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“Not So Fast”: No, Ted Cruz Is Not an ‘Economic Populist’

There are few words in the political lexicon more frequently misused and abused than populist, particularly in times of strong public hostility toward elites, like the present. Still, Time magazine has truly jumped the shark in publishing an interview with Ted Cruz in which he is encouraged without contradiction to call himself an “economic populist.” If Cruz is an “economic populist,” then the term has truly lost all meaning beyond the pixie dust of rhetorical enchantment.

We are supposed to believe Cruz is a populist because he opposes a few relatively small but symbolically rich corporate-subsidy programs like the Export-Import Bank and regulatory thumbs-on-the-scale for the use of ethanol — both objects of ridicule among libertarians for decades. In the Time interview, he leaps effortlessly from the argument that sometimes government helps corporations to the idea that government should not help anybody.

[B]oth parties, career politicians in both parties get in bed with the lobbyist and special interest. And the fix is in. Where Washington’s policies benefit big business, benefit the rich and the powerful at the expense of the working men and women.

Now the point that I often make, and just a couple of days ago in Wisconsin I was visiting with a young woman who said she was a Bernie Sanders supporter. And I mentioned to her that I agreed with Bernie on the problem.

But I said if you think the problem is Washington is corrupt, why would you want Washington to have more power? I think the answer to that problem is for Washington to have less power, for government to have less power over our lives.

Is there any K Street or Wall Street lobbyist who would not instantly trade whatever preferments they’ve been able to wring from Washington in exchange for a radically smaller government that lets corporations do whatever they want? I don’t think so.

Yet it’s hard to find a politician more inclined to get government off the backs of the very rich and the very powerful. My colleague Jonathan Chait summed it up nicely this very day in discussing Cruz’s Goldwater-ish extremism:

In addition to the de rigueur ginormous tax cut for rich people, Cruz proposes a massive shift of the tax burden away from income taxes to sales taxes. So, not only would Cruz’s plan give nearly half of its benefit to the highest-earning one percent of taxpayers (who would save, on average, nearly half a million dollars a year in taxes per household), but it would actually raise taxes on the lowest-earning fifth …

He advocates for … deregulation of Wall Street, and would eliminate the Clean Power Plan and take away health insurance from some 20 million people who’ve gained it through Obamacare. He has defined himself as more militant and uncompromising than any other Republican in Congress, and many of his fellow Republican officeholders have depicted him as a madman.

Cruz would have you believe his unsavory reputation among Beltway Republicans flows from his identification with the working class as opposed to the special interests. As a matter of fact, he’s considered a madman (or a charlatan) for insisting Republicans ought to shut down the federal government rather than compromise or abandon their anti-working-class policies (and their reactionary social policies as well).

Aside from the policies Chait mentions, Cruz also favors (in contrast to Donald Trump) that populist perennial, “entitlement reform,” including the kind of Social Security benefit cuts and retirement-age delays promoted by George W. Bush back in 2005.

And for dessert, in a position that would certainly make William Jennings Bryan roll in his grave, Cruz is on record favoring tight money policies to combat the phantom menace of inflation, along with a commission to consider a return to the gold standard.

One might argue the description of Cruz as an “economic populist” is a small journalistic excess justified by the heat of the GOP nominating contest. But in a general-election matchup between Cruz and Hillary Clinton, we could find ourselves hearing misleading contrasts of Cruz as a “populist” to Hillary Clinton, the “Establishment” pol. Let’s head that one off at a distance, people. Whatever you think of her set side by side with Bernie Sanders, compared to Cruz she’s a wild leveler and class-warfare zealot, favoring minimum-wage increases, more progressive taxes, large new mandates on businesses, continuation and expansion of Obamacare, action on global climate change, a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and (of course) opposition to the many reactionary policies Ted Cruz holds dear.

