Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 17, 2007
POLITICS: Fred Will Need Specifics If He Wants To Govern With A Mandate

If you watched the inaugural episode of "Fred Answers," you will note that Fred Thompson did an excellent job of explaining why the tax code is broken, but didn't actually answer the question of whether he prefers the Flat Tax, the so-called "Fair Tax," or something different.

Now, we don't expect presidential candidates to unroll complex legislative proposals at the drop of a hat, so I'm not necessarily criticizing him for not giving his own proposal on the spot. But I am suggesting this: if you expect Fred Thompson to overhaul the tax code or the entitlement system, watch to see if his campaign puts out a detailed white paper or some such document actually proposing to do so. Because if he doesn't, I submit to you that he will never get any such plan passed through Congress.

Why do I say that? Consider the history. President Bush campaigned on a big, detailed tax cut plan in 2000 (as Reagan did in 1980) and (like Reagan) he got it passed. The Bush tax cut plan had taken a lot of slings and arrows in the primary and general election seasons, but when it came time to propose it, everybody on the Hill knew that the guy who proposed it had survived the election. No Child Left Behind went through a similar process, albeit getting passed in a form that jettisoned some of the more popular elements of the bill (school choice).

By contrast, President Bush didn't unroll a specific Social Security reform plan in 2004, and three years later, he never has sent up to the Hill proposed legislation on that topic. Even though he had campaigned twice on the general outlines of his plan, he lost the battle to convince people in Congress that he had been elected with a mandate to actually make this happen. Ditto for comprehensive immigration reform.

In 1992, the Clintons campaigned on a national healthcare plan, but many of the details of HillaryCare had been ironed out in secret commitee sessions after the inauguration. Lacking an electoral mandate for the plan itself (which derived as well from having received only 43% of the vote), the Clintons were never able to go over the heads of Congress.

There are exceptions to this, to be sure; genuinely bipartisan "Tax Reform" got passed in 1986, for example, without anyone having run on such a platform in 1984. But that case, as with any of Fred's plans, would need to be a product of true bipartisan compromise of the sort that few of us would view with any degree of confidence. Other examples of large-scale domestic legislation often involve reaction to perceived recent crises rather than longstanding ills of Washington.

Like it or not, Mitt Romney understands this dynamic, which is why he is running on a health care plan that was actually enacted into law in Massachusetts; if he survives the primary and general elections, the plan will have a good head of steam behind it. Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee (the other two experienced executives in the race) have also unveiled at least the beginnings of detailed health care and tax plans, respectively, and may need to go further down that road themselves.

Sure, it may well be smart electoral politics to avoid the kind of specifics that sink big, complex reform proposals, since the candidate is apt to sink with it. But there's no way around the fact that a presidential candidate who hasn't staked his own rear end on a proposal won't be able to get nervous Congresscritters to put theirs on the line.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:18 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

The problem with any real attempt at tax reform is our congresscritters fully understand that they derive their greatest power from modifying and loopholing the current screwed up system. If the system were simplified (or better yet replaced with a sales tax) some of the incentive to to wine and dine (or bribe) congress would be diminished. Can't live in DC just on earmark bribes.

Posted by: largebill at September 18, 2007 7:45 AM

Give Hillary credit for reading the tealeaves. If social security is the third rail, then medical coverage is the fourth. Most politicos give all sorts of lip service (and never forget that they have some great plans), at least she came out with something more concrete. Is it doable? Will it fly? Who knows.

The single biggest issue I have with conservatives is their unrelenting hatred of anything Clinton. He/they did some good, some bad. Who hasn't? But the name Clinton drives you/them into spasms of impossibilities of whatever proposed, no matter how viable or not. That, uh, includes wanting to bomb the crap out of terror camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s. I remember well what Limbaugh and Buchanan were spouting.

Bush had it right BTW. Social Security desperately needs a total do-over. So does medical care. As an employer, I have no clue why I am responsible for the medical care of my employees, and not something more centralized. We have too much a financial mindset of what medical care was like 30 years ago, when doctors ran the show. They were really well paid, and they were beginning to come up with some nifty things. Now we have CT scans, PetScans, MRIs, thousand dollar drugs, and a patchwork insurance system of gatekeepers making the largest bulk of medical costs, while the actual providers are deluged with paperwork. Clinton's plan is no doubt just a starting point, but I prefer someone who says they have a plan and presents it over someone who simply says they do. Like Nixon's secret plan to end the secret he couldn't find it once he won.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 18, 2007 10:10 AM


I'd like to provide my perspective to your comment:

"The single biggest issue I have with conservatives is their unrelenting hatred of anything Clinton. He/they did some good, some bad. Who hasn't? But the name Clinton drives you/them into spasms of impossibilities of whatever proposed, no matter how viable or not."

You make a great observation. Why does the name Clinton press the buttons for us conservatives? I guess just like conservatives complain about BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome); liberals/Democrats can rightly complain about CDS (Clinton Derangement Syndrome). So let me give you my personal perspective

My main beef with Clinton is their dishonesty. I was in college during the Nixon years and his resignation. What Nixon did was wrong. But he did the right thing and resigned rather than put the country (or himself) thru impeachment. While things looked bad for Nixon, it was no way certain that he would be impeached or voted out of office in the Senate. He could have fought the Congress and (like Clinton) stayed in office.

