Thursday, October 16, 2008
It feels a little too much like passover to ask: "Why is this country different than all other countries?" In the current Canadian election the more conservative party has a campaign promise not to CUT taxes. By European standards Canada is considered conservative too!
There is one point that is so good it had to be mentioned:"The nation's racial heterogeneity also partly explains its conservatism. U.S. heterogeneity sharply contrasts with the much greater homogeneity in Canada, Britain and continental Europe. People are much less likely to support income redistribution to people who are members of different racial or ethnic groups. Ethnic divisions make it easier for the enemies of welfare to vilify the poor"
Similar to the concept of attack that has come up in this election.
My friend raises several excellent points, among them is the curious case of American Exceptionalism. Why does America differ so greatly in its values with western Europe and Canada? Lots of theories have been advanced to explain the difference -- one of them being heterogeneity. However, other possibilities remain. A popular one I've heard is that the devastation of two World Wars forced the European wealthy to discover how the poor were living, thus giving them greater empathy. However, this doesn't help to explain Canada. Another possibility is the separation of church and state, which forced the church to compete with government in this country -- thus leading to competition among churches and greater religious devotion -- which in turn leads to greater conservatism.
Whatever the answer, it's worth noting that there's also a bright side to American Exceptionalism. I spend a lot of time detailing the ways in which Europe actually is better than the United States, but we do have a longer and prouder history of integration than Europe. Just look at Europe today -- they criticized the U.S. for years on our racism (for which there is no excuse) -- but that was before Europe also started experiencing massive waves of immigration. Recently, countries like France and even the heretofore friendly Denmark have seen a rise in xenophobia. Plus, they all still hate each other. If you don't believe me, ask an Austrian what he thinks of a German or an Englishman what he thinks of a Frenchman. Whatever our faults across the pond, we've at least succeeded in integrating all the peoples of western Europe -- even if it took years and massive struggles -- the Irish are now white, so to speak.
A Dutch friend recently asked me why it was that people from other nations, upon receiving U.S. citizenship, now consider themselves fully American. In the Netherlands, she explained, as the daughter of Iranian immigrants, she would never feel fully Dutch. It's true that in the United States we don't do enough to take care of those who differ from us. However, our sometimes failed devotion to social welfare also yields a nice benefit -- sometimes being American consists more in devotion to a belief in the American dream (and the benefits of Capitalism) than it consists in shared race or culture. I think this is the bright side to the campaign: While much of America may still fear those that are different, when push comes to shove, the almighty dollar is what unites us all -- as evidenced by Obama's now commanding lead in the polls.
That said, it would be nice if we could take our shared belief in the dollar and recognize that Democratic policies aren't just better for social welfare -- they are better for the economy. As I've said before, I'm a Democrat not just because it's morally the right thing, but also because it's smarter.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Central to the Republican platform is this hypocrisy: the American wish to ignore a thing called blowback. Basically, the phrase originally had to do with the CIA's recognition that covert operations often had unintended consequences. The phrase has been subsequently widened to ecompass the idea that political and military actions often result in untintended, harmful consequences -- or, "blowback." You may remember this phrase because for a while it was being thrown around the popular media when Ron Paul used it in a debate to point out that the consequences of 9/11 were "blowback" from the U.S.'s policies in the Middle East. Now, the phrase isn't supposed to exempt anyone from cupability -- terrorists remain guilty of heinous acts. Rather, blowback is a pragmatic doctrine that attempts to understand the consequences of political action.
Ron Paul was resoundly booed and criticized for evoking the doctrine -- and the irony is that recognizing blowback would do more to protect America than would the conservatives who think patriotism equals America can do no wrong. It is only be recognizing blowback that you can fully appreciate the consequences of our political choices and seek to prevent blowback in the future -- and thus prevent another event from 9/11 from happening.
On a smaller scale, the Republican anger over William Ayers and the Reverend Wright refuses to recognize blowback. It's the righteous indigation that bothers me -- especially in regards to Reverend Wright. For example, you can disagree with what the man said, but we should also accept some responsibility for the fact that an African American man feels disenfranchised and angered by a country that has a long and proud history of racism and subjugation. It's another example of conservatives lacking empathy -- they can't see that their actions have created the desperation that makes people criticize America. Instead, conservatives are simply angered.
Again, I do not mean to justify the actions of the Weather Underground, but it is both dangerous and naive to deny that America's pursuit of a meaningless war in Vietnam contributed to the climate that allowed the group to flourish in the first place.
And here is the ultimate irony -- that the so-called party of personal responsibility wishes to accept no personal responsibility for America's actions. To do so, of course, would involve engaging in a real debate about the problems this nation faces. Instead, as with the economy, the Republicans will attempt to peddle the have your cake and eat it too mantra (the same way they try and say trickle down economics): we can do whatever we want politically and there are no bad consequences. The fact is, there is such a thing as blowback and it is only by understanding this that we can seek to prevent the very acts which McCain and Palin claim they so detest.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
In fact, if I've seen anything unfair in the news lately it's the media's lack of what our Mexican neighbors call "cojones." Take, for example, the NY Times running a front page piece on Obama's ties to William Ayers which concluded that there were no ties -- in other words, non-news. Or the media (CNN, NY Times) headlines proclaiming variations of "Campaign Gets Ugly." Now, I know Obama went on the attack as well with the Keating five scandal documentary. However, what the Obama camp put out was true -- McCain was involved in a lobbying scandal involving the financial industry. The McCain camp claims, that Obama has ties to terrorists or supports what Reverend Wright said, are demonstrably false. Why can't the newspapers simply call a spade a spade and point out that the McCain campaign is desperate -- and dare I say, erratic in a crisis? In fact, I'm happy to say that the NY Times finally did just that. However, my point is that it still doesn't make them biased to call an ugly campaign ugly.