Get a grip, gabbers and scribblers: Call Ted Cruz a “constitutional conservative,” as he would have it, or the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater, as many of us regard him. But he’s no economic populist.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 7, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Economic Populists, Monetary Policy, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“No ‘Great Brain’ Here”: Donald Trump Has Never Had Any Idea What He Was Talking About. We Only Just Noticed

Usually it is fine not to have any idea what you are talking about.

But for a presidential candidate it can be a little awkward.

Asked by Bob Woodward what made Abraham Lincoln succeed, Donald Trump offered the following response:

“Well,” Trump said, “I think Lincoln succeeded for numerous reasons. He was a man who was of great intelligence, which most presidents would be. But he was a man of great intelligence, but he was also a man that did something that was a very vital thing to do at that time. Ten years before or 20 years before, what he was doing would never have even been thought possible. So he did something that was a very important thing to do, and especially at that time.” And then he started to ramble about Richard Nixon.

As Katherine Miller asked on Twitter, “Does Donald Trump know what Lincoln did as president?”

Most of us go through life pretending to know many things about which, in fact, we have no idea. Usually this is fine. This is the foundation on which all conversation is built. If you admit the contrary, everything would screech to a halt. So instead you listen and nod and say, “I don’t think that goes far enough” or “I couldn’t have said it better myself!” at intervals.

You can have a long discussion about the TPP and only discover months later that one of the people discussing it with you thought that it was some sort of innovation in toilet paper. (In retrospect, this explains some of why the discussion got so heated, though by no means all.)

Usually this is innocuous. There is just too much TV for us to have watched it all, and pretending you have can sometimes save a relationship.

There are many conversational gambits for not appearing ignorant of the thing that everyone else in the room appears to know about. One is that you wait for someone else to say something, and then you say, “I agree with Marco, but I think we need to go much further.” Another is you say one thing, and then you pretend it was a joke when everyone stares at you in horror, and then you say the opposite. Another tactic is to pretend you did not hear the question. Or you can divert the conversation from the thing you were just asked that you in fact know nothing about to something that you do know about. You can do this with varying degrees of subtlety, as Trump has the whole campaign.

But if someone asks you point-blank, “What is my fiance’s name?” you can’t say, “Look, fundamentally, it all comes down to breaking up the banks.”

When we do it, it’s fine. We could Google it any time we want. We need these little concessions.

But when a candidate does it —

The trick of turning these into gaffes is that there are some things that everyone knows, in theory. The capitals of countries. Who’s on the supreme court. How the electoral college works.

In theory, we know this. But in practice, there is genuine dramatic tension in “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” — because there are many things we have agreed that Everyone Knows that, in fact, maybe six people know off the top of their heads. But then there are things everyone actually does know in practice, and those are the stuff of which gaffes are made. How a grocery checkout works. That John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy are not the same. What Abraham Lincoln did.

Now Trump and Bernie Sanders, the two most consistent and exciting candidates, are being hoist by their own transcripts. Sanders kept trying to insist that the answer to every foreign policy question was a vote he had made in 2002. Which — okay? It works without a follow-up. But with follow-up, it can be devastating. (Daily News: “Where would a President Sanders imprison, interrogate? What would you do?” Sanders: “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”)

Trump’s charisma has been hard to quell. Insinuating that all his fans were failures and bigots didn’t do it. But revealing that he is not, in fact, smarter than a fifth grader — that he lacks a “great brain” — just might.

The great sustaining myth of Trump was that behind the scenes there was a guy who knew what he was doing and that he would eventually emerge from the fray and be “so presidential” that “you will be bored to tears.”

Up until this past week, Trump had managed to coast by on charisma for the 30 seconds of answer required.

Here he is at the first debate:

BAIER: His name is General Qassem Soleimani, he’s blamed for hundreds of U.S. troops death in Iraq, and Afghanistan. His trip to Russia appears to directly violate U.N. Security Council resolutions to confine him to Iran. So, Mr. Trump, if you were president, how would you respond to this?

