The Debate from Hell: Whiners & Losers
If you’re a masochist, or just needed a good excuse to drink heavily, you sat through all 90 minutes of last night’s “Presidential Debate.” If you managed that and still retained your sanity, congratulations! You’re better off than either of the two candidates.
Ok, so who won? Who lost? Did anyone have an aneurysm on stage and put us out of our misery?
- Donald Trump – look, somebody had to win this shit storm. I suppose the winner is the guy who threw the most shit. Unfortunately for Donald, he came on stage last needing to do two things. First, he had to stop the hemorrhaging his campaign endured over the weekend. Second, he needed to convince people he’s something more than an angry old man. He may have succeeded on the first – the next couple of days will tell us. But he definitely failed on the second.
- Breitbart TV – Stephen Bannon & Roger Ailes dream of an alt-right TV network survives! Expect a launch date of January 20, 2017.
- Liquor distributors – The real slogan of this campaign should be, “Make America Drunk Again”.
- The truth – Look, we know all politicians lie. We’re surprised when one doesn’t fib. But last night might have set a record for lies per second.
- The audience – Imagine you’re invited to ask the candidates a question. You sit, waiting, and you never get a chance to actually ask it. Or even worse, you do get a chance to ask it – but both candidates and both moderators just ignore it. Yeah, it was like that. It was EXACTLY like that.
- Mike Pence – after doing his all to save his running mate’s hide and killing any future in politics he had, Trump threw the Indiana governor under the bus. Not only that, he backed up and ran him over again. The poor guy is going to be a punch line in jokes for years to come.
- Duels – It seems that in the same year the play Hamilton is playing to rave reviews (btw, deservedly so), we could revive the same method the title character and his main political rival used to settle their differences. Could you imagine the TV ratings? Maybe it’ll be the first live event broadcast by Breitbart TV.
- Children – if you have kids, this entire election is a good reason to ban them from watching television. Last night encapsulated it.
- Bill Clinton – if you haven’t seen this, it’s all you need to know about Bill’s night…
I’m pretty sure everyone reading this has experienced a bad hangover after a night of too much partying. You wake up with an oversized cotton ball in your mouth, your head is ringing like a fire bell, you have strange cravings for McDonald’s French fries and you can’t seem to move faster than a poorly fed snail. You want to kick yourself. Yeah, the party was awesome (and you still can’t find that missing lamp shade), but man, the hangover is more price than you wanted to pay.
I get the feeling many on the left are feeling something like that today. First, after the euphoria of Bill Clinton’s speech Wednesday night, they had to deal with a less than impressive performance from Barack Obama last night. Either Obama’s speechwriting team needs a shake-up or the President is out of ideas; most of what we heard last night is best summed up as “Hey, I want a do-over!” Most media outlets, including admittedly left-leaning publications like the NY Times and Politico, panned the speech as not one of his best efforts.
Then, along came this morning’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. No wonder the president wants a do-over.
By now, you probably read all of the doom-and-gloom reporting about it. Make no mistake, this was a pretty lousy report. But worse than the numbers themselves is what it all means when you actually dig into them a little.
First, the headline numbers: the economy only created 96,000 new positions in August, but the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1%. This should be good news for the President, right? The unemployment rate is dropping (if somewhat unsteadily) and may actually get under the magic 8% mark most pundits think is needed if Mr. Obama is to have a real shot at reelection. And 96,000 new positions is better than no new positions, right?
Well, yes, sort of. For a better picture of why the jobs report is foreshadowing a major problem, see figure 1. This is the raw BLS data for the past year. Before your eyes begin to glaze over, there are three numbers to pay particularly close attention to.
The first number is the increase in the working age population over the past year. The second is the number positions created in the past year. That last one? That’s the number of working age Americans who simply gave up looking for a job in the past year. To put it another way, more of your friends, relatives and neighbors gave up the hope of even finding a job than actually found one. Nearly a million more, in fact. That’s one million American’s who are now dependent on some outside source just for survival, be it a friend, relative or the handout machine that’s become the US government.
Most economists say we need between 110,000 and 175,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with population growth. But when you look at the actual increase in working age population, the average number actually needed is around 330,000. This is very bad news for team Obama, otherwise he could point to the average of 150,000 jobs created over the past year and claim that his policies are working, albeit slowly. But the reality is that his policies are, at best, creating jobs at only half the rate needed to bring the US back to full employment.
This is particularly troubling, given that every other indicator says we should have been creating jobs at a much faster pace over the past 24 months. If you look at hourly wages, those increased by an average of 3 cents per month between March 2010 and June 2012. Although not at the level of increase seen during the Reagan, Clinton or Bush recoveries, it is still stronger than historic wage growth. Worker productivity across all sectors is also nearing an all-time high and produced solid gains during the same period. Taken together, high wage growth and productivity gains always produced significant jumps in employment before – but not now. What could possibly be holding back the “jobs engine”?
