Why Obama is winning

Pollsters keep telling us that President Obama is statistically tied in the presidential race with his challenger Mitt Romney. “It’s within the margin of error,” they say, and if elections were won based on the popular vote, it would be. It is much harder to make the claim that the candidates are tied if you look at state polls, particularly at swing state polls. It’s beginning to look like check and mate for Mitt Romney.

Can things change? Of course they can. There is plenty of history sixty days out from Election Day showing that polls in early September don’t accurately predict the eventual winner. In this election though, the number of undecided voters is tiny. Moreover, the only undecided voters that matter are those in swing states. In most states, all the undecided voters could vote for one candidate over the other and it won’t change how the state’s electoral votes will go. With a few exceptions, states award all of their electoral votes to the candidate with the majority of votes in the state. Both campaigns know this, of course. There is no point wasting money trying to persuade voters in Texas to vote for Obama, or in Massachusetts trying to convince voters to vote for Romney. It’s only in swing states like, ironically, my state of Virginia where overbearing political ads seem to run nonstop.

State by state polls show that Obama has many realistic paths to the 270 electoral votes he needs for reelection, while few of Romney’s paths are viable. Most importantly, Romney looks like he is not going to win in Ohio, at least not without a lot of ballot stuffing or voter suppression. Polls show Obama with a consistent lead of about six points. Ohio’s Republican legislature has been working hard on the latter, but is getting some resistance from the courts. In recent times no candidate has won the presidency without winning Ohio. It is possible that Romney could win in a bunch of other states to make up the difference, but that path looks impossible.

Romney’s hope lies not in third parties that will spend enormous amounts of money to try to change the difference. His affiliated PACs have been doing that for months and it has been mostly wasted money. The recent Republican National Convention gave Romney no bounce at all in the polls. The more recent Democratic National Convention appears to have given Obama a bounce of at least a few points. History suggests any bounces will be short lived. So the race is likely to settle back to where it was before the conventions, showing the candidates close to tied with Obama generally shown marginally ahead.

Romney has only two real paths to victory. First, he can hope for some sort of cataclysmic financial event such as happened before the last election, or a sharply negative jobs report. This certainly is possible, but is unlikely. Second, he can hope that he so shines in the presidential debates that significant number of voters change their mind because they see a different and better candidate that they did not expect. Republican state legislators are hoping that Democrats can be restrained from voting through toughened voter identification laws, thus flipping the state into the red column. At best this strategy will work in only a couple of states.

Voter enthusiasm also makes a big difference in who wins, as Republicans demonstrated in 2010 when Democrats stayed home. There will be no problem turning out Republicans, unless polls make them feel disheartened. Democrats are also expected to turn out in large numbers, but perhaps not in as large numbers as in 2008.

So if Romney is checkmated, as it looks like he will be, how will it have happened? There are of course many factors, but I think the most important factor is that voters sense that Obama really cares about the middle class, and are not convinced that Romney does. Ohio actually makes a great case in point. It was ravaged by the recession, as it is nearly as dominated by the auto industry as Michigan. Obama and his brief Democratic congress rescued the auto industry when no one else would. The American auto industry came back as a direct result of our investment in it. This is the value of actions over beliefs. In this case, it is obvious that these were correct decisions, and probably explains why Obama leads in Ohio by a consistent six percent.

Moreover, voters remain distrustful of Republicans. While they may be unhappy that the recovery has not be broader, faster and more sustained, they do know who got us into this economic mess and they know it was not Obama. Having had their hand recently burned on the stove, they are reticent to put their hand back on the stove. Republicans need to demonstrate political competence. Instead, they are demonstrating obstruction, extremism and intransigence, which may thrill their political base but does not endear them to independents, no matter how desperate they may feel about their job prospects.

It’s not sexy but Democrats and President Obama have spent most of the last four years trying to keep the bottom from falling out of the economy. This Houdini trick became exponentially more difficult after the 2010 election when Tea Party Republicans took control of the House.

In addition, Obama framed Romney very effectively in June and July when voters were just beginning to pay attention to him. The frame, which was not hard to apply, was that Romney was someone with no empathy for the middle class and who understood only profits and losses, not the real issues that Americans face. Obama understands the needs of the middle class from experience, an experience that Romney never tasted. Romney’s own bungling and inconsistency since then helped cement the frame. He seems incapable of any empathy for other than the rich, and cannot even seem to speak in a language that middle America understands.

Smart Republicans have already largely written off a Romney win, and are concentrating money where it matters: on obtaining a Senate majority (which is looking increasingly problematic) and maintaining their House majority (which looks likely). Losses in this election might foment some earnest soul searching from Republicans. The sooner they realize that they need to moderate positions the more likely they are to achieve lasting political power. Republicans are going to eventually realize that they must govern from the center to maintain political power, and this means their extreme positions will need to be moderated or they risk obsolescence as a party.

Between an economic rock and a hard place

Truth seems to be a precious commodity these days. Truth is not always easy to handle, but it does has the virtue of being true. Given the truth, you at least have a chance of working your way out of a problem. Unfortunately, there are many vested interests out there willing to lie or give us only partial truths purely to advance their agendas at the expense of the nation as a whole.

The current presidential campaign needs a whole lot of truth from both President Obama and future Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Of the two, Obama at least is closer to telling us the truth, but he is shielding Americans from harder truths. I wish that Obama could simply dump his posturing and nuancing and simply tell us the truth. It would be especially welcome to hear some truth about the economy, particularly yesterday when our unemployment rate crept up from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent, while we actually very modestly increased hiring.

Republicans are all over the report, of course, pointing it as more evidence of a failed presidency. No question about it, 8.2 percent unemployment is not great, particularly if you are unemployed and don’t wish to be unemployed. Is it Obama’s fault? Shouldn’t he be held accountable because he is president?

Obama at least has a net increase in jobs during his administration and twenty-seven months of consecutive job growth, which is more than you can say about the George W. Bush administration. I think Obama has done a remarkable job dealing with an economy that at the start of his term looked like it was heading into a new depression. At least we are heading in the right direction.

Yet the reality is that neither Obama nor a President Romney can work miracles on this economy by himself. This is because the president has limited powers. The alchemy of presidential power happens at the edges, if it happens at all. Mostly it occurs when the president is successful in persuading Congress. This was hard for Obama even when Democrats were in charge, and virtually impossible now. Moreover, there are systemic problems that are at work that are likely to cause relatively high unemployment rates for years to come. Some of these can be ameliorated; some cannot. There are some short-term strategies that will improve the situation, but fixing the long-term problems is tough and cannot be solved by doing more of the same.

