Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Pointlessness of Mitt Romney

“Pointless…like giving caviar to an elephant.”
– William Faulkner

Leave it to Faulkner to create a simile so apt that it reaches across decades to apply, very neatly, to the futility of foisting Mitt Romney upon the Republican Party as its presidential nominee. The image of the elephant is self-evidently appropriate. As for caviar, despite its association with money and privilege, one wonders who actually enjoys its taste. Truth be told, it is over-rated, as most delicacies are. Caviar is a lot like Marmite, only more expensive and lacking its nutritional value. So it is with Romney, moneyed and privileged, yet without much to recommend him.

Of course, the late Nobel Laureate knew nothing of the former Massachusetts governor, but ‘twas always thus with a masterful turn of phrase – it can be wheeled out again and again, pertinent to any number of circumstances.

In this case, nominating Romney to lead the GOP in November, and even electing him president, would be pointless. While a President Romney may slow the country’s deterioration, and may even make good on his pledge to repeal Obamacare (that is, if the Supreme Court doesn’t drive a stake through that vampire-law first), his toothless policy proposals will do no more than delay the inevitable – that is, the end of America as we know it.

Getting the nation back to where it was in, say, 2007, is not a realistic option. The unfunded liabilities of the country, including Social Security and Medicare, total in the tens, and perhaps hundreds of trillions of dollars. As for debt and deficits, these have taken on a life of their own, rocketing to unheard-of peacetime levels. Finally, as pertains to personal freedom, the United States continues to increase constraints on its citizens, while closing itself off from the rest of the globe. To wit, America will cease to be a force for good in the world – let alone the indispensable nation – if it does not undertake immediate and drastic changes to the way it operates.

Romney, for all his Hugh Beaumont good-looks, solves none of these problems. This column maintains that Newt Gingrich, warts and all, is the strongest of the GOP candidates who have made themselves available (Jeb Bush, please call your office), and this is largely because the former Speaker has advanced, and can articulate, a platform of bold reform. Without one, America is just whistling Dixie.

The United States spends, taxes and borrows too much, has rules and laws for every facet of human existence (with more than 3,000 new federal regulations created this past year alone), countenances a Congress whose members enjoy a median net worth 35 times that of the citizens they govern, and continues to layer police-state security onto all aspects of daily life.

A word on that last – the Land of the Free loves to lock people up. America has an incarceration rate 13 times the rate of population growth, and has more individuals in prison than any other nation in the world – not per capita, but straight up. Long before he was running for president, Gingrich led the way in denouncing the American penchant for putting people behind bars. One might imagine this issue is the province of hippie-freak heroin-legalizers, or a simple matter of law-and-order politics. But prison is the default option in America, for everything from minor drug offenses to bouncing a check, and prosecutors are given overwhelming power to abuse the system, bully witnesses, and strip citizens of their right to a proper defense.

Freedom-minded conservatives should care very much about America’s lock-and-key mentality, as should bleeding-heart leftists – and let that latter group recall that Barack Obama not only failed to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he signed legislation allowing Americans to be sent there.

Where is Romney on all this? When has he shown inclination or initiative to restore America’s freedoms and reform an abusive system? Does he even know the problem exists?

On spending, Romney pledges to cram government outlays back down below 20 percent of GDP, from their current 25 percent, while cutting $500 billion from the budget in 2016. For those whose pidgin politician-speak isn’t up to snuff, “cutting” means reducing the rate of growth, not actually getting to a lower number. In any case, with an entitlement-laden federal budget edging up toward $4 trillion, a promised reduction of one-eighth that amount, to be delivered four years’ hence, is just so much chin-music.

It is on taxes that Romney is at his most unctuous and misguided. He shows no intention of reducing the tax burden on those who create jobs, repeatedly stating that relief for the middle class is the best way to spend our “precious” tax dollars. Aside from the Gollum-like fascination with other people’s money, does Romney imagine tax cuts are just temporary measures to give “relief” to people until such time as rates go up again? Or does he recognize that lowering rates and simplifying the system is the way to create a thriving market and increase employment? If he does not, as seems to be the case, then Romney has no business leading a party that purports to advocate limited government and free enterprise.

In fact, quite apart from a bold plan, Romney offers almost no tax-reform plan at all. For him, maintaining the Bush tax “cuts” (an absurd moniker, inasmuch as these rates have been in place longer than the 1997 Clinton tax regime they replaced) would be sufficient. Never mind that for those who would be most likely to hire their fellow Americans, this leaves rates on income way up at 35 percent – and north of 50 percent in some cases, once state and local taxes are included.

Romney would peg corporate taxes at 25 percent – far higher than America’s competitor nations and twice the rate Gingrich is proposing. Why on God’s green Earth would anyone start a business in America right now, or in the country Romney envisions?

As former Clinton advisor Dick Morris pointed out, while giving props to Gingrich, the budget was balanced in the 1990s by way of tax cuts, not increases. Presidents of both parties, from John F. Kennedy through George W. Bush, have demonstrated that lower rates lead to higher tax revenues, while spurring the economy. For this reason, Art Laffer, supply-side pioneer and architect of the Reagan boom years, has endorsed Gingrich over Romney, stating, “Newt’s plan is right.”

In a general election, Romney could probably defeat Obama (though he might make Southern states closer-run contests than they might be for a different GOP standard-bearer), but so what? President Romney would spend his first term as he has campaigned – splitting the difference, careful to offend no one, hoping to win again in 2016 – sounding great and looking presentable while the country goes to blazes.

Many Americans understand that the economic crisis, and the nation’s towering obligations, represent an existential threat to the nation. Even so, they ought not to fall for Romney’s bleat that he is “a business guy,” and therefore equipped to make things right. It is entirely possible – indeed, demonstrable, in Romney’s case – that someone can have the foresight to be an early investor in Staples, yet misunderstand how an economy grows.

A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for managed decline. At this time for choosing, America must do better than that.

Theo Caldwell, an international investor and broadcaster, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at


Monday, December 12, 2011

Newt Gingrich: One-Term President

On October 10, 2011, this column (which is an unnecessarily self-important way of saying “this guy”) anticipated the rise of Newt Gingrich in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Having presaged most polls and pundits, we (which is an unnecessarily self-important way of saying “I”) are (am) now prepared to dash whatever street cred our lucky call accrued by making an unnecessarily rash prediction: Newt Gingrich will be a one-term president.

Self-importance is significant to this exercise because if Gingrich does indeed go on to champion the GOP against Barack Obama, Americans will be treated to the World Series of Self-Importance, pitting a challenger who is pleased to tell you he has written 24 books, including 13 New York Times best-sellers, against a president who has written two books about himself.

And as for winning the presidency, Newt is quite capable of doing just that, notwithstanding the conventional wisdom that he would be a weak general election candidate. Elections are won or lost on contrasts and, between Obama and Gingrich, voters will have a clear policy choice. Plus, as a matter of simple arithmetic, if Newt is able to keep from falling far behind generic Republican polls and flip a few states back to the GOP column – Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and Florida, among others – Obama’s path to re-election becomes extremely narrow.

