Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
They Said It:
True capitalism lacks a strong lobby. That assertion might appear strange in light of the billions of dollars firms spend lobbying Congress in America, but that is exactly the point. Most lobbying seeks to tilt the playing field in one direction or another, not to level it. Most lobbying is pro-business, in the sense that it promotes the interests of existing businesses, not pro-market in the sense of fostering truly free and open competition. Open competition forces established firms to prove their competence again and again; strong successful market players therefore often use their muscle to restrict such competition, and to strengthen their positions. As a result, serious tensions emerge between a pro-market agenda and a pro-business one….
Luigi Zingales, “Capitalism After the Crisis,” National Affairs, Fall 2009.
SALES TAXES, BIG BUSINESS, AND FECKLESS GOVERNMENT.
To hear the mainstream media folks and their Democratic allies tell the story, the Republican Party has been completely and irreversibly overrun by the dastardly Tea Party activists. The GOP is now firmly in control of the “fringe right.” Republicans answer exclusively to a bunch of radical know-nothings who despise Obama, hate the government, and are willfully ignorant of all the wonderful things that both have done for them.
In our opinion, we should be so lucky. Indeed, we have other ideas about the GOP and about the men and women who pull the proverbial strings on the Party’s behalf. We tend to believe as Acton did that power corrupts. And since contemporary Washington has more than enough power to go around, we think it probably has more than enough corruption to go around as well. All of which is to say that we’re dubious about the notion that the grassroots Tea Partiers really have great sway in hallowed halls of the Capitol building.
The good news is that the Republicans in Washington will soon have an opportunity to settle this conundrum. The bad news is that when we they do, they are likely to confirm our observation as stated above, namely that they are creatures of power and not the principled legislators that the mainstream folks fear they have become under the guidance of the Tea Party.
And how will they do so? Well, as it turns out, over the next several weeks, the legislative calendar will compel answers to all of the following questions: Do Republicans in Washington have the will to fight for consumers and small businesses? Do they have the strength to fight for jobs and liberty? Can the GOP embrace technology and advancement? Or will the party crumble? Will its representatives turn their backs on their constituents? Will they instead continue their longstanding practice of favoring big business over small and of promoting the power of the state (and the states) over the will of the people? All of this and more we will learn as Congress moves slowly but ever so surely to take up something called the “Marketplace Fairness Act.”
Now, on the off chance you don’t know what the Marketplace Fairness Act is, it is Washington-speak (a close cousin of Orwell’s “newspeak”) for the internet sales tax bill. The name of the bill, as with most bills today, is not just misleading but entirely the opposite of its actual intent. There is nothing whatsoever “fair” about the Marketplace Fairness Act. Indeed, it is about as unfair as anything we can recall seeing in a long time. Moreover, if this bill is enacted into law, it will actually destroy the marketplace along with thousands of jobs today and millions more tomorrow.
On the plus side, the states, which are unhappy about not getting their fair share of the internet retail revolution, will find a new stream of revenue, which they can use to help create bigger and even more intrusive government. And what’s not to like about that?
Conventional wisdom – which is to say the “wisdom” propagated by the mainstream press and its Democratic allies – has it that the GOP will resist the internet sales tax bill because it has that naughty word “tax” right there in its description. On the surface, therefore, the sales tax appears to be a tax hike. And everyone knows that Republicans are reflexively – “unthinkingly” – against tax hikes.
Of course, the bill isn’t really a tax hike, we are told. It only looks like one to shallow and selfish Republicans who don’t know better. Those who do know better and who mean to share their wisdom with the ill-informed wing-nuts, insist that the internet sales TAX bill doesn’t propose to raise taxes at all. It merely proposes to allow states and municipalities to collect the taxes ALREADY owed them. And who in his right mind could possibly be opposed to that – other than ill-informed Republicans, that is? All of which is to say that the key to getting this bill passed is to make sure enough Republicans understand what is really going on here and to convince them to get over their irrational fear of “taxes.”
