Candidate case study: Looking for straight answers from McFadden

McFadden for Senate
McFadden continued during the Brucato interview to deprive his would-be constituents of clear, straight answers on policy, nor does he do much to differentiate himself from his opponents for the Republican nomination.

Kudos to MinnPost teammate Cyndy Brucato for her interview with U.S. Senate GOP candidate Mike McFadden. She asked nothing but substantive questions designed to elicit his concrete policy views. As regular readers of this space know, McFadden has been stingy with concrete policy details (although he is making far more public appearances).

Kudos to McFadden for granting Brucato 30 minutes or so, and for discussing several issue areas. With apologies in advance that I am not grading him on the curve, I would say McFadden continued during the Brucato interview to deprive his would-be constituents of clear, straight answers on policy, nor does he do much to differentiate himself from his opponents for the Republican nomination nor even from Sen. Al Franken, whom he hopes to face in November.

When asked why he is running for the Senate, McFadden often begins his answer with “because we can do better.” Well, sure, everyone can always do better. But other than inviting people to think about their grievances with “Washington” and blame them on Franken/Democrats/Obamacare, what is McFadden promising to do, specifically, that would be better, and for whom?

When I say that I am not grading him on the curve, I mean that I am so fed up with the general eyewash from candidates who bravely endorse deficit reduction (without specifying the actual spending cuts and/or tax increases that would be required) and a theoretical indescribable replacement for Obamacare that would be better for everyone and cost less. There are lots of equivalent non-specific positions, and McFadden has adopted many of them.

For the sake of clarifying the difference between a policy position and the ol’ grip-and-grin-and-tickle-and-run, let’s just put the first McFadden-Brucato exchange under the microscope. She asked about the Dave Camp tax-reform plan. Rep. Camp of Michigan, Republican chair of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, recently committed the brave and apparently hopeless act of publishing a comprehensive tax-reform plan that could actually be scored. Camp’s proposal specified what the new (lower) marginal rates would be and the many special tax breaks that would have to be eliminated to offset the lower rates.

And that is part of the problem. People whose rates would be lowered liked that part of the plan, but when they noticed that many credits and deductions that kept their taxes much lower would be eliminated, they didn’t like that part. Any such detailed plan is going to create winners and losers. Camp offered enough detail that some of the losers could figure out who they are.

Now here is the Brucato-McFadden exchange. As you read it ask yourself: Did McFadden say that he was for the Camp plan? (I can’t find it.) Against it? (Same answer.) He favors the idea of cutting rates and offsetting that by eliminating some, maybe even a huge portion, maybe almost all, of the credits and deductions. But he doesn’t embrace the elimination of a single one.

He says the plan should be “revenue-neutral” because of the big federal debt that he mentions regularly. But wait a minute: Revenue neutral means it raises the same amount of revenue as the old system, so it doesn’t actually change the debt picture.

He calls for a bipartisan process, which sounds excellent except that it doesn’t pass the laugh test given the partisan gridlock. Perhaps he has some ideas for tax provisions that would attract Democratic support. If so, he doesn’t find time to mention any. He bravely endorses “simplicity” and “transparency,” boldly risking the ire of those who think the tax code should be more complicated and obscure.

If you have any inclination to check my work, and haven’t yet memorized the Brucato-McFadden exchanges, here’s the first one:

MinnPost: What did you think of Congressman Dave Camp’s tax plan — it eliminates write-offs and lowers the overall rates — and how does this compare to your concept of tax reform?

Mike McFadden: I think there’s a huge opportunity to sit down and really make some dramatic improvements here.

It shouldn’t be a partisan issue; it should be bipartisan. Sitting across the table with like-minded Democrats and say, “Let’s agree it’s going to be revenue-neutral,” because we’ve got $17 trillion of debt that we have to address.

But we can all agree that we have something that’s much more simple and much more transparent. Every economist will tell you that we’ll see economic growth from that, because it’s just more efficient.

Let’s sit down and talk about what that looks like. The 15,000 deductions; exemptions … I think you start with a white, blank sheet of paper and say, “This is the amount of money we need to run the government, here’s what we’re going to do. Here are the rates. What deductions or exemptions do we absolutely need and why?”

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/12/2014 - 06:10 pm.

