Wednesday, February 13, 2013

State of the Union/Rubio's Response

Pretty hum-drum SOTU address last night. I would even say that it was a bit boring. At the end, I thought the President hit a pretty strong chord when he pushed for votes on gun legislation, but otherwise I thought it was pretty much standard fare with little in terms of new legislation or policy.

The highlight of the night was really from Marco Rubio who delivered the Republican response. Goodness, the guy has a huge audience that he can introduce himself to and he looks totally uncomfortable and his whole tone was ridiculously combative. The combination made him look like a panicky angry dude.

From a content perspective, I thought it was odd that he talked about government policies that helped his family (Medicare for his dying father and ailing mother, government loans so he could go to college, etc.) and then basically talked about the need to cut back on government policies. However, it wasn't the bad/inconsistent content that he delivered that was as much the problem as his weird hand gestures and struggles to keep from sweating. His pause to lean over and grab a bottle of water was particularly strange. It was like a bad SNL skit - which I am sure will happen this week.

In the end, he really botched an opportunity to look presidential. He kept wiping his forehead and lips and looked really uncomfortable. Then when he reached for the bottle of water. I laughed out loud as if it was a skit. I'm not sure if it will make all that much difference in the long run, but it was a pathetic effort to exude confidence and look like a leader.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Conservative vs. Republican

There is little question that President Bush was a Republican who abandoned many aspects of conservatism (NCLB, Medicare Part D, and worldwide interventions are primary examples). When the standard bearer of the Republican Party is not conservative, it creates a lot of confusion. I also think it gave rise to the radical tea party movement that tried to lurch the Republican Party back toward conservatism in its own way. The end result is a Party that really does not know what to project or what to believe in.

This weekend I was at a dinner party and got into a pretty good political discussion with someone who claims to be conservative, but no longer identified with the Republican Party. This person is well educated and is a fairly rich, high priced consultant working for a major firm in the DC area. I was struck by how defensive he was and how much he wanted to avoid being labeled a Republican. His problem was mostly the anti-science and hyper-Christian conservatism that have hi-jacked the Party, but he also complained about the failure to maintain economic discipline during the Bush years. He clearly disliked the President's policies but seemed exasperated that there was no credible Republican leadership at the federal level.

As we continued our discussion - which was friendly even as we conflicted - he seemed surprised that the federal budget deficit had shrunk under the President. It may very well be the case that the deficit is cut by a half trillion dollars from where it was when the President took office. We shifted to Obamacare and when I asked him what he didn't like, he couldn't really give anything of substance. He then argued that employers should not be required to pay for health care for employees, but argued that individuals should just pay into a federal system (i.e., single-payer) to get health care like they do in Canada and Europe. When I mentioned that this was not a conservative view, we decided to move on to dinner and the conversation just ended.

The two points I will make about this whole conversation is that (1) this individual completely dislikes the Republican Party, and (2) doesn't even know basics about major policy initiatives. This is how many Americans are, which is why you need to have clear, consistent ideas and steady leadership in order to make progress. The Republican Party needs to establish what it wants to do and who will lead them, otherwise they will continue to just twist in the wind.

RepubliCANTs

There continues to be ridiculous opposition of the President by Republicans. Senator Lindsay Graham wants to hold up perfectly qualified candidates for the CIA and Defense Department because he is still unsatisfied about Benghazi. There is little question that they would be approved, but Graham wants to cause trouble.

Senator Bob Corker is starting to question the legality of drone attacks. I don't necessarily disagree that we need better oversight - especially when Americans are targeted. But, what bothers me is that Corker and his Republican friends had no trouble with this during the Bush years.

Representative Eric Cantor went on Meet the Press yesterday and hammered the Obama Administration for wanted to raise taxes. A couple of days earlier he seemed to be more conciliatory and even seemed open to working with the President, but he fell back into his same pit bull mentality with largely useless/baseless Republican talking points.

Until the Republican Party can lay out a real agenda and get serious about governing without all the bluster and the attempts to score political points, they will remain a Party in decline.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Couple of Economic Thoughts

So, the economy (GDP) shrank by 0.1 percent in Q4 of 2012. This is a bad sign, but it is completely understandable with the Super Storm Sandy, the threat of major cuts in government spending through the sequester, and the Republican obstructionism that continues.

The private sector grew significantly, but government spending and contractor spending took a nose dive as agencies and private firms that work for the government (particularly in the defense industry) started cutting back significantly to prepare for the automatic cuts that Congress enacted as part of the sequester deal. With government spending shrinking so significantly and the major disruption in business activity in New Jersey/New York, we saw a flat economy.

The markets did not collapse as a result of the surprise contraction in the economy, so it was not completely unexpected.

Today, we saw another 157,000 jobs created with fairly strong private sector growth. Unemployment ticked up to 7.9 percent so that means more people are returning to the job market. Anemic numbers, but coming on the heels of the GDP figure, I would say it was a pretty solid employment report today.

If we are really looking to improve job creation and jump start economic growth, the government needs to increase spending - preferably on construction projects which impact labor, manufacturing operations, and the transportation/logistics industry. We would also get physical assets (i.e., buildings, schools, roads, bridges) that would last for years and pay for themselves over time.

If Republicans would just get out of the way they wouldn't continue to harm the economy by creating economic crisis after crisis.