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Tilting at Windmills

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December 27, 2007

THE LIMITS OF HUCKABEE'S OUTRAGE....Way back in May, at the first debate for the Republican presidential candidates, there was an interesting exchange that signaled the kind of talk we could expect from Mike Huckabee.

The former governor explained, "The most important thing a president needs to do is to make it clear that we're not going to continue to see jobs shipped overseas ... and then watch as a CEO takes a hundred-million-dollar bonus to jettison those American jobs somewhere else." After decrying CEO pay and vulnerable worker pensions, Huckabee concluded, "That's criminal. It's wrong. And if Republicans don't stop it, we don't deserve to win in 2008."

At the time, it surprised some people that a Republican candidate would even pay lip service to the concerns of working people. It led some to argue that Huckabee had something of a populist streak.

He doesn't. For one thing, it's hard to even take the notion seriously given Huckabee's enthusiastic support for a 23% national sales tax. For another, his talk about how "criminal" it is for CEOs to reap a windfall while workers are losing their jobs is just pleasant-sounding rhetoric, which he has no intention of taking seriously.

Huckabee made this abundantly clear during a CNBC interview on Monday night.

HARWOOD: Governor, let me ask you, which is the criminal part, the loss of those jobs and the loss of pension, or the golden parachute for the CEO? And what would you do about either one?

HUCKABEE: It's a combination. It's when one person is losing his job who helped make the company successful and the person who steers the company either into bankruptcy or selling off it in pieces has that golden parachute of $700 million.... What the government ought to do is to call attention to it, put some spotlight to it. I don't think it's about coming up with some new regulation. Corporate boards ought to show some responsibility. If a board allows that kind of thing to happen, shame on that board.

Asked if he, as president, would actually want to do something about the problem, Huckabee said he would "like" to see corporate boards "show responsibility." He would oppose efforts to regulate, though, because government action "only exacerbates a problem."

So, in May, Huckabee insisted that it was "criminal" to see CEOs cleaning up while workers are losing their jobs, and said Republicans have no choice but to intervene and "stop it." But in December, Huckabee believes the government should do nothing more than "call attention to" the problem.

I suppose it's the difference between a long-shot in the spring, and a credible challenger in the fall. Seven months ago, Huckabee could pretend to care about working people, because few knew his name, and even fewer thought he had a chance. Now, Huckabee wants to win, so he's dropping the pretense.

Something to consider the next time the media mentions Huckabee's "populist" streak.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Comments

To the MSM, 'populist' means you like watching NASCAR.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on December 27, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Shame, shame, shame.

Posted by: Gomer on December 27, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

It's Huckabilly's version of "compassionate conservatism". As we all know, compassionate conservatism has nothing to do with either compassion or conservatism, but a lot to do with dropping cluster bombs on Iraqi children.

Same thing with Huckabilly's "populism". What we need is a name for this pseudo-populism.

I think we should call it "predatory populism". It SOUNDS like populism, but it's just there to allow Huckabilly to hornswoggle credulous, moronic repukeliscum voters into giving him the presidency.

Let's have a contest: Name the Huckabilly populism.

Posted by: POed Lib on December 27, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

his rhetoric about how "criminal" it is for CEOs to reap a windfall while workers are losing their jobs is just pleasant-sounding rhetoric, which he has no intention of taking seriously.

And how, exactly, does that differ from Populism in practice?

Posted by: ed on December 27, 2007 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Baptist ministers have a lot of practice parsing the Bible. It's actually a good background for running for political office.

Posted by: coldhotel on December 27, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Huckabee's populist "streak" makes him a populist the same way a woman's blond "streaks" make her a blond.

Posted by: Tyro on December 27, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

While there's some truth to what Steve said, I think Huckabee deserves "some" credit for bringing up the unethical situation to begin with. Instead of vilifying him, the other candidates, Democrat and Republican, should be pressured to express their opinions on the matter.

Posted by: Sojourner on December 27, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Huckabee's populist "streak" makes him a populist the same way a woman's blond "streaks" make her a blond.

Posted by: Tyro on December 27, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

You know, it's like other criminal acts...we don't need government "coming up with some new regulation". They just need to "put some spotlight to it". That'll take care of the problem.

Posted by: jrw on December 27, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Umm, Steve, you mean a 30% national sales tax. They use the inclusive rate to lie to people because 30% sounds to high. But it's really a 30% rate.

Posted by: Seitz on December 27, 2007 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin- The point isn't if Mike Huckabee is a populist. As I am sure you are aware, Republicans are never really populists (see Ronald Reagan). The issue is can the Huckster convince the average low information content "swing" voter that he is, and I think the answer to that question is... hell yes he can. For one thing, he has all the right attributes for the Republican noise machine to sell his story: Governor of a rural Southern/border state, has a sense of humor, can blow small animals to smithereens with a weapon, has said things in the past that might be construed to not come from an inside-the-beltway consultant, and his last name is not Bush or Cheney.

