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Senate GOP Leaders Offer Up A Supersized Immigration Waffle (Forbes.com) February 5, 2013

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It’s a miracle! After years of delay and foot-dragging, four Republican Senate leaders joined with four Democrat colleagues, crashing over a long weekend to produce a bipartisan immigration reform plan hours before President Obama was to deliver his. Perhaps they’re related to a procrastinator friend who says, “I’m like a tube of toothpaste, I have to be squeezed a little.”

But seriously, how can you account for this stunning Republican reversal on immigration? Long the party of secure borders and no amnesty, suddenly the GOP wants a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants. Only months ago, Mitt Romney was steering to the far right on immigration, outflanking his primary opponents by opposing the Dream Act’s scholarship assistance to the children of illegal immigrants. When John McCain ran for president in 2008, his answer on immigration policy was to “complete the danged fence.” The speed and scale of this reversal gives new meaning to political flip-flopping and waffling.

The low road explanation for this is pretty clear: Republicans just saw Obama win 71% of Latino votes and realized their present path is politically unsustainable. In other words, it’s all politics, and no policy or principle. Senator Harry Reid was quick to pile on, opining that it would be “a bad day” for Republicans if the bill did not pass. But even the politics of this do not entirely add up. If immigration reform legislation ultimately results in 11 million new citizens and voters, do Republicans really believe they are going to win those votes by going along with Obama and the Democrats on immigration reform? And what about the exit polls in 2012 that showed Latino voters most swayed by education, health care, the economy, the budget deficit and jobs? In other words, Latino voters, like others, are not a one-issue bloc.

While we’re throwing cold water on the politics of Republicans leading immigration reform, consider also that this leadership is coming from the Senate side, and not the House of Representatives. Republicans in the so-called Upper House tend to be more liberal and less accountable to conservative voting districts back home. Meanwhile, in the Lower House, 84% of Republicans represent districts that are 20% or less Latino or Hispanic. In other words, House Republicans, who seem essential for an immigration reform bill to pass, will probably turn out to be more accountable to conservative voters concerned about border security than reformers seeking to create a path to citizenship. Having a gang of eight bipartisan Senators throw a policy stake in the ground doesn’t buy you much in the House. This weekend of work would have been far more impressive had some House leaders taken part.

If it’s easy to find the low road motive of politics, it’s a little harder identifying the high road of policy or principle here. I guess it’s possible that Republicans have had a massive change of heart just in time for Valentine’s Day, but I’m dubious. One could argue that Republicans are free market thinkers who realize, from the 2012 election results, that this market has turned against them and they need to respond. As John McCain, one of the collaborators, put it, “Very few things get your attention as elections do.” But it would be nice if they could offer up some deeper principles behind their interest in immigration reform than simply votes. So far, we have not heard any.

In the end, as they say, the devil may be in the details. This last-minute term paper was only 5 pages of principles, which has yet to be turned into the necessary hundreds of pages of a bill. There are plenty of arguments to be had over whether greater border security is needed first, or whether Republicans are really going to just give in on that. Or what kind of fines or back taxes may be owed by those seeking to travel the path to citizenship. In other words, this is a long way from a done deal.

No matter how much butter and syrup Republicans throw on their new-found interest in immigration reform, so far it still looks a lot like a political waffle.

This article is available online at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2013/02/05/senate-gop-leaders-offer-up-a-supersized-immigration-waffle/

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Campaign 2016 Has Already Begun In A State Legislature Near You (Forbes.com) January 30, 2013

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Here are a couple of trivia questions for your next dinner party: Where in the Constitution does it provide for the Electoral College, and where does the College meet? The answer to both questions is the same: nowhere. Although the Constitution does provide for electors, there is no mention of an Electoral College per se, and electors only meet in their individual states, not as a national body.

Surprisingly the Electoral College has become a hot topic with two very different movements actively seeking to reform it. Republicans, who have lost four of the last six presidential elections, are moving in key battleground states to change electoral voting from winner-takes-all to a distribution of votes depending on the popular vote. And Democrats, still hurting from 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote, have been championing a National Popular Vote that would, as a practical matter, do away with the Electoral College and its impact.

