Friday, March 30, 2012

Paul Ryan vs. Barack Obama

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chair of the House Budget Committee, released his budget proposal for FY 2013 during the past week.  The plan immediately drew criticism from Democrats for targeting programs such as military pensions, food stamps, and Medicare with major cuts of as much as 33% while proposing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, particularly those who derive all or most of their income from capital gains.  Under the Ryan plan, individuals like Warren Buffett and Mitt Romney would have virtually no tax burden while the poor and middle class would experience higher tax bills.  Couple that with more restrictive programs for the poor and vulnerable and it amounts to what Newt Gingrich ominously referred to a year ago as 'right-wing social engineering.'

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama's FY 2013 budget request has been all but ignored by the Republican House, largely because it contains higher taxes on individuals making over $250,000 a year...the people who can actually afford to pay a bit more.

Neither the president's budget nor Paul Ryan's budget does much to address the nation's most serious problems, including long term structural deficits totaling in the tens of trillions of dollars.  The Ryan budget proposes to balance the budget by 2040, a whopping 28 years, by which time the debt of the United States will have more than doubled.  Add to that the fact that Congress is incredibly poor at actually sticking to a budget and that future Congresses rarely abide by what their predecessors have done and the likelihood of the Ryan plan actually accomplishing its goal is slim, if not nil.

But what the Ryan proposal does is give the Republicans a line of argument for the fall campaign that at least they have put together a proposal.  Whether it had any chance of adoption is irrelevant.  Of course, that's another problem Congress has no incentive to work with members of the opposite party to work out real solutions to real problems.  So the rhetoric will go on and on and on.

Republicans will argue that President Obama 'added' more to the federal debt in 4 years than President Bush did in 8 years.  That depends on how one calculates debt and deficit.  I argue that in order to properly calculate a president's effect on the debt and deficit one must examine the revenue increases/decreases, expenditure increases/decreases, and deficit projections contained in their (and their immediate predecessor's) budget proposal.  Let's see where that leads us.

In FY 2001, the final budget under President Clinton and the Republican Congress, called for total federal spending of less than $1.9 trillion and achieved a surplus of $128 billion.  Over the next ten years, a surplus of more than $5 trillion was projected.  If realized, the United States would have been essentially debt free by FY 2011.  However, the economy slipped into recession and Congress passed a 'stimulus' package in the form of tax rebates during 2001.  Coupled with increased spending in the first Bush budget (5% increase from $1.9 trillion to $2 trillion) and a reduction in revenues of $138 billion (due to tax cuts and weaker economic activity) produced a deficit of $157 billion for FY 2002.  Spending would continue to grow at a faster clip under President Bush than it did under President Clinton for the remainder of his two terms.  The final Bush budget was $3.1 trillion for FY 2009, a full 55% higher than his first budget proposal in FY 2002.  It contained a deficit of $1.4 trillion, largely due to a massive decline in revenues that reduced total receipts back to near the level of FY 2000, approximately $2.1 trillion.  That's a net increase in the deficit of more than $3.5 trillion since FY 2001.  Add the lost surplus of $5 trillion and it amounts to an actual increase of some $8.5 trillion in debt...more than $1 trillion per year!

That, of course, is when the figures most beneficial to President Bush are used...that is total revenues less outlays PLUS any surplus generated by the Social Security and Medicare programs.  These programs ran a surplus of $1.34 trillion during the Bush years.  This means the actual Bush effect on the debt was closer to $7 trillion since the off-budget surplus was surely a part of the projected $5 trillion surplus from FY 2001-2010.  Review the actual budget figures here.

What about the Obama years?  What portion of the record budget deficits should rightly be attributed to his administration?  First, we need to know what the OMB projections were for FY 2009-2016 were when he took office.  Fortunately, we have such projections!  If none of President Obama's policies had been adopted OMB projected total deficits around $8 trillion.  That's right, with NO new spending the deficits would STILL have been averaging $1 trillion per year, largely due to the policies put in place during the Bush years (multiple unpaid for tax cuts, prescription drug benefits for Medicare, and the ongoing costs of two wars) plus the aging of the American population.

