The Republican and Syrian Civil Wars, the Never Ending Budget Battle, the Ubiquitous NSA, Obamacareless, or…? OR the Chris Christie and Cory Booker Show?

I heard testerday that the President’s approval rating is down to an all time low, around 42%, though the ray of sunshine for him is that the approval of the GOP is a lowlier 22%.  We have little confidence in our national future and almost no confidence in our government, which is commonly seen as a big part of the problem, not the solution.  It’s depressing.

Where is Ronald Reagan when we need him?  No, he’s not a presidential hero of mine, but he was excellent as a cheer leader for America.   He made Americans feel good about America at a time when, like today, most of us didn’t.   Confidence or the lack of it creates its own reality.  The relationship between consumer confidence and a growing economy is a case in point.   Student success or failure in schools is another.

I have heard this expression a few times of late:   The Democrats can’t  govern and the Republicans don’t want to.   Of course, the two are closely tied, as the main Republican mission since the President was elected and re-elected has been to stymie his plans, whatever they may be.   That is what not wanting to govern has meant.  On the other hand, the President and his administration has raised numerous doubts as to their ability to govern, receiving barely passing grades on most fronts, and an ‘F’ on the Obamacare roll out, a grade hopefully raised through a series of make up tests.   Hopefully, if you lean Democratic and hopefully not if you lean Republican.

Significantly, the hope of both sides is not for anything good anytime soon, but with an eye to 2014 and 2016, seeming to assume that nothing much can be done to break the gridlock until there are changes in the cast of characters.   As if those mid-term elections in 2014 and then the one for President in 2016, will radically alter the dynamics of stagnation that have become our governmental stamp.   I can imagine it happening, but it feels more like a fantasy than a likelihood.

Now we are so busy concentrating on our mess at home that we, I mean our main stream media and most of us, pay little attention to the world at large, as if we are incapable of a world vision that goes beyond a constant examination of our collective navel.  It is less and less an American world and dealing with those changes should be our central focus, not tripping each other up.

Hmm…. I guess I just needed to vent, my way of saying I don’t feel like dealing with all of this today.  I  can use a laugh or two, and maybe you can as well, so I dug out the video below made in 2012 staring New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and then Newark Mayor, now brand new Senator, Cory Booker.   If you can recall way back then, Booker was receiving a lot of national attention for a surprising number of heroic feats saving lives or at least shoveling someone out of a snow bank.

So, despite disagreeing on most things political, Republican Christie and Democrat Booker made this video, and I imagine had fun doing it.   So, today let’s put some of that “fun”  back into dysfunctional.  (You hearty band of regular blog followers will have to go to the main site to see the video.)

SMATTERINGS 10/26/13: The Nub of Some Ongoing Issues

Our main stream television media must believe we can’t handle thinking about more than one issue at a time.  All the world was the congressional budget/debt ceiling battle for three weeks or so.  Before that, all the world was Syria and their chemical weapons.  Before that, I can’t recall.   Like most Americans, I have a short memory, even shorter than most as a member of the social security set.

English: Depiction of the House vote on H.R. 3...

English: Depiction of the House vote on H.R. 3590 (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) on March 21, 2010, by congressional district. Click the map for a much larger image and details (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now all the world is the faltering Obamacare web site.   Of course, this is the world the Republicans want us to dwell in, while the Democrats wish to constantly refresh our memories about how obstructionist the Republicans were in regard to the extension of the budget and raising of the debt ceiling.

Meanwhile the Republican Civil War is steadily simmering en route to a boil, with many of that party angry at Ted Cruz and his Tea Party set for making Republicans look imbecilic to a majority of the rest of us with their non-plan to stop Obamacare.    Had that not been the case, they could have been focusing attention on the clownish internet roll out for weeks.

Oh, well, they are making up for lost time by holding congressional hearings to accentuate the disaster to the public mind, the “train wreck” that they “knew” to be Obamacare even before it was passed.   Well, of course, they didn’t know, and they still don’t know, nor does anyone know how this will play out overall.   ( I know, many individuals already have personal stories, seemingly more negative than positive, but the whole thing has barely begun to be rolled out.)

The Federal Debt Ceiling and Budget Extension Battle

After much struggle and gnashing of teeth, the government reopened what was closed and will remain “open” at least until January 15, when the appropriated money runs out.   Also, the debt ceiling either will need to be raised again Feb 7 or government default on federal debt payments will once again be in the offing.

In short, the political arm twisting accomplished little more than postpone the match for a few months so both sides can enjoy the holidays and rest up.    Well, there are two things that may be seen as accomplishments down the line.  One is the formation of a Senate/House committee to try to actually come up with joint budget recommendations by Dec 13.

