Friday, August 29, 2008

A Perfect Pick

The Democrat National Convention wasn’t perfect for Barack Obama, but it was good enough. Hillary Clinton finally conceded, Bill Clinton gave his A-speech (which means it was very good indeed) for Barack Obama, and Obama’s long-awaited convention speech was strong. (Although how is it possible for Obama not to mention Martin Luther King, Jr. even once, given that his address fell on the forty-fifth anniversary of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech?). The Democrat Convention was a success for Barack Obama—and the polls show it. (Gallup has Obama by eight, Rasmussen has Obama by four).

John McCain was to pick his running mate the day after the convention. To break Obama’s momentum, he needed a perfect pick, and a flawless announcement of that choice.

He got both. Sarah Palin is probably the best pick McCain could have made. She is brilliant—young, articulate, conservative—and female. Almost as importantly, McCain’s announcement of the pick was impeccable—he announced it twelve hours after Obama’s convention speech, pushing Obama’s excellent speech off the front page, ensuring that there will be little media coverage of it.

(Contrast McCain’s professional handling of the matter with Barack Obama’s announcement of his running mate. McCain kept his pick secret till perhaps two hours before he announced today, while Obama’s pick leaked at around midnight last Friday. McCain announced on a Friday morning, while Obama, incredibly, officially announced his selection at 3 a.m. on Friday night).

The Left has come up with one real criticism of Palin—that she is too inexperienced for the job. They are right. She served at mayor of Wasilla, Alaska for eight years, and governor of Alaska for two years after that. That is simply not enough experience to be president.

Is this lack of experience a disqualifying issue? No. Palin has roughly the same amount of experience as Barack Obama, and she is, unlike Obama, at the bottom of the ticket. In addition, her experience as governor was probably more productive than Obama’s in the Senate—she has not spent the last year and a half campaigning. Palin has had more executive experience than Obama, Biden, and McCain—combined.

The experience issue is mostly off limits to Democrats anyway, given Obama’s lack of it. Accusing Palin of having only as much experience as Obama would be an excellent example of irony, and probably not a winning issue.

Experience aside, Palin is literally a perfect choice. She is strongly pro-life (she refused to abort her fifth child, even after tests showed that the child would be born with Down Syndrome), pro-gun (how many other politicians have video of themselves firing an M-16?), pro-drilling, and anti-pork (she claims credit for shooting down corrupt Alaska Senator Ted Stevens’ infamous Bridge to Nowhere). In addition, she is good-looking and articulate, in stark contrast to Joe “Hair Plugs” Biden, who is seemingly always either shouting or getting ready to shout. (At least when he isn’t making embarrassing racial gaffes). Palin attract a great many conservatives, and will be a perfect counterpoint to Joe Biden.

In fact, most conservatives seem overjoyed at the news. Rush Limbaugh called the selection “a great pick,” while the conservative blogosphere (which was probably Palin’s most enthusiastic base of support) was ecstatic. A great many unenthusiastic conservatives, such as Mark Levin, seem to be coming back to the Republican party. Palin has brought the conservative movement into McCain’s corner.

And finally, Sarah Palin is a woman. A qualification for higher office? No. But will it help McCain a lot? Absolutely. Many former Hillary Clinton are angry that their candidate was never even vetted by Obama, and cannot support Barack Obama. Many more moderate female voters like the idea of voting for one of their sex. And Palin will blunt the idea of “making history” by voting for an African-American. The Republicans have their own “minority” on the ticket—history will be made either way. (Of course, women are not actually minorities—there are actually more women than men).

Another Palin benefit—the Republican party is patriarchal, and tends to choose the next person in line as its presidential nominee. And if McCain chooses not to run in 2012, the next person in line would be the most conservative candidate in the history of the Republican party.

Sarah Palin is attractive, unimpeachably conservative, and wonderfully articulate. McCain’s pick completely upstaged the fawning media coverage of Obama’s convention speech, and put Obama on the defensive. (Outside the experience criticism, there isn’t much not to like about Palin, and pointing out her lack of experience isn’t exactly a winning issue for Obama). McCain can now count on enthusiastic conservative support, as well as some additional support from women voters. Perfect days are rare in politics, but for McCain, today was perfect.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Abortion Question

At Rick Warren’s Saddleback forum, Barack Obama made a devastating gaffe on abortion. When asked when he believed life begins, he responded that the question was “above his pay grade” (honestly, he wants to be president of the United States—what pay grade is higher than that?), but that there was a “moral dimension” to the matter. (Really? So that’s what all those debates between the two sides were all about). Obama never did answer the question.

Most Americans will accept a standard pro-life or pro-abortion answer, but not knowing isn’t adequate, and Obama’s moral indifference probably harmed him. In addition, his opposition to a Born Alive Act, which protected fetuses born alive after botched abortions, raised a few eyebrows as well—leaving viable babies to die is perilously close to infanticide. Obama’s abortion answer hurt him. It was also the first time in years that a candidate’s statement on abortion made any news at all.

Republicans always give the same answer to the question of abortion: they believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong, that they are against it, but they respect the views of the other side. Democrats also have a standard answer: they believe that abortion is a bad thing (many, such as John Kerry, even go so far as to admit that it is wrong), but that it is a women’s right that they fully support. Ignoring any inconsistencies in these positions (if life begins at conception, then abortion is murder, which makes one wonder why the Republicans don’t fight harder to end the practice; and if Democrats believe that abortion is wrong, then why is it a women’s right?), the most remarkable thing about the subject is the reluctance with which it is discussed. Neither side much wants to broach the subject—it is rarely a major part of a stump speech. Neither candidate mentions the issue unless asked directly. Abortion is a sensitive issue—but then, many issues are. Why is the abortion debate such a third rail of politics?

For the Democrat party, the answer is easy—most people believe that abortion is wrong in at least some cases, and it is foolish to seem to support a moral evil. Abortion is not a key issue for most voters—but for those voters for whom it is, it is a very important matter—literally, a case of life and death. For Democrats, the less said about the topic, the better.

But why don’t Republicans talk about it? Even the most diehard feminists are probably not as passionate about abortion as evangelicals and conservative Catholics are, and “values voters” were a key demographic in the Reagan Revolution. For many evangelicals, abortion is the one issue keeping them in the Republican party—they like much of what Democrats say about social justice and preserving the environment. Anti-abortion voters are indispensable to the Republican party, and losing their support would be a disaster for the party.

Much of the GOP’s reluctance to discuss abortion is probably due to the fact that they realize that pro-lifers aren’t going anywhere—and since they have that bloc locked up, why antagonize the other side? That is true, up to a point—pro-lifers aren’t going anywhere—but misses an important point. Elections aren’t simply about political positions—they also depend on fundraising and grassroots efforts. And pro-lifers are excellent at both of these things. Witness the success of so many evangelical mega-churches. They require lots of organization and are very expensive, yet they flourish across the nation. If evangelicals devoted just a small fraction of the time and money they spend at church to helping the GOP, the party would benefit tremendously.

Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee both ran for president on the Republican ticket. Giuliani had name recognition, pundit support, and was a fairly conservative. One problem: he was pro-choice. Huckabee had no name recognition, no money, and had a fairly liberal record—but was very vocally pro-life. Giuliani won one delegate. Huckabee very nearly won the GOP nomination.

Granted, the voters here were presumably mostly pro-life Republicans. But independents could vote in most primaries, and Huckabee was competitive in national polls. Abortion is not the radioactive issue many Republicans think it is. Stark criticism of abortion by Republican candidates would probably help the party, not hurt it.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Whom Should McCain Pick?

According to reports, John McCain has decided who his running mate will be. The plan is for McCain to announce his choice Friday morning in order to distract from the close of the Democrat National Convention, and then go on a three day tour to introduce his pick to voters prior to the Republican National Convention. McCain is keeping his pick very secret—there are really no signs of whom McCain will pick. In Barack Obama’s case, there was at least a short list (Biden, Kaine, Bayh) to choose from. In McCain’s case, nothing—we are wholly in the dark.

The only indication of who the pick won’t be is the fact that McCain plans on attending a rallies with his choice on Saturday. Saturday, of course, is the Jewish Sabbath, and Joe Lieberman, an observant Jew, does not do any campaigning on Saturday. This fact makes Lieberman an unlikely pick, though given his pro-abortion views, it is doubtful that McCain would select him anyway.

