Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 26, 2012

Last Debate Before Florida Sinks Gingrich

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate on CNN was the last one before the Florida primary as well as the last one for almost a month. That made it critical for Newt Gingrich, the man whose candidacy has largely depended on success in debates to do well tonight. But instead of another triumph in which he was able to use attacks on the moderators and his rivals, Gingrich came out flat. While there is little doubt Rick Santorum did the best of any of the candidates tonight and Ron Paul had a few good jokes, the real winner was Mitt Romney, who attacked Gingrich relentlessly and with good effect.

Gingrich’s poor performance not only undermines his argument that he would trounce Barack Obama in debates but also squandered what might be his last chance to turn the momentum of the race around. Gingrich’s usual trick of turning on the moderator flopped. So did his attacks on Romney. Along with Gingrich, Romney took a pounding from Santorum but even that worked to his benefit. Any votes Santorum gains in Florida will be at Gingrich’s expense. The Jacksonville debate may have sealed Gingrich’s fate in Florida and perhaps the entire race.

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Tonight’s Republican presidential debate on CNN was the last one before the Florida primary as well as the last one for almost a month. That made it critical for Newt Gingrich, the man whose candidacy has largely depended on success in debates to do well tonight. But instead of another triumph in which he was able to use attacks on the moderators and his rivals, Gingrich came out flat. While there is little doubt Rick Santorum did the best of any of the candidates tonight and Ron Paul had a few good jokes, the real winner was Mitt Romney, who attacked Gingrich relentlessly and with good effect.

Gingrich’s poor performance not only undermines his argument that he would trounce Barack Obama in debates but also squandered what might be his last chance to turn the momentum of the race around. Gingrich’s usual trick of turning on the moderator flopped. So did his attacks on Romney. Along with Gingrich, Romney took a pounding from Santorum but even that worked to his benefit. Any votes Santorum gains in Florida will be at Gingrich’s expense. The Jacksonville debate may have sealed Gingrich’s fate in Florida and perhaps the entire race.

Romney came out strong, taking Gingrich to task for his attacks on him and then followed up by taking the former speaker to task on his connection with Freddie Mac. Gingrich then attempted to deflect a Wolf Blitzer question about his attacks on Romney’s finances back on the moderator. But, unfortunately for Gingrich, Blitzer would have none of it. The result was that he was made to look foolish while Romney took him further to task. That was a pattern that repeated itself throughout the evening as Gingrich missed opportunities to make points at his rival’s expense and never was able to seize a moment and get the boisterous crowd behind him. Instead, it was Romney who got more applause for his aggressive focus on Gingrich’s weak points, including his latest “grandiose” idea: a moon colony plan that he denounced as a blatant pander.

Yet, while the first hour looked to be a runaway for Romney, Santorum’s ability to turn the issue of his Massachusetts health care bill on him changed the dynamic of the event. From then on, it was Santorum who was more or less in charge, including a stirring statement about the connection between faith and the rights guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence.

But despite his good showing, Santorum has little chance in Florida. He did not even have the money to buy television ads in Florida and has decided not to stay in the state on Tuesday night to await the primary results. That means any strength he gains there in the last days as a result of his powerful debate showings will merely be conservative votes taken away from a fading Gingrich. Indeed, on the basis of this night at least, it was clear that the best “not Romney” on the stage was Santorum, not Gingrich.

While Romney was put back on his heels by Santorum’s withering scolding about his health care bill, his performance was still, along with Monday’s debate in Tampa, a reversal of previous debates in which he had been battered by Gingrich. Instead, it was the former speaker who was constantly forced on the defensive. Having come into the hall needing a knockout to get back on top in Florida, Gingrich found himself being clearly bested on points. While the volatility of the GOP race is such that it is perilous to make predictions, after this debacle it’s hard to see how Gingrich prevents a Romney win in Florida next Tuesday. After today, the talk of Romney’s inevitability, which had disappeared in the days since South Carolina, may resume.

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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends. Winners: Santorum and Romney. Loser: Gingrich. Paul: barely there.

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On electability, Romney says the question is whether the US will become more like Europe or remain strong. Says he’s a DC outsider and a businessman and that’s what the American people will want. Gingrich says he won in 94 and that he’s running for his grandchildren and that only big ideas can win. Santorum calls out Romney and Gingrich on global warming “hoax” and the bank bailout. Says he’s the one who can win Reagan Democrats.

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Question about faith prompts defense of religious freedom from Mitt and attack on anti-religious bigotry from Newt. His first moment where he’s giving the right what they want to hear. Santorum knocks it out of the park with answer on the connection between faith and the rights guaranteed in the Declearation of Independenc.e Constitution is the how of America, Declaration of Independence is the why. Declaration mentions the Creator and the rights that came from the Creator.

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Puerto Rican statehood? Are they kidding? Santorum answers it’s their own choice.

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Gingrich sees Romney’s support for Israel and attack on Palestinian leadership and raises him one move of the embassy to Jerusalem! Both gave strong answers denouncing Obama’s failures and putting the onus for the lack of peace directly on the Palestinians.

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The debate ends. Winners: Santorum and Romney. Loser: Gingrich. Paul: barely there.

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On electability, Romney says the question is whether the US will become more like Europe or remain strong. Says he’s a DC outsider and a businessman and that’s what the American people will want. Gingrich says he won in 94 and that he’s running for his grandchildren and that only big ideas can win. Santorum calls out Romney and Gingrich on global warming “hoax” and the bank bailout. Says he’s the one who can win Reagan Democrats.

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Question about faith prompts defense of religious freedom from Mitt and attack on anti-religious bigotry from Newt. His first moment where he’s giving the right what they want to hear. Santorum knocks it out of the park with answer on the connection between faith and the rights guaranteed in the Declearation of Independenc.e Constitution is the how of America, Declaration of Independence is the why. Declaration mentions the Creator and the rights that came from the Creator.

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Puerto Rican statehood? Are they kidding? Santorum answers it’s their own choice.

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Gingrich sees Romney’s support for Israel and attack on Palestinian leadership and raises him one move of the embassy to Jerusalem! Both gave strong answers denouncing Obama’s failures and putting the onus for the lack of peace directly on the Palestinians.

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So far virtually nothing about the economy. I was about to say nothing about Israel but then a Palestinian asks the question. Romney answers why no peace in the Middle East with strong answer about Palestinian desire to destroy Israel. Vows solidarity as opposed to Obama throwing Israel under the bus.

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Santorum makes strong point about not giving up the fight for a free Cuba. Paul dissents. Romney and Gingrich largely agree.

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Gingrich wins on being closer to Reagan than Romney. But he misses an opportunity to hit Romney on his conservative credentials. He’s having a bad night at exactly the wrong time.

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All the candidates, including Newt, do nicely praising their wives. Romney and Santorum win this question though.

