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January 16, 2012

Words vs. Deeds

Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.

- Ronaldus Maximus

In the process of thrashing out who should be the winning candidate from the GOP field, I've seen a lot of assertions made that I don't agree with/don't understand. It may be that there are perfectly good arguments underlying these statements but in most cases, those arguments remain unstated.

This is why I keep asking, "What is reasonable for us to expect from a Republican if we win the Oval Office in 2012"? A lot of manifestly unreasonable expectations have been levied upon Barack Obama by the voters who elected him. Many quite reasonable ones went likewise unfulfilled. In many cases, the unreasonable expectations arose from vague and/or hyperbolic promises made by the candidate himself. No serious person should have believed Obama could heal the oceans, eradicate income inequality, make the entire world like us, or erase the very real and fundamental differences between conservatives and liberals. The President is not a magician: he just doesn't have that much power.

So I'm left with two questions:

1. What is reasonable to expect from a Republican President?
2. What's the best way to evaluate the trustworthiness of various candidates?

With respect to the first question, the next president will preside over a divided, dysfunctional government that hasn't passed a budget for over 1000 days. That's no accident, but rather a sign that the only choices left to us are going to hurt like hell. Because the benefits will be deferred and the pain almost immediate, they will be easy to demogogue and easy to demonize. Learning to stop kicking the can down the road will require a lot from the voting public.

It occurred to me that it might be instructive to look up the job description for the Presidency (as opposed to simply assuming I remember my high school civics courses accurately). I thought this was a pretty good summary of the duties of the President.

It's important to understand what the President does and does not have the power to do because every day I see people on all sides of the political spectrum crediting the President with things Presidents have little or no control over and blaming the President for [gasp!] things Presidents have little or no control over whilst largely ignoring the things Presidents actually do have control over.

My insistence on a candidate who has actual executive experience running a government is rooted in my belief that while past performance doesn't guarantee future performance, past deeds are a hell of a lot better predictor than campaign promises. So far, the evidence that Romney isn't a real conservative seems to be that a majority Democratic legislature passed a lot of progressive legislation on Romney's watch and many of his over 800 vetoes were overridden by the legislature.

Last time I checked, that's the way the system is designed to work. It seems to me that this argument is a bit of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't one. As a practical matter, an executive presiding over a divided government can die on a hill he has no rational expectation of taking in order to make a point. As my esteemed spouse would say, "Well, that is certainly an approach."

Or he can say, "Hmmm... I seem to be outnumbered and outgunned. Is there room for negotiation here? Could a compromise give my side 1/4 of a loaf as opposed to none of the loaf? If so, what can I offer the other side to induce them to give me part of the loaf when we both know they can simply take the whole thing?"

This passage from a Boston Globe article underscores the difficulties of maintaining ideological purity under a divided government:

The Legislature unanimously overrode Governor Mitt Romney's veto of a minimum wage increase last night, rejecting the governor's view that the boost would hurt businesses and the poor.

The override means that the state's minimum wage will probably be among the highest in the country within two years. The legislation increases the $6.75-an-hour rate to $7.50 an hour on Jan. 1 and to $8 in 2008.

The vote, at shortly before 8 p.m., followed very little debate, and though it appeared all Republican members of both chambers abandoned the governor, an official roll call was not immediately available last night. The House voted 152 to 0 to override Romney, and minutes later the Senate voted 38 to 0.

...Business groups had lobbied against the minimum wage bill, saying it would reduce jobs.

``This could really hurt many small businesses," said Erin Trabucco, general counsel for the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which represents about 3,000 retailers and restaurant owners. ``Retailers are going to be left with no option other than to reduce the number of jobs they're offering or raise consumer prices."

When Romney vetoed the bill last week, he said its ``abrupt and disproportionate increases" would hurt the economy. He countered with his own ``more modest approach," which would have increased the wage by 25 cents on Jan. 1 and subjected future raises to study.