First, Gingrich must secure the nomination. For 2012, the GOP has eschewed its all-or-none system of previous cycles and will award delegates on a proportional basis for primaries and caucuses held before March 31. This makes it numerically possible that the nomination contest will go deep into the summer, perhaps even to a brokered convention. More likely, however, Newt will win in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, leaving little doubt that he is the choice of the party, encouraging other competitors to save their money, wrap up their campaigns, and hope for Cabinet posts.

Gingrich’s principal rival, of course, is erstwhile frontrunner and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. While Romney remains likely to win the New Hampshire primary, that should be his high-water mark, and America ought to be glad of that.

Romney is the Republican Al Gore: humorless, awkward, the son of a successful politician who can fill out phenomenal suits but never seems quite comfortable in his own skin. Further, just as the 2000 presidential election should have been a layup for Gore, Romney is losing a nomination that should be his because he badly misread the moment.

After seeing the face of government overreach these past three years, and recognizing that America’s economic condition represents an existential threat to the nation, Republicans yearned for a nominee who would take bold steps to make things right. Romney responded by playing it safe, making small plans, and winning no hearts.

His tax plan, in particular, is timid and pointless. Romney would have corporate rates way up at 25 percent, considerably higher than America’s competitor nations, while leaving personal rates basically unchanged. As Newt has aptly pointed out, Romney’s proposal to eliminate capital gains taxes only for those making $200,000 or less will do nothing to spur the economy – filers at this level represent only 9.3 percent of capital gains revenue to the Treasury – and is actually to the left of Obama’s position.

Romney’s language betrays him. In a recent Iowa debate, he defended his insipid recipe by expressing concern that we, “spend our precious tax dollars for a tax cut” that benefits the middle class. This sentiment sums up why Romney cannot be the Republican nominee. It is Democrats who characterize tax cuts as “spending.” Conservative Republicans consider cutting taxes to be, simply, letting people keep their own money.

At this point, the best Romney should hope for is to serve as Newt’s running mate – assuming Marco Rubio says no – and perhaps swing Michigan and lock up New Hampshire for the GOP, while doing no harm on the policy front.

So, with Romney dispatched to his well-deserved obscurity in private life or the vice presidency, how might Gingrich go on to defeat Obama, only to hand over the White House keys four years later?

Like so many men of consequence, Gingrich’s greatest qualities sow the seeds of his undoing. It begins with his world-beating intelligence.

Newt actually is brilliant, unlike Obama, whose genius is uncritically attested to by those who have heard it spoken of, or who choose not to contest the point for fear of being called racist. Indeed, Obama’s brilliance is much like global warming: Its existence is insisted upon by nasty people who stand ready to condemn you in the worst possible terms if you hesitate to agree.

Perhaps the browbeating over Obama’s alleged brain power informs some of the eagerness among Republicans to see Newt take him on in presidential debates. To wit, after generations of being lectured that the most leftward candidate is by definition the smartest, conservatives are itching to see a genuine heavyweight from their side mop the floor with a media-acclaimed poseur like Obama.

Gingrich is smart and he knows it. Obama merely thinks he’s smart because, well, Chris Matthews says so. Having learned nothing from the colossal failure of his statist policies, and now turning to class warfare as his campaign theme, Obama has gone from being merely insufferable to downright dangerous. His defeat is essential if America is to remain a country of consequence.

Obama has nothing new or helpful to offer, and this will become obvious in the debates. As is his wont, Obama will fertilize the landscape with garden-variety liberal notions that he thinks are profound, but which any Occupy Wall Streeter could recite without missing a beat in the drum circle, and Gingrich will respond with specific references, historical precedents, and good humor.

Fair enough, then, let us suppose the Self-Important World Series ends in a Gingrich sweep, and Newt is sworn in as America’s 45th president. His downfall will not come at the hands of the adversarial left – angry hippies have hated him for 20 years and their complaints and chants practically write themselves. No, Newt’s presidency will be held to a single term by the behavior and dynamics described by Republicans who served under him as Speaker of the House in the 1990s. Prominent among the many disaffected alumni of the Gingrich Revolution is Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who politely but damningly refers to Newt’s leadership as “lacking,” and suggests he demands a higher standard of those he is leading than of himself.

Assuming that not all of those who have worked with Newt and now decry him are complete cranks – undoubtedly, some are, but that’s just the law of averages, adjusted upward for Congress – there is no mutual exclusivity between the masterful, often genial Gingrich we have seen in GOP primary debates and the ogre described by his former colleagues.

We all know the type. Some people come across very well during a speech or public appearance. Meanwhile, those who know them best recognize the reality to be a total freak show, complete with temper tantrums, disingenuousness, and downright lousy behavior.

Some of this tempestuousness may, in fact, work in Newt’s favor, particularly on the foreign policy front. After the pre-emptive apologies, prominent bowing and unseemly prostration of Obama’s tenure, it might be healthy for America’s enemies to see a president who has little interest in their good opinion, and who just might be crazy enough to let the dogs off the chain.

But on a day-to-day basis, dwelling as the president does on the television screens of the nation, Newt’s disposition will become difficult to abide. The barely stifled anger, professorial condescension and notorious self-regard will begin to outweigh whatever good Gingrich is doing.

And Newt will be a very good one-term president – perhaps the best since James Polk. As Speaker of the House, Gingrich was successful in balancing the budget, reforming welfare, and allowing the private sector to thrive. But if that history is any guide, four years is more than enough time for Newt’s appeal to wear thin. All of us are who we are, and age, maturity, grandkids, what-have-you cannot change that.

In 2016, the Republican pool of presidential candidates will be deep and, with each bruising political or public relations fight, a 73-year-old Newt will be reminded that Rubio, or Paul Ryan, or Chris Christie, or Jeb Bush might be an excellent commander-in-chief. This notion will occur to American voters, too.

If he can enact even a portion of his policy proposals – repeal Obamacare, create a 15 percent optional flat tax, reduce corporate rates to 12.5 percent, eliminate taxes on capital gains, dividends and death – President Gingrich will serve America well. But not long thereafter, it will be time for him to go.

Theo Caldwell, an international investor and broadcaster, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at


Monday, October 10, 2011

Eye of Newt

President Newton Leroy Gingrich. How does that sound? Roll the words around in your mouth for a bit. Could you get used to that? It’s a cheeky, full-bodied taste, to be sure.

With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the GOP’s latest deus, opting to remain in his machina, and Sarah Palin sparing us the shrillness and acrimony that would accompany her candidacy, Republicans have come to the bracing realization that their current crop of presidential contenders is as good as things will get.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the safe choice with a haircut you can set your watch by, has reached a plateau of 25 percent in the polls, which is right about his high point from 2008. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, coming off a monster fundraising quarter even as he massively underperforms on the policy front, may once again give credence to the adage that money isn’t everything.