Few realize that there is no national election for president. Instead, Article II of the Constitution empowers each state (and the District of Columbia) to conduct its own election, which is why there are variations in voter registration laws, early voting, the use of voting machines, etc. Each state legislature is also to decide how its electoral votes—consisting of one for each congressional and senatorial seat in the state—shall be cast. All states but two, Maine and Nebraska, allocate their electoral votes on a winner-takes-all basis, while the latter two give one electoral vote to the winner of each Congressional district’s vote, and two for the statewide winner.

Although Maine and Nebraska never actually split their electoral votes until Nebraska in 2008, one could readily imagine how this kind of split electoral vote could make a big difference in contested battleground states. And this is precisely where Republicans have begun a state-by-state effort to effect change. In Virginia, for example, if electoral votes had been allocated by Congressional district in 2012, Obama would have won only 4 electoral votes instead of the state’s total of 13. Such changes are now being considered in Michigan Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, all states that Obama carried electorally in 2012, but where Republicans are strong statewide.

While this effort passes Constitutional muster, the National Popular Vote bill, also being considered by state legislatures, is an obvious end-run around the electoral system. This bill would require electors to cast their votes in favor of the winner of the national popular vote, not their state’s popular vote. Proponents of the bill would really like to do away with electoral voting altogether but, realizing how difficult it is to gain the two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress to approve and three-fourths of state legislatures to ratify a Constitutional amendment, have instead devised this clever end-run. When enough states constituting the required 270 electoral votes to elect a president have passed it, its provisions go into force. Currently 9 states holding 132 electoral votes have adopted it, putting the effort at the half-way mark.

The National Popular Vote bill is a thinly veiled effort to void Article II of the Constitution and its elector system. It essentially eliminates any state role in elections, and means that even when a state votes overwhelmingly for Candidate A, its electoral votes will go to Candidate B instead if he won the national popular vote. Talk about disempowering voters. It also raises the specter of lengthy and unsettling national recounts of votes. The controversial recount of Florida votes in 2000 could well take place across the nation, since we would then have essentially a national popular vote, potentially delaying the seating of a new president for months.

There are some things to like about the Congressional district voting used by Nebraska and Maine. Not only would it make battleground states more competitive, but even a state like California—which is so dominated by Democrats that presidential candidates rarely show up to campaign, but only to raise money—would see competition for valuable electoral votes in competitive districts.

Brace yourselves, America. The jockeying for campaign 2016 has already begun in a state legislature near you.

Please click on the link to view the article in Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2013/01/30/campaign-2016-has-already-begun-in-a-state-legislature-near-you/

Ignore The Pundits, Conservatism Doesn’t Need An Extreme Makeover (Forbes.com) December 26, 2012

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The obituary for conservatism has been running for six weeks now since the election. The Titanic is sinking, says one commentator; the conservative arguments put forward in the 2012 election will soon be relics in a museum writes another. Demography is destiny, many say, and conservatism is basically populated by old white men whose day is gone. A standard refrain is that conservatism needs to change both its message and its methods if it ever hopes to be heard again. It’s time for an extreme makeover.

I have a little different message for conservatives: It’s time to go deeper.

Politics is only the shallow topsoil of the American political debate. It’s easily blown about by campaign ads and rhetoric, influenced by momentum and even hairstyles. Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson wisely observed that “a week in politics is a long time.” Remember James Carville’s book following the 2008 election? The title boldly proclaimed “40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation.” Less than two years later Democrats suffered historic defeats in the midterm elections.

Doubtless mistakes were made, as they say, at the political level in 2012. But the real work of conservatives now is not at that superficial, topsoil level, it is in the deeper soil of policy and the tap root of values where conservatives need to toil now. Americans should be presented with a deeper and more compelling narrative about the policy choices facing the country and the problems the present path will create. It is less about an extreme makeover and more about deepening its own policy message and clarifying its own values. Otherwise, why bother to become merely a pale version of liberalism simply to broaden your appeal and win?