As it turns out, the tax hikers (or the tax-already-owed-collectors, if you prefer) have, unsurprisingly, already convinced enough Republicans to play along in the Senate. As often happens when the raw exercise of power is concerned, the Senate Republicans appear set to fold quickly. As the Washington Post put it last week:
A bill to require Internet shoppers to pay sales taxes for online purchases may be cruising through the Senate . . . The Senate voted 63-30 Thursday to end debate on the bill, though senators delayed a final vote on passage until May 6, when they return from a weeklong vacation . . .
President Barack Obama supports the bill.
Senate Democratic leaders wanted to finish work on the bill this week, before leaving town for the recess . . . Anti-tax groups have labeled the bill a tax increase. But it gets support from many Senate Republicans who have pledged not to increase taxes. The bill’s main sponsor is Sen. Mike Enzi, a conservative Republican from Wyoming. He has worked closely with Sen. Dick Durbin, a liberal Democrat from Illinois.
It’s interesting, we think, that the Post labels Enzi a “conservative.” We suppose that’s probably true, as far as the Post can tell, or as the inside-the-Beltway crowd defines the term. For our part, we would prefer that our “conservatives” not find excuses to provide greater power and revenue to the state. And we would expect, in this case especially, that actual conservatives would make a genuine attempt to understand what is really at stake in the fight over the bill and what it will really do to the online retail market.
And this can be accomplished quite easily by reading a few paragraphs down into just about any news story on the proposed legislation. Although it will be buried, the key graph will almost always be there. Whether that’s because the smart set doesn’t understand the importance of the key bit or because they are intentionally trying to minimize it, we can’t say. What we can say is that the evidence sits in plain sight, almost anywhere you look. Consider, for example, the following from the weekend’s New York Times story on the tax and its impact on retailers:
The Senate is poised to pass a bill to require all but the smallest online sellers to collect the tax. The House appears likely to follow suit. Although Amazon’s desire to avoid the tax played a fundamental role in its founding and growth, it is [now] a supporter of the legislation.
Then there’s this from the Washington Post:
The bill pits brick-and-mortar stores like Wal-Mart against online services such as eBay. The National Retail Federation supports it. And Amazon.com, which initially fought efforts in some states to make it collect sales taxes, supports it, too.
Did ya catch that? We hope we weren’t too subtle. If you want to understand what this bill will do and who will benefit from it, you should pay close attention to its list of supporters. Don’t waste your time listening to what the politicians say. The politicians tend either not to know themselves what is going on, or, if they do, they tend to try to hide it as much as possible. That’s the way it works when you’re dealing with the practitioners of Washington-speak. The following bit, taken from an essay published over the weekend, makes just this point. It was written on behalf of the nation’s mayors by the CEO and executive director of their lobbying group, a man called Tom Cochran, the former Obama White House Director of Media Technologies.
[M]ake no mistake: This is not a tax increase. The bill simply gives state and local governments a way to collect money that is already owed. And, in the process, it levels the playing field between merchants on Main Street and those who sell over the Internet, allowing them to finally compete on equal ground.
For years, online retailers have enjoyed for all intents and purposes a subsidy that has given them a significant advantage over their local counterparts. By not paying sales tax, Internet sellers have been able to undercut, by 5 to 10 percent, brick and mortar shops that, at this point, have been reduced in many instances to mere showrooms. The issue has only intensified as more and more people make purchases online. In 2012, e-commerce sales in the United States added up to $226 billion, a 16 percent increase from 2011.
At the end of the day, this boils down to a basic question about fairness. We need to ask ourselves why online retailers should be given a leg up over local businesses that are doing their part every day to support their communities by paying taxes. Everyone should carry their own weight and pay their fair share. Not only is it what is right, but it is also the foundation for healthy competition in the marketplace.
Where do we even begin?