Given the inability of the two parties to come to terms on budget issues for a few years now (except for the sequester which they forced upon themselves through inaction), it is hard to get too excited about the prospects, but the upcoming second point might help.

Point Two is what seems a clarification of the political hazards of using the threat of a government shutdown and/or a default on federal debt as bargaining chips in future negotiations.  According to most polls the Republican “brand” took a big hit through all of this because they are blamed more for causing it.  (Don’t you just love how everything has been turned into a brand these days, including each of us.)

While the Tea Party types say they will continue to use such tactics, the rest of the Republican party doesn’t look like it will fall in line next time out.

The Republican Civil War

Recently I heard that Liz Cheney called John McCain a “liberal” which among the right is like “sinner”  was used in the early days of Puritan America.   A little Googling of the issue will reveal that Republicans are deeply divided between those who think of Ted Cruz as a hero and those, like Representative Peter King of New York, who called him a “fraud.”   Of course, party leadership tries to paint this as healthy debate within the party, but when one side in a debate refuses to compromise, there is no room for resolution.  Hence, a civil war.

I never tire of pointing out the irony of the Tea Party folks always proudly defending the constitution as if it were dropped from the heavens on a tablet.  It is a remarkable piece of work but it came about through torturous compromises, the most profound being the toleration of slavery in the new republic.   “Compromise” was not a dirty word to the founders, but a necessity to establish a stable central government.

How the Republican split will play out by January is sheer guess work, but if the rift doesn’t heal (and i do not think it will), Republican moderates and Democrats may actually work together on some sort of fiscal compromise that lasts longer than a few weeks.

Obamacare

As indicated above, one reason many Republicans are angry at Ted Cruz and his posse is that in pushing for changes in Obamacare that weren’t going to happen and in turn making the party resemble the keystone cops of early film days while trying to somehow look sensible, attention was paid to their intra-party squabbles and not to the initial roll out of the Obamacare website, which turned out to be the Democrats’ own version of the Keystone cops.

Here is my take on Obamacare.   It has barely begun to be rolled out and it is not going away, so let’s just wait and see how it plays out.   When Republicans argue that it is a disaster and a majority of Americans agree, keep in mind that the right has called it a disaster from the beginning, even when it was little more than an elaborate idea.  Since most Americans, including me, know little about it, if they feel it is a disaster it is because the Republican message has been more effective than that of the Democrats.   A part of that success is because negative advertising is more effective than positive, which is why campaigns are largely made up of the former.

In man-in-the-street interviews, when asked if they prefer Obamacare to the Affordable Care Act, most people state the latter, while oblivious to the fact they are the same thing.  In terms of brands, Obamacare doesn’t look good right now.  But it is not going away anytime soon, so let’s see what happens between now and the mid-term elections in 2014.

If Obamacare really is the train wreck portrayed by the Republicans, they should come to dominate both houses of Congress, that is if they haven’t torn apart the party by then.

The Big Picture of our Federal Fiscal Problems

Rubik's Cube Français : Rubik's Cube Bahasa Me...

Rubik’s Cube Français (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Typing the above title made me laugh.  The idea of me saying anything useful about the “big picture” in the space of an itty bitty post makes no sense at all.  On the other hand, it doesn’t feel worthwhile to keep tracking a congress which struggles to just keep the government funded on an almost month by month basis.

Common sense would suggest the issues of the sequester and whether to continue funding the federal government past March 27 shouldn’t be issues at all.  Solving those are the bare minimum while the real issues, the REALLY BIG fiscal  issues are not being touched upon.  It’s as if we are busy trying to agree on shoring up some levees while a tsunami is coming at us a few miles away, or in years, 10 or so.

Doug Elmendorf is the Director of the Congressional Budget (CBO) which acts as a kind of referee examining budget proposals developed by congress and the president and “scoring” them as to their actual cost.   I have come to realize this is a sophisticated guestimate at best since there are so many variables involved, but a good faith guestimate is better than nothing, I guess.

According to Elmendorf we are headed towards very rough waters in our fiscal future.  Last year the CBO chief said that even if congress could come together on various tax hikes and spending cuts offered by both sides – A REALLY BIG IF since they barely can agree to keep the government operating for a few months – they might cut around $250 billion annually from our growing yearly deficit (not touch the overall debt, mind you, but just stanch our full speed towards the iceberg field of insolvency dead ahead).