For example, there is a serious conversation to be had about the family, one that is not reduced merely to pro-life and pro-choice sound bites, one that doesn’t begin and end with same-sex marriage. Liberal Harvard Professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out the importance of a stable family life to the health of the republic in the 1960’s, and many have noted the troublesome decline of family stability and the birthrate in Europe. That conversation needs to take place in a serious way here in America. What family values are entirely personal, and which affect the public good? This question of values is one that conservatives should appropriately raise, but in a thoughtful way.

There is a real debate to be had about the role of government. Here my Hoover Institution colleague Peter Berkowitz rightly points out that conservatives have mistakenly allowed the debate to be about big versus small government. Government is big and it isn’t likely to shrink much. The real debate is about the role of government, not merely its size. It’s about limited government, not just big government. What health care decisions, marriage decisions, and social questions are essential for government to decide? Federalism requires that we ask whether an issue is for individuals or government to decide, and if government which branch and which level? That, again, is a serious debate that needs more than the divisive question: “Are you in the 47% or the 1%?”

Conservatives aren’t wrong about immigration and will make a big mistake if they succumb to resolving these hard policy questions merely on the political level so they can win Latino votes. What proper interest does a country have in deciding how many and who will be allowed to enter? What about legal, not just illegal immigration: how do we encourage the sort of immigration that will strengthen the country in important ways?
A strong national defense is not something that Americans are ready to sacrifice. Even looking at this issue politically reveals that independent voters were greatly troubled by the lack of security at our government facility in Benghazi and that risked becoming a tipping point issue in the campaign. How does America lead in a dangerous world? That is a question about which conservatives frankly have more answers than liberals.
When a progressive friend asked me how I felt following the election and I shared some of this, he said: “You are an unrepentant conservative.” And so I am. Conservatives will make a big mistake if they think only of going wide and shallow, seeking more votes at the topsoil level of politics. First they need to go deeper, and sharpen the core values and principles which many Americans do share, and if sacrificed on the altar of politics leaves conservatism one more loud voice merely seeking votes.

Please click on the link to view the op/ed on Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2012/12/26/ignore-the-pundits-conservatism-doesnt-need-an-extreme-makeover/

Election Outcome: Kick the Fiscal Can Down the Road (Forbes.com) November 7, 2012

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After all the money (a campaign spending record exceeding $2 billion), hard work, negative campaigning and wall-to-wall advertising, Americans have voted to kick the can down the road.  They don’t want to take their medicine yet.  They want to continue to live in a suspended reality where government can keep growing and spending and no one picks up the tab.

What, specifically, is the can we’ve kicked?  It’s the fiscal path the nation is traveling that can only be described by a word we avoid in other contexts but apparently embrace in this one:  unsustainable.  It is the fiscal cliff of $570 billion worth of automatic tax increases and spending cuts that was already kicked down the road until the end of this year.  As Hoover economist John Taylor points out:  “The fiscal cliff was not created by aliens from outer space.”  We created it ourselves by our unwillingness to face the fiscal music before.

More than that, the can we’ve kicked down the road is our massive debt.  Our current spending habits add over $1 trillion a year to the deficit.  Just the increased debt of the last four years has added $55,000 in borrowing for each American household.  A new study by Hoover economist Michael Boskin concludes that the debt-to-GDP ratio will have essentially doubled between 2008 and next year, from 40.5% to nearly 80%.

The Obama administration admits it has no plan for this.  In Congressional testimony in February of this year, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Congressman Paul Ryan, “You are right to say we’re not coming before you today to say ‘we have a definitive solution to that long term problem.’  What we do know is, we don’t like yours.”  Wow, put that on your campaign poster or your business card:  We don’t have a plan, but we don’t like yours.  And the American people bought it. Even President Obama, in his victory speech, listed first among his challenges “reducing our deficit,” but again without articulating any plan to accomplish that.

Entitlements?  Sky high and growing every minute, with no plan to address the cost.  Instead we add national health insurance to the expensive basket of benefits.  Government regulation?  Funding for federal regulatory agencies is at an all-time high, as is the number of their employees.  The number of pages in the Federal Register with new rules?  Again an all-time record.

