Archive for August, 2011

Mid-Week Update: Meet the Candidates!

In the spirit of not taking anything for granted here at PRP, it seemed like a reasonable use of time to take a minute to introduce our dear readers to the Republicans running for President. It’s still early days, the first GOP primary isn’t until February, but for all intents and purposes, the field is pretty much set. Running for President of the United States takes a lot of organization, money, and work, and all those things take time to build up. The longer a potential candidate takes to enter the race, the more hurdles he or she will have to overcome. At this point, those hurdles are starting to become nearly insurmountable.

So, without further ado, here are your 2012 Republicans running for President!

Michele Bachmann – Representing Minnesota’s 6th district since 2007, Bachmann is a favorite of Tea Party voters for her “starve the beast” views on the federal government. Bachmann has pledged to overturn Barack Obama’s health insurance reforms, and to avoid tax increases at all costs. Before entering politics, Bachmann worked as a tax attorney with the Internal Revenue Service. Michele Bachmann is known for founding the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Herman Cain – Cain is the former chairman and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, as well as having served the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City as the deputy chairman and chairman. Cain is running on his experience as a businessman, claiming that his experience will make him able to turn the struggling economy around, if he is elected, through private sector solutions, stepping aside and letting businesses do what they want in order to grow. Herman Cain’s previous political activities include serving as a senior advisor to Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign for the presidency, as well as an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 2004.

Newt Gingrich – The former Speaker of the House hasn’t held elected office since he left the Speakership in 1999, but that does not mean Gingrich has left the public arena. Gingrich has kept up a busy schedule as a political commentator and writer. While he regularly is a guest on cable news programs and talk radio, he has also kept up a fairly rigorous publishing schedule, coming out with seventeen books since he left Congress, including a number of alternative histories of the Revolutionary, Civil, and Second World Wars. Gingrich is viewed as something of an “ideas man” within the field of Republican contenders, due in part to his role in crafting the 1994 Contract with America that helped earn Republicans landslide wins in the midterm Congressional elections.

Jon Huntsman – Huntsman served as the sixteenth governor of Utah before being called up to serve in the Obama administration as U.S. Ambassador to China in 2009. Huntsman is seen as a moderate Republican, having previously recognized the science behind man-made climate change, and evolution. He has taken shots at his rivals’ positions on these issues, adding to the view that Huntsman is a more centrist figure in the field of potential nominees.

Gary Johnson – Johnson served as Governor of New Mexico from 1995-2003, and is seen as one of the more libertarian candidates in the race. Johnson has been a critic of the War on Drugs, supports a guest worker program to give immigrants a way to earn legal status, is in favor of civil unions, and is against the continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his tenure as governor, Johnson vetoed 750 bills, more than all 49 other governors combined.

Thad McCotter – Representing Michigan’s 11th congressional district since 2003, McCotter has been known to buck Republican orthodoxy by advocating protectionist trade policies. McCotter has been an outspoken opponent of the Affordable Care Act, and claimed that it would lead to “government-encouraged euthanasia.” McCotter has proposed tax-breaks for pet owners, and is the proud owner of a “star-spangled” Fender Telecaster guitar, which he has been known to play at rallies.

Ron Paul – Well known as the champion of libertarian virtues, Ron Paul has been seen as a voice crying in the Republican wilderness for years. With the popularization of libertarian ideals due in part to the rise of the Tea Party movement over the past few years, Dr. Paul’s small-government message seems to have found its audience. With the popularization of small-government, personal freedom ideas, Paul’s potential supporters suddenly find themselves with a whole slew of candidates vying for their attention. A staunch libertarian, Paul opposes U.S. military involvement abroad, and current federal drug policy.

Rick Perry – A late entrant to the race, Perry has quickly rocketed to the top of the field in many national polls. Perry is campaigning on the fact that since the end of the recession in June 2009, 47% of the nation’s new jobs have been created in Texas, under Perry’s governorship. Perry’s campaign claims that this is due to having fewer regulations in the state that prevent businesses from growing and creating jobs. While Perry has been courting the support of Tea Party voters, the main thrust of the Perry campaign is that as president, Perry would be able to spur job growth using the same methods used in Texas.

