Saturday, September 27, 2008

Brief thoughts on the first presidential debate

In short: Obama won--big time.

Foreign policy was, by and large, a draw, with the two trading names and policies without noticeable slipups, and a considerable amount of agreement between the two (I think the McCain campaign's post-debate ad missed the point--the question about Obama isn't his leadership, so much as his judgment; the more he agrees with McCain, the less mileage McCain can get out of his main attacking point).

It was during the first part of the debate, devoted to economics, that Obama scored at the very least a solid points decision, if not an outright TKO.

Leaving aside the details of the debate, one thing came across very clearly. There was one, and only one, avenue of direct response in this debate: Obama to McCain.

Neither candidate gave anything even remotely resembling a direct answer to Jim Lehrer. McCain's responses to Obama were rambling, frequently changing the subject, almost always off the point--stump speech renditions, to be quite frank--and at times vying for a Golden Aikido award.

Obama's responses to McCain, by contrast, were direct, to the point, and covered what McCain had actually said. He had a full grasp of what McCain said, and sufficient command of the material to essentially control that portion of the debate.

McCain recovered later, to a degree--but for those critical opening minutes, Obama was fully and undisputedly in control. I expect him to get a big bump in the polls from this debate.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Do not pass Go, do not collect $200 million

Actually, scratch that. You can collect $200 long as you're the right player in everyone's favorite new board game:


(H/T: Don Surber)


One economist for McCain

Writing in the Atlantic, Armchair Economist author Steven Landsburg describes how his examination of the economic policies of John McCain and Barack Obama turned him from an undecided voter into a McCain supporter.

A couple of passages that jumped out at me:

McCain is not Bush. This came as a surprise to me. I'd been assuming, in my ill-read, uneducated way, that McCain had been complicit in most of the great travesties of the Bush administration and the execrable Republican Senate. I've learned that's largely untrue. He voted (to my great surprise!) against the prescription drug entitlement, against the Farm Security Bill, against milk subsidies, against Amtrak subsidies, and against highway subsidies.

Obama, by contrast, is in many ways a continuation of Bush. Like Bush (only far more so), Obama is fine with tariffs and subsidies. Like Bush, he wants to send jackbooted thugs into every meatpacking plant in America to rid the American workplace of anyone who happens to have been born on the wrong side of an imaginary line. Like Bush, he wants a more progressive tax code. (It is one of the great myths of 21st century that the Bush tax cuts made the tax code less progressive; the opposite is true. If you are in the bottom 38% of taxpayers, you now pay zero income tax—and therefore have an incentive to support any spending bill that comes down the pike.) Like Bush, he wants more regulation, not less.


McCain gets health care right. The reason poor Americans get too little health care is that rich Americans get too much. The reason rich Americans get too much is that they're overinsured, and therefore run to the doctor for minor problems. The reason they're overinsured is that employer-provided health benefits aren't taxed, so employers overprovide them.

It has been clear for decades that the single most effective way to control health care costs is to eliminate the tax break for employer-provided health care. According to one careful study by my colleague Charles Phelps (admittedly several years old, but I'm not sure anything relevant has changed), this single reform could reduce health care costs by 40% with essentially no effect on health care outcomes.

Essential as this reform may be, I'd always assumed it was a political non-starter. I was therefore astonished to learn that it's the essence of McCain's health care reform. (At the same time, he would give each individual $2500, and each family $5000, to use for health care.)

I am astonished that I hadn't heard about this, and particularly astonished that Barack Obama hasn't thrust it in my face with a negative spin. Possibly he has and I just wasn't paying attention. In any case, this is just what the doctor ordered, and I am delighted that McCain has put it on the table.

Read the whole thing.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Okay, this is just rich.

Newsbusters highlights the case of Marketwatch columnist Jon Friedman--who got so caught up in mocking Sarah Palin's lack of knowledge about the Bush Doctrine during her interview with Charlie Gibson, he cited the wrong Bush Doctrine. (There are at least four, you might recall.)

Gloated Friedman:

Specifically, Palin seemed to have little idea about the Bush Doctrine, in which the U.S must spread democracy around the world to halt terrorist acts.

Lectured Gibson:

The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us.



Sunday, September 14, 2008

Palin and Adams-Jefferson

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Steven Hayward looks at an angle of the Sarah Palin nomination I don't recall having seen before. Noting that Palin received a less-than-enthusiastic reception not just from the ideologically opposed left, but also from a number of prominent commentators on the right (David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, and George Will being named), Hayward suggests that the real argument over Palin goes clear back to the Founding Fathers:

If the ghosts of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are watching the storm over Palin, they must surely be revisiting their famous dialogue about America's governing class. Adams's widely misunderstood argument that there should perhaps be an explicit recognition and provision for an aristocratic class finds its reprise in the snobbery that greeted Palin's arrival on the scene. It's not just that she didn't go to Harvard; she's never been on Meet the Press; she hasn't participated in Aspen Institute seminars or attended the World Economic Forum. She hasn't been brought into the slipstream of the establishment by which we unofficially certify our highest leaders.

The issue is not whether the establishment would let such a person as Palin cross the bar into the certified political class, but whether regular citizens of this republic have the skill and ability to control the levers of government without having first joined the certified political class. But this begs an even more troublesome question: If we implicitly think uncertified citizens are unfit for the highest offices, why do we trust those same citizens to select our highest officers through free elections?