    Same old, same old…

    Indeed, there’s a certain perverse talent being displayed by Mr. McFadden. It’s not often that someone campaigning for public office at this level is able to avoid specifics so completely. “Bipartisan,” “revenue-neutral,” “tranparency,” “efficiency,” and on and on, perhaps forever, and none of it meaning much of anything except a few dog-whistle words to encourage the Republican base.

    But before I jump too enthusiastically on the “McFadden is a shadow figure” bandwagon, I’d like to see the same questions asked of Mr. Franken, as well as McFadden’s fellow Republican candidates, so that I and other MinnPost readers have some basis of comparison. Maybe everyone running for the Minnesota seat in the U.S. Senate this year has memorized the same meaningless cliches.

  2. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/12/2014 - 06:30 pm.

    If McFadden doesn’t get the nod to oppose Sen. Franken

    This story “well” is going to dry up and then where are we?

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/12/2014 - 07:02 pm.

      Every republican I know

      is supporting Ortman. But let the press have their little red herring moment.

      • Submitted by Luke Ferguson on 05/13/2014 - 08:50 am.

        Red herring?

        McFadden is the candidate, not a red herring. Money isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. He’s got 5x as much cash on hand as Ortman, and has raised 2.8 million in comparison to Ortmann’s 600k. It’s not even close.

        Whoever is running McFadden is doing a brilliant job of it, lots of money and very little substance.

        Barring a huge gaffe or shakeup, McFadden will be on the ballot in November.

        • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/13/2014 - 11:02 pm.

          I’m not so sure

          McFadden has the money, but we don’t have actual polling data. I wouldn’t trust anecdotes either of course. I can’t detect Republican enthusiasm for anybody.I’ve gone after McFadden myself, but only because he seems like a serious candidate and provides blogging material. FWIW, it does seem Ortmann is the only other serious candidate.

        • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/13/2014 - 11:08 pm.

          and by “blogging material”

          I mean if we ever find out what Lazard gets up to, I have a feeling it will be a gold mine.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/13/2014 - 09:09 am.

        So she’ll get

        at least three votes.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/13/2014 - 12:51 pm.


    Eric seems to be assuming that McFadden has some substance but is withholding it for some reason. A more parsimonious explanation is simply that what we see is all there is to see. Republicans haven’t had any substance for almost three decades beyond magic plans… cut taxes and government spending and wait for the magic to happen. Or bomb someone and wait the magic to happen. There’s never been any substance behind “magic” since it’s a non-existent entity.

    McFadden and other Republicans clearly think they can re-brand their way out of all the policy holes they;ve dug themselves into. They think if they rename their no new taxes pledges: “revenue neutral” budget planning no one will notice their talking about the same old magic. I guess we’ll see but I have a feeling Franken will make mince meat of these guys.

  4. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 05/13/2014 - 05:30 pm.

    McFadden: An archetype of banality?

    I read Cyndy Brucato’s interview with Mike McFadden and came away shaking my head. More on that in a second. First, please consider the following:

    —The World Health Organization’s World Health Statistics 2013 contains figures that should be a wake up call for any citizen or politician. For instance, in terms of unmet family planning needs, the US is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Columbia, who are doing a little worse than we are, and Peru and Brazil, who are doing somewhat better.

    —We need a science literate society in order to do, well, many things. And yet only about 28% of American adults are considered scientifically literate, according to one study.

    —The Social Progress Index looks at a range of variables related to social progress, which the report defines as “the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.”

    According to this index the US ranks only 16th overall. We rank 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation, and 31st in personal safety. We rank 23rd in access to the internet.

    —According to James Gustav Speth from an article in 2012, the US bottoms out on many measures compared with our peer countries:

    -the highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;

    -the greatest inequality of incomes;

    -the lowest social mobility;

    -the lowest score on the UN’s index of “material well-being of children”;
-the worst score on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index;

    -the highest expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP, yet all this money accompanied by the highest infant mortality rate, the highest prevalence of mental health problems, the highest obesity rate, the highest percentage of people going without health care due to cost, the highest consumption of antidepressants per capita, and the shortest life expectancy at birth;

    -the next-to-lowest score for student performance in math and middling performance in science and reading;
-the highest homicide rate;
-the largest prison population in absolute terms and per capita;

    -the highest carbon dioxide emissions and the highest water consumption per capita;
-the lowest score on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (except for Belgium) and the largest ecological footprint per capita (except for Denmark);
-the lowest spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of national income (except for Japan and Italy);
-the highest military spending both in total and as a percentage of GDP; and
    -the largest international arms sales.

