Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ronald Reagan Is Still Dead

Interesting analysis by Frank Rich. He criticizes Republicans for not realizing--or not realizing fast enough--that voters are most concerned about the economy. I quote from below:

"Instead, the Republican candidates have largely clung to illegal immigration as Domestic Crisis No. 1, to no particular point beyond alienating Hispanic voters."
The war in Iraq follows the economy. This portends poorly for Republicans and well for Democrats come election day. A lot can change though between now and then. -Dra. Valenzuela

January 20, 2008
OP-ED COLUMNIST
Ronald Reagan Is Still Dead

By FRANK RICH

CONTEMPLATING the Clinton-Obama racial war, some Republicans were so excited you’d have thought Ronald Reagan had risen from the dead to slap around a welfare deadbeat.

Never mind that the G.O.P. is running on empty, with no ideas beyond the incessant repetition of Reagan’s name. A battle over race-and-gender identity politics among the Democrats, with its acrid scent from the 1960s, might be just the spark for a Republican comeback. (As long as the G.O.P.’s own identity politics, over religion, don’t flare up.)

Alas, these hopes faded on Tuesday night. First, the debating Democrats declared a truce, however fragile, in their racial brawl. Then Republicans in Michigan reconstituted their party’s election-year chaos by temporarily revivifying yet another candidate, Mitt Romney, who had been left for dead.

The playing of the race card by Hillary Clinton’s surrogates to diminish Barack Obama was sinister. But the Clintons are hardly bigots, and the Democratic candidates all have a history of fighting strenuously for inclusiveness. By contrast, the Romney victory in Michigan is another reminder of how Republicans aren’t even playing in the same multiracial American sandbox.

The conservatives who hyperventilated about the Democrats’ explosion of identity politics seemed to forget that Mr. Romney also dragged Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into this campaign — claiming that he “saw” his father, a civil-rights minded governor of Michigan, march with King in the 1960s. The point of Mitt Romney’s invocation of the race card was to inoculate himself against legitimate charges of racial insensitivity; he had never spoken out about his own church’s discrimination against blacks, which didn’t end until 1978. Instead, the tactic ended up backfiring. Late last month The Boston Phoenix exposed this touching anecdote as a fraud. George Romney and King never marched together.

I don’t mean to pick on Mitt Romney — though heaven knows it’s a thriving national pastime — but his retro persona exemplifies much of the present Republican dilemma. It’s not just that the old Reagan coalition of social, economic and foreign-policy conservatives has fractured. A more indelible problem for the Republicans in 2008 is that their candidates are utterly segregated from reality as it is lived by the overwhelming majority of their fellow Americans. The G.O.P. presidential field’s lack of demographic diversity by age, gender, ethnicity or even wardrobe, let alone race, is simply the leading indicator of how out of touch its brand has become.

Mr. Romney’s victory in Michigan was most of all powered by a lie far more egregious than his bogus appropriation of King. In a state decimated by unemployment, he posed before auto plants like an incongruously well-groomed Michael Moore, vowing to fight to bring back every last lost job. His plan? He’d scrap the modest new fuel-efficiency standard passed with rare bipartisan unity in Washington last month and give Detroit a $20 billion fund for energy “research” (not to be confused, he claimed, with a bailout).

It’s a poignant measure of Michigan’s despair that some voters willed themselves to believe in Mr. Romney’s preposterous antidote to the decades-long erosion of the American auto industry. It’s a farcical measure of how little the other Republicans have to say about the nation’s economic crunch that Mr. Romney’s con job could pass for substance.

Whatever the merits of the Democratic candidates’ takes on our fiscal crisis, at least they saw the crisis coming. Though Mr. Romney officially kicked off his presidential candidacy in Michigan, he started grandstanding about the misery in that state only after all his other campaign strategies had failed and he needed a Hail Mary marketing gimmick. In his announcement speech in Dearborn last February, the lone economy he mentioned was the fuel economy of the Ramblers his father manufactured at American Motors in a distant past.

Among Mr. Romney’s rivals, Mike Huckabee alone made affinity for economically struggling Americans his calling card. Unfortunately, Huckanomics is more snake oil. All federal taxes would be replaced by a national sales tax that despite its Orwellian name (the Fair Tax) would shift more of the burden to middle- and low-income Americans.

For the other Republicans, the downturn has been an occasion to recycle the mindless what-me-worry optimism of the pre-1929 G.O.P. presidents and Wall Street potentates since relegated to history’s dustbin. When Maria Bartiromo, moderating a CNBC Republican debate in October, asked the candidates if the nation was heading into a recession, Fred Thompson found “no reason” to think so and pronounced both the near and longer-term economic future “rosy.” Rudy Giuliani extolled the glories of freedom and the market before promising that “the sky’s the limit.”

Even the White House halfheartedly acknowledged the home-mortgage fiasco ahead of this crew. Instead, the Republican candidates have largely clung to illegal immigration as Domestic Crisis No. 1, to no particular point beyond alienating Hispanic voters.

The election is more than nine months away, and already this obsession is blowing up in the G.O.P.’s face with non-Hispanic voters, too. Far from proving the killer app of 2008, illegal immigration is evaporating as a national cause. In the nearly identical findings of The New York Times/CBS News and ABC News/Washington Post polls this month, it ranks near the bottom, the top issue for a mere 4 to 5 percent of voters. The economy (at 20 to 29 percent) leads in both surveys, closely followed by the total of those picking some variant of “war” and “Iraq.”

As if it weren’t crazy enough for Republicans to lash themselves to the listing mast of immigration, they are nonplayers on the issues that do matter most to voters. The more the economy tanks and steals Americans’ attention from a relatively less violent Iraq, the more voters learn that the Republicans have little to offer beyond their one-size-fits-all panacea of extending the Bush tax cuts.

