM bankruptcy, with Solyndra, at the NLRB and in rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • He says he expects to be attacked by Obama for his time at Bain, and he says it's "kind of strange" to be attacked for capitalism by Republicans. He says, "My view is, capitalism works. Free enterprise works." I think on this issue, he's right, and it worries me that the others, Newt in particular, are attacking him on it. (+1)
  • He complains that veterans affairs should be handled at the state level, and doesn't want the federal government to "extend its tentacles" any further. I'm usually sympathetic to federalism arguments, but how is veterans affairs not a federal issue in the first place? (-1)
  • He says he would repeal Obamacare; even if Republicans don't gain the Senate, he would work to convince enough Democrats to repeal it. If he hadn't spent so much time so eloquently defending the individual mandate in Romneycare in previous debates, I'd be more inclined to believe him.
  • He says Massachusetts had the highest health insurance costs before Romneycare and still does, but the growth rate is below the national average. He says the 8% of people who were uninsured weren't put on government insurance, but rather that they now have private insurance. I don't think it's such a good idea to trumpet the private nature of the insurance when it was only purchased because of government force. He says he has "compassion for people that don't have insurance," and that's why he felt it necessary to force them to buy insurance. Real compassionate, that. (-1)
  • He says he wants to get the federal government out of health care, including block granting Medicaid to the states, so the states can do whatever they want with it. He says this in the context of defending Romneycare, showing that he's no different Perry on this issue. He has no problem with big government, as long as it's big state government. I think somehow if you're forced to buy a private company's product, it probably doesn't matter to you whether it's the federal government or the state government forcing you to do it. (-1)
  • In response to Gingrich listing his own accomplishments in the House, Romney says we shouldn't elect a Washington insider for President, but rather someone from outside Washington who had a career in the private sector like himself or Ron Paul. He also says Newt shouldn't take credit for successes that happened under Reagan because Newt is mentioned once in Reagan's diary, and that was about an idea of Newt's that Reagan rejected. (+1 for the comments about being outside Washington and recognizing Paul's private sector experience, -1 for thinking Reagan's diary is a legitimate debate topic)
  • He says in the private sector, he never said, ""Oh, thank Heavens, Washington is there for me," but rather wanted them to get out of the way. He misses Newt's point that getting out of the way is exactly what Newt is advocating.
  • He'll release his tax returns when his taxes are done for the year, probably in April. The moderator asks why shouldn't voters in South Carolina get to see them before they vote, and he says, "Because I want to make sure that I beat President Obama." He clarifies that releasing previous tax returns now and then 2011's in April creates more opportunity for Obama to attack him, but that's a pretty bad soundbite. (-1)
  • Asked if he would follow his father's example in releasing twelve years of tax returns, he very nervously says, "Maybe." Then he clarifies that he'll have a look at the documents before he decides. That's not exactly reassuring, and it earns him some boos from the audience. (-1)
  • He says he agrees with Gingrich on SOPA in "standing for freedom" by opposing it. He emphasizes that we can enforce copyright through existing law, and that SOPA would have "a potentially depressing impact on one of the fastest-growing industries in America." (+1)
  • If there was one thing about his campaign he could do differently, he says, "Well, I'd have worked to get 25 more votes in Iowa, that's for sure." He then says in his "serious" answer, that he'd talk less about his Republican competitors and more about Obama. He hasn't exactly followed through with that after this debate... 
  • He says we need a border fence and "enough Border Patrol agents to secure the fence." The problem, of course, is that there will never be enough. There will always be some illegals who make it across the border, and positions like Romney's just invite endless spending increases. He also repeats his call for an immigrant ID card, which I've argued before would amount to a national ID card. If immigrants are required to show a card to get a job, Americans are going to have to show something proving they're not an immigrant to get a job too. (-1)
  • When Santorum says he's flip-flopped on immigration, Mitt says he wrote a book and in it, "I actually agreed, I think, with what you just said." It was probably a meaningless verbal tic, but that was a really bad moment to say, "I think."
  • On the issue of abortion, he says Romneycare did not fund abortion, but that the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided if it funded other health care, it had to also fund abortion, which sounds reasonable. He dismisses Romneycare's mention of Planned Parenthood in the bill, and says he didn't have a "litmus test" for the judges he appointed.
  • He says he vetoed a state bill defining life starting at implantation rather than conception, and also vetoed human cloning and providing the morning-after pill to teens. He also says he pushed for abstinence education. (+1)
  • Like Gingrich, in his closing statement, Romney talks almost entirely about Obama. He says we have "the most powerful economic engine in the world," and "our military is the strongest in the world," and Obama wants to change both of those.

