Monday, August 13, 2012

Romney: Assuring defeat with Paul Ryan?

Do Vice Presidential choices matter?   For 97% of those who vote, no.  But veep picks can often set the tone for the success or failure of a campaign or administration.

There have been a few lackluster choices on the Democratic side.   But why is it that GOP Presidential nominees more often than not pick running mates that are losers?   I do say more often than not, but consider that the perceived "losers" often turn out be "winners" and vice versa.

Let's go through some of the more recent past choices:

1948:  Thomas Dewey chose Earl Warren.    This election was the very narrow "Dewey Defeats Truman" fiasco for the Republicans.    Warren, the Governor of California and the leader of the Republican's liberal wing, was eventually appointed by Dwight Eisenhower to be Chief Justice of the United State and would lead the Supreme Court to its many pro-civil rights decisions that changed race relations, and police procedures, forever.   (Of course, Warren also ensured much of the truth behind the JFK murder would remain classified for decades.)

1952 and 1956:  Eisenhower chose Richard Nixon.   After a near career ending media storm over the propriety of an expense allowance and how it was used, Nixon went on national TV to deliver the now (in)famous "Checkers Speech" that persuaded most people he was a straight talking guy and Ike got the win on reverse coattails.   Dick was a mostly competent Veep but suffered a setback when facing a solid South delegation in the Senate that refused to pass major civil rights reforms (that would have to wait for LBJ, a Democrat, in 1964).

1960:   Nixon chose the career diplomat Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.   Dick figured that a popular guy from Massachusetts would force JFK to spend more time in his home state.   Guess how that turned out.

1964:   Barry Goldwater chose William E. Miller, a veteran of World War II and one of the American prosecutors in the Nuremberg Trials.    A true honour, but through no fault of his own, he and Goldwater didn't stand a chance after the truly infamous "Daisy" ad appeared (just once).

1968 and 1972:   Nixon, getting a Mulligan, picks Spiro Agnew.     He was Dick's hatchet man -- or at the least the one not involved in the Watergate scandals -- and became the self-proclaimed voice of the so-called "Silent Majority."    Later forced to resign in 1973 over taking bribes while Governor of Maryland, although officially he pleaded nolo contendere to tax evasion.   (For what it was worth, his fellow lawyers in his home state disbarred him, and his official portrait as a former Governor of the state was removed and wasn't rehanged until twenty-three years later).

1976:   Until 1967, a vacancy in the Vice-Presidency remained vacant.   The 25th Amendment, passed in 1967, changed that -- permitting a President to nominate a replacement subject to approval by both the House and Senate (not just the latter as for other Executive appointments).   Nixon made a fine choice in Gerald R. Ford, the House Republican leader, who of course became President a few months later, when Nixon resigned after realizing impeachment by the House was a certainty and he would be stripped of office in the Senate (and the removal process was a true bi-partisan effort, not like the farces of Andrew Johnston in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998).

Ford's decision to pardon Nixon was hugely controversial at the time; but given how hot the Middle East was becoming politically and facing stepladder inflation, putting an end to the fiasco so the country could focus on more important things was the right thing to do.   Ford, in turn, chose Nelson Rockefeller as his own replacement -- which would have been fine overall, except for the infamous zero-tolerance drug laws passed while the latter served as Governor of New York State (and which were only rolled back in 2009).

When Ford got the nod to win a full term in office, after beating off a very close challenge from only one person, Ronald Reagan (the primary vote was nearly tied, and the choice went to the convention floor), Ford wanted to keep Rockefeller.   But largely bullied by Team Reagan who threatened to sit at home if Nelson stayed on the ticket, Ford caved in and picked -- believe it or not -- Bob Dole.    While Dole is nowhere near as doctrinaire as some might think (and is a decent man),  Ford lost by a very narrow margin to Jimmy Carter, and for the rest of his life Ford would regret caving in to the Christian Right.

1980 and 1984:    To appease the moderate wing of the GOP, and after Ford made clear he didn't want a "Co-Presidency", The Gipper chose the elder George Bush.   (The bad economy and the hostage crisis didn't help Carter and Walter Mondale either ... and the flying high economy slammed the door on Mondale when he ran as Prez in '84 too.)   Not much other comment here, Bush was definitely an outstanding choice even if he did flip-flop on the abortion issue (although his wife, the elder Barbara, never has).  

1988 and 1992:   Running as his own man, Bush 41 dispatched his opponents with ease despite an admitted lack of "The Vision Thing"; and it became even easier when Gary Hart got caught cheating -- right in the act -- and the last man left standing for the Dems was the competent but anemic, and even more uncharismatic than Bush, Michael Dukakis.    Of all the much more worthy possibilities, Bush choice Danforth Quayle.   He set the standard for W's "Bushisms".  Those of us young enough to remember Quayle couldn't get enough of foot-in-mouth moments.   Forget "You're no Jack Kennedy" -- my personal favourite is when he mangled the United Negro College Fund's "A mind is a terrible thing to waste ™"  into:  "What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is."    To be far to Dan, he is a classy guy overall and was also competent as Veep, but his foibles were just one of several drags on the elder Bush (the far larger one, of course, was the economy at that time.)    His biggest post executive legacy is his founding the Museum of Vice Presidents.   I'm not kidding.

