Friday, September 14, 2012

Dogs, Frisbees and Presidential Campaigns

This morning Kimberly Strassel, who writes a perceptive column in the WSJ called Potomac Watch, penned an article that Governor Romney is being too cautious.  It was called Mr. Romney, Trust Your Pants.  It contains some very sound advice for a presidential candidate who is not exploiting his natural advantage in this season.

Strassel's argument is that Romney cannot afford to sit back just because the President's policies are unpopular.   She makes the analogy that Romney is wearing a belt, suspenders and even an elastic waistband - he is unwilling to trust that the voters have enough sense to understand the clarity of his positions on major issues or that by providing detail on his ideas that he will expose himself to the Obama attack machine.   She's right, they will attack.   But he is wrong that the voters cannot handle an honest explanation of how to solve our malaise.  She is also right that Romney should be a lot bolder.

Clearly, the most exciting point in Romney's campaign was when he nominated Paul Ryan.  The Obama campaign immediately went into high gear calling him all sorts of names.   And not surprisingly, the attacks had little effect.   Ryan is still one of the most positive forces in American politics.   Two pieces of research should give Romney a bit more backbone.  

The first is a superb paper done for the Jackson Hole economics meetings and called the Dog and the Frisbee which makes a persuasive argument that complexity in financial regulations increase the likelihood that errors will happen - Black Swans if you will.   Dodd Frank is a clear example of monstrous regulations that will increase costs without decreasing risks of failing banks.  Romney could and should explain in a clear way how his health care plan, his tax plan and his financial regulatory plan avoid the nonsensical level of regulation that Obama's plans have done.  

The second is a book that was written by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (yes, the former Harvard Professor who now works for Obama's White House).  It is called Nudge.   Thaler and Sunstein make a strong case for regulatory schemes that encourage people to make the right decisions rather than directing their every behavior.   It relies a lot on principles of subsidiarity but also a lot of common sense.  Clearly, by making the strong case that the Obama Administration has engaged in regulatory excess, Romney could present a clear vision of where he would like to lead the country.  

The Romney campaign's leadership has seemingly erred on the side of caution, perhaps believing that if they tell too much to voters the other side will be able to exploit the "third rail" characteristics of proposals.   That is what kept any serious discussion of reform of Social Security.  Yet, Ryan has proven that if you take substance to voters they will be able to grasp it.   He has not been cautious in hiding the details of his budget plan - indeed, he has been bold.   Conventional campaign wisdom says you can't take the risk.   But without a bit more explanation - the other side has the opportunity to poke all sorts of holes in their opponents.   So the Obama campaign claimed that Romney's proposal on Medicare will cost seniors $6400 more per year (without a shred of evidence except a thoroughly discredited paper from some lefty policy wonks).

By huge margins the American people believe that the country is going in the wrong direction - but Mr. Obama is still a positive figure.  So to be successful Romney is going to have to go after those wrong directions, but not with timidity.   My suspicion is that were Romney to begin to make those thrusts, the President's campaign would begin to reflect the genuine angst that Americans hold for Hope and Change as they have understood it to unfold.

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