Buddy Roemer – Roemer represented Louisiana’s 4th congressional district from 1981-88, before serving as governor from 1988-92. Roemer was elected as a Democrat, but switched to the Republican party in 1991 at the urging of the Bush White House. The former governor of Louisiana is running for president on a platform stressing campaign finance reform, balancing the federal budget, and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Mitt Romney – Mitt Romney served as the governor of Massachusetts from 2004-07, after a successful career in business. Romney served as CEO of Bain & Company before founding Bain Capital, a private equity investment group. The Romney campaign is running on the assertion that Romney’s experience in the private sector combined with his experience as a state governor will allow him to forge working relationships with America’s business leaders in order to create jobs. Romney is typically seen as socially moderate, although commentators have noted that his views seem to have shifted to the right as the primary contest has heated up.

Rick Santorum – Santorum served as a United State Senator from Pennsylvania from 1995-2007, during which time he established himself as one of the more socially and fiscally conservative candidates in the race. Santorum was seen as a darling of the ultra-conservative base of the Republican party before more dynamic conservative candidates entered the race. Santorum also is known for his ongoing feud with commentator Dan Savage, after making comments comparing homosexuality to bestiality.

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Why Do Iowa and New Hampshire Matter, Anyway?

With Washington, D.C. still on vacation for the remainder of August, political news outlets have been focusing on the race for the Republican presidential nomination. This means reporters are running around, following Texas governor Rick Perry, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (among others) across the country.

The campaigns have been flying (or busing) around the country, heading from state to state, trying to convince voters that they will be the best person to face Barack Obama in next year’s elections. To the casual observer, it may seem like the Republican candidates are travelling around the country in a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants willy-nilly fashion, but as with most of politics, there are ulterior motives afoot!

The upcoming Republican primary calendar, while still not set in stone, is organized in such a way that certain states are given much more political sway than others. Iowa, for instance, is an early primary state, holding their caucuses (a somewhat different form of primary voting) on February 6th of next year. Whichever candidate wins in Iowa then has a strong showing heading in to contests held the following day (primaries in MO and NJ with caucuses being held in MN). Following the two-back-to-back openers, within four weeks eighteen states will have completed their elections.

Clearly winning early primary states gives a candidate an advantage heading into the rest of the primary calendar. While the GOP schedule is set to stretch through the end of June, many political observers believe that the nomination could be secured well before then. Especially in a cycle like this, where there is an attempt to defeat an incumbent president, there is a likelihood that if a candidate manages a few strong wins early in the primary season, then subsequent primary voters may jump on the “surging” candidate’s bandwagon, preferring to settle on a nominee early in order to get started on the campaign for the general election.

At this point the national political media is in the position of following the campaigning Republicans around early primary state after early primary state, watching the candidates attempt to secure support and as many votes as possible. Whichever candidate manages to create a sense of “inevitability” about their campaign once the primaries start has a much better shot at being nominated by their party than those who allow their candidacy to get bowled down by news cycle after news cycle devoting time and free exposure to their opponents.

UPDATE:

To clarify the New Hampshire coverage: New Hampshire’s primary will be held on February 14, shortly after those held in IA, MO, and NJ. New Hampshire’s relative importance is due in part to its position on the calendar, but also because it is an “open primary” state, meaning that people registered as other than Republican can vote in the Republican primary. Because of this, New Hampshire is seen as a way to prove a candidate’s ability to win with independent voters and conservative or moderate Democrats, an argument that supposedly would help propel the candidate all the way to the general election.

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Sure, We SAY They’re “Co-Equal,” But…

As August marches on, and things in Washington, D.C. are relatively quiet (Congress is on vacation), this seemed like a good time to address some of the basics of how our political systems work.

