The Republicans Are Immature And Hopelessly Divided

WASHINGTON – I really like Paul Ryan; but I am skeptical about his ability to bring order, cohesion and a sense of shared purpose among the House Republicans. I wish him well in his new job as House Speaker. But I doubt that he can succeed. Not because he is not smart, but because the Republican Party is now a horrible mess. It is a composite of some moderates, religious fanatics and fiscal radicals with insane ideas. You put all of them in the same room, and they will agree on almost nothing when it comes to policies and priorities. 

Ryan is a good man 

Paul Ryan is a principled, smart and humane conservative. He really understands the challenges facing America. He really understands the Federal Budget, fiscal policy issues, and the pressing need to reform all major entitlement programs.

And this is not just about cutting costs. He has good ideas about how to reformulate welfare programs so that they do not continue to be part of a perverse trap of perpetual, multi-generational poverty and perpetual dependence on modest public assistance.

Mission Impossible 

There is no doubt that Ryan is intelligent, capable and energetic. But I am not sure about his ability to recreate unity among the House Republicans, so that they can work together and create a credible alternative to the tired, and yet still appealing, slogans of the left.

This is not about Ryan’s leadership and skills. This is about hopeless ideological animosities among House Republicans that make lasting agreements on just about anything next to impossible.

Donald Trump leads

More broadly, if we look at the potential Republican voters as the primaries season begins to shape up, one should get even more worried. The very notion of Donald Trump as a serious candidate for President should make people laugh.

But here is the thing. Donald Trump is a candidate for the Republican nomination, and he is leading in all the polls. His numbers are not staggering. But with about 25% he has a comfortable lead on everybody else. And this includes former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, by all accounts an accomplished policy-maker with stellar credentials on key issues such as public education and immigration reform.

But would-be voters are uninterested in policy. Bush barely gets a nod from a few moderates, and he is now relegated to the second tier of improbable candidates, with very few chances of breaking out.

Tough guy, with Instant solutions 

The fact is that a sizable number of Republicans are now literally unhinged. They are not interested in real world policy choices, and they have little interest in the complicated process that is necessary to make things happen.

They want “The Man with Magic Formulas”. They want stuff done –today. They want all the illegal immigrants out, (that’s 11 million people); and Trump –a Real No-Nonsense Guy– in the White House, so that he will be able to outsmart the Chinese, the Russians and the Japanese because –you know– he is a tough negotiator.

Never mind that the American constitutional make up, (with divided powers and a complex system of checks and balances), makes instant change virtually impossible. These voters are willing to listen to Trump because –despite the Constitution– he promises immediate results. And they just love his swagger and braggadocio.

Leading in all the polls 

And so Trump is way ahead, (for the moment anyway), because he promises to make America Great, because he is irreverent, openly offensive regarding all his opponents, and “good on TV”. Never mind that his speeches are a mixture of semi-incoherent stream of consciousness free associations, invective, and grandiose promises. A sizable number of would-be GOP voters (about 25%) like this stuff and obviously like this style.

Divided GOP 

And so, here is the irony. The GOP won the 2014 mid-term elections, by a large margin. And yet the Republican Party at the national level is so divided and so immature that it cannot produce credible leaders, leaders who can translate real credentials into national appeal. And so, reality TV hero Trump is up. Two terms Florida Governor Bush is down, and probably out.

Soon to be Speaker Paul Ryan will do his very best to unite the House Republicans. I wish him well; but I doubt that he can succeed. Again, not because he lacks talent; but simply because this looks like “Mission Impossible”, given the depth of the internal ideological divisions within the GOP.

If Trump is the nominee, Clinton will be the next President 

And if we look at the upcoming 2016 presidential elections, if Donald Trump gets the Republican Party nomination, (this is now becoming a distinct possibility), we can rest assured that Hillary Clinton, (unless she is indicted because of her “private e-mail server problems”), will be the next President.

Clinton is not insane, thank God for that. But she has proven to be opportunistic and coldly unprincipled. In this campaign she has calculated that she needed to re-engineer herself as a left of center candidate, in order to please those who want more state interventions, more public spending, more welfare programs, and higher taxes for the rich. Not a good prospect for America.

Clinton is a real politician 

If Donald Trump is preposterous, Clinton is real. If the choice is between her and Trump, she will get elected. If this is the case, following 8 years of anti-growth Obama policies, her left wing agenda will continue to drag the US down into a future of Europe-like welfare and global irrelevance.

Again, not a good prospect for America.

