Saturday, July 14, 2012

The end of candidate moderation

Is this the first  presidential campaign where we don't see any candidate moderating his position for the general election? It appears that way to me.

In 2008, McCain became a bit more conservative, but Obama didn't become more liberal. In this election, it seems that neither Obama nor Romney have moderated their positions. Of course, from my moderate viewpoint, this development sucks.

Why isn't this truism operating in this election? My guess is that neither party feels that moderation has been a net positive for them. The Republicans blame moderation and accommodation with those dang liberals for the ballooning deficits during the Bush presidency (and they ignore minor stuff like the wars and tax cuts). The Democrats found out that moderation didn't bring the Republicans to the bargaining table or voters to the polls in the midterm elections. Moderation just hasn't had a good track record for the last, oh, 12 years.

I stick with moderation because... uh, temperament... because zealots are a bunch of wackos who spout extremely stupid arguments? That's probably close to the truth. I can't bear to be a zipperhead repeating idiotic talking points and trying to make facts fit the preconceived argument. I'll leave that to everyone else in the US if I have to, and be a lonely moderate banging on my keyboard and waiting to see if these zealots make as big a mess as I think they will. Sigh.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

MP wrote: "I stick with moderation because... uh, temperament... because zealots are a bunch of wackos who spout extremely stupid arguments? That's probably close to the truth. I can't bear to be a zipperhead repeating idiotic talking points and trying to make facts fit the preconceived argument.

While I have been described and even described myself as a moderate for most of my life, I bristle somewhat at the above line.

Do you think it impossible to have a strongly held belief that can't be divided without being a zealot, whacko or a zipperhead repeating idiotic talking points?

For example, would you not agree that a thoughtful person who held strongly pro life views could continue to be thoughtful even if they would not budge an inch on opposing abortion for any reason?

Or how about someone who opposed the death penalty no matter the offense. If they opposed letting the state take that step for any reason, are they automatically your zipperhead?

More plainly, should Soloman have agreed to sever that baby in order to not have one side get 100% and the other side zero?

ModeratePoli said...

Really, Solomon? I'm not sure how to answer that one. Maybe he should have split the baby.

I've written about my relationship with someone who's a counselor for a pro-life group, so I have no trouble identifying and being friends with non-zealots. But the current problem with our politics is the abundance of zealots and zipperheads, not the lack of them.

Do you have a real complaint about what I wrote, or just a semantic issue or problem with my tone? I think you need to be more specific, or all you're going to get is the obvious answers, such as: Of course a thoughtful person can hold strong views. Of course a person is not automatically a zipperhead. Maybe, maybe not, they need to argue for a little while before it shows.

Anonymous said...

MP - I agree there is no lack of zealots and zipperheads on both sides. My issue with your post is that it automatically elevates someone who compromises over someone who doesn't. You give no evidence to support that moderation is at all good. It may seem self evident to you that this is true, and as I mentioned I too have long held that label.

But I don't think that this view is accurate any longer. Sure, some issues are of course better with a compromise. You think tax rate X is best for some activity; I think Y. So long as neither of us started at zero, we ought to end up somewhere between X and Y. Fair enough. But some issues, like Soloman's baby, just can't be divided.

Specifically, I once used to be willing to support some level of spending on the full range of projects that are always being expanded. My view was that so long as we kept downward pressure on it (ie, funded at lower levels that the supporters asked for), we were doing ok. But I now think that was wrong. We would be better off identifying the priorities and funding them so they were effective and saying no to almost everyone else. The sprinkle it around plan has failed, both in terms of program outcomes and, more importantly, on budget stewardship.

ModeratePoli said...

@truth, being specific is almost always better than a generalized question or complaint.

Of course compromise is not always good. But the GOP has made compromise a whipping boy for their lack of budget discipline, and now they're pursuing a no-compromise agenda that is so out of step with reality that I can hardly believe it. They'll just need more and more doses of reality. (Either they'll win enough of government to enact their agenda and then own the consequences, or they'll have to compromise in split government. That is the reality the next election will bring.)

Also, I'm not going to give evidence to support every throw-away line in my posts. There isn't enough research in the whole world to make that realistic. What I wrote rubbed you wrong for some reason. I'm not sure, but it seems that you read a lot more into my few words than were actual there.

The best thing when there is a bit of conflict is to talk it out, so I'm glad you posted again.

I agree with you that the government has bit off too much and has to pull back and figure out what it can do well and what to leave to other devices or no devices. Making those choices is sometimes hard but necessary because we don't have bottomless resources.

If you haven't looked at the Simpson-Bowles plan, you should because you might like it. It includes a target of 2% yearly of programs to cut or eliminate just to remove federal programs that haven't worked out. YES!!!! That's how to run a budget. I'm a huge fan of the plan, and I have a readable summary here.

Anastasios said...

Well, let's look at this from a different perspective. If moderation doesn't have a good track record the past few years, why does it not? And what is moderation, anyway?

