Craig Eisele on …..

February 28, 2012

A Bit on the Characters of Romney v. Santorum

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 8:59 am

On the economy, personal background, not policy, is the biggest difference between Romney and Santorum: Character Sketch

Making an economic pitch to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Monday morning, Rick Santorum said proudly and, yes, oddly: “This is a tax plan that isn’t conforming to any school of economics. America has its own destiny. We don’t fit into any school.”

Continuing a stream-of-consciousness riff on his proposal to slash individual income tax rates and create two brackets of 10 percent and 28 percent, Santorum said, “My plan is bold. It doesn’t change the existing tax code and play with 59 or 69 or 89 tweaks.” Perhaps seeing some skeptical faces among local businessmen, he quickly added, “Not a shock to the system, but a simplification of the tax code.”

There is nothing simple about Tuesday’s primary in a flat-tire state where the unemployment rate (currently 9.3 percent) had been until recently in double digits for three years. Santorum and Mitt Romney have been skirmishing over their mostly similar economic visions. Late last week, when Romney and Santorum each hyped the rollouts of their already rolled out economic plans, what was memorable were not the policy specifics, but the peculiar venues that each candidate chose to burnish his job-creation credentials.

Romney gave a formal luncheon address to the Detroit Economic Club and to 65,000 empty seats at Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions. No, the empty seats were not a deliberate metaphor for the empty lives caused by the recession. Rather, in a brazen affront to the advance man’s credo of always holding events in crowded rooms, Romney spoke off a teleprompter from the 30-yard-line of the cavernous arena. Santorum went to the opposite extreme: a 55-minute, no-notes economics sermon at a Knights of Columbus hall in Lincoln Park. His crowd of about 100 foot-sore supporters (including 15 starstruck nuns) was standing-room only, largely because there were few chairs.

At the end of his speech, Santorum griped, “I shared my vision with you tonight because it’s probably the only time you’re going to hear it. Because most of the folks reporting here aren’t going to write about it. They’re going to write about some controversy.” OK, Santorum was right, partly because (shocking revelation ahead) campaign reporters rarely allow policy substance to get in the way of a primary death match. But in defense of the news media, Santorum also offered little that was fresh in his Knights of Columbus talkathon.

Santorum’s proposal to eliminate corporate taxes for companies that manufacture products in the United States has been part of his economic playbook since early in the campaign. The former Pennsylvania senator’s rationale is to create jobs for blue-collar workers–and, in fact, the next day Santorum ridiculed Barack Obama as a “snob” for the president’s temerity to propose college for everyone. Explaining his tilt toward manufacturing, Santorum said in Lincoln Park, “Profits and opportunities are more and more limited to those who have succeeded in the knowledge-based economy. …  But we also want the products that they are creating to be manufactured here so everyone else can participate.”

Driving through the industrial wasteland of southeastern Michigan, a land more barren than any portrayed by T.S. Eliot, it is sadly apparent that the old-time, no-education-required jobs are never coming back. Conjuring them up is as unrealistic as expecting married couples to sleep in twin beds, 1950s sitcom-style. Because Santorum also wants to slash the corporate tax rate in half to 17.5 percent for other companies, it is hard to see how his preferential tax rate for manufacturing would be large enough to trigger an industrial renaissance.

Santorum never mentioned his jump-start tax plan for manufacturing in his Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday. Was this a deliberate signal that talking about blue-collar jobs represents Rust Belt-only politics for Santorum? Whatever the cause, it was an omission akin to Romney forgetting to recite the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” during the arid portions of his stump speech. In Livonia on Monday morning, the call for “revitalizing the manufacturing sector” was back in its usual place of honor at the beginning of Santorum’s agenda.

The Romney speech to the empty chairs at Ford Field did offer a new policy wrinkle (or, at least, a relatively new one): his pledge to slash individual income tax rates by 20 percent. Romney insisted that his tax cuts would not cost the Treasury any revenue because new dollars would miraculously appear through economic growth. But the man from Bain Capital also admitted that part of the lost revenue would come from “some changes in the current deductions and exemptions for higher-income Americans.” Of course–a bit like Richard Nixon’s 1968 secret plan to end the Vietnam War–the details of those lost deductions for the wealthy will surely remain conveniently vague until after the election.

For all the glib talk of 59-point plans and 100-day agendas, Santorum and Romney have put out little more than sketchpad economic notions. They are more like film treatments than finished movies or even camera-ready scripts.

If history is any guide, the pressures of the fall campaign against Obama will force the Republican nominee (whoever he is) to provide backup papers detailing economic forecasts and budgetary assumptions. Then, if Obama is defeated, the president-elect will again modify his program during the transition period in light of 2013 economic conditions and the political freedom that comes with victory. Another adjustment will come right after the inaugural address with the help of the budgetary and tax experts at OMB. Treasury will get into the act with its own priorities. And that is all before Congress begins its work and all campaign-trail proposals are fed into the legislative meat grinder.

So forgive me for not breathlessly parsing every detail in the Romney and Santorum economic plans. Even if presidential contenders like to pretend that they can rule by fiat, the voters shrewdly understand the limits of the powers that come with the desk in the Oval Office. Chris Griffin, who is getting his M.B.A. from the University of Michigan and lives in Allan Park, is the only enthusiastic Romney voter that I met during four days in the Detroit area. “Mitt Romney is the only logical choice,” he said. But even Griffin admits that change with Romney in the White House will come at a glacial pace. “I don’t think that anyone could do much of anything in six months,” he said. “The federal government–like any complicated enterprise–is so large and moves so slowly.”

After Rick Santorum touted his job-creation plans Saturday in Troy to an anti-tax group, I chatted with Valerie Hulderman, a home-schooling mother from Clarkson who was attending the conference with her husband, Jeff, an information technology specialist. Valerie had already voted for Santorum by absentee ballot–and nothing in his speech gave her second thoughts. But she did pointedly note: “Santorum said something about creating jobs as president. Well, good luck with that. What we’re really looking for in a president is just someone to stop the bleeding.”

The differences between Romney and Santorum are mostly over small points of emphasis. Romney has displayed a cautious streak about pledging too many unfunded tax cuts for fear of accentuating the deficit. Santorum (and Newt Gingrich) has so far shown less restraint in his efforts to bulldoze the tax code.

The most personal theme in the economic debate was not Romney’s man-of-privilege boast this weekend, “I have great friends who are NASCAR team owners.” It came from Santorum, who represented the steel towns of western Pennsylvania in Congress, and who frequently offers a heartfelt lament over the “devastation” in human lives that accompanied the closing of the mills.

In his firsthand knowledge of the death of industrial America, Santorum has a counterpart in presidential politics. Barack Obama worked, mostly ineffectually, with down-on-their-luck steelworkers during his days as a community organizer in Chicago. If Santorum somehow, against the odds, gets that far, the lessons from their shared experiences would be a great topic for a presidential debate in the fall.

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