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