October 2008


In its lead editorial, the conservative Economist magazine has “wholeheartedly” endorsed Barack Obama for President, declaring simply in the title of the piece, It’s time.  I highly recommend giving it a read.  A good summary of its comments on John McCain can perhaps be summarized in the title given one of the sections of the editorial “If only the real John McCain had been running.”   

I thought it would be good to link to the Obama 30 minute infomercial.  I note that I’d not watched it before I voted yesterday and may yet comment upon it.  For now, here, in four parts, is the infomercial:

 

There is a blurb in the New York Times today under the heading “The Caucus” entitled Casting Blame, by Name.  It talks about the MoveOn.org video that has hit the country, apparently, by storm.  I received my personalized copy yesterday, from my sister.  (Thank you by the way for giving my email address to one of my least favorite organizations.  It was probably worth it just to see it, however.)  According to the Times article, as of yesterday, “more than 9.7 million people had sent a version of the video to a friend, relative or acquaintance.”  This all began on October 22.  So, here is my video.  Order one up yourself for a close friend or relative.

   

One more thing about my decision to vote for Barack Obama yesterday and then I think I’m pretty much done with my pre-election commentary.  Let Tuesday come, quickly.  The one issue above all others that’s concerned me about John McCain has been his position on judicial appointments.  It was something I raised with Senator McCain face to face in a town hall meeting in Laconia, New Hampshire on New Years Day this year and he gave me the answer, in his words, that I “probably did not want to hear.”  He was right.  “strict constructionism” doesn’t cut it for me.  We don’t need any more Scailias, Alitos, Thomas’s, and Roberts’s on the Supreme Court.  We’ve drifted far enough to the right.  We need some center or center left drift.  We need more Souters, Kennedys and O’Connors (all nominated by Republican presidents).  Obama may give us more liberal judges than I’d want or prefer, but they would simply balance out the relative extremism of the the Bush appointments. 

McCain calls himself a maverick, yet on judicial appointments, he is no maverick.  He is bread and butter conservative Republican.  No, thank you.  Whether this is, as McCain claims, what he’s always been, or a new found principle convenient and indeed necessary for one running for a Republican presidential nomination these days I don’t know.  It is for me a powerful reason to say no to John McCain and the Republican Party.  That Log Cabin was able to support McCain was on the strength of his relatively strong support for some very important issues to the gay community, like the Federal Marriage Amendment.  That he promises to make the court ever more conservative, in my mind, negates the positive with the harsh reality that the Supreme Court can reverse so much that has been achieved by Gay America in the last few years, whether by “activist” courts or otherwise.  

Having said this, the interesting thing to me is, as evidenced by the column yesterday, that it was not the most important thing on my mind when I cast my vote for a Democrat for president yesterday for the first time.  It was much else, although this can perhaps be thought of as the catylist for my heretical drift left.  It gave me a reason to search for other reasons, which I indeed found.          

I cast my vote for president today.  It is the 10th time I’ve cast a vote for president since registering to vote at the age of 18 in 1972.  It is the first time I’ve voted for a Democrat.  It was a vote for change.  Change is important to me.  My dedication to change is evidenced by this blog and especially its title.  There really is a what should be and we are far from it. 

Change comes in many shapes and colors.  While I believe that a vote for John McCain would have also been a vote for change, it would not have been of the magnitude that this country so desperately needs.  It is a mighty deep hole that President Bush and Vice President Cheney have dug the country into over the last 8 years and it’s going to take change of a special character to extract us.  Senator Obama is not perfect.  He received my vote in spite of the general election campaign he has run.  He received my vote because I believe the man is much better than the populist and partisan candidate I’ve seen on the stump since Denver.  In other words, he received my vote in spite of himself.  I must also confess that race was factor in my vote.  It was a powerful reason for me to vote for Barack Obama, a powerful reason because of what the election of an African American president will mean both to African America and the world at large.  It will show the country and the world that America really is the bright shining light on the hill.  It will hopefully begin to heal wounds of the deepest kind at home and abroad.

Also influencing my vote greatly was an article I read a few weeks ago about Senator Obama in the August 24 edition of the New York Times Magazine.  It was entitled Obamanomics and was authored by David Leonhardt.  I regard it as a must-read.  It left me convinced that Senator Obama is not the left wing ideologue many fear him to me.  Indeed I was left concluding that I may agree withthe Senator on economic issues more than I ever could have imagined.  He may be somewhat to the left of where I am politically, but I am very impressed that he is someone who has actually thought about and intellectually wrestled with important economic and social issues (in contrast to John McCain).  And, he believes in the power of markets.   For me the prospect of having as President a man who will weigh issues deeply, is dedicated to the power of the market but yet is also committed to doing what is morally right is powerful.  It convinces me that despite his leftward tilt there is really no other choice for President in 2008. 