We Should Fight Poverty By Teaching Skills, Says Paul Ryan In A New Book

WASHINGTON – The conventional wisdom is that the Republican Party has no message for the poor and marginalized in America. The GOP established orthodoxy is that public policy should focus on creating and maintaining good fundamentals: a pro-business tax system that will favor the creation of enterprise, while allowing workers to keep more of what they earn; a simplified regulatory environment that will not hinder economic activities, and a healthy fiscal picture that will not saddle the country with an unsustainable debt burden.

Good fundamentals

If we can get all of the above, then the American economy, whose foundations rest on self-reliant, enterprising people, will take care of itself. Assuming good fundamentals, there will be expansion, growth, more jobs. More jobs means more people employed and more opportunity for all, including those currently living in poverty.

Well, in principle this sounds right. But in practice it is not true that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. There are far too many boats in disrepair. They have holes in their hulls. They will not benefit from a rising tide. And some Americans do not have a boat. Not even a little one. A rising tide does nothing for them.

Multigenerational poverty in America

The truth is that there are tens of millions of marginalized Americans who are not in a condition to benefit when the economy grows. Their situation, notwithstanding scores of public assistance programs, have not improved over many years.

Worse yet, it is obvious that for most of them poverty is not just an accident, a period of bad luck. For millions poverty is a permanent condition. In fact, in today’s America poverty is often a multigenerational, self-perpetuating phenomenon.

There is an invisible wall that in practice separates poor people and their children from opportunity. And, oddly enough, public assistance programs, however well-intentioned, have become an integral part of this wall.

Birth is destiny: the poor will stay poor

Indeed, in today’s America, most children born in poverty have very few chances of getting out of it. Too many factors conspire against success. Many of them have no real families, or live in dysfunctional families. For them, access to good or even adequate education is a dream. And therefore there is little or no opportunity to learn, to develop intellectually, and to acquire marketable skills.

For them there is no American Dream. Forget about upward mobility. Just as in medieval Europe, with all its rigid class stratification, for them “birth is destiny“. If you were born poor, most likely you will stay poor.

Welfare programs have failed

The Democrats have tried to address poverty. But their solutions, based on relief programs, have failed. Without getting into any detailed analysis, income support programs allow poor people to survive, but in most cases they do not provide the necessary tools to get out of poverty.

“The Way Forward”

Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is well-known on the national political scene for his competent advocacy of entitlement spending reform. As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, he has become a credible spokesperson for revamped and streamlined entitlement programs that should be in line with America’s changed demographics and increased health care costs. And he got an even larger national platform to discuss these issues as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.

But now Ryan has written a book, a good book, titled The Way Forward, Renewing The American Idea. There is a lot there. But the part that intrigued me the most is his passionate committment to address multigenerational poverty in America in a constructive way.

Change the psychology

The fact is that poverty is about a lot more than lack of money. Poverty is about psychology; it is about having given up, about resignation. In his book Ryan describes many grass-roots initiatives aimed at helping addicts. The important point is that in all of them recovering addicts are given a chance: a place to stay, food. But they are also given responsibilities and tasks to accomplish.

With the comfort of a helping hand that holds them and lifts them up, these recovering addicts have to commit to help themselves. The message of so many stories that Ryan discusses is more or less this: “You are not alone in this journey. We are here to help you. And this is what we are going to do with you. We shall teach you skills, and we shall coach you on how to get ahead. But you have to do your part. You have to commit to learn and to be dependable and responsible. In the end, we want to see you positive and confident, going into the world with the self-assurance of someone who can take care of himself”.

From welfare to coaching

From this perspective, as Ryan puts it, existing welfare programs, (now mostly focusing on income support), have to be transformed into coaching programs.

An unemployed poor person will be assigned to a case worker. And it is the job of the case worker to develop a strategy, so that in the end the person he is coaching will get new skills and a job. The real point of welfare should be to give tools, not just cash. Of course, some cash may be indispensable. But if cash is all you get, then you will probably survive; but you will never get ahead. And if the cash dries out, then you are in big trouble. Hence the self-perpetuating cycle of dependence. Cash is insufficient, but it has become indispensable.

Feeding the poor not enough 

This sounds so simple. And yet America so far has failed to develop a constructive approach aimed at teaching skills to the poor so that they will be able to get ahead.

The Democratic Party keeps talking about our duty as a country to help the disadvantaged. But, at least implicitly, the Democrats talk about income support and various subsidies as permanent measures for people who are today, and will be for ever, needy.

The picture we get is that the poor will always be poor, and therefore they will always need help. And it is society’s duty to provide assistance through public programs.

