Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Maybe Michael Moore is Right

A new report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute has been getting a lot of attention lately. The Institute administered a civics quiz to a variety of individuals—young people, elected officials, and others, and the results were dreadful. That average score was forty-nine percent; only 0.8 of test takers got an A. Somehow, college educators scored an average of fifty-five. And this wasn’t hard test either—it covered only the most basic aspects of American government. (For the record, I got a 96%. Take the test here)

This would be worrisome, except it only confirms what most people already know, or at least suspect—the majority of Americans have no idea how the country works. It isn’t hard to find evidence of this fact—any “man on the street” segment on TV or radio (think Jay Leno) is a pretty strong indication of that fact (unless it merely shows that the sort of people who want to be on TV enough to appear on those segments aren’t fountains of civic knowledge). And most people can cite numerous examples of incredible ignorance from their own experiences with others. (If you can’t, you either mingle was an unusually intelligent set, or might want to brush up on your American history knowledge).

This ignorance is, of course, deplorable, but it’s also probably not going away. The state of public education might be deplorable, but a lot of people have a stake in preserving the status quo, and since these people also happen to be the people in charge of public education, they’ll probably get their way.

The NEA and AFT are reasonably happy with the way things are. Their membership includes the vast majority of all teachers. Teachers are hard to find, and so wield a lot of power in labor talks. Any real educational reform will be passed over the teachers unions’ dead bodies, and it’s doubtful anyone will have the will to do that. So we’re not very likely to see American civic literacy rise anytime soon.

(Although maybe not knowing who Susan B. Anthony was will be the least of our problems—Americans lag behind other countries is science and math too, which you’d think will be a problem in the future).

The fact that most Americans might as well be living in Estonia for all they know or care has some interesting implications. One is that public opinion is, by and large, massively ill-informed. The majority of Americans support abortion and oppose amnesty for illegal aliens, facts that supporters of abortion and opponents of amnesty take great pride in. But that support means little—most Americans, evidently, don’t take positions on issues based on a broad based understanding of all the factors involved, but take positions based on ignorance.

Another point—both parties claim to speak for the average guy. If they really do, that might explain much of the incompetence in Washington.

And a final point: many commentators point to Obama’s win over John McCain as proof of an Obama mandate. That’s debatable on many levels—most obviously, I’d think you’d need more than 53% of the vote to claim a mandate. But in American politics, it seems safe to say that nobody can get a real mandate—most voters don’t know, and don’t care, enough about a candidate’s policies to mandate them one way or another. People really do vote on a candidate’s image—they can’t understand his philosophical message.

Conservatives don’t often agree with Michael Moore, but perhaps he’s right on one point-- maybe Americans really are idiots. The fact that Americans lack even the most basic knowledge of our government is disgraceful—and deadly harmful to our democracy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Obama's Empty Platform: A Look at the Future

For months, Barack Obama relentlessly outlined his presidential platform. The most important component was change, closely followed by hope. But there were some actual policy proposals too—Obama promised a tighter budget, an end to tax cuts for the rich, universal healthcare, a change from “politics as usual,” and a quick end to the war in Iraq.

Experts love to point to September’s economic crisis as proof that one event can completely turn around a presidential race, and leave all the narratives before it wholly irrelevant. It did—before the bailout, McCain and Obama were virtually tied in the polls; after the crisis hit, Obama surged ahead. The worldwide recession might have won Obama the presidency—it certainly helped him a great deal. But it also (along with some other events) meant there is no way that Obama will be able to pass most of the legislation he proposed. The economy may have won Obama the presidency—but it doomed much of what he ran on.

It’s almost impossible to see a way in which Obama will be able to push through nationalized healthcare, at least in his first two years. Universal healthcare would represent a tough and politically risky fight under the best of circumstances (the push for healthcare reform marred Bill Clinton’s first two years, and led to the GOP Congressional takeover in 1994), and Obama will have his hands full with economic matters. And even the Democrats must realize that the government only has so much money—considering that the bailout alone will cost upwards of five trillion, it would be difficult to completely revamp healthcare as well, which would be quite expensive. It’s really hard to see any meaningful healthcare reform happening in an Obama first term.

One of the most remarkable things about the last few years is the way in which the Iraq War has become a defining issue to something only a few of the netroots worry about. The war was a major factor in the 2006 elections, and the early part of the long 2008 campaign. But as the surge started to take its effect, the war dropped out the headlines, and by the time the election rolled around, the economy had taken its place as the key issue.

Now, Obama’s old rhetoric about Iraq—that it was a disaster, an awful mistake—seems dated. Violence in Iraq is down, and the country is approaching a state of relative normalcy (at least for the Middle East). And his new Iraq policy seems to reflect that—while he has never officially changed his old position on leaving Iraq in sixteen months, he hasn’t criticized Bush’s status-of-forces agreement, which would keep troops in Iraq for three more years. Obama ran on a promise to end the war quickly. He won’t, but nobody (except the Democrat party’s left wing) will mind, since there really isn’t much of a war left.

One of Obama’s most used weapons was the accusation that John McCain favored tax cuts for the rich. It was also one of his more effective attacks—many people think, fairly or not, that the rich are especially privileged (which they usually are), and any extra advantage is rarely viewed favorably, particularly when many middle-class people are worrying where their next car will come from.