1996:   Bob Dole was not fooling anyone when he resigned from the Senate in an "all or nothing" gamble, and renamed his campaign jet "Citizen Ship" from "Leader Ship", then unsuccessfully made fun of (and misinterpreted) Hilary Clinton's "It Takes A Village" when he said "It takes a family to raise a family".   (As now Secretary of State Clinton pointed out in reply to Dole:" [I]t takes a family. It takes teachers. It takes clergy. It takes business people. It takes community leaders. It takes those who protect our health and safety. It takes all of us. Yes, it takes a village.")

Be that as it may, a lot of people did take notice when Dole chose Jack Kemp, a true "progressive conservative" if there ever has been one in the States.   A former Buffalo Bills player, Kemp was very strong on the right to privacy.    As Bush 41's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Kemp was forced to clean up a huge mess of an agency left to rot by Reagan and Kemp's immediate predecessor and eventually had to call in federal prosecutors to investigate clear evidence of influence peddling.   Incredibly, Kemp turned around HUD into a real success story in just four years.  Kemp was stymied in his efforts, however, to help poor people living in better maintained housing projects to convert units into condominiums and purchase them (the Democratic Congress only allocated a tenth of the $4 billion he asked for).    However, in the wake of the 1992 LA riots, Kemp had the guts to stand up to his boss.    While Bush 41 called the rioters a "mob", Kemp declared  that the Rodney King case was just the spark that lit up long-held resentments including the remit he dealt with, the lack of low-income housing.

So why didn't the Kemp choice work?   The economy was not just flying high but burning.    Bill Clinton and Al Gore won in a landslide.    If it had been a choice on merits rather than the voter's gut instinct, I think Dole-Kemp would have had about even odds.   It would have been a real election for once.

2000 and 2004:    It says a lot about a search committee when it's a committee of one, and that one picks himself to be the veep choice.   That's how Dick Cheney ended up as George W Bush's tag team partner.   If Al Gore (along with his choice of Joe Lieberman) had won Gore's home state of Tennessee, the Florida debacle would have been irrelevant.    And there are still questions about how much Bush actually won by in Ohio in 2004 (not to mention how John Kerry and John Edwards got "Swift Boated").

In the last forty years, the Vice-Presidential office has become more and more powerful, but under Cheney's watch virtually all of the Executive Departments became footstools.   That has been rolled back under Obama and Joe Biden and the Secretaries and other Cabinet rank offices do have a fair amount of independence again, but the conscience of the Oval Office is now the Veep, not the Secretary of State.   The damage has been done.

2008:   John McCain, a hero if there ever was one, could have picked any Republican other than the one he chose -- Sarah Palin.   Need I say any more?

And so here we are in 2012.    Paul Ryan has not been as well known in circles outside of Washington, but he actually does have some smart ideas.   He proposes cutting income taxes across the board, with a top rate of 25% (down from about 35%) for those who line item deductions -- or if one doesn't itemize, two flat bands of 10% up to $100,000 and 25% on anything about that); and mostly making up the difference with a GST of 8.5%.   (Smart that is -- really, the States needs a VAT of some sort to put it on a level field with many other exporting countries; but it will never be accepted by lower classes even with refundable credits.)

But Ryan also wants to substantially reduce access to Medicaid (health care for welfare recipients and the "working poor" -- the threshold would be set to a point where maybe half would be cut off), and replace it with a system of vouchers that will not -- repeat, not -- index with inflation or with rising system costs.    It would also replace fee-for-service (or piecework, if you prefer to call it that) with straight salaries or lump sum payments to Medicaid accepting health care practitioners.    This may be fine with those in the radical right who believe that good health should be a privilege and bad health a punishment from God, but it does nothing to help those who need help.   Cut the payments, fewer doctors will accept the vouchers -- and the vicious cycle of poverty will worsen even more.

The Obama reforms, as faulty as they are, are a start in the proper direction.   And kicking the hornet's nest will not help anyone.

Does the choice made last weekend provide the right amount of shadow (yang) to Mitt Romney's light (ying)?   Perhaps.   But as moderate as he may be on many policy issues, Romney cannot escape his actions as a hedge fund manager and corporate raider and all the victims that caused.   There are many raiders who are much more ethical, and many corporate scions who ensure the laid off or terminated get some kind of decency in a leaving package.   Romney's not that kind of guy.

And it wouldn't have mattered who he chose, it's always about the economy. Unless the dollar devalues by 50% between now and November, or the price of oil skyrockets to $200+, Obama and Biden are safe -- but they won't win a landslide either.

UPDATE (11:06 AM EDT, 1506 GMT, August 14, 2012):   Some minor corrections.   Also, I saw on CNBC this morning Rick Santelli saying that the Ryan pick gives Americans a real choice -- government is the solution or government is the problem.    Sorry, Ricky, but it's not that simple.   People, given the choice, want help when they need it and to be left alone when they don't.   That's how most free world countries operate and why their people are healthier overall.    Cancelling Obamacare with Romneycare (a difference of degrees) would be one thing.    Getting rid of Medicaid for working people making barely more than minimum is really revolting.

1 comment:

The Mound of Sound said...

It has been suggested by some U.S. pundits that Romney's choice of Ryan was taken in acceptance that his loss to Obama was already a certainty. Romney, it's claimed, doesn't want to be branded as having been too progressive or soft. This way he can say he was almost neck and neck with Obama until he gave in and took on a real redneck and that it was Ryan who cost him the election.

Who knows? It may be that Romney knows the tax returns issue won't go away and that he's screwed either way. If he releases them, he's dead. If he withholds them, he's dead. Like Harper, Romney is used to these problems simply falling away. This time he may not be nearly as lucky.