It used to be that the Republicans were the party of fiscal responsibility, but recent years make this GOP debate on how best to manage the economy seem like a commentary by an ADD eight-year-old with a sweet-tooth on how to protect the cookie jar. Nevertheless, a lot of those taking the stage today have solid budget direction credibility – Giuliani and Romney principally. And best of all, the Big White Hope of the GOP is finally emerging from the wings: Fred Thompson at last leaps into the scrum.
Here, we’ll blog their debate live.
Straight Tax On Flat Taxes
The various candidates begin with a quick carousel about their proposed changes to the tax code.
Huckabee advocates elimination of income tax for the sake of a sales tax, so as to gain more revenue, incentivize domestic productivity and throttle the “underground economy.”
Brownback and Tancredo flat out eliminate federal taxation in its current form. They then use the rest of the time to criticize spending in Washington. This is simply not an impressive tact to take – no more so than when Hillary insists that Social Security is going to be saved by a balanced budget, and then the rest will fall into place. It ignores the real demands of modern, socialized civil society in America – people like their spending, just as they like cheap designer clothes, cheap beef, cheap gourmet coffee, cheap war. These things don’t just pay for themselves, nor will people accept them drying up or vanishing.
Romney and Giuliani then spar over their past records, with Rudy saying he slashed taxes and spending while Romney let his rise. Romney did, in fact, try to limit spending and taxes, but in Massachusetts, that’s like trying to stop a flood with your pockets. Romney ends up just looking like he’s floating, nothing really to hold onto, for Giuliani has him in a corner. He tries to make ground by switching the subject to a line-item veto, but Giuliani takes the steam out of his sidetrack by snatching the man’s platform from him: He claims Romney’s conception of a line-item veto is unconstitutional, but that he favors a lawful use of one.
The blood’s still drying on the canvas as we hop to the next topic.
Free Market Blues
Fred comes to the fore. He’s asked if he’ll protect against outsourcing. After some burly rhetoric about how super-duper the American economy is, he says he won’t protect anybody’s jobs from being cut – that’s not free market.
He may as well have pointed right at his hamstrings and turned his back, as Duncan Hunter lays into Fred by saying that the President must not be against the Free Market here, but can sure as shoot tariff the Chinese to a more favorable trade position. This wins points from the peanut gallery, and applause explodes.
McCain says the issue’s about rampant, bloated spending in the federal budget. Then Tancredo says our anemic economy is due to immigration, sapping our services while raiding the larder of low-income jobs. Recent raids haven’t really proved the whole “swarthy folk are stealing the white man’s jobs” argument, considering that farmers are now puling about food rotting in the fields due to lack of someone to pick them due to immigration crackdowns.
It’s about now that I realize these questions aren’t “questions” per se, but prompts for whatever talking points the candidates need to fire off.
Lock Up Your Stevedores
Rudy is asked about whether, under his administration, the recent spate of denying other countries’ companies control of American services with possible national security implications – namely, the ports and oil owned by Dubai and China.
He rambles about how we need to encourage American exports by redrawing trade agreements. Again, I can just see the barricades going up in the center of the country when Wal*Mart has to sell sweatshirts for a minimum of $45. His ducking the question doesn’t work, and eventually he’s nailed to the wall with the direct inquiry, “Would you allow Dubai to own 20% of NASDAQ?”
He says he would, provided they pass security checks. Ron Paul agrees. McCain calls bullshit on the whole preferrential trade agreements line, saying that protective tariffs had never worked. He then signs on for free trade allowing the Dubai to own 20% of NASDAQ. Fred agrees, rathering droningly.
Hunter slams on the brakes to halt this rare moment of multi-culti lovefest with his big ol’ xenophobic leg, saying he wouldn’t let Dubai own any large interest in NASDAQ, since he doesn’t trust them. He relates that Dubai had some peripheral connection with intelligence that suggested that nuclear weapons triggers might have gone through one of their ports, hence, no trust. And though that rather absurd standard would outlaw a good number of other trade partners – ourselves included – this at least speaks to the sentiment of many Americans: Those that would gasp rather than cheer or shrug when they see “Arabs Buy Controlling Interest In Major American Market”.
Hot Air On Inflation
The next topic is cut short by the jump to commercial, but before we’re smothered in commercials for life insurance and Viagra, Fred comports himself well by rattling off a hunk of numbers that go right over my head, using them as evidence to halt inflation at all costs while one slashes the tax code.