So if Lieberman is out, who is left? Governors Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have often been suggested as possible choices, and both are reasonably safe if unexciting picks. Alaska governor Sarah Palin is a favorite of the conservative blogosphere, and Representatives Eric Cantor and (former representative) Rob Portman are also sometimes mentioned. So who should McCain pick?

For some completely inexplicable reason, Mitt Romney seems to be preferred by conservatives. (If they had liked him this much while he was actually running, maybe he would have gotten the nomination). Apparently, conservatives have forgotten his embarrassing flip-flop on abortion, his abrupt change of position on illegal immigration (like Rudy Giuliani, he was for amnesty before he was against it), and his squishiness on the issue of gun control. As David Freddoso of NRO pointed out, the McCain-Romney duel was a question of the lesser of two evils—and it’s not a good idea to choose both.

As for Tim Pawlenty, he is another candidate considered a safe pick. He is safe enough, but perhaps a bit too safe. He doesn’t seem to have done anything—controversial or not—as governor of Minnesota. John McCain is not a particularly exciting candidate, and he doesn’t want to pick a political celebrity like Barack Obama—but he must want his running mate to generate a little excitement.

I personally love Sarah Palin, and she has a bright future ahead of her in politics. But she like (Bobby Jindal) is simply too inexperienced—she has served as governor of Alaska for less than two years, and her experience before that is almost nonexistent. (She was major of a midsized—by Alaskan standards—city). She’s brilliant—but she isn’t ready.

Rob Portman is solidly conservative, and would probably attract some Ohio voters. But I doubt that he would attract too many—I live in Portman’s old district, and I am entirely unexcited by the prospect of a VP Portman. And none of the Ohioans I know seem very excited either. Selecting Portman wouldn’t hurt McCain, but he wouldn’t help him much either.

Another “do-no-harm” pick is Eric Cantor. Cantor is solidly conservative and solidly pro-life. Like Portman, he would do no harm, though he probably wouldn’t pick up many votes.

So, which of these candidates should McCain pick? (I’m operating under the assumption that McCain’s choice is one of the candidates I mentioned, although he could very well pick some one else—Lindsey Graham, maybe). Palin, whatever her other virtues, is simply not experienced enough. Romney is no conservative, and Joe Lieberman’s (who I have always admired) liberal views would alienate any conservatives starting to warm up to McCain. Pawlenty, Cantor, and Portman are all safe yet dull choices, and McCain should pick one of them. They won’t excite anyone, but they would serve as reliable and effective surrogates, and would let conservatives know that conservatism is an integral part of McCain’s campaign. It’s better to have a running mate who will do no harm than to have a loudmouth like Joe Biden as the other half of the ticket.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Republican Attack Machine

There are many reasons for the Barack Obama campaign’s disappointing performance. His abrupt shift towards the center has emphasized his lack of experience, and his inability to attract disaffected Hillary Clinton voters ensured that his party would remain divided. And Obama has had some rough moments—he badly lost the final Democratic debate and the first general election one, and his apparent messianic complex has probably alienated a few voters, as have Michelle Obama’s many gaffes. Obama’s awkwardness off-Teleprompter hasn’t helped either. But the biggest cause of Obama’s problems is the GOP attack machine. The Republican party can paint an enduring, negative picture of its opponents—and the Democrats can’t.

In 2004, John Kerry ran on his military experience—until the Swift Boat vets came along. In a matter of weeks, Kerry’s story of valiant Vietnam service was ruined—and became a negative. Kerry went from an American hero who served in Vietnam to a flip-flopping fraud. (I would like to say that the label of “flip-flopper” is another brilliant GOP attack—but really, with a candidate who announced he “voted for it [war funding bill] before I voted against it,” how hard can it be to paint him as some one who can’t make up his mind?).

The Swift Boaters were devastating to Kerry. But the reason they were so devastating was because they attacked Kerry’s key attribute (his military service)—and Kerry allowed them to. Had Kerry counterattacked right away, perhaps his campaign would have been more effective.

In contrast, the Democrats couldn’t pin any lasting label on George W. Bush. He made it through the campaign relatively unscathed—the only negative labels were of his own making. (And if people want to think a guy who coined the word “misunderestimate” is an idiot, they can go right ahead as far as I’m concerned).

The same thing is happening today. Barack Obama’s biggest selling point was his uniqueness; the sense that he represented a new era in history. He was a larger than life celebrity who transcended politics—until John McCain (or more precisely, Steve Schmitt, McCain’s campaign manager) came along. Now he’s just another politician.

In the ad “Celebrity”, the McCain campaign brilliantly skewered Obama’s star image by pairing him with such celeb airheads as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. (Hilton responded with a kinda sorta funny sham ad. It’s about what you would expect). In the background, devoted Obama acolytes chant Obama’s name in perfect, cult-like unison. It’s hard to take Obama’s messianic persona seriously after seeing the ad, and lines like “this is the moment the rise of the oceans began to slow” take on a whole new meaning.

Obama should have counterattacked—hard. He could have pointed out that being cool and popular isn’t altogether a bad thing, or that whole point of “Celebrity” was irrelevant (which it was). Instead, he played the race card, suggesting that Republicans would attack him because of his race (an obvious falsehood). Obama surrogates began suggesting that the ad was a coded racial message, featuring as it did two promiscuous white women and a black man.

Playing the race card was a mistake—the only people likely to be persuaded by it would vote Democrat anyway, and more importantly, it doesn’t answer the original charge. Obama allowed himself to be painted as an out of touch elitist without even putting up a fight.

The Left’s attacks on McCain have been embarrassing by comparison. Obama’s only major negative attack has been a rather pathetic attempt to paint McCain as an out-of-touch elitist who doesn’t even know how many houses he owns. (No one else seems to either, though the best answers are four and seven). But it’s hard to attack a former POW and war hero as an elitist, which is something that maybe Obama should have thought of.

McCain is still the War Hero, and Obama is, at least to many people, the Celebrity. Certainly, he is no longer considered the Messiah he was a year ago. Obama’s attacks are weak, and are doing nothing to stop McCain. McCain’s attacks are effective, and are killing Barack Obama.

Monday, August 25, 2008

China's Olympics

The Beijing Olympics are over, and were a huge success. China showed the world its new face; a face that is contemporary, prosperous, and fresh. Pre-Games worries were proved unfounded—the air quality was acceptable, there were no protests, the Games went without a hitch. The Bird’s Nest stadium was staggering, the Chinese natives appeared prosperous, and China proved that it is an economic and cultural force to be reckoned with.

Chinese athletes did quite well in the Games as well. They got more gold medals than any other nation (with, perhaps, a little help from the officials), and finished second in the overall medal count. Two non-Chinese athletes made the Beijing Olympics memorable as well—Michael Phelps won an unprecedented eight gold medals, and Usain Bolt set three world records. If the Olympic Games are any indication, and they are, China has arrived.

Americans agree—they tuned in to watch the Games in record numbers. NBC got incredible ratings for the Games, which were evidently the only TV event in town, as the other networks found themselves facing record low ratings. Michael Phelps’ quest for gold became one of the biggest sports stories of the decade (Phelps has more Facebook fans than anyone else now, including Barack Obama).

What with all the record ratings and flawless execution, does anyone remember that China is still a Communist dictatorship that that brutally represses free speech, tyrannizes Tibet, and is responsible for millions of deaths around the world? There was, you may remember, a great deal of debate about whether a neuve-Nazi regime should host the Olympics, and degree to which other nations should condemn it. But after Michael Phelps started making headlines, and the Redeem Team started winning games, the debate was settled—other nations should remain completely silent. Massacring innocents is one thing, but that sort of thing really shouldn’t interfere with sports.

Remember, China is perhaps the most brutal regime in the world. The government in control of the country is the same one that crushed the Tiananmen Square protesters. It is one of most aggressive opponents of free speech in the world—visiting reporters are kept on a short leash. Its environmental record is abominable—China’s pollution levels make Los Angles look pristine by comparison. The massacres in Darfur are rightly considered one of the most devastating humanitarian catastrophes in decades—and guess who’s behind those massacres. But one seems to care anymore. As long as China does a good job on the Olympics, they are regarded a government that is maybe a bit “wary of dissent,” rather than a regime on the order of Nazi Germany.

No one remembers today, but the 1932 Olympics were considered a success for Germany. (Jesse Owens’ accomplishments did, perhaps, embarrass the Nazis, but not all that much). The Games showed that Germany was an exciting, emerging power—one that had a few human rights issues, such as suppression of dissents and some anti-Semitism (remember, the Holocaust hadn’t started yet), but definitely a reasonably open and prosperous country. And same process is happening with China.

