Say No to PowerPoint

Reading Zolltan’s piece on basically voting for whoever aligns most closely with your interest and Yglesias’s piece on the vagueness of Romney’s tax plan, I was pretty bothered, especially ahead of tonight’s debate. I couldn’t square where I sit on the political spectrum (right-wing) and the strategy behind the political tactics of both parties. Most of all, I think anyone with brains has a pretty clear choice here.

So I’m right-of-centre, pro-business type, who believes the first order of business for any American President is to balance the budget, i.e. not run deficits. This is no different than balancing your check book at the end of the month. What do you do? Make more money or spend less (i.e. raise taxes or spend less). Once you eliminate the deficit (and maybe start running surpluses), you set the stage for improving your wealth with options to cut taxes or spend more or start reducing aggregate debt levels. Quicktax will teach you this person finance shit. Every right-of-centre/conservative/rational human being should get this.

So I can only buy the first sentence of Romney’s central argument: “My opponent wants to raise taxes and cut spending. He still won’t balance the budget.” Well that’s a god damn problem. What do you propose? “I’m gonna cut taxes and cut spending.” Ok… but you’re barely gonna cut taxes right? “Yes and no. We’re gonna cut taxes but close a bunch of corporate loopholes at the same time.” Ok… that makes sense. You’re going to cut taxes on people but raise them on corporations right? “I don’t agree with the premise of your sentence construction. Move on.” Ok, you’re also cutting spending by a lot, firstly to offset your tax cut and the deficit? “Yep.” Great. What are you cutting? “Not the military, social security, medicare, medicaid and elements of obamacare.” Ok. And you can still balance a checkbook? I didn’t realize this was possible. How are you gonna do it? “That’s not my job. Its Congress’s to figure out.” Ok, the other guy is at least raising taxes and cutting spending, at least somewhat? “Yep. He says so himself.” Ok, as a conservative, I’ll vote for the other guy.

I realize now that the above paragraph effectively parrots the argument Bill Clinton made at the DNC (probably partly why that speech was so effective.)

I think the above could certainly look good in a Powerpoint presentation. We need to cut taxes. Need to Lower Spending. Economy will grow. You can dress this shit up with lots of one-liners, punchlines, bullet points and pretty charts. Ryan did this very effectively with this video explaining his plan (no need to watch the whole thing, just click in the middle and watch a 30-sec segment):

As a former investment banker who spent his life in PowerPoint, I’m in awe of the above video. If there is anything that makes me uncomfortable with Romney is that I think he’d fall for stupid bullshit if only it was presented in PowerPoint with enough pretty pictures. Its why I think he selected Ryan in the first place. He was wowed by the PowerPoint.

***

Which gets me back to the political tactics being employed. Clearly, you should be able to tell why I think the Republicans are nuts (more on that below). For Obama, he’s got to present forcefully the above argument that Romney can’t balance a checkbook. He didn’t in the first debate and lost handily. I’m not sure how he’s going to perform in today’s debate, but he better get back to presenting the argument in simple terms that anyone can understand. As I’ve said before, this presidency is Obama’s to lose, not Romney’s to win. Obama clearly has the opening which he should press.

Now on to the Republicans’ strategy, by which I get increasingly perplexed. They have left themselves no where to go. I do not think it was a coincidence that, after Clinton made his forceful and convincing speech at the DNC, the Democrats enjoyed a strong bounce in the polls. There is nothing the Republicans can do to counteract this except to brazenly flip-flop from past positions. Which is what Romney did in the first debate. When Biden asked Ryan for details of their fiscal plan in the vice-presidential debate, Ryan’s answer was basically its only their job to provide a framework and let Congress figure shit out.

That Republican’s are tied with Democrats based on having an insane plan and repudiating that same plan is as strong a signal as any that something is wrong with heart of the Republic. The last thing America needs is a PowerPoint president.

UPDATE: i should clarify I wasnt specifically disagreeing with either zolltan or matt. It was the opposite. If i accept zolltan’s premise that we should vote for those most aligned with our interest and the fact that romney is completely vague (insane?) on his tax plan, well does that mean i support obama? I guess it does.

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13 Responses to Say No to PowerPoint

  1. zolltan says:

    Okay, wait a minute, why are you assuming the debt needs to be cut so urgently? Isn’t the whole “let’s pretend the United States is a person” thing completely wrong? There is huge demand for US dollars; inflation is super low. The US has no problem borrowing money, nor printing it. What exactly is eliminating the deficit/cutting debt gonna do?