A trend is floating the surface: The tax code’s days are numbered, and protectionist sentiments are just /so/ 2005.
Iraq A Wreck?
Thompson’s then asked about Iraq – Is the policy a good one?
He spouts the usual GOP line these days: We went in with too little troops, but that we’ll now do whatever’s necessary to stabilize the country. I’m glad that they’re finally migrating away from championing the Bush war plan as the greatest thing since Cannae, but again, not a one has said exactly what “whatever’s necessary” entails. Not a mention of a draft, of war bonds, of tac nukes or reforming the Maliki government or UN intervention – nothing. Just “we win by winning.” Some may say that their commitment to the will to win is sufficient to win them support, but considering the “we win by winning” attitude got us where we are now – with a hideously mismanaged strategy that’s only now being slowly, slowly altered – I would strongly disagree.
We do the rounds of the candidates, and they give us the usual, Ron Paul being the only non-interventionist speed bump. Brownback reminds me – as I’d forgotten – that he supports the Biden plan.
When we get to Romney, he says we’ll stay the course, but also threatens Iran. He says that it’s key to /not/ use military force against them, but will do whatever is necessary. He repeats this a number of times, only pausing to call Ahmadinejad a “buffoon”, and saying that it was shameful to have him speak at the UN. I’m sure his poll numbers just spiked, but his diplomatic credit took a nose dive.
Ron Paul is asked about going after Iran’s jugular to prevent a nuclear weapon in Tehran’s hands, and he calls the fear of Iran to be “war propaganda”, pointing out that truly being caught by surprise by an enemy troop build up has never happened in our history. Sadly, I would disagree. I think he has a point when it comes to Iran and nukes, but we have been jumped quite a few times. He demands that Congress give its support for any military action as an act of war.
Interestingly, Fred takes the same tact when it comes to Congress.
Yet McCain, Giuliani and Huckabee all say that they’d like to consult Congress, but ultimately wouldn’t if they felt the pressure was really on. Giuliani scoffs at Paul saying we’d never been surprise attacked, and cites 9/11.
I sigh. Paul shoots back that 9/11 wasn’t a country, and that watching enemy weapon build-up is different. Giuliani says that, in fact, it was organized in a country – Afghanistan and Pakistan. Paul tries to bounce back, but Rudy’s in fine fettle and motors on, saying that if the clock was ticking to stop Iran from having a nuke, he’d act. No doubt Paul might’ve pointed out that, in fact, it was not “planned” there in any immediate sense – it was planned in Germany, the US and Saudi Arabia more than in Afghanistan.
It strikes me that given 9/11 is perhaps the most significant factor Rudy has in his favor, he might get the facts right. But then, it strikes me, getting the facts right would be counter-productive. That’s not how you play to the base on 9/11.
What The World Needs Now, Is Oil
Resource control – energy independence – is the next topic. The candidates are asked in turn what they’d do.
Tancredo, McCain and Giuliani all say that drilling domestically and a dash of green is the way to go. All of them talk about how the issue of energy independence is a crucial safeguard against terrorism. But it’s Huckabee, who’s looking increasingly appealing, who really lights things up, with an energetic assessment of our energy policy.
Huckabee says, by inference, that the Apollo Program is what’s needed – that this is a defense emergency and an environmental emergency that “has to be handled like NASCAR, not like taking the family station wagon in so that Goober and Gomer can look at it when they have time under the shade tree.” Charming quote, but the core of it has real resonance. He breathes some life and urgency into this.
Fred promptly kills it. He sounds about as enthusiastic as a Paxil commercial. Romney lights it up again, adding to Huckabee’s impassioned illustration about resource management that it would get the economy kicking in a way America wants and needs. It makes me sorry he was such a heel to anybody who gets the slightest fleck of mud on them – be that Obama, Larry Craig or Ahmadinejad. Now, whenever he talks about daring social programs, it smacks of the shiny-toothed fascists – politicians that embrace the people and yet will devour their young.
The Daddy Party Knows Best
Matthews asks how the Republicans can restore the people’s faith in the Republican Party’s management of the economy (among other things).