Here are some truths about our economy I wish I would hear from anyone running for public office:

  • We are in a hell of an economic mess mostly of our own making. Yes, it is partially the result of lots of things outside of our control, such as the closely connected international economy. It is also due to our inability to come to a political consensus. This, more than anything else, is the root of our problem, and our problems will likely linger until broad consensus is reached.
  • Europe matters. It is going into another recession. It has and will continue to affect our economy, and is probably the reason our job growth is slowing. Austerity in Europe is leaving people there poorer, and thus they cannot buy as many of our products and services, plus it adds uncertainty to the whole world economy. To some extent, our economy will be impacted until Europe itself achieves political consensus and its economy rebounds. And that is something neither Obama nor a new president can fix.
  • The economy is not going to improve by cutting public spending. Doing so will only cause the economy in the short term to get worse. This is because, no matter how inefficiently, spending money employs people. And when people are employed they mostly spend the money, which stimulates the economy.
  • Sustainable growth happens when we make new products or services that other people broadly want. And that does not happen through inertia but through a lot of research, investment and through having a highly skilled work force. It happens to some extent through government investments. The Internet, the key to our modern economy, was not a result of entrepreneurial behavior, but a result of a government research product.
  • Wealth does not trickle down. It grows as a result of a burgeoning middle class. The one percent already have virtually all they need and are not going to spend enough of their capital to grow the economy for the rest of us.
  • Growth requires infrastructure. The surest way to cripple our economy in the long term is to neglect infrastructure spending. Austerity will do just this.
  • We are all going to have to pay more taxes. If we are stupid enough to delude ourselves that we don’t have to, we will move our country down the economic ladder, eventually moving us into a second world status. Governments don’t exist to redistribute all wealth, but do need to redistribute some wealth; otherwise you don’t have a government. If it doesn’t, bridges don’t get built, roads don’t get paved, power grids deteriorate, children don’t get educations, shoddy medicines end up on the market and unsafe food ends up on our shelves and in our bodies. Our economy, including our national defense, depends on having our infrastructure in place.
  • The education of our citizens is a critical, if not the most critical, of all the factors underpinning our long-term economy. The free market cannot solve this problem. If it were possible, there would have been no reason to create public schools in the first place. True sustainable growth comes from maximizing the educational potential of all our children and applying it to products and services the world needs. That means we want all children capable of it to go to college, if possible. We want to inculcate a curiosity in our children and provide an environment that rewards creative thinking. We must invest in our children’s education, if for no other reason so they can sustain us in our old age.

In short, we are in a huge economic mess and the choices we are making or not making are making it worse. We need a national strategy that fundamentally addresses these issues. Tax cuts won’t solve the problem. Corporate welfare won’t do it either. We can start with spending heavily on infrastructure, through deficit spending if necessary. Perhaps we need a national infrastructure bank. Such a bank would serve to depolarize the issue of spending money on infrastructure. And it would certainly stimulate job growth, as well as better position us in a competitive world.

Dealing with political bullies

In April I discussed how Republicans win through intimidation. I said in a future post that I would give my thoughts on how to deal with their bullying. Today I finally get around providing my thoughts on the question.

This is a tough problem for Democrats because, with a few exceptions like Howard Dean, we haven’t learned to fight in a way that sways. Thus, Republicans have a natural advantage. They are used to having their way and they generally get their way through a lot of intimidation, bullying and money, which they have aplenty. Meanwhile, Democrats tend to be civilized people. We think it is impolite to shout and figure everyone has the right to be heard. We like to believe, against all evidence to the contrary, that Republicans have a better and pluralistic nature. And so pretty much every time we debate, we avoid going for the jugular. We don’t want to be seen as one of them, which in our minds is worse than winning.

All bullies understand one thing very well: to wield power over someone, you must connect with someone emotionally, not logically. Chances were that when you encountered a bully in school, one encounter was enough. The bully never tried to reason with you. Instead, he went straight for the jugular and used every weapon is his well-stocked arsenal: physical, emotional and mental. You quickly learned to avoid the bully because man, this dude is a loose cannon. If encountered, you found it pragmatic to give them what they wanted to avoid retribution. Why does this work? It is because for most people it takes about ten logical propositions (or more) to overwhelm one emotional proposition.

To really beat a political bully, it helps to have cut a few of them down to size. This come from standing up to bullies, which few of us have tried. Oddly enough, most bullies, when confronted by an opponent with determination, will give way. This will happen particularly if they sense from those around them that by standing up, many others will find the courage to stand up as well. This is because a crowd against you has more power than any bully by himself.

One way bullies deal with this uncomfortable fact is to have more bullies stand up with them. This way you become something of a gang, and a gang is more powerful than a single person. Yet the powerful bully actually walks a fine line. He must be seen as powerful and intimidating, but not so powerful that it behooves those they are intimidating to join ranks. Success often comes from being very loud, carrying a big stick but wielding it selectively.

In fact, this is pretty much how the Confederates managed to dominate the first half of The Civil War. It helped that Union generals tended to be wimps and ineffectual while Confederate generals like Stonewall Jackson were brilliant tacticians. (The Union started winning when soldiers like Grant proved they would not allow their armies to be intimidated.) The “rebel yell” was very effective for the Confederate Army, and involved them forming a line, pointing rifles and sabers forward then running forward en masse, often in sync, yelling and whooping the whole time. Union soldiers found the rebel yell unnerving because it was, well, crazy, and often gave way. It was a great tactic while it worked, and it stopped working when the Union Army found its courage. Today’s Republican bullies may be channeling the spirit of their rebellious forefathers. Using sabers against political opponents is not a good idea, but yelling is still politically acceptable, as is charging en masse, which today means honing a finely tuned and simple message and broadcasting it repeatedly everywhere.

See these tactics at work with attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It’s amazing that they get away with it. The Affordable Care Act, after all, is the law of the land. Civilized people of course respect the law, even when they disagree with it. If they don’t like it, they will work to repeal the law. That’s not good enough for these new Confederates. The law must be killed through all means, fair and unfair. This includes deliberate foot dragging from red states, outright refusal to begin the process of setting up health care exchanges (despite The Supremacy Clause), and filing endless legal challenges, mostly with friendly courts. Some of their tactics give new meaning to the word chutzpah, such as refusing to fund the law that was already enacted. Make it a law in name only. Whatever works, fair or foul, is okay. Civilized people, of course, retch at these tactics, but if you are a bully it is just one item in your bag of tricks.

