Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Elitists

In politics, it often seems like both sides have precisely the same goals. They are always—no matter the issue—fighting for “Main Street” and the “American people” against “corporate greed” and “special interests” represented by “lobbyists.” It doesn’t matter which party—both sides use virtually the same language to advance their agendas.

One of the most common slurs used in politics is “elitist”—both sides use it, seemingly with equal regularity. A quote from Jonah Goldberg sums up the conservative view of liberals: “…[At a charge of elitism], some liberal spluttered herbal chai tea from her nose at the injustice of this whole elitist canard, and the earnest Ivy League interns at some liberal magazine have burst into laughter, offering the appropriate bons mots from Balzac…” Conservatives see liberals as overeducated, ivory tower theorizers who are out of touch will real Americans.

Liberals, on the other hand, also view conservatives as elitists, but of a different sort. They see conservatives as old money, greedy industrialists; gloating over their trophy wives while smoking cigars on the yacht before heading back to the private jet. (Think any John Grisham villain, or Mitt Romney). Liberals think conservatives are the ones out of touch with real Americans.

Actually, both sides are right. Many liberals are out-of-touch with the real world—the blog stuffwhitepeoplelike.com has the attitudes and wants of your average liberal about right. And there are many conservatives who don’t understand the worries of working people. (I went to a McCain-Palin rally a few weeks ago; the people there seemed decent and hard-working—but nobody had to worry about where their next meal was coming from) Both sides are right—both liberals and conservatives are elitist.

But is that a bad thing? I must confess that the antipathy towards “elitists” has always baffled me. I’ve never read Balzac (to refer to Jonah Goldberg’s example), or drank herbal chai tea. But when I do read Balzac (I figure I’ll read him at some point in my life), I’ll quote him. And if I ever decide herbal teas would make my life better, I will drink them unashamedly.

Likewise, I’m not rich (yet). But if I ever do become wealthy, I’ll go to polo matches and smoke cigars and do whatever else rich people do (rehab?) without a trace of guilt. Wealth is nothing to be ashamed of; neither does it make one a bad person.

I think that much of the hostility towards “elitists” stems from simple jealousy. There are some moneyed people dependant on family money, but most of the upper class earned what they have. But they get called “elitist” by people who lack either the ability or the determination (or both) to go out and earn money for themselves.

Likewise, cultured people are, sadly, rather rare. It’s easy to call people who quote Balzac “elitist”—it’s hard to actually go out and learn Balzac yourself. If people spent half as much time educating themselves as they do accusing educated people of elitism, the intellectual life of this country would be much higher.

Actually, it’s the so-called “elitists” who actually get things done in this country. It’s not easy to love Lee Scott (never heard of him? He’s CEO of Wal-mart) or Bill Gates—but try getting by without Wal-Mart or Microsoft. And it’s not easy to love cultural elitists (the Balzac quoters), but they do add a lot to the intellectual quality of America, and academia, for all its flaws, is a crucial part of society.

In fact, it seems safe to say that it’s the “regular Americans” who are the problem. They are inexcusably uneducated, have no notion of fiscal responsibility, and are almost wholly scientifically illiterate. Disagree? Then consider that nearly one in four American can’t find the United States [!] on a world map, the incredible amount of debt carried most Americans, or the fact that over half the country doesn’t believe in evolution (or if you believe in evolution, then consider that the United States is ranked well behind other countries in science education). This state of affairs is unpardonable. In America, elitism shouldn’t be considered a bad thing—in fact, elitists may be our only hope.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pelosi and the Bailout

When the Democrat’s took over Congress, they promised to end the practice of giving “blank checks” to President Bush. Then they basically gave Bush a free rein. They promised “the most ethical congress ever.” It wasn’t. They promised to end the war. They didn’t.

But let’s be fair—no one really expected any of that from the Democrats. I doubt there were many, even within the Democrat party, who thought Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi were going to be reforming dynamos. I didn’t expect much from that lot.

But I did expect simple, basic competence. And apparently, the Democratic leadership doesn’t even have that. Yesterday, the federal bailout plan was all set for a vote—Congress held a bipartisan press conference announcing that all sides had worked out an acceptable compromise. Everything was fine.

Until today. Congress (which, remember, was ready to pass this bill yesterday) voted the plan down. About two thirds of Republicans voted against the bill—as did about forty percent of Democrats. Nancy Pelosi leads the Democrat majority in the House—and she still couldn’t get this (by her own admission) necessary bill though.

Apparently, the plan’s failure was due to a combination of national distaste for the plan and Nancy Pelosi’s dreadful, hyper-partisan pre-vote speech. In her remarks, Pelosi gloated that “this legislation is not the end of congressional activity on this crisis” and that “we choose a different path. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, we will break free with a failed past and take America in a New Direction to a better future”. Smooth, Nancy. Unsurprisingly, House Republicans were unimpressed with this message, and enough of them were angry enough to change their vote, which guaranteed the bill’s failure. Nancy Pelosi isn’t merely incompetent—she’s stupid as well.

But it’s unfair to give Pelosi all the blame for the failure of the bailout plan—the American people strongly opposed it . When was the last time Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore agreed on anything? I’m pretty sure the only belief they share is that state sponsored murder is bad—and given Moore’s evident admiration for Fidel Castro, they might even disagree on that. But they are both against the bailout plan—Rush called the architects of the deal “thieves”, while Moore called it the “biggest robbery in the history of the country.” Millions of Americans agree with these sentiments—in fact, given recent polls (only a quarter of the country supports a bailout, according to Rasmussen), odds are, you do too.

Rush Limbaugh may be right 98.6% of the time, but Michael Moore is always wrong. It’s no different here. Rush is mistaken. We need the bailout.

I oppose the bailout in principle. Capitalism is all about ups and downs; businesses succeed, and others fail. Ordinarily, government intervention is the worst possible thing for business. But this isn’t ordinary.

After the bailout failed, the Dow Jones dropped seven percent. That’s over a trillion dollars lost, and it could—almost certainly will—only get worse. And it’s an international problem—London’s stock markets crashed today, and the British bank Bradford & Bingley failed. It’s an international crisis.

Will things get as bad as they did during the Great Depression? Of course not. (There won’t be twenty-five percent unemployment again). But things can still get pretty bad. Government played a significant role in getting us into this mess. It will have to help get us out.

Why can’t free markets do this? They can. The only catch is, it might take a while, and the consequences would be very unpleasant. Millions would lose their home, millions more would lose their life savings. The stock market would plunge, and we would almost certainly see more banks fail. Post-crash, our economic scene would be unrecognizable. I don’t like the bailout—but I think it’s worth it.

Do those CEOs getting bailed out deserve help? No. They horribly mismanaged their companies, and deserve the consequences. Problem is, average Americans don’t—and they would be the ones hurt most. Life isn’t fair.

Would this plan be expensive? Yes, around $700 billion. (It will, being a government project, run over costs, but the government will probably get at least something back from the mortgages it will own, making $700 billion—or a bit less—about right). But it’s not like, in the long run, $700 billion will affect the budget that much—we’re on the hook for about $57 trillion in entitlements over the next half century. And anyhow, the amount of money lost in a banking crash would be much more than $700 billion.

We shouldn’t need a bailout. It is expensive. It’s not fair. It unfairly benefits the rich. It gives government too much power. All true—but we still need this bill. The consequences of doing otherwise would be too great. Nancy Pelosi is incompetent—but she must find it within herself to get this through Congress. The future of our economy may depend on it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Debate Reactions

I watched the presidential debate tonight; here are my reactions.

First, what genius thought that it would be a good idea to have the debate on a Friday night? I’m a political junkie, debates are appointment viewing for me, but how many people is that true of? This schedule must have driven down the number of viewers pretty significantly.

That’s a pity for McCain, because he had a very good night. His forte is sounding strong and inspirational about foreign policy, and he sounded strong and inspirational tonight. Whatever one may say about McCain, he is an honorable man—and that integrity and fortitude showed tonight.

McCain sounded decisive and tough about foreign policy. He seems to have his foreign policy all mapped out; he knows exactly what he wants to do on this issue. (Possibly, foreign policy is the only issue McCain actually has mapped out; the rest of his policies are a confusing mixture of Goldwater libertarianism and Teddy Roosevelt progressivism). McCain always sounds good when talking about foreign policy, and he was no different tonight.

A few points about McCain’s debating style. First, I couldn’t help but notice that he blinks in time to every word. It’s very distracting. Second, he seems to have mastered the art of talking over his opponent—several times, Obama tried to jump in, but McCain relentlessly kept talking. On television, if two people attempt to talk at once, neither can be heard. McCain used that knowledge well.

As for Obama, he didn’t do badly. He did stutter a lot, which makes me wonder how someone who is a very good, very experienced public speaker can sound so bad at times.

Often, it seemed like Obama was trying to prove his competency to independents, appeal to the base, and hit McCain, all at the same time. It didn’t work. It often seemed—this was especially apparent on the foreign policy questions—that Obama was rambling and saying whatever points jumped to mind. Not that they weren’t good points, but Obama didn’t do them justice in his presentation of them.