In his reply to Adams, Jefferson expressed more confidence that political virtue and capacity for government were not the special province of a recognized aristocratic class, but that aristoi (natural aristocrats) could be found among citizens of all kinds: "It would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society." Jefferson, moreover, trusted ordinary citizens to recognize political virtue in their fellow citizens: "Leave to the citizens the free election and separation of the aristoi from the pseudo-aristoi, of the wheat from the chaff. In general they will elect the really good and wise."

Hayward subscribes to Jefferson's view, and marshalls the examples of Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman in support.

In character, she certainly seems to share certain essentials with those two luminaries. (I'd be much more comfortable, though, if she didn't seem to share John McCain's half-panicky tendency to answer any question, no matter how simple, with rambling/pre-emptive explanations.)


Friday, September 12, 2008

A pro-choice Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the best-known atheists of the 20th century. He was also one of the most rigorously, uncompromisingly consistent of the bunch--unflinchingly following his reasoning wherever it would go, no matter how uncomfortable the conclusions.

Something similar bubbles up in a recent Salon column by Camille Paglia. The column is largely about Paglia, an Obama supporter, coming to the defense of Sarah Palin against the excesses of the left (something remarkable in and of itself); however, near the end, Paglia pauses to delineate her position on abortion--a position striking not only for its stark honesty, but for its unflinching embrace of the inhumanity at the very core of the pro-choice viewpoint:

Let's take the issue of abortion rights, of which I am a firm supporter. As an atheist and libertarian, I believe that government must stay completely out of the sphere of personal choice. Every individual has an absolute right to control his or her body. (Hence I favor the legalization of drugs, though I do not take them.) Nevertheless, I have criticized the way that abortion became the obsessive idée fixe of the post-1960s women's movement -- leading to feminists' McCarthyite tactics in pitting Anita Hill with her flimsy charges against conservative Clarence Thomas (admittedly not the most qualified candidate possible) during his nomination hearings for the Supreme Court. Similarly, Bill Clinton's support for abortion rights gave him a free pass among leading feminists for his serial exploitation of women -- an abusive pattern that would scream misogyny to any neutral observer.

But the pro-life position, whether or not it is based on religious orthodoxy, is more ethically highly evolved than my own tenet of unconstrained access to abortion on demand. My argument (as in my first book, "Sexual Personae,") has always been that nature has a master plan pushing every species toward procreation and that it is our right and even obligation as rational human beings to defy nature's fascism. Nature herself is a mass murderer, making casual, cruel experiments and condemning 10,000 to die so that one more fit will live and thrive.

Hence I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue. The state in my view has no authority whatever to intervene in the biological processes of any woman's body, which nature has implanted there before birth and hence before that woman's entrance into society and citizenship.

Would that Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and their ilk were so honest.

If they were, the Human Life Amendment would be enshrined in the Constitution in a matter of months.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

GOP convention thoughts

I was off today, so I was able to watch the speeches live for a change. A few thoughts:

-Fox News should have been focusing more on the convention and less on itself. The talking heads of the moment went right over Mitt Romney's speech, not even paying attention to what he was saying. I had to switch over to MSNBC to actually hear Romney, and ended up staying there until the break before Giuliani came to the podium.

-While over there, I got to confirm that Olbermann is as big an idiot as ever. At the end of Mike Huckabee's speech, he immediately felt compelled to address two "factual" errors: Abraham Lincoln was not, in fact, the founder of the Republican Party, and Joe Biden did, in fact, manage to get more votes for President than Sarah Palin managed for Mayor.

Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

-Neither channel bothered to cover the governor of Hawaii's speech. Why?

-Rudy Giuliani was solid gold tonight. I especially liked this bit:

When Russia rolled over Georgia, John McCain knew exactly how to respond.

Having been to that part of the world many times and having developed a clear worldview over many years, John knew where he stood. Within hours, he established a very strong, informed position that let the world know exactly how he'll respond as President. At exactly the right time, John McCain said, "We're all Georgians."

Obama's first instinct was to create a moral equivalency - that "both sides" should "show restraint." The same moral equivalency that he has displayed in discussing the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel.

Later, after discussing it with his 300 foreign policy advisors, he changed his position and suggested that the "the UN Security Council," could find a solution. Apparently, none of his 300 advisors told him that Russia has a veto on any UN action. Finally Obama put out a statement that looked ...well, it looked a lot like John McCain's.

Here's some free advice: Sen. Obama, next time just call John McCain.

(In the actual address, Giuliani noted in addition that this evolution took Obama three days.)

-Palin's speech was good, but I really, really wish she hadn't brought up the Bridge to Nowhere. She not only supported the bridge as a gubernatorial candidate, but as governor, while she killed the project, she kept the money.

This is the one major chink in her reformer's armor, and by once again bringing it up herself, she's given the media free license to zero in on it to the exclusion of all else.

It was fun watching McCain indulge in some well-earned gloating over his VP pick, though.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Thought of the day

From Paul Farhi of the Washington Post:

Is it really a weather story at all unless the TV people can go outside in the storm and, while risking bodily injury, warn viewers that they shouldn't go outside in the storm and risk bodily injury?


Monday, September 01, 2008

What the...?!

It's a coincidence. I know it's a coincidence. Still...

From today's New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Residents here who buy a gun to keep legally at home, now that the Supreme Court has overturned the city’s ban on handguns, will find that a bureaucratic maze leads them to an unmarked door on Good Hope Road Southeast where Charles W. Sykes Jr. does business.

Mr. Sykes does not sell guns, but on Tuesday he is expected to become the only federally licensed dealer in Washington to serve as the transfer agent for the carefully controlled transactions that will put guns in the hands of district residents.