Curiously, the very best Democrats at fighting Republican bullies come from deeply red states, in particular Texas. This becomes less curious when you consider this behavior forms part of the culture of the state. Former (now deceased) Texas Governor Ann Richards had mastered the art, as has Jim Hightower. Many of these luminaries worked for The Texas Observer, a monthly magazine principally about Texas politics with a Democratic bent that was widely read. The late Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower both worked for or contributed to The Texas Observer, as did Larry L. King, who is perhaps best known as the author of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Democrats trying to counter these Republican bullies would be wise to study and emulate their tactics.

Their success comes down to two main factors. First, they learned the art of mean-mouthing other politicians in a way that called into question their lack of character. Barack Obama, responding to one of Mitt Romney’s crazier talking points, will give a polite and academic reply, maybe with a hint of sarcasm. Molly Ivins, if she were still alive, would not only lampoon the argument with innumerable logical holes, but would not be afraid, after providing many examples, to publicly state the logical conclusion in personal and emotional terms. If she were alive, I imagine her response to Romney’s proposal to keep cutting taxes for the rich as a solution for reducing the deficit would include a colorful metaphor. (“He wants to take money out of his little daughter’s piggy bank so he can go binge drinking at the saloon down the street.”) Metaphors like this are hard to excise from your head, particularly when they ring true. It’s even harder when it defies common sense and you can tie the allusion to an ordinary experience.

The truth, if it can be turned to an issue that a common person finds of concern, can be devastatingly effective politically, provided it is given with the right emotional punch. If is doesn’t move you, then it won’t work. A political ad on Haiti policy, for example, might concern the one percent of voters who care about Haiti, but most don’t, so the money on such advertisements is largely wasted.

Perhaps the most devastating political ad of all time was the Daisy ad that Lyndon Johnson used against Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. Why did it work? It worked because it combined a powerful truth with the inescapably devastating emotional consequences for everyone. Johnson portrayed himself as the sane person in the room who would avoid nuclear war. He didn’t even have to reference Barry Goldwater because the implication was obvious. Goldwater was on record as being trigger happy with the nation’s nuclear weapons.

What do people really care about most today? Principally they want a good paying job, but also a hopeful future. Issues like gay marriage animates a fringe, but only a fringe of the electorate. What will make independent voters’ spines shiver will be simple and concrete ads showing Mitt Romney’s disdain for the working class. There is plenty of material on the record to work with, including his statements that he hoped General Motors would go bankrupt. His work while leading Bain Capital is also rife with examples of working people being laid off or having their wages cut, such as at Staples, to line his pockets. Find a couple of indisputable examples, tie them to working people who experienced the wrath of his decisions, and such an ad is bound to hit the double whammy of both logical and have strong emotional impact.

Ultimately, bullies only hold power as long as the crowd lets them wield it. Political bullies are rendered powerless when they are ignored. It happened to Glenn Beck, it is happening to Rush Limbaugh and it happened most recently to Newt Gingrich, in most cases because they traversed a serious line or became a parody of themselves. Mitt Romney will use mostly surrogates for his bullying of President Obama. He will likely disclaim actions of surrogates when politically dangerous, such as a recent attempt by a PAC to resurrect the Jeremiah Wright controversy.

Democrats should concentrate forces on a half dozen or less key distinguishing issues that are emotionally charged and that appeal to swing voters. The Republican War on Woman, one of the few frames Democrats created that actually stuck, is one example. Why did it stick? It stuck because it was so obviously true and it is also helpful because the majority of voters in this country are female. The frames that will be effective must connect a candidate with a concern or fear that Middle America will find deeply disturbing and undeniably true.

Do this and the bully is rendered harmless.

Republicans win through intimidation

My post Psychiatrists agree: Republicans are insane still gets plenty of reads. “Plenty” is a relative word for a blog of modest traffic like mine but it was read 597 times in the last year and is the fifteenth most popular entry on my site. According to Facebook it has been “liked” 29 times since I added the “like” widget some months back, even though it was written two years ago. With a certain group, the post really resonates. Glad to hear it.

In thinking about it though, certainly not all Republicans are insane. There are generally two types of Republicans: the insane and the mendacious. The insane Republicans are the ones that swallow hook, line and sinker the propaganda broadcast continuously by Fox News and other conservative outlets. These folks are insane for the exact reasons I outlined in the post: because they lead the sort of life where evidence, if it contradicts their political philosophy, simply has no bearing. They are sheep. The mendacious ones are some subset of the leadership. They understand that most of what they believe is not evidenced-based but they simply don’t care. Moreover, they are completely comfortable with lying shamelessly. These are “the end justifies the means” folks. The means is whatever gets them in charge. Mostly they hold those who actually believe their lies in contempt. All that matters is that they vote for them. What they want is power, which they plan to use to garner more of it for themselves and their moneyed class. They really don’t give a crap about a Republican family getting by on $50,000 a year, just as they obviously don’t give a crap about the poor.

Yes, they are mendacious and as I also pointed out in 2009 they are also sadists. Why are they sadists? It’s because in most of these cases they have risen in the world because they have read this book by Robert J. Ringer, or came by it naturally. These intimidators generally fall under the category of bully, now featured in a topical and (I understand) extremely hard to watch movie of the same name, at least if you have any compassion in your soul. The mendacious Republicans simply lack compassion for anyone except those in their high social and income class.

Bullies succeed because they can smell someone who is emotionally vulnerable the same way a dog can smell its master a football field away. They love to exercise power through intimidation and they are well practiced in its discipline. Bullies excel in being assertive and at challenging people. They know the secret to exercising intimidation: argument does not matter so much as the ability to make someone physically or emotionally vulnerable (ideally both). The rules include: always take the initiative, always go for the jugular, always assert that you know best, and always use a tone of voice that includes as many of the above as possible: scorn, righteousness, certainty and authority with the overall need to dominate.  The corollary: never let any who disagrees with you get a word in edgewise.

Few of us are trained to deal with bullies, which is why we typically give way. In school, it’s a particularly good idea because many of these bullies are not afraid to put their fists and feet where their mouth is. I still have searing images of some of these bullies during my childhood. Like most of us partially civilized people, I learned to avoid them. We tried to practice the golden rule. Violating it even against a bully seemed deeply wrong somehow because we are not living up to our values.

There are the overt Republican bullies, the Rush Limbaughs and Newt Gingriches of the world, and then there are the less obvious bullies. It’s hard for even me to look at the likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and think he’s a bully. Gosh, Mitt seems so nice. But in fact, Mitt is just a different breed of bully. He’s the slight of hand bully. Mitt did not get rich by chance; he schmoozed and bullied his way into riches by moving money from one pocket to the other while taking the lion’s share. Moreover, he did a remarkably masterful job of it.