It strikes me that Obama is handicapped from the beginning is a foreign policy debate. His policy is less war—and that’s a tough position to defend. Peace sounds good, but it also sounds weak. Even if Obama was right about Iraq (and he well may have been), it’s still hard to sound good when droning on about how if everybody had listened to Obama we wouldn’t have had to fight this mean, nasty war.

Memorable moments:

Obama told McCain he was right at least six times. You don’t think that will show up in ads? Oh, wait—it already has. Probably not the best choice of words for Obama.

McCain: "I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't know the difference between a tactic and a strategy." Semantics? Yes, but it makes Obama look inexperienced and naïve. And that’s what McCain needs.

McCain told what is probably his best story: the anecdote of the mother of a fallen soldier who asked him to wear a bracelet to remember her son, and to ensure that he did not die in vain. It’s an amazing story—when heard in person, it is incredibly moving. But when McCain told it tonight, Obama was ready. He responded “I’ve got a bracelet too, from the mother of…” then he looked down and read the name off his bracelet—apparently, it had slipped his mind. Granted, there could have been any number of reasons for this—he could have been unsure of the pronunciation, he could have merely been adjusting his cuff, he may have been looking at the bracelet for inspiration. But then, George H.W. Bush probably had plenty of good reasons for looking at his watch during the infamous townhall debate with Bill Clinton—and that incident still killed him. (Video at this link). This could do similar damage to Obama’s campaign.

Sarah Palin debates Joe Biden next week. Prediction: she will do very,very well. Some conservatives are worried that she is unprepared, simply because she didn’t do particularly well (or particularly poorly) in three interviews. That’s not overwhelming evidence. She will do fine.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some Nice Things About Joe Biden

Joe Biden can’t get anything right. After Barack Obama introduced him as him as his running mate, Biden called his partner “Barack America.” Then, infamously, he told Chuck Graham, a wheelchair-bound state senator, to “stand up and let everyone see you.” Responding to the current economic crisis, he reminded voters of Franklin Roosevelt’s decisiveness in going on television immediately after the stock market crash of 1929, which would have been difficult given that the president that year was Herbert Hoover, and that public television hadn’t been invented yet. Finally, Biden did his best to lose Pennsylvania by declaring that he was against clean coal, which might be an important issue to a state that is one of the nation’s major coal producers.

And Biden doesn’t stack up well with his Republican counterpart. Neither candidate really has that much in common with your average American—Biden’s been in politics his entire life, winning his first Senate election at age twenty-nine, while Palin is a “hockey mom” and politician from Alaska, which isn’t a typical career arc. But every American, deep down, wants to be like Sarah and Todd Palin (moose hunter, basketball champion, and beauty queen, in Sarah’s case; Todd hunts and races snowmobiles), and nobody particularly wants to be Joe Biden.

Biden is overmatched, and that’s a good thing, because he is fairly liberal. He agrees with Barack Obama (the most liberal member of the Senate) on almost everything (except, apparently, clean coal). He is certainly not the man we need filling the role of vice president.

Biden’s running mate has a very good shot at winning the election, and he disagrees with me on nearly everything. I’m the last person he could expect to attract—yet somehow, I can’t help but like Joe Biden.

Part of that, of course, is due to his sheer haplessness. His anguished response to his wheelchair gaffe—“God love ya, Chuck, what am I saying”—has a certain ineffectual charm, rather like that of the villain’s slow-witted sidekick in movies. His constant slips: “Barack America”, referring to John McCain as “George”, or his reference to a “Biden administration” (reaction: he crossed himself, and said “believe me, that wasn’t a Freudian slip. Oh Lordy day, I tell ya.”) are a reliable source of amusement. And, of course, his more serious mistakes—“Hillary may have been a better choice than I”, “I don’t support clean coal”, and the like—may end up having serious political consequences for Obama, and it’s hard not to like that.

So a part of Biden’s appeal may be his sheer haplessness. But there is more to like about Joe Biden. In a political environment where most politicians stick close the official positions of their party, Biden is occasionally willing to disagree with his party’s official line. And that’s admirable.

Before the surge, nearly all Democrats opposed the Iraq war and favored a hasty retreat without a thought to the consequences to Iraq. To his credit, Biden didn’t. He did oppose the surge, and did favor a relatively quick pullout, but he proposed a political solution that could have, at least in theory, prevented the civil war that would have arisen after a U.S. pullout. And his plan wasn’t wholly bad—he wanted to split the country into three independent countries—one for the Kurds, Sunni, and Shia.

This plan actually makes more sense than it seems to, and is probably better than the strategy Bush pursued under Rumsfeld. (Question: who else supports—or possibly supported—this plan? Answer: Michael Savage. Politics are strange). As it happened, we didn’t need this plan thanks to the surge—but Biden deserves credit for standing up to his party, and proposing a plan which could have worked.

Biden shows other flashes of honor. He condemned—briefly—Obama’s “computer” attack ad, which criticized McCain for being unable to use a computer. (McCain can’t use a computer—due to the injuries he suffered in Vietnam). Biden later backtracked, after watching the ad—but he did at least find it within himself to condemn his own ad when he thought it unjust.

I naturally hope that Biden loses—but I’m glad that he’s in the Senate (and it’s not like we’re going to get a Republican elected in Delaware anyway). Joe Lieberman was the Democrat vice presidential nominee eight years ago—but he broke with his party to put what he believed was best for his country first. Perhaps Biden will never be tested in that way—but if so, I believe that he, like Lieberman, would choose the honorable course.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Suspending McCain's Campaign

John McCain always tries to do the most unexpected thing possible, and he succeeded today. He announced that he was suspending his presidential campaign in order to focus on the economic mess, and asked that this Friday's debate be postponed until things are on a more stable fiscal footing. Obama said no--the debate is still on, although it's hard to imagine how it could take place if McCain insists on postponing it. 


McCain wants both parties to work together on this, a constant them of his campaign. His vision includes Republicans and Democrats uniting around a joint plain to fix this problem, and not resting until a solution is found. The stakes are high, at least in McCain's mind--in his speech today, he prophesied that "people will no longer be able to buy homes and their life savings will be at stake." And frighteningly, this may not be campaign hyperbole--many economists believe that our current situation could result in a stock market meltdown like the one seen in 1929. 


Suspending his campaign is a bold move by McCain; one that will either succeed spectacularly or fail miserably--there will be middle ground. There is a reasonable chance that he will look presidential and commanding; there is an equally good chance that McCain will merely look foolish. But however he looks, McCain is going all in with his plan--he is pulling TV ads and canceling campaign appearances. 


This is vintage McCain. People have different opinion about the Wall Street bailout--some favor it, others oppose it, many (perhaps most) can't decide. But McCain has an opinion, and he is certain that he is right and that it would be best for the country. And if the country needs it, he will do everything possible to support it--even if it means losing the election. He has said many times that he would rather lose an election than lose a war--and evidently he feels the same way about financial crisises. 


Obama feels differently about the whole situation. He says that the economic crisis makes having a debate about these issues all the more urgent, and that he will not scale down his campaign efforts. Evidently, he is going for the cool, unflustered image; the man who remains unfazed by any situation. Like McCain's position, this course is fraught with danger--he risks looking indecisive and insensitive to the needs of ordinary Americans. 


Both candidates support some form of government bailout. Last week, I wrote about the "stupidity" of such a bailout. Undeniably, it would represent a massive government intrusion into the private sector, and would result in a blurring of the lines between the public and private sectors. And it would be staggeringly expensive too--somewhere in the neighborhood of one trillion dollars. (Although quite frankly, the cost doesn't worry me all that much--the federal government owes over 57 trillion in entitlements over the next half century, so another trillion won't mean much. We may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb). And the bailout would set a dangerous precedent--during the next financial crisis (and there will be one--this is capitalism), business will look to the federal government for a helping hand. 


So is the bailout "stupid"? Maybe not. Some economists believe that the market came within 500 trades of crashing last week, which would have resulted in massive financial hardship for millions of Americans. Nobody wants a stock market crash--and government intervention to prevent one would be welcomed by most people, even by many conservatives. If it would truly prevent another Depression (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), I would find it hard to oppose such a measure, distasteful as it may be to my conservative sensibilities. 


But the question remains--is it necessary? Simple answer: I don't know. Neither does anyone else. Next question: is this bailout a worthwhile gamble? Same answer: I don't know. Conservatives should hate the idea of government expansion. But they should also hate the idea of another Great Depression--and it not as if the government is invading territory formerly sacrosanct to free enterprise. Government meddling created many of these problems, and it may be necessary for government to attempt to solve some of the problems it created. 


There is no good answer. For myself, I think (and this is merely an opinion, and one that is not supported by any great amount of economic knowledge) that a bailout may be necessary. It's not a good option, but it seems better than the others. But whatever the solution, John McCain is right to put aside his campaign to try to find it. McCain is choosing the honorable course. 