What would you do in this situation? It's a good question that deserves a serious answer because, as I saw in a comments section somewhere this week, "Utopia isn't on the menu."

I'm a bit mystified by the argument that candidates who are willing to sue in federal court to overturn state election laws (this is a conservative position?) and - moreover - do so in an inept fashion that leaves the judge no real choice but to rule against them have demonstrated their conservative bona fides in a way that should inspire us with confidence in their ability to hew to bedrock conservative values in a far tougher arena:

In his opinion, Gibney says Perry, and the other candidates who joined the challenge, waited too long to bring the suit.

“They knew the rules in Virginia many months ago; the limitations on circulators affected them as soon as they began to circulate petitions,” he writes. “They plaintiffs could have challenged the Virginia law at that time. Instead, they waited until after the time to gather petitions had ended and they had lost the political battle to be on the ballot; then, on the eve of the printing of absentee ballots, they decided to challenge Virginia’s laws. In essence, they played the game, lost, and then complained that the rules were unfair.”

As this article outlines, numerous Republicans are on record as supporting the individual mandate - notably, Gingrich himself:

“I just wanna make one point that’s historical. In 1993, in fighting HillaryCare, virtually every conservative saw the mandate as a less-dangerous future than what Hillary was trying to do. The Heritage Foundation was a major advocate of it. After HillaryCare disappeared it became more and more obvious that mandates have all sorts of problems built into them. People gradually tried to find other techniques. I frankly was floundering, trying to find a way to make sure that people who could afford it were paying their hospital bills while still leaving an out so libertarians to not buy insurance. And that’s what we’re wrestling with. It’s now clear that the mandate, I think, is clearly unconstitutional. But, it started as a conservative effort to stop HillaryCare in the 1990s.”

Again, what would you do in this situation? Our understanding of issues evolves as events unfold and various arguments are made. Is this evidence of insufficient conservative ardor, or a natural byproduct of the collision between idealism and the real world?

It's difficult to examine issues in context of current events, but I think it's also vital to try to do so. Our options change with events. So I'm a bit mystified at the willingness to demonize changes of position in any candidate. A candidate who is incapable of adapting (or changing his mind) will not succeed in a world where the enemy always gets a vote and may well have more votes than you do.

Few issues are as simple as they are portrayed to be. We want simple, pure, black and white answers but I am very suspicious of candidates who seem too eager to provide them, nor am I willing to conflate caution or pragmatism with lack of conviction.

Posted by Cassandra at January 16, 2012 01:48 PM

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Comments

What is reasonable to expect from a Republican President?

First, that he be able to communicate. The Republicans haven't been able to talk to the American people effectively and efficiently, laying out their platform--even having a coherent platform--and so on since before Hoover, with the possible exception of Reagan.

...any Republican president will preside over a divided, dysfunctional government....

Not necessarily. There's a fair chance that Republicans will sweep all three sets of chairs (which has a danger of its own).

...the only choices left to us are going to hurt like hell.

That just puts a premium on getting started.

Our man also needs to have business executive experience. Your point is valid about his political executive experience, but unless he understands economics from a practical, bread-on-the-table perspective, he has no hope of being effective. Technocrats never are.

Or he can say, "Hmmm... I seem to be outnumbered and outgunned. Is there room for negotiation here? Could a compromise give my side 1/4 of a loaf as opposed to none of the loaf? If so, what can I offer the other side to induce them to give me part of the loaf when we both know they can simply take the whole thing?"

Well, that's an approach. Here's an example of a compromise. A home invader breaks in and demands all your jewelry. And other things. I see if I can compromise: can I keep my wife's ring and necklace, if he settles for the rest?

I decline even to offer such a thing. Yet that's too many of the compromises that the Progressives have offered. Further, on matters of principle, neither can compromise, else they show themselves to be unprincipled, and so untrustworthy.

It's the Progressives' war. I decline to disengage and let them regroup. Enough digression.

I'm a bit mystified at the willingness to demonize changes of position in any candidate.

