Wednesday, September 28, 2011

America is Great Because….

A)  We have great infrastructure; public education and public welfare systems, or
B)  People have the freedom to make and create whatever products or services they want to and are only constrained by their creative energies.

Massachusetts Senate Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren fired the opening salvo in her campaign against incumbent Scott Brown last week with the following statement:
‘There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own -- nobody. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory -- and hire someone to protect against this -- because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless -- keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.’
One wag responded thusly:  ‘Define ‘hunk’’.

Rich Lowry of the National Review responded:  "Focusing on infrastructure as the crucial support of entrepreneurial activity is like crediting the guy who built young Bill Gates’s garage with the start of Microsoft."

This seems to be the fundamental difference between the two major parties right now, doesn’t it?

One side, the Democrats, consistently try to make the case that all we have to do to get out of this accursed recession is to build more bridges, roads, light and rapid rail systems; increase job training programs and keep extending unemployment benefits and we will be ok.

There is hardly ever any mention of the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’; ‘dogged determination’ or even the ‘enlightened self-interest’ (greed) that peppered so many of Ronald Reagan’s speeches and policies.

The other side, the Republicans, disagree. For the most part.  Except for the ones who have used the federal treasury as their personal piggybank to get re-elected by sending pork back to their home districts and states for the past 30 years.

Some try to make the case that having no public works programs or government assistance program is the way to get back to prosperity.  Tax cuts and more tax cuts, they say, will lead to such enormous economic growth that no one will need welfare or economic assistance because everyone will be able to find a job or create one for themselves.

We don’t think it is that clear of a divide between the two schools of thought.  We think the answer needs to be more clearly defined with words that matter rather than words that are used to stir up division and strife.

How about this for a stab at some vestige of ‘reality’, if we can return to this planet for a few brief moments?

The strength and beauty of the American Experiment has always been rooted in freedom.  Freedom for each individual.  Freedom to choose whatever avenue of life, career, interest you care to follow.  Freedom to pursue your goals as long as it doesn’t intentionally harm others.

The essential libertarian message of our Fore Fathers is embedded in the following nutshell:  ‘Your ‘freedom’ to throw your fist through the air ends where my nose begins!’

It is also the essence of the Declaration of Independence in its purest form.  Even with the internal conflicts over slavery back then. ‘All men are created equal’ pretty much trumps everything else in America, doesn’t it?

Capitalism and free enterprise appears to ‘hurt’ certain workers as technology improves and businesses are put out of work.  Think of all the stenographers and clerical typists and White-Out manufacturers who were ‘put out of work’ by the advent of the PC run on Microsoft software.

But consider how many hundreds of millions of people around the globe who have been freed from the shackles of working in a huge nameless faceless corporate building and have struck out on their own because they can do it all on their laptop, PC, IPad or IPhone at home, in the plane or out in the park!

That is ‘Freedom. Version 1000GB.0’.

The Information and Technological Age was all born out of the creative genius of people such as Bill Gates and Steven Jobs of Apple Computer fame and thousands of others.

Did it ‘help’ any that the US government through DARPA funded the development of products such as microprocessors, silicon computer chips and a thing called ‘The Internet’ with federal taxpayer dollars, primarily for the defense and space programs, which are one in the same for all intents and purposes?

Sure it did.  Just as the 363-mile Erie Canal helped double and triple the GDP of the entire nation when completed in 1825.  It was financed with a combination of public and private debt that chewed up close to 2/3’s of all available credit in the US at the time.  But it also returned enormous financial returns to the holders of the stock and bonds of the Erie Canal holding company over the years of operation.

We think, as a nation, we should charge a royalty for any commercial product that is developed AFTER the US taxpayer has footed the bill for all of the enormous R&D costs that eventually become widespread successful products such as microwaves, GPS, even TANG.  (is that still made anymore?)

