Paul Ryan Was Right (I’m Serious)

As much as I’d love to revel in Ryan’s tax-evasion during last night’s Vice Presidential Debate, I have to—oh it hurts!—agree with him.

I’ve written in the past about why exactly I loathe Paul Ryan. And whether you think my reasons are fair, or my analysis accurate, there’s certainly no question about whether or not I ultimately like the guy. I don’t.

But despite shaking with nervous joy last night as Biden forcefully confronted the Ryan/Romney agenda, the Wisconsin Congressman had a point. It’s one that Romney has made as well, though less clearly, each time journalists on the campaign trail hound him for details about his economic plan to “get the country growing again.”

The point is: they are running to head the executive branch, not be legislators-in-chief.

Paul Ryan is—so much pain!—correct when he argues that its Congress’ job to hammer out the details. Congress is the first branch of government. It’s the one that’s most representative of the nation as a whole as well as each state and each individual.

This is in part why I was not only surprised but dismayed that Ryan decided to be Romney’s running mate. What does it say about are political system when one of its most powerful legislative voices decides they have a better chance of enacting their policies from the White House then from the Capitol?

Part of the reason why Presidential campaigns lack substance is that both parties know that a mix of low information voters and hundreds of millions in campaign marketing put anyone trying to talk about the “tough decisions” facing the country will be doomed.

The President can lobby for certain policies. And as the de facto head of his or her political party, is extremely important in making the case to the people for policy X over policy Y. But he or she is not the one who ultimately gets to decide what actually comes out of the legislative process. At the end of the day they can sign whatever bill comes their way, or veto it. That’s it.

This is why Obamacare and the stimulus were not only flawed upon passage, they weren’t even the President’s policies. This is why when judging a president’s performance we should look more at how they *execute* laws, and engage the world abroad, then how good they are at cajoling Congress into doing whatever they want.

Otherwise you have the problem, which Mark and many others have touched on before, where the President is treated like a Prime Minister, like a supreme legislator, even though the chains of accountability remain those of a presidential republican democracy. The calculus that gets a president elected is every different from the calculus that gets Congress men and women elected. This is why we so often have divided government. This is why every once in a while someone lauds the commander-in-chief for being an effective triangulator.

People’s expectations are not aligned with the realities of how politicians are elected, and how the system forces them to govern. Ergo continual cluster-f***.

Calling Ryan and Romney out for not giving particulars is a debate tactic and a campaign strategy. I don’t actually need to know any of the particulars because 1) if elected Romney and Ryan will have 535 members of Congress to deal with and 2) I already know what they actually want to do: cut taxes, broaden the base, remain revenue neutral, and cut the deficit by cutting spending.

Any liberal who pretends not to know what specifically the Ryan/Romney tax plan would be is being insincere. How could they know the specifics? They haven’t had to deal with Congress yet? Did Obama know the particulars of Obamacare before it was passed? Nope. And rather than have him and McCain square off four years ago on how they would remake the health care system, what we should have been asking was: what kinds of health care reform can you guarantee you’ll veto.

That might sound naïve. That’s because it is. What the country needs isn’t to go back to its “founding principles” but for the American people to figure out how the hell their system of government actually functions. I’m probably not the only person who doesn’t think that’s likely to ever happen. The alternative is to push government reform that would change the nature of Congress, the presidency, and elections in order to put them more in line with how voters actually treat each of those things. Ask around though and even people who support a more parliamentary form of government don’t see it happening, at least not in their life times (which is possibly good news since it inadvertently implies that WWIII won’t happen in the next half century).

I’m cynically elated that Biden tried to flush out the confusion and obfuscation in Ryan and Romney’s campaign rhetoric because it gets us a bit closer to the kinds of policies I favor. But the truth of the matter is that reckless standards like the one Biden tried to hold Ryan to will only continue to degrade the political system. And I actually think the country would be *better off* if more politicians made the argument that to wade into the details of their preferred economic agenda would be premature.

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119 thoughts on “Paul Ryan Was Right (I’m Serious)

  1. Sorry, Chief…but I’ve got to beg to differ with you on this one. We had specifics when Obama was running in 2008:

    http://useconomy.about.com/od/fiscalpolicy/p/Obama_economy.htm
    http://articles.cnn.com/2008-10-13/politics/campaign.wrap_1_tucker-bounds-obama-details-economic-rescue-plan?_s=PM:POLITICS

    And this one in particular is weighty in its clarity:

    http://money.cnn.com/2008/06/11/news/economy/candidates_taxproposals_tpc/index.htm

    Based on the last two debates, the Romney plan sounds about as sound as Trickle-down with a new(ish) spin.

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    • Certainly Obama had more specifics than Romney—none of them ultimately mattered though because, well, Congress.

      We’re still waiting to pass that budget and get that “grand compromise.”

      So the idea that we hold either candidate to the letter of their proposals rather than the threshold of what their willing to sign into law is misguided.

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      • I don’t need someone to be held to the letter — but a promise with absolutely no plan of action is just what Hamlet told Polonius:

        Words, words, words.

