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Posts For: September 20, 2008

Why Democrats Have Made It Competitive

Despite some dropoff in national polling for John McCain, the race remains extremely tight and McCain’s standing in key swing states remains strong.  Michael Barone looks at the landscape and observes: “The old rule that economic distress moves voters toward Democrats doesn’t seem to be operating.” He argues that some of it has to do with Democrats’ support for higher taxes.

That certainly seems logical, but perhaps there are multiple factors at work. For starters, Democrats have been in the majority in Congress since 2007 and, as voters are reminded everyday, they didn’t mind the store. Indeed, they gorged at the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae trough. And on the energy front they did exactly nothing. With power, even in a divided government, comes responsibility. The voters may have figured out that they are at least equally responsible for the utter lack of accomplishment on any key issue (e.g. energy, immigration, health care, financial regulation). As for Barack Obama, he might be in a stronger position had he done something concrete on any significant legislative matter.

We see this in battleground states as well. It is especially evident in Michigan, which is essentially a dead heat. A disastrous economy compounded by a corrupt and disgraced Detroit mayor and Democratic sponsored tax hikes haven’t paved the way for Obama — these factors have made voters weary of doubling down on another Democrat.

And then there is the “vision thing.” Bill Clinton had a strong “third way” message of moderation and support for the middle class. John McCain has a low tax, free-trade message with a helping of maverick populism. But what exactly is Obama’s message? If we take his Denver speech seriously, he is preaching a familiar liberal line — more government and income redistribution. Since then he’s made clear that some of his tax hikes are off the table. But mainly, he’s  gone on the attack, leaving voters to wonder what precisely an Obama economic policy would look like. We are six weeks from Election Day and it’s remarkable that we can’t be sure whether he is now a traditional liberal or something else.

So between a fixation for high taxes, a lack of accomplishments over the last few years, and the absence of a defined economic vision, neither Obama or the Congressional Democrats have made the most of their opportunities. That in large part explains why the race, at least for now, is as close as it is.

Despite some dropoff in national polling for John McCain, the race remains extremely tight and McCain’s standing in key swing states remains strong.  Michael Barone looks at the landscape and observes: “The old rule that economic distress moves voters toward Democrats doesn’t seem to be operating.” He argues that some of it has to do with Democrats’ support for higher taxes.

That certainly seems logical, but perhaps there are multiple factors at work. For starters, Democrats have been in the majority in Congress since 2007 and, as voters are reminded everyday, they didn’t mind the store. Indeed, they gorged at the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae trough. And on the energy front they did exactly nothing. With power, even in a divided government, comes responsibility. The voters may have figured out that they are at least equally responsible for the utter lack of accomplishment on any key issue (e.g. energy, immigration, health care, financial regulation). As for Barack Obama, he might be in a stronger position had he done something concrete on any significant legislative matter.

We see this in battleground states as well. It is especially evident in Michigan, which is essentially a dead heat. A disastrous economy compounded by a corrupt and disgraced Detroit mayor and Democratic sponsored tax hikes haven’t paved the way for Obama — these factors have made voters weary of doubling down on another Democrat.

And then there is the “vision thing.” Bill Clinton had a strong “third way” message of moderation and support for the middle class. John McCain has a low tax, free-trade message with a helping of maverick populism. But what exactly is Obama’s message? If we take his Denver speech seriously, he is preaching a familiar liberal line — more government and income redistribution. Since then he’s made clear that some of his tax hikes are off the table. But mainly, he’s  gone on the attack, leaving voters to wonder what precisely an Obama economic policy would look like. We are six weeks from Election Day and it’s remarkable that we can’t be sure whether he is now a traditional liberal or something else.

So between a fixation for high taxes, a lack of accomplishments over the last few years, and the absence of a defined economic vision, neither Obama or the Congressional Democrats have made the most of their opportunities. That in large part explains why the race, at least for now, is as close as it is.

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Re: Libertarians

Abe, the hilarious corollary to the point you make is that the people who are implicitly being attacked here for having a belief in deregulation aren’t libertarians! No one has ever accused John McCain of being a libertarian, or COMMENTARY of having libertarian leanings, or George W. Bush of libertarianism. We’re all supporters of regulation, to some extent.

The difference between conservatives and liberals on these matters is the conservative recognition that federal regulation is a hamper rather than a spur to the economy. But you don’t have to be a conservative to understand this. Paul Krugman does as well. It is basic, fundamental economics that regulation is not put in place to make the market work better; it’s used to elevate other concerns over and above the workings of the market. An economic drag is viewed as worth the cost if, for example, it causes a drop in water or air pollution, or enhances worker safety, or prevents children from working in factories.

