Do Good Men Have What It Takes to Be President?

Joe Biden Barack Obama
Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, August 27, 2014 (White House/Pete Souza)

A great politician isn’t necessarily a presidential one. This week, Americans saw one of their greatest politicians frankly sharing his doubts about running for the highest office and another drop out of the race.

In an emotional interview with The Late Show‘s Stephen Colbert on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden reminisced about speaking to military families shortly after losing his son, Beau, to brain cancer in May when a soldier stood up and announced himself as having served with the younger Biden in Iraq.

“I lost it,” Biden said. “You can’t do that.”

“I don’t think any man or woman should run for president,” he continued, “unless they can look at folks out there and say, ‘I promise you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy and my passion.’ I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there.” Read more “Do Good Men Have What It Takes to Be President?”

Despite Gaffes, Perry Could Prove Formidable Contender

Former Texas governor Rick Perry announced on Thursday he would run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination again. Although he is best remembered for a number of gaffes committed the last time around, Perry could still prove a formidable contender.

His announcement comes a little over a week before former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the presumptive nominee, is expected to make his own candidacy official in Miami.

Whereas Bush is seen as a pragmatist and closer to the political center — despite boasting a solidly conservative record on business policy and taxes — Perry is a populist who appeals mainly to social conservatives. His reactionary views on culture-war issue like abortion and gay marriage should resonate with evangelical and Southern voters.

What makes Perry more credible than other social conservatives in the race, such as his state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, is that he has actually governed — successfully. Read more “Despite Gaffes, Perry Could Prove Formidable Contender”

Republican Perry: Turkey Ruled by “Islamic Terrorists”

Texas governor Rick Perry, a Republican Party presidential candidate, said on Monday night that Turkey is ruled “by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists” and he questioned whether it should remain a member of NATO.

Perry was participating in a Fox News debate of Republican Party presidential hopefuls in South Carolina. The state is due to vote in the party’s primary election this Saturday to nominate an opposition candidate to run against President Barack Obama in November.

The Texan observed that Turkey was moving “far away” from the country that he lived in during the 1970s when he was stationed in Turkey as a United States Air Force pilot. Turkey at the time was under an unstable secular government that was overthrown by the military in a 1980 coup. Nevertheless, it “was our ally,” said Perry. “Today, we don’t see that.”

The current conservative government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan conducts a more independent foreign policy and has sought to infuse Islamic values in a nation that is overwhelmingly religious but seen aggressive attempts at secularization under both civilian and army regimes for much of its republican history.

Erdoğan has severed ties with Israel in favor of a policy that is more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, including Hamas, a group the United States regard as a terrorist organization. He tried to negotiate a nuclear fuel exchange agreement with Tehran in 2010 over Western objections but also agreed late last year to host an early warning radar system for NATO’s European missile shield despite Iranian pressure and threats.

Recently, the government in Ankara has distanced itself from Damascus after fostering trade relations with the Ba’athist regime there in previous years. President Abdullah Gül said in August of last year that he had “lost confidence” in his Syrian counterpart and Turkey has refused to close its border with Syria for refugees seeking to escape the brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.

American-Turkish relations have been complicated by Turkey’s assertiveness. Where it used to be staunchly pro-American and considered itself Western, Erdoğan and his Islamist party have realigned their country to become a power in region. The move has not been without suspicion — from the United States as well as opposition parties inside Turkey that fear an Islamization of their society.

If Turkey is to be a regional player, it cannot be perceived as an American puppet regime. Nor can it maintain cordial relations with the Jewish state if it is to present itself as an alternative to either theocracy or secular dictatorship.

Especially in the wake of the “Arab Spring,” which forced authoritarian, secular and often pro-Western governments out of power, Turkey’s blend of democracy and Islamism may be a model for revolutionaries in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria where the majority of people are conservative and Muslim and antisemitism is rife. It is why Ankara has distanced itself from the depots it was so willing to do business with just a few years ago in the name of “zero problems with neighbors” and embraced the new order in the Middle East — one it hopes to lead.

This could be an opportunity for the United States to exert influence through Turkey on countries that are generally anti-American except for their (military) establishments that have for decades conducted a foreign policy that lacked popular support.

Perry didn’t recognize such an opportunity. He said he wanted to “send a powerful message to countries like Iran and Syria and Turkey that the United States is serious.”

Grouping Turkey, a NATO ally for sixty years, with overtly anti-American regimes like Iran and Syria would constitute a major shift in American strategy and possibly undermine its foreign policy across the Middle East if it is seen as mistaking conservative Islam for extremism.

