Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The three-legged stool

David Frum takes a look at the Republican coalition. In a year when economic issues are likely to predominate as voters go to the polls, "[w]hat the Republican Party desperately needs is a domestic program that responds to the values and needs of the tens of millions of American families making around $70,000 a year. That’s not an impossible order. But it will take some new thinking by our presidential candidates and other leaders to meet it." It’s all fine and good to make the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent, but that’s not going to win the election.

Discussions - 31 Comments

Joe, what would you say are the top three specific concerns in the hearts of these voters ... the ones making about $70K a year and have some chance of voting Republican?

I sense those voters are not likely to swing to the Republican column based on things like "strict constructionist judges," "overturning Roe," and "limited government."

Thoughts to seed the discussion?

I think talk about the affordability of health care is important, as is talk about "the culture of life" and overturning Roe. I'd put school choice up there too, along with tuition tax credits. Finally, I think it makes sense to talk about free and fair trade.

For more, go here.

I think a lot of families who make $70,000 a year are going to fret over voting for a candidate who spent $50 million to date (?) and likely $100 million total of his own money to get elected. It's going to seem a little wasteful and a little removed from the people.

The key is to have this discussion in a way that doesn't fall to level of pandering or making bad cracks at corporations. Clint, I know you like Huckabee, but it's poor form for him to go after Romney because he allegedly "looks more like the guy that fires you." To me he looks like a guy who starts up businesses, runs other businesses well, and helps create more jobs. That's a good thing.

Prof. K, I agree with you that a discussion of the sanctity of life, and the need for affordable health care are important. I question whether the term "fair trade" can be rescued from protectionists. But I understand the desire for a level playing field and although I'm generally very much in favor of free trade, I am mystified at times at how we seem to turn a blind eye to other countries' putting tarriffs, or trade barriers to our products or simply ripping off American inventions. On the other hand, at least in the agricultural field, we are guilty of this. The 100s of billions annually in agricultural subsidies arguably hurt poor farmers in South America and Africa more than any number of diseases do by artificially lowering the market price for a variety of goods. It's the same thing that Boeing justifiably complains that Airbus does.

I'm worried that this desire to speak to the "under $70,000" crowd (of which I'm a part of) might too quickly turn into crass class warfare. I don't want the Republican Party looking or sounding anything like John Edwards (which is one of the reasons I've cooled a great deal toward Huckabee).

Finally, if you want to appeal to middle class Americans, shut the border down, stop the influx of illegal immigration, attach stiff penalities to companies and agro-businesses that hire illegals and let attrition take most of the illegals already here out of the country (Thompson's best contribution to the campaign). Stop giving incentives for people to come here illegally. This is an issue that drives many middle class Americans absolutely crazy. They are tired of seeing tax dollars go to illegals through emergency room spending, overcrowded public schools and the like. But this should be done, as Romney recently reminded us, in a way that makes it clear that America is founded on immigrants, but also on the rule of law. Legal immigration is a good thing.

JK: " I think talk about the affordability of health care is important, as is talk about "the culture of life" and overturning Roe. I'd put school choice up there too, along with tuition tax credits."

My two cents:


  • Affordability of heath care -- and the number one thing, I suspect, is protection against losing coverage because of job transition, particularly when a pre-existing condition is in play. I suspect most understand there's no such thing as a free lunch, so "free universal health care" is often viewed with suspicion. But the transitional disruption is what frightens people, including me.
  • "Culture of life" -- I'd like to agree, but my sense is when people become apprehensive and insecure that topic recedes into the background. Not for everyone, but for a great deal of people. A man with a wife who's had breast cancer and is facing trying to secure health insurance that'll cover that after being laid off isn't going to pay a lot of attention to an issue that probably doesn't apply to his immediate condition.
  • School choice -- Yes, but the discussion has to be changed. For every vote that wants to move their kid to a better school there's a vote that can't move their kid for some reason and has been made afraid by images of what might become of their district.
  • Tuition tax credits -- Maybe ... I'm not sure of this. Plus, I think there's trouble brewing trying to win votes from those whose kids are already grown and out of college. Is there a way to frame this discussion in a way where that category of voter is no worst than indifferent to the proposal?

If Frum is interested in the three-legged stool, then why is he kicking one leg out by supporting Rudy?