But there’s one thing stronger for liberals than class warfare, and that is Keynesian economics. And the first thing you learn in Keynesian economics is that tax cuts (and increased government spending) are the prescription for a recession. Obama is a Keynesian.

It goes without saying that Obama probably won’t propose a less costly budget than Bush—and even if he would, the bailout will present enough of a deficit to doom any attempt at even starting to balance the budget.

But perhaps the most laughable Obama promise is the claim that he represents a change from “politics as usual.” To bolster that claim, one of the first appointments Obama made was of Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff. Emanuel, of course, was a high-level advisor to President Bill Clinton.

Obama seems to be getting the rest of his staff from the former Clinton administration as well. He named former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers director of the National Economic Council, and is gave former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson the position of Secretary of Commerce. And, of course, Hillary Clinton will be Obama’s Secretary of State, which would seem to indicate that former Clintonistas will have a great deal of power in the Obama Administration. That’s not exactly “change”.

(Not that Obama deserves blame for reaching out to former Clinton officials—he needs to find advisors for his Cabinet somewhere. But it does underscore the utter emptiness of the “change” message.

Many conservative have pointed out that Obama is extremely liberal. But circumstances (almost) guarantee that the most sweeping of his liberal reforms won’t become law. The bailout is horribly expensive, and dangerously socialistic*, but it will at least keep much of Obama’s platform from becoming the law of the land.

*Yeah, but isn’t the “socialistic” bailout worse than anything Obama is proposing? Maybe, but that isn’t the point here. The point is that Obama’s seemingly radical government won’t actually do any of the things he promised.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Opposing the Bailout

Back in September, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson convinced Congress that he needed $700 billion in order to bail out failed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Paulson promised to use the money to buy up troubled mortgages owned by the two companies, which would eliminate billions of dollars in liabilities for these corporations. Congress passed the bill, and then Paulson announced that he would use the money to buy stock in banks too. And also bail out AIG, and Bear Sterns too while he had the money. And American Express.

Now Congress is thinking of bailing out the Big Three automakers in order to rescue them from the consequences of years of mismanagement. And recently, the federal government has assured Citigroup that it will try to shore it up by injecting another twenty billion dollars into the company, in addition to the twenty-five billion it put into it a few weeks ago .

It’s a key tenet of Keynesian economics that raising taxes during a recession is very harmful, so it’s a mystery where Congress thinks it will find the money to pay for all these bailouts. The deficit was high enough before the bailout (around a half trillion); now, some estimates put the 2009 deficit at over a trillion dollars. Apparently, Congress has just given up on ever controlling the national debt, and will spend with absolutely no consideration for what its resources are.

Apart from the financing of the bailout, conservatives should oppose it on the grounds that it represents a massive and unwarranted government intrusion into the economy. (It might be a bit of an exaggeration to say an “unprecedented” intrusion into the economy—the saving and loans bailout, the Great Society, and the New Deal spring to mind—but it’s close). It should be quite unbelievable that a Republican president favors partially nationalizing financial institutions, or supports spending what will almost certainly be well over a trillion dollars at one go. The bailout represents George W. Bush’s final betrayal of conservatives.

Conservatives should (and for the most part, do) reject Paulson’s heavy-handed efforts. So should liberals. The implementation of the bailout is an unholy alliance between big business and big government—it combines the worst aspects of capitalism and socialism.

The bailout is, in essence, a massive insurance policy for corporations. It destroys the concept of moral hazard, that a firm that takes a gamble risks losing everything. In our current climate, any firm that is in any danger of bankruptcy needs only to ask the federal government for a spot of help, and it will be rescued at taxpayer expense. This arrangement is a blatant abuse of power by both business and government.

Defenders of the bailout claim that the companies being bailed out are “too big to fail,” and that their size and role in the economy make bailing them out less painful than not doing so. That was, possibly, true for Fannie and Freddie—they were massive corporations partly controlled by the government. But there can’t be many more—there is simply no possible way that American Express, GM, Citigroup, and AIG were all too big to fail.

Even if we accept that every company bailed out was, in fact, too big to fail (and if, say, GM, were to fail, the consequences would undoubtedly be horrible), the bailout would still be unjustified. If our economy is so fragile that over five crucial corporations can fail within three months, then any bailout is a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. Injecting money into the system won’t address any of the underlying reason any of these corporations went under, and in most cases is only throwing good money after bad.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Blaming Deregulation

Does anyone know precisely what caused the economic crisis? That question can’t be answered, at least right now—the matter is far too complex and multifaceted for anyone to fully understand its causes. The sheer number of players involved (banks, mortgage lenders, Fannie and Freddie, and Congress, just to name a few) and the inherent difficulties of economics make comprehending all the causes and reasons for the worldwide credit crunch immensely difficult for even for experts, and virtually impossible for laypeople.

Unless you happen to be a liberal. Then, all the reasons for the crisis can be summed up in one word—deregulation. If a liberal wants to expand on the root causes of the recession, he might mention George Bush, or maybe Wall Street greed. On the Left, there is no doubt that it was laissez-faire economics and deregulation that brought down Wall Street. Barack Obama said that the recession was a “final verdict” on the policies of the Bush Administration.

Deregulation (or perhaps more accurately, poor regulation) undoubtedly played a part in Wall Street’s collapse. But to saddle deregulation with all the blame in to grossly oversimplify the reasons for the current economic situation.

