Thursday, November 15, 2012

LIBERAL PARANOIA AND THE CITIZENS UNITED DECISION: 10 Myths My Fellow Liberals Believe about Election Spending

Despite the paranoia of my fellow liberals, the sky is not falling because of the Citizens United decision.
For two years now, I have been arguing with my fellow liberals about the Supreme Court’s well-known (shall I say notorious?) 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which permitted corporations, unions, and other organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money on election advocacy. I support the Supreme Court’s decision. Yes, you read that right. I am a liberal (some would call me a flaming liberal), and I support the Supreme Court’s decision in what I shall hereafter call, for brevity’s sake, simply Citizens United.

Let me put it as baldly as I can: I believe casino magnate Sheldon Adelson should be permitted to give $53 million of his own money or his company’s money (as he did) to whatever PACs or other organizations he wants in order to help get Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or anyone else elected. I believe the oil-rich Koch brothers should be able to give many millions of their companies’ dollars (as they did) to whatever organizations they want that are dedicated to defeating Democratic candidates. I believe the coal companies and banks should be able to spend whatever they want (as they did) to produce ads that support candidates they like and oppose candidates they don’t like.

My reasoning is simple: Unfettered political speech is important. In a democracy, it is indispensable.  Any restrictions on the ability of an individual or a corporation or a union or any other entity to express its political opinions is a restriction on political speech. Restricting political speech is wrong, per se, in a democracy.

Sheldon Adelson, conservative
George Soros, liberal
In this I am simply being consistent: When I support the right of the conservative Sheldon Adelson to support his candidates as he wishes, I am also protecting the right of the liberal George Soros to do the same. And when I support the right of Exxon to make a political ad, I am also protecting the right of the Sierra Club to do the same. If I were to deny the right of those on one side of the political spectrum, I would of necessity deny that same right to those on the other. To do that would be to strangle the voice out of our democracy.

I am not the only liberal who believes the Citizens United decision was correct. So does the ACLU, the most important defender of civil liberties in the country, and an organization vilified in some quarters as too liberal. The AFL-CIO, no friend of conservative causes, also submitted a brief to the Supreme Court that supported its final decision in the case. Michael Kinsley is just one liberal columnist to come out in support of the decision. I agree with the ACLU, the AFL-CIO, and Kinsley: Citizens United was properly decided. Post-Citizens United, democracy is still safe and as thriving as ever.

We have just finished the first presidential election since Citizens United was decided. I now ask my liberal friends: What harm did the Citizens United decision cause in this election? The answer is clear: No harm whatsoever.

To feel and exhibit fear when no fear is justified is a sign of paranoia. When it comes to Citizens United, many of my fellow liberals have simply been paranoid, imagining the sky to be falling when it is still holding up the sun just fine.

I do understand the reasons many of my fellow liberals opposed the Citizens United decision. Those reasons were myths to begin with, and the recent election has proven them to be myths. Here are some of the myths that too many of my fellow liberals believe about the Citizens United decision:

Romney (above) and Obama (below) ended up spending about the same amount of money in the campaign.
Myth #1: Citizen United will let rich people and corporations drown out the voices of ordinary people. This is simply untrue, as the recent presidential election showed. President Obama and Mitt Romney each raised about $1 billion to fund their campaigns (including both direct contributions and contributions to PACs and other organizations that supported them).  President Obama’s campaign raised twice as much from those giving under $200 as Romney’s raised from those giving more than $2,000. In other words, Obama’s money came from “ordinary people”; Romney’s came from richer people; Obama’s “ordinary people” gave more to the campaign directly than Romney’s rich people. The President’s campaign took in far more than Romney’s; Romney’s PACs took in far more than the President’s; in the end, the money given to advocate for each candidate balanced out almost perfectly evenly at about $1 billion. And in the end, both campaigns saturated the airwaves with their ads. The voices of both candidates came through loud and clear. Conclusion: The rich did not drown out us ordinary folk in either dollars or decibels.

Myth #2: Citizens United will let rich people and corporations give all they want to candidates’ campaigns, making candidates obliged to them. The rich, in effect, get to bribe the candidates. This claim, too, is untrue, and it is probably the most common misconception among those who oppose the Citizens United decision. Before Citizen United, there were strict regulations on how much an individual may give directly to a candidate’s campaign. After Citizen’s United, those regulations remain exactly the same. Today, an individual may give no more than $2,500 directly to a campaign. Corporations may give nothing directly to a campaign. (Few liberals I’ve argued with even know that.) Unions may give nothing directly to a campaign. There are similar limits on what individuals and organizations can give to state or national party committees. Although I generally believe in the freedom of individuals or groups to spend their money to express their political opinions, I support these limits on direct contributions to candidates and their campaigns. Why? Because giving directly to a candidate or his campaign can be tantamount to bribery. But if I create my own ad, with my own (or my corporation’s or my union’s) money, the candidate receives no direct wealth. That is not a bribe. It is simply my (or my organization’s) expression of my political opinion. Citizens United did not let anyone give more money to candidates. It simply let people create their own political ads, commercials, books, movies or whatever. (For those who didn’t follow the case closely, it involved a movie made by a group called Citizens United. The movie vilified Hillary Clinton. The decision  allowed the movie to be shown.)