This reminds me of what a law professor I had once said about the Nuremberg Trials. Although a hallmark of international justice, the Nuremberg Trials are often criticized as nothing more than "victor's justice" -- the same logic, in fact, that is applied to war crimes tribunals today. This professor made the very good point that some times, unfortunately, people are just that guilty. In other words, were the mainstream media to call the McCain campaign unethical and point out that they are distracting from real issues it wouldn't be bias -- it would be that they are just that guilty. So yes, maybe the media is biased -- but just not in the way conservatives had less us to believe. And as for Fox, since it can't even be trusted to report the truth it's not biased -- it's simply not news. In fact, I like to think of Fox as a giant media lobby group -- or something ignorant people watch to feel comforted in their own previously held biases.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Fortunately, Schaffner wrote that article a few days ago and, even in that brief time, new polls have significantly widened Obama's lead. We all know that as a result, the McCain campaign has turned ugly -- accusing Obama of associating with terrorists and now playing the Reverend Wright card, etc. I enjoyed a friend's comment about Palin's misreading of the NY Times article which had actually concluded that Obama did not have a relationship with Ayers. On her citing the Times my friend remarked "Oh, so the first time she picks up a newspaper . . ."
Not surprisingly, there's outrage all over the media (except Fox News, of course) about the McCain campaign's new tactics -- and commentary on how they won't work. I hope not -- because it's frightening to think what it would mean if McCain's attacks proved successful. I've written about the damage a McCain campaign would do to the country, but imagine what his campaign would do to political races in this country. A successful McCain campaign -- even an uptick in his numbers this month -- would signal that baseless and ridiculous attacks (including accusing a sitting United States senator of terrorist ties) do more for a candidate's election prospects than actually talking about the issues. It would give future presidential candidates zero incentives to talk about the issues and every incentive to smear their opponents with vicious attacks -- no matter what their truthfulness.
Luckily, Obama seems to be playing the right card. Earlier, I thought Obama should label McCain a liar because with that frame, Americans would both distrust McCain and take his attacks with a grain of salt. However, Obama's new ad is even better -- calling McCain "erratic in a crisis" tells Americans that McCain is both trying to distract them from the real issues and that McCain is a poor leader (it also may be a subtle jab at his age -- which is legitimate given his VP choice). It helps, of course, that several of his aides explicitly stated they were trying to change the topic from the economy.
That said, the upcoming debate leaves McCain little choice but to address the economy. He wants to go on the attack but he risks looking "erratic in a crisis" as Obama sticks to the issues. Hopefully, like the pundits say, it's already in the bag. That said: it's still important to vote and get others out there!
Monday, October 6, 2008
I am excited to offer another post from a learned friend -- and not just because I'm busy. This one was written by a man called the People's Engineer -- in part because he holds degrees in: law, civil engineering, and kicking Republican rhetoric's butt. Here it is:
Sarah Palin: Energy Expert
No matter who wins this election, John McCain will have permanently tarnished his reputation with much of this country. Like many moderates, I was quietly relieved by his nomination. Since then, I have been repeatedly and consistently disappointed by the disingenuous direction his campaign has taken. John McCain has told us with a straight face that because of her “executive experience,” Sarah Palin is more qualified than Barack Obama to be in a leadership role and that because Russia is geographically adjacent to Alaska, Palin has foreign policy credentials. Equally galling (and less scrutinized) is John McCain’s repeated contention that Sarah Palin “knows more about energy than anyone in the United States of America.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7Nu7Kjk_0Q). This is a lie. There is no credible evidence whatsoever to suggest this claim contains a shred of truth. None. The only two tenuous links between her and any sort of energy expertise are (1) her husband and (2) her short tenure as governor of Alaska.
Todd Palin worked for British Petroleum for approximately 20 years, but not in any sort of position that would make him privy to energy strategy or policy matters – he has worked as both an oil field production operator and supervisor. I do not discount his intelligence or capability merely because he held a blue-collar position; but lets be honest, we wouldn’t want an electrician running our nation’s energy policy, so why would we want the spouse of an oil field worker?
Palin has repeatedly declared herself to be an energy expert, citing her experience as governor of a state that is a net energy producer. This claim is ridiculous.
First, energy issues go far beyond oil and gas. Coal is the number one source of electrical generation in this country, dwarfing all others. Aside from natural gas production, Alaska is largely irrelevant to the nation’s electrical generation. It is impossible for Palin to “know more about energy than anyone else” if her knowledge doesn’t even extend to electricity generation.
Second, it is true oil powers our transportation economy, but Palin has never actually provided any information as to how she is an expert in this area. Alaska produces surplus oil and gas, but she has absolutely no experience developing any sort of energy policy; and if she did it would not even be relevant for the rest of the country (as it would be based around Alaska’s energy surplus). At most Palin has experience negotiating licensing and royalty fees with oil and gas companies. As we all know, U.S. energy problems stem from our reliance on imports. Her experience negotiating royalty rates with oil companies would have absolutely no bearing on her ability to help the United States reduce its dependence on foreign oil by switching to alternative technologies.
Here is an excellent video of Palin showing her firm grasp on how energy markets work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvUsdmqGYV8
Sadly, she cannot even demonstrate basic knowledge of the subject. Her comments are completely unintelligible. She is correct in stating the very elementary principle that oil is a fungible commodity, after that she falls apart. Oil produced domestically in the United States is sold on the world markets – oil is a global commodity. Giving her the very generous benefit of the doubt, perhaps she is suggesting some sort of legislative action that would prevent this from happening. Unfortunately, this type of policy would have little if any reduction whatsoever on the amount of oil we import. The math is very simple: the US produces 7.5 million barrels per day, we consume 20 million barrels per day, whether this domestic production is sold on the global market is trivial and irrelevant to the real problem. An energy expert who can’t even grasp this very basic calculation is no expert at all.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
I'm very excited to share this guest post from "the Lifetime Learner." I think you will find it interesting, informative, and persuasive:
What I'd Like to Hear a Candidate Say: Energy Policy
Some day I would like to hear a President say something like the following in regards to energy:
“From now on, every new addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation. The generation-long growth in our dependence on foreign oil will be stopped dead in its tracks right now… for I am tonight setting the further goal of cutting our dependence on foreign oil by one-half by the end of the next decade – a savings of over 4 ½ million barrels of imported oil per day.
