The Lie

I have a long post about the election and its consequences. TL;DR: I am a neoliberal shill for Hillary Clinton.

There are various groups who are having serious doubts about the upcoming election. On the right, there are conservatives who feel like Trump will not actually be a conservative, and there are libertarians who feel even less inclined than usual to vote Republican. On the left, there are those who have serious misgivings about voting for a foreign policy hawk. And then there’s the “Bernie-or-Bust” movement, which feels it cannot in good conscience vote for Hillary Clinton.

There is a strain of thought in the vocal dissent against Hillary Clinton from the left, in particular the Bernie or Bust movement, that is hard to square. On the one hand, I’m happy that there are those who are actively involved in the discussion of the country’s future: we need more of that energy and less passivity, whether I agree with the views or not. Many of these people care about the crucial issues of the day: discrimination, inequality, war, and healthcare, to name just a few. Their hearts and minds are generally on the right side of the issues.

I preface with these kinder words because I have harsh things to say. My empathy for these people also means that I won’t mince words or water down my arguments against whatever it is they are presently doing. And make no mistake, I believe that what they are doing is counter-productive and harmful: from booing speeches by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, to protesting outside the Democratic National Convention with chants of “Hillary for Prison”, or even just proclaiming on social media that they will never vote for Hillary Clinton because of “what she stands for.” They have a right to do these things! At the end of the day, what people do and how they vote is up to them. But if they publicly declare who they are voting for (or who they are not voting for) with fallacious logic and an insistence on idealogical purity, it must be pointed out and they must be challenged, because the outcome they are pushing for could be disastrous. What’s at stake are the very issues they claim to care about. What happens in November will show whether they care about these ideas only in the abstract or whether enough people have grasped the real-life impact.

There are two things I will address. First, whether Clinton legitimately won the primaries. Second, whether a dissenting liberal can morally vote for Clinton in the presidential election.

The first argument we have to dispel of is that the Democratic party primaries were rigged. This is a salient point to make in the wake of the hacking of the DNC emails. Those arguing the “election was rigged” point of view have several points put forth: (1) many registered voters were purged by local election authorities, (2) states with closed primaries like New York worked against Bernie Sanders, and (3) the DNC, as well as the super delegates, showed favoritism towards Hillary Clinton at the expense of Bernie Sanders.

The Nation covers many of these arguments in better detail than I do. I will briefly add my own thoughts here. In short, (1) there is no evidence that the purging of voter rolls favored any candidate in particular (and it may have hurt Clinton more in some places), nor would it have made any difference to the election. It is a symptom of how convoluted and broken our system of voting can be: bringing attention to this is great. But calling things rigged at every opportunity weakens the work against things like Voter ID laws and restrictive hours. (2) Bernie Sanders enjoyed an advantage in caucus states, which are arguably more restrictive and less democratic than closed primaries, where Clinton had some advantage. Clinton won more open primaries and many more votes, in the end. (3) Hillary Clinton won more votes and more elected delegates. Superdelegates and the DNC did not decide the election. Although the nasty emails of the DNC were shameful, it did not influence the outcome of the election. They can be wrong without the system being rigged. The people voted for Clinton in larger numbers than for Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton faced far more scrutiny and negative coverage in the process, even more so than Donald Trump.

To deny the coalition that voted in overwhelming numbers for the winning candidate their legitimacy, while claiming the system is rigged, is to make light of systems that are actually rigged. People seemed more interested in the DNC’s emails, which showed the arm of a political party having some preference for one candidate over another to lead said political party, than in the fact that a foreign dictatorship likely instigated the event in an effort to influence the outcome of the election. Russia. Where elections are actually probably rigged. Words like “corrupt” and “rigged” matter, because the system we have is imperfect, but it is not those things (yet). And so far, it is still our own election to decide. It seems we are more interested in making a point about a pre-existing narrative about unfairness than recognizing the danger in a foreign power attempting to sway our election results. To throw words around is to cheapen peoples’ voices and to further polarize people who largely agree on the issues of the day.