While that would be a plus, Elmendorf  envisions the need for $750 billion annually in tax hikes and/or spending cuts by 2022 to prevent out national debt from climbing to the point of being equal to about 90% of our GDP, a level which scares most economists.   To reiterate:  Under what seems a best case scenario, we still fall  $500 billion short annually of swinging this big ship of state away from a treacherous ice flow in the 2020s. (*1)

Of course, Elmendorf’s vision would be challenged by some on the left and the right, with economist Paul Krugman the poster boy on the left and, let’s say, Congressman Paul Ryan on the right. (*2)   However, if Elmendorf is close to being right, certainly those on the right who see a solution shaped by only cutting taxes and spending are particularly delusional.

Our ship of state seems to be heading directly towards a huge iceberg in 10 years, or so.  And both parties have their hands on the wheel trying to pull it left or right, which keeps us going straight forward towards, if not disaster, to an America that is no fun to imagine.

Considering the complexity of all this reminds me of Rubik’s Cube, a puzzle I tried unsuccessfully to solve as a young man.  This seems infinitely harder to solve, and so complex it is hard to know even where to begin.  But I’m willing to put in much more time.

There is something about the impossible that has always attracted me.

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(*1)   I drew the Elmendorf material from Red Ink, a book by WSJ economics editor David Wessel.   Short (162 pages) and easy to read, it provides a good ball park sense of our fiscal Rubik’s Cube.

(*2)  In case you haven’t bumped into him, Paul Krugman is a liberal, Noble laureate economist who probably has more influence than most in his trade because in addition to knowing his stuff he’s everywhere, through his column at the New York Times, frequent political chat show appearances, several books and a blog which he updates sometimes three times a day, which can be found in my Blogroll to the upper left.   He’s sharped tongued to say the least and argues that while the debt is important, we should forget about it right now and deal with unemployment and strengthening the economy first.    A stronger economy would generate more federal income and begin to reduce our yearly deficits.  Then we could work on cutting down spending.

Everyone knows Paul Ryan, who generally speaking, is the polar opposite of Paul Krugman.   He is all about reducing our annual deficits and later our debt.  He has just unveiled a 10 year plan to balance our budget which seems like a Tea Party fantasy.  For one thing, it assumes Obamacare will be abolished, which is definitely not going to happen over the next four years and quite likely never (though I do think it will be altered over time).   Krugman, though rough tongued to make an impression, seems to be arguing what he believes.   I don’t know what Ryan is up to.

Pre-Debate Pondering the Undecided’s

I’ll be curious to see how the debate goes tonight, especially since this will be in a town meeting format with the audience asking most of the questions, though moderator Candy Crowley will have the questions beforehand and select the ones to be used, and provide some follow-ups.

English: Pictography of Alfred E. Neuman used ...

Alfred E. Neuman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope you understand these debates are not about substance but style and rhetoric.  And, given the town meeting venue, how and where each candidate moves takes on importance.  Romney won the first debate because his debate performance was much better.  A point made by a number of pundits is that the Obama team had spent months trying to make Romney seem “unacceptable”, and that changed for many that night.   Romney looked like he’d make a good president.  And Obama was caught flat footed when  Mitt tacked sharply to the center saying things he had never said before (well, not for a long time at least).

I have heard various suggestions from cable pundits of what pose each candidate should strike tonight if they want to win, including one focus group suggestion that the winning pose is that of  “a good husband.”  David Frum mirrors that in a recent post when he suggests Mitt Romney work on his appearing “empathetic.”  You know, the opposite of the “I don’t care about the 47%” attitude.

I keep thinking about the undecided’s, and wonder what varieties they come in.   I have no idea what might tip each balance, either in this debate or on election day.  Since my last post I have  heard a poll estimates undecided’s as 12% rather than 5%.   Could the undecided’s actually be growing in number?  The numbers might be increasing from people who are not really undecided.   Instead, they have just decided they are sick of it all.   I know one reader who finds both camps  so disgusting that, as far as I know, he may decide not to vote.  How many undecided’s will make that decision?

Adding to the difficulty in understanding the undecided’s is what Nate Silver (a pollster’s pollster) calls  “the confusing polling landscape” in an Oct 14 post:   Even some of the decided’s seem to be deciding differently since the first debate, as Silver’s projected Nov 6 estimate of Obama’s winning the presidency is down to 63.3%, a big drop from the 80+% of a few weeks ago.

This past weekend I watched Melissa Harris-Perry, a cable political chat show on MSNBC that devoted a  segment to the issue of the “undecided’s”.    I was struck by what seemed likely futile attempts of most of the participants, especially Melissa, to make substance points for selecting Obama, as if that would sway any undecided voters at this point.

In an email she has probably not gotten around to read, I pointed to a recent Pew poll in which 48% of voters don’t even seem to know that Obama is a Christian, including 17% who thinks he’s a Muslim.  If nearly 50% of voters don’t know that much yet, how much swing can reason bring?

