Nine Republican candidates debated the economy and some other stuff yesterday. It turns out they're all for tax cuts. Well, of course. If the budget is already in the red, and you're fighting a war in Afghanistan and another in Iraq and maybe thinking about one in Iran, why wouldn't you want to cut taxes?
One of the longshots, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, noted that "the system is built to spend," not cut. He had that right, of course. Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani bragged he'd cut taxes twenty-three times. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney noted that, as mayor, Giuliani had favored a commuter tax. Well, of course he had. City mayors like commuter taxes because the people who pay them live in the suburbs, not the city, and don't vote in city elections. And Giuliani and Romney argued over who'd cut taxes the most. "I led; he lagged," Giuliani said. "It's a nice line, but it's baloney," Romney answered, "I did not increase taxes....I lowered taxes." And so it went.
Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, a newcomer to the race, did not bring the crowd to its feet, but performed respectably and offered an actual specific on cutting spending: cut benefits for future Social Security recipients, though not, of course, for anyone getting the payments now. And that was about as specific as anyone got.
The fact is, of course, that if what has made the United States strong for generations is its middle class, we're in real trouble. The rich are getting richer; the poor are getting poorer. The gap between what CEOs get and what their employees get is the biggest it's ever been and it's growing. The middle is shrinking. A lot of the old union manufacturing jobs have vanished, victims of cheaper labor in other counties or of automation. No one can fix that. The remedies are long term, like adapting to the information age, making our living in high tech jobs where we still have an edge on lower-wage countries, and above all educating our kids to compete in this new and ever-changing world. But there wasn't much talk about that; it might mean more government programs and this was theoretically an anti-government crowd, except that government keeps growing no matter which party is in charge.
The candidates also talked about whether they'd consult Congress before going to war. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas pointed out that the Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to declare war. Mike Huckabee noted that presidents might not always have the luxury of consulting that document. John McCain said he'd bypass Congress if "the situation is such that it requires immediate action." Like invading Iraq? I don't know. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, a Sunday. Resistance started at once--no orders needed from anyone in Washington for that. Congress declared war the next day. I hope we keep the Constitution around. I like it.
So it was a little frustrating to watch. Fewer candidates and more follow-up questions might have helped. The voters will start helping us with the first part of that in just a few months now.