But forget all this, for a minute. Here is the fact of life: the presidential election is a zero-sum game. You either get some of what you want, or you get a lot of what you don’t want. There is no way around this.

What liberal dissenters seek in the voting booth it seems, is a church or confessional. They want to leave feeling pure, like they have participated in the process while having kept their conscience clean. This thirst for idealogical purity, to make a decision that is in complete concordance with their belief system, is ultimately a sign of selfishness. The ballot box is not a confessional. It is not a church. It is a choice. And if enough people say they don’t want Trump but that they could never live with voting for Clinton, then we end up with Trump.

The Lie we tell is that we have kept ourselves clean and uncompromised in the process. We tell ourselves: at the end of the day, a single vote doesn’t matter. Might as well make a decision fully in agreement with our beliefs so we feel good. Don’t want to ‘give’ something to Clinton and encourage more of this corrupt behavior in the supposedly liberal party into the future. No. They have to learn. And then the argument goes further: we can survive a Trump presidency.

And The Lie is then complete. Not only is it a complete fabrication, it is fundamentally selfish. We have exonerated ourselves of any personal accountability even as we expect it of everyone else. And it becomes clear: these ideas, these issues, they are really just abstract for us. The bar has now been set to “we will survive” 4 years, or 8 years. And having sent a message, we might eventually get a real liberal at the end of that. We can wait. A message is what a vote is worth, then.

This was a bad argument in 2012, when people could look to Romney’s moderate record as Governor of Massachusetts and say, “He’s just saying these crazy right-wing things. He’ll probably be fine as president. He knows better.” It is interesting to note these people continue to say these things about Trump, a man with no similar governing record and no intellectual curiosity or investment in any of the issues at hand. They will, then, convince themselves of whatever helps them sleep at night.

These are the people who have not fully recognized the far right-wing turn of the Republicans in the House and Senate. The more time goes on, the less sane their views become: cut taxes for the rich and gut the safety net, full stop. Romney proposed a similar plan, but people seemed to think he’d turn it around once elected. As if he could go to John Boehner and say, “Hey, let’s do liberal things instead. Forget what I said in the election.” The $5 trillion proposed tax plan of Romney in 2012 has now become the $10 trillion proposed tax plan of Trump and co. in 2016. But we still tell ourselves The Lie so that we can sleep at night.

This was in 2012 when Democrats still controlled the Senate. So back then, we could maybe say: we’ll just have gridlock, which is okay. There are, again, deep-seated problems with this argument, both in 2012 and even more so in 2016, given the power of the executive branch. And should Trump win the presidency this fall, he will likely have a strong majority in the House and a slim majority in the Senate. As we tell ourselves The Lie, we can then ignore the Supreme Court, conveniently, even as there is a vacancy in the court that will be directly and immediately decided by the election’s outcome, and determine the balance of the court. We can then ignore the appointments to agencies like the EPA that issue rules that can silently save thousands of lives in their regulation of toxic chemicals and pollution, or the Department of Labor which just passed a rule giving overtime protections to 4.2 million workers. We can ignore the incredible power vested in the Department of Human and Health Services as Obamacare continues to expand (or not in some states). Make no doubt that under any Republican, these things will go into reverse. And of course, there is the power of the executive branch in conducting foreign affairs, where it seems a declaration of war has become more of a suggestion than a constitutional requirement.

The quest for idealogical purity would have deemed Obama a fake liberal in 2008, despite his lofty rhetoric. He supported civil unions and not gay marriage, and he did not argue for a single-payer system that would demolish the profit-making pharmaceutical companies. He didn’t even argue for the individual mandate, even though he must have known it was necessary for any plan to work. He was a center-left candidate, and one could emphasize the center.

