Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

04 January 2012

Thank You, Iowa, and Hello Huntsman

[For a very brief comment on the President’s recess appointments, click here.]

I love Iowa, although I’ve never lived there. Its unique caucus system gave Barack Obama his first real break in his uphill battle against our first serious female candidate for president.

Iowa’s Democrats had a chance to meet the President, up close in and in person. They did so with an open mind and liked what they saw. They voted their hearts, and the rest is history.

Even this week, Iowa’s Republicans made some sense. They’re not responsible for the ridiculous field that the fiends of fate handed them. Their task was to choose the lesser of evils among a passel of (mostly) utterly unqualified buffoons.

Given that awful task, they didn’t do a bad job. They preferred the button-down business downsizer with brains over the idiots. But they did so by the slimmest of possible margins: eight votes. They didn’t seem to like his flip-flopping and his apparently complete lack of any moral core.

In second place they put a man who definitely has a moral core, which he wears on both sleeves and both lapels. He’s honest, doesn’t flip-flop, and has a stable home life.

But Rick Santorum isn’t very bright, or at least his political persona isn’t. Anyone who thinks abortion and gay marriage are leading issues—at a time when eleven gravely real issues have festered for an average of at least 17.5 years, and any could undo us at any time—simply doesn’t have the basic intelligence to serve as president.

We just suffered eight years of a presidency with that sort of low intellectual wattage. It nearly destroyed us. We don’t need another.

Apparently Iowa’s Republicans split the difference: put Romney’s brains and cunning together with Santorum’s honesty and “cleanliness,” and you might actually have something. That’s what one prominent Iowa pol’s wife said; you could create a decent candidate from this abysmal field by making a chimera.

Then there’s Ron Paul. Some of his “solutions”—including no new optional wars and downsizing our military—are absolutely right and long overdue. Others—like repealing or ignoring the civil rights laws that make our ideal of equality real—are absolutely wrong and dangerous.

But by putting Paul in third place, Iowa’s Republicans recognized a basic truth: we as a nation are in deep guano. Re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic just won’t cut it. We need some bold, new, even radical ideas. In voting for Paul, a quarter of Iowa’s caucus-goers (mostly the young and disaffected) recognized this basic truth, as unpalatable as it may be in a peaceful, prosperous state where farming is the primary occupation and unemployment is 5.7%.

Iowa’s Republicans also did something else—no small thing, when you think about it. They disqualified candidates who had no business running for President in the first place. They relegated to the dustbin of history a world-class scoundrel, flake and troublemaker (Newt), a man so stupid he couldn’t even remember his own propaganda (Rick), and a woman who apparently thought the presidency is a place for a high-school cheerleader (Michele).

Two of these buffoons don’t yet know it, but they are all toast, thanks in part to Iowa. It’s a testament to the dysfunction and decline of our society that we had to be subjected to their random musings for several months, under the guise of “debates.” But Iowans weren’t responsible for that, any more than they will be responsible for the same sort of moronic debates continuing until lack of funds and prospects make the remaining two tire of hearing their own voices. Despite it all, Iowans did their job in helping winnow the sorry field.

Which brings me to Jon Huntsman. Being a smart man of limited political resources, he didn’t even compete in Iowa. He bided his time. And now he is going to make a credible showing, with a decent campaign, in New Hampshire, where reason and pragmatism precede the Bible as selection criteria.

A life-long Democrat, I can’t recall being as excited about a Republican presidential candidate in my 66 years.

I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s sheer relief from seeing a real candidate among a passel of morons and scoundrels. Perhaps it’s the mystery. I don’t know much about Huntsman, and I want to know more.

Perhaps it’s hope. I have a firm conviction that China is our most important bilateral relationship. I expect it to be the world’s leading economic power before I exit this world. And here’s a Republican candidate who learned to speak fluent Mandarin and spent two years as our Ambassador to China under a Democratic president. He probably has deeper and more recent knowledge of China and the Chinese than all but a handful of so-called “China experts” in our leading universities.

And that’s not all. Alone among the presidential candidates, Huntsman has proposed cutting our big banks down to size, so they are no longer “too big to fail.” That simple structural solution would be the best way to make sure our casinos don’t blow up the world economy again, just as we are getting back on our feet.

And that’s still not all. Huntsman didn’t become our ambassador to China as an ingenue. He had five years of trade-related diplomatic experience under the two Bushes, including stints as US Trade Representative and Ambassador to Singapore. What experience could possibly be more important now, when trade in general, and trade with China and Asia in particular, will likely determine our economic future?

When you add his five years of trade-related diplomacy to two years as Ambassador to China and four years as Governor of Utah, that’s a total of eleven years of intensely relevant political and international experience. On that score Huntsman outclasses Romney’s four years as Massachusetts governor by nearly a factor of three in years alone, and infinitely in international trade expertise.