Clint, I'd rather have a candidate spend his money than mine.

I think the mistake in the thee-legged stool analogy is that most Republicans, most people, are interested in all of those issues just about at once. Yes, I do know people who focus on one more than the others, but those who are so focused are also those who have chosen a candidate. Those who have not see each available candidate as being too dependent on one or the other of those issues and therefore find no sense of stability with any one. It might be a matter of perception, but those perceptions, if confused, breed confusion.

Finally, conservatives often do not know why they ARE conservatives, any more. Maybe, as Peggy Noonan says today, George Bush destroyed that understanding of principled conservatism. Maybe being, apparently, unable to shrink government in any way makes mock of that aspect of being a conservative. I know so many people who are for shrinking government in principle, but no longer have any scruples about accepting government aid wherever they can, because there seems to be no real choice in the matter of government having control. We are down to directing the control, and conservatives seem unable to do even that.

Yes, the article Joe cites is really good, but somehow still incomplete. I know those people, lots of them. They want (and don't want) too many contradictory things from government to be appealed to in any coherent way. Maybe there is no coherent conservative message on just about any topic. I will stick to one example, because I ought to be doing something real instead of spouting off on this. Roe v Wade? I do not know a conservative who, while hating abortion, would put a woman or even a doctor in jail for preforming one. Do you? How do you make something illegal if you are not willing to consider consequences against the perpetrator of the crime? Confusion.

Don,
I see your point on the difficulty of making tuition tax credits palatable for people who don't have kids in school. On the other hand, pretty much everyone likes the idea of improving the education system, and tax credits (in place of vouchers) are designed mostly to get the market working in primary education - which hopefully will lead to the end result of better schools. Everyone can get on board that. And tax credits don't have to be all that expensive. Some of the money can come from the per-kid $ amount the public schools would otherwise get for each student that gets tax credits. Regardless, for anyone that is interested in education, this could be a winning argument, if framed right.

I think you're right about health care too - that many people are worried about coverage during job transitions. But isn't that partly what HSAs are designed to help with?

What on earth does Peggy Noonan have to say about principled conservatism? She has become just another establishment con.

if you want to appeal to middle class Americans, shut the border down, stop the influx of illegal immigration, attach stiff penalties to companies and agro-businesses that hire illegals and let attrition take most of the illegals already here out of the country (Thompson's best contribution to the campaign). Stop giving incentives for people to come here illegally. This is an issue that drives many middle class Americans absolutely crazy.

Here the GOP will have to really undergo a deep self examination and change. Fact is, the business interests (which at times are liberal, moderate, and libertarian depending on the situation) have far too much influence, and so immigration is not something the GOP can allow any significant movement on. Conservatives, and the "average" voter, will lose every time under the current GOP...

Peggy has a point even if she is part of the problem. "Conserativism" is something that has lost its way, and the it's cheerleaders (e.g. National Review, etc.) keep prescribing the same cure: Stick with the GOP no matter what. Yet, while there is admission that the GOP and conservatives is not the same thing on the cheer leaders part, they seem unwilling to take the leap, swallow the hard medicine, that would have any real effect on the GOP.

Until there is a real self examination and change that comes from it, conservatives will continue to be lead into the GOP quick sand...

The GOP is the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce. As long as that is the case, it will never be either popular or conservative.

I think that the redefinition of "fiscal conservatism" to include both corporatism and anarcho-capitalsm has been a big part of the problem. That is the sickness eating away at the heart of the GOP and the conservative movement.

A rediscovery of the ideas of Adam Smith and F.A. Hayek would go a long way towards curing it.

Caleb,

To me he looks like a guy who starts up businesses, runs other businesses well, and helps create more jobs. That's a good thing.

This is a misconception about Romney. He never started a business; he's not an entrepreneur. He ran a venture capital company that just masses capital and throws it at businesses, sometimes in very unethical ways. There is a huge difference between creating wealth (good), and using money and capital to as leverage to cheat the system. Romney's business skills fall mostly in the latter. Conservatives would do well to note the difference because it is not only good economics but good politics because there is some real corruption out there that we could curb by focusing on generating wealth more than preserving it. Too often businesses (particularly venture capitalists) just use money as power to get more money without creating much if anything new that makes the standard of living go up.

Kate,
Clint, I'd rather have a candidate spend his money than mine.