Yet is there any doubt of his impact on the LGBTQ community in the years since, as he has fought DOMA in court, repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and directed the his attorney general to battle states passing discriminatory laws? Is there any doubt, as 20 million more are insured in 2016 despite repeated legal challenges by Republicans, whether we are closer to our liberal ideals of universal healthcare? Did we worry about Obama’s idealogical purity, or did we understand that he was on our side, even if we didn’t agree on everything?

We tell ourselves stories so we can feel good and make sense of the world, which is messy and full of compromise. We tell ourselves The Lie. But politics is not an abstract space. It is not a church for us to feel pure in. It is and has always been about real outcomes. We move up or down.

To say “we can survive,” all in order to send a message (and what is that message?), is to ignore the real, human suffering of millions of people. It is to betray any semblance of a commitment to pro-choice issues. It is turning our backs on the poor and the underclass. One wonders whether the third party candidates, who would not withstand similar scrutiny from the media despite asking for similar attention, have any sense of this. They have a right to run for office, make no mistake, and people have a right to vote for them. But I wonder what those who voted for Nader in Florida felt as Bush prepared to send troops to Iraq in 2003. “We can survive this,” they may have said in 2000. Maybe they did, but many did not.

It is the job of Hillary Clinton to convince people to vote for her through a combination of policy ideas, convictions and biography, and it is not my job to shame people to vote for her, though it seems I have taken that role here. Nor will my attempts (or anyone’s attempts) work! But all of this is a long way of saying that we must hold those in office accountable, but we must also hold ourselves accountable. Even when it comes to a single, meaningless vote.

The presidential election is only one step in many. Conversations can continue afterward, pushing the party in this direction or that direction. But in losing, there is no next step. And the message we send is not the message we think we are sending: that however dangerous, far-right and racist the Republican party becomes, we will allow them to win so that we can feel good about ourselves.


Expiring Tax Cuts and Angry People

Towards the end of 2010, President Obama and the outgoing Congress passed several key pieces of legislation, and among them was a temporary payroll tax cut. This applies to the Social Security (FICA) tax, and since it is an immediately visible tax decrease on every paycheck for everyone (rather than a lump sump amount received at tax filing time), the argument was that this was a strong and visible stimulative measure. Due to its popularity, it was extended for another year. Finally, in January 2013, payroll taxes reverted to what they used to be.

This whole exercise has been interesting to me. Talking to people, they unambiguously think of this as a tax rise, and they have been complaining that their paychecks have gotten smaller. They don’t seem very mindful of the fact that the rate is simply going back to what it was for the longest time, and that the tax cut was always there solely as a temporary measure. Rather than think of the 2 years in which they paid lower taxes as a net gain for their personal finances, they seem mostly pissed off that this didn’t continue forever. Moreover, I can’t help but feel that if this tax cut had never occurred, then in January 2013, from a psychological standpoint, they would feel much better than they do under the current circumstances of having seen a tax cut expire. This behavior is pretty irrational from a traditional economics perspective. After all, in one scenario, they were able to keep about 2% more of their paychecks for 2 entire years. In the other scenario, they would not have had that. And yet they probably wouldn’t have been pissed off as they are now.

This is more than just an intuition I have. I have been reading Daniel Kahneman’s excellent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman is a psychologist by training but throughout his career he has ventured into behavioral economics with great success, and he won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002. Part of his work focuses on prospect theory, an alternative way of thinking about decision-making in contrast to the rational system at the core of much of traditional economics.

In the traditional model, you compare two wealth states to assess utility. Preferences are symmetric, in the sense that moving from $30,000 to $20,000 is the same as the negative of moving from $30,000 to $40,000. But this symmetric feature clearly has its failures.

Another feature in the traditional theory relates to expected value calculations in decision-making. So if you had the choice of taking $800 for certain, or if you had a 90% chance of making $1000 (and 10% of making 0), most people actually go for the certainty of $800 even though the expected value of the other trade is $900.

With gambles, people exhibit loss aversion. So if someone had a 50% chance of losing $100 and a 50% chance of winning $110, most people would not take the gamble, because the disutility of losing money is far greater than the utility from gaining, even if the amount to be gained is greater than the potential loss. This defies traditional economic logic where people are perfectly rational and weight events by their probability.