Posted by: spiny on December 27, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

It'll be interesting to see if conservative opposition to Huckabee subsides once he starts making it clear that he's not actually going to oppose the billionaire class's interests.

Posted by: ChristianPinko on December 27, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

It's easy to decry outrageous income, but it's hard to do anything about it while retaining economic freedom.

What steps should the government take to remedy the situation? Should they set up a bureaucracy to control corporate remuneration, in a repeat of Richard Nixon's disastrous wage & price controls? Should they ban high income for all, thus invalidating Alex Rodriguez's $200m+ contract? What should they do about Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, whose billions have been mostly due to appreciation of stock that they already own? Should the government restrict Barbra Streisand's multi-million dollar earnings?

IMHO the income disparity is wrong, but there's no good legislative solution.

Posted by: ex-liberal on December 27, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

First of all, all recent Republicans have been populist -- social populists.

Huckabee takes this all the way to the old style southern democrat, combining both social and economic populism. Why do you think the talking heads hate him so much?

Would he actually do anything? Who knows. But, then, populism has never been about doing anything.

Posted by: Mark on December 27, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

I think Huckabee deserves "some" credit for bringing up the unethical situation to begin with. Instead of vilifying him, the other candidates, Democrat and Republican, should be pressured to express their opinions on the matter."

I agree. Based on his domestics polices as Governor of Arkansas (anti-racist, pro-health care, etc) Huckabilly may be as close to a populist as we are likely to get -- democrat or republican. Also, he may sufficiently craftly and ruthless enough to out-flank corporate interest in favor of the populist interest -- employing the same kind of sneak-thief charm reminiscent of FDR.

Us liberal shouldn't be knee-jerks about hot button issues (guns, gay marriage, abortion). Isn't that why we look down on NASCAR trash in the first place, because they vote social issues over their economic self-interests.

Posted by: Hotspur on December 27, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

"Umm, Steve, you mean a 30% national sales tax. They use the inclusive rate to lie to people because 30% sounds to high. But it's really a 30% rate."

Actually, I understand it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% if you base it on the claimed revenue and don't blow off the gap because you're trying to deceive people into supporting it. But, hey, who's counting? Oh, that's right, Steve is, and he comes up with 23%. That's not helping, Steve.

Posted by: david on December 27, 2007 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: the income disparity is wrong, but there's no good legislative solution

There's no legislative panacea that fits on a bumper sticker, but that's a lame excuse for doing nothing.

Should they set up a bureaucracy to control corporate remuneration, in a repeat of Richard Nixon's disastrous wage & price controls?

No. But that's a strawman, since no one has suggested it.

Should they ban high income for all, thus invalidating Alex Rodriguez's $200m+ contract?

No - another strawman. It would be interesting though if they eliminated the anti-trust exemption that sports have.

What should they do about Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, whose billions have been mostly due to appreciation of stock that they already own?

Eliminate capital gains rates. As empirical research has repeatedly shown, they do nothing to spur investment.

Should the government restrict Barbra Streisand's multi-million dollar earnings?

No - another strawman. I do question though how much of the DoJ's limited resources should be squandered in prosecuting file sharers.

More devil-in-the-details ideas:

1. Change the rules so that corporate boards have a better shot at representing the shareholders. Allow large investors to nominate board members and don't count shareholder non-votes as votes for the management position. Require full disclosure of incestuous ties between board members and management.

2. Don't let "American" corporations park profits overseas indefinitely - require them to be repatriated and taxed.

3. Crack down on transfer pricing games of MNC's.

4. Do something about the exchange rate of the yuan. Now that the dollar is coming down our trade deficit is improving (of course the buck has been so high for so long that a lot of damage has been done to our manufacturing, and it will take years to fix). The buck is still stuck against the yuan though, and that shows in our escalating deficit with Communist China.

5. Publicly finance campaigns, like in the People's Republic of Arizona. Large campaign contributions are just legal bribes, and lead, for example, to the possibility of the Senator from Punjab being our next president (actually that should be Senator from Karnataka, but what the heck).

Posted by: alex on December 27, 2007 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK
I suppose it's the difference between a long-shot in the spring, and a credible challenger in the fall.

Well, I think its the difference between "struggling to be noticed", and "struggling to win Republican primary votes", sure.

Seven months ago, Huckabee could pretend to care about working people, because few knew his name, and even fewer thought he had a chance.

Seven months ago, Huckabee needed a way to distinguish himself from the pack to get any media attention at all.

Today, he needs to directly woo primary voters, the time for generic appeals for attention is over.

Posted by: cmdicely on December 27, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK
It's easy to decry outrageous income, but it's hard to do anything about it while retaining economic freedom.

No, its not. Its very easy: you establish progressive taxation on income, treating income the same regardless of the source. And you establish a tax (preferably also progressive) on large estates.

