Tag Archives: President Obama

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.

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Up is Down, Down is Up: Romney is Liberal

There’s something weird going on in politics this time around and its been nagging me for a few weeks.  Since the conventions I’ve been trying to articulate exactly what’s been bothering me and I think Mitt Romney stumbled into it or at least 47% of it.  When the video surfaced of Romney at a May 2012 fundraiser talking about “victims” and “dependents” and how many people may or may not be off-limits to him, he also revealed a subtext that has flipped the two political parties on their heads.

Republicans are advocates of change.

Granted, Romney was not saying he thought more of the 47% should pay their “fair share.” Perish the thought.  No.  Romney was saying 

(or wasn’t saying) that 47% of the people who don’t pay personal income tax have no vested interest in lower taxes.  This was made even clearer by a witty New Yorker blog post thoughtfully sent to the Pickle by a die-hard reader (thanks, TBS).  The author argues that its not so much that Romney was wrong as it is he didn’t make the whole point.  The lower taxes argument does not mean a whole lot to people who do not pay taxes.  Obama’s response – make the millionaires pay their “fair share.”

Essentially, let the Bush tax cuts expires and keep everything else pretty much the same.

In 2008, Barack Obama ran on “change.”  He meant – change Washington, change politics, and change hearts and minds.  Classic Democratic rhetoric.  Apparently he’s realized that it’s difficult to change to Washington from the inside.  So, what’s he advocating? Slow, reasonable and practical growth.

What’s Romney pushing? Repeal, overturn, reform and redo

If you define “liberal” and “conservative” as “demanding change” and “maintaining the status quo,” I would argue that Obama is conservative and Romney is liberal.

Yeah, Mitt Romney.  Liberal.  I know.  It’s weird, right?  I mean, he was governor of Massachusetts but still, he’s as vanilla as they come.  And yet, he is the candidate trying to convince Americans to reverse progress, upend government programs and agencies, repeal legislation and let American companies fail in order to restore the market balance. 

In many ways, Romney is risky.

Romney is not interested in stability or consistency.  

Romney is liberal.  Change.  Kinda ironic, isn’t it?

Obama, on the other hand, is making the level-headed appeal for rationality, common sense and normalcy.  Obama is conservative by nature.  Despite what you might hear at a local Tea Party rally, Obama is moderate.

We used to think about liberal and conservative in terms of how much government was involved in policy choices.  This is an old and out-of-date definition.  The government is everywhere and in everything.  Romney is not gonna change that.  Romney is government.  He lived it in Massachusetts and he’ll embrace the role of government should he ever assume Highest Office.  

The true definition of liberal and conservative should be in terms of risk vs. stability.  How much risk is a candidate willing to take? How turbulent to the economy and other areas will a candidate’s policies be?

In that context, I would argue that the Republicans have become the rowdy activists and Democrats the somber wonks.

Republicans are looking to rock the boat this election.  Voter ID laws.  Women’s rights.  Deregulation.  Climate denial.  I’m sure Democrats will read this and immediately point to the fact that Republicans are conservative because they are trying to take the country back to the 18th Century.  But that’s not what I’m saying.  It’s clear that Dems still value progress on social issues.  No question.  But more and more, social issues are not dominating elections the way they were in the late 80s and 90s. 

Instead, millennials (and everyone outside the top tax bracket) are increasingly voting on economic and fiscal issues.  Employment.  Taxes.  Job creation.  Cost of living.  Energy. 

I voted for President Obama in 2008 and my expectations were high for what an Obama Administration would mean for the political climate in this country.  In that regard, I was wrong.  President Obama did not fundamentally change how we interact with our government or politics.  He just didn’t.   From where I sit, he made emergency decisions in 2009-2010 to try to salvage the autos and banks.  Besides political risks on health care, he played it right down the middle.  Even health care wasn’t that risky, Massachusetts had already gone there!

So what?

I don’t know.  And that’s the truth.  I don’t think defining Romney as an activity or Obama as a moderate is going to change anyone’s vote.  I don’t think the term liberal really even means change anymore.  It means Left, as in politically left of center. Similarly, conservative means traditionalor small government. It does not really mean status quo.

What I do think is that Obama is safer than Romney.  I know that flies in the face of many voters, whether in the 47% or not, that believe Obama is the dangerous candidate. 

What would Obama “do” in a second term?  What’s he capable of?