Myth #3: Citizens United will give Republicans, the party of the rich, an advantage in elections. This year’s election certainly gives the lie to that myth, doesn’t it? The presidential candidate supported by rich Republicans like Adelson, the Kochs, Donald Trump, et al., lost. Nearly all the Senate candidates supported by those rich Republicans lost. (Adelson and his wife spent $42 million to support eight Republican Senate candidates; they all lost.) Most Republican representatives already in the House won, but so did most Democratic incumbents; the Dems actually picked up seats in both the House and the Senate. The gerrymandering done by the Republicans in the states after 2010 had far more to do with Republican victories in the House than Citizens United. Nothing in Citizens United would have affected that gerrymandering.

If Citizens United had been decided otherwise, both Stephen Colbert (top)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. . . . These are people who pay no income tax. . . . My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
—Mitt Romney at a Republican fundraiser, Spring 2012
Mitt Romney

My mom, Elsie Weathers, was one of the "47 percent" Governor Romney claims to describe. She voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and would have voted for him this year, too. Warning: Don't let the meek smile fool you, Mr. Romney.

In her final years, my late mother, a tiny woman who died at the age of 93, paid no income taxes on her small social security income, and she relied on Medicare to pay her medical bills. She had never worked a regular job outside the home, so she had never paid any income taxes. Instead, she had raised five kids, scrubbed the floor of our kitchen twice a week, washed all our clothes, vacuumed the house, and handled all the finances in our family, buying the groceries and doling out each mortgage, utilities, and tuition check with extraordinary Finnish parsimony. Of course, Mom did pay sales taxes on every piece of clothing she bought for us kids (she bought little for herself), and she signed the check that paid the property taxes each year on the small house she and my dad had skrimped and saved in order to buy in 1956.

If, at the end of her life, Mitt Romney or anyone else had ever walked up to my mother and claimed that she was a moocher who took no "personal responsibility" for her life and had failed to pay her own way, my stubborn, proud little Finnish mother, who, it's true, never paid any income taxes of her own, would have kicked him emphatically in the . . . keister.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


 Note: I wrote this column for The Roanoke Times, where it appeared on the op-ed page on Saturday, August 25, 2012. 

In 1980, candidate Ronald Reagan  asked: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"

    In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan famously asked voters: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”
    The tactic worked well for Mr. Reagan.
    Mr. Reagan’s question itself was not quite precise, however, since a new president’s policies don’t take effect until at least six months after he takes office. As election day 2012 approaches, it’s more reasonable for voters to ask, “Are we better off today than we were three years ago?” With that in mind, let’s look at the Obama administration’s economic record over the last three years. (The facts that follow come from nonpartisan sources accepted by both parties, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.)
     Jobs: Three years ago, in September 2009,  the U.S. had jobs for 139 million employed workers. As of July 2012, the U.S. has jobs for 142 million employed workers. That means new jobs for more than 3 million workers have been created in the last three years. Verdict: If you’re looking for work, the American job market is better today than it was three years ago.
     (Note: More than 4 million jobs were lost in the first six months that President Obama was in office, a continuation of the recession that began before he took office. In their campaign advertising, Republicans blame the President for those early-term job losses. Whether that blame is fairly directed I leave it to the reader to decide.)
     Unemployment rate: In October 2009, the unemployment rate was 10%. Today, it is 8.3%. Verdict: Your chances of finding a job are 17% better today than they were three years ago.
     Investments: In September 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hovered around 9,500. Today, it hovers around 13,200. Verdict: If you invest in average stocks, your nest egg is 38% larger than three years ago. If you rely on a stock-invested pension plan, your economic security is more assured than it was three years ago. 

