Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Why Mitt Romney is my First Choice (and John McCain my Second)

What I found to be Most Important in My Decision

Mike Huckabee once quipped that “people are looking for a president that reminds them of the guy they work with, not the guy that laid them off” a statement which reaffirmed my conviction that not only is Mike Huckabee someone I would never vote for President, but I wouldn’t vote for any ticket that had him in the vice presidential slot either. The fact that career politicians like Huckabee seem to forget is that in voting for the President of the United States, I’m not voting for the guy who is going to be my boss (and any presidential candidate who thinks they’re being asked to run the entire country ought to be suspect), I’m voting for the guy who will be the boss of over a million employees in the executive branch of the federal government. Frankly a candidate who values results over loyalty to the extent that he’s willing to fire people who aren’t getting the job done is precisely what I’m looking for.

Romney is the only candidate who has any significant adult experience working in the private sector. He made his fortune during the 1970’s when the economy was in much worse shape than it is now and while he’s been accused of changing his position on a few social issues (actually just guns and abortion), he’s been a pretty consistent supporter of market-oriented economic reforms. John McCain on the other hand has this distributing tendency whenever he refers to any industry to use the phrase “taming the special interests” largely IMO because he’s spent most of his adult working life in government where his contact with private industry wasn’t working in the day to day affairs of actually running a business but rather as a legislator dealing with lobbyists who approach the government with their hands out. While I don’t doubt that McCain on at least an abstract level realizes that free enterprise is generally a good thing, Romney has spent most of his life living and breathing it in a concrete way that no “public servant” can fully appreciate.

Romney also has served as the governor of the one of the most liberal States in the country and had to work with a Democrat-controlled legislature. I don’t mean a 60-40 controlled legislature, I mean a legislature that was over 80% controlled by the opposition party and could override any veto he made. Yet he was still able to make importance progress in education, health care, improving Massachusetts’s job climate (compared to where it was), and balancing the State’s budget. The next President is going to be dealing with a Democrat-controlled Congress but one that is not as lopsided as the Massachusetts legislature. While the conventional wisdom is that governors make better candidates than Senators, McCain also has a proven ability to work with Republicans and Democrats alike. While I know many Republicans disagree with him on campaign finance “reform,” anthropogenic climate change, and immigration reform; the fact is that he’s also been able to deliver on fighting wasteful spending and confirming conservative judicial nominees. Moreover McCain is one of those unique figures in American politics who has the sort of stature amongst independents and even many Democrats that makes him one of the most effective legislators.

For me the most important domestic issue is health care reform. It’s over a sixth of the US economy and growing. While many of the criticisms (such as the inflated number of the uninsured and meaningless statistics about infant mortality and life expectancy) are overblown, the rise in costs and concerns that people have about making sure it’s affordable and available aren’t. Largely this is because Americans have the best health care in the world (in terms of outcomes after treatment) and we lead the world in innovation and advancement – all of which is expensive. The problem is that Republicans haven’t really been as engaged on the issue as they should and usually treat the issue as an afterthought behind the War, immigration, and judicial nominees. Mitt Romney has been one of the one of the exceptions and has made health care reform front and center to his campaign and has a track record of thinking outside the box. While I don’t agree with his individual mandate (much of the disagreeable elements of the Massachusetts plan were things he vetoed that were overridden), his views on supporting Association Health Plans, giving those who buy their own insurance the same tax break as employers who buy it for their employees, support for price transparency and electronic health records, and letting consumers buy a policy anywhere in the country are identical to mine. Senator McCain has pretty much the same position but Romney seems more likely to make this a top priority in his administration, hence I give the nod to Romney.

My second most important issue that concerns me the most is entitlement spending. The first of the baby boom generation retired last month and their numbers are only going to increase until entitlement spending consumes the entire budget and we are faced with either massive tax increase, benefit cuts or some combination. The longer we wait, the more expensive the problem is to fix and the more baby boomers that are receiving Medicare and Social Security when the fix is made, the more likely it is that we will get tax increases rather than benefit cuts. Both candidates have put about the same focus on the issue and both have supported personal retirement accounts as part of Social Security reform and both opposed Medicare Part D (Senator McCain voted against it). However what is troubling to me is that while McCain voted against Medicare Part D, he voted in favor of importing Canadian price controls and having the federal government “negotiate” with drug companies for lower prices (which IMO paves the way for price controls as it has in other western countries). My fear is that a President McCain who has already expressed hostility towards the pharmaceutical industry could support the foundation for price controls which could hurt new drug development and reduce the long-term benefits Americans have with one of the freest and robust medical industries in the world.

The other issue (and while it’s one the President has little to no control over, it’s still something that affects how people vote and may be the major issue) is the economy. Both have good records on being willing to veto spending and opposing tax increases (I’m actually one of those who doesn’t care as much as user fees so long as it actually pays for the services they’re for).Romney as I said before seems to be someone more likely to support free markets and better able to communicate complex economic issues. McCain on the other hand seems able to deliver bad news (such as telling Iowa farmers ethanol is a boondoggle and Michigan auto workers that those jobs aren’t coming back) in a way that makes people respect him. The problem is that he’s a little too quick to blame industry (such as the “predatory lenders” that were blamed when people couldn’t pay for the mortgages they took out) when people are paying the price for their own bad choices. From what I’ve seen of Romney his focus seems to be on long-term economic growth and he is willing to make the short-term deals (e.g. spending more on R&D) to achieve that vision. While I don’t doubt that a candidate like Obama or Clinton will be trying to sway voters on an emotional level about the economy (being that neither has actually held a real job their entire lives, what else do they have?), the best chance free market libertarians and conservatives have is to pick the candidate who is the most competent and effective communicator on complex economic issues and that is by far Mitt Romney.

