April 21, 2008

Gee, He Really Is Conservative - Page 1: Economics 101

Hatched by Dafydd

Some days ago (tax extortion day) John McCain gave a speech at Carnegie Mellon University in the Pitts -- I mean, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The speech focused on his fiscal policy, taxing and spending in particular.

What was refreshingly unexpected was how fiscally conservative McCain is, particularly in comparison to the last few GOP presidential candidates... by some measures, McCain is more fiscally conservative than Ronald Reagan, who never made much of a move to rein in spending (Reagan was more concerned with winning the Cold War and lowering taxes).

Afterwards, that well-known "spending hawk," Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC lashed out at McCain, railing that the presumptive Republican nominee had no plan to "turn the economy around" (does Dean mean from generally improving to generally failing?)

So what is McCain's lousy plan that doesn't pass muster with the Dean Scream Machine? A few highlights are in order.

A taxing problem...

Here is McCain on taxes in general:

In the same way, many in Congress think Americans are under-taxed. They speak as if letting you keep your own earnings were an act of charity, and now they have decided you've had enough. By allowing many of the current low tax rates to expire, they would impose -- overnight -- the single largest tax increase since the Second World War. Among supporters of a tax increase are Senators Obama and Clinton. Both promise big "change." And a trillion dollars in new taxes over the next decade would certainly fit that description.

Of course, they would like you to think that only the very wealthy will pay more in taxes, but the reality is quite different. Under my opponents' various tax plans, Americans of every background would see their taxes rise -- seniors, parents, small business owners, and just about everyone who has even a modest investment in the market. All these tax increases are the fine print under the slogan of "hope": They're going to raise your taxes by thousands of dollars per year -- and they have the audacity to hope you don't mind.

The first salvo. No candidate since 1988 has been so Reganesque on taxes as John McCain. He even has a radical proposal of his own that starts from one of Reagan's own reforms, reducing the number of tax brackets, and carries it to the next step; but more on that anon.

The one time McCain voted against a tax cut was the George W. Bush proposal; I am convinced that he did so out of continuing anger at Bush. While this is pettiness that does not reflect well on McCain, I would sure as heck rather put up with an occasional small-mindedness than suffer endlessly under the passionate Democratic faith in a massive government funded by draconian taxes to solve all our problems.

John McCain will lower your taxes and simplify your tax returns. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will raise your taxes and vastly complexify your returns. If lowering taxes matters to you, if letting Americans keep more of their own money matters, then you can neither vote for a Democrat nor sit out the election in a snit.

We're spent!

On spending in general:

In so many ways, we need to make a clean break from the worst excesses of both political parties. For Republicans, it starts with reclaiming our good name as the party of spending restraint. Somewhere along the way, too many Republicans in Congress became indistinguishable from the big-spending Democrats they used to oppose. The only power of government that could stop them was the power of veto, and it was rarely used.

If that authority is entrusted to me, I will use the veto as needed, and as the Founders intended. I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks. I will seek a constitutionally valid line-item veto to end the practice once and for all. I will lead across-the-board reforms in the federal tax code, removing myriad corporate tax loopholes that are costly, unfair, and inconsistent with a free-market economy.

McCain is even stronger on spending than he is on taxes. He has the best "porkbuster" record of almost anyone; he rejects the very concept earmarks, which are the single most corrupt scheme members of Congress have ever invented precisely because it's so hard to prove the manifest bribery in a court of law.

Both Clinton and Obama oppose a ban on earmarks; they side with Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 85%), along with the most liberal spenders in the 110th Congress.

You may argue the Republicans spent like drunken sailors while they held the majority; but during that period, there were many projects that Democrats wanted but never got. Had the party of Pelosi and Reid been in control the first six years of the Bush presidency, our budget deficit would be much larger and we would be close to bankruptcy as a nation, even including the galaxy-sized tax burden they would have maintained.

John McCain will hold down spending and will veto any bill containing earmarks; the Democrats will raise spending out of sight and enshrine earmarks as the normal way to fund everything. If spending matters, you know what you must do.

