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Archive for January, 2011

Can Huntsman do it?

Word is leaking out that Jon Hunstman, Jr. is resigning his post as Ambassador to China and will begin exploring a run for the Presidency.  President Obama sent him to China, most observers believe, to avoid just that scenario.  But it apparently has backfired.  Hunstman got two years in probably the most important diplomatic post there is, other than SoS, which he can now add to his resume along with his other foreign policy and domestic experience.

Can Huntsman make it?  He’s a long shot, but then everyone on the GOP side is a long shot.  Here are some reasons why the Obama administration tried to stash him in China:

  • He will have an uphill battle in the primary, but he would make a formidable general election candidate, which is why Axelrod and the boys have been so scared of him.    Obama can only be defeated by someone who can peel off significant numbers of voters in the middle.  Is a Huckabee or a Palin going to do that?  No chance.  They would alienate more than they would attract.   Romney might, but he’s seen as a flip-flopper, disingenuous, and an opportunist.
  • He is a moderate but is actually solidly conservative on many issues.  He has been a solid free trader, fiscal conservative, and advocate of efficient government (under his administration in the Utah Governor’s mansion, Utah developed the reputation as one of the most well-run states).   He is pro life.  He doesn’t have any significant black marks or missteps that are going to galvanize significant opposition from mainline conservatives.  He is moderate on issues like education, the environment and health care–meaning he will appeal to moderates without alienating conservatives.  He has a genuine soft spot for policies that affect kids, which is what has motivated his stances on education and health care.   In a general election, he would have all kinds of Democrats and independents coming forward testifying how he is someone they can work with.
  • In Utah he pushed hard for and implemented a health insurance exchange that everyone around the country is looking to (it hasn’t yet proven itself, but is intriguing).  It is a pro-market approach with no mandates and is widely seen as the free market version of the Massachusetts model (though they share some similarities).
  • He is a skilled businessman and manager who comes from an enormously wealthy family.  The business community would easily rally around Hunstman, probably as much as Romney.  He will have no trouble financing a serious campaign.
  • He can win in New Hampshire.   He supported McCain early and prominently, even though most Republicans in his state were backing Romney.  I always thought this was a shrewd political calculation.  McCain will help him in NH, and he will help himself.
  • Almost no one dislikes him.  He is very handsome, smart and articulate.  He has one of those Boehneresque perma-tans, but his looks natural, like he got it skiing on the slopes, rather than baking in the tanning salon.    He has that same Presidential look straight out of Central Casting that Romney does, without the baggage (believe me, not all Mormon politicians are as good looking as these two).  When he left office to become Ambassador, there was a poll that showed him with 88% approval among Republicans and 96% among Democrats!  Many on the hard right were not fans, but no one would dare say so publicly.  It would be like dissing the Prom King that everyone at school gets along with.  Being the candidate no one dislikes can go a long way in politics, particularly if you have a lot of money.

He has to overcome a low initial name recognition and the sometimes virile anti-Mormon sentiment among the evangelical wing of the party, but I’m sensing that social issues aren’t going to be as important in the primary as economic ones.  The big concern among Republicans is that the Tea Party forces might drive the party to select an unelectable candidate.  That is a non-trivial possibility.

So, if you start hearing more and more about Huntsman, don’t be surprised.  The mainstream media will be looking desparately to find a negative tag line to go with him, but they will have a hard time making it stick.

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A Republican group called the National Republic Trust PAC is withdrawing their previous support from Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and, instead, pledging to defeat him in in the primary next year.  According to the National Journal, the head of the PAC, Scott Wheeler, gives this justification:

We believe the Democrats’ policies are destroying the country. Why let them take a Republican vote with them? If we’re not going to have at least a symbolic vote against some of this garbage, then let’s make the Democrats take the blame for it. It’s their policies,” Wheeler said in a Friday interview. “I say, no more Republican hostages.”

I’d like to get rid of destructive policies, too, but I can’t stomach Republicans who think that purifying the party is going to be the answer to that.  If one thinks that Democratic policies are the problem, one might rationally think that the way to fight the problem is to, you know, elect fewer Democrats.  But no, apparently “letting Democrats take the blame” is more important than actually fighting against the destruction.   What a grown-up attitude.

Even with the anti-Democratic swing in the country, every Congressperson from Massachusetts is a Democrat.  The GOP had a significant increase in the state House of Representatives: the GOP now controls 34 of 160 seats.  In other words, Scott Brown is a fluke.  Why not count one’s blessing and be thankful that sometimes he votes with the GOP?  No Senator from Massachusetts is EVER going to be a solid vote for conservatives.  EEEEEVER. Pursuing the crazy notion that somehow the GOP would be able to shoot the moon again with another candidate is complete nonsense.

What is even more silly is that apparently Brown’s support of New Start was what pushed Wheeler’s group over the edge.  Are you serious?  Of all the issue one might pick to decide to get all self-righteous about, they pick New Start, a treaty supported by quite a few Republicans and an issue murky enough that no crystal clear ideological opposition exists (except for the ideology of always opposing Democrats on everything, no matter what).

I have an idea.  Perhaps Wheeler and has PAC can just sit this election out and put all their funds into a huge party on election night 2012.  They can invite Christine O’Donnell, and Joe Miller and Sharon Angler and all the other ridiculous GOP candidates of previous years, and they can have a WE ARE MORE PURE THAN YOU bash.  Maybe FoxNews can even cover it.  They can wear white, and everyone can marvel at their purity.  After all, isn’t feeling good about themselves what these people are about?

They are certainly not about winning elections.