In libertarian terms, a market disaster of the sort Washington is desperately trying to avoid might actually part of an overall process — the occasional failure or disaster can be viewed as simply part of an overall pattern in the long run, a way of draining excess out of the system and bringing things back into equilibrium. It’s one of the reasons why libertarianism, as a general philosophy, is unsustainable in a democracy, because the sorts of disruptions that invariably emerge from human action — human beings being flawed and fallen creatures — cause too much pain in the short term to be ignored or left to correct themselves.

Having said that, if the underlying cause of the current crisis are highly regulated federally-granted monopoly institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and wonderfully well-meaning but disastrous legislation like the Community Reinvestment Act that mandated the widespread use of subprime mortgages to permit people with nonexistent or bad credit to own home, one can hardly use libertarianism as a whipping boy. Libertarians oppose all such measures.

Abe, the hilarious corollary to the point you make is that the people who are implicitly being attacked here for having a belief in deregulation aren’t libertarians! No one has ever accused John McCain of being a libertarian, or COMMENTARY of having libertarian leanings, or George W. Bush of libertarianism. We’re all supporters of regulation, to some extent.

The difference between conservatives and liberals on these matters is the conservative recognition that federal regulation is a hamper rather than a spur to the economy. But you don’t have to be a conservative to understand this. Paul Krugman does as well. It is basic, fundamental economics that regulation is not put in place to make the market work better; it’s used to elevate other concerns over and above the workings of the market. An economic drag is viewed as worth the cost if, for example, it causes a drop in water or air pollution, or enhances worker safety, or prevents children from working in factories.

In libertarian terms, a market disaster of the sort Washington is desperately trying to avoid might actually part of an overall process — the occasional failure or disaster can be viewed as simply part of an overall pattern in the long run, a way of draining excess out of the system and bringing things back into equilibrium. It’s one of the reasons why libertarianism, as a general philosophy, is unsustainable in a democracy, because the sorts of disruptions that invariably emerge from human action — human beings being flawed and fallen creatures — cause too much pain in the short term to be ignored or left to correct themselves.

Having said that, if the underlying cause of the current crisis are highly regulated federally-granted monopoly institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and wonderfully well-meaning but disastrous legislation like the Community Reinvestment Act that mandated the widespread use of subprime mortgages to permit people with nonexistent or bad credit to own home, one can hardly use libertarianism as a whipping boy. Libertarians oppose all such measures.

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Try an Original Thought

Last night on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” the New York Times’s Paul Krugman offered up this clever analogy on the federal bailout:

There are no atheists in fox holes and there are no libertarians in financial crises.

The line got some laughs, but I was struck by a violent sense of déjà vu. It turns out: the reason it seemed as if I had heard that before is because I had. On Tuesday, I attended a debate on universal healthcare. Arguing for the motion, “Universal health coverage should be the federal government’s responsibility,” was Dr. Art Kellermann,  Dr. Michael Rachlis, and–you guessed it–Paul Krugman. At one point Dr. Kellermann offered up this clever analogy on universal healthcare:

Have you all heard the expression that there are no atheists in fox holes?  I can tell you, in my experience, there are no libertarians in intensive care units.

I believe economists like Krugman call this borrowing in the short-term.

Last night on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” the New York Times’s Paul Krugman offered up this clever analogy on the federal bailout:

There are no atheists in fox holes and there are no libertarians in financial crises.

The line got some laughs, but I was struck by a violent sense of déjà vu. It turns out: the reason it seemed as if I had heard that before is because I had. On Tuesday, I attended a debate on universal healthcare. Arguing for the motion, “Universal health coverage should be the federal government’s responsibility,” was Dr. Art Kellermann,  Dr. Michael Rachlis, and–you guessed it–Paul Krugman. At one point Dr. Kellermann offered up this clever analogy on universal healthcare:

Have you all heard the expression that there are no atheists in fox holes?  I can tell you, in my experience, there are no libertarians in intensive care units.

I believe economists like Krugman call this borrowing in the short-term.

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How We Got It Right

A fascinating profile and interview with General Jack Keane explains how we got the surge right and how hard it was to get it right. Keane lays out the relationship between the surge and the Anbar Awakening:

Gen. Keane wants to make sure people understand why the surge worked. “I have a theory” about the unexpectedly fast turnaround, he says. “Whether they be Sunni, Shia or Kurd, anyone who was being touched by that war after four years was fed up with it. And I think once a solution was being provided, once they saw the Americans were truly willing to take risks and die to protect their women and children and their way of life, they decided one, to protect the Americans, and two, to turn in the enemies that were around them who were intimidating and terrorizing them; that gave them the courage to do it.”