For starters, Cochran – and by extension the mayors of the country – wants desperately to ensure that everyone believes that this is indeed about fairness. He insists that by avoiding sales taxes, internet retailers are able to “undercut” competitors. He argues that this is, by definition, unfair. Of course, it is also nonsense on stilts. Internet retailers don’t undercut anybody based on taxes. They charge what they charge. Local retailers are compelled to charge a net cost overage, in order to cover taxes. But that overage is the responsibility of the local lawmakers, NOT the internet retailers. Who, we ask, is being unfair? Certainly it’s not the internet retailers, who are doing nothing more than hawking their wares.
Cochran also argues that the current tax regime gives internet retailers “a leg up” over local retailers, by which he implies that their success is due to the fact that they enjoy a unique tax status. This could be true, in theory, we suppose. But the evidence tends to suggest that the reasons that people choose internet retailers over brick-and-mortar stores have little to do with tax breaks and everything to do with selection and convenience; or, to put it another way, virtually no one considers tax policy when contemplating a retail purchase. Additionally, Cochran again conveniently ignores the fact that his “leg up” is a transparent misnomer. As we said, it’s really a “leg down” for local retailers who are burdened by the state. But again, that doesn’t fit the narrative.
And speaking of unfair, it must be said that Cochran’s attempt to cloak his argument in patriotism is more than just unfair, it’s nauseating, and slanderous. He writes: “We need to ask ourselves why online retailers should be given a leg up over local businesses that are doing their part every day to support their communities by paying taxes.” Cochran is not just plain wrong, but deliberately so. Of course online retailers pay taxes. Of course they support their communities. To suggest otherwise is blatantly false. What Cochran means but apparently lacks the integrity to say is that the users of online retailers don’t pay sales taxes; online shoppers don’t “support their communities.” It’s not the retailers who are avoiding paying taxes. It’s the shoppers; it’s the consumers. It’s ordinary Americans.
Cochran doesn’t say any of this, though, because, once again, it doesn’t fit the narrative. The narrative here is that government, bold and brave, is righting a wrong and defending local businesses from the perils of globalization. In truth, this is government imposing a tax on consumers and pretending that it’s a tax on someone else. This isn’t a tax on Amazon or eBay, designed to benefit Mom and Pop. It’s a tax on American consumers, designed to support the state in the manner to which it has grown accustomed. Cochran and his clients don’t want consumers to know that. And they certainly don’t want them to know that they are, in essence, calling consumers tax cheats. Rather, they want consumers to think that this is Amazon’s problem and Amazon’s fault. But it’s not. It’s a problem of ordinary Americans. And it’s the government’s fault.
And unfortunately, it gets worse.
Whether anyone involved in this “debate” – from Cochran to the mayors to the governors to the dopes on Capitol Hill – understands it, the reason that they are couching the argument in terms of fairness is because they wish to make it look as if big online retailers will suffer by the imposition of state and local taxes. But this is flatly untrue. In fact, this sales tax will be a huge boon for the big boys. And they know it, which, of course, is why they support the bill.
We’re tempted to ask whether our illustrious ruling class has any inkling of the game that Amazon and the other mega-online retailers are playing here. We’re tempted to ask whether our “leaders” understand why Amazon opposed the sales taxes when it was consolidating its position as the world’s premier online retailer but supports the very same taxes now that its position has been secured. We’re tempted ask if any of these fools understand the concept of self-interest and how it might apply to the mega-retailers.
But then we stop. And we dismiss these temptations. We know the answers to these questions, after all. We’ve discussed them countless times in these pages. Indeed, we discussed it at length in our 2010 domestic forecast piece, in which we predicted the passage of the health care law. Specifically, we wrote:
The current situation is one in which state control, not liberty, is the preeminent political value. It is also one in which the bureaucracy in general and the experts in particular are the preeminent political actors. By contrast to classical American political paradigms, the individual today is a secondary actor, a critical component of the state, but only insofar as his interests can be subsumed by the state. The state, after all, is the guarantor of the domestic tranquility and of social equality. And therefore the individual must comply with the wishes of the state to such an extent that liberty is ultimately curtailed.