TRUMP: I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite. We have a president who doesn’t have a clue. I would say he’s incompetent, but I don’t want to do that because that’s not nice. (Applause, laughter)

What?

But remove the laughter and the applause and you have — a man who is very clearly not answering the question and is fumbling around for an answer until he finds an applause-worthy talking point. And when he has to answer a question for more than 30 seconds, that becomes painfully obvious.

“I have a great brain” is a nice, easy statement to disprove.

Read any transcript and it is just The Donald helplessly repeating the same simple third-grade-level phrases over and over again. It’s not presidential, just boring.

 

By: Alexandra Petri, ComPost Blog, Opinion Pages, The Washington Post, April 8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Force The Senate To Do Its Job”: Obama Can Appoint Merrick Garland To The Supreme Court If The Senate Does Nothing

On Nov. 12, 1975, while I was serving as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Justice William O. Douglas resigned. On Nov. 28, President Gerald R. Ford nominated John Paul Stevens for the vacant seat. Nineteen days after receiving the nomination, the Senate voted 98 to 0 to confirm the president’s choice. Two days later, I had the pleasure of seeing Ford present Stevens to the court for his swearing-in. The business of the court continued unabated. There were no 4-to-4 decisions that term.

Today, the system seems to be broken. Both parties are at fault, seemingly locked in a death spiral to outdo the other in outrageous behavior. Now, the Senate has simply refused to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, dozens of nominations to federal judgeships and executive offices are pending before the Senate, many for more than a year. Our system prides itself on its checks and balances, but there seems to be no balance to the Senate’s refusal to perform its constitutional duty.

The Constitution glories in its ambiguities, however, and it is possible to read its language to deny the Senate the right to pocket veto the president’s nominations. Start with the appointments clause of the Constitution. It provides that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States.” Note that the president has two powers: the power to “nominate” and the separate power to “appoint.” In between the nomination and the appointment, the president must seek the “Advice and Consent of the Senate.” What does that mean, and what happens when the Senate does nothing?

In most respects, the meaning of the “Advice and Consent” clause is obvious. The Senate can always grant or withhold consent by voting on the nominee. The narrower question, starkly presented by the Garland nomination, is what to make of things when the Senate simply fails to perform its constitutional duty.

It is altogether proper to view a decision by the Senate not to act as a waiver of its right to provide advice and consent. A waiver is an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege. As the Supreme Court has said, “ ‘No procedural principle is more familiar to this Court than that a constitutional right,’ or a right of any other sort, ‘may be forfeited in criminal as well as civil cases by the failure to make timely assertion of the right before a tribunal having jurisdiction to determine it.’ ”

It is in full accord with traditional notions of waiver to say that the Senate, having been given a reasonable opportunity to provide advice and consent to the president with respect to the nomination of Garland, and having failed to do so, can fairly be deemed to have waived its right.

Here’s how that would work. The president has nominated Garland and submitted his nomination to the Senate. The president should advise the Senate that he will deem its failure to act by a specified reasonable date in the future to constitute a deliberate waiver of its right to give advice and consent. What date? The historical average between nomination and confirmation is 25 days; the longest wait has been 125 days. That suggests that 90 days is a perfectly reasonable amount of time for the Senate to consider Garland’s nomination. If the Senate fails to act by the assigned date, Obama could conclude that it has waived its right to participate in the process, and he could exercise his appointment power by naming Garland to the Supreme Court.

Presumably the Senate would then bring suit challenging the appointment. This should not be viewed as a constitutional crisis but rather as a healthy dispute between the president and the Senate about the meaning of the Constitution. This kind of thing has happened before. In 1932, the Supreme Court ruled that the Senate did not have the power to rescind a confirmation vote after the nominee had already taken office. More recently, the court determined that recess appointments by the president were no longer proper because the Senate no longer took recesses.