        I can think of another president who had big campaign promises…

        “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” And when Hoover failed to pull us out of the Great Depression after he won in 1928, he was decimated in ’32 by a guy with a pretty thorough plan.

        Unless you figure the New Deal wasn’t that substantial. FDR FTW.

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        • Not once did Biden say that the reason the Romney/Ryan approach won’t work is because the country could not possible grow enough in the next ten years to expand revenue by the amount they need to keep the government anywhere near solvent under their priorities (more defense spending, etc.).

          He didn’t say that cause he knows it’s politically wrong to ever tell the American people that no matter how hard they wish for it, the country is never going to grow past 1-2% a year.

          Instead he tried to nail the opposition on whether they would get rid of the mortgage interest deduction, or the employer provided health care benefit exemption, or the tuition payment deduction.

          All of which I think should be gotten rid of. All of which a lot of people think should be gotten rid of. Obama even thought at one time we should get rid of the employer provided health benefit exemption.

          Instead of tackling policies on the merits, and say that the Obama admin would or would not accept X out of Congress, he tried to tie Romney/Ryan to things they aren’t proposing, rather than deal witht he actual deciet which is that we can’t grow fast enough to make up the revenue gap.

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  2. Ahh… but Ryan’s on record as being a bit of a Keynesian — and arguing with Democrats to do it.
    Wouldn’t mind a debate if we could get both sides to be honest.

    Obama: “yes, I want to get back to fiscal stability, less deficit spending. In this climate, I’m just going to raise taxes on millionaires, but… if it gets better enough, I’ll raise taxes on you too.”
    Romney: “War and Giving all Workers a Check make good business sense. Somehow.”
    (note: there is an honest argument for Romney’s position).

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  3. Doesn’t the existence of and the esteem held for (on domestic matters) Lyndon Baines Johnson contradict what you wrote here?

    Or was he the Mule that cleared the decks and set the precedent of legistature in chief? All who have followed either not being up to the task or taking initiatives contrary to your policy preferences.

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      • LBJ did everything the wrong way, per this post – he was a legislator by trade, and once he became president, proposed a great slate of detailed policy proposals, and often became personally responsible for sheparding through Congress individual pieces of legislation.

        Most of these were the landmark, transformative legislation that Liberals and Progressives hail (and protect agressively), and furthermore point to as a model for how they would further like to implement their policy goals.

        So why are you right and LBJ wrong? Or is the very problem that LBJ was so uniquely successful that everyone else is hampered by expectations that creates system dysfunction. (i.e. neither of LBJ nor you are wrong)

        (for liberals and progressives, mind you. Conservatives and whatever you want to call the center-right have got what they want over the last 40 years- tax cuts, deregulation, wars, judges, for instance)

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        • LBJ is wrong. That’s not how the government was meant to work. And just because he was successful during his time, doesn’t make up for degrading the overall mechanisms baked into the federal governing cake.

          The fact that people have LBJ expectations of any and every president, and that candidates feed into that ignorance more and more, is precisely the problem.

          LBJ was a horrible president anyway, but we can go that round another time.

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          • It’s not enough for you to simply say, “that’s not how the government was meant to work.” It’s not as if there was ever an actual consensus on how the government was supposed to work. There were always competing visions for how it would work. You’re advocating for a return to a Taft-style presidency that hasn’t been in evidence since Wilson, at least, and that style of government had precedents anteceding Taft.

            The Constitution is a framework, not a set of rules. It’s deliberately vague, and purposefully designed to be amended and changed as the times warrant. All you’re saying is, “The presidency, as currently constituted, does not fit my preferred version of it.” Fine. Lay out your argument for why you think that presidents and candidates for president should stay as far away from legislation as possible. But you can’t take the tone you’re taking, as if your vision of the government is the only legitimate one, and everyone else is selling out the Nation.

            As noted elsewhere, if you want to change the role of the presidency, you need to focus on Congress — they’re the check on the role of the president, not the ballot box. But to say it’s unfair to knock the Romney campaign — and worse, to accuse those who disagree with you of rank partisanship because you’re receiving merited pushback for your naive arguments is absurd.

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  4. Damn – I missed this angle completely. Nice catch, Ethan.

    I will say, though, that on one of the more significant areas of debate on purely executive matters, foreign policy (and especially Libya/Syria), I thought Ryan came off terribly. At one point, it almost seemed like he was saying, in effect “acting aggressively to get rid of the butcher in Libya was a mistake, because it let Al Qaeda in, but acting cautiously to get rid of the tyrant in Syria is a mistake, because it is letting Al Qaeda in.”

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    • Yea, I mean foreign policy is a whole other bucket of worms.

      You do need to give specifics there, because 9 times out of 10 it’s just the executive branch calling the shots.

      The most crucial moments for me were Iran and Syria. War is either a second option or it’s a last option, intervention is either in our interest or its not. I think on those exchanges the underlying differences were made very clear.

      The reason why Ryan and Romney should get smashed on FP is because their argument boils down to, the world trusts Republicans to mean what they say, so we have an intangible level of credibility the other guys just won’t ever have.