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Question about which Hispanic leaders would be appointed to the Cabinet is an invitation to pander. The candidates don’t disappoint. Blitzer then says after the break there will be a question about first ladies. Ridiculous. Twitter lighting up with jokes about which wife Gingrich will mention. Ouch. A

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Santorum then nails Romney and Gingrich on their past support for the individual mandate. Gingrich tries to draw a distinction, Romney forced to defend his health care law again then promises again that he’ll repeal Obamacare. Santorum won’t let him off the hook though. Says GOP can’t give away the issue. Another strong moment for Santorum. First weak moment for Romney. Says it’s not worth getting angry about. But Santorum continues to hone in on the comparison with Obamacare.

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Question from the audience about health care insurance. No real disagreement among the candidates. All for lowering costs and empowering individuals and opposing Obama and Obamacare.

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Paul nails Gingrich on his balanced budgets in the 90s. Santorum then attacks Gingrich for his unrealistic ideas which he compares to Obama. Bad night for Newt continues.

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Gingrich defends his “grandiose” idea about a moon colony becoming a state. He enjoys this sort of argument but it’s not working for him. However, his line about abandoning space being a sign of national decline isn’t totally wrong. But Romney is right about corporate America not being interested in space colonies. Romney then nails Gingrich on pandering in every state. Gingrich answers that he’s going around learning.

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Paul gets a laugh about sending politicians to the moon. But libertarians don’t want to pay for the rockets.

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Romney asked about Gingrich moon station idea. Says its too expensive then punts on future of NASA while saying he supports manned flights. Gingrich makes some sense about the future of the program but he won’t win with his moon colony idea. He knows it’s just an idea that can’t be paid for.

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Blitzer wastes time asking a question about the release of medical records.

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Santorum says he opposes zeroing out capital gains tax. Ron Paul says he wants to repeal the 16th amendment — the federal income tax. Welcome to libertarian fantasyland.

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Gingrich tries to deflect Blitzer question about his attacks on Romney by blaming moderator. Blitzer doesn’t let him get away with it this time. Romney then says it would be nice if people wouldn’t make attacks they won’t defend at a debate. Romney then demolishes the attack again. Another great moment for Romney. Newt’s not looking like the Lincoln-Douglas guy tonight.

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At the first break: Gingrich attacks on Romney haven’t worked so far. If he was hoping for a repeat of last week, he’s falling short. Romney holding his ground. Santorum did well when given a chance to talk. But that came too seldom.

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Santorum scores big point by saying that attacks on Gingrich’s lobbying and Romney’s money are a giant distraction.

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Gingrich answers by saying that Romney owns Fannie and Freddie Mac investments and Goldman Sachs. Romney answers his investments are in a blind trust made in a Mutual Funds not stocks. Then adds that Gingrich has the same kind of investments. And that it’s not the same as promoting them for money as Gingrich did. Gingrich then says Romney should have given instructions to his blind trust. This attack fell flat.

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Romney starts in on Freddie Mac and says they needed a whistle-blower not a horn-tooter as Gingrich was.

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Wolf Blitzer calls Romney on his “language of the ghetto” ad aimed at Gingrich. He recovers quickly by asking whether Newt said it. Gingrich says it’s out of context. That saves Romney a bit.

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Santorum tears into this topic with passion attacking Obama for not being willing to stand up for democracy and to combat the threat of radical Islam. This is one of his best issues.

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Question about Iran and Islamists infiltrating Latin America. Ron Paul answer: free trade, including with Cuba. Translation: He’s not that interested in what Islamists do.

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Santorum and Paul wondering right now whether they’ll ever get back into the debate.

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Gingrich backs up his “anti-immigrant” charge at Romney. Romney demands an apology and accuses him of being over the top. Big applause from the audience. First blow landed. Gingrich asks how else would you describe his position. Romney calmly says that being in favor of enforcing the law doesn’t make you anti-immigrant. Romney: Our problem isn’t 11 million grandmothers. Romney wins the exchange.

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Gingrich criticizes Romney’s stand on “self-deportation” and then mentions his selective service idea for amnesty again. Not exactly a stinging blow. Those expecting him to come out snarling disappointed so far. Romney reiterates his ideas about stopping the illegals. No blows landed on either side.

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Starting off with an audience question on immigration. Santorum answers with his grandfather’s story and his usual routine about illegals being law breakers. Getting so that most of the audience knows these candidates set answers as well as they do.

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Santorum gets the good son award by mentioning his mom in his intro. Newt gets the Navy nod by mentioning a carrier battlegroup. Romney talks about his numerous family as usual. Ron Paul grimly goes into his isolationist rant.

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Seems like the CNN staff did a good job riling up the crowd at the debate. Expecting a lot of fireworks.

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CNN’s John King just rehashed the story about Gingrich’s lie about offering competing witnesses to ABC last week to rebut his ex-wife on the air in the last few minutes before the debate started. Payback. Double ouch.

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Given the nastiness of a lot of the exchanges between the candidates in the last two days, a lot of people are expecting some bitter attacks about Bain, bank accounts and Freddie Mac. I wouldn’t bet against that.

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We’re waiting for the debate to begin. On CNN, Alex Castellanos just compared Gingrich to Goldwater to explain why many conservatives fear his winning the nomination this year. Of course, a lot of conservatives wouldn’t be upset by this comparison. David Frum follows by pointing out that Gingrich’s winning opening at the CNN debate a week ago was based on a lie. Ouch.

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Did Nancy Reagan Really Say “Ronnie’s Torch Was Passed to Newt”?

Newt Gingrich is striking back at a column by Elliott Abrams today, which revealed the former speaker had repeatedly criticized President Ronald Reagan during the late 1980s. The publicized comments – which headlined the Drudge Report for hours today – were especially embarrassing for Gingrich because he’s been leveraging his allegedly close relationship with Reagan to rally conservative support. (See Pete Wehner’s earlier column here:)

According to Politico, Gingrich pushed back on the column this afternoon, claiming Nancy Reagan said, “Ronnie’s torch has been passed to Newt” at an event in 1995 [emphasis added]:

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Newt Gingrich is striking back at a column by Elliott Abrams today, which revealed the former speaker had repeatedly criticized President Ronald Reagan during the late 1980s. The publicized comments – which headlined the Drudge Report for hours today – were especially embarrassing for Gingrich because he’s been leveraging his allegedly close relationship with Reagan to rally conservative support. (See Pete Wehner’s earlier column here:)

According to Politico, Gingrich pushed back on the column this afternoon, claiming Nancy Reagan said, “Ronnie’s torch has been passed to Newt” at an event in 1995 [emphasis added]:

Newt Gingrich, speaking with reporters after his impassioned performance in Mount Dora, Fla., defended his Reagan-praising credentials by noting that Nancy Reagan said her husband’s “torch has been passed to Newt.”