Romney says that fiscal vision and confidence is the way to go. Giuliani suggests the same, and notes that going confidently into the global community with new energy independence technology is the way to go – that’s what’ll give us an edge. He’s absolutely right.
Tancredo says that illegal immigration will be the cureall for wage rate increases and economic growth. He claims that the Republican stewardship of the nation had no principles, what with pouring slop subsidies into the gullet of big business and selling out the farm on illegal immigration and spending.
Suffer The Baby Boomers
Fred is asked how to save Social Security. He says Social Security is screwed, and says it in about a dozen ways from, “beating the corn” to “pitting generations against each other”. He then says that fiscal responsibility and “index benefits for inflation” are the way to go. I am just not sure what that latter thing is. But Fred says, “it will be a major step in the right direction.” How? What? Anyway, we move on.
Off The Fast Tracks
Tancredo is asked if the Bush Administration did an awful job negotiating trade agreements. He brightens right up; this is clearly his topic. He gives us a minute-long “you betcha”, ennumerating the ways that other countries were given far too great a benefit at the expense of the American people, for the sake of Multi-National Corporate benefits.
Romney is asked how his plan differs from Hillarycare2K. He says it is “individual”, “wiser”, and focus on private companies, not public medicine. Well, he might be right about the “wiser” in its spending – we just can’t tell, of course. As for the other two, so does hers.
Love Thy Enemy
They are asked about unions.
Huckabee points out that the right to unionize is good and proper, and that unions will explode onto the streets when wages are no longer adequate for a basic standard of living. He implies this time is nigh.
Romney says there are good unions and bad unions. He wants to tell an insightful story, but is cut off. He tries again. He is shut down. No story for him.
Fred says that there are good unions and bad. Rudy agrees. Hunter describes a union as “a receptacle of power” and says you need to work with them. Brownback tells a folksy story about how unions can be good; his mother was in one as a mail carrier. He notes there are bad unions too, but refrains from telling any such story.
Tancredo is not so happy about unions. He criticizes unions and civil servant benefits being coupled. He also claims unions stack their ranks with illegal immigrants. Truly, he is a man after his time. If Tancredo was in the 4th century Roman Senate, he could have saved the Empire. And his defense policy would’ve been better received.
Policing the Internet
Matthews asks Rudy how to police the internet.
Rudy says you shouldn’t tax it. However, you should organize a new state-federal tax force to hunt down predators and pornography. He doesn’t advocate creating a public agency to do it, but instead using the resources available, organized differently. He also suggests liaising with private security firms.
McCain says he would not police the ‘net any differently than now, but would be more aggressive in pursuing child predators on the ‘net.
And now, the Lightning Round
To Huckabee – Would you have vetoed SCHIP? Huckabee – No. He would have got it right the first time, working with Congress to craft it so that it wouldn’t have been so profligate.
To Thompson – Dangers of a weak dollar? Thompson – It threatens our credit, but it’s good for our exports.
To Rudy – What to do when China own us? Rudy – The Democrats are very negative all the time. Sell more goods to China.
To Ron – Would you support the GOP nominee no matter what? Ron – No.
To Tancredo – Would you? Tancredo – No.
To Brownback – Would you? Brownback – Yeah. Because they’re going to be pro-growth and pro-life.
To Hunter – Would you? Hunter – Yes, because they’re going to be pro-life, which is at the root of our problems.
To Giuliani – Will London replace NYC as the financial capitol of the world? Rudy – No way. We’ll keep selling our country’s culture and technology, and they’ll keep buying.
To Romney – Will London replace NYC as the financial capitol of the world? Romney – No, and I’ll support the GOP nominee.
To Fred – Will you pay some attention to Canada? Fred – They need to be with us in the War on Terror, and, yes, I’ll pay plenty of attention.
To Huckabee – How will you fix the airlines? Huckabee – They’ve got to get with the program.
To McCain – How will you catch bin Ladin? McCain – Create an “O.S.S.” tasked with one mission: Get him.
To Romney – Greatest threat to American economy? Romney – Pessimism.
To Brownback – Greatest threat to the US economy? Brownback – Illegitimate children.
To Rudy – Would it be good to have a third party? Rudy – No. And also, lack of education is the greatest threat to our economy.
To Fred – How did the debate go? Did you wait too long?
And I will forego his lame attempt at humor in responding, and simply leave you with this:
He makes me miss Alan Keyes.