None of this is particularly new or interesting. It is, as we have said countless times, the direction in which Americans have been heading for many years. And it is ﬁtting that health care has been the vehicle for achieving this dubious goal, it having always been the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent, with its potential for providing an excuse for the state to regulate every aspect of American life.
There is, after all, a reason that the great tobacco wars of the 1990s were waged on behalf of Medicaid; smoking (allegedly) increases health costs, some of which are paid by the state, and therefore smoking is considered a risk to the state and tobacco companies must be punished. It’s that simple. Any behavior of which the state and its experts disapprove can be deemed too costly and therefore a threat to the equity of the state’s health care provisions, which is to say that any behavior of which the state and its experts disapprove can be curtailed, banned, ﬁned, or otherwise punished. That’s the ultimate cost of state control of health care.
We’ve been warning of this for years. What we did not foresee, at least not consciously, was the ultimate collusion in this effort between government and erstwhile private industry. Like most Republicans and even most conservatives, we viewed private industry – big business, if you will – as a bulwark against government by bureaucracy. Business, we assumed, would have different goals and different interests from the bureaucrats and would therefore protect the interests of free markets and free people. We were wrong . . .
Notice the differences here, between 1993 and 2009/10? This time around, the people hate the legislation, by an overwhelming majority. But the “special interests,” in the form of “insurance companies, doctors’ groups, pharmaceutical manufacturers,” are all on board. Heck, it’s they who stand to beneﬁt the most from the passage of “reform.” These interests aren’t a curb against the power of the state. They are a force multiplier.
Any number of economists – from Gordon Tullock to Anne Krueger to Fred McChesney – could have warned us that this was the case. But for whatever reason, we were late to this realization. Big Business and Big Government are mutually reinforcing, and it’s the individual who pays the price.
If there is any lesson in the health care reform debacle, this is it. The old, reliable Iron Triangle has collapsed. And along with it, the basic principles of democratic governance. Who can stop this legislation from being passed? No one, it seems – with the possible exception of a bribe-addled Senatorial Dead-Man-Walking from Nebraska. The people hate it. But the state and its business partners love it. So the people get screwed.
And you will note that health care is not the only aspect of governance in which this is the case. Treasury Department policy, for example, over the last two years and across administrations from BOTH parties, has been directed almost exclusively at enabling and fortifying the prospects of Big Business (and big banks in particular) with no accountability whatsoever to the people. The powerful and the well-connected have always done well in Washington, but now it seems that they alone do well and extremely well at that.
The fact of the matter is that the large internet retailers support the sales tax bill for exactly the same reason that the pharmaceutical companies supported the health care bill and for exactly the same reason that the big banks supported the Dodd-Frank financial “reform” bill; that is, because they stand to benefit greatly from it. The bill, if passed, will be a disaster for small retailers. The most obvious and most notable way in which this is the case involves the regulatory cost to retailers. Newsweek/The Daily Beast’s Megan McCardle explains why:
It’s pretty obvious that most of the people writing about the sales tax have never run a small business. They are thinking about the transaction from the point of view of the consumer, where you punch in what you want to buy, and the software painlessly calculates the percentage for you. Few of the commentators I’ve read have asked themselves what happens to the money after the software has collected the money. Do the sales tax fairies simply whisk it off to the nice folks at the state tax department?
Sadly, no. Rather, as an SBA guidebook for small businesses points out, you have to file a tax return with each and every locality for which you have collected tax. The bill streamlines this a bit, but you’ve still got to keep 50 states’ worth of records and file 40-odd states worth of returns.
Generally, states require businesses to pay the sales taxes they collect quarterly or monthly. You’ll have to use a special tax return for sales taxes, and report all sales, taxable sales, exempt sales and amount of tax due. Not paying on time can result in penalties. As always, check with your state or local government about the process in your location.