They're all ears...

McCain on earmarks:

I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks....

I have a clear record of not asking for earmarks for my state. For their part, Senators Obama and Clinton have championed a long list of pork-barrel projects for their states -- like that all-important Woodstock museum that Senator Clinton expected Americans to pay for at the cost of a million dollars. That kind of careless spending of tax dollars is not change, my friends: It is business as usual in Washington, and it's all a part of the same wasteful and corrupting system that we need to end.

See above. We're all ears, too.

Particularly taxing...

Think McCain is all meaningless bluster? Has no concrete solutions, as Howard Dean says? Here is McCain on specific tax proposals (other than the big one -- see below):

The goal of reform, however, is not merely to check waste and keep a tidy budget process -- although these are important enough in themselves. The great goal is to get the American economy running at full strength again, creating the opportunities Americans expect and the jobs Americans need. And one very direct way to achieve that is by taking the savings from earmark, program review, and other budget reforms -- on the order of 100 billion dollars annually -- and use those savings to lower the business income tax for every employer that pays it. [Yeah, I know -- ears, ears, ears!]

So I will send to Congress a proposal to cut the taxes these employers pay, from a rate of 35 to 25 percent [Cut in the corporate income-tax rate; how likely is that to come from the jawbone of the asses in the donkey party?]....

I will also send to the Congress a middle-class tax cut -- a complete phase-out of the Alternative Minimum Tax to save more than 25 million middle-class families more than 2,000 dollars every year [Perfect pitch; the AMT, if it ever had a purpose (which I dispute), has certainly outlived it.]....

I will send to Congress a reform to increase the exemption -- with the goal of doubling it from 3,500 dollars to 7,000 dollars for every dependent, in every family in America [Kids -- those damned kids! Seriously, even the United States is skating on the edge of having too low a fertility rate to reproduce our population; incentives for people to have more children not only help directly, they send the message that America welcomes new and larger families.]....

I will propose and sign into law a reform agenda to permit the first-year expensing of new equipment and technology... to ban Internet taxes, permanently... to ban new cell phone taxes... and to make the tax credit for R&D permanent, so that we never lose our competitive edge.

And while we're on the subject of incentives, here are some good ones to encourage more technological development... which just happens to be America's forte.

John McCain will make changes in the tax law to cut the corporate tax rate, benefit parents, kill off the AMT, and support new technology. The Democrats will increase taxes, spending, and regulation of businesses. Which hand do you choose?

The great one (not Jackie Gleason)...

McCain on his big proposal, a voluntary "fair tax" option:

It is not enough, however, to make little fixes here and there in the tax code. What we need is a simpler, a flatter, and a fair tax code. As president, I will propose an alternative tax system. When this reform is enacted, all who wish to file under the current system could still do so. And everyone else could choose a vastly less complicated system with two tax rates and a generous standard deduction.

I like this proposal for several reasons, even though I'm not sure I would elect that option; I would do my taxes the old-fashioned way -- using TurboTax, I mean -- and then also using the new-fangled method... then select whichever one got us a bigger refund; time spent is less valuable to me than money saved. But here is why the "fair tax" is a spectacularly good political bombshell:

  • It's a grand plan, much more transcendent than anything proposed by either Democrat (in this usage, transcendent means leaping out from the run-of-the-millstone policy-wonk proposals that pepper every presidential campaign);
  • It's clearly a reform, making McCain the real reformist in the race;
  • It has a huge base of popularity in all recent polls: People like it because it has the real-world effect of simplifying what is, for most people, one of the most nerve-wracking and traumatic events of an ordinary year;
  • It focuses attention on an area where Republicans still command a big lead over Democrats: tax policy;
  • It's something that George W. Bush never did; his transcendent plan was privatization of Social Security (well, partial privatization) -- which attracts a lot of people (those who know much about the current system and therefore loathe it), but also scares the bejesus out of even more (people who wrongly imagine the SS is a "lockbox" in which their benefits sit, which might be pried open and stolen by unscrupulous stock brokers). It's absurd, but lots of things people believe are similiarly absurd.