In reality, government is as much responsible as big business for the mess we’re in. At the root of the problem are former mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—and both were originally created by the federal government. Eventually, both became hybrid corporations—owned by both private individuals and the federal government. So the federal government had a great deal of control over Fannie and Freddie.

Congressmen like homeowners—homeowners tend to be content, and contented voters mean reelection. Fannie and Freddie were in the business of buying mortgages, which meant that the number of mortgages sold was closely connected to the number they would buy. So Congress pressured Fannie and Freddie to accept risky subprime mortgages, thus allowing more Americans to realize the American Dream of owning a house. And Fannie and Freddie did as Congress wanted—both unveiled programs to ensure that low-income buyers could get mortgages, and spent billions on risky subprime mortgages.

Fannie and Freddie both bought and sold mortgages. They didn’t actually sell mortgages to future homeowners, but rather bought them from mortgage lenders. They then kept some, and sold the rest to third-party investors. Fannie and Freddie were seen as safe, reliable investments.

So on one end, Fannie and Freddie determined (in large part) the habits of mortgage companies (and so the housing market), on the other, they sold billions of dollars worth of mortgages, including many to banks and large corporations. Given their size and reach, these institutions were cornerstones of our economy.

Congress thought so too—when billions in subprime loans started worrying banks and other financial institutions, Congress stepped in to help—by pressuring Fannie Mae to buy tens of billions worth of bad debts. That kind of risk (and given the subprime market, this was a disastrous investment) is a horrible way to run a company, and contributed to Fannie Mae’s collapse. But it was a result of government intervention, not regulation run amuck.

But deregulation was to blame for the fact that no one saw the collapse coming, right? Not so much. Early in 2008, Henry Paulson noticed Fannie’s and Freddie’s instability, so he sent Robert K. Steel to deal with the problem. Steel failed miserably—he was unable to get either company to raise any meaningful amount of money to cover bad loans. Had the federal government (or the leadership of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, for that matter) done something then, perhaps much of the resulting crisis might have been forestalled.

Finally, in July, Paulson asked Congress for authority to take over Fannie and Freddie should the situation require it. He thought the prospect of a takeover alone should stabilize the situation—he compared the takeover authority to a bazooka—“ff you’ve got a bazooka and people know you’ve got it, you may not have to take it out”—but the idea of a takeover did nothing to stabilize the situation.

After Fannie’s and Freddie’s stock became worthless, banks realized that any mortgages they had bought to shore up their portfolios were now virtually worthless. Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s collapse sent ripples throughout the economy.

Would better regulation have, possibly, prevented the economic meltdown? Maybe.
But had the federal government not mishandled Fannie and Freddie so terribly, perhaps the economy could have avoided recession, or at least the horribly lengthy and expensive sort we’re in. (Either way, a lot of blame still attaches itself to the Bush Administration—it both pushed deregulation and pressured Fannie and Freddie to accept risky mortgages). Deregulation was certainly not solely, and probably not even primarily, responsible for the economy’s failure.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Addressing the Liberal-Conservative Web Gap

There is a lot of worrying in conservative circles about the liberal dominance of the Internet. It’s hard to argue that that is not the case—the Huffington Post is a major Internet player, and sites like the Daily Kos and MyDD get many more visitors than equivalent conservative sites. And the difference in tone between liberal and conservative sites are striking—conservative websites usually consist of commentary and analysis, while liberal sites take a more strategic, what-you-can-do tone. Basically, the conservative web presence consists of aspiring George Will’s, while the liberal side is full of David Alexrod’s.

This worries many conservatives, who feel that the conservative movement is being left behind by technology. Barack Obama’s web campaign was much better than McCain’s—he got hundreds of millions of dollars from online donors, and created a whole network of like minded people. McCain’s web organization was reasonably good (it released some clever web ads and featured Michael Goldfarb), but was nowhere near as effective as Obama’s. McCain’s web presence seemed to be a secondary part of his campaign, while Obama made the Internet one of the cornerstones of his.

Many, such as Patrick Ruffini, think that the Right needs to shift direction. Ruffini (as anyone who reads The Next Right knows) distains punditry and thinks that conservative bloggers need to think strategically, as opposed to analytically, in order to make up the web gap.

It’s impossible to know for sure, but it seems to me likely that the web gap isn’t a product of ideology, but rather of demographics. The Internet population is composed disproportionally of young people. The most popular websites (Facebook, ESPN.com, YouTube) cater to a youthful audience. Internet memes (LOLcats, ninjas, pirates) are the sort of things that are the product of a less mature generation. Even writing styles used by bloggers is characteristic of young people—short, punchy posts, lots of lists, plenty of variety.

And young people tend to be Democrats. So naturally, they gravitate to sites like the Huffington Post and Daily Kos, where they can find similar points of view. The Democrat dominance of the Internet is inevitable as long as it consists mostly of young people.

A similar situation can be found in the case of talk radio. The Republican base consists largely of middle-aged people with jobs and senior citizens. Talk radio fills both of those niches—old folks don’t have anything better to do, and middle-aged people have fairly set schedules. Liberal talk radio will never (at least in the near future) succeed, and not just because it can’t seem to find any talented hosts. The demographics are wrong.