      I could give to Sh*&s about “credibility.” What I care about is which of you is more trigger happy.

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      • Biden lost me when he was hollering that he refused to let Bush put two wars on the country’s credit card. He actually voted for both. It’s hard to have any credibility when you’re lying about things like that when everyone from garbage men to foreign leaders have Google.

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        • “By the way, they talk about this great recession like it fell out of the sky–like, ‘Oh my goodness, where did it come from?’” Biden said. “It came from this man voting to put two wars on a credit card, at the same time, put a prescription drug plan on the credit card, a trillion dollar tax cut for the very wealthy. I was there, I voted against them.”

          He’s clearly talking about the tax cuts when he says he voted against them, not the war.

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    • “acting aggressively to get rid of the butcher in Libya was a mistake, because it let Al Qaeda in, but acting cautiously to get rid of the tyrant in Syria is a mistake, because it is letting Al Qaeda in.”

      That isn’t a contradiction for conservatives. They believe a) that no matter what Obama and the Dems are doing, it’s wrongwrongwrong (this is held a priori), and b) Al Queda will “get in” no matter what because they’re an omnipresent and inexorable force of evil that can only be defeated by Real Americans (TM) (a priori as well, natch).

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    • You can argue that the economy won’t grow enough to allow Ryan/Romney to cut taxes and balance the budget, but that’s a different from saying would you cut this (tax credit), would you close that (loophole).

      Dems want to make the tax code simpler but more progressive/Repubs want to make it more flat and much, much simpler (i.e. get rid of deductions).

      The reason why Biden’s line of attack is so cynical is because he and all of us know that it’s really just about rallying mini-constituencies against the Republicans by fear of losing whatever deduction they benefit from most.

      He’s making an argument based on the optics, not actually whether this or that is better policy.

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      • You can argue that the economy won’t grow enough to allow Ryan/Romney to cut taxes and balance the budget …

        But I’m not arguing that, because Ryan refused to make any argument at all. If he thinks the budget will be balanced by some kind of Confidence Fairy mechanism, let him make that case so the voters can judge its plausibility. He refused to make this or any other case.

        The reason why Biden’s line of attack is so cynical is because he and all of us know that it’s really just about rallying mini-constituencies against the Republicans by fear of losing whatever deduction they benefit from most.

        How is it cynical to insist the voters have the information necessary to judge how a proposed policy affects them?

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        • Dude, all those arguments have been made, to the people, and through the media.

          The fact that people are too bored/lazy/or dumb to find them, listen to them, or think about them is not Ryan’s or anyone else’s fault.

          Anyone could go read their plan. The fact that they depend on magic to make it work, explicitly, doesn’t make it “lacking in the details.”

          It simply makes it a bad plan. Instead of just arguing that it’s a bad plan, and that it’s written as if they’ll never have to interact with Congress, Biden/Obama invoke the spectre of secrecy…”what aren’t they telling you!”

          It’s all been told–vouchers for medicare, block grants for medicade, and a budget deficit that won’t get closed, because closing loopholes, exemptions, and deductions just for rich people won’t be enough.

          The proper argument to make is that Romney/Ryan support measures that will increase the deficit…not that they need to disclose more details because they’re hiding something. And harping on the second IS cynical, because it’s an acknowledgement that the worse or tangential point is more effective, and should thus be made instead.

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          • So now you’re saying the Romney/Ryan plan does have the details, namely that it relies on supply-side magic? But I thought the main point of the post was that they shouldn’t have to provide details. Why would you make that point rather than just pointing out the supposed details?

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              • Slow your roll there, Ethan. You’ve just jumped into a wholly different argument. Besides the fact that you’re holding liberals and the Obama campaign to a wildly different standard than you are conservatives, there has been plenty of liberal pushback on the drone issue — way more than there ever was from conservatives about anything Bush did. This site was full of it just a few weeks ago.

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                  • You said “liberals,” not “currently serving Democratic politicians.” You don’t see the difference there? Besides the fact that the drone war is hardly as stark a moral choice as you’re making it out to be, are you shocked that Democrats aren’t falling all over themselves to condemn a president who is enacting a policy position that is overwhelmingly popular with the public?

                    That doesn’t change the fact that your response had zero to do with what Clawback was asking.

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                    • I would have added a caveat that they not be written in response to Friedersdork’s column.

                      You’d still have Saletan’s article but a lot fewer overall.

                      I remember what Rush Limbaugh said after the 2006 shellacking of the Republicans. How he said that he felt relieved because now he wouldn’t have to carry water for those guys.

                      I imagine that if Romney wins (an unlikely outcome but a possible one), we’ll hear a lot of people exhale and say similar things… and we’ll start to hear about the wickedness of drone attacks, about the extra-judicial nature of kill lists, and questions about collateral damage IN EARNEST instead of sighs followed by patient explanations, as if to a much-loved but dim-witted child, about how the world works these days.

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                    • Me: “Liberals criticize the president.”

                      ECG: “Prove it, but don’t use people writing for two of the largest liberal magazines because [unintelligable], and they have to be of an undetermined, but appropriate stature.”

