Newsletters

Newsletter 99 - Fall 2020

Let's hear it for smaller, more focused, less costly government!

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Our perspective
High stakes
Fowl humor
Candidate profiles (Trump/Biden)
Policy agendas (GOP/Dem)
Debates (Chris Wallace)
Climate science (David Legates)
Book review (Federal Reserve)
Simply stated (Ronald Reagan)
About SAFE

Our perspective - SAFE isn’t a partisan organization, and it’s not our aim to endorse political candidates, but we do seek to understand and evaluate policy positions of the candidates and report our conclusions in an effort to promote public understanding. Consider, for example, our coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign. Having reviewed strengths and weaknesses of the Obama and McCain agendas in some detail, we ended the final pre-election essay on a neutral note. What would you like, central planning or an eclectic mix, 10/27/08.

Our job is done, dear readers, and hopefully the foregoing information and opinions will prove helpful. The choice is up to you!

Four years later, after following the presidential race closely, we opined that fiscal policy was the most important issue in play and tilted in favor of Mitt Romney’s budgetary/tax plan. Foreign policy debate comes down to domestic issues,
10/29/12.

In sum, it seems likely that the challenger would slow the growth of spending – but we see no reason to expect he would get it down to 20% of GDP. That being said, there is little downside in the challenger’s proposals. They might well be preferred to more of the same.

In the 2016 presidential campaign, substantive discussion of the issues kept getting upstaged by seemingly irrelevant controversies – such as Donald Trump’s refusal to answer a purely hypothetical (and in hindsight ironic) question during the third presidential debate about whether “you will absolutely accept the result of this election”? Elitism v. Populism,
10/31/16.

What a strange election this year! As the saying goes, “you can’t make this stuff up.”

The tone of the current elections seems even more bitterly partisan, and the outcome of the 2020 presidential race may well turn on visceral reactions to Trump vs. Biden rather than their respective positions on the issues. We’ll attempt to reflect both branches of the equation in the ensuing coverage.

High stakes – The presidential candidates differ on many things, but their acceptance speeches expressed full agreement on one point – the outcome of the 2020 elections will have major consequences.

Joe Biden, DNC, 8/21/20 - “America is at an inflection point. A time of real peril, but of extraordinary possibilities. We can choose the path of becoming angrier, less hopeful, and more divided. A path of shadow and suspicion. Or we can choose a different path, and together, take this chance to heal, to be reborn, to unite. A path of hope and light. This is a life-changing election that will determine America's future for a very long time.”

Donald Trump, RNC, 8/28/20 – “At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies, or two agendas. This election will decide whether we save the American Dream, or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny.” [Will we] “rapidly create millions of high paying jobs *** protect law abiding Americans *** defend the American way of life” [or in each case do the opposite?]

Don’t forget, moreover, that there will be many important elections in November. The outcomes of the “down-ballot” races (for 470 congressional seats and numerous state positions) will have an important bearing on the ability of the presidential winner to put his agenda into effect.

Fowl humor – Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side, of course, but someone with time on their hands during the COVID-19 shutdown suggested other possibilities. The chicken was a maverick - no chicken should be required to lay eggs - what difference at this point does it make – I did not cross the road with that chicken – the chicken didn’t actually cross the road, the road moved instead.

Candidate profiles – Donald Trump expressed deep dissatisfaction with the status quo when he ran for the presidency (with no prior political experience) in 2015-16, and he has followed through by working hard to make good on his campaign promises, e.g., build that wall, drain the swamp, accelerate the economy, pursue “America first” policies, and overall “make America great again.”

Supporters laud Trump’s energy, remarkable for a man of his age (74), and credit him with speaking his mind. Critics say he’s a narcissist, who shoots from the hip and doesn’t understand that leading the government isn’t all about himself.

By nature a disrupter, Trump’s greatest successes have come from ignoring the conventional wisdom, disagreeing with the “experts,” and forging ahead based on his own instincts. In other cases, however, these same habits have had unfavorable results. He often expresses ideas that don’t seem to have been fully thought through, and he has had many battles with the mainstream media and others that could have been avoided.

Joe Biden has nearly half a century of political experience, including a county council position in Delaware, decades as a US senator, and eight years as vice president in the Obama administration.

Biden has been out of office for four years at this point, and if elected he would be the oldest president ever to take office. In some recent public appearances, he has appeared dazed and confused – a marked contrast with President Trump. Withal, Biden is considered “likable,” and the public has seemingly been disposed to cut him some slack.

While Biden is reputedly a political “moderate,” his policy positions have generally moved leftwards since he threw his hat in the ring in 2019 – albeit abruptly backtracking in several instances when apparent public resistance began to develop. Having boasted that he would impose a national face mask mandate on “day one” to fight the coronavirus, for example, Biden said the president lacked the power to do this. Critics have suggested that such “flip-flops” reveal a lack of personal toughness.

In short, the presidential candidates have very different backgrounds, instincts, and communication styles. Some Americans may make a choice based on personalities alone, but it would seem more prudent to also consider where the candidates and their respective parties stand on the issues.