Actually in this election, both parties put forward economic myths of one sort or another.  The Democrats’ myth is that you can just keep growing government and spending and not worry about the cost.  In a seminar with an Italian colleague a few months ago, he said the big difference between you in America and us in Italy is that you can still print money.  In an election year, he continued, your politicians are printing money (adding to the debt) and spending it everywhere to get reelected.  But now that we gave up the lira for the euro, he concluded, we can’t print money anymore.  To the extent Democrats have an answer to this, it is merely to increase the taxes of the top 1% and shift the rest of the debt to our children.

The Republicans have a half-myth themselves.  While Paul Ryan’s plan would cut spending and deficits, Republicans also rely on cutting taxes to grow the pie and increase overall tax receipts.  I understand why, in an economic downturn, a pure austerity approach may not be best but, as a realist, I’ve never been able to fully drink the whole glass of supply-side Kool-Aid.

Others will argue the politics of this election.  My disappointment is in the American people, and their elected officials, for once again kicking the can down the road.  A good friend reminds me never to underestimate the American people.  But I keep thinking about that famous quotation of Albert Einstein’s:  “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Please click on the link to view the op/ed on Forbes.com:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2012/11/07/election-outcome-kick-the-fiscal-can-down-the-road/

Close Election Hysteria: Let’s Not Pick Our President In the Courts with Gordon Lloyd (Forbes.com) November 2, 2012

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The Obama campaign is running a new commercial in several battleground states reminding viewers of the 32-day drama over the Florida recount in 2000 that was ultimately resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The overt message of these ads is that every vote counts, but they also fan the embers of a hot reaction from Democrats when two “undemocratic” institutions–the Electoral College and the Supreme Court—in their view disenfranchised voters and improperly swung the election to George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000.

There has been a sharp rise in electoral challenges since then and, with the polls showing the Obama-Romney race very tight in both popular and electoral votes, the specter of election recounts, or even an electoral tie vote has arisen.   While it is highly unlikely, with 538 electoral votes available there is the possibility of a 269-269 tie, and specific electoral calculations show it could actually happen.  In the case of such a tie when the electoral votes are cast in state capitals on December 7, the Constitution says the newly-elected House of Representatives elects the president, with each state delegation casting one vote, and the Senate elects the vice president.  Crazy as it seems, under that scenario it’s even possible to end up with Mitt Romney as president and Joe Biden as vice president.

Both campaigns have teams of lawyers ready for legal challenges in various states, and lengthy recounts are more than a theoretical possibility.  They have generally been avoided in the past only by the gracious concession of one of the candidates (Richard Nixon in 1960, John Kerry in 2004, etc.).  But since 2000, preparing a legal team and drafting documents to challenge or defend the vote is the new normal.

We should look more deeply at the claim that the Electoral College is undemocratic and the desirability of an alternative—the National Popular Vote bill—that is likely to be pressed upon us if this close election ends up in any kind of controversy, including a candidate who wins the popular vote and loses the electoral vote, or a major recount, or the highly unlikely tie vote.

The Founders intentionally established a republic, not a pure democracy, and incorporated several checks and balances, and carefully balanced powers, to insure that the deliberate sense of the community would prevail.  In Congress, for example, they established the people’s House of Representatives, based on population counts, but also the Senate based upon states.  Similarly in the election for president, the Constitution provides for a popular vote for the people, but an electoral vote by state.   So electoral voting—there is actually no reference to an “Electoral College” in the constitution—is part of the federalist system.

But beyond that are practical values to electoral voting.  With important electoral votes at stake, candidates will spend the last couple of weeks campaigning all over the country—in Colorado and New Mexico in the West, Ohio and Michigan in the middle, in Florida, Virginia and New Hampshire in the East.  By contrast, if there were only a popular vote, where would they be?  Mostly on television, but also concentrated in a few big population centers such as New York or Los Angeles.  And when we do have recounts in the electoral system, they are generally confined to one state.  Imagine if we had a popular vote recount which would necessarily be national in scale?  It would be a long national nightmare requiring months to confirm a president.