A lingering concern, of which I’ve had to dispense with for now, is that it will also empower people like Nancy Pelosi, Edward Markey, and Henry Waxman on the significantly left part of the spectrum.  I’ve also set aside my fears, for now, of an economically counterproductive renaissance of organized labor and the prospect of environmentalists taking charge of the country’s energy policy.  I can only hope that President Obama will be true to his promise to govern in a new way and not let these and other powerful Democratic Party interest groups get everything on their wish lists.  It will certainly not get the country where it needs to go. 

I am not, however, concerned that “Socialism is at the Gate” as a sign I saw on a business in Delaware declared to all who passed last week.  We must meaningfully address our national health crisis and government must play a role.  I am also not concerned that the “Redistributionist in Chief” is out to radically alter America’s economic landscape.  This country must address the rising gap between rich and poor and Barack Obama, unlike John McCain, realizes that something must be done to begin to reverse the gap.  One has only to look at Latin America and so much of the developing world to see the dangers of such a chasm between rich and poor.    The Republican Party’s answer of trickle down economic policy hasn’t seemed to work.   Lastly I am not overly concerned with Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.  I am comforted by the wise selection of Joe Biden.  I trust Obama will ultimately make a rational decision on Iraq and will not withdraw American forces prematurely. 

I have also been concerned with the rightward drift of my Republican Party.   The fact that every freshman Republican in the House voted against the economic rescue bill a few weeks ago was most alarming to me and is showing me that my party is not my party any more, not that I’m a Democrat either. 

Finally, let me say this about John McCain.  He is admirable man, a true American hero and would have been a good president.  He is simply not in my opinion the right president for the times.  I hope he returns to the Senate and finds the man he was before the Republican presidential primaries.  

So, with my vote for Barack Obama today I broke 36 years of tradition.  I will admit that it was probably the most emotional vote I’ve ever cast for President, for my vote today was as much emotional as it was intellectual.  It was ultimately a vote for the America that should be.  Only Barack Obama offered me that America.  I accepted. 

If all goes according to plan, today or tomorrow will be election day for me by means of early voting (I don’t want to deal with huge lines on election day).  I’m not sure I’m ready and I’m not sure I really know for whom I’m going to vote for President, although I think I know.  One never really knows until one has to vote, however.  My plan is to write about my final decision after I’ve voted.  For now, I am left to ponder some things brought to my conscious attention by three Op-eds in this morning’s Washington Post. 

The first of the Op-eds, by Alan D. Viard, Alex Brill and Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, is entitled The Real Problem With Obama’s Tax Plan. While the column puts to rest some of the inaccurate Republican claims about the plan, it states that Obama’s “real proposals … would still be plenty damaging.”  I should note that I was never enamored with Bush’s reductions in income tax rates for the highest American earners and that I am very concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor America.  However, I am concerned by the authors’ claim that the Obama tax proposals would be “bad for the economy.”  I am particularly concerned Obama’s inclination to tax corporate America to pay for social programs in a time of economic crisis.  We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of leadership during the Great Depression.  It is something I will be bearing in mind as I vote.

A second Op-ed, by Michael Gerson, entitled Clues in the Mist: What the Stump Speeches Really Tell Us gives us a picture of the closing argument each candidate is making out there on the stump.  Here is an excerpt from the column:

… Obama has returned to the theme of unity that characterized his early campaign. “We need to get beyond the old ideological debates and divides” and “unite in common effort: black, white . . . young, old, rich, poor.” Except, of course, the “rich” part, because his speech is also a classic of leftist populism, going after billionaires, big corporations, CEOs, “wealth” and “power” with hammer and tong. Obama is alternately possessed by the noble spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and the noisy shade of Huey Long.

McCain attempts to take advantage of this tension by calling Obama as “The Redistributor” — recounting his history of unscripted liberalism and past support for tax increases. For the first time since the financial crisis broke, McCain has a coherent economic message: Is it really smart to raise taxes while headed into an economic crisis, as Herbert Hoover did?

I don’t like that Obama is cheapening his powerful promise of a new kind of leadership and politics in America with populist rhetoric.  Readers will recall my posting describing how sickened I was by that message in Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver.  If I vote for Obama it will be because I ultimately conclude that he has the best chance of bringing that new kind of leadership to America.  It will be in spite of speeches such as he delivered in Denver is still apparently making on the stump.  This is part of what so discourages me about the state of American politics today.  Am I wrong to hope for progress, for something different and new? 