"…To ensure that we meet these targets, I will use my Presidential authority to set import quotas…I will forbid the entry into this country of one drop of foreign oil more than these goals allow.
"…To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our Nation’s history to develop America’s own alternative sources of fuel – from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the Sun."
The sad part is -- these aren't new ideas -- these are words taken from a speech that Jimmy Carter gave as President in 1979. Wonderful ideas at that time, but conservatives soon labeled this the “malaise” speech -- and that epithet has been a source of right-wing pride ever since. The country did not respond to Carter's challenge as one would have hoped. Instead, Americans have proven that they prefer the one liners of Reagan, Bush Senior, and Bush Junior. We prefer to think that we can have it all -- as opposed to recognizing that we have to make sacrifices when it comes to our dependence on oil.
So what will it take to get us on the right track to protect our future, and off the path of consuming until we have nothing left to consume? Can we imagine a day in which we don't import foreign oil? I’m not convinced that either candidate has the will to accomplish the dramatic changes that are required, as the short term hardships required for real change (higher gas prices, for one) would most likely result in a one term administration. I believe that ultimately we will be forced into action when the price of gasoline does finally rise to a tipping point. But if some environmental catastrophe that exceeds Katrina should occur in the next four years, or we suffer a terrorist attack against our main sources of foreign oil, then who would you want running the country?
McCain selected Palin to be second in command, so we know what his direction would be if oil was to become today’s banking crisis – to drill, drill and drill some more. On the other hand, although Obama is not to be confused with a candidate from the Green Party, I think he clearly provides the better opportunity to lead us in a direction of conservation and alternative energy sources and to give the kind of speech we once heard 30 years ago.
And by the way, to respond to Vox Populi's earlier post, Millard Fillmore does not make my bottom ten of worst U.S. Presidents. He served less than four years but helped to delay the Civil War with his passing of the Compromise of 1850.
Friday, October 3, 2008
What do I mean by name-callers? I mean Republicans no longer offer arguments. Why did House Republicans say they voted down the first bill? They claim it's because Nancy Pelosi gave a partisan speech. What does McCain or Palin offer in terms of policy solutions? Tough talk and attacks on Obama. Without arguments, they are just calling people names. And the truth is, they don't have a choice. Here's why:
Part of the answer relates to why most of America thinks this current bill is all about bailing out Wall Street. The way I understand it, the issue isn't that people aren't spending or buying. The problem also isn't that big companies going bust hurts the economy. The problem, essentially, is a lack of good credit -- people can't buy or lend. And that has a ripple effect -- it hurts big business, it hurts small business, and it hurts us all. Thus, Republicans simply cannot understand the current problem. Now, yes, they can on an individual basis. But the conservative ideology cannot. The traditional conservative platform understands the economy as driven solely by demand: infuse the economy with more money (via tax cuts) and the economy does better. However, the key to this problem is that it's not about demand -- it's about credit. Credit: something that should have had government oversight and requires it now. Thus, the Republican platform can't even begin to envision the problem -- it's wholly outside their economic understanding. Consequently, Republicans can't offer arguments about the bill -- they can only call names.
Another aspect of the problem: as the world changes it becomes increasingly hard for conservatives to deny that small government is the best form of government. John McCain has been criticized from the left and the right for not being more specific about his economic plan. But what can he say? In the last 8 years of the Bush laissez-faire economy, we've seen Europe (yes, that Europe) grow faster economically than us and the EU catch up in terms of global influence. Conservatives, who used to mock those "socialist" countries, must also be aware that the dollar has become weaker and weaker against the euro (granted, a lot of that has to do with the fact that the dollar is traditionally hedged against oil).
And here's where it ties in to the VP debate: Palin may have chosen not to answer questions and repeat cliches because she's personally incapable of answering questions (see Katie Couric interview). Or: Palin can't answer questions because the Republican platform has no answer: she can only attack and offer cliches.
The fact is, as Thomas Friedman wrote recently (and I quoted previously), the modern global economy requires active governments that oversee and take advantage of cash flows that move rapidly and globally. Democrats, because they envision a helping role for the government in the economy, can offer solutions to these problems. Republicans cannot.
And finally, it's worth noting that the gaping whole in the Republican credo doesn't end with financial oversight. The myth that the freemarket cures all has been rocked. Hopefully, that leads to a similar debunking of other freemarket cure-all myths, like: trading polution points versus investing in alternative energy, vouchers versus investing in our schools, and that Reagan was cognizant during his second term.
So, next time you hear a Republican, listen to see if he is really offering an argument, or simply throwing out buzzwords: "Regan," "big government," "death tax," etc. Unless they can provide an argument, and not just a catchy phrase (which they are good at), then it's just name-calling.
But more on that later. What did you think of the debate?
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
And speaking of the VP candidate, I remember being afraid that the Dems were once again taking the high road and were going to lose because they wouldn't attack Palin. Now, with her favorables dropping and independents switching over to the Dems because of her, maybe letting Palin implode was the plan all along.
As for Palin imploding, well, that never gets old. As I've said before, as long as McPain/Palin loses this will go down as the funniest VP pick of all time. Take a look at Palin and Biden both answer Katie Couric on Roe v. Wade. Biden's answer is incredibly well-thought out. He especially shines when asked to name a court decision with which he disagrees -- and talks about the Violence Against Women Act. Biden derides the court, as he should, for invalidating the Violence Against Women Act for failing to have an interstate commerce connection. Of course, the conservative cour has had no problem finding such a connection when it comes to anti-abortion laws.
Then Palin answers on the video, stumbling through her normal gibberish. She isn't even lucid. But what's most frightening is that when Katie Couric asks her to name another case with which she disagrees, it's clear that Palin can't name another Supreme Court case. I mean, she couldn't even throw out Dredd Scott. Either she agrees with slavery or she knows absolutely nothing about the Court. I wonder how many Justices she could name. In her defense though, I'm not sure they get newspapers in Alaska either.
Yes, Palin's an easy target, but it's important to remember that her selection reflects poorly on the judgment of the artist formerly known as John McCain.