The only transcendent scheme proposed by either Democrat is the "Department of Peace" that Hillary Clinton lifted from Dennis Kucinich, leaving plenty of fingerprints. But since nobody knows what the heck a Department of Peace would do, other than pay the salaries of a bunch more bureaucrats, I don't think anybody cared.

McCain will score big on this one... and it has not yet been factored into the polling, as few have heard of it yet. McCain's "fair tax" plan will give Americans a choice to simplify their taxes; Democrats will fubar taxes beyond all recognition. For me, the choice could not be clearer.

You big meanie...

McCain on means-testing the prescription-drug benefit of Medicare, pushed through by George W. Bush:

Those who can afford to buy their own prescription drugs should be expected to do so. This reform alone will save billions of dollars that could be returned to taxpayers or put to better use.

This is actually far more radical an idea than it at first appears.

You all know why some programs (Social Security, Medicare, Veteran's Benefits) are called "entitlement programs," while others that seem superficially similar (WIC, food stamps, federal education grants) are called "discretionary spending"... right? Entitlement programs are those that do not depend upon the economic condition of the recipient; everyone gets the same benefit, no matter how poor or well to do he is: Thus, even Bill Gates will get Social Security and Medicare (including the prescription drug benefit), despite the fact that he is the richest man in America (at one time, richest man in the world).

Never before that I can recall has the nominee for president from one of the two major parties openly called for means testing an entitlement program. It is a huge step forward, every bit as radical a reform, though not as important, of course, as Bush's suggestion that a small part of Social Security be broken off to be privately invested.

If McCain is elected and if he can push this through Congress, we will have broken the wall of separation between entitlement and need; surely other means-testing will follow, and we might finally get a handle on the budget... which is out of control precisely because of "entitlement" spending, which goes up all by itself, rather than by discretionary spending. It might also open the floodgates for more and more complete proposals for privatizing Social Security.

McCain will attempt to means-test a piece of an entitlement program, the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The Democrats would prefer to turn all discretionary social spending into entitlement programs. There's no comparison; McCain is better on every issue than the Dems, even including immigration policy.

Church of the subprime genius...

McCain on the subprime-mortgage crisis and his solution:

These reforms must wait on the next election, but to help our workers and our economy we must also act in the here and now. And we must start with the subprime mortgage crisis, with the hundreds of thousands of citizens who played by the rules, yet now fear losing their houses. Under the HOME plan I have proposed, our government will offer these Americans direct and immediate help that can make all the difference: If you can't make your payments, and you're in danger of foreclosure, you will be able to go to any Post Office and pick up a form for a new HOME loan. In place of your flawed mortgage loan, you'll be eligible for a new, 30-year fixed-rate loan backed by the United States government. Citizens will keep their homes, lenders will cut their losses, and everyone will move on -- following the sounder practices that should have been observed in the first place. [If we must do anything at all for fools working in banks and S&Ls who lent money to people unqualified to receive such a loan -- and politically we must -- then this is the way to go about it, rather than the massive bailout of subprime borrowers and wholesale punishment of financial institutions proposed by the anti-Capitalist Democrats.]

It's important as well to remember that the foolish risk-taking of lenders, investment banks, and others that led to these troubles don't reflect our free market as it should be working. In a free market, there must be transparency, accountability, and personal and corporate responsibility. The housing crisis came about because these standards collapsed -- and, as president, I intend to restore them.

The "penalty," if you want to call it that, applied to the financiers who broke their own rules to lend out money inappropriately should be to tighten our scrutiny of them -- not fine them more of what they clearly ain't got anymore!

McCain won't freak out about the subprime "crisis" and impose some grandiose and ludicrous Keynesian control on the financial markets, as the Democrats propose. Again, unless you enjoy economic collapse as a spectator sport, you should vote for McCain over either of these two Democratic knaves.

It's a gas, gas, gas...