Finally, where people are right now, in the present, matters for any kind of calculation of gain or loss.

To quote Kahneman: “Evaluation is relative to a neutral reference point. [. . .] For financial outcomes, the usual reference point is the status quo. [. . .] Outcomes that are better than the reference points are gains. Below the reference point they are losses. [. . .] When directly compared or weighted against each other, losses loom larger than gains.” (Kahneman 282).

And so Kahneman’s thesis has two main channels, (1) people dislike losses more than they like gains, and (2) the reference point, that is someone’s current status, is really important in assessing the value of a change.

So when people think about their payroll taxes going up in January 2013, their reference point is December 2012, not December 2010, even though they knew the taxes would go up eventually. Furthermore, people always pay more attention to losses than to gains.

Republican Positions

I could spend a great many posts focusing on the immense hypocrisy of the present Republican Party platform as it relates to budgets, taxation and entitlements.

Identifying flip-flops and hypocrisy is important as it can tell us something about the true motivations of our elected representatives.

I will ignore all of this, however, and simply try to point out the awfulness of their current position.

What is the current Republican position? Let’s lay it out.

1. We have major debt problem, we have to do something about it right now.

2.  We will not raise tax rates on the top 2%.

3. We will not extend tax cuts solely for the middle class. Present tax rates for the top 2% must also be included.

4. We will only raise revenue by limiting or eliminating tax deductions we shall not name.

5. We will not identify tax deductions, but we will not touch the preferential tax treatment of capital gains and the carried interest loophole.

6. We should cut entitlements, like Social Security and Medicare. Probably by raising the age of eligibility for both programs. Though we have not come out and said what we should cut in entitlements. But we insist we should cut entitlements.

7. We do not support the extension of unemployment benefits, or, if we did it would be a major concession in any deal.

8. We will not raise the debt ceiling until we can agree on something.

9. Obamacare should be on the table too. We don’t like it.

I will try to respond to each of these.

1. We have a long-term debt problem that must eventually be dealt with. We do not have to deal with it now. Interest rates on Treasuries are at historically low levels. If you have faith in the market, then you must admit that the market is not at all worried about our debt. In contrast, we have a jobs crisis. As seen by the still-elevated unemployment rate.

2 and 3. Those at the top of the income distribution are paying historically low effective tax rates. They are also performing extremely well relative to the rest of the population. They are the class of people who have fully recovered from the great recession. Asking these individuals to pay the same tax rate on income over $200,000/$250,000 as they paid in the 1990s is not socialist or the end of the world. According to the CBO, allowing the lower tax rates to expire for higher-income would generate $824 billion. This is not an insignificant amount of revenue.

3. This is foolish and needs no comment, but I will say that the President campaigned on this issue in 2008 and 2012 and won both times, as did a Democratic senate. Democrats won more votes in the House than Republicans did, but you know, gerrymandering and redistricting of congressional districts.

4. I will quote the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:

To even come close to replacing the revenues from letting the high-end tax cuts expire with a cap on itemized deductions that targets high-income taxpayers and does not affect middle-class families, policymakers would have to virtually eliminate all itemized deductions for households with incomes over $250,000.  Moreover, to avoid a massive increase in effective tax rates, policymakers would have to phase the cap in over an extended income range above the $250,000 level, reducing the revenue it would generate.

5. Preferential treatment of capital gains primarily benefits high-income individuals. See Warren Buffet’s tax returns. Also, Mitt Romney’s tax returns in 2010 and 2011.

6. Social Security is not in crisis. Medicare will eventually be quite costly for the government. However, for all of their demands for entitlement cuts, most Americans don’t want to see cuts. Also see my response to point 3. Also see Salon.

7. The current problem is a lack of jobs and not the amount of debt, so this seems like a strange reordering of priorities that would have a detrimental effect on the economy.