Well, I would much prefer a candidate who had to raise money to run for office from the people. It would force him to govern responsibly and with the interests of the people in mind. If we have candidates who get elected on their own money, they become answerable not to the people, not even to business. Candidate fundraising is a key sign of strength and whether people are willing to put their money where their mouth and vote are. I would repeal most campaign finance laws, but there clearly should be a limit to how much a person can fund their own campaign. Otherwise we'll just have a bunch of Ceasars throwing money at the people to win their support and then governing on their own whims.

A lot of the criticism I hear about Romney on the right reads like it was cribbed from the far left play-book. Eat the rich!

We are already at the stage where politics is a game for rich people. The only question left is which rich people you prefer.

Clint, your distinctions between types of businessmen in terms of an understanding of economics, is fatuous. As John says, it carries the implication that rich people, capitalists, are all of a kind. Do you have specifics of Romney's corrupt practices as a businessman? In the same way, there are lawyers and there are lawyers like John Edwards, who make a fortune out of other people's suffering.

Didn't our Founders consider a man of substance to be a better choice for office? He does not have to raise money by promising people political favors - pandering, anyone?

The only campaign finance law that seems really useful, to me, would be that of full-disclosure. I want to know who is backing any given candidate. When I was young, everyone (or anyone who wanted to know) in Oregon knew that one Senator was beholden to the lumber industry and the other to the aluminum industry. I would like to know who is heavily beholden to George Soros, for example, or to Chinese agents, for another. If you are telling me that Romney is going to, somehow, enrich himself in office, then I think you have a case.

Actually, I keep trying to picture Romney as Caesar and it doesn't quite gel for me.

As John says, it carries the implication that rich people, capitalists, are all of a kind.

This showcases your misunderstanding of my comment (and John's). I specifically pointed out that there are (and we need to recognize) two types of businessmen. There are those (both small and large) that create wealth. They generate profits, produce goods and make our lives better.

You might know something about economic theory but very little about how it is practiced. Let me give you a quick scenario of how a veture capital company can play the game.

Lets say I raise $20 billion to invest. I buy controlling stake (51%) in 10 businesses. Then I buy 100%, or near it, stake in another company. With control of the board and operations in the 51% companies, I raid their assets. I sell at huge discounts and find ways to transfer their assets to the company that I have full ownership in, effectively going from 51% owner to 100% owner for a small cost. I also bring in my "turnaround team" (really just my operational employees) and pay them huge salaries out of stockholder equity in the 51% owned companies while they transfer the assets over to the 100% owned company. After we do this, I sell the 51% stake in all the companies (I only take 51% of the hit while I have made 100% of the profits), and then cash out my profits in the 100% owned firm whose assets I have increased at the expense of the 49% stockholders in the 10 companies that I raided. (There are numerous tax loopholes, write-offs, etc that make this even more profitable)

Note that I am not saying that all (or most) business is like this, but there are those who abuse the system. They create nothing new; they just mass capital as power to transfer more money to them. Venture capitalists make a living at it. Just check out how many small businesses Bain capital gobbled up in Ohio and Indiana and ruined if you think that Romney is one of the good ones.

Didn't our Founders consider a man of substance to be a better choice for office? He does not have to raise money by promising people political favors - pandering, anyone?

Yeah, like Thomas Jefferson who died in debt? The founders wanted a balance; they didn't want pandering, but a deaf ear is bad too. Political donations are a way that we get necessary responses out of our government. The fact that Romney can't raise money shows the underlying weakness of his candidacy and why he is not electable in the general. It is also disturbing to think that officials are increasingly being elected that are unaccountable.

Who was Caesar? A vain, power-hungry man. A populist who leveraged wealth gained from war to purchase friends and political power. Romney obviously is too weak to do anything (even get elected), but if we ever get the habit of choosing men like him, I'll be buying lots (really just more) of those things that the 2nd amendment protects.

Venture capitalists are not the same thing as corporate raiders, and if Clint is unaware of the difference he needs to slink away and never utter a word on economic matters again.

The fact that Romney can't raise money shows the underlying weakness of his candidacy and why he is not electable in the general.

Assuming you have not slunk away yet, I'm curious to know why you think that he cannot raise money. Only the 3rd qtr 2007 data is available so far, but he was raising plenty of money at that stage. You could easily look this up. Go to Open Secrets dot Org.

