January 13, 2009

Mi cena con John Sharp

A group of Texas bloggers had dinner with John Sharp last night and discussed his candidacy for the US Senate. BOR and EOW already have their recap's up, I'm obviously running a bit behind.

First off, the restaurant... Sharp selected Sullivan's. Now, bullshit aside about the grassroots, progressives, etc., I like Sullivan's. I go to Eddie V's or Truluck's more often but Sullivan's is good despite it's recent fouling by CradDICK. I especially like it for dates since even if the date is awful, the food won't suck and the bars are around the block. This is obviously less fun when you have to pick up the tab for a date who 'forgot' his wallet. Regardless, it kind of reminded me of Hank Gilbert who could eat every meal at a steakhouse, if we allowed him to.

Sharp is a personable guy. This was my first time to meet him and he was friendly and unreserved. The dinner was really more of an open ended discussion and for that, I really must say thanks to Sharp. It's goddamn nice not to sit down with some self important candidate who'd like to hold forth on subjects about which he/she has a puddle deep comprehension level. Not that Sharp doesn't have his own weak spots, but he didn't come across as someone with a calcified mind.

There were two issues I went into the evening wanting to discuss. There ended up being a third which Matt brought up.

I was extremely upset when I wrote this and make no apologies for it. It is clear though, after talking to the man last night, that the piece I linked to was badly done. His proposal isn't to cut taxes on existing production sources and he wants a sunset on it of at most 10 years. His proposal includes everything from a new oil well to a wind turbine. His idea has some merit though he's still not completely sold me on the marginal ability of tax cuts to drive this production increase with so much volatility in the commodities markets. He is still interested in OCS drilling but acknowledges that ANWR is pretty worthless. Obvs, we disagree on OCS. While I think there is a lot of undiscovered oil down there, it's just not enough. He used, as an example, a gas field off the FL coast that has proven gas reserves that would cover one million homes for thirty years. As I pointed out, that's a drop in the well in North America. Where we are running out of gas. Further, we have 10-15 years to continue conversion to alternatives before we start hitting real supply constraints in terms of oil. We've got maybe 5 years in terms of natural gas.

The Economy and tax policy
We actually had a few points of agreement here. He made clear his anger that the banks weren't lending. He thought we were in for a much rougher time of it. I disagree... we're set up for a strong upward movement in terms of economic growth. Sharp's of the opinion that stopping home value declines will stop the bleeding in the economy. I think you have to address a far more fundamental issue, wage growth. You can stabilize home prices at whatever arbitrary level you'd like but if people can't afford the homes, they can't afford the homes. Period. While I love the idea of moving interest rates to 4.5%, Treasury is already doing that.

In the end, we're going to have to shift tax policy so that it stops concentrating wealth at the top. It's not clear he gets that. It's not clear there are many politicos who get that period, in Sharp's defense. Also to give him a little cover, most people don't really understand what's going on with stimulus or the economy. Many, like Sharp, make the fallacious assumption that the government is trying to recover $15 trillion in lost value. That's not what they are trying to do... they are simply trying to make up for lost velocity which is a hell of lot cheaper. Asset prices will recover on their own. To his credit, he did nail it when he said that he thought deflation was a much bigger concern than balanced budgets and inflation.

On the subject of taxes, we got interrupted when we were discussing actually explaining to people what's going to happen with their tax dollars so I never really knew if he understands that what's needed in a race like this is not just honesty on some issues and tax cuts all around. What's needed is one Democrat and one Republican and the D can't be afraid of calling the R a liar if they use that tired old supply side bullshit.

Matt brought up the margins tax and the perception that it gave Republicans political cover. I remember thinking the same thing at the time, however, I don't know think that cost Chris Bell the election and Sharp's response was really good: "How do you tell a kid whose school is going to have to be shut that maybe, after the next election, if there are more Democrats you'll open their school back up?". The Republicans have been excellent at just this kind of political brinkmanship and we've done a lousy job of shoving it back at them. I don't know if Sharp's got the meanness to do this.

Sharp made it clear he was running regardless of what Republicans and other Democrats do. I haven't decided who I'm going to support but I have a much better understanding of John Sharp and where he stands than I did. The rap on Sharp has often been that he's pro-business, which is an insult I've never really understood. The guy I saw last night is conservative, but not one of those bible-thumping freaks. He's an old school fiscal conservative Democrat who just doesn't want money wasted, more Harry Truman than John Connally. He's also someone concerned about the future, especially of entitlement programs. He is so concerned about them that I didn't really want to point out that it's a pretty easy actuarial and budgetary fix. Well, that's not actually true... he knows what needs to happen. What's he's concerned with are the politics. I can't disagree.

The other issue is a political tin ear. I've experienced it trying to get him to help out Hank in 2006. In his defense, Hank was an unknown that few at the top gave a shit about. Still, he needs a fire and I don't know if he has it or not.

For other budding candidates, seriously don't feel like you have to take myself or any other blogger out. Frankly, I make more than a lot of you and should really be buying y'all a meal. Sharp picked the place, I went because I wanted to hear what the man had to say. That, and I really like their creamed spinach.

Finally, for the record, I DID bet Sharp $50 that we'd seen the bottom in the market (meaning the DJIA). He did not accept the bet but I'm leaving the offer open nonetheless. Seriously, John, if I win I'll donate it back to your campaign. You can be among the few who've actually won money off me!

Posted by mcblogger at January 13, 2009 11:26 AM

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