This chart shows the rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the last three years. In that time, the value of retiree stocks and pension plans has risen about 38%. The rise in the stock market also reflects the optimism of professional investors in the future of the nation's economy.
     Corporate profits: The after-tax profits of U.S. corporations in October 2009 came to $1.35 trillion. The after-tax profits of U.S. corporations in 2012 amount to $1.67 trillion—an all-time high. Corporate profit margins and cash reserves are also at or near an all-time high. Verdict: If you invest in or work for an average U.S. corporation, you are 23% better off today than you were three years ago.
     Inflation/deflation: In 2009, overall prices fell 0.4%. Falling prices are known as “deflation.” In 2011, prices rose 3.2%. (The annualized inflation rate last month was 1.4%.) The current level of inflation is historically on the low side. According to economists, a drop in prices—deflation—is far more dangerous to an economy than mild inflation. (Why? Because in periods of deflation, consumers buy less, waiting for prices to drop further, and the economy stagnates.) Verdict: If you are a consumer, the prices you pay remain relatively low, but you no longer need fear deflation.
     Mortgage rates: In August 2009, a 30-year mortgage carried a 5% interest rate. In August 2012, a 30-year mortgage carries less than a 4% interest rate. Verdict: If you want to buy a home, you are in a better position today than you were three years ago.
     Housing prices: The median price for a single-family home in August of 2009 was $177,700—a steep drop from the $225,000 it had been in 2006. The median price for a single family home in the first quarter of 2012 was $181,500. Verdict: If you own a home, its value has stabilized and even risen a bit in the last three years.
     Income: In September 2009, per capita disposable personal income in the United States was $34,960. As of June, 2012 (the latest month available) per capita disposable personal income in the U.S. was $37,971. In September, 2009, the average American worker earned $756.31 per week. As of July, 2012, the average American worker earned $811.44 per week. Verdict: If you are an average American, you are a bit wealthier and earning more today than you were three years ago.*
     By these measures, the average American is better off today than he or she was three years ago. If one is to accept Ronald Reagan’s reasoning, then, it is clear who should be elected—or, more exactly, reelected—this November.

The answer to Reagan's question today is "Yes." By Reagan's logic we should reelect President Obama.


Explanation of deflation:  (Note: Krugman is probably not an unbiased source acceptable to both parties, but his explanation of the problems with deflation nevertheless is clear and accepted by 99.9% of economists.)

Mortgage rates: (original source: Freddie Mac)

and (original source: National Association of Realtors)

Income: (original source: Bureau of Economic Analysis)

and  (original source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

*After this column appeared, a reader sent me the following link, to an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ): .

The WSJ column refers to a recent study that shows household income falling over the last three years, under the Obama administration—a fact which seems to contradict my claims about how income has risen in the last three years.  Here is my response to my reader, whose name is John:

     This is interesting, John. I got my figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The article you sent gets its figures from the Census Bureau. 
      As you'll see in the tables, according to the BEA, per capita personal income is up since June of 2009. (I prefer to compare to October 2009, when Obama's policies had time to take effect. The beginning of 2010 is probably even fairer.) Personal income is up even in constant dollars, meaning it's ahead of inflation.    
     The problem with the Census Bureau's "household income" figure, in my opinion, is threefold: 1) it measures household income, not individual income, 2) it does not count capital gains and other sources of income, 3) it is based on "estimates" that result from phone surveys and what people tell surveyors over the phone—a poor way to determine income. As for #1, if the number of households increases, but people are making the same amount of money, then the income per household goes down. Does that seem a sensible measure of whether the economy has improved or deteriorated? Not to me. And aren't capital gains (which have shot up under Obama) a real source of income for millions of people? (They are for me and Mitt Romney!) The BEA approach also has its weakness, but I think it is better than the Census Bureau approach. . . .
     As you can probably tell, I am a liberal and an Obama supporter. I disagree with several of the conclusions in the article you sent. For example, it claims the weakening of unions has not hurt the economy. If you read major economists like Stiglitz and Krugman, you'll get a very different analysis. One of the reasons Germany is doing so well, for example, is that they have very strong unions, respected by the government, with consequent higher wages, a strong middle class, and less economic inequality. I wish strong unions would come back. But that's another issue.
     Thanks for sharing this. It caused me to think about things even more deeply—always a good thing.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Penn State football: the innocent victim of the Sandusky affair.

I've just been examining the NCAA's Sandusky-affair sanctions against Penn State. (For details, see here.) I've also just read the whole Freeh Special Report that excoriated the university for its handling of the Sandusky case—the report on which the NCAA has largely based its actions. Has anyone else here read the entire Freeh report? The two—the report and the NCAA's sanctions—don't match up for me. The NCAA punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime—or, more exactly, the punishment seems to be meted out to the wrong entity.

In the entire Freeh report, there is only one sentence that suggests that protecting the football program was a motive of anyone involved in this case, and that was a comment by a janitor who witnessed Sandusky fondling a boy. The janitor says he didn't report the incident because he felt the football program could have him fired. But that was merely how he "felt," and nowhere else, anywhere, in any notes or emails or conversations or testimony, does anyone else involved ever suggest that protecting the football program was a motive for not reporting Sandusky.

