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“Can America Stand Rand?”: Cranking Up His ‘Libertarian’ Campaign

Platitudes typically litter the announcement speech of every aspiring president, and Rand Paul’s address in Louisville today was no exception. “We have come to take our country back,” he thundered—or tried to thunder—“from the special interests that use Washington at their personal piggy bank.”

Exactly what those special interests might be, he neglected to say — although they probably don’t include the oil or coal lobbies he tends to favor. He went on to rant against “both parties” and “the political system,” not to mention “big government,” deficit spending, and the federal debt. Naturally he prefers “small government” because “the love of liberty pulses in my veins.”

Yet Paul delivered these encrusted clichés with impressive energy, to an enthusiastic crowd featuring enough youthful and minority faces sprinkled among the Tea Party types to lend a touch of credibility to claims that he is a “different kind of Republican.” Speaking about urban poverty and education, the Kentucky Republican even name-checked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a gesture that too many elected officials in his party, especially from the South, still find difficult. (His father Ron Paul, watching from the audience, may have stifled a chuckle, recalling how his racist newsletters regularly excoriated the late civil rights leader as a “pro-communist philanderer” and worse, while blasting Ronald Reagan for signing the bill that made King’s birthday a national holiday.)

Appealing to younger and minority voters, Paul wisely emphasized his ideas about cutting back the machinery of surveillance and incarceration. Likewise, he kept the required paeans to economic “freedom” sufficiently vague to avoid alienating potential supporters, like students who might not appreciate his hostility to federal loans and grants, and families whose survival depends on food stamps and unemployment benefits that he would slash.The upside of a Paul campaign may be that his dissenting perspective on issues such as Iran, Cuba, and the surveillance state brings a small degree of sanity to the Republican primary debate. Although he parroted much nonsense about the Obama administration’s foreign policy, he dared to say that the goal of diplomacy “should be and always is peace, not war.”

Equally beneficial would be a frank discussion of the libertarian delusions that underlie his economic platform – and the real effects that such policies would have on American communities, families, and workers.Paul still hates the auto bailout, although killing it would have cost another million jobs. While he rails against deficit spending and Obama’s economic stimulus, the clear consensus is that unemployment would have soared without those measures. No doubt he agreed with his father’s repeated warnings that government spending would lead to “hyperinflation” and depression, but we have seen precisely the opposite: a revived economy, recovering employment, and inflation that remains too low to worry any sane person.

Among Paul’s easiest targets today was the IRS, which he promises to diminish or even abolish with his favorite “new idea,” a flat tax. That was a fresh proposal, perhaps, back when right-wing academics Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka unveiled it in a 1983 book titled Low Tax, Simple Tax, Flat Tax. There is no reason to believe that Rand Paul’s flat tax would differ significantly from theirs in design or impact; namely, to worsen inequality, raising the burden on the poor and middle class while benefiting the very rich.

Mocking the federal proclivity to spend more than the IRS collects, Paul chortled today, “Isn’t $3 trillion enough?” But while he promises to “balance” the budget, his 17 percent flat tax wouldn’t collect even that amount — which means enormous cuts in every budget sector, from education and infrastructure to defense.

Authors Hall and Rabushka described their flat tax as “a tremendous boon to the economic elite” and noted, candidly, “it is an obvious mathematical law that lower taxes on the successful will have to be made up by higher taxes on average people.” We shall see whether Paul is as honest as the authors of his tax plan.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, April 7, 2015

April 10, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Libertarians, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Boldly Claiming Things That Aren’t Even Remotely True”: Ted Cruz’s Biggest Liability Is Probably His Constant Lying

Politicians lie. It’s almost non-controversial; elected officials are advocates who want to show themselves and their causes in the best possible light. Nobody tells the whole truth.

Senator Ted Cruz wants you to think he is different: the video he released Monday morning ahead of his presidential campaign announcement was titled “Time for truth.” Those were also the first words he spoke at Liberty University after making his official announcement.

If Cruz is different, however, it’s because of how boldly he claims things that aren’t even remotely true. His vacations from reality take on a gleeful exuberance, like a college freshman on his first trip to Daytona.