A foreign-policy advisor to Rick Perry’s campaign elaborated on the governor’s comments to an ABC News journalist after the debate, explaining that it was the Turkish government’s association with Hamas that prompted his use of the word “terrorists.” She added that as president, Perry “would welcome the opportunity to work with Turkey on regional issues like Syria or Iraq.”

Gingrich, Perry Question Romney’s Business Past

It’s an unusual sight for a party that professes to champion free enterprise. Republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are independently picking apart Mitt Romney’s past at the head of a private equity firm in the hope of capturing the blue-collar vote in South Carolina’s primary election next week.

The first in the South primary may be the last chance Gingrich and Perry have of stopping the former Massachusetts governor from claiming the Republican presidential nomination for November’s election.

Romney, who is perceived as a moderate, was not expected to do well in conservative South Carolina before he won the caucuses in just as conservative Iowa last week. He also emerged the victor from New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday, an unlikely feat given the disparities in voter affiliation between the two states.

His main conservative rivals, Gingrich, Perry and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, all plan a last stand in South Carolina before the primary race moves to much larger and more centrist Florida late in January. In recent months, they have criticized him for changing positions on abortion and for implementing a health insurance scheme in Massaschusetts that is eerily similar to President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. All to little avail. A vast majority of Republican primary voters still expects him to be the nominee.

That is not to say they like him. In South Carolina, Florida and nationwide, Romney’s popularity rarely exceeds 30 percent. Deemed a flipflopper and accused of lacking core principles, the presumptive nominee is clearly vulnerable but at least until now, his rivals haven’t managed to find the right line of attack.

Gingrich and Perry hope that they’ve finally found his weakness. The former House speaker and incumbent Texas governor have both staked their candidacies on a strong showing in South Carolina and are vehemently criticizing Romney there for making millions as a venture capitalist — or “vulture capitalist,” as Perry puts it — while bankrupting companies and laying people off.

Romney contends that in a free-market economy, people sometimes lose their jobs. Besides, he says, his company helped create or sustain tens of thousands more jobs than it destroyed. He promises to apply the same philosophy to boosting employment nationwide as president.

If there’s any indication that the attacks could hurt him, it is the rapidness with which the conservative press has spun into action to question Gingrich’s and Perry’s tactics. Right-wing talk radio hosts and Fox News presenters are openly critical of the two presidential contenders, accusing them of drawing the same distinction between “good” and “bad” capitalism that the left is trying to make.

The Wall Street Journal, an influential pro-business newspaper, similarly lambasted the “crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism” that Gingrich and Perry make, editorializing that “desperate” Republican candidates “sound like Michael Moore,” the left-wing filmmaker.

The Romney campaign has responded in kind. “We expect attacks on free enterprise from President Obama and his allies on the left,” it said in a statement, “not from so-called fiscal conservatives.”

Is it a winning strategy? The unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent in South Carolina, well above the national average. It’s also one of the poorest states in the union in terms of median household income. South Carolinians may be conservative but it remains to be seen if they’re firmly capitalist. The primary there is January 21.

Republican Candidates Critical of Defense Cuts

Republican presidential hopefuls lined up against deep defense cuts during a foreign policy debate that was broadcast by CNN on Tuesday.

Texas governor Rick Perry blamed President Barack Obama for failing to lead the national deficit reduction effort and called it “reprehensible” that he would threaten to veto repeal of a sequester that should cut more than half a trillion dollars in projected defense spending over the next decade.

The failure of a congressional supercommittee tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction could trigger hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to military spending in 2013 although the next legislature could cancel this so-called sequestration.

Defense secretary Leon Panetta has forecast “doomsday” if the sequester cuts were enacted and predicted that the American military would be reduced to little more than a “paper tiger” that “invites aggression.”

An army of barracks, buildings and bombs without enough trained soldiers to be able to accomplish the mission.

“If Leon Panetta is an honorable man,” Perry concluded Tuesday night, “he should resign in protest.”

Ahead of the debate, Jon Huntsman, the former American ambassador to China, in an op-ed for CNN lamented that those of this opponents who would let “draconian across the board cuts” in defense spending guide policy were missing the point.

First, they let resources drive strategy rather than using strategy to drive force structure and capabilities. Second, they fail to fundamentally alter our defense posture — so any short-term savings will be quickly erased.

The challenge, according to Huntsman, is to design the armed forces so that they can respond “swiftly and firmly” to terrorist threats wherever they appear.

He would draw down American troop levels in Afghanistan to between 10- and 15,000 from 100,000 today. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is perceived as the frontrunner in the primary contest, criticized Huntsman, pointing out that none of the military commanders favored such a steep withdrawal. “This is not time for America to cut and run,” he said.

