I’ve found the Republican debates interesting on a number of fronts: the questions the reporters asked (or didn’t); the way the politicians answered (or didn’t) and the Mitt Romney challenger-of-the-week club that almost everyone other than Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman has joined. (Ron Paul is excluded because he is the perpetual thorn in the Republicans’ side and Jon Huntsman because he didn’t bother trying to win Iowa—and maybe because people who appear to talk straight have no chance of winning these days.)
What struck me as very worrisome at the Saturday night debate (1/7/2012) was the aggressively militaristic position taken by all candidates other than Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Paul’s reasoned points regarding the size, cost and performance of the last decade of Republican wars gets lost in the isolationism inherent in his extreme libertarian positions. That’s too bad.
Huntsman, however, is not an isolationist. He is an internationalist and one who has experiences none of the other candidates have had, including his years as ambassador to China. I find his position on Afghanistan interesting. He essentially says our work is done: declare victory and withdraw. The Taliban are not in control. Those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks on the US are dead. Why are we still there?
When asked by a reporter if he isn’t afraid that by leaving Afghanistan a civil war will break out, he says he thinks one will break out regardless of when we leave. I can only wish President Obama would listen to Huntsman on this war.
Which now brings me to the rest of the republican contenders. They lambasted Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq, for “allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons,” and for proposing to reduce the nation’s defense budget. The question that was not asked of them, nor did they proffer their own solutions, was this: what would you do differently?
In one of the debates, one of the contenders (I don’t remember which debate nor which person, which is kind of lame, but there you have it) indicated that Obama should have negotiated harder to keep our troops in Iraq. I am sure we could have forced our preferences by tying it to our providing aid. That would certainly have pushed Iraq into our enemies’ arms, and gotten more of our troops killed. Obama insisted that U.S. personnel would be subject to the U.S. legal system; Iraq would not agree and Obama pulled out the remaining troops. I’m glad a war Bush and his warmongers should never have started is finally over for us. If Iraq regresses into civil war, so be it. If that is their path, they would eventually find it once we withdrew, whenever that time might be.
Iran is suffering mightily for its pursuit of nuclear weapons, which is why they are making a big show of testing missiles and threatening to cut access to the Straits of Hormuz. Should they actually cut access, I have no doubt the U.S., in concert with other nations, would interpret that action as an act of war and react militarily. For the U.S. to be the aggressor would not achieve any political, economic (other than to our defense industry) or moral objective. We would again become the bully Bush projected to the world.
Lastly, Saturday night all except Paul and Huntsman excoriated Obama for daring to cut defense spending even though, as Paul pointed out, our defense spending dwarfs any other nation (or four or ten nations combined—depending on whose statistics one chooses to believe.). Recognize that all the Republicans with the exception of Jon Huntsman have signed a pledge to “not raise taxes.” Most want to lower taxes, particularly for corporations and those individuals with assets (by way of eliminating the capital gains tax and/or estate taxes). All agree that our current budget deficit is unsustainable.
The three legs of the stool they are proposing are (1) we can’t cut defense spending, (2) we can’t raise taxes (in fact we should lower them) and (for many) (3) we must “balance the budget.” The only way to balance this stool is on the back of cuts in nondefense spending. The question we must ask and force these candidates to answer is this: how EXACTLY are you going to cut spending?
Now, they are going to say that by cutting taxes and decreasing regulations their policies will increase federal government revenue. Since we are still in the early stages of an economic recovery, pretty much whatever we do, government revenues will increase some. Cutting taxes is no guarantee—Bush’s tax cuts preceded a very deep recession and the largest budget deficits in history.
To cure the current budget deficit without increased taxes would require a roughly 40% reduction in expenses. I’ll cut the candidates a break and grant them some improved tax revenues and assume they only need to cut total spending by 30%! Now, tell us exactly whose ox you are going to gore.
A pivotal question this election should answer is how the American people choose to address the fiscal imbalances we currently have. Democrats under Obama have one idea (cuts in the budget, including entitlements, combined with increases in tax revenues). Ron Paul, whether you like his solutions or not, has been clear in his desire to eliminate large chunks of the current federal government, including much of the defense budget and most so-called entitlements. Jon Huntsman’s approach has so far been nuanced. He has refused to rely on throwing red meat to the Republican base. His complete solution relies on a combination of cuts and increased taxes. While he has provided some specificity, especially around his changes to the income tax, like Obama’s approach, his is not yet completely transparent.
The other Republicans are not serious about providing voters with a real understanding of their policies. They are spouting red meat untruths for their far-right bases in order win the nomination. They refuse to tell us what we individually and collectively will need to give up in order to maintain the current defense spending, decrease current taxes and balance the budget.
Here is my suggestion if you can vote in the Republican primaries: Until the other candidates provide enough information so you know what the economic effects of their policies will be, I recommend you vote for Ron Paul or Jon Huntsman as your preferences dictate.