This is not to imply that conservative shouldn’t bother with the Internet—it’s a wonderful resource, and not all Internet inhabitants are Democrats. Sites like National Review Online, Drudge Report, and Instapundit, while lacking (with the exception of Drudge) the impressive hit totals of their liberal counterparts, still have the ability to drive stories and provide analysis. Sites like the The Next Right can be effectively create new strategies for the GOP. The Web can be a useful tool for conservatives—but it’s unreasonable to expect it to be as effective for Republicans as it is for Democrats.

And fortunately, eventually the two sides will even out. As the Internet becomes more ubiquitous, more and more older people will realize its possiblies. And as first-generation Internet users will get older, and some will inevitably slide over to the Republican side. Eventually, most of the population will be online, and then the Internet population will reflect the population-at-large’s political views.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Let's Admit It: Bush Was a Failure

For the past eight years, conservatives have been fairly easy on President George W. Bush. They’ve complained a bit about his massive budgets, and have occasionally pointed out examples of his poor communication skills, but overall, the conservative movement and George Bush have gotten along. Bush has received more criticism than any president since Nixon—but the conservative movement has always been there to defend his record.

In less than two months, Bush will no longer be president. It’s time to take a realistic look at Bush’s presidency. There is no longer anything to be gained by denying that it has been anything but a failure.

The Iraq War will probably be remembered as the defining event of Bush’s presidency. The wisdom of going into Iraq is doubtful in hindsight. (Saddam Hussien had no WMDs, and no—or few—connections to terrorism) When one looks at the information Bush had at the time (which is, really, the only way to judge the decision), Bush looks a little better—but not much. Even the most worrisome pre-war intelligence did not show any immediate threat from Iraq—Iraq’s WMD program, if it had one, could only have been in the planning stages.

Many liberals have charged Bush with falsely linking Al-Qaeda and Saddam. He didn’t. But there can be little doubt that Bush used 9/11 as a reminder of what could happen should we not invade Iraq. And Iraq had nowhere near the capabilities to inflict another 9/11 on America.

The intelligence failure was excusable—it’s difficult to judge future threats. Bush’s handling of Iraq was not. Our initial strike was a clear victory. Things went downhill from there as Iraqi insurgents mastered guerrilla tactics. America spent a far-too-large amount of blood and treasure in Iraq, futilely attempting to destroy an enemy who could not—at least using the strategies we were using—be destroyed. It took Bush three years to realize that a change in strategy was needed. That amount of time was much too long.

Possibly even worse than Bush’s handling of Iraq has been his management of economic matters. When Bush took office, the national debt was around five trillion. Now, it’s nearly ten trillion. Bush’s domestic policies represented the greatest expansion of government since the Great Society. That is simply inexcusable, especially for a president who claims to support fiscal responsibility.

It isn’t fair to lay responsibility for the current financial crisis solely on Bush’s shoulders. But then, Jimmy Carter wasn’t wholly responsible for stagflation—but that hasn’t stopped people from blaming him. Bush deserves blame for our situation today, as his policies are largely responsible for it.

His administration (and the Republican-controlled Congress) pressured Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to accept risky mortgages. Under his watch, the Fed lowered interest rates far below market rates. (Granted, the Fed operates outside the executive branch—but it’s hard to imagine that Bush didn’t have influence). When Fannie’s and Freddie’s financial situation became obvious earlier this year, Bush’s Treasury Department did nothing productive.

Even if we assume that some sort of bailout was necessary to protect the lending markets, Bush still mishandled the issue (although to be fair, he had plenty of help from Congress). The bailout put far too much money in the hands of Henry Paulson, and Paulson’s allocation of it doesn’t seem to have helped the situation much. Paulson has spent about half of the $700 billion he got from Congress. It’s hard to see where spending another $350 billion will help. Bush tried to spend his way out of a crisis he helped cause. He failed.

Voters were right to reject Bush’s Republican party (although they probably jumped straight into the fire). There is nothing to be gained from defending Bush, or looking to his administration for guidance (unless, perhaps, as a guide of what not to do). As conservatives seek a new direction in which to take the party, they should simply admit Bush’s failure and look for a new national GOP leader.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Letting GM Fail

Back in October, I, along with much of the rest of the conservative movement, supported the federal bailout bill. The reasoning behind it, which seemed strong at the time, was the lending market was so terrified of further bankruptcy that some government intervention was needed to stabilize the situation. It sounded logical, and most pundits—though relatively few Americans—agreed with it.

It’s a bit late to wonder what might have been, but it seems that the bailout bill might have been a mistake. I suppose that the fact the Henry Paulson picked $700 billion dollars as the cost of the bill simply because it seemed about right should have been a tip-off that the bailout wasn’t going to be a very well-run operation. And the fact that much of the nation’s (and given our place in the global economy, the world’s) financial problems were partly due to Paulson’s frightening pronouncements and mismanagement (Fannie’s and Freddie’s bankruptcies didn’t just sneak up on us; Paulson knew for some time that both corporations were in trouble) should have been another. The bailout was supposed to prevent a disastrous credit crunch. Given the state of the economy, it seems to have failed.

The bailout of the banking sector hasn’t exactly been a rousing success. But Washington is now talking about bailing out one or more of the Big Three automakers. Congress already supports some form of bailout, and President-elect Barack Obama seems to as well. Bailing out Wall Street may have been a mistake. Bailing out Detroit would be a disaster.

