Archive

February 12th, 2016

'Normal' Republicans rise in New Hampshire

    As he launched his New Hampshire door- to-door campaign on Saturday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said something surprising. "This is not a campaign," he told volunteers and reporters in front of the bus he's pretty much lived in for more than a month. "This is a movement."

    I've heard this phrase from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and billionaire Donald Trump, and it was clear what they were talking about. Sanders' movement is socialist and anti-big business. Cruz's is one of a religious, ultraconservative revanche. Trump's is a charismatic, nihilistic one.

    It's much harder to define what Kasich is talking about. The former Lehman Brothers banker's presidential bid is based on his record as a skilled, conservative, hands-on executive, not on any grand idea or his personal charisma. Yet there is potential for a "movement" of which Kasich could be part, along with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

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Good news about trade-off economics

    Trade-offs have long been at the center of economics. The aphorism "there is no such thing as a free lunch" captures a central economic idea: You cannot get something for nothing. Among the many trade-offs emphasized in economics courses are guns vs. butter, public vs. private, efficiency vs. equity, environmental protection vs. economic growth, consumption vs. investment, inflation vs. unemployment, quality vs. quantity or cost and short-term vs. long-term performance.

    Just as families with limited incomes have to make decisions about what they will and will not buy, societies face trade-offs. Economists are right when they emphasize the need to choose between competing objectives in designing policies.

    Trade-off economics helps explain political gridlock. If all change produces winners and losers, and if democratic safeguards mean that veto power is promiscuously distributed, it is hardly surprising that relatively little change takes place.

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Decision day in New Hampshire

    As New Hampshire primary voters go to the polls today, they will choose among candidates in both parties who in most cases have taken off their velvet gloves and starting swinging.

    In the final Republican debate Saturday night, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, fighting for survival, gave perhaps the best accounting of himself yet in an exchange with Donald Trump over eminent domain. Bush called out the real-estate magnate on an Atlantic City hotel deal, charging him with forcing an elderly woman out of her home to make way for parking space. At one point, Trump put his finger to his lips and instructed Bush to "be quiet," leading some in the debate audience to boo.

    But a more restrained Trump pretty much ignored Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who had beaten him in the Iowa caucuses, and left to Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to go after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the surprising third-place finisher In Iowa.

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Can Obama let go of his legacy wish?

    "The tide of war is receding," Barack Obama tirelessly insisted four years ago as he campaigned for reelection. Even then, the slogan seemed untethered from reality. Not only was fighting in Afghanistan intensifying, with no end in sight, but Syria, Iraq and Libya were all sliding toward civil war. That Obama stayed with the phrase reflected not just his electoral strategy but an enduring feature of his foreign policy. Having arrived in office with a handful of ideologically driven goals, the president has stubbornly stuck to them regardless of contradictory facts on the ground.

    "Ending the wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan was foremost among those objectives. Obama forced the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq in order to finish in time for his 2012 campaign, and until a few months ago, he appeared implacably committed to completing an Afghanistan withdrawal before leaving office.

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February 11th

Hillary Has ‘Half a Dream’

    One of the most striking statistics to come of the Iowa caucus entry polling was the enormous skew of young voters away from Hillary Clinton and to Bernie Sanders. Only 14 percent of caucus goers 17 to 29 supported Clinton, while 84 percent supported Sanders.

    On Thursday, I traveled to the University of New Hampshire, site of a debate between Clinton and Sanders that night. Before the debate, I mingled on campus with people rallying for both candidates, with the Sanders rally many times larger than the Clinton one. The energy for Sanders at the school was electric.

    For the actually debate, I went to a debate-watching party for Clinton supporters at the Three Chimneys Inn, just off campus. There were more heads of white hair in that room than a jar of cotton balls.

    The two scenes so close to each other drove home the point for me: Hillary Clinton has a threatening young voter problem.

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Why Bush could defend Islam more easily than Obama can

    Both President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush can say they have visited a mosque as president. Can you guess which one has gotten slammed for it by today's presidential candidates? Need a hint?