Personally, I didn’t watch any of Olympics, outside of a few minutes while channel surfing. I didn’t plan on avoiding them, or even make any real effort to. (And I confess that I find sports like water polo to be, quite frankly, boring). But I really couldn’t watch for long, knowing that the Olympics, for all their drama, amounted to a propaganda victory for China.

Not that there is anything wrong with watching the Olympics—after all, these have been some of the best Games in recent memory. But there is something wrong with watching the Olympics and forgetting what China really is—and I fear that many Americans did just that.

Ultimately, though, the bulk of the blame should rest on the international community. By giving the Olympic Games to China, the world implicitly endorsed China’s actions—the repression, the murders, the environmental rape, the massacres in Darfur. (Yes, there were some conditions attached, but China more or less ignored them). All countries are not equal—some are perfectly innocent (such as Great Britain, which will mercifully host the 2012 Games), such are evil, brutal empires. China is one of the latter.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Running Mate Fun

The question of who Barack Obama’s running mate will be has dominated political discussion for days. Obama was supposed to announce his pick Thursday—but didn’t, since he felt that John McCain’s “house counting” gaffe was such a winning issue that announcing his choice would only be a distraction. Then he was supposed to announce Friday—but didn’t, though he promised that he had made his choice. For a while, Evan Bayh was supposed to be the running mate, then Obama told both Bayh and Virginia governor Tim Kaine that they would not be picked. Now, a text message announcing the pick will, supposedly, come out in the morning. And since the other two frontrunners have been eliminated, it seems that the pick will be Joe Biden. (I certainly hope so, otherwise this post will be irrelevant). Whatever his choice, Obama will appear with his running mate at a rally in Springfield, Illinois tomorrow.

Obama has gotten some good publicity from all this—for the last few days, I’ve been checking Drudge constantly to see if he decided. I think that many others have too, and it’s been the big story this week. But Obama doesn’t seem to quite realize the consequences—he will now have to announce that his pick is (probably) Joe Biden—on Saturday morning. There are many people who pay little attention to the news on weekends—which means that some people won’t hear about the decision till Monday. And while Joe Biden, I suppose, shored up Obama’s foreign policy credentials, it’s hard to see how he was worth all the build-up. The situation is a bit like the Star Wars prequels—great marketing, but the results were disappointing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The McCain-Obama Housing Debate

Barack Obama and John McCain are really going at it. In a recent ad, Obama accuses McCain of not knowing exactly how many houses he has (a surprisingly complicated question—McCain owns four houses with his wife, and Cindy McCain owns three others by herself). Anyway, McCain has responded aggressively by reminding voters that Obama got his four million dollar house with the aid of convicted felon Tony Rezko. Obama surrogate Tim Kaine took a not-very-veiled shot at McCain’s age (McCain “can’t count that high”). Liberal journalists are having a field day with this issue. Meanwhile, McCain has released yet another “The One” ad, featuring more Ten Commandments clips and sarcastic voiceovers.

Now, I enjoy an aggressive campaign as much as anyone, and I’m not squeamish about campaign tactics. I though that the “Swift Boat” attacks on John Kerry in 2004 were perfectly legitimate, as was McCain’s “Celebrity” ad. I think that (almost) all’s fair in politics—Bush’s attempt to paint Kerry as a windsurfing elitist was perfectly acceptable. But even so, the new house flap is wholly stupid. The number of homes a candidate lives in is totally irrelevant.

If Obama used this attack as only a passing jab, then perhaps it could be overlooked. But he is using it as the center of his offensive against McCain. This attack is too innocuous to really be considered dirty politics—but Obama can and should do better.

John McCain is old, and rich. It’s not unheard of for millionaires to own several houses. Obama constantly reminds voters he owns only one house—but that house happens to be a mansion worth four million dollars, and he only purchased it with the help of a convicted felon.

This whole story should be as simple as that, but it isn’t. Obama and McCain have released their respective ads, taken their verbal shots and each other, and gave their supporters their talking points. But meanwhile, both candidates seem to have forgotten that their actually are important issues in this election, issues that are, perhaps, more important than the minutiae of McCain’s real estate dealings.

The fault of this situation lies with both candidates, but Barack Obama, perhaps, shoulders most of the blame. Debates and town hall meetings are among the few places where politicians can make their views known, while holding them up to criticism and scrutiny. (TV or radio rarely provides such opportunities—politicians rarely venture into unfriendly arenas).

Obama, however, has refusing to participate in any debates with McCain—or even to appear on the same stage with him—outside of the three traditional fall debates. Obama knows his debating weakness, and seeks to minimize it. (Although the wisdom of dodging McCain’s debate invitations is doubtful. It seems likely that if the Obama campaign sees him as a poor debater, it could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the more Obama dodges McCain, the more scrutiny his answers will receive when he finally must debate).

Obama lack of desire to engage in substantive debates, while annoying, is hardly rare, or the worst sin a politician can commit. Neither are irrelevant attack ads. But such attacks are still harmful—elections are supposed to be about competing ideas. Both McCain and Obama agree with that premise, and promised to conduct their campaigns respectfully and maturely. But both have wasted little time breaking that their promise—and that is sad. The American people deserve better. Or rather, since the American people seem to enjoy such insubstantive attacks, American democracy deserves better.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Left's Alternate Universe

The political divisions in America are pretty even. About half of the country votes Democrat, the other half Republican. Neither party usually runs away with the vote—occasionally, as in 1972 or 1984, one candidate wins the election in a landslide, but that is rare. Most of the time, the vote is split nearly fifty-fifty, and the outcome of the race is in doubt until the very end. (In 2000, Gore won the popular vote by a fraction of a point; in 2004, Bush won by three points, and carried fifty-one percent of the vote).

Both sides have some winning issues. Republicans favor lower taxes, back a strong approach to fighting crime, and advocate a strong foreign policy. Democrats support a strong welfare state, push for a more compassionate community, and work for peace. All of these are winning issues—ideological inconsistencies notwithstanding, I would estimate that between sixty and seventy percent of the nation supports all these ideas. Neither party really has a significant edge here.

But the GOP has one massive advantage: the Democrat party simply refuses to admit defeat. That sort of relentless, Vince Lombardi attitude is considered a positive, but it isn’t in this case. The Democrat party is literally incapable of ever admitting that it actually lost an election.

In 2000, George W. Bush won. But Democrats seem to live in an alternate universe where the election was actually stolen because a) there were a number of black Florida voters who were not permitted to vote because of felonies committed, b) the butterfly ballot was really confusing, c) Katherine Harris wouldn’t count all the votes, d) the Republican appointed Supreme Court justices just voted for the Republican, e) the Republican Supreme Court justices had conflicts of interest that should have disqualified them from hearing the case, and f) Diebold rigged the voting machines anyway.

You would think that, if the election was that flawed, somebody not associated with the far left would have noticed, and maybe even done something about it. But no, the “dumb” George Bush managed to brazenly steal an election without anybody really caring.

In 2004, Bush defeated the hapless John Kerry by three points. Though he didn’t really “defeat” him, he cheated again, although the actual method used is a matter of come controversy in Democrat circles. Some believe that the Republican government in Ohio suppressed the Democrat vote, and that Diebold stole the election again. (Democrats have an almost supernatural awe of Diebold—they believe there is nothing that that corporation can’t do). Others believe that Bush won by employing the dirty, nigh-McCarthyesque political trick by “swiftboating” Kerry by casting doubt on his military service. But whatever the method used, the Republicans didn’t really win the 2004 elections—the Democrats won the moral victory, while the Republicans won only by virtue of their legendary unscrupulousness.

In 2006, the Democrats actually won. However, even though the outcome was never really in doubt, Nancy Pelosi provided an out—she decided in advance that if the Democrat didn’t win, it would be due to rigged voting machines.

Democrats are already preparing their excuses this time around, which can’t be a good sign for Barack Obama. McCain clearly did better in Rick Warren’s forum—he was strong, on-message, and decisive, while Obama came across as weak and vacillating. But did McCain really win? Nope, because maybe he wasn’t completely isolated, and could have heard Warren’s question beforehand. There isn’t any evidence to support this, but then, there’s nothing to say it couldn’t have happened.

Of course, the most commonly used justification will be the race card—that the only reason not to vote for Obama is racism. If Obama loses, it will not be because he is an inexperienced politician with some dubious associations and unpopular positions; it will be because John McCain subtly played the race card.

