Sunday, August 31, 2008

I'm Holding Out For a Hero(ine)

One interesting part of the whole Palin phenomenon is the roster of conservative commentators who have expressed reservations or in some cases outright opposition. So far by my count there's David Frum, Charles Krauthammer (I don't count him a right-winger but most people do), Jay Nordlinger, Ramesh Ponnuru, Rick Brookhiser and Quin Hillyer. William Kristol has gone back and forth. It's an impressive list, one that I'm obviously not on (for reasons besides my much lower profile).

In any case, it's fair so say we've got the book on Palin by now. She's got lots of pluses, and pluses, and pluses, and pluses, yeah whatever. But she's got one big minus, inexperience and woeful lack of qualifications for the job she's a candidate for. And for some people the nature of this minus is such that it wipes out all the other pluses.

I don't buy this obviously, but let's go over exactly why for a little bit. First of all, she's been the governor of a small state (population, obviously) for a short period of time. But, she's done well in the jobs that she has had. And in particular, she's demonstrated a fair bit of personal accountability with respect to various players in Alaska politics. For all the people talking about "one heartbeat away" from the Oval Office, let's remember that most Presidents actually live through their term of office. The last guy who was elevated to the top job in the middle of a term was over thirty years ago, and Gerry Ford was never elected to the Vice-Presidency anyway. The Vice-Presidency has been largely ceremonial for substantial segments of our history. Bill McKinley put Theodore Roosevelt on the bottom half of the ticket to get him out of the national spotlight (interesting how that one worked out). How it functions now is determined by the guy on top and what he's willing to delegate. If anything the other team ought to be happy that we're clearly not going for a repeat of Cheney.

And if President McCain dies in office VP Palin will get the top job. Lot's of people are supposedly "worried" about this. For the most part I'm not buying. Mostly it's a smokescreen for mischief against McCain by proxy. If it does happen, we'll make do.

The other part of "inexperience" rap has to do with campaign issues: Biden will tear her apart, people will laugh at her, the press will embarrass her by highlighting her ignorance of Kazakhstan, etc. I think it could just as easily go the other way. She's fresh, pro-energy, pro-life, etc. But this is all on paper and discounts her ability to frame her own narrative. If it she gets put in a tight spot, we're not going to see a deer-in-the-headlights freeze. She's a real-life female version of that bearded guy in the Dos Equis commercials. She's got personality to burn.

But what of my right-wing brethren, why are they pissing in our corn flakes? I thought about that for a bit, and I think I figured it out. First of all, their frame of vision is too narrow for a situation like this. They've seen most directly the tide turn against the Republican party, and directly felt the Bush fatigue. Bigger than that however, is a little bit of control freakery. They've patiently endured the Alberto Gonzales, Conrad Burns and John Podhoretzes of the world and put on as brave a face as they could. And now at least those people are gone and they finally man their trenches and fight. Now Gov Palin comes and everything is up for grabs again, and in their experience that's been a bad thing. It's very important to recognize that the luminaries are right to see this as a loss of control. The mistake was to think this campaign season could be micromanaged in the first place.

Identity Politics for Republicans

Ok, some of the bien-pensants are tut-tutting over Gov Palin because she represents identity politics practiced by Republicans and that's just not our cup of tea, you know?

I disagree with this one, and frankly it doesn't seem to hard sort out. First of all, let's agree that she is an identity politics VP choice as we set straight the kind of diversity hire she is. She's not an appeal to solidarity with the Hillary-esque sisterhood of the traveling pantsuit (more on that later). She is "one of us" for prolifers, gun owners, nuclear families, Westerners and libertarians, all various constituents of the conservative base who've been less than thrilled with the trends in American politics over the last few years. People have come out of the woodwork with new enthusiasm not just for this election, but for politics in general. If you chase this stuff around the internet a little bit, there's a significant hope around the web that John McCain won't be a drag on the Palin ticket. So, let's emphasize that, out of the many many things that Gov Palin on the ticket represents, this is the most important one.