The third informative Op-ed today is Ruth Marcus’ ‘A New Kind of Politics’? Good Luck WIth That.  The Marcus column reiterates my concerns about the disconnect between Obama’s promise of a new kind of leadership and the reality of his campaign.  It is a must-read column, and one that I hope Obama reads and takes to heart in these closing days.  Mr. Obama, you cannot have it both ways — new leader and old style populist demagogue.  Here’s an excerpt that will give me pause as I contemplate voting for you:

What evidence is there that a President Obama would govern differently than candidate Obama campaigned? Would a President Obama press policies — on teacher accountability, on climate change, on trade — that discomfit Democratic Party interest groups? Does he have the spine to stand up to the inevitably overreaching demands of congressional Democrats? Does he have some magical, Republican-whisperer ability to quell a political opposition that will be determined from Day One to frustrate his program and regain power?

It is with these thoughts and more that I will wrestle as I make my final decision and vote.

There was an interesting story in the Washington Post this morning entitled McCain’s Troubles Afflicting Other Races.  I find it a useful follow-on to my posting on Monday supporting calls to focus Republican attention on saving as many Republican Senators as possible so as to prevent a filibuster-proof Senate win by the Democrats.  The story reports that Minority Leader McConnell, himself in a very tough race, is urging voters to re-elect him “to check Democratic ‘domination of the public debate.’”  

Otherwise the story reports on just how tough it is out there for House and Senate Republicans.  Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg is quoted as saying “McCain is just running so poorly now.  He’s collapsed in some districts.  It’s brutal out there for Republicans.”  The article indicates that “McCain appears to be trailing badly in several moderate suburban districts across the Midwest and New England, while he is doing worse than President Bush did in rural conservative districts.”  Not good new for McCain or other Republicans running this year.  The story also addresses the potential consequence to the Republican Party of a stunning Republican electoral defeat.  All in all, it’s a worthwhile-read.

Robert J. Samuelson in his column this morning entitled Stimulus For the Long Haul suggests a new multi-billion dollar stimulus bill is all but assured.  “It’s extra insurance against an economic free fall”.  Yet he contends the case for the stimulus isn’t airtight as the year’s earlier stimulus bill had only “modest effect.”  His concern is that a new bill, especially if not well crafted, could have a similarly unimpressive economic stimulus effect.  He suggests that if we do nonetheless proceed with a new stimulus package that it also include a few other elements, elements that begin to tackle some tough political issues that that need, for the sake of our country’s long-term economic health, to be addressed.  I’ll let you read the details of his three proposals, only summarizing them here, but all three are worthy of serious contemplation.  I might tinker with details but in general they are excellent suggestions.  The three:  1) Raise gasoline taxes and not let today’s lower oil prices filter through to consumers again and wash away the conservation gains of the past few months; 2) increase the earliest retirement age from 62 to 64, signalling, if nothing else, Congress’s willingness to tackle the Social Security/Medicare problem; and, 3) Authorize offshore drilling for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico.  Yes, to all three.  I will add only that, as to 3), it is important that what Congress does this time is real, not just optical (as the House bill passed a few ago was).  There are important economic reasons to bring American jobs and dollars home.

In response to a dinner party conversation at the weekend about the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) I did some factual digging yesterday.  I had made a couple of statements in the dinner conversation that got a big debate going.  I get ahead of myself, however.

I believe our particular dinner table dispute on ANWR began when I stated that I was hopeful that as president Senator Obama would continue his reputed habit of trying to get all sides of an issue presented to him before he makes a decision.   I stated that my concern was that he’d not really get the entire picture on energy.  When pressed, I made the statement that Republicans had energy policy more right than did the Democrats and that the Democratic Party had granted veto power to environmental groups for years.  No Democrat at the table believed me for an instant. 

The fundamental point I was trying to make was that too many people in this country have formed an opinion on energy without being adequately informed of the facts.  All I was arguing was that folks needed to get a broader perspective on ANWR, indeed any issue, before they make a firm decision.  On this issue I understand more than most that the issue is more complex than the environmental group propaganda would have us believe.  Of course this lack of a factual basis for decision-making is extremely common.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about this over the last two years.  It concerns me greatly.  I like to use M. Scott Peck’s road map analogy from his book The Road Less Traveled.  If our road map is not accurate, our navigation will be flawed and we are not likely to reach our destination.  With information our road map becomes more accurate, we can can navigate policy choices more accurately and increase the chances of our achieving our policy objectives. 