Clint,

You're very mistaken here on several counts. First, Romney has actually raised quite a bit of money; according to CNN, through the 3rd quarter he'd raised as much in donations as Giuliani, and far more than the rest of the Republicans.

Second, it's one thing to give an imaginary, hypothetical example of how someone might raid a corporation. It's quite another, and really quite slanderous, to accuse Romney of doing the same thing. There's no place for that here. It makes you sound far too much like John Edwards. This is also one of my biggest problems with Huckabee. He slanders. His comment in the last debate about Romney spending his children's inheritance was so far over the top it can't even be described. It was appalling, and even more so because it came from a guy who wants to wear the mantle of the Christian right. Following his underhanded attacks on Romney for being a mormon, it's really dissapointing.

I find it interesting that you don't like Romney because of his supposed business problems, but you love Huckabee despite his very real ethical problems as Arkansas Lt. Gov. He took money as a sitting Lt. Gov. from some very questionable groups. And he hasn't even attempted to come clean about it.

Firstly, what John and Caleb say, except don't feel that you have to slink away.


But then, I looked at Wikipedia, then I found this from the NYT and this from The Boston Globe and I do not see how any of this about Romney isn't good news. In that last article a professor says of companies like Bain Capital, "The objective is: make money for investors. It's not to maximize jobs." which he is saying in a very disparaging way. Well, yes. That is quite true. What do you think people invest money for, Clint? The statement is also stupid because if you do not have people working, no one makes money. If you don't have someone collect the capital to make a business, no one makes money, either, nor jobs, nor anything. As far as I can tell in my quick bit of reading, according to your paradigm, Romney is one of the good types of businessmen.

I am NOT reading anything about businesses in Ohio or elsewhere that were destroyed by Bain as you suggest. How about a few specifics.


My husband is an independent financial planner specializing in small business. I hear from him about the practical side of economics all the time and have been reading WSJ, Forbes and some other financial publications of more temporary subscription for the last 25 years. He's involved in several Ohio small business organizations and heads one, which is why I don't use my (his) last name on here, lest I write something that might offend and somehow do my husband harm.

I am also a Huck supporter, and while I did not see the last debate the phrase "spending your children's inheritance" is often used to refer to the entitlement liabilities of the future. Is this what he was referring to?

Also, Clint's dichotomy (i.e. two types of business people) does not take into account the efficiencies that "corporate raiders" bring to the whole corporate economy. Because they exist as a real threat, they force companies to efficiently produce and avoid allowing themselves to come to a point where their assets are worth more than their production. The point of view that Clint takes is too limited, from the "worker" or production only.

John, while Clint's take may be something you and I disagree with, it is a legit view, with a long history that the paleo's and others hold. There is no reason to be a jackass and ask someone to "slink away". Perhaps you did not mean to come off so harsh?

No worries about slinking away. I never said Romney was a bad businessman; just putting out some ideas for others to come to conclusion on.

Ethics claims about Huck are petty, and just as partisan and politcal as Huckabee's jokes about Romney. I don't whine when people say "Huck the pastor" so it would be nice if other conservatives wouldn't be so uptight and PC whenever someone picks on Romney for either his rich boy business or his religion.

Kate, I appreciate the request for specifics but don't have spare research time.

I have this tidbit about Bain (post Romney) making deals with China to buy a U.S. defense contractor. People were upset about dock security being outsourced, so what is one to think about this...

Christopher, the comment "spending your kids inheritance" was a cheap jab at Romney for using his own money in the campaign. It followed comments from Huckabee in another debate about Romney's riches and several other similar comments from McCain. It sounded more like Edwards than comments from Republicans should. This despite the fact that Romney's raised more money from supporters than Huckabee or McCain.

Clint, don't be ridiculous, ethics claims are not petty, especially when there are questions about the ethical practices of a man claiming to speak for all evangelicals. There are reasons why many conservative southern baptists aren't supporting Huckabee. I myself am a strong social conservative, but I find Huckabee's behavior toward some of his opponents really disapointing. And I have real questions about some of his behavior in Arkansas, both in regards to ethics and policy.

Huckabee's best moments have come when he's talked about religion and politics, but on the whole, he is not the best public defender of religion in the public square.

