The Thrilla in Manila….er, Denver

Tomorrow night Barack Obama and Mitt Romney square off in their first of three debates. It is being played up like a heavy weight battle reminding me of one of the most famous, that won by Ali over Frazier in Manilla back in 1975, their third and last fight .   Both candidates have been in training camps verbally sparring with mock opponents, and the pundits have speculated on who needs the win more (Romney) and who has the most to lose (Obama), etc., etc.

Viewers might want to do some of their own fight preparation and, since the first half of the Wednesday debate deals with the economy, you might want to read a Monday column by Robert Samuelson:  The truth deficit from both campaigns.

As Samuelson points out:  “What defines this campaign, in part, is a yawning gap between the political rhetoric and the country’s budget problems.”  You know, such as the imminent fiscal cliff and the fact that neither side has devised a multi-year budget plan that really tackles the problem of our burgeoning national debt (I know, the Ryan plan supposedly does, but even in theory (dubious theory at that), it doesn’t balance the budget until, oh, about 28 years from now at best.  Maybe just in time for my 95th birthday.

The chart below projects our downward trajectory of  S. S. and Medicare debt if we do nothing to alter its course:

Medicare & Social Security Deficits Chart

The big unaddressed issue is that too many of us are beginning to retire and fall apart at about the same time.  As Samuelson puts it:  “As you know, the great driver here is the retirement of baby boomers. Between 2011 and 2025, the number of retirees on Social Security will grow by nearly 50 percent to 66 million people; Medicare experiences a similar rise. The resulting spending surge perpetuates huge budget deficits.”  (emphasis added)

Now I will be interested to see if host Jim Lehrer will come up with a question that prompts either candidate to address this issue.   Without tackling that and what it suggests about the need for both budget cuts and increased taxes (and not just on the richest among us), I envision the first half of the debate with both candidates playing rope-a-dope, only seeming to be fighting a real fight.

Oh, they will argue over the  issue of jobs, of course, but who really knows what either could get accomplished in that area given likely continued gridlock in Congress?   Since the economy is slowly picking up, that will produce more jobs in itself, regardless of who is President.   At least that seems a frequent prediction of late (the “fiscal cliff” might have a say about that, though)

Included in the second half of the debate will be the topic of government, and here I hope Jim Lehrer asks this question prompted by Matt Miller in a column:   “….ask the candidates if they are in favor of restoring majority rule in this country. In other words, ask them if they would urge the Senate to scrap the filibuster – and if not, how do they expect to get anything done?”

I will be surprised if either the burgeoning baby-boomer-budget-issue or that of the filibuster are even raised by Lehrer, but they should be since the former is our greatest budget challenge and the latter seems crucial to returning Congress to being a functioning body.

If either point is brought up, I will stop channel surfing and actually pay attention.

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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.

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.

“You Like Me. You Really Like Me!”: The Paul Ryan Selection

When I first heard of Paul Ryan’s selection as  Mitt Romney’s VP candidate, I didn’t know what to make of it, other than the campaign suddenly seemed more interesting.   In my previous post, I referred to Mitt as the “stealth candidate, ”  given his tendency to avoid the details of his personal history as governor, businessman and Mormon leader.

paul-ryan-grannie

paul-ryan-grannie (Photo credit: Majordomo2012)

The Democrat dogs have stuck their teeth into the evasions, such as why he refuses to show more of his income taxes.  Every day we do not talk about the sludge-like economy is a good day for Democrats.   Well, to change the focus, how about a startling pick for VP ?   Especially if that pick reminds us that our problems go much deeper than Romney’s tax returns.

That seems part of the reason the  “artful dodger” picked someone like Paul Ryan, despite his having a specific history, often not in keeping with his public image as fiscal hawk, that is already being focused upon and flayed by the Democrats.   In picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney moved the focus away from him to our overall financial problems.  Also, as columnist George Will wrote, he was “talking conservative.”   This was his way to prove to his conservative critics that he is indeed one of them.   Sure, he’s  been saying for months that he is a conservative, but his etch-a-sketch ways  hadn’t convinced them.

However, now that the warm, bonding moment has past, it will be interesting to see if Romney’s habit of not wanting to go into specifics  fits with his running mate’s coming equipped with all sorts of details for both reporters and the Democrats to dwell on.  Such as the what-will-happen-to-medicare question and what kind of fiscal conservative is Ryan if his plan takes us to around 2030 to balance the budget.   Sure, the Democrats are open to counter attacks, such as there is no foreseeable time they balance the budget, but there might be if the Republicans would bend on their no new taxes pledges.

Other than solidifying his base, taking the attention off such things as his refusal to show more tax returns and attracting more money for his campaign (but don’t they have plenty as is?),  I don’t see what good the Ryan pick will do for Romney.   They want us to  believe that in picking Ryan , Romney is not afraid to make the bold choices required in our time, but as I’ve indicated the Ryan image of fiscal hawk will not likely hold up after being gone over with numerous fine tooth combs in the days ahead.

What will hold up is the image of his destroying Medicare as we know it – shoving granny down the stairs – even though for fairness sake it should be noted that at least Ryan has a plan to save something akin to Medicare.  It is unclear to me how the Democrats will try to save it, so granny remains in jeopardy in either case.  But the Democrats  seem likely to win this battle of images.  MY CONFESSION:  I CHOSE THE PHOTO, WHICH IS TOTALLY UNFAIR, BECAUSE I GOT A KICK OUT OF IT.

Also, leaving all doubts about Ryan aside for a moment,  I doubt that the cautious Mitt can continue to reap benefits from his choice.   Romney doesn’t want to deal with specifics, so I bet Ryan becomes more like Romney than vice versa, another artful dodger.   And if Ryan stays too much like Ryan, i.e. a darling of the right, well, that can’t be good for Mitt, either.   The star shouldn’t be upstaged by his supporting cast, and doesn’t it feel like he already is?

Here’s my thinking, at base Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan because like most of us he wants to be liked and he has been running for months while mostly being just tolerated, as the candidate who wouldn’t go away and had the money and organization to just stay and stay and stay.  If his  strategy of being the Un-Obama had been really working of late, he would not have picked Ryan.   But that not being the case, why not  go bold?  Even button down types like Romney sport a wild hair.

Those old enough to remember Sally Field receiving an Oscar for Places of the Heart in 1985, probably recall that in her acceptance speech she screamed out:  “You like me.  You really like me!”

Well, Mitt, you’ve had your warm, fuzzy moment.  Now I will be curious to see if in November enough citizens overall will show they like you, they really like you.