And yet words are, by themselves, valueless; we have only their deeds for serious consideration. "Demonizing" certainly is going too far, but criticism is valid. As to Romney's loss on the min wage bit: what did he do after having been vetoed? Did he press, subsequently, for mitigating legislation, or did he just roll over and meekly accept defeat?

To finally return to the original question, here's what:

1: if legislation isn't on his desk when he's inaugurated repealing Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, introduce legislation on that first day that would do so.

2. Sign an Executive Order that rescinds every Obama EO--including the good ones. Sign EOs that would replace/reinstate those Obama EOs that have value.

3. Instruct EPA to rescind all of its climate-change oriented regulations.

4. Within the first month of office, introduce legislation that abolishes the NLRB. It's beyond salvation, and existing labor laws other than that board are sufficient. Introduce legislation that adjusts those labor laws that look to the NLRB for solutions.

5. Within the first month, introduce legislation that reforms the corporate and personal income tax.

6. Offer a budget that has spending cuts in the present year. Not reductions in future spending (only), not accounting gimmicks: real cuts.

7. Demonstrate through various communications media that he's actively engaged in getting these things passed by Congress.

That'll take us up through February; good enough for now.

Finally, What's the best way to evaluate the trustworthiness of various candidates?

The only way we can: by comparing his deeds to his words. Where a candidate has changed his position on an issue (which I do not find automatically wrong--Caesar was constant as the northern star; look where that got him--and Rome), what has he done since his reputed change to demonstrate that he hews to the new position, regardless of political danger to himself?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at January 16, 2012 04:17 PM

As for this point:

2. What's the best way to evaluate the trustworthiness of various candidates?

It is important, when evaluating these political reversals of position, to make the distinction between tactics, strategy, and policy. Policy here is the guiding principle, the vision of society that we want to encourage. Strategy is the alignment of all our means of power and influence in accord with that policy. Tactics are small scale, moment-by-moment choices in service of the execution of the strategy.

Thus, it's not very troubling to see a tactical reversal, if now one tactic and now the other better serves the overall strategy. We might even shrug off a strategic reversal -- as with the Gingrich example of the mandate -- if it is guided by an overall political principle, as he suggests it was in his case. If there is a strong principle of limiting government influence in the private health care market, the first strategy may have made sense under Clinton, and the other under Obama.

What concerns me is when I cannot identify the policy principles. If strategic reversals accompany reverses in policy, I begin to wonder what exactly is being defended by them. My concern, to be explicit, is that Mitt Romney has no principles at all: that the reversals are not ordered according to some higher principle or higher strategy, but are only taken as the easiest road to power.

Power corrupts, as we all know. It is not an evil in itself, but it is and ought to be alarming to encounter someone who seems to be pursuing power not for some good end, but as an end in itself. Given that the reversals we see with Romney are reversals on policy, not merely strategy or tactics, I don't know what other core we can rely on him to have. I fear he is pursuing power for the sake of power: for I cannot see what principle it is that he has been unwilling to sacrifice on the road to power.

Posted by: Grim at January 16, 2012 04:57 PM

What concerns me is when I cannot identify the policy principles. If strategic reversals accompany reverses in policy, I begin to wonder what exactly is being defended by them. My concern, to be explicit, is that Mitt Romney has no principles at all: that the reversals are not ordered according to some higher principle or higher strategy, but are only taken as the easiest road to power.

You can be concerned that he has no principles, but I've read your arguments on this score and don't find them as persuasive as you obviously do :p

In my world, that's the kind of statement that requires considerable proof. You have presented facts that could be construed to support your position (if we accept your assertion that they mean what you think they mean).

But there are other possibilities (which I have outlined) as well. I'm not saying your concern is unjustified - only that you have not so far done anything that convinces me your take is the most likely (or the only) interpretation.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 16, 2012 05:06 PM

I certainly do not expect a politician to die on a hill for his principles. But as Eric says, at some point, you need to draw a line and say "no further". I'll not fault Romney for failing to be a Southern-style Republican. Were he such a thing, he'd never have gotten into office. But what I DO expect is for him to be able to deliver a coherent answer to more conservative people WHY he made those compromises. I've yet to hear a SOLID answer from him on his Massachusetts Health Care Mandate that didn't make it sound like he thought it was the greatest idea since sliced bread.