So what has been the effect of President Obama's policies on the debt and deficit?  To be charitable, we'll include all of the $800 billion stimulus package passed in 2009 even though it was part of FY 2009.  We'll also subtract that from Bush's deficit total leaving him with a legacy of $6.3 trillion over 8 years.  According to OMB figures the deficit for FY 2010 was $1.3 trillion, FY 2011 $1.64 trillion, FY 2012 $1.1 trillion (estimate), FY 2013 $767 billion (estimate), FY 2014 $644 billion (estimate), FY 2015 $604 billion (estimate), and FY 2016 $648 billion (estimate).  Assuming President Obama is reelected (not a certainty), the debt is estimated to have increased by $7.5 trillion by 2016.  This estimate includes allowing ALL the Bush and Obama tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012.  If any of them are reauthorized, which they almost certainly will be, the cumulative deficits over the next four fiscal years will rise another $1.4 trillion.

What do the numbers actually show?  Primarily that 'massive spending increase' under President Obama that conservatives keep screaming about never happened.  Also, that the massive debt increases due to President Obama's policies also are a figment of their imagination.  To be sure, the debt is a problem as are structural deficits.  But that's the kicker...the deficits are structural, not endogenous to a single president except where that president advocates and agrees to policies that directly add to or subtract from the deficit/debt.  The only true increase in federal spending under President Obama in the first four years has been the stimulus package in 2009, which stabilized the economy and provided an opportunity for it to begin growing once again.  The primary culprit has not been increased spending but rather decreased revenues.  Revenue in 2000 was just over $2 trillion.  By the end of 2011 it had only reached $2.17 trillion in spite of inflation, an increase over 10 years of less than 10%.  From 1980 to 1990 revenue doubled from $500 billion to $1 trillion, from 1990 to 2000 it doubled again from $1 trillion to $2 trillion (and we had 4 consecutive budget surpluses).  Had revenues simply continued on that pace the country would be debt free.  Instead, because of terrible choices over the past decade, America is left with unsustainable deficits and debt.  We shouldn't pin the blame on President Bush or President Obama because doing so is just partisan politics.  Rather, we need to pin the blame on those who ought to know better, our elected representatives in Congress.  Ultimately, we are responsible since we keep sending the same clowns back to Washington even though they have proven themselves incapable of governing responsibly.  Shame on us.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Affordable Care Act and the SCOTUS

Let me start with a caveat: I'm not an expert on the Supreme Court, though I have taught Constitutional Law and Judicial Process courses for undergraduates.  Having said that, I think I know enough about the Court and its behavior to make two relatively non-controversial statements.  

  • Oral arguments before the Court rarely, if ever, determine the outcome of a case and;
  • Anyone who thinks they 'know' how the Supreme Court will decide this case is guessing.
The Supreme Court has many options available to it in deciding the outcome of the lawsuit by the 26 states hoping to overturn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (hereafter, ACA), derisively referred to by Republicans as Obamacare.  The March 27th arguments were devoted to two primary questions:
  • Does Congress have the right to mandate the purchase of a product and;
  • Is the penalty for failure to comply properly considered a 'tax'?
On the first question, the arguments were all over the map and I think the Solicitor General did a horrible job of articulating and defending the government's position.  That does not mean the government's argument is weak, however.  The justices seemed open to the argument that there might be situations under which the government could compel the purchase of products on the market, though they wanted to know what kind of limitation exists on Congressional power to do so.  The Solicitor General utterly failed to provide an answer to this question while stammering about how the mandate isn't about creating economic activity or spurring demand.  This may or may not hurt the government's case as the justices are certainly smart enough to figure out on their own what kind of limiting principle might exist, although it was bizarre when a couple of the conservative justices started comparing an individual's lack of purchase of health insurance to the choice not to consume broccoli.  There are fundamental differences between the two and the Solicitor General did a poor job of explaining them.  