Help people by teaching them skills

Not so, says Ryan. The real goal is to help people in need to become self-sufficient. There are many good quotes in Ryan’s book that encapsulate this simple yet extremely necessary shift in the way we think about poverty.

“Let me show you how to make it”

Here is what Ryan got from Bishop Shirley Holloway, who created House of Help City of Hope, an initiative aimed at helping people trying to escape substance abuse addictions. Real compassion, says Holloway, comes with responsibility:

“Sometimes we think love is give me some food, give me some money…But real love says: Let me show how to survive, let me show you how to make it, let me show you how to be happy, let me show you how to do this”.



Without Access To A Good Education America’s Poor Will Stay Poor

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama won re-election in 2012 largely on the promise that, with him as president, all the existing federal welfare and entitlement programs protecting the poor would be safeguarded.

Protect the safety net

He won the day by convincing millions of Americans that the mean-spirited Republicans were going to destroy America’s sacrosanct “safety net”. According to the Obama campaign, Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan were determined to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other measures aimed at supporting indigent single mothers, poor children, and what not.

Addressing the poor and the struggling middle class, Obama essentially said: “Vote for me, and you will be fine. I’ll take care of you. Vote for Romney-Ryan and you will be in real trouble”. And he won. There is no doubt that the voters bought all his scary predictions about what would have happened if the Republicans got into the White House.

Welfare programs do not work

Fine. Except that now it is becoming more and more obvious that the extremely expensive social safety net fiercely protected by the Democrats in the name of “social justice” and “fairness” at best provides some economic relief.

However, all these programs do not accomplish their stated objective: reduce poverty. Thanks to various forms of welfare, the poor are subsidized, and so that they can get by. But their basic conditions do not change.

The fact is that all these programs do not create real opportunities for the poor to get out of poverty. Their net effect is to “stabilize” poverty, so that the poor do not become destitute; but they do not help eliminate poverty.

Indeed, under this supposedly enlightened and benevolent system, most of the poor stay poor and will stay poor.

And, to make things worse, just as before, the poor are mostly minorities. While the overall poverty rate in America is 15%, For Blacks it is 27% and for Hispanics it is 24%.

A good education is the only real path out of poverty

At the cost of oversimplification, here is my assessment. Welfare programs fail because they focus mostly on income support.

But, while helping people to get by is important, the truth is that in most cases poverty begins at birth. And it is clear that if you are a poor child in America the only real path to get out of poverty is not welfare but access to a good education. Welfare is about survival. Education is about having a future.

And here I emphasize access to a “good” education. A little, so-so education will not cut it.

It is a well known fact that in today’s ultra-competitive and super specialized economy the good jobs go only to the highly skilled. Everybody else gets what’s left. If you only have a little education, you get the scraps. And if you have no education, you get essentially nothing. Most poor children in America’s receive little or no education. And this enormous disadvantage practically guarantees that most of them will stay poor.

So, here is my point. Unless poor children have real, practical access to a good education, their chances to get out of poverty and climb up the socio-economic ladder are practically zero.

Income support does not change anything

You can provide all the income support subsidies you can think of. However, the only real ticket out of poverty and into the main stream is to get into the productive economy as a real player. And you cannot get there without a good education that includes truly marketable skills. Without the skills that allow them to compete for good jobs, the poor will stay poor.

Sure, thanks to costly government handouts, the uneducated poor will not starve. But they will stay poor, in most cases for ever.



America Needs A New Interpreter Of The Old Values

WASHINGTON – Intentionally or by default, Barack Obama has become the champion of the dispossessed and of the downtrodden. Against all odds, (considering a weak economy and high unemployment), he won the 2012 re-election with a simple message: Mitt Romney and runnig mate Paul Ryan are “bad people”.

Evil conservatives

Their (evil?) goal, according to the well orchestrated Obama campaign narrative, was and is, (if they get another chance), to destroy the social safety nets that guarantee a semi-decent life for those who work hard but get little from a system that is stacked against them.

If you vote for me –promised Obama– I guarantee that you’ll keep your Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Disability Insurance, and the rest of it. And I promise that I shall keep fighting for greater equality. Therefore, and mark my words, don’t be stupid. If you vote for the Republican ticket you are doomed, because they’ll take the little you have away from you.

Well, thanks in part to Romney’s unforced errors that seemed to confirm the artfully created image (by the Obama campaign) of the heartless “vulture capitalist”, Obama got re-elected.

