the Hard Truth

 

the Hard Truth

As often happens, he who speaks an uncomfortable truth gets pummeled. A couple of statements made by Mitt Romney during fund raising events have been leaked to the press and the Obama campaign has jumped on them like fresh meat. In May, Mr Romney noted that we are reaching a dangerous threshold of people not paying any federal income tax. Then the other day, he mentioned that the Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, in reality, a non-starter because the Palestinians aren’t interested in peaceful coexistence.

Taking them in reverse order, let’s examine the Palestinian record. Twice – once under President Carter and once under President Clinton – Palestinian leadership was offered 90% of what they say they want in exchange for statehood and foreswearing violence as a substitute for foreign policy. Twice they demurred. They were given a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the world that they were ready for statehood when Israel agreed to cede Gaza to Palestinian administration. Instead, they turned it into an armed ghetto, from which they commit war crimes almost daily as they indiscriminately shell Israeli villages, settlements and farms with unguided rockets. Neither Hamas nor Fatah has admitted to be willing to live peaceably alongside a Jewish state. The Arab community at large is less than enthusiastic about Palestinian statehood, preferring Palestine as a cause to Palestine with a flag.

The international community’s modus operendi is to insist that Israel give evermore concessions to the Palestinians in order to get an agreement, while remaining silent on Palestinian transgressions. The latest example surfaced when President Obama floated the idea that a good starting point would be for Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 War borders – which is another way of saying to its 1948 borders. This, of course, ignores the fact that those territories were retained after the 1967 War because they had been used to stage simultaneous attacks from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. These areas are the spoils of war, and by maintaining Israeli administration, are denied to her enemies as future staging grounds for yet another war. Israel is indefensible with Syrian control of Golan and Palestinian control over the West Bank (Gaza is already under Palestinian control, and is openly hostile to Israel).

As to non-taxpayers, the situation is what Benjamin Franklin was warning us about when he noted that when people find that they can vote themselves money, that would mark the beginning of the end of the republic. Widening the base of non-taxpayers is a good way to start that process.

People who don’t pay taxes have no vested interest in tax policy. When the number of voters who don’t pay taxes outnumber those who do, those who do suddenly have no say in tax policy. Mr Romney merely mentioned that 47% of potential taxpayers don’t pay. Some – the elderly, active duty service members, those below the poverty level – legitimately so; most – through loopholes, deductions, exemptions and so forth – not so much. We find ourselves in a situation where one political party is trying to broaden the base of non-taxpayers and the other is trying to broaden the base of taxpayers; the former leads to a dysfunctional government while the latter is biased toward a more responsive one.

The important point here is that when most voters don’t have skin in the game, the focus of government is redirected toward maintaining an entitlement society rather than responsible national conduct. Government becomes narcissistic. Identity politics – dividing the people among “deserving” groups – becomes preeminent and federal government ceases behaving as a national actor. Mr Romney’s statement highlights that we are 3.1 percentage points away from being there. Whether or not Democrats are doing this intentionally (I can’t believe they’re unaware of the political ramifications of having over half the country beholden to them) isn’t the point. The problem arises when a population, through whatever means, has more takers than makers. A society becomes unsustainably dysfunctional when an increasing majority is subsidized by decreasing minority.

Both of these phenomena – Palestinian disinterest in a peace process and the infantilization of the American polity – are facts that our leaders and journalists don’t want to acknowledge, let alone address. Mr Romney has merely taken that first step of acknowledging their existence.

Arab Winter

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The Arab Spring has turned bitter. As I feared, the democratic idealists that started the public uprisings across the Maghreb have been mugged by better organized jihadist thugs, and the case of Egypt, an Islamist government. In just the last three days, I’ve received 24 dispatches from 19 countries across three continents and the Middle East about violence against American interests in reaction to an amateur internet video critical of Islam.