Also, what may sound reasonable is often wrong.  Or the poll is.  Another recent Pew poll cited in a column by Matt Miller indicates that older voters favor Romney over Obama 58% to 37%.    Say what?  Liberal commentators and Dem operatives have cemented the impression we old folks are a slam dunk for them, that the threat of a change in Medicare to a voucher system would turn us into gray panthers.  But that poll suggests many of us  are jumping ship instead?  Maybe we are not the one-issue segment the Dems think.   Or maybe some of us would like to actually see how the Obama team will save Medicare as opposed to how Romney will disfigure it.   Or maybe, being old, some of us got confused (not my fault, nobody asked me).  Or maybe anything….who knows?

When I start feeling very confused by it all I think of Ohio.  Unless there are some major surprises in voting elsewhere, it seems that as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.   The Republicans haven’t won a presidency without Ohio in their corner, and Obama has held a solid lead there for weeks in all the polls I’ve seen, though it seems more wobbly now.    Many Ohioans, employed in car-related businesses, benefited from the saving of GM and Chrysler and the state’s unemployment is around 7.2%, much lower than the national average.

No wonder both candidates (or their VP surrogates) seem to be visiting the state every other day, which after the election may prompt yet another round of debate about doing away with the Electoral College, so the rest of our votes would count as much as those in Ohio.

If Ohio winds up going for Romney, not only will I likely feel the need to avoid several people I’ve made wagers with, I will really be surprised.  And then, while I don’t want to do it, I’d encourage someone else to write a book maybe titled:  Who Were the Undecided’s and How Did They Decide the 2012 Presidential Election?

Laughin’ Joe and the Kid

I saw only the first one-third of the debate last night because I had a meeting to attend.  I taped the program, but will not bother to watch the rest.  I saw enough, and I have a pretty good idea of what I missed by watching some post debate coverage on both MSNBC and FOX, and from reading  several editorials today.

It seems that if you favored Biden and the Democrats, you liked his feisty  ways.  If you favored Ryan and the Republicans, you saw a”grinning, grimacing, condescending Joe,” as Carl Rove put it on FOX.  Chris Wallace said it was the most “openly, disrespectful” performance he had ever seen in a VP debate.   In contrast, someone on MSNBC called it a “superb performance” by Joe, maybe Chris Matthews, who gleefully added:  “This was a Joe Biden night.”

I imagine Biden did energize the Democrat base who have probably upped their orders on anti-depressants since Obama’s mail-it-in effort in the first debate, but I also imagine Republicans believe Ryan held his own – held serve, so to speak, for Romney in next week’s debate.

So, fine, both VP candidates found approval from their bases while dissed by the other side, but it is the undecided’s that interest me at this point, as indicated in my previous post.  I ponder:  Who are they and what are they waiting for?  How much swing do these swing voters have and will only a slight breeze be required to  push them in one direction or the other on Nov 6?  Or will they feel little wind at all and just stay at home or waft to the movies?

As with the last debate, Frank Luntz had a focus group of undecided’s on FOX, but unlike the other group, this time they seemed to end up decidely undecided.

As a piece in Newsmax.com stated:  “Some of the 26 interviewed by Luntz said they were put off by what they described as Vice President Joe Biden’s “condescending” and “disrespectful” attitude towards the younger Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

Others in the group said they didn’t understand why Ryan couldn’t be more specific about how GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney intends to implement his “five-point” plan to get the economy back on track.”

In the end, the swing voters seemed to feel little wind in either direction. Another focus group of undecided voters on CNN split their votes evenly: 1/3 Biden, 1/3rd Ryan, 1/3rd Undecided. While that group seemed to feel small gusts in both directions, it still seems that Frank Luntz summarized the undecideds in general when he said: “We’re going to have to wait until next week’s debate [Oct. 16] to see when the undecided decide.

“One added thought. Though supportive of much what Joe Biden said, and not put off by his 82 interruptions as tallied by FOX (he needed to make up for Obama’s ennui), I was one of those put off by his frequent imitation of chuckles the clown.

I liked Biden better just listening to him on the radio en route to my meeting. One Democrat suggested those smirks and Cheshire cat grins were Joe showing outrage at the falsehoods spun by Ryan. I’d say most of us would think that is an odd way to show outrage. A serious demeanor and intense stare would have been less off putting to those capricious swing voters.

But, as we so often hear, Joe’s gonna’ be Joe.   And, all told, I doubt this debate will be much remembered by anyone by election day.

Take It Away Nate…..

I have a few posts in the works, but don’t feel like using any of them today because they deal with uncovering false issues in the presidential election like the future of Medicare.   I’m sick of uncovering false issues, made sicker by knowing we have 70 days left of this.

