David R. Henderson  

Michele Bachmann Gets It; Ron Paul Doesn't

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Ms. Bachmann as Air Traffic Controller in a YouTube World

When the only way people could watch Congress was via C-SPAN, Congressmen confronting those testifying before their committees rationally, if often boringly, made speeches. Their calculus was surely that someone flipping through C-SPAN would have higher odds of seeing them in action if the Congressmen took most of the allotted time.

But YouTube has changed all that and some Congressmen have been slow to adjust. This week, I watched three Republican Congress(wo)men ask tough questions of Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner. Committee chair Barney Frank, to allow everyone to ask questions, limited each to 5 minutes. This is standard. Congressman Ron Paul and Congressman Ed Royce used most of their time to give short speeches. This left them little time to ask questions and then to follow up. That was too bad because Ron Paul got into a back and forth with Ben Bernanke about how panics were handled before the Fed existed. Paul might have been able to put Bernanke more on the spot than he did.

Similarly, Ed Royce asked a tough question of Tim Geithner right near the end and, in his follow-up, said, "If you let them [big companies] go bankrupt, you'd actually then have market discipline and you wouldn't have to worry about this--offsetting all of this." Geither didn't have to answer because the time was up. Although the YouTube video doesn't show it because it cuts off 2 seconds too early, I saw it live and Geithner has the grin of the cat who ate the canary because the time limit let him off the hook. He would have been on the hook had Royce left more time.

One Congresswoman who gets this is Representative Michele Bachmann. She asked a series of questions, going back and forth between Bernanke and Geithner, first about the constitutionality of their actions (which Geithner avoided by saying that Congress had given them authority) and then, once she saw she was getting nowhere, about other aspects of the bailout and about which banks get Federal Reserve money. She reminded me of when I'm listening to the back-and-forth between Air Traffic Control and the pilot on Channel 9 on United Airlines. Her rat-a-tat-tat questions caused Bernanke to give rat-a-tat-tat answers and she covered more ground. She did a lot in 5 minutes.

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CATEGORIES: Economic Education

COMMENTS (13 to date)
Bobar writes:

You might be interested to know that one of the Economist blogs has opined on this matter unfavorably:

yoshi writes:

She represents the district I was born in (I now live one district over). She does not, in any way, "get" anything. Her legislative history while she was in the MN house is a joke (introducing anti-gay legislation many times while simultaneously complaining that the house wasn't focused on important issues like lowering taxes). Her history as a MN Representative has not proven to be any better. I just wondered who wrote for her in this instance.

David R. Henderson writes:

I looked at your link and watched the video. It doesn't undercut anything I said.
I was very clear about what she gets: how to use 5 minutes.

I think both of you are falling into the "package-deal" trap, namely, that when one accepts or applauds something about someone, he accepts everything else about that person. I think Michele Bachmann has some questionable, to put it mildly, views on gays and on immigrants. In other contexts, she has shown herself to be a venomous person. That in no way undercuts what I wrote above.
I gave a talk at the Club for Growth earlier this month in which I pointed out how clearly the left thinks about certain aspects of strategy. That doesn't make me a leftist.

Jack Spade writes:

Michele Bachmann is scary, but she is decent on a lot of issues too.

John V writes:


Small world.

I actually made on comment to that effect on a youtube clip of Paul and Bernanke from the other day:

ztnjv (1 day ago) +3 Paul needs to shorten his intros to Bernanke. Ben already knows Paul's position. Paul should get to the point and ask more questions faster and get a more productive dialog going instead of a monologue followed a few words from Ben.

We're of one mind on this, David. :)

Bobar writes:

I just pointed to it with regard to how people's assessment of an incident can be totally different. I tend toward the view that Bachmann is probably something of a dingbat, but I didn't think it was revealed in this incident.

JoshK writes:

Please, none of them compare to Maxine Waters. She relentlessly rocks the mic each time.

PatrickO writes:

I agree with this post. Ron Paul gives his speeches, smacks a token question on the end, and Bernanke gives his predictable, canned answer.

It happens almost every time. Ron should be able to anticipate his answer and press Bernanke through questioning and not lecturing. Bernanke's response always comes with the time elapsing and always sounds like it's the last, definitive word.

Which, of course, gets us nowhere.

Vangel writes:

The problem is the forum. As long as there is only 5 minutes to ask questions the advantage goes to the person providing the answers because s/he can avoid dealing directly with the issue at hand. When Ron Paul attempted to keep questions short with Greenspan and Rubin he would give them a 4 minute plus forum to provide answers pushing their false views of the powers granted to Congress, the Executive and the Fed by Constitution.

Jacob Oost writes:

Michele Bachmann for President!!!

shecky writes:

This, the same Michele Bachmann that seems to think we need a constitutional amendment to prevent the government from adopting a new global currency?

Yes, she's brilliant.

Constitutionality of Geithner's ideas for the most part is neither here nor there. Since when does any policy proposal need to be spelled out in the Constitution? Bachmann may as well be asking where in the Constitution does it say Geithner is allowed to wear a striped tie. Seems to make for a riveting five minute gotcha, though not all that substantive or useful in the long run.

Your point about the "package-deal" trap is sound. However, when the package in the aggregate is easily discredited, the "package-deal" trap breaks down, and you end up undermining your own argument by having to deflect attention away from the really wacky stuff. It's sort of like admiring OJ Simpson because he loves dogs, and then having to qualify that when folks start pointing at the rest of the "package".

icr writes:

Constitutionality of Geithner's ideas for the most part is neither here nor there. Since when does any policy proposal need to be spelled out in the Constitution?

Yeah, that was W's position re the Constitution as well.

guthrie writes:


I think you're missing the point. Dr. Henderson is merely saying Ms. Bachmann knows how to use her 5 minutes effectively and Rep's Paul and Royce do not. One can 'cover more ground' and get to something 'substantive or useful' if you forgo the posturing and just start asking your questions.

Neither was he offering an opinion on the content, nor the character or politics of the various speakers.

And can't OJ be appreciated as a cautionary tale to people like Michael Vick? 'See, even a murder can love and respect dogs!' :)

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