For Amazon—the actual target of these laws—this is trivial. Its staff of crack accountants can probably roll these things out before their Monday-morning coffee break. For a small vendor, however, that’s a whole lot of paperwork. Imagine being a small eBay vendor that has to file a different set of tax returns every quarter or every month, depending on who happened to buy your handmade toaster cozies.
And you know what happens if you screw up your sales tax returns? They charge you penalties and interest, and if you don’t pay, they seize the money from your bank account . . .
This is death for a small business in the fledgling stage.
Once upon a time, when Amazon and indeed internet retailing itself were in this “fledgling stage,” Jeff Bezos et al. were opposed to the internet sales tax. Today, of course, Amazon is not only established, but dominates the online marketplace. And it intends to keep it that way. The good news for these big boys, when it comes to regulatory costs, is that they really don’t have to do anything at all except encourage a handful of Senators and Congressman to get the law passed and to take a stand for “fairness.” After that, they can just sit back and watch their neophyte competitors drown in a sea of red tape.
The other good news for the big boys is that it is probably no big deal for them to convince a few legislators to play along. That’s what government does these days. It scratches big business’s back and then waits for big business to scratch back.
The only potential monkey wrench here is the Republican House, which was elected by people upset by the corporatist back-scratching that took place with respect to health care and which is allegedly under the Tea Party’s control. As we said, we’ll be surprised if this is, in fact, the case. We’ll be surprised if the “new” GOP has the testicular fortitude to stand up to big business AND big government and to defend the consumers in the process. We’ll be surprised, in short, if government of the people, by the people, and for the people still functions and can still defend a free and open marketplace.
Keep your fingers crossed, gentle readers. But don’t expect much.
NORMAL WILL BE “IN,” REDUX.
We have, we’ll admit, been very pessimistic about the political future of this great country of late. We’ve been disappointed by the Republicans, incensed by the Democrats, and endlessly irritated by Barack Obama. Worst of all, we suppose, we’ve been troubled by the American people themselves, who, in so many ways, appear content to trade a great deal of liberty and opportunity for an increasingly small serving of safety and security. This has worn on us, obviously. And we have no reason to believe that it won’t continue to wear on us in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
In the meantime, though, we thought we might start this week with a bit of good news and dash of optimism.
This slight break in the gloom came to us this past week, as we contemplated the proverbial pendulum in American politics while watching and reading about the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
We thought many things about this pendulum as we watched, but what we thought about most was the strong and unshakable feeling we had that the political career of Hillary Clinton is over. We know that there is a political eternity between now November 2016, but we also know, in our heart of hearts that Ms. Hillary will not be the next President of these here United States.
The “smart money” and the conventional wisdom, of course, insist that we are wrong. And so, for that matter, do the conspiracy theorists on the right, a surprising number of whom think that John Kerry’s sole job as the Secretary of State is to make Hillary look competent, talented, and well-spoken by comparison. Still, we just don’t see it happening.
We’re prejudiced, of course. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, we’d be ashamed of ourselves if we weren’t. And, as such, we think that by the time Barack Obama finishes his eighth year in office, a great majority of Americans are going to want a change – a real change, a sweeping change, a complete and thorough cleaning out of the Augean stables. All of which precludes the likes of Hillary Clinton winning the White House.
For the record, we made exactly this same prediction some thirteen years ago in a piece titled “Normal Will Be ‘In’ This Fall.” Then, as now, we thought the watch word for the upcoming presidential election would be “normalcy.” Specifically, we put it this way:
We think, as they say in the fashion world, “normal is going to be ‘in’ this fall.” We think the America public has had it, for the time being at least, with “interesting,” if “interesting” means highly non-traditional views about marriage vows, business ethics, personal morals, and what have come to be known as “family values.”
We are not saying here that we think the public will be looking for June and Ward Cleaver. This nation has long since passed that standard. We are not even saying that the public’s quest for the normal, should it actually occur, will last very long. We just believe that, after eight years of Bill and Hillary, a majority of Americans will lean toward normalcy.