The key, I think, is whether or not the justices are convinced that the health insurance market and the health care market are either one and the same or so intricately intertwined as to be virtually inseparable. If  a legitimate separation can be made then the mandate must fall.  If it is impossible to separate the two, then the mandate will stand.  The question then becomes one of 'why do people purchase (or not purchase) health insurance'?  If the answer is to protect themselves from catastrophic ruin in the event of unforeseen illness, the mandate must fall.  The government has no power to force individuals to protect their financial futures.  But, if the answer is that people purchase health insurance in order to receive (and pay for) health care treatment, the mandate has a good chance to survive.  That's because the primary method of payment for health services in the United States is health insurance.  The health care market is unlike any other market in the United States because even individuals who do not purchase health insurance are entitled to be treated in emergency rooms.  If they don't pay for the treatment, the rest of us do through higher premiums, higher deductibles, and higher fees for service.  The same is not true about the grocery market. Hungry people cannot walk into a grocery store and demand free broccoli.  Plus, my refusal to purchase broccoli doesn't make the price of broccoli higher for you.  If anything, it makes the price lower because of a lack of demand.  

At this stage I think there are four certain votes to uphold the mandate.  Those will come from Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  There are also two almost certain votes to invalidate the mandate.  Those will come from Justices Thomas and Alito.  I think Justice Scalia will vote to strike it down but he could vote to uphold the mandate if he concludes that it was both necessary and proper for Congress to accomplish it's goal in the ACA.  He seemed convinced that it was necessary but skeptical about whether it was proper.  The unknowns are Justice Kennedy, who at times seemed opposed and at other times sympathetic, and Chief Justice Roberts.  If I were to venture a guess I'd say Roberts is opposed to the mandate but open to upholding it if Kennedy can find some kind of limiting principle to Congress' power.  Lyle Denniston on SCOTUSblog has an excellent take on this in his recap of the oral arguments.  

The normal order of voting in conference by the justices has the chief vote first followed by the associates in order of seniority.  Roberts is likely to abstain while waiting to see what Kennedy does because if Kennedy votes to uphold the mandate and Roberts votes to strike it down Justice Kennedy will get to assign the opinion.  Chief Justice Roberts would probably prefer to be in the majority on this case so he can assign the opinion (or write it himself) in such a way as to make the most narrow ruling possible.  In this case, he might even be able to bring Justices Alito and Scalia with him.  

Of course, as I said at the beginning, oral arguments are usually irrelevant to the outcome of most Supreme Court cases.  The justices have made up their minds long before the lawyers open their mouths.  Much of what happens during the oral argument amounts to the justices playing devil's advocate.  As Segal and Spaeth have contended for almost twenty years, Supreme Court decisions are largely a product of the justices ideological attitudes.  Except, of course, when they're not.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

New Santorum Ad

Ok, wow.  Someone on Rick Santorum's presidential campaign team has lost all his marbles.  The latest ad put forward by team Santorum goes where few have gone before.  Is this as bad as LBJ's 'Daisy Girl' ad in 1964?  Read Paul Waldman's comments here.

This ad plays to all the right wing paranoia and nonsense the conspiracy freaks have been propagating for the last 3 years.  Rationed healthcare, empty storefronts, the end of freedom of religion, and on and on and on.  Nonsense.  All of it.  I expect this kind of schtick from Rush Limbaugh or the folks at Fox 'News' but not from a man who wants to be president.  Then again, this is the same man who said God told him to run, told people that the Dutch euthanized senior citizens against their will (and has refused to recant when the Dutch called him on his lie), called the president a snob and a socialist, and believes birth control is an excuse for promiscuity.

Just one more reason America cannot allow Rick Santorum anywhere near the Oval Office.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Dysfunctional GOP

I remember the days when most, if not all, of the crazy people identified with the Democratic Party.  From environmental terrorists to Hollywood celebrities saying any silly thing that entered their minds, the Democrats had a virtual lock on wing nuts.  Rarely, however, did those people offer themselves up as candidates for president.  The balance of crazy power has definitely migrated over to the Republican Party today.  What's more, the crazies actually run for president and are considered viable candidates by many Republican voters.  The question is when and where did this start?  Some have suggested it began with the vice-presidential nomination of Sarah Palin in 2008.  Perhaps, but I think Palin was more a case of someone being unprepared for the rigor of national politics than the John McCain choosing a crazy person as his running mate.  I do think, however, that Palin's presence on the GOP ticket made it more acceptable for ignorant people to seek the presidency.  That explains the candidacies of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain.  Fortunately, GOP voters and the Republican establishment rejected both of them.  As they did with the male version of Palin, Texas Governor Rick Perry.   Voters are currently rejecting the GOP's crazy uncle, Ron Paul.