Would a Harold Palin with the same resume have gotten picked? Of course not. A woman who hunts, fishes, and plays basketball is ten times as exotic as a man. At bottom, this pick is about the citizenship of Americans. We don't have to defer to the "experts", our "betters" to work the machinery of government. We're perfectly capable of handling it ourselves, thankyouverymuch.

Back to Hillary. Getting the Hillary deadenders is something to hope for but not count on. The important thing about them is that for many of them it's not about policy, and never was. It's that Hillary, a Senator with a huge national profile, gets the big office, and somebody else has to suck it up and be a team player instead of the otherway around as some form of karmic payback. Obviously it didn't work out that way. Now their primary voting motivation is to punish Barack Obama and those elements of the Democratic party who were instrumental in nominating Obama over Hillary. The idea that Hillary tries to throw her support to Obama (or not, for cynics) doesn't change things at all. In fact, it makes it worse. Frankly, I suspect their grievance will be forgotten by Election Day. I don't think Palin really makes much difference except that it rubs the wound raw for a few more days. But for the most part George W. Bush won reelection without them anyway. If somehow they vote Republican John McCain will happy to take their votes. Otherwise going after them too hard is a distraction.

The Three-Headed Monster

One thing I've been wanting to write about a little more explicitly is why Obama's six months worth of pablum has put him on course to lose the general election, and why changing that course at this date will be difficult to do.

First of all, the state of our economy is in a very interesting place. Ever since the Bush recovery started in 2002, the economy has been in more or less good shape. It is true that this period of growth disproportionately benefited the skilled and educated, and substantial slices of America missed out on it altogether. But most people with a little initiative or personal responsibility avoided the sufferings of real privation. And so it is now. But, more than anytime since the 70s, and maybe even more than then, we are looking at the possibility of 1932 again.

The American economy is struggling against a three-headed monster of a credit crunch, inflation, and oil crisis, all more or less independently at the same time. Any one of these would be a substantial macroeconomic problem that would threaten the possibility of recession. Taken together they compound each other and what's worse, the policy options that might help one problem could exacerbate the others. It will take smart leadership in Washington and probably some cultural renewal out in rest of America to work our way through this and wind up okay on the other side.

The American people profoundly get this, and are looking for answers. The Republican party has answers, in the form of oil exploration and drilling, and the Democrats don't. Obviously our oil problems (and economic problems in general) are much bigger than ANWR and offshore drilling. But for now, that is the crucial focus of debate because ANWR and offshore drilling are the low-hanging fruit of our oil crisis. Any halfway objective outside observer, when he sees a person (or an economy in this case) refuse to pick the low-hanging fruit, automatically concludes that that person is not serious about taking care of the problem. That's exactly what's going on now in the oil market. Anyone who says that the price of oil is immune to changes in perceived abundance or scarcity of oil in the future or our attitude toward exploration is either stupid, ignorant or dense. Oil has already gone down 20% since the Republicans increased the profile of exploration as a political issue. And anybody with any awareness of the market at all will tell you that the price of oil is not $120/bbl because the oil we're consuming now costs $120/bbl to extract.

The Democrats have historically championed "alternative" sources of energy, meaning alternative to the ones that work. The day might come, reasonably soon even, when Texas has several operational gigawatt-producing wind power plants. And on that day, Boone Pickens will be just another rich oilman and Hillary Clinton will be in the Senate arguing for a "wind"-fall profits tax.

Our energy problems are very big and complex of course, and that's only one head of the monster anyway. But, it works in such a way as to profoundly change the lay of the land, politically speaking. The Republican party has been crushed because of its association with the corruptions, cronyism and complacency of the Bush Administration. Well George W. Bush will be gone in six months or so but the alienation and ill will could last long beyond that.

But maybe not. The American people want drilling and the Democrats are looking for a place to hide. Most of the time that would probably work. But not here. The American people also know (or will soon learn) that the Democrats know that the American people want drilling and still won't acquiesce to it. That has the possibility of changing people's thoughts the relative merits of one party versus another in a hurry.

Where's Barack Obama in all this, what does he think about ANWR or offshore drilling? Well, he avoids thinking about either one if at all possible. The problem is, it's difficult to change his frame of mind at this point. First of all, ten weeks before an election nobody believes you anyway. Also, he wouldn't know where to draw the line. Once he flips on ANWR and offshore drilling, he'll be forced to acknowledge that all the "environmental" concerns against energy production are more or less Luddite scaremongering.