And Herman Cain, everyone seems to agree, is just so doggone likeable. As this column has stated, Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan is the boldest proposal put forward by any GOP candidate, and would be gangbusters for the economy. But it is not sensible for Republicans to nominate someone who lacks even basic comprehension of foreign affairs, as Cain has demonstrated, notwithstanding the strength of his economic platform.

The rest of the field – Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Gary Johnson, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul – may soldier on for some months, and might add to the policy discussion, but none of them is going to win.

And then there’s Newt. We have described him as yesterday’s man in a hurry, and the former Speaker of the House has shown remarkable energy and determination, even as folks count him out. Indeed, months after much of his staff defected to the Perry camp, Gingrich has offered stronger and more specific policy proposals in debate answers than the Texas Governor has put forward in his entire campaign.

Recently, Newt unveiled his 21st Century Contract with America, a rhetorical and philosophical follow-on from the 1994 plan that led Congressional Republicans to victory. This new compact includes fundamental tax reform, offering people a choice between a flat tax with few deductions and the current system, while eliminating taxes on capital gains and estates, and reducing corporate rates to 12.5%. It repeals Obamacare, reins in the judiciary, and offers clear steps to end economy-choking regulations and legislation such as Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley.

There are weaknesses and omissions – for example, Gingrich does not call for the outright abolition of the police-state boondoggle that is the Department of Homeland Security – but all things considered, it is the sort of platform one expects from a serious, freedom-minded presidential candidate, and its enactment would be an appropriate denouement to a political cycle in which Americans awoke to the self-evident truth that their government belongs to them, not the other way around.

If Romney or Perry had the conservative instincts or policy understanding to advance such a plan, the Republican nomination, and probably the presidential election, would be in their pocket already. But they don’t, and that’s why we’re talking about Newt.

It has been suggested – not without reason – that the Republican Party often chooses its presidential nominee by asking, “Who’s next?” – as the 2008 runner-up, that’s Romney – or, even more cynically, “Alright, who’s the oldest guy here?” – which would mean Ron Paul (if you consider him a viable candidate), followed by Newt. Four years ago, John McCain was the answer to both of those questions.

But things never happen the same way twice. The system that clinched the 2008 GOP nomination for McCain, the day before yesterday’s man, no longer exists. In 2012, delegates will be awarded proportionally in primaries held before March 31, which means the all-or-none system that allowed McCain to wrap up the nomination by securing a plurality of support in early states is gone.

For Romney’s purposes, this means his 25 percent standing is insufficient to put the contest away early. The Romney campaign’s agitation to hold the initial caucuses and primaries as soon as possible may garner him some good press and fundraising momentum – especially if, as expected, he wins New Hampshire in a walk – but it will not make his nomination a numerical certainty.

This means it may be some time before the Republicans have a presumptive nominee. And so the rumpled, corpulent Newt, who can never seem to get his tie done up properly but simply will not go away, could trundle along to surprising success. Gingrich’s problems, of course, extend beyond wardrobe and body type, but that might be a good thing.

On the slight right, we do not lionize our leaders – at least, not while they’re alive (the modern Republican tic to idealize, and name everything after, Ronald Reagan represents a considerable shift from the rough ride he received while in office). So what if Newt is flawed and unlovely?

Go ahead, try to say Newt isn’t smart. Despite his glaring and public faults, the man is brilliant to beat the band. And not brilliant in the Barack Obama way – that is, you’d better say he’s a genius or we’ll call you a racist – but in the sense that he has comprehensive and novel ideas on just about every policy area (not all of them gems, admittedly), decades of legislative success, and, for what it’s worth, a Ph.D. in History lying around somewhere.

Of course, being brilliant doesn’t make one infallible. Brilliance and bad judgment can occupy the same space.

And Newt’s bad judgment is a matter of record: his three marriages, including acrimonious and unseemly divorce circumstances, his occasional flirtation with lefty notions, his canoodling with Nancy Pelosi in a unified effort to combat “climate change,” his tempestuousness, his misbegotten labeling of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposals as “right wing social engineering,” and on.

Each of these is dreadful and, if revealed in the days before a key primary, or even a general election, might tip the balance. But all of this is already priced into the market for Newt. No one is perfect and, in Newt, Americans know what they would be getting.

And if there are, indeed, second acts in American public life, there would be a particular resonance to this one. President Bill Clinton tried to nationalize health care and failed, but the backlash to this attempt allowed Newt and his original Contract with America to claim the Congress for Republicans in 1994. The next Democratic President, Barack Obama, did manage to ram through a health care takeover, and so Gingrich returns, like Cincinnatus from the farm, with an even more comprehensive Contract, to restore limited government.

(Lest historically minded readers take umbrage, this column does not condone declaring Newt to be Dictator, as Cincinnatus was, nor do we expect he would relinquish that title after 16 days, as the Roman leader did; we’re just saying Newt would be an old guy making a comeback.)

For Gingrich, the current polling picture is a freak show. In a head-to-head matchup, he trails President Obama by a Real Clear Politics average of 15.2 percent – the largest such deficit of any Republican candidate – and from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina, there is no early contest in which he leads or appears poised to do so.

But available polls pre-date the release of Gingrich’s new Contract and, more importantly, reflect the mindset of Republican voters still Waiting for Godot. With the demurrals of Christie and Palin, along with those of some outstanding presidents America may never have – Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, et al. – the GOP recognizes that its choice most likely comes down to Romney or, well, someone else.

“I’m someone else!” was enough of a platform for Homer Simpson to get elected head of the neighborhood watch, but Republicans should expect more of their nominee, and America certainly deserves better from its next president.

So, given a binary choice between Romney’s anodyne remedies for a system of taxes, laws and regulation that is in need of comprehensive reform, and someone who purposes to make big and necessary changes, the decision should be obvious – or, at least, could become so in a protracted primary campaign.

Romney’s focus-grouped, peripheral tinkering – leaving corporate taxes far higher than those of America’s competitor nations, giving tax relief only on a class-targeted basis, etc. – is designed for no practical purpose other than to get him elected – and it may yet. But what the country requires is someone with the courage and wherewithal to overhaul the tax code, drastically reduce the reach of the federal government, and scare the holy hell out of Iran’s mullahs like no one has since, dare we say, Ronald Reagan.

Despite his warts, and in some measure because of them, Gingrich can do all these things. In this way, there may yet be a future for yesterday’s man.

Theo Caldwell, an international investor and broadcaster, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ignoring Ron Paul

Ignore Ron Paul at your peril.

In fact, even if you take full notice of the Texas Congressman, yet commit the heresy of concluding that he will not be elected president of the United States, you are still asking for a little bit of peril.

As a commentator on the slight right, one becomes inured to blowback and hate mail. A number of us earned our stripes during the 2008 presidential campaign when we learned, to our great surprise, that opposing Barack Obama made us horrible, horrible racists.

But something that started with the 2008 Paul campaign has become a notable feature of this cycle – that is, the Texas-sized chip Paul’s supporters carry on their shoulders. Sincere and energetic, perhaps even well-meaning, these people are perpetually poised to get honked off.

If you follow politics and political reporting, you have probably seen some of this. They flood websites, send angry emails, shout at newscasters shooting in public, and demand that the media “Stop ignoring Ron Paul!”

