So the first round goes to Romney. Or so they are saying. Is it possible to draw conclusions from the electoral run-up in one of the world’s largest democracies and apply them to what might happen in the island-democracy (tal-klikek) some time soon? Well, with a modicum of restraint peppered with huge doses of realism the answer is in all probability a resounding yes. Election hopefuls in any nation are definitely part of a generation that cannot and need not be envied. Their hope is to get elected to govern in a time when the business of governance is difficult and that is putting it mildly. Aside from the normal considerations (all things being equal) of the responsibility and gravity of government the economic woes of the western world make the creation and putting into practice of new policies a tough balancing act.
Whether you are Obama, Cameron, Rajoy, Merkel or Gonzi you have found yourself in the driving seat at a time when traditional party policies and programmes for a nation will perforce have to be tweaked in order to take into consideration the difficult environment and context within which such decisions will be taken. Welfare, health, standard of living, taxation – the pluses and minuses of economic policy – are no longer cocooned from the outside reality and every government’s decision is straight-jacketed by external consequences.
When you set aside the incumbents you get to look at those vying to replace them. Hollande is the first signal of a possible wave of change most likely caused by the increasing discontent of the masses at the handling of the period of austerity. Following his first 100 days in office the verdict was out and it was not so positive. That is partly because Hollande was guilty of doing what other oppositions are tempted to do in order to get to the seat of government: oppositions riding the wave of discontent need but promise the world and pander to that huge bulk that is the “middle class” while promising to “punish the rich”. Their programmes might avoid the blatant diabolical pacts but the devil is in the detail.
Take a look at what the Times (UK) leader (October 3rd) had to say about Miliband for example after his latest conference foray in Manchester:
This speech will go down as the one in which Mr Miliband announced himself as a politician not to be written off. But in the longer view it will be regarded as a missed opportunity. This was a moment at which the leader could have told the country why they should vote Labour. Instead, he told us about a distant land he would like to live in and revealed that his plan for the country is not yet that of a serious party of government. (Vintage Labour – might require subscription)
The analysis of what could have been a plan for government is even more damning:
(…) he offered a nod to future cuts in public sector pay and ill-defined difficult choices in the years to come. This was vague; a dogwhistle, not a plan. He painted, in broad strokes, the sort of plan for government that will not stand up to scrutiny. His section on the economy was jejune but it was enough to show that he, and it seems his party, has no feel for what makes an enterprise tick. (Vintage Labour)
Sound familiar? Well get used to it. It’s what oppositions the world over seem to have to offer. What’s that I hear you say? A sweeping statement? Here is the International Herald Tribune (New York Times) today analysing Mitt Romney’s tax plans for the middle class (there it goes again):
In the first minutes of the debate, Mr. Romney defended himself against the charge that he would cut taxes for the wealthy and raise taxes on the middle class. The lack of specificity of his tax plan opened him to the charge.
Here’s why. Mr Romney says he wants to cut marginal tax rates by 20% while having the government bring in the same amount of revenue, meaning that he would not widen the deficit further. He would accomplish that goal by clearing out the underbrush of credits, loopholes and preferences in the tax code. He has also promised that his plan will be “distributionally neutral” – that he will not raise the tax burden on the poor or middle class.
Here’s the problem. As explained in a detailed paper by the Tax Policy Center, if you cut rates by 20%, you give the wealthy a multibillion-dollar tax break. Even if you take away all of their credits and loopholes and preferential rates, they still do not owe the government as much as they did before. If the rich are paying less, then the poor and middle class must pay more in order to raise the same amount of money.
Mr. Romney’s campaign argues that the math does work out, in no small part because they expect their tax plan to help bolster growth. Still, independent economists question whether this is possible. Of course, rather than breaking his promise not to raise taxes on the poor and middle class, Mr. Romney could break one of his other promises. His tax plan could widen the deficit. Or he could lower marginal tax rates less than 20%. – Annie Lowrie reporter (retyped for J’accuse - original text on NYTimes).
Substance. From what I gather, the verdict in Romney’s favour is based on rhetoric. Romney’s style during the debate was based on brevity and generally unquantified assertions. Obama’s biggest drawback, it seems, is his inability to rein in his instinct for long-winded, detailed explanations that he feels his audience deserve. The stage is set for the next debates – will Romney keep the momentum going on his own turf : where rhetoric and promises to move away from austerity measures that Obama was at pains to justify are the routine?
The world is listening. Remember the adage that turkeys would never vote for Christmas? Well it would seem that to a general extent those who are battling the incumbents have caught onto the trick and are planning to capitalise on the fact that a whole mass of innocent lambs could be gullible enough to swallow the pie-in-the-sky rhetoric that is not fit for government but fit enough to get elected.
If you cannot get turkeys to vote for Christmas… it’s a slaughter of lambs that’s the most likely menu.