It would break the logjam in our system to have this dispute decided by the Supreme Court (presumably with Garland recusing himself). We could restore a sensible system of government if it were accepted that the Senate has an obligation to act on nominations in a reasonable period of time. The threat that the president could proceed with an appointment if the Senate failed to do so would force the Senate to do its job — providing its advice and consent on a timely basis so that our government can function.

 

By: Gregory L. Diskant, Senior Partner at the law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, Member of the National Governing Board of Common Cause; Opinion Pages, The Washington Post, April8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Merrick Garland, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Why America Will Never Be Great In Trump’s Eyes”: He Has Never Been Very Impressed With America

To all but Donald Trump’s most loyal followers, it’s now a truism that he can change his positions at any moment, as he did multiple times last week on abortion. Trump’s “guiding conviction is winning, and he’ll say pretty much whatever he thinks will get him there,” Elizabeth Williamson observed this week in The New York Times. In a recent piece for Slate, Franklin Foer argued that Trump’s misogyny is his single core belief, the one idea that has remained consistent as all of his other views have shifted with the political winds over the decades.

Trump, to be sure, is astonishingly inconsistent on many issues, and terrifyingly consistent in his misogyny. But Trump’s critics aren’t being quite fair when they accuse him of wavering on every other topic. He has also been entirely consistent on another key point: He has never been very impressed with America.

Trump first flirted with running for president in the late 1980s, as Ronald Reagan’s presidency was drawing to a close. It’s an era many Republicans consider the height of American power and greatness, but Trump, at the time, didn’t like what he saw. In a September 1987 open letter that he spent nearly $100,000 to publish in a number of major newspapers, Trump fixated on a single issue: the exploitation of America by countries that fail to pay for our military protection. “The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help,” Trump wrote. The letter wasn’t an aberration. The next month, Trump traveled to New Hampshire, where he stuck to the same theme, telling 500 Republicans at the Portsmouth Rotary Club that America is “being kicked around” by Japan and the Arab oil states.

The most remarkable thing about Trump’s 1980s view of America as a weak, loser nation is that it’s nearly identical to the views he has expressed in recent weeks during a series of rambling discussions of foreign policy: In a conversation with The New York Times, Trump argued that America takes “tremendous monetary hits on protecting countries” and that “we lose, everywhere.” In Trump’s mind, the root of America’s woes has always been the same: Other nations, particularly Japan and Saudi Arabia, don’t pay us enough for all we do for them. Indeed, while it’s sometimes argued that Trump has shrewdly crafted his appeal to a newly fragile American psyche, it might be more accurate to say that Trump has been waiting 30 years for Americans to catch up to his unwaveringly primitive, pessimistic view of America’s standing in the world.

As Trump has explained it—both in the 1980s and today—his focus on foreign spending is a byproduct of his concern about America’s deficit spending. “It’s time for us to end our vast deficits by making Japan, and others who can afford it, pay,” Trump stated in his 1987 letter. But even Trump must understand today that eliminating all of the money America spends to station troops around the world would fail to make a dent in our deficit spending—only 16 percent of the federal budget is spent on defense, and only a fraction of that 16 percent is spent on peacekeeping troops. So, the mystery is why this relatively minor expense has remained so central to his thinking, even as so many of his other positions have changed time and again.

As Adam Davidson points out in The New York Times Magazine, it makes perfect sense that someone with Trump’s real estate experience would understand political agreements as zero-sum deals with winners and losers, rather than as mutually beneficial pacts. But Trump’s business background doesn’t quite explain his obsession with foreign spending. After all, there are plenty of American real-estate tycoons who aren’t losing sleep over the prospect of spending money to defend Japan.