There are a relatively clear-cut set of policy prescriptions that are associated with so-called "moderate" or "centrist" pundits and groups. These involve spending on certain priorities (education, infrastructure, healthcare, etc.) along with serious long-term deficit reduction and tax reform. Generally these policies also include vague talk about "honest discussion of national problems and priorities." If you word your poll right, these things even garner significant support. And Tom Friedman, David Brooks, William Galston, David Frum, and others dance with delight.

The problem is, as Bernstein and Cohn and Scheiber and others have pointed out, once you get past vague and carefully worded poll questions and into the realm of actual policy, public support for these "moderate" or "centrist" solutions collapses. Reform taxes, but only so mine go down and those of the people I don't like go up. Spend on education, but only if it helps me and my children. Reform healthcare, but don't dare touch my insurance plan. Cut expenses, but only by cutting spending for the people I don't think deserve it. Und so weiter und so wort, as the Germans would say.

Oh, and the middle class voter would like you to give his kid a job and get him his 2006 home value back. And he wants you to please stop all this bickering and let him get back to his baseball game.

The American voter -- dumb as a brick and to blame for everything. What a creature! But that's democracy for you.

Anonymous said...

MP: I have read a lot about Simpson - Bowles and if I thought we could agree upon it or any plan and then stick to it, I'd say let's move forward and be glad for it.

But we wouldn't stick with it if it was in place any more than we've stuck with any such mechanism.

So you know, I am not fatalist about this. I see real progress on spending restraint coming soon. The lever causing such discipline, however, won't be compromise or moderation or even voter outrage, but rather it will be inexorable market forces pricing our borrowing for the actual risk it carries. Then, we will simply be out of road upon which to kick this can.

ModeratePoli said...

@truth, I'm not sure market forces will be allowed to do their part since the Fed is buying so much of the debt. Sometimes I wonder if that's the magic solution: sell our debt to the Fed and watch it disappear, never to concern us again. I speak lightly, but I wonder if this is something that we could continue indefinitely. Other than the specter of inflation, I'm not sure why this wouldn't work. It's such a goldmine, there's got to be a catch.

The market forces argument worries me for another reason: the market forces, in this case bond rates, lag behind, and then suddenly come down on you like an avalanche, as Viable Opposition shows in this post.

You can get yourself in so much debt that default is the only choice. I don't know what would happen if the US gave its creditors a haircut. Global freeze maybe, followed by nuclear winter? Mad Max movies in real life?

Anastasios said...

The issue with market forces is that the U.S. very much exists in a global financial market, and the net forces acting on the U.S. are the sum total of all the global movements underway. Thus, even as our fiscal situation gets worse, it looks better than others (Europe particularly) and the net flow is actually in and down (i.e. capital in and interest rates down) rather than out and up. I was amazed that at the height of one of our periodic bouts of financial stalemate the interest rate available to European money in New York actually went negative.

So, it does no long-term good to talk about action or lack thereof in the U.S. absent a look at how that feeds into the whole interplay of global market forces. Frankly, at the moment I don't know if anyone has an algorythm sophisticated enough to deal with all those variables.

All of which is to say that market forces have not been all that effective so far, and I don't know if we can count on them kicking in at any given point with any given effect (they will kick in eventually, of course, but as I tell Couves the Republic will eventually fall as well -- all you have to do is wait and just about any half-way reasonable prediction will come true sooner or later).

As to inflation, I don't know that a moderate amount thereof would be a very bad thing. Given that we are so debt heavy right now, about 2% over a few years might do quite a bit of good. Of course, that is in effect a kind of gentle, rolling repudiation -- but that is just the way that particular game is played. The really tricky part would be adjusting social policy to shield retirees and the poor from the worst affects. Unfortunately income inequality has now become so large, and so self-sustaining, that the usual effect of inflation with regard to eroding large private fortunes would not really be operative, but you can't have everything.

Anonymous said...

MP - I fear that the Fed is doing exactly that: conjuring additional money to buy federal debt (and MBS and possibly Euro area CDSs). Since at least the money the Feds taken in at auction are promptly spent, that is real new money supply, which will inevitably lead to higher inflation.

Exogenous factors, such as the global economic slowdown have masked much of the inflation.

Will this ever catch up to us? If you think all other nations will always be worse off and that global investors and other nations will always be willing to accept payments in US dollars, then it might not for a long time.

But oil being priced in something other than dollars or other nations rejecting the dollar in favor of something else will force the issue. While we can print new green backs, we can't print other money and we will need real value to exchange.

The most probably outcome is that as the global economy recovers, interest rates will begin to rise even if the Fed continues or expands QE. And the recovery will begin to erase the negative demand & commodity inflation pressure that has been keeping the monetary inflation in check. This will force the avalanche, or tipping point if you prefer. It can all happy pretty quickly - a matter of months.