The Republican party will lose elections, and make terrible strategic mistakes. But it will learn from then (albeit slowly). The Democrat party will lose elections and make terrible mistakes as well. But as long they refuse to face reality, they will simply continue to make the same mistakes over and over. And since Democrats don’t seem to have any intention of accepting defeat, no matter how severe, Republicans should be very encouraged for their party’s success in the future.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Picking a Pro-Choice Running Mate

Apparently, the McCain campaign is leaving open the possibility of a pro-abortion running mate, such as Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge. Conservatives hate the idea—Rush Limbaugh spent considerable time denouncing the notion, and the National Review crowd hates it as well. If McCain picks a pro-choice running mate, he can count on losing—at least for a little while—a great deal of conservative support.

On the other hand, picking someone like Lieberman or Ridge would also have some electoral advantages. Picking Lieberman would silence any accusations that McCain represents “Bush’s third term,” and would probably attract some moderate and conservative Democrat voters. In addition, such a move would (rightly) be seen as a revolutionary and unprecedented act of bipartisanship.

In addition, McCain still considers himself a maverick, and picking a man like Lieberman or Ridge would confirm his maverick status. And he values loyalty as well (and evidently gets it—Lindsey Graham and Lieberman follow him everywhere), and Lieberman is one of his closest friends, and one who endorsed him at the darkest hour of McCain’s campaign (in mid-December, when Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee were battling for the GOP nomination, with McCain far behind). That must count for something.

And as for the conservative outrage, many McCain insiders don’t think it will be a problem—and they are probably right, at least up to a point. Pro-lifers will be outraged, but where will they go? A third party vote is rightly considered wasted, and Barack Obama supports, (in very limited cases, but still) infanticide. Pro-lifers don’t have anywhere else to go.

McCain’s might not lose many voters (or only register a minor net loss—he might lose some pro-lifers, but gain some pro-abortion voters) by naming a pro-choice candidate, but doing so would still be disastrous. First, there is the future of the country to consider—if McCain is truly pro-life, it would be incredibly irresponsible to leave the nominations of least two, and possibly three, Supreme Court justices in the hands of a man who supports partial-birth abortion (at least in Lieberman’s case). Even his pro-abortion candidate promised to nominate only constructionist justices, and kept his promise, there is still the matter of the federal courts to consider. In four years, it would be possible for a Ridge or a Liebermann to nominate a great many pro-abortion judges.

There would probably be relatively few voters who would simply abandon McCain because of his VP pick, but choosing a pro-choice running mate could still cost him the election. Elections aren’t won only on ideology—grassroots play a vital role, and an organized and efficient grassroots movement can win or lose an election. And it’s hard to imagine the conservative grassroots getting too excited about a potential Vice President Lieberman. (For myself, I would probably still vote for McCain—but unenthusiastically, and I would certainly not bother donating or campaigning for him).

Finally, choosing a pro-abortion running mate would splinter the Republican party. Yes, pro-lifers might vote for McCain this time, but they would almost certainly feel betrayed by their party, and might well look elsewhere in future elections. And given that the Republican party usually chooses the man next in line as its presidential candidate, picking someone who is pro-choice would mean that there would be a strong chance that the Republican nominee in 2012 would be pro-abortion.

On the bright side, all of this might not really matter. McCain has somehow managed to seize the momentum in the race, and a high-risk, high-reward running mate probably isn’t a very prudent idea. In addition, McCain may feel as though he pushed his luck enough with conservatives—he has shifted fairly far right since getting the nomination, and conservatives have warmed up to him. Picking a candidate who supports abortion would throw away all that progress.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The National Debt Problem

Everyone knows America faces difficult problems. The war on terror is continues to be an issue, as the Taliban stages a resurgence in Afghanistan. America still has an insupportably high crime rate, and out incarceration rate is one the highest in the world. Drugs and poverty still rule in inner cities. The economic outlook remains rocky, energy prices are high. The national debt is 9.6 trillion dollars.

There aren’t easy answers to any of those problems, but (to paraphrase Reagan), there are simple ones. A tough foreign policy will win the war on terror, and tough policing and sentencing should lower the crime rate. Nuclear power and increased drilling would reduce energy prices, and libertarian economic policies would result in a more robust economy.

Only one of those problems has no simple solution. Most Americans worry, at least a little bit, about the national debt. All conservatives do. But they don’t worry nearly enough. The national debt is very nearly completely out of control. If something is not done, and soon, it will be impossible for America to ever pay off its debt. Not simply very difficult, but literally impossible.

Right now, the national debt is approximately $9,612,925,926,818.94, although given that it increases by 1.86 billion per day, it has probably risen a few hundred thousand dollars while you read this. Paying interest on the national debt is one of the largest federal expenditures, at over four hundred billion dollars per year.

The entire federal budget in 2008 (which was the highest ever) was 3.1 trillion dollars, which is less than a third of the national debt. Even if the federal budget doubled, and the extra money used to pay off the national debt, it would still take three whole years to pay off the debt. (And this scenario, of course, could never happen). If the budget was increased by one trillion dollars every year, (which is also nigh impossible), it would still take a decade to pay off.

So even with incredibly drastic debt reduction measures, the national debt would be nearly impossible to pay. But Washington (both Democrats and Republicans) isn’t even considering less extreme measures to cut the national debt. The federal budget and debt has skyrocketed in the past quarter century—the national debt is ten times larger than it was in 1980. During George W. Bush’s term, the debt has doubled. The national debt is a crushing problem—and one that our leaders are simply making worse.

Even if there was some easy way to pay off the federal debt, the United States faces an estimated $57.3 trillion dollars in federal liabilities to cover the lifetime benefits of everyone eligible for Medicare, Social Security and other government programs. Fifty-seven trillion. And that is in addition to regular government expenditures, such as the military, welfare, and interest on the national debt. America’s fiscal situation is frightening, and there is no easy answer.

Sadly, neither presidential candidate will do much to solve the national debt problem. Barack Obama, of course, is basically a quasi-socialist, tax-and-spend liberal. Under his watch, the national debt would continue to skyrocket. (Although, on the other hand, Bill Clinton lowered the national debt, which neither Reagan nor either of the Bushes could do).

John McCain would be better—but really, not by much. He would probably keep the national debt in control (at least if he keeps his promise to control spending), but he wouldn’t do much to pay it off, or address the crushing weight of future federal liabilities. McCain would be on this issue than Bush, definitely better than Obama—but not nearly good enough.

I don’t know what the solution for this problem is (I imagine that a solution would involve cutting spending and benefits, and raising taxes), but it will be a difficult one, and one that will have to be made soon. The national debt is perhaps the most important issue facing America today, and conservatives should demand that Republicans address it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Michael Savage of the Fifties

Yep, more Coulter bashing, except this time I criticize Joe McCarthy and Michael Savage too. Seriously, it's hard to find old posts that are in any way relevant. Anyway, this is the last of the recycled posts.

Ann Coulter has just published a column praised Joe McCarthy. Coulter has now written two consecutive column heaping praise on McCarthy. She has said that McCarthy deserved monuments in every city, written that: "everything you think you know about McCarthy is a hegemonic lie. Liberals denounced McCarthy because they were afraid of getting caught, so they fought back like animals to hide their own collaboration with a regime as evil as the Nazis." Some conservatives have followed her lead in this matter.



Would it kill conservatives not to adulate this idiot? (McCarthy, not Coulter, though it applies either way). McCarthy was a nut. Communist infiltration was a problem-- but Joe McCarthy was not the ideal man to fight it.


An analogy for our time would be Michael Savage. Savage has some good ideas-- he is absolutely right about illegal immigration. But like McCarthy, he a) overstates the problem, and b) offers up insane smears and conspiracy theories. There is a difference between saying "illegal immigration is a problem, and saying "THESE ACLU PERVERTS ARE UNDERMINING AMERICA BY LETTING IN ILLEGALS AND TURNING OUR YOUNG MEN INTO HOMOSEXUALS!!!", which is basically Savage's typical rant. (When not ranting, Savage offers his inane moral philosophies or offers boring anecdotes about his life). Savage is a poor spokesman for conservatism-- and so was McCarthy.


Disagree? Remember that Joe McCarthy once assaulted a journalist (seriously), which should cast serious doubts on his judgement. He accused George Marshall of treason. While many of the people he outed were actually Communists, or Communist sympathizers, it is equally indisputable that many were not.


The case of Irving Peress is an example of McCarthy's incompetence and stupidity. Peress, who may have been a Communist sympathizer, was a drafted dentist who rose to the rank of major through the Doctor Draft Law. Peress was to be discharged, but McCarthy subpoenaed him anyway. General Ralph W. Zwicker immediately discharged Peress, so McCarthy subpoenaed him as well. McCarthy's vicious insults of a war hero didn't go over well.