Newt Gingrich
  • In his introduction, he says as a Georgian it feels good to be back in the south.
  • Asked if he wants to take time to respond to the "open marriage" accusation from his second ex-wife, he says, "No, but I will." He has some very strong words both for ABC for airing the story in the first place and for CNN for starting the debate with that question. He says is he "appalled" and "astounded" that this would be the first question, which earns him--in the very first answer of the night--not one but two standing ovations from the South Carolina crowd. On the topic itself, he says the story is false, and that he provided several personal friends from the time to ABC who could testify that it was false, but ABC wasn't interested. The crowd just laps it up, but I can't help but worry how that antagonistic attitude toward the press will play out in a Gingrich administration. Eight years of the media's relationship with Bush was bad enough. (-1)
  • He lists three things we could do to get jobs back. One is repeal Dodd-Frank, which he says would "help overnight." Second, he mentions natural gas offshore-- he wants part of the revenue from offshore natural gas to go towards modernizing the ports of Charleston and Georgetown. Does that mean he wants to raise taxes on offshore natural gas? Or is it not being drilled and he wants to open up drilling? He's not clear, and he doesn't do any favors to people who don't already know what he's talking about. Third, he wants to "radically overhaul" the Corps of Engineers, because now they take too long to study projects.
  • He says the "underlying model" at Bain Capital was not one of venture capital investment, but rather one of overleveraging that left the companies more likely to fail, and he wants Romney to explain it. I don't like this line of attack, and I wish Newt would give it up. (-1)
  • He corrects Ron Paul about veterans after WWII, mentioning the GI bill that helped them get college educations. He says along with cutting taxes to stimulate the overall economy, we should have a kind of transition for veterans like the GI bill. (+1)
  • He says we can repeal Obamacare if it's a central part of the fall campaign, which he would make sure, and if Republicans win the Senate and House along with the Presidency.
  • He doesn't directly address Santorum's criticism of his support for the individual mandate, but rather talks about his time as GOP Whip fighting Hillarycare, a book he wrote in 2002 and founding the Center for Health Transformation. He says he'd do just fine debating Obama in a Lincoln-Douglas debate on health care, even if he let Obama use a teleprompter. Pressed by Santorum, he says he supported the individual mandate but figured out that it was wrong, while Obama supported it and hasn't figured out that it was wrong.
  • He embraces Santorum's criticism of "grandiosity," saying, "I think grandiose thoughts. This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things, and we need leadership prepared to take on big projects." He talks about the Reagan tax cuts, the fall of the Soviet Union, restoring a Republican House majority and the fact that under his Speakership, a Republican majority in the House was reelected for the first time since 1928. (+1)
  • He says he understands that the private sector creates jobs, but that government can kill jobs. Government can also create a positive environment for entrepreneurs. He says Mitt would have had less private sector success under Carter than under Reagan, and Newt follows what he calls "the Ronald Reagan playbook: lower taxes; less regulation; more American energy."
  • His campaign released his tax returns just prior to the debate, leading to a "breaking news" moment when the moderator announced that they were online. When a member of the audience asks when the candidates will release their returns, he says "an hour ago."
  • He pounces on Romney on releasing his tax returns, saying if there's anything in his returns that would hurt the campaign, we should know about it before he's the nominee. (+1)
  • He comes out strongly against SOPA, quipping that he doesn't want to support Hollywood's interests before saying the bill would lead to censorship, and he supports freedom. He says the Patent Office and existing copyright law is sufficient. (+1)
  • If there was one thing about his campaign he could do differently, he says he would have started with a "big ideas, big solutions, internet-based" campaign instead of floundering for the first few months like he did.
  • On immigration, he says first we have to secure the border, and he would move half of DHS to the southern border states to do so. Second, he would make English "the official language of government." Third, he would "modernize" the visa system to make it easier to come here legally. Fourth, he would make it easier to deport people. Fifth, he would set up a guest worker program and crack down on businesses who hire illegal immigrants. He also repeats his WWII draft board idea to have local communities decide who stays and who goes on a case by case basis. Oy, where to start... I like his third point. The first and second mostly seem like pandering. The fourth will probably run up against a little thing called due process. The fifth sounds good, but in reality will probably just create a huge new bureaucracy where we don't need one. Instead of a guest worker program, why not simply remove the restrictions currently in place? Why do we need a whole new program to do something that people would do on their own if government got out of the way? And his draft board idea... I like the pragmatism that realizes we're not going to deport everybody, but setting up local boards to make arbitrary case-by-case decisions is just inviting corruption into a process that's far too corrupt already. (-1, even though I like some things he said, it still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth)
  • He would drop the immigration lawsuits against Arizona and other states, saying the federal government should enforce the law, not get in the way of states helping it enforce the law.
  • He says he believes Romney's pro-life conversion story, but questions whether he's "genuinely pro-life," based on Romneycare's funding of abortions and Planned Parenthood, and his appointment of pro-abortion judges. (+1)
  • He repeats that he has a 98.6% positive rating from National Right to Life, and says that twice they passed partial birth abortion bans under Clinton. He also says that in 2010, he helped elect the largest percentage of new pro-life members ever. (+1)
  • For his closing argument, he focuses entirely on Obama, and says the only way Obama's "billion-dollar campaign" can be defeated is by defeating him in a series of debates, and Newt says he's the best one to do that.