The BLS publishes an “Employee Cost Index” on a quarterly basis, and a large part of the answer can be found there. While wages and productivity show considerable growth, the ECI is also growing – in fact, it’s grown by nearly 11% since March 2010. Of that, change only 18% is represented by increased wages and a 12% drop in non-cash benefits (things like health coverage and gym memberships) counterbalances that number. So, where is the additional 10.3% in employee cost coming from? The answer is a combination of regulatory costs and taxes, the results of 3 years of this administration’s ceaseless efforts to tie nearly every industry into a Gordian knot of inefficiency. New regulations and business taxes now exceed the productivity gains made by our nation’s workforce by a 4:1 ratio, effectively wiping out the need to hire. Indeed, those costs are probably now the single biggest impediment to real employment growth our nation faces. After all, if you owned a business, you would need to be looking at explosive growth potential, not just modest growth, before bringing that much excess on board.
Many of my friends on the left insist that breakneck pace of regulations passed by the Obama administration are not having a negative effect on the economy. I submit they’re not only negatively impacting the economy, but giving business owners throughout all 57 50 states a hangover of our own.
Is This It for Mitt?
Super Tuesday came and went, only it wasn’t quite so super. If anything, the results only served to muddle the outcome further in what was an already muddled Republican primary. If you listen to the MSM, Mitt Romney solidified his role as front-runner after expanding his lead in delegates.
Ah, if only it were so simple. But nothing about this primary season has been simple. The principle reason for quagmire is that the Republicans decided this year to change things up and award delegates proportionally, but left it to the individual states to decide how the apportionment would work. State party bosses, being state party bosses, largely decided that the popular votes wouldn’t matter and state political conventions would ultimately decide how many delegates each candidate would receive. Craziest of all these is Missouri, which held a non-binding primary last month and will hold non-binding caucuses next week. It’s a system only Boss Hogg would appreciate.
The net result of all this inside horse-trading (aside from having only a relative few delegates actually apportioned) is the current morass. If, as in the ancient past (read: 2008) delegates were awarded on a winner take all basis, Romney would have commitments from 513 delegates, Rick Santorum 197 and Newt Gingrich 101. Instead, we have estimated delegate counts. Depending on the source, Romney has between 379 (CBS News’ count) and 430 (Fox News) delegates. My own personal count gives Romney 386 delegates. Regardless of which count you take, there are only two I’ve seen that give the front-runner more than 50% of the delegates contested thus far.
And that brings us to the current problem for the GOP. It is becoming increasingly possible that they will arrive at their convention without a candidate who has amassed 50% of the delegates needed to secure the nomination. Not necessarily probable, but possible. After all, there are three winner-take-all states (New York, California and New Jersey) that profile favorably for Romney and they combine for 317 delegates. If combined with his current total, that would mean he would need to win about 40% of the remaining delegates in the other states not yet voted, in order to reach the 1,144 required. It should be a doable task for establishment’s preferred choice.
Only, therein lies the problem for Romney and the establishment. They want the primary season over so they can focus on the general election. New Jersey doesn’t vote until June 5th – and if Romney hasn’t secured the nomination by then, it will mean enough of the party isn’t supporting the eventual nominee to signal significant weakness to the nation. A comparison can be drawn to 1948, the year Harry Truman became the original “comeback kid” (sorry, Bill Clinton). By all normal election standards, Truman should have been walloped that year: unemployment was rising, the economy faltering, the Soviets detonated their first atomic weapon and Winston Churchill’s infamous “Iron Curtain” was now a reality Americans faced with fear and trepidation. But the Republican nominee, Thomas Dewey, was about as inspiring as dry toast and succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Not unlike Romney, Dewey was perceived by many fellow Republicans as aloof and calculating – a politician’s politician. Also not unlike Romney, Dewey was disliked by the conservative wing of his party (who preferred Ohio Senator Robert Taft). The intra-party fight lasted into the convention, where it took three ballots to nominate Dewey.
Some 64 years later, the Republican Party seems to be repeating history. Certainly, the political calendar isn’t favorable to Romney. What he needs is a convincing win outside of New England to demonstrate he can bring the party together and he seems to be pouring money into Kansas, in the hope he can get it there. But after Kansas comes Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri, three states that do not favor Romney. Since it’s also highly likely that Santorum and Gingrich will split the lion’s share of delegates from these four states, one or both will probably close the gap with the Romney. The GOP nightmare scenario gets that much closer at that point. If the voting holds as it has thus far, with southern and evangelical voters opting for anyone but Romney, the current front-runner can’t cross the 1,144 threshold before New Jersey’s June 5th primary.
