Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What About Giuliani's Stands on Other Issues?

One of the juicy political stories last week was Rudolph Giuliani's decision to come out in favor of abortion rights, challenging the prevailing notion that one cannot win the Republican nomination without echoing the social agenda of the religious wing of the party. See, for example, this article. In the days leading up to Giuliani's decision, another article quoted a conservative writer as follows: "One of the big ironies for him is he doesn’t care about abortion." That is easy to believe, given how much flip-flopping and pandering Giuliani has done on abortion and other social issues (including his bizarre engagement with the Confederate flag as an issue).

What does he care about -- or, more accurately, what is he hoping Republican voters will care about enough to vote for him? In a recent
interview in Business Week, Giuliani said that he could win over Christian conservatives on two big issues: "I think I'll do well with conservative voters because they will see that I'm one of the most fiscally conservative candidates in the race. I'm the one who has just about the strongest record on tax cuts. And I think they will be in pretty close to total agreement with me on how to handle homeland security and deal with terrorism."

It's actually quite interesting that he did not mention terrorism first, since he is basically running on the basis of having stepped forward on 9/11 when George W. Bush was nowhere to be found. (Of course, it's not at all obvious why handling the aftermath of an attack proves that someone would be good at dealing with terrorism. More broadly, his opponents might well want to figure out a savvy way to make the substance of the following announcement: "When I am president, if I am ever AWOL reading 'The Pet Goat' during a crisis, Rudy Giuliani will be authorized to stand in for me at the scene. Otherwise, I'll be the president." What other reason would anyone have to want him as president?)

If Giuliani is really planning to run on fiscal policy and taxes, though, he has a lot of work to do. Consider this gem: "
I don't think the government has had that kind of fiscal discipline, at least in my memory, since the Reagan Administration." It is hard to know what to make of that statement, given that Reagan-era deficits were the largest as a percentage of GDP since WWII. (I often argue that deficits are not the root of all evil, but here I'm simply using the typical political standard for measuring "fiscal discipline.") The best that one can say is that Giuliani has decided to invoke Reagan as often as possible, no matter the subject.

What about his specific views on taxes? He now uses Steve Forbes as an advisor, so is he for a flat tax? "
I support simplifying the tax code. ... These days it would be unrealistic to go all the way to a flat tax. But you can use it as a guide to figure out how you're going to simplify taxes." It's a good thing he has over a year to fill in the blanks. He mostly says that he is against raising taxes and in favor of decreasing taxes, which hardly distinguishes him from anyone.

Finally, on the estate tax: "
And the death tax is just a great example of what's wrong with Washington. The death tax is going down to 45% in 2009. In 2010, it's going to zero. Then in 2011 it goes back to 55%. That is ludicrous. Only Washington could create a tax incentive for death. We've got to either eliminate the death tax—it's a double tax, anyway—or reduce it to something sensible." Although he memorized the numbers correctly, just about everything in that statement is absurd or a distortion. Economists such as Paul Krugman have joked about the phase-out (referring to the 2010/2011 oddity as the "Throw Momma From the Train Act"), but that has nothing to do with estate taxes per se. The phaseout was a result of the Bushies' decision to hide the true cost of the 2001 tax bill by sunsetting its provisions, hoping that later Congresses would do the dirty work of paying for outright repeal. (And by the way, there is no "death tax," and the estate tax is not a double tax.)

None of these inanities sets Giuliani apart from his competitors -- in good or bad ways. They're all invoking Reagan. They're all against taxes and in favor of budget cuts. If Giuliani thinks that he can divert attention from his stands on social issues by invoking terror and taxes, he had better hope that his views on terror really, really connect with voters. His statements about taxes are nothing to write home about.

17 comments:

Juan said...

I'm a bit puzzled with the reasoning that "Christian conservatives" can be compensated for Giulani's views on abortion with a tough approach to terrorism and tax cuts. Wouldn't the two latter stands appeal to ALL "conservatives", regardless of whether they're "Christian" or followers of any other religion (or no religion at all)? I guess nowadays consistency isn't such an important issue in politics.

Carl said...

Wouldn't the two latter stands appeal to ALL "conservatives", regardless of whether they're "Christian" or followers of any other religion (or no religion at all)? I guess nowadays consistency isn't such an important issue in politics.


The mere fact that a candidate thinks he can appeal to a subset of voters by supporting issues that may appeal to voters outside that subset as well hardly makes it a flawed strategy, much less somehow inconsistent. There is no reason he needs to conjure up a sub-group specific issue to compensate these voters for an unpopular stance on another subgroup specific issue. There may be no other subgroup specific issue as important to them as those issues that are no specific to the subgroup. If that's the case, then it's a much better strategy to appeal to these voters by a strong stance on those issues instead.