The revenues that would flow to the US Treasury as a result of those royalties could darn near balance the budget we think.  In an economy of over $14.7 trillion, there has to be at least $1 trillion of residual fees that could be directly traced to US taxpayer investment through the DoD, NIST, DISA, SBA or SBIC programs.

So maybe it is time to re-define the debate between the ‘Lean Forward’ MSNBC view of infrastructure development in America and the FOX News view that all we gotta do is cut taxes and America will regain its economic superiority again.

How about this as a start?

  1. The federal government will only fund programs and projects that will benefit the entire population.
  2. Each and every federal public works project will be funded with some sort of public AND private sector financing to ensure proper oversight and review of the operations by professional managers in the ‘real world’, not just the government.
  3. If a state or locality wants to use public funds to build a Steam Locomotive Museum or a bridge that runs south-to-north up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Memphis, they can do so…..with their own state and local tax dollars, not federal taxpayer money or federally borrowed money from the Chinese.

Great highways and bridges are essentially Egyptian Pyramids being built without a vibrant risk-taking economic engine purring along to push products through on them by businessmen and women.

Great innovations, products and services can not be sold if we do not have a modern transportation, communications and public safety sector.  They go hand-in-hand, not 100% separate entities. We just happen to think that we will not be able to fund a great public sector unless we unleash the creative and dynamic powers of the American free enterprise system and we do it very soon.

We have to start drawing a very bright line between legitimate ‘national’ interests such as national defense and the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System and the truly ‘not in the national interest’ that can and should be handled by the states and localities.

That might help release the private sector from the crushing burden of having to pay federal taxes for everything we can’t afford any more.

And then maybe, just maybe, we will see the Next American Economic Explosion forming on the horizon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Man Behind The Last Balanced Budgets We Will Ever See

I had the distinct honor and privilege recently to introduce two talented men with high levels of expertise in the private sector who willingly straddled the line between private and public life early in their political careers and then devoted themselves completely later to serve our state and nation, former North Carolina Governor Jim Martin and Congressman Alex McMillan.

The event was the First Annual Mecklenburg GOP Martin-McMillan Day which is a fitting title given that both men served on the Mecklenburg County Commission before Mr. McMillan followed Mr. Martin as the Representative of the 9th Congressional District when Martin ran for Governor in 1984 and served for 2 successful terms.

The lists of the accumulated achievements of both men would take too long to recount here. Suffice it to say: ‘We were all fortunate they chose to take their private sector expertise into the political arena and serve us in the public trust.’

Governor Martin has a Ph.D from Princeton and taught chemistry for years at Davidson College. Congressman McMillan was the CEO of Harris-Teeter Supermarkets and CFO at the Ruddick Corporation prior to running for Congress.

We need more like them to enter public service.

I had the chance to bring to light a very little known fact at the event that is pertinent to today’s budget debate in Washington. It points out how important it is to have talented people with expertise in things other than politics run for elective office and bring their respective talents from the private sector into the public arena.

In 1991, Congressman McMillan was appointed to serve on the House Budget Committee as the 2nd-ranking Republican by then-Republican Leader, Bob Michel of Illinois. I was his chief of staff.

Congressman McMillan had just completed an arduous tour of duty during the contentious 1990 Budget Act debate that went back and forth between President George H.W. Bush 41 and the Democratic-controlled Congress, the Senate with an overwhelming 55-45 majority and the House with a massive 251-183 majority.

Talk about gridlock. That was a ‘Bridge Out Ahead’ Road to Nowhere. No Country For Old Men and Women To Compromise and Work Together.

The budget deficits back then were a stifling 21%, on the order of $300 billion out of a $1.4 trillion annual budget. Something had to be done to arrest the flood of red ink.

Today’s budget deficits run close to 42% of annual outlays. So we are in real trouble today.

President Bush made the now infamous ‘Read My Lips; No New Taxes!’ pledge at the 1988 Republic Convention but was confronted with the fact that the budget deficit in 1990 was exorbitant and seemingly out of control.

Sound familiar?

