“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Bloomberg GOP Presidential Candidates' Economics Debate

I managed to watch the first minute or so of Bloomberg's GOP candidates' debate last night, and a little bit more. Mostly to see how disappointing it would be.

Sad to say, my expectations were met, and in some ways, exceeded. I was very disappointed.

As I feared, Charlie Rose, who is looking pretty old and decrepit these days, gave his trademark hound dog look and faux-gravitas tone of voice, then asked Herman Cain what he would do as president to solve the nation's economic problems.

As I listened to Rose's trite question, and Cain's pat '9-9-9' reply, I realized the futility of these sorts of so-called debates.

Bloomberg made a big deal out of declaring that it would have 40 analysts beavering away in real time to uncover flip-flops, lies, or false claims.

Then the first question out of the gate is a straw man question. Isn't it not just ironic, but pointless, to ask a GOP presidential candidate a question which assumes a president has the power to just dictate what he wants, on the day that Wonderboy's own party, which controls the Senate, can't and won't pass his jobs bill?

Despite Bloomberg's various anchors going on and on all day about how the round table format would be so groundbreaking, it changed nothing. Just more silly grasping at anything to look different.

As I surfed between the American League baseball playoff game between Detroit and Texas, and O'Reilly's Factor program from Boston, I heard Rick Santorum fumble the question about economic development in his hometown. How he contended that, sure, all those lost jobs could return.


That's when it hit me how futile this Bloomberg event was on another dimension. Of the eight candidates at the big round table, only Cain and Romney had actually run businesses. Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, Paul and Huntsman have not, to my knowledge. Huntsman may have worked in his father's business, but he doesn't present himself as a businessman but, rather, a former governor and ambassador to China.

Thus the bulk of the field really can't speak 'off the cuff' about business or economics specifics.

This brought me to my next realization. We're not electing a chief economist or chief business cheerleader. We're electing a president.

And, by the way, only Keynesians would think that it makes sense to have a debate among presidential candidates just about economics, with warnings that they 'want specifics.'

Because non-Keynesians, such as followers of the Austrian school of economics, and/or Milton Friedman, don't believe in government intervention. Thus, no economic details beyond lower tax rates, an overhauled tax code, and less regulatory interference, would be appropriate or forthcoming from this group of eight.

Which is pretty much what every candidate said.

But that doesn't make for a very exciting, nor long so-called debate, does it?

What did get really tiring was hearing Huntsman, Romney, Perry and Bachmann continually using terms like 'innovation,' 'innovators,' small businessmen,' and the like. I wish Bloomberg's moderators- yes, there were two others who were equally ineffectual as Rose- would have banned the use of those terms.

Sadly, when in doubt, every GOP candidate begins to sing the praises of something and someone about which they know very little from experience- innovation and business risk-taking.

So why don't they just shut up and leave it to the people who do it?

I tuned back in around 9PM, halfway through the event, only to learn that the next segment was to be a round robin of each candidate asking another candidate questions- something in which I have zero interest. So I Tivoed the remainder of the event and went back to Detroit vs. Texas.

From what I did see, there were three incidents of note.

The first was Gingrich's forceful criticism of Bloomberg and all media for turning a blind eye to government officials whose behavior brought about the financial crisis. He named names- Dodd, Frank, Geithner and Bernanke. When Charlie Rose, with a bewildered, stunned look, suggested that Gingrich wasn't talking about criminal investigations, the former Speaker shot back that he was indeed suggesting precisely that.

Then Ron Paul weighed in against Bernanke, as well. If Helicopter Ben had been in Spaulding Hall, he'd have been lynched.

Which reminds me of another notable incident. Huntsman derided Cain's 9-9-9 plan, saying he thought it had come off the top of a pizza box. The camera cut to Cain, whose tight-lipped expression dripped silent rage. To be truthful, Huntsman tone and wording suggested, to me, a vague undertone of racism.

Finally, Romney had a weird reaction to a question regarding what he would do if faced with a 2013 European financial meltdown which affected the US. Instead of answering the question, Mitt went two rounds with the moderator claiming that hypotheticals made no sense and he couldn't answer one. He looked weak and confused, as if buying himself time, because after berating the questioner a couple of times, he then launched into what he wouldn't do- bail out individual banks and car companies. Big deal. Thanks Mitt, I never could have figured that one out.

But the Mitt question brought to mind what the format probably should have been. Each candidate onstage with three economic advisors of their choosing. Then a hypothetical or real economic challenge would be read, and each team would have ten minutes to huddle and produce a response.

Bad television, but more realistic simulation of how a sitting president works. We simply don't have choices among perfect, omniscient candidates. They all rely on teams of advisors more specialized than the president. Why go through a pointless exercise in forcing someone like Bachmann or Santorum to try to fabricate detailed economic policies alone in two minutes with the cameras on them?

So, from what I saw among the samples of the first hour, the Bloomberg event was pretty much what I expected- nothing new or remarkable. But it did help me realize the utter futility of asking a bunch of largely free-market presidential candidates to spend two hours discussing, in detail, how, if they were president, they would use the federal government as a Keynesian force in the US economy.

What people really want is to learn more about how these candidates would lead and govern. And governing means working with and through Congress and the states- not just assuming that whatever they say they want to do will magically pass. Voters want to get a sense of values and candor from the candidates, as well as general stands on a wide range of key issues. Not an instant detailed economic plan from a candidate who isn't an economics PhD.

Poor planning and strategy on Bloomberg's part. Poor choice of moderators. Poor choice of format.

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