What Won’t Sway My Vote in the Primary

1) The War – probably the most pressing issue of our time but whoever is elected as our next President isn’t going to be able to do anything about it until next year and any promise on how to prosecute it is going to have to take backseat to what the facts on the ground are. I should point out that since neither Romney nor McCain have followed Obama and Clinton’s reckless promise to begin retreating from Iraq by a certain date, I consider either McCain or Romney to be objectively superior choices (even NOT knowing what they’ll do) just because neither of them were stupid enough to make this sort of blunder just to win their party’s nomination. McCain deserves credit for pushing for the surge in Iraq and for being willing to stand up to both the defeatist who wanted to give the enemy a timetable for how long they had to hold out before we leave and the Bush administration for some of the mishandling (although I think it’s overstated) of the War. While I don’t necessarily agree with him about Gitmo and waterboarding, they’re pretty minor sub-issues in the context of the War. Romney hasn’t said much one way or the other about the War but he strikes me as someone who doesn’t value loyalty as much as results. Basically the War is an important issue in the general election against Clinton or Obama but between the GOP front runners, there’s not enough of a difference to sway me one way or the other.

2) Immigration – I didn’t support the McCain-Kennedy but I thought it was stupid to call it “amnesty.” It wasn’t amnesty because it required illegal aliens to return to their home countries, pay back taxes and a fine, and then reapply from their original country to reenter the country legally. That being said given what happened with the 1987 immigration reform bill, I don’t blame opponents for being suspicious of any reform but I think in the long run we’ve shot ourselves in the foot by not intelligently addressing the issue. The fact that every time a Republican candidate is asked about immigration they almost always begin by talking about why they’re against illegal immigration (or make some meaningless statement about why they think legal immigration is a good thing) has soured the debate. We do need comprehensive immigration reform but it needs to be reform that not only secures our borders but also reforms the rules to make them more rational for the people who are trying to follow them. There’s an old saying that “for the law to be respected, it must be respectable.” Given the defeat that McCain-Kennedy received due to overwhelming public opposition, I think it highly unlikely we’ll see a major push for immigration reform anytime soon.

3) Social Issues and Judges – aren’t they really the same thing at the end of the day? I’ve said repeatedly on multiple forums that judicial nominees are a crap shoot because no one knows who a future president will pick as their judicial nominee and the judicial canons basically prohibit judges from saying how they would rule on an issue that might come before them. Much as some of the single issue social conservatives might like to believe otherwise, you aren’t voting for a president who will appoint a judge who will vote a particular way on a given case. What you’re voting for is either a Republican or Democrat president who will be drawing from a particular pool of legal talent for their judicial nominees. That’s it. And given what we’ve seen with the Roberts and Alito hearings and the likelihood of the Democrats retaining control of the Senate, they’re all going to have to pretty much be “stealth nominees” anyway

4) Flip-flopping – so freaking what? Every candidate has changed their mind about an issue at one point or another. Romney was pro-choice (even if he didn’t like to call himself that) and then he became pro-life. McCain voted against Bush’s tax cuts when he was worried about the deficit and now supports them because he thinks they’ll help restore the economy. Frankly I don’t consider either to be a “flip-flop” because they’ve moved in one direction which is the direction that I’d wager most conservatives would prefer. Unless you think that either is suicidal enough to reverse their “flips,” I’d say that each is pretty much committed out of necessity to these positions and you’ve got a pro-life Mitt Romney and a pro-tax cut John McCain.

5) Temperament – which is another way of saying “John McCain has been known to yell and cuss at people. Given the work environment he’s in – the World’s Greatest Deliberating Body – and the type of personalities he deals with on a day-to-day basis, I would have serious reservations about anyone who didn’t drop an F-bomb once in a while. What I do find rather telling though is that these stories about the “McCain temper” are almost invariably about things that allegedly happened behind closed doors. Losing your temper in private isn’t as damaging IMO as being the sort of gossipy whiner who runs out to spread these sorts of stories.

6) Perceived Electability – is not as much of factor for me because neither I nor anyone else knows what the electoral scene is going to be like in November. It could be that McCain can bring in enough independents to win or it could be that enough conservatives follow through on their foolish vow to stay home. Or it could be that Mitt Romney is enough of an outsider and does well enough in a one-on-one debate (I haven’t watched them but from what I’ve read he does better in those forums) to win. It could be that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hurt each other enough in the primary that neither is able to win because they’ve angered each other’s core supporters. Or they could run on a unity ticket. People could change their minds (again) about what they think is the most important issue particularly those who literally wait until the last minute to decide who to vote for. There simply isn’t enough useful information to make an informed choice with any reasonable degree of accuracy on this.


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