To voters who do remember Iraq, the supposed military success of the “surge” does not accrue to the Republicans’ favor either. Quite the contrary. As every poll shows, most Americans still want the troops home ASAP. Republican declarations that we are “winning” merely lead many voters to a logical conclusion: Why not let the Iraqis take over the remaining triage so we can retrieve the $10 billion a month in taxpayers’ money that might benefit us at home? This is why even the poll-driven Mrs. Clinton, who has been the most cautious and ambiguous of the Democratic candidates about a withdrawal timetable, dramatically changed course to expedite her Iraq exit strategy in Tuesday night’s debate.

Thanks in part to the Giuliani campaign’s one triumph — turning 9/11 fearmongering into a running late-night talk-show gag — the usual national-security card is no longer so easy for Republicans to play. Conservatives not in denial see the crackup ahead. “All the usual indicators are dismal for Republicans,” wrote George Will last week, concluding that “Nov. 4 could be their most disagreeable day since Nov. 3, 1964,” when Barry Goldwater lost 44 states.

But might some Republican still win, especially if the Democrats are ultimately divided by race, or by the Clintons, or by their own inane new debate about Reagan? Conceivably, but only if someone besides Ron Paul is brave enough to break out of the monochromatic pack.

That contender would seem to be John McCain. For all the often irrational anger directed at this conservative by his long-time antagonists in his own party, he is the sole G.O.P. candidate who resisted the immigrant vigilantes. He might have done better in Michigan, where he spoke honestly about the grim prospects for the auto industry, had he backed up his prognosis with remedies less glib than a vague pledge to retrain workers at community colleges. Education policy of any kind is M.I.A. on the McCain campaign Web site.

His ardor for the war, however, has not done him in. He handily won the growing Republican antiwar vote in both Michigan and New Hampshire. Apparently many still remember that Mr. McCain was bitterly against President Bush before he was for him.

Exit polls find that among voters in Republican primaries, as many as half have turned against the president. David Frum, the onetime Bush speechwriter, laments in his provocative new book “Comeback” that by 2008 his former boss “had led his party to the brink of disaster” and cost it “a generation of young Americans.”

At the last Republican debate, the candidates invoked Reagan nearly three dozen times and Mr. Bush just once. “I take my inspiration from Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush,” said Mr. Romney on his Michigan victory night, in a typical example of the candidates’ circumlocutions about the incumbent president.

This, too, is laughably out of touch with reality as practiced in most American living rooms. Imagine if Mr. McCain’s Straight Talk Express stopped taking detours around the one figure who unites 60-plus percent of the populace in ire. Imagine if he started talking straight about how he’d clean up the White House mess. That might at least break the ice with the vast majority of voters who look at the G.O.P. presidential field and don’t see Ronald Reagan so much as also-rans for “The Bucket List.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

1 comment:

Ian said...

Ed Rollins, who managed Mr. Reagan's 1984 campaign, recently signed on with Gov. Huckabee calling him the best communicator since Reagan. And, should the American electorate awaken to Mr. Huckabee's keen mind, and well-developed policies, it may have the chance to effect the greatest restoration of "the American freeholder" since 1913.

Mr. Huckabee's advocacy of the FairTax is the single most important policy position in this election. Here's why:

The FairTax rate of 23 percent on a total taxable consumption base of $11.244 trillion will generate $2.586 trillion dollars – $358 billion more than the taxes it replaces. [BHKPT]

The FairTax has the broadest base and the lowest rate of any single-rate tax reform plan. [THBP]

Real wages are 10.3 percent, 9.5 percent, and 9.2 percent higher in years 1, 10, and 25, respectively than would otherwise be the case. [THBNP]

The economy as measured by GDP is 2.4 percent higher in the first year and 11.3 percent higher by the 10th year than it would otherwise be. [ALM]

Consumption benefits [ALM]:

• Disposable personal income is higher than if the current tax system remains in place: 1.7 percent in year 1, 8.7 percent in year 5, and 11.8 percent in year 10.

• Consumption increases by 2.4 percent more in the first year, which grows to 11.7 percent more by the tenth year than it would be if the current system were to remain in place.

• The increase in consumption is fueled by the 1.7 percent increase in disposable (after-tax) personal income that accompanies the rise in incomes from capital and labor once the FairTax is enacted.

• By the 10th year, consumption increases by 11.7 percent over what it would be if the current tax system remained in place, and disposable income is up by 11.8 percent.

Over time, the FairTax benefits all income groups. Of 42 household types (classified by income, marital status, age), all have lower average remaining lifetime tax rates under the FairTax than they would experience under the current tax system. [KR]

Implementing the FairTax at a 23 percent rate gives the poorest members of the generation born in 1990 a 13.5 percent improvement in economic well-being; their middle class and rich contemporaries experience a 5 percent and 2 percent improvement, respectively. [JK]

Based on standard measures of tax burden, the FairTax is more progressive than the individual income tax, payroll tax, and the corporate income tax. [THBPN]

Charitable giving increases by $2.1 billion (about 1 percent) in the first year over what it would be if the current system remained in place, by 2.4 percent in year 10, and by 5 percent in year 20. [THPDB]

On average, states could cut their sales tax rates by more than half, or 3.2 percentage points from 5.4 to 2.2 percent, if they conformed their state sales tax bases to the FairTax base. [TBJ]

The FairTax provides the equivalent of a supercharged mortgage interest deduction, reducing the true cost of buying a home by 19 percent. [WM]

ALERT: Kotlikoff refutes Bruce Bartlett's shabby critiques of the FairTax.