8. This could have a negative effect on the economy.

9. Obamacare passed Congress in 2010. Obamacare largely survived the Supreme Court’s scrutiny in 2012. Obama won re-election in 2012. For some reason all I can think of is Dumb and Dumber. Only the question asked is “what are the chances we can repeal Obamacare?”

Taken together, we have a series of awful positions that, if they came to pass, would negatively affect the low and middle-income individuals and families in this country. It would hurt, not help the present jobs situation. It would push our society to one of even greater inequality. It would disadvantage the most vulnerable. It would help the most fortunate. This seems like a strange platform to run on in 2012.

Grand Bargain Expectations

There were several interesting stories that caught my eye today, having to do with the prospects of a deal to avert the fiscal cliff and a possible grand bargain. One is from Matt Bai of the New York Times, who has written extensively about negotiations between House Leader John Boehner and President Obama during the summer of 2011.

He writes today in his piece, “Will Obama Agree to Entitlement Cuts? He Already Has”:

Labor unions and other liberal groups [. . .] message to the president, beginning with a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, is that he won a mandate to raise taxes on the wealthy while resisting cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and that they intend to stand firm with him on that position.

The problem here is that urging Mr. Obama not to join House Republicans in reducing entitlement spending is like pleading with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John not to reunite for a Christmas album. It’s just too late.

[. . .]

So while it may be good strategy for progressive groups to pressure the White House on entitlement spending, no one should harbor the illusion that the president won’t sign off on reductions. The simple fact is, he already has.

This is a downbeat assessment of what may be coming. I think Matt Bai is correct in that Obama signed off on a deal with significant entitlement reductions in 2011, and that Boehner may feel that it would be an appropriate place to return to in the upcoming discussions. And if Obama was willing to make those entitlement cuts in 2011, why wouldn’t he be willing to in 2012? Furthermore, Matt Bai says that it wasn’t just Obama, but the liberal leaders of the House and Senate who were willing to sign off on his proposal in 2011. That upsets and surprises me.

However, I do think re-election can act as a reset. Obama certainly has greater leverage, and the subdued voices of his first term may not be so subdued in this second term. They did not elect Obama twice to get Republican tax and budget policies. We can see this in play on Obama’s insistence that the upper-income levels must have a higher tax rate. This was not in Obama’s memo during the summer of 2011; to the contrary, Obama seemed to have been willing to actually lower tax rates on the rich. This now seems to be a non-starter for current negotiations.

The Huffington Post spoke to several of the people who were in the meetings with the White House today:

Following the meeting, a handful of attendees spoke briefly to the press, praising Obama for vowing to firmly oppose an extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy.

“It was a very, very positive meeting,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Additionally, Obama’s current offer on the table would have vastly more revenue than what was on the table in 2011. That is, $1.6 trillion, twice what was originally being discussed in 2011. How far he moves from this number is still up in the air. In the past Obama has proven a not-so-great negotiator, but there’s also evidence that he has significantly improved his skills and position since the summer of 2011.

From the Washington Post:

Senior Democrats, meanwhile, threw cold water on a competing proposal to scale back deductions that disproportionately benefit upper-income taxpayers while keeping the top tax rates at their present level.

On Tuesday, former Clinton administration Treasury secretary Robert Rubin wrote in the New York Times that closing loopholes and deductions would not be an acceptable solution to the nation’s fiscal challenges. And Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is set to become chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said she “has not seen how the math works to let you come up with the additional revenue.”

And the New York Times says that Obama will take his message directly to the public, if needed:

As he prepares to meet with Congressional leaders at the White House on Friday, aides say, Mr. Obama will not simply hunker down there for weeks of closed-door negotiations as he did in mid-2011, when partisan brinkmanship over raising the nation’s debt limit damaged the economy and his political standing. He will travel beyond the Beltway at times to rally public support for a deficit-cutting accord that mixes tax increases on the wealthy with spending cuts.

