Tag Archives: GOP

Obamacare but who cares?

This week I saw two interesting things that have driven me back to the blog: 1). Healthcare.gov did not spiral down into a political story. It somehow stayed relatively factual and 2). Everyone missed/is missing the point.

To me, this isn’t about public healthcare, President Obama’s leadership or the government being able to handle a major website.  Though all those things are true especially in the short term, these outcomes – ineffective launches, partial solutions/partial failures, and discord in addressing problems – are symptoms of a larger problem.  We, the royal we, all of us, do not want to have to put in the work required to solve problems, to get things right, to actually implement positive change (and not just change for change sake).

Our expectations about work, timing and sacrifice have so drastically changed as a result of technology that our perception of public policy is now totally unrealistic.  We want complete and beneficial solutions and we want them immediately.  We elected President Obama in the midst of a financial crisis and two wars but then pretended like that wasn’t a big deal and he should have us out of trouble in less than a year. Two or three years tops.  I’m as guilty as the next voter of unrealistic expectations 6 years ago.  The difference, I think, is that somewhere along the line I realized it.

Let me use Healthcare.gov as an example.  Throughout the last week or so, we’ve heard a series of complaints (larger issues than just a crashing website) – Obamacare was a bad idea, government cannot do “big things,” this is going to continue to fail now that the launch failed.  What we’ve forgotten is that the private marketplace wasn’t doing a great job prior to this attempt.  Healthcare was expensive, limited in its coverage and exclusive to certain types (or classes) of people.  So, in this era of quick fixes and high expectations, we’ve conveniently forgotten that one reason we had to resort to Obamacare was the private market failed.  Furthermore, we don’t know the government is going to do it well or even right.  Public policy is, by nature, trial and error.  But is that a reason not to try or to give up on Obamacare?  If so, what’s your idea? What’s a better idea?  Returning it to employer-based private healthcare returns us to a system of inflated costs, ballooning treatment, no prevention to speak of, and many of the most sensitive (the poor, kids, poor families with kids) left without help.  We’ve seen the private market fail, in some cases spectacularly so, in recent years.  The mortgage/financial crisis comes to mind. The point is not which is better because these are not mutually exclusive.  The point is where do we turn when we have a problem? How do we approach solving society’s big problems? I’ll try to stick to the issue de jure.

For those who complain the uninsured or underinsured is a made up problem and the private market can handle it, I have a quick example to the contrary.  A young woman who wants to start a family requires special medication in order to have a healthy pregnancy. Fair enough.  Other than the pregnancy, there are no major health concerns and the medication is temporary just until the pregnancy is considered out of the danger zone (in other words, you can start telling your friends).  As a result of temporary medicine, this woman is uninsurable in the private market.  Yup, preexisting condition.  But she’s not taking the medicine anymore? Get this – she might get or choose to get pregnant again, and if that happens, she may need the medicine again, and the medicine is kinda expensive, but will be required by the doctor should a pregnancy occur, and therefore the private health insurance does not want to risk the cost and will not cover the woman.  Forget that chain of “ifs,” and just look at the decision itself.  An otherwise healthy woman who has a family, provides for them and creates stability both in the community and in the insurance pool is rejected because of the helpful (temporary) medicine used in the early stages of conception.  Makes sense from a business sense, right? Obamacare says this person must receive healthcare and cannot be turned down.  Am I saying that this hypothetical alone is sufficiently evidence that Obamacare was the right decision or policy choice? No. Not at all.  What I am saying is – challenge! If you argue that Obamacare is a bad idea, fine. What’s your idea?

My guess is that someone out there, some health insurance executive or some other experienced veteran of the healthcare industry already knows what the solution is (Obamacare or otherwise) but for a variety of issues – cost, political climate, feasibility, etc. – the solution is not possible right now.  Ok. Then, we’re back to square one.  Which brings me to my original point, this is serious business.  We cannot just expect that we can create an “exchange,” pressure insurance companies into it, throw together a website, and get the right balance of people in order to lower costs and achieve broad healthcare offerings.  It takes time and commitment.