Ron Paul
  • In his introduction, he's the only one to talk about his record. He's been elected congressman 12 times, was an OB/GYN for 30 years and was in the military for five years, pointing out that he's the only veteran on stage.
  • Asked if Gingrich's past is an issue, he says there's a lot of unfair attacks against the candidates, then goes on to pointedly mention his wife of 54 years. He also says it reminds him of all the people who want to get corporations out of elections, "but what about the corporations that run the media?"
  • He wants the government to "get out of the way" to create more jobs, and that includes a "massive reduction of regulations," an income tax "as near to zero as possible" and "sound currency." Then he says something very telling. "The most important thing" to move the economy forward is "to allow the correction to occur." Of course, by "correction," he means a recession. He believes the most important thing to put people back to work is to have a double-dip recession, because he doesn't see recessions as bad things in themselves. They're "corrections," in his view, not something to be feared, but something to be encouraged. That's not a view I want a President to have. (-2)
  • Asked if the government should offer special incentives to hire veterans, the only veteran on stage thinks it's "probably necessary," although he clearly struggles with it since he says he wants the economy to be healthy "for everybody." Interesting how someone who rails against government interventions and against group rights is singing a different tune when it's a group he happens to be a member of and, as he notes, that he happens to get a large amount of his political donations from. I think a lot of Ron Paul's allure is that people think he's not a typical politician, but these debates are showing that isn't the case. (-1)
  • He says we're not likely to be able to fully repeal Obamacare, then criticizes the trend towards government-run health care. He says even with a Republican Congress under Bush, we didn't cut back Medicare and Medicaid, but actually expanded Medicare, and that Santorum voted for it.
  • He says he's not planning to release his tax returns, mostly because he'd be embarrassed his income was so low next to his competitors. (-1)
  • He has a great response to Santorum on Apple's overseas jobs. He starts sounding like Milton Friedman for a bit, saying that when American companies send dollars to China, the Chinese have to do something with those dollars. He says unfortunately they're using it to buy US government debt, but even so consumers get considerably cheaper products, so we're better off anyway. On the whole it's a very cogent defense of free trade from someone I've come to expect to be far more isolationist. (+2)
  • In response to Santorum's Senator-from-Pennsylvania defense on right-to-work, he says, "that's the way politics works," which was exactly my reaction. (+1)
  • He says he was the first Republican to join a bunch of Democrats in opposing SOPA, and that Republicans have unfortunately been supporting it, so he's happy to hear that Gingrich and Romney oppose it. (+1)
  • If there was one thing about his campaign he could do differently, it would be in his messaging. He says he's learned about delivering a message, and about speaking slower and with more conviction.
  • He's against illegal immigration, but says that laws targetting employers are "misdirected," because they turn average citizens into enforcers. He says we need "a more generous immigration policy," but then shifts, as ever, into foreign policy, saying we should put the resources that are now on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and put them on the US-Mexico border instead. He starts off sounding like he wants to take the true pro-liberty position here, but ultimately, he just wants to militarize the border like all the others. (-1)
  • The moderator tries to move on from the topic of abortion without giving Ron Paul an answer, and Paul says, "It's a medical issue, and I'm a doctor." He says as an OB/GYN, he believed that caring for a pregnant woman meant he had two patients. He then says that anti-abortion laws won't fix the problem, which is a lack of morality. He points out that subsidies are fungible, and if you give money to hospitals or organizations that perform abortions, even if you say that money can't be used on abortions, they'll still be able to increase their abortion spending.
  • Santorum responds to his previous point, and Paul says he wasn't talking about Santorum, and he's "overly sensitive." He says he views abortion as a violent act, and other violent acts like murder and burglary are handled at the state level. Except that isn't always the case. There are quite a few federal laws against violence, and prosecution of violent acts is done at the federal and state level. (-1)
  • For his closing argument, he says South Carolina is known for their respect for liberty, and although a lot of people ask the candidates what they'll do for South Carolina or for another particular state, liberty helps everybody. He also complains that they didn't get to talk about the debt in this debate. (+1)