“Sweet Populism” has no standard-bearer

But the moderate right that had placed its hope on Mitt Romney right now is a political orphan. As Pepperdine University Professor Ted McAllister points out in an extremely insightful and elegantly written WSJ op-ed piece, (“Sweet Populism” Awaits Its Leader, August 6, 2014), now within Middle America (traditionally centrist but leaning conservative) there is a palpable yearning for a new, inspired leader (a new Ronald Reagan) who will be able to forge a message of hope based on the reaffirmation of the “Good American Myth”, that McAllister calls “Sweet Populism”.

This is about a set of old (but still vibrant)  principles that explain how “everybody can make it in America” if we would only refocus on self-reliance and industry in this rich and generous land of opportunity that always rewards personal effort, ingenuity and enterprise.

Here is the creed and the program: Let’s unleash the creativity of all hard-working Americans. Let’s tear down the barriers (taxation, hyper regulation, and what not) that stifle individual efforts. Let’s make this country great again.

Conservative and revolutionary ideas

And so, (I would add), we can be both conservatives and revolutionaries, reaffirming the eternal validity of old principles that will allow us to dream about and reach greater heights. And, while engaged in this endeavor, we shall also reaffirm this country’s greatness, a greatness founded on the fundamental goodness of the American people.

“Sweet Populism”: America’s secret sauce

As Ted McAllister puts in his essay:

Sweet populism is a peculiarly American species, organized around a version of the country’s history that is positive and incomplete; stresses the importance of self-reliance; seeks to remove obstacles to individual empowerment when they emerge; and aims any anger it produces at those who deny the essential goodness of the American idea”.

Tea Party got it half right

I fully agree. And I also agree with McAllister that the Tea Party Movement failed to capture the essence of this Good Myth. It could only articulate an emotional anti-government message. “Cut taxes and cut government”. But this is not enough. Ronald Reagan’s brilliance was in his ability to make himself into the prophet of a New Era of Hope, strongly grounded on the reaffirmation of old values.

The Tea Party focused on theoretically correct but in the end abstract and impractical ideas of fiscal purity. In the end, its members have been unable to produce a compelling message that would convincingly combine good ideas that will promote growth, while restraining spending. The Tea Party seems to be “anti-this, and anti-that”. But it is unable to provide a warm, inspiring message that will sway Middle America.

Left: focus on injustice

As McAllister points out, the left has its myth too. But it is not in sync with the narrative of America as a Blessed Land of Opportunity. Its focus is on injustice. The rich rigged the system in their favor. As a result they get all the goodies while the rest of us, hard-working Americans, get the crumbs.

Therefore, the thrust of any progressive public policy has to be the promotion of social and economic equality. And, in order to get there, those who gamed the system now have to pay up.

As the 2012 elections have demonstrated, this “social justice” message, (combined with a weak Republican candidate), worked rather well.

America is on the wrong track

But now we are stuck. While we got out of the Great Recession, there is a general sense of unhappiness. The economy now grows, but only a little, (about 2% a year). Unemployment is down; but it is still very high, (around 6%), while millions of people who are lucky enough to be employed struggle with the meager income provided by their low paying part-time jobs, the only ones they can get.

Indeed, by coincidence the WSJ today also published the results of a national poll that shows how 71% of Americans believe that the  country is “on the wrong track“. This high percentage of really unhappy Americans includes people who voted for Obama in 2012.

Who will lead?

As McAllister writes, the yearning for a new interpreter of the American idea of freedom, and of the promising horizons it can open up today, is there. However, the millions of American moderate conservatives need a convincing standard-bearer.


Almost Impossible To Discuss Poverty and Race In America

WASHINGTON – Old and encrusted socio-economic problems related to race issues have become intractable in America. In large part this is because they cannot be discussed in an objective way.

No honest conversation about race and poverty

This is what columnist Juan Williams (he is black) stated in a WSJ op-ed piece, (Getting Past Name-Calling to Talk About Poverty, April 30, 2014). He is right. Essentially, America is still prisoner of ideological oversimplifications –on the left and on the right– that make a productive conversation on the roots of black poverty and how to overcome it essentially impossible.

Everybody has a chance

Conservatives are inclined to think that in (color blind, totally fair) America the only obstacle between any individual, no matter their race, gender or background, and material success is lack of a “hard work ethic” and perseverance. Here is the simple recipe: if you study hard, then work hard and do your best, you are bound to get results.

After all, this is America, universally known as “The Land of Opportunity”. Here everybody gets a fair chance, not matter what. From this vantage point, the inability to “make it” in America is a sign of a weak character, a personal failure that has nothing to do with the broader social context.