If we are right about this, “W” should be helped by this trend also, not so much because he and his family are vastly more conventional than Al and Tipper, but because the people he surrounds himself with are likely to be vastly more conventional than the people that have made up the Clinton-Gore administration for the past seven years.
You see, the so-called “Clinton fatigue” isn’t just directed, in our opinion, at Bill and Hillary Clinton. It is also aimed at the strange crowd of incompetent characters that run things for Bill while he’s out catting around: people like Rambo Janet [Reno]; Laptop Madeline [Albright]; Bruce [Lindsey] the Fire Starter [and Clinton “master strategist]; Bill Richardson, the China Connection; and Louis [Freeh], the FBI’s own Keystone Kop. These, I believe, are the people who are perpetuating the public’s “fatigue” with the Clinton administration, even as Bill, with an eye on his legacy, and Hillary, with an eye on the Senate, attempt to appear to be Apple Pie traditional . . .
These people ain’t normal.
We were right, of course, way back when: the “normal” George W. Bush was indeed elected the 43rd President of the United States, defeating the curiously abnormal Algore in one of the most abnormal contests in American presidential history. And while we have had our disagreements with Bush, and aired those often in these pages, we believe, without a doubt, that “the return to normalcy” was a gift to the country, especially when considering what a wackjob Algore was and still is.
It is true, of course, that George W. wasn’t the best President that the nation has ever had. But then, only one president can claim that title. And the truth is that Bush’s survival skills were sorely tested during his two terms in office. When he took the oath the first time, the economy was beset by the remnants of the tech wreck. A scant nine months later, “everything changed,” as the cliché has it, when al Qaeda attacked the homeland, destroying the Twin Towers and disfiguring the Pentagon. Before he took the oath the second time, American soldiers were fighting two wars half-way around the world and the political opposition was calling for immediate and unconditional surrender. By the time he left town, the global economy was in the process collapsing, the American housing market had already collapsed, and the banking system was moving toward the same end. He asked for the job, of course. And then he asked for it again. So there is no reason whatsoever to feel sorry for the guy. But still, those were the times that tried men’s souls, to coin a phrase.
Despite all of this, Bush managed to muddle along reasonably well, as the American Enterprise’s James Pethokoukis’s noted last week:
The librarians at the new George W. Bush presidential center should buy this book on Amazon:The Great Recession: Market Failure or Policy Failure by Robert Hetzel. The author, a Richmond Fed economist, persuasively argues the nasty downturn and ensuing Financial Crisis were caused by the Federal Reserve’s overly tight monetary policy in 2008. The Great Recession was a minor replay of the Great Depression, which most economists also blame on the Fed – including its boss today, Ben Bernanke.
In the 1930s, it was Wall Street and the Hoover Republicans that earned public opprobrium. So too, most Americans blame the 2007-2009 unpleasantness on the Bush Republicans and the bankers. The dedication of the Bush library is as good a time as any for some myth busting. Hetzel’s key insight: Not only did the Fed leave rates alone between April 2008 and October 2008 as the economy deteriorated, but central bankers “effectively tightened monetary policy” in June by pushing up the expected path of the federal funds rate through hawkish statements. Without the Fed’s foul up, the housing slump might have led to a mild downturn at worst and no financial collapse. Indeed, from the end of the peak of the housing market through April 2008, the unemployment rate was virtually unchanged . . .
Bush’s six-year economic record, from 2001 through 2006, was OK, actually. GDP growth was 2.7%, roughly at trend. And although job growth was anemic, the average unemployment rate was 5.4% — a level that Obama White House economists consider a healthy economy’s natural rate.