Policy agendas – In its weekly blog, SAFE has been systematically reviewing what the two sides have said and done about the issues. Thus, Democrats want to phase out the use of fossil fuels in the name of combatting global warming (9/7/20); the GOP seems more invested in countering civil unrest around the country (9/14/20); the Republican Commitment to America is long on platitudes and short on actionable ideas to improve congressional performance (9/21/20); Democrats are itching to raise taxes (with even bigger increases in government spending) while the GOP is still touting tax cuts (9/28/20).

Coming attractions will include a review of the respective positions on healthcare and international trade agreements, plus the reluctance of either party to support a return to fiscal sanity before chronic deficits and soaring debt lead to a fiscal meltdown. Stay tuned!

Debates – Three debates between the presidential candidates and one between the vice-presidential candidates are planned this year, which is consistent with the practice in recent years. The first presidential debate took place on September 29, just before we went to press, with Chris Wallace of Fox News serving as moderator. And as some readers may recall, Wallace also moderated the third and final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016.

No surprise, this year’s lead-off choice by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates was hailed by Fox News. Chris Wallace to moderate first Trump-Biden presidential debate, Brian Flood, foxnews.com,
9/3/20.

CEO Suzanne Scott: “Revered as the gold standard in journalism, Chris has the innate ability to cut to the heart of issues that matter most to viewers while holding his interview subjects accountable to the facts like no other journalist in the industry. His debate moderator performance in 2016 was truly masterful and we are beyond excited to watch him brilliantly perform his craft once again.”

SAFE’s take on the 2016 debate was quite different. Notably, we were struck by Wallace’s lack-luster questioning re fiscal issues. Presidential candidates “grilled” on debt and entitlements,
10/24/16.

We wrote to Wallace last year, critiquing his 2016 performance and urging his support for raising our concerns more effectively in the 2020 debates.

. . . questions about fiscal matters (previously shown at the top of the list of discussion topics) were deferred until last and then superficially addressed in a debate segment that lasted all of 8 minutes. *** The purpose of bringing up these matters now is not to rehash ancient history, but rather to make the point that it would be constructive to encourage a far more robust discussion of the fiscal problem this time.

Whether SAFE’s letter reached Wallace is unknown (it was never acknowledged), but in any case his pre-debate announcement of the six areas of discussion didn’t mention the fiscal problem. SAFE’s next blog entry (Oct. 5) will complete this story by reporting what was said in the debate.

Climate science – David R. Legates of the University of Delaware was recently appointed deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A climatologist by training and experience, he offers a combination of scientific brilliance and a modest, unassuming manner. We’ve enjoyed hearing Dr. Legates speak on multiple occasions over the years, both in Delaware and elsewhere, and were delighted to learn of his new position. Other conservatives were also pleased.

Regrettably, the scientific debate in this area has become thoroughly politicized and the selection of Dr. Legates wasn’t well received by “liberal” observers. See, e.g., Climate change denier hired for top job at NOAA, Blake Montgomery, thedailybeast.com,
9/12/20. But compare Climatologist David Legates appointed to NOAA, alarmists howl, H. Sterling Burnett & Jim Lakely, heartland.org, 9/17/20.

It’s quite true that Legates has questioned the manmade global warming theory (MMGWT) on grounds that the scientific evidence doesn’t prove it, which he supports with a dispassionate review of said evidence, but characterizing him as a “climate change denier” is ridiculous. The whole point is to establish why the climate is changing, not to vindicate or disprove the MMGWT (or any other theory for that matter).

Congratulations to Dr. Legates for his appointment, and let’s hope that he can contribute to an upgrading of the NOAA programs (which in some instances have struck us as rather one-sided).

Book review - Gold, the Real Bills Doctrine, and the Fed, Thomas Humphrey & Richard Timberlake, 2019 is a dandy book on the history of monetary policy. It focuses on some glaring Federal Reserve missteps that contributed importantly to the depth and duration of the “Great Depression” in the United States, usefully placing them in a longer-term historical context.

Today, the Fed is again testing the limits of prudent monetary policy. It may well wind up triggering another financial disaster (this time runaway inflation vs. a deflationary spiral). For more on this, see our review of Gold. the Real Bills Doctrine,
op cit.

Note: An economist who received his doctorate at the University of Chicago, Richard Timberlake wrote numerous books and articles on monetary policy. He passed away in May 2020 at the age of 97. We will remember Dr. Timberlake as a long-time SAFE member, who followed our activities with interest and offered insightful comments. See Hot Thermometers, an essay that displayed his keen understanding of the global warming debate and puckish sense of humor.

Simply stated – On the Johnny Carson Show in 1975, Ronald Reagan explained the secret of balancing the budget. Our current political leaders should give it a try! Video (2:20), click “skip ad.”

About SAFE - SAFE is a non-partisan, all-volunteer organization that was founded in 1996. We advocate smaller, more focused, lower cost government, to be achieved by cutting spending, restructuring “entitlements,” simplifying taxes, and rationalizing regulations.

SAFE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Andrew Betley, (302) 239-9679
Suzie Dickson
John Greer, (302) 479-0485
Dan Kerrick, treasurer, (302) 521-4272
Steve McClain, (302) 998-3910
Jerry Martin, (302) 478-5064
John Nichols, (302) 743-2783
rycK Stout, (302) 478-9495
Bill Whipple, president, (302) 464-2688
For e-mail addresses see
LINK.

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