                      Me: “Okay, how about this person, this person and this person?”

                      JB: “No, you have to cite people who were on this before it became a major flare up on the blogosphere and people really started to weigh in. Also, humanity is awash in a sea of venality and moral cupidity.”

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                    • Aaron, it’s more like this: Obama is doing something that, let’s face it, is worth a lot of criticism.

                      However, it’s something that his predecessor was worse on and Romney would probably be worse on as well. So what’s the point of criticizing Obama on it? I mean, it’s not like Republicans are particularly upset about drone attacks. The neocons needed to change their undergarments.

                      Criticizing Obama on this issue will only depress the base.

                      What happened, however, was a vaguely principled pundit out there who cared more about this sort of thing than he cared about whether the base was depressed wrote a column saying, effectively, “WHAT THE HELL I CAN’T VOTE FOR THIS!”

                      Now, this is one of those things like Bush’s profligacy in the oughts… there are two basic responses:

                      1) QUIT GIVING AID AND COMFORT TO THE GODDAMN ENEMY!!!

                      2) Well, you have to understand, I don’t like it any more than you do but there are realities that involve compromises that people out of power don’t have to wrestle with. I wish the world weren’t this way but adults have to make deals in order to get from where they are to where they want to be. Anyways, the other party would be even worse.

                      The immediate knee-jerk response is usually a #1 but, after a good night’s rest, it leaves a bad taste in a vaguely principled person’s mouth… because, hey, what the hell, right?

                      And so we see our #2 essay.

                      It’s easier to never have to write either, however. It’s usually considered better when the Friedersdorfs don’t write their essay in the first place.

                      The folks who write their columns complaining about this thing prior to being nudged to do it?

                      It’s easier to see them as vaguely principled on the topic rather than merely carrying water for a team that they consider not as bad as the alternative.

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                  • You’ll find few Democrats criticizing drones/kill lists/whatever because nobody mainstream cares about that stuff. It’s only an obsession of the fringe. Democrats don’t criticize it because they agree with it.

                    This has nothing to do with Obama/Biden supposedly being cynical for correctly pointing out holes in the Romney/Ryan budget plan.

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                • Criticizing Obama where Bush and Romney “are as bad or worse” doesn’t count. Gitmo, drones, that stuff waves a flag for intellectual honesty and integrity, but criticizing the left from the left holds no peril.

                  This isn’t to say the criticism isn’t sincere, but the real conundrum is whether Obama is blowing people up instead of capturing them and Gitmoing them and getting useful intelligence.

                  Right now is the criticism from the right is that the intelligence pipeline is empty—we’ve used up all the Bush-era intelligence, and Obama blew up the next generation of it, because it’s easier than taking the heat for adding to the Gitmo population and interrogating it.

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  5. The notion that the President is not elected, at least in part, to influence the legislative agenda has been false since George Washington used his first presidential address to urge Congress to unify weights and measures.

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  6. I see where you’re coming from here, Ethan, but, aside from Kolohe’s point above (which I agree with), it also gives Romney/Ryan a pass on having to have a plan that’s even possible.
    Saying you want two and two and two and two and you want to to add up to three and it’s Congress’ job to hammer out the details is certainly worthy of a forceful challenge to ask what the heck else is in that math or to admit they, like everyone else, is wishing for a pony on the budget.

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    • There are two kinds of plans that are “even possible”, it seems to me.

      The “this plan would arrest the problem and either fix it or, hell, just make it sustainable” circle.

      The “this plan would pass the House and Senate and then get signed” circle.

      I don’t know that a Venn Diagram of these two circles would have any overlapping parts… and, as such, it seems to me that it’s possible to criticize *ANY* plan for being either unworkable or insufficient.

      Or the best of both worlds, halfway between the two circles allowing for the plan to be both unworkable *AND* insufficient.

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      • Which doesn’t change the fact that the R-squared team hasn’t drawn either of those circles.
        In fact, what they have drawn can hardly even be called an arc segment of one of those circles.
        It might be a tangent (pun intended), but that doesn’t really help at all does it?

        It’s easy to know why. Because they’re reverse pandering to those same micro-constituencies. They know that if they put out 11 plans (This one does this, this one has more emphasis on that, we’ll let Congress hammer out the details) every one of those plans would contain at least one thing that would piss off one of their voters. And they don’t want to do that.

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        • The GOP doesn’t have a plan. They have a goal and some vague gestures.

          Those vague gestures, taken at face value and attempted to turn into real plans, contradict the goals.

          Now, I don’t think it’s irresponsible or crazy to ask the Presidential Candidate to explain how he plans to attain his party’s goals. I realize he’s running for President of Congress, but he is STILL the face of his party and holds far, far more sway over the legislative process than any other single man. (He holds the veto pen, after all.).

          It may be unrealistic in that, as President, he can’t will his plan into action and will have to deal with whatever Congress chooses to do as part of the bargaining process.

          But it’s not too much to ask that he explain his goal, and enough detail about his plan to get there so that voters can actually appraise it.

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  7. And as Biden so generously pointed out last night: Reagan did it. Romney/Ryan can do it, too.