Pethokoukis is not, we should note, the only one revisiting Bush’s record. Indeed, the entire political world has been engaged in something of a reassessment his presidency these past couple of weeks. This is only natural, given that he has suddenly returned to the public eye after four-plus years in virtual seclusion. For our part, when we saw him back on stage last week for the dedication of his library in Dallas, we were less intrigued by his sudden reappearance and more so by the men with whom he reappeared – one in particular.
Thursday in Dallas, all five living presidents – Bush and his father, Obama, Clinton, and Jimmy – were all on the same stage together. And of these five very accomplished and very different men, only one really seemed to stand out. That “one,” of course, was “THE One” – the man who promised to slow the rise of the oceans, to provide health care to all Americans, and to “transform” the nation. And, needless to say, he didn’t “stand out” in a particularly flattering way.
By way of contrast to the current president, the president who served longest ago – nearly four decades ago, in fact – provided one of the most fascinating moments in recent political history. Jimmy Carter, a man whom conservatives still love to hate and who still loves to hate them back, showed up in Dallas and stunned the audience.
We recall the last couple of times that we saw Carter in public. At Reagan’s funeral nearly nine years ago he still appeared angry at Reagan for having beaten him. He was small, petty, bitter, and generally displeased by the whole “state funeral” business. Later that summer, he made a point of being conspicuous as he brought Michael Moore – also petty and bitter, but certainly not small – to be his honored guest in the “President’s Box” at the Democratic National Convention. On both occasions, Carter seemed to be reveling in his animosity, dripping with venom and rage.
But not last Thursday.
At Bush’s event, Carter was decent. Indeed, more than decent. He was – dare we say it? – likeable. Peggy Noonan described him as “gracious and humorous.” She said he appears “to have sweetened” with age. Noonan’s Wall Street Journal colleague, James Taranto, went even further:
We arrived at yesterday’s dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center with no expectation that the ceremony would change our opinion about anything. But it did. Our longstanding dislike for Jimmy Carter softened considerably.
All five living presidents spoke in chronological order of service except that the junior Bush went last . . . That meant Carter was up first. We remembered his grudging and perfunctory reaction to Ronald Reagan’s death in 2004 and expected something similar.
Instead Carter delivered a genuine tribute that was both warm and substantive.
The net effect of Carter’s grace, however, was to make his current Democratic successor appear graceless by comparison. Obama was Obama, which is to say that he wasn’t gracious. Or humorous. Or warm. Or even substantive. He was just himself. And he looked out of place and the fool for being so. Or as Noonan put it:
President Obama was more formal than the other speakers and less confident than usual, as if he knew he was surrounded by people who have something he doesn’t. “No matter how much you think you’re ready to assume the office of the president, it’s impossible to understand the nature of the job until it’s yours.” This is a way of seeming to laud others when you’re lauding yourself. He veered into current policy disputes, using Mr. Bush’s failed comprehensive immigration reform to buttress his own effort. That was manipulative, graceless and typical.
Ponder that for a minute, if you will, from Obama’s perspective: Here you are on a stage with two men who are regarded by a substantial number of people (different people, of course,) as the worst president in the history of the country. Then there is a one-term failure. And finally, there is only the second president in history of the country to be impeached. And YOU’RE the one who looks like the boorish, ham-handed loser. That can’t make you feel especially good, can it? And it can’t exactly bode well for the next three-and-a-half years either.
This prompted the following observation from Noonan: “The day of the opening of the Bush library, was the day Obama fatigue became apparent as a fact of America’s political life.” We can’t help but agree. It strikes us that most people are already sick of the constant self-aggrandizing speeches, the perpetual campaigning, the unremitting fabricated moral outrage, and the endless finger-pointing. And if they’re not sick of it yet, they will be soon. It’s tiresome. It’s stressful. And, to be quite honest, it’s aggravating.
Last year, in the run-up to the election, we described Obama as the “world’s most powerful weirdo.” We put it this way:
Everything about Obama seems faked, fabricated, both for sales purposes and for purposes of leftist legitimacy . . .