Yet, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both serial liars and both less qualified to be president than Republicans believe Barack Obama was/is, are considered viable candidates by many GOP voters outside the party's inner circle.  Each has the establishment sweating out the 'what if Mitt Romney fails to secure the nomination' scenarios.  Rick Santorum tours the country telling fibs about the Dutch and how they euthanize senior citizens against their will, claiming that birth control is an excuse to engage in promiscuous behavior, and now lecturing Puerto Ricans on the need to make English the island's official language to 'comply with federal law' in order to pursue statehood.  Of course, there is no such federal law except for the one Santorum would like to pass.  His exact statement was,
“Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law,” Santorum said. “And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language.”
Can a candidate for the most powerful job in the world be this ignorant?  Or is this a slip of the tongue that will cause more headaches for conservatives as they try to woo the hispanic population, which will soon be a plurality of the U.S. population?

The good news, if you can call it that, is that some conservatives are now coming around to the fact that  their party has a 'crazy' problem.  Ann Coulter recently admitted the 'con man and charlatan' problem is bigger in the GOP than in the Democratic Party.  As she points out in the video below, when Democrats have crazy people who run for president and lose they don't get shows on MSNBC but Republicans reward crazy people with high paying TV gigs.

This may be the first time in history I agree with Ann Coulter about anything.

Frontloading HQ: On the State of the Republican Nomination Race, Post-AL/MS

Frontloading HQ: On the State of the Republican Nomination Race, Post-AL/MS

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Fat Lady Didn't Sing...

Another week of Republican primaries has resulted in another split decision by the GOP electorate.  Frontrunner and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney won Hawai'i, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.  Rick Santorum picked up wins in Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi as I predicted here.  Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were shut out, though Gingrich did pick up delegates in both MS and AL with his 2nd place finishes there.  That leaves the race for the GOP nomination pretty much exactly where it was a week ago with Gov. Romney holding a comfortable lead in delegates over his main rival, Senator Santorum.  Barring an exit from the race by Newt Gingrich (who cannot win the nomination at this point), the process is likely to drag on through Texas (May 29) and CA (June 5) before Romney can get to the magic 1144 delegate total.  There is a slight chance he won't get there, which is what keeps Gingrich in the race at this point.  Josh Putnam has an excellent analysis of where the race stands through March 13th, while Larry Sabato and the gang at the Crystal Ball have projections about what comes next.

The bottom line is that we probably won't be hearing the Fat Lady sing anytime soon when it comes to this year's GOP nomination process.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Thought McCarthyism Died?

Apparently not.  If there is anything we have learned over the past three years it is that Senator Joseph McCarthy created plenty of conspiracy theorists just like himself.  It appears that the vast majority of them abide in the Republican Party these days.  President Obama has been called a 'socialist', 'un-American', an 'Arab', 'boy', and a 'muslim' by these nut jobs.  Worse, mainstream members of the GOP fail to disavow these attacks, except for Senator John McCain, to whom much credit should be given.  Now, with just one day until voters in Mississippi and Alabama cast their ballots in their state's respective Republican primary, a new poll by Public Policy Polling indicates that 45% of likely Republican voters believe President Obama is a Muslim.  Another 41% aren't sure.  Frightening.

Exactly what is the problem these people have with otherness?  Anyone who doesn't act like them, talk like them, look like them, and consume greasy deep fried foods like them is suspect.  America is supposed to be a melting pot filled with different ethnic groups, racial groups, and a shared commitment to liberty for all.  Except if you're an 'other', apparently.

I probably shouldn't be surprised when this stuff comes up in the two most ethnocentric states in the union.  After all, in another Public Policy Poll conducted last year in Mississippi nearly 45% of Republican respondents said miscegenation should still be illegal.  At least that number dropped to 29% in the most recent poll with 17% unsure.  Yeah, plenty still want to ban inter-racial marriage.  The Soviet Union may be dead and there may not be a communist behind every tree or fencepost but good old McCarthyism is alive and well in the old confederacy.  Uncle Joe would be proud.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mock Debate Video

Now this was fun...I moderated a mock debate at Mississippi State University between students representing Ron Paul, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum.  Alas, we were unable to locate a Gingrich supporter.  It's about two hours long but we had a lot of fun.

