Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What's Wrong with our Politics, Part One

In 1980 candidate Ronald Reagan asked the famous question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago." Using this approach, he beat an incumbent president in a landslide.

What is wrong with this question? Well, several things. First, it assumes that our voting decisions are made solely on the basis of our own personal sense of well-being, rather than on what is good for the country as a whole. Surely there are many voters who are more principled than that, at least one would hope so.

But the real problem with this approach is that we are being asked to vote on how well we perceive things to be at the present moment, with no thought to what the longer term consequences are to a given approach. It used to be, I think, that people planned for the future, thought in terms of future goals. Thus, immigrants came to this country, and the parents worked hard, often working 2 or 3 jobs to support their families, but they were willing to do this because they saw a better future for their kids and grandkids.

But how do we make decisions now? Too many of us just "vote the bastards out" if we perceive that the economy is weak. We make decisions based on the "right now" situation, rather than on what is best for the long-term welfare of our families and our country.

A good example of this is Ronald Reagan himself. During his administration, the U.S. borrowed heavily against the future, spending money it didn't have, which meant passing on a huge debt to our descendants. This sort of approach may make people feel good in the short term, but it is no way to safeguard the long-term health of our country.

Another problem with Reagan's question is that it ignores the importance of foreign policy. We cannot vote solely on economic issues; we need to take into account the question of which candidate has the judgment and temperament required to make the critical foreign policy decisions which every president has to make.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mitt Romney and Job Creation

Mitt Romney likes to claim that because of his experience in the private sector, he "knows how to create jobs". Let's examine this proposition.

First, being the president is a different matter from being the CEO of a private company. There is no evidence whatsoever that success in the latter translates into success in the former.

Second, the GOP position which Romney embraces holds that it is not the public sector  that creates jobs, but rather the private sector. Consequently, how does Romney propose that as president he will "create jobs". Romney reminds one of Nixon's claim in 1968 that he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. Claims like this are as bogus as can be.

Third, an examination of Romney's record at Bain Capital casts doubt on the job creation claim. Indeed, Romney has backed off of his original claim that 100,000 jobs were created, and now says "tens of thousands". The reason is that the companies he took over which were successful may have created 100,000 jobs, but the net job creation was much less, due to the many companies which failed under the "leadership" provided by Bain.

Fourth, a much more apt comparison would be Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts. His record of job creation during his governorship ranked him 47th out of the 50 states!! This really gets to the heart of the matter. If Romney's leadership is so great for the economy, why did he rank 47th out of 50? I expect the Obama campaign will hammer at this over and over, as it has already started doing in the battleground states like Ohio.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Persecution of John Edwards

It was obvious from day one that the Justice Dept. was way out of bounds in bringing the criminal case against John Edwards. The law is murky, and the facts are murky, making for a hopeless task for the prosecution. Even the Federal Elections Commission, charged with enforcing campaign finance laws, could not find there was any violation here. And yet, the Justice Dept. persisted, and after a long trial Edwards was found not guilty on one count, with the jury unable to reach a verdict on the other 5 counts.

What lessons can we learn from this debacle? The main one seems to be that the justice system needs to keep its hands off political issues. In a democracy the electorate will decide these matters, and a criminal prosecution is completely out of keeping with our great traditions.

The case against Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was similarly flawed. In fact, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, writing in "The New Yorker", says that "The Stevens case was more than an unsuccessful prosecution. It was a profoundly unjust use of government power against an individual--a case flawed in both conception and execution."

In the Constitutional Law class I took in law school, we studied the concept that the court system keeps it hands off of issues deemed to be "political questions". Of course, the question of what is and is not a "political question" is not always easy to determine; obviously there are cases in the middle that can go either way.

Thank goodness the Edwards jury was thoughtful and mature enough to realize that the case was bunch of crap. Yet, it is a crying shame that Edwards had to be subjected to this horrible torture. Surely our scarce resources can be better spent pursuing real criminals!