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Looking to the Future

I can remember the exact moment I stopped listening to Sean Hannity. In was in November of last year; he was discussing the presidential candidates. Evidently, he felt he was being too hard on one of them, because he blurted out the opinion that the whole group were a great bunch of candidates and that he would happily support whichever one won the nomination. It was, of course, obvious to any rational observer that the GOP was running an absolutely dismal crop of candidates (the three frontrunners at the time were Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and [cringe] Mike Huckabee), and that the winner would be the best of a bad lot.

Fortunately, the best man, at least from an electoral point of view (can you really imagine Mitt Romney competing with Barack Obama?), won the nomination, but John McCain didn’t have much competition. Mitt Romney must be the most uncharismatic man in history—he managed to get the entire conservative punditocracy on his side, but still found a way to lose convincingly. Mike Huckabee never ran a serious campaign; besides, as Frank J. at IMAO pointed out, his name sounds like that of a cartoon family’s dog. Rudy Giuliani was a less likeable, liberal version of John McCain, and his campaign really did (as Joe Biden pointed out—he has his moments) consist of a noun, a verb, and 9/11. And Fred Thompson, though staunchly conservative, and my favorite candidate, never ran a real campaign either. The Republicans ran a weak slate of candidates this election, and it is a miracle that they actually have a real chance of keeping the White House.

Fortunately for the GOP, its prospects in 2012 look much brighter. There are a great many talented young conservatives who will be of the right age to run in 2012—as well as some veterans who may be able to use four years experience to become stronger candidates.

Sarah Palin is the obvious choice for the 2012 nominee—she is attractive, smart, and conservative, besides being the next in line for the GOP nomination, which is important. It’s hard to imagine a scenario—unless McCain decides to run again, which is unlikely—in which she isn’t the nominee. And she would be a good, maybe even brilliant—choice.

Bobby Jindal would be another excellent choice. He is, perhaps, the most intelligent governor in America, and he conservative credentials are second to none. He’s competent, too—thankfully, Hurricane Ike wasn’t as damaging as was originally feared, but his response to the crisis was exceptional. And like Palin, he is telegenic (if not as good-looking as Palin is) and articulate, both of which are advantages for a candidate following the incoherent Bush and the mumbling McCain.

In fact, Jindal may be the GOP’s best hope for the future. His conservative credentials are probably stronger than Palin’s, and his experience is much greater. Rush Limbaugh has called Jindal the “next Reagan”—and he could be right.

Mitt Romney just couldn’t get anyone to like him in the primaries—moderates thought he was too conservative, while conservatives thought he was too moderate. Both were right—Romney had distinctly moderate views through most of his career, then exhibited an abrupt rightward shift when he ran for president. Nobody anywhere ever got excited about Romney (except, apparently, Michigan voters). But if he spends the next four years actively promoting conservative causes, and building conservative “street cred” (a term which somehow sounds so incongruous when associated with Mitt Romney), he could very well become a formidable candidate in 2012.

Mike Huckabee might have been the candidate most hated by conservatives—with good reason. He was never a very serious candidate; he based his campaign around a smile and a shoeshine, a combination that somehow very nearly got him the nomination. True, he has his conservative lapses, but like Romney, four years spent pushing conservative causes could endear him to many conservatives. And given Huckabee’s immense charisma, he could do in 2012 what he couldn’t do in 2008—take the Republican nomination, and maybe even the presidency.

There is, of course, one more possible GOP nominee in 2012—John McCain, provided he wins in 2008. True, it’s hard to imagine a 76-year-old man deciding to run for reelection—but then, John McCain has always gone against the odds. And if his approval ratings are high…well, he might as well go for it.

Jindal and Palin would be fantastic nominees, McCain would be acceptable, and Romney and Huckabee have promise. It might seem premature to start thinking about 2012 before the 2008 election is even completed—but the people involved are thinking about it, and conservatives should be as well. If it is anything like 2008, the process will begin in just a couple of years, and conservatives should be ready.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Brief Lesson in Poll Reading

Last week, John McCain was up by about two points in most of the polls. Republicans were ecstatic. The big debate around the conservative universe was what McCain’s margin of victory would be; another hot topic was whether Sarah Palin more resembled George Washington or Ronald Reagan.

This week, Barack Obama is up by about the same margin. Conservatives are depressed. Allahpundit at Hot Air has taken to publishing depressing poll results with listless one word headlines like “crash?”, Jim Geraghty of National Review penned a column reminding voters that an Obama win is “probable.”

It’s no different on the Left. When McCain was up, liberals spent time gloomily pondering the possibility of another “stolen” election. (Liberal don’t lose elections, election are stolen from them). But as Obama rises in the polls, suddenly things are looking up for liberals—the election won’t be stolen this year, and conservatism is staggering through its last days.

For conservatives, the electoral situation went from nirvana to hell in a few days. For liberals, Obama went from dead to ascendant. How could this happen? What did McCain do wrong? And can his campaign recover?

McCain didn’t do anything wrong. The Palin bounce was just a bounce, and what goes up always comes down. Conservatives were stupid for thinking that it would last. It’s September—the two candidates haven’t yet shared a stage, haven’t had to answer any really tough questions, and haven’t faced any noteworthy controversies. A significant proportion of the country isn’t yet paying attention—and that segment will decide the election. (How many politically aware people can possibly be really undecided?).

Polls are useful, but only as very rough indicators of the direction of the political winds. It’s obvious Obama has the momentum right now—but not much. Obama’s lead is well within the margin of error, and any movement at all in the polls towards McCain would erase it. It’s still anyone’s race—either candidate could easily win.

There will be more swings in the coming six weeks. (Does it seem unbelievable that this seemingly endless election is six weeks from completion?) McCain will probably get a bounce from this Friday’s debate—his superiority as a debater is obvious, and Obama probably won’t knock himself out trying to win the first debate. The Palin-Biden debate will represent another McCain bounce—it’s really hard to imagine Joe Biden (who was never a great debater during the primaries) defeating Sarah Palin, whose advantage in the image contest makes up for any substance disparity. (Not that I believe there is a disparity on substance, but if there was, Palin would still do fine).

Obama will get some bounces as well. He’ll probably win at least one debate. Even if he doesn’t, the media will say he did—not so much because of an ideological axe to grind, but because one candidate winning all the debates is boring. He’ll probably make a speech, or McCain will make a gaffe, that will serve to give him another bounce. Conservatives should seek to ride these bounces out without panicking.

There’s only bounce that matters—the one that happens just before the election. It’s at that time that both candidates will attempt to spring their “October Surprises”, that one story that will change the narrative of the election. I can’t imagine what Obama’s Surprise will be; I believe that McCain’s will focus on Obama’s connection to William Ayers. (McCain’s surrogates have mentioned Jeremiah Wright a few times; they have yet to bring up Ayers. That only makes sense—at least to me—if McCain is saving that story for later).

The far too early for the polls to tell us anything about which candidate will win in November. Both candidates will have good weeks and bad weeks, and their respective supporters will get excited, then depressed. But there’s only one poll that matters, and that’s the one on November 4th. Polls before that date have some value—but it’s foolish to get too worked up about them, whether the results are good or bad.

[UPDATE: I think my conclusions about polls are correct, and the past bears this out. But I confess that Rasmussen's recent results (race is tied nationally, McCain leads in Florida and Ohio, McCain trails by just three in Pennsylvania) cheers me. Illogical, yes, but there it is.]

Friday, September 19, 2008

Random Thoughts

Some mostly random religious thoughts…

Many (probably most) atheists spend a lot of time sneering at religious rituals and ethics, such as the Roman Catholic rituals of abstaining from meat (or performing some alternate penance) on Fridays and attending Mass on Sunday, or refraining from premarital sex. (I use Catholic practices because I am most familiar with them, but any religion’s practices would do). The argument is that God surely has better things to do than worry about whether people spend an hour each week in a particular building or whether people observe a manmade ceremony before engaging a perfectly natural biological act.

And that line of thought is somewhat compelling—after all, many of these traditions do seem to make God out to be a sort of cosmic nursemaid who is perpettually obsessing over petty details. But it overlooks the fact that God (really, no matter what your religion) also promises to forgive sins like rape and murder, and offers an eternal reward if one’s life is lived within some really quite lenient ethical boundaries. (Catholics can repent at any moment of their lives; even a Hitler can, if he achieves true repentance, go to heaven). Yes, God commands His followers to observe some seemingly senseless rules—but He will forgive even the most grievous transgressions.

Another atheist sneer is that religion is responsible for most of the world’s ills. Examples given often include the Spanish Inquisition, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the Crusades. Ignore, for the moment, that the most of the Inquisition’s crimes were exaggerated, and that the Crusaders actually had a pretty good claim to the Holy Land. Also ignore the obvious logical fallacy: abusus non tollit usum—the use is not the abuse. This point completely ignores the crimes perpetuated by atheists—Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Mao’s China were all ruled by regimes that were militantly atheistic. Does that constitute an damning incitement of atheism? Of course not. (And if there are any Christians out there who disagree, remember that fallacy that you just agreed with two sentences ago).

