Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fred Thompson: Master of Detail

The dominant image that critics of Fred Thompson have noted and/or created is one of a half-hearted candidate, not particularly interested in the rigors of a presidential campaign. It's therefore worthy of note that the Annenberg Center's gives him high grades for accuracy on the specific claims he made during the recent presidential debate.

Thompson: Just the Facts

Thompson stuck to the facts in his rookie outing. A number of his statements attracted our interest, but they all checked out.

Corporate Taxes 2nd Highest in the World: Thompson was correct when he said of the U.S., "We have the second highest corporate tax penalty in the world." According to a study produced by the global consulting firm KPMG, the U.S. top corporate tax rate of 40 percent is just slightly below Japan’s 40.6 percent. The United States is resisting a worldwide trend that has seen most nations reduce corporate taxes during the last decade. As of Jan. 1, 2007, the German rate was 38.36 percent; the Italian rate was 37.25 percent; and the Canadian rate was 36.1 percent. The average for the 30 major industrial democracies was 27.8 percent.

WMDs in Iraq: Thompson corrected moderator Chris Matthews, who wrongly implied that the former senator had said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction "right before" the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq:
Matthews: You made a statement a couple of days ago, I believe, that alluded to the fact you believed that there were such weapons [WMDs] in Iraq. Do you believe they were there right before we got in – they were moved out somewhere? ...

Thompson: No, I didn't say that. I was just stating what was obvious and that is that Saddam had had them prior. They used them against his own people – against the Kurds.
Thompson was correct. Matthews referred to remarks the senator made to about 60 persons in Newton, Iowa, last week. Both MSNBC and the Des Moines Register quoted him as saying, "We can’t forget the fact that although at a particular point in time we never found any WMD down there, he clearly had had WMD. He clearly had had the beginnings of a nuclear program..."

Economic Growth: Thompson erred – but on the safe side – when he said, "We're enjoying 22 quarters of successive economic growth." Actually, the U.S. economy has grown for 23 successive quarters, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. And when preliminary figures on gross domestic product for July, August and September are released later this month, the official total is expected to reach 24.

Restraining Future Social Security Benefits: Thompson also was correct about the effect of restraining growth of Social Security benefits for future retirees:
Thompson: And then, lastly, one of the other things that could be done would be to index benefits to inflation. Index benefit to inflation for future retirees. It would not affect current or near retirement people. [It] would be indexed to inflation instead of wages, as it is today. And it would solve the problem for several years; it wouldn't solve it indefinitely, but it would give us a window of opportunity to get our arms around the problem. It would be a major step in the right direction.
The Social Security actuaries calculate that it would require a tax increase of 1.95 percent of taxable payroll to pay benefits promised under current benefit formulas for the next 75 years. But most of that "actuarial imbalance" would disappear under various proposals to peg benefits of future retirees to inflation rather than to wage growth. One form of so-called "progressive" indexing would allow future retirement benefits for the lowest 40 percent of wage earners to keep growing under the current formula, which is pegged to wage growth, but slow down the growth of benefits for higher-income workers retiring after 2012 according to a sliding scale. Benefits for those at the very top would rise only enough to keep pace with inflation. Actuaries calculated that this would remove 1.21 percentage points from the 1.95 percent actuarial imbalance...
Playing devil's advocate, I could point out that it doesn't actually require a lot of intellectual heft to memorize three or four talking points. A critic might suggest that's what Thompson has done here.

But his point about Social Security -- as well as comments he's made on the program in other venues as well -- demonstrates an interest in it, and a depth of understanding that speak well of him.

They also contrast with the other candidate I like in this race -- Mayor Giuliani. In particular, I am disappointed that he has apparently been misattributing a quote to Senator Clinton that she hasn't said:
Misquoting Hillary: Giuliani wrongly attributed a quote to Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton, and he got the quote wrong as well:

Giuliani: And the leading Democratic candidate once said that the unfettered free market is the most destructive force in modern America.

Sen. Clinton, the "leading" candidate in public opinion polls, never said that. The quote is by Alan Ehrenhalt, author and executive editor of Governing magazine. Furthermore, Ehrenhalt didn't call the free market "destructive" but used the somewhat softer term "radically disruptive."

I'd prefer if she said the free market was destructive; to say it's extremely disruptive is merely accurate. Joseph Schumpeter coined the term 'creative destruction' to describe the dynamic process of eliminating outdated and inefficient economic arrangements in favor of ones that serve consumers better. I'm disappointed at the suggestion that Hillary understands this.

Oh well.

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