I think those sentiments are ridiculous.  Fundamentally, I think its Romney who wants to take risks.  He’s the investor.  The venture capitalist.  I know his speeches are filled with traditional American values.  But he is looking to halt the slow creep of the government and make dramatic and dynamic changes to the way we do business and perhaps live.  That sounds liberal to me.

Some might read this as a reverse endorsement of Romney/Ryan.  I assure you that’s not how it was intended but then again, I didn’t build it.

State of the Union Reaction: Almost Immediate and Unnecessarily Blunt

Count it.  It was a great speech. Was it epic? No. Will it be remembered forever? No. Will it be remembered in election season? Unlikely.

What makes me call it “great” is the fact that it measured, appropriate and honest.  It was better than good and fell short of “a moment.”  This President is an extremely practical president.  This speech reflected that.  This President is left on some issues, moderate on others and conservative on work ethic and responsibility.  This speech reflected that.  This President sees the government as both a tactical tool and long-term strategy solution without getting anywhere near socialism, communism or whatever other -ism is the critics’ flavor of the week.  This speech reflected that.

President Obama made several outstanding points:

  1. Tax reforms can create jobs.
  2. “Teachers matter.”
  3. Some people need to be reminded to play by the rules. “A return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help us protect our people and our economy.”
  4. “…Washington is broken.” “Can you blame [most Americans] for feeling a little cynical?”
  5. “deficit of trust” between Wall St. and Main St. (thanks to my wife, M, her comment got this one on the list)
  6. Quoting Abraham Lincoln (like Sam Adams) is always a good decision.
  7. “…the State of our Union will always be strong.” (And shame on Mitch Daniels for calling it “grave” and Obama dishonest – all in the same breath).

President Obama made several less-than-outstanding points*:

*Please note that I feel more compelled to defend my criticisms.  The other points seem to speak for themselves.

  1. “This blueprint begins with American manufacturing.” Really?  I keep hearing this.  (Probably from brillant economists and I’m just the village idiot on this one).  Yet, this feels a bit like relying on the past and reverting to what worked 40 years ago instead of pushing forward to life after heavy industrialized manufacturing.  He didn’t say lets start manufacturing sophisticated electronics, biotech components or tools, or medical solutions; he mentioned cars, roads and bridges.  He did mention new energy solutions, so that counts.  And don’t get me wrong, I want to see I-84 in Connecticut improved as much as anyone.  But somehow this feels like bowing to the conventional wisdom of a previous generation.
  2. Let’s “take on” illegal immigration and write a bill that allows illegal aliens who are currently getting an education to “earn” their citizenship.  Agreed. Sounds great.  From my perspective, that was the extent of the proposal.  It sounded great but did not go far enough in explaining a). what the President supports when it comes to immigration reform and b). what that legislation might look like.  Granted, Congress writes the law.  I get that.  But I still felt like bold statements that are clearly supposed to be a message to DREAM Act supporters did not explain his rationale or strategy to the rest of us.
  3. “That’s why we need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior.”  This one is a tough one for me.  A bit of a pickle, you might say.  Balancing the need for regulation with the free market approach to irresponsible actors has always been a conflict at the heart of our two-party system and cuts to the core of the need for a President and Congress who can work together.  This balancing act between regulation and free market principles IS the basic balancing act we’ve been asking the American government to master since the founding of the Republic.  I’m not expecting President Obama to solve it in one speech or even three years.  But quotes like this make my ears perk up.  Because, while yes, we need smart regulations to curb irresponsible, powerful private actors; we also need to let loses, bankruptcies and market corrections occur when those regulations fail or do not exist.  In the last ten years or so, we’ve had neither smart regulations nor the guts to let the results of bad regulations play out (Republicans and Democrats alike, see W. for TARP1).  So, I support President Obama’s themes around smart government and efficient regulation but I get wary when the President begins to act like we can predict where irresponsible behavior will strike next.  There aren’t enough regulations in the world…
  4. “Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else— like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.”  Rhetorically, I think this is an effective line.  In reality, I do not think either party is being honest about the so-called 1%.  Republican voters do not trust The Government to actually use the money from higher taxes effectively or to address anything other than pet projects.  Democratic voters think that if only The Government had more revenue or all the tax revenues their supposed to have, then programs would operate effectively.  Hogwash.
    1. The question is – do we want to add another tax bracket for earners above $379,000/year? If we do, add one and create a % higher than the current 35%.  If we don’t, then we’ve got some serious cuts to make.  The President is right about not being able to do both.  But perhaps arguing about people who make between $250,000/year and $379,000/year isn’t the best way to frame the argument?
    2. Framing it as Billionaire vs. Secretary isn’t bad but it ignores some giant implications about the capital gains vs. income tax rates.  (Perhaps he thinks Americans cannot handle that portion of the discussion yet?)
  5. “They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to their country’s future, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility. That’s how we’ll reduce our deficit. That’s an America built to last.”  A sense of shared responsibility is how we’ll reduce our deficit? Also, isn’t “Built to Last” the trademark of Chevy trucks or something? Did America buy it in the last bailout? (Sorry, cheap joke. Perhaps a bit better than tonight’s joke about spilled milk. Though he did save it in the end.)

