Friday, August 12, 2011

Handicapping the Ames debate

I saw most of the GOP debate last night. A basic problem with the format is that when you have an 8-way debate, with 1-minute answers, that invites a certain amount of posturing and grandstanding. Candidates have to resort to over-the-top rhetoric and hyperbolic sound bites just to make their mark, to stand out and be memorable.


He wasn’t there, but his name came up. He may well be a major player when he shortly gets into the race. However, he has two potential liabilities:

i) He recently classified both abortion and sodomite marriage as states’-rights issues, then backpeddled.

ii) He hasn’t been tested in a national campaign, or even a national debate.


He has a lot going for him on paper. His major problem is stylistic, but in politics, presentation matters. He has the natural demeanor of a Sunday school teacher. He doesn’t project the image or temperament of a natural leader.

He’s become acutely aware of his soft, nice-guy image, and so he sometimes overcompensates by acting rough and tough. But it’s strained and unconvincing.


Not surprisingly, Gingrich was well-spoken, if a bit testy. He’s nothing if not articulate. Indeed, that’s both his strength and his weakness. However, he can’t afford to be too prickly and thin-skinned if he expects to succeed in his presidential bid. The coverage will be ruthless and relentless.


Romney is like a franchise: he churns out a very predictable, standardized performance. He’s strong on economic issues, which is a big deal in this election.

He drew technical distinctions between Obamacare and Romney care. The distinctions were correct, but miss the point: should gov’t, whether federal, state, or local, be allowed to make citizens purchase goods and services they don’t want and/or don’t need?


She was cool, poised, and focused under pressure. But she suffers from three potential liabilities:

i) If she’s the nominee, the mainstream media will try its best (or worst) to Bork her. And, while that’s unfair, she’s an easier target than someone like T-Paw.

ii) She spreads herself very thin. She does lots of speaking engagements. She has a large family.

As a result, she has a tendency to wing it, which makes her vulnerable to gaffes. She lacks the detailed mastery of facts you get from a single-minded policy wonk.

That’s not a criticism of her priorities, but if you get a reputation for gaffes, that can be politically damaging.

iii) An issue which both T-Paw and Santorum raised is her lack of legislative accomplishments and/or executive experience. Can she get things done? Can she broker deals? Are lost causes her cause in life?

To some extent, this is difficult to assess. A Congressional lawmaker isn’t comparable to a governor.

Likewise, to pass signature legislation, you need seniority, and you need to belong to the party in power. She hasn’t had much opportunity to rack up a constructive record.

Ron Paul

I’m always ambivalent about Ron Paul.

i) He’s the only candidate on the stage who would truly downsize our bloated Federal gov’t–if he had the chance. However, even if he were elected president, I doubt he’d succeed in radically scaling back the size of the Federal gov’t. That’s not something a president can do unilaterally. There too many special interest groups with a stake in the nanny state, and too many voters addicted to the nanny state.

ii) I don’t see the point of the gold standard. Gold has no intrinsic value. And its value is ultimately valued in national currencies, like the dollar. It’s no more stable than the dollar, or euro.

iii) His isolationist rhetoric has more resonance for a war-weary nation.

The problem is that Ron Paul’s ideology is so formulaic that it has prepared answers for every issue. It doesn’t allow for rational discrimination. Facts don’t matter, for it’s the same answer in every situation.

a) Take his notion that terrorists should be accorded full due process rights. This fails to draw an elementary distinction: we should treat like situations alike, and unlike situations unalike.

A foreign terrorist is not equivalent to an American citizen. Likewise, a terrorist is not equivalent to a house burglar.

A terrorist will game the system. Exploit this system to destroy the system. And the risk factors are far higher.

Given the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. That means a foreign-born terrorist will probably be acquitted in a federal court of law. The odds favor acquittal.

b) Likewise, take his comparison between Iran and Cold War Russia. The reason that MAD worked is that communist leaders were in no hurry to die. They didn’t believe in the afterlife.

Jihadis have a very different outlook. To the jihadi, pushing the red button gets you 72 renewable virgins in paradise.


For some reason, Santorum has a hard time getting traction. In general, I think he’d make a fine president. I’m not quite sure why he doesn’t catch on with GOP voters. 

Ironically, because he has a more combative personality than T-Paw, he can be more aggressive without seeming mean or petty, unlike T-Paw, when T-Paw acts out-of-character to do his (bad) tuff-guy impersonation.