Cruz told a CPAC crowd, for example, that Democrats issued an ominous threat to the Catholic Church: “Change your religious beliefs or we’ll use our power in the federal government to shut down your charities and your hospitals.” Politifact naturally deemed this “both incorrect and ridiculous.”

A quick survey of some other Cruz gems:

  • Cruz said ISIS is “right now crucifying Christians in Iraq, literally nailing Christians to trees.” It wasn’t, and Cruz wasn’t able to offer any evidence.
  • Cruz described a “strong bipartisan majority” in the House that voted to repeal Obamacare. Two Democrats joined the Republicans.
  • He bluntly claimed that “the jurisdictions with the strictest gun control laws, almost without exception … have the highest crime rates and the highest murder rates.” This is not true.
  • In recent weeks, Cruz has been using some variation of this line: “There are 110,000 agents at the IRS. We need to put a padlock on that building and take every one of those 110,000 agents and put them on our southern border.” The IRS doesn’t have 110,000 employees, let alone agents. (There are 14,000).

This may read as an oppo-dump of misstatements from a guy who’s now running for president. But anyone who has followed Cruz’s career knows it’s the tip of the iceberg—he frequently just seems to be free-associating conservative grievances with “facts” pulled from nowhere.

In some ways this is a huge asset for Cruz: he is clearly trying to establish himself as not only the most right-wing presidential candidate, but the truth-teller who isn’t afraid to say what conservatives know to be right. (They got that e-mail forward about it, after all!)

Combined with his aggressive play for evangelical voters, in this way Cruz is not unlike the Michele Bachmann of years past—except with a much better political resume and a bigger bankroll.

Of course, the last image many people have of Bachmann is being chased down a hallway by CNN’s Dana Bash in the final days of her congressional career; Bash wanted to confront Bachmann over the thoroughly ludicrous claim that Obama was spending $1.4 billion on personal expenses each year. It wasn’t the first time the mainstream media made hay with Bachmann. Even normally credulous reporters just couldn’t resist the easy layup.

One wonders if Cruz, too, might eventually see his truthiness turn into a liability. Speaking at CPAC is one thing, but standing on the national stage seeking to be president is another.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, March 23, 2015

April 4, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Politicians, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Truth Behind Ted Cruz’s Lies”: The Ugly American Approach To Foreign Language In Moral Form

Oh happy day—freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz is set to announce that he’s running for president. And he’s not going to announce at the Alamo or any other defiant Texas-type monument. He’s making a pilgrimage straight to the birthplace of the Moral Majority, the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University. The setting makes sense for a man who believes that God has called him to politics. After all, the only way to top shutting down the government is to try to run the government into the ground himself.

This month, Cruz released a short video that’s the best evidence yet for what a Cruz presidential campaign might be like. It’s called “A Time for Truth,” and the title has to be intentional irony.

Cruz’s Politifact track record for publicly-asserted falsehoods is the second-highest among front-runners, totaling 56 percent of all statements they’ve looked at. The only other leading contender with a higher rating is Ben Carson, who has a 100 percent “pants on fire” history, the result mainly of his brief time in the national spotlight and only having given Politifact one assertion to check—that people choose to be gay. (The investigative process on verifying that claim could have been entertaining, had Carson taken up Dan Savage’s invitation to take a very personal version of the Pepsi Challenge. Politifact chose a less experiential approach.)

It’s not just Cruz’s habit of embellishment that makes the video’s title more wish-fulfillment than description. One would expect a video entitled “A Time for Truth” to contain, you know, truth. Or calls to speak the truth, at the very least. Cruz’s infomercial, on the other hand, is simply a collection of Cruz clips wherein he apparently confuses speaking the truth with speaking very dramatically and forcefully. It is the Ugly American approach to foreign language in moral form.

Watch as Cruz loudly proclaims he will stand up for various things! He also asks for others to stand up for things! It’s a tic in the vernacular of the evangelical subculture Cruz hails from to think of extravagantly passionate sincerity as evidence of honesty and probity. So perhaps Cruz’s substitution of one for the other is not an intentional bait-and-switch.

Let’s indulge a thought experiment: What if, in all those cases where Cruz’s passionate sincerity has been found to be trustworthy, he meant what he said at the time?