And in fact, those in the football program did report Sandusky's activities—to the university's athletic director and to the v-p for business affairs, who just happens to oversee the university's police department, where the accusations against Sandusky should have been reported. Joe Paterno himself reported what a young graduate assistant/later coach saw (Sandusky molesting a boy in a university shower) to the A.D. and to the v-p for business affairs. By the Clery Law, Paterno should have himself reported it to the university police, but he did report it to the man who oversees the police. Was that such a bad misstep on his part? As far as the report suggests, that's the only thing Paterno did wrong: instead of going straight to the police himself, he went to their boss. The Freeh report suggests that neither Paterno nor most other people at Penn State understood the Clery Law well enough to know they should report what they heard about Sandusky in person to the police.

Joe Paterno: wrongly vilified.
After reading the Freeh report, I am of the opinion that Paterno is being vilified improperly and that for the Penn State football program to be gutted as a result of what Sandusky did is a case of misdirected justice. It suggests to me that people just want to take revenge on someone, and the Penn State football program is the biggest elephant they can shoot down.

If you read the Freeh report in its entirety, you might, like me, get the sense that it is the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the Penn State university police department that deserve our criticism: they failed to investigate at all carefully an early (1998), double-witness/double-victim account of Sandusky molesting children, and the district attorney refused to prosecute him then. For some reason, that failure is lost in the screaming about the Penn State football program and Paterno.

The abuse of all those kids was a terrible thing. Punishment and deterrence are important in such cases. As humans, we need to feed our hunger for revenge. But the evidence against the football program itself is utterly missing from the Freeh report. For a football program which had almost nothing to do with the whole case to be eviscerated by the NCAA therefore seems inappropriate to me. (Freeh himself, in the report's conclusions, tries to blame the university's devotion to the football program in part for what happened, but he offers no evidence to back that up. It's as if he, too, just wants to shoot the big elephant.)

Louis Freeh: shooting at elephants.
Sandusky is put away for good. The athletic director and the v-p for business affairs are being prosecuted for failure to report a crime. All that seems appropriate. But the Penn State football program has received a raw deal. In this case, it seems to me, at least one innocent party—the football program—is going to jail.

The reasons the people at Penn State did not stop Sandusky earlier are far more complex than "the football program made them do it." Some are simple human reasons: misplaced loyalty, an unwillingness to believe something awful about a friend and colleague, preoccupation with one's own everyday brushfires, dislike of confrontation, head-in-the-sand attitudes about despicable acts. (How many of us actually do something about hunger in Somalia or rape in the Congo? We know it's there, and yet we do nothing.) And there are institutional reasons: poor lines of communication, weak training in legal and human-resources policies, misunderstanding of organizational-chart responsibilities. And yes, there are more selfish reasons: the desire to protect one's own reputation and that of one's favorite institutions.

There are many reasons Jerry Sandusky got away with what he did for as long as he did. Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program are the least of those reasons.

Here's the Freeh report if you care to read it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Marriage is an outmoded institution. Historically, it has been little more than a way for those in power—the religious hierarchy, the aristocracy, and autocrats—to control the flow of wealth and influence. Marriage and the laws attached to it have helped perpetuate economic inequality, class discrimination, racism, sexism, and religious bigotry throughout the world. If you doubt any of this, I recommend you read a book called A History of Marriage, by Elizabeth Abbott. If you want more details about my opinion of marriage, see this earlier blog post.

Although I would not recommend marriage to anyone, I nevertheless am rather proud of President Obama for (finally) supporting gay marriage without equivocation. He has taken a principled stand that will cost him votes. How often have we been able to say that about a politician in an election year?

Obama's political advisors no doubt weighed the election impact of his coming out in favor of gay marriage. Here's my take on the political consequences of his pro-gay-marriage declaration:

Political Positives for Obama

1) It will please and energize the liberal base. The most radical Democrats (like me) have been impatiently waiting for him to make any number of politically risky policy decisions (see: closing Guantanamo, ending the Afghanistan War, cutting defense spending, revising the Patriot Act to protect personal privacy). This is the kind of thing we've been hungry for.

2) It will absolutely solidify gay support for him and bring out the gay vote. Historically, many gays have felt so under-represented that they stayed away from the voting booth altogether. Whether gays are 3% or 10% of the population (nobody knows), that's a significant number of voters who have not voted before but will vote this time. Gay Republicans, as well, may well vote for Obama this time. Even conservative writer Andrew Sullivan said he was moved to tears when Obama announced his support for gay marriage.

3) It could generate more participation among young voters. The college generation and Gen Xers generally support gay marriage.

4) It could generate more money for Obama from the liberal elite. Apparently he received millions of dollars in donations just in the hours after his announcement.