The most likely explanation for Trump’s obsession with foreign spending may simply be that he has a deep visceral reaction to the very thought of a stronger party having to spend money on behalf of a weaker party. And if the issue drives him a little crazy, it’s perhaps because peacekeeping troops presents a fundamental paradox for Trump: He wants nothing more than for America to dominate the world, but dominating the world as a superpower is an expensive proposition. The more powerful America grows, the more it has to spend across the globe to maintain its influence, and thus, the weaker it becomes in Trump’s eyes.

This paradox explains why Trump will never find greatness in a truly powerful America, and why, when pressed by the Times to name a laudable era in U.S. history, he went back more than a century: “[I]f you really look at it, the turn of the century, that’s when we were a great, when we were really starting to go robust.” Trump added that the 1940s and ’50s were okay because “we were not pushed around” and “we were pretty much doing what we had to do.” Never mind that, as Max Boot writes in Commentary, the U.S. “went from defeat to defeat” against Communism in the late 1940s, or that America wasn’t nearly as powerful as it would become by the end of the twentieth century.

Trump’s only way out of this paradox is to insist that other countries pay America to dominate them. This is why it’s so important that Mexico pay for building the wall he wants along our entire southern border. Indeed, forcing Mexico to pay for the wall might be the real rationale for the wall itself. Trump’s foreign policy amounts to a vision of international extortion, America as a mafia thug squeezing protection payments out of our weaker allies. The problem, as the Times’ David E. Sanger recently pointed out to Trump, is that rather than pay America, a country might instead wish America the best and spend its money on weapons, including nuclear arsenals—hardly a recipe for sustained global influence.

Why Trump can’t grasp that America’s willingness to spend on global peacekeeping forces is not a reflection of its weakness, but a source of its power, is hard to say. But this much is clear: In Trump’s world, nothing is more upsetting than a powerful nation failing to fully dominate a weaker nation. And because American power, unlike the power of Trump the businessman, is mutually exclusive with squeezing every last dollar out of weaker parties, Trump might as well give up on his campaign promise. America will never be great again in his eyes.

 

By: Sam Apple, The New Republic, April 8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | America, Donald Trump, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Decisions, Decisions”: Why Cruz Is Worse Than Trump

On economics, that is. On other issues — well, who was worse, Mussolini or Torquemada? Decisions, decisions.

But on economics, Trump is a big protectionist, while Cruz is a devotee of the gold standard. And we know quite a lot about what these policies would do.

Protectionism makes economies less efficient, but it does not, in general, destroy jobs. Put a tariff on imports and people will spend less on imports — but they will normally spend more on other things instead. So a worldwide turn toward protectionism would both reduce everyone’s exports and reduce their imports, with the overall effect on spending and hence on employment more or less a wash.

Yes, I know there’s a Moody’s study claiming that Trumponomics would be a yuuge job destroyer, but I really don’t know where they got that result; the best guess seems to be that they’re assuming that former spending on imports just goes away, which is not a good assumption.

And no, protectionism didn’t cause the Great Depression. It was a consequence, not a cause — and much less severe in countries that had the good sense to leave the gold standard.

Which brings us to Cruz, who is enthusiastic about the gold standard — which did play a major role in spreading the Depression.

The problem with gold is, first of all, that it removes flexibility. Given an adverse shock to demand, it rules out any offsetting loosening of monetary policy.

Worse, relying on gold can easily have the effect of forcing a tightening of monetary policy at precisely the wrong moment. In a crisis, people get worried about banks and seek cash, increasing the demand for monetary base — but you can’t expand the monetary base to meet this demand, because it’s tied to gold. On top of that, a slump drives interest rates down, increasing the demand for real assets perceived as safe — like gold — which is why gold prices rose after the 2008 crisis. But if you’re on a gold standard, nominal gold prices can’t rise; the only way real prices can rise is a fall in the prices of everything else. Hello, deflation!

So on economics, again, Trump is ignorant and unpredictable — but Cruz knows what isn’t so, and would lead us to predictably dire results.

 

By: Paul Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal, Opinion Pages; The New York Times, April 8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Monetary Policy, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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