We take it for granted that politicians lie to gain votes, to make themselves more appealing, or to make someone else look bad. But what if Cruz wasn’t craven, but instead as sincere as he sounds. What would that mean?

There are objective falsehoods that show Cruz could just be looking at a different set of data. Other, more telling whoppers show that Cruz isn’t just looking at different data, he’s living in a different universe.

The former category contains his insistence that there’s no such thing as global warming. The latter kind of lie is why Cruz can look a child in the eye and tell her the world is on fire. 

Multiple news organizations have found fault with this standard refrain from his stump speech: “There are 110,000 agents at the IRS. We need to put a padlock on that building and take every one of those 110,000 agents and put them on our southern border.” There are not 110,000 agents at the IRS. There aren’t even that many employees. There are about 82,000, of whom about 14,000 are agents.

But that’s just a fact-check of the first sentence; what about the underlying notion that there’s some kind of equivalence between what accountants do and the kind of peacekeeping one might need at the border?

The most generous interpretation might be that Cruz thinks we’re not keeping track of our immigrants; more paperwork is in order. (True enough!) The spookier option is that he thinks IRS agents are as militarized as your local police force, and they would be the group to finally wrest “100 percent operational control” (an Orwellian-sounding metric Cruz often invokes but never explains) in the region.

Cruz’s fantasy life, understandably, gets warmer and fuzzier closer to home. Take his version of the aw-shucks, I-don’t-deserve-her, backhandedly condescending marital anecdote that male candidates are required to have. It casts his decision to run for Senate as a moment of unexpected validation:

He recalled saying to his wife in the weeks before his Senate primary, when he was still behind in the polls, “Sweetheart, I’d like us to liquidate our entire net worth, liquid net worth, and put it into the campaign.”

“What astonished me, then and now, was Heidi within 60 seconds said, ‘Absolutely,’ with no hesitation,” said Mr. Cruz, who invested about $1.2 million—“which is all we had saved,” he added—into his campaign.

Heidi Cruz herself recalls the conversation differently. There was no movie-friendly smash cut “absolutely,” or even assent. Rather, she told Politico, she “wanted him to raise money from elsewhere first, to show that the support was out there.” And even then, “She proposed that they not put their own cash into the campaign unless it made the difference between winning and losing.” That’s sort of the opposite of an instantaneous absolutely: a hesitant and conditional maybe.

Maybe Ted’s version is just the kind of face-saving white lie we tell ourselves to preserve harmony in a relationship. After all, it’s easier and healthier than nursing a grudge. Or, in Cruz’s mind, a hesitant and conditional maybe, if it relates to something he wants bad enough, is enthusiastic agreement.

This delusion would explain almost everything Ted Cruz does.

That would explain Cruz’s misguided belief that a wide swath of Americans want to repeal Obamacare. It would explain his quixotic crusade against the country’s growing support for marriage equality. It would make sense, even, of his run for the presidency.

Cruz, after all, is a “top-tier” candidate mostly in terms of name recognition. While he’s an extremely popular speaker at base-flaming events such as CPAC (where he finished third in the easily gamed Straw Poll), wider swaths of GOP voters are not as kind. Even among the notoriously conservative Republican Iowa caucus-goers he’s in single digits. In the even narrower category of self-identified Iowa Tea Partiers, he has only 10 percent of the vote, trailing Ben Carson (11 percent), Rand Paul (15 percent) and flavor of the month Scott Walker (33 percent).

To be fair, most politicians who run for president have some strain of the megalomania that seems to infect Cruz. Almost every politician who runs for president needs to have that curious mental twist, an ego like a funhouse mirror. Otherwise, no one except those already likely to win would run. Ask some liberal Democrats how they feel about that scenario.

But the most successful politicians seem to leaven self-importance with data. Obama’s 2008 victory over the inevitable Hillary Clinton is often painted in terms of pure marketing, but it was number-crunching that made the difference in the nitty-gritty days of the final states. Bill Clinton often looks like an example of sentiment prevailing over smarts, but his career’s lows reflect the times when he didn’t turn off the charm.