 5) It will make Romney seem more out-of-date, out-of-step, fogeyish, intolerant, and "Mormon" by comparison. Given the history of Mormonism (see: polygamy), it will be difficult for Romney to say much in defense of "traditional" marriage without seeming to deny his own heritage. If Republicans make a big deal about this, it will shift the political debate from the economy to social issues, where Obama is, in general, stronger than Romney, who is manacled to the Tea Party.

6) It makes Obama seem principled and above politics. Many American voters will find it refreshing to see a politician take any stand that is not dictated by the polls.

Political Negatives for Obama

1) It is a direct slap in the face to North Carolina. This state voted for the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment just this week. Even those who opposed the amendment will find Obama's timing offensive, as if he's intentionally thumbing his nose at their state's sentiments. His announcement could very well cost him this swing state.

2) It will cost him votes in the black and Hispanic church communities. These groups strongly oppose gay marriage. Losing any black votes could cost Obama the swing state of Virginia, which he barely won in 2008. Losing Hispanic votes will possibly cost him Colorado and Nevada, two other key swing states.

3) It will probably cost him Indiana. He had at least a slim chance of winning this religiously conservative state before. Now he has less chance.

4) It will energize the ultra-right. The Tea Partiers and the evangelicals will work even harder against him and flock to the polls to vote.

5) It could hurt him with lunch-pail voters. Less educated blue-collar workers in important swing states like Ohio and Wisconsin, many of whom like Obama for his resurrection of the auto industry, will find the pro-gay-marriage stance offensive. It may also hurt him with blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania.

6) It could hurt him with elderly voters. Older Americans poll against gay marriage, so they might use this as an excuse to vote against Obama in the most important swing state— Florida—which has a large elderly population.

On balance, Obama's coming out in favor of gay marriage hurts him, I think, more than it helps him electorally. His political advisors no doubt told him so. And yet he did it. I think the better of him for it.


(Note: Some liberals have expressed disappointment that Obama said gay marriage should be an issue decided by the states. They believe he should have supported a federal law or court decision making gay marriage a right protected by the U.S. Constitution and enforced by the federal government, like abortion and voting rights for African-Americans. Here's a link to such criticism. [Be sure to read the comments on this link as well as the original post.] I understand the position of these folks, but I believe that, given the historical context, they are asking too much and appreciating too little what the President has done.)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Romney’s Vice-Presidential Options: Who gives him the best shot at winning?

The question is: Who will be Romney's vice-presidential pick?

Now that it’s assured (as if it weren’t a long time ago) that Mitt Romney will be the Republican presidential nominee, the fun comes in considering whom he might make his running mate. Here’s my list, with the odds of each candidate’s being Romney’s choice, and, afterward, their strengths and weaknesses as vice-presidential candidates.

At the end of this post, I will name the Republicans I think would do the most damage to Obama’s chances. Here's the overall list:

Current Job
Marco Rubio
Florida senator
Rob Portman
Ohio senator
Tim Pawlenty
Fmr. governor of Minnesota
Chris Christie
Governor of New Jersey
Mitch Daniels
Governor of Indiana
Bob McDonnell
Governor of Virginia
John Thune
South Dakota senator
Bobby Jindal
Governor of Louisiana
Nikki Haley
Governor of South Carolina
Brian Sandoval
Governor of Nevada
Paul Ryan
U.S. representative, Wisconsin
Susana Martinez
Governor of New Mexico
Rick Santorum
Fmr. U.S. senator, Pennsylvania
Condoleezza Rice
Fmr. U.S. secretary of state
Jeb Bush
Fmr. governor of Florida

Other possibles who have been mentioned in media speculation, but that I’d put at worse than 50-1 odds: Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Olympia Snowe, Rand Paul, and Gen. David Petraeus. Of course, there is probably a Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle out there that no one, including me or Romney, is considering at this point.

Anyway, here’s my take on the most frequently mentioned suspects as Romney’s running mate.

Marco Rubio

Strengths: Rubio is smart, articulate, good-looking, young, and Hispanic. The last two characteristics offer a good contrast with Romney, who’s old and white-bread. Rubio’s parents emigrated from Cuba, so he somewhat neutralizes those who feel the Republicans are too anti-immigrant. He’s a darling of the Tea Party and will energize the far right of the Republican electorate and the anti-abortion crowd. He has decent foreign-policy credentials, being on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thereby filling a gap in Romney’s resume. He could bring in Florida—the prize among swing states. He’s a strong family man, which, along with his sex appeal, may attract women voters.