    The above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the challenges we face. Student loan debt is unjust and unsustainable, and the cost of higher ed slips continually slips of out reach for many. Technological advances will render increasing numbers of people redundant in the economy. We’re doing very little to address climate change. The achievement gap is an ongoing and urgent issue. Human is driving a wave of mass extinction and loss of biodiversity. Increasing numbers of voices are calling into question the growth paradigm of current economics. Relatedly, there’s increasing criticism of GDP, and alternative measures of human well-being are being proposed. Childhood abuse is still a major problem, as well as rape culture in the US. Polluted air causes an estimated 200,000 early deaths annually in the US (Nothing to see here folks, just keep repeating the mantra “deregulation and limited government” and everything will be OK.) ( As MinnPost’s Susan Perry reported a few days ago, the US ranks 31st in maternal deaths, and that number, unlike most other countries, is on the rise. And on and on.

    Compare the above issues with Brucato’s wiffle ball questions and McFadden’s nearly empty replies. What is your impression? Is this the best we can do?

    McFadden strikes me as a veritable archetype of banality, devoid of incisive thought or new ideas, narrow in thought, utterly ill-equipped to take on the complex issues we all face. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve not seen the slightest indication otherwise.

    When do we start demanding politicians that have broadness of learning and understanding coupled with a capability for complex thinking?

    When do we start to demand that our politics be orders of magnitude smarter than “limited government,” deregulation and lower taxes?

    The media has a role in this. Will Brucato and others please step it up?

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/13/2014 - 06:44 pm.

      Don’t get too exercised

      He only wants to replace the highly replaceable Al Franken. And regarding your other points, sounds to me like we need a whole new direction in this country which starts with new leadership.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/14/2014 - 09:39 am.

        “He only wants to replace Al Franken”

        He doesn’t care about policy–that’s why he will can’t or won’t take a stand on any issue. It’s just about getting elected. If he ever gets in the Senate, he will blindly follow the Republican agenda because he has never taken the time to develop his own opinions. Policy is for the little people. He has an election to win!

        Why is he running? It’s another notch on his belt. His ego demands that he scale another peak. For his backers, they will support him because he is Norm Coleman-level pliant, or because they hate Al Franken (they’re not sure why, but don’t bog them down with hard questions like that).

        Does that about sum it up?

        • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/16/2014 - 07:52 pm.

          They hate Al Franken because they have been told to

          and because he’s from the entertainment industry, and therefore unqualified, unlike Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono, Clint Eastwood, and other conservative entertainers who went into politics.

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/13/2014 - 08:47 pm.

      Well, we can just vote for Sen. Franken then

      His first six years have addressed most of the above issues and we can count on another solid six years of solid results.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/16/2014 - 07:49 pm.

      Frankly, I don’t see either party discussing these issues

      seriously or in any detail, although the Democrats are a little better in the lip service department.

      I read the online edition of the New York Times, which has an unearned reputation as being the most liberal newspaper in the country, when it’s actually only slightly left of the Times of London. If it’s any kind of liberal, it’s yuppie liberal, filled with the concerns of the upper 10% and treating 90% of the population as exotic inhabitants of the unexplored lands west of the Hudson. Oh the trials of an Upper East Side couple whose child failed to get into the most prestigious preschool!

      Anyway, what I have noticed again and again is that the readers of the New York Times are to the economic and political left of the newspaper itself. The New York Times publishes very little that will rock the yachts or annoy the lobbyists, but many of the readers write as if they would gladly pick up torches and pitchforks if given the opportunity. They ARE concerned about all the issues that Eric Snyder mentions and have researched and pondered them, but almost no one in the media or government is speaking for them in a more public forum.

      The mainstream newspapers and TV stations, most of which are owned by the same six conglomerates, and PBS/NPR, which are funded largely by corporate donations (and subject to the donors’ whims, if insiders whom I know are to be believed), are purposely avoiding dealing with these important issues–because it will scare the advertisers away? That’s why Al Jazeera and RT, despite their sometimes dubious reporting, have an audience in the U.S. Both channels cover stories *from the U.S.* that our own media ignore, much as Radio Free Europe used to cover the stories that Communist governments tried to hide, only in our case, it isn’t government censorship that keeps the news trivial and superficial, but the fact that it’s too the advantage of the rich and powerful to keep the majority ignorant.

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