You may also have seen some pre-emptive apologies from broadcasters and commentators, cognizant of the disproportionate response they will get from Paul’s supporters if they do not show him adequate deference, regardless of his chances of victory.

I do not blame Rep. Paul personally for this. Indeed, I have met and talked with him, and found him to be a nice enough man. Even so, I do not believe he will ever be president of the United States. That’s not a personal slight, or a function of corporate interests supposedly pulling my strings. Lots of people won’t be president (Jon Huntsman, a word, please?). It’s not a dig to say so.

The commitment of Paul’s supporters, including and especially younger people whom you might not expect to see at political events, particularly Republican ones, is fascinating. Their demeanor, versus that of the man they purport to represent, as well as the age gap between them and him, make for a compelling picture. How is it that this unassuming man can motivate folks in this way? There’s an anthropology thesis in there somewhere.

Paul is an accomplished person, who has garnered a profoundly committed political following. He can claim a number of other achievements that I and many others could never match: For example, he has earned a medical degree and got himself elected to Congress.

But all things being equal, even including his recent second-place showing in New Hampshire primary polls, the chances of America electing a 76-year-old, isolationist Congressman to be only the second person in history to go straight from the House of Representatives to the presidency are remote.

The truth is, no one ignores Paul. Everyone reading this column knows precisely who he is, what he has said, and the things he represents. On some issues, he is sage; on others, he is out where the buses don’t run. For all his strengths and imperfections, he has attained clear fame.

But let us suppose that, not for the first time, I am dead wrong and Paul has a chance. I was wrong in 2008 when I thought a radical-snuggling lightweight like Barack Obama could not wrest the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton and go on to win the White House (more fool me, for underestimating the awesome and destructive power of white liberal guilt). In 2012, I hope I am even more wrong.

For example, in a recent column, I casually remarked that Herman Cain wouldn’t win, and boy howdy would I like to be wrong about that. Not long after I cast my judgment, Cain won the Florida 5 Straw Poll in a landslide, and Zogby shows him with an outright lead in national polls. His 9-9-9 plan, representing nine percent tax rates on corporations, personal income, and sales, is the boldest and most invigorating proposal of any GOP candidate. If a President Cain could actually enact such a system, America would be restored to global economic supremacy in a jiffy.

But back to the Congressman from Texas. We could do a lot worse than a President Paul, and have done (see: “Obama, Barack”). There are a number of domestic policy areas in which Paul is strong, even visionary. As two quick examples, if he could actually audit the Federal Reserve and abolish the Department of Homeland Security, I would be eager and glad to thank him.

Paul was unfairly ridiculed when he spoke of “capital flight,” which he extrapolated to suggest that the proposed fence on the southern border could be used to keep Americans in, rather than to keep Mexicans out. While actual physical impediments to leaving may or may not be in America’s future, from a taxation and capital perspective, Paul is correct. For example, as this column recently noted, the IRS claims authority over the income and assets of U.S. citizens, no matter where they live in the world. If a law-abiding, non-resident American, all paid up on their taxes, decides he or she would prefer to be free of this obligation and renounce their U.S. citizenship, the IRS may simply refuse to let them go. If a person’s income is above a certain amount, or if their net worth exceeds two million dollars, the IRS will require tax filings from that person for another decade at least, after which they will review the case. Even Russia does not do this, nor does China. America sure does.

In this way, America is easier to get into than to leave. This was Paul’s point, and such a system is anathema to the “Land of the Free.”

But it is on foreign policy that Paul falls down. His instincts are correct, inasmuch as in overseas matters, particularly the Middle East, America is constantly picking the wrong friends, arming the wrong people, and jamming its thumbs into complex problems it has neither the capacity nor humility to understand.

Even so, to expect or advocate America’s withdrawal from international defense obligations is unrealistic. Moreover, Paul’s assertion that 9/11 was brought about by U.S. “occupation,” apart from its deal-breaking offensiveness, neglects the fanatical and murderous nature of Islamist terrorism.

The economy may be the most important issue of this campaign – and on some economic issues, Paul is very good. But when discussion turns to foreign policy and Paul posits that Iran’s jihadist maniacs will be circumscribed by the notion of Mutually Assured Destruction, as the Soviets were, so why shouldn’t they have a nuclear bomb, then he is just too far wrong to lead America.

One more thought on angry supporters, please. Paul is not the only politician whose backers are getting their backs up of late. It seems some fans of Sarah Palin have gone feral. Even Ann Coulter, for years one of Palin’s most vocal defenders, has remarked that it’s no longer worth discussing the former Alaska governor on TV, lest she put a foot wrong and get an earful for it.

The insistence that Palin is suited to the Oval Office is somewhat akin to liberal demands that we all concur Obama is brilliant. Proponents’ only recourse is to attack those who disagree. I reject these shibboleths, but remain curious about just what’s gotten under the Palin people’s saddles.

This is, indeed, a new phenomenon, to see such furious behavior from supposed conservatives. Supercilious as it may sound, we simply don’t do that sort of thing. I wonder how many other rightist commentators have perused the day’s batch of electronic ire and, upon squinting, realized that an angry, misspelled, ALL CAPS, insulting diatribe is, for once, not from an outraged Obama hopey-changer, or a maven, or from Teresa Heinz-Kerry – but from one of ours!

Fair enough, though. Let’s have some fun with it.

Inviting a perfect storm of Republican hate mail (and, to be clear, such a thing should not exist – you’re better than that), I will say that if I had to choose between Sarah Palin and Ron Paul for president of the United States, I’d take Paul every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Theo Caldwell, an international investor and broadcaster, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at


Friday, September 23, 2011

Romney or Perry? Neither

Michele Bachmann made some sense. Near the end of the GOP presidential debate in Orlando, Florida, she observed, “Every four years, Republicans are told they have to settle.” The congresswoman’s meaning was that the party always gets urged toward someone moderate and “electable” – you know, like John McCain – rather than picking a proper conservative to run for president.

While Bachmann herself remains highly unlikely to become that proper conservative nominee, the current Republican frontrunners, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry, offer precious little hope.

In Romney’s case, his economic plan, particularly on taxes, is anemic, timid, and out of synch with the mood of the time. Perry, meanwhile, evinces an inexcusable lack of specificity and comprehension.

I don’t give a sweet tinker’s damn that Romney and Perry “look presidential,” as folks so often point out. Does a nation cracking under massive taxation, undermined and demoralized by ubiquitous government rules for living, find comfort in its president’s glorious hair or breathtaking haberdashery?

America needs bold, fearless and thoughtful leadership in order to regain its freedom and right its economy. Thus far, the two candidates most favored to contend with Barack Obama for the presidency offer nothing of the kind.

One wonders why and how men like Romney and Perry ascend to front-runner status, given the paucity of good ideas they put forward, in contrast to their struggling rivals. The best tax proposals to date have been advanced by Herman Cain – who will not win – and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty – who was never going to win either, and is now out of the race.