Santorum Wins Kansas

According to reports from the AP Rick Santorum has easily won the Kansas Presidential Preference Caucus.  Early reports indicate Santorum has won more than 50% of the statewide vote and if the numbers hold up he will receive at least 34 of the state's 40 delegates because none of the other candidates managed to reach the 20% threshold required to receive any of the statewide delegates.  Congressional District results are not yet available so it is not yet clear if this is a 40-0 sweep for Santorum.  His win today helps make up for the 18 delegates Romney earned overnight in Guam and the Northern Marianas.

Update:  Looks like Romney has made the 20% threshold and will get a share of the 25 statewide delegates.  As of now it looks as though he will get 6 or 7 while Santorum gets the rest.

Romney Wins Guam and Northern Marianas

Mitt Romney's delegate total went up by 18 overnight as he swept the caucuses in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands (who says we're not an empire?)  In contrast, none of the non-Romneys picked up a single delegate overnight.  That will likely change today if Senator Santorum pulls off the expected victory in Kansas, as I wrote about yesterday.  Even so, Romney will probably pick up enough delegates in Kansas (combined with the two islands) so that his overall lead on Santorum is larger on Sunday morning than it was on Friday morning.  Of course, you probably won't hear this from the talking heads on the boob tube.  Santorum's path to the nomination just got a little bit more difficult, not to mention Gingrich's or Paul's.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Non-Romneys and the Delegate Math

As of March 9th, 23 states have held presidential preference primaries or caucuses.  Several of these have been non-binding or awarded no delegates (Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri to name a few).  Each of the four GOP hopefuls has won at least two of these states except Congressman Ron Paul.  To date, former MA Gov. Romney leads the pack with 14 wins.  Former Senator Rick Santorum has captured seven states, and Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has won just two states.  Each has made the argument that he is the 'true' conservative in the race and the only one that can beat President Barack Obama in November.  Each believes, or at least asserts, that he can win the nomination and represent the GOP in November.  Barring a massive collapse of support for Mitt Romney, each is wrong.  In reality, what they are doing is splitting the non-Romney vote and making the nomination of Mitt Romney more likely than not.  The next four days are likely to go a long way toward making Romney's nomination that much more certain.  Here's why:

Kansas--The Sunflower State holds its presidential caucus on Saturday March 10th and Rick Santorum is favored to win, though it is all but impossible to poll a caucus state.  Kansas has 40 delegates up for grabs, 37 of which will be proportionally allocated.  Three delegates are assigned to each of Kansas' four congressional districts and will be awarded to the candidate that carries the popular vote in the district.  The likely allocation here is 9-3 in favor of Rick Santorum, but depending on how Romney does in Kansas City and Wichita it could end up 6-6.  The next 25 delegates are awarded proportionally based upon a candidate getting at least 20% of the statewide vote.  Assume Santorum grabs 40% of the vote and Romney grabs 30% while Gingrich and Paul split the rest.  The latter two would receive no delegates while Santorum and Romney divide the 25 delegates according to their share of the total votes cast for candidates getting at least 20%.  Assume this is 7000 votes, 4000 for Santorum, 3000 for Romney.  This translates to 57% Santorum and 43% Romney.  Fifty-seven percent of 25 equals about 15 delegates for Santorum to 10 for Romney.  Santorum could end up with anywhere between 21 and 27 delegates while Romney scoops up 10 to 16 delegates.  Finally, there are three at large delegates that are bound to the winner of the statewide vote.  Best case scenario for Santorum is 30-10, a net gain of 20 delegates.  More likely is a 24-16 split and a net gain of only eight delegates.  Confused yet?

After Kansas, the voters in Mississippi, Alabama, and Hawai'i get their say in a trio of primaries next Tuesday.  Mississippi will allocate proportionally and recent polls have shown Newt Gingrich with a small lead here.  Mitt Romney is favored in Hawai'i, and Gingrich is favored slightly in Alabama.  By most accounts Romney will do no worse than second in both of the southern states and probably draw 28-30% of the vote.  That will net him a good chunk of the delegates in both states so he moves ever closer to 1144.  It will be a slow but steady march to Tampa for Romney but he'll likely get there, even if the media keeps yapping about his 'poor' performances.