And let's not be too partisan about this: John McCain (and other significant players in the GOP) has the same problem. But people do believe, with good reason IMO, that when push comes to shove the Republicans will figure it out.

But Barack Obama came on to the scene as a fresh face, not necessarily beholden to the "smelly little orthodoxies" of modern liberalism or the Democratic Party. Many people still view him that way. But that can only last for so long. Anybody can talk, but a person earns credibility when he puts himself in a situation where he publicly states an intent and is held accountable for achieving it. And Barack Obama simply hasn't done it. As we see him develop in the public arena, we get a sense that he is really about avoiding conflict. In general that's not a bad thing, nobody has a dog in every fight. But Barack Obama doesn't have a dog in any fight. So in spite of his well-spoken oratory, anybody who is looking for the source of real change for the better in our world, has to look somewhere other than Barack Obama.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Hail Mary

Ok, Gov Sarah Palin is an out-of-the-box pick for John McCain, a deep ball if you will.

But I don't buy this "Hail Mary" business. The pick of Jack Kemp by Bob Dole in 1996 was a Hail Mary (and the GOP liked to think of it that way at the time since Jack Kemp was a former AFL championship quarterback). But John McCain was even in the polls before the Convention To Nowhere, and since then the best poll for Obama has him leading by six percentage points. With the momentum in his favor, McCain was better positioned to win the election anyway.

Emotionally speaking, this is about aggressiveness, not desperation.

Arsenal 3 - Newcastle 0

I haven't written much about football in a while. Arsenal have had a nervous off-season, and a couple of weeks ago they started to play the games that count. Of those games, Arsenal has lost once and won the rest, but they have yet to look clearly superior to the mediocre opposition they have played so far.

So today's stroll over Newcastle was a big relief. Arsenal showed they could dominate the play and dominate the scoreboard in the same game. The Premier League is all about consistency so one game does not a season make. But this is one that Arsenal needed.

Finally, Emmanuel Eboue, who is not one of my favorite Gunners, made an important offensive contribution by setting up the second goal. This is the first such contribution that I can recall, except where he has dribbled into space on the left hand channel and successfully crossed it to the middle of the box. Hopefully he's no longer a one-trick pony that way.

McCain Sets a Trap

So it says here and here.

No, he didn't, he's not that smart. He just got lucky.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Young At Heart

The reaction to Gov Sarah Palin has been positive, and much of it has been enthusiastically so. At first cut, there is an appreciation across the spectrum that Gov Palin might very well be a game-changer in the Republicans' favor.

The negative reaction such as it is, has all been about her inexperience; Mayor of Wasilla, AK (pop 9000), no foreign policy credentials, whatever. All that is legit and has some element of truth, but I don't think it goes very far. Ultimately, the American people aren't going to vote against the Republican ticket because lack of experience from the VP nominee.

I'm much more worried about ANWR. If McCain doesn't flip on ANWR, I think he loses credibility on energy and puts the tokenism meme back in play. And he hasn't done it yet. Surely he realized the need for it as he was considering Gov Palin. But this is McCain we're talking about, and he does have a mulish streak in him.

This brings me to what I wanted to write about, and that is, the effect of Sarah Palin on the perception of the youth of the Republican ticket. The obvious thing is to say "She's young and hot instead of old and crotchety, so hooray for us." But again, the important part of the VP choice is how it affects the top of the ticket. The point being is that, when and if John McCain flips on ANWR, it will show that he's dialed into the issues facing the American economy now instead of gettin' the kids off the lawn. He'll look younger.

As it happens, John McCain turns 72 today. There are a lot of people that age who have severe health problems. For others, the patterns of their lives are so fossilized that they are really powerless to change them at that point. But for others, 72 might be the prime of their life. If they worked for most of their life (or married rich, in McCain's case), then they are not sweating financially. Their memories are sharp and they retain the benefit of decades of experience and connections, and the economy demands much less in the way of physical labor than it used to. So, which is it for McCain? It could go either way, frankly. We'll find out over the next 10 weeks.

