As my colleague Travis Waldron has previously reported, Jon Huntsman has an encouragingly reasonable record especially for someone who was governor of such a conservative state as Utah. Given that the US-China relationship isn’t a super-ideological matter and that US policy in East Asia is in general somewhat insulated from partisan politics, this sort of record seemed to make him a strong choice to serve as Barack Obama’s ambassador to Beijing. But as a GOP presidential primary candidate, this record’s left him with a dangerous Wingnut Gap that makes him unsuited for the current temper. But speaking this morning with George Stephanopoulos, Huntsman sought to close that gap, adopting new and wrongheaded positions on fiscal stimulus, embracing repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and going all-in on the House GOP Medicare repeal plan.
But even better, he opened a fresh front in wingnuttery by linking his desire to eliminate Medicare to some crank thinking on monetary policy issues:
Jon Huntsman: I would’ve voted for it.
George Stephanopoulos: Including the Medicare provisions?
Jon Huntsman: Including the Medicare provisions. Because the only thing that scares me more than that is the trajectory that our debt is taking. And the trajectory that our debt is taking now beyond $14 trillion is going to have an impact on our currency. It goes south, and our currency’s going to have an impact on our standard of living and affect every family in this country, and over time, our international competitiveness. So what is really scary I think to me and I think most Americans is our debt. And we’ve got to be bold, and we’ve got to have, I think, proposals on the table that perhaps in years past would’ve been laughed out of the room. And we’ve got to look seriously at them. We don’t have a choice. We’ve hit the wall.
To offer a few more words of praise for Huntsman, it’s important to understand that Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI), main author of the Medicare Repeal initiative, is also a monetary crank. Such crankier is on the rise in the conservative movement, but relatively few of the politicians who’ve embraced Ryan’s proposed elimination of Medicare seem to understand its underlying ideological premises as rigorously as Huntsman does. So good for him. Medicare repealers would often like us to believe that eliminating the program will somehow improve the quality or cost-effectiveness of the health care received by senior citizens. Huntsman, however, correctly says this is an idea that should be “laughed out of the room.”
Instead he’s embraced the also laughable idea that we should eliminate Medicare in order to make foreign-made manufactured goods and international travel cheaper. Does that make sense as a policy priority? On the one hand, we decrease employment in the health care sector while on the other hand we decrease employment in US export and import-competing industries? The causal mechanism here is slightly plausible. If you really wanted to implement a manufacturing-wrecking expensive dollar policy, eliminating could be part of the package. But why would you want to do this?