Romney basically convinced the greedy to give him and Bain Capital money. He took their money (putting none of his own money at risk, naturally) and bought companies with them. He then proceeded to make them more “efficient”, which generally meant looting the company. This was done by taking their free cash, of course, but also dramatically reducing wages and benefits for employees and, if he could get away with it, squeezing suppliers as well. Sometimes the company was just liquidated for the cash. For this he and his buddies took their share and if the company still remained then tried to resell the company. Aside from the employees who often took the shaft, a lot of money was also gained by billing Uncle Sam. Pension funds were raided and went to the control of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation instead. Pensioners received cents on the dollar for what had been secure pensions courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. To the extent they were left a safety net, it was provided by taxpayers. To add insult to injury, taxpayers were fleeced but it just added to Romney’s bottom line. Moreover, for his innovation the tax code gave him a special discount of a 15% tax rate on unearned income.

Romney is one of the weasely bullies, but a bully nonetheless. His agenda though is crystal clear, in spite of his ability to talk out both sides of the mouth. He wants to give a lot more money to people like him: the one percent but especially the top .1%. The talk about cutting government is mostly just that, because if elected Social Security and Medicare will still be largely untouchable, although Medicaid will not be. Which means plenty of deficit spending is guaranteed. And who will benefit disproportionately from all this borrowed money? As usual, it will be the richest of the rich: through paying fewer taxes, lowered capital gains and by making sure the industries they care about, principally defense and energy, are showered with government largess. It is a formula that worked well for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. All that remains is to talk you into it once again, and once again you, fellow taxpayer and especially you taxpayer to be, are the one who will pay the price. Your future will be robbed all under the guise of stopping socialism.

Robert Reich does an excellent job of summing all this up in a two minute video.

We can’t kill Republicans, so they are always going to be around. Intimidation is the game that they play so well. Expect more of it. They will be going straight for the American jugular, using these familiar but still uncomfortable tactics of intimidation but by also playing to your fears and to your patriotic instincts. To beat them, we have to do a better at standing up to these bullies. I will discuss tactics in a future post.

Meanwhile America, are you going to let yourself be bullied and intimidated into voting against your best interests yet again? Or will you join me and do something unnatural and uncomfortable, and stand up to these bullies by putting them in their place?

When it happens yet again to you, will you have the courage of Joseph Nye Welch, who famously stood down one of the greatest bullies of all time: Joseph McCarthy? Get ready with the words that will kill. Practice them until they roll effortlessly out of your mouth. Be prepared to stand up forcefully, look them in the eyes and simply say: “Have you no decency, sir, at long last?”


Operation Hilarity: who gets the last laugh?

Two Republican primaries are underway tonight, in Michigan and Arizona. In the Michigan primary, the law allows Democrats to vote in the Republican primary. This has inspired Operation Hilarity, a campaign by Markos Moulitsas (owner of the popular liberal Daily Kos website) to encourage Michigan Democrats to vote in the primary for Rick Santorum. The theory is that if Santorum wins the primary, it will keep the nomination process from coming to closure, and maybe lead to a brokered convention. According to Kos (Markos’s handle), even if Santorum ends up nominated by his party, by being so extreme he positions Obama and the Democrats in general to win even bigger in elections this November.

At least at first blush, it is hard to dismiss Kos’s logic. Every day Santorum gets weirder and weirder, which I thought was impossible. He seems to be anti-birth control, or at least anti the government requiring insurers to cover birth control. He thinks separation of church and state means religions can do whatever they want, particularly in the governmental arena, while the government can do nothing to constrain religion, and said President Kennedy’s defense of the strict separation of church and state made him want to throw up. He chastised President Obama because he wants all Americans to get a college education. Of course he is anti-gay and anti-gay marriage. Perhaps weirdest and scariest of all, he chastises President Obama for believing in global warming and defiantly says that the Bible gives us permission to use the earth for our benefit, not for the Earth’s.

The Operation Hilarity theory goes that the more outside the mainstream the Republican candidate is, the less likely he is to get elected if nominated. However, what if Santorum were nominated and then elected? Would this a better outcome than if Mitt Romney were nominated and elected? Or, for that matter, would it be better than if Gingrich or Ron Paul were elected?

It could happen. No one knows how Americans will vote, and all sorts of events are possible between now and Election Day that could change the dynamics of the election. We could go back into a recession, which seems to be happening in Europe. Unemployment could rise as a result. By most yardsticks, the challenger should win this election anyhow, as the unemployment rate is likely to be higher on Election Day than it was when Obama took office. The worse the economy gets, the more likely voters are to vote the incumbent out on the theory that, however bad the alternative, he could not do worse. It certainly happened in 1932. Roosevelt won the election handily. He had not even then come up with the idea of The New Deal. He won because he was not Herbert Hoover and fairly or not the country held Hoover to blame for the depression.

In that case, I would surely prefer a Mitt Romney in the Oval Office than Rick Santorum. This is because Mitt Romney is sane and Rick Santorum is bat-shit crazy. Mitt Romney is inconsistent because he is trying to get elected but his track record shows he governs as a fairly moderate Republican. Rick Santorum is consistent because that’s who he is: an ultra conservative. And an ultra conservative is by definition crazy. I would not like Mitt Romney as my president, but I expect he could usually make the right decision where it mattered most, like in matters of national security. Rick Santorum is far battier than even Barry Goldwater was in 1964. I sure don’t want to be responsible, even indirectly, for letting this clown get his hands on our nuclear trigger.

My chance for a little hilarity is coming up next Tuesday. Virginia is having a Republican primary on March 6. No one registers by party in this state, so anyone is free to vote in either primary. However, you can only vote in one of the primaries, not both. (Republicans would like me to sign a pledge that I would vote for the Republican candidate in the election if I vote in their primary. It has been ruled unenforceable.) So I could participate in the Republican Primary on March 6th, and vote for Rick Santorum. After all, there sure won’t be any real competition in the Democratic primary this year.

While I acknowledge that voting for Santorum would likely help Democrats more than it would Republicans, it’s not a chance I am willing to take. So I will skip voting in the primary altogether, which will doubtlessly please Virginia Republicans. But if I had to vote, I’d have to vote for the only sane one in the bunch and vote for Mitt Romney. Literally, my existence might depend on it.

To those Democrats considering voting for Santorum, just say no or the joke could be on all of us.

Addendum 3/16/11. I forgot that Virginia has very burdensome procedures for getting into Republican primaries. Only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul qualified, so I would not have been able to vote for Rick Santorum. However, a vote for Ron Paul would be only slightly less bad than voting for Rick Santorum, simply because Ron Paul has no chance of winning the nomination.