What's harder is establishing something like our present federal tax system, one that pretends to do something about while avoiding actually doing much by granting special, favorable treatment to the kind of income (i.e., capital income) received disproportionately by the people with the highest overall income.

What steps should the government take to remedy the situation? Should they set up a bureaucracy to control corporate remuneration, in a repeat of Richard Nixon's disastrous wage & price controls?

No, they should just stop treating capital income as something favored over income received through other means (principally, wage labor).

That alone does quit a bit to address the problem. Adding more super-high-income tax brackets (or just making marginal rates based on a continuous function rather than steps) might be a desirable add-on to that, though.

Should they ban high income for all, thus invalidating Alex Rodriguez's $200m+ contract?


Why ban it? Taxing it is more practical and more useful.


What should they do about Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, whose billions have been mostly due to appreciation of stock that they already own?

Tax them on them when the gains are realized, or when they die.

Should the government restrict Barbra Streisand's multi-million dollar earnings?

No, it shouldn't "restrict" them, it should tax them.

IMHO the income disparity is wrong, but there's no good legislative solution.

Unsurprising, as apparently the only legislative approach you can think of is banning things. But your inability to think of a productive approach isn't evidence that no productive approach exists.

Posted by: cmdicely on December 27, 2007 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

"I suppose it's the difference between a long-shot in the spring, and a credible challenger in the fall. Seven months ago, Huckabee could pretend to care about working people, because few knew his name, and even fewer thought he had a chance. Now, Huckabee wants to win, so he's dropping the pretense."

This is awfully counterintuitive--long-shot candidates pander and pretend, while contenders say what they really think? Maybe if Tancredo had gotten more traction in the polls, he'd have given it to us straighter on immigration...

Posted by: Steve Thorngate on December 27, 2007 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK
This is awfully counterintuitive--long-shot candidates pander and pretend, while contenders say what they really think?

Long-shots that want to win pretend what is useful to get media attention. Contenders close to elections pretend what is useful to get votes.

In either case, there is plenty of pretense, but what pretense is useful is different in different situations.

Posted by: cmdicely on December 27, 2007 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Long-shots that want to win pretend what is useful to get media attention. Contenders close to elections pretend what is useful to get votes."

Sure. And I'm troubled by the eagerness to assume that Huckabee's more sincere now than he was then. Both liberals and establishment conservatives have plenty of concrete reasons--based on his record as governor, not just his rhetoric--to distrust Huckabee.

Posted by: Steve Thorngate on December 27, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, c'mon, you know that Huck's got courage to attack the Federal Reserve's finest fund-raising machine, the Income Tax (they were both passed in close proximity in 1913). Here's an interesting bit of research from a credible source:

The effective tax rate percentages, that different income groups would pay under the FairTax, are calculated by crediting the monthly "prebate" (advance rebate of projected tax on necessities) against total monthly spending of citizen families (1 member and greater, Dept. of Commerce poverty-level data; a single person receiving ~$200/mo, a family of four, ~$500/mo, in addition to working earners receiving paychecks with no Federal deductions) Prof.'s Kotlikoff and Rapson (10/06) concluded,

"...the FairTax imposes much lower average taxes on working-age households than does the current system. The FairTax broadens the tax base from what is now primarily a system of labor income taxation to a system that taxes, albeit indirectly, both labor income and existing wealth. By including existing wealth in the effective tax base, much of which is owned by rich and middle-class elderly households, the FairTax is able to tax labor income at a lower effective rate and, thereby, lower the average lifetime tax rates facing working-age Americans.

"Consider, as an example, a single household age 30 earning $50,000. The household’s average tax rate under the current system is 21.1 percent. It’s 13.5 percent under the FairTax. Since the FairTax would preserve the purchasing power of Social Security benefits and also provide a tax rebate, older low-income workers who will live primarily or exclusively on Social Security would be better off. As an example, the average remaining lifetime tax rate for an age 60 married couple with $20,000 of earnings falls from its current value of 7.2 percent to -11.0 percent under the FairTax. As another example, compare the current 24.0 percent remaining lifetime average tax rate of a married age 45 couple with $100,000 in earnings to the 14.7 percent rate that arises under the FairTax."

Further, per Jokischa and Kotlikoff (2005) ...

"...once one moves to generations postdating the baby boomers there are positive welfare gains for all income groups in each cohort. Under a 23 percent FairTax policy, the poorest members of the generation born in 1990 enjoy a 13.5 percent welfare gain. Their middle-class and rich contemporaries experience 5 and 2 percent welfare gains, respectively. The welfare gains are largest for future generations. Take the cohort born in 2030. The poorest members of this cohort enjoy a huge 26 percent improvement in their well-being. For middle class members of this birth group, there's a 12 percent welfare gain. And for the richest members of the group, the gain is 5 percent."
Posted by: Ian Repley, Ann Arbor on December 27, 2007 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

"...Prof.'s Kotlikoff and Rapson (10/06) concluded..."

That's really very funny.

Posted by: david on December 27, 2007 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK
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