Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thoughts On the Election

While we usually try to steer clear of political discussion here ("just the facts,  Mam"), it's hard to completely avoid what is perhaps the biggest story of the year: the presidential election.  While the outcome obviously has implications for the economy, the way in which the overall events have unfolded is absolutely fascinating.  Frankly, I'm very surprised by the turn of events and am beginning to think we will look back on this election as a watershed election.

When the election season started, I was of the opinion that it was Romney's to lose.  The economy has performing weakly; unemployment was still above 8%, and growth was moderate.  Among economic circles, we've seen discussion about the permanently unemployed for at least a year if not longer.  The deficit had topped $1 trillion for four years running.  In short, the economic backdrop against which the candidates were running was perfect for the challenger.

Romney also had a tremendous monetary advantage.  Thanks to the Citizens United decision, people and companies could donate unlimited amounts of money to a cause.  This led to the creation of the super-pac and limitless amounts of money being spent on campaigns.  Given the Republicans advantage with the upper class, this added to Romney's advantage.

At this point, let me interject what I think the Romney platform was supposed to be.  I have no proof of this; it's simply how I think he should have run the campaign given what I know about his history.  Central to this was Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts.  When he passed that, I really wasn't aware of him.  But I remember reading the story and thinking, "that is something that an aspiring presidential candidate would do."

So, my thought was his platform would be the following: "I was a successful businessman, I retired and devoted myself to public office and I passed a bi-partisan health care bill as governor of Massachusets (I worked across the aisles).  I also successfully turned the Olympic games around in 2002.  I'm a moderate Republican who has the ability to get things done, and who has the experience to get things done."   

The above is someone I could easily vote for.  In fact, the above is someone who I would like to vote for.  There's just one problem: the Republican base has become bat-shit insane.  Think about this: in order to be a Republican presidential candidate, you have to publicly state that you do not believe in evolution.  At one of the debates, a questioner asked if they all believed in creationism or didn't believe in evolution (I forget which).  They all raised their hands.  And one of them (Ron Paul) was a doctor!  That, of course, begs the question: what doctors do these people go to?  Do they use leeches to cure headaches?

And then there is the entire Obamacare argument.  First, let's start with a basic fact: the US health care delivery system is a poorly put together (and that's being charitable).  There is a wide swath of the population that does not have access to health insurance, which obviously lowers their preventative options.  In addition, half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical bills, and over 70% of those had insurance.  I've seen the counter-argument that people can just go to the emergency room for treatment (which is literally the least efficient and most expensive way to deliver primary and preventative care) and that the study has a "liberal bias" (which of course is the standard allegation made to any idea which counters a Republican idea).  Put another way, the counter-arguments are at best factually challenged and at worse, intellectual garbage devoid of fact.

But, the only way to solve the health care problem is to increase the pool of risk to a large enough sample to make it possible to insure everybody.  There are only two options available here: mandatory purchasing of insurance or single-payer.  That's it.  And, the Republican platform included the mandatory purchase of insurance for about 15 years, which is why Romney implemented that idea in Massachusetts.  So, Obama adopted the Republican idea, thinking that in doing so, he'll get Republican support largely because it was their idea.  We know how that went.  The Republicans were more interested in, well, being dicks, then solving the problem.

The moderate Romney (the successful businessman who saved the Olympics and then became the Massachusetts governor with the history of working with people to solve problems) had no chance of appealing to a Republican base that is now to the political right of the Czar's of Russia.  And that's where the problem really started.  The base of the Republican party is nuts and won't accept a moderate, so the moderate had to pretend he was conservative.  And in pretending that he's a "real conservative" he completely alienates half the country at the start.

In addition, I can't think of a time when I have seen a candidate or campaign operation that is this poorly organized and run. Peggy Noonan recently called it a "rolling calamity" and I think she is right.  Frankly, at this point I'm wondering how Romney even made it to the top of Bain Capital; he seems that inept to me.  The level of sheer incompetence is mind-numbing.

And then there is Romney himself.  I don't think I have ever seen a presidential candidate who really seems so ill-at-ease with both himself and other people.  Compare him to Clinton; Clinton -- regardless of whether you liked him or hated him -- is great with people.  He connected on an emotional level and made you feel part of the conversation.  Romney has literally no personal charm and no warmth at all.  This, in and of itself, really makes me wonder why is he really running for the presidency?  An inherent part of the job is shaking hands and meeting people.   Romney just doesn't seem to like people at all.

And finally, consider this: Romney was the best candidate the Republicans had to offer.  Consider the alternatives:
  • Michelle Bachman is a pure loon (vaccines cause autism?  Really?); 
  • Rick Santorum isn't comfortable with anything that has happened since roughly 1950; 
  • Newt Gingrich somehow claims a family values mantra while continually trading older wives in for younger models; 
  • Herman Caine, well, anyone who's presidential slogan is too close to a Pizza commercial isn't a serious contender; 
  • Rick Perry (ah.... ooops);
  • Ron Paul; at least he's consistent.  Now, he's also a start-raving, Austrian economics loving nut ball, but at least he's always been that way.
Not one of the people mentioned is anywhere near close to presidential caliber.  Romney was the best choice.  The Republican field literally fell out of a clown car and the audience decided that Romney had the least comical shoes to display to the public as a whole.

To get back to my central thesis: this election was the Republicans to lose.  Now, they could still pull a victory out.  There are, after all, about 6 weeks left in the campaign, during which anything could happen.   But the election has already shown how completely dysfunctional the modern Republican party has become.  They have no serious candidates who have the gravitas to be president -- people like Dick Lugar who have been driven out and made to feel completely unwelcome.  Their presidential field included conspiracy theorists, people who are woefully and willingly blind to scientific knowledge,  crank economists who espouse theories that were abandoned (with good reason) after the 1920s, inarticulate figureheads and one of the most wooden and inept presidential candidates in modern history.  This isn't a political party; it's a support group for badly damaged people with a tremendous amount of misplaced anger  and rage.