Election 2012: It’s looking like 1964

This is the year when because of the bad economy Republicans are supposed to be shoe-ins for election. When the president is floundering due to a bad economy and high unemployment (so the theory goes) the alternative, no matter how poor a choice, should coast to election.

Elections tend to be fickle events and often turn on last minute happenings. Still, when one projects the current state of politics forward to November, conventional wisdom seems likely to lose. If I were President Obama, I would not spend too much time worrying about his reelection. Instead, I would spend more time working to elect a Congress that will work with him during a second term. Trends suggest this election will resemble the Election of 1964. In that election, President Lyndon Johnson cruised to an easy election. (He assumed the presidency on the death of President Kennedy.) Democrats also picked up thirty-four House seats and two Senate seats.

Back in 1964, the Republican Party was about as confused a party as they are today. The conventional wisdom forty-eight years ago was that New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller would cruise to his party’s nomination. Rockefeller though had some Newt Gingrich in him. He was not the bombastic, bomb-throwing Republican like Newt. That dubious honor went to Senator Barry Goldwater (Arizona). Rockefeller was an establishment Republican. He spent much of his time as governor building highways, not fretting about cutting taxes. Rockefeller modeled Gingrich in that his personal life left much to be desired. In 1963, he divorced his wife and married a woman fifteen years his younger on the rebound. In the divorce settlement, his new wife’s ex-husband was granted custody of her children. This fed rumors of adultery, which became a serious liability for Rockefeller, and helped drive the candidacy of the bombastic Barry Goldwater.

For those pining for a true conservative, Goldwater more than delivered. He wanted a much more aggressive war in Vietnam than Johnson had delivered, and was fanatically anticommunist. His rhetoric suggested that preemptive use of nuclear weapons was okay, which greatly alarmed most Americans. Despite this, Goldwater was successful in achieving the nomination, in part due to Rockefeller’s marital missteps. He even narrowly won the California primary, which largely sealed his nomination. The contrast could hardly have been sharper in the 1964 election: a true conservative vs. a Texas Democrat who was part redneck but doggedly in favor of civil rights. Goldwater won only six states and accumulated only 52 electoral votes.

Contrast Rockefeller and Goldwater with the current field of Republican presidential candidates. No matter who is eventually nominated, they will be (to quote Mitt Romney) “severely conservative”, or at least be forced to run as one. With the possible exception of Mitt Romney, each is as at least as alarming as Barry Goldwater was in 1964. There is nothing the least bit moderate about any of them, at least judging by their rhetoric. Moreover, each carries “severe” baggage. Romney is the flip flopper to end all flip floppers, willing to say virtually anything for a vote. Gingrich has a history with Americans that conjures up nastiness and revulsion. Ron Paul wants to go back on the gold standard, favors a policy of isolationism, plus wants to cut the government roughly in half. Rick Santorum thinks birth control should not even be covered by insurance plans. This is borne out in polls where each candidate is polled against President Obama in a hypothetical election. Talking Points Memo keeps a list of these head to head matchups. In the best of them for Republicans, Obama leads Romney by seven points. If the election were held today, he would trounce Gingrich by thirteen points, Ron Paul by ten points and Santorum by seven points.

As I said, dynamics can change as the campaigns get underway. However, it’s already understood that Republicans are underwhelmed with their candidates this year. This is evidenced by substantially lower rates of participation by Republicans in primaries and caucuses to date compared with recent years. Unless their nominee can subsequently animate Republicans in a way they so far haven’t, this trend is likely to continue through the election, giving Democrats an enthusiasm advantage. Surprisingly, Democrats appear to be rallying behind Obama in this election, and their enthusiasm level seems quite high, in spite of the fact that Obama has governed the country more like a 1970s establishment Republican than a Democrat.

Of course, the biggest factor determining this election the state will be of the economy. It remains to be seen how it will play out, but the recovery seems to be becoming tangible to ordinary Americans at last, with the unemployment rate likely to be below eight percent in a month or two. This is a rate that is still too high, but the unemployment rate seems to be steadily dropping rather than holding steady. As a trend, it suggests whatever Obama is doing is working, at least belatedly. Independents would be hard-pressed to choose an unknown commodity over a known one that is delivering, particularly when the choice may affect their job prospects and bank balances.

Will all this good economic news make the public more forgiving toward their Congress? There is little evidence of this, with approval ratings of Congress hovering in the 10 to 13 percent range. What’s hard to figure out is how much of this disgust will translate into “throw my representative out of Congress too”. If so will it be bipartisan, or partisan? Given the likely higher enthusiasm from Democrats in this election, it seems likely that Democrats will benefit from these dynamics rather than Republicans. Republicans have two small factors in their favor: voter ID laws likely to reduce votes from minorities and completion of redistricting, making Republicans more likely to retain seats than lose them.

There are a lot of retiring Democratic senators this year, so Democrats will be fighting headwinds trying to retain their narrow control of the Senate. 2010 turned out to be a change election in favor of House Republicans. Two years though of a Tea Party dominated House have left most Americans infuriated with their obstructionism and unwillingness to compromise. Disapproval of Congress is today higher than it was prior to the 2010 election. Given that many Republicans are likely to sit out this election, it’s not unreasonable to think that Democrats will regain control of the House. I think the odds are at least 50/50 Democrats will succeed.

I do suspect that barring any great surprises that Obama will cruise to an easy reelection. This will be for no other reason that he is a defender of the status quo, and Americans like their Social Security and Medicare. The Senate is likelier than not to switch to Republican control, but only narrowly if it occurs. The means that Democrats can keep the Senate as bollixed up as Republicans have done. If I had to bet, I’d bet that Democrats will regain the House, marginally lose the Senate and retain the White House.

In the election’s aftermath, Republicans will have to look at the wreckage. The sober ones will have to ask how much of it was self-inflicted by moving even further to the right. As Barry Goldwater put it in the 1964 election, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Maybe not, but extremism by nominees for a political party is likely to be a vote loser. After much moaning and groaning, this may open a welcome space for centrist Republicans again. They are likely to find plenty of independents that were reluctantly voting for Democrats only because there was no centrist Republicans.

Speaker Moon Colony

In case you missed the news, former House Speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich jumped the shark last week. While pandering for votes near Cape Canaveral, Gingrich said that by the end of his second term the United States would have established a colony on the moon. Even better for potential colonists, when the colony reaches 13,000 people they can apply for statehood!

It’s all part of Gingrich’s wanting to distinguish himself as a different, big picture kind of candidate. While the unemployed aerospace workers near the space center were enthusiastic, the other remaining candidates quickly realized that his proposal was ridiculous. Mitt Romney was quick to capitalize on it by criticizing his proposal at the next debate. Perhaps as a result, Mitt Romney now appears to be outpolling likely Republican voters in Florida, who vote Tuesday in the state’s primary.