Weaknesses: He’s probably too right-wing for moderate independents. He’s light on national experience, having been in the Senate for only a year (previously was in the Florida House). He used to lie about his parents fleeing Castro; they in fact left Cuba before Castro came to power. Once a Mormon (!), he’s now a Catholic, with strict old-Catholic views on contraception and abortion, and has proposed legislation to restrict women’s access to insurance for contraception, so he probably won’t win over many women (but see: his good looks and healthy marriage). The biggest danger for Romney: Rubio could outshine him on the campaign trail, making Romney seem even duller, older, and less authentic than he already seems.

Rob Portman

Strengths: He’s been a huge vote-getter in Ohio, the most important swing state after Florida. He’s been a U.S. representative and a U.S. senator, and he’s served in the White House under both Bushes. As a former U.S. Trade Representative and Director of the Office of Management and Budget, he has strong economic credentials and a little foreign experience. He has voiced support for Obama’s auto bailout; this could help Romney, who made the mistake of criticizing the bailout in two states that benefited from it: Ohio and Michigan. He helped Romney tremendously in his close win over Santorum in the Ohio primary, so Romney knows him well and owes him. He’s a business-oriented numbers guy, perfect if the economy remains the big issue. On social issues like guns, abortion, stem cells, and gay rights, he’s voted the straight Tea Party line, so he could attract the Republican base. He understands Congress and could be a good Congressional liaison from a Romney White House. He’s poised but not flamboyant when speechifying—could make Romney look good without upstaging him.

Weaknesses: Rob who? He has almost no name recognition outside the inside of the Republican Party. His pro-gun, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-gay, Tea Party-friendly voting record could alienate women and minorities. He’s untested on the national scene. His support for the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich while in the Bush White House could hurt him in the general election. As George W. Bush’s OMB director, he could be accused of contributing to the nation’s deficit. He brings little to the table that Romney himself doesn’t already bring. He’s bland.

Tim Pawlenty

Strengths: He’s an intelligent, budget-cutting moderate cut along the lines of Romney himself. He abandoned his own presidential campaign and endorsed Romney early, working for him publicly, so the top of the ticket already likes and trusts him. He’s young (51), articulate, and has the requisite clean-cut looks and full head of hair. He can claim to have balanced Minnesota’s budget (but see below). He could appeal to moderate independents. He’s not given to saying foolish things in the heat of a campaign. He’s a Catholic-turned-Protestant but not a Santorum-style Bible-thumper. He could possibly bring Romney Minnesota, which now leans slightly toward Obama. He’s a low-key campaigner who will not burn brighter than Romney himself on the campaign trail. He’s a safe choice for Romney.

Weaknesses: He’s not exactly a Tea Party favorite, having raised some fees and seen property taxes rise during his tenure as governor. He’s also supported abortion in the case of rape, incest and danger to the mother’s health, so he won’t exactly energize the fundamentalist Republican no-tax, no-abortion base. He’s perceived as a boring speaker. He has no foreign-policy experience. He’s another governor, like Romney himself, so he has little sway nationally or internationally. He balanced the Minnesota budget using what some consider tricky accounting and money-shuffling. He may be too conservative for moderates (he wants to reinstate don’t-ask-don’t-tell, for example) but too moderate for conservatives (he’s open to alternative energy sources like ethanol). He’s too neutral to be interesting.

Chris Christie

Strengths: He’s the opposite of wishy-washy. He’s a lively, intelligent speaker who uses blunt language to make his points. On the campaign trail, as others speak in careful platitudes, he will come across as a rhetorical breath of fresh air. He’s a budget- and tax-cutter, which will please the Tea Partiers. The people of New Jersey like him better and better as time passes—a good sign; he could possibly bring Romney that state, though it is unlikely; he could at least force Obama not to take NJ for granted. Christie is not afraid to stand up to the far right wing of his party; for example, when he was criticized for nominating a Muslim to a judgeship, he called the criticism “crazy” and “crap.” He has stated that man-made global warming is real, and he’s in favor of his state’s strict gun control laws. These occasional acts of political independence from the right-wing of his party could attract independent voters. He’s anti-abortion but supports abortion in the cases of incest, rape, and protecting the life of the mother; this stance could attract moderate women.

Weaknesses: His bluntness could lead to gaffes on the campaign trail. His moderate anti-abortion, gun-control, and global-warming stances will turn off the fundamentalist superconservatives in the Republican base. He is another governor, like Romney, with minimal foreign policy experience and little national clout or exposure. He’s got unconventional looks—he’s big, bordering on fat. (Let’s not pretend that doesn’t count.) In joint appearances, his candor and outspokenness will make Romney seem, by contrast, boring and weasley.