Tell the truth, Ted Cruz says. Just don’t try to get him to be honest with himself.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, March 22, 2015

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ted Cruz Cannot Be Serious”: With Ill-Conceived Fantasies, Cruz Is Entirely Unsuited To Be President

The big news of the day is that Senator Ted Cruz is officially running for president. Not setting up an exploratory committee or any of that perfunctory foreplay, but actually running. “It is a time for truth. It is a time for liberty,” he said in a 30-minute speech at, yeah, Liberty University. “It is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States.” Cruz’s address was full of red meat for the conservative crowd. But other than his oratorical skills, Cruz is entirely unsuited to be president. Luckily for America, his candidacy is likely doomed to fizzle.

Cruz recapped his life story, focusing on the role faith plays in his life, before diving into his traditional conservative talking points. He asked the crowd to imagine “millions of young people coming together and standing together, saying, ‘We will stand for liberty'” and “instead of economic stagnation, booming economic growth.” He asked people to imagine the next president repealing Obamacare, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, implementing a flat tax and “finally, finally, finally secur[ing] the borders.” The crowd cheered each time.

The rest of the Republican field, whenever they officially announce their candidacies, will probably make similar promises; it’s hard to picture a candidate winning the Republican nomination without vowing to repeal Obamacare. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes, the Republican primary will reveal whether Cruz’s policy positions are extreme within the GOP or whether he differs mainly in his tactics.

His positions, regardless of where they fall within the Republican Party, are ill-conceived fantasies. Take taxes. A flat tax may appeal to the conservative base but it entirely misrepresents the actual problems with the U.S. tax code. The tax code is complicated not because of its progressive structure but because it is full of deductions, exemptions and credits that make it hard to calculate your taxable income. Cruz promotes the flat tax by saying it “lets every American fill out his or her taxes on a postcard.” But the exact same could be said about a progressive tax system. Senator Marco Rubio, another presumptive presidential candidate, didn’t propose a flat tax in his recently released tax plan (although he did say he wants to get there someday) because doing so is just not feasible. A flat tax would need to be set at a high enough level to fund critical government programs, requiring a massive tax increase on the middle class and poor. That’d be a political nightmare.

On Obamacare, Cruz wants to repeal the law … and then basically see what happens. This is, of course, the Republican Party’s position as well. But it’s unacceptable as a presidential candidate’s health care agenda. If you want to repeal the health care law, you better have a replacement plan. The same goes with abolishing the IRS. A Cruz government would eliminate the agency but it would still collect taxes—somehow. Cruz has never said how that would work. Would there be a new agency to replace the IRS? Would it have employees? Who, after all, would collect all those postcards? All unanswered questions.

Yet above all, one particular position should disqualify Cruz—or anyone else who holds it—from the presidency: using the debt ceiling as a hostage device. Breaching the debt ceiling would be disastrous. It’s hard to forecast exactly what would happen, but we can somewhat forecast day one after default. The government would have to prioritize its payments. Do you withhold food stamps from low-income Americans? Delay Social Security checks? Maybe we should stop payments on infrastructure projects. Those missed payments would harm millions of Americans and cause mass disruptions around the country as cash flow problems cause companies to become insolvent. Over the long term, it would permanently raise our borrowing costs, making our interest payments more expensive. In short, it would be self-inflicted economic Armageddon. Cruz considers his willingness to risk that catastrophe a selling point, touting his role in opposing the debt ceiling hikes on his website.

Beyond his policy positions, Cruz has demonstrated himself to be particularly un-presidential. During the 2013 government shutdown, for one, he demanded that President Barack Obama defund Obamacare in return for keeping the government open and avoiding a default on the national debt. It was a ridiculous demand that elevated Cruz’s national profile and ended with Republican approval ratings cratering. In the process, he infuriated much of the Republican establishment—not the only time he has done that.

That episode wasn’t an outlier. Throughout his time in the Senate, Cruz has shown a distinct lack of interest in policymaking or governing. Instead, he has calculated every move to prepare for a 2016 run. Every politician considers the optics of their positions, of course, but Cruz has taken it to the next level, with little care for how his actions affected the Republican Party or his colleagues. In doing so, he probably doomed his candidacy. On Monday, Five Thirty Eight’s Harry Enten convincingly argued that Cruz’s extreme views and his few friends within the Republican Party make it highly unlikely that he will win the nomination.

