American Elephants

The Iowa Caucuses Don’t Make Any Difference! by The Elephant's Child

It’s caucus night in Iowa. That event has dominated the news for weeks, yet Iowans do not choose a nominee. It isn’t a primary.  All it offers is “momentum.”  Those who come out on top get momentum for the next primary, and the results inform the political establishment of their preferences, but otherwise they are meaningless.

How do we decide?  Who influences us? Are we informed on our own hook, or do we fail to get good information, and how do we decide. I just saw a video comparing Dr. Ron Paul to Dr. Zachary Smith in  “Lost in Space.” That was a TV show from 1965-1968. Even those who watched it when they were little kids are over 50 now.

People now talk to each other with movie and TV references as kind of a cultural shorthand — Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter are important sources, and, of course, anything from Monty Python. Does this cultural shorthand fail when used with a generation that did not experience those shows?  When it comes to politics, we should probably refer more to Yes, Minister — which has some important lessons for us, as it was intended to do, but that belongs to the Thatcher administration, which was also a long time ago.

I am fascinated with trying to put myself into the mindset of the age of the Founders when there were no radios, no telephones, no TV, no movies, no recorded music, and there were not all that many books.  I have seen reproductions of the newspapers of the day, and they were a far cry from our newspapers of today.

But we err if we assume that people were not literate.  In 1776, one book written in complex language, sold over 120,000 copies which would be equivalent to 60 million copies today. A Boston bookseller’s stock in 1700 included no less than eleven dozen spellers and sixty-one dozen primers.

Philadelphia, by 1776 had become second only to London as the chief city in the British Empire.  Between 1740 and 1776 over one hundred and twenty-five private schoolmasters advertised their services in local newspapers. Instruction was offered in Latin, Greek, mathematics, surveying, navigation, accounting, bookkeeping, science, English and contemporary foreign languages. One schoolmaster, Alexander Porter, a mathematics teacher, had over one hundred students enrolled in 1776. There were also, by 1767, sixteen evening schools catering mostly to the hardworking German population. There were also schools for women, blacks and the poor.

If you want to feel really ignorant, look up a school examination from a century or more ago.  When TV first arrived on the scene, it was assumed that it would be a great step forward in educating the ordinary citizen, with exposure to symphonies, opera, history and we all know how well that has worked out. We prefer being entertained and amused.

Does that roll over into politics? Are we informed voters? To what extent are we influenced by the media? I haven’t seen estimates of how many people watch the debates, nor of the extent to which the debates influence their choices.

I”m currently reading Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man, which is a new history of the Great Depression, and an absolutely fascinating one. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It has a lot to offer that is particularly pertinent to today’s politics. The account of the election of 1932 and the First Hundred Days in 1933 is enlightening, to say the least.  But time waits for no man.  On to New Hampshire.

Oh Canada, Brave Canada, You’re a Pretty Impressive Country Now! by The Elephant's Child

While the United States struggles under low growth and high regulation, our northern neighbor is economically strong.  The Obama administration and its economic advisers have flailed around, completely baffled as to how to get the economy growing again. They might profit by paying attention.

On Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that he would slash corporate taxes again on January first, cutting the federal business tax burden to just 15%.  Along with tax cuts in the provinces, total taxes for businesses in Canada will drop to 25%, one of the lowest in the G7 and below the OECD average. Beside making it easier for Canadian business to do business, Canada is trying to get the government out of citizens’ lives.

Minister Jim Flaherty said that “Creating jobs and growth is our top priority.  Through our government low-tax plan…we are continuing to send the message that Canada is open for business and the best place to invest.”

“We believe in free trade in Canada, we’re a free-trading nation.  That’s the source of our strength, our quality of life, our economic strength,” Flaherty said last month.

Canada has pursued its competitive advantage — oil. And it did so not through top-down “industrial policy” but by getting government out of the way. Harper has enacted market-friendly regulations to accomplish big things like the Keystone pipeline — and urged President Obama to move forward with it, or Canada would sell its oil to China who is ready and anxious to buy.

These policies have been well-known since the Reagan administration, and practiced successfully in the Coolidge and Kennedy administrations as well. Republicans have urged America to adopt free market, small government policies — because they work.  Canada is proving it once again. But Canada had essentially been a socialist country since the 1950s. Stephen Harper’s moves are a dramatic affirmation of free market economics. A policy that works every time they are tried.