English: Nate Silver in Washington, D.C.

Nate Silver  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I still believe the Republicans didn’t want Medicare to be a battle ground,  they seem to have gained traction with a couple attack ads – both misleading but if it works it works.   A couple of days ago, the  Republicans launched a clever new add portraying  Obama as  a two-faced flip-flopper when he attacked John McCain’s proposed cuts to  Medicare in 2008, and now has made “cuts” himself (a link is at the bottom).   Well, Obama’s attack back then was misleading and this new one is even more so.  It reminds me of the English nursery rhyme “there was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile…”  Who has the time to straighten it all out?

The Republicans  are likely buoyed enough by this narrative success to pound out some more largely misleading sound bites.  I bet the Obama camp has  some effective sound bites of their own in the wings, largely misleading, too.   It boils down to who will win  the battle of the narrative, on Medicare and whatever else makes a good target for distortion,  neither side addressing our real problems in a real way.

Who can distort reality most effectively to win the Presidential game, the honor of becoming captain of our Titanic?   In terms of our overall fiscal problems, I doubt it matters much.  Unless one side sweeps the Presidency and both houses of Congress, which would amaze me, our ship of state will likely keep creaking along towards the big whirlpool of rapidly increasing debt.

No matter, I want Obama to win  for several reasons, the least patriotic being some bets I have on the outcome.   As I have indicated in other posts, the election handicapper I have most faith in is Nate Silver, whose fivethirtyeight.blog gives Romney relatively little chance to win, which has been the case for months now.   I listen to Nate because he was right about 49 of the 50 states in the last presidential election and in reading his posts I see a very bright mind at work.

An example of that is his latest post examining Michigan and why he sees it favoring Democrats despite some poll evidence that it is a toss up.   His analysis is worth skimming, at least, as it illustrates the depth of his thinking and sophistication of his methods.

Since I’ve already read that piece, and it is a sunny day in Del Mar,  I’m headed to the beach with my lawn chair and a Racing Form.

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P. S. – If you want to check out that ” two-faced” Obama ad, go to the Washington Post’s fact checker Glenn Kessler, who also offers lots of information to help clarify the so-called Medicare debate if you’re interested.

If you want a short, centrist perspective on the demagoguing of the Medicare issue by both parties, see Bill Galston, a fellow at Brookings, the most commonly cited research institute, arguably because it is the most impartial.

“Has God forsaken the Republicans?”

In my my last three posts I’ve considered the problems that the Romney/Ryan ticket has created for themselves.   Given the happenings over the past few days, Todd Akin in particular, I have pondered the difficulties the Republicans have had in launching an effective campaign from the beginning.  Has the divine hand of providence been backing the other side?  At least certainly not the group soon to meet in Tampa.

Medicare

Medicare (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

Thinking of the hand of providence, I recalled the time a guy named Barack Hussein Obama, half black and half white, was elected President of the United States.  That remains a remarkable event even in this land of so yesterday.  I believe Barry Obama to be a unique combination of racial backgrounds that allowed him to win.  I would say he won because, in addition to running a great campaign, he transcends race.  He is the personification of the American melting pot, which has prompted the far right to work all the harder to  caricature him as a secret Muslim socialist  born in Kenya.

His winning the Presidency was remarkable, even if his Presidency has been far less so, though given the circumstances far better than the Republicans portray.   Given continued 8% unemployment and a sluggish economy, what I also find remarkable is the inability of the Republicans to mount a strong campaign against him.   To begin with they couldn’t  even find a candidate they really liked (too soon for another Bush and too early for Chris Christie), so they wound up with Mitt Romney.   There was some truth in Rick Santorum’s assertion that Romney was the “worst candidate” for the Republicans .  The problem was the others available, including Santorum, were worster.  If they wanted to win that is.

I wasn’t being entirely facetious in a previous post when I suggested that Romney chose Ryan as his running mate because he was dying to be liked by his own party.  Certainly if the pick was more rational, the campaign brains didn’t think it through, as I have also argued in recent posts.  And that was before the Akin factor.

Etch-a-sketch Romney combined with facts and figures and clear cut statements on record by Ryan has been like trying to stir together oil and water.  And one undissolved hunk is Ryan’s stance on Medicare, aimed at  saving some form of the program but at what cost to recipients?  This would  seem the last thing the Republicans would want as a banner item at their Tampa convention in the grayest state in the union.

But wait,  Missouri Republican Senatorial candidate Todd Akin topped that when bursting on to the national  scene like a hand grenade with his novel theory of a woman’s body being able to shut down and prevent conception as long as the rape is “legitimate.”   Trying to avoid the shrapnel from his statements, Republicans distanced themselves and one by one called for him to resign.  John McCain called him an “idiot” and the normally intemperate Ann Coulter, hearing that Akin refused to drop out of the race, outdid herself with:  “I officially hate him.”   Romney seemed to wait for others to demand the resignation before he felt it necessary to demand it as well.