    I completely disagree that this is a worthwhile activity in the short term. I mean, I guess I sort of see your point that Obama is more likely to do it, but why???

    • Zuuko says:

      Well, pretending the US is a person thing is wrong. But I was comparing balancing a budget for a government is no different than for an individual. Make more money than you spend. What drives me insane about some right-wingers is that they have forgotten that the way a government makes money is through taxes.

      Again, i’m not saying we need to balance tomorrow. My whole gripe is that people who call themselves conservatives don’t seem to know HOW to balance a budget. If you listen to Obama, he says i’ll raise taxes and cut spending and it will not eliminate the deficit but get closer to it. That all makes sense. A policy to accelerate the balancing of the budget would involve greater tax increases and/or steeper cuts. Its completely true when Democrats say the math doesn’t add up.

      • zolltan says:

        Look, it’s true that HOW you balance a budget is to get in more money than you get out. I’m asking WHY you balance a budget. Why are people (including you) concerned about the current deficit?

        If the US were a person, I would say “well, if you keep borrowing money without paying it back, no one will want to lend you any” and “not living within your means is morally unseemly” and “you’re not going to be able to pay back your debt because money doesn’t grow on trees”. But the US is not a person, and I am reasonably confident that in the short-to-medium term, none of those criticisms make any sense for why the US shouldn’t have a deficit. So what is the reason?

    • Zuuko says:

      btw, I’m watching the debate now on tape delay. Obama seems to be doing much better. We’ll see how its received.

    • Zuuko says:

      Ive added an update that hopefully clarifies what i meant

  2. vj says:

    I think what he’s trying to say is something like “I’m smarter, more pragmatic and agile. I’ll find something which is politically viable which will help.” Of course his campaign which is run incompetently and inflexibly (he seems to be petrified of straying off talking points) seems to undermine this point.

    • zolltan says:

      The house is guaranteeed to be republican. Many of them have signed the Norquist no-new-taxes pledge. Nearly all of them passed the Ryan budget whose idea of “balancing the budget” is cutting the taxes of the super-rich and pretending that somehow helps. As a rep president, Romney will have to either convince them to give him a totally different bill to sign than what they want, or veto the bill that they give him. It don’t matter to me how smart and pragmatic he is if the people who write the bills are stupid and nuts, and he either has to endure an internal revolt or agree to what they tell him to sign. If you want to have a preview of which choice he will go with, you need look no further than who he chose as his VP.

      This is all predicated on the idea that cutting the deficit is something you also want to see happen, of course. Like I’ve asked Zuuko, I want to ask you why you think this is a good idea.

      To me, this “not beholden to a party led by irrational people” argument makes it worth to support Obama no matter what you think of him personally. But if I were motivated solely by what I think should be done about cutting the deficit, the fact that both presidents claim to want to cut the deficit but only with Obama does it seem plausible that it would happen would make me want to vote for Romney. Because I don’t think cutting the deficit is a good idea.

      But the average Republican congressman is nuts. This is what you have to understand. To consider supporting Romney, you either have to not care about anything in the US domestically, or be deeply deluded about this fact.

      I’m drunk and listening to ABBA, though, so I dunno if I would trust this comment…

      • Zuuko says:

        I think ur missing the point. The point of my post wasn’t deficit too high or too low or cut it now or it can wait. Or maybe you arent missing the point but want me to talk about the deficit? That is a separate post my friend.

        The post’s point is that Romney’s plan is imbecilic on a very basic level. So there is two things: either he knows and he’s lying in order to get elected, or he’s a moron like the rest of them.

        Regardless, I would counsel against empowering imbeciles, lest they do something that might hurt themselves and us in the process.

  3. zolltan says:

    I don’t disagree with you: Romney doesn’t have a workable plan to cut the deficit. As I mentioned, having a specific plan is overrated if you’re the president. Nevertheless, as you say, Romney’s plan’s problem is not that it’s unspecific: it’s that it overpromises things to the extent that it’s gibberish. You’re right that this kind of thing should make you wary about Romney in GENERAL. My point in my original post and in the above comment to VJ is that even had Romney had a good plan, it isn’t that relevant, because it’s congress that writes the laws, and based on the House’s pssage of the Ryan budget, they will probably write something like the Ryan budget, and based on Romney’s pick of Ryan as VP, it seems unlikely he will veto it. That’s what I was saying to VJ.