Perhaps the most common religious/philosophical fallacy is the idea that a sincere belief can make up for being wrong about religion. It can’t. If you worship the wrong God, being wholly sincere in your beliefs won’t help. (Fortunately, many religions offer salvation to these well-intentioned but misinformed souls).

Being sincerely wrong is acceptable—but you must be really, honestly wrong. So many people seem to think that they can iron out philosophical inconsistencies with ironclad faith, and counter all arguments against their beliefs with the fact that they earnestly believe in them. But if they are actually wrong, all the belief in the world can’t change that objective fact.

By the way, this fallacy seems to be most common among Roman Catholics. Many Catholics seem to think that any religion, or no religion, is pretty much acceptable if the person in question is a nice guy and isn’t committing any socially unacceptable sins, such as murder, theft, or racism. (What’s a socially acceptable sin? Cheating, slander, and lying often are, if the victim is someone you don’t really like). Protestants, especially evangelicals, are the opposite—they may hold some inane beliefs (sorry, the world wasn’t really created in six days), but at least they actually believe them.

There aren’t really many Ayn Randists around anymore, but they are disproportionably represented in the conservative movement—nearly every prominent conservative seems to have read Atlas Shrugged. The point of Atlas Shrugged is that every individual must live only for himself, that every man is responsible only for his own rational self-interest. As you can guess, Rand takes a dim view of religion.

Like Communism, Objectivism is one of those philosophies that seems to have been created for robots. Is there anyone who wouldn’t help, at least in theory, a little girl run over by a bus even if it meant being late for a meeting and losing a substantial amount of money? (If you said you wouldn’t, then you are probably an immoral monster. No offense or anything, we can still be friends, but still). Nobody lives only for themselves, and we should be happy about that.

Objectivists are supposed to be free, independent individualists. And nothing says individualists like a bunch of people who all think exactly the same way and unquestioningly follow the teachings of one person.

Hopefully, you found these ideas at least somewhat interesting. But if you want to read some better religious stuff, I would recommend G.K Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Evelyn Waugh, and Graham Greene. You might not agree with these authors, but they are entertaining, and unlike me, are actually experts on religion. Also, you might want to check out Steve Dutch’s website—he’s a college professor who has some interesting insights on religion.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bailout Stupidity

Earlier this summer, the federal government bailed out investment bank Bear Sterns. Then, after mortgage brokers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae went under, the government stepped in to bail them out too. Supposedly, the bailouts stopped there (and the government did let Lehman Brothers fail without stepping in), but when AIG needed help, the federal government stepped in yet again. All told, these four bailouts will cost the American people over 130 billion dollars, and that is a pretty conservative estimate. (UPDATE: Yeah, pretty conservative. The actual cost will probably be closer to one trillion).

Neither presidential candidate could find it within themselves to condemn these bailouts, and it’s not hard to see why. (Although Sarah Palin did imply that bailing out AIG might not be a good idea). The last thing voters want is a candidate who seems to be standing in the way of government help. Or maybe not—a recent Rasmussen poll found that only 7% of the nation favors bailouts for investment firms—and 65% don’t. (The rest were undecided). But the candidates aren’t taking any chances—they fully support any and all government bailouts.

They shouldn’t, because the recent bailouts were dreadful ideas. Granted, simply letting these investment and insurance giants fail would have had disastrous consequences—many would have lost a great deal of their savings, and others, in the case of the mortgage brokers, would lose their homes.

But the consequences of the bailouts could very well be worse. First, and most obviously, the bailouts mean spending money that we don’t have. The federal budget ran a half trillion dollar deficit in 2008, and it’s obvious that we can’t afford to spend another hundred billion paying for private company’s failures. Washington can save companies like AIG from bankruptcy—but when the government can’t pay its debts, who will it turn to?

Apart from the careless stewardship of our money (and really, does anyone expect any less from Washington?), the government bailouts represent a frightening sort of socialism. The United States government is now probably the biggest insurer on the planet—and that can’t be right.

Capitalism is built around the freedom to succeed—and conversely, the freedom to fail. When starting a business—or investing in one, or, say, getting insurance or a mortgage from one—the individual is allowed to keep what he earns from his deal—but is also responsible for his or her losses. They are not the government’s responsibility.

Yes, had Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae failed, people would have been hurt. But welcome to capitalism—when those people invested in these companies, they took the risk that these companies would fail. Some perfectly innocent people would have lost everything (or nearly everything, this isn’t the Great Depression here) had any of these companies failed, and it’s not fair, but it is an integral part of capitalism.

Capitalism is distinguished by booms and busts (as opposed to socialism, which is just one long decline). There would be trouble and turmoil and difficulty had the bailouts not happened, but that is just part of the cycle. The fiscal situation would eventually change, and the economy would become stronger than ever.

Those conservatives (and there are many) who support the bailouts argue that we must structure the bailouts in such a way as to ensure that they are never necessary again. Right. No expansion of government is ever temporary. Maybe Freddie Mac and AIG and the rest of the bunch will learn their lesson and never need help again—but some company will, and when it does, the federal government will come running. These bailouts send a dangerous message: “don’t be afraid to fail; the government will bail you out.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Agents of Destruction

I am, I suppose, a proud Republican. I don’t dodge the question of political affiliation when the topic of conversation turns to politics, I vote for the Republican candidates for state and county office, and I vote in Republican primaries. I think that the impulse which leads conservatives to believe that boycotting the GOP will lead to increased conservatism are, at best, misguided and unrealistic. Conservatives should be realistic.

But if one takes a “realistic” look at the last fifteen years, one conclusion is inescapable. For the last decade or so, the Republican party has done incalculably more harm to the country than have the Democrats.

In fairness, the Democrats haven’t had much of a chance—Bill Clinton was always on the defensive against the Gingrich Congress, and Bush has had a Republican congress for six of his eight years in office. So possibly, the Democrats would have ruined America if given half a chance—but they weren’t, and the Republicans were, and they did.

Hands down, the biggest challenge facing the country is the national debt. It’s massive—it’s over 75% of America’s GDP, and represents an amount more than three times the amount of the entire 2008 federal government budget. It’s almost impossible to see a way to pay this debt, and it’s not as if this was a problem that just snuck up on us. In 2000, when Bush took office, the national debt was about five trillion dollars, a daunting number, and one that clearly posed a difficult challenge. So, to fix this little difficulty, Bush went and doubled the national debt. Now, the national debt is a problem that may be wholly insolvable.

Another problem: energy. Ten years ago, it was obvious that oil wouldn’t last forever. (Actually, there is probably enough oil to keep us supplied for years—it’s the getting it out of the ground that’s the killer). We needed new energy sources, and fast. Fortunately, there was a clean, renewable, limitless source of energy, which wasnt being exploited due only to the fears of a small but influential group of people whose gullibility regarding the dangers of nuclear power would embarrass a student of phrenology.

Republicans did almost nothing to promote nuclear energy. (A few nuclear power plants will be opened in the future, but nothing near the scale required to make a meaningful difference). This omission is almost inexplicable—nuclear energy has massive potential, is cheap, and would, after its beneficial effects became apparent, be a wonderful issue for Republicans. But they didn’t take advantage of it, out of fear of hysterically inaccurate worries of a nuclear apocalypse. (Nuclear power plants are the only victims of anti-nuclear hysteria—MRIs are more accurately called NMRIs, but the “N” stands for nuclear, which forced hospitals to alter the abbreviation).

When Clinton was president, he brought the U.S. into a variety of ill-planned, destructive wars. However, these wars were mostly destructive to the innocent natives of the countries in which they were fought, while the U.S. army mostly escaped without harm. Bush changed that. Even if we accept that the Iraq War was a good idea (and it was regarded as such at the time), it is impossible to defend Bush’s handling of it. He turned in a dreadful performance—the war has come in inexcusably over budget, and the death rate (while historically modest—we call 4000 dead troops high; in World War II, they called that Tuesday) is higher than it should have been. Much of this can be traced to Bush’s inexplicable refusal to change course in Iraq, even after it was evident that things were not improving.

Few in the GOP criticized Bush’s performance. In fact, with the exception of a few eccentrics like Chuck Hagel and one Senator from Arizona, few spoke out against Bush’s poor strategy at all. And this unpardonable silence cost lives.

So why do I still support the Republicans? They are still superior to the Democrats. Also, they do have some good points. They have lowered taxes (although that’s not much good if spending isn’t lowered as well), have appointed good Supreme Court justices, and have done at least an acceptable job of fighting the War on Terror.

But the primary reason is potential. If fellow conservatives exert their influence on the party, the Republicans can do great things. (Remember, Sarah Palin is next in line for the GOP nomination). When I vote for a Republican, I am, in part, voting for that future. It worked in the seventies—after years of left-centrism, the GOP finally nominated Ronald Reagan. I believe that that given time, much the same thing will happen again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Votes For Third Party Candidates Are Wasted

Yesterday, a few websites reported the rumor (since debunked) that John McCain would support the “Gang of 20” drilling compromise, which would open up a tiny portion of space on the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling—while increasing taxes on oil companies by thirty billion dollars. It is, from a conservative perspective, a bad idea.