He raises an important, but vexed issue, about states’ rights. To what extent do individual states have the right to wrong their citizens? 


Cain turned in a fairly solid performance, but he wasn’t a standout in this debate.


Not only are his social views out of sync with the religious right (which is a dominant faction in the GOP), but he came across as nervous, quavery, and insecure. Like a cat facing down a big dog. There was also the tiresome trope about how “proud” he is of his record. But to keep repeating how proud you are doesn’t give the audience a reason to share your pride.


  1. Golds value is that it can't be printed.

  2. Brian, neither can dirt. Even if you've listed a necessary condition of value, you haven't listed a sufficient one.

  3. Then make dirt the reserve currency, either way Ron Pauls point is that we had a precious metal recognized world wide as valuable, one that held the government in check for quite a few years. That being said your statement doesn't help the problem either, little peices of green paper are not sufficient either. Ultimately I realize everything is an issue of the heart but meanwhile, we need solutions.

  4. I don't see the advantage. Both gold and currency have fluctuating values. Both gold and currency have ascribed values.

  5. Perry has another problem at least with me. You want to see where a man's heart is, look at his checkbook. Perry, for all his psuedo-Christian talk and large prayer events, gave jack squat to his church and/or other Christian causes, less than 1/2% over 10 years, $14,243 to be exact when he had income of $2.7MM. So right now, I don't think much of his Christian posturing.

  6. I've never understood the gold standard guys. Why rely on a supply that is determined by geological accident (ie. when we happen to stumble upon gold in the ground that can be mined)?

    Kevin Williamson floated an interesting idea of commercializing the monetary system. Have various currencies compete in the marketplace, and let the market decide what it will use. That way there will be incentive for the organizations that run the respective currencies to operate transparently and according to principles spelled out contractually.

  7. Steve,

    Only one cryptic sentence about Cain? Do you think he's so far out of the running that he's not worth discussing? I'm not being snarky, just wondering--I don't have any dog in that hunt.

  8. I doubt he's a viable candidate at this point. He always was a long shot. At the moment I think the primary battle will come down to Perry, Romney, and Bachmann.

  9. According to this table, the last time we had someone move directly from U.S. Representative to POTUS was James Garfield. JFK and Gerald Ford were both former U.S. Representatives but then moved to U.S. Senator and VP, respectively, before becoming POTUS. If history serves as any sort of indication, it could be tough for Bachmann. Then again, I can't think of a really good reason we should look to history as an indication here.

  10. I'm not really a Ron Paul kinda guy, but in addition to the fact that gold can't be printed, it is also a rare metal so its value, while one could argue is not constant, it has the added benefit that it cannot be manipulated as easily as paper money.

  11. Good thoughts, thanks. I like Ron paul for his Constitutional stance, and always pointing to smaller Fed, and let the States lead their people. He would be a good president to get the USA turned around. Obama is the worse president we have yet had. And if you think about his stance on infanticide, it fits really.

    have a great Lord's day. His will be done, His kingdom come. Amen.

  12. My problem with Ron Paul is that he has a simplistic, cookie-cutter philosophy, and when you have a cookie-cutter philosophy, you see every problem as a cookie. Doesn't matter the actual shape of the problem. You just stamp it with your cookie-cutter.

    That's no solution to real-world problems. And in a dangerous world, that's a dangerous philosophy.

  13. You are probably right about Paul, but I like him the best. Not much leadership these days, is there. How I long for a Reagan, Churchill, or JFK. And even the best leaders have flaws; even King David, who was God's anoited, and a man after His own heart was flawed.

    I need to find out more about Ron Paul, thanks for sharing what you see.

  14. I agree with Neal. Paper money can be too easily manipulated to "spread the wealth" by simply printing more of it and "lending" it out into certain government preferred segments of the economy.

    Our currency really ought to be linked to something both durable and scarce. Precious metals, for example.

    Sure, the value of precious metals is going to fluctuate a bit (due to market forces), but not because of some government wealth transfer program.

    Of course, a discovery of a large deposit of gold (or whatever) would devalue the stuff, but that 1) doesn't seem all that likely, and 2) wouldn't be due to government efforts to manipulate wealth by de facto stealing and redistribution.

    Not that I'm all that impressed with everything that Ron Paul stands for...