Wall Street is not always rational. Irrational panic over the fate of Fannie and Freddie could have sent the financial (as in lending) sector of the economy into a tailspin. Credit isn’t a physical possession—and any organization dealing in it (as in a bank, or a mortgage insurance corporation) can be adversely affected by events wholly beyond its control. That was the original idea behind the bailout—to give the lending sector a bit of confidence that things wouldn’t get out of control.

Cars, on the other hand, are physical objects, and can be measured in cost per unit. The Big Three aren’t losing money due to external events—they’re losing money because they don’t work.

American cars aren’t very good, at least compared to foreign ones. Toyota and Honda are reliable—Ford and GM aren’t. And in a competitive environment, it’s hard to compete while making poor cars.

And when the Big Three do manage to sell one of their second-rate (not that every American car is bad—but on average, they do rate below Japanese cars) cars, they lose money on it. So when GM, say, sells five million cars, each car sold represents a net loss. Let me be the ten thousandth person to point out that GM loses money per sale, but they make it up in volume (ha ha). That’s not a very good way to stay in business.

Some claim that any of the Big Three are “too big to fail.” They’re right—we really can’t afford to have another huge corporation (or two) go bankrupt. But we can’t afford to bail them out even more.

First, that would destroy the idea of “moral hazard,” that by going into business you stand a chance of losing what you invest. If the federal government becomes, in essence, a massive investment insurer, both moral hazard and a great deal of incentive will be lost.

Further, bailing out GM (which would probably be the first automaker to be bailed out) would set up a slippery slope. No business is safe in our economic situation. Which would be the next sector of big business looking for a federal government bailout?

Finally, bailing out the Big Three wouldn’t solve anything. They would still lose money on their cars, and their cars wouldn’t improve in quality. Giving them cash would only let them continue to lose money. Were GM to fail, it would represent a true catastrophe—but it wouldn’t be as bad as having the federal government bail it out.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How To Promote Gay Marriage (Not That I Support It)

One of the most watched elections this year was the vote deciding whether to pass Proposition 8, which would amend California’s constitution to explicitly ban gay marriage. California is one of the most liberal states in the country, and the debate over same-sex marriage is one of the most controversial social issues. The election was seen as a measure of public opposition to same-sex marriage.

The measure passed, which reassured social conservatives and angered and frustrated gay activists. Two groups were largely responsible for the passage of the amendment—Mormons, who flooded the state with anti-gay marriage ads, and blacks, who were out in force supporting Obama but opposing gay marriage.

Angry gay activists decided that the proper way to build support for gay marriage was to take their frustration out on both groups. Some California gays have announced plans to boycott Utah to protest the Mormon church’s opposition to gay marriage (although it’s hard to see exactly what they would boycott—Utah wasn’t exactly a gay mecca in the first place). Gays also took out their anger on blacks—according to some reports, gay protesters called black passerby (and some black fellow protesters) “n*ggers” and blamed them for the proposition’s passage.

(It should be noted that not all, in fact not even most, gay protesters acted in this disgraceful way. But many did, and fairly or not, they became the face of the post-Proposition 8 protests).

I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for those disappointed gay marriage advocates. A constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage may represent governmental overreach—but then, it was passed in order to prevent federal courts from subverting the will of the people from the bench. I don’t support the recognition of gay marriage, so the result (if not the means) of the California ban is in line with my ideology.

That being said, I do have a little sympathy for same-sex marriage activists. Considering that homosexuality (at least according to Roman Catholic teachings) is a relatively minor (though still mortal) sin, and that allowing gay marriage would affect such a tiny part of the population (possibly two percent, and even that’s a bit high), it’s hard to deny that homosexuals are a convenient scapegoat for the erosion of the institution of marriage over the past half century. (If you don’t think that our ideas of marriage have fundamentally altered over the latter part of the past century, consider that over half of U.S. marriages end in divorce, and over a third of U.S. children are born out of wedlock). Gay marriage would redefine marriage, and not for the better, but could hardly weaken it more than it is now.

Given that fact, I can find it within myself to feel rather sorry that the California gay community is handling their loss so badly. Granted, it must have been a real disappointment to gays—but there are at least three things gays could be doing more productive than protesting and boycotting.

1. Find What Went Wrong. The anti-Prop 8 campaign was well-funded, well organized, and media savvy. That wasn’t enough. Gay marriage advocates might want to find out why, instead of trying to threaten those who voted against it.

Anyhow, gays don’t have much influence with their targets—Mormons don’t really care to have gays buy from them anyway, and while hearing “n*gger” is undoubtedly hurtful to blacks (and offensive to whites), it does lose some of its menace factor when coming from a skinny hairdresser in tight jeans.

Anger may be understandable, but it’s counterproductive. I’ve read some screeds by angry gays responding to Prop 8. None have made me feel a bit sympathetic. In fact, after reading 600 words about how anyone who opposed this proposition is hateful and bigoted and basically racist and probably in the closet themselves, I go from mildly glad the proposition was passed to feeling relieved at what a narrow escape we had.

2. Try To Be Normal. Gays suffer from the (correct) perception that they don’t see the world the way most people do. Most people aren’t comfortable with that. So in order to win acceptance, gay activists must combat that image. That probably means that whole “interior decorator” image has to go, replaced by a more wholesome “couple next door” vibe.

An example: when TV comedy Will and Grace was casting, the part of gay character Will Truman came down to actors John Barrowman and Eric McCormack. McCormack got the part—Barrowman was “too straight.” If gays want to see gay marriages recognized, they will have to change that popular image. (Ironically, McCormack is straight, while Barrowman is gay).