The Democrats are going to try to hurt McCain on the theme of senility. Some of it will be subtle and some of it will be crude, but ultimately what the Obama campaign does on this won't matter. What McCain does will matter a lot.

Be Careful What You Ask For.... might get it.

I wanted McCain to select Gov Palin as his running mate (John Kasich was my other favorite) and now that he has, he's got to make it work.

First, let's say a couple of things about how Vice-Presidential picks in general affect the election. Voters vote for the top of the ticket, not the bottom. Nonetheless, the choice of running mate is important still, because it is a window into how the Presidential candidate intends to position himself; demographically, aesthetically, and "issue"-ly. And in these ways, Sarah Palin is a home run.

The best thing that Sarah Palin has going for her is that she is not the Republican reincarnation of Gerry Ferraro, who politically speaking never was anything except and affirmative action token. She actually counts in her own right. This will be even more apparent if McCain flips on ANWR, which I think he's got to do now. She's also a symbol of a new Republican party, who is young and not afraid of the future.

This also has the potential to affect women voters in interesting ways that can't really be anticipated. For single women who don't particularly want to get married, have five kids and live in Alaska, they could go either way. They might view Palin as a symbol of the life they've worked to avoid. But it's as least as likely that they'll give props to a woman who's accomplished as much as all but a handful of American women. I don't either side can really campaign on this directly, the point being is that she is not a token.

On the downside, there's a scandal where she supposedly got her brother-in-law fired out of loyalty to her sister when they were in the middle of a nasty divorce. IMO, a much bigger deal is that Don Young and Ted Stevens are still around, politically speaking, and she (and the party in general) have to find a way to handle them.

What He Said

I am a reader of Jonah Goldberg's sometimes, but alas I cannot take credit for this.

My only quibble is that McCain's head-fake consideration of a pro-choice running mate was emphatically not any kind of brilliant tactical move. But in the main, the reader is exactly correct to point out that the developments in this campaign over the last six weeks or so have boxed Obama into a place where he doesn't want to be.

In fact, I think he understates the case. The driving force behind Obama has always been an attempt at a particular form of social intimidation, especially toward the Republicans. "Vote for me if you want any hope of being one of the kewl kids." The mockery behind McCain's ads, and the actions of the Obama campaign toward them, have shown that that particular emperor has no clothes. Now that particular balloon has been punctured, it's not going to get blown up again.

More than that, this isn't 1996 any more, and this election won't be dominated as much by aesthetic concerns. The voters aren't going to care who's tight with the kewl kids if there's somebody out there offering real answers for energy, inflation, or the credit crunch. Like I mentioned before, Barack Obama is six months behind that curve. He's in a bigger hole than he can get out of with one speech.

At this point Obama is just about stuck. Even if he were to pivot toward an hard-hitting issue-based campaign, he's abused the attention of the American people long enough to where I don't think enough people will listen. The one thing that he can do is throw some weight around with the Democrats in Congress when they return to session before the election. Frankly I don't think he has the stomach for it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What If....

.....the Democrats had a convention and nobody came?

We've become adjusted to the reality that the national party conventions are not as meaningful as they might have been in some bygone era. But, this is a new one in that this Democratic '08 convention isn't even dominating the news cycles in the week that it occurs. Is a speech by Hillary or Joe Biden defining the game any more than McCain's latest ad buy or the efforts of Stanley Kurtz to get around Obama's stonewall of his Ayers connection? It doesn't look that way to me. I first noticed this Tuesday morning, but I thought it might be a bit churlish to note it then. But now it's Thursday, the last day of the convention, and it looks the same now as it did then.

The only consolation for the other team is that the Republicans go next week in St. Paul and their effort might not be any better, and could be worse. The challenges for the Republicans are different. They'll want to knock down Obama a peg or two, which from what we've seen over the last month or so isn't going to be that hard. But, the bigger challenge is to rehabilitate the Republican brand from its poor reputation under the leadership of President Bush. This will be hard to do in its own right but also because the aura of the party conventions works against it. It will be hard for the Republicans to acknowledge the voters' legitimate anger against them amongst all the "Hooray for me!" theatrics.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

GOP Weepstakes

John McCain will supposedly make his VP choice on Friday, and it's a minefield for him and the party. Many of the names being floated are plain bad, see here and here.