Unfortunately, new VP candidate Paul Ryan can’t distance himself completely because he and Akin co-sponsored a number of bills limiting abortion, with no clauses exempting women who are raped, which also just happens to be a party plank at the convention that now has drawn unwanted attention as well.

Medicare, rape and abortion – all tied to Paul Ryan in some way –  just what the Republicans don’t want in the news right before their convention.  And of course you’ve heard about this budding hurricane working its way toward the Tampa area.  

I don’t know about God forsaking the Republicans, but he, she or it sure doesn’t have their backs at the moment.

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P. S. –   I stole the title for this  post  from an editorial by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post a few days ago.   I had begun my piece when encountering Milbank’s and was going to just scrap my own and link you to his, as we cover much the same ground in a similar way.  But I wanted to add a few things of my own, so ……….    Also, his piece offers some additional details, so I suggest you read it as well.  Linked right here.

Finally, I think it curious that current Republican events seemed bizarre enough that both Milbank and I were prompted to look for para-normal explanations.

Romney/Ryan: Still Working Out the Kinks

(NOTE: – My previous post was largely a response to a comment from my post two back, a comment that has prompted two other comments at that post, so it has a little life of its own.  Meanwhile, another reader hadn’t  realized you could leave a comment.  It is easy to miss.  If you look at the bottom of a post, there are various tags, etc. and right at the end of that list is “comments”.  Just letting you know.   Whether or not I respond to a particular comment depends on what I’m interested in talking about at that moment. )

In my previous two posts, I suggested that while solidifying its conservative base and attracting more campaign money, the Romney/Ryan teaming created an awkward situation for themselves in that Romney has avoided specifics like I do robo-calls, while Ryan totes many specifics into the relationship, like step children.  These include a specific plan to “save” Medicare and come to terms with our national yearly deficits and national debt which has earned him a reputation as a fiscal hawk.  However, exactly what will be left of Medicare after he saves it is open to question as are his credentials as a fiscal hawk.

Official portrait of Congressman .

Official portrait of Congressman . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The general wisdom is that these issues take attention away from what Romney really wants to talk about and that is the sluggish economy and Obama’s failure to live up to his promise to reduce unemployment.   But when you think about it, what more has Romney got to say?   Being a very successful businessman, he understands the economy better and will do better at growing it and producing more jobs.  Period.  He has a plan with fantasized cuts, but once again he doesn’t want to be pinned down on specifics.  So, what more does he really have to say and what is there for reporters to focus upon?

With Ryan there’s plenty.   Democrats and reporters have focused attention on the details of  Medicare as described in Ryan’s most recent plan and the differences between Ryan’s plan to deal with the debt, which is detailed, and Romney’s which is not.

I don’t believe the R & R team wants to deal with either issue, but they are putting on a brave face and talking like they want to do battle on Medicare  since the topic won’t go away, sort of like General Custer and the Sioux.   Also, they want to pretend that their fiscal plans  are basically the same, even though there are noteworthy differences.  In the process, they have had difficulty integrating their past statements and coordinating their present overall message.

Yesterday they were in New Hampshire together.  A campaign spokesman emphasized how Romney is energized and made more personable by Ryan.  That’s nice.  But I think they needed to stick together like conjoined twins for a day or two trying to get their message straight.

Exhibit A:  Message, message, whose got the message?  Last Tuesday, Ryan was interviewed by Brit Hume on Fox, who doggedly questioned him about the differences between Ryan’s budget plan and Romney’s.   Questions Ryan did not welcome.  Matt Miller, a  centrist well familiar with Ryan’s budgets and who actually can do the numbers, describes the questioning better than I could in a two-page  Washington Post editorial I suggest you read.

There he makes two key points.  1)    Ryan did not want to say out loud that his budget doesn’t balance out until the 2030’s.   Twenty years to balance the budget?   That doesn’t sound like a  “fiscal conservative,” but it’s necessary if raising taxes is not an option.   2)  There are some key differences between Ryan’s plan and the more sketchy Romney one, but the fiscal wonk hadn’t gotten around to really integrating them.   As Miller puts it, Ryan was ” betting Hume is too dumb, uninterested or short on time to press ” these points.   Too bad, Paul.  Good for you, Brit.  Please read the editorial.