Ironically, the strategy the Gingrich and Santorum campaigns are pursuing is the one strategy most likely to ensure Mitt Romney is the GOP standard bearer in November.  If either of them really wants to stop Romney's momentum he would take one for the team and quit the race and throw his support to the other.  Neither has a small enough ego to do so and that's just one reason neither of them deserves to govern our great nation.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mitt Romney and the Road to Tampa

Super Tuesday has come and gone.  All four of the GOP contenders are still in the race and not much seems to have changed apart from the candidates delegate counts.  Four years ago Super Tuesday was in February and the Republican nominating process was officially all but over.  What a difference four years makes.  But why are things so different this year?  A few reasons are evident...

  1. The Republican National Committee modified the delegate allocation process for 2012.  In 2008, many more states were 'winner take all' states, which means that the winner of the popular vote took home the lion's share of the delegates.  All states voting before April 1, 2012 are required to allocate some delegates proportionally UNLESS a candidate passes the 50% mark.  This year, all but Arizona and Florida have had some kind of proportional allocation of their delegates, which allows any candidate meeting the state established threshold minimum percentage of the popular vote to get a few delegates.  For a full explanation see Josh Putnam's excellent site.  Seth Masket also has an excellent analysis showing that Romney would be in roughly the same position McCain was in at this point in 2008 if the rules were the same this year.
  2. Fewer states have voted so far in 2012 than voted on Super Tuesday in 2008.  At first glance one might be tempted to say 'so what'?  So everything!  The spacing in the primary/caucus calendar for 2012 has allowed Romney's challengers to regroup after a defeat in one state and make their case in other states.  Additionally, the geographic distribution of the primary/caucus states in 2012 has itself contributed to a long, drawn-out race.  One week the contests are held in areas where Romney is either dominant (Arizona) or competitive (Michigan) while the next few contests are in areas that his opponents are stronger (Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma).  To expect Gov. Romney to deliver a 'knockout blow' under these circumstances is downright silly.  In fact, the next set of caucus/primary states should favor Rick Santorum (Alabama, Mississippi, and Kansas) as Larry Sabato and others have argued.  Had the calendar looked more like 2008 there is every possibility Romney would have wrapped this up and the GOP would be resting comfortably until Tampa.  
  3. Mitt Romney simply isn't that good of a candidate.  Half of Republican voters don't trust him for one of two reasons; 1) either he isn't sufficiently conservative or; 2) they're uneasy with his Mormon faith.  The latter of these two is probably more true among southern evangelicals than anywhere else in the country.  The former explains his mediocre performance among those who self-identify as 'somewhat conservative.'  I'd love to see some cross tabs of the exit polls in each state to measure the overlap between 'extremely conservative' and 'born again/evangelical' but so far I haven't found any.  Add to that Mitt's failure to connect with average folks as I wrote about here and here and you've got a candidate who will likely be limping all the way to Tampa.  
  4. Citizens United and the birth of the Super PACs.  Conservatives have absolutely no grounds for complaining about this causing the nominating process to drag on for months and months because they gave birth to these monsters.  They have wanted unlimited spending for decades and they've got it.  I'm sure they envisioned using it to destroy Democrats rather than to have these things cannibalize their own but sometimes when you create a monster you lose control of it.  Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.  Virtually any objective analysis will show that neither Newt Gingrich nor Rick Santorum would be posting serious challenges to Mitt Romney right now, in spite of the above, if they had to rely on the traditional method to secure a presidential nomination.  Neither of them have 'real' campaign organizations, neither has much financial support, and neither has a coherent, consistent, electable message.  In an age where all that is needed to run for president is a billionaire willing to contribute a million bucks (or twenty million) to your 'unaffiliated' Super PAC who needs an organization?
For all these reasons and more, I think the media (and citizens) are asking the wrong questions.  The question is not why has not Governor Romney wrapped up the nomination (he has...we just don't know it yet).  The question is why in the world would we have expected it to be over so soon?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