    (And Reagan also raised taxes to deal with deficit spending. . . don’t tell the conservatives, it might splatter the colorful revisionist bubble they’re blowing. Those things are fragile for a few decades.)

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  8. This is a fair point, with this caveat:

    If Romney/Ryan want a pass from crafting a workable plan becaus they would not be legislators, I have to assume that the vast majority of their criticisms of this “failed administration” are invalid.

    Yes?

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    • Haha do you even have to ask Tod?

      You know I’m a true blue, from now until forever. But yea, that’s why I tried to bring in the stimulus and Obamacare.

      Niall Ferguson made just this point, though it went on to undermine everything else he said, when he argued that really, Obamacare should be Pelosicare. I don’t necessarily agree with that diagnosis strictly, but I think the idea gets more at the truth. Pelosi, as leader of the House, put together the bill that she could get passed, which wasn’t what the President had campaigned for during the election, or what Republicans tried to say that it was (national takeover, etc.).

      So just like no sane person could blame Obama for the economy, no sane person should complain about getting particulars from Romney/Ryan, when none of those particulars matter because they won’t be in Congress to vote on them.

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      • I’ll also make this point, which I know I’ve made before. I think it is folly to condemn a President for getting greater limits of unchecked power; it’s even greater folly to assume that if we just elected a real champion (say, Johnson) that new President would start automatically stripping power from himself.

        If you don’t like the amount of power assumed Obama (or Bush, or whoever comes next) you need to make that a greater issue when you vote for your Rep or Senator. They’re the ones charged with keeping executive power in check, not the executive branch.

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        • Greater limits in executive power, which is its own problem.

          But I’m specifically getting at greater expectations of legislative power, despite not actually having that power. That’s the all screwy disconnect.

          I’d be all for the President having the power…cause then at least he could properly be held responsible.

          And yes, I do make it an issue in my Congressional district, but that doesn’t mean that those who set up debates, or report on them, can’t analyse and judge things according to the reality of our political system, rather than whatever the voters think is the reality.

          I mean that’s the problem right? News coverage, the debates, all of it, is geared toward dealing with whatever voters think is the case, rather than what IS the case. And I’m not talking about hyper partisan stuff, I’m talking about the basics, like how many times a party flibusters and what the increasing importance of the filibuster means for how we should judge our representatives and President.

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          • “I’d be all for the President having the power…cause then at least he could properly be held responsible.”

            Except the problem is that unless you have the President get involved in each and every single administrative decision the Executive Branch makes, then you aren’t giving power to The President. You’re giving it to The Executive Branch, which has about a million people working in it, and each of them derives from that Presidential Power complete authority over some aspect of American life, and absolutely none of these people were ever voted for.

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  9. The problem is that almost no individual legislator can credibly make promises either. I mean, I know that in any given race, the Dem and GOP Senate candidates will have different priorities on a number of issues. But as to whether they’ll be able to enact those priorities, well, that depends on who has control of which chamber, what committees they get placed on, what ends up dominating the legislative agenda, etc etc. For example, Bernie Sanders might believe that global warming is a higher priority than health care reform (no idea if this is actually true). But he can’t credibly promise to act on this belief, or expect people to vote for him based on it, since it depends on so many things outside his control.

    In a situation like this, I’d argue that the president has more influence over the course of legislation than almost any individual legislator, with the possible exception of party leadership. And therefore it’s perfectly appropriate for them to make legislative promises. Congress as an institution has plenty of power; but individual Congresspeople have almost no control of their own fate.

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  10. As others have pointed out, if you can’t call a presidential candidate on their proposals because it’s Congress’ job to do the legislating, what is left to call them on? Presidents do, in fact, affect policy — signing bills in to law, vetos, implementation — all of these things are part of the legislative process, even if they’re controlled from the executive office.

    Beyond that, as others have pointed out, how is it not cricket to point out that Romney’s policy proposals don’t make sense in and of themselves? What’s amazing to me is that Romney actually said in the first debate, “My numbers add up, because I said they will add up, and if anyone says different, they’re wrong, because I say so.” According to your theory, it’s unreasonable to call Romney out on this, because it’s Congress’ job to square the circle. That seems profoundly naive to me.

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    • I recognize that Paul Ryan was scurrying away from his job title, “Congressman Ryan”, last night, but here’s a thought: Who is the guy in Congress who is pushed upon us as a great genius on budget issues, a master of the details and intricacies of government spending, and thus the person who would be the natural person in Congress to ask – right now – about what we can expect Congress to do in response to Romney’s proposed buck-passing.

      Wouldn’t that be the same “Mr. Ryan” who was refusing to identify any cuts? “No, tonight I’m Mr. Ryan. You need to pose that question to Congressman Ryan, who couldn’t make it to this debate.”

      Should we also overlook the fact that Congressman Ryan has refused to answer this same question – what cuts would he make, what loopholes would he close, to make his proposals work – for two years? Or is it longer.

      If Romney and Ryan beleived what they were saying they would not be arguing “We have these specific tax cuts in mind, and we’ll leave it to Congress to figure out how to pay for them” – if they must defer to Congress on the former, they must also defer to Congress on the former, leaving it up to Congress to identify and implement any tax cuts.