    "Maybe he feels comfortable there," said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

    Ha. Ha. Yes, The Donald is implying that the president is a Muslim, a myth that is so absurd -- yet so widely believed -- that even the president pokes fun at it. Humor can be an effective rejoinder to such idiocy, except to those who suffer from irony deficit disorder, a common malady on the extreme edges of politics. They can't take a joke.

    Throughout his presidency Obama, a Christian, has pushed back against that Muslim myth and the equally false claim that he is not a naturally born American citizen. That claim was famously advanced without evidence by Trump, among others.

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The 'Experience' Republicans Smash Rubio

    Pickett's charge. Waterloo. The Charge of the Light Brigade. Take your pick of historical analogies, the "experience" wing of the Republican Party launched a desperate, and very possibly doomed, assault at Saturday's GOP debate, during a climatic moment for a GOP race that has been dominated by men who have significantly less real-world policymaking credibility. The polls say that the forces of experience will probably leave New Hampshire in defeat, and even if they pulled something out, racking up victories in future primaries would be hard. But at the very least they have made the rising Marco Rubio look like an empty suit.

    Rubio is commonly lumped in with the GOP "establishment" candidates. But he is a first-term senator with few major accomplishments for his handful of years on the national stage, and he has spent much of the race honing a campaign narrative shrill enough to keep up with Donald Trump's bombast and Ted Cruz's hard ideological puritanism. This distinguishes him - negatively - from Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich, who in another year would have had a major experience edge over Rubio and the rest on stage.

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The Time-Loop Party

    By now everyone who follows politics knows about Marco Rubio’s software-glitch performance in Saturday’s Republican debate. (I’d say broken-record performance, but that would be showing my age.) Not only did he respond to a challenge from Chris Christie about his lack of achievements by repeating, verbatim, the same line from his stump speech he had used a moment earlier; when Christie mocked his canned delivery, he repeated the same line yet again.

    In other news, last week — on Groundhog Day, to be precise — Republicans in the House of Representatives cast what everyone knew was a purely symbolic, substance-free vote to repeal Obamacare. It was the 63rd time they’ve done so.

    These are related stories.

    Rubio’s inability to do anything besides repeat canned talking points was startling. Worse, it was funny, which means that it has gone viral. And it reinforced the narrative that he is nothing but an empty suit. But really, isn’t everyone in his party doing pretty much the same thing, if not so conspicuously?

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The gloves come off in the Democratic race

    After cautious and civil sparring by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in their first New Hampshire encounter, they took of the gloves in their Democratic debate Thursday night and defined the essential issues between them in the Tuesday presidential primary.

    The first concerns health care. Sanders insists that the party should lead a popular "revolution" starting with truly universal health care run by the government. Clinton strenuously disagrees, arguing that so-called Obamacare should continue and be improved on an evolutionary basis through the private insurance industry.

    "I don't want us to start over again," she said. "I think that would be a great mistake to once again plunge our country into a contentious debate about whether we should have and what kind of system we should have for health care. ... Let's go down a path where we can actually tell people what we will do. A progressive is someone who makes progress. That's what I intend to do."

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Clinton sees her shadow

    To return to this state for another primary with a Clinton on the ballot is to be reminded about how much has changed in Democratic politics over the last two-plus decades, and how much remains the same.

    The change reflects the party's evolution -- or maybe its reversion to type -- since Bill Clinton ran here in 1992. The sameness involves the Groundhog Day nature of Hillary Clinton's challenge, selling pragmatic experience over alluring hope, against Bernie Sanders now as against Barack Obama in 2008.

    Bill Clinton's pitch, after Democrats' long exile from the White House, was that he represented a third way Democrat championing streamlined government and individual responsibility.

    "We offer our people a new choice based on old values. We offer opportunity. We demand responsibility," Clinton said in his 1992 convention speech. "The choice we offer is not conservative or liberal; in many ways it's not even Republican or Democratic."

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