Bush 41 and his OMB budget chief Richard Darman negotiated with the Democrat leaders in Congress to pass a law that reduced spending somewhat and instituted the PAYGO budget mechanism and discretionary spending caps for the next decade. The deal included an increase in tobacco excise taxes, which the North Carolina-based tobacco companies supported because they feared if it did not pass at a lower level, it would only go higher in each successive iteration of the Andrews AF Base budget deal.

The so-called yacht tax was instituted and the restrictions on the amount of earnings that would be subject to Medicare payroll taxes would be eliminated.

Congressman McMillan was one of 47 Republicans to vote for the bill, mostly because he had read the bill in depth and knew that there was substantial budget discipline embedded in the bill from the PAYGO and spending cap provisions. Was it the right decision? Spending growth amounted to little over 2% per year from 1994-2000 mostly due to PAYGO and the spending caps.

Fast forward to 1993. McMillan was on the Budget Committee and had just lost a close election for Ranking Member to then-Congressman John Kasich, now Governor Kasich of the Great State of Ohio. There was some trepidation on the part of Kasich and his staff that McMillan might undermine him as the leader of the Republicans due to his extensive business background prior to being elected to Congress.

Congressman McMillan instructed me to go to Rick May, the director of the Republican Budget Committee staff to tell him that he thought we should do something ‘revolutionary’ in the upcoming FY 1994 Budget.

Namely to do something that business execs always do but had never been done in the US federal budget:
Make a complete list of all of the federal budget line-items Republicans would reduce, eliminate or change, publish them and then vote on them to show the American people what Republicans would do if they were ever to be in charge of Congress.
Predicting that the GOP would ever gain control of the House of Representatives in 1993 would have qualified anyone for the insane asylum. It had been close to 40 years since the last time a GOP Speaker held the gavel in Congress.

So no one thought it would actually 'happen'.  We just hoped it would.  Some day.

The target was to be $500 billion in spending reductions over 5 years, from FY 1994-1998. From roughly over $7.5 trillion in projected federal spending over those same years.

At the first staff meeting of the year, Rick asked us what our bosses thought we should do for the year. After all, we were in such a minority that it almost didn’t really matter what we did on the Budget Committee. We were going to lose on everything we put out there from a bill to any amendments.

I piped up and said: ‘Congressman McMillan wants to put together a line-by-line budget reduction bill and vote on it in committee and on the floor of the House.’

You could have heard a pin drop. I think we had to call in the medics to help Rick regain his breath that had been knocked out of him like some linebacker had leveled him.

He said: ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that.’

A day or so later, he came back and said that Kasich was ok with it since McMillan had been a corporate exec managing a billion-dollar corporation, he must know what he is talking about.

So we set about getting to work in various task forces to come up with $500 billion in spending restraint in every sector of the federal government. Including Medicare.  Including Medicaid.  Congressman McMillan proposed close to $177 billion in spending reductions in the two federal medical budgets alone.  Close to 35% of the total targeted amount to be saved.

No tax hikes. No new taxes.

Our bill lost in the Budget Committee. We even lost one of our own Republican Budget Committee members as we got 15 out of 16 votes in committee.  The first time we put it on the floor of the House for a vote, we got 135 votes.

The next year, we got to 165 votes. Congressman McMillan retired in 1994 just before the Republican landslide when they took over Congress for the first time in 40 years.

But for the next 3 years, the corpus of the ‘Cutting Spending First’ budget that originated with the line-item idea of Congressman Alex McMillan survived. It became the core text of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that led directly to the last 3 balanced budgets many of us will see in America.

Congressman Kasich deserves credit for shepherding it through Congress. Speaker of the House Gingrich and Leader Armey deserve credit for negotiating the deal with Erskine Bowles, the chief of staff for President Clinton.

But the unsung hero in all of this is former Congressman Alex McMillan of Charlotte, North Carolina. He made a difference.  He brought high-level financial and budget management experience with him to Washington and then to the House Budget Committee.

