Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fight Night in Vegas

Fight Night in Vegas; Fun and Games With Rick and Mitt

The Republican Party held a debate this past Tuesday in Las Vegas.  It was the 87th debate in the last three months, and, fitting with the setting, it was as much a boxing tournament as “a full and frank discussion of the issues”.

The pregame analysis focused on preparation, particularly that of two heavyweights.  In previous debates, the smooth and agile Romney had slipped punches like a dancer, demeanor (and hair) unruffled.  Perry, on the other hand, had shown up undertrained and slightly above the optimal fighting weight, relying on more on sheer aggression.   This time, he promised, it would be different.

The crowd was also primed to cheer for the undercards.  Promising light-heavy Herman Cain had showed both flair and charm.  The Pennsylvania welterweight Rick Santorum was winning fans for his pugnacity and willingness to try to punch above his weight, and Michelle Bachman had thrilled before.  And there was a lot of love for grizzled veterans Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul:  no one expected them to win, but they could still teach the younger generation a thing or two.  As to Jon Huntsman, expectations were high that he would keep his record perfect-not a mark on his face, nor any on his gloves

The bookie’s early line was Romney, with a lot of the “smart money” coming in from the New York syndicate.  But there were plenty of ten-gallon hats and bolo ties in the crowd, and Perry was holding his own.  Cain had surprising support, much of it coming in a single wager (rumored to be the Koch boys). 

The contestants were introduced; the crowd cheered its favorites.  Of the two heavies, Romney is taller and has a longer reach.  He fights upright, using his jab and his leverage to keep opponents at bay.  Perry, however, looks a little thicker through the chest, and you get the feeling if he can get inside, he could work the body over quite a bit.  Romney may be more Sugar Ray Robinson.  Perry is definitely Jake LaMotta.

Respected Referee Anderson Cooper had been selected; some said for his fitness as much as for his verbal ability.  Rules were pretty simple; no speaking after the bell, no hitting in the clinches (in the actual event, both these were often ignored). 

I could go on like this (especially since Mitt actually put his hand on Rick), but I’m veering too much off point.  The Las Vegas debate, because of its format, had the greatest potential for substance.  Unfortunately (although tremendously entertaining) it mostly highlighted the real flaw of the primary system-the overwhelming temptation for all the contestants to substitute red-meat slogans for specifics.

So, at the risk of turning what was a lot of fun sour, I’m going to hunt for specifics amongst the bloodletting.  Without in any way intending to ignore Michelle Bachmann, Newt, Ron Paul, or the empty chair formerly known as Jon Huntsman, I want to assay the views of the primary pugilists.

Let’s start with Herman Cain.  The 9-9-9 system, he seems to be claiming, is both revenue neutral and a positive good for all.  That’s an oxymoronic position, since the plan clearly and unequivocally benefits the affluent.  So, if 9-9-9 were revenue neutral, it would logically follow that the revenue shortfall comes from the less affluent. Perhaps this conclusion is an unfair application of the laws of addition and subtraction.  If so, I’d like to see that demonstrated, in a manner that uses other than fruit analogies. 

Mitt Romney continues to insist that Romneycare in Massachusetts is a continuing blessing to the people of that state, however, Obamacare, for all its similarities, is a catastrophe to the country and demands immediate repeal.  I’d like him to explain that.  Is there something in the Bay State resident’s genetic makeup that makes them hardier than the average American?  Are they less likely to use medical services?  Are the insurance companies there kinder and gentler?  Is it diet-perhaps all that fish?  Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Obamacare is an unadulterated good thing.  I would just like Mr. Romney to explain why it is an unmitigated disaster for the non-Red Sox fan.

Rick Perry seems to have a plan (which will be announced on the Friday following whatever debate is taking place at the time).  His plan seems to involve the elimination of all environmental regulations and drilling and mining until the entire country will appear to have been invaded by gophers from another planet.  He also likes a flat tax.  His flat tax may suffer from the same deficiencies that Mr. Cain’s 9-9-9 plan (although, of course, it is, no doubt, far superior), so, once again, I would like a simple illustration, in hard numbers, of how it would affect my family.  And, if it’s not revenue neutral, what programs does Governor Perry intend to cut to pay for it?  I think that’s a reasonable question.

Rick Santorum, a former tag team member gone rogue, has a plan.  He’s for a host of conservative social values, and I think it’s laudable that he is as steadfast on those issues.  He’s against Obamacare (not surprising in this group).  And he’s against Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.  But I have to ask the former Senator, other than telling me how you would like me to live my personal life, what do you stand for?  I couldn’t learn much from the debate, so I went to his website.  And, after making my way through the thicket of contribution “asks” and self-adulation, I was able to find Rick’s “Where I Stand”.  He’s a “Defender of the Taxpayer”, and “Believer in American Exceptionalism”.  Not much meat there.  I’m a taxpayer (an aging taxpayer), and I’m actually very patriotic.  I’d love to know what Mr. Santorum has in mind for aging, taxpaying patriots.

The problem for me is that, after all these debates, and hearing all the cheers, I have a very good idea why Republican primary voters should want one of these people in the White House in 2013, starting, first and foremost, with the simple fact that none of them are named Obama.  What I don’t have is a single reason why I should vote for any of them-except to out the current incumbent.  But I’m a moderate Democrat.  If I agree with your premise that Obama is a poor President, sell me on voting for you.   Tell what my country will look like in January 2014 if the GOP controls Washington in 2013 so I can decide whether I want to choose you.  What are my taxes going to be?  How about Social Security and Medicare?  What programs will be cut?  What wars will we be still be fighting, and/or what new ones are we going to start?  How about the privacy of my home? The curriculum in my daughter’s school?  The environment? These are things I care about-tell me what you are going to do.

Sadly, all I can do is speculate.  Here’s the dirty little secret of primaries.  To get through them you tell your partisans everything they want to hear, while hoping that no one else is actually listening to what you might really mean.  With Rick and Mitt, there’s a parallel narrative going on.  Rick talks about being an “authentic conservative”.  His demeanor is one that is directed to the primary voter and says, in effect “I’m going to take out all my aggression on Democrats”.  To the rest of America, he says, “I’m good with jobs and the economy”.  Mitt is subtler.  He soothes the skeptical primary voter with “you may not like me that much, but I can get elected and, when I do, you will achieve your policy goals.”  To the rest of the country, it’s “Mitt Romney is not an ideologue-I’m a problem solver.”

President Obama, the focus of all of this highly concentrated scorn (including today’s failing, the death of Qaddafi), has his own issues.  These will likely not be explored during his primary season, since he doesn’t (yet) have a Democratic challenger.  He, does, of course, have a record.  More on that in a later post, as the bell has rung for me this evening, and I need to spend a few minutes with my manager.