Since September 11, 2001, military spending has increased by almost 7 percent a year, up from $291 billion ten years ago to almost $700 billion today. For 2012, the Pentagon has requested an appropriation of $671 billion including $118 billion to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that in order for the military to execute its base budget plans over the next decade, it needs a total of $597 billion or 11 percent more than if funding was held at the 2011 level. The sequester would prevent this rise from occurring.

Rick Perry, Down Not Out

Governor Rick Perry hasn’t had a couple of very good weeks. His popularity has plummeted after a series of disappointing debate performances which culminated last week in the now infamous “oops” moment when he couldn’t remember it was the Department of Energy he would like to eliminate.

The governor was instantly written off as a serious contender. No presidential candidate, the commentariat declared, could survive a gaffe so embarrassing. Rick Perry’s campaign, they said, is over.

Yet less than week after the incident, Perry unveiled a comprehensive plan to “uproot and overhaul” Washington and defended it credibly and concisely on a number of television shows.

If Perry had his way, Congress would be made a part-time legislature, lawmakers’ pay would be cut, federal spending capped at 18 percent of gross domestic product and all regulations enacted during the Obama Administration audited with many of them, one supposes, repealed — foremost among them, Obamacare.

It was hardly the first time that Perry avenged himself with a bold and conservative policy proposal. His optional 20 percent flat tax was also presented to primary voters after he had tried to attack Mitt Romney’s flipflopping in debate and failed — a feat in itself for Romney’s lack of consistency will be the stuff of legends one day.

It’s precisely because conservatives so mistrust Romney that Perry still stands a chance of winning the nomination.

Social Security privatization, a flat tax, government reform — it’s like Perry is ticking off a box on the Tea Party wish list every other week to actually make Washington as “inconsequential” in people’s lives as possible. Does anyone expect Romney to ever do the same?

Right now, Perry is in single digits in most nationwide polls but if Herman Cain continues to pretend that presidents don’t need to know anything other than “9-9-9” to get elected and once Newt Gingrich inevitably implodes, there will be an opportunity for the Texan to rally the conservative base and position himself as the true anti-Romney. He has the experience of fostering economic success in his state and boasts an impressive campaign war chest that will be utilized to demolish whichever candidate won’t get out of the way after Iowa and South Carolina have both voted in January. If Romney doesn’t manage to lock up the nomination in Nevada and Florida the next month, he probably never will and there’s a clear path for Perry to the Republican candidacy.

Perry’s Plan to “Uproot and Overhaul” Washington

Texas governor Rick Perry delivered a speech on Tuesday in which he outlined his plans to “uproot and overhaul Washington.” It was full of concrete proposals to rein in the federal bureaucracy. To mention a few: Pay cuts for members of Congress and the president; cuts to federal offices and staff; cutting the congressional calendar in half; a regulatory freeze before an audit of recently enacted regulations can be completed; a reduction of total federal spending to 18 percent of GDP; the privatization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Perry also explained how he would dismantle the Departments of Commerce, Education and (the one he couldn’t remember in last week’s debate) Energy.

Commerce would be eliminated largely because its responsibilities do not necessitate a separate bureaucracy, according to Governor Perry. The majority of its $9 billion annual budget is directed at regulating fisheries and monitoring weather patterns — “functions that do not mandate an independent department.” Rather the Department of the Interior should house these functions while patent and trademark oversight would be converted into standalone agencies, “reflecting their unique constitutional mandates.” Read more “Perry’s Plan to “Uproot and Overhaul” Washington”

Republican Candidates Fail to Name Specific Cuts

The Republican Party’s presidential contenders appeared to have few substantial policy disagreements between them during a televised debate in Michigan on Wednesday. Virtually all of them reserved their stauchest criticism for President Barack Obama and his economic policy but they were short on the specifics of their alternative approaches.

With Italy in political turmoil and apparently on the verge of a financial crisis, none of the conservatives on stage Wednesday night had any desire to entangle the United States in a bailout of the world’s eighth largest economy. Rather they considered Europe’s spiraling debt crisis a warning for Americans. “If we don’t get serious about cutting and capping our spending and balancing our budget, you’re going to find America in the same position Italy is in four or five years from now and that is unacceptable,” said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney who is considered the frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, the other moderate Republican on stage, agreed. He wouldn’t commit to financial support for banks that have invested heavily in European debt. Instead, he chastised those institutions that “have an implied bailout by the taxpayers in this country and that means we’re setting ourselves up for disaster again. As long as we have banks that are too big to fail,” Huntsman predicted, “we’re going to catch the contagion.” He couldn’t say how exactly he would make banks smaller though.

Few of the candidates laid out specific budget cuts although they all championed fiscal consolidation. Texas governor Rick Perry struggled to remember the three departments of government he would like to eliminate. “I would do away with Education, the Commerce and, let’s see, I can’t. The third one I can’t,” he said while fumbling with his notes. “Oops.”