McCain on gas:

I propose that the federal government suspend all taxes on gasoline now paid by the American people -- from Memorial Day to Labor Day of this year. The effect will be an immediate economic stimulus -- taking a few dollars off the price of a tank of gas every time a family, a farmer, or trucker stops to fill up. Over the same period, our government should suspend the purchase of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which has also contributed to the rising price of oil. This measure, combined with the summer-long "gas-tax holiday," will bring a timely reduction in the price of gasoline. And because the cost of gas affects the price of food, packaging, and just about everything else, these immediate steps will help to spread relief across the American economy.

If states followed suit, then gas prices would drop by a heck of a lot more than 18.4 cents per gallon; here in California, the state takes an additional 18 cents of direct tax on every gallon... but there is also the "tax" of requiring a special gasoline mix for each separate state and other enviro-wacko requirements, each of which also raises the price of gas. Altogether, eliminating federal and state gasoline taxes would save California drivers probably close to 50 cents per gallon -- a drop of $7.50 per tank for a 15-gallon tank. Assuming you get 20 mpg, that saves you a dollar for every 40 miles you drive.

The benefit may be less in some states; but it's still absurd to tax gasoline any differently than any other sale is taxed... unless the goal is to hurt truckers and commuters in particular and raise the price of nearly everything for nearly everybody (since nearly everything is driven somewhere by planes, trains, and eighteen-wheelers).

My only objection to this McCain proposal is -- the federal gas taxes go back up again after Labor Day. Dang.

McCain has already introduced a summer-long moratorium on federal gas taxes; the Democrats call for an increase in gas taxes, to punish people for driving too much. (While the Dems get chauffeured around and fly first class on commercial jets.) Want to continue driving? Vote McCain, not Hillary or Obama.

Five diamonds and a lump of coal...

Here McCain gives us five solid conservative progams -- but one clinker, the inevitable globaloney appeasement:

In the weeks and months ahead, I will detail my plans to reform health care in America... to make our schools more accountable to parents and taxpayers... to keep America's edge in technology... to use the power of free markets to grow our economy... to escape our dependence on foreign oil... and to guard against climate change and to be better stewards of the earth. All of these challenges, and more, will face the next president, and I will not leave them for some unluckier generation of leaders to deal with.
Of course, even on arthritic globaloney, McCain's "cap and trade" program is hugely better than the strict ceiling on CO2 emissions demanded by Democrats.

McCain has a number of other good proposals; and even on the bad policy, hysterical global fear of warming, his plan is better than theirs.

Campaigning, what is it good for?

It's good for demarcating the boundaries within which the candidate would govern. Campaign speeches tell us not only the specifics of what a candidate wants to go, but more important, the principles (or lack) by which he decides those specifics.

If a candidate's speeches are nothing but long "laundry lists" of unrelated ideas, then you can bet he is a pragmatist, a weathercock who will turn any way the wind of opportunity blows, like our previous president: Nobody listening to Bill Clinton in 1992 imagined how liberal he would govern in 1993-1994; and nobody who got used to Bill Clinton ver. 2.0 could be anything but aghast at Bill Clinton ver. 3.0, starting after Democrats lost the 1994 elections. He went from moderate DLCer to ultra-liberal Progressive to triangulating egoist without ever visibly changing his spots -- because he hadn't any in the first place; he had (and has) no discernable principles whatsoever.

Contrariwise, if a candidate's proposals all fit together into a single, coherent narrative, then that tells you he has a firm set of principles. And if that narrative has been fairly consistent throughout his career, that tells you he is steadfast, and you can rely upon him to have the same principles while governing as he does while campaigning -- for good or ill.

Note that this category applies to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as much as to John McCain, though I hope most readers here find that a compelling reason to vote for the last and against the first and second. They are steadfast, all right; steadfast liberal-progressives!