      The Romney/Ryan approach is the antithesis of leadership, and perhaps even merits the inclusion of their campaign logo alongside the dictionary definition of “cowardice”. It’s one of the worst forms of politics as usual – “Vote for me and I’ll shower you with goodies. Figuring out how to pay for them? That’s somebody else’s job.”

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  11. I for one want the Executive to go to office with a legislative agenda, and I want to argue about who should go there with what agenda in presidential elections. Congress can still do what it wants to do.

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  12. Any liberal who pretends not to know what specifically the Ryan/Romney tax plan would be is being insincere.

    We already know from the Ryan Tax Plan his math doesn’t work. It’s all so much Fabulous Pudding. Romney and Ryan both believe, as Bush believed when /he/ cut taxes, the money which didn’t go into the tax coffers would prop up the economy. It just didn’t.

    Private money goes one of two ways: purchases or investments. There are no other places to put it except under the mattress. We’d like to see the money go into purchases, insofar as we want the “market” to recover, merchants placing orders for goods, service industries providing haircuts and suchlike. But the Bush Tax Cuts only fed the Mortgage Monster, people stupidly believing these overpriced homes were investments and the bigger stupids above them who looked at the mortgages as investments.

    We know how that ended up.

    Ideally, we want people to both spend and invest. Romney and Ryan are just recapitulating the same old fiscal idiocy of yore. No guessing needed.

    How could they know the specifics? They haven’t had to deal with Congress yet?

    (Patiently) We know what their specifics are. We know what Congress did with the Bush Tax Cuts. We know how they’ve been extended, again and again.

    Did Obama know the particulars of Obamacare before it was passed? Nope. And rather than have him and McCain square off four years ago on how they would remake the health care system, what we should have been asking was: what kinds of health care reform can you guarantee you’ll veto.

    That doesn’t make sense. Obama promised he’d work on health care reform. Here’s what he said at the Dem Convention in Denver in 2008: “Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. ”

    His plan. Obama came to the table with Single Payer. Big Healthco applied the full court press and got it off the table. Congress didn’t have anything to do with that. There’s more at work in this wicked world than Congress. Big Healthco promised to run a billion dollars worth of attack ads and Obama blinked. There’s your veto.

    While it’s true a sitting president isn’t a dictator, he can propose legislation. And yes, he must sit there as Congress mucks about with it. By the time it gets back to his desk, it’s a dog’s dinner of compromises and rewrites. Therefore, any presidential candidate who says he’s Going to Work with Congress needs to revisit his old civics teacher and re-learn why this is not so. He’s always having to contend with Congress, always.

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    • “Big Healthco applied the full court press and got it off the table. Congress didn’t have anything to do with that.”

      Except for the part where, y’know, Congress wrote the actual law that didn’t have single payer in it.

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  13. Calling Ryan and Romney out for not giving particulars is a debate tactic and a campaign strategy. I don’t actually need to know any of the particulars because 1) if elected Romney and Ryan will have 535 members of Congress to deal with and 2) I already know what they actually want to do: cut taxes, broaden the base, remain revenue neutral, and cut the deficit by cutting spending.

    I disagree. (Strenuously!) If they have a stated goal – cut taxes for wealthy by 20%, increase military spending and reducing the deficit, then it’s logical to demand from them an account of how this can be accomplished. Especially if the vote is predicated on the last part: reducing the deficit. As it is, even the most uneducated of voters can understand that the math of the “plan” as it’s presented doesn’t add up. And given that the math doesn’t add up, it seems logical to conclude that the purpose of the budget proposals isn’t to reduce the deficit, but rather to lower taxes on the wealthy and increase military spending (or something else). R-R have an obligation at that point to explain the details of the plan we’re in effect voting for. Now, whether Congress passes this coherent plan is a different question. But as it stands right now, they have no “plan”. They just have a bunch of rhetoric.

    {{What you’re saying here reminds me of institutional decision making where the VP tells the project manager to square the circle.}}

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    • {{What you’re saying here reminds me of institutional decision making where the VP tells the project manager to square the circle.}}

      And when the people who actually do the work figure out how to do that, the VP gets a bonus, the project manager gets a promotion, and the workers get a pizza party.

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  14. Okay, so this descended into partisan whining real quick.

    Does no one think that it’s a problem that the president is expected to be able to remake the country in his or her image every four years, but does not have the actual powers to do so?

    This makes accountability impossible. Without proper accountability, representative democracy becomes a greater $#it show than it already is.

    I understand that people disagree strongly with the Romney/Ryan proposals, and think that they shouldn’t get to be able to parade them around in the form of false promises without being forced to explain how exactly they would do what they say electing them will allow them to do.

    BUT,

    If you recognize that the political system was crafted in certain ways, for certain reasons, and that undermining that leads to bad results (e.g. broken mechanisms for accountability, misplaced expectations), the answer is either to change the system, or change the misguided expecations.

