Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for the ‘McCain’ Category

Obama, McCain and the tax code.

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On the topic of the Obama’s and McCain’s views on taxation, Clive Crook writes:

With their fixation on the fate of the Bush tax cuts, both of them are missing the main point: comprehensive reform is needed–and needed so badly it may be unavoidable. The key is to broaden the income-tax base. Income-tax rates are moderate in the United States by international standards, but the income-tax base is narrow, so the total raised is less than you would expect. Raising significant amounts of additional revenue–which is going to be necessary, even if no new spending is undertaken–would push income-tax rates quite high. The country needs to broaden its tax base and simplify the rate structure, and much the best way to do this is as part of a thorough overhaul of the code. A lot of what should be done is neither liberal nor conservative. Ordinarily one thinks of a trade-off between equity and efficiency. At some point, those choices do have to be made, but the United States is not at that point. The current system is so inept, so complicated, and so replete with unintended consequences that it is easy to devise a win-win alternative–fairer and more conducive to growth at the same time. Yet neither Obama nor McCain gives any sign of embracing comprehensive reform. Quarreling over the fiscal legacy of the Bush administration is more to their liking. So much for post-partisan politics.

Although I couldn’t agree more that the country badly needs reform of the tax code, I strongly suspect neither Obama nor McCain is so much “missing” this point as avoiding it, for reasons of politics. Any reform of the tax code that is sufficiently radical to do any real good will require a bloody political fight.

I don’t see much prospect of any decent reform plan getting enacted under a McCain presidency, given the likely composition of the Congress (though you never know, and of course McCain has shown some proclivity for working with Democrats). I reckon Obama is the more plausible agent of change in this regard. If I were he I’d avoid getting into specifics with respect to tax reform ideas if such an agenda were part of my plans (one can only hope tax code reform is part of his plans). Obama displayed admirable unwillingness to pander to the electorate on gasoline taxes — an unwillingness that probably helped him finish off Hillary Clinton. But I don’t think he can count on a similarly happy outcome flowing from the effects of candor on the tax code in general, at least to the extent that any substantive reform cannot wholly ignore the mortgage interest deduction

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June 7, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Could Huck win the general election?

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Over at Ezra’s place, Neil ponders the possibilities for Mike Huckabee, should the ex-Arkansas governor prevail in the primaries:

For a long time, I’ve regarded him as the most dangerous general election opponent. Like most Democrats, I remember how easily a red-state Republican cast himself as a ‘compassionate conservative’ in 2000, and I’m worried about seeing it again. But the more I think about Huckabee, the less I worry. I think people underestimate the extent to which his brand of social conservatism is a real liability in a general election. Bush’s success doesn’t have any positive implications for Huckabee, as Bush always blurred the lines on social issues before elections.

I agree with Neil about Huckabee’s vulnerabilities in a general election, although I think Huckabee’s weakness is mostly just a sign of the changing political environment. I believe events of the past eight years — especially Iraq and Katrina — combined with the shitty economy of 2008 — translate into real problems for the GOP. I think they’re especially in trouble in places like Ohio and Florida.  The country is suffering from major league Bush Fatigue Syndrome. The “Conservative Republican” brand has been terribly weakened. And I think that means the GOP needs to nominate someone who at least can be spun as a moderate who can take the country in a different direction. So that means McCain (a media darling who condemns torture), Rudy (used to live with gay guys and provided sanctuary to immigrants) or Romney (used to run the most liberal state in the country). Not that I think any of these three would likely prevail in a general election — I really do think it’s the Democrats’ to lose — but I can at least imagine a plausible strategy being put together for one of them to run to the center in a general election (much as the eventual Democratic nominee will do the same). And who knows, maybe the economy is stronger next year than I think it will be, and it ends up being a tight race.

But I just don’t see how the GOP possibly wins with a guy who thinks the Flinstones is a documentary. Sure, he’s a nice, personable southern gentlemen who lost a lot of weight. He’s just too much of a socialcon to be plausibly marketed to the disaffected, war-weary, Bush-fatigued, economically vulnerable purple state voters who want change, and who will decide this election. But hey, the Huckster will be certain to give the GOP great margins in holding down Idaho!

Bottom line: Huck is too much like Bush. And the last thing this country wants is another Bush.

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December 8, 2007 at 8:43 pm

Mitt’s speech

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I think it’s a bad move on Romney’s part. I don’t know who is advising him he should do a speech. It’s obviously a reaction to Huckabee’s rise. Does anybody really think that an evangelical who thinks Mormonism is a satanic cult is going to vote for Romney because of an eloquent speech, especially now that the former’s got a bonafide political playa he can vote for named Mike Huckabee?

I’m not one of those who has been of the opinion that Romney is in such bad shape merely because of Huckabee’s rise. I mean, Mitt still has a month or so to soften up Huckabee with negative ads, and there are a number of issues he could use: Huckabee’s non-hatred of illegal immigrants, for instance, and his failure to embrace torture, and also his preference for not funding government via debt. Romney, with lots of money, with a solid foundation in NH and Michigan, and with a disciplined, on-message campaign, should remain a very formidable candidate as long as he doesn’t badly underperform to expectations in Iowa (and those expectations are now muted, given what the polls are predicting about a Huckabee win). Indeed, I’d say up to now he’s still the favorite to win the nomination, especially with Rudy showing signs of implosion.

But this speech business strikes me as a real overreaction to an issue most people — even a majority of GOP primary voters — don’t really care about. To most Americans, Mormons are nice, large, hardworking, sober Caucasians with beautiful teeth and big families. A bit funny in the underwear department, perhaps, but certainly well-within the American mainstream. Heck, I’d even go so far as to say Mormons strike me in some ways as being quintessentially American.

Mitt better hit this one out of the park. If not, he’s leaving the door wide open for a McCain surge.

UPDATE: I should address the fact that the above post, while making the case that an Establishment Clause speech doesn’t help Romney, doesn’t explain why it hurts him. Basically, I think it’s because an unnecessary talk with lots of media coverage will muddy Romney’s message. Whatever themes he’s running on — mainstream conservatism, competence, immigration, reforming evil liberal Massachusetts, the Winter Olympics, whatever — will at least temporarily be drowned out by a discussion of his religion. And, while Romney’s Mormonism likely doesn’t hurt him with most GOP voters, I doubt it helps him with very many outside of a 500-mile radius of Salt Lake City. Staying on message seems to me like it’s been a fairly successful strategy for the Mittbot. Why mess with what’s working? Bad move. Or at least a risky move. As I noted above, Mitt had better “hit one out of the park.” I suppose it’s possible that, should he deliver a truly superb speech, the reaction and positive publicity might actually help him.  We shall see. It’s definitely not something I’d advise him to do.

Written by Jasper

December 4, 2007 at 6:00 pm