Nothing in life worth doing is easy.

I always use this example when talking about religion, but it fits for public policy too.  Why should being religious or being devout be easy? Working out and staying in shape isn’t easy.  It’s tough. It requires discipline and dedication.  Education isn’t easy.  It’s long, expensive and challenging.  A college degree, graduate degree or professional school degree is an accomplishment and educated workers are compensated accordingly because it’s valuable.  If medical school were easy, how much would you trust your doctor?  Ok, ok, you get the point.  For some reason, we don’t hold politics in the same esteem.  We just assume that the President, Congress and others should just “get it done.”

We, the royal we, all of us, need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.  Similarly we need allow our politicians the same freedom.  When they don’t, we have to be paying enough attention to hold them accountable.  But that’s not gonna happen, is it?

Not only do we not hold them accountable when they shut down the government and spout useless rhetoric (see the Tea Party, Rep. John Boehner, Sen. Mitch McConnell), but we also do not understand when politicians do not take us (the voters) seriously.  They know that we’re not paying attention. There’s no incentive to work hard or get things right.  The only incentives are soundbytes and re-elections.  We don’t like when it requires hard work, when the solution is complex and when it will take years (a generation?) of discipline to correct systemic problems.  If we don’t have the discipline to pay attention and hold public leaders accountable, why should we expect they’d stay disciplined to address these problems?

My take is this is part of a larger cultural issue, of which I’m just as guilty, that we talk a good talk but we can’t walk the walk.  I’m doing it right now. I’ve written this blog post and that’s as far as my observation or passion will take me.  I’ve got a job, family and limited time (just like everyone else) so I cannot take on the Washington establishment. I cannot try to change people’s minds about what government can do and what leaders should be or could be.  Why? I’m having trouble figuring out how to get paid to do it.  Until I can, I’ve got a regular job to go to and try to make enough money to pay for the mortgage, health insurance and student loans.  There is no incentive for me to take this on.  I’m busy.  Is Obamacare working? Is it not working? Who cares? Nothing is gonna change anyway…right?

Look. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here.  All I’m saying is that we have no one to blame (see Obama, see Congress) except ourselves.  We maintain a double standard for public policy choices. These unrealistic expectations make it seem that things which are true in our own lives (valuable achievements are difficult and take time/discipline) somehow are not true in Washington. Yet at the same time, we do not have time or resources to get involved.  Where does that leave us on Obamacare? on public policy generally? What does it mean for “big” problems facing our generation?

I don’t know.  I’m still working on that.  But if I figure it out, I’ll let you know.  Hopefully you’ll be able to spare a minute.

Really?!?!?

And now it’s time for a segment that I like to “borrow” from Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler at Saturday Night Live called “Really?!?!? an homage to Seth and Amy.”

Really, GOP? Really? Rick Santorum?

The other night my friends and I watched Ides of March which not surprisingly led directly into political conversation.  We’re pretty much a political roundtable.  I’m usually both literally and figuratively in the center.  My friend, CFO, is a self-described “Ronald Reagan conservative” and my friend, TBS, is an Obama Democrat.  Since I was sitting between them, CFO on my right and TBS on my left, the conversation went about how you’d expect.  (I’m paraphrasing two separate conversations including Wednesday night’s roundtable in the interest of time):

PPP:  “You can’t actually be excited about Mitt Romney.”

CFO: “Haha, why not?”

TBS: “Seriously?”

PPP: “Because he doesn’t have it.”

CFO: “I know he doesn’t have it.  I don’t have to vote for it.”

PPP: “I only vote for it.

PPP:  “Well, then why doesn’t the GOP just nominate Santorum and go big or go home?”

TBS:  “Cause it’s a guaranteed loss.”