Also in Obama’s plan is 340 billion in entitlement savings. I have no details on what these exactly entail. I may lose sleep over what happens in the next several weeks.

Obama’s pivot

Several weeks ago, I asked whether Obama would change tactics and get, well, angry. The budget fight in the first half of the year and then the acrimonious debt ceiling debate in July/August left Obama severely weakened, with job approval numbers at all-time lows. The blame lay squarely with Republicans, but Obama’s disastrous negotiating tactics and lack of control over the narrative did not win him any fans. Many astute political observers asked: Why was he compromising? They aren’t interested in anything he has to propose. He might as well get tough.

In his early-September joint session with Congress, Obama revealed his jobs plan, the American Jobs Act, perhaps his last real attempt at putting a dent in joblessness before next election. He brought it forth with a spirited speech and the kind of no-nonsense attitude that many have been begging from Obama for over a year now. The plan itself was larger than many had expected (about $450 bn. vs. $300 bn.).

I want to first talk about the timing and meaning behind the American Jobs Act. Some observers more optimistic than me have said that the initial response from Republicans seemed positive and that there was a chance for progress on the bill. I don’t really see it that way. James Surowiecki and I tend to agree on such matters:

It’s not that the Republican approach is popular: one recent Bloomberg poll found that forty-five per cent of those surveyed think congressional Republicans are responsible for the gridlock in Washington. But it seems to be working: for the past year and a half, the Party has consistently gone for a do-nothing approach and voters have consistently rewarded it.

At this point, Obama has to have learned his lesson that the Republicans are not interested in passing anything. They feel emboldened, if anything. Their initial response to the AJA was cautious for political reasons as they measured the public reaction, but it does not mean his bill will have any chance of passing the House. Meaning: Obama proposed the AJA understanding that it would probably not be passed. So why did he bother? There are several reasons. It’s better than simply doing nothing, and there is always the chance that certain portions of the legislation make it through, like the extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax, though at that point it wouldn’t likely amount to much in terms of real stimulus to the economy. But the primary motivation, I believe, is political. Obama now knows he must run against a do-nothing Congress, and he is trying his best to expose the intransigence of Republicans to the public. His goal (and it is a good one) is simple: show that the Republicans are unconcerned with the economy, and that they are the ones blocking progress. He wants the public to understand that the Republicans are happy at the idea of 9% unemployment going into the 2012 election.

It is under these circumstances that Obama released his long-term budget plan about a week ago. Perhaps the most controversial part of it was the so-called “Buffet Rule”, a nod to Warren Buffet’s August Op-Ed, “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich”. From the OMB:

5. Observe the Buffett Rule. No household making over $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-class families pay. As Warren Buffett has pointed out, his effective tax rate is lower than his secretary’s. No household making over $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-class families pay. This rule will be achieved as part of an overall reform that increases the progressivity of the tax code

How exactly do they plan on doing this? Limiting tax deductions on high-earners, letting the higher-income Bush tax rates revert back to Clinton levels, and a few other measures. This is all good and well, and again, this is mostly effective political positioning for the next election. The idea is to show that the Republicans want to balance a budget without raising a dime of revenue from millionaires. Since Obama is articulating his vision of a progressive tax system moving forward, many on the center and left are also glad that Obama is finally drawing a line in the sand. If Obama continues to make these points in public, they will likely stick.

But it’s a bit disappointing as a plan in some respects. Buffet’s Op-Ed identified capital gains as the main reason why very rich individuals manage to pay a lower effective tax-rate than normal folk. And there’s no attempt at raising the capital gains rate for anyone (with some exceptions). Part of the hesitance is due to the fact that you are raising taxes on investment, and for whatever reason, claims that it “kills jobs and investment” have stuck over the years, despite the fact that prior to 1997, capital gains were taxed at the same rates as income. And that’s what we need again. James B. Stewart has more:

The notion that low capital gains tax rates are a good thing because they promote investment, lead to job creation, encourage people to sell assets without fear of tax consequences and actually raise total tax revenue is so entrenched in both parties that the idea of equalizing capital gains and ordinary income rates is barely mentioned or, when it is, is quickly denounced. It’s become a third rail of tax policy and electoral politics. “It’s now so woven into standard thinking that it’s become a cultural norm,” a prominent hedge fund official told me this week.