In this case, McCain's fiscal policies all point the same direction: Letting Americans keep more of their hard-earned money and reducing the size and scope of the federal government. If that makes any difference to you, then please don't let your angst about whether he is "pure" enough a conservative cause you to lose sight of the stark, raving differences between McCain and his two rivals.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 21, 2008, at the time of 6:47 PM

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» Gee, He Really Is Conservative - Page 2 from Big Lizards
A week ago yesterday, we posted about John McCain's economic policy speech delivered at Carnegie Mellon. We summarized thus: What was refreshingly unexpected was how fiscally conservative McCain is, particularly in comparison to the last few GOP presid... [Read More]

Tracked on April 29, 2008 8:42 PM

» Gee, He Really Is Conservative - Page 3: Judges from Big Lizards
The third in our series about John McCain's conservatism, which turns out, funnily enough, not to be oxymoronic at all. The earlier installments were: Gee, He Really Is Conservative - Page 1: Economics 101 Gee, He Really Is Conservative -... [Read More]

Tracked on May 6, 2008 6:09 PM


The following hissed in response by: Baggi

At this moment I still do not intend to vote for McCain.

However, more stuff like this is likely to change my mind.

Time will tell.

The above hissed in response by: Baggi [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 21, 2008 7:52 PM

The following hissed in response by: TerryeL

I intend to vote for McCain and as far as I am concerned, considering the complete inability of pissy conservatives to come up with a viable alternative...I really do not think they are in any position to get too damn self righteous about John McCain. If they sit back and let some freaking socialist in the White House, because McCain failed to say how high when they said they said..then screw em. Next time they can nominate Newt Gingrich and watch him get destroyed.

The above hissed in response by: TerryeL [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 4:04 AM

The following hissed in response by: WGPu

Hey! Back off about "the Pitts!" You granola types need to come visit the Steel City (not much steel these days, though). It's a great place. Try a Primanti Bros. sandwich down in The Strip. :-)

The above hissed in response by: WGPu [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 4:40 AM

The following hissed in response by: Seaberry

McCain looks better and better...

The above hissed in response by: Seaberry [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 5:44 AM

The following hissed in response by: BlogGambit

I will vote for McCain, despite the fact that there are several policies that I disagree with strongly (especially McCain/Feingold). However, your list of policies that McCain promises is quite impressive. Hopefully, if and when he becomes POTUS, McCain will stand on these principles.

The above hissed in response by: BlogGambit [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 6:44 AM

The following hissed in response by: Insufficiently Sensitive

Strongest feeling on the three candidates to date: the two Democrats are horrors, Obama on account of a complete lack of record and very likely concealed agenda at the far left end of the spectrum, and Hillary with far too much of a record of spiteful misuse of power and the concealed documents of the Watergate Committee and the Rose Law Firm records. Serious character flaws all.

So McCain by default, despite McCain/Feingold and some other (immigration) mistakes. And now he begins to move into positive territory with the proposals we find in Big Lizards.

Strikingly, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has not deigned to pass on any news of those McCain proposals, preferring to wallow in al-Sadr's heroic resistance and the oh-so-thrilling Democratic mudwrestling and the parrotting of WaPo's 'McCain Has A Temper' attack. Committing journalism is contrary to union rules at the P-I, apparently.

The above hissed in response by: Insufficiently Sensitive [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 7:39 AM

The following hissed in response by: BarbaraS

Every time I have voted for president I have picked the lesser of two evils. And as far as I am concerned the dems are the evil so to speak. I will vote for McCain because the other two are so horrible and I feel a danger to the country. But McCain looks better and better all the time as the other two keep opening their mouths with their socialist dreck.

The above hissed in response by: BarbaraS [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 8:34 AM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

I read all I can on McCain's tax positions, but this post is by far the best I've seen. Since, after al Qaeda/Taliban/Iran, taxes are my biggest issue you've persuaded me! McCain gets my vote.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 10:10 AM

The following hissed in response by: BarbaraS

Strikingly, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has not deigned to pass on any news of those McCain proposals, preferring to wallow in al-Sadr's heroic resistance and the oh-so-thrilling Democratic mudwrestling and the parrotting of WaPo's 'McCain Has A Temper' attack. Committing journalism is contrary to union rules at the P-I, apparently.