Were he to say "It was the best I could do to prevent something worse," I could accept that. Or even "I know how bad the best of intentions can work out... look at what happened with our experiment." I believe (and please correct me if I'm wrong) his position on it was simply, "This is the kind of thing the States should be doing rather than the Federal government." Which is a wonderful general opinion for a Presidential candidate to hold (I approve of support for the Tenth Amendment) and I even agree with that statement. But I'd like to hear his explanation as to why such a dreadful, anti-liberty idea such as a required health care coverage (whether you want it or not) is a good idea ANYWHERE. Mandating everyone purchase an electric car is the kind of thing that should be done at the State level rather than the Federal level... but only insofar as it should be done anywhere. Regardless of the Constitutionality of such a mandate (with regards to the Tenth), it's still a bad idea.

Posted by: MikeD at January 17, 2012 09:14 AM

...what I DO expect is for him to be able to deliver a coherent answer to more conservative people WHY he made those compromises. I've yet to hear a SOLID answer from him on his Massachusetts Health Care Mandate that didn't make it sound like he thought it was the greatest idea since sliced bread.

I don't have a problem with his answer at all, but that's just me. What I've heard him say is that the problem within a state is that people who elect not to have insurance will get their expenses paid for out of public funds. Now you (and I) may wish that were not the case, but that's the current law.

In that context, the question becomes, "Given that people can currently not buy insurance and have their medical bills paid for from taxpayer money, can the state of Massachusetts require them to purchase insurance?"

Romney's position as I understand it is that from the perspective of a state, that's not necessarily a problem.

Given that Gingrich and Santorum both supported the individual mandate in the past, I'd say that's hardly an unconservative position.

Were he to say "It was the best I could do to prevent something worse," I could accept that. Or even "I know how bad the best of intentions can work out... look at what happened with our experiment."

I believe he has made that second argument. He explicitly argued (in the context of HCR and Romneycare) that the states are supposed to be the laboratories of democracy and that harm from making mistakes at the state level is far less than it would be from making a similar mistake at the national level.

Mike, you are reasonable but the demand I keep hearing from the base is not that Romney explain (which he has done, IMO) his support for the mandate but that he *renounce/denounce* his support for the mandate in Massachusetts.

Of course such a renunciation would immediately be seized upon as evidence that he has no principles he's willing to defend.

Though oddly, his refusal to denounce it to satisfy his critics will NOT be seized upon as evidence that he has some principles he's willing to defend :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 17, 2012 09:36 AM

Given that Gingrich and Santorum both supported the individual mandate in the past, I'd say that's hardly an unconservative position.

I'm sorry, but "they did it too" is an excuse that my mother would never have accepted. Secondly, I still find an individual mandate to be an unconservative idea. It is theft of personal freedom "for the greater good". Now, there are times when such sacrifices might be necessary. I'm no absolutist. But to call a necessary evil "conservative" simply because two other nominal conservatives were willing to make the same choice is not a logical conclusion to me. Plus, I have my doubts as to the conservatism of Gingrich and Santorum as it is.

I believe he has made that second argument. He explicitly argued (in the context of HCR and Romneycare) that the states are supposed to be the laboratories of democracy and that harm from making mistakes at the state level is far less than it would be from making a similar mistake at the national level.

If he has, then I will confess I missed it. What I had previously seen was that he defended it as an excellent choice for Massachusetts. I can completely accept, "I thought it was a good idea, but then I saw how it worked out. At least we tried it at the appropriate level."

Mike, you are reasonable but the demand I keep hearing from the base is not that Romney explain (which he has done, IMO) his support for the mandate but that he *renounce/denounce* his support for the mandate in Massachusetts.