Two quick side notes of interest:

  1. “I’m directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.”  Those I was watching the speech with tonight and I decided that this means wind power on public land and the first client will be the US Navy? I think I got that right but if someone else heard differently please let The Pickle know.
  2. “That’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates.” M is becoming the voice of the people.  Her comment was “I wonder how he’ll define ‘responsible’?”  I agree.  I also wondered if this was a good thing.  Do we want a bunch of people refinancing?  I guess so, but wasn’t really sure why.

As I said, I support many of the themes and perspectives that the President trumpeted tonight.  Innovation.  Authenticity.  Good Ol’ Fashioned American gumption.  Combined with efficiency, incentives and progress.  Yes.  Did I sense hope during tonight’s speech? Yes.  But let’s not forget.  This is a practical President giving a practical speech.  It was just abstract enough to pull in the idealist dreamers out there and just realistic enough to make sense to open-minded, hard-working Americans.  Was it a campaign speech? Not exactly.  Was it a policy speech? Not exactly.  Was it a timeless speech for the ages? Not really.

In the end, it may have been just what the country needed.

Link to text of speech:  http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ipL6t6dU4L6bZEJqiSK3XI8VAQCQ?docId=4abd26d5a7de4d55b6b634ff37833b39

Silence is golden

If silence is golden and actions speak louder than words, the lack of posting on the Pickle for the last two months is a 24-karat megaphone.  Believe it or not, I did not have much to say.  I think that the most interesting political news over the past 2 months has been Occupy Wall Street, #OWS, #99%, etc.   But there has been enough digital ink spilt on that topic to cover the distance between Breitbart.com and the HuffingtonPost and back.   I understand the occupiers frustration and hope that their involvement in the social/political conversation in this country will benefit us all.   It’s a pretty sizable task to take on the powers-that-be (literally) and hope for any real change, but it would be an amazing feat if they could organize some tangible policy changes.

What’s more surprising about the OWS movement is that no candidate, individual or group has attempted to funnel this attention into actual power?  You’d think someone – President Obama, for example – could gain some real political currency by embracing the frustration and giving it a voice and a persona.  Is it that he finds it too politically risky? Is it that he doesn’t agree? The type of rhetoric used in his 2008 campaign is remarkably similar to what we’ve been hearing from the occupiers themselves.  Perhaps Obama has missed his chance and is too intertwined with Wall Street banks and big business.  I seem to think that he agrees with OWS but cannot come out and say it because he’s scared of the political ramifications.  Granted, I could be projecting onto Obama what I would want him to do or what I would tell him to do (if I could).  To me, playing it safe here is even worse.    It either shows a lack of courage which I don’t think is the case or a misreading of the strength of the Far Right and GOP candidates.

Mr. President, Romney/Cain/Perry (or any combination of the three) will not beat you in 2012.  Please be yourself and tell us what you really think.

Since this is my first post in 2 months, I’m going to take the liberty to throw in some other thoughts too.

It turns out silence is golden if you’re Mitt Romney.  This guy is going to walk into the nomination simply by NOT commenting on anything.  It’s remarkable.  Play the middle of the road at debates.  Ignore petty political in-fighting regarding Rick Perry’s hunting habits or Herman Cain’s past.  And without ever taking any risk to speak of, become the GOP nominee.  The John Kerry of the Republican Party.  I only say that to reinforce my prediction about 2012.  It will be 2004-esque only less competitive.

It only takes a quick glance around the Web today to see stories like Egan in the NYTimes or blogs like this one calling the GOP candidates clowns, amateurs and vain.