And that means Cruz’s role in the Republican primary will likely benefit Democrats. He’ll pull the rest of the party to the right on immigration, taxes and health care. Moderates such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush may have to resist the urge to adopt more conservative positions. In December, for instance, Bush said that the GOP candidates had to be willing to “lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles.” But that position is easy to hold 23 months before the general election and more than a year before the first primary. It will become harder to sustain as Cruz and others repeatedly hammer the moderates.

In Cruz’s speech Monday, he never mentioned Hillary Clinton. Instead, he painted a bleak picture of America and its role in the world, saying that the American dream “is slipping away from our hands.” He sees a desperate need for a conservative president to “restore that shining city on a hill that is the United States of America.” Implied throughout: Democrats are ruining America. Yet his actions are only making a Hillary Clinton presidency more likely. The Senator who would hold the government hostage has become the candidate doing the same to his party.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, March 23, 2015

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republican Ideas Haven’t Changed Since The 1970s”: John Boehner Should Try Listening To His Own Economic Advice For Obama

After President Obama released his 2016 budget on Monday, House Speaker John Boehner published a list of ten things that are “newer than Obama’s ideas.” Instagram, Angry Birds, Frozen, and the selfie stick all made the cut. Boehner’s office even created a clunky hashtag for the list#NewerThanObamasIdeas. The irony is rich: Republican ideas have hardly changed since the 1970s.

It’s true that many proposals in Obama’s budget, like increased infrastructure spending, comprehensive immigration reform, and universal pre-kindergarten, were in his previous budget too. But there were many new ideas, as well. He proposed a new, 19 percent minimum tax on foreign corporate profitsa big move towards the GOP’s preferred territorial tax system. He also wants to expand a tax credit for child care while increasing the capital gains tax rate from 23.8 percent to 28 percent. He put forward a major overhaul of the unemployment insurance system.

None of these represent radical departures from Obama’s previous agendas. But Obama is a Democrat, not a Republican. He wasn’t suddenly going to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and repeal the Affordable Care Act, just as Republicans won’t suddenly wake up and support a single-payer system and higher taxes on the rich.

And Republican ideas on the economy have aged even worse than the Democrats’ stale agenda. Take monetary policy. Throughout Obama’s presidency, GOP lawmakers have frequently criticized the Federal Reserve for low interest rates and its recently-ended bond-buying program. Those policies, they have argued, would send inflation shooting upwards. That, of course, has not happened. Inflation has remained below the Fed’s 2 percent target for years. The greater risk is actually deflationfalling prices.

Of course, in the 1970s, inflation was a very real concern. Then-Fed chair Paul Volcker raised interest rates, causing a recession, but stamping out inflation. Republicans, fearing pre-Volcker inflation, are trying to apply those lessons during a very different time, when the far greater risk to the economy has been a weak labor market. If the Fed had implemented them, it would have led to a disastrous economic contraction.

Or consider taxes. Most of the Republican Party has a laser-like focus at lowering the top marginal tax rates. But some reform-minded conservatives also want to finance a huge expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC)a tax credit available to parents. They believe that the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s that lowered the top marginal tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent was a smart move. But they see far fewer benefits in lowering marginal tax rates now. “Let’s say we cut the 15 percent federal income-tax rate faced by much of the middle class to 10 percent,” Robert Stein writes in the reformicon’s new conservative agenda, titled “Room to Grow.” “Instead of keeping 85 cents for a dollar of extra effort, a worker would get 90 centsan improvement of only 5.9 percent.… For these workers, cutting the 15 percent rate to 10 percent would make absolutely no difference in work incentives.” A CTC expansion would put money directly into the pockets of parents who need it. While a few prominent members in the Republican Party have adopted Stein’s tax proposal, most notably Senator Marco Rubio, the vast majority of the party would rather lower marginal rates further instead of expanding the CTC. In other words, Republican tax ideas are still stuck in the 1970s as well.

At the end of Boehner’s listicle, his office writes, “The simple truth is this: The federal budget shouldn’t be cobwebbed by the policies of the past. It should be focused on the futurea future where our kids and grandkids can grow up free from the fear of never-ending debt and a bloated Washington bureaucracy.” His party should listen to that advice.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, February 6, 2015

February 7, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, John Boehner, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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