    So don’t complain about how Romney/Ryan promise the moon but won’t tell the middle class they’re the ones who will have to pay for it. Complain that they are promising the moon at all, intead of saying this is what we believe, and these are the kinds of legislative outcomes we would support, and like to see come from Congress.

    You CAN influence legislation without being held responsible as the face of that legislation. You can push Congress to try and make X a priority instead of Y, without presenting a detailed plan and say, pass this (something Obama does).

    If the system is broken, or mishandled, and one side tries to exploit that, you don’t fix things by trying to beat them at their own exploitative game—you make a different argument all together about how your opponent completely misunderstands the nature of the office he’s running for, or, if you’re in the media, you approach interviews, debates, and coverage generally from a different starting point, or, if you’re a voter, you judge the candidates based on what’s appropriate as a result of the structure of the government they are seeking to lead, run, etc. and not based on.

    The fact that Obama/Biden know that is a losing strategy, and so aren’t going to do it, doesn’t make them any more right. There recognition of the distorted reality they’re operating in, and feeding into it, is the definition of cynical.

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      • I don’t think the issue is a partisan one, frankly. I think it’s about honesty. Both Ryan and Mitt have said that they in fact have a plan where nominal tax rates are reduced, military spending is increased, the deficit is lowered, and the middle class taxe burden doesn’t rise. They’ve refuse to share that (existing!) plan with prospective voters. Ethan is saying that they shouldn’t have to present that plan to voters because the plan itself ought to be determined by the legislature. I don’t understand the logic.

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      • I liked the post and its attempt to get at arm’s length from amateurs debating what even experts can’t agree on. You still have a general philosophy spouted by each side—Obama is fairness, Romney is growth.

        The next question is leadership a) on the stuff where there isn’t great partisan disagreement, the competence issue and b) on finding solutions that both sides can live with, the executive branch being responsible for steering the giant ship of government to stay off the rocks and get somewhere.

        As Ethan says, there’s no way what is proposed in the campaign is going to survive the sausage-making process of legislating, so debating Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong vs. the Heritage Foundation or Cato is going to be more debating persons than facts.

        Jaybird writes below “Are we talking about Reagan and Rostenkowski’s 1986 tax reform?”.

        The real question is which ticket is more likely to achieve such a compromise, not as much as what that compromise will be, since we know where the two parties stand. For the nonpartisan or “non-political” voter, the type who still find themselves undecided, good governance should be their standard for choosing a candidate—competence and statesmanship.

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    • So, let me see if I can understand what you’re getting at, “partisan whining” aside.

      You believe it’s unfair to question the Romney campaign on their policy proposal details, because it’s not up to presidents to make legislation — despite the fact that the vast majority of presidents in the 20th century have been extremely active in policy construction.

      The real complaint, according to you, is that presidential campaigns lay out policy proposals at all, when they should in fact be saying, “A Romney Administration will advocate for reducing unemployment to 4% and create a $6 trillion surplus by 2013.” This is superior to them laying out their policy positions, because presidents shouldn’t be involved in legislative measures and should wait for Congress to act on their proposals.

      And finally, you’re saying that it is cynical of the Obama campaign to point out that Romney’s ideas are blatant hogwash for two reasons: 1, presidents shouldn’t be involved in policy, and 2, the Obama campaign is cynically ignoring this because your position is unpopular with the public.

      All this despite the fact that your conception of the presidency has no basis in the history of the 20th century, and little support in the past.

      If you want to argue that all presidents should be William Howard Taft, than you should say so. This nonsense, ahistorical conception of the role of the presidency that you’ve created is absurd. And to hide behind “partisan whining” when you get pushback on it is simply pathetic.

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          • Flying cars == Politicians promising to help American businesses to innovate and improve our lives over the objections of the people who said that we shouldn’t bail out GM and put hundreds of thousands of people out of work during the deepest recession our country has seen since the 1970’s.

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            • Fwiw viz Government Motors, would declaring chapter 11 bankruptcy have /necessarily/ resulted in hundreds of thousands of layoffs? Answer, look at airlines which have done this /many/ times and have just as many employees. Correct answer, no. But that answer presupposes a minimal understanding of business, knowledge sorely lacking on the left.

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              • But that answer presupposes a minimal understanding of business, knowledge sorely lacking on the left.

                This BS again? Ward your argument was much better without the cheap attack. The point liberals make is that filing for Chapter 11 during the precipice of a great recession (with unknown scope, at the time) is much different than your typical bankruptcy. And letting an entire industry get burned up because of that larger fire doesn’t make any sense.

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    • So you admit that:

      a) the Romney/Ryan budget plan doesn’t add up; and
      b) Obama and Biden failing to point this truth out would lead to their losing the election.

      But you call it cynical for them to do what is necessary?

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  15. I’m not really sure that you would disagree with the following, but even if you agree, leaving it out of the post is deceptive, albeit given your priors probably unintentionally so.