Indeed, after Pawlenty withdrew, Romney got his endorsement and Perry hired his advertising guys, but neither candidate had the good sense to copy his tax plan. In Perry’s case, it remains possible that he will come out with something similar but, after three debates and almost two months as a candidate, it is unacceptable that he has not done so. As for Romney, his prescription is a mess.

Cutting corporate taxes only modestly, from 35 to 25 percent, as Romney proposes, would still leave America’s rates on business much higher than those of its competitor nations. Such a move would do not one blasted thing to attract investment, but might well reduce tax revenue. Likewise, eliminating taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest only for those making under $200,000 will do nothing to encourage job-creators or goose the economy.

This sort of insipid rate-fidgeting solves no problems and satisfies no one. It is precisely the split-the-difference nonsense one unfortunately expects from tasseled-loafered Northeastern Republicans who, despite their party affiliation, are not truly animated by freedom-minded notions.

To wit, America did not have its 2010 political awakening just to end up with Romney tinkering with the tax code. A comprehensive reduction of rates is what is required, leading to an outright overhaul of the system. That is, corporate rates should be cut to 15% or less straight away, capital gains, dividend and interest taxes should be scrapped for everyone, and a single rate on income of 23% or below should be the order of the day. So why would Romney advocate such an anodyne plan instead? Does he believe that limp, non-threatening proposals will make him more palatable in the general election? Oh, for Heaven’s sake.

I have every confidence that Romney would defeat Obama. But so what? Will that usher in a new birth of freedom, as America hopes to find?

Is it any stretch to imagine President Romney shaking his head and waving his hands in his now-familiar gestures of equivocation, explaining to the American people why he couldn’t just take the limited government option on some issue or other – taxes, spending, oil drilling or debt, for example? Moreover, does anyone really think President Romney will ever present the sort of comprehensive reform for which the nation is clamoring? Would he abolish the EPA or the Department of Education? Would he wipe out the monstrous, 70,000-page tax code and start afresh? Not likely.

“I’m a business guy,” Romney pleads, and this may seem a strong quality to those who are unfamiliar with the sort of empty suits and silly-bears one routinely encounters in the “business” world.

In its conventions, redundancies, made-up language and pointless puffery, corporate culture rivals government itself for outright defiance of satire. There is good reason that iterations of “The Office” have resonated with millions of viewers on two continents. Mitt Romney might not be Michael Scott, but one could see him as David Wallace, the by-the-book, milquetoast CFO who does everything right, but still gets it wrong, and finds himself selling “Suck It” out of his palatial home.

As for Perry, where is his plan and, perhaps more important, what does he truly believe? We’ve heard about his HPV-Gardasil gack, and his repeated, cloying answer about how he “chose life” in mandating that sixth-grade girls be immunized against sexually transmitted disease does not serve him well. But on Social Security, taxes, and other specific issues, where is Perry’s core? We don’t see it. And at this point, one suspects we don’t see it because it isn’t there.

Studying up – as so many suggested Sarah Palin ought to do – is not the answer. If you want to be president of the United States, a cogent political and economic philosophy should be part of who you are, not something you manufacture just to get the job. This does not mean you should be a bloodless, single-minded creature, bred and raised to run for political office (Al Gore, please call your office), but you ought to have spent time thinking in an expansive way about what works and what does not, developing a personal set of beliefs as to the proper role of government.

So who else is there? If Republicans could wave their magic wands and pick their presidential champions, after a Harry Potter-type battle, we would likely see some pairing of Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie on the ticket.

But since none of these men is on offer for the 2012 contest, we have to do the best we have with what we’ve got. What to do, what to do…

Everyone please keep calm, but may we take one more look at Newt Gingrich? No doubt, complaints about his negative ratings and personal foibles practically write themselves – for me personally, the advertising image of him and Nancy Pelosi, seated on an outdoor loveseat, pretending to care about “climate change,” periodically hits me like shellshock. But the former Speaker (Gingrich, not Pelosi) is smarter than any two of the other GOP candidates combined and, his shortcomings notwithstanding, he has bold plans for the nation and understands the wider world.

Rumpled and corpulent, Gingrich doesn’t even “look presidential,” and God bless him for that. In debate after debate, Gingrich shows that he has thought through the issues of the day, and in presenting his views, he is fearless – as well he might be, since he is yesterday’s man with nothing to lose.

Barack Obama can and should be defeated in 2012. But in choosing his replacement, America should not settle.

Theo Caldwell, an international investor and broadcaster, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at


Monday, September 19, 2011

Hail to the Hobgoblin

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously and aptly observed that, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Coming from his essay, “Self-Reliance,” the full quotation asserts such folly is, “adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

As if further proof of Emerson’s wisdom and foresight were needed, along comes America’s divine philosopher, President Barack Obama, abetted by his band of little statesmen, presenting yet another misbegotten plan to tax and spend – perfectly consistent with his foolish policies to date.

Following on a disastrous trillion-dollar “stimulus” plan, along with job-killing regulations across the land, the president now promises more of the same, including $1.5 trillion in new taxes. And as though government had not grown enough under his watch, he proposes that nanny state programs be expanded, proving once and for all that “Self-Reliance” has no place in Obama’s America.

At this point, Obama’s speeches practically write themselves. Each time he speaks, the only suspense lay in wondering just how big the tax bill will be. Full marks, as they say, for consistency.

The hobgoblin’s hallmark is a refusal to learn. But “little minds”? Really? Can we say such a thing about Obama and our betters at Harvard, NPR and the New York Times? Boy howdy (for the benefit of liberal readers, that means “yes”).

To abide on the left is to inhabit a little mind. Like a Manhattan studio apartment, there isn’t much space, so only the most cherished items are kept. There is no room for new ideas, only the single set of tired nostrums they inherited.

And so, in the parlance of William James, liberals simply rearrange their prejudices in lieu of thinking. Each iteration of Obama’s economic prescription bears this out, as new words are used to describe the same abysmal ideas.

“Stimulus” becomes a “jobs plan,” “tax hikes” become “revenue increases,” and “government spending” becomes “investment.”

This president doesn’t have a plan, he has a thesaurus. But this is the way of the left – they know only one way of looking at the world, and all their years marinating in news rooms, or the academy, or at Starbucks are spent coming up with novel and clever ways to say the same dopey things.

To wit, taxes always need to be higher, the rich are always wrong, Republicans are always stupid, Christianity is for cranks, and it’s all America’s fault.

I think it saves time to forego the common conservative courtesy of pretending liberals are intelligent just because, well, everyone says so. Even if this were true, it’s irrelevant so long as the left refuses to look at issues from any side but their own. This is why you find supposedly brilliant leftists observing a demonstrable and conventional conservative notion – such as, lower tax rates can lead to higher revenue – with the same screeching suspicion as the prehistoric primates beholding the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But in case it’s helpful, let’s revisit this notion of superior liberal intelligence one more time. After years of scrutiny and contemplation, I consider this president, along with Joe Biden and the vast majority of Obama’s Cabinet, individually and collectively, to be dumb as a sack of doorknobs.