3. Establish Relationship With Social Conservatives. It’s a stretch to expect evangelicals, Mormons, or conservative Catholics to support gay marriage (I certainly wouldn’t), but it is conceivable to conceive of a scenario in which these groups just aren’t all that concerned. Gay activists should stress that gays can be pro-life (though come to think of it, I suppose unplanned pregnancies aren’t a big problem for homosexuals) and pro-gun, and can be friendly to religion. It would, perhaps, be productive to send pro-gay marriage preachers to evangelical churches—they probably wouldn’t change many minds, but they might lessen anti-gay marriage fervor.

I don’t know if these ideas would work, and given that I oppose gay marriage, I hope that the gay community don’t try them. But I do know that they would have to be more effective than what gay activists are doing.

(Some might wonder why, if I don’t support gay marriage, I wrote a 900 word essay giving my best ideas how to promote it. Good question—I really don’t know. It may have been a waste of time—but then, political junkies love thinking about this sort of stuff).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Defending Social Conservatives

In the days following a presidential election, both sides turn introspective and attempt to chart the future path of their political party. In 2004, conservative pundits started writing books like Painting the Map Red and started gloating about the influence of “values voters,” while liberals wrote books like What’s the Matter with Kansas? and griped about flyover country. The same phenomenon can be seen in 2008—both sides are frantically trying to determine what this election tells us about the political future of the nation.

Apparently, the lessons of this election are the exact opposites of the ones learned from 2004. Liberal strategists are plotting ways to paint the map permanently blue, while conservatives wonder what’s the matter with Pennsylvania and worry that they’ll be consigned to eternal minority status.

Most of this analysis is a harmless overreaction to recent events and won’t have much influence. But there is one idea, popular among many conservatives, that is potentially destructive. This view cites the Republican party’s emphasis on social issues as a reason for its unpopularity among voters.

This line of reasoning goes that social conservatives might make up about a third (give or take a few percentage points) of the electorate, but you need 51% to win and pandering to those scary social conservatives drive away moderate voters, which are necessary for victory. According to proponents of this view (David Frum is one; David Brooks is another), conservatives should propose more moderate, work-towards-the-center policies, such as accepting abortion and fighting climate change, which would, in theory, appeal to educated, upper-middle class voters.

I’m not sure what would happen to the social conservatives under this model; I think that the idea is that they would have to face up to reality and keep voting Republican.

This idea is completely divorced from reality. One of the most noticeable features about post election theorizing is the idea that anything that didn’t take place within the last two years never happened, which might explain how values voters went from cornerstones of the GOP’s success in 2004 to a millstone around the GOP’s neck in 2008. Do demographics really change so fast that embracing a certain group could be essential for victory in one election but actually harmful in the next?

Apparently so, according the many GOP moderates. But even if we accept that these instant demographic shifts as plausible, there really isn’t much evidence that the GOP’s social attitudes are driving away voters in great numbers.

Exit polls are dubious at best—they failed to predict the correct results in 2000 or 2004, and were significantly off in 2008 as well. But no matter how bad they are, pundits seem to accept their results as gospel, so we’ll work with them. They didn’t show Obama winning because the public was uneasy about a potential theocracy—for the most part, Obama voters cited the economy and a desire for change as their primary reasons for voting Democrat. Social issues didn’t depress the Republican vote—in fact, given the fact that McCain won primarily socially conservative Southern states, it might have prevented an Obama landslide.

Moving beyond exit polls, actual Republican voters spoke by voting down pro-abortion candidate Rudy Giuliani. For years, Democrats have attempted to mollify pro-lifers by supporting “safe, legal, and rare” abortions (without much success). There is little evidence that Republican opposition to abortion costs them many votes—on the contrary, it is the party’s attitudes on the economy and the war that lost the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Given the fact that there isn’t much evidence that appealing to social conservatives hurts Republicans with moderates, why do so many Republicans propose jettisoning this group? There is not, of course, only one answer, but I think much of the solution lies in the fact that many of those most vocal against social conservatives represent either the fiscal conservative or neocon wings of the party. President Bush’s fiscal and foreign relations policies have been incredibly damaging to the GOP’s reputation. Social conservatives are an insular group, and don’t have many defenders. This means that they form a perfect target for those within the conservative movement who don’t wish to admit that so many of the policies they endorsed are miserable failures.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama: A Great Black Victory?

Barack Obama’s victory has resulted in a lot of poorly reasoned commentary. There are many who, on the strength of two bad elections, declare the Republican party extinct and conservatism dead. Then there are those who declare that Obama’s 52-46 win (with every possible political wind behind him) a resounding mandate for Obama’s liberal policies. And there is a great deal of overblown praise of Obama’s seemingly limitless political savvy and leadership strength. But unquestionably, the most annoying meme is the idea that America has now, with Obama’s win, officially transcended racial divisions. This idea manages to be both obviously wrong and nauseatingly conceited.

Proponents of this view, which is found on both the left and right, see America’s acceptance of Barack Obama as a sign that we have finally moved past race, and that doing so is a major historical event and a convincing sign of American virtue. Norah Vincent wrote in the LA Times that “the world is actually proud of us too, and more than a little surprised. It didn't think we had it in us. To tell you the truth, neither did I”. Peggy Noonan gushed that “[Obama] confounded history to get [the presidency]. What a thing this is going to be to see. What luck to observe it.”