“You want to understand why I finally decided to just go and be this blunt? In 1995, Nancy Reagan at the Goldwater Institute says, ‘Ronnie’s torch has been passed to Newt. OK?” he said, via Politico’s Ginger Gibson. “Now to have somebody who is an independent in the 80s, who gave money to the Democrats in ’92 and voted in the Democratic Party for [Paul] Tsongas, to have his campaign take on a lifetime of work and lie about it, frankly I do find it infuriating.”

Gingrich is right that Nancy Reagan did say this at a 1995 Goldwater Institute ceremony honoring Reagan and Barry Goldwater, which both Newt and the former first lady spoke at. But he leaves out a few of her words in a way that slightly alters the meaning of her statement. Here’s Nancy Reagan’s comment in context, via YouTube:

“Just take a look at the extraordinary men and women who make up the 104th Congress, and, of course, this distinguished Speaker Newt Gingrich [gestures to Gingrich]. The dramatic movement of 1995 is an outgrowth of a much earlier crusade that goes back half a century. Barry Goldwater handed the torch to Ronnie. And in turn, Ronnie turned that torch over to Newt and the Republican members of Congress to keep that dream alive. I know that Ronnie believes it will succeed, and that the American people support their efforts.”

So yes, Nancy Reagan did say President Reagan handed the torch down to Newt – and the rest of the 230 Republican members of Congress that year. She doesn’t appear to be deeming Newt Gingrich the primary heir to the Reagan legacy, as he makes it sound to Politico. It was a gracious comment, but Gingrich seems to either have misunderstood or mischaracterized it.

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The Real Lesson of Romney’s Tax Returns

The overly-anticipated release of Mitt Romney’s tax returns raises a variety of questions which the country would do well to debate.

To begin with, why do candidates release tax returns? After all, it isn’t legally required – not for presidential candidates nor for sitting presidents. Tax returns are a private matter, and the IRS is barred from making them public. Legally, presidential candidates, sitting presidents, and representatives need file only a financial disclosure report about their assets.

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The overly-anticipated release of Mitt Romney’s tax returns raises a variety of questions which the country would do well to debate.

To begin with, why do candidates release tax returns? After all, it isn’t legally required – not for presidential candidates nor for sitting presidents. Tax returns are a private matter, and the IRS is barred from making them public. Legally, presidential candidates, sitting presidents, and representatives need file only a financial disclosure report about their assets.

This more restricted glance into an officeholder’s financial state is more justifiable, serving to prevent conflicts of interest and abuses of power for financial gain. Granted, presidents have for several decades now released tax returns as well, but they tend to put their money in blind trusts (which manage one’s investments on one’s behalf), the specific financial dealings of which are not covered in the tax returns, so we don’t learn much else.

Establishing a blind trust, incidentally, is a way of avoiding the potential conflicts of interest that lay behind the recent congressional insider trading scandal. But more fundamentally, our concerns really serve as a reminder that the possibility of abuse of power grows proportionally with the size of government, and this is surely a case for restricting the purview of intervention in the economy as much as responsibly possible.

This still leaves us with our question, though: why do candidates and presidents release their tax returns? Voters’ prurience, David Brooks rightly answers, as well as other unsavory motivations, such as envy and a broader war on privacy. Ed Morrissey agrees, and rightly wonders why conservatives – traditionally so mistrustful of the IRS and like intrusion – are so insistent on seeing candidates’ filings.

Rick Perry, having released his own returns, called on Romney to follow suit, so that the ”people of this country can see how you [Romney] made your money. I think that’s a fair thing.” The problem is we already have a good idea of how Romney made his money, as well as how much he has. The only thing that matters is that it was not illegal, and that much we can presume.

So what else is there to discover? Sure, Romney’s tax rate seems pretty low, but as Jim Pethokoukis has noted, it’s much higher than it seems and it’s also still well above average. And if one wants to infer that it’s an example of expensive accounting, then let it serve as a case for fundamental tax reform. Moreover, our aim in any case should be to reduce taxation as much as possible, not to look for rationales to get ordinary taxpayers to pay more. (By contrast, there is much to be said for everyone contributing something.)

As for Perry’s other argument – that the returns should be released sooner rather than later to confirm the GOP does not nominate a ”flawed candidate” and realize too late – again, this would not be an issue were the party to oppose the release of tax returns on principle.

So, a good argument in favor of full release has yet to be made, and until it is, one can only conclude that, honestly, this tradition only feeds our baser yearnings and insalubrious prejudices, and hence, should be discarded.

But the take-away is more profound than that, because there is one thing we did discover that was interesting: how much Romney gives to charity. That is to say, more than the millions he paid in taxes, and more than any other presidential candidate or recent president (as far as we can tell). Now, of course he also has the unrivalled means to do so, but proportionally he gives far more than any of the others (as, incidentally, do conservatives over liberals, on average). It is not appropriate to delineate here precisely those sums, because giving should be a private affair – as Maimonides rules, anonymous charity is preferable. Moreover, one can and should also give of one’s time, and tax returns cannot account for that, nor for post-tax charity.

What the Romney tax return does show is a family who gives generously and exemplifies communal devotion, and provides a model which favors voluntary charity over enforced taxation, a model to which we and our tax code should aspire. Contrary to Perry’s suggestion, what was interesting was not where the money came from, but where it went, and grass roots Republicans have done a decent man a disservice by forcing him to make his generosity public. Hopefully, we can all learn from this episode that we should give more and expose less.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate taking place tonight in Jacksonville, Florida. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the final four candidates have at it once again in their last such forum before the Florida primary.

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate taking place tonight in Jacksonville, Florida. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the final four candidates have at it once again in their last such forum before the Florida primary.

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Gingrich on Reagan: “He is in Some Danger of Becoming Another Jimmy Carter”

Matt Drudge links to several stories and videos (see here, here, here and here) highlighting Newt Gingrich’s past criticisms of President Reagan. This line of attack has clearly enraged Gingrich, who argues that he was certainly more of a Reaganite than Mitt Romney ever was.

What Gingrich says is true, but in some respects it’s beside the point. What these episodes reveal about Gingrich isn’t that he’s not a conservative; it’s that during the course of his career he’s been intemperate and erratic. He views himself as almost alone when it comes to understanding the world-historical moment he always seems to be living in. He has the courage that others, including Ronald Reagan, lacked. He possesses the insights that others, including Ronald Reagan, were deprived of. Gingrich’s comments were not those of a “loving critic,” to use a phrase from Madison. The former House speaker used words that were lacerating, extreme, and at times insulting.

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Matt Drudge links to several stories and videos (see here, here, here and here) highlighting Newt Gingrich’s past criticisms of President Reagan. This line of attack has clearly enraged Gingrich, who argues that he was certainly more of a Reaganite than Mitt Romney ever was.