Even the purest of cases – Tunisia – is falling under the sway of jihadists. There are four types of Muslims in these countries: loyalists whose vested interests in the status quo have scant little to do with Islam; democrats who are honestly demonstrating for national self-determination; Islamics who are vying for Shari’ah-based theocracy; and jihadists who are focused on the violent overthrow of non-Islamic or apostate governments. Of these, democrats may well be the most numerous and the jihadists the least, but jihadists are better organized, more assertive, and well armed. And they are winning the Arab Spring.

Islamics and jihadists are using the video as pretext to riot, because any Western influence is anathema to both groups, and they will use anything as an excuse to demonstrate against Western interests. The difference between the two can be seen in the streets of Egypt and Libya. In Cairo, the American Embassy walls were spray painted with slogans, the American flag taken down and shredded, replaced with an Islamist one. In Libya, the embassy was burned to the ground and our ambassador and three diplomats were slain. Egypt represents an organized Islamic demonstration spurred by an event (the internet video), while Libya represents a jihadist terrorist attack that fortuitously became operational at the same time the video gained widespread notice. It’s no coincidence that both occurred on September 11th. The rest are essentially “me too” copycats, what I call “sheep demonstrations,” that use any excuse to seem relevant.

Of all that’s going on, the most profound is Egypt, not Libya. While the killing of Mr Stevens is a “tragedy,” said Robert Malley, Middle East and North Africa program director at the International Crisis Group, “in the longer term, Libya mainly is a problem for Libyans.” What happens in Egypt, by contrast, from “popular attitudes toward the US, to its domestic economy, to relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, to relations between Cairo and Jerusalem, to the situation in Sinai, will profoundly affect the region, and so will profoundly affect America’s posture in the region,” he said[1].

I’ve seen countless Libyans apologizing to America, saying they are ashamed of the attack on our embassy. Libyans, especially in Benghazi, and especially those who worked with Ambassador Stevens during the uprising, are appalled at his murder. I’ve seen no such outcry from Egyptians. The reasons are complex but telling. The Muslim Brotherhood does not comprise the majority of Egyptians, but now control the government, and Egyptians do not share a heritage of speaking against the Egyptian government and surviving. The Muslim Brotherhood has an eighty-year history of treachery and violence and a three-year history of political participation. You do the math. The Muslim Brotherhood promised not to dominate the new legislature – they now own two-thirds of its seats. The Muslim Brotherhood promised not to run a candidate for president – President Mohamed Morsi Isa El-Ayyat is publicly known leader of the Muslim Brotherhood hierarchy. This situation mirrors others in the Middle East – Hizbollah calling itself a political party in Lebanon, Hamas calling itself a political party in Gaza, etc – none of which have proven a successful metamorphosis.

Our reaction so far? The State Department apologized for insulting Islam before it apologized for the apology. We are sending Marine rapid response units to numerous embassies. The FBI is in Libya processing the crime scene at our Consulate. That all of this has nothing to do with our aimless foreign policy, as the White House press office has said, is either myopic or intentionally misleading. Pick one.


[1] See Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, Spotlight Is on Libya, but Bigger Challenge for White House May Lie in Egypt, in New York Times, September 13 2012, p. A14.

the Clinton Bounce

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Only two speeches at the Democrats’ convention could have moved the needle – Michelle Obama’s and Bill Clinton’s. All others were red-meat-for-the-base. Ms Obama’s speech, like Ann Romney’s, was a compelling tribute to her husband, and like Ms Romney’s won’t persuade Independents who are far more concerned with policy than character.

Bill Clinton’s rousing rebuttal to the GOP’s mantra of criticism of the president’s record was a direct appeal to undecideds and Independents, and is the seminal such speech so far in the Democrat’s efforts to swim against the current of a dismal performance. You can spin numbers but you can’t spin 24 million people out of work and a continually shrinking labor-pool. Only Bill Clinton has been able to spin them as a positive, if still-in-progress, process.