This whole campaign season has been a joke.  Watch footage of the last debate for further proof.  Again, perhaps it’s just me, sitting up here in Connecticut, attending law school and growing ever cynical about this country’s future (and the weather, as a matter of fact).  I don’t see the excitement or support for any Republican candidate and I think Perry now sees that it was a huge mistake to join this race.  But here we are.

The Americans Elect 2012 movement recently sent me an e-mail asking for nominees for new, different and outside-the-box (it was time for another cliche) candidates for the Presidency.  Their motto “Pick a President, not a Party” is gaining traction and I’m starting to get my hopes up, which is never a good thing.  I voted for Obama in 2008 and I’m planning to vote for him again unless someone else shows they can say anything of significance and speak for me.

There are major economic and equality issues that run to the core of capitalism, democracy and life in this country.  We’re still not talking about them.  Yes, we want to “create jobs” and “get America working again” but there is no question that Washington (Boehner, McConnell, Pelosi), Romney, Perry and even to some degree Obama are addressing these questions with the same old answers.   We’re still hearing about manufacturing, home ownership and exporting goods.  Really? That’s like the newspaper industry trying to embrace the Internet by printing more newspapers.

I was not intending to be a Debbie Downer here.  There is hope.  Obama has plenty of time to figure this thing out and make 2012 all about the country’s future.  Sure, his “hope” campaign got mocked a bit for being too idealistic in 2008 and it would be very difficult to run on hope again in 2012.  But there is a silent majority out there who is frustrated, tired and confused about where these financial troubles are headed.  We are moderates, independents, progressives, libertarians, Democrats and Republicans alike.  Many of us aren’t as into politics as The Pickle and aren’t even paying attention yet.  Obama can still be the voice of the people going forward.  Can someone else come in and steal his thunder?  Yes!  It’s unlikely but in this digital, milli-second culture.  It’s possible.  It’s not coming from the Republicans, I can tell you that much.

Hopefully Obama is hearing the OWSers and getting a sense for the tension that is building across this country.  Hopefully he captures that energy and becomes the voice of the millions of people “stuck in the middle.”  We hear about corporate loopholes that include million dollar bonuses and cannot make sense of our place in this economy.  Hopefully someone can.  Hopefully that someone is a candidate for President in 2012.  It could be Obama.  Could it be anyone else?

Soapbox Derby, of a different sort

Quote from Iowa’s Ames Tribune:

“And as nominee for the Republican Party, I will not rest until I elect 13 more titanium-spined senators, and we’re going to finally repeal Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, turn the economy around, create jobs, and it won’t take more than three months to get the whole shooting match already up to speed,” [Michele] Bachmann said. “Iowans get it. We’re going to do it.”

Must be nice to know you’ll never have to back any of that up.  In fact, this is the problem with primaries and “soapboxes” at this early stage.  It reinforces the worst things about partisan politics – the party extremes and wild promises.  This weekend in Iowa was like a clumsy foot race to see who could be more down home American and who could find the most creative way to bash President Obama.

And the winner is…Michele Bachmann.  Turns out that that was exacting the right choice for a soapbox-themed day.  In fact, the soapbox is a perfect metaphor for two reasons.

First, the GOP has been on a soapbox since at least 2005 and more likely since the Bush Administration invaded Iraq in 2003.   Presenting national defense as a black-and-white issue, the GOP created a soapbox, stood on it and dared anyone else to question it.  Then the economy crashed.  The Far Right responded with a soapbox of its own.  Less government and lower taxes.  The Republican Party has been dealing with that soapbox ever since.

Second, the soapbox has never been associated with practicality or reality.  Wikipedia associates the soapbox with flamboyant, impromptu, and unofficial political speech.  In more modern interpretations, I understand the soapbox to be “the ideal.”   We stand on our proverbial soapboxes wishing the world was a certain way, wishing we could control everything and wishing everyone agreed with us.  Yet, the whole notion of the soapbox is at odds with compromise, common sense and efficiency.  Just like primaries and, lately, the Republican Party.  A soapbox is not useful, helpful or realistic in today’s diverse culture.

The soapbox is the perfect mascot for the current Republican Primary and the festivities this weekend crowning Michele Bachmann the straw poll favorite.

Bachmann is not being realistic because she does not have to be.

She’s on a soapbox.