What Gingrich says is true, but in some respects it’s beside the point. What these episodes reveal about Gingrich isn’t that he’s not a conservative; it’s that during the course of his career he’s been intemperate and erratic. He views himself as almost alone when it comes to understanding the world-historical moment he always seems to be living in. He has the courage that others, including Ronald Reagan, lacked. He possesses the insights that others, including Ronald Reagan, were deprived of. Gingrich’s comments were not those of a “loving critic,” to use a phrase from Madison. The former House speaker used words that were lacerating, extreme, and at times insulting.

One Gingrich quote is particularly revealing and hasn’t, to my knowledge, yet been highlighted. But in Steven Hayward’s wonderful book, The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution, Hayward quotes Gingrich as telling the Wall Street Journal that Reagan was “in some danger of becoming another Jimmy Carter.” That is about as wicked a rhetorical blow as one Republican could level against another. And this statement came after Reagan’s first term, in which he achieved historically important reforms.

Hayward recounts one White House meeting late in the second term, after Gingrich laid out complaints about important things the administration had left undone. President Reagan put his arm around the young Georgia congressman, according to Hayward, and said in his typically gentle fashion, “Well, some things you’re just going to have to do after I’m gone.”

This exchange is an illuminating one. Ronald Reagan was not only an unusually principled politician; he was also unusually well-grounded. He was at once idealistic and realistic. He had the ability to do more than give speeches; he had the wisdom to govern well and effectively. He was a man in a hurry, but he was never a man in a rush. There was something deeply reassuring and calming about the man from Dixon, Illinois. He was a conservative, not a revolutionary, in spirit, in temperament, and in his essential approach to life. That was one of his many virtues, and something Gingrich has lacked his entire political career.

That is why some of us, even as we’re willing to acknowledge Gingrich’s strengths and contributions during the years, believe he’s fundamentally lacking when it comes to the character–public and private–necessary to be president.

 

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Obama’s Defense Budget: Broken Promises

A few weeks ago, President Obama released his much ballyhooed strategic blueprint, called “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” It called for a force that would be “agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced,” with “cutting-edge capabilities,” staffed by “the highest-quality, battle-tested professionals,” and with a “global presence emphasizing the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.” Today, the Pentagon unveiled details of the new defense budget which make clear none of these promises will be kept.

The most defensible elements of the new cutbacks are rolling back military pay increases and increasing the cost of Tricare insurance, both of which are generous by civilian standards–even if it does call into question the president’s pledge to “keep faith with our troops, military families, and veterans.” Our faith in those brave men and women is truly strained if not broken altogether by the decision to fire 100,000 of them–80,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines who are being let go to find jobs in an anemic economy.

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A few weeks ago, President Obama released his much ballyhooed strategic blueprint, called “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” It called for a force that would be “agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced,” with “cutting-edge capabilities,” staffed by “the highest-quality, battle-tested professionals,” and with a “global presence emphasizing the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.” Today, the Pentagon unveiled details of the new defense budget which make clear none of these promises will be kept.

The most defensible elements of the new cutbacks are rolling back military pay increases and increasing the cost of Tricare insurance, both of which are generous by civilian standards–even if it does call into question the president’s pledge to “keep faith with our troops, military families, and veterans.” Our faith in those brave men and women is truly strained if not broken altogether by the decision to fire 100,000 of them–80,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines who are being let go to find jobs in an anemic economy.

What of the promise to sustain U.S. global leadership and even to increase power projection in the Pacific? It’s hard to see how we can possibly do this when the current budget once again slows down acquisition of the F-35, the critical fifth-generation fighter needed to counter China. Six of 60 Air Force tactical squadrons will be eliminated altogether, further hurting our power projection capabilities. Also gone will be 27 giant C-5As and 65 of the smaller C-130s which are needed to move troops and materiel around the world–the centerpiece of the not-so-new “lily-pad” strategy that Don Rumsfeld had pushed and which Leon Panetta has now revived. This is premised on the idea of reducing our permanent overseas presence in favor of moving small numbers of troops for short-term exercises and Special Operations-type raids. However, with the reduction in the number of our cargo aircraft it will be harder to accomplish that.

Our fleet–already the smallest since the early years of the 20th century–will suffer more cuts, too: “To find savings,” the New York Times reports, “the Navy will retire seven cruisers, and slow work on amphibious ships and an attack submarine. Two littoral combat ships will be eliminated.” All of these cutbacks are coming, mind you, in the midst of China’s rapid military buildup which is already shifting the balance of power in the Western Pacific against the Seventh Fleet. To keep pace we need to build more ships–not mothball those we already have.

The administration claims we should not be worried about all these cuts–why, we are expanding Special Operations Forces and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Both SOF and UAVs are important capabilities, but they should be seen as supplements to, rather than replacements for, conventional forces. It appears, ironically, the Obama administration is being seduced by the same techno-utopian vision that entranced Rumsfeld–of doing more with less. The fault in that line of thinking was displayed in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we quickly found out there was no substitute for a humble rifleman to impose our will on the enemy at bayonet point. Now the Obama administration is fooling itself into thinking we will never have to fight another major ground war again. That is a myth we have fallen prey to many times before–only to have a painful disabusing. You would think we would have learned our lesson. Apparently not.

 

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Gingrich Admits He Never Offered Witnesses to ABC

I was so distracted by Newt Gingrich tearing CNN’s John King’s head off at the South Carolina debate that I didn’t even notice this pretty serious charge the former speaker leveled at ABC. In the middle of his rant, Gingrich claimed he offered the network interviews with several of his friends who could rebut his ex-wife’s “open marriage” charge, but the news organization turned them down.

That could have been a major black eye for ABC. But as it turns out, it wasn’t true. Fittingly, John King got the story:

“Tonight, after persistent questioning by our staff, the Gingrich campaign concedes now Speaker Gingrich was wrong — both in his debate answer, and in our interview yesterday,” King said on tonight’s edition of John King USA. “Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond says the only people the Gingrich campaign offered to ABC were his two daughters from his first marriage.”

Needless to say, not a smart move on Gingrich’s part.

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I was so distracted by Newt Gingrich tearing CNN’s John King’s head off at the South Carolina debate that I didn’t even notice this pretty serious charge the former speaker leveled at ABC. In the middle of his rant, Gingrich claimed he offered the network interviews with several of his friends who could rebut his ex-wife’s “open marriage” charge, but the news organization turned them down.

That could have been a major black eye for ABC. But as it turns out, it wasn’t true. Fittingly, John King got the story:

“Tonight, after persistent questioning by our staff, the Gingrich campaign concedes now Speaker Gingrich was wrong — both in his debate answer, and in our interview yesterday,” King said on tonight’s edition of John King USA. “Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond says the only people the Gingrich campaign offered to ABC were his two daughters from his first marriage.”

Needless to say, not a smart move on Gingrich’s part.