Without him in Congress in 1993, we most likely would not have ever had a balanced budget in our lifetimes.

We need more like him serving now in Congress.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Even The Washington Post Agrees With Telemachus

You Pay As You Go

This just came out this morning and basically corroborates (in better journalistic methods) what we were saying just yesterday about the insanity of our tax system basically taking in (from you) and giving back (to you again) almost essentially the same amount of money each year.

All Washington does is takes its commission cut to fund hundreds of thousands of federal workers...and then borrows the rest from the Chinese and the foreign sovereigns to allow us to continue this habit-forming (apparently) addiction to federal support.

It is time to change all this. Now is the time to do it when we desperately need a new direction in this country and it is not just with new leaders but rather new leaders with new good ideas like this one: Replace the payroll and income tax system with a consumption tax at the point of final purchase for everything from homes to cars to toilet paper at the supermarket.

With the following addendum at the end of each and every receipt:

'Your tax at 18% Equals ($1 million; $1000; $1.00)
This Goes To Pay for the Following Programs in the Federal Government:

Social Security 25%
Medicare/Medicaid: 25%
Defense: 20%
Interest: 10%
Everything Else: 20%

and we still borrow 40% more each year and ring up astronomical debts!'

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pay As You Go Government Benefits

Have you ever sat down and really thought about the amount of money you pay in taxes versus the direct benefits you receive from the government?

Alan Simpson's rather salty but descriptive comment about Social Security could be politely amended to read: 'The US federal government has 310 million teats on it to milk!'.

Depending on how many programs a person derives benefits from or tax preferences he or she uses, the number could be 1 billion for all we know.

Do this little exercise right now.  Add up all the taxes you pay on one side of the ledger on a piece of paper or Excel spreadsheet.  And then add up all the taxes that you saved from any tax deductions you use each year on your tax form and grants you received from the federal government in any form and put them in the other column.

We think the nation would be surprised at how many people wind up with exactly the same dollar amount in each column.

We basically have a tax system where we tax many people roughly the same amount they get in benefits, subsidies or tax exemptions/deductions.

So why not just let them keep their own money in the first place?

Let’s take a look at just one obvious glaring example:  mortgage interest deductions.

Let’s say a family with $120,000 annual income buys a home for $300,000.

Right off the bat, this family can expect to incur close to $20,000 in annual interest payments on servicing that mortgage at about $1800/month in interest.

This means that this family will be able to deduct that $20,000 in interest payments off of their taxes thereby saving them approximately $7500 per year in taxes not paid to the federal government that otherwise would be paid absent the mortgage interest deduction.

On the other hand, this same family can be expected to send to Washington about between $7500 and $10,000 in combined income and payroll taxes.

So, in effect, in the ultimate of a circular argument: The United States tax code basically takes $7500 from this family in order to be able to allow this same family the ability to get $20,000 in mortgage deductions (which is a subsidy no matter how you slice and dice it) that saves the same family $7500 in additional taxes.

Doesn’t that strike you as a bit weird?

Why not just change the tax code so that the same taxpayer doesn’t wind up paying for his or her own subsidy?

That is why the consumption tax is so attractive as a replacement for the entire payroll and income tax system.  There would be no deductions, no tax subsidies, no exemptions.  People would pay taxes only on what they purchase.  The more they purchase, or the higher dollar amount of  the purchases they make, the more they will be sending to Uncle Sam to help fund the general services of defense, transportation and other necessary services that benefit the entire nation as a whole.

Let’s look at another more tangible example: government subsidies for mohair growers.

Congress allocated $20 million to farmers of mohair in the U.S. in the year 2000. There are approximately 2000 mohair farmers, mostly in Texas.  That is about a $10,000 per farmer direct subsidy payment from the taxpayers to the mohair farmer to continue growing mohair that is no longer used by the US military to make uniforms as it did in WWII.