The National Popular Vote bill, which has been enacted in 9 states and could gain momentum with a rocky election aftermath this year, is not the answer.  It is an end-run around the Electoral College, requiring each state that enacts it to cast its electoral votes for the candidate who won the national popular vote.  It both undermines the Constitutional system and would reshape campaigns and increase recounts in unfortunate ways.  But neither do extensive legal challenges generally improve the election, so let’s hope that we either have a clear outcome from election day, or that cooler heads resist the temptation to legal challenges.

Elections should be decided at the ballot box and in the Electoral College, not in courts or Congress.  Clever end-runs may be fine in football, but not with the Constitution.

Please click on the link to view the op/ed on Forbes.com:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2012/11/02/close-election-hysteria-lets-not-pick-our-president-in-the-courts/

Why The Change In The Campaign 2012 Polls? The World Is Still A Dangerous Place (Forbes.com) October 22, 2012

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While the presidential campaign is still primarily about the economy, voters have also been reminded that the world is still a dangerous place and are considering whom they trust as commander in chief.  Both world events and Mitt Romney’s debate performances have contributed to his closing the gap with President Obama on this question, with a recent Pew Center Research poll showing Romney has reduced a 15-point deficit in September to a 4-point gap in October, with the foreign policy debate still on tap.

Unlike the economy, where a candidate’s experience and platform are highly relevant, the Commander in Chief issue is largely one of impression, which is why Romney’s confident debate performances have helped him.  A close reading of the candidates’ positions does not reveal a huge difference—both would continue the Iraq withdrawal and Afghanistan drawdown of troops, both would negotiate with Iran and keep force on the back burner, for example.   But when Romney more than holds his own with the President of the United States, not to mention the moderator, on a national debate stage, people can see him more readily as commander in chief.

World events have also cooked up in such a way as to cause voters to feel that the real test on foreign policy is more commander in chief than chief peacemaker.  The polls suggest that independents, in particular, wonder why more was not done to secure our embassy in Benghazi.  The Pew Center poll found that significantly more people (56%) now believe being firm with Iran is more important than avoiding war (35%), and nearly everyone agrees this issue needs to be resolved in the next few months.   The Arab Spring increasingly appears to be about the challenge of Islamic fundamentalism rather than the opportunity of rising democracy, with the president more closely identified with flexible approaches toward the Arab world and less friendly toward Israel.  Putin is back in power and Obama’s strategy of pushing the reset button in Russia doesn’t seem to have changed anything.

So people look at Romney—who only a few weeks ago was on the cover of Newsweek as a “wimp”—and see a guy who is tough on Jim Lehrer, Candy Crowley and President Obama and wonder if he wouldn’t be a better match-up with the leaders of Iran, Russia and, as of the last debate where he mentioned toughening up on trade, also China.  And they question whether, as Obama has proposed, this is really the time to be making major cuts in defense spending.  The President is playing his national security trump card, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, as often as possible, but as George H.W. Bush learned when his Gulf War popularity numbers had disappeared by election time, people have short memories about foreign policy successes.

What a difference four years makes.  The big foreign policy concern in 2008 was America’s unpopularity in the world and whether a president could both keep America strong and also restore closer relationships abroad.  But with danger and threats in so many corners of the world, and the recent deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, this time the peace platform seems less important to voters than a strong commander in chief.

Please click on the link to view the op/ed on Forbes.com:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2012/10/22/why-the-change-in-the-campaign-2012-polls-the-world-is-still-a-dangerous-place/

 

Incumbency and the Economy (Townhall.com) October 9, 2012

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Many have compared this election to the contest between Hoover and Roosevelt in 1932, but they’ve all missed one crucial point: Obama is Hoover. Like Hoover, he’s the incumbent who owns the bad economy and Romney is the challenger with new ideas.

Economist Ray Fair of Yale has developed a model that has successfully predicted the outcome of all but 3 presidential elections in the last 75 years using only the economy as the key variable.

When he cranks the numbers for 2012, economic growth is weak but, with no inflation, stability is good. He has Romney winning by 1%, which is within the margin for error, and he will recalculate in late October.

This is Romney’s path to victory—to argue that the economy is still very weak under Obama and that he is the new doctor with a new course of treatment.

