Well, I am just about debated out. It’s difficult for all the candidates or pretend-candidates to maintain their dignity while answering complex questions in sixty seconds with thirty seconds for rebuttals. It’s worse when the debate is moderated, and many of the questions formulated, by one local unknown and two liberals, one of whom has been an air-head for as far back as I can remember. I am referring to Diane Sawyer, of course, and I can remember at least thirty years.
Two general comments about the Saturday night New Hampshire debate. (I missed the Sunday morning debate, sorry.) First, as usual, much time was wasted with questions and answers about “leadership.” I don’t understand the questions. I don’t understand the answers. I suspect (strongly) that the candidates understand neither the questions nor the answers about leadership. Leadership is a word that is worse than useless. Trust me, I taught management for about 25 years. If the concept were useful, I would have noticed. It’s useless the way baby-talk is useless. To the average one-year old, everything is a “wah.” It takes all the resources of parental love to assign to or to invent a meaning for each “wah” utterance. I don’t have such love for anything politicians say. Any politician who made it a rule to eschew completely the use of the word “leader” and of its derivatives would instantly gain in clarity and in sincerity.
My second comment is that, as happens every time, the candidates demonstrated their deep ignorance of basic concepts of international trade and of international economics in general. It makes me feel good that I taught the topic for about thirty years. I think retrospectively, that I must have been doing something useful. I expect such ignorance among liberals. It’s disheartening to encounter it on the conservative and libertarian side.
Two main things: a) If you raise trade barriers against the products of other countries, China, for example, it’s likely that other country will do the same against your products. The general principle here is reciprocity, otherwise known as tit-for-tat. There is no free lunch. It’s not obvious who will suffer most, the other guy’s people or yours. And, by the way the words “free trade” and “fair trade” are not complementary, they are alternatives to each other. “Fair trade” means “not free trade.” In the public arena, the word “fair” always announces the formulation of some protectionistic measure or policy. Let me repeat something I have been saying for thirty years and most economists have said for one hundred and forty years: In the aggregate, protectionism, any restraint on free trade, are a recipe for poverty. (Please, see my several, well-organized and quite accessible lectures on the subject on this blog.)
b) The main reason manufacturing jobs have been shrinking in this country is technical progress. In the meantime, the value of American manufactured products almost tripled in ten years.
Individual participants in the Saturday New Hampshire debate re-affirmed who they are in my book.
Rick Santorum confirmed that he is a clear-headed and brave man. I don’t know why he does not have much traction but he does not. Perhaps next time, perhaps he is too narrow.
John Huntsman is not a serious candidate. Yesterday, he spoke Mandarin to Romney, to make him feel bad and unsophisticated, no doubt. Cheap trick, sophomoric!
Gov. Perry proves once again that he is abysmally ignorant. Not surprising. Those big boned, broad-shouldered handsome guys in high-school always got the benefit of doubt when they said something that sounded misinformed. He said something spirited yesterday about “Iran moving back into Iraq.” I am not completely, completely sure what he meant but would you be willing to bet good money against the following proposition: The governor thinks that before the current elected Iraqi government, Iran occupied Iraq. He might even think Saddam Hussein was Iranian?
Gingrich is often formidable. He is well informed, cultured, rational, possesses a practical, high-power analytical mind in addition to a political past that’s, of necessity, an open book. He speaks clearly, in particular, of such things as Islamic terrorism. I don’t care much about anything else in a President except basic honesty. Gingrich possesses it irrespective of how much money he made eating at the Fannie Mae trough. I wish he hadn’t; I wish I were taller and thinner. I wish that, on that particular occasion, way back then, I had said,” You must be mistaken,” instead of “Fuck off!”
Ron Paul illustrated again what I have been telling you for weeks: He is irresponsible, he will say anything without worrying about factualness if he thinks it serves his argument. Either, he lies, or he believes in his false statements. The latter is worse. My intuition is that he believes them. My intuition matters because I have met people like him often before: “true believers,” in the words of the regretted Eric Hoffer. (Look him up if you are young.)
A couple of examples of Paul’s lack of attention to truth:
He said that minorities suffered more in war than whites. That’s not true. It may have been true when Leftists were saying this at the time of the Vietnam war, 30 years ago. It’s not true now. The reverse it true: White soldiers and Marines die more and get wounded more often. Incidentally, folks, I am tired of doing everyone’s research instead of going to the beach. Here is a proposal: If you don’t believe me, bet me some reasonable amount to be paid by loser to your favorite charity. Can I be more generous? If you don’t want to put your money where your mouth is, there must be a reason. Think it through.
In connection with Pres. Obama’s recent speech on cutting the US military budget, Paul also said clearly that those are cuts in increase to military expenditures, not absolute cuts. As one who has been reading the Wall Street Journal for the past thirty years and also for the past thirty days, I tell you that this is not true. It’s another cheap rumor Mr Paul gathered from Leftists. He is a Congressman; he should know better. And if you don’t believe me, see my bet proposal above,
And then, once in a while, Mr Paul makes seemingly innocent statements that suggest that his many false assertions are embedded in an entire imaginary world in which he lives most of the time. He said Saturday night in New Hampshire that if the Straight of Hormuz were closed (by the Iranians, or, presumably, by anyone), Eastern Europe would be “de-stabilized.” To the regular people who have a job, or who go to school, and who don’t necessarily read the small piece in the last page of the WSJ, the statement implies that eastern Europe, specifically, has a special dependence on the Middle-Eastern oil carried through the Straight of Hormuz. One could easily forgive oneself for not being aware of this bit of trivia. Of course, I will tell you that there is no such dependence. Mr Paul made this up inside his mind for reasons that escape me because I am not privy to the whole movie playing in his mind. And you are right, I did not look it up. I don’t need to. Want to bet?
The long and the short of this primary campaign is that Romney is a colorless, risk-averse smooth character I don’t especially love. But I am a conservative and therefore, a rationalist. Unlike Obama voters I don’t need to be in love with my candidate. (Unlike Chris Matthew of MSNBC, rarely have I felt a tingle along my leg when I thought of a presidential candidate or of a President!) He is far from a good Tea Party candidate. Yet, when it comes right down to it, if I have to, I will vote for Romney for President. Of one two things I am sure: First, no matter what, he is more conservative than Barack Obama. Second, he is easily more competent than Barack Obama, the man who never achieved anything in his life except get elected.
I have to keep reminding myself that elections – including primaries – are a lot like negotiations: When all the parties walk away pissed off, you know there has been a valid compromise.
A final thought, one of patriotic pride: In a majority-Protestant country, in the party of conservatism, in the alleged party of the haves, in the imagined party of wealth, two candidates remaining are Catholics, two are Mormons; the other two are Texans, for Christ’s sake!