CFO: “At least Romney will make it close, make it interesting and if he can’t pull off the win, he loses with dignity.”

PPP:  “Fair enough.  But why not lose the cardboard cut-out candidate and see if Santorum can’t shake things up.  Unless he doesn’t represent you.”

CFO:  “He doesn’t represent enough of the Republican Party.  It’s a bad idea.  At least Romney represents the traditional center of the GOP. He’s a little old school and not extreme.”

PPP:  “Booooooring.” (Yeah, intelligent, I know. In my defense, it was getting late.)

Look.  The reason I haven’t been blogging as often about this year’s Republican primary is that I didn’t actually consider it a true race.  I thought that the media was capitalizing on the 24/7 news cycle, the general public’s fear of the economy, Twitter, blogs and all the other media tools that have exploded since 2008 and simply trying to make viewers believe there was an interesting GOP primary going on.

In my opinion, it was not that interesting.  I was much more interested in the dynamic between Romney and Obama.  As my best friend wrote on his blog, Romney/Obama represents the clash of two classic views of politics, policy and culture.  That’s the clash I was interested in.

It never occurred to me (after Iowa) that anyone but Romney could win this nomination.  I did my best to keep an eye on the campaigns so that when the candidates or media touched on issues bigger than the so-called horserace, and actually got into America’s values and future, I could make a note or comment or whatever.  But, President Gingrich? President Santorum? Hardly gave it a second thought.

Yet, here we are.

The New York Times noted yesterday that Romney’s “other” victory, Maine, might be stripped by GOP officials running the election up there.  If that happens, even Romney’s perceived lead would still be subjected to the mathematical scrutiny of delegating-counting.

As if that’s not enough, the Daily Beast is writing pieces and tweeting about Romney supporters supposedly backing Santorum.  Even if that’s not the “announcement” the Santorum campaign is about to make today, the story alone gives the appearance of Santorum gaining ground.

Which apparently he is.  A new CNN poll has Santorum leading in Michigan and tied with Romney overall.

Seriously?!?!? Rick Santorum?

Look, perhaps he’s the so-called “red meat” of the Republican Party.  You know, the rare T-bone steak? The bread and butter? Coca-cola? Whatever gastronomical reference you prefer.  He’s the classic conservative.  I don’t happen to agree but maybe that’s why I’m an Independent.

I don’t see it or it, for that matter.

I think Romney’s out of touch – the “I’ll bet you $10,000” jokes or the “I didn’t make that much off speaking fees, I think it was $350,000 or something” references to wealth – but he’s a skilled and smart individual.  He struggles too much with the trying to be a certain type of Republican and “play nice” with the Far Right.  As a result, he appears weak, confused and impersonal.

Given that environment and the lack of enthusiasm to trot him out against Obama who is an expert campaigner, I can understand other candidates getting more attention than they deserve.  Exhibit A – Rick Santorum.

Look, I’m not necessarily saying he’s a bad person.  Although, by now, we all know what Dan Savage thinks of Candidate Santorum.  What I am saying, is that Rick Santorum is not the best candidate to represent the Republican Party and he’s not electable.

Simply put, it’s a bad strategy.  Unless the GOP has given up on Mitt Romney and doesn’t mind “losing without dignity” as my friend CFO implied.  If that’s the case, then Santorum could serve a valuable purpose to the future of the Republican Party.  This primary and Romney vs. Santorum can help the GOP figure out who it is moving forward.  How will the GOP represent all the divergent constituents of the party? Is the GOP really one party or is it really two – fiscal conservatives (David Brooks, George Will, Mitt Romney) and social conservatives (Sean Hannity, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum)?  If this party cannot find a way to include the Romneys, then that’s a major problem.  If loyal voters are defecting the Romney campaign because he’s not a “true conservative,” then that’s a major problem.

If Romney’s boring and doesn’t have it, that’s fine.