Mitch Daniels

Strengths: He’s a popular vote-getter in Indiana, a state that is probably already for Romney but could waver. He was director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush and has a reputation as a budget-cutter. Like Romney, he’s a former businessman. Fiscal conservatives like his strongly anti-union policies (he decertified state unions early on). Social conservatives like his anti-abortion legislation (but see below), but he supports abortion in cases of incest, rape, and mother’s endangerment, so he shouldn’t alienate women too badly. He supported legislation to help Indiana residents get health insurance, giving Romney a “this guy knows health insurance” running-mate to critique Obamacare. He won’t outshine Romney during the campaign.

Weaknesses: He has married, divorced, and remarried—the same woman! Who knows how this will play with women and social conservatives? As OMB director, he vastly underestimated the costs of the Iraq war, and some conservatives blame him for budget deficits under Bush. He’ll doubly galvanize the unions, which despise him, to work against Romney. He has no foreign policy experience. He gave an utterly boring and nerdy response as the official Republican counter-speech following Obama’s State of the Union message. He has suggested that social conservatives call a “truce” on issues like abortion and gay marriage—a stance that offended many of them and made it seem that he wanted to hide the Republican stance on those issues from the public. He’s not photogenic or charismatic in the least. A businessman/governor, he’s more or less a Romney clone, offering little that Romney doesn’t already offer.

Bob McDonnell

Strengths: He’s a vote-getting governor of a pivotal state (Virginia) that barely went for Obama last time, then turned Republican in 2010, so he could bring 13 much-needed electoral votes to Romney. He was a lieutenant colonel in the army, filling a gap in Romney’s no-military resume. He is a down-the-line social and fiscal conservative, opposing abortion for any reason, opposing Obamacare loudly, opposing gay marriage, supporting unlimited gun ownership and unlimited drilling for oil; the Tea Partiers therefore like him a lot and will reward Romney with their enthusiasm for choosing him. He can claim to have helped Virginia have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. He comes with no particular personal baggage. He’s intelligent and photogenic but not so charismatic as to upstage Romney.

Weaknesses: He was the governor who initially supported the “vaginal rape” law that required women to undergo an intrusive ultrasound before having an abortion, so he will not exactly attract the moderate female vote. (He later tried to back off his support, but he still signed legislation that treats a woman seeking an abortion as if she were a child.) He’s so close to a Tea Partier that he might alienate moderates of all genders. When proclaiming “Confederate History Month” in Virginia, he failed to mention slavery (as even previous Republicans had done), thereby offending all blacks and many moderates. Untried on a larger stage, he could wilt under the national spotlight. He’s just another governor with no foreign policy experience, like Romney himself.

John Thune

Strengths: He has longtime Congressional experience, which fills in one of Romney’s weaknesses. He’s beaten powerful Democrats in the past (Tom Daschle in 2004 Senate race). He’s an evangelical Christian who votes pretty much the Tea Party line, so he is attractive to the Republican base. He’s an intelligent, attractive guy and an effective campaigner.

Weaknesses: John who? Like Portman, he has no national name recognition outside the Republican Party. Unlike Portman, he represents a state that is already safe for Romney, so he can’t bring any new electoral votes. He voted for the TARP bank bailout in 2008, and some fiscal conservatives haven’t forgiven him for that. On the other hand, his strong socially conservative views (anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-gun) might turn off women and moderates.

Bobby Jindal
Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, Brian Sandoval, Susana Martinez

Okay, so it’s lazy to lump these four together, but, as young minority red-state governors, they basically have the same strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths: They’re all young, attractive, intelligent, and articulate. They’re all true-blue Tea Party conservatives who could energize the conservative base. They could appeal to minority voters—especially, in the cases of Sandoval and Martinez, Hispanic voters. (Jindal and Haley’s ancestors hailed from India.) Choosing one of them could make Romney look more open-minded and imaginative than he has seemed thus far. Jindal is the best bet of the lot, having served in Congress, having received high grades for handling hurricanes in Lousiana since Katrina, and having some expertise in health care policy. By contrast, any one of them will make Joe Biden look old and dithering in debates (assuming Biden is renominated for v-p).

Weaknesses: They all govern states that Romney is already a pretty sure-thing to win, so they bring no extra electoral votes with them. They’re each too conservative to attract moderate voters by their policy positions. They have no foreign-policy experience to speak of. They’re untested nationally. They’ll be more charismatic as candidates than Romney himself.

Paul Ryan

Strengths: As chair of the House Budget Committee and author of the GOP's public budget plans, he is the Republican Party’s fiscal face: a pure cut-entitlements, cut-taxes, cut-the-deficit conservative. He is smart, knowledgeable, and articulate about the economy and about conservative economic positions. He has powerful connections in Congress (he’s also on the Ways and Means Committee), which could help a Romney White House. He is beloved of most fiscal conservatives (but see TARP, below). He could bring Romney Wisconsin, which is currently up in the air. He votes the social-conservative line (anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, pro-gun) consistently. The Republican base will like him for that. He looks the part.

