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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Republican Bloc Heads Debate

The January 23 Republican debate in Tampa certainly was enlightening, but probably not in a way the attendees intended.

Newt Gingrich mentioned he formed four small businesses after leaving the House. Bagging million dollar consulting fees by trading on your prior political connections isn't creating a small business, it's about cashing in on your eagerness to trade (perceived) influence for cash. How many small businesses routinely fly on private jets? How many routinely spend $6.6 million in travel charged to a tax-exempt organization, including $74,000 for one trip that coincidentally included stops for promoting one's personal business interests? NBC covered this story on tonight's evening news. Ouch.

Newt continues showing up to debates playing the knowledgeable historian and professor role. I'm surprised he didn't show up to the debate with a plaid sport coat with suede elbow patches smoking a pipe. Playing the know-it-all professor seems like a bound-to-fail electoral strategy. The Republican base still up for grabs that can't stand Romney prides itself on rejecting "intellectuals" and independent voters in any general election will turn corrections of Gingrich history into a drinking game. It only took ten minutes -- the time it took moderator Brian Williams to finally pose a question to Ron Paul -- for the first Newt History Revision to come up. Ron Paul reminded the audience that Newt didn't surrender his Speaker position as an act of self-awareness and taking responsibility for a party shellacking in the polls -- a claim Newt made ten minutes prior. Instead, Newt surrendered the gavel because he didn't even have enough votes to enter the Republican caucus room to ask for a chance to keep it. He left his caucus in chaos and was DESPISED by his colleagues.

In explaining his re-election loss in 2008, Rick Santorum recited his pride at going down with his principles and standing with then-President Bush with a 35 percent approval rating as he fought to privatize Social Security. I'm not sure expressing pride in plans for funneling Social Security contributions into a corrupt financial system after the experience of the 2008 meltdown is a wise political strategy.

No tax return surprises are coming, according to Romney. And by golly, has Mitt got a deal for all of us hard working Americans. He outlined a bold proposal to eliminate taxes on interest and capital gains for "middle class" voters earning under $200,000. Let's stop for a moment to analyze the cynicism behind that bold proposal. Due to Federal Reserve policies, banks have been paying less than one percent on deposits for over three years and that is not likely to change for quite a while. At the same time, the average American has a total net worth of less than sixty thousand dollars so average yearly capital gains income for most households is clearly far less than $60,000. In essence, Romney's bold new proposal is more of the same tax policy slight of hand we already have, promising average taxpayers the illusion of savings that are actually worthless in exchange for ignoring absurdly low taxation on the wealthy who earn millions per year that is taxed at favored capital gains rates.

In one of the few questions posed to Rick Santorum, he managed to make an appropriate follow-up point regarding the Romney / Gingrich tussle over Bain Capital and "destructive capitalism." His point was that any such "debate" completely misses the real point regarding why Gingrich and Romney supported the bailout of Wall Street in 2008 rather than making those firms and their shareholders take those losses and re-capitalize by selling new shares. Of course, what Santorum didn't mention was how properly funding the SEC and other financial regulatory bodies might have prevented the abuses that led to Enron, Worldcom, Countrywide, AIG and the other leveraged meltdowns.

At some point, Romney managed to goad Gingrich into taking credit for actively, publicly supporting Medicare Part D in 2003, a GIGANTIC expansion of government spending enacted by a Republican majority that lied to its own members about the costs and altered voting rules to twist enough arms to assure passage. That's sure to turn up in future primary campaign ads to tarnish Newt's "conservative" small government credentials.

When asked the "Iran question", Santorum stated that the "Obama policy" has been a complete disaster. Santorum never really summarized his view of what the "Obama policy is" but went on to say the theocracy that rules Iran is like Al Qaeda -- they have taken hostages, they have hatched plans to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador, they have funded the manufacturing of IEDs killing American troops in Iraq. Lost in Santorum's laundry list is the fact that Iran has been doing this for many years, predating the Obama Administration. Why was Santorum proudly standing by GW Bush and his 35% approval rating when Bush was doing nothing to combat Iran's behavior between 2003 and 2008? Why didn't he point out in 2004 how our disastrous war in Iraq had arguably doubled the strength of Iran's Shia influence in the entire Mideast? Nothing done by a Republican is "good", the same "nothing" done by a Democrat is "disastrous"?

Romney is now tackling Obama's failure in space policy that has crippled the Space Coast. Has Mitt come out with a plan to replace the Space Shuttle? What other program is Mitt suggesting we cut to fund more manned space flight? He believes the right approach is for the President to have a policy and a strategy in collaboration with the military, scientific and educational institutions. Uh..... WHAT? Gingrich followed up with his own "big idea" -- PRIZES. Prizes for what? First spaceship to the moon with in-dash 8-track wins ten million dollars?

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The real lesson to learn from the Tampa debate and South Carolina primary is the fact that the "Republican Party" exists in name only. It has fragmented into at least four financial, social and philosophical blocs whose logical tenets are almost mutually exclusive. More importantly, those blocs are occupied by actual people who DESPISE each other and thus refuse to cooperate productively with each other much less anyone else. The fiscal fundies cannot be satisfied by the pragmatists, the pragmatists don't trust the libertarians, and none of the groups are morally uptight enough to satisfy the religious fundies.

For Republican pragmatists, it really should be gut check time. The party framework in which you are trying to function is incapable of providing an effective and productive counterbalance to whatever you might object to on the liberal side of the spectrum. Stopping the other guys isn't good enough when the country is stuck on the tracks with an approaching train if your own party intransigence prevents any movement off the tracks as well.