Gingrich’s proposal is technically feasible. We obviously know how to get to the moon, as we have done it many times before. One thing we have learned since the days of Apollo, and has been reinforced through decades of space shuttle flights, is that while we know how to get man into space, we have failed to figure out a way to do it cost efficiently. The space shuttle was originally envisioned as a means for getting cargo into space for as low as $118 a pound (in 1972 dollars). It seemed sort of plausible when it was first launched. Subsequently we discovered it cost a lot more than that. In 2010 dollars, each shuttle mission cost about $1.5 billion dollars, if you divide the cost of the program in constant dollars by the number of flights. The last space shuttle flight was estimated to have cost about $40,000 per pound of payload.

That’s $40,000 to get one pound of payload into a low earth orbit. The moon of course is much further away. To really build permanent colonies on the moon all sorts of heavy equipment would need to be transported there, requiring spacecraft with relatively large cargo bays, something we don’t yet possess. While there is some hope that water can be harvested from the moon, it would certainly be neither easy nor cheap to acquire. For the foreseeable future, water would have to be imported from Earth. A gallon of water weighs about 8.35 pounds. Assuming we find some very efficient way of transporting cargo to the moon, say at a cost of $10,000 a pound, it would cost about $100,000 to move just a gallon of water from the earth to the moon. A hundred gallons would cost a million dollars to transport. Bear in mind that my cost is artificially low and it would likely cost much more like $100,000 a pound. It doesn’t take much back of the envelope calculating to discover that creating a colony on the moon, at least with current technology, would be ruinously expensive.

But when you are a big picture guy like Newt Gingrich, apparently these minor problems can be ignored. It’s unclear how such a major endeavor would be funded. Gingrich after all is a candidate famous for wanting to reduce taxes, not raise them. Based on his proposals, don’t expect a Gingrich administration to touch defense spending, except to increase it. From his belligerent talk it sounds like we might be fighting dual wars with Iran and North Korea too if he were elected president. But even if the money could be found, is it even technically possible in just eight years to have a sustained human colony on the moon? It seems unlikely, as we do not possess at the moment the launch vehicles needed to do the job, as the Saturn V rocket has long been retired. So not only is the proposal cost prohibitive, it appears technically impossible to accomplish as well, at least within eight short years.

Perhaps it could happen if Gingrich were to rescope the mission. Perhaps the goal should be to colonize the moon with a self-sustaining colony of gerbils instead of humans. We could probably do that for $100 billion or so, and chances are the gerbils would do a much better job adapting to the moon that we would. In any event, his proposal should be greeted with derision. Once the costs are understood this by itself should make him unqualified for president.

Governor Jerry Brown in his first term as California governor was famously called “Governor Moonbeam” for the sin of being New Agey. If I were Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul, I would be attaching a “Speaker Moon Colony” label to Gingrich then let him twist slowly, slowly in the wind.

The Mormon, the serial adulterer, the zealot and the crackpot

Get out the popcorn! Thanks to Newt Gingrich’s surprising win in the South Carolina Republican primary yesterday, it looks like those of us who enjoy political theater have many more weeks or months of it to revel in. One thing is clear: Republican primary voters are having a hard time choosing from their crop of candidates. You get the feeling Bob Forehead would win if he were on the ballot. (Mitt Romney does remind me a lot of Bob Forehead. It must be coincidence.)

At least it is now down to four: the Mormon, the serial adulterer, the zealot and the crackpot. A number of other crackpots have already exited stage right, including Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry. Jon Huntsman posed as the moderate candidate in the race, although his tax policies were anything but moderate. Anyhow, they are gone and I for one will miss Bachmann, Cain and Perry for their circus sideshow qualities. It’s hard to lampoon candidates who are already crazy parodies of candidates but simply do not know it.

We are learning some things as these primaries drag on. First, it’s a bad idea to entrust vote counting to the Iowa Republican Party. They must not have excelled in math in school, and they lost votes altogether for some precincts. Mitt Romney won Iowa by eight votes, then some weeks later he lost it, but no one can really say for sure because they also lost precinct votes. Doing all that vote counting at an undisclosed location is hardly a way to instill confidence in the process either. Call it a tie, maybe, between the Mormon and the zealot.

Second, Republicans simply refuse to nominate a moderate. In today’s Republican Party, Ronald Reagan would be castigated as a flaming liberal. Even Jon Huntsman tilted much further to the right than Ronald Reagan ever did. Being angry is considered an asset; being statesman-like means you are a pussy. At least anecdotally, South Carolina Republicans picked serial philanderer Newt Gingrich not because of his family values, but because he was the best of the four of them at articulating their rage. It takes balls to tell an African American to their face their problem is they don’t work hard enough.

Third, for a party supposedly centered on liberty and freedom, they sure don’t want to hand much of it out. In fact, they want to take away a lot of freedoms. One freedom they can all agree on: the right to own lots and lots of increasingly lethal weapons, with no pesky laws to get in the way of you and your paranoia. But on many other freedoms, they would gladly rescind them. The freedom to have an abortion? Perish the thought. The freedom to marry someone you love who happens to be of the same sex? It’s immoral and hence must be outlawed. The freedom of a 17-year old girl to buy a Plan B “after the fact” contraceptive over the counter, which is clinically proven both safe and effective? Not for you, you little harlot. The freedom to vote without having an officially blessed form of state-issued identification? Sorry, no, at least in many of these Republican states which recently passed onerous voter ID laws.

Freedom, as Republicans like to tell us, is not free, which is another way of saying freedom has to be purchased, i.e. it’s sort of like buying emancipation. If you cannot afford to buy it, well that’s just tough. If you want the freedom to vote, then trek down to your local DMV and get an official ID and pay for it with your own money, and do it on your own time. (This is not, they tell us, a poll tax. Go figure.) You have the freedom to eat as much food as you can afford to buy, and if you cannot afford any you are free to starve. The same goes with your health, your employment and your choice of abode. You have the freedom to call a cardboard box home rather than pay rent. Freedom means never getting a handout. Freedom essentially means that those with the means get to have a whole lot more freedom than you do. Also it is an essential part of the government’s mission to remove any possibility that society might help the poor climb the social ladder. As Herman Cain informed us, if you are poor it’s your own damn fault. You just aren’t trying hard enough.