I mentioned Sarah Palin before, and I doubt she ever made the top tier, but now that Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young have won their primaries, and the fact that John McCain hasn't flipped (yet) on ANWR works against the rationale of that pick.

If Chris Cox were willing to take the job, he's probably as good as we can hope for at this point.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Generation

The latest of HBO's major production series is Generation Kill, which just completed its run yesterday.

Hollywood has tried to cover the War on Terror several times already, but most efforts have been a mush of paranoid, heavy-handed anti-American or anti-military screeds. Is there really a difference between Rendition, Stop Loss, Lions for Lambs, or Syriana? And if so, what is it? Notoriously, they all flopped in spite of merciless flogging by the studios and bien-pensants. I think Redacted by Brian DePalma was screened by 26 people total. It would be nice if somehow Hollywood could make a movie that's either pro-war or could show a close connection between the sacrifice of our soldiers with the big-picture aims of the War.

Generation Kill (besides being a TV series) is not it, but to me at least it is compelling nonetheless. Based on the memoirs of a reporter embedded with the First Recon Marine Battalion at the start of the Iraq War, Generation Kill has (so far) been a three-part essay for Rolling Stone, a book, and now a TV series. As contentious as the debate about Iraq has been, Generation Kill is as apolitical it's possible to do. If anything, the theme is that the enlisted guys are strong, fast, and disciplined, but command is either reckless or incompetent or both.

Maybe it was intentional and maybe not, but there's an eery parallel between the story of the First Recon Marines in Mar-Apr 2003 and the status of Iraq in the minds of Americans in general five years later. We go in with our Humvees and MTV with the expectation that things would get a little rough here and there, but nothing major. We perservere, and at end we may not know whether things are better or worse for us having been there, but they will never be the same.

In his heart of hearts, Barack Obama

......... really doesn't want to be President.

Else he wouldn't be airing ads like this (HT: The Corner).

Not Lookin' for a Place to Hide

The presidential race is entering the homestretch now. Starting say, mid-Semptember or so, the American people are going to interpret any new policy initiatives (unless they've been telegraphed pretty strongly beforehand) as election maneuvers and discount them accordingly. So any attempt to change the boundaries of the election dynamic have to happen very soon or they're not happening at all.

This is not good news for Barack Obama. For the last couple of weeks or so McCain has been on the upswing and Obama's been going the other way. The voting public has just started to wake up to the mental vacuousness of the Obama campaign. The Saddleback Church forum, the trip to Germany and the Paris Hilton ads probably factored in a little bit. Mostly though, the country has real problems and Barack Obama hasn't had anything interesting to say about them for six months.

The choice of veep candidate was an opportunity to restart his campaign. Obama had a lot of decent choices on the general theme of "moderate stodgy white dude from Middle America" Instead, Sen Joe Biden just empasizes the essential gasbaggery of this ticket.

So, counterintuitive as it is, I think McCain has to be the favorite at this point. And the things that might stop McCain from winning will come to a head very soon. One of them is his VP choice. It's a symptom of how far the down the GOP has gone that there aren't very many good choices. In my mind, the two best choices are Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, and former Rep. John Kasich. As far as I know, neither one is getting serious consideration. Supposedly the current short list is Mitt Romney, Joe Lieberman, and Tim Pawlenty. Of those, Lieberman is horrible, Romney is bad, Pawlenty is ok but dull. Republicans can take a little solace that most of the time the VP choice ultimately doesn't matter very much.

The bigger drag on McCain is the leftover fallout from 2006. There are a lot of voters (and not all of them gooey liberals) whose only political agenda this year is to vote against the Republicans at least once more. The country has largely tuned out George W. Bush for about 18 months now. The association of the Republican party with President Bush is strong, but not necessarily overpowering. The way things are now there's just enough other voters, for whom Republican is not a dirty word, for McCain to plausibly win. So there's a temptation to run a defensive campaign about getting all those "other" voters into the GOP column and then pulling up the drawbridge.