If Romney is no longer considered conservative enough, yikes.

I think that’s my biggest issue with Santorum’s latest surge.  Why is it happening?  The answer to that question tells us a lot about the future of Republican, and American, politics.

In short (as if that’s ever possible here on The Pickle), I do not believe that Santorum wins the nomination and I do believe that Romney becomes a stronger candidate having been through this difficult primary.  But what I once thought was ridiculous – Santorum winning the nomination – looks more possible everyday.  Enough that it at least got me thinking and writing about politics again.

Note:  The Huffington Post link above includes a 44 minute video of Dan Savage interviewing Rick Santorum.  I was only able to watch the first 20 minutes so far, but I would highly recommend watching the interview.  Two men who disagree about almost everything in American society sat down and actually spoke to each other about their beliefs and thoughts without name-calling and without (too much) rhetoric. Check it out. Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/dan-savage-rick-santorum-google_n_1257300.html

GOP: A different sorta pickle

After Iowa but before New Hampshire, my computer crashed.  Thus, no posts about New Hampshire.  No posts about Jon Huntsman.  No posts about Mitt Romney.  Frankly, it was a convenient time to lost my computer.  Because…

THERE WAS NOTHING TO SAY.  Breaking news (with apologies to CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) – there’s still nothing to say.  Yet when you turn on cable news, there’s still an awful lot of “breaking news.”  Breaking news:  Romney stops for coffee shakes hand, seems semi-sincere.  Breaking news: Gingrich still snarky. Breaking news:  Rick Perry unlikely to say anything interesting anymore.

I get it. 2012 is an election year.  But come on.  Let’s take this opportunity to dive into more substantive issues.  Instead of covering the so-called “horse race” of winning delegates, that Romney has already won.  Let’s take this opportunity to understand the modern GOP.  Let’s look at what the wealth gap really means and who’s serious about addressing it.  Let’s see whether Democrats are paying any attention to politics yet.  I don’t know.  But to me, there’s a real opportunity here to use Romney’s comfortable lead to open up the discussion and coverage.

The two most interesting “story lines” for 2012 in politics aren’t the candidates, per se, but the changing way Americans interact with political and social questions.

1).  The more electoral of the two issues is the “pickle” that the GOP voters currently find themselves.  It’s a classic.  As long as there have been elections, and most especially since the rise of the two-party (only) system, Americans have had to balance principles with electability.  This year is no different.  And even though this is always the case in primaries, I still find it interesting.  My parents are solid social conservative voters.  The GOP would have to work incredibly hard to lose my parents’ votes.  Also, my parents are reasonably attentive to politics.  They are not active in the party or anything but they pay attention, watch the news and are above-average when it comes to being informed.

The other day they asked me – “What’s the deal with Ron Paul? How come he won so many votes in Iowa and New Hampshire?”

My response = The pickle!  Voters are in a pickle and when push came to shove especially in a primary where many voters were looking for an alternative to Romney, voters went with principle over practical.  Ron Paul is not a practical candidate.  He’s older.  He’s abstract.  He’s extreme in a few policy areas.

Yet, Ron Paul is right.

Granted, Ron Paul’s campaign is totally unrealistic and he isn’t electable.  At all.  But in terms of political theory.  He’s great.  He speaks an ideological language straight out of an undergraduate political science class.  He tells you the way many people wish the country functioned.  He forgets to mention the other 50%+ of the population who think they should have a say in how laws are made and policy is formed.  If given a clean slate and no opposition, would all his policies work? Would a Ron Paul experiment improve the American quality of life?  WHO KNOWS? But its interesting to think about.  And given the fact that Romney is quite comfortable in his role as anointed-nominee, many voters decided to send a message.  They voted for interesting over safe.