The famous Army-McCarthy hearings finally sunk McCarthy. They were televised, and McCarthy's appeal apparently didn't apply to television. (Neither, incidentally, did Savage's). His public support plummeted, and he was censured by the Senate, protesting that it was all a Communist conspiracy all the way.


Ann Coulter and her ilk agree with this assessment. They believe that McCarthy's unpopularity all stemmed from leftist opposition of anti-Communists. That is one possibility. The other is that opposition to McCarthy was due to the fact that while he pursued worthy goals, he was an unpleasant loon.


If you believe that Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Marshall, Whittaker Chambers (who actually did bring down Communists), and Robert Taft were all amazingly and inexplicably misguided regarding McCarthy, then Coulter's premise makes sense. You have to ignore the fact that McCarthy was prone to making wild accusations, spent a ridiculous amount of time chasing a "pink dentist", and never actually caught an actual Communist infiltrator, I suppose that this hypothesis just barely works. I prefer reality.


Joe McCarthy had the right goals, but was hopelessly incompetent as to achieving them. Whittakers once observed that McCarthy was "a slugger and a rabble-rouser" who "simply knows that somebody threw a tomato and the general direction from which it came." This succinct passage perfectly sums up the McCarthy era.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reading Coulter Out

This post is fairly recent (March), but Ann Coulter has been pretty annoying over the past few months.


In 1957, Whittaker Chambers published a scathing review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Many people believe that the review read Rand out of the conservative movement.


I have not read Atlas Shrugged (though I do intend to do so), so I cannot declare Chambers right or wrong to write Rand out of mainstream conservatism. However, someone really should do a Chambers on Ann Coulter. She may have been useful at one time, but she has clearly jumped the shark. She is doing more damage to the conservative movement than Ayn Rand could ever have, even in Whittaker Chambers’ worst nightmares.

I confess that I enjoyed Slander, which was a valuable exposé of the leftwing media. Treason was interesting—she presented some interesting facts, and did some good work on the Whittaker Chambers case. Unfortunately, she bought into the bewildering conservative myth that Joe McCarthy was something other than an eccentric, self-destructive idiot. (If you disagree, consider how many Communists he actually found. I believe that the answer is: one).


Furthermore, Coulter, in her choice of title, falls prey to the common fallacy that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence. For example, since we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists. (And if it sounds like that is something that William F. Buckley would have written, it is because it is indeed something Buckley wrote). Coulter thinks that if liberal policies produce bad results, then one can conclude that those results were intentional, hence the “treason” accusations. Hopefully, you can see the glaring flaws in this argument.

Still, Treason had some points of merit, and so was not altogether worthless. Godless, although it contained an absurd series of chapters that attacked the well-established theory of evolution, was extremely funny. But recently, Coulter has transformed herself into a conservative version of Howard Stern.


She has had her share of controversial actions over the years. She was fired from National Review after her rather silly “invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity” comment, and has engaged in a one-way feud with the magazine ever since. She often refers to Muslims as “ragheads,” called John Edwards a “faggot,” (seemingly only to cause controversy), and published a bizarre book called "If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans" that is simply a collection of sophomoric insults.

Any of those may be forgiven individually, but collectively, they start to make Ann Coulter seem a little deranged. And her hysterical attacks on John McCain seem to support that conclusion

I can sympathize with those conservatives who would not vote for McCain. Most of these people make reasonable, irrefutable criticisms of the Arizona Senator. Coulter’s attacks, however, are ridiculous. It is as if she cannot calm down and make an unruffled, logical attack on someone. Instead, she has to scatter dozens of crazy charges. (I would say McCarthyite charges, but Coulter would probably take it as a compliment).


Coulter has claimed that she would vote for Hillary before she would vote for McCain. She has further declared that Hillary is the most conservative candidate in the race. It is literally impossible to reply to that—it is like arguing with one who believes that 9/11 is an inside job. She is impervious to logic.


Coulter seems addicted to shocking people. Her books have displayed a steady decline in judgment—she has gone from her excellent Slander, to her absurdly titled Treason, to her humorous but empty Godless, to her latest screed, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans. Her performances during the course of the 2008 campaign seem designed only to scandalize.


Doug Adams speculates that Coulter shocks in order to sell books and get lucrative speaking engagements. Certainly, her antics serve to drive sales, and her speaking engagements are always sold out. I cannot judge Coulter’s motivations, and perhaps she simply enjoys the outraged reaction she gets from the left. But it is clear that to Ann Coulter, the good of conservatism now takes second place.


I don’t have anywhere near the influence necessary to read Coulter out of the conservative movement. But somebody should. She is becoming an embarrassment.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Pointless Global Warming Debate

Gore hasn't hosted a Live Earth concert for a while, but otherwise, I think this post is still pretty relevant.

Al Gore hosted his giant Live Earth concert over the weekend. The goal of his mega-concert was to raise awareness of global warming (because there may be four people left who don't know about it), and inspire the world to do something about it. Sadly for Gore, he was met with a cool reception.

The entire global warming debate is almost pointless, however. Even if the argument that humans are indeed the principal cause of global warming is granted, then it is far too late to do anything about it. All of Al Gore's goals for limiting human consumption of fossil fuels are insignificant when compared to the sheer amount of carbon dioxide we use for our most basic needs.


A major part of Gore's plan for the prevention of global warming is limiting the amount of electricity that we use. He asks Americans to do little things like using florescent light bulbs, turning down the thermostat, and cleaning dirty air conditioning filters. All of these things are quite doable, but also quite useless. If Americans, simply by performing these little tasks, managed to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by twenty-five percent (a doubtful scenario, but just barely possible), then we have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by just two percent. If we reduce our transportation emissions by a quarter, then we would reduce emissions by another two percent. If we completely eliminated all of our industrial greenhouse gases, we would lower the world carbon dioxide levels by three percent.


These goals represent what only the most optimistic of environmentalists would ever anticipate. The stark reality is that carbon dioxide emissions will almost certainly rise over the next decade.


The Kyoto Protocol is thought by many environmentalists to be a much needed measure to slow global warming. Since the United States hasn't ratified it, this line of thinking goes, the cause of preventing global warming has hit a wall. Simply by signing this treaty, the United States could take an effective and much needed step against climate change.


These folks ignore the inconvenient truth that such a measure would devastate the economy. They also disregard the fact that few of the nations that have signed are actually bothering to abide by any the treaties provisions.

Even worse news for those who favor the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is the fact that the provisions written out in it are completely powerless to slow climate change, even if all the nations of the world signed it and honored all of the provisions in it. Jerry Mahlman of the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimates that controlling the earth's carbon dioxide emissions would "take forty successful Kyotos". Considering that the various countries of the world can't handle even one Kyoto, it is literally impossible to see it agreeing to slash its emissions by forty times the amount agreed to in the Kyoto Protocol.


If it is impossible to curb greenhouse gas emissions what is the proper response to global warming? It might seem frightening to do nothing while our entire climate drastically changes (assuming the global warming folks are right) for the worse. (Remarkably, the "experts" seem to agree that nothing good will come out of global warming). However, reducing carbon dioxide in any meaningful amount is an almost impossible goal, especially with Al Gore around with his mega-mansion and his private jets.


If global warming is happening, the best thing for humanity would be to try to simply adjust to it, and not try to push against it. If global warming occurs, there will be definite drawbacks for us. But there will also be benefits. For example, Siberia will probably be a more hospitable. The amount of arable land in the world will probably increase. Humanity can't stop global warming. It can adapt to it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bill Buckley's Presidential Pick

This post hasn't dated really well, since I think most conservatives have either decided to accept McCain or else hate him so much that they could never bring themselves to vote for him, but it is worth remembering what Bill Buckley thought about him.

Most conservative commenters are united in their belief that John McCain is not an acceptable conservative. It is hard to disagree with the assertion that McCain is not a conservative—his positions on amnesty for illegal aliens, campaign finance “reform”, and embryonic stem cell research pretty much disqualify him from calling himself a conservative.



The question over whether he is an acceptable candidate for conservatives, however, is unclear. Most of those conservatives who now vehemently oppose McCain supported Mitt Romney, which sets a pretty low bar. Rommey is as far left as McCain, but without the experience and with better pandering skills. If Mitt Romney is an acceptable conservative, it is hard to imagine that John McCain is completely intolerable.