That would be a mistake. First of all, there's a matter of simple arithmetic. The more voters that McCain campaign doesn't pursue for this reason or that, the bigger percentage he has to get out of everybody else to win. But the bigger reason is to establish that the GOP is a forward-looking group. We, as a political party and the conservative movement in general, claim credit for the turnaround of America in the 1980s but we're not looking to repeat it. Things are different now, especially with respect to domestic policy. The Carter-era economic malaise was largely a result of unemployment, high income taxes, and usurious interest rates. Those things are less important now. Instead, now we have to deal with a credit crunch, a weak dollar, and an oil crisis. The GOP is much better positioned to fix these things and if we can, the voters will reward us.

But to get there, we've got to get people's attention. This means we have to tell the American people that we aspire to be the majority party and most of the reason that we're not now is because of our own mistakes. For some people that will hurt, but it has to be done or else we'll be butting against the Bush-era wall of alienation long after Bush himself is gone.

Monday, August 18, 2008


This short blogpost from James Pethokoukis has made the rounds in the last week or so. He's right to suggest it's a blessing when clarity comes cheap, but I disagree with the clarity we're going to get from Russia's invasion of Georgia.

I only wish Putin's invasion of Russia would give America clarity on energy. "All of the above time" is the best way I've heard to characterize America's energy situation that's short enough to fit on a bumper sticker. But for America's decision-makers, $150/bbl oil outweighs Russian adventurism by at least ten to one.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Brett Favre, Take Two

Brett Favre's status for the upcoming season has dominated the sports news for the last three weeks or so, and is now finally resolved with his trade to the New York Jets.

But like so many of our other contemporary controversies, there was more drama than real news. Favre wanted to play, the Green Bay Packers wanted to protect their memories of him as a Packer, and failing that wanted to keep him from playing for another team that could beat them.

So, what happened? Green Bay offered to pay Favre $20 to $25 million to stay retired as a player and do some sort of more or less irrelevant front office work. I didn't get the point of that deal at all. The Packers lose a boatload of dough, and Favre doesn't get to play.

The whole thing becomes a lot simpler for either party when they take care of the things they can control instead of the ones they can't. Favre wants the freedom to play for any team that he wants, which would be a very reasonable thing to want except for the fact that he's under contract to the Packers. The Pack wishes Favre would just fade into the sunset, which conveniently ignores the fact that #4 gets a vote in that election. Once both parties understood the leverage that the other one had, the whole thing got settled in a day or two.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

What have you done for me lately?

The conventional wisdom is that the Presidential race is about Barack Obama. John McCain has been around a while and the voters know what they think of him, whereas a lot of people would like to vote for Obama, but don't entirely believe that it's safe to do so. I agreed with this until a couple of days ago, then I thought about it some more and concluded it isn't so.

At this point the voters actually have a better handle on Obama than McCain, and frankly doesn't speak well of either man. Obama won the Democratic nomination by running out the clock on Hillary Clinton. Since then, he's been giving a bunch of speeches trying to be inspirational and high-minded, but which really amount to nothing but pompous windbaggery. Add it all up and he hasn't said or done anything of substance in at least six months. This isn't the time where McCain or the GOP have to go negative on Obama. The opponents are handling that just fine.

Listening to McCain though, at any moment you almost expect him to talk about how many miles he had to walk from his log cabin to the schoolhouse. What decade is this guy living in? If it's not this one, he needs to catch up in a hurry.

McCain another obvious problem as well. He's a Republican running in a Democratic year. He's got to create a motivation for his candidacy based on what it means for America if he's in the White House, one that's compelling enough to overcome the inertia in the voters' frame of mind. When push comes to shove, I fear the real self-justification McCain's candidacy is that he has moral credibility above any other national political figure because he endured a North Vietnamese prison camp. Even when he talks about how he's motivated to serve America, I ask myself what America gets out of that deal.