So while I'm still afraid of the McCain campaign attacks, which are sure to come, and will attempt to play on American's underlying racism, I'm starting to believe that the Dems have a plan and they just might win. Even pollster.com, which tends to have the most conservative estimates (when it comes to electoral college predictions) of the sites I look at, now has Obama with a strong lead -- including a 2 point lead in Florida.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Obama scored better and more often than did McCain -- not only at the level of intellect and policy -- but also of stature. Hopefully Biden can do the same thing on Thursday.
Biden will be faced with something of the opposite of the challenge that Obama faced on Friday: while people were looking to see if Obama, despite his limited time in elected office, was "ready" to be president and he needed to come off as down to Earth (as opposed to being an aloof elitist (a la Gore or Adlai Stevenson)), everyone knows that Biden knows the ins and outs of both Washington and foreign policy the difficulty will be whether he can convey that vast wealth of knowledge while maintaining a respectful tone toward Palin. Regardless of whether you think Palin deserves to be talked down to (I, for one, think she does), Biden needs to resist the temptation or risk eliciting sympathy for Palin. As this blog mentioned previously, Palin is someone people relate to and see pieces of themselves in. The average person does not know the ins and outs of foreign policy but likely still considers himself or herself capable of making (and expressing) foreign policy decisions--perhaps by listening to their gut and being sure never to blink. If Biden's attacks seem too mean spirited or smack of a know-it-all smugness, those who like Palin may sense that their own intelligence and judgment is being impugned as well and thus might respond negatively.
On a completely different note, I must say that while I thought Obama generally acquitted himself nicely I was surprised by his answer on the surge in Iraq. Obviously this was a point where McCain felt particularly confident and where he could really press Obama and try to score some points by noting the differences in their respective stances on the surge. Obama answered McCain by trying to draw a distinction between a strategy and a tactic, a line of argument that in my view was ill-conceived. Rather than argue about the differences between a successful tactic in service of a failed strategy, I thought he should have opted for an answer that I thought he had used rather successfully in the debates during the democratic primaries. The argument ran something like this: Our military, is of course, the strongest in the world and given the right number of troops and the right military equipment they can achieve any military objective that it would be prudent for us to ask of them. But the problem in Iraq has moved beyond military objectives. What we have in Iraq is a social problem, not a military one. So of course the surge worked, it was a military objective carried out successfully by our brave men and women who are the best soldiers in the world. But that does not change the fact that the Iraq government has failed to meet all of its social and political deadlines. The government of Iraq this year is running at a huge surplus [I think its around 80 billion dollars, if i remember correctly], while American tax payers are paying millions of dollars a day and America's children are putting their lives at risk everyday. With the military objectives of this war largely complete its time for us to turn over the country to men and women of Iraq and to the government that they elected and to bring our sons and daughters home.
Just my two cents.
Monday, September 29, 2008
We know that the failure of unregulated finance won't mean the end of Republican calls for deregulation, so it's worth taking a look at another popular conservative argument: that minimum wage hurts the economy. In fact, conservatives often go so far as to say that minimum wage actually hurts workers. The argument is very simple, and at first blush, it can almost make sense: they argue that a lower wage means that more workers will be employed. Furthermore, conservatives argue that a free market leaves workers open to choose a different job -- and thus the minimum wage actually encourages a lower wage for workers. Even further, and contradictorily, you'll hear conservatives argue that a higher wage could prove disastrous for the economy.
The argument against a minimum wage -- and a living wage -- has several simple and obvious flaws that I'll look at in turn. First, cutting or abolishing the minimum wage flies in the face of the hard evidence that is American history. We know that there was a time when Americans did not have the protection of labor laws -- and what did we have? Answer: twelve year olds working in coal mines. Thus, while conservatives can point to a hypothetical scenario in which workers suffer, we can point to a real world scenario in which workers suffer in the absence of a minimum wage. Along these lines, we also know that the minimum wage has consistently gone up in this country and that hasn't spelled doom for anyone -- not the workers, and certainly not the people holding the ultimate wealth.
And here are the problems with arguing that a lower minimum wage means more workers employed. First, people can't survive on minimum wage as it is -- so a lower minimum wage is a moot point in terms of any benefit it brings individual workers. Second, there's no guarantee that cheaper labor translates to higher production. Simple hypothetical: if a company can only sell 100 widgets, and it takes 10 workers to produce those widgets, a reduction in the cost of labor will not mean more widgets produced. In fact, all it will means is an increase in the profit of the company owner. Furthermore, an increase in a minimum wage, unlike a decrease, has the effect of increasing demand. Thus, increasing the minimum wage would conceivably lead to greater production and thus the employment of more workers -- not the other way around.
The one concern I do have with wage arguments is the very real problem of losing American jobs overseas. I'm not against the free market -- I'm against the unregulated free market. Thus, if it's more efficient for some jobs to move overeas, then the answer isn't in the form of a $25 billion loan to the auto industry. Instead, we should take that money and put it towards education, job training, and new industries (like clean energy) that have the potential for producing jobs. Unfortunately, that's not politicaly possible -- but special interests are a whole other topic that plague both parties -- and something I'll address in a later post.
And finally, the last hypocrisy: Republicans think the only factor in the economy is giving people money to spend. They say we do that by giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy. Well, why not give that money to working people would would be far more likely to spend it? The answer: once again, the minimum wage argument may not really be about the economy at all -- it's about keeping the wealthy and their money where it is.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
It's like Stephen Colbert says: "Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now, I know some of you are going to say, 'I did look it up, and that's not true.' That's 'cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works."
Apparently McCain measures foreign policy like Stephen Colbert pretending to be an idiot. And what is it, exactly, that McCain thinks Obama doesn't understand? George Lakoff talks about how conservatives are drawn to the "strict father" model of the world. It seems McCain thinks we are the world's parent -- he describes Russia as "out of line" and thinks we need to punish countries who don't agree with us like they are petulant children. Unfortunatley, however, we aren't the world's parent and diplomacy, as Obama understands, often requires some nuance. However, I did like one aspect of McCain's proposals and that was the never-before seen "League of Democracies." I imagine, since we already have NATO and the EU, that the League of Democracies differs in that it includes Batman and the Green Lantern.