    What I’ve been commenting on in response to you is this part of your post: “[Zuuko is someone who] who believes the first order of business for any American President is to balance the budget, i.e. not run deficits. This is no different than balancing your check book at the end of the month.”

    Why do you believe that? I think this is incorrect, and am wondering why you think otherwise.

    My point was that if, like me, you think that doing something is incorrect, and yet both candidates promise to do it, it might make sense to support the one who is (a) more likely to be lying about actually planning to do the thing or (b) more likely to fail to achieve the thing. Here’s an example. Let’s say both Obama and Romney have plans to punch everyone named Zolltan in the face. The candidates are asked how they plan to do this. Obama says “well, we’ve got tracking devices installed on everyone named Zolltan, and we’ve recruited an army of 10,000 people who are really enthusiastic about punching Zolltans in the face, and we’re just waiting til we win the election and then we do this.” Romney says “Oh, for sure, I think punching everyone named Zolltan in the face is the most worthwhile thing and we’ll totally do it way better than Obama is going to” but then he has a bunch of buddies named Zolltan in the audience who he’s winking at as he’s saying this. He goes on: “and our plan is to just ask the people named Zolltan to buy a plane ticket to DC, come on over to my house, and I’ll punch them in the face personally”. In this ridiculous example, Romney is clearly either incompetent or lying about his plans or both – but all Zolltans should still vote Romney.

    • zolltan says:

      This was meant as a Reply to Zuuko’s comment. G_ddamn wordpress comment threading!

    • Zuuko says:

      Well, kudos to your extended metaphor.

      I do believe the first order of the American President is to tackle the budget problems facing the country. Normally I don’t really care about the fiscal situation. But America’s is out of control. While you are correct in saying Congress is the body that writes the Budget, its the executive that implements it. Practically, tomorrow the President can launch a new war and blow a hole in whatever budget Congress writes. The White House does have a major role to play in influencing the formation of budgets and later on, executing them.

      Also, there’s deficits and deficits. I’m not doctrinaire about balancing the books. Shit happens and deficit spending can be a good thing. There comes a point when a country simply cannot afford the spending its promising. You cannot go against the immutable laws of fiscal sanity. America is in that stage now. I would suggest reading IMF’s Oct report on exactly why high public debt levels are bad and the policy prescriptions that work to correct them.

      I think its a bad sign when the Democrats are the only ones offering a credible plan to dig out of this hole. So to put it another way, normally I don’t care when Zolltan gets punched in the face. Sometimes its necessary and sometimes its not. But right now, its absolutely necessary. And only Obama has a good plan to accomplish this.

      • zolltan says:

        Okay, that report is 250 pages long, so I’m not gonna read all of it, but upon a quick scan it seems that it mostly deals with HOW to reduce public debt rather than why, and the explanations of why are rather perfunctory. This is what it says:

        “Low growth, persistent budget deficits, and high
        future and contingent liabilities stemming from
        population-aging-related spending pressure and weak
        financial sectors have markedly heightened concerns
        about the sustainability of public finances. These
        concerns have been reflected in ratings downgrades
        and higher sovereign borrowing costs, especially for
        some European countries.”

        This is clearly true in some cases. Many countries are hobbled by debt and have ridiculously high borrowing costs as a result of investors’ doubts about their trustworthiness. But the US on the other hand has ridiculously LOW borrowing costs. Here’s the FT this summer:

        “US Treasury sold $22bn of 10-year bonds at a record low yield of 1.459 per cent”

        That sez RECORD LOW yield. Clearly investors are NOT scared of giving the US money (despite the Moody’s ratings downgrade). So this rationale does not work for the US. That leaves that ratings downgrade. But this was in response to a crazy political standoff: it was a sign Moody’s considers the US politically dysfunctional enough to be risky – I don’t think it’s directly related to the SIZE of the US debt rather than the frankly ridiculous method in which debt reduction was being attempted in this case.

        So the benefit of short term policies to reduce the deficit is very unclear to me. Whereas the harm of such policies is incredibly clear: either raising taxes or reducing expenditures has an anti-stimulative effect on the US economy, which is already hobbled by high unemployment.

        Of course, the IMF report is 250 pages long, so it is incredibly highly likely that I missed its explanation of why high debt is bad in the US case. You are going to have to either point me to the right pages or provide something shorter :). As of now, I remain unconvinced.

  4. Pingback: Ding Dong. The Witch is Dead. | Rated Zed

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