But there are two other pitfalls Romney will need to avoid if he wants to secure the nomination, even at that late date. First, he’ll need to ensure that those party conventions are stoked to vote for him (far from a sure thing at this point). Second, he needs to wrap up as many of the uncommitted delegates as possible. There are currently 93 of them; current projections indicate there may be as many 255 by the convention. That will be a powerful voting bloc, one as capable of tying up the 2012 Republican Convention as those of Earl Warren (yes, the man who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and Harold Stassen in 1948.
So, Romney still seems best positioned to become the Republican nominee. But party fratricide seems even more certain to deliver him as weak and badly wounded nominee. In 1948, the Republicans thought they could take on an unpopular incumbent presiding over a moribund economy and uncertainty on the world stage with an unpopular candidate and win. Will 2012 prove to be a repeat of that disastrous strategy?
Why the Electoral College Matters
One of those arcane topics that makes its way into political conversation is the Electoral College. Despite the fact that it should be treated as a pretty technical subject, it is usually given the same bumper-sticker treatment that serves as political discussion these days. Popular sentiment boils down to, the will of the people is ignored by the Electoral College and it should be reformed or replaced to more directly represent the popular vote.
Hey, great idea, right? Who could possibly be against the will of the people and the popular vote? And besides, isn’t the Electoral College some arcane leftover from the 18th century? Wasn’t it devised by a bunch of fuddy-duddies who were after maintaining power for the privileged few? Like most bumper sticker ideas, these are all exploded rather easily once you actually examine things.
First of all, the founders created the Electoral College expressly to prevent the type of insane power brokering that happens when somebody is incapable of winning the popular vote. Having experienced the shortcomings of parliamentary elections first-hand as British subjects, they were determined that Presidential elections should have a clear winner. Further, they were determined that each state would have a fair say in determining the winner. As odd as it may seem to people without a solid grounding in American history, our nation has always had regional differences in culture, along with the attendant political differences that arise from them. Although we love to dismiss many of their ideas as outdated and irrelevant in modern society, the Founders understood that direct elections bring with them tremendous peril for functioning government.
Were they right in their assumptions and fears? That anyone of voting age could think otherwise demonstrates either the inability to comprehend civics – or do some basic math. Currently, there is a proposal going around calling for each state to amend their constitutions to allow for direct apportionment of their Electors. The Republican Party is similarly apportioning their votes in the 2012 primary process. The result, based on the fact no candidate can seem to muster more than 40% of the vote and the front runners routinely poll in the mid-20’s, is likely to be a brokered convention. For those of you wondering what one of those looks like, I refer you to the 1968 Democratic Convention. Most people only know it for the chaos in the streets of Chicago – forgetting the chaos inside the convention itself. Before finally settling on Eugene McCarthy as the party’s candidate, the convention floor was raucous while party leaders haggled behind closed doors for days.
But could such an outcome be the result of states directly apportioning Electors? Consider three elections in our recent history:
2000: This is the election most cite in wanting to do away with the Electoral College. Neither major party candidate achieved 50% of the popular vote, but thanks to the Constitution George W. Bush garnered 279 electoral votes, 9 more than needed for victory, despite trailing Al Gore 48.4% to 47.9% in the popular vote. But had the electors been decided by the direct apportionment method, the electoral votes would have tallied as Bush 259, Gore 258, Ralph Nader 17, Pat Buchanan 4. Nader would have been a kingmaker in that scenario, as he could have pledged his votes to either major party candidate. The result would be what we witness in countries with otherwise weak minor parties – a leader forced to try and hold a coalition together, held at whim by the minor party’s demands.
1996: Bill Clinton swept to re-election with 379 electoral votes (despite only garnering 49.2% of the popular vote), but direct apportionment would have yielded a much different outcome. The tally would have been Clinton 263, Bob Dole 222, Ross Perot 53. Perot’s nascent Reform Party would have had the power to change history, but that possibility is dwarfed by the results from…
1992: This is the granddaddy of all examples as to why the Electoral College works. Perot garnered nearly 20 million votes nationwide, finishing second in Utah and Vermont (and falling short of winning Utah by less than 12,000 votes). It was the most successful third party candidacy in history, with Perot capturing 18.9% of the total popular vote. Yet, he won no electoral votes since he didn’t carry a single state. Bill Clinton won the electoral vote, 379-159 over George H.W. Bush, despite only capturing 43% of the popular vote. Under direct apportionment, the result would have been grim, indeed. Clinton would have managed only 229 electoral votes, Bush 201 – and Perot 108. Try to imagine the type of havoc Perot could – and would – have created had electors been directly apportioned. Constitutional crisis only begins to describe it.
That’s three elections within the past 20 years that would have been turned upside down, without a clear winner or any semblance of legitimacy for the eventual President. Except that the Electoral College was there to sort through the debris and declare a new President. So, before signing on to do away with the Electoral College or make dramatic changes to its structure, remember that those aging fuddy-duddies who wrote the Constitution knew a thing or two. As usual, we would be well advised to stop and think about the how and why they created the structures of our government before casting them aside.