Incomes are rising in Canada, unemployment is two percentage points below the U.S. rate, it’s currency is stronger and it boasts Triple-A sovereign ratings across the board, lowering its cost of credit.

Obama, on the other hand, has expressed his support for the Occupy movement, their demands for an end to capitalism, and an end to free-market economics.  He has approved the Occupy attacks on corporations and banks because it fits with his class warfare campaign strategy. Pity that he is unable to learn from others.  Perhaps Obama will awaken before Canada inks contracts with China for the oil and the jobs they have offered to us, only to be put off — till after the election. That may well be too late.

Never Mind the Country, Obama to “Focus Almost Exclusively on Campaigning” by The Elephant's Child

President Obama’s election year strategy plans to rely on his offensive against an unpopular Congress, concluding that he cannot pass any major legislation in 2012 because of Republican hostility toward his agenda.

“In terms of the president’s relationship with Congress in 2012,” Joshua Earnest, the president’s deputy press secretary said at a briefing, “the president is no longer tied to Washington D.C.“. Winning a full-year extension of the cut in payroll taxes is the last “must-do” piece of legislation for the White House, he said.

Let’s clarify that a bit.  The “payroll tax cut” is not a tax, but workers’ contribution to their eventual Social Security and Medicare account.  Because that money, about $40 a month, is not going in to “the Social Security Trust Fund,” the federal government is having to borrow more money to give the elderly their benefits. President Obama is interested in getting a little bit more money into voter’s pockets — but remember, this is not going to the unemployed or the needy— but to workers who have jobs. The president still believes, in spite of enormous evidence to the contrary, in stimulus. This is simply another stimulus, when he couldn’t get one through Congress, because it has become so crystal clear that Keynesian stimulus doesn’t work.

The New York Times comments:

However the White House chooses to frame Mr. Obama’s strategy, it amounts to a wholesale makeover of the young senator who won the presidency in 2008 by promising to change the culture of Washington, rise above the partisan fray and seek compromises.

After three years in office, Mr. Obama is gambling on a go-it-alone approach. In the coming weeks, he will further showcase measures he is taking on his own to revive the economy, Mr. Earnest said, declining to give details.

Obama has been refining the strategy since last July.  Well, Obama is fiercely competitive, and, according to Richard Epstein, feels no need to compromise with Republicans. Mr. Obama decided to run in the first place because he felt that his ability to rouse a crowd qualified him to run for the office of the presidency, so he is much happier campaigning than doing that boring stuff in the White House.

Joshua Earnest said the strategy had successfully planted “the image of a gridlocked, dysfunctional Congress and a president who is leaving no stone unturned to try to find solutions to the difficult financial challenges and economic challenges facing the country.” Uh huh.

This is the president who had Democrat control of both houses of Congress for two full years.  Instead of trying to “find solutions to the difficult financial challenges and economic challenges facing the country” he veered off into passing a disastrous health care bill that would gradually move the country into the single-payer government controlled health care that progressives so earnestly desired and has never worked successfully in any country where it has been adopted. The country hates it and it has helped to kill jobs and discourage hiring.  That was not enough, however, instead of finding solutions, he embarked on a plan to transform the American economy from one made prosperous by its access to abundant cheap energy to one dependent on unreliable, unworkable “alternative” energy, and squandering public money on all sorts of green illusions. And in the course of that, spending more money than all of the previous 43 presidents put together.  Can’t exactly run on his record.

During his first two years, Obama  was enormously successful in getting his agenda enacted into law.  He got almost everything he wanted — which is the problem. He was not focused on the economy nor on the increasing numbers of unemployed, nor did he know what to do about that in any case.

President Obama’s “gift” is his mellow baritone voice. It allows him to say anything he wants without being criticized for the content of his speech. He feels no need to be either accurate or truthful. This is, as Peter Wehner says:

a truly post-modern campaign, in which there is no objective truth but simply narrative.  Obama’s campaign isn’t simply distorting the facts; it is inverting them.  This kind of thing isn’t unusual to find in the academy.  But to see a president and his campaign so thoroughly deconstruct truth in order to maintain power is quite rare.  The sheer audacity of Obama’s cynicism is a wonder of the modern world.


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