An Eye for An Eye Until the Both of Them Be Blind

Conservative firebrand blogger Andrew Breitbart died today at the age of 43 while walking in his Los Angeles neighborhood.  Over the past four years there has been no love lost between Mr. Breitbart and his liberal critics.  After all, Breitbart was responsible for the take down of the liberal leaning community organizing group ACORN by posting doctored videos of organization officials purportedly advising conservative activist James O'Keefe how to run a brothel and avoid federal taxation.  He also posted a partial video that led many, including officials in the Obama Administration, to conclude that Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod admitted to discriminating against a white farmer in Georgia.  The full video later exonerated Sherrod but the damage to her reputation had been done.  More recently, Breitbart was the first to post the partially nude photos Representative Anthony Weiner had tweeted of himself to a young woman in Washington.  The scandal resulted in Weiner's resignation from Congress and his seat being won by a Republican last summer.  Breitbart's single mission in life was to destroy all things liberal.  He often took it too far and engaged in distortion, deceit, and outright lying to achieve his purpose.  In Andrew Breitbart's world, the end clearly justified the means.  When liberal icon Senator Edward Kennedy died of brain cancer in 2009 Breitbart called him "a villain", "a duplicitous bastard", and "a prick" among many other unflattering things.

A short 2 1/2 years later, Breitbart himself is dead.  The left has been equally uncharitable in response to his death as he was to the death of Edward Kennedy.  Now, I didn't know Ted Kennedy or Andrew Breitbart.  I had, and have, questions about what motivated both of them to do what they did.  I will say that while I disagreed with Sen. Kennedy on many issues, I nevertheless respected his passion for the poor and unfortunate among us.  I cannot say the same for Andrew Breitbart or his tactics but my heart goes out to his wife and children.  But neither will I resort to nor condone the epithets hurled by the 'tolerant' left at Mr. Breitbart.  He is the product of a system that idolizes free speech without regard to truth, that elevates ideology above country and truth, symbolism above substance, and sensationalism above critical thinking.  When passion replaces reason all of us end up as losers.  And the national conversation about the important issues of our time is silenced.

I am reminded of a song by Tommy Sands called "There were roses" about the tit for tat killing of protestants by Catholics and vice-versa in Northern Ireland.  The lyrics read:

So my song for you this evening, it's not to make you sad
Nor for adding to the sorrows of our troubled northern land
But lately I've been thinking and it just won't leave my mind
I'll tell you of two friends of mine who were both good friends of mine 
Isaac Scott from Banagh, he lived just across the fields
A great man for the music, the dancing and the reels
McDonald came from South Armagh to court young Alice fair
And we often met on the Ryan Road and laughter filled the air 
There were roses, roses
There were roses
And the tears of a people ran together 
Now Isaac he was Protestant and Sean was Catholic born
But it never made a difference, for the friendship it was strong
And sometimes in the evening when we heard the sound of drums
We said it won't divide us, we always will be one 
For the ground our fathers plowed in, the soil it is the same
And the places where we say our prayers have just got different names
We talked about the friends who'd died and hoped there'd be no more
It was little then we realized the tragedy in store 
There were roses, roses
There were roses
And the tears of a people ran together 
It was on a Sunday morning when the awful news came round
Another killing had been done just outside Newry Town
We knew that Isaac danced up there, we knew he liked the band
But when we heard that he was dead we just could not understand 
We gathered round the graveside on a cold and rainy day
The minister he closed his eyes and for no revenge he prayed
And all of us who knew him from along the Ryan Road
We bowed our heads and said a prayer for the resting of his soul 
There were roses, roses
There were roses
And the tears of a people ran together 
Now fear it filled the countryside there was fear in every home
When late at night a car came prowling round the Ryan Road
A Catholic would be killed tonight to even up the score
Oh Christ it's young McDonald they've taken from the door 
Isaac was my friend! he cried, he begged them with his tears
But centuries of hatred have ears that do not hear
An eye for an eye, it was all that filled their minds
And another eye for another eye till everyone is blind 
There were roses, roses
There were roses
And the tears of a people ran together 
So my song for you this evening, it's not to make you sad
Nor for adding to the sorrows of our troubled northern land
But lately I've been thinking and it just won't leave my mind
I'll tell you of two friends of mine who were both good friends of mine 
Now I don't know where the moral is or where this song should end
But I wonder just how many wars are fought between good friends
And those who give the orders are not the ones to die
It's Scott and McDonald and the likes of you and I 
There were roses, roses
There were roses
And the tears of a people ran together
There were roses, roses
There were roses....
I hope and pray that is not the road we are heading down as we elevate our politics to the status of a religion.  For if it is, soon we'll all be blind.  Or worse.