Many conservatives exploded with anger. Ace’s reaction was typical:

Do it. A lot of us are simply angry and want a goddamned shock to the system. And here's the thing you can take to bed with you tonight -- a clearing out of all of you deadweight RINO Senators and a genuine Republican bloodbath is also a perfectly serviceable shock to the system as far as we're concerned.


This sort of attitude isn’t as common as it was before McCain picked Palin, but for a brief time after McCain’s nomination, it was the prevailing outlook in the conservative blogosphere, and really, within the entire conservative movement. People seemed to think (and some still think) that withholding their vote for McCain and letting the Republican party go down in flames would be worth it. And judging from the reaction to the Gang of 20 rumors, many conservatives are still very open to the idea.

It doesn’t work. Voting for a third party candidate (or not voting at all) always sounds daring and audacious, a nice we’re-not-taking-it-anymore message to the offending party. But the party never actually listens to its angry base—it just goes and nominates the same kind of candidates the next year. After all, where else is the base going to go?

In 1992, Ross Perot actually managed to take the election from George H. W. Bush. (Perot isn’t easy to classify—personally, I think “crackpot” works best—but most observers think that he took many more votes away from Bush than he took from Clinton). Perot’s success was a clear sign that Bush’s policies weren’t resonating with voters—so did the GOP nominate a more conservative candidate the next election cycle? No, they nominated Bob Dole, a candidate who was remarkably similar to Bush.

Perot helped defeat him too. (Although in fairness, Perot’s impact was smaller in 1996, and I’m not sure that Dole needed any help losing). Clearly, many voters weren’t happy with the two mainstream party choices, and further, most of those voters were Republicans. They had helped rob the Republican party of victory for two consecutive election cycles. And the Republicans did not learn their lesson—they nominated George W. Bush, reasoning that all those Perot voters would come home to the Republican party, which they did. It worked—Bush won.

The Perot saga shows that even though a third party actually managed to affect the general election, and lost at least one and possibly two contests for the Republicans, the party didn’t change its philosophy. It simply kept nominating similar candidates till the third party voters gave up and came back to the party. It is what would happen if conservatives abandoned McCain now.

If the Perot story isn’t convincing, consider the Ralph Nader effect. In 2000, Nader clearly, without a shadow of a doubt, lost the election for Al Gore. Gore lost in the key state of Florida by under six hundred votes. Nader got almost one hundred thousand voters. If just one percent of Nader’s voters had voted for Gore, he would have been president of the United States. But they didn’t, because many liberals felt that Gore was not fully committed to the Left.

In 2004, the Democrats nominated John Kerry, who was, if anything, farther right than Gore. Sensing a pattern here? Voting for a third party is literally a wasted vote—the two major parties pay no attention to the concerns of third party voters.

Why not? Because they know that the sort of far-left or right voters who would go for a third party candidate are eventually going to come back anyway, after seeing the effects of their wasted vote. But the moderate, independent voters want a candidate somewhere near the middle of the political spectrum, and candidates who propose a single-payer healthcare system or a return to the gold standard don’t qualify, which explains why people like Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul never get nominated, no matter how many times they run.

There are a many more moderates than ideologues. Therefore, neither party will ever nominate a candidate who is either wholly conservative or totally liberal. Conservatives (and liberals too, really) should adjust to that fact, and attempt to start pushing the center right. (They can do this by joining grassroots organizations, running for office, or supporting conservative candidates). But throwing away votes on quixotic but doomed third party candidacies isn’t the way to do it.

I have always felt the conservatism, in large part, is about accepting reality. Many conservatives should start doing that.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Difference In Worldview

Worried? You probably are. The economy is in dreadful shape, unemployment is over six percent, Bear Sterns, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae have all recently required massive government bailouts to survive, and the investment bank Lehman Brothers has gone bankrupt. Hurricanes have done massive amounts of damage to the Gulf Coast, rendering two large cities (Houston and Galveston) uninhabitable, and have devastated most of our offshore drilling facilities as well. As a result, gas prices (which were decreasing, at least a little bit) are skyrocketing. And, of course, the threat of radical Islam remains. Things are bad.

Whichever candidate can convince the nation that he can best deal with these challenges will almost certainly be elected president. Ideology will play a role, so will image and biography, but perhaps the most important factor will be worldview. And a comparison there would favor John McCain.

For all the allegations of that Obama views America negatively (and there is some truth to those charges), Obama’s vision of America is pretty cheery. Obama’s America is one where all that foreign policy stuff is basically under control, so much so that one of America’s biggest foreign policy worries is that the French take a dim view of our actions in Iraq. And really, Obama’s vision of the economy is pretty optimistic as well—our current troubles notwithstanding, he evidently thinks that a nationalized healthcare system would somehow save the American people money.

Obama has some attractive ideas (attractive, at any rate, to a certain type of person), but they seem to be ideas for a nice, settled, prosperous time. It would be great to finally elect an African-American president. (Well, Obama is really only half African—apparently, any African blood at all qualifies one as being wholly black. Not that being black is a weakness or a bad thing, but I had hoped that we had moved on from the one drop rule. Tiger Woods is considered just black, but he is actually half Asian, which everyone forgets about, and which seems a bit insulting to Asians). Most people would love to live at the moment when the rise of the oceans begins to slow and we end the war and restore our image and reflect our best selves—but really, perhaps it’d be good idea to put all stuff that on hold. Maybe just until gas prices go down.

Whatever one may think of his policies, John McCain has lived through crisis. In his youth, he survived the worst aircraft carrier fire in history, as well as five years in a North Vietnamese prison. He has lived though all the important events of the last half century (it’s amazing to realize that during the last really bad economic downturn, during the late seventies, John McCain was then nearly as old as Barack Obama is now). For the last twenty-five years, McCain has served in Congress. John McCain understands the world we live in—he helped make it.

All that affects McCain’s worldview. He realizes that we live in a dangerous world—not dangerous only from a military standpoint, but from a social and economic perspective as well. His visions are more modest than Obama’s—Obama’s ambition is to heal the planet; McCain’s is to cut down on earmarks—but his plans are also more achievable, more pragmatic. Obama lives in a lofty, inspirational world, where good intentions are rewarded, war is usually unnecessary, and hope beats cynicism. John McCain’s world is the opposite, darker—but more realistic.

Of all the concerns voters have about presidential candidates, possibly the most significant is this: in a crisis, how would you operate? It’s impossible to adequately answer that question—nothing a candidate does before assuming the presidency could possibly compare to the pressures and difficulty of a full-blown national crisis. But a candidate’s worldview can provide some insight—and McCain’s worldview is much more suited to today’s world than is Obama’s.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Random Thoughts

Just a few random thoughts… (I haven’t done any of these in a while)…

Some (actually, all) commenters to my post defending amnesty suggested “enforcement by attrition” as an alternative to amnesty. This position was forcefully championed by Fred Thompson, a man who I very much respect, as well as by most conservative pundits. As I understand it, enforcement by attrition would attempt to drive illegal aliens out of the country by denying them jobs. This is a good idea, and should have its place in our immigration plan.

But frankly, I don’t think even the most aggressive enforcement of laws against hiring illegal aliens would cause all the illegals in this country to leave. And if only ten percent stayed, that would be over a million people. And it’s better to have them here legally (assuming they haven’t committed any crimes) than to have them here illegally, which would de facto amnesty anyway.

I must admit that one of my favorite blogs is becoming the Democratic Underground, if only for the sheer charm of its ridiculously ill-informed posters. Actual DU threads: “Palin kills defenseless puppies”, “Final Score: Barack Obama wins the day” and “I Spent Years as a POW with John McCain, and His Finger Should Not Be Near the Red Button.” These posts are so silly and out of touch with reality that it’s hard not to feel just a bit sympathetic towards these idiots.

Okay, I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of brains from the Democratic Underground, but I would from the Obama campaign, which makes its most recent missteps simply baffling. As part of Barack Obama’s oft promised pledge to “take the gloves off,” Obama has released his most devastating ad yet, which accuses McCain of not being ready to lead because…he can’t use a computer. Well. Still, it’s something, right? Except that a little Googling would reveal that McCain can’t use a computer because of the torture he suffered in Vietnam. It’s incredible—another unforced error on the part of the Obama campaign.

Speaking of unforced errors, Joe Biden is a walking treasury of them. Is there any other candidate who would tell a man in a wheelchair to “stand up, let people see you”? But his realization “God love ya, what am I saying” is so wonderfully hapless that it’s somehow hard to hold anything against him. And it’s hard not to feel sorry for Biden—he’s a decent man, and really not a bad VP pick; it’s just that he’s so far out of his league when put up against Palin.

When I attended McCain’s Lebanon rally, I got to shake his hand. Maybe I’m just starstruck, but the memory still feels special.