Weaknesses: All he seems to know or care about is budget issues, and he takes an approach to those which can be made to appear heartless toward the poor and the sick and the old. (He would make massive changes in welfare, Medicare and Social Security.) He’s pure Washington insider, with no real experience outside of politics. He voted for Bush II’s TARP bank bailout, which still rankles some Tea Party types. He has no foreign policy experience.

Rick Santorum

Strengths: No surprises here. He’s the darling of the Tea Partiers and the evangelicals, who will forgive Romney everything if he chooses Santorum for veep. Choosing him will unify the Republicans and prevent any possible conservative third-party movement.

Weaknesses: His self-righteous evangelical social conservatism will not sit well with moderates or women. He slammed Romney so hard during the primaries that it will seem almost cynical for him to join Romney’s team now or for Romney to even consider him. He has very high personal disapproval ratings.

Condoleeza Rice

Strengths: She’s the only person mentioned so far in this blog with meaningful real-world foreign-policy experience, so she can fill in that big gap in Romney’s resume. She can claim that she helped keep the homeland safe during George W. Bush’s two terms in office, thereby somewhat neutralizing Obama’s success in killing bin Laden and other Al Qaida terrorists. In an April 2012 poll of Republicans and independents, she was the top choice to be Romney’s running mate. (This surprised a lot of people.) She does well in national “people we respect” polls. She comes with no particular policy baggage regarding third-rail issues like social security, abortion, gay marriage, or gun control; she can say whatever Romney needs her to say on these issues. She instantly makes Romney a credible choice for women and minorities who would otherwise dismiss any social conservative vice-presidential candidate. She’s super-smart, attractive, articulate, and, for many, charismatic.

Weaknesses: Unlike most of the others on this list, when she says she doesn’t want the job, she probably means it. The Tea Party and social conservatives in general will not trust her on tax, abortion, gun, gays, and deficit issues, so they might stay home if she’s on the ballot. She is a grown woman of primarily academic background who never married or had children—all extra reasons the evangelicals and other social conservatives will distrust her. She supported and to some extent designed the unpopular war in Iraq. She is associated with the unpopular George W. Bush. Never having run for office, she could turn out to have no stomach for the crap she will have to eat and dish out on the campaign trail.

Jeb Bush

Strengths: He’s still hugely popular in Florida; an April 2012 poll suggested that as veep nominee, he, more than Rubio, could turn this essential state from Obama to Romney. He has actually said he’d consider the v-p nomination. He’s smart and articulate. (He got the smooth-talking gene that skipped his brother.) He’s said all the right things to appeal to conservatives, but he has a reputation, deserved or not, of being a moderate, so he could appeal to the center and to the right. The Hispanic and Jewish communities in Florida like him. His wife is Mexican-American, which could attract Hispanic votes throughout the country. He has stood above the fray that was the Republican primary season and outside the partisan warfare in Washington, so he seems less mud-splattered than most other politicians.

The obvious: His name is Bush. His brother was an unpopular president at the end, and his raise-taxes father was too moderate for the conservative wing that now holds the Republican Party hostage. Most voters will (wrongly) expect him to be like the rest of his family.

Whom Should the Democrats Fear?

If I’m in the Obama White House, I’m most afraid that Romney will choose Rubio, Christie, Rice, or Bush. Rubio, who is charismatic, would be a fresh voice and a fresh face who could deliver Florida. Christie would stun and impress voters with his frank way of speaking and his clear common sense on the issues (in this way, he's unlike almost anyone else who has run on a national ticket since Harry Truman). Rice would be difficult to attack without Obama’s people seeming ungallant, anti-female, and, oddly, racist. And Bush would come across as that rare politician who has managed to avoid the mud fight that has been politics in recent years. Most of all, any of the four would appeal to moderate independents.

Most of the rest of the people on this list (except for Santorum) are safe, boring choices for Romney. If he follows his usual cautious pattern, he’ll probably choose one of them.

This is my choice for president.
Full disclosure

If you’ve read this far, I now need to make an admission: I don’t like Romney, and I want Obama to win. While I don’t think Romney will be a terrible president in most ways, the prospect of a Republican president filling the next three Supreme Court vacancies unsettles me. Given the age and shaky health of liberal-moderate justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, and Stephen Breyer, the next president could get three Supreme Court appointments. Three more Alitos, Scalias or Thomases would do serious damage to our country for the next 25 years and more. (See this earlier blog post for my take on why Romney would be only a slightly terrible president.)

That said, I believe it may be an advantage that I’m a Democrat vetting these Republican vice-presidential possibles. After all, who better than a Democrat to tell the Republicans which candidates I’m most afraid of?