Clinton was faced with the same decision. What did he do? He challenged his party to vote out a person from their own party because while the Republican Congress could impeach him, he could not be forced out of the office w/o enough Democrats to vote against him in the Senate. He basically said “Try it! I don’t think you have the guts to vote me out”. He was right; his party lacked the guts. He placed himself ahead the country. He was willing to tie up the Congress to get his own way. He should have resigned.

The media and his own party downplayed what he did, the lies he told, and laws he broke. He did not do these things because he felt what he was doing was the right thing for the country; rather it was the right thing for Bill Clinton.

The second aspect of dishonesty is Clinton’s (particularly Hillary) unwillingness to admit they hold liberal viewpoints and instead try to “fool” the public to think they are moderates. As Rush Limbaugh points out continuously, why can’t liberals just admit they are liberals and the things they stand for? If they truly believe in things, just admit it!

Next I am offended by the fact that Clinton has never been held accountable for the bad things he did (and did not do) while in office. The media has never gone after him (or her) the same way they go after Bush or other conservatives/Republicans. While this is not Clinton’s fault, it offends me deeply. So I have trouble giving them credit for any “good” things until they are held accountable for their “bad” things.

One final resentment of Clinton is the way he left us vulnerable to terrorists. While it is fair to say that Bush’s administration could have more to prevent 9/11, IMHO, Clinton set the stage for 9/11 to happen. His poor handling of terrorists and his unwillingness to capture Bin Laden when given chances is deplorable. He will not admit this. Instead he denies what he did and did not do.

There is a phase when someone won’t admit to what they did. We tell them to “Man Up!” So I say to the Clintons, “Man Up!”

That’s my perspective. Maybe this will help you understand our CDS.

Posted by: Lee at September 18, 2007 6:58 PM

Lee - Why would Bill Clinton "admit to being a liberal"? He ran the country for eight years, and didn't govern as a liberal. And he's not considered a liberal by anyone who thinks that's a good thing to be.

Posted by: Jerry at September 18, 2007 10:31 PM


So your only comment to my post is to take exception to Bill Clinton admitting to being a liberal? That is it? So you must agree with the other observations! Thank you!

Posted by: Lee at September 19, 2007 7:18 AM

Well, I'd also point out that Nixon resigned "for the good of the country" only after it became apparent that his own party was deserting him. If he could have fought impeachment and won, he would have. I actually happen to find Nixon and Clinton oddly similar, despite entirely different personalities. They were both triangulators who co-opted the policies of the opposition, thus Clinton's record is actually rather conservative and Nixon's quite liberal (at least on domestic policy). And despite or because of that, both had a gift for inspiring hatred from the other side of the aisle.

I do think that the Clinton administration bears some culpability for 9/11, as does the Bush administration. For the most part, both sides haven't been too bad about not trying to hash out who deserves how much. But it's also true that Clinton did not have the options before 9/11 as Bush had after - the country really would have been even less in the mood for a pre-emptive war then than it is now.

Posted by: Jerry at September 19, 2007 6:25 PM


I respecfully disagree with:

"..became apparent that his own party was deserting him. If he could have fought impeachment and won, he would have. "

Being about 25 at the time and watching what was going on, I don't agree he resigned because he felt he could win. While Nixon was fighting a Demoncratic Congress and a media that was looking for his blood, his own party would not have convicted him in the Senate. The Democrates had the votes in the House to impeach it they wanted.

Now if your point is that he was convinced he would be impeached (but not convicted) hence he reisgned; I can see your point. His pride could not stand being impeachment. IMHO I did not feel at the time that he would be impeached, but I can see how he might think he would be.

On the Clinton thing. I agree that the country would not have gone for a pre-emptive attack in Afganistan prior to 9/11. But why didn't Clinton take Bin Laden when he was offer to him? That I can't understand.

Posted by: Lee at September 19, 2007 6:52 PM

My understanding is that Nixon resigned after Barry Goldwater told him he didn't have the support to win in the Senate, although I was not closely following politics at the time, being seven years old, so I could be misinformed. I think it's pretty clear that he did not have the overwhelming partisan support that Clinton enjoyed, though.

Posted by: Jerry at September 19, 2007 9:57 PM

On Nixon, the relevant point is that he had to leave once his party abandoned him, which Clinton's never did.

Clinton was reliably liberal on a number of social issues (abortion, racial preferences, guns, gay rights), and was pretty much a standard liberal in terms of tax, spending, regulations and entitlements until the 1994 elections forced him to change course, after which he was more moderate, signed welfare reform and a capital gains tax cut. On trade and law enforcement he was always well to his party's right, supporting the death penalty and NAFTA and GATT. His judges were mainly pro-death penalty but otherwise liberal. In terms of foreign policy I'd place him as a liberal internationalist, not a Scoop Jackson/Lieberman liberal hawk or a Chomskyite. In short, you could find too much liberalism in his record to call him a moderate but not enough to call him a liberal.

Posted by: The Crank at September 19, 2007 10:12 PM
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