The game is fixed

Liberals would tell you instead that there is no real opportunity for black people who have been discriminated against for centuries. While open discrimination is illegal, the game is still fixed against them. Most blacks do not have a fair shot at the “American Dream”, because they have no real access.

The system does not give them a chance.

Therefore, the only way out of this is to create, via enlightened social policies, new paths for the perennially underprivileged. And, if some programs do not work as they should, it is simply because they are underfunded. Add money, and you’ll get better results.

Truth in the middle

Of course, the truth is in the middle. While racial discrimination is illegal, racism does exist. There is still a negative bias against black people. And this is obviously unfair.

However, it is also true that many black communities have yet to embrace a culture of committment and hard work. There is a lot of dysfunction, ranging from teen pregnancy to absent fathers and no interest in education that conspire to create new generations of black young people adrift and poor. They drop out of school, or do poorly in school. Many get involved in gangs or petty crime. And it is obvious that there are not many doors open for young people who have a criminal record but no education. The notion that the only way to help them is through more social programs is wishful thinking.

Change the culture

Realistically, not much will change unless the culture and psychology are changed. People need to feel motivated in order to engage. If the prevailing culture is that it is no use to get an education and find a job, while there are more easy money prospects through crime, then the vicious cycle of poverty-ignorance-crime-jail-poverty will continue.

Finding new common ground?

Given all this, it should be noted, as Williams writes in his piece, that some, like Representative Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, are trying to break these stereotypes by engaging black leaders in an attempt to find a new common ground that hopefully will lead to more productive policies.

The facts are clear. However noble the intentions, a variety of federal and state anti-poverty social programs have not worked well, or have not worked at all. Notwithstanding billions and billions of dollars spent over decades, the black-white divide is still there and all sorts of statistics confirm this grim reality.

Clearly all this is very complicated. How do you fix education, families and bad neighborhoods? How much is society supposed to do? And how much is really the responsibility of the people living in these communities? Who knows really.

But, at the very least, we should welcome any honest attempt to have an honest conversation about all this. However, it appears that this may not happen.

The liberal establishment does not want a new conversation

The liberal establishment does not like any dialogue outside the orthodox official doctrine whereby black poverty is the direct result of discrimination and racism. From this perspective, any talk about “personal responsibility”, “work ethic” and “effort” as  integral components of the problem is immediately labeled as disguised or open racism, yet another example of “blaming the victim”.

Well, if this is the attitude, then Paul Ryan will not accomplish much. No black leader will engage in any dialogue with a white racist, let alone take any advice from him.

Romney Condemned By Fellow Republicans For Stating That The Democrats Won Because They Give Stuff To Voters – Yes, Politicians Should Be More Tactful; But The Fact Is That America Has Become An Entitlement Society

[the-subtitle ]

By Paolo von Schirach

November 19, 2012

WASHINGTON – In the make believe world of politics in which telling the truth is a silly (in fact outrageous) idea Romney’s post-election commentary to his supporters is yet another inexcusable gaffe. Imagine that: Romney stated that he lost to President Obama because the Democrat had the irresistible electoral appeal of delivering free stuff to voters.

A horrible thing to say

What a horrible things to say. Think of that: Romney had the audacity to suggest that notoriously fair minded American voters would rather elect a President who promised to keep the gravy train running than an opponent who promised to reduce benefits because they are bankrupting the Nation. How could he even suggest that voters rather like getting benefits.

And now it is clear: Romney really means it. His most recent analysis simply reconfirms what he had already said about the “47%” who feel entitled to get favors, money, subsidies and what not.

Do not offend voters

While candidate Romney’s first gaffe was explained away by other Republicans during the campaign, now that he is dead meat the latest one inspired righteous (and let me add totally fake) outrage. You just do not go around offending the voters, intoned wise men like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. You do not tell half the American electorate that they are just a bunch of leeches. This is really stupid, etc. etc.

Truth is: US has become an entitlement society

Fine, we get it. If you are in politics, you want votes and so you have to be nice to voters. Still, even if we agree that what Romney said was totally tactless and politically dumb, (showing that he never was a natural politician), the simple fact is that what he said is mostly true.

Just like Western Europe, America has become an entitlement society. So much so that entitlement spending is now about 60% of total federal outlays. Contrary to popular beliefs, willfully reinforced by the Democrats, Social Security and Medicare recipients do not get back in benefits what they contributed in payments during their active years. It is an open secret that these mega programs do not pay for themselves. They are subsidized.