You have to believe that these farmers must be paying at least $10,000 to the federal government each year in income taxes, assuming they make a profit raising and sheering these sheep.  Regardless of whether they make a profit or not, they must take a salary out along the way, don’t they?  They must be paying taxes of some sort so we are guessing it is at least $10,000 per year.

So again, here’s a case where a mohair farmer gets $10,000 from the government to grow mohair on their Angora sheep only to turn around and send the same amount, $10,000, back to the government every year.

What is the common sense in that?

There are hundreds of thousands of special subsidy line-items in the federal budget, otherwise known as 'single shot, targeted payments for a group of constituents represented by a powerful chairman of a congressional committee'.  'Pork Barrel Projects' for short.

There are hundreds of thousands of special tax rules for 'exemptions' (from what? paying their full rate of tax as passed by law) and 'deductions' (to lower the taxes paid by a certain group of constituents because their lobby is more powerful than the ones who don't get the exemption).

Why not make the tax code very simple and get rid of it all?

It is complicated; corrupt; inefficient and not suited to the real-world of 21st century Planet Earth.  Rich people can afford to game the system, legally of course, and lower-income people can not. Companies such as GE basically have learned to game the system to the point where they pay zero income taxes but get enjoy the benefits of public subsidies ranging from green technology grants to export assistance far in excess of what they ever pay in taxes anymore.

It is time to change it.  Completely.  With a consumption tax of 18% on everything we buy.  In lieu of the current crazy tax code.

It is just plain 'weird'.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Here’s The Speech The President Coulda and Shoulda Given

‘My Fellow Americans:

Now is not the time to weep or moan. Now is not the time to look back and assess blame.

I have made more than my fair share of mistakes. People in Congress on both sides of the aisle, on Wall Street, in the Big Banks, in Detroit and in the mortgage lending business and real estate speculation business all have made plenty of mistakes that had led us to this unfortunate economic time in our nation’s history.

We, collectively, as a nation have made mistakes. We have over-consumed, over-borrowed, not saved and invested enough for our own personal benefit. We have not unleashed the powerful forces of positive change that can happen when we work together, not against each other.

But I am here to tell you tonight that we are going to get through this economic crisis. We are going to right this Great Ship of State known as The ‘United’ States of America, not The ‘White’ States of America or The ‘Black’ States of America or even The 'Union' States of America.

And here’s how we are going to do it, from Washington to New York to Detroit to all the large cities and small townships throughout the land:

We are moving from purely the ‘Information Age’ to the ‘Knowledge Age’ in America. We have all the accumulated ‘information’ of the world at our fingertips with our IPhones and IPads.

We are able to disseminate information in the microsecond flash of the eye to anywhere in the world to any person at anytime, day or night.

Now is the time for us to put all that information to good use as each individual person takes that information and turns it into knowledge as she or he sees fit to fulfill a dream, a passion, a innate God-given talent and support yourself and your family.

The time for monolithic business, government, educational ‘big box’ enterprises is about to be swept away by this avalanche of knowledge and efficiency. Just as the dinosaurs failed to adapt quickly when The Meteor hit the Earth and left only the small mammals and reptiles alive to carry on life on this planet, so too will happen as we come out of this recession.

People can now start businesses in their own home or small town and through the internet and with the help of services such as FedEx, QuickBooks and PhotoShop, the world is their market, not just who walks in their door each day on Main Street, USA.

People can contract out with other like-minded entrepreneurs and 'entreprenate' all they want.  Call it the '1099 Revolution': 'hire' people through contracts only and send them a 1099 year-end tax form detailing what you paid them for their services.  No fringe benefits; no payroll tax from your side.  As clean as free enterprise can get in the 21st century in America.

And here’s how we at the federal level are going to help seed this hurricane of positive activity and watch it grow to Category 5 status on its own as the ‘animal spirits’ of human ingenuity and self-preservation Adam Smith talked about take hold:

1. First, we are going to completely eliminate the corporate income tax at every level of American free enterprise. Large Corporations, small corporations, any incorporations that transact business and exchange goods and services and information will no longer be burdened with the expense and tediousness of having to file federal corporate income taxes ever again.