If the election were held today, Barack Obama would almost certainly lose. But if the election had been held three weeks ago, Obama probably would have squeaked out a victory. Lesson: Republicans shouldn’t become overconfident.

The media is drawing a lot of flak from conservatives over it’s treatment of Sarah Palin. Yes, the coverage is outrageous—but it’s important to remember that the media always acts like that. It’s just more noticeable now.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why We Need Amnesty

Yesterday, I wrote about the illegal immigration crisis, and how to solve the problem. Washington must work to pass laws which mandate stiff penalties for hiring illegal aliens; penalties stiff enough that the dangers of employing illegals outweighs the benefits. Only if we remove the incentives that draw them will illegal immigrants cease coming to the United States.

Good ideas, I think, as far as they go, but you might have noticed I forgot one very important detail: what to do with the illegal immigrants already here. It’s obviously impossible to deport them all—a really big raid can round up around five hundred illegals, and there are over twelve million already living here. And cracking down on employers wouldn’t solve the problem either—many of these aliens have lived in the United States for years, and would probably accept the newly difficult working conditions in order to continue doing so. They aren’t leaving.

What can we do? In my mind, there is only one realistic answer; one that I doubt will make me very popular with my fellow conservatives. It isn’t a good answer, but then, there are no good answers. We need amnesty.

Not the comprehensive amnesty that John McCain and Ted Kennedy advocated last spring, but some form of amnesty for some illegal aliens is essential to solving the problem.

But won’t amnesty instantly result in twelve million new residents? No, not if the government is careful about which immigrants they legalize. Immigrants wanting amnesty should have no criminal record, pay a fine, pay back taxes, and most importantly, be able to establish that they have resided in the United States for at least five years. (The last requirement alone will weed out many illegal aliens—many, perhaps most, only live in the U.S. for a few years to earn some money before moving back to Mexico). This would allow the most “Americanized” of the illegals to reside here legally, while letting federal immigration authorities concentrate on a much smaller group of illegals.

Some believe that that would jeopardize our national security by allowing closet Al-Qaeda operatives to become legal residents. This line of thought ignores the fact that the northern border is even less guarded than the Mexico-American one, and any Islamic terrorists entering the country would probably rather enter though a prosperous country with a multitude of friendly radical mosques rather than a poor country with no Islamic community. Besides which, the 9/11 hijackers got into the country illegally without sneaking across a border.

Others would object that amnesty would attract more illegal aliens—and they would be right. It isn’t a good answer—but there are no good answers to this question. If the federal government implements an amnesty program, it must crack down on employers who hire illegals aliens, using laws as draconian as necessary to end this practice. If this is not done, then another massive wave of illegal immigration will sweep the country, rendering any immigration reform futile.

Most conservatives probably oppose my idea. Fine. But before attacking it, tell me how you would go about the task of persuading twelve million people to leave the country, without allowing at least some them to stay. I doubt it could be done—many, probably most, would remain here illegally, which would simply be a less controlled form of amnesty.

I’m not sure how any conservatives reading this will react. A few members of the conservative blogosphere support amnesty, but only a very few. Say, six. I’m sure some commenters will just try to ignore this post as a bit of an embarrassment to me, while others will vociferously disagree. I can’t expect to change many minds on this issue. However, I do hope that what I write here will at least make people reflect on their position on this issue, and become aware of the arguments in favor of amnesty.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What About Immigration?

A little more than a year ago, immigration was one of the most important issues facing the nation. Politicians on both sides to the aisle promised comprehensive immigration reform, and voters made immigration a major issue. The issue very nearly sank John McCain’s campaign (due to his support of amnesty for illegal immigrants), and a botched answer to a question regarding the wisdom of issuing drivers licenses to illegals marked the beginning of the end of Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes. Voters cared about immigration, and most politicians promised change, saying that the immigration issue was an important, pressing issue that required immediate action.

Guess not. No one cares about immigration anymore. Republican voters forgave John McCain for his amnesty support; they didn’t care enough about the issue to even bother asking Sarah Palin for her position. To my knowledge, neither campaign has released any ads about the immigration issue. The issue is now irrelevant.

It shouldn’t be. There are still at least twelve million illegal immigrants in the country. They don’t pay taxes, cause crime (Hispanic gangs such as MS-13 are taking over some border towns), and take jobs from legal Americans. (Is the “taking jobs” concern just jingoistic propaganda? Not really. The people who lose out the most from illegal immigration are those at the bottom of the economic ladder, and those people are often first-generation immigrants). The Border Patrol cannot keep up with the flow of immigrants, and the INS is powerless to do anything about the millions that are here.

There isn’t any good way to solve this crisis. America can thank George W. Bush for this state of affairs; for years, he simply stood by as illegals streamed across the border. (And conservatives, inexcusably, mostly remained silent). But blaming Bush is futile—it won’t serve to solve the problem.

Two facts are indisputable. One, having twelve million people in our country illegally is unacceptable and dangerous. Two, it is impossible to deport them all, or even deport a significant percentage of them.

A third indisputable fact, which is nonetheless hotly disputed, is that it is impossible to fully secure our southern border. It’s just too long. Duncan Hunter claims to have built an impenetrable fence in his San Diego district—the fence is only a few miles long, and cost millions of dollars to build. Building a comparable fence across the border would cost massive amounts of money, and probably wouldn’t work that well anyway as long as people retain the ability to climb over fences. A secure border fence sounds like a good idea—but it wouldn’t work.

So what to do? We can’t keep illegals out, and we can’t deport them, but we can’t keep them here. So what can we do? We can remove the incentive that keeps them coming here—low-paying, menial jobs from employers who don’t care what immigration status their workers have. There are laws against hiring illegal immigrants, of course, but evidently few bother about them. (Farmers seem to hire particularly large numbers of illegals—there is no minimum wage for agricultural work, and it requires next to no training, making it ideal for illegal immigrants). Obviously, the penalties for hiring illegals are not nearly stiff enough—and must be raised until it stops becoming profitable for farmers and corporations to hire illegals.

Sadly, this probably won’t happen. The Democratic party won’t do anything that risks offending Hispanics—why antagonize a perfectly good minority voting bloc? And Republicans really are in the pocket of big business—they won’t do anything to end the flow of corporate money. And, of course, Republicans are also concerned about antagonizing Hispanics (who tend to be social conservatives), and Democrats get money from corporations too.

Neither party will act to fix the immigration problem. It’s much easier and more politically advantageous to simply ignore it, and hope voters won’t notice. (Which they aren’t). But eventually we will have to fix, and the future price of doing so will be enormous.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Attending the Lebanon McCain-Palin Rally

Ohio is a crucial swing state this year, and is also the state I live in, which guarantees that I will have plenty of chances to see the two presidential candidates in person. There’s no reason to pass up this opportunity (especially since the next election could swing on a totally different state), so I went to a McCain-Palin rally held in Lebanon, Ohio.

Lebanon is a small town of 16,000 on the outskirts of Cincinnati. It’s a traditional, established town, at least in the older part, where McCain held his rally. Lebanon focuses on deep-rooted tradition—the Lebanon Raceway is one of the few racetracks to offer live harness racing, and the Golden Lamb Inn (where McCain’s rally was held) was established in 1803, and has been visited by twelve presidents (thirteen if McCain gets elected).

Given its age, Lebanon isn’t exactly packed with parking spots, and it doesn’t really have enough for the estimated ten thousand people who attended the rally. And the lines were endless—the line extended at least eight blocks. That’s eight blocks in the rain, which, while it isn’t exactly McCain suffering through Vietnam, still wasn’t very pleasant, especially if you didn’t have an umbrella.

Judging from the comments of the people in line, all ten thousand people were there to see Sarah Palin. People kept joking that the sun would come out when Palin spoke (yeah, it’s not a very funny joke, but lets see you do any better given the circumstances), and a prosperous-looking guy behind me spent at least thirty dollars (I’m not making this up), looking for just the right Palin pin. (He found one—“the hottest governor from the coolest state”—but wouldn’t wear it because it was “sexist”). A stall selling t-shirts sold McCain-Palin shirts for twenty dollars—but shirts with just McCain went for only fifteen. But to fully understand the mood of the crowd towards Palin, you had to be there. Just imagine a million different variations of “Sarah Palin is awesome,” and you have the general idea.

So, I made it to the main event, where the audience got to listen to speeches from such fascinating people as the auditor of Warren County (fun), Rob Portman (yeah, he’s a good man, but his speeches aren’t exactly William Jennings Bryan), and Anthony Munoz. Then, we got about twenty minutes of recorded music, and, while the song choices were decent (John Rich’s “Raising McCain,” Rascal Flatt’s “Life is a Highway,” Heart’s “Barracuda”), they were also stuff you could find by listening to a radio for ten minutes. Fortunately, this gave me time to worm my way to not quite the front, but at least the middle of the crowd; which is harder than it sounds, especially when you have 10,000 people crammed into a narrow street.