It was also interesting to see McCain gun for the Jewish vote. I think he dropped the "existential threat to Israel" line about 500 times. It's not surprising to see McCain use this tactict since his unflinching miltarism in support of Israel is also the source of Lieberman's dedication. Hopefully "the Great Schlep" has an effect and Jewish voters -- who like to criticize the right for one issue voting on abortion -- don't do the same thing with Israel.
Just as interesting as the things that were in the debate were the things that weren't. For example, McCain never said "middle class" and Obama is already slamming McCain for this. Seems like a winning tactic to me.
Another big part of every debate is body language -- people blame Gore for walking behind Bush in a debate (trying to show he was taller, I think) and coming off like a loser while Bush chuckled good-naturedly. Well, McCain certainly played the part of the grumpy old man (smirking, scoffing, refusing to look at Obama) -- and its making news. McCain's grumpiness will definitely help Obama. A few months ago an article in Slate talked about how Bugs Bunny (calm, cool politician) beats Daffy Duck (the angry politician). It's an interesting framework that certainly works for the elections that I can remember.
And what else wasn't there? McCain's VP. After the debate, Biden was all over the networks hyping Obama and Palin was nohwere to be found. This follows the recent trend of conservatives becomingly increasingly nervous about Palin's nomination. Kathleen Parker at the National Review writes an article about how bad Palin is, labelling her candidacy the "Palin Problem" and calling for her to step down and George Will, along with other conservatives, is getting sick of the anti-illectual bent of the Republican party. I think it's telling that Tina Fey's impersonation of Palin is so funny and yet she doesn't even have to change Palin's words half the time. There's a fine line between fear and hilarity -- if Palin doesn't get elected the good news is it will go down as the funniest VP pick of all time.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Friedman goes on to explain that "George W. Bush never once — not one time — challenged Americans to do anything hard, let alone great. The next president is not going to have that luxury. He will have to ask everyone to do something hard." In other words, as others have pointed out before, while Republicans love to talk about sacrifice when it comes to the military and more specifically John McCain's war record, they don't want to talk about sacrifice when it comes to taxes and the economy. The need for a bailout must be hard for Republicans to swallow because their philosophy is an attractive lie that they are used to selling the American people: you can have your cake in eat it, too. In other words, we don't have to pay taxes, especially the wealthy, and that's really what works out for the best for everyone. As we are seeing -- turns out that's not quite the case -- we do have to sacrifice in the form of taxes in order to have a government that can both protect citizens and help to grease the bearings of the financial economy.
But this, of course, isn't the most infuriating lie about big government that Republicans have propogated. What I want to know is, where did the popular "get the government out our lives" refrain come from? This is the true myth of big government. First, let's keep in mind that it's the Republicans who, for the last couple decades, have been the ones to outspend the Democrats. But more importantly, what are people talking about when they complain about big government? I don't hear anyone complaining about having roads, I'm pretty sure people like having food and drugs that aren't tainted, and now people sure wish the government had more closely regulated the home and financial markets. The big government myth is just that -- a myth. Republicans have given people a useful frame for justifying their views: "I'm not selfish for not wanting to pay taxes to help people, I just want government out of life -- Now please watch out as I drive on a federal highway in my Suburban to the market to purchase federally regulated food and drugs that I know are safe."
Obama undertsands that there needs to be a relationship between government and the market. He also undertsands that we can't have our cake and eat it, too. In fact, a speech he gave back in March -- which a commentator on this blog alerted me to -- proves this point. I'll be posting more on that later. Until then, let's hope Obama makes the right move and tells McCain that if what he wants to do is focus on the economy than they should make that the topic of tonight's debate.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Fortunately, new polls show Obama has regained a lead. It's not commanding, but it's enough to help everyone breathe a little. In fact, it looks like some states which had long looked out of reach, such as Florida, are now very much in play for the Obama campaign. Also in the good news department, in turns out that when you factor in cellphone only users into polls -- people who tend to be younger and lean Obama -- then Obama's lead grows even further.
Despite the mockery of the Democratic nervousness, I think we are entitled to a little bit of paranoia. After all, it wasn't too long ago that our current President won the election by a disputed number of votes after several ballots went missing and number of elderly Jewish voters were tricked into voting for Pat Buchanan. Plus, as Hitchens does point out, Democratic candidates do have the annoying habit of going on the attack less than Republicans. Is it because they are less effective politicans or because they are more principled? I think it's both.
I'll tell you another reason Democrats should be upset -- we stand to lose a lot more than Republicans in the coming election. What do the Republicans lose in a Democratic administration? The rich lose money and the right wing Christians continue unaffected -- maybe Supreme Court appointments cause them to lose on abortion and gay marriage -- but personally they are unaffected. Democrats, on the other hand, have to watch people they empathize with suffer. Democrats have to watch people go without healthcare, go without good public education, see personal liberties trampled, and people will actually personally lose the freedom to marry whom they want or decide what to do with their bodies. Democrats can be angry and sad -- Republicans just angry.
So hopefully next time McCain hits hard with attacks -- and it is going to come in the form of attacks linking Obama to black radicals -- there won't be a need to panic. It's disgusting and an attempt to play on racist American fears, but it may approve effective. However, when that happens we can be more hopeful that Obama will find a way to get back on top again -- here' s hoping they are saving attacks ads on the Keating Five for the final stretch.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Why is this? A lot of things explain this phenomena and, unfortunately, religion is partly to blame. Not religion itself, that is, but it's effect on American civil society. It seems to me that Americans vote for their president as if they are electing a religious leader. Think about it: Americans talk about whether or not the candidate can relate to them and whether or not the candidate shares their values. Those are the ways people judge their pastors, priests and Rabbis, but not how we should judge a technocrat. This helps explain why some people were upset over the Monica Lewinsky hoopla -- the sexual mores of the president are irrelevant to his job, but not so for a religious leader.
Who cares if Obama can relate to me? I'd vote for an alien-made robot if it could plan and run a burgeoning economy, implement universal healthcare, and end the War in Iraq. The news is making a big deal out of the fact that a huge percentage of Americans think Obama is Muslim. Isn't the bigger issue that people think his religion matters?