Our government is composed of three separate branches. There is the executive branch (of which the President is the head), the legislative (the U.S. Congress), and the judicial (the courts). The legislative branch is made up of two houses, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Each of the fifty states gets to elect two members to the Senate. The number of representatives elected to the House is based on a state’s population, with each state being guaranteed at least one. Judges in the Federal courts are appointed by the executive branch and are confirmed by the legislative branch.

The American system was designed so that all the branches of the government are equal. Yet, in our media and public discourse, this has been lost. It is natural to understand the inclination to focus on the President of the United States as the focal point of American politics, as the President is only one person, making coverage easier. There are one hundred members of the Senate, and four hundred and thirty-five members of the House of Representatives. Additionally, there are many levels of Federal Courts, making the president easily the most recognizable and covered figure in politics.

However, just because the President is the most talked about does not mean that the American Presidency is above the two other branches of government. Americans often misunderstand the relationship between the three branches, leading to pieces like the New York Times’ “If I Were President” which appeared over the weekend. As others have pointed out before me, articles like “If I Were President” demonstrate the public’s misunderstanding of the nature of having “co-equal” parts of government. Understanding this underlying principle of our government helps to shine a light onto what previously may have seemed like unbelievable positions. One may ask “Why doesn’t the president do this or that,” but understanding what the president does and does not actually have the power to control really can help to make confusing news stories more understandable.

When our nation was founded, devising a way to ensure a weak executive was a high priority for the founding fathers. Preventing a tyrannical king, like the one from whom they were declaring their nation’s independence, was in a sense the entire point of the Constitution. While the presidency has many tools and powers, it is important to realize that there are many more that it does not have, and that the office itself was designed that way from the very beginning.

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What the Heck is the Iowa Straw Poll?

The 2012 Presidential election is still fifteen months away, but the campaigns are already well under way! There was a lot of news over the last few days about the Republicans running for their party’s nomination, so let’s break down what happened.

The big stories out of the weekend are as follows:

  • Michele Bachmann won the Ames, IA straw poll
  • Rick Perry announced his campaign
  • Perry did well in the poll as a write-in candidate

In order to really get into this, it’s important to understand just what Iowa’s big GOP event is all about. In every presidential cycle where there isn’t a Republican incumbent running for re-election, Ames, Iowa holds a big event for the state’s conservative voters to attend speeches, and really come to know the field of candidates better. What typically happens is that Ames becomes a real proving ground for a campaign’s organizational skills in the field. Campaigns often bring in supporters from all over the state, cover the $30.00 entrance fee for their supporters, and then ply them with food and drink and entertainment for the weekend. While the majority of the attention is paid to the “who won, who lost” questions, the big news to come out of the event is what happens with each campaign’s supporters. For instance, Slate Magazine’s David Weigel sums it up like so:

What else do the numbers say? Bachmann’s camp distributed more than 6000 tickets, ending the day in a frenzy of giving and buying. [Texas Congressman Ron] Paul’s camp distributed less than that, more than 5000. So for every six people who took a ticket from Bachmann’s camp, one voted for someone else. For every 25 people who took a ticket from Paul, only one voted for someone else.

So while Bachmann became the big headline by coming out a winner, the internal workings of the weekend are really more interesting, showing a number of problems with the Bachmann campaign, their ability to organize supporters, interact with the press, and campaign the way Iowans (influential in the primary process) are comfortable with.

One last thing to keep in mind about the Ames Straw Poll is that in the poll’s history (dating back all the way to 1979) it has predicted the party’s eventual nominee once out of five times, not including 1995’s Bob Dole/Phil Gramm tie vote.

As the Bachmann campaign was working on a victory in Iowa, Texas Governor Rick Perry was in South Carolina to announce his bid for the Republican nomination. Perry’s announcement came at such a time that his name was not on the ballot in Iowa, but with televisions showing his announcement speech on repeat, and supporters crawling throughout Ames, the governor received a healthy 718 votes. Perry bested front-runner Mitt Romney by about 150 votes, although the Romney campaign chose not to campaign in Iowa and focus elsewhere instead.