He recalled that it was the Department of Energy he would like to dismantle later in the debate but the damage had been done. It was “the ‘oops’ heard ’round the world,” according to Politico — a bit of an overstatement but certainly the scene affirmed Perry’s reputation as a poor debater.

The candidates agreed that taxes should be cut and the regulatory burden on businesses lifted in order to stir job creation. As former House speaker Newt Gingrich put it, “All of us on this stage represent a dramatically greater likelihood of getting to a paycheck and leaving behind food stamps as does Barack Obama.” According to Perry, “We need to go out there and stick a big ol’ flag in the middle of America that says, ‘Open for business again.'” He touted his plan for an optional 20 percent flat tax which would significantly reduce the tax burden on businesses and high-income earners.

The candidates were also unanimous in their opposition to the Democrats’ health-care reform legislation which mandates that all Americans purchase insurance. They favored extending more “options” to seniors who are on Medicare, as Governor Perry put it, and “let the states figure out how to make Medicaid work.”

Romney agreed that states should decide how to care for their medically uninsured which is the defense he’s offered consistently to justify a health reform measure he enacted in Massachusetts when he was governor there. Opponents have likened it to the president’s health-care law because it also requires that citizens have insurance.

Although Romney has hesitated to endorse privatization of Social Security which pays pensions to seniors, he did say to favor private health savings accounts on Wednesday to cover medical expenses. “People have to have a stake in what the costs and the quality as well is of their health care,” he suggested.

Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann promised to enable people to buy insurance from other states which is currently prohibited by federal law. “Today there’s an insurance monopoly in every state in the country and I would end that monopoly and let any Americans go anywhere they want,” she said. “That’s the free market.”

Competing Tax Plans in GOP Primary Race

Texas governor Rick Perry, who hopes to secure the Republican Party’s presidential nomination for next year’s election, unveiled a comprehensive tax reform proposal on Tuesday that would allow Americans to pay a 20 percent flat tax rate on their income without abolishing the current tax regime.

Perry, whose popularity plummeted after he disappointed in several of the televised debates with his fellow contenders, is certain to appeal to the conservative base of his party with his tax overhaul. It would virtually eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends which inhibit investment and lower America’s corporate tax rate from 35 percent, which is among the highest in the developed world, to 20 percent.

Personal income would be taxed at a similar rate although deductions for charitable donations, local taxes and mortgage interest would remain in place for incomes under $500,000. Furthermore, Perry’s plan offers a standard deduction of $12,500 per household member so a family or four earning $50,000 per year would have zero tax liability.

The Texan’s proposal is more radical than Mitt Romney’s, the former Massachussetts governor who is regarded as his foremost rival in the nomination contest.

Romney would cut corporate taxes to 25 percent and has promised a “fundamental redesign” of the tax code but would keep personal income rates as they are in the short term. He would also eliminate the capital gains tax but only for incomes under $200,000. For richer Americans, who are the main source of capital investment, such a cut would be meaningless.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman has also proposed to lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent and would reduce the existing income brackets to 8, 14 and 23 percent — without allowing for deductions at all.

The mortgage interest deduction in particular is hugely market distortive and contributed to the housing bubble that preceded the 2007 financial crisis by enabling Americans to purchase homes which they could not actually afford.

Perry’s plan could help him win back Republican primary voters who are now leaning toward Herman Cain, the former businessman whose “9-9-9” tax plan is popular with voters but less so with conservative activists and tax lobbyists who fear that future Congresses might be tempted to raise the rates.

Cain, who was also a Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank chairman, advocates a reduction of the corporate and personal income tax rates to 9 percent as well as the creation of a nationwide sales tax.

Independent analyses have suggested that Cain’s plan would fall some $400 billion short of the $2.16 trillion the federal government takes in under the existing tax code — which is approximately a trillion dollars less than what Washington spends this year. Cain has yet to put out a plan for deficit reduction.

The fiscal impact of Perry’s plan is more difficult to estimate because it would allow people to continue to be taxed under the current regime. As such, the roughly 50 percent of households who pay no income taxes right now have little incentive to move to the flat tax. Top incomes would profit disproportionately by contrast.

Democrats have criticized Herman Cain’s plan because it, too, would reduce taxes dramatically for high-income earners with little benefit to middle-class Americans.

To offset the drop in revenue that will likely result from implementing a flat tax, Perry favors a balanced budget amendment to enforce fiscal discipline and wants to cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product. The governor would reduce nondefense outlays by $100 billion during his first year in office with cuts to the Department of Energy and by eliminating the nationalized mortgage agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.