The best part is – this is just one, small example of the Party’s dilemma. Or trilemma.  The GOP has two or three warring factions, ideologically, and its becoming increasing difficult for them to “play nice.”  This is interesting to me.  I don’t have much more to say on the topic, unless we’re all ok with this post lasting 1500 words and taking up more of your time than you’ve already graciously offered me.  I’d like to believe we have a candidate or party strong enough to capture some of the nuances and dynamics of this facture in the party and strike out on their own.  I’ve shied away from rooting for a legitimate third party because it just seems so damned unlikely.  But something has to give.  The fact that Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are all working the same votes under the same title is becoming increasingly unrealistic.

Enough of that.

2). There’s something going on with the gap between rich and poor in both parties.  Someone outta pay attention.  The funny thing is that it might not be what we originally thought.  The original storyline went something like this – the unemployed under 40 crowd is getting the poor, working class and middle class riled up over taxes and big business and the 1% are all super conservative, hoard their money and find loopholes everywhere to screw the rest of us.

According to an article in today’s New York Times, perhaps not.  This article explores the diversity of the 1% and paints a more understanding and agreeable picture (for the most part).  At the same time, politicians cannot see the big picture (as usual).  They need to start crafting a message and long-range plan to deal with these voters.

Not because there’s a strategic advantage to exploiting socio-economic classes for votes.  But because American is starting to represent and stand for values that aren’t in keeping with what we’ve always thought it meant to be American and we should make sure everyone’s ok with that.  Otherwise, we’re gonna wake up one day and be disfunction, scared and irrelevant.

Some might say that’s already happening.   I disagree.

But that’s doesn’t mean we don’t have serious question regarding capitalism, social welfare safety net and government intervention in every industry that need to be answered.   Between now and the two parties national conventions is the perfect time to start working on this.  Slate, NYT, WashPo, DailyBeast, New Yorker and columnists of substance combine forces and let’s dig into this!  What’s Friedman up to?  Can we get him back here looking into this?  If he needs help, David Brooks and someone like Joe Scarborough might be interesting too.

I’m not sure if the solution is political, economic or cultural but it feels like we’re headed down the wrong road and picking up steam.  Just me? I might be over-selling this particular topic but I think there’s more to say/write/discover and we need more real journalists looking into it.

Wow.  How’s that for a rambling opened ended post about all the work other people should do? I’m about to graduate law school in May, so if anyone wants to give me a job looking into these or any other political, legal or social issues – I’m all yours!  I just need enough to pay my loan payment and perhaps have a cup of coffee once or twice a day.

And please, in closing, let’s stop pretending like Romney might not be the nominee.  Barring a crazy scandal, this thing was over with his incredibly strong showing among social conservatives in Iowa.  He’ll lose with dignity and won’t concede a landslide.

There, now let’s get on to something more interesting.

 

Zakaria: Conservatism has lost touch with reality

On June 16, I posted a piece about how the GOP presidential candidates reminded me of high schoolers making campaign promises unhinged from what is actually possible.  A few days later, a much more respected and reputable source, made the same point.  Fareed Zakaria posted this blog piece about how Republicans have become comfortable with unrealistic and impractical expectations and promises.

Regardless of what you think about these candidates or the GOP platform overall, there is a disconnect between what is realistic for a first term president in the midst of a economic recession and what is currently being promoted at the early GOP debates.  Understanding that candidates must win the base to win primaries, I get what Pawlenty, Romney and Huntsman are doing.  On the other hand, it fosters articles like one Zakaria wrote and weakens the eventual GOP nominee in the general election.