Neil H. Buchanan said...

carl said: " ... it's a much better strategy to appeal to these voters by a strong stance on those issues instead."

True, but the puzzling thing is that Giuliani isn't offering strong stances on those issues or anything else -- other than being strongly the guy who was mayor on 9/11.

Carl said...

True, but the puzzling thing is that Giuliani isn't offering strong stances on those issues or anything else -- other than being strongly the guy who was mayor on 9/11..

Point taken. Perhaps he thinks this is enough to keep these voters in line. That would be pretty cynical and condescending, though. Maybe the hyper-scrutiny of his abortion stance has made him wary about making any strong policy commitments on these issues. After all, everyone already knows that the mayor who stood firm on 9/11 will be the best and fiercest opponent of terrorism we could elect.

Juan said...

Carl:

"The mere fact that a candidate thinks he can appeal to a subset of voters by supporting issues that may appeal to voters outside that subset as well hardly makes it a flawed strategy, much less somehow inconsistent. (...)"

I can generally agree with that idea, but in this particular case I believe (the point I was trying to make) that Giulani has chosen two "compensatory" arguments that are so obviously taken for granted in the conservative field that they probably wouldn't make such a difference in the mindset of a conservative voter.

"(...) There is no reason he needs to conjure up a sub-group specific issue to compensate these voters for an unpopular stance on another subgroup specific issue. (...)"

Abortion is such a big issue (the biggest one?) for Christian conservatives that it would seem like (at least) one sub-group specific issue would be necessary to compensate Giulani's "sin" here. Unfortunately for him, his past personal record when it comes to Christian "values" isn't so hot, quite the contrary.

"(...) There may be no other subgroup specific issue as important to them as those issues that are no specific to the subgroup."

As a general rule it sounds reasonable but, in this case don't (a) sanctity of marriage, (b) the "sin" of homosexuality and (c) faith-based initiatives ring a bell? However, as I said before, Giulani's personal track record prevents him from invoking them.

Carl said...

Yeah, Juan, I forgot about preventing gays from marrying and teaching prayer and creationism in schools and other fundamentalist tripe. Perhaps he can convince them that the war on terror is a necessary precursor to the second coming of Christ.

egarber said...

Good post Neil,

I wouldn't mind seeing a brief bullet point list as to why estate taxes aren't double taxes. I agree with you, but I'm looking to see if you have anything to add to my list:

1. A substantial portion of estate wealth is untaxed capital gains -- in the form of stocks, bonds and property that was never sold or taxed prior to a transfer

2. If income is taxed when earned and then again when handed over in an estate, is that not basically the same dynamic that occurs when income is taxed both when earned and then when it's used to purchase something in a retail outlet? In the latter example, the same dollars get hit with both income and sales tax (arguably).

And just to throw something in there about the "death tax" as an issue, it's not like any average voter even has to worry about the darn thing.

Neil H. Buchanan said...

In response to egarber's request, I'll write a post on double taxation within the next few days. Thanks for your interest.

egarber said...

Thanks Neil. And a nice promo for creating a return viewer. Sorry, I'm in TV, so I think in those terms :)

Tam said...

In response to a question tonight about whether voters can accept his position on abortion, Guiliani said, "I think we can agree, all of us on this stage, that we should seek reductions in abortion."

It's probably stingy of me to apply expressio unius exclusio alterius to infer that he meant to imply that others not on that stage may not favor policies (within a pro-choice framework) that tend to reduce the abortion rate. It would thus be interesting to see if in the coming months, he would generalize this attribution to include Democrats among those who would also seek to reduce abortion rates (within the bounds of a pro-choice regime).

Otherwise, for him to implicitly distinguish himself from Democrats on this basis would be somewhat disingenuous, to say the least.

Craig J. Albert said...

Having now looked at the primary schedule, the Giuliani strategy seems pretty clear to me. The Republicans (unlike the Democrats) still have winner-take-all primaries. There are 19, by my reckoning, including early primaries in NY and California. If he polls 20% in a ten-man field (remember, we're expecting to see at least Fred Thompson, Newt Gingrich and Chuck Hagel get in before any of the also-rans like Tommy Thompson get out), he wins the state, and it seems to me that it's easy to do that putting together pro-choice Republicans and people who are fooled by Rudy's tough-on-terror talk. (Have I mentioned that I don't like Rudy?) He treads water and doesn't lose much ground in states with proportional primaries and caucuses. That seems to me to be a strategy for winning the nomination. He then matches up head-to-head with a Democrat on issues like abortion and gay rights, where it's a wash, and the general election debate then ends up being about 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, which is what Rudy wants.

The risk he takes is that there's a third-party social conservative candidate who emerges in that election, who takes votes away from Rudy in the way that Nader took votes from Gore.

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