Sunday, August 31, 2008
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.