Saturday, April 01, 2006

MTB Capri Cafaro

As advertised, Capri Cafaro sat down to Meet the Bloggers the morning of April 1 at Café Momus. In attendance were Scott Bakalar, Redhorse, McKee Stewart, Jill Miller Zimon, George Nemeth, Tim and Gloria Ferris, Tim Russo and Karen Kilroy. .

From the start, there was a Vibe. This is the second time I’ve met Cafaro and the second time I’ve felt The Vibe. I attributed it to defensiveness. After all, these are bloggers and we as a whole haven’t been kind to her. Ohio 13 is the only blog that has been anything like supportive, and they weren’t there.

Over the course of the interview, two interesting exchanges made a lasting impression, one about personality, one about policy.

What It’s Like to Be Capri

The kickoff questions bolstered the feeling that The Vibe was a defensiveness Vibe. I asked her to give a thumbnail bio. What I was after was clarifying where she’s been and what she’s done and trying to detect any involvement with Northeast Ohio aside from running for Congress here. Five minutes into her answer we are still in high school, mostly because she is explaining – nay, defending – every move her parents made in her education.

So it went for a handful of questions. Then Jill Zimon asked a question about what it’s like to be Capri Cafaro. Jill related a personal experience somewhat parallel to Cafaro’s experience being installed as titular president of one of her father’s companies. This is of course what ultimately led to the Traficant involvement/immunity deal/father taking a plea drama that follows her to this day. Jill’s question wasn’t about that part of it so much as about how she felt getting wrapped up into the family business itself. (I’ll leave it to Jill to flesh out the particulars and explain her internal reaction to where that went.)

When Jill asked that question, the change in Cafaro’s demeanor was palpable. For the first time it felt like seeing the real Capri Cafaro. For a time.

I come away from the experience feeling that Cafaro naturally puts up several layers of artifice as protection between her and the world. We saw at least some of the layers drop away for a brief spell. Where those layers come from would make for an interesting psycho-biographical inquiry, but I’m not going there. I’m left with wondering how she can work through those layers to understand on a meaningful level what the lives of regular people in Northeast Ohio are like. Cafaro is clearly very smart and has read extensively about the area, about public policy, presumably about regular folks. But not only has she never lived the life, there is a real barrier to her emotionally connecting to the people she purportedly wants to represent.

Hack SAW

The centerpiece of Cafaro's campaign is tax rebates to Americans who purchase American-made durable goods. The proposal would require leaving current multilateral trade treaties including GATT, NAFTA and the WTO. Cafaro's proposal is that the U.S. then negotiate bilateral treaties with each of our trading partners. I've discussed my reservations about the proposal earlier, but I had some additional questions.

I asked Cafaro whether she has any thinktank or academic backing for the SAW proposal. No. I asked if she has a cost estimate. She said no. I asked if she had at least done a preliminary calculation based on the current sales of American-made durable goods. Again, no. Then her Communications Director handed me the following:

Given that Cafaro has been running on SAW for the past couple of months, I’m left wondering why these very basic calculations weren’t done before now. In any event, her starting point shows her spending $55 billion of the $68 billion in revenue generated by halting the top level of the Bush tax cuts.

Since the point of the program is to increase sales of American-made durable goods, and since increasing sales will increase the cost of the program, I asked if she knows whether any increased Federal revenues from expanded sales will keep pace. She does not.

So I feel pretty confident we don’t know whether any of this will work at all. The sheet Rubenstein handed out is about paying out $55 billion to subsidize those purchases Americans are already making. I can think of better ways to spend the money. The cost starts at $55 billion, plus America’s participation in a decades-old trade regime. God only knows where it ends – Cafaro certainly doesn’t. I asked about the effect of tech industries (after noting that optimistic folks in Akron see tech as our future) if they lose the open export markets and intellectual property protections in the trade regime. She says the bilateral trade negotiations will take care of it all.

I’m tempted to call the proposal half-baked, but that would grievously insult doughy-centered cookies the world over. This thing hasn’t seen the inside of a policy oven. Adopting SAW as proposed would in fact be very much like pigging out on cookie dough – yielding short-term gains, but inevitably ending in feelings of remorse, guilt and bloat. At the least. At worst, cookie dough can give you a nasty case of salmonella if the eggs are just a little off. Something similarly pestilent may be lurking in SAW.

Cafaro likes to say that she’s just starting the conversation. But she also says that she’s the best candidate because she has a policy proposal. The sloppiness and lack of preliminary analysis of the SAW proposal weighs heavily against her, no matter how she wants to spin it.

My interlocking concerns about her commitment to the district and her vulnerability in the general election have to this point been enough for me to oppose Cafaro’s candidacy. I didn’t expect to have doubts about her ability as a policy maker, but the SAW proposal has surprised me in a bad way.


Jill said...

Nice parsing as always, Scott. You always helped me make more sense of what I heard re: SAW. Thank you. Kid #3 has a man coming to pull a rabbit out of a hat today for a gaggling group of grade schoolers, and then I'm going to a cantorial concert (the things I do for my religion). Somewhere between now and...I'll get to Ms. Cafaro. (And I thought doing Chandra v. Dann was tough.)

Tim Russo said...

i think you made the mistake of actually taking this SAW seriously, when nobody, not even Vic Rubenstein, thought it would be.

in fact, i doubt there's a single person in the entire political universe who has given as much thought to SAW as you have, pho. well done.

the whole thing strikes me as Vic & Capri saying, hey, everybody's got those neat banners behind candidates with clever acronyms...let's have one, too!!!

it's a gimmick, start to finish. an acronym looking for a policy.

Yellow Dog Sammy said...

Excellent post! Love the "policy oven." Saw may be half-baked, but after this it's toast.

Gloria Ferris said...

Scott, great post! Well I am now going to weigh in on "SAW" When Capri used the acronym SAW I immediately conjured up the image of that horrible horrible movie of a few years ago. Could not get it out of my head, and therefore, she lost me. Kind of like the "Innerbelt Trench" People really need to watch these acronyms and words. Associations can kill an idea or plan quicker than anything.

Anonymous said...

what is your problem? why so angry? Ms Cafaro you are going about it the wrong way if you really want to be elected,just a plain nasty individule.