Add to them the steep increase in the number of disability pensions recipients, Medicaid, food stamps, expanded unemployment benefits and what not and you see how a large and growing percentage of Americans have become somewhat dependent on Washington’s largess. And, yes, those who get stuff are more likely to vote for the candidates who offer it than for those who argue that, unless the programs are reduced, they become unaffordable.

Obama re-elected because he promised to protect social spending

And the Obama camp message during the campaign was based on this simple understanding of voters sentiments. They successfully painted Romney-Ryan as the crazy –in fact bloody minded– ideologues bent on destroying fully deserved entitlement programs, while Obama-Biden would protect them. And the Democrats clearly won the political argument.

Now, I fully agree with Governor Jindal and other Republicans that this basic fact cannot be the only foundation of any appealing, revamped Republican political message.

Populists only?

That said, if politics is only about blandishing voters, while consciously avoiding any discussion of the hard issues, including the fact that this Nation is about to be crushed by unsustainable debt caused mostly by unaffordable social spending, then the political process is destined to be the exclusive territory of clever populists totally comfortable with the simple notion that in order to get votes you hide the truth.

While the populists get the votes, witness Obama’s success, America’s serious problems are not dealt with today, and this signals bigger troubles ahead. We may not like to hear the truth about unaffordable social spending, but the deficits and debt they generate will come back to bite us.

The Republicans Lost Because They Are Out Of Step With Women Voters, As The Todd Akin And Richard Mourdock “Abortion Disasters” Show Us

[the-subtitle ]

By Paolo von Schirach

Related story:

November 10, 2012

WASHINGTON – Last August, when GOP Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin came up with his incredibly stupid and ignorant comments about raped women shutting off their bodies so that they could avoid pregnancy, (see link to related story above), I argued that this was a real disaster for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan because Akin would be portrayed by the Democrats as the real embodiment of the Republican Party core values: anti-women and hopelessly out of step with main stream America on social issues.

Akin’s disaster

I argued at that time that the Akin debacle could be big enough to decide the elections against Romney. I wrote that it was not good enough for Romney and Ryan to distance themselves from Akin who –by the way– in his dogged stupidity decided that it was alright for him to stay in the race against incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, even after his incredible bungle.

Kick him out

I wrote then that the Republican Party should have kicked Akin out of its ranks, that it should have tried its utmost to make it clear to America –and in particular to all women voters– that Akin is an isolated aberration and that the Republicans are in fact modern, open minded and tolerant. Sure enough, many among them do hold religious and moral principles about the sanctity of life; but this does not mean that they would prevent all women from making independent choices about having or not having a pregnancy.

It did not happen

Well, none of this happened. The national GOP made all the appropriate noises about distancing itself from Akin; but Akin stayed in the race that he ultimately lost to incumbent McCaskill –an incumbent who (before this rape and abortion disaster) was deemed to be weak and beatable. The enormous damage done to the Missouri Senatoral race and to the Romney bid for the White House could not be fixed.

Add to this story the similar tale coming from the equally stupid utterances on abortion coming from Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate from Indiana who also ended up losing his race, and you get the picture of a Republican Party hopelessly out of step with the sentiments of a majority of women voters and Americans in general.

Damage big enough to tilt the balance

Back in August I observed that in an election that appeared to be so close every vote was to be considered precious. As Romney was already significantly behind Obama in terms of support from women, this Republican Party self inflicted wound would make things much worse. And so it did.

Still, I fear that no lesson has been learnt. The GOP true believers are undaunted. They do not care to be in step with the majority. They only care to be “right”.

Have the Republicans learnt anything?

If so, here is the question: is the Republican Party a church or a political force drawing support from different segments of the American society with the goal of governing responsibly? A church is not concerned about forging majorities. It only cares about holding to its principles.

A political force is about workable policies that, while based on core principles, are attuned to the society in which it wants to operate. I fear that a significant chunk of the Republicans rank and file think of their Party as a church that should be hospitable only to true believers. If this is so, then the national GOP will soon be just a cultural aberration, with no chance to forge broad based majorities.

Republicans so unpopular that they cannot win against weak incumbents

The very fact that Mitt Romney could not win against Obama, a weak incumbent burdened by a feeble economy and historically high unemployment, underscores this point. Compared to his 2008 triumph, Obama did not score big in these 2012 elections. But he won against Romney, convincingly. So, here is the upshot: America may no longer be deeply in love with the Democrats; but it likes Republicans and their medieval beliefs even less.

