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.