When you are considering expansion of your existing business or starting one of your own, factor in the elimination of your corporate income taxes up to the current rates of 38% when you do your cash-flow projections and present value computations.  You will expand your business tomorrow morning at 9:00 am.

Consider the United States of America to now and forever more to be ‘The Corporate Tax-Free United States of America’, not the 'White/Black/Union Divided America' of today.

2. Second, we are going to free up the energies of enterprising men and women by replacing the cumbersome and Swiss cheese-riddled-with-loopholes income and payroll tax system with a very simple consumption tax at the point of purchase. The income you make by the sweat of your own brow and the brains in your own head gets to stay with you to do whatever you please.

You can invest it in more equipment to do your job. You can hire more people to help you achieve your dream. Or you can send it to your favorite charity, church, synagogue or mosque. You can even send it to the IRS as my friend, Warren Buffett, has so eloquently talked about…except now you can do it on your own based on whether or not you think the federal government is doing a great job or not.

It will be far more ‘progressive’ than the current system gamed by the wealthy through legal exemptions and loopholes. ‘Progressive’ in the sense that those who have more wealth will pay far, far more in actual dollars to the IRS each year than those of lesser means, not in the archaic notion of paying a higher tax ‘rate’ than the others.

You want to buy a $10 million home? At a 18% consumption tax at time of purchase, the rich man will write a check to the IRS for $1.8 million. Today, he pays no federal tax on any large purchase such as a home or a Bentley.

At the same time, he or she will have provided hundreds of jobs to construction workers and contractors to provide the supplies to build the new house and to furnish it with new appliances, chairs, beds and any new accoutrement that would make the ‘Extreme Makeover’ crew green with envy.

3. Third, we will repeal and eliminate every federal program that has outlived its usefulness over the years. Do you own a mohair suit? Do you even know what ‘mohair’ is? It is the wool from the Angora sheep that was used to make the wool uniforms for World War II soldiers because of its strength and durability.

It also costs the US taxpayer at least $20 million per year in direct subsidies to US growers or mohair today, even though modern military uniforms are not made of wool but advanced polycottons improved by nanotechnology.

No longer will we tolerate such misappropriation and waste of precious American taxpayer funds. No longer will we borrow money from the Chinese and foreign sovereigns to pay for programs that no longer work or have a critical purpose in our national life together.

There are thousands of such antiquated federal programs that will cease this year. There is no need to have 21st century American taxpayers continue to support such antediluvian pork barrel projects.

4. Finally, to totally unleash the American worker from the tethers that bind him or her to the ‘big box’ workplace, we are going to reform and improve the entitlement programs so that they more resemble the worker-directed investment plans of Chile instead of the 5-Year Plans of the old, defunct Communist Soviet Politburo. The money young workers put into the 'New Good Deal!' retirement program will actually go into a self-directed retirement fund and grow with this explosive economy we are about to see unleashed.

‘Freedom’ will be the byword for the last year and a half of my presidential term. To turn Lord Acton’s phrase on its head: ‘Freedom enables and absolute freedom enables absolutely.’

I will do my utmost to do everything within my power as your President to allow the great powers of American ingenuity and free enterprise to work their incredible economic magic to return us to the economic superpower status we all know we can be so every person who wants a job will be able to find a job.

Thank you, my fellow Americans.

May God Bless America.
And May God Have Mercy Upon Us for Our Debts! And Let us Forgive Our Debtors.

We have learned our lessons and will never do them again. We promise.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Who Would You Rather Have A Beer With?

President Barack Obama? Or President Mitt Romney? Or President Rick Perry?

It might could come down to such a basic decision made by millions of voters in 2012, most pointedly in the following targeted battleground states: North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and New Hampshire.