It remains to be seen what Perry’s decision to enter the race will do to the field, but with the Texan’s arrival coinciding with former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s decision to drop out of the race, things in the Republican field are certain to be changing dramatically over the next few weeks.

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What the Heck Was the Debt Ceiling, Anyway?

If you’ve seen a newspaper or had the misfortune to have a television tuned to a news station in your vicinity over the last few weeks, you may have heard that the big topic in Washington, D.C. has been the “debt ceiling” negotiations. What the heck is a “debt ceiling”? I’m glad you asked!

 

It turns out that the United States government spends a lot of money. The House of Representatives, the “people’s house” half of our two-body Congress, has the power to allot money to be spent on, well, anything, really. That means roads, military equipment, social security, schools, law enforcement, all sorts of things get money from the federal government through the House of Representatives “appropriating” the funds for whatever project or program they decide. Over the course of U.S. history, however, the nation has consistently borrowed money in order to pay for these things. Instead of paying for everything the country spends money on through income (taxes, fees, and funds of that nature) some of the money comes from borrowed money, largely from foreign nations.

 

One of the rules that Congress has is that they need to raise the limit of how much money can be borrowed in order to keep up borrowing money, in order to keep spending it on things. Last week, the government was going to reach that limit, on August 2nd, and the government claimed that some payments would not be able to go out, putting further strain on the already suffering economy. Certain members of Congress objected to raising the limit of debt, saying that to do so would further dig the country into an economic hole, and not get federal spending habits under control. These folks weren’t budging, and that led to weeks of uncertain negotiations, with the news media following raptly.

However, the folks in Congress are elected (so they don’t like when people get mad at them), and they came to the decision that it was important for the government to keep sending out money according to schedule, especially when things like Social Security checks and military paychecks were possibly going to be withheld in the event that the limit was not raised in time.

 

The resulting compromise created a committee to study spending and income, and to propose changes to balance the two, in order to reduce the deficit (the gap between how much we spend and how much we take in). The committee won’t reach their conclusion for weeks, so for now, this whole situation will be ignored until it blows up again and takes over everyone’s attention.

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Welcome!

If you know me, you know that I am interested in politics. American, electoral, international, economic, whatever, if it’s to do with the political exchanges between groups or people, I’m there. Since this is America, and we have 24-hour news networks playing constantly in our Starbucks (Starbuckses?), at our gyms, and in airport lounges, regular people are constantly bombarded by information that  they don’t have the time or interest to get into properly.

You may ask yourself, “What does he mean by ‘regular people’?” and that’s a good question. I mean people who have lives, interests, and general things-to-do that don’t allow them the time to constantly refresh their GoogleReader smartphone app, constantly pulling up news articles to get a better understanding of which Senator is going to do X, and which candidate for president is going to say Y, or what the newest economic numbers mean for Z. Basically, when I say “regular people,” I mean people who aren’t huge nerds with too much time on their hands.

I have always tried to write about politics, mostly because what else are you going to do if you are constantly taking in that sort of information? Your friends aren’t going to want to hear about it all the time, and you need an outlet. I, being someone interested in this arena, am also constantly asked questions about what the latest “major political news story” means. This blog attempts to serve two purposes: It will give me an outlet for my political news interpretation, and, hopefully, it will provide a resource for those people who don’t have time to go through the HuffingtonPost, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, Slate, Salon, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and all the rest on a constant basis.

The initial goal here, after much thought and discussion with folks who may read this thing, is to update once a week (Mondays!) on a topic, or a few topics, that I’ve been asked questions about in my normal life, or here, on the Internet. Mostly these questions come from relatives, or from friends after I regale them with the latest stories of what politician X said or did. Feel free to submit your own questions. I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of this, obviously. I am just a political junkie, and I spend so much time researching “news items” that I may as well put that to some sort of good use. The question format may not hold up, but we’ll see and grow together, dear readers!

Thanks for reading this introduction! Even if you don’t come back in the future, it’s greatly appreciated!

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