You can see why it would be confusing to Republican primary voters to choose a nominee, although right now anger seems to be a vote getter. In conservative family-values South Carolina of all places you would think that a serial philanderer would have a hard time getting votes. But voters seem more interested in a candidate who can express their anger than one who is consistent with family values. So they cheered Gingrich on in a recent debate when moderator John King asked Gingrich to comment on his ex-wife Marianne’s allegation that he petitioned her for an open marriage. Gingrich turned the inevitable question into a personal attack and the audience roared approval. Perhaps all this family value talk is just talk, as red states have higher divorce rates than blue states anyhow.

Then there is the question: can a true Christian pull the lever for a Mormon? New Hampshire Republicans had no problem, but they are suspiciously secular up there. In God-fearing South Carolina, if your candidate is not a real Christian, he doesn’t share your values, so you cannot vote for him. Instead, pick Gingrich, the faux-Christian instead. You would think his Catholicism would be a stroke against him in a deeply Protestant state, but it’s Christian enough apparently. Besides, Gingrich is about as Christian in temperament as Attila the Hun was a humanitarian, which in fact resembles most so-called Christians that I know.

Which leaves the zealot and the crackpot. The zealot, a.k.a. as Rick Santorum, is so incredibly monogamous he won’t even sit on a sofa with another woman not his wife. He was a huge failure as a U.S. senator but apparently did not get the message, even when he lost his reelection bid by seventeen points. Santorum says he is the only true conservative in the race. Maybe so, but he is conservative in a nasty Fred Rogers sort of way, although he looks great in a sweater vest. This is a guy who is so far to the right that even obvious right-wingers avoid him. His proposal to limit the National Weather Service to issuing severe long-range weather forecasts only was so bizarre and unworldly that not a single other senator signed on as a cosponsor. Santorum is a true conservative indeed. Even I have to give him credit for this.

Then there is the crackpot. Doubtless I risk the ire of legions of Ron Paul fans out there by calling him a crackpot, but he is one. Anyone who refuses to ever make an exception to move outside his or her ideology is a crackpot. One way I can tell a true crackpot is I tend to agree with some of their positions. I agree with Paul that we should be out of Afghanistan, for example. It’s all that other weird stuff he believes in where it’s hard to stifle derisive laughter. He wants to eliminate much of the government including essential agencies like the EPA, kill the Federal Reserve Board, go on the gold standard, and withdraw from the UN and WTO. And for a pro-freedom kind of guy, freedom apparently doesn’t extend to a woman’s right to have an abortion, or the right to have consensual sodomy, since granted to us by a conservative Supreme Court. Calling Ron Paul a crackpot is actually to diminish him with faint praise. Nonetheless, a significant portion of the Republican electorate apparently agrees with this guy. Fortunately, his anti-foreign-policy stand makes it impossible for him to win the nomination. His candidacy does beg the question: who is freakier: the fetishly clean Rick Santorum or the obsessively and ideologically weird Ron Paul? This is the kind of question I could debate with friends all night, and we could never agree on, but it would still be a fun debate.

I plan to stock up on popcorn and hope this nominating process goes all the way to a brokered convention.

Why is my tax rate higher than Mitt Romney’s?

Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee for president, is not sure but he thinks his tax rate was fifteen percent last year. We may or may not know in April when he may or may not release his tax returns for 2011. While we may or may not know his 2011 income and taxes, he seems much more reluctant to release tax returns for previous years, particularly when, you know, he was raking in the mega millions working for Bain Capital, where he made his fortune.

Mitt wants you to know his tax rate was probably fifteen percent last year because it was almost all unearned income, principally interest and dividends on his investments. This is, after all, a guy who says he knows the pain of unemployment because he is also unemployed. He says that he did have some earned income in 2011, mostly speeches, but it was “only” $374,000 dollars or so.

Poor guy. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have to live off just his earned income. Imagine his suffering! First of all, that would place him in the 33% tax bracket (35% is the maximum), which it might mean that instead of flying first class he might have to fly business class. By the way, his 33% tax rate doesn’t mean he paid 33% tax on all of that $374,000. First of all, taxable wages would be considerably less than $374,000, but he would only pay 33% on taxable income over $212,300. Income below this threshold would be taxed at a lower rate. In fact, for his first $17,000 in income, he would only pay a 10% income tax, just like me.

Unsurprisingly, my family does not come close to making $326,000 in earned income, but we are reasonably well off. Curious to see how I compared with Mitt, I pulled my 2010 income tax form. My wife and I fall into the 25% tax bracket, since our taxable income in 2010 was $104,345. Which means that Mitt Romney, whose net worth is estimated at between $190 and $250 million, is taxed at a lower rate than my wife and I. Ten percent lower, in fact.

Just for the record, I am releasing my tax returns (well, the first two pages, which is enough), which Mitt won’t do. Naturally I am obscuring some personal information, but as you can see we paid $16,589 in federal income taxes, after some substantial deductions and credits, on an adjusted gross income of $142,642.

If you want to understand why the 1% are doing so well and will continue to do well, it’s there is a nutshell. Essentially those who work are required to pay proportionally more of their income in federal taxes than those who don’t, at least if your taxable income is $17,000 or more (using 2011 tax rates). And $17,000 a year is essentially living in poverty.

Since Romney has not released his tax returns, we can only speculate about whether he is a shrewd investor or not. Most likely since he spends most of his time campaigning, he is not paying much attention to his stocks and mutual funds. It is unlikely that he is carefully moving his assets around from less productive companies to more productive ones, so that he can build wealth and presumably reward innovation in the economy. Most likely his funds stay largely the same from year to year, or he hires some smart person to manage his funds for him. In any event, regardless of how much he does or does not make on his investments, he pays just 15% income tax on that portion that is over $17,000, and none of it is earned. Presumably he is getting at least 5% interest on his portfolio, so probably this income amounts to no less than $10 million a year in interest and dividends, on which he pays no more than $1.5 million of that in federal income taxes.

Whereas I work forty or more hours a week, plus teach a class at a community college for some spare change, plus earn a couple grand with an online business I have. And my tax rate is 25% on taxable income over $69,000.

So if you have wealth you can effectively do nothing and pay fewer taxes as a percent of your income than someone whose source of income is likely almost completely earned and who makes more than $17,000 a year. Is America a great country, or what?

Yes, this is a great country, for those with wealth. It’s pretty clear why: because the rest of us subsidize their wealth. It’s not too surprising, if you think about it, that the wealth gap started growing almost as soon as we dropped taxes on capital gains and interest below top tax rates for income, which began during the Reagan Administration. The gap is currently twenty percent: with a top earned income tax rate of 35% vs. a top unearned income tax rate of 15%. To put it another way, unearned income is worth up to 233% more than earned income because it discounts your taxes by that much.