He adds that the so-called Sunni Awakening, and the effective surrender of Shia radical Moqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army, depended upon the surge. “I’m not sure [the Sunni Awakening] would have spread to the other provinces without the U.S. [military] presence. We needed forces that we didn’t previously have for the Sunnis to be able to rely on us to protect them.” Sadr saw his lieutenants killed in the American push, and didn’t want to share their fate.

And as Bob Woodward’s book (but not Woodward himself) makes clear: President George W. Bush had to ignore plenty of experienced military leaders and self-appointed experts in and out of government to get it right:

“Despite the fact that President Bush did preside over a strategy that was failing for three plus years, and he has been criticized for that,” says Gen. Keane, “he also deserves a significant amount of credit because all around him people were advocating a failed strategy, particularly key leaders around him, and he had the wherewithal to make a tough decision that flew certainly in the face of political opposition even in his own party.”

Gen. Keane says he understands why there was resentment among the Joint Chiefs at seeing the president change course against their wishes and follow a retired general’s recommendations on strategy and staffing in a war zone. But he considers his role perfectly appropriate. “In my mind, I think a president has a right to seek advice and counsel any place he chooses,” he says. “I certainly wasn’t forcing myself on them.”

The U.S. came “within weeks or months” of defeat in Iraq in 2006, he says. The consequences of that were “unacceptable” for the region, “not to speak of an institution that I loved.” And what about the military chiefs who thought the extra battalions and extended service tours would be too much of a strain on American forces? “When people talk about stress and strain on a force, the stress and strain that would come from having to live with a humiliating defeat would be quite staggering.”

It is sobering that so much hangs on the thin reed of the judgment of one person–the President. We’d like to think that there are “backstops,” that a good team and smart people will rescue us from a President with insufficient political courage or faulty judgment. But in practice it never works that way.

And what is even more sobering is that it is not always easy to figure out whether a presidential candidate has those qualities. All you can do is look to the past for clues about his proclivity for independence, courage, persistence, daring and a laser-like focus on the big picture. In this case the big picture was simply: “We cannot be defeated by Al Qaeda.” That so many people failed to grasp this or lacked the conviction to think we could prevent defeat is troubling, but not surprising; that President Bush both grasped the essence of the task and possessed the conviction to see it through is remarkable.

The task for voters this time is to figure out which of the two contenders will both grasp the big picture and have the conviction to see us through future challenges. When all is said and done, that’s really the only thing that matters.

A fascinating profile and interview with General Jack Keane explains how we got the surge right and how hard it was to get it right. Keane lays out the relationship between the surge and the Anbar Awakening:

Gen. Keane wants to make sure people understand why the surge worked. “I have a theory” about the unexpectedly fast turnaround, he says. “Whether they be Sunni, Shia or Kurd, anyone who was being touched by that war after four years was fed up with it. And I think once a solution was being provided, once they saw the Americans were truly willing to take risks and die to protect their women and children and their way of life, they decided one, to protect the Americans, and two, to turn in the enemies that were around them who were intimidating and terrorizing them; that gave them the courage to do it.”

He adds that the so-called Sunni Awakening, and the effective surrender of Shia radical Moqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army, depended upon the surge. “I’m not sure [the Sunni Awakening] would have spread to the other provinces without the U.S. [military] presence. We needed forces that we didn’t previously have for the Sunnis to be able to rely on us to protect them.” Sadr saw his lieutenants killed in the American push, and didn’t want to share their fate.

And as Bob Woodward’s book (but not Woodward himself) makes clear: President George W. Bush had to ignore plenty of experienced military leaders and self-appointed experts in and out of government to get it right:

“Despite the fact that President Bush did preside over a strategy that was failing for three plus years, and he has been criticized for that,” says Gen. Keane, “he also deserves a significant amount of credit because all around him people were advocating a failed strategy, particularly key leaders around him, and he had the wherewithal to make a tough decision that flew certainly in the face of political opposition even in his own party.”

Gen. Keane says he understands why there was resentment among the Joint Chiefs at seeing the president change course against their wishes and follow a retired general’s recommendations on strategy and staffing in a war zone. But he considers his role perfectly appropriate. “In my mind, I think a president has a right to seek advice and counsel any place he chooses,” he says. “I certainly wasn’t forcing myself on them.”