But somehow, if McCain can shift the object of his intent away from his own self-regard and toward the issues facing American, there's a window open to defuse both of these problems at once. He can say, that if we're willing to take the pain of seeing things as they are, we can actually do some things about our problems instead of wallowing in despair of how bad the situation is. Ie, let's talk about the elephant in the living room instead of trying to avoid it. In particular, the opportunity is ripe for McCain to emphasize his party affiliation as a Republican and to ask the voters to vote for him as a Republican and other downticket Republicans too.

1. To the voters that turned against the party last election, he can say that the GOP lost a whole bunch of seats in 2006 and deserves the low esteem it's held in right now. But 2008 is a new election and as bad as the Republicans have been and for all the flaws they have now, they are ones more in tune with the problems the country faces now.

2. Only the Republicans intend to drill for oil or intend to produce more energy in any form for that matter. The Republicans aren't against conservation or wind power or solar energy, but our economy can't function if these are the only options available.

3. The Republicans are going to bring the troops home from Iraq as soon as we're not going to lose everything they've worked for for years as soon as they're gone. In fact, as the violence in Iraq has abated, President Bush has brought some of the troops home already, and intends to bring more home later this year. The Republicans aren't maintaining the troops there out of some bloodlust, but to complete a particular mission, a mission which actually is being completed.

There are other possibilities along the same lines. Immigration would be a good possibility, but McCain is on the wrong side of it. Inflation, pork barrelling by Congress, the value of the dollar, the housing market, the crunch are also plausible if McCain or the party can find an angle on them. In any case, the essence is that McCain can credibly address the problems the voters are most afraid of in a way that cuts through blustery spin or partisan flackery.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Retirement Insecurity

My padre friend Pierre asked me what I thought about Social Security and Medicare in one of the comments, and this piece by Noah Millman is as good a place as any to start.

Noah is right is to emphasize that taxes on wage-earning, ie payroll taxes, are usually thought to be the most economically destructive of all usual forms of taxation. But, that's the one we have, and as the comments to that post illustrate, any attempt to reengineer some different form will run into strong resistance based on the fact that there is no consensus underlying rationale for these programs, something that's been more or less papered over for twenty years or so.

More important than that, the biggest problem with Social Security (and the other entitlement programs too) is that you can't put ten pounds of s**t in a five pound bag. At the moment, an individual contributes up to a maximum of $15K/year to Social Security (counting employer and employee contributions), and at retirement receives a maximum benefit of $2185/month. That latter number is very much worth dwelling on. Unless you're a monk, it's difficult or impossible to maintain one's standard of living on $2185/month (and even for monks, it only works if you're not the one responsible for the financial health of a monastery). If you're relying on Social Security to fund your retirement, you've got the same problem whether you retire in 2042 or next Tuesday. Of course, if you retire in 2042, the benefit will be higher, but it will be the wage and price-adjusted equivalent of $2185/month now. And, this is leaving aside all questions of solvency.

This means that retirees are going to have to independently fund a substantial part of their standard of living. But, the money available to do just that ($15K/year) is already going to Social Security. Oddly enough, George W Bush never went through this train of argument during his Social Security reform period right after the 2004 elections (he emphasized solvency problems instead). If we're looking for reasons to bash our hapless Prez, that would figure in my top ten somewhere.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Corruption and Paternalism

Back to our regularly scheduled programming, why hasn't McCain, with all his hard-earned independence, been able to take any advantage of the unpopularity of Congress? My theory is that McCain has demonstrated independence from (and opposition to) the greasy logrolling culture of the Congressional establishment. But unfortunately he significantly shares in its paternalist worldview.

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that explains many or most of the issues McCain has taken a position on. McCain's positions on immigration, campaign finance reform, opposition to tax cuts, ANWR, all have an ethos of "Eat your vegetables, Daddy knows best."

In the case of immigration, there's strong grassroots activism that insists that Daddy plainly does not know best, but that's a little bit of an outlier. I don't think McCain's stance on these issues affect his political fortune much one way the other. But his persona does.

The voters are hungry for someone who can talk turkey about their biggest collective fears: gas prices, Iraq, the stability of the economy. Except for Iraq, McCain has not done that yet, and maybe never will.

The Perfect Lose-Lose Proposition

This is a bit far afield of the usual topics of this blog, but this deal makes no sense to me.