Supposedly this policy incentivizes capitalism. It’s proof that the fictional Gordon Gekko was right when he uttered, “Greed is good”. It certainly made him and people like Mitt Romney rich, but it’s clear that the money actually came from somewhere else. In the case of Bain Capital, it often came at the expense of shareholders in failing companies and workers who at best were asked to take a “haircut”, got stiffed on their pensions and/or found themselves out of a job. The plain facts are though that more of the costs of society are being borne by those who have a harder time paying for them. It’s not too surprising then that the wealth gap grows and more and more wage earners are falling out of the middle class. Their value has been discounted.

At a minimum, I believe that unearned income should be taxed at the same rate as earned income. This at least sets parity between these two forms of income. Most of us though intuitively understand that value added through the sweat of one’s brow should be valued more than income generated from having capital alone. All value begins with a human being making some physical change to the real world. If anything, these tax rates should be reversed and unearned income should be taxed higher than earned income.

Regardless of who wins the presidential contest this year, this inequity isn’t likely to be rectified, but it sure won’t happen if you elect Mitt Romney for president. Instead, you can expect that government for and by the wealthy will continue, and your vote for Mitt will be instrumental in ensuring that the value of your labor will continue to decline.

Philanderers for president!

Are you a better person for being married only once? That’s what I was wondering today as I read this article in the Washington Post. Mitt Romney, currently polling second among Republicans in the run for the party’s presidential nomination, doesn’t have a string of broken marriages to point to. Gosh, he’s been married to the same woman for more than forty years! He likes to draw attention to the fact because it shows you just how much he believes in marriage. You might say he’s a marriage pro. First time up and he hits a home run. Thus, as your president, he’ll hit them all out of the park because his eye is keen and his stroke is true.

You can’t say the same thing about Newt Gingrich, currently the top choice in most polls of Republicans for the same nomination. Twice divorced, he is now on wife number three (Camilla), who he apparently bedded while still married to wife number two (Marianne). Marianne should have seen it coming though because Newt apparently bedded her while still married to wife number one (Jackie). All these are mistakes in Newt’s past that he candidly acknowledges and says he regrets. To show that he has had a change of heart, he has signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge that he will faithfully work for a constitutional amendment defining marriage nationally as the union between one man and one woman. Curiously, the pledge does not require him to be faithful to Camilla, which may be good for Newt given his track record. Not to worry, Newt has said pledged publicly that he will be faithful to her. If this were truly a concern of Camilla’s (and I have my doubts), I’d make him wear a chastity belt and keep the only key.

Anyhow, congratulations to Mitt and wife Ann and forty-two years of perfect fidelity! The great thing about Mitt is I can look at him and know he never cheated on Ann. This is in part because Mormons seem to have some sort of secret inoculation (I think it’s the Terminal Guilt Vaccine), but also because you can see it in Mitt’s eyes: he’s just not the philandering type. He’s just a simple and kind of goofy guy. If he were a horse, he’d insist he wear blinders. Mitt too has signed the NOM pledge, which suggests he wants the rest of us to wear blinders too. It’s just like those monkeys on Captain Kangaroo: hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil. It’s that simple folks, married folks. Except of course for the sinful and chronic philanderers like Newt Gingrich and countless other politicians who don’t measure up to his high moral stature.

Should you vote for Mitt because he is a faithful guy? That should be a strike in his favor if you are a conservative, because true conservatives want to go back as far as possible into the past and relive those glory days. And back in, say, the 18th century, divorce was simply unavailable in the United States. Back then you might as well have connected husband and wife together with a ball and chain. In any event, if found guilty of adultery it was likely a crime and, channeling Nathaniel Hawthorne, fallen women like Hester Prynne might be forced to go around with a big scarlet A on their bodices.

Even if you are a conservative, you might want to give the virtue of fidelity as a reason for voting for someone a second thought. Curiously, Newt did some of his best work as a conservative while cheating on Marianne. Working with Bill Clinton, another fellow philanderer (perhaps that’s why they got on so well), welfare benefits were fundamentally changed and the federal budget actually got balanced. Perhaps it was all that testosterone surging through him due to Camilla’s womanly charms, but he managed to affect change on a magnitude that even Saint Ronald Reagan could not pull off. Remember the episode “Mirror, Mirror” in the original Star Trek’s second season, where an alternate Captain Kirk keeps a convenient captain’s whore in his quarters? If I wanted to further conservative values and Newt became our next president, I’d be chipping in to get Newt a presidential concubine. She might do her best work underneath the desk in the Oval Office.

What amazing accomplishments can the faithful Mitt Romney claim as governor? Well, there was that Massachusetts health care plan, which Democrats modeled in the Affordable Care Act. Now, of course, conservatives revile the ACA for being allegedly socialist. More importantly, it’s reviled because Democrats passed it and that Black-Muslim-Kenyan-socialist-apostate President Obama signed it. In short, all that faithfulness was not only unhelpful to conservative causes; it actually was a detriment. It appears to have interfered with clear conservative thinking.

Curiously, chronic philanderers Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton rate among our most productive politicians. Nice faithful guys like Mitt Romney get one term as governor. Even slimeballs like Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois recently sentenced to 14 years in a federal prison, got two terms as governor. Americans were generally peeved that Clinton was brought up on impeachment charges, and figuratively cried when he left office, giving him approval ratings in the sixties.

Of course, if you are trying to throw sand into the gears of government, maybe a true conservative is what you want. Maybe you should vote for Ron Paul, another candidate whose faithfulness I cannot question. (This is due, in part, to suffering through this movie.) If Ron Paul had his way, our federal government would be largely a shell of what it is today. People like Newt Gingrich though tend to enlarge government because exercising power is not about diminishing power. Think about it: if you diminish your power, you can’t exercise it at some later time. Having power is about making your enemies pay and giving their horde to your friends. Only a die-hard idealist like Ron Paul might actually succeed in shrinking government. To do this, at your center, you have to be ideology centered rather than ego driven.

Unsurprisingly, this is not true of any of the other Republican candidates. They are all drooling from the corners of their mouths because they want to exercise power. If power is diminished, that means everyone has less of it. And where’s the fun in that? It might mean, for example, no constitutional amendment to declare marriage as between only one man and one woman, because you sure don’t want to spend tax money enforcing it. And that might mean deciding defining what a marriage is becomes a matter for each state and keeping the federal government’s hands off the whole issue. That’s not cool. You cannot enforce an ideology that way.

If I actually wanted a politician to get something done and have to pick between a faithful politician and a philandering one, I’ll pick the philandering one. After all, having an illicit affair is not a simple matter. It requires complex skills, surreptitious behavior and high stakes. That sounds kind of what we need in a pragmatic president.

So I say: philanderers for president! And, “Go Newt!”