The U.S. came “within weeks or months” of defeat in Iraq in 2006, he says. The consequences of that were “unacceptable” for the region, “not to speak of an institution that I loved.” And what about the military chiefs who thought the extra battalions and extended service tours would be too much of a strain on American forces? “When people talk about stress and strain on a force, the stress and strain that would come from having to live with a humiliating defeat would be quite staggering.”

It is sobering that so much hangs on the thin reed of the judgment of one person–the President. We’d like to think that there are “backstops,” that a good team and smart people will rescue us from a President with insufficient political courage or faulty judgment. But in practice it never works that way.

And what is even more sobering is that it is not always easy to figure out whether a presidential candidate has those qualities. All you can do is look to the past for clues about his proclivity for independence, courage, persistence, daring and a laser-like focus on the big picture. In this case the big picture was simply: “We cannot be defeated by Al Qaeda.” That so many people failed to grasp this or lacked the conviction to think we could prevent defeat is troubling, but not surprising; that President Bush both grasped the essence of the task and possessed the conviction to see it through is remarkable.

The task for voters this time is to figure out which of the two contenders will both grasp the big picture and have the conviction to see us through future challenges. When all is said and done, that’s really the only thing that matters.

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Are You Soothed?

Gail Collins opines on Barack Obama’s reaction to the financial crisis:

Obama declined to provide many specifics. The most notable thing about his performance this week — besides his really extraordinary skill in packing large numbers of economic advisers onto a stage — has been his calm. Even this late in the campaign, it’s hard to tell whether it’s the product of wise serenity or a low metabolism. But, under present circumstances, it was definitely soothing.

But was it soothing? Or was it eerily reminiscent of his reaction to the invasion of Georgia? In these situations Obama’s formula seems to be : don’t assert any specific judgments for as long as possible (we still don’t know what he thinks of the AIG takeover), ramp up the accusations of conflict of interest against the other side, and then gradually adopt the consensus view of others as his own. That’s not a bad campaign tactic, but how can you possibly govern that way?

You can’t, obviously. If you’re the President you have to have a view, you have to decide. And several days of wait-and-see can be too late. Moreover, you can’t simply adopt others’ views — you need to shape the consensus. Calm is good, but calm is what precedes decision-making, action, and persuasion. It was these latter steps that were not taken by Obama this week.

Andrew Malcom put it this way:

Obama did suggest a bipartisan effort to deal with the financial crisis wreaking havoc on Wall Street, always a good idea for any candidate after the primaries because it sounds good and costs nothing. But Obama did not present any detailed proposal of his own for how to resolve the monetary situation that has roiled world markets in recent days. Obama’s inaction prompted Jay Leno in his opening monologue tonight on “The Tonight Show” to point out an essential presidential campaign unfairness, that Obama has criticized McCain’s economic plan but the Republican can’t respond because “nobody knows what it is yet.” After meeting with his top economic advisers, the Democratic presidential candidate said this was not the time to present specific details for how to fix the immediate problem, a reversal from what he had said a day earlier. Nor did he explain when a good time would be to explain such a rescue from the current financial crisis.”Given the gravity of this situation,” Obama said with gravity, “based on conversations I’ve had with both Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke, I will refrain from presenting a….more detailed blueprint about how an immediate plan might be structured until I can fully review details of the plan proposed by the Treasury and Federal Reserve.”

It’s not clear whether most voters will notice this, but if they do and they rank decisive leadership high on their list of priorities that might pose a problem for Obama. Which come to think of it is why, given his druthers, Obama would rather voters think not about himself but about President Bush.

Gail Collins opines on Barack Obama’s reaction to the financial crisis:

Obama declined to provide many specifics. The most notable thing about his performance this week — besides his really extraordinary skill in packing large numbers of economic advisers onto a stage — has been his calm. Even this late in the campaign, it’s hard to tell whether it’s the product of wise serenity or a low metabolism. But, under present circumstances, it was definitely soothing.

But was it soothing? Or was it eerily reminiscent of his reaction to the invasion of Georgia? In these situations Obama’s formula seems to be : don’t assert any specific judgments for as long as possible (we still don’t know what he thinks of the AIG takeover), ramp up the accusations of conflict of interest against the other side, and then gradually adopt the consensus view of others as his own. That’s not a bad campaign tactic, but how can you possibly govern that way?