A man with that kind of résumé has got to be smart. That thought helps me answer my own question as to why he’s running now, in 2012, when his party is utterly dysfunctional and in disarray.

It’s practice. Huntsman knows he hasn’t the ghost of a chance to be the Republican nominee. He also knows that no Republican has much of a chance of winning this year. So he’s learning the ropes for a real run in 2016.

By then the economy will have had four more years to heal (if the casinos don’t blow it up again first). By then his losing party will have self-destructed in recrimination and (God willing) will have begun to reform and rebuild. From a man who spent five years learning the ropes of international trade diplomacy, we should expect no less. Unlike most Americans, he thinks long term.

So this campaign, starting in New Hampshire, is Huntsman’s opportunity to introduce himself to the nation. Against the background of buffoons, his résumé and low-key pragmatism will shine like the morning star.

Even I, a Democrat, am excited about him. If my new state allows, I might switch parties temporarily to vote for him in the Republican primary.

If worse comes to worst and the President loses, I want to be able to say that I did my best to assure us a qualified candidate on both sides. I have no fear of a challenge to the President from within his own party, or from the left. And the President doesn’t need my vote in the primary, where he will have no or token opposition, to know I support him strongly.

But I’m starting to wonder what the President and the Democrats are doing to nurture a successor on the Democratic side for 2016. Next summer’s Democratic convention, whose outcome is foreordained, would be the perfect place to introduce future Democratic presidents, just as the 2004 convention introduced the President himself. Whoever runs in 2016 will have formidable competition, in the form of a practiced and ready Huntsman, perhaps aided by a reformed and renewing opposition party.

The President’s Recess Appointments

I have one word of comment on the President’s recess appointments of Richard Cordray (to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) and three members of the National Labor Relations Board: Yes !!!!

At last the President has taken action against the obstructionism and extortion that has characterized the GOP’s approach to so-called “loyal opposition” since before his inauguration.

Why did he wait so long? Because of his superb political sensitivity. He had to wait long enough for the stupidest, laziest and most ill-informed voter to see what the GOP are up to. Now he has. The GOP have made crystal clear that they will stoop to whatever ruse they can devise—down to holding sham “sessions” of the Senate that do absolutely nothing—in order to hamstring and discredit our President and get their way.

The GOP will try to make this seem like a power play by the President. But it’s not. The power play was by bought cretins like Senator Shelby of Alabama (our first or second most backward state), who singlehandedly placed 70 “holds” on judicial and administrative appointments, including a Nobel Prize winner and Elizabeth Warren.

The President is doing what he must to restore constitutional government by the duly elected representative of all the people, namely him. If our Founders had wanted to let a single senator eviscerate the executive branch by blocking appointments of the people it needs to run, they would have said so. They didn’t. Instead, they gave the President explicit power to make appointments when the Senate is not in session. Sending senators who happen to live in or near Washington into the chamber every three days to turn on the lights and do none of the nation’s business is a sham, not a “session.”

Might the Supreme Court disagree and declare the President’s action unlawful? Possibly. This particular Court has become a political body, as much governed by precedent as was Stalin. But if it follows age-old precedent, it should duck the question as a political one for political resolution, and let the “political branches”—executive and legislative—continue to duke it out.

If the Senate as a whole—as distinguished from an individual senator or a small group—wants to block an appointment, it can do so simply, in a single hour, by convening and voting the appointment down. But the Senate cannot continually block numerous appointments, in secret and without a vote or any public accounting, at the behest of small groups of its members. The Senate must take the political heat of public, collective action if it wants to stop the executive from appointing the administrators and judges it and the judiciary need to function. What about “personal responsibility” do some senators not understand?

Under current circumstances, the President’s action is absolutely necessary for the executive branch to function. If the Supreme Court dares to overturn it, its fingerprints, not the President’s, will be all over the unrest and destruction of our democracy that follow.

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  • At Thu Jan 05, 10:40:00 PM EST, Anonymous Jason said…

    Nice post Jay. I'm curious: What makes you think the primary voters of the Republican Party will be ready for a sane candidate in 4 years? It seems 4 years under Obama has only driven them further off the deep end. Twice as many of them are voting for Ron Paul. The demagoguing about their fantasy strawman, Obama-the-socialist-tyrant, routinely reaches a level that would have seemed beyond-the-pale just four years ago. Why do you think they'll come to see the error of their ways after another 4 years? I would love to think that's the case, but I don't see it in the cards.

  • At Mon Jan 09, 12:30:00 AM EST, Blogger jay said…

    Dear Jason,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with everything your wrote but your conclusion.