Rush Limbaugh is probably John McCain’s biggest nemesis, and it’s not hard to see why. He is probably the most influential conservative alive today, and his words set a heavy weight of precedent. His opposition to McCain is significant, because of his respected place in the conservative movement. Of all the political thinkers and pundits of the last half century, he has probably had the second greatest amount of influence on conservative thought.


The man with the largest amount of influence, of course, was William F. Buckley, who tragically passed away a few days ago. He made the conservative movement into a political force. He was, in large part, responsible for the nomination of Barry Goldwater and the election of Ronald Reagan. It is no exaggeration to say that he was the guiding force behind Reagan conservatism.



With that in mind, it is informative to see which of the many Republican candidates he donated money to, as it is reasonable to assume that he believed that candidate would carry on the conservative principles he did so much to establish. He contributed money to only one candidate—John McCain.



UPDATE: I found this article by Buckley about McCain. It is not about McCain's presidential hopes, but Buckley obviously likes McCain a great deal.

Some years ago, after hearing what John McCain withstood in North Vietnam,
I pledged never to write a negative word about him, and over the years it has
required very few beads of charity to stand by him.

As I look at the presidential race more closely, I am starting to feel better about a McCain candidacy. I like both McCain and Mike Huckabee more than most Republican pundits did (which is still not very much), and liked Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani a great deal less than most conservatives did. John McCain was the best (with the exception of Fred Thompson) of a poor bunch this year, and he is probably better than most of the Republican parties recent nominees. (He is at least as conservative as George W. Bush, and is probably better than Bob Dole or George H. W. Bush). Conservatives are not getting a really good candidate in 2008--but I don't think they are getting a really bad one either.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Paradox of Christopher Hitchens

This doesn't really have anything to do about politics, but I liked it.

Christopher Hitchens has published a new book, called "god is Not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything", detailing the many iniquities of religion that has rocketed up of the bestseller lists. The main premise of his book is that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, have been responsible for most of the evil in the world. Hitchens is apparently a quite nice guy, a perfect person to have a drink or ten with. (If you can't drink all ten, Hitchens will pick up the slack. By his own admission, he is pretty fond of alchohol). Hitchens has a few screws loose, and frequently makes claims that are ridiculous, such as his belief that Mother Teresa was actually evil (she opposes abortion) and that Stalin's atheist dictatorship (bear in mind that it was illegal to own a Bible in the Soviet Union) was actually a theocracy (yes, a theocracy). Instead of making him look like a balanced, logical man of letters, these statements make him look like the atheist version of Westboro Baptist Church.




Even more importantly, though, his basic premise that religion is morally bad is impossible. If there is no God, then there no objective good or evil. Any attempt to make a distinction, even the most basic, is simply a matter of opinion. It is like saying red is a better color than blue. Without an objective judge, there cannot be any sort of moral standard.



Taking a look at some of Hitchens's writings, it is obvious that he does make use of an objective moral standard. In this rather odd piece about Mother Teresa, Hitchens writes: "She [Mother Teresa] was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family ...". Notice the use of the word "worst". Who is Hitchens to say that the Duvalier clan is immoral? As compared to what? Hitchens's own personal standard of morality? If so, why his? Wouldn't the Duvalier's moral standards count too? Without the aforementioned objective moral judge, every act is equally good, and equally evil. All morality is a matter of personal opinion.



The Duvaliers were responsible for the executions of any individual who disagreed with them. Ask Hitchens, and he would say that these acts are murder. Ask Francois Duvalier, and he might say it is Darwinism, that he is fighting to survive in a tough world. Who is right? Who decides?



Although the above example is valid in theory, in practice it might lack punch, since the Duvaliers have few supporters and social Darwinism is going through a down period right now. However, there is another illustration of this point that my resonate with the average person a little more. Hitchens received a good deal of publicity after his comments following the death of the Reverend Jerry Falwell, during the course of he responded to a question that asked whether he believed Falwell would go to heaven (if, of course, there is such a place). Hitchens responded that he wished that there was a Hell, so that Falwell could go there.



Now, here are two intellectual figures who are diametrically opposed on nearly every moral issue. Falwell is against abortion, for religion, and against gay marriage. Hitchens is for abortion, against religion, and for gay marriage. Both of these men are intelligent (yes, Hitchens is a eccentric, but he is capable of brilliant insights on nonreligious issues. No one defends the war in Iraq better, and his writing style is first-rate). But they are absolutely opposed on most moral issues. Who's standard is right? Can morality be proved from logic alone? No, because all proofs depend in some way on certain fundamental postulates (a postulate, by the way, is a statements assumed to be true without proof). The only way for there to be any postulate regarding morality is for there to be a God, who's opinion would by definition by infallible. Without this attribute, there cannot be any sort of moral judgement of the kind Christopher Hitchens makes use of.



While this fact doesn't prove there is indeed a God (after all, maybe all morals are subjective), it does at least prove that Christopher Hitchens's central thesis is grounded in illogic.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Blogging Note

Like Obama, I'm going on vacation this week. Instead of writing a whole week's worth of stuff in advance, or just leaving this blog idle for a week, I'm going to try recycling old stuff, using Blogger's scheduled posts feature.

Also, this means that I won't be reading comments daily, so keep that in mind when you post.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Obama Effect

The big story of the past few weeks has been the fact that Barack Obama is not running away with the presidential race. In a political climate in which the GOP is very unpopular (generic congressional ballot polls indicate that Democrats lead Republicans by double digit margins), most pundits think that Obama should have a huge lead over McCain. Instead, the race is tight—the RealClearPolitics poll average puts Obama up by only 3.6 points. This turn of events has Republicans feeling a bit of hope, while Democrats wonder what is wrong with the Obama campaign.

Still, Obama is considered the favorite—InTrade gives him a 60-40 edge over John McCain. He has kept his lead in the polls, however narrow (since May, only poll has put McCain on top), he leads in the RCP electoral count 238-163 (without counting toss up states), and his favorable ratings hover a few points above those of McCain. Liberals worry about Obama’s poll numbers, but console themselves with the thought that if the election were held today, the polls indicate Obama would win, and win by a reasonably comfortable margin.

But the polls always indicate the Obama will win. The Dinkins Effect is one of the most notorious phenomenons in politics—black candidates almost always do much better in the polls than in the actual election. And Obama will almost certainly be affected by this trend.

The Dinkins Effect has already had a significant effect on the Democrat primaries. After the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton was doomed. She had finished third in Iowa and trailed Obama by massive margins (Rasmussen had her down by seven) in New Hampshire. If she lost two consecutive contests, she was finished—and given Obama’s impressive poll lead, her chances of pulling out a victory were next to none. Some pundits speculated that if she could keep her margin of defeat to a few points, she would have done well.

Clinton won New Hampshire by three points.

Rasmussen is an accurate pollster, and virtually every other polling organization gave Obama a similar lead. The fact that he lost was a staggering and wholly unforeseen defeat. But it was not the last such defeat.

After Super Tuesday (which Obama did win decisively, though he did manage to turn a one point Rasmussen lead in California into a nine point loss) and the resulting Obama tsunami (Obama won twelve straight primaries), the next important states were Ohio and Texas. Winning either state would give Obama the nomination. Rasmussen gave Clinton a six point lead in Ohio, and put Obama up by one in Texas. Clinton trounced Obama by ten in Ohio, and won Texas by four. Once again, Obama had underperformed expectations.

Still, Obama could seal the nomination by winning Pennsylvania. Rasmussen (why do I always use Rasmussen? Because heir polls are considered very accurate, and they have an easily searchable website) had Clinton up by five, which put Obama in striking distance. But Hillary blew him out by ten points.

New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas, California, Pennsylvania—all are important states. And Obama underperformed in all of them—and his dismal performances all fell either out of or at the outer reaches of the margin of error.

Of course, polling primaries (particularly a primaries where the candidates have so much in common; about the only that separated Obama and Hillary is race and gender) is different from polling a general election. But still, the disparity between Obama’s polling results and election results can’t be good news for the Obama campaign. If we assume that the RCP average of state polls gives Obama three points per state more than he will actually get, his electoral count plummets from the 317 electoral votes to 255.

Perhaps Obama’s general election performance will be entirely different from his results in the primaries, and maybe something will happen between now and November which will make all the current polls wholly obsolete. But if the November political landscape resembles the present one in the least, Democrats should not be overconfident in November. If fact, perhaps they should not be very confident at all.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The New Republicans

The conservative movement is separated into two competing viewpoints. There are those conservatives who believe that the Republican party should embrace the ideas of the Reagan Revolution by calling for low taxes, a balanced budget, and traditional values. These people tend to be populist conservative leaders—pundits like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, or bloggers such as Michelle Malkin or Ace of Spades. This line of thought dominates the grassroots of the GOP.