Exhibit B:   Do they really want the Medicare fight?  The Romney/Ryan campaign stop in New Hampshire yesterday began with this talking point regarding Medicare:  How Obama has robbed Medicare of $716 billion to pay for Obamacare.  Earlier that morning I heard a couple of campaign surrogates make the same point, while in unison asserting that this is a fight Romney welcomes.   If so, why have they kicked off the battle with a talking point that is both hypocritical and misleading?  Is that the best they got?

First, the Obama team was not alone in proposing these “cuts”.  According to ABC the $716 billion appear in the House Republicans’ FY 2013 budget, which Ryan authored.   There they were called “Medicare savings -achieved through reduced provider reimbursements and curbed waste, fraud and abuse, not benefit cuts “.

In other words, Paul Ryan’s budget plan included the same so-called  “cuts” by Obama, and like him, talked about them as “savings”.  Could Ryan’s railing at the Obama “cuts” be any more hypocritical?   Well, it should be noted that in the Brit Hume interview Ryan did make this distinction:  “We’re the ones who are not raiding Medicare to pay for Obamcare.”   They would use those “savings” (not “cuts”)  for deficit reductions or something else.

Point well taken, but that point is so yesterday.  It seems that all those ads attacking Obama for “raiding” Medicare of $716 billion has created a problem of its own.   If the “cuts” were bad, they needed to be cut from Ryan’s plan, too (which seems now the case), so  Romney could promise to restore those dastardly “cuts” when he becomes president.  Smearing Obama as cutting Medicare, Romney seems to feel implicated himself if he doesn’t promise to restore them, even if it doesn’t make sense to do so.  Click to see the short piece from ABC for more details.

If you find what I just wrote to be confusing, I admit that perhaps I could have said it better, but the subject matter is confusing in itself, because I believe the subjects are confused.

At times I think of trying to develop a sideline as a “message stylist,” someone who helps others trim and shape their message for more impact.  The Romney/Ryan team really could use a lot of help in that regard and I sure could use the money, but the “message” so far looks so disingenuous and contradictory that I doubt I’m up to the challenge.

Affordable Care Act – The Heart of the Matter

In my previous post I indicated I would write about Medicaid today, but I changed my mind after the recent hullabaloo over President Obama saying:  “If you’ve got a business you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”   Though it was just more political game playing, it also reflects a key difference in perspective between the two parties.

President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett in t...

President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett in the Oval Office, July 14, 2010. (Wikipedia)

Some time ago I read about a study of attitudinal differences between Democrats and Republicans, and the point I best recall was that Democrats tend to see life in terms of luck or the lack of it, while Republicans tend to see life more in terms of personal credit or fault.

When you think of your successes how much gratitude do you feel to others for helping you achieve?  And when you see the troubles of others, how much fault do you accord them?  Did they not work hard enough?  Were they just too foolish to deserve better?

In other words, when something bad has happened to someone else a Democrat is more likely to think that  could have happened to him:   “When you hear about all these people who’ve lost all this money, you can’t help thinking there but for the grace of God go I.”  A Republican’s inclination would be to think:  “If they lost their money they probably deserved to (*1).”

The recent flap over Obama’s words above reflects this difference in viewsIf you read what he said in total (quoted in the article at the bottom) rather than words the rabid right, always eager to smear him, took out of context, you will see he is not denigrating independent entreprenures, but only pointing out that “no man is an island”, that whatever we accomplish is tied to contributions made by others to our success, sometimes in the form of government.

In other words, he is expressing a Democrat’s  tendency of thought, just as the rabid right is expressing a Republican’s emphasis on individual responsibility – credit or blame – albeit in a totally unfair depiction.   Not that they care.  The more foreign, less American they can paint Obama, the better off they think they will do in the election (*2).

Rushbo, as he likes to call himself, the high priest of the rabid right, has jumped all over that out-of-context comment saying it is now “undeniable” that Obama “hates America”, and others on the right just shake their heads at the President being woefully “out of touch” with how the economy works.   What I find interesting is that no one would suggest Warren Buffet is out of touch with how our economy works, yet he is a strong supporter of Obama.   Has he secretly gone insane?

An avid capitalist, Buffet has made billions in investments with his understanding and acumen of how our economy works.  He exemplifies the Republican creed, but he doesn’t identify with it.  Born middle class but now the third richest man in the world, he  could claim credit for it all, and few would object.  But he doesn’t think that way:

When questioned about his success in a Time interview, he said:  “I’ve had all this good fortune…. It starts with being born in this country, though.  It starts with being born male in 1930.” With a bit more thought, I’m sure he would have added “white” to his list.   Buffet feels gratitude for what the American system has given him and feels it is duty to give back.   A successful Republican businessman would more likely think:  Give back?  I didn’t take anything from anyone.  I created something that benefitted others as well as myself.