If you would kindly tell my wife that I'm reasonable, I'd be eternally in your debt ;). But I agree, he does not need to denounce his own support for the measure to satisfy me. All I ask is that he recognizes that for the job he is aspiring to, that such a mandate is unconstitutional and that he would work to repeal the federal individual mandate. Mitt Romney is (so far) not a demonstrated oath breaker, so I will trust him as far as I would trust any other politician (which is to say I'd still count my fingers after shaking his hand). But such a pledge would go a long way for me.

Please understand, as of right now, Mitt Romney is leading the "least offensive candidate" choice for me. Yes, he is no bastion of Constitutionalist ideals (that would properly go to Ron Paul who is disqualified based upon his isolationist stance), but he has less strikes against him that the others.

Posted by: MikeD at January 17, 2012 12:04 PM

All I ask is that he recognizes that for the job he is aspiring to, that such a mandate is unconstitutional and that he would work to repeal the federal individual mandate.

He has made this argument repeatedly, but he has done so as a technocrat, rather than in the absolutist terms I'd like to hear on this particular subject.

He has said, for instance, that MA's program was designed for MA, and that it might not work for other states; it's for those other states to decide for themselves. He does still, I think, believe in the individual mandate concept, though.

As for repeal, he has said he'd work to excise out the "best parts" of Obamacare and work to repeal the rest, including, explicitly the individual mandate from the Federal perspective. But this is unsatisfying to me (as opposed to unsatisfactory), since I can find nothing that adds up to a "best part" in Obamacare.

In the end, Romney isn't perfect; he's not even as conservative as I'd like him to be after correcting for his state's political environment. But. Better is the enemy of good enough. "Not Obama" is a good enough candidate for me this time around.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at January 17, 2012 02:34 PM

He has said, for instance, that MA's program was designed for MA, and that it might not work for other states; it's for those other states to decide for themselves. He does still, I think, believe in the individual mandate concept, though.

Whereas that answer DOES satisfy me. As long as he realizes that at the level of government he seeks to attain such a mandate is unconstitutional, I'm satisfied. Listen, a candidate can hold whatever wacky, stupid BELIEFS they want, as long as they have no intent to implement them. And I'm quite happy with someone who recognizes that something they find to be an acceptable or even good idea is not allowed at the Federal level, IF they're running for Federal office. I'd not vote for him for Governor of SC with that opinion, but that's not what he's running for.

Of course, I'd rather he also say "an individual mandate is an offensive, anti-liberty obligation to put on the people," but wishes are not horses, thus I do not ride. For right now, I'm leaving the current occupant of the White House out of the picture, because I'm not voting an either/or on him yet. I'm simply focusing on which of the current field of candidates I would be most happy (or least unhappy, as the case may be) with.

Posted by: MikeD at January 18, 2012 08:34 AM

Lets see if I can add anything. And keep in mind, I've now read through this thread about 3 times. I love the exchange of ideas . . even if y'all make my brain hurt! ;-)

1. There are candidates on the slate who have supported some type of proposed individual mandate in the past.

2. Peel the layers of the onion back after implementation of phase 9,010th incarnation of the individual mandate idea and some or all candidates (not including current office holder) realize that real world practicality trumps idealogical implementation.

3. For me its not that I want Mitt to renounce MA's healthcare plan . . I think I'd be a ton more comfortable if he truly came straight out and stated something to the effect of "now that the plan has been implemented I see there are real-world pitfalls. Here are my ideas to make this work better'. I think his renouncing of it would be a bad idea

4. If, IF Mitt is the nominee . . . then why isn't HE stepping up more and stating all the reasons, all the issues as to his battle in MA and the 800 or more vetoes that he did . .and how many got overridden???

Deeds to words . . . Words to deeds. When did our country get into the ditch of having low expectations for those who are tasked with guiding and keeping this country safe?

Posted by: Nina at January 26, 2012 10:55 PM

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