Monday, September 22, 2008
Take, for example, both Palin and McCain's bellicose statements on Russia. Lost amid all their aggressive posturing was the more noteworthy fact that it was the EU who brokered the ceasefire. Yep, good old fashioned, measured diplomacy won the day -- not a verbal game of Cowboys and Indians.
So the question remains, can Obama convince the electorate that this simple worldview won't fly? I think his new ad hits it right on the money. The ad manages to link both McCain and Bush, as well as the deregulation of the banking industry, to McCain's proposed deregulation of the healthcare industry. The ad is perfectly fair and it will be successful for a number of reasons -- including my belief -- that it embraces the Republican tactic of using fear to win. Now, maybe that's a very cynical view, but I'll take it over a simple one.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Well, that was too easy -- so let's move on to something seemingly more challenging: the conservative argument that the free market can cure all. You'd think after the recent spate of financial crises, the Republicans would cede a little on this front -- but instead they criticize the bailouts. There's plenty out there right now about the current AIG disaster so I want to talk about the regulation of the economy.
Conservatives think that the best strategy is to let the market take care of everything -- it's more efficient that way -- whether it's health or education (vouchers) -- competition is the end-all be-all solution. Unfortunatley, it's a simplistic way of thinking and it's simple to see why. First of all, just because there is demand for a product doesn't mean the government produces it. For example, I've always wanted a computer which doubled as a toaster -- demand satisfied. But nonetheless, the market doesn't produce it. It's like public education or roads in the inner city. There's a demand -- but without the sufficient potential for profitability the market won't provide.
Here's another problem: asymmetrical information. This is what allows the CEOs of companies like Enron to take advantage of their employees and the market.
How do we solve these problems? Regulation. The market can provide the incentive to produce goods for which their isn't sufficient demand. And, in the case of CEOs taking advantage of asymmetric information, regulation can make the market more efficient -- not less.
And for all the conservative talk about the woes of big government, a recent study found that over the last several decades the economy has actually faired better under Democratic presidents than under Republican presidents. The study isn't perfect, but it certainly casts further doubt on the Republican claim that more regulation leads to a worse economy. The only thing the Republicans did "better" on? Slightly lower taxes.
Finally, if regulation is the answer, than this brings me back to my original post on this blog. If McCain is elected and puts one more conservative justice on the court, we can say good bye to any chance at meaningful national legislation aimed at reform. Now that Obama is back in the lead, maybe we won't have to worry.
Last, but least, the donations record reflects that fact that while McCain may be many things, he certainly isn't an outside reformer (leads in oil donations) and the finance industry hasn't embraced him either (which you would think is a Republican stronghold): "John McCain is only significantly ahead on donations from retired people and from the oil and gas industries. In all almost every other area, Barack Obama is either on roughly level terms or ahead, even in those where the Republicans would expect to be strong, such as real estate, business and finance."
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Also worth noting: CNN titled the article "Palin aide says Obama backers politicizing Alaska investigation." First of all, how is that news? Isn't the news that she is being investigated? There's no reason the news should be what a Palin aide says about the investigation. Once again, the article demonstrates what I was posted about a few days ago: the myth of the liberal media and the absence of investigative journalism.
Republicans inherently understand this. When they labeled Obama a celebrity and kept repeating it, political commentators were surprised at the effectiveness of the attack. However, it makes sense: as long as they kept saying, people started to believe it was true.
Now Joseph Romm writes a post on The Huffington Post with which I couldn't agree with more. He argues that the winning strategy for the Obama camp is to label McCain a liar (albeit with the more catchy slogan of "honor requires honesty") and keep repeating it. He points out that this has the added benefit of not only branding McCain a liar, but also making people less susceptible to future attacks from the McCain camp.
My only question is: why has it taken Democrats this long to label a Republican a liar. Yes, McCain's lies have been particularly egregious -- but let's be honest -- the entire conservative platform is built upon a lie. The idea that the best thing for poor people in this country would be to give huge tax cuts to the wealthy, and not to provide them with more funding for education or health insurance, is as ridiculous a claim as any McCain has made during his campaign. It's absolutely absurd -- but it's the foundation of the Republican party's claim that it represents all of America (and not just the wealthy).
That's why I appreciate honest Republicans -- I can, to a certain degree, respect someone who admits they don't want to fund public education or healthcare because they think those things fall to individual responsbility. However, that's not what the Republican party claims when it campaigns for office. If the Republican party were actually honest it could never be elected. So yes, McCain is a liar and branding him as such will be the winning strategy for the Obama campaign, but let's not forget that he's lying about more than Obama's character. The Republican economic platform -- the basis of traditional conservatism -- is itself a lie.
Monday, September 15, 2008
"As you may already know, one of America's two political parties is extremely religious. Sixty-one percent of this party's voters say they pray daily or more often. An astounding 92 percent of them believe in life after death. And there's a hard-core subgroup in this party of super-religious Christian zealots. Very conservative on gay marriage, half of the members of this subgroup believe Bush uses too little religious rhetoric, and 51 percent of them believe God gave Israel to the Jews and that its existence fulfills the prophecy about the second coming of Jesus."
The group they are talking about are Democrats; the hard-core subgroup is African-American Democrats. (Incidentally, the entire article is a must read for anyone interested in religion's dominance in the world and politics.)
These surprising stats about the Democratic party point to the problem in blaming religion for the conservatism of American politics -- the issue isn't really religion (turns out we are all super religious) -- the problem is the religious right. Okay, that may be obvious, but I think it's important to distinguish that the rise of the Republican party is not due to religion -- it's due to a certain type of religion.
And here's my question: why do extreme religious views go hand in hand with Republican political views? If you think about it, there's no reason that people who believe in low income tax rates should be the same people who believe that there should be a ban against gay marriage. You often hear that the difference between progressives and conservatives is that the former believe it's all about equality and the latter believe it's all about freedom. Thus the same people who support low income tax (freedom) support gun ownership (freedom) -- but why does freedom get thrown out the window when it comes to gay marriage or abortion?
