Let's see key issues in tonight's Fox News debate....
Candidate Surprises. Start with Jon Huntsman's surprise decision to pull out of the race; he is expected to endorse Mitt Romney today. Add that again in an interview with Oprah this weekend Chris Christie declared himself "not ready"; that formulation effectively removes him from the list of potential candidates, should Romney fail to win 50 percent of GOP delegates before the Tampa convention.
Congress Report Card. The Washington Times reports that Congress passed only 80 bills in 2011, the lowest tally since 1947. Drilling down, the House had its tenth least productive session. It had fewer bills signed by the President than any other House, but surely this has lots to do with President Obama being the most ideologically leftist President in US history. The Senate had by far its least productive session ever.
Domestic Issues. The Obama semi-recovery is the worst recovery since the Great Depression, writes Peter Ferrara. Kevin Hassett of AEI offers a superb income inequality chart showing how since 2006, income transfer to the less fortunate--unemployment insurance, mortgage modification, consumer loan charge-offs, food stamp increases, etc.--has risen by two-thirds, from around $9,000 annually to about $15,000. John Steele Gordon notes that in times of great economic and social transition the gap between rich & poor always rises, as great fortunes are created by emerging industries (such as those comprising the digital economy).
Bain Capital is certain to come up. A useful way to parse issues surrounding the role of venture capital firms is to put them into three categories: (1) "angel" VC firms who finance start-ups, looking for the next Steve Jobs; (2) "vulture" VC firms who break failing companies up and sell off their assets to the highest bidder as soon as possible; (3) "castor-oil" VC firms who buy control of a failing enterprise and try to turn it around.
Everyone likes angel VC firms. No one likes vultures; their justification is a thin one, akin to nature's justification for vultures: they clear the decks by repositioning assets. But this entails social hardship that for most voters understandably trumps pure economic efficiency. It is the castor-oil firms like Bain that play a more ambiguous role, administering unpleasant medicine aimed at saving the patient, so to speak. It is hard to evaluate Bain's record except by looking case by case at their operations. Bain did try to turn companies around, and had notable successes like Staples. Bain's record shows more wins than losses, starting with firms nearly all of whom were in trouble.
George Will (t/h Jennifer Rubin) offers the "creative destruction" defense (Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter's famous 1942 phrase) for VC firms, con brio:
Over one 25-year period recently, it was estimated that 15 percent of all American jobs disappear every year to try to create more than that. So it’s the adjective. Is it creative destruction? And in this sense, it seems to me, it’s much better to have this argument now than in October. And in South Carolina, it’s extremely good for Mitt Romney to be attacked now in the vocabulary of the left.
Even successful firms like Apple often go through hard times-Apple did just that in the late 1980s & early 1990s, until Jobs returned and revived the firm's fortunes with his iProduct line. But in a dismal economy--four bad years and still counting--this is a very tough sell. Which makes for a wounded Romney who may not be able to prevail come November, should he win the GOP nomination.
An issue that has received little notice in the campaign is education. As this OECD education expenditure chart shows, the US spends about 40 percent more than the OECD average, to realize average results. If anything, the chart understates US under-performance, as in the past 40 years domestic education spending has more than doubled in real terms (that is, adjusted for inflation), with at best flat-line results.
Foreign Policy Issues. Where is the candidate who can explain how to deal with totalitarians (cold realism and constant pressure) as well as Mike Ledeen does? Not yet in sight. Or show, as Max Boot does, the history lessons of rapid troop draw-downs. Or explain, as Bret Stephens does, that defense cutbacks will simply enable Obama to spend more money elsewhere, and will not be matched by restraint from rivals & enemies abroad. And will any GOP candidate tell voters that after withdrawing its military mission from Iraq the US now needs Iraqi permission to transit Iraqi airspace?
Will any candidate explain the estimated $30 - $40 risk premium Iran's bellicosity has added to current oil prices, or will discussion focus solely on predicted $200 per barrel prices if the Strait of Hormuz is temporarily closed by Iran? And what of Team Obama's fatuity in condemning the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists?--who are, as Rick Santorum has repeatedly said, enemy combatants and thus legitimate targets.
Will Obama see why Israel cannot be pushed anymore and relent in this election year, lest he offend pro-Israel voters? In warning Israel not to strike Iran, Team Obama won few friends in Israel. Will any candidate pick up on the US prepping Mideast facilities in case Israel strikes Iran without U.S. approval? Or explain the futility of talks with Iran, as Claudia Rosett does?
Will any GOP candidate state publicly the fraud that is Palestinian "democracy?"--as, this week, Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas begins the eighth--NOT a misprint, the 8th--year of his four-year elected Presidential term. Hillary has no illusions about Syrian butcher Bashir Assad, whom she calls "chillingly cynical." Who will note Egypt's latest sop to liberals: bikinis & burqas?--bikinis for tourists on remote beaches, burqas for the locals everywhere.
Team Obama's illusions that Russia "reset" is working are another gold mine for GOP candidates, notably, its desire to give Russia full participation in US missile defense decisions. How about lampooning the absurdity of the US intent to "reach out" to North Korea's new ruling clique, which is punishing subjects deemed not to have mourned fervently enough, with six-month labor camp sentences?
Bottom Line. Much of the focus on issues is on, understandably, the economy. But foreign affairs is not on sabbatical this year, and more attention should be paid by the GOP field--and GOP primary voters.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, Conservative Politics