I’m not sure what the solution is but I would agree it requires these candidates to be more true to their past record as (moderate) governors (Pawlenty, Romney, and the somewhat more conservative former Utah Gov. Huntsman) and not totally bow to the extreme Right.  In fact, voters seem to prefer straight-forward, honest approaches.  What was McCain’s big mistake in 2008? Palin.  My Tea Party friends might disagree but voters could tell that Sarah Palin was a political trick to attempt to win the media momentum away from Barack Obama’s campaign and was not true to his previous record.  In small ways, both Romney and Pawlenty are making the same mistake already.  It’s unfortunate because both have the potential to drive this election toward an honest discussion of what Americans want from our tax, fiscal and economic policies in the future.  Instead, they appear to be pandering.  Whether they are or not, does not matter as much as what people perceive to be happening.  And when someone like Fareed Zakaria is asking questions about the practicality and common sense of a party historically premised on those two virtues – it’s not a good sign. And I’d just like to say, the Pickle was first to this story by 3 days. Count it.

Link:  http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/19/zakaria-conservatism-has-lost-touch-with-reality/

GOP 2012: “A new soda machine in the cafeteria”

Do you remember in high school when someone was running for class president or student council president there was that shockingly ambitious battle of campaign promises? “I’m gonna get us a new snack machine” “I would plan prom at the Plaza in midtown Manhattan” “I’ll get the Principal fired” One after the next, each more outrageous and unlikely than the last. I get the sense that the 2012 Republican primaries are taking on the character of a high school student government election. I’m not trying to be rude or cynical but when Mitt Romney admits to the human impact on climate change and Rush Limbaugh uses that to declare Romney’s candidacy over – there’s a big problem. I’m already of the mindset that 80% (made up figure) of the problems in today’s campaigns can be attributed to primaries and the control extreme elements of the political parties have over choosing the nominee. The 2012 campaign season is still in its infancy and yet it seems that the extreme elements are once again cannibalizing the more reasonable candidates. Romney and Pawlenty have been moved farther and farther Right to make the likes of Palin, Bachmann and Limbaugh happy. At the same time ruining their chances of being taken seriously in a general election (see McCain 2008). Voters can see when a candidate is being disingenuous simply to coddle voters in some cases or completely misunderstands them in others (see Romney 2008, it’s all over YouTube).

Why candidates ignore the power of consistency is beyond me? (for an example of where consistency alone won an election, see Bush 2004).  As such, this year’s crop of GOP presidential candidates can be isolated in two groups – consistently unreasonable and reasonably inconsistent. The consistent candidates all seem to be espousing risky and extreme proposals that either involved starving the government “down to size” or re-engineering the social contract. The more moderate candidates from states like Massachusetts (also elected Kennedy and Kerry) and Minnesota (also elected Al Franken) are either shown to be “too liberal” or awkwardly try to reinvent themselves. As Bill Mahar said last night on his show, it’s interesting from a political observation perspective that “the Mormon is the most reasonable candidate in the race.”

And yes, that will be the first and last time (hopefully) I quote Bill Mahar or generally acknowledge his presence in the political conversation. But he has a point. In some respects, the GOP has come a long way with several women, a Morman and an African American businessman as candidates.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to celebrate these facts because the messages coming out of these debates and campaign speeches are overly dramatic and fatalistic. Just like the high school kid who promises a soda machine in the cafeteria without knowing whether or not that’s within the student council’s power, GOP candidates simultaneously criticize President Obama for “doing nothing” and “destorying America.” Then on top of that conundrum, they claim to be able to reverse everything in one budget cycle by cutting taxes and slashing government services. It’s really hard to take seriously. (And a topic for another post – the media isn’t helping by implying or outright claiming that Obama is in trouble. Really? I find that hard to believe when there is no one candidate that could even win the support of all Republicans at this point. But I digress.)

So, what’s the point?