With The Elections Now Behind US, What Will The US Do About Serious Fiscal Reform? Obama Did Not Produce Any Clear Plan During The Campaign – Bending The Spending Curve Requires Spending Cuts That The President Promised He Would Fight Against

[the-subtitle ]

By Paolo von Schirach

November 9, 2012

WASHINGTON – President Obama got re-elected in large part because of his reassurance to those who rely more on government programs (low income people, minorities, young voters) that he would take care of them by protecting those programs. He successfully portrayed Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan, the Republican Party leading fiscal expert, as heartless radicals who would immediately destroy the social safety nets on which millions of Americans depend. The message worked. President Obama got his second mandate, with a decent margin.

Unsustainable debt

But now comes the hard part. There is the immediate issue of the “Fiscal Cliff”, a horrible scenario of draconian and unrealistic mandatory spending tax and tax increases that, if implemented, would cause a recession in 2013.

More broadly –and this is the real issue– there is an unsustainable federal fiscal imbalance (with trillion dollar deficits, year after year) caused mostly, although not exclusively, by the out of control cost of the very social programs President Obama just promised to defend against the insane attacks of the crazy Republicans.

Demonizing the Republicans worked well as a campaign message

Whatever the Democratic Party campaign messages, there is no way that the US fiscal imbalance can be fixed, for good –meaning with a true, long term bending of the spending curve– just by raising taxes on the rich and by some cosmetic budget cuts here and there.

The Democrats successfully demonized Paul Ryan’s plans to radically reform Medicare and Medicaid, the two worst offenders in terms of out of control cost growth. Not at all clear what they would propose as a better, fiscally credible alternative. President Obama carefully avoided getting into any federal spending policy specifics in his bid for re-election.

Avoiding the immediate ”Fiscal Cliff” nightmare is not that difficult. Democrats and Republicans can fudge something between now and the end of 2012. But this would be another instance of “kicking the can down the road”. That is to say, this would provide only a temporary respite.

No road map leading to serious fiscal reform

Warren Buffett, commenting on the out of control European debt crisis several monts ago, famously said that the Europeans could no longer kick the can down the road “simply because there is no road left“. America is not there, yet. It still has some road, therefore some margin; due mostly to good luck.

Indeed, as the country that issues the world major reserve currency, in a context in which bond markets lost confidence in the debt of many EU countries, the US Treasury can still borrow money at ridiculously low interest rates; this way piling up more and more debt without any immediate negative financial consequences. But this debt increase cannot go on forever.

In others words, America is also getting to the end of the road, while the clear winners of this elections –President Obama and the Democrats in the Senate–so far have produced no realistic plan for effective, long term deficit and debt reduction.

Just like Southern Europe?

In the end, it may turn out that Obama won the elections by making spending promises to his base that he cannot keep. Alternatively, by sticking to his campaign pledges to protect unaffordable social programs, the President will hasten America’s trip along the path that leads to a fate similar to Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain and France. And this is called financial exhaustion and eventually economic decline.

Biden’s Constant Laughs During The Debate With Ryan: An Explanation For This Unusual Behavior From The Ancient Romans, Good Students Of Human Character

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By Paolo von Schirach

October 13, 2012

WASHINGTON – Much has been said about the almost compulsive laughs and smirks exhibited by incumbent Vice President Joe Biden during his feisty debate with Congressman Paul Ryan, the man who would take his place as Vice President in case of a Romney victory in November.

Deliberately offensive behavior

The Romney Ryan camp and their supporters, starting with Fox News commentators like Chris Wallace, called this unprecedented behavior deliberately offensive, condescending, patronizing, dismissive. In their interpretation, the elder statesman (Biden) wanted to prove his superiority through his open lack of civility. And so he laughed and smirked to drive home the point that the junior wannabe (Ryan) was making only silly and preposterous assertions.

Nothing to it

Of course, the Democrats and their supporters would dismiss the whole thing, and say that nothing special was meant with all those laughs and that this is just Biden’s style. In any event, they argue, the Vice President won the debate not on style but on substance, because of the obvious superiority of his well presented and cogent points.

Still, whatever your preference, the fact is that there does not seem any precedent of a nationally televised political debate of this caliber, that is right before a presidential election, in which when one contender talks, the other laughs and smirks, not once or twice, but constantly.

The ancient Romans had a saying about too much laughter

Beyond what the pundits have already said, is there any good explanation for this highly unusual behavior? Here is a suggestion. The ancient Romans, good students of human character, used to say: Risus abundat in ore stultorum“, “Laughs are plentiful in the mouth of the foolish“, which is to say that excessive laughter is out of place, and it is a synonym of lack of intelligence.