Christopher: Because they exist as a real threat, they force companies to efficiently produce and avoid allowing themselves to come to a point where their assets are worth more than their production.

I had not considered this. You make a good point. It seems to me that masses of capital can overcome even a cautious and efficient run business, but it is a good claim that maybe on the aggregate it is advantageous?? That makes me uncertain, but I guess I just don't have the knowledge to go one way or the other.

Caleb, Huck's ethics "problems" were drummed up by a Democratic controlled ethics board in Arkansas. His wife's party on their anniversary/covenant marriage is supposed to be an ethics problem? Give me a break. There isn't a politician in the world with a clean record if you count stuff like this. When you have real ethics problems, it sticks to you and you aren't re-elected (see the Ohio GOP). Since Huck continued to win, it seems clear to me that the voters of Arkansas were convinced that the claims were rather meaningless.

Huckabee has been in general a gentleman campaigner. Most of his bad remarks are probably due to the fact that he is understaffed. Conversely Romney has been the nastiest campaigner in the field, operating a vast network of mudslingers. I'm not particularly bothered by it because it's politics, but is it silly to claim that Huck has run a dirtier campaign than Mitt.

Clint, I feel like you're having a conversation with someone else. I didn't say anything about a party Huckabee's wife threw. I was referring to the out of state funding a group raised to pay him more than $100,000 a year to give speeches while he was Lt. Gov. My understanding is that it was paid for largely by a tobacco company that later got favors from the state. Now, this may not be true, or there may be other considerations with it, but to the extent that it's true, it shows poor judgment as state official to take funds to give speeches around the country.

Romney has used plenty of negative ads, it's true, but most have been legit contrast ads, which serve a real public function. Huckabee has frequently been snippy during the debates and television interviews - and that has nothing to do with a lack of staff. That comes purely from him. His comment about Romney blowing his kid's inheritance was just the latest and most outrageous "quip".

Of course it's true that some in the Republican establishment don't care for Huckabee, and partly part of that may stem from his faith, but Huckabee does neither himself, nor any other Christians any favors when he makes their argument for them.

Clint, some economists claim that the efficiencies that "corporate raiders" have brought to the world wide economy have brought more people out of poverty than all private/public philanthropy combined! I don't have the will or background to seriously evaluate this claim, but it is not a fringe position. The man considered the godfather of the "hostile takeover" died just the other day, giving most of his money away to children and medical causes. The obituary I read made the above claim, almost-but-not-quite overtly knocking his later in life philanthropy...:)

Huckabee does neither himself, nor any other Christians any favors when he makes their argument for them.

I think the think to remember is that Huck brings both a forthrightness and unscripted believability to his "arguments" on most things, faith included. I am Easter Orthodox, and about the only thing I have in common with Huck faith wise is a traditional belief that Christ really truly is risen from the dead. On the other hand, I am a traditional conservative in the Kirkean vein, which would seem to put me even further from Huck. Why would I be attracted to this under funded, obviously unslick and "populist" campaign?

I find that even when modernists, religious leftists, etc. are offended by your faith, they do appreciate it when your at least honest about it. Perhaps honesty is one of the few virtues left we have in common. I think Huck has more of a chance than Mitt in not only convincing others about the sincerity of his faith, but more important, actually governing with it as an influence. In other words I judge him to be the natural, instinctive conservative.

Such a man is what the conservative movement/GOP needs. We need a lot less of the "policy" conservatives and the coalition builders and the business interests etc. etc. Part of the GOP failure since at least 94 has been an over reliance on these types of men.

So, in response, I would say that Huck can make all the arguments he wants for this Christian. It may not be perfect, but it's better than what we have gotten from the GOP in the last 20 years or so...

The above should be "Eastern Orthodox", better known variously by the ethnic churches: "Russian Orthodox", "Greek Orthodox", etc.

I am not actually a Romney supporter, yet. I think I would prefer him to McCain and he seems to have a better shot right now than Huckabee, on whom I am not sold. Making exaggerated negative claims against any Republican candidate seems a mistake to me. Huckabee has not been a real "gentleman campaigner," which is just politics, but makes his stance as the Christian candidate a bit hard to take. The ethical issue from his past are a big deal to me on that count as well. I have known too many hypocritical Christians not to be uneasy about such folk.

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