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Why Marco Rubio Reminds Me of Sarah Palin*

*This is a slightly edited version of a post I posted here yesterday afternoon and have removed.  There’s also an addendum about an op-ed piece by Martin O’Malley in today’s Washington Post.

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Okay, so all you politics obsessives probably heard about a comment Martin O’Malley made to NPR’s Morning Edition host Steve Innskeep during an interview earlier this week, in response to a question about Marco Rubio’s claims about “active government.” Here’s the exchange:

Inskeep: “[Rubio] argues that an active government actually keeps people frozen at their economic status because if you are well off, if you can afford a lawyer, if you can deal with regulations, you can maneuver through government and stay prosperous. And if you are not so well off, it’s harder to work the system. Is there some truth to that? You were a big city mayor; you know how government works.”

O’Malley: “No, I don’t think there’s any truth to that.  It is not true that regulation holds poor people down or regulation keeps the middle class from advancing. That’s kind of patently bulls—.”

Well, at least we know that O’Malley knows how to get news media attention, so big points for that.  And we also know that he’s ready, willing and able to respond appropriately and effectively to the incessant, generic big-gummint-is-the-problem trance-inducing mantra.  Even bigger points for that.

But while Innskeep wasn’t actually quoting Rubio and was instead paraphrasing, the exchange highlighted a notable, but not widely noticed, hallmark of Rubio as politician: He routinely says things that are incoherent or that are flatly false as a matter of underlying fact.

Such as that Iran, a Shiite society, and ISIS, a Sunni terrorist group, are in cahoots and Obama doesn’t want to stop Iran from developing a nuclear military capability because Obama doesn’t really want ISIS defeated.  (Something like that; I can’t remember the specifics from earlier this year, but that was the gist of it.)

And such as his federal-budget proposal that will cut, but (unlike the other presidential-nomination contestants’ proposals) won’t completely gut, programs that assist low-income families and individuals; that will significantly increase defense spending; that will eliminate the estate tax; that will lower capital gains and corporate taxes; that will impose no new or higher tax rates at all; and that will balance the budget in 10 years.  (President Houdini!)

And such as that an active government keeps people frozen at their economic status because if you are well off, if you can afford a lawyer, if you can deal with regulations, you can maneuver through government and stay prosperous. And if you are not so well off, it’s harder to work the system.

Yep.  It’s the EPA, the SEC, and the National Labor Relations Act that are keeping all those minimum-wage workers and their families from moving up the socioeconomic ladder!  Rubio, a son of blue-collar employees, succeeded despite having been forced by the federal government to go to public rather than private universities and to pay his tuition using the student loans he applied for at gunpoint. So it can be done, even in the face of active government.  It’s just much harder.  And more dangerous.

One thing I remember fondly about the nervous reactions of some conservative pundits during the fall 2008 campaign season when it became clear that Sarah Palin was not a wise choice as McCain’s running mate was a comment by a dismayed Peggy Noonan, a longtime Republican pundit who was George H.W. Bush’s chief speechwriter.  Noonan wrote about Palin (I believe these were her exact words): “She just … says things.”  (Ellipses Noonan’s.)

Rubio, too, just … says things.  He sort of … babbles.  He seems to have no filter—for coherence, for accuracy, for plausibility—through which he passes his thoughts before expressing them.

Yup.  Be sure to click that “for coherence” link.  The auto-industry bailout kept those auto-industry workers and their families from advancing because they couldn’t hire lawyers to help them navigate their continued employment in their auto-industry jobs.  Got it.

When I read about O’Malley’s response to Innskeep a couple days ago, and therefore also read Innskeep’s question to O’Malley, I wondered whatspecifically (assuming that Innskeep’s paraphrase or summary of Rubio’s statements were accurate reflections of those statements), Rubio was referring to.  What in heaven’s name is he talking about?  What federal statutes and regulations are keeping people who can’t afford fancy lawyers—or any lawyer at all—frozen at their economic status because they can’t maneuver through federal government regulations?