RealClearPolitics hasn’t yet published post-convention state-by-state polls, so there is no update to those numbers. In the baseline, only three states are outside the margin of error (Michigan, Obama +3.8%; Nevada, Obama +4.2%; and New Hampshire, Obama +3.5%), all others still tossups. So at the end of Spring Training, Obama has the lead in states with 18, 6, and 4 electoral votes, or 22.222% of the total electoral votes in these Swing States. Florida alone (in a 46.3% dead heat) could offset this with its 29 electoral votes (23.016% of the total electoral votes up for grabs here).

Rasmussen also hasn’t released any state-by-state post-convention polls yet, although they did release something they call a Swing State Index this afternoon, which is an aggregate of swing states, and that is Obama 46%, Romney 45%.

Intrade’s “Obama wins 2012 election” market is at Obama 58.8%, Romney 41.2%, and Rasmussen’s Daily Presidential Tracking Poll is at Obama 50%, Romney 45%, but national polls are increasingly irrelevant as the game is gong to be concentrated in a few states, regardless of what the national numbers say.

The only polls out so far are national, and it would appear that Obama got a bounce. What will be interesting is to see where his level settles to after the bounce. Stay tuned.

Both Sides are All In Now

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OK … now the game begins – pre-season is over. Pundits have been telling us that the campaign has been underway for months, but the average voter doesn’t pay attention until the conventions – until then, they tend to dislike both sides for commandeering their television programming with false advertising and sophomoric name-calling.

As I have stated, I will watch some select polls – chosen not because they will favor “my candidate,” but because doing so will give me a more accurate picture of where the voters are trending. I have established a pre-convention baseline in ten swing states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin), using the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. These averages are useful only in observing trends over time, as they are inherently inaccurate – they incorporate the least accurate as well as the most accurate numbers; and some of the polls they use track adults, while others use registered voters, both less accurate than those that poll only likely voters. I will use these moving averages to glean any movement of the mood in the country against Rasmussen polls in these states – which does poll only likely voters.

I will also track the Rasmussen Daily Obama Approval Index, again for trends. It tracks likely voters and what I will watch here are the Strongly Approve versus the Strongly Disapprove numbers. This shows where the likeliest of the likely voters are, and should be telling regarding turnout.

This year I’m also watching something called Intrade, where members speculate on the outcomes of non-sports-related future events across a wide range of subject matter – from political contests to the Higgs Boson – by buying shares that quantify their assumption. Members trade stocks related to a proposition, such as “Obama wins 2012 election,” and when the event ends, everybody’s stock is liquidated at 100 points (if the event happens), or zero (if not). A 100-point close is equal to $10, and a zero close is equal to $0. So the current market price can be used to estimate the percentage of likelihood of the event happening (a current price of $8.34 would indicate an 83.4% probability). People are using their own money to place bets on the outcomes of these events. Intrade has virtually zero political relevance, but it has a good track record of being correct: for example, in the 2004 presidential election, the market favorite won the electoral vote in every state. I’m just watching it this year to see if it can be combined with other data to give me a truer predictive analysis of the election.

I will begin tracking these indicators on Monday and periodically report my findings.

Some More Thoughts

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The national debt broke through the $16-trillion level on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. On day two, Antonio Villaraigosa, chairing the platform committee, had to ram through corrective language that included the word “God” and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And president Obama’s acceptance speech on the third day had to be moved back to the Time Warner Cable Arena as probable strong thunderstorms in the area precluded using Bank of America Stadium.

Michelle Obama got things going with her tribute to Barack, which was an excellent presentation of the president as a man – a husband and father. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro gave the keynote address, and, like Senator Rubio, told a compelling story about his family and childhood. He made a good and spirited case for the importance of education – a missed opportunity in Tampa. Mayor Castro then, after ripping the Republicans, gave a spirited defense of big government. Overall, a very good, enthusiastic speech from an attractive, articulate newcomer. I liked the tone it set (surprisingly non-vitriolic).