Returning to the Affordable Care Act, backing or not backing a plan to extend health insurance to 30 million largely depends on which view of life you hold, that of Warren Buffet or, let’s say, Donald Trump.  Are those who lack insurance mostly responsible for that?   Shouldn’t they have just been smarter and tried harder?  Or has bad luck played a key role for most of them, including being born less fortunate than most, beginning life lodged in a cycle of poverty?

That is the deciding question.  That is the heart of the matter.

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(*1)   I wonder how many Republicans invested heavily with Bernie Madoff and to what extent they hold themselves to blame for their losses.

(*2)  The eagerness to smear Obama as un-American at heart prompted a firestorm of misinformation placing Obama in France on July 4th referred to in my July 6  Smatterings post.

Affordable Care Act – Some Sifting and Winnowing

The Affordable Care Act can be viewed as the most noteworthy achievement of Obama’s tenure as President, or as others would have it, a huge, costly mistake which should be repealed as quickly as possible.  Check back with me in 10 years for a better assessment, but for now I will try to sort out some of the issues and likelihoods from information I have garnered from various sources.

English: Official photo cropped of United Stat...

Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First is the curious situation of the ACA being, from a Dem perspective, the greatest achievement of Obama’s term, but not pushed hard in his reelection campaign.   A problem they created in passing the act was that most of the benefits do not begin until 2014, so few have experienced its benefits and most don’t know what they are.   This has made it easy for the Republicans to portray the ACA as something nobody wants (*1).

But let’s move on to an actual shortcoming in the plan.  The ACA will not greatly alter our ever rising costs of healthcare, in which we pay 2, 3, or 4 times what other advanced nations pay for similar services.   The passage of the ACA required making concessions to many interest groups,  such as drug and insurance companies and individual Democratic Senators.  As such, the overall problem of increasing healthcare costs was not really addressed in the act, one more reason not to herald it as an achievement.

What the ACA will provide, however, is insurance coverage to some 30 million or so who do not have it now.   In contrast, the Republican have no plan to do that.  They say they do, but health care expert Stuart Altman describes it as “little dibbles and dabbles”.   And that “plan” would at best provide additional insurance coverage to three million people, not 30 million.

What is less clear is what will be the costs of the ACA over time.  Again, according to Stuart Altman, about 100o pages of the 2700 page document deal with ways to save money to counterbalance added expenses, so it can be argued it will pay for itself.    However, we all know the tendency of costs to overrun estimates, even when one plans to remodel one’s house.

One big question percolating is the additional costs that states will have to pay with the expansion of Medicaid by the ACA.   Initially, in 2014 the Fed Gov will pay 100% of those costs but that will change over time, so the question is how much it might change.  I will table that issue until my next post.

While the Obama people don’t stress the ACA in their campaign, neither does the Romney team (other than vowing to repeal it).  Trashing the act in detail would remind everyone that it was largely based on  Mitt’s own plan as Governor of Massachusetts.   The big deal made of the individual mandate –  prompting everyone to buy insurance  – decided in favor by the Supreme Court recently, was no big deal when Romney was pushing his insurance plan in MA.

The mandate idea was developed by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, reflecting this Republican value:   Reduce the number of “free riders” allowed to live off  the efforts of others.   Romney portrayed those not willing to do their share by buying insurance as “free riders” clogging hospital emergency rooms.

However, the “free rider” aversion was later trumped by another aversion of the right,  big  government oppression of individuals.  When the Obama team came to embrace the mandate, it became even more clear to Republicans that it was a bad idea, even unconstitutionally so.

Amidst all of the political spinning and dodging, this much is clear:   Expanding health care insurance is important to the Democrats and not to the Republicans, as Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell made clear on the Fox News  Sunday, July 1.   Given my center/left bias it might surprise that I consider FOX’s Chris Wallace the toughest political interviewer on TV.  He’s  a chip off the  old block Mike, of 60 Minutes fame.

Since the Republicans promise to repeal what they like to call Obamacare if given the chance, Wallace asked McConnell what they had in mind to expand coverage to the 30 million.  McConnell tried to dodge the question a few times by saying things like “we already have the best healthcare system in the world”, but like a junkyard dog, Wallace dug his teeth into the issue and wouldn’t let go.  Finally, an irritated McConnell said “That is not the issue. The question is how you can go step by step to improve the American health care system.”

And Wallace responded:  “You don’t think the 30 million people who are uninsured is an issue? ”  And McConnell rejoined:   “Let me tell you what we’re not going to do. We’re not going to turn the American health care system into a western European system.”

Tough luck, 30 million.

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(*1)  It seems the Democrats did not want the plan to cost more than a trillion over 10 years,  which was easier to achieve if little was spent until 2014.