Finally, Portman introduced Sarah Palin, who got about the reaction you would expect. And her speech was worth waiting for—there were a few lines recycled from her convention speech, but most of it was new. I particularly liked the part where she pointed out that she had vetoed almost half a billion dollars in spending, while Obama has asked for almost a billion in earmarks—about a million dollars for every day spent in office.

After Palin came McCain’s speech. You know how all the pundits constantly say that McCain is much better in person than on stage? They’re right. He can connect with a small audience in a way he can’t on television. On television, his speeches sound stilted and awkward; in person, they sound stirring and exciting. It’s pretty obvious that McCain would much rather be out on the stump than making a formal speech on television—the enthusiasm gap is evident.

Politicians shake hands with as many supporters as possible after speeches. There’s a reason for that—it works. As I left the rally, I found myself standing next to the police line watching McCain’s bus leave (note on the “Straight Talk Express”—if McCain is serious about fighting global warming, he might want to take a look at his bus. It’s really massive) with a few supporters who couldn’t make it into the rally but stayed anyway. (Impressive loyalty, even if it watching speeches you can’t hear seems a little like a waste of time).

Then John McCain came over to shake hands with supporters. I got to shake his hand, which doesn’t really sound like much. It is. After he shaking my hand, McCain is the same candidate he was before—but I feel much more enthusiastic about his candidacy. Perhaps that’s irrational, but it’s true for me, and judging from the reactions of the crowd, true for most others as well.

As I left the rally, I noticed the four most ineffective Obama supporters carrying signs. One was a grim-looking mother who had dragged her poor kid to the rally (I guess the child’s education wasn’t as important as standing on a street corner holding a sign for five hours), and a black lady who had cut her hair close to her skull, curled it, and dyed it blonde, which should give you an insight into the sort of people who counter-protest political events.

Anyway, this event demonstrated the extent of “Palinmania.” Were Sarah Palin not on the ticket, McCain would never have drawn ten thousand people. He would have drawn a much more manageable number, like fourteen. The Republican party is energized and enthusiastic—and they feel like they deserve to win.



ADDENDUM: Maybe I'm just unbelievably dense, but I can't find any schedule of appearances at Barack Obama's website. Does Obama have a set schedule? If so, can anyone point it out to me?

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Surprising Incompetence of Barack Obama

Saturday, Republican activists claimed to have rescued thousands of American flags left over from the Democrat National Convention from being sent to a landfill. They grabbed the flags and took them a Colorado Springs McCain-Palin rally, where they were distributed to the audience as a reminder of Barack Obama’s cavalier attitude towards one of our nation’s most treasured symbols.

People paid attention to the story, too. Drudge linked it, which guaranteed thousands of hits, and it appeared at Fox News’ website, as well as many conservative blogs. This episode made Obama look bad, and contributed, albeit slightly, to his current plunge in national polls.

Really, this sort of thing is totally excusable. Conventions are big events which take months to prepare, and weeks to clean up after. It’s easy to see how some low-paid staffer could mistakenly discard some flags (there were over 125,000 flags used at the Convention), or give that impression by storing them next to a Dumpster (which is the Obama camp’s story—that they were simply being stored before being sent back to the manufacturer).

So this story is relatively unimportant. It should have been a non-story—but it was. It is a perfect example of the staggering clumsiness of Barack Obama’s campaign. It might be a bit unfair to expect Obama to be far ahead in the polls at this point—no candidate could maintain Obama’s messiah façade, and improving conditions in Iraq mean that Republican candidates no longer have to worry about an unpopular war. But still, Bush is massively (and deservedly) unpopular, the economy is weak, and voters overwhelmingly believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect Obama to be up by fifteen points. It’s not unrealistic to expect him to be up, say, eight.

But he’s not. In fact, right now, he’s not up at all—McCain is leading by about three points. Granted some of McCain’s lead comes from his convention bounce, but then, his bounce is much bigger than Obama’s was. (Obama went from about two up in the RCP poll average to six up; McCain went from six down to three up). And McCain has been at Obama’s heels all summer.

So why is Obama losing? As in all things political, there is no one reason. His stark anti-war message probably doesn’t resonate with voters as he’d like it to, and the economy is isn’t quite as bad as he paints it. And his last two debate performances (the Pennsylvania one with Hillary, and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Forum) have not gone well, and he started badly due to the nomination fight with Hillary Clinton. But the root cause of Obama’s poll trouble lie in the fact that his campaign is, in many ways, clueless.

One of Obama’s most valuable traits was his ability to seem larger than life, a man who walked with kings, yet never lost the common touch; someone who understood yet somehow transcended modern politics. This trait drew massive crowds, enthusiastic supporters, and rallied young voters.

Then McCain called him a celebrity, and it was all gone. He released a funny, audacious ad, and suddenly people started drawing comparisons between Obama and Paris Hilton. When Obama gave his convention speech in front of some white pillars, people saw a Greek temple instead of the White House, or the Lincoln Memorial, or a half-off Macy’s sale (which is, apparently, what the pillars looked like in person).

Or take Obama’s choice of his running mate. He hit upon the wonderful idea of texting his pick directly to his supporters, ensuring that they would be the very first to know, and showing his familiarity with modern technology. But he only sent his message after the media had learned of his pick, and sent it at 3 a.m. on a Friday night. Obama’s big day was ruined—not because of anything McCain did, but thanks to an easily avoidable, unforced error.

Of course, these are the most significant mistakes; Obama’s campaign has made a host of more minor gaffes. (Off the top of my head: Biden calling Obama “Barack America”, “abortion is above my pay grade”, Biden: “life begins at conception” Obama: “I don’t have the votes to take your guns”). McCain, in contrast (and surprisingly) has run a tight, solid no-mistakes campaign.


If Obama were to tighten up his campaign, he would not be guaranteed a victory in November. But he would be able to build an strong opposing narrative, and fire up his supporters. His primary campaign was nearly flawless. If he wants to win in November, his general election campaign must be nearly flawless as well.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Stepping Back

Sarah Palin has recharged the conservative movement. Its fun listening to Rush now—his enthusiasm and passion is limitless. It’s the same story with the conservative blogosphere—bloggers who two weeks ago were fretting about McCain’s destruction of the Republican party are now enthusing about the new face of the GOP and wondering how much money to give to McCain. Many—on both the Left and Right—see Palin as the next Ronald Reagan, and the real leader of the GOP.

Maybe she is. But she’s not God. Conservatives are becoming much too caught up in “Palinmania.” Sarah Palin is a good person, and a brilliant pick for McCain. But she’s not perfect. Not every speech will be a barnburner like the one she gave at the Republican National Convention. There will be times when she gives poor speeches, or commits monumentally stupid gaffes.

And there will be times when she and the conservative movement disagree. Do you know her position on illegal immigration? Or free trade? Or Social Security? You don’t—nobody does. (The usually dependable OnTheIssues.org has little or no information about her stance on any of these issues). There will some issues on which her position differs from that of the conservative movement. (It was the same way with Reagan. On occasion, he abandoned the conservative on issues such as spending, immigration, and abortion).

That doesn’t mean she is not a good, even a brilliant, candidate. She is. That doesn’t even mean that she’s not the next Reagan—she very well could be. But she is not a totally flawless candidate, and conservatives should realize that.

Much of the Right’s enthusiasm over Palin reminds me of the hype surrounding Barack Obama when he first entered politics. He was the One, the man (or was he only a man?) who would forever change the face of modern politics, the person who was the change we were waiting for. Democrats fell for the silly hype, and look where it got Obama—two months before the election, he is neck and neck with an unexciting old codger with a dreadful speaking voice who can’t excite anyone. (Now Palin is energizing voters, but McCain was close to Obama even before he picked Palin). Messianism is not all that it is cracked up to be.

Are conservatives going overboard in their excitement over Palin? Some are, sometimes. Bill Whittle (whom I very much enjoy reading) exulted that “Sarah Palin has stolen Barack Obama’s glamour. She’s stolen his excitement, robbed his electricity, burgled his charisma, purloined his star power, and taken his Hope and Change mantra, woven it into a cold-weather fashion accessory, and wrapped it around her neck.”. Really? After one week? Peggy Noonan, another of my favorite writers, calls this election a “nation-defining” election due to Palin’s presence.

Perhaps both will be proven right—but after one week, there is not nearly enough evidence to support those conclusions. A one week performance can’t prove anything—it is possible, albeit unlikely, that Palin is a one-hit wonder who will just fizzle out.

I’m ecstatic about Sarah Palin. I am now proud to be a Republican in a way I wasn’t before. She is a wonderful pick, and could very well become the next great leader of the GOP. I suspect that most conservatives feel the way I feel, and they should. But they should also be aware that no candidate is perfect, and refrain from showing her the sort of adulation that Democrats feel for Barack Obama. She’s a great candidate—but she’s only human.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Defending Barack Obama

The Republican party has gotten very good at attacking Barack Obama. When the election season began, he was regarded as a political god—Oprah called him “the One,” young people flocked to his rallies, and Obama managed to defeat the powerful Clinton family with just a smile and a speech.