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Here is how Reuters describes ObamaCare in its story today about the law being ruled unconstitutional by the District Court:

The healthcare overhaul, a cornerstone of Obama’s presidency, aims to expand health insurance to cover millions of uninsured Americans while also curbing costs.

I’m surprised Reuters didn’t add, “You’d have to be nuts to oppose that.”  But I suppose ObamaCare does aim to do that – just that it is about as likely to happen as getting a free lunch.  This is particularly the case when you don’t add in the cost of the imposition itself – which reminds me of Milton Friedman’s quip (and I paraphrase) that if we didn’t include all of the costs to conscripts of conscription, we’d also have to argue that the Pyramids were a damn cheap government project!

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As one plank in his “winning the future” program, President Obama called recently for more Americans to get college degrees. People with college degrees, the President reminded us, make more money over their lifetimes than people who do not. That is true, but of course by itself it does not mean that the college degree is what made the difference. Perhaps these people would have made more money anyway. Perhaps indeed they would have made yet more money had they not gone to college.  Without more information about what value college adds, we just don’t know.

The new book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses raises serious worries about the value added from a college degree. The authors of the book tracked performance on standardized tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skill of 2,300 college students when they entered college and as they progressed through their college years. The students attended 24 schools, which, though not named as a condition of their participation in the study, are claimed to represent a wide swath of institutions of higher learning in America.

The results? There are many summaries available; see here, for example. But here are a couple of the more arresting numbers. Forty-five percent of students “show no significant improvement” in the measured skills after two years of college education. After four years, “36 percent of students did not demonstrate significant improvement.” That means that about half and about two-thirds, respectively, did show significant improvement, which is the good news; but it would still mean that hundreds of thousands of college students in America today are not receiving measurable benefits in reading, writing, and thinking.

The study has other interesting findings. For example, students who study alone, rather than in groups, show more improvement; students who majored in “traditional arts and science majors,” instead of some of the recently created specialty majors, showed more improvement; and participation in extra-curricular activities had, depending on the nature of the activity, either no effect or a negative one.

This article about the study quotes Phil Hampton, “a UCLA spokesman,” as claiming that his “university offers a rigorous and well-rounded curriculum led by faculty committed to student learning, and pointed to a study that showed high student satisfaction with their experience.” Not very convincing, I’m afraid. It smacks of teachers’ unions’ annual pledge, usually around budget negotiation time, that this year they will really crack down on teachers who are incompetent, pedophiles, etc.

There are lots of ways one might address the problem of so many young men and women wiling away prime productive years engaged in activities of at best only marginal benefit. But creating more federal aid to make it even less costly to the individuals themselves, as the President recommends, is not one of them. In fact, I think we should do precisely the opposite: expose more and more of the actual cost of their college experience (I will not say “education”) to the persons engaging in it themselves. If it is true that a college education confers benefits on its recipients, then they should pay for it. When, as the study cited above suggests, in fact many people who do not benefit from it engage in it anyway, a likely explanation is that they do so because they are induced into it by an artificially lowered cost to them.

If, by contrast, they had to pay for it all themselves—out of their own pockets (minus any scholarships), or with the help of loans received without government subsidy—then, at least, they could make a fair accounting of the potential benefits and costs. Is it really worth it to go to University A for $x per year, when I could go to University B for $x-y per year? Should I spend a fifth (or sixth, etc.) year, when it will cost this much and likely gain me this much?

Because of massive government interposition, from all levels of government and from many directions, it is today almost impossible to take a real reckoning of the costs and benefits involved in going to college. It must also be noted that government distortions like this create special interests who benefit from them. As with various “stimulus” packages and other government “investments,” thousands and thousands of college and university employees benefit from the mere presence of live bodies on their campuses—whether they learn anything or not.

This is not a healthy way to proceed, especially when the federal government and most state governments are facing massive deficits and debt.

Let us instead remind ourselves that a college education is a privilege, not a right, and that shielding recipients from its costs does not eliminate those costs but only forces others to pay them. Eliminating government subsidy of higher education would at a stroke trigger a healthy, and I would also argue proper, investigation into whether what college students are learning is really worth the cost and, by the same token, whether what colleges are teaching is really worth their price.

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Benign Neglect Anyone?

Letting others determine their fates independent of the “stick-their-noses-into-everything” John McCain types is not a bad first cut at policy.  Insert the issue or development – foreign or domestic – that could benefit from a policy of benign neglect here ________________ .

Reader: “Hmmm, what could GC be talking about here, especially given the John McCain reference?”

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A free press…

Isn’t it the job of a free press to take a few minutes and critically assess what politicians feed them?  Perhaps if they do so, they’ll come up with what Mungowitz does about President Obama’s exemplary green energy business Orion Energy Systems.  Mungowitz cites the administration’s own words:

WASHINGTON – In this week’s address, President Obama called Orion Energy Systems in Manitowoc, Wisconsin an example of how America can win the future by being the best place on Earth to do business. Orion was able to open with the help of small business loans and incentives that are creating demand for clean energy technologies. By sparking innovation and spurring new products and technologies, America will unleash the talent and ingenuity of American workers and businesses, which will lead to new, good jobs.

And then Mungowitz points out:

Orion Energy is well on its way to bankruptcy. It produces no products that anyone wants to buy.

Check here for more, including a four-year stock chart for Orion.  If this is how we “win the future,” we are in bigger trouble than I thought!  But has the MSM picked up on this?  I hope I’m wrong and have missed it.  But I didn’t see anything like it in the New York Times’ uncritical coverage of the President’s speech in Wisconsin.

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John Stuart Mill on state education in On Liberty:

“A general state education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly alike one another . . . ” 

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