Larry Sabato of The University of Virginia has written a very good summary of the prospects for President Obama's re-election in 2012. It is all in the Electoral College, just like the Founders planned it and chiseled into the good old US Constitution in stone. Changing it would require a constitutional amendment process that would not be unlike trying to repeal the Second Amendment freedom to own guns...every effort to amend the Constitution is difficult and hard as heck to do.

But getting back to the 'Beer with the President' thing.

Lee Atwater, the consummate campaign strategist and, at times, attack pit-bull viper of Republican politics in the 1980's, had a unique gut feel for all things political in America, then and now even though he passed away from a brain tumor in 1991.

People want to see many things from their President, especially on the campaign trail BEFORE they give him or her their precious vote in the election.

They want to see: courage, leadership, vision, likeability, brains, a sense of humor (insert your own preference)

But Lee Atwater also pointed out an odd thing about modern American politics. In addition to wanting 'the next President' to be the 'Next George Washington' or the 'Next 'Honest Abe' Lincoln (we sure could use one right now, couldn't we?), the American public wants their president to be 'someone they would want to have a beer with.'

Think about that for a minute.  Besides protecting us from the evil terrorists from Al Qaeda; creating jobs for us all and turning this economy around; cleaning up the environment; finding some way to get gasoline for our internal combustion engines back down to $1/gal 'where it belongs!', we want our President to be 'friendly enough' that we would want to sit down and have a beer with him or her and talk about the Green Bay Packers or the New York Yankees or some new song by the Black Eyed Peas.

How crazy is that?

Last night's Republican presidential candidate debate gives us a chance to put Lee Atwater's test to the test so let's see if what he says holds true.

Go back to 2008. Who would you had rather had a beer with, Obama or McCain?

Obama, hands-down. Much more pleasant looking and sounding, ready smile and lean athleticism about him.

2004- W or John Kerry? W in minute.

2000? W or Al Gore?  We still can't get over Darrell Hammonds' dead-on impersonation of a wooden, stiff Al Gore in the presidential debates.

Clinton over Bob Dole? Bill Clinton wins going away.
Clinton over both Bush 41 AND the non-Dana Carvey version of Ross Perot? Clinton.
Bush 41 over Dukakis? Bush.
Reagan over Mondale? No contest.
Reagan over Carter? Puh-leeese!

Carter or Ford? Very tough decision because Gerald Ford was one of the most likable people in all of American politics and an All-American football player on a national championship team at Michigan back in the day. But the distortions caused by Watergate doomed Ford, sadly.

Nixon over McGovern? Hard to admit it but yes, Nixon in a squeaker. Except no one knew he was also going to bug the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate while you were out drinking a beer with him.

Nixon over 'Hube the Cube'? 'HHH'. Hubert Horatio Humphrey of the Great State of Minnesota. Jimmy Carter in his acceptance speech at the 1976 DNC Convention unwittingly spout out the word 'Hornblower' after 'Horatio' if that gives you any indication of the tinniness and loquaciousness of HHH. Nixon, if only for brevity's sake.

LBJ over Goldwater in 1964 after Goldwater essentially said he would drop The Bomb on Vietnam and any communists anywhere. That, plus the shock that still lingered from JFK's assassination the year before gave LBJ, who was not the most lovable or even likable American President at all, a landslide victory matched only by Reagan in 1984.

Kennedy over Nixon. Not even close. Beer with a Kennedy? Are you kidding?

And Dwight David Eisenhower...over anyone. They didn't make millions of 'I Like Ike!' campaign buttons because he didn't lead the Allies to victory over the Nazis in World War II for nothing.

So when you are watching Ron Paul rail on about the Federal Reserve or Newt Gingrich get some digs in at the media or Michelle Bachmann say she can get the price of gas back down to $2/gallon...somehow, just think to yourself: 'Can I see myself having a beer with this person for the next four years and having them tell me this stuff over and over and over again?'

Or would rather have a beer with President Barack Obama for the next four years, after 2012, that is?

'Waiter! Could you make that a triple Boilermaker to go...please?'