Two fold – I don’t see any reason to take any of these candidates seriously at this point and the worst thing a GOP candidate could do this year is advocate extreme or dramatic changes. Ironically, the budget/debt crisis screams for dramatic attention and yet I don’t think voters are in the mood for experimenting with the economy or uncertain tax policies. Based on the political culture, difficult job market, slowing of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even the floods, tornadoes and wildfires, voters want leadership and stability. Instead, Bachmann is offering a total repeal of Obamacare and the possibility of driving the healthcare industry further into uncertainty. Romney is unable to articulate a consistent position on his experience in Massachusetts and any other topic beyond his interest in being the nominee (for example, why back away from his healthcare success? He brought together a bipartisan bill in a difficult state for that type of deal. That’s just the kinda of middle-of-the-road compromise that could get moderates, Independents and conservative Democrats to vote for him). Anyway. It seems that he’s backing away from things that could be strengths but does not seem believable on his current proposals (see Kerry 2004). Pawlenty, at least, has the advantage of being new to the game, so to speak. He’s fairly unknown to most voters outside his state and has a history of being successful in a politically unique state (see Ventura, Franken and Bachmann, over the last several years). On the other hand, he promised to be the straight-forward, honest candidate and to speak the truth to the voters. Yet, given the opportunity to criticize his opponents, he’s already backing away from his most interesting and provocative statements (see “Obamneycare” from Sunday).

Having only been “politically conscious” for the last 4 Presidential elections, I don’t have a ton of history behind my observations. Yet, I see Republican candidates making some classic mistakes, not trusting voters (especially moderate voters to show up), and thinking that attacking Obama is the best strategy. Obama might have a controversial reputation with the auto bailouts, Obamacare and a slower than expected economic recovery, but he was incredibly ambitious, consistent and active. In the end, the voters seem to always trend toward the candidate that most easily articulates his or her case for why they should be President and what can be expected over the next four years. In some cases, voters seem to vote for four predictable years over four unpredictable years even if their policy preferences do not match perfectly (see Bush 2004 and McCain/Palin 2008, emphasis on the Palin). Voters like to know what they are going to get.

Today, it is clear that no Republican has stepped up to articulate why they or the GOP should win in 2012 and as always, President Obama has the power of incumbency on his side. I haven’t seen anything, yet, to convince me that we’re being promised anything other than a soda machine in the cafeteria and a lop-sided election.

Serious candidates beware

My gut tells me that President Obama is fairly safe in his upcoming bid for a second term as President of the United States.  To beat an incumbent for the White House, much like heavyweight boxing, you’ve got to knockout out the champ and not just last 12 rounds.  If you don’t believe me, see Kerry for President 2004.  Bush was knocked down a few times, but Kerry did not overcome the power of the incumbent. 

Regardless of my amateur intuition, the New York Times published an interesting story today that a new poll confirms what my gut was telling me.   Republicans would have an uphill battle beating President Obama as it is and on top of that, GOP candidates are not particularly exciting either.  With all due respect to former Gov. Huckabee, if he is the only candidate with favorables above 50%, that is not a recipe for winning.  Again, he’s an interesting person and candidate to be sure, but even his popularity with libertarians is not enough to carry moderates and independents.  Plus, his talk show on Fox News will not help much.  That’s alot of hours of tape and many quotes that can be easily looped on cable news or, dare I say, taken out of context.

Given that scenario, perhaps Obama/Biden 2012 can run an efficient and successful campaign without spending $1 billion.  Not likely.  Go big or go home, right? 

Oh well, at least the article was intersting.  Check it out:

Poll Finds Lack of Passion for Republican Candidates
By JIM RUTENBERG
Published: April 21, 2011
Republican voters have yet to form strong opinions about most of their potential candidates for president in 2012, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

 

Link:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/22/us/politics/22republicans.html

I’m hoping to write more on 2012 this weekend, but felt that I should pass this along before it is removed from the front page or forgotten.

Why Big Government is Too Small

In thinking about how our government handles problems and policy, I’ve come to realize our government isn’t thinking big enough.  This is made even more relevant this week as President Obama announced a reengineering of NASA’s space program. Obama shifted the focus from the traditional manned space shuttle travel to scientific development here on Earth and deep space exploration.  This got me thinking about why the federal government is not doing more “strategic” planning or high-level planning in all areas of policy.

For the most part, the government is thinking too small, too personal and too individualized.