He has thoroughly adopted the academic-leftist worldview (as we’ve argued here more times than we can remember), but he has also carefully cultivated a public persona that balances that worldview with what he and his advisors appear to believe is “average American.” What you’re left with then, is a weird, unsettling sort of amalgam: not quite leftist intellectual but not quite average Joe either. You get, for example, a guy who supports gay marriage, but can’t just say it. He has to “evolve” to the position. You get a guy who likes sports, but not the way most guys like sports and only certain sports and only in a way that you don’t get dirty or bruised or too testosterone-y. You get a guy who himself claims to be “exotic” when he wants a job or wants to sell some books, but will have his surrogates make sure the whole world knows that you are a racist if you dare even to think that he’s exotic when he’s running for election (or re-election) to the most powerful office in the world.
You get, in short, a really strange guy.
In fact, you get a guy who really shouldn’t have any job that involves proximity to sharp objects or authority over anyone who doesn’t have his first name on his work shirt. Why this wasn’t obvious to a great majority of the American people is too frightening to consider right now. But part of the reason is that he was lucky to have run in both races against candidates who made him look somewhat normal by comparison. After all, while John McCain is, indeed, a genuine American hero, he is also, to put it delicately, more than a touch off the reservation. And as for Romney. Well. As we found out, it’s possible to be so normal that it’s spooky.
Obama doesn’t have this luxury anymore. He doesn’t have an opponent next to whom he can seem normal-ish. He’s the only man left standing. It’s just him, all by himself, alone on the world stage. And the weirdness is starting to show, even on his good days.
What’s this mean, going forward? Well, in our estimation, it means that the next president will be the anti-Obama. Obama, of course, was the anti-Bush. Bush was the anti-Clinton. And Clinton, in turn, was the anti-Bush before that. As we said above, the pendulum swings.
As we also said above, a great many analysts and advocates are convinced that Hillary will be the next president. If she’s not, they expect it will be someone like Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio and the keynote speaker at last year’s Democratic National Convention; Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York and the son of former presidential wannabe Mario Cuomo; Chris Christie the governor of New Jersey; or perhaps even Marco Rubio, the young, conservative Senator from Florida. Color us skeptical on all counts.
Not that there’s anything “wrong” with any of these folks as potential candidates, with the exception of Hillary who, even with the millions of dollars she and her husband have made selling whatever the hell they sell, still doesn’t have enough closets in which to hide all her skeletons But none of them seem right for the post-Barack Obama presidency.
After eight years of what Noonan calls “the imperious I . . . the inability to execute . . . the endless interviews and the imperturbable drone . . . [and] the sense that he is trying to teach us, like an Ivy League instructor taken aback by the backwardness of his students,” Americans will want somebody plain. And normal. And not full of drama and hype, or practiced in the art of deception, to borrow a phrase from the Rolling Stones.
Paul Ryan strikes us a good candidate in such an environment. So does the former governor of Indiana and current president of Purdue University, Mitch Daniels. And maybe even Senator John Thune of South Dakota. They’re all plain. They’re all normal. They’re dull, frankly. But dull will be in.
Senator Rand Paul may have an outside chance, depending on circumstances. Paul – like his father – is far from normal. But he’s also a “small-l” libertarian, which is to say that he mostly wants just to leave you alone and get out of your face. And after eight years of the omnipresent celebrity god-man, that may seem normal enough.
On the Democratic side, we think guys like Evan Bayh, the former Senator from Indiana, or Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, would make nice, unexciting yet reasonably solid candidates. So might somebody like Mark Warner of Virginia, who, as we mentioned last week, is a solid, well-liked, and generally pro-gun, Southern Democrat.
Of course, as we said up top, it’s a long time from now until November, 2016. And a great deal can change between now and then, which is to say any number of potential candidates may appear and then disappear over the next couple of years. One of the things we don’t expect to change, however, is Obama fatigue. It’s here. It’s clear. Get used to it.
And then get used to the idea that normalcy is going to be in demand. And none too soon, if you ask us.