Then there are those who think that the Reagan mold is outdated, and that the GOP needs to move in a new direction. This direction typically involves abandoning social conservatives, raising taxes, implementing some form of universal heathcare, and taking action against climate change. At times, this wing of conservatism attempts to make the Republican party more attractive to a larger base of voters; at others, it attempts to achieve liberal goals though conservative methods. This line of the thought is much less organized and dogmatical than the more established traditional wing of conservatism.

Backers of this view are rarely well-known commentators, but they do seem to occupy positions of the power in the GOP. (The GOP’s positions on immigration and global warming, for example, don’t mesh very well with its conservative base). While it’s not certain that the GOP leadership really follows any coherent philosophy, it has certainly turned its back on Reaganism and embraced a more populist (at least from a liberal point of view) attitude. Other proponents of remaking conservatism involve the neocons at the Weekly Standard (not all, but some such as David Frum), and paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan.

Reagan conservatives accuse the new conservatives “watering down” conservatism, while the new conservatives believe that the traditionalists are overstaying their welcome—the issues they support may have been relevant in the eighties, but their day is past. (I hesitate to call the new breed of conservatives “neoconservatives,” since the neoconservatives really joined the Right in the seventies due Left’s passivism in the face of the threat of the Soviet Union, and not necessarily to remake the movement. In any case, the term has been so hijacked by liberals to mean simply a Bad Person that it is virtually meaningless anyway).

Both sides are convinced that their position in indisputably the right one, and don’t want to hear anything to the contrary. Many traditional conservatives have vowed never to support the somewhat moderate John McCain, while many new conservatives (who seemed to congregate around Rudy Giuliani) sneer at the naivety of their conservative rivals.

So who is correct? Both are, at least in part. The conservative movement really is stuck in the past, and has not adapted to new realities. The conservative movement’s adulation of Ronald Reagan is counterproductive—Reagan was a great President, but he wasn’t flawless, and anyhow served twenty years ago. It’s time to move on—conservatives should respect Reagan, but they should stop selling themselves as exact replicas of him.

Also, Republicans still make cutting spending, cutting taxes, and fighting foreign enemies the cornerstone of their campaigns (at least at the presidential level). Unfortunately, these issues are not the vital issues they once were. Cutting spending is a cliché—everyone promises to, but no one actually does, and no one thinks that the Republicans will. Cutting taxes is admirable, but high taxes are not the problem they were in the early eighties, and don’t resonate with people to the same degree they did then. Fighting foreign enemies is the one issue that has stayed current—Americans always want to be protected.

Instead of promoting tax cuts (which are, it should be noted, a good thing), Republicans should focus on cutting regulation and the size of government. The federal government is far too big and unwieldy, and has expanded far too rapidly. Reducing the size of, say, HUD and like government programs would probably improve both the country and the GOP’s electoral chances.

The new conservatives are correct in their insistence on updating the GOP’s message—but they confuse “updating” with “rebuilding.” The conservative platform may not be perfect, and may need a bit of modernizing, but it is a strong foundation, and one conservatives should stick with.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Issues Obama Won't Flip-Flop On

When Barack Obama entered the presidential race, much was made of his unusual political savvy. He represented a new era in politics, his racial background heralded a new post-racial moment, and he stood for a radical change from the old politics. As the race wore on, the accolades became more and more absurd—Ezra Klein suggested that he had a nigh-Godlike rhetorical style, while Michael Morlock called him a “Lightworker” who could harness positive energy. He was supposed to be the next Roosevelt, a man who could redraw the political map and change the face of the country forever.

Of course, no politician could live up to the hype around Obama, and few informed people thought that he would be the agent of radical change that the media suggested he was. However, most people did expect that he would display an above average sense of political judgment, one that would allow him to feel out where the American people stood on important issues, and sell himself accordingly.

He hasn’t displayed much political discernment, though, and that is simply staggering. It is not as if he is running against a popular incumbent—in fact, the opposite is true. Disagreeing with GOP policies is like shooting fish in a barrel, and there are more than enough issues where the public is disgusted with the Republican party—corruption, pork barrel spending, the economy, the handling of the Iraq War, and fuel prices are just a few.

The two most important such issues are the Iraq War and fuel prices, and somehow, Obama has managed to get himself on the wrong side of both. (Perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that Obama is on the “wrong side” of the Iraq War, but it would be hard to say he is on the right side of the issue). Just as the surge’s effectiveness became fully apparent, Obama came to Iraq and instantly starting downplaying its success. Sure, the surge may have reduced violence, but everybody knew it would do that (before the surge, Obama said that it would not decrease violence), and what about its utility in allowing Iraqis to take over their country? (I would assume not having a bunch of terrorists running around is a key step to an Iraqi takeover of the government).

Apart from the fact that Obama’s Iraq position is stupid, it also displays an odd and uncharacteristic streak of stubbornness. Why can’t Obama simply admit that the surge worked? He could still push for a quick pullout, and he would appear much less John Kerryequese to voters concerned with his foreign policy expertise.

Iraq isn’t the biggest political issue anymore—the economy in general, and fuel prices in particular, are. And Obama has completely bungled the energy issue as well. Sixty percent of the nation wants to see more domestic oil drilling. Over half want to see drilling in ANWR (and yes, I’m aware that McCain opposes drilling in ANWR as well). Barack Obama’s energy plan? Tire gauges.

Okay, there is more to his plan than that, but Obama’s strange insistence that checking tire pressure would save as much oil as offshore drilling would produce sums up his energy policy. That claim is debatable—the Energy Information Administration report Obama cites assumes no offshore drilling will be done until 2012, and has been very wrong in many of its predictions.

But even if we assume that Obama is correct, is there any benefit to insisting that the answer to our oil problem consists in proper car maintenance? Whatever the truth is, offshore drilling sounds right, and tire gauges don’t seem like the answer to our energy needs. Is there any reason for Obama not to support offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan?

(Obama recently expressed some support for off-shore drilling, but his support is so filled with caveats as to be meaningless. He would support “limited” drilling, and only after oil companies look for oil on every scrap of land to which they have access).

It is not as if Obama is so steadfast and honest that the very idea of switching positions for political purposes is anathema to him. He vowed to accept public funding if his opponent would, then ran away from his promise. He vowed to oppose the FISA bill to the hilt, but eventually voted for it. Obama promised to renegotiate NAFTA; he later admitted his rhetoric was “overheated.” Few care much about those issues, but Obama changed his position to entice those relatively few voters who did. But on the two issues all voters do care about, Obama is steadfast as a rock in his unpopular stands. And for Republicans, that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Racism in the Presidential Race?

After Barack Obama won the Democrat nomination, most pundits expected him to take a big lead over John McCain. He didn’t. McCain has been competitive, keeping Obama’s lead within the margin of error. He really hasn’t run a particularly brilliant campaign, and voters are tired of Republican dominance, so why the competitive race?

Liberals have the answer: racism. Plain, old-fashioned, Southern strategy racism. According to this line of thought, McCain is playing on racial fears to stay close to Obama. Obama seems to agree with this idea—he suggested that the fact that he “doesn’t look like the other presidents on the dollar bill” will be used against him by GOP operatives.

The most commonly cited example of this phenomenon is McCain’s “Celeb” ad. In this ad, Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton are shown with Barack Obama; ostensibly there to suggest that Obama is an empty-headed celebrity. But liberals see a deeper truth: the images of two white blonde women are there to stoke deep-seated white fears of black men running off with their women. Keith Olbermann summed up the liberal position by noting “three phallic symbols (Berlin’s Victory Column, the Washington Monument, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa), two blondes, and one black man” in McCain’s ad.

I think that Olbermann is overthinking the whole “phallic symbol” thing, because the Washington Monument and Leaning Tower of Pisa don’t actually appear in the ad at all. (I’m not sure, but I think that Olbermann saw a long shot of the Victory Column, and assumed it must be the Washington Monument, and thought he saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa in a slanted shot of the Column). And the racism seen in the white-black pairing is probably equally imaginary—the primary purpose of the grouping is to imply that Obama and Paris Hilton are similar intellectually, not that Obama will start seducing white women.