You can’t, obviously. If you’re the President you have to have a view, you have to decide. And several days of wait-and-see can be too late. Moreover, you can’t simply adopt others’ views — you need to shape the consensus. Calm is good, but calm is what precedes decision-making, action, and persuasion. It was these latter steps that were not taken by Obama this week.

Andrew Malcom put it this way:

Obama did suggest a bipartisan effort to deal with the financial crisis wreaking havoc on Wall Street, always a good idea for any candidate after the primaries because it sounds good and costs nothing. But Obama did not present any detailed proposal of his own for how to resolve the monetary situation that has roiled world markets in recent days. Obama’s inaction prompted Jay Leno in his opening monologue tonight on “The Tonight Show” to point out an essential presidential campaign unfairness, that Obama has criticized McCain’s economic plan but the Republican can’t respond because “nobody knows what it is yet.” After meeting with his top economic advisers, the Democratic presidential candidate said this was not the time to present specific details for how to fix the immediate problem, a reversal from what he had said a day earlier. Nor did he explain when a good time would be to explain such a rescue from the current financial crisis.”Given the gravity of this situation,” Obama said with gravity, “based on conversations I’ve had with both Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke, I will refrain from presenting a….more detailed blueprint about how an immediate plan might be structured until I can fully review details of the plan proposed by the Treasury and Federal Reserve.”

It’s not clear whether most voters will notice this, but if they do and they rank decisive leadership high on their list of priorities that might pose a problem for Obama. Which come to think of it is why, given his druthers, Obama would rather voters think not about himself but about President Bush.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The McCain camp calls out — by name — another reporter (this one from TIME) and goes to far as to quote her snide response when provided with information which contradicts her storyline. Ouch. And the Post’s media critic isn’t any better–neatly ignoring that the basis of the McCain ad in question was the Post.

And then, yowser, the McCain camp dares the Post to call itself “not credible.” I don’t know about the campaign against Barack Obama but I could watch this duel for awhile.

Hard to argue with this: ” Really, if you were trying to discredit the traditional media it would be hard to do better than they’ve been doing themselves.”

The Congressional Republicans will never have a better advertisement for keeping Democrats’ majority narrow than Charlie Rangel. As John McCain says about his intentions for the earmarkers in Congress, the GOP needs to make Rangel “famous.”

Peter Robinson is right about the power of humor – and come to think of it, doesn’t the funnier candidate always win? (Kennedy funnier than Nixon, Reagan funnier than Carter, Clinton funnier than George H.W. Bush).

“That’s Obama first” — which side is using that catch-phrase?

As I predicted, defenders of King Dollar liked McCain’s Friday speech quite a bit. Sound currency and low taxes usually do spell prosperity.

Palin adds Iran to her talking points — with a big assist from those who managed to nix a bipartisan rally against Ahmadinejad. Really, what would McCain-Palin do without such helpful opponents?

This is a readable and cogent explanation of where we are and how we got to the financial mess: there is plenty of blame to go around, including “consumers and voters on Main Street” who wanted plenty of cheap credit (and mortgages they couldn’t afford).

The McCain camp calls out — by name — another reporter (this one from TIME) and goes to far as to quote her snide response when provided with information which contradicts her storyline. Ouch. And the Post’s media critic isn’t any better–neatly ignoring that the basis of the McCain ad in question was the Post.

And then, yowser, the McCain camp dares the Post to call itself “not credible.” I don’t know about the campaign against Barack Obama but I could watch this duel for awhile.

Hard to argue with this: ” Really, if you were trying to discredit the traditional media it would be hard to do better than they’ve been doing themselves.”

The Congressional Republicans will never have a better advertisement for keeping Democrats’ majority narrow than Charlie Rangel. As John McCain says about his intentions for the earmarkers in Congress, the GOP needs to make Rangel “famous.”

Peter Robinson is right about the power of humor – and come to think of it, doesn’t the funnier candidate always win? (Kennedy funnier than Nixon, Reagan funnier than Carter, Clinton funnier than George H.W. Bush).

“That’s Obama first” — which side is using that catch-phrase?

As I predicted, defenders of King Dollar liked McCain’s Friday speech quite a bit. Sound currency and low taxes usually do spell prosperity.

Palin adds Iran to her talking points — with a big assist from those who managed to nix a bipartisan rally against Ahmadinejad. Really, what would McCain-Palin do without such helpful opponents?

This is a readable and cogent explanation of where we are and how we got to the financial mess: there is plenty of blame to go around, including “consumers and voters on Main Street” who wanted plenty of cheap credit (and mortgages they couldn’t afford).

Read Less




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