The second day revolved around Bill Clinton, which is fortunate after the platform debacle that consumed the afternoon. President Clinton took on each and every Republican talking point and presented a plain-language rebuttal in his charismatic and affable style. Kudos to the Democrats for using Mr Clinton in this role – although I thought this would be the tenor of his speech, I had forgotten how well he does it (without the frothing-at-the-mouth venom to which most Democrats seemed destined). He didn’t demonize, he explained. Easily the best speech of the convention.

Vice President Joe Biden was tasked to introduce President Obama for his acceptance speech, and delivered one of the best speeches of the convention.

President Obama’s speech suffered from a bar set too high – twice. Once by his own performance in 2008, and once again by President Clinton previous night. It was a good speech that touched all the right talking points, but that’s all it was. It fell on jaded ears of those who remember that visceral 2008 speech and all that remains unrequited from it.

Overall, though, the Democrats set a better tone than I had suggested they might, and I congratulate them for that. The professional Democrats (the delegates, lobbyists and elected officials who populate conventions) were more enthusiastic than the professional Republicans of a week earlier, but we’ll have to wait to see if that translates to rank-and-file voters, where Republicans have consistently polled as being more enthusiastic than Democrats this time around.

Both conventions did what conventions are supposed to do – introduce themselves to most voters (who don’t really pay attention until the conventions), excite the base and demonstrate to undecideds why the other guy is scarier.

Some Thoughts

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Well, the Isaac-shortened Republican National Convention wound down Thursday night, and I for one thought losing the bash-Obama night was a marked improvement. There is nothing uplifting about a bunch of adults whining about the actions of other adults. Honest criticism is fine, but these things always degenerate into sophomoric sessions of “your-mother-wears-combat-boots” playground name-calling.

One of the best speeches was delivered by Condoleezza Rice – a Russian-speaking Black woman from a West Coast university (a Democratic dream girl). She, once and for all, defined what is meant by “American exceptionalism”: “… when the world looks to America, they look to us because we are the most successful economic and political experiment in human history.  That is the true basis of American exceptionalism. You see, the essence of America, what really unites us, is not nationality or ethnicity or religion.  It is an idea.  And what an idea it is. That you can come from humble circumstances and you can do great things, that it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going.” Amen.

She also, and only in passing, noted that “you cannot lead from behind,” as fine an example of Orwellian Newspeak as I have ever heard. Kinda like trying to push a rope. Doesn’t work.

The best speech was, I think, delivered by Senator Marco Rubio. “My father stood behind a portable bar in the back of a room so that I could someday stand behind a podium in the front of a room” is absolutely classic. As was, “and by the way … being successful in business is a good thing!” Senator Rubio’s speech was a tour d’force of the American Dream – an immigrant family flees the squalor of authoritarianism, works hard and long so their children can have a better life, and their son rises to national prominence as an inspirational and political leader. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Governor Christie’s speech was characteristically pithy, but more reserved than a lot people had hoped (I think). But it fit perfectly in with what turned out to be the overall theme. Optimism. He has lived by the credo that Americans would rather hear hard truths than glossy platitudes, and he is bringing New Jersey back into fiscal reality by exposing the truth behind their free-spending past.

Governor Romney’s acceptance speech was, I thought, the best I’ve heard him deliver. Of course the media is moaning about the lack of specifics, but that’s what the rest of the campaign is for. Where were they after candidate Obama’s acceptance speech (“stop the rising of the oceans” and “heal the planet”)? Guess it was that “thrill going up [their] leg.”

Really, all of the speeches were very good, I thought (I’m chalking up Clint Eastwood’s performance art as comic relief), and have referred to only four of them for the sake of brevity. The choice of speakers was interesting, too: minorities, women, governors, congressmen – an eclectic group for a supposedly monolithic, old, Euro-white political party.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at the civility. It was a presentation to the American people as to what the Republican Party is all about today. “Obstructionist”? Yes, but that’s what they were sent to Washington to do in 2010 – stop President Obama’s agenda! The overarching theme of Tampa seems to be “we deserve better.” It will be interesting to see if the Democrats can craft a positive message, or if it will devolve into a hate-fest. I hope for the former, but expect the latter.