The supposedly bombshell ABC interview with his second ex-wife fizzled out on its own. But this brings it back into the news cycle, and it will almost certainly be brought up at tonight’s CNN debate. He turned this story from one that could have been construed as an attack against him (the timing of the ABC interview right before the South Carolina vote) to one where he now appears to have been caught in a lie. And while the lie may have been relatively inconsequential, it still plays into public uneasiness with his personal character.

The best response Gingrich can give tonight is to explain the miscommunication, move on, and hope this story dies out as quickly as the open marriage one. If he draws undue attention to it by going on another rant during the debate, he’ll only open himself up to more questions: who are these friends? Will they agree to go on one of the networks and reject the open marriage charges? If so, when? If not, why not? That could keep the story in the news for much longer than it otherwise would have been.

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Why Do They Want to Be President?

There’s an episode of the hit TV show “The West Wing” in which the president’s likely re-election opponent is asked why he wants to be president and flubs the question. The president’s advisers enjoy a good laugh at their opponent’s mistake–until they realize their boss also doesn’t know why he wants to be president.

As life imitates art, we seem to be watching a real-life episode of this farce play out. President Obama’s State of the Union address was widely panned even by his own supporters (“immediately forgettable” wrote Dan Amira). As a campaign speech–which it was–the address was delivered by a man who has no idea why he wants to be president again. He wouldn’t mention, let alone defend, his signature pieces of legislation–health care reform and the stimulus, both of which are deeply unpopular–yet said the economy is slowly getting better. The implication was that he hadn’t really done anything, but jobs were somehow coming back anyway so he should be re-elected because if the American economy is strong enough to withstand a first term of his, it can probably withstand another one.

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There’s an episode of the hit TV show “The West Wing” in which the president’s likely re-election opponent is asked why he wants to be president and flubs the question. The president’s advisers enjoy a good laugh at their opponent’s mistake–until they realize their boss also doesn’t know why he wants to be president.

As life imitates art, we seem to be watching a real-life episode of this farce play out. President Obama’s State of the Union address was widely panned even by his own supporters (“immediately forgettable” wrote Dan Amira). As a campaign speech–which it was–the address was delivered by a man who has no idea why he wants to be president again. He wouldn’t mention, let alone defend, his signature pieces of legislation–health care reform and the stimulus, both of which are deeply unpopular–yet said the economy is slowly getting better. The implication was that he hadn’t really done anything, but jobs were somehow coming back anyway so he should be re-elected because if the American economy is strong enough to withstand a first term of his, it can probably withstand another one.

His would-be Republican replacements don’t fare much better. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that “If elected president, Mitt Romney might consider ending a tax break that helped the former Massachusetts governor accumulate his fortune, an aide suggested Tuesday.” Well that’s a good election platform for a Republican: identify a legal, ethical, popular investment strategy that enables people to accumulate wealth, and then outlaw it. Romney is doing this because he is rich.

Actually, he’s doing this because he’s embarrassed by his own riches. The release of his tax returns would provide Romney the perfect opportunity to make the case for real tax reform. He isn’t. His financial history enables him to make the case private equity firms have had an overall (net? Net-net?) effect on the American economy that is by any honest rendering superb. He isn’t making that case either. Instead, he’s atoning for his sins, though he has committed none.

But don’t tell that to his rival, Newt Gingrich. Gingrich was asked yesterday about Romney’s enforcement-first approach to immigration. Gingrich’s position on the issue is, economically speaking, probably the better plan (even if the “draft board” idea is unworkable). Gingrich can make the case his approach to immigration is more humane, more respectful, more realistic, more feasible, and more economically beneficial to the country than Romney’s. So which nuanced, wonky riposte did Gingrich choose? None of the above.

As Alana noted yesterday, this was Gingrich’s response: “You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and making $20 million for no work, to have some fantasy this far from reality.” Is he saying business leaders prefer mass deportations of illegal immigrants? Because they don’t. (That’s the point of cracking down on those who hire illegal immigrants as an enforcement mechanism.) Is he saying wealthier Americans prefer harsher enforcement measures? Because the evidence suggests that isn’t the case either.

What he is saying is that a man of Romney’s wealth and privilege is less qualified to be president regardless of the issues because he would be unable to understand the lives of “normal” Americans. So are there any Republicans willing to not only refuse to echo such pronouncements but offer a sensible yet bold contrast to it? Sure, Mitch Daniels is happy to do it. He did so in his response to the State of the Union. How’s he doing in the primaries? Right, he’s not running. He thinks the debt crisis is absolutely catastrophic for this country, but he’s pretty sure someone will take care of it. And if not, well, don’t say he didn’t warn you.

This is not to suggest there are no differences between Romney and Obama or between Gingrich and Obama. But there is a puzzling incoherence. I like the spirit behind Gingrich’s resuscitation of the space program. But it’s unrealistic to suggest a permanent American moon colony won’t cost the federal government a fortune.

Gingrich criticizes the president for spending too much while trying to do too much and then proposes radical changes that would cost billions, probably trillions. And as for Romney, in one sentence he criticizes the president for demonizing success and then sheepishly suggests maybe he shouldn’t have been able to make or vastly increase his personal fortune.

They all want to be president. But they all need to make a better case for why they want to be president.

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Debate Preview: Will the Audience Fuel a Gingrich Comeback?

In the repeat of a pattern that has characterized the Republican presidential race since last summer, a new batch of opinion polls show that since Monday night’s debate, Mitt Romney has not only halted Newt Gingrich’s momentum but has regained the lead in the crucial Florida primary. But with five days left until Florida Republicans vote, the question today is whether Gingrich can use tonight’s debate (8 p.m. on CNN) to reclaim the mantle of conservative insurgent he has so skillfully utilized in the past.

The good news for Gingrich is that unlike Monday’s debate in Tampa where the audience was discouraged from applauding or reacting in any way to the proceedings, CNN is once again encouraging those in the hall in Jacksonville to whoop and holler as much as they like. The lack of audience reaction was seen as helping to tone down Gingrich’s demeanor on Monday. That was in marked contrast to the way he played off the crowd when he challenged CNN moderator John King’s opening question about his second wife’s accusations of misbehavior. That means we can probably expect Gingrich to come out swinging at the media and Romney and hope he can once again induce those in attendance to stand and cheer.

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In the repeat of a pattern that has characterized the Republican presidential race since last summer, a new batch of opinion polls show that since Monday night’s debate, Mitt Romney has not only halted Newt Gingrich’s momentum but has regained the lead in the crucial Florida primary. But with five days left until Florida Republicans vote, the question today is whether Gingrich can use tonight’s debate (8 p.m. on CNN) to reclaim the mantle of conservative insurgent he has so skillfully utilized in the past.