When you’re on a soapbox and speaking to a crowd of people who agree with you, it’s not tough to look popular.  When you move to a public park, or the public square, and you’re shouting a so-called “parade of horribles” about America today, people start to look at you a little differently.  They’re on the way to work or lunch or happy hour and you’re shouting about how their wrong, ignorant and/or misguided, you start to sound like an irrational lunatic.  I’m not saying Bachmann is a lunatic,  but irrational? (I refer you to the quote at the top of this piece).   Likewise, I’m not saying the people of Iowa are irrational either.  We’re 14+ months away from the election and every news outlet in the country is lined up to report on today’s soapbox derby.    Why not send a message?  Why not tell the country the way you wish it was?  Why not make a headline?  The media wants to make Bachmann appear to be the front-runner or the strongest candidate.  In reality, Bachmann describes the way many conservatives want the world to appear, in a vacuum, if they were president.  The truth is that no one voted for the candidate they believed could be President of the United States or the candidate who can beat President Obama in 2012.  They voted for the best soapbox derby car.  Michele Bachmann was that car.

It’s not democracy.  It’s not an election.  It’s not even realistic.  It’s just a person in a park on a soapbox.  Literally.

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.

Paw-lent-ee

Or, T-Paw, if you prefer.  The Republican former governor of Minnesota is officially running for President in 2012.  He describes himself in this article as the “alternative to Mitt Romney.”  The funny thing is that comment sets up Romney as the favorite, which I don’t even think is the case at this point.  What is true though is that Pawlenty and Romney are the two most legit candidates if the Republican party is looking for serious candidates.  If the GOP is looking for a sideshow, there are several of those available.  And that’s the weird thing, does Pawlenty think he can win?  You’d have to believe that to enter a grueling 16 1/2 months of campaigning.  He believes he can win the nomination and beat Obama.  With what ammunition you ask? The Truth.  Apparently, T-Paw thinks we can handle it.

I disagree.

Not that voters don’t respond to confidence and honesty, they do.  I just can stop thinking that this election is 1996 all over again and there isn’t going to be a great candidate that steps forward and beats Obama.  Instead, I think the Republicans should embrace that, allow Ron Paul to run and shake up the campaign trail with interesting speeches and theories but ultimately focus on 2016.  My more cynical (and conservative) friends probably don’t think America will last that long, but I’m pretty confident it will.

At this point, Romney is probably about as electable as Ron Paul, which is to say he’s not bad, just not quite enough of all the ingredients needed.  Romney/Paul 2012 or something like that would accomplish what I describe above – interesting campaign but ultimately unsuccessful.

I don’t look at Pawlenty that way.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard politicians offer campaigns based on “truth” too many times.  I think campaign fatigue is a real concern for the American people.  Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” disappeared pretty quickly after 9/11/01.  Obama’s “change” ran into the gridlock that is Washington D.C.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s neither of their faults.  I can understand that after 9/11 President Bush needed to become hyper-attentive to national security issues.  I can understand how President Obama would channel the energy of the campaign directly into high expectations for what he was capable of as President.  But that doesn’t change the fact that campaign after campaign message disappears into the political ether.

So, when Tim Pawlenty gears his image around “The Truth,”  I get a little nostalgic for the 19-year-old political science student who believed what politicians said and spent late nights dreaming up a campaign that made a difference.  In fact, I used to think Pawlenty could be one of the good ones.  I saw him speak at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. a few years ago and he compared the Republican Party to Sam’s Club.  He said, right now the Republicans are like an expensive retail chain or even a country club, where you’re paying for the idea of the thing and not the reality of its value.  Like paying for a brand.  He envisioned a Republican Party like Sam’s Club where you buy in bulk and you get a lot of “value” for your vote.  He spoke to voters like consumers and said if you’re not happy, don’t buy us.

After that speech, I started to think about voters as consumers of government services.  If you do that, it can get pretty tough for people to see the “return” on the investment of their vote.  So, I thought Pawlenty’s theory was alright.  I’m not sure if that’s the Tim Pawlenty we’re gonna get in the 2012 campaign but it will be interesting to watch.  Am I suddenly a T-Paw fan? No.  I still believe in change.  But…I do love truth.

I think Pawlenty is jumping the gun by running in 2012.  But since NPR was informing people how to pronounce his name this afternoon, maybe he just thinks it takes 5 1/2 years for the American people to recognize you on a ballot.  Although Obama 2008 would disprove that theory.  Either way, I hope he doesn’t become “just another Republican” and actually has something innovative to say.  Huh, a politician telling the truth. Now that would be a change.