Friday, October 5, 2012

On Rediscovering Partisan Rage

I have to admit that this cycle's presidential campaign has filled me with something close to despair.  It's not the divisiveness--divisiveness is a key ingredient for healthy debate.  It's not the gratuitous nastiness, although that's certainly extremely unpleasant.  Ultimately, it's the tired, mindless, I-must-never-deviate-from-the-talking-points back-and-forth between pundits from either camp A or camp B that has caused me pretty much to stop watching cable news, or TV news in general.  And the internet is hardly better.  There are a huge number of sites that I avoid simply because I know in advance exactly what they're going to say, and that any headline that looks like it might contain new content will always prove to have an utterly specious argument.

I voted against McCain in '08 and I don't regret it.  But I've never been very happy with Obama.  He is, fundamentally, a big-government, anti-business politician who doesn't understand the proper ratio of collective action to redistribution.  And, I have to say:  I don't like him.  He's arrogant, condescending, inflexible, and dismissive to the point of intolerance of any idea or person that challenges him.  It makes him a lousy negotiator and a lousy leader.  No doubt my judgement is the result of a deep-seated racism that I didn't know I harbored secretly.

For all of these reasons, and because, if I'm forced to take sides, I'm a moderate conservative, I was pretty excited about Romney to begin with.  I became noticeably less excited after interminable debates with the Six Dwarves forced him to morph into the worst possible version of himself.  I then gradually subsided into apathetic torpor as he ran a surprisingly ham-handed campaign.  Still, because I am forced to take sides, I had more-or-less decided to vote against Obama, while holding out a faint hope that Romney would do something to make me a bit more enthusiastic.

I have to admit that I had a sort of daydream where Romney came out in the first debate and simply annihilated Obama.  But it was a daydream similar to the one where I find a group of dedicated scientists and engineers working on an uncharted tropical island to build a starship to contact the alien civilization they'd secretly discovered in the Alpha Centauri system five years ago.  Very cool, but kinda long odds.

Then Romney came out in the first debate and simply annihilated Obama.

I've always liked the architecture of Romney's tax plan.  Its goal is to provide preferential treatment to small and medium-sized businesses, which will benefit from lower marginal rates disproportionately, because they don't have a huge number of deductions that they can take, nor do they have a lot of capital gains.  Couple that with the possible simplification of the tax code (it never really works out, does it?) and Romney's commitment to keep everything revenue neutral, and it looked like a winner to me.

The Tax Policy Center analysis worried me a bit, but it only looks bad because Brown and Looney rule out fiddling with capital gains or dividend tax expenditures and statically score the plan.  I'm convinced that there's wiggle-room in Romney's position to do the fairly small adjustments that would be needed to maintain revenue neutrality while keeping progressivity the same as the current code.  There are a lot of different ways to do this, as I discussed here.

The Obama people have been parading the "5 trillion dollar tax cut to benefit the rich" meme around on the stump for months.  It's the most egregious of strawmen, since it ignores half of Romney's plan (which Romney has described consistently for some time now).  But what the hell?  It's the campaign.  Eventually the truth will out on stuff like this.

And sure enough, Romney slapped Obama down multiple times on this in the debate.  This ultimately devolved into an "Is not! Is so!" argument.  But at the end of the debate, Romney had told Obama to his (slightly averted) face that Obama's description of the plan was a strawman and had clearly described the constraints of the plan's architecture (revenue neutrality, no revenue loss from the rich, offset lower marginal rates with reduced tax expenditures) and the rationale for doing this (stimulate small business).  He answered every single one of Obama's objections.

Now, it's a perfectly reasonable argument to accuse Romney of making a plan up that he has no intention of implementing, and I fully expected Obama to do that.  What I didn't expect, because it had been so thoroughly rebutted in the debate, to such devastating effect, was Obama to go back to the "5 trillion dollar tax cut for the rich."  Yet, in his Madison, WI rally yesterday, we have this:
Now, some of you may have heard, last night we had our first debate. (Applause.) And I just flew in from Denver, and I was telling folks there, when I got on the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. (Laughter.) But I know it couldn’t have been Mitt Romney -- because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. And yet, the fellow on the stage last night -- who looked like Mitt Romney -- (laughter) -- said he did not know anything about that. It was all news to him.
I'm trying real hard not to be naive here.  But the news cycle yesterday was dominated by one idea and one idea only, clearly fed right out of the Obama campaign's talking points:  Obama lost the debate because Romney is a liar.  It is such a mindless defense of Obama's abysmal performance, and it has been perpetuated so glibly, that I have experienced something that I try very hard to avoid in thinking about in politics.

I have become enraged.

Before this, I had to respect the Obama campaign for driving--and largely winning--the argument, because the Romney campaign simply couldn't get their thumbs out to defend themselves.  But when Romney successfully defends most of his platform ten feet away from the President, I insist that the President answer with something better than, "La la la la la, not listening!"

This man, our President, is either intellectually vacuous or morally bankrupt.  The possession of either trait disqualifies him as a suitable candidate for the office of President of the United States.

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