The good news for Gingrich is that unlike Monday’s debate in Tampa where the audience was discouraged from applauding or reacting in any way to the proceedings, CNN is once again encouraging those in the hall in Jacksonville to whoop and holler as much as they like. The lack of audience reaction was seen as helping to tone down Gingrich’s demeanor on Monday. That was in marked contrast to the way he played off the crowd when he challenged CNN moderator John King’s opening question about his second wife’s accusations of misbehavior. That means we can probably expect Gingrich to come out swinging at the media and Romney and hope he can once again induce those in attendance to stand and cheer.

That leaves Romney with an interesting dilemma. On Monday night, he directly challenged Gingrich on his past record of leadership failures as well as his Freddie Mac and health care lobbying. Though Romney benefited from going on the offensive, such attacks tonight may give Gingrich an excuse for another contrived tirade with which he hopes to seize control of the debate. That last debate was the first in which it could be said Romney bested Gingrich. A repeat of that performance could doom the latter, because almost all of his recent success has rested on the perception he is a debate champion.

Nevertheless, Romney would be foolish to revert to a frontrunner mentality in which he tried to ignore Gingrich’s attacks. This has been a race in which voters have consistently reacted negatively to candidates who acted as if they had the nomination sewn up. This is especially troublesome for Romney, whose main drawback for GOP voters rests in the perception that he is the establishment choice being imposed on them whether they like it or not. Moreover, Romney knows most conservatives dislike him as a moderate, an image that has allowed a longtime Washington insider like Gingrich to become the favorite of Tea Party voters. The only way Romney can overcome this disadvantage is to remind voters of Gingrich’s character issues and record. Assuming a more aggressive stance toward his opponent can also persuade some Republicans that Romney not only cares deeply about the issues but also is someone who can take on President Obama in the fall.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum, and to a lesser extent Ron Paul, will be fighting for attention and to get a word in edgewise as they did earlier this week. But the focus will almost certainly remain on Gingrich as he tries again to appeal to the audience in the hall as well as those watching on television.

The importance of this debate for Gingrich can’t be overestimated. This is not only the last scheduled GOP debate before Florida but also the last one for almost a month. The last time there was this long a break between debates (back in December), an earlier Gingrich surge collapsed and was followed by his poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. If he is to reverse this latest trend back toward Romney, he must prevail tonight.

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Democrats Attack Romney from the Right

At the National Review, Mark Krikorian flags this revealing article from the Washington Post:

Newt Gingrich isn’t the only one trying to beat Mitt Romney in Florida.

Several liberal groups are funding new ad campaigns in the Sunshine State targeting the vulnerable GOP presidential candidate, part of an unusually bold effort by Democratic supporters to bolster President Obama’s chances in November by influencing the Republican primaries.

The plans include a $1 million ad buy from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the nation’s largest public employee union, which is focusing on Romney’s history as head of the private-equity firm Bain Capital. The Service Employees International Union and Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC, have also jointly launched a Spanish-language radio campaign in Florida accusing Romney of having “two faces” on immigration issues.

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At the National Review, Mark Krikorian flags this revealing article from the Washington Post:

Newt Gingrich isn’t the only one trying to beat Mitt Romney in Florida.

Several liberal groups are funding new ad campaigns in the Sunshine State targeting the vulnerable GOP presidential candidate, part of an unusually bold effort by Democratic supporters to bolster President Obama’s chances in November by influencing the Republican primaries.

The plans include a $1 million ad buy from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the nation’s largest public employee union, which is focusing on Romney’s history as head of the private-equity firm Bain Capital. The Service Employees International Union and Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC, have also jointly launched a Spanish-language radio campaign in Florida accusing Romney of having “two faces” on immigration issues.

You can’t blame these groups for getting a head start on their general election attack ads, but some of the issues they’re targeting him on are, let’s just say, unusual for Democrats. Poisoning the well for Romney with independent voters is one thing, but attacking Romney from the right in order to persuade Republican voters to support one of his rivals is a whole different matter.

And yet that’s exactly what some Democratic groups are aiming for, the Post reports:

Broadcast ads aren’t the only tactic available to Democratic-aligned groups hoping to influence the Republican contest. American Bridge for the 21st Century, a liberal super PAC that focuses mostly on opposition research, blanketed Columbia, S.C., with hundreds of hot-pink leaflets trumpeting Romney’s support for gay rights during the Massachusetts phase of his political career.

The group said the leafleting was aimed at sowing doubts among Republicans in the state about Romney’s conservative bona fides.

Check out the American Bridge PAC website, and it’s almost entirely devoted to anti-Romney attacks. Before the last South Carolina debate last week, the Democratic group even released an opposition research memo titled “Debate prep for Republican presidential candidates,” addressed to “Republican Presidential Candidates and their Esteemed Representatives.” It attacked Romney for supposedly being insufficiently pro-life, and profiting off Freddie Mac – issues that are mainly helpful for Gingrich:

Tonight’s debate may offer you your last best chance to reach voters not only in South Carolina, but across the nation. After more than a dozen debates, a lot of ground has been covered but there is still room to distinguish yourselves from Mitt Romney and attempt to derail his coronation. Since it seems that you have struggled to focus in on a sustained line of attack that erodes Mitt Romney’s standing and qualifications for being president among the Republican primary voters while not costing you support from your conservative base, we have mapped out three central themes that will accomplish both should you choose to highlight them in tonight’s debate.

Wait — so these Democratic PACs aren’t intimidated by the idea of President Obama facing Newt in three world-changing Lincoln-Douglas debates? Who would have thought?

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Will Obama Take Ahmadinejad’s Bait?

Optimists may interpret Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for new talks with the United States and Europe about his country’s nuclear program as a sign that international sanctions are working. But the notion that Tehran is looking for a way out of the nuclear standoff is exactly what Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs who actually run Iran want Washington to believe. With pressure mounting on the Obama administration to implement sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank–a measure that would set in motion a limited embargo on the country’s export of oil–the Islamist regime is hoping to give the president an excuse to back away from the confrontation.

Despite his tough rhetoric on the issue, the Iranians know Obama is caught between two competing dynamics that are both linked to his re-election.

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Optimists may interpret Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for new talks with the United States and Europe about his country’s nuclear program as a sign that international sanctions are working. But the notion that Tehran is looking for a way out of the nuclear standoff is exactly what Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs who actually run Iran want Washington to believe. With pressure mounting on the Obama administration to implement sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank–a measure that would set in motion a limited embargo on the country’s export of oil–the Islamist regime is hoping to give the president an excuse to back away from the confrontation.

Despite his tough rhetoric on the issue, the Iranians know Obama is caught between two competing dynamics that are both linked to his re-election.