The fact that America has elected a black president is an exhibition of its relative color-blindness, at least compared to a generation ago, but is hardly historically significant and certainly not surprising.

Hollywood has shown black presidents for years. In “The Man”, James Earl Jones played a black president, as did Morgan Freeman in “Deep Impact.” “24” character David Palmer was a very popular fictional black president, at least until he was assassinated (on the show, of course, not in real life).

And in real life, Colin Powell probably could have run for the presidency on either party’s ticket in 1996. He wasn’t guaranteed a victory, of course, but his impressive poll support was clear evidence that wide swathes of America were open to the idea of a black man running for president. For that matter, the intensely polarizing Jesse Jackson ran respectable presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988. Obama’s victory may be a victory for race relations—but it is about as surprising as hearing of a Catholic winning an election in Utah.

And not to rain on anyone’s parade, but the fact that a black man has become president of the United States is historically significant only if one takes a relentlessly Amerocentric view of history. Blacks were treated horribly in America—first as slaves, then under Jim Crow. But compared to other historical turnarounds, the liberation of black society isn’t particularly remarkable. Jews are now accepted in Germany. India’s people peacefully overthrew their British rulers and set up a fairly functioning democracy. Japan managed to check its imperialistic impulses and is now allies with the very nations it attempted to conquer seventy years ago. Black America has come a long way—but compared to the above examples, its story isn’t particularly extraordinary.

And even if one thinks it is comparable, it’s worth noting that America is still de facto segregated. Blacks are now allowed to vote, to send their children to school wherever they like, and to assemble without fear. Whites, at least the vast majority, no longer fear or worry about blacks. But it’s rare to see blacks and whites living together. Schools are mostly separated into white and black schools. White and black youth culture is different (though there is some crossover between the two cultures, whites tend to listen to pop or country music, whiles black seem to prefer hip-hop).

Black and whites don’t intermarry to any significant degree. When going to any young people’s hangout, whites and blacks usually stay apart.

(I can’t speak from personal experience, but it would be interesting to compare racial attitudes in America and a European country, such as England. According to some articles I’ve seen, racial attitudes over there are much more relaxed. That may be true—they couldn’t be much less relaxed than they are here—but I can’t think of any prominent European politicians, or any other influential characters, of color).

Racist slurs are considered unacceptable, and any racial prejudice is the one sin that is considered unforgivable. White people, at least the ones I know, aren’t motivated by racial dislike—they simply don’t seem to know many black people. And the blacks I know are the same way—they don’t dislike whites, they simply don’t seem to have much in common with them.

I can’t say why the relationship between whites and blacks isn’t closer, except that I doubt it is solely due to racial tension. But our society is still effectively segregated today, and Americans might want to hold off the self-congratulations of their tolerance and sensitivity until it isn’t.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Steele for RNC Chairman

Sometimes, it’s easy to wonder if the Republican party really cares about winning elections. After his 2004 election, George Bush pretty much gave up on any sort of public relations campaign—he stopped trying to be a national leader and seemed to resign himself to rock-bottom approval ratings. The Republican Congress hasn’t been any better. It has displayed both corruption—Jack Abramoff and the Bridge to Nowhere—and political stupidity—think amnesty for illegal aliens.

The Republican National Committee hasn’t done a particularly good job either. In 2004, the Republican base was composed mostly of middle-aged to older white folks, people in rural areas, and “values voters.” After that election, the RNC announced that it would try to start drawing more minorities, particularly Hispanics, and young people to the party. It failed. Young voters, blacks, and Hispanics overwhelmingly voted Democrat.

It’s hard to see exactly what the RNC does, and I’m certainly not enough of an insider to know exactly where it went wrong. But by all accounts, the GOP get-out-the-vote operation was light years behind the Democrat effort, and its technology obsolete. (Apparently, in some areas Democrat operatives had interactive handheld “checklists” with which to check off voter’s names in real time, which let everybody involved know exactly who and who had not voted. I very much doubt the Republicans had anything like that).

Barack Obama is a political force that would be difficult for anyone, no matter how competent, to stop, but a more efficient RNC could have made things a bit closer, and maybe won a few House and Senate races. The stereotype of Republicans is that they are incompetent, out-of-touch elitists—and the performance of the RNC has pretty much lived up to those expectations.

It’s hard to imagine Mike Duncan staying on as head of the RNC—the disastrous 2008 election may not have been all his fault, but his performance as chairman definitely wasn’t strong enough to justify another term. The RNC will be needing new leadership—and Michael Steele might be the man to provide it.

One reason he’s the man to provide it is that he happens to be the only man running for the job right now (it is rumored that he could officially announce his candidacy this week), which does tend to cut down on the competition somewhat. (Newt Gingrich, apparently, doesn’t want the job). The only other well-known names that have been mentioned for the position are Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, but neither has expressed any real interest. So Steele is in excellent position to get the chairman post (at least outwardly—for all I know, there’s some dark horse candidate secretly rounding up votes as we speak).

Steele is reasonably conservative, which is good. But he’s moderate enough to, at least in theory, reach out to independents, which is more of a mixed blessing—attracting independents is all well and good, but not if it comes not the price of diluting conservatism. This moderatism (Steele is both pro-life and pro-Rove vs. Wade, and has also talked about “restoring the Rockefeller wing of the Republican party) is probably the most serious objection to Steele’s chairmanship of the RNC.