Since then, the Republicans have changed all that. They have not been kind to Obama—McCain has released some blistering anti-Obama ads, the conservative media has expertly punctured Obama’s change rhetoric, and the Republican National Convention has been all about bashing Obama. One line of conservative attack attempts to portray Obama as a messianic, inexperienced celebrity. This is perfectly acceptable—one can disagree with it (I don’t), but it is based on fact. Another line tries to paint Obama as an elitist un-American. This isn’t acceptable.

I have always thought that the elitist label, as applied to Barack Obama was a) unfair, and b) irrelevant. The charge seems to rest on only a few Obama statements: there was the “have you seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods” line delivered in Iowa (a state without a single Whole Foods store), and the “bitter/clinging” controversy. To be honest, I can’t get too excited over the “arugula” line—Obama has money, and criticizing him because he buys expensive food is seems dangerously close to class warfare.

As for the “bitter” line (summarized: bitter Americans cling to guns and religion), it was monumentally stupid, but not beyond the pale. It is basically a standard Democrat talking point—conservative Americans are uneducated rubes. An unfair assessment, to be sure, but hardly something unusual.

I happen to agree that many Americans are bitter, but rather than clinging to guns or religion, I think that most clinging Americans cling to protectionism or “change.” These statements are not proof of some overriding elitism on the part of Barack Obama.

And even if they were, is elitism such a bad thing? Both John McCain and Barack Obama are probably far smarter than most Americans. (Disagree? Remember, one out of four Americans can’t identify the United States on a map). Why must they pretend to be regular Joes who just happen to be running for president? John McCain is rich, and Barack Obama graduated from Harvard. Both candidates should be proud of these things, not smeared as elitists for them.

Some would argue that Obama’s (or McCain’s, depending on who’s making the argument) elitism ensures that he cannot appreciate the struggles of ordinary Americans. No presidential candidate can, since no presidential candidate can be an ordinary American. Presidential candidates are, almost by definition, wildly successful and rich men. The better candidate is the more competent one, not the one who can better fake being “in touch” with ordinary Americans.

A far more insidious charge, in my mind, is the accusation of un-Americanism. Obama is a poor presidential candidate—but his life story cannot be described as anything other than inspiring. He did what conservatives have spent decades advising minorities to do—he worked hard, got through college, and became a successful man. And this despite being born into an extremely difficult situation—a man caught between two races, two countries (remember, Obama spent much of his childhood in Indonesia), and two families. It would be a tough situation for anyone to overcome—yet Obama overcame it, and flourished.

He has carved out a good career in politics, written two books (okay, they were both memoirs; maybe he’s a little self-centered, but still, that’s more books than most people have written), raised a beautiful family, and provided all Americans with an inspirational story of determination. Obama’s life is far from un-American; on the contrary, it is a quintessential American success story.

Barack Obama is the enemy—but conservatives should ensure that their attacks on him are ethical. John McCain says that it is better to lose an election than to lose a war—and perhaps is also better to lose an election than to unfairly smear a candidate. There are more than enough legitimate arguments against Barack Obama to win the election.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Right Person

Last winter, Republicans had the chance to nominate a wholly conservative, Reaganesque politician—a man who was pro-life, libertarian, and smart. But the Republican party didn’t nominate Fred Thompson. Instead it nominated John McCain, a decent candidate, but far from a great one. The Republican party could have nominated a true, ideological conservative—but didn’t.

Let’s not make that mistake again. We can’t nominate a real conservative for president in this election—John McCain is a fine candidate, but hardly a true conservative. But in Sarah Palin, we have a leader in the mold of Ronald Reagan. She is steadfastly pro-life—she opposes abortion in all cases, even rape and incest. She also removes the “women’s rights” facet from the abortion debate—she refused to abort her Down Syndrome child. The pro-life movement has never had a stauncher ally.

She is also an expert on energy (at least as it relates to oil drilling). She was governor of the country’s largest oil producing state, and supports offshore drilling, drilling in ANWR, and nuclear power. Energy is perhaps the most important issue in this election, and it is an issue that Sarah Palin understands very well.

Most importantly, Sarah Palin is articulate; she can communicate conservative principles flawlessly. This ability was what made Ronald Reagan great; it has been George Bush’s greatest failure. Inarticulateness and political clumsiness has doomed many Republican candidates: George H.W. Bush looked at his watch while Bill Clinton felt a voter’s pain; Bob Dole couldn’t compete with the smooth Clinton, and George W. Bush, while he has won two presidential elections, has not been able to communicate his principles effectively. (One wonders how perceptions of the Iraq War would have differed had Bush been able to say something other than “stay the course.”)

This failure to communicate is a pity, because Americans like conservative ideals if expressed properly. Ronald Reagan won landslides, Rush Limbaugh is the most popular media figure in America, and Fox News is the most popular cable news channel. But Republican politicians haven’t been able to communicate this vision—none of the crop of Republicans running this year could be called a great communicator.

Palin is. I have just finished watching her convention speech. I came into the speech very favorably inclined towards Palin, and my judgment is, to be frank, impossibly skewed. I can’t give an unbiased opinion of her speech—but either she is brilliant communicator along the lines of a Barack Obama, or I can’t recognize rhetorical brilliance. (I mean that—possibly, I am so blinded by my liking for Sarah Palin that I am giving her speech too much credit). Her speech was brilliant—it hit Barack Obama hard, it showed who Sarah Palin is, and fired up the GOP base.

Republicans have been waiting for a conservative to lead the party for years—ever since Reagan. Palin could be that person. But we must make sure she is elected—her political career may depend on it. If John McCain wins the election, she will be Vice President and next in line for the presidential slot. If he loses, she will become John Edwards—a losing vice presidential pick. didConservatives must do everything possible to ensure that she wins.

When he stepped onstage tonight, John McCain said only one thing: “don’t you think I made the right pick”? He did.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Defending Palin

On Friday, John McCain introduced Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin was (and is) relatively unknown, and no one could know which lines of attack the Left would use against her. Four days later, though, we know how the Democrats plan on attacking Palin—and their attacks happen to be very weak.

There are three Democrat attacks against Palin: the criticisms of her maternal life, the inexperience charge, and “Troopergate.”

Complaints about Palin’s maternal skills center around the pregnancy of her teenage daughter Bristol. This is a particularly despicable tactic—the private life of Palin’s daughter can have no possible bearing on the campaign. These smears are wholly irrelevant, and there is really nothing else to say about them.

Another facet of the “bad mother” smear is the notion that Palin shouldn’t accept the nomination in order to preserve the privacy of her pregnant daughter. But by that logic, any candidate with a family shouldn’t be involved in politics. Attention comes with the territory—it is unfortunate, but the truth. And the notion that Palin can’t take care of her children while running, as some have charged, is just silly.

The inexperience argument is a bit more nuanced. I’m not sure that anyone could argue that Palin is very experienced—ten years as mayor of a small city and less than two years as governor do not make for a very seasoned candidate.

On the other hand, she is probably more experienced than Obama is. She has been in elected office longer—she began her time as mayor of Wasilla a year before Obama became a State Senator. And while mayor of Wasilla is only a part time job, it involves more governing than serving as a State Senator—which is also a part time job.

Apparently, everyone has forgotten about Palin’s service in the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which she chaired from 2003-2004. It is responsible for overseeing oil and gas drilling and production in Alaska, and her work in this organization ensures that she is familiar with every detail of energy production in Alaska. She is an expert on oil drilling (at least as it relates to Alaska), a fact that cannot be repeated too often.

And Palin’s Alaska governorship experience is much greater than Obama’s Senate experience. Obama has spent nearly half of his Senate time running for President, while Palin has had to actually spend time governing in Alaska. Palin has more executive experience than anyone else on either ticket—and the presidency is in the executive branch.

Of course, it isn’t hard to be more experienced than Barack Obama, and having more experience than Obama isn’t exactly an automatic qualification for the presidency. So is Palin qualified? Yes, but just barely. She has much more executive experience than any other candidate running. Granted, she is simply the best of a bad lot in that regard, but the fact remains that she is still the best. And her governorship of Alaska, while brief, was effective—her approval ratings hovered in the eighties. Palin is not the most experienced candidate ever, and she would be much better with a little experience—but she is (barely) experienced enough.

“Troopergate” probably could do the most damage to Palin if it pans out—but it is a long shot. Apparently, Palin wanted Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan to fire her former brother-in-law, Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten, which he refused to do. Later, Palin fired Monegan. Monegan claims that he was relieved because he wouldn’t fire Wooten. Palin denies this. (More on this story, though there isn’t much more, here).

Not a terribly damning story for Palin, and this story probably won’t go anywhere. Using this lame “controversy” as an attack, as many Democrats have done, is a sign of desperation.

Democrats have three avenues of attack against Sarah Palin. One is offensively irreverent (the Bristol pregnancy), one is a legitimate if flawed criticism (experience), and one is simply grasping at straws (Troopergate). Liberals can’t seem to find a reasonable narrative against Palin—a sign that she was a strong pick for McCain.