    It’s true that the problem with the tax plan isn’t the lack of details so much as the incoherency – that is, there are no details which allow the various pieces of the plan to cohere. You can’t do rate reduction+base broadening+deficit neutrality without increasing the tax burden on the middle class. Can’t be done. This isn’t remotely controversial; I can understand partisan Republicans trying to obfuscate the point for low information voters, but for informed voters it is simple math. I will note that Romney’s actually in some ways fairly smart proposal to cap rather than eliminate deductions would make the math work better for him, but there would still be a net increase on tax burden for the middle class (certainly the middle class as defined by Romney) and, moreover, it wouldn’t fall equally – that is, some middle class people (e.g., people in high tax/high home value states, which from the Romney perspective might be a feature not a bug) would be hit a lot harder). That’s true regardless of the details worked out by congress. But this is an impossible argument to convey to low information voters .

    But Romney and Ryan, for obvious political reasons, don’t want to admit this obvious truth. And here is where it gets frustrating from a Democratic perspective – for low information voters, the very vagueness of the plan allows Romney to get away with this. Hence the Democrats hammering on the vagueness.

    Which, yes, viewed in isolation is unfair. But given the obfuscation by Romney in the first place, IMO not unfair in the broader sense. Holding oneself to strict requirements of fairness and honesty in going for low information voters is a recipe for guaranteed losing.

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  16. The problem with this is that you’re essentially asking them to put their cards on the table, before they start negotiating.

    Did we really want to hear that Obama is willing to cancel anti-anti-trust provisions to get the health insurance companies to play ball?

    Is that really helpful?

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    • If their proposals made any sort of sense, no one would be asking them for details. If someone said, “I’m going to cook you a delicious steak dinner tonight,” you wouldn’t have to say, “Where are you going to buy the steak? How will you cook it? Will there be sauteed mushrooms?” In that scenario, it’s reasonable to leave the details behind the curtain: what they want to accomplish has a clear, realistic path to being achieved. Maybe they got the steak in a contest, or maybe it’s been in the back of the freezer for two years, but it’s not unbelievable that they might have access to a t-bone.

      But what the Romney campaign is saying is, “I’m going to cook you a delicious ghost steak dinner.” It’s not unreasonable that his opponent would say, “How are you going to cook an ghost steak dinner? Ghosts don’t exists. And, even if ghosts did exist, how are you going to find a ghost steak? Is there a ghost steak store? Are you going to hunt a ghost? How will you make ephemeral ghostmeat into a delicious t-bone steak?”

      No one is asking the Romney campaign to give away everything before the game starts. They are asking them to propose something that is at least minimally grounded in reality. What they have now is not.

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      • Not on the Romney campaign. On Gach’s actual point, which is that the president has to negotiate with congress, and we can’t evaluate candidates for pres until we know how much they’ll let their silly proposals get sausaged in congress before they say “veto”

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  17. Um, excuse me, but doesn’t the president have to submit a budget to congress each year?

    I mean, congress can reject it, make changes, etc., but the executive is supposed to be able to put forward something resembling a mathematically feasible plan, right?

    Or is that document such a joke that it doesn’t matter if it ends with ‘…and then the Confidence Fairy appears and her magic dust gives us an extra $10 trillion.’?

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  18. A lot of criticism, some more valid than others, I think, but I’ll give it a second look and stew on it tonight.

    Props to TVD and Jaybird for keeping it real, and to everyone else for dealing with my impatience.

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  19. I’m late to this discussion but I’ll put in right away that I’ve always been convinced that being an executive requires a different skill set than being a legislator. One of my principal qualms about Barack Obama was that he had zero executive experience prior to taking the Presidency; the fact that Mitt Romney was the Governor of a state and has other executive experience is a big plus for him in my estimation. (Paul Ryan has no executive experience at all, so far as I can tell. He could be Governor of Wisconsin one day and if he runs for President ever I’d like to see him do that first, for the same reason I wished Obama had been Governor of Illinois first.)

    With that said, the evolution of our system is such that in addition to executing the laws (and exercising substantial discretion in so doing) the President has also come to being the Proposer-in-Chief, and the political leader of his party on the national stage. This means that it is effectively for the President to propose policies, with at least a middling level of detail, that he would like to see become law. I don’t think anyone expects the President to get out of Congress exactly what he asks it for — but I do think people expect, properly, that the President will ask Congress for particular kinds of things and spend time trying to get it. Strong, effective Presidents do not react to Congress.

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    • “One of my principal qualms about Barack Obama was that he had zero executive experience prior to taking the Presidency”

      I remember how the “experience” argument was used* as proof positive that John McCain should never ever be President because Sarah Palin didn’t have any experience.

      Apparently once you become a Senator you get Infinite Experience.

      *not by you, I don’t think the site even existed back then

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    • What does this Executive Experience entail? Barack Obama has a skill very few presidents have ever brought to the table: community organising, a far more relevant skill. Executives have made horrible presidents, generals are even worse. They’re used to being obeyed because all such leaders have mandate. But executives live in fear of the board of directors or their own command structure: the higher you rise in a command structure, the more obvious and concrete those relationships become. Such people become catty and petty, surrounded by vicious, skulking little Byzantine eunuchs. Not the stuff of a good president.

      No, a good president understands communities. He is an advocate, a painter of larger and better pictures.

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