Yes, even Fox has not reported any of this. Fox is also becoming more liberal.

The above hissed in response by: BarbaraS [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 10:20 AM

The following hissed in response by: ~brb

Why settled for the lesser evil? Vote Cthulhu in 2008!

The above hissed in response by: ~brb [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 10:30 AM

The following hissed in response by: Insufficiently Sensitive

Barbara S has a good point, but it's not particularly new.

Fox News employs journalists. I'm not talking opinion blitherists here, I'm addressing those who gather and edit and present news items. About 90 percent of journalists are left of center, and those at Fox are not exceptions. It's wholly naive (or malicious) to expect that Fox be lockstep conservative in all of its activities, and its news spectrum is a good demonstration of this.

[Well, what has the lefties in such a snit about Fox, and why won't the sacred Democratic candidates summon the cojones to debate on Fox?] Oh well, most journalists are progressive, but some are more progressive than others. And the Seattle P-I has progressed clear over the horizon.

The above hissed in response by: Insufficiently Sensitive [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 11:31 AM

The following hissed in response by: BarbaraS

Why settled for the lesser evil? Vote Cthulhu in 2008

I would vote for Hillary before I would Obama in a heartbeat and since I despise this woman to the max you can imagine how I feel about Obama.

OT I saw on Fox where Obama's campaign is accusing Bill Clinton of racism. Welcome to the world of democrat politics. It couldn't happen to a necer guy.

The above hissed in response by: BarbaraS [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 1:42 PM

The following hissed in response by: phil g

Now that we're down to McCain and one of two bad choices, any 'conservative' who won't vote for McCain out of 'principle' is not a conservative but rather an idiologist who's created an idol out of their holy virtue of choice. I'm not saying that their holy virtue is wrong. What is wrong is they've allowed it to over rule prudence, judgement, clear thinking...and those are basic conservative traits.

Read this for another excellent essay in defense of John McCain by noted libertarion crank, P.J. O'Roarke.

The above hissed in response by: phil g [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 2:48 PM

The following hissed in response by: phil g

Hmmm...thought I had posted the link to O'Roarke's essay.


The above hissed in response by: phil g [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 2:49 PM

The following hissed in response by: phil g

Just testing the 'link' functionality

The above hissed in response by: phil g [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 2:52 PM

The following hissed in response by: TerryeL


The office of the President of the United States is a political office. These people are all politicians and someone is going to win even if conservatives sit home and pretend to be above it all. Fine, but if that is their attitude they are pretty much irrelevant.

The above hissed in response by: TerryeL [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 4:45 PM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

He's proposing a freakin' flat tax?! Outstanding. More please. Not only was this speech good, it was pure Reagan/Goldwater. I predict McCain in a landslide.

Church of the subprime genius...? This marks you, my friend, as a 45 or so year old male who went to college on the west coast...

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2008 6:34 PM

The following hissed in response by: Roy Lofquist

Dear Sirs,

McCain was not my first choice. Actually, my first first choice, Barry Goldwater, won the nomination and got clobbered. Neither the right nor the left can win a national election with their ideal candidate. In the current election McCain might just pull Congress back to Republican control.

In regards to global warming: McCain is pulling one of George Bush's favorite tactics - he doesn't want it to become an election issue so he semi-agrees with the Dems, kicking the can down the road. The President wont have much to say about the issue. The Congress will decide.

In that vein, the President doesn't have much power over the economy. Again, that's Congress's bailiwick. The President has four authorities: foreign policy, executive and judicial appointments, the veto and the conduct of a war.

McCain is well vetted on foreign policy and the conduct of the war. Some may fault him for his role in the "Gang of Fourteen" but in reality it aided Bush in getting judges confirmed while avoiding a major crisis in the Senate. His stated policy on vetoes is quite plain.

But, since I'm a big time masochist I'm going to vote for the Irishman, O'Bama.


The above hissed in response by: Roy Lofquist [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 23, 2008 5:47 PM

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