On the one hand, the president knows if he fails to ramp up the pressure on Iran to disavow its nuclear ambitions, he will be handing the Republicans a cudgel with which they can beat him during the campaign as well as endangering his hold on the Jewish vote. Yet on the other hand, implementing an oil embargo–something the administration has already signaled it is uncomfortable with–could result in a spike in oil and gas prices and help send an already shaky economy into another tailspin. Since the president has already sent notes to Iran asking them to return to talks, it could be the Iranians are hoping they can parlay a new round of pointless diplomacy into another year of delay they can use to enrich more uranium and get closer to their nuclear goal. They are clearly hoping Obama will seize upon new talks as a way to finesse his way out of his re-election dilemma.

Given the increasingly muscular tone the administration has taken toward Iran lately that would seem to be a vain hope. But the Iranians remember that Obama came into office convinced the power of his personality could transform the issue. It took the president a full year before he realized this “engagement” policy with Iran would get nowhere. What followed was two years of diplomatic efforts to forge an international coalition to pressure Iran. Though the president again took credit in his State of the Union speech for accomplishing this task, Russia, China and Turkey have all refused to play along and remain opposed to further sanctions, a factor the Iranians are counting on to restrain Obama’s actions. The Iranians have always treated negotiations as a tactic with which they hope to run out the diplomatic clock until the day when they can announce a successful nuclear test, an achievement that may render them invulnerable to pressure.

The administration has, in effect, painted itself into a corner on Iran. It can’t back down now without appearing weak and perhaps obligating Israel to undertake a unilateral attack to prevent Iran from building a bomb. Yet, it fears further sanctions and seems at times to be more worried about the use of force against Iran — by Israel or the West — than it is about the Iranian nuclear threat. Thus, it may hope to try to talk its way out of this problem even if it only means putting off a decision until after November.

That scenario is exactly what Ahmadinejad is hoping will prevail in administration counsels. If it does, it will be a signal victory for Iranian diplomacy and their nuclear ambitions.

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The Truth About Buffett and Taxes

For show-and-tell at the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, President Obama had Warren Buffett’s secretary sitting next to the First Lady. Debbie Bosenek has become the poster child for the allegation that “the rich” don’t pay their fair share of federal taxes.

But Buffett’s secretary is not exactly poverty stricken. On “Fox and Friends” this morning, it was reported that she earns $200,000 a year. CEO’s secretaries, on average, earn $67,000, according to Michael Patrick Leahy. She has also apparently bought a second house, in Arizona.

According to Buffett’s article in the New York Times last August, he pays far less in taxes than the working stiffs in his office:

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For show-and-tell at the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, President Obama had Warren Buffett’s secretary sitting next to the First Lady. Debbie Bosenek has become the poster child for the allegation that “the rich” don’t pay their fair share of federal taxes.

But Buffett’s secretary is not exactly poverty stricken. On “Fox and Friends” this morning, it was reported that she earns $200,000 a year. CEO’s secretaries, on average, earn $67,000, according to Michael Patrick Leahy. She has also apparently bought a second house, in Arizona.

According to Buffett’s article in the New York Times last August, he pays far less in taxes than the working stiffs in his office:

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If Warren Buffett submitted a filing at the SEC this dishonest, he’d be in big trouble. But, since this fits the party line, the president took it as gospel, and the mainstream media has carefully refrained from asking any inconvenient questions. (h/t Powerline).

By conflating payroll (FICA) taxes and income taxes, Buffett is playing the intellectual equivalent of three-card monte. FICA taxes are collected only on wages, to a limited amount, in order to provide a limited income in retirement. Technically, they are not taxes at all, but “contributions,” (although I wouldn’t recommend deciding not to contribute). The fact that the federal government commingles these contributions with general revenues in order to make the federal deficit look better is a disgrace. Since Buffett’s income comes overwhelmingly from investment income and he is one of the richest people in the world, of course the people working for him in his office pay a higher percentage of their incomes in FICA taxes.

And, as I have discussed earlier, he ignores the fact that his investment income, from dividends and capital gains, has already been taxed–at 35 percent–at the corporate level. So the personal taxes he pays on it are double taxation. His actual effective tax rate is closer to 44 percent than 15 percent. He’s paying far more in taxes, as a percentage of income, than his secretary.

People sometimes have trouble grasping that corporate profits are the profits of the stockholders, especially as the corporate income tax has been in place for 100 years now. So let me see if I can make clear what is involved here.

Say a man owns a house he rents out. His income from the property, after expenses, is $25,000. He’s in the 30 percent bracket, so he pays $7,500 in taxes on the income and the $17,500 remaining is his.

Now, in an effort to make the rich pay their fair share (and, of course, anyone who owns rental property is rich, at least in liberal newspeak), the federal government decides to require that all rental properties must file their own tax returns and pay a 35 percent tax on income after expenses. That means that the house itself now pays an income tax of $8750. It then sends the rest, $16,250 on to the owner. But he’s in the 30 percent bracket himself, so he has to pay 30 percent on what he gets after the house has paid its taxes, $4875. So now he’s left with $11,375 to spend or save, not $17,500. Thus, the owner is now paying a tax of 45.5 percent on his rental income, not 30 percent.

For someone as good as Warren Buffett at numbers and financial analysis to call 45.5 percent 30 percent is to tell a bald-face lie. For President Obama and the mainstream media to call it truth is, well, typical.

 

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Turkey Falls Below Russia in Press Freedom

According to Reporters Without Frontiers, Turkey has now fallen below even Russia in press freedom, ranking 148 out of 178 countries surveyed.

Turkey may be a model for freedoms rescinded, but to call Turkey a model for democracy for liberalism now seems about as out-0f-place as saying that Russia is free, Iraq is a beacon for stability, the Palestinian Authority is a model of tolerance, or Somalia is a great spot for a vacation.

According to Reporters Without Frontiers, Turkey has now fallen below even Russia in press freedom, ranking 148 out of 178 countries surveyed.

Turkey may be a model for freedoms rescinded, but to call Turkey a model for democracy for liberalism now seems about as out-0f-place as saying that Russia is free, Iraq is a beacon for stability, the Palestinian Authority is a model of tolerance, or Somalia is a great spot for a vacation.

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Candidates Agree on Hot-Button Issue of Immigration

Amid the increasingly pointed criticism being leveled by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich against each other, a point of agreement between them is worth noting and celebrating–especially when it comes on the hot-button issue of immigration. In the Tampa debate on Jan. 23, they were asked about the Dream Act, a piece of legislation that would allow immigrants who did not enter the country legally to become permanent, legal residents and ultimately citizens by meeting certain conditions–either attending college for two years or serving in the military for two years and staying out of trouble. Here is what Gingrich had to say:

I would work to get a signable version which would be the military component. I think any young person living in the United States who happened to have been brought here by their parents when they were young should have the same opportunity to join the American military and earn citizenship which they would have had from back home.

We have a clear provision that if you live in a foreign country, and you are prepared to join the American military, you can, in fact, earn the right to citizenship by serving the United States and taking real risk on behalf of the United States. That part of the Dream Act I would support. I would not support the part that simply says everybody who goes to college is automatically waived for having broken the law.