Our government has narrowed its focused down to the individual level to such a degree that the federal government is literally bogged down in people’s personal lives – sending checks, monitoring students’ test scores, and generally providing daily services.  As a society, I think we allowed this to develop because it is understood to be what’s best for stability and our most vulnerable members.  What we really did was shrink the government down so that it is no longer built to manage macroeconomics, nationwide industries, natural disasters, regional unemployment, climate control policy, national defense, regulate or develop long-range fiscal strategy, focus scientific research and anticipate crisis.

Big government shouldn’t mean providing more entitlement programs and becoming more closely connected to our private lives and bank accounts.  Big government should mean the exact opposite – high-level government.  BIG government. Instead of reaching out and “touching” as many citizens as possible, the federal government should be the parent company of social services, the “Board of Regents” of the educational system and the referee when it comes to social controversy.

You’ll often hear Republicans complain about “big government” and I suspect they mean width.  GOPers fear government influence getting wider and wider into a variety of new industries and increasing power (which usually means increasing spending and taxes).  Democrats, and liberal economists like Paul Krugman, see government as a tool used to solve sociological and economic problems.  As a result, it is natural they would broaden the scope of government influence.

But I think everyone is focusing in the wrong direction.  Government needs to get bigger, not wider.

Our entitlement programs have become really shortsighted.  It’s like the old phrase, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”  Similarly, why can’t the government be in the business of teaching the people?  Instead, why do we continue the expensive and short-term policy of giving out fish?

Despite what it sounds like, I didn’t start this post with any smaller government, lower taxes agenda.  It just does not seem to make sense in a country this size with the diversity of industries, geography and culture to be trying to manage the daily lives of any portion of the population. I submit the country is too large and too diverse to continue to attempt personalized government on a federal level.

In an effort to make this clearer, let’s take a look at some examples:

Healthcare. Instead of President Obama’s $980 Billion healthcare reform, the Obama Administration could have taken a program like the one in Massachusetts, packaged it up and marketed it to the states.  In this way, it’s not the federal government mandating anything, but acting as a solution facilitator and passing good ideas between the states.  There are many areas that we allow states to manage individually – medical marijuana in CA, gay marriage in Vermont, and gun control in TX, just to name a few.  If we become more comfortable with this approach, we can make a more efficient, cheaper and freer society.  In 1932, it might have made more sense to treat the entire country exactly the same, but the truth is that the country is much more regionalized and diverse than the government can handle.

In this scenario, the government wouldn’t be in the personal mortgage business (Fannie Mae) but rather governing and regulating the entire finance and lending industries.  I understand that it’s easier to guarantee home ownership by establishing government control all the way down to the individual level; however it significantly limits how much the government can manage simultaneously.

In an effort to combat social ills and protect our country’s most vulnerable, we’ve gone far afield from what the government is actually good at and is reasonably capable of doing. Should society’s problems and our country’s most vulnerable citizens be the priority? Of course. Using the federal government to mandate a standard or establish the available options to government agencies dealing with these problems means the standard will be too high for some, too low for others and more than likely mediocre for everyone else.  This produces inefficient and less effective results.

Is it possible to rethink the federal government as a high-level manager across the country as a whole? The government is in the best position to focus on the issue mentioned earlier.  By incentivizing and regulating, the government can get bigger and alleviate some of the practical and financial strain, which threatens to grind our current government to a halt.

Liberals can embrace the expansion of the government’s management and vision; conservatives can embrace an increased trust in the role of states.

Raising the bar of the federal government’s focus, attention and influence is a big step.  A few years ago, I would have said it’s an impossible step.  I would have said people reject change and would be unwilling to risk the stability of their attentive federal government.  Today, considering the economic collapse of 2008, the rise of the Tea Partiers, and a growing concern about long-term strategy in America, I think it’s more likely than ever that we could change directions.  But which direction are we headed?