The grand prize for fatuity goes to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – a “man-caused disaster” in her own right and the most malign and breathtaking imbecile in American public life.

As the Obama Administration’s fecklessness applies to the economy, this one-note approach is doing real and perhaps permanent damage to America. Increased government spending, debt and taxes have been tried and found wanting. Their outright refusal to contemplate a new paradigm, even as their own has failed so obviously and spectacularly, reveals unfathomable selfishness and intellectual vanity.

Much is made of the fact that none of Obama’s inner circle has ever run a private business, and that’s fair enough, so far as it goes. This would not be dispositive, however, if these folks showed at least some willingness to adapt and learn. It’s not just “experience” that matters – it’s judgment, too.

A person can “experience” something for ages, but still reach the wrong conclusions. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, has business “experience” to beat the band, but he has not the first clue about personal freedom or the proper role of government.

But even as unemployment soars and markets crash, Obama seems to imagine he has the country on his side – or, at least, that he can sway the national mood with just one more speech. Before seeing his poll numbers smacked by the debt ceiling negotiations, Obama reportedly warned Republican Rep. Eric Cantor that he would take his case, “to the American people,” as though this would turn the tide.

A similar attitude was on display when Obama addressed a joint session of Congress recently, suggesting there would be serious consequences if they did not pass his bill promptly. “I intend to take that message to every corner of the country,” the president ominously intoned, giving a stern look to all assembled.

Does Obama think he’s threatening anyone with this sort of talk? We are told that the presidency is a bubble, but is Obama so isolated that he is completely unaware of the punch-line he has become?

What politician up for election in 2012 is frightened of having to run against Obama’s record or cowed by the prospect that he may deploy another speech? Seriously, is Obama still taken by his own “I’m LeBron, baby” braggadocio?

Until recently, many of us who considered Obama to be a plodding, humorless, lousy speaker were like the early Christians, communicating our beliefs in no more than a whisper, since the consequences of being found out just weren’t worth the hassle. Now, though, everyone is coming to this realization and, as we long-time critics come blinking out of the catacombs, we say to our new friends, especially you independent voters, “Welcome.”

Of course, hectoring speeches can be forgiven if the substance is sound. Obama, though, offers the worst of both worlds. You can teleprompt bad ideas ‘til the cows come home, but that don’t make them right.

There is nothing for it but that America must elect a new president. As to who that will be, we cannot know, but in choosing a chief executive, the country has nowhere to go but up. Mitt Romney’s tax reform policy is limp – it’s basically Jon Huntsman’s plan without the sanctimony and Mandarin-speaking – and Rick Perry’s has yet to be revealed.

But any available candidate at least offers the hope that America will shake off the hobgoblin of foolish consistency and try something new.

Theo Caldwell, an international investor and broadcaster, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at


Thursday, September 1, 2011

An Unimportant President 

Rick Perry wants to be unimportant. The Texas Governor has famously promised that, if he is elected president of the United States, he will "work hard every day to make Washington, DC, as inconsequential to your life as possible." In Austin recently, he gave a few of us some details as to how that shakes out.
Freedom is the watchword of the unimportant president.  Perry relates how, in a recent visit to Gaffney, South Carolina, a woman who runs a small business asked him to say something that would give her hope. Perry replied that he would, “take the boot of regulation and taxation off her neck.”  The woman was moved to visible emotion.
The pledge resonates in a country where all but the ideologically blinded recognize that government micromanagement, overspending, and confiscatory taxation stand in the way of economic growth.  And it is getting worse – as Pete du Pont notes in the Wall Street Journal, 369 new federal business regulations came into effect in July alone.
But would any politician spend the time and money required to get himself elected to the most powerful office in the world, only to turn around and dismantle its influence?  Candidates of both parties make such promises, but would Perry actually deliver?  An unimportant president would certainly be a step up from what America has now – a self-important president.  Everything you do is some of his business.  And this compulsion to control your life, coupled with his preening self-regard, makes America’s current leader ridiculous.
To be clear, it is ridiculous that Barack Obama is president of the United States.  And as Perry’s prospects and those of his Republican rivals are contemplated, it is worth noting that just about anyone would be a better fit for the job.   
That’s right – anyone.  Wherever you find yourself reading this column, take a quick look to your left and right.  Now, a case can be made that whomever you might have seen would make a better president than Barack Obama.  If you are on the New York subway, for example, even that crazy shirtless guy, coming at you while giving you the finger with both hands, might be a better bet to lead America than its 44th Commander in Chief.   Or, if you are reading in some bucolic meadow and there are no other humans about, that tree stump or rabid gopher you spied would be a superior choice to occupy the Oval Office.
If nothing else, while the gopher was posing for its presidential portrait, America would save a trillion wasted “stimulus” dollars and purchasing health insurance would remain a matter of personal choice, rather than a government diktat.

But back to Perry. If we take the repeal of Obamacare as read, inasmuch as all Republican candidates will promise this, how else might he achieve his desired state of inconsequence?  Reducing the comprehensiveness and complexity by which Washington collects taxes from its citizens is an excellent way to start.  Perry is quick to volunteer that he favors the repeal of the worldwide reporting requirement, and resultant double taxation, for U.S. companies doing business internationally, noting that this move could see as much as $4 trillion repatriated to the American economy. 
The worldwide reporting requirement for American citizens should also be eliminated.  America is one of the only countries in the world that requires annual tax filings from its citizens, no matter their country of residence, demanding payment above whatever rates required by that country.  That is, even if an American does not work in the U.S., consume services, or make any money there, the IRS still claims authority over that individual’s income and assets, and requires an American tax filing, as well as copies of all filings in their country of residence, and demands payment at higher, American rates. 
One consequence of this global taxation without representation can be found in media reports of Americans renouncing their citizenships abroad, with U.S. consular services backlogged by requests to do so.  The cost to the U.S. economy is significant, as these are often productive individuals who do not wish to be beholden to the IRS even as they live elsewhere, and who, by renouncing their citizenships, remove themselves from American tax rolls permanently.  But apart from the dollar cost, it is anathema to a free country – especially the United States – that its tax department should pursue law-abiding citizens around the globe.
Perry’s prescription for tax rates, both personal and corporate, is refreshingly straightforward:  “Lower.”  With the second-highest corporate tax rate in the world, and a byzantine, 70,000-page tax code, America makes it awfully easy for investors to choose another destination for their capital.  Perry appreciates the economy-goosing potential of eliminating taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest, in contrast to benighted politicians who mistakenly assume higher tax rates lead to increased revenue.
He eschews the mindset of Washington-centric, regulation fetishists for whom things must be mandatory or forbidden.  The unimportant president is content for you to make your own decisions.  Not only is this a welcome departure from Washington’s reigning philosophy, whereby the Constitution’s Commerce Clause is absurdly stretched to justify federal intrusion into the most picayune matters, but it bespeaks an understanding of how a free society operates and thrives: through millions of people making different choices.
Enthusiasm for Perry’s early candidacy is reflected in national polls, and in the reaction of voters he meets across the country.  Whether this can be maintained will depend on myriad factors, from debate performances to emerging specifics of the Perry platform.  But even as he aspires to be the most powerful man in the world – if the president of the United States is still considered as such – Rick Perry promises to leave you alone.  It is a counterintuitive and compelling message. 


Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Caldwell Account

In the marketplace of ideas, you need buyers and sellers – that’s how you find the price of the truth. The Caldwell Account, soon to debut on the Sun News Network, will make that market.

Truth is not personal – nor is it political – and if you stop and think things over, testing your own assumptions and allowing them to be challenged, you may find that much of what you thought you “knew” simply isn’t so. On The Caldwell Account, you and I can challenge our assumptions together.

For example, Canada is now the freest country in the world. I never thought I would write such a thing, and I do so in the full knowledge that our taxes are too high, free speech remains tenuous, and we countenance kangaroo-court absurdities like the “Human Rights Commission” that famously ganged up on my old friend and new colleague, Ezra Levant (note to the HRC: 40 to 1 is not a fair fight; next time, bring more guys). Also, when I speak of being the “freest country,” please understand I’m referring to major nations here, not some obscure Polynesian island-state where folks aren’t even obligated to wear trousers.

In Canada today, your chances to make all your dreams come true, to be Laverne slipping that glove onto the passing bottle, are higher than anyplace else, including the United States. We are uniquely poised, then, to speak the truth, boldly and in freedom as perfect as humankind can manage. The Sun News Network will be outstanding in that capacity.

I have followed the media coverage of this project, including reports that the head of our network, Kory Teneycke, supposedly huddles with Stephen Harper, Rupert Murdoch and Darth Vader to decide what we will broadcast.

If those meetings take place, I’ve certainly not been invited. But since one of those arch-villains must have set down his goblet of puppy blood and suggested my name, I suppose I should thank them.

That, however, has been the extent of their involvement. No one has told me what to say, and the day they do will be my last. Indeed, folks expecting The Caldwell Account to be a pro-Conservative, America-boosting, Promise Keepers’ rally should be surprised.

For instance, I think this North American perimeter plan, where airline logs and customs information are shared between Canada and the U.S., is a bad idea all around. I have always been a proponent of freedom for this largest trading relationship in the history of the world. But so long as an unaccountable, Frankenstein’s monster like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is our partner, Canada should tell its southern pals to go pound sand – we will decide who boards our planes or sets foot on our soil.

Let’s get a few other things out of the way right now: I am an un-impoverished, somewhat-literate, heterosexual white male. I hold American citizenship, which I make no apology for keeping next to my Canadian passport, and when I’m not chasing the almighty dollar or publishing reactionary columns, I write books I want your kids to read. I invite you to vent your spleen on all that, get it out of your system, so we can move on to a real debate.

Please join me as we open The Caldwell Account on April 18.

Theo Caldwell will host The Caldwell Account on the Sun News Network.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

While I Breathe, I Hope

“While I breathe, I hope.”

-Willis S. McLeese, 1913-2011

On January 5, 2011, Upper Canada College bid farewell to one of the school’s most extraordinary friends. In the 98th year of his remarkable life, Willis McLeese passed away.

From his World War II service in the Navy, to his legendary and lucrative careers in refrigeration and power, to the resort community he built at Cobble Beach, Ontario, Mr. McLeese made the most of every moment.

Along the way, he developed a myriad of skills, including thermodynamics and time management (a must, for someone who ran several companies). But of all the lessons Mr. McLeese gleaned from his decades of achievement, none was more pronounced than this: The power to persuade is essential to success.

His philanthropic efforts were vast and various, from giving financial aid for less-privileged students to attend UCC, to providing the opportunity for physically challenged youth to experience horseback riding through the Georgian Riding Association for Challenged Equestrians (GRACE) in Owen Sound. But the cause to which Mr. McLeese was most devoted was helping young people learn the craft of persuasive speaking. He donated time, money, and energy to this effort for 40 years, particularly in support of UCC and the Canadian Student Debating Federation (CSDF). He endowed the Willis S. McLeese Chair in Canadian Debating, based at UCC and working with the CSDF, to bring young people across the country into this activity. The program is outlined at

Mr. McLeese believed that students who develop the skills and confidence to speak publicly and advocate positions are well equipped for the contest of life. As someone who prevailed resoundingly in that contest, Mr. McLeese knew of whence he spoke. CSDF Founder Tom Lawson recounts how, in 1971, he telephoned Mr. McLeese, whom he did not know, and asked him to fly to Edmonton to debate the merits of the free market in an open public broadcast in front of 70 teenagers from every corner of Canada: “You’ll do it,” Lawson told him, “if you love kids.”

Not only did Mr. McLeese accept the invitation and bring the house down with his performance, but he signed on as Treasurer of the nascent coalition that became today’s CSDF. Lawson discusses how Mr. McLeese’s commitment and business acumen proved invaluable: “With infinite patience, he taught us how to conduct an Annual General Meeting, how to keep minutes, how to incorporate, how to raise funds. Over those years he personally raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for us, and whenever our backs were to the wall, he came through with five or ten thousand dollars to keep us afloat.”

As a result of Mr. McLeese’s support, says Lawson, “Countless thousands of great young Canadians have participated in formal, structured debate at both junior and senior levels in district, provincial, national, North American, and world competition, learning the basic skills desperately needed for effective citizenship in a democratic society: integrity in research, articulate persuasive speech, acute listening powers, open mindedness, and a keen interest in issues of common concern to all Canadians…none of this would have come about but for the never failing generosity, knowledge, infinite patience, and buoyant good humour of this remarkable man. I consider it one of the greatest privileges of my life to have known, as a mentor and friend, a great Canadian. I shall not see his like again.”

Indeed, Mr. McLeese considered listening skills and keeping an open mind to be indispensible components of the power to persuade. To wit, debating is not just about saying what you think; it requires hearing what other people are telling you. Consequently, Mr. McLeese insisted that student debaters argue every resolution from both sides, believing this would teach young people respect and tolerance for each other.

“Debating is a way to extend your influence,” he was fond of saying, often adding, “Canada will always need great leaders.” He understood and evinced that being a leader does not require your name on a ballot. Leaders come in all sorts, in every profession. What they share is the power to convince and inspire.

Drawing upon his wealth of experience, Mr. McLeese knew that whatever future careers students might pursue, someday they would have to answer questions like: What makes you different? Why should we do it your way? Why should I buy what you are offering? So much of life, and success, is about selling ideas. From Clarence Darrow to Don Cherry, if you can make a case, you can make a living. For Mr. McLeese, teaching young people this craft was practical education at its best.

It was a supreme and undeserved compliment when Mr. McLeese asked me to take up the Chair that bears his name. Working with, and learning from, a man of his character and stature was one of the great privileges of my life. Together, we were able to bring students from UCC and across Canada to the famed Munk Debates in Toronto, introducing them to luminaries, getting them newspaper coverage, and making it possible for them to debate live on the radio. We facilitated tournaments and workshops for hundreds of students from every background, as well as tutorials for teachers and coaches, enabling schools to create and develop their own debating programs.