The Economy Keeps Sputtering At 1.3%, But Obama’s Numbers Are Getting Better – People Got Used To Mediocrity, While Romney Failed To Connect With Voters

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By Paolo von Schirach

September 28, 2012

WASHINGTON – Ronald Reagan was nicknamed “Teflon President”. No matter how big his blunders, he exuded magic likability. So, nothing bad would stick to him. The American public was in love with “The Great Communicator”. But Obama’s magic looks even more amazing.

Obama’s magic

The American people say that the country is going in the wrong direction, that the economy is in terrible shape; but they still like the man in charge. This President does not walk on water; but somehow he managed to make every body believe that he can do magic. Consider this not sequitur accepted now by most as true: “The US economy is not doing well; but it is not the fault of the man who has been in charge for the past four years”. And so, these days in America people do believe that the sun shines at midnight, because a White House press release says so. I call this magic; because it defies any logic.

Bad economy, popular president

Look, I have no partisan animosity here and I fully recognize that Obama should get credit for stopping the financial meltdown in 2009. Obama also has the good fortune of facing Mitt Romney, a surprisingly dull Republican challenger who just cannot “connect” with the people. However, armies of political scientists and political operatives with decades of experience had told us that no incumbent President could ever be re-elected with a weak economy and unemployment at or above 8%. Americans are very practical people, we were told. If the economy stinks, they get another coach.

Obama’s numbers getting better

Well, not this time, it would seem. Ironically, just as we get closer to voting day, the economic news gets a bit worse and Obama’s numbers get a bit better. Second quarter GDP growth has been revised down from 1.7% to just 1.3%. The manufacturing sector is losing steam, while orders for consumer durables are down, led by a decline in commercial aircraft orders. Business sentiment is lukewarm, given the uncertainties about taxes, regulation, health care costs and the future of federal spending.

Let’s make it clear. This is not a disaster. But this is the continuation of a slide into economic mediocrity. Historically the US used to grow at an average pace of 3% a year. After the end of the Big Recession we never had the “V” shaped curve. We never had a big bounce. America is growing. But we have been limping along, slowly and weakly.

In the past this level of economic under performance would have been considered totally unacceptable. Americans want more than the 1.7% growth we have achieved so far this year.

Ahead in all the polls

But it is not so. President Obama, the steward of this economy, is ahead in all the polls. Most ominously for Romney, Obama is widening his lead in most of the ultra critical swing states. If Romney loses in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, there is no path for him to the White House.

People got used to mediocrity

Well, how is all this possible? Unsatisfactory economy and popular President? I have a simple explanation. Most people have gotten so used to mediocre performance that by now it looks and feels alright. Persistent 8% plus unemployment would have looked like a national calamity until recently. Now it is regrettable but tolerable.

Bush’s fault

And Obama has managed to convince the media and the public that America’s still sputtering economy is really a legacy of the terrible recession that occurred under George Bush and that he unfortunately inherited. Likewise, the explosion of public spending and the unprecedented federal deficits, with a net addition of $ 5 trillion to the national debt in the Obama years, is also a George W. Bush legacy; just as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were started by Bush.

Romney-Ryan will destroy the welfare state

Besides, right now the issue is not just the economy, Obama tells the voters, but the threat to entitlement programs represented by the Romney-Ryan ticket. This mean spirited duo, composed of a vulture capitalist (Romney) and an out of control, extremist ideologue (Ryan) are determined to destroy all entitlement and safety net programs created to support and defend the poor, the weak and the struggling middle class.

So, there you have it. “The disappointing economy is not so bad after all. But if you really think that it should be a lot better, remember that George W. Bush is the culprit. Besides, the next four years are going to be great, trust me. And if this is not enough to convince you to vote for me, consider the nightmare of a Romney presidency: no more Medicare or Medicaid. And poor children will go hungry”.

Oversimplified narrative works

You may find this oversimplified narrative funny. But it is working, rather well. May be Obama’s surprising popularity in large part it is the responsibility of an uncharismatic Romney who drives people away. Still, the Obama magic is working. As I said, Obama does not walk on water. But he did a splendid job convincing a majority of Americans that he really belongs to a different dimension in which performance and accountability do not go together.

America on a path to decline

That said, whatever the popular perceptions and the feelings about this President, the reality is that America is on a path to mediocrity and eventually irrelevance. If President Obama in his second term will vigorously promote pro-business and pro-growth policies, this national decline can be reversed. But if we continue with timid half measures while drowning in red ink, then the damage may become irreversible.