Please click on the link to listen to the audio:  http://townhall.com/talkradio/dailycommentary/657181

The Equality Debate (Townhall.com) October 1, 2012

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Mitt Romney’s “47% are dependent…victims” speech and Barack Obama’s I “believe in redistribution” remarks frames one of the most important debates in Campaign 2012. It’s a clash of social policies, with Romney favoring equality of opportunity and Obama seeking equality of outcomes.

Ever since the Declaration of Independence, America has been about liberty. Free speech, freedom of religion, and free markets are the American way.

But Obama believes equality of opportunity is outmoded and even immoral. Income inequality is wrong and the government needs to intervene. If you have a successful business, “you didn’t build that” Obama says, so you need let the government redistribute some of your money.

This is really a form of social engineering. It’s a radical shift from our nation’s past and a striking contrast to the vision put forward by Romney and Ryan. It’s an important choice in November.

Please click here to listen to the audio:  http://townhall.com/talkradio/dailycommentary/656701

Obama Exploits A Downturn To Engineer Us Socially, with Gordon Lloyd (Forbes.com) September 27, 2012

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Mitt Romney’s 47 percent are “dependent…victims” remarks to donors and Barack Obama’s I “believe in redistribution” speech as an Illinois state senator nicely frame one of the important debates of this presidential election.   Under the surface of the arguments over big and small government, government spending and the deficit, and the future of entitlements and taxes lies a crucial difference between the presidential candidates on social policy:  Romney believes in equality of opportunity while Obama seeks equality of outcome.

Equality of opportunity has historically been the distinctive American way.  When the French journalist Alexis de Toqueville visited America early in the republic, he noted that, while the French revolution had been about equality, the American revolution was to win liberty.  Equality of opportunity was grounded in the Declaration of Independence and its affirmation that all men are created equal—which does not mean, of course, that all people are born with the same color of skin, or the same gender, or even the same intelligence.  What it means is that these differences do not matter, that no person is born intrinsically better than another, that a permanent aristocracy in the economic realm, or a divine right of kings in the political realm, are no part of the American system.

But the economic recession and the presidential campaign have renewed calls that equality of opportunity isn’t enough, that it is outmoded or morally wrong and should be replaced by a quest for equality of outcomes.   The recent one-year anniversary of the Occupy Movement, which was long on passion but short on policy, reminded us of protests over economic inequality and abuses on Wall Street.  This movement ranted about “the 1%” of top earners as against the 99% who earned less money, and sought an ill-defined way to blame society and government.

These issues naturally come to the fore in an economic downturn since, when all ships are rising, few notice that some classes benefit more than others.  So in the presidential campaign of 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt similarly decried the myth of “rugged individualism” and offered up a New Deal.  He saw “one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill clad and ill nourished” and called upon government to intervene and alter those outcomes.  Now Obama sees one-fifth of a nation ill-healthed and its markets ill-regulated.  In his early campaign keynote speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, in December, he identified income inequality as one of his primary concerns, attacking the “breathtaking greed of a few” and the “mortgage lenders that tricked families into buying homes.  “Those at the top,” he said, “grew wealthier… than ever before.”

No matter that, in the October, 2011 data from the Congressional Budget Office, which is used to fuel the class warfare rhetoric, in fact all categories of income rose during the studied period (1997-2007).  In more recent data from the Census Bureau, there was no growth in upper income levels in the past year and a modest decline below.   Also, drawing long-term conclusions on data from the great recession has its own limitations.  But, as a psychologist friend likes to say, don’t get rational on me.

Obama would have America accept increased regulation because, in an equality of opportunity society, if individuals do not get a good outcome, it is a failure of the system, a market failure.  He reminds those whose opportunities have resulted in profitable businesses that “you didn’t build that,” that in some sense government is responsible for your success, so we need to “redistribute” some of your money to those for whom opportunity never unfolded as it did for you.  As he put it in that speech as an Illinois state senator, “I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate redistribution . . . .”

There is no evidence that Obama’s increased government programs in healthcare, regulation and entitlements will grow the economy, and only his tax increases directly address income inequality.  So, in effect, what this comes down to is using an economic downturn—as his former aide Rahm Emanuel famously said, it’s a shame to waste a crisis—to accomplish some major social engineering.   While Obama seeks to blur the distinction, leaving the impression that there is only equality of outcome, an important question for this election is whether Romney can articulate the important and historic American distinction between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.