This leads me to two thoughts, neither of which may be correct or popular -- but they do follow from the paradox posed by the religious right's political views. First, it could be simply that the religious right votes based on moral issues and considers economic/social issues secondary. If so, this is a strange morality. They see gay marriage and abortion as moral issues, but don't see universal healthcare and education as moral issues. The logic is inherently flawed but it's possible. This also raises the unpopular theory I've expressed previously -- maybe the Democrats should consider giving up on abortion -- and let it be a state rights issue. It sounds awful, but are we willing to give up the abortion debate to win every election? Personally , I'm not. But I am willing to sacrifice creationism. If small town Kansas schools wants to be ridiculous and teach a curriculum that makes them the laughingstock of every respectable college in the nation, maybe it's worth sacrificing that issue so that the Democrats can win every election. Just a thought.
Now for the other possibility -- it could be that those in the religious right genuinely hold conflicting beliefs -- they oppose freedom when it comes to gay marriage and are for freedom when it comes to paying taxes and owning guns. In that case, what can we blame? Is it group think? Psychology? I'm not sure -- perhaps you can help me figure it out.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
What about income tax? You often hear Republicans make several arguments about why taxes should be lower. The main arguments they make come in several forms and I'll address two of them: 1) It's better for the economy/trickle down economics, 2) It's a waste of money because the government is inefficient, and 3) it's not fair.
1) Lower taxes are not better for the economy
The best argument I've ever heard for higher income tax comes from my friend Josh. He simply asks people to name a country with a lower income tax in which they'd rather live. It's short, sweet, and to the point -- I recommend you try it. After Europe and Canada are knocked off there aren't too many countries you'd find American's willing to live in. What this clearly illustrates is that there is no evidence for linking low income tax with a wealthier country or high income tax with a poor country. In fact, it appears that with the exception of the United States, the wealthiest countries in the world all have exceptionally high income tax levels and lower levels of income inequality. Even in our own country we can see the correllation. During Clinton's presidency, when income tax was higher, the economy was stronger and income inequality was lower. Under Bush, with lower income tax (primarily on the wealthy), the economy was weaker and income inequality was greater. This makes sense if we think about it. People with lower incomes are likely to spend the extra money they have, whereas for the wealthy the money isn't as likely to go back into the domestic economy. The other argument that's never made sense to me is the argument that people will stop working as the income tax gets higher. Even at 70%, a wealthy person would still take home more money for every dollar they own. The incentive doesn't disappear.
2) The government is not inefficient.
Okay, well, maybe it is -- but this is really just a smokescreen. The bottom line is: if you care about progressive goals (public education, healthcare, the environment) you are willing to accept some inefficiency. The government is a giant bureaucracy, there's no denying that it mayb be inefficient at times. But do we get rid of the DMV because it has long lines? No, of course not -- we value having our driving regulated. Thus, when a conservative says they don't want higher taxes because the government is inefficient, what they are really saying is that they don't value social welfare. Sure, maybe they do in an abstract sense -- with the exception of extreme libertarians most conservatives would be for public education and universal healthcare if it didn't cost them anything. But the fact is, social welfare costs and I'm willing to pay a little so that children in this country can have healthcare. Conservaties are not willing to make these payments -- not because government is "inefficient" -- but because they don't value social welfare.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Even the NY Times article which talked about the interview was titled "In First Big Interview, Palin Says 'I'm ready.'" While the article does acknowledge that Palin struggled during the interview at times, it lets her off the hook pretty easy. You would think that the real news from this interview, and hence the healdines would reflect this, is that a woman who very well could be the next Vice President, let alone President, stumbled through basic questions on foreign policy: "At times visibly nervous, at others appearing to hew so closely to prepared answers that she used the exact same phrases repeatedly, Ms. Palin most visibly stumbled when she was asked by Mr. Gibson if she agreed with the Bush doctrine."
Ultimately, the media is as unbiased as reality TV, because it is reality TV. Reality TV is the popular entertainment of the day and the news has adopted its style. Pick any article on CNN.com or MSNBC and read it -- every story on the election has this format: McCain said x, Obama camp replied y, and McCain replied z. There's no investigative reporting -- the news doesn't tell us -- x was a lie and y was misleading. People can't get the news from the news anymore -- to do that you have to read the New Yorker -- or the Economist -- I don't care if has a conservative bent -- it just has to be journalism that involves investigative journalism and not what CNN has become: reality TV.
And this is why I'm not surprised that false and misleading McCain ads have been so successful. In the absence of investigative reporting, the election comes down to which side tells better lies. That's it. And so far, the Republicans have done a better job.
Friday, September 12, 2008
In future posts I'll answer Huckabee's challenge and attempt to explain in detail why Republican policy can't compete.
I'm pretty sure McCain wouldn't like Omar. And not just because his conservatism may prevent him from emphathizing with the character's hard life. No, what has become obvious in the last couple weeks is that McCain does not live by a code. The man we once thought was a "good soldier" is running a shameful campaign. Paul Krugman explains the McCain lies well in his recent op-ed: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/12/opinion/12krugman.html?_r=1&ref=opinion&oref=slogin. McCain is juking stats worse than the corrupt police chiefs and politicians of the Wire's Baltimore.
Krugman also hits on another danger that I wanted to talk about: what the Bush campaign taught us is that the morality that govern a campaign doesn't end when the campaign ends. The Bush campaign ran on a platform of lies, about taxes, about Bush, and about Kerry's military record. It's a morality that believes the ends justify the means, and that might makes right. Krugman is right that the McCain campaign's lies are currently bigger and the prospects for a more Machiavellian administration are even scarier.
Which brings me to the Obama attack ads, which have ended with something along the lines of "McCain, more of the same." Well, that's not scary enough. Conservatives play the politics of fear, whether it's terrorism or claiming Obama is unknown -- it's all about fear. And Republican ads play on that fear -- Obama wants to teach sex to Kindergartners and Obama is a pack of wolves chasing after Palin! Unfortunately, the ads have been effective -- at least for now, the politics of fear works. And we can't simply say "but the Democrats are too principled for that." The Dems have attack ads too -- they just haven't been that effective. And here's the rub: I think the Obama ads simply aren't scary enough. People can survive "more of the same" even if they want better. But a McCain presidency is shaping up to look even worse -- it's time that message started to come across. NOT more of the same -- but towards something more sinister I haven't been able to readily define just yet.
