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