Gordon Lloyd is a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University.

Please click on the link to view the article on Forbes.com:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2012/09/27/obama-exploits-a-downturn-to-engineer-us-socially/

 

Incumbency Amid A Sagging Economy: Why Obama is Hoover, Not Roosevelt (Forbes.com) September 17, 2012

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The comparisons between the 1932 Hoover-Roosevelt campaign and today’s Obama-Romney contest  are  pretty compelling.  The big issue in each campaign is a huge drop in the economy, with the Great Depression and now the largest recession of recent times front and center.  Each race raises questions about the incumbent president’s performance vis-à-vis the economy, with similar philosophical issues such as the extent of government intervention in the markets, whether more or less taxation is needed, and even the same social questions concerning income inequality.

What everyone seems to be missing is that in the 1932-2012 campaign comparison, Obama is the incumbent Herbert Hoover, and Romney is the challenger Franklin Roosevelt.  Yes, it’s true that philosophically Hoover and Romney would both countenance less government intervention rather than more, and Roosevelt and Obama would raise tax rates and redistribute money from the top income earners to those below.  On the issues, Republicans still think like Republicans and vice versa.

But in a presidential campaign, especially about the economy, the crucial question is less about philosophy and more about incumbency.  Voters are less interested in analyzing which medicine each doctor would administer to an ailing economy, and more focused on who owns the sick economy and who is the new doctor with a second opinion and a fresh approach.  It is a reminder of just how little presidential races are campaigns about policies and ideas and how much they are about incumbency, job ratings, and change.  And it explains why Obama continues to try to blame his predecessor, George W. Bush, for the bad economy, and why the Republicans keep asking the classic challenger’s question:  Are you better off than you were four years ago?

One economist’s model has an amazing track record of predicting presidential elections tracking precisely this kind of data: the economy and incumbency.  Professor Ray Fair of Yale has developed a model (and a book, recently updated) that has successfully predicted 21 of the 24 presidential elections from 1916-2008 by looking at economic growth and stability, and incumbency.  There are many indicators for the state of the economy, but Fair focuses on per person growth in the first 9 months of the election year and in the 15 quarters leading up to the election, and economic stability measured by the rate of inflation.  He believes incumbency is a strength for a presidential candidate, unless a party has held the office too long.

When Fair plugs his numbers into the computer, he finds the Obama-Romney race essentially too close to call, with Romney leading by 1%, a number within the formula’s margin for error.  Although economic growth is weak, inflation is also low.  And Obama is an incumbent, but this is the first term in which Democrats have held the White House since 2000.  In 1932, the growth rate was at an all-time low of -14.6% and, predictably, Hoover had the second lowest percentage of popular votes for an incumbent in the 75 years Fair has studied.  In 1936, when Roosevelt had to defend a still-sluggish economy, nevertheless the annual growth rate at 11.8% was quite high, as was FDR’s popular vote.

Where does this leave us with 7 weeks left before the election?  For starters, exactly where polls have suggested:  in a very tight contest. Romney has wisely focused on the poorly-performing economy as his main campaign theme, essentially doubling down with his selection of fiscal conservative Paul Ryan as his running mate.  The August job numbers showed continuing flatness in the economy, with two more reports to come. Romney should borrow a page from the FDR playbook, arguing for a change in approach on the economy.  John Kennedy’s campaign theme in the wake of the stodgy Eisenhower years would also work:  “We can do better.”

But there are intangibles that can always upset the playbook.  The Electoral College means that the swing voters in those key states play a disproportionately higher role in the election.  And Romney’s inability to close the “likeability” gap with Obama could also prevent him from overtaking the incumbent.  But Romney’s path to victory looks a lot like Roosevelt’s in 1932:  Blame the incumbent for the lagging economy and present himself as the new doctor who can revive the patient.

Please click on the link to the Forbes.com site to view the article:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2012/09/16/incumbency-amid-a-sagging-economy-why-obama-is-hoover-not-roosevelt/