Krugman arrives at his conclusion while just discussing the McCain campaign's lies -- he leaves out talk of the man himself. This is the guy who once called the Christian right "agents of intolerance" but picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Maybe it's time for Obama to embrace Omar more fully and be willing to go on the attack (which is apparently what the campaign may be doing: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/12/us/politics/12obama.html?hp). As Omar says, "it's all in the game."
Thursday, September 11, 2008
This raises the interesting point of whether the issue of appealing to middle-class white voters is overblown. Looks like Obama may benefite more if he figures out how to appeal to upper-middle-class voters.
We can even paint the picture in greater detail courtesy of a recent NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/magazine/07Inequality-t.html. It turns out that the greater the income inequality in a city, the more likely it is be Democratic. David Frum explains it better than I can: "Measured by money income, Washington qualifies as one of the most unequal cities in the United States. Yet these two very different halves of a single city do share at least one thing. They vote the same way: Democratic. And in this, we are not alone. As a general rule, the more unequal a place is, the more Democratic; the more equal, the more Republican. The gap between rich and poor in Washington is nearly twice as great as in strongly Republican Charlotte, N.C.; and more than twice as great as in Republican-leaning Phoenix, Fort Worth, Indianapolis and Anaheim."
I am tempted to confuse cause with correllation. In other words, do people who live in income diverse areas vote Republican, or do people who hold Republican values move to areas with less income inequality?
The answer is a little of both, but I want to argue that it may be that exposure to income inequality teaches people to vote more progressively. I'll make a historical argument: look no further than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Historians have argued that the welfare state arose in Britain when poor children from London were sent outside the city, during the Blitz, to live with wealthy country families. The rich were completely unaware of, and had never been exposed to, the poverty of the city's poor. Once aware, the powerful now backed the rise of the welfare state which began after the end of the war.
Today, of all days, I think it's important to look at our political landscape as we remember an event that has in large part shaped the political landscape for the last seven years. Memorial ceremonies are going on across the country: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/US/09/11/911.day/index.html
It's an insight which may seem obvious, but I think it isn't talked about often enough and it also explains a lot of what happens in races and what can be done. That said, I want to point out that when I look at attack ads, etc., I'm looking from a pragmatic standpoint. I wish it wasn't what won elections but it is. If what mattered was policy, then Obama would be ahead by 10 points like the Dems are nationally. In a future post I'll explain why I think the nation votes the way it does and what can be done to change that -- to make the race actually about issues.
First, as for the GOP. I see a slight problem in the Democrat strategy of attacking the GOP for their bad policies -- and that's because people voted for them. People don't like to be wrong, so the Dems need to make an important distinction: the issue isn't that GOP policies are the wrong policies but rather that the GOP lied. In other words, the theme should be the GOP told you they would make you wealthier and safer but they were lying. You weren't wrong to believe them then -- but you'd be wrong to believe them now. I think this could be more of the problem than what David Brooks writes about in his op-ed -- he sees the issue as being that Obama has become too conservative in his campaign decisions -- calling for policy change instead of regime change. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/09/opinion/09brooks.html?_r=1&oref=slogin).
This brings us to Palin. I don't think people are so excited about her because they actually think "wow, I see myself in her, and I should be President." Rather, I think people identify with her and think "wow, I see myself in her, that makes me feel really good about myself." Thus, the problem with attacking Palin isn't the fact that she's a woman or that she's currently popular. The problem is that people feel personally attacked -- even the bridge to nowhere reversal or firing her brother is irrelevant at this point -- people will shrug those issues off. People do not want someone attacked who makes them feel good about themselves. Thus, the key to attacking Palin is to make sure people realize she's not like them -- first she has to be different, then she can be attacked.
This is the issue with Obama's skin color. To a large number of Americans, he's already different enough. And I don't think it's simply that people won't vote for Obama because he's African American -- as Jacob Weisberg writes (http://www.slate.com/id/2198397/). Certainly, those people out there exist. But also, I think a lot of people are more willing to accept attacks against Obama because it does not affect their own sense of personal worth. This is the key to the Republican label of Obama as elitist -- which is ridiculous and something I will address in a later post. By establishing Obama as different, it no longer reflects on people's own sense of self worth when Obama is put down.
So what is the key to attacking Palin (and McCain, for that matter)? I think first they have to be perceived as different -- then they can be attacked. Let's set up Palin as a crazy Alaskan separatist. Make her seem foreign and different to middle Americans -- I think it can be done -- then she can be attacked. Otherwise, don't attack her. This should be easier with McCain, who doesn't even know how many homes he owns. And don't forget, the Republicans used the same strategy last year when they attacked Kerry for being a "playboy" and had that great picture of him windsurfing. First they set him up with the "see, he's not like us" and then they can Swiftboat him.
In the meantime, I hope that admidst the message of how bad this economy is, the Obama campaign doesn't lose sight of the other important message: making people feel good.
Or . . . will this play into the new GOP ad depicting wolves chasing Palin (mentioned on the NY Times blog http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/10/mccain-ad-the-wolves-are-out-against-palin/?scp=1&sq=palin%20wolves&st=cse). Now, the amazing thing isn't just the wolves. In fact, wolves have been featured in previous campaigns. Stop me if I'm wrong, but I think there was at least one Reagan ad featuring wolves. The interesting thing is that the GOP has been crying "sexist" at every Dem attack, and now they release an ad depicting Palin as a victim. Doesn't sound post-feminist to me -- but maybe I'm sounding sexist so I'll get off the topic.
Are these attack ads unfair? Hard to say when the McCain campaign is able to stoop to unprecedented lows. Although the "celeb" add made headlines, the McCain commercial released last month which depicted Obama as the antichrist was far more offensive. Read about it at http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1830590,00.html. I wish I were making this up.