    Republicans have been living on the edge ever since Evil Genius Karl Rove managed to get a completely unqualified candidate (Dubya) close enough to the presidency to allow the Supreme Court to steal it for him. Rove was the architect of the “Party of Extremists” approach that we see so rampant and tragic-comic today. That approach meant valuing winning today above everything else, including traditional GOP values and the party’s future.

    The trouble with that approach is that Americans are not extremists. And, unlike those in the Weimar Republic, conditions here are not yet bad enough to make them so.

    So I think a majority of Republican leaners—silent but there—are uncomfortable with what the GOP has become. Some will hold their noses and vote for Mitt. Others will hold out for more “conservative” candidates, or for libertarians like Ron Paul. Many will sit out the general election, probably giving the President a significant victory.

    That’s when I think the party will wake up, after it loses this year, despite all its noise and attempts to suppress the vote. Nothing causes internal dissension, recrimination and reform within a political party like a substantial loss.

    In addition, Rove and his kin are getting old. The principles of genuine conservatism are not dead, and a new generation is beginning to question how they match up with the utter botch the party has made of governance, both in and out of power. That, too, might speed reform.

    The final thing that gives me hope is Jon Huntsman. He’s a very smart guy and a long-term thinker. I don’t think he would be wasting his time running if he thought his party would remain in its present state for a many as five years. I think he, too, sees change in the wind. Maybe he thinks he can bring it about.

    I hope he can. After the last three years, many Democrats probably wish the GOP would just fade away. But we can’t easily convert to a parliamentary system. So we need two viable political parties, if only to keep each other honest. We just need them both to be honest, sensible, cooperative and constructive.

    If the GOP continues to shun all those good qualities, I have every confidence that a third party will replace it. Ron Paul, who is right on some things, crazy on others, but honest and sincere in all, shows the way.

    Although I can’t conceive of circumstances in which I would vote Republican (except perhaps for Huntsman in an open primary), I hope the GOP can reform itself. I still remember when there were sensible Republicans with good ideas, especially on foreign policy.

    I also have had the experience of living in two states (Massachusetts and Hawaii) when they had been ruled by a single party for a long time. I’m no fan of government by one party, even if it’s my own.



  • At Mon Jan 09, 08:06:00 PM EST, Anonymous Jason said…

    Thanks for the thoughts, Jay. I do hope you're right. I think a substantial loss will cause dissent, but with Romney as the likely nominee, I expect much of the dissent will be of the form, "We need to nominate a REAL conservative next time," where "real conservative" is defined as someone who wants to beat all Muslims to death with the bones of abortion doctors and televise the affair to raise money for underprivileged billionaires. Republican primary voter opinion seems to be too strongly influenced by institutions that profit from sensational extremism (Fox, talk radio, etc.) and I don't see a collective mea culpa in their future until that changes. It is possible that the relatively level-headed business/establishment Republicans will come to the conclusion you're suggesting. Perhaps they have more sway than I realize, but I fear they've created a monster they can't control.

  • At Thu Jan 19, 06:45:00 PM EST, Blogger jay said…

    Dear Jason,

    Thanks for your comment. Your description of “real conservatives” gave me a good belly laugh.

    I can’t say that I disagree with anything you wrote. As Yogi Berra once said, “The future is one thing that is hard to predict.” I tend to be an optimist; otherwise I would be preparing to emigrate, and I’m probably too old.

    I do occasionally run into people who make me think your more pessimistic view might be the right one.

    I’m traveling now, which is the reason for my late reply. In my travels I met a well-educated medical couple (a reconstructive dentist and radiologist), former New Yorkers living in Miami for thirty years and still avid New York Times readers. They were both absolutely convinced that the federal government in general and Barney Frank in particular were responsible for the Crash of 2008.

    They listened quietly while I described: (1) Hank Paulson's $120 billion handout to banks in October 2008, when Freddie and Fannie weren’t even in the room, (2) the fact that Freddie and Fannie kept their loans, while Wall Street packaged its and sold them to various domestic and foreign rubes, including AIG, Bear Stearns, the government of Iceland, and the Texas public employees’ pension fund, among many others; (3) how Goldman Sachs precipitated the Crash by calling in collateral from AIG and the Texas pension fund, and (4) my own personal experience as a lawyer representing banks, which taught me that they never knuckle under to government unless they want to, but litigate for a decade or more if they don’t like supposed government commands.

    This couple listened respectfully because I seemed to know what I was talking about, but I have no idea whether I even began to change their minds.

    If people that well educated and can believe such an obvious lie, maybe we really are lost. The power of Fox as our history’s pre-eminent propaganda organ continues to amaze me.

    So you might be right. It just might take another Great Depression just to get the banks under control, let alone to reform the Republican Party. But I continue to hope that common sense will prevail. And I continue to believe the President will be re-elected in November, if only because the “real conservatives” you so humorously describe will stay home and pray hard for Armageddon rather than vote for Romney.




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