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Amid the increasingly pointed criticism being leveled by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich against each other, a point of agreement between them is worth noting and celebrating–especially when it comes on the hot-button issue of immigration. In the Tampa debate on Jan. 23, they were asked about the Dream Act, a piece of legislation that would allow immigrants who did not enter the country legally to become permanent, legal residents and ultimately citizens by meeting certain conditions–either attending college for two years or serving in the military for two years and staying out of trouble. Here is what Gingrich had to say:

I would work to get a signable version which would be the military component. I think any young person living in the United States who happened to have been brought here by their parents when they were young should have the same opportunity to join the American military and earn citizenship which they would have had from back home.

We have a clear provision that if you live in a foreign country, and you are prepared to join the American military, you can, in fact, earn the right to citizenship by serving the United States and taking real risk on behalf of the United States. That part of the Dream Act I would support. I would not support the part that simply says everybody who goes to college is automatically waived for having broken the law.

Romney added: “That`s the same position that I have, and that is that I would not sign the Dream Act as it currently exists, but I would sign the Dream Act if it were focused on military service.”

This position is causing predictable consternation in anti-immigrant circles (see, e.g., this National Review Online column:) but it is absolutely the right position to take. What better way for anyone to earn American citizenship than through military service?

Gingrich hinted at going even further than the Dream Act–his remarks suggest he may be sympathetic to a revival of the MAVNI program (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest) which was launched in 2009 to recruit non-citizens who have  important linguistic or other skills that are in short supply in the armed forces. As the New York Times noted, the program was “highly successful”: “Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.” An army recruiter said: “We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts.”

But then the program was suspended in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings, which were committed by Major Nidal Malik Hassan, even though Hassan was born in the United States and had nothing to do with the program. Nevertheless, the shooting somehow cast a pall on the idea of recruiting immigrants. It would be great progress if either President Obama or his Republican challengers were to announce their commitment to restarting the recruitment of these valuable immigrants.

 

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Gingrich Dropping in Florida Polls

Insider Advantage, which has been pretty good at picking up on pro-Gingrich trends early in Florida and South Carolina, shows Mitt Romney surging back into the lead in its latest poll:

An InsiderAdvantage/Florida Times-Union poll released Wednesday night of likely GOP voters shows Romney with 40 percent support to Gingrich’s 32 percent. …

Gingrich’s momentum ebbed though after a debate Monday where Romney hit him hard for his ties to Freddie Mac, calling him an “influence-peddler.” Romney has also launched multiple ads attacking Gingrich. Florida’s expensive media market gives the Romney campaign which holds an edge in fundraising the advantage. Additionally, a quarter million absentee ballots have already been cast, many when Romney enjoyed double-digit leads in state polls.

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Insider Advantage, which has been pretty good at picking up on pro-Gingrich trends early in Florida and South Carolina, shows Mitt Romney surging back into the lead in its latest poll:

An InsiderAdvantage/Florida Times-Union poll released Wednesday night of likely GOP voters shows Romney with 40 percent support to Gingrich’s 32 percent. …

Gingrich’s momentum ebbed though after a debate Monday where Romney hit him hard for his ties to Freddie Mac, calling him an “influence-peddler.” Romney has also launched multiple ads attacking Gingrich. Florida’s expensive media market gives the Romney campaign which holds an edge in fundraising the advantage. Additionally, a quarter million absentee ballots have already been cast, many when Romney enjoyed double-digit leads in state polls.

The big shift for Romney seems to be coming from women and Hispanic voters. In an Insider Advantage poll from earlier this week, women were backing Romney and Gingrich in similar numbers, 28 percent to 30 percent. But today’s poll found that nearly 45 percent of women are supporting Romney, while Gingrich’s support remained flat.

Gingrich’s attacks on Romney’s immigration reform plan don’t seem to have had much success either. Romney’s support among Hispanic voters increased from 9 percent earlier this week to 66 percent today. Gingrich’s grew at a slower rate, from 25 percent to 34 percent.

This poll comes on the heels of three others yesterday that showed Gingrich’s momentum slowing, if not reversing. And if Florida Republicans are souring on Newt, they’re not the only ones. The growing wave of conservative media criticism against the former speaker could make it difficult for him to regain ground in the state. His one big opportunity to recapture a big lead on Romney is at tonight’s debate.

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U.S. Embassy Relocating Diplomats in Bahrain

Against the backdrop of sectarian unrest in Bahrain, where I am visiting and writing this from, the U.S. embassy – who is not my sponsor and with whom I have had no contact – is evacuating diplomats from residences in compounds near largely Shi’ite villages. While the Shi’ite opposition has legitimate grievances, militant clerics appear to be seeking to provoke clashes to create martyrs ahead of expected February 14 protests. The Bahraini government made mistakes last year, but appears to be making a good faith effort to rectify and reform.

While the State Department is right to worry about the security of its employees, removing diplomats at the first sign of trouble undercuts diplomats’ ability to gather information. Thousands of American diplomats in Iraq, for example, achieved little to nothing because they allowed themselves to be shuttered behind the walls and checkpoints of the green zone. Likewise, many American diplomats in Egypt spent so much time catering to the Egyptian elite, they underestimated the discord brewing below. The last place anyone should go to understand what is going on in Lebanon is the American embassy, where diplomats remain shackled with security procedures that date back to the Lebanese civil war that ended well over two decades ago.

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Against the backdrop of sectarian unrest in Bahrain, where I am visiting and writing this from, the U.S. embassy – who is not my sponsor and with whom I have had no contact – is evacuating diplomats from residences in compounds near largely Shi’ite villages. While the Shi’ite opposition has legitimate grievances, militant clerics appear to be seeking to provoke clashes to create martyrs ahead of expected February 14 protests. The Bahraini government made mistakes last year, but appears to be making a good faith effort to rectify and reform.

While the State Department is right to worry about the security of its employees, removing diplomats at the first sign of trouble undercuts diplomats’ ability to gather information. Thousands of American diplomats in Iraq, for example, achieved little to nothing because they allowed themselves to be shuttered behind the walls and checkpoints of the green zone. Likewise, many American diplomats in Egypt spent so much time catering to the Egyptian elite, they underestimated the discord brewing below. The last place anyone should go to understand what is going on in Lebanon is the American embassy, where diplomats remain shackled with security procedures that date back to the Lebanese civil war that ended well over two decades ago.

Many American diplomats are bold, and chafe at the restrictions placed upon them by regional security officers. Being a diplomat, however, should not be a risk-free endeavor.  When the going gets tough, that is the time for American diplomats to be on the street, in local markets, and generally outside embassy walls or the confines of posh neighborhoods.

The State Department is seeking ever-greater funding. If there is some bang for the buck, that may be okay. But if the State Department restricts its diplomats’ ability to report, then there is really no justification for the budget it demands.

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