Well, I now have my answer, albeit not from Rubio.  By chance, I happened upon a three-day-old commentary this morning in the Los Angeles by winger columnist Jonah Goldberg, written in reaction to O’Malley’s comments to Innskeep, in which Goldberg purports to speak for Rubio. The column is titled “Martin O’Malley’s modern-day know-nothingness,” and its first several paragraphs recite the history of President Millard Fillmore’s party, the Know-Nothings.”  (Goldberg doesn’t mention Fillmore, but I happen to know that his party was the Know-Nothing Party.)  He throws in some stuff about the history of the original federal minimum-wage law, which he thinks kept people frozen at their economic status because they couldn’t afford lawyers to help them navigate the intricacies of that statute.  (Something like that.)

But then he gets down to brass tacks.  The tacks being that O’Malley is too ignorant to know that some professional and trade licensure education requirements unjustly and unjustifiably  keep lower-income people from entering those professions and trades and that even the application forms are obnoxiously long, complex and burdensome.  And that O’Malley is blind to the fact that small banks, which are the traditional lenders to small local businesses, are disappearing en masse, and that this is because of … huge Dodd-Frank compliance costs.

Well, at least the second of the two—the banking one—involves federal laws.  Of course, the real reason that small banks no longer are competitive with, say, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo is the deregulation of the finance industry, mainly the repeal in the 1990s of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1934 that prohibited commercial, federally insured banks from engaging in investment banking and other securities trading—including in derivatives.  Goldberg and Rubio may not have noticed, but the en masse demise of so much of the community banking industry began back then and continued as a result of the financial collapse of 2008-10.*  Y’know, the financial collapse precipitated by financial-industry deregulation and, regarding derivatives, no-regulation.  The financial collapse that caused the economy and, consequently, many, many, many small businesses to collapse.

Yeah, that one.  Some people who lost their jobs and therefore no longer could pay their nonsubprime mortgages (including to community banks), and many small-business owners whose businesses failed because of the crash of the economy no longer could repay their business loans. To community banks.

As for the first of Goldberg’s two big-gummint complaints—that some professional and trade licensure education requirements unjustly and unjustifiably  keep lower-income people from entering those professions and trades and that even the application forms are obnoxiously long, complex and burdensome—he’s spot-on that it’s an outrage.  He just needs to explain why, since these are state and local licensure requirements and applications, and are unrelated in any respect to federal regulation—and Rubio’s running for president, not state or local office—he thinks it’s O’Malley rather than, say, he who is a Know-Nothing.  Here’s betting that O’Malley, unlike Goldberg, does know that professional and trade licensure education requirements and applications are determined and administered not by the federal government but by state and local ones.

And here’s also betting that O’Malley knows that since the very purpose of these inappropriate bars to jump over and hoops to jump through is to keep competition in these professions to a minimum.  And that he knows that the obvious agitators for these mandated regulatory hoops are the beneficiaries of minimal competition—i.e., those already in these professions or trades or in ones that compete with the unduly restricted ones—and that Democratic officeholders are no more likely that Republican ones to push for these laws and regulations.  He  might have suggested to Goldberg that, before Goldberg demonstrated his ignorance, he check out who’s giving campaign contributions to whom.

But it’s Rubio, not Goldberg, who’s running for president.  So the next time that Rubio argues that an active government actually keeps people frozen at their economic status because if you are well off, if you can afford a lawyer, if you can deal with regulations, you can maneuver through government and stay prosperous–and if you are not so well off, it’s harder to work the system—he’s asked for, say, specifics.  As in: What in heaven’s name is he talking about? Maybe he’ll just refer the questioner to Sarah Palin for details. Or to Mitt Romney.

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NOTE: O’Malley has a terrific op-ed piece in today’s Washington Post about the student-loan issue, in which he discusses the broader effects of the current situation on the economy and on American society and advocates for the solutions that Elizabeth Warren has been proposing. He also details his own actions as Maryland government regarding that state’s public university and community college costs.

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