Those with whom I disagreed on Saturday believed that ANWR should be the last choice for development in Alaska – that the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska (NPRA) should be drilled first but oil companies weren’t doing that.  The research I did yesterday about the NPRA helped explain to me why oil companies hadn’t developed the NPRA.  It is a far less concentrated field than is the proposed ANWR development area, farther from necessary pipeline infrastructure, and likely to be far smaller in terms of reserve size.  As most people should recognize, businesses don’t make money by entering into losing financial ventures.  The fact is the economics aren’t right to make the NPRA economic at this point.  ANWR likely would be even at today’s oil prices.  The factors contributing to its economic viability include ANWR’s proximity to the existing Alaska pipeline at Prudhoe Bay, its relative compact footprint where directional drilling could be employed, the probability that it will contain a gigantic amount of oil.  (There are some very informative statistics on ANWR and its potential in one of my previous postings entitled What the Left Doesn’t Understand About Energy Policy.)  

The point of all this is that the more information one has, the better the final decision that’s made will be.  I will be quite fine at the end of the day if our leadership decides not to produce ANWR but I will only be OK if I’m convinced of a sincere effort on the part of the decision-makers to get all of the facts, not just some of the facts.  That my dinner guests were so convinced that they knew all there was to know was telling.  They, like most of us on so many things, would not believe that there was more to the story.  There is indeed more to this story; there is almost always more to any story.  In fact I fully accept the possibility that there is information I don’t have that might well change my opinion about ANWR.  

So Senator Obama, please carry through on your promise to be a new type of leader.  Pick the right people for your administration, even partisan rivals, people who’ll help insure that you get access to all of the information not just one-sided information.  If you did that and that alone you’d be light years ahead of your predecessor in office and be far more likely to achieve the success which has so eluded him.  

Few would disagree that there are merits in having a divided government.  Among other things, divided government helps to insure moderation in result.  Divided government helps prevent one party from going too far, too fast.  (For more on the merits of divided government see the blog site Divided We Stand, United We Fall.)  And while it seems clear from recent polling that the prospects of a truly divided government resulting from the General Election of 2008 is unlikely, it is well to remind ourselves of its merits in the hope that this realization can help to scale back the upcoming Republican electoral debacle.  No, not for the sake of the Republican Party which deserves every aspect of the drubbing it’s about to get, but for the country which needs rational contrary voices in the chambers as the issues of the day are debated.  Those contrary voices are needed to inform not just the chambers but citizens at large as to the entire story in a policy debate.  And while that opposition needs to represent all of the various contrary viewpoints, the Republicans most likely to suffer defeat in this election will sadly be the more “moderate” or centrist Senators and Congressmen.  Although often elected in the first place precisely because they were not representative of the extremes of their party, in a year when Republicanism is in such disfavor, thanks to President Bush and the party’s right wing zealots in Congress (ascertainable for the most part by an examination of those who voted against the recent federal financial rescue bill), they are at great risk of being turned out of office just for being “Republican”.  The result, however, will be an opposition with few in the ”rational middle” and many on the more extreme right.  That is not good for the country.

It is time that the focus of proponents of divided government and centrists in general be turned from the Presidential race, which is lost (McCain is not going to win), to the Congress and particularly the Senate.  While a significant Democrat victory in the Senate and the House is assured as well, efforts can be made to limit the scale of the Republican defeat.  Efforts need to be made to minimize Republican losses, particularly but not exclusively of those in the rational middle.  The country needs an opposition, not for purposes of partisan bickering but genuine policy debate.  And while the middle is particularly worthy of rescue because it is less likely to be partisan for the sake of partisanship, it is not in the country’s long-term interests (other than perhaps sending the far right a message – which they won’t assimilate anyway) that the Republican Party be completely electorally routed.  Following the principles of triage, the place to logically focus is with Senate Republicans, where saving a few Republican Senators will yield more bang for the buck.  A 60 vote Democrat majority in the Sentate would not be healthy for the country particularly when there’s a Democrat in the White House (as there will be) and the House of Representatives will led by a Nancy Pelosi (as it will almost assuredly be).

With that said, I turn the floor over to David Frum, courtesy of his must-read Op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post.  It is entitled Sorry Senator.  Let’s Salvage What We Can.  It’s spot on.  I couldn’t agree more with virtually everything he says. 

In closing let me add that I am not advocating a complete jettisoning of House Republicans.  We need people like Christopher Shays of Connecticut desperately.  I am in fact sending his campaign a check this morning.  We need Christopher Shays and more like him in Congress!  Those interested in joining me in contributing can do so here.

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