Proponents of lower — even zero — capital gains rates have some academic research and statistics to support their claims. Still, there’s no doubt that the root of the problem highlighted by Mr. Buffett is the disparity between tax rates on capital gains and ordinary income. Were these rates the same, the debate over how to treat carried interest would vanish, along with much of the disparity between tax rates for the rich and people like Mr. Buffett’s secretary.

Is that so unthinkable? It does seem intuitive that lower taxes and thus potentially greater rewards would encourage risk-taking and investment, and surely at some rate high taxes can discourage any endeavor. But even some hedge fund and private equity officials concede that the argument for lower capital gains rates rests more on faith than science. “I’ve seen study after study that says lower capital gains rates have no impact on behavior,” the hedge fund official told me.

Is Romney the best possible outcome?

Several weeks ago, I noted that candidates had thus far seemed unwilling to attack Rick Perry despite his long and questionable record as governor of Texas. There were many items ripe for vicious attacks: examples of crony capitalism, executing an innocent man, dubious claims about his jobs record in Texas, and policies that may not have gone so well with the extreme parts of his base who have directed the nomination process thus far. Much has changed since then. From immigration to government-mandated vaccinations to Social Security, most of the candidates found reasons to attack Perry. Meanwhile, aside from some one-on-one exchanges with Perry, Mitt Romney seems to have come out of each of the last 3 debates unscathed, with few questioning his record.

Many liberals seem pleased with the fact that Rick Perry may no longer be the front-runner in the race. There’s an air of gloom among supporters of Obama (both the reluctant and enthusiastic), many of whom feel that he will likely lose the election next year. And so, the sentiment goes, why not cheer when a very unpalatable Republican like Rick Perry falls? Many are silently hoping that Mitt Romney and not Rick Perry will win the nomination, seeing him as the least evil of the contenders, someone they could possibly stomach as president. Yet there is reason to question this line of thinking.

First, Romney, for the very reasons mentioned above, would be a stronger contender against Obama in the general election. His experience with business at a time when jobs are scarce will likely persuade so-called independents, if we are to disregard for a moment the truth behind his job-creation claims. In a head-to-head battle against Obama, Perry would likely falter under increased scrutiny on his record and his outrageously extreme views on Social Security. This should give liberals some pause in rooting for Romney, if the best outcome in the next election is for Obama to win re-election.

Second, there is the implicit assumption that Romney would be a reasonable president, which could very well be mistaken. The very part of his record that leaves many Republicans cold (see his flip-flopping on numerous issues like abortion and health care) seems to give liberals the idea that he would be a moderate president. In other words, they assume that Romney is a pragmatist.

In reality, Romney is not a pragmatist; he is an opportunist. Let me clarify: perhaps if we were to peer into Romney’s soul, we would find a pragmatic man, but his political and governing instincts, which is what we observe and care about as citizens, are purely opportunistic. He has repeated and committed himself to the same economic ideas every other Republican candidate has talked about. After initially stating that the Obama stimulus in 2009 probably accelerated the recovery, Romney’s paperback edition of “No Apology” called it a failure. His economic plan includes a cap on government spending at 20% of GDP. If the question is whether he will follow-through on these ideas, we have to ask what will motivate Romney if he is in office. If history should teach us anything, it’s that beliefs will not motivate him, and his base will. That includes the Republicans in the House and Senate, many of whom seemed to think defaulting was a good idea in July and early August, and many of whom have asked for an amendment capping spending at 18% of GDP a year. He has to work with these same people that Obama has worked with. And he will work with them to be re-elected in 2016, if he is elected president. Romney’s flip-flopping should not fool people into thinking he would govern as a moderate; he would likely be anything but.