Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Second debate

In 1992 during a Presidential debate Bill Clinton issued one of his most cringe-inducing statements of "I feel your pain." Apparently other politicians that were watching saw the move as pure genius and now we are treated to debates that seem to be a contest of who can appear more sympathetic to the average voter. Obama began tonight by declaring the need for a middle class "rescue package" while McCain parried and thrusted with his statement that "Americans are angry, they're upset, and they're a little fearful. It's our job to fix the problem."

McCain seemed to compound this by speaking to the audience in this weird, hushed tone, the kind you would normally reserve for small children. But perhaps that simply a reflection how infantile the American public has become.

Where was the leadership? Where was the candidate who was willing to stand up and tell people to take responsibility for themselves and stop looking to Washington for a hand-out?

Rather than examining the candidates response to certain questions, I'd like to look at some of the answers that perhaps should have been given last night. To the transcript:

Allen Shaffer: With the economy on the downturn and retired and older citizens and workers losing their incomes, what's the fastest, most positive solution to bail these people out of the economic ruin?

Answer that should have been given: You know, there are few predictable events in life, but one certainty -- barring death at an early age -- is that we will all grow old and retire. It's really not much of a secret. That's why you save and invest and plan for your future. It's not the job of the rest of the American taxpayers to "bail out" as you said these retired and older citizens for their unwillingness or inability to plan for retirement. The closer you get to retirement the more conservative your investments should be. I'm not going to take money from citizens who plan for the future to take care of those who don't. That's nothing more than subsidizing poor decision making.

That said, the federal government does share some blame in this regard. The federal government thinks so little of your ability to plan for retirement that it forcibly takes your money during your prime earning years and then throws a pittance back at you in your later years. We call this "social security" and perhaps you may have heard of it. The truth is, this is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme that, if it were tried by a private business, would result in the imprisonment of company officials.

Unfortunately it is probably too late in the game to undo this government monstrosity, but as president I will try to push for efforts to give you a greater say in how this money is invested so that you can earn more than the pathetic returns you are currently given. Also, realizing that a mere savings account is insufficient to assure a comfortable retirement I would like to scrap the capital gains tax, to encourage greater investment in areas that may provide higher returns and encourage, rather than punish, citizens for making those investments in our economy.

Oliver Clark: Well, Senators, through this economic crisis, most of the people that I know have had a difficult time. And through this bailout package, I was wondering what it is that's going to actually help those people out.

Answer that should have been given: Oliver, it won't do anything. It's an embarrassment and I am ashamed that it passed. You'll notice that that the stock market hasn't been impressed by its passage, losing hundreds of points since it was signed into law. Look, a lot of people made a lot of dumb decisions to get us into this mess and now they have to pay the piper. It isn't the job of you or me to bail these people out for their idiocy. To quote Homer Simpson, "That's not America. That's not even Mexico."

Tom Brokaw: Are you saying to Mr. Clark (ph) and to the other members of the American television audience that the American economy is going to get much worse before it gets better and they ought to be prepared for that?

Answer that should have been given: Who knows? I'm a politician, not an economist. I can't see the future. But let me tell you something: traveling around this great country I am constantly struck by how rich we are. I see people that regard dining out a right rather than a privilege and wonder to myself if there isn't a single American left that doesn't own an ipod. Even our poor citizens have multiple televisions and cell phones. The poor in this country would be considered rich in many other countries.

Now, I have older relatives in my family that rode a horse to school, made clothing out of grain sack cloth and sweltered through hot summer nights without air conditioning. Please, let's have some perspective about the economy and the current state of affairs. Yes, we appear to be in the middle of a downturn. Yes, that's going to make life tougher for some people. But guess what? We're Americans and and we will get through this. We always have before and we certainly will again.

That said, there are some things that we can do in Washington to assist in the recovery process. We have a corporate tax rate that is the second highest in the world. Every dollar taken from them is money that doesn't go to research and innovation, hiring additional workers or being returned to stockholders -- which is most of you in the audience -- as a share of the profits. We have regulation on the books that is the size of several phone books stacked on top of one another (citing the particulars of a stupid piece of regulation would be useful here). We refuse to balance our own books and are spending ourselves into oblivion, passing along a crushing burden to our children.

Government isn't the solution, government is the problem. During the Great Depression FDR attempted to use the government as the main lever to fix our economic woes and after years and years of this the unemployment rate was still an astounding 17%. To put that in perspective it is currently 6%.

When you send me to Washington I will press for spending reductions. I will press for tax reductions. I will try to get the regulation monkey off your backs. And I will press for a balanced budget. And while I do my part you do yours by working hard and trying to get your share of the American dream. That is what we will get us out this mess.

Ingrid Jackson: Sen. McCain, I want to know, we saw that Congress moved pretty fast in the face of an economic crisis. I want to know what you would do within the first two years to make sure that Congress moves fast as far as environmental issues, like climate change and green jobs?

Answer that should have been given: Yes, Ingrid, you are correct. Congress moved pretty fast -- it usually does when it comes to spending your money. But Ingrid, to get to the heart of your question, let me tell you something: these so-called "green jobs" have nothing to do with Washington DC. There has been talk about alternative energy as long as I can remember and Congress has responded with some real doozies. Are you familiar with ethanol? Basically it is fuel made from corn. And it makes a great deal of sense to corngrowers and politicians from corn growing states. Unfortunately it doesn't make sense anywhere else, which is why it can't succeed without government assistance.

Look, maybe there is a big future in green jobs and alternative energy and maybe there isn't. I don't know, I'm not an expert, I'm just a politician. How can I possibly pretend to know what form of energy this country should be using? What I do know, however, is that every day there are thousands of people in this country trying to invent new technologies, including with regard to alternative energy. Some will succeed and some will fail. Which will do which I have no idea -- and neither does anyone else in Washington. This notion that a bunch of politicians should be picking and choosing which energy sources we should be using is absurd and an invitation for corruption. Let's have the future of American energy determined in the marketplace, not by campaign contribution dollars to politicians to buy their support.

Tom Brokaw: Should we fund a Manhattan-like project that develops a nuclear bomb to deal with global energy and alternative energy or should we fund 100,000 garages across America, the kind of industry and innovation that developed Silicon Valley?

Answer that should have been given: Tom, we shouldn't fund any of this. It's not our job. Let the marketplace decide. But Tom, really, I find the premise of your question a bit offensive because it strikes me as unconstitutional in the first place. Show me where in the Constitution it gives the federal government the power to spend money developing alternative energy sources. I suspect you won't find it.

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