Beginning in 2011, the McLeese Prize in Debating will be presented to the graduating UCC student who best exemplifies Mr. McLeese’s ideals of skill in the activity, tolerance and leadership. He was particularly enthusiastic about our latest venture, the McLeese Online Debating program. Hosted by, this unique function will allow any student with web access to participate in teacher-moderated debates from anywhere in Canada. This undertaking appealed to Mr. McLeese straight away, as he understood that many schools and regions lack the funds or the infrastructure to allow kids to participate in debating.

Mr. McLeese knew he was a blessed man, and nothing made him happier than to share his good fortune. Even in his final months, when he could not attend debating events as often as he would like, he never lost his enthusiasm for helping young people. I will always remember the light in his face, or the joy in his voice on the telephone, when I would tell him of some opportunity or success enjoyed by the students he helped and cherished. With a masterful mind and a servant’s heart, he was a remarkable patron of the art of argument.

His copious experiences were animated by his personal motto, “Dum Spiro, Spero” – Latin for, “While I breathe, I hope.” The McLeese Debating crest, which combines the McLeese family coat of arms with symbols of UCC and the CSDF, bears these words. By his example, and through his tremendous generosity, Willis McLeese offered hope to countless young Canadians. What a magnificent legacy he leaves.
Theo Caldwell is the McLeese Chair in Debating.

Theo Caldwell is the McLeese Chair in Debating.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The TSA Tea Party

Yet again, those in power have misread and underestimated the will of the American people. Last November’s election results shattered the grinning assurances of politicians who supposed voters were unserious in their objections to government over-reach in matters of economics, regulation and health. Now, in the face of mounting protest against the excesses of TSA officers at America’s airports, those responsible for the policy of continued sexual violation of travelers maintain that they are winning the argument. They are wrong, and they will lose.

One hesitates to equate the grassroots and growing opposition to TSA’s practices of perversion with the Tea Party movement that propelled GOP gains in the 2010 elections, since the latter largely represents a right-of-centre worldview, while the airport uproar encompasses people of all political and ideological persuasions.

This is fitting, as the current TSA situation is a bi-partisan disgrace – including the lucrative compensation received by Bush-era Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for selling Rapiscan backscatter x-ray machines to his former department for use at airports, as well as the eagerness of Chertoff’s Democratic successor, Janet Napolitano, to implement and expand this disgusting program.

Indeed, at a recent Washington, DC, conference hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (, which is suing to halt the use of full-body x-ray scans by the TSA, speakers represented every conceivable background and affiliation – Congressmen and staffers from both parties, lawyers, municipal officials, pilots, students, security experts, libertarians, liberals – even Ralph Nader, for good measure. Assessing the TSA’s enhanced screening techniques from all sides – efficacy, cost, safety, constitutionality and on – this group of people who had probably never found themselves in one room and on the same side (TSA officials declined invitations to attend) demolished any and all rationale for a technology that has been abandoned by other countries for its obscenity and ineffectiveness.

But despite the diversity of its participants, the populist nature of this protest feels familiar. Government officials chug along as though all will be well once folks settle down, even as opposition websites, Facebook groups and on-line networks boast memberships in the tens of thousands, and rising. Americans of all types are sharing their stories of mistreatment at the hands (and eyes) of TSA officers, and pooling ideas to bring this shameful episode to an end.

In response, government spokespeople continue to proffer the same assurances about privacy and necessity and the “next generation” of security tools, assuming Americans simply need time to adjust to the system. The most egregious such comment comes from Napolitano herself, in reference to the “enhanced pat-down” techniques that permit TSA officers to put their hands in travelers’ most intimate areas: “It’s something new. Most Americans are not used to a real law enforcement pat-down like that.”

This is true, since most Americans do not find themselves arrested or in jail. How could we claim to have a free country if innocent citizens were to become “used to a real law enforcement pat-down”? Unlike many, I do not consider Napolitano to be a scheming abettor of some sinister New World Order. Rather – and I sincerely do not mean to be glib – I assess her to be so cosmically stupid and barren of understanding as to the nature of this nation or her job that she simply does not recognize the absurdity of such a remark.

TSA Administrator John Pistole, on the other hand, appears to be a very different sort. In a recorded message, played in loops at American airports, authoritarian menace drips from his voice as he speaks of, “your options as a passenger” under his regime. He does not say as much, but your “options” are to be photographed nude, groped, or both, at the whim of a TSA worker, under threat of arrest and prosecution if you refuse to comply.

As columnist Chris Selley observed in a different context, there are some police officers who are incapable of dealing with a citizen who knows his rights. A 26-year FBI veteran before being tapped by President Obama for his TSA post, Pistole seems like such an officer.

Pistole’s recording concludes by thanking the flying public for its cooperation in the security effort as, “We all work together.” We are not working together, John. You and I are not on the same side. You want to violate and take naked pictures of my countrymen and loved ones; I want to prevent that. Neither your mission nor mine has the first thing to do with terrorism, but at least I admit it.

It bears mentioning that, even if done precisely as advertised, TSA’s system is still an abomination. A government agent is still seeing your naked image and/or physically violating you, without cause, explanation, escape or recourse. The dynamic between uniformed officials and citizens is appalling. I have routinely witnessed travelers at Washington, DC’s Reagan-National Airport crammed three or four at a time into a tiny glass cage, locked at one end and guarded by a uniformed officer at the other, and held there until TSA personnel are good and ready to release and grope them one by one.

Folks are finding the reality at airports is nothing like the anodyne assurances they have received from government officials and sympathetic media outlets. As the EPIC legal team noted in its January 6 brief, “Public opposition has correlated with the actual experience of those who undergo the TSA’s new screening procedure.”

A recent Zogby poll found that 61% of Americans oppose the TSA’s new methods, and this number has nowhere to go but up. As more and more Americans discover the depravity of TSA’s system for themselves, watching their children be photographed naked or their spouses touched in obscene ways by government agents, the only remaining supporters of this regime will be those who are empowered by and exempt from it, such as Napolitano and Obama, along with those pitiful stragglers whose public personae consist of being loudly wrong about almost everything (Gloria Allred, call your office).

As security expert Bruce Schneier stated at the EPIC conference, “Terrorism cannot end our way of life – only our response to it can.” In this way, the TSA has succeeded where al-Qaeda failed. Since 9/11, Americans have defied fear and embraced freedom, choosing to fly despite the remote danger of airline terrorism. Now they are demurring, as they are faced with the very real possibility that they or those they love will be violated by agents of their own government. This cannot be our way. As Schneier observes, “If we are indomitable, the terrorists lose, even if their attack succeeds.”

With that sentiment in mind, I have hope. This will end, because it has to end. In recent years, we have seen the American people, including many who had not previously raised their voices in the public square, come together to make a difference. Now, on this issue, we are doing so again. I am confident we will prevail.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"While I breathe, I hope."

Willis S. McLeese