Liberals claim that the “seducing” message is not intended to be obvious, but rather is a concealed code image. And that is the problem with Left’s “racism” accusation—it is wholly theoretical. There is no concrete evidence for it, and the whole case rests on speculation. It is impossible to prove that McCain isn’t intending to send a racist message—even employing Occam’s Razor doesn’t prove that McCain didn’t intend anything dishonorable. And McCain’s denials don’t prove anything, as the Obama campaign says that his hasty defense against charges of racism is just more racism—if he wasn’t racist, would he mention the subject at all?

You can’t win against that kind of logic. But for the record, McCain has done everything possible to avoid even the appearance of racial impropriety—when a staffer tried to link Jeremiah Wright to more radical black leaders, he was fired and condemned, and when radio talk show host Bill Cunningham continually referred to “Barack Hussein (nudge nudge) Obama”, he was thrown overboard as well. McCain wouldn’t even capitalize on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s comments.

In fact, Obama faced more racism from the Hillary Clinton campaign. Hillary suggested that she would look out for “hard working white Americans” (presumbably them shiftless black folks could just fend for themselves), and claimed that Obama hadn’t done his “spadework.” Mario Cuomo reminded voters that Obama couldn’t “shuck and jive” his way around a press conference. Perhaps one or even two of these statements were just innocents slips of the tongue, but that all three were strikes me as unlikely. Obama has been treated much better (from a racial standpoint) by the McCain campaign.

However, the racial accusations will continue, for two reasons. The first is that, true or not, accusations of racism work. Obama doesn’t need to fool all of the people all of time—if he can just persuade a few, he will have done well. It doesn’t matter whether the charges are true or not—there is a relatively small but still useful core of voters who will always fall for them. Besides, perceived racism always rallies the liberal base.

The second reason is that liberals will need an explanation if McCain wins. In 1992, George H. W. Bush won because of the Willie Horton ad. In 2000, his son won due to a stolen Florida election. In 2004, Bush won because he swift boated John Kerry. Liberals seldom realize that sometimes the country is tired of their politics (the 2000 election), or that the Democrats often nominate weak candidates (Kerry, Dukakis), thus the constant rationalizations. If McCain wins, liberals will firmly believe that his victory was due solely to cleverly deployed GOP racism.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Creative Capitalism

The most commonly used argument against capitalism is that it enriches a few while many others remain poor. The quintessential illustration of this supposed phenomenon is the fact that Nestle sells bottled water to poor, nearly destitute Africans. Isn’t there something wrong, liberals say, with a system that allows a massive, multibillion dollar conglomerate to sell a necessary commodity to people who have almost nothing?

No. Capitalism is flawed. Sometimes people will be used up by the system and never receive any prosperity. But if those poor Africans saving up to buy water ever achieve any measure of material prosperity, it will come due to capitalism.

In fact, the self-interest of the rich is almost certainly the best hope for the poor. Bill Gates is perhaps the most successful capitalist in the history of the world, and is also a world-class philanthropist. He has retired from his day-to-day control of Microsoft to run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which practices what he calls “creative capitalism”—capitalism that attempts to help the underprivileged.

It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it isn’t. Take the story of the Vodaphone, which invested in a Kenyan cell phone company. In a Time magazine piece, Gates explains what happened.
[Vodaphone] figured that the market in Kenya would max out at 400,000 users. Today that company, Safaricom, has more than 10 million. The company has done it by finding creative ways to serve low-income Kenyans. Its customers are charged by the second rather than by the minute, for example, which keeps down the cost. Safaricom is making a profit, and it's making a difference. Farmers use their cell phones to find the best prices in nearby markets. A number of innovative uses for cell phones are emerging. Already many Kenyans use them to store cash (via a kind of electronic money) and transfer funds.

Vodaphone has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams—it has gotten over twenty times the sales it expected—and also managed to change Kenya for the better. The “electronic money” used there is innovative—and will probably eventually be used here. (Already, credit cards and computers are helping make cash obsolete). Thanks to capitalism, Kenya is, in one small way, ahead of the rest of the world technologically.

Gates’ whole Time article is well worth reading—he explains how self-interest is curing malaria, fighting AIDS, educating the poor, and harnessing the estimated five trillion dollars in purchasing power of the poorest two-thirds of the world’s population. Gates, like conservatives, realizes that capitalism does a lot of good.

One the flip side, it also does harm. Nike, for example, is probably guilty of human rights violations. As late as 1996, Nike was guilty of violating Vietnamese labor laws (which is a little like being considered extravagant in Vegas), and possibly still employs child labor. (Kinda puts the whole “Wal-Mart vs. unions” thing in perspective). Nike makes billions while (probably) exploiting people—isn’t that a flaw in capitalism?

Actually, yes. No system is perfect, and capitalism doesn’t help everyone. It produced slavery, child labor, awful working conditions (such as in coal mines), and exploitation of the less fortunate. In capitalism, there will always be haves and have-nots.

But the first group will always steadily grow, while the second will shrink. In socialism, this doesn’t happen. There are no haves and have-nots—only have-nots. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, capitalism may be the worst system of economics (it is flawed)—except for all the others. Capitalism exploits some people, and helps the rest. Socialism exploits everyone.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Celeb and Divine, Reviewed

The words “John McCain” and “tech-savvy” usually don’t go together. McCain has run a limited Internet campaign so far, and his Internet fundraising has lagged significantly behind that of his competitor. For most of the campaign thus far, Barack Obama has had a significant video lead as well—YouTube was full of adulatory Obama videos, while searches for “John McCain” turned up mostly negative hits. But in the last few days, the McCain campaign has started to narrow the gap. They have produced the two most interesting and controversial ads of the election season: “Celeb” and “Divine.”



The “Celeb” ad is brilliant—probably the best ad of the campaign thus far; certainly better than anything Obama has produced. The narrator explains that Obama is the “biggest celebrity on earth” (probably true), and that he won’t do anything about high oil prices (again, quite true). Basically, standard McCain talking points. But it is the videos that make the ad a masterpiece.

It shows Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears as the narrator comments on Obama celebrity status, implying that Obama is as competent as your average slutty supermodel. And these shots add controversy as well—the video got over 1.2 million hits on YouTube, and got extensive play on cable news.

Another clever detail in this ad which could be overlooked is the addition of “Obama, Obama” background chants. Most negative ads use the same basic strategy—an unflattering picture of the candidate against a black background is shown, the narrator gives the criticism in a flat, unappealing voice, and sad, discordant music plays. The ad attempts to transfer the negative feelings caused by the lighting, narration, and music to the candidate. (This is perfectly legitimate, by the way—all ads attempt to use transfer to sell their products).

“Celeb” takes this one step further. By adding the “Obama” chant, viewers get the chance to both see his and hear his name as he is accused of standing in the way of low oil prices. The chant makes the transfer much more effective.

This is a good ad, but the Obama campaign’s clumsy response to it makes it much more effective. Some of Obama’s supporters came unhinged—one Huffington Post blogger suggested it was a coded call to assassinate Obama (something about camera flashes). The consensus was that the ad appealed to just good old-fashioned racism—white woman were in an ad with a black (technically, biracial, but apparently one drop of African blood makes one just “black”) man, which would logically incite white voters into rage. Obama was inspired to point out that Republicans would attack him because he “doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills." All in all, “Celeb” worked perfectly. McCain couldn’t have asked for more.



“Divine” is nearly as good—and will almost certainly be as controversial. The ad takes on Obama’s carefully crafted cult of personality—that he is The One (Oprah), that he “is a symbol of America returning to our best traditions” (direct quote), that he “never” (direct quote) has any doubts, that lights shine down and convert people to his cause (a quote, but out of context), and his famous line promising that his candidacy will mark the time that the “rise of the oceans began to slow, and our planet began to heal” (incredibly, a real quote). The ads ends with a clip of Charlton Heston as Moses shouting “behold His mighty hand” and parting the Red Sea as the Official Obama Presidential seal (Vero Possumus!) flies through the opening of the waters.

The ad works perfectly—it is suitably tongue-in-cheek, but it does make a larger point as well. The Heston clip is one of the few times a political ad has made me laugh out loud. The only criticism I have is that the “light beam will shine through -- will light you up -- and you will experience an epiphany” line is clearly taken out of context—Obama was joking, and a close watching to the ad makes that pretty clear (as Obama starts the line, watch the guy to Obama’s left chuckle).

McCain will have to run a good campaign to beat Obama. There have been time where his campaign was boring, or unresponsive, or clumsy. But these ads are exactly what his campaign needs, and hopefully are indications of things to come.