Adding up the scores, Romney and Santorum both got -3, while Paul got -1. Gingrich came out ahead with +3.

In one of the earliest debates, CNN had an introductory scene that labelled Rick Santorum "The Fighter," and he certainly lived up to that tonight. He went on the offensive against all three of the remaining candidates, often calling them out by name and raising specific issues with their records on questions that didn't require it. He gives the impression that he knows some of their records better than they do, and he's not afraid to call them on it. At the same time, in this debate he showcased a number of his own positions that I really disagree with, from immigration to SOPA to government control of the economy. The longer the campaign goes on, the more I respect Santorum as a man, and the more I'm convinced he would make a very bad President.

Mitt Romney had a few unforced errors in this debate, whether insignificant verbal tics or not. He spent most of his time on the defensive. On Bain, he passionately argued for the freedom of capitalism, then on Romneycare, he passionately argued for state governments' right to force people to buy a private company's products. I'm not sure if he sees the inherent contradiction in his positions or not. He also spent time defending himself on his tax returns, on immigration and on abortion, and he didn't do himself any favors in any of those areas. The lack of internal consistency in his views, and his constant willingness to take the politically convenient position ("I'm running for office, for Pete's sake!") makes me worry that a Romney presidency could do even more harm to conservatism than Bush did.

Newt Gingrich was the clear winner of this debate for me, even though he didn't knock it out of the ballpark like he did in the sixteenth debate. I didn't like a few of his tactics, like attacking the media, or attacking Romney on Bain, but for the most part he said things I generally agreed with. In this debate, that was all he needed to win.

Ron Paul in this debate was for the most part not the typical Ron Paul. I was actually very surprised, and pleasantly so, by his defense of free trade. He often comes across as an isolationist, and it's good to hear a defense of free trade from someone on the stage now that Johnson's gone Libertarian and Huntsman's out completely. On the other hand, he repeated that we need more of a "correction," read recession, to get the country on the right track again. He also showed that despite his earlier defense of free trade, he still supports militarizing the southern border. It was also very interesting to hear someone who has so passionately argued against group rights suddenly do a 180 when it happens to be a group that not only is he a member of, but that he admits is the largest source of donations for his campaign.

And publishing this, I'm now only two debates behind. :)