But I think it is balanced by Steele’s articulateness and his image. Steele is frequently found arguing the Republican position on cable news, and arguing it quite well, which is more than most Republicans are able to do.

And he happens to be black, which really shouldn’t be a qualification, but does make for some good P.R. for Republicans (who need all the good P.R. they can get). Perhaps a black chairman might actually do something about reaching out to minority voters, who are a growing demographic and one the Republican party needs. Michael Steele ran a very, very strong campaign for a Maryland Senate seat (although he lost, so maybe it wasn’t as strong as the experts thought it was), so maybe the RNC could improve their get-out-the-vote efforts under his leadership.

Michael Steele isn’t a perfect candidate for the RNC chair, and there will probably be conservatives who oppose his leadership role, which I can understand. But I think he’s the best we’ve got—he is competent and he has ideas (which are in short supply at the RNC at the moment). The Republican party can’t afford another awful election—and under Michael Steele’s leadership, it might not have to.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What's Next for Palin?

So, with the presidential election over, Barack Obama will become President of the United States, Joe Biden will become Vice President, and John McCain will serve out the rest of his time in the U.S. Senate. Sarah Palin’s fate is less certain—she has an interesting political future ahead of her.

Her situation at present is not without precedent. On one side of the ideological fence, Palin is nigh-universally loved and respected. Over eighty percent of Republicans have a favorable view of Palin, and she seems to be the Republican frontrunner for 2012. She is viewed, at present, as Miss Conservative; a perfect model of conservative thought.

To the other half of the country, she’s a punch line. She’s seen as frighteningly extremist; as well as laughably unqualified. An entire Palin mythology has sprang up among Democrats—she didn’t know that Africa is a continent (is that even possible for a governor?), she was unaware of which countries are in NAFTA, she “went rogue” and started going after William Ayers without campaign permission. She is a sort of Democrat bogeyman, a terrifying “what if” to frighten the base.

Sound like anyone we know? Yes, Sarah Palin occupies the exact position once occupied by Hillary Clinton, except the parties are reversed. And we all know how the Hillary saga turned out. She came very close to winning the White House—had it not been for an unexpected, smooth-talking Illinois Senator, Hillary Clinton would probably have beaten McCain and become our first female president.

Palin could do nearly the same thing, except she could actually win her party’s nomination. The Republican party tends to embrace the next person in line as its nominee (the last time they didn’t was in 1964, with Barry Goldwater), and Palin is the next in line. And Palin is probably the politician most identified with the Republican party, which would have to be an advantage in getting the nomination.

Palin’s other advantages are pretty obvious. She is (at times) articulate and compelling. She has a sky-high approval rating as governor of Alaska. And she is, of course, attractive and has a wonderful family, and seems to embody the American Dream.

Further, there really aren’t that many strong Republican candidates on the horizon. Mike Huckabee is far more articulate and funny than Palin, but he lacks support from the conservative base. Mitt Romney has money, but no charisma or ability to connect with voters. Bobby Jindal is smart and conservative, but little known (though that could change before 2012).

On the other hand, Palin has some tough obstacles to overcome as well. Over half the nations thinks she’s stupid, which is a bit of a problem when running for president. And her situation in Alaska might not be as secure as it looks—being an oil producing state, Alaska depends on $74 dollar a barrel oil to balance its budget. Oil’s at $60 right now. And as Hillary Clinton proved, highly polarizing candidates don’t always play well with voters.


Palin has a lot of room to succeed—and a lot of room to fail. She will have to eradicate the impression that she is unintelligent, which will be quite hard—Gerald Ford was perhaps the most athletic president ever, but one trip and fall gave him an unshakeable reputation as someone exceptionally clumsy. But hard or not, Palin must succeed.

Palin has one more weapon that could help her do so. America voted Barack Obama into the White House because he promised “change” (tempered, of course, by “hope”). Palin represents much the same attraction—she bills herself as an original, outside-the-Beltway thinker. That isn’t a qualification for the presidency, or any other office, but if the word “change” could make Barack Obama the most powerful man in the world, then it is not inconceivable that “outside-the-Beltway” could do much the same for Palin. Palin’s attractive and inexperienced, but don’t underestimate her—she managed to go from mayor of Wasilla to three and a half million votes and a heartbeat away from the presidency in less than ten years.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Obama Future

Gone are the days when president-elects waited until Inauguration Day to start the presidential power transfer. Given the foreign situation and financial crisis, Barack Obama is taking action immediately—he has decided on Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, and held a press conference today emphasizing his economic plan. (He also delivered his first presidential apology—to Nancy Reagan for alleging that she held séances in the White House, when instead she merely consulted astrologers, which is completely different but equally stupid). During his press conference, Obama stressed that he does not “underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead.”

I think he might. The next four years would present incredible difficulties for any president. The subprime mortgage crisis has turned into a worldwide credit crunch, and the U.S. economy is almost certainly in recession. Foreign enemies are on the move—Vladimir Putin seems to be trying to revive the old Soviet hegemony (because that worked so well last time), and Islamic terrorism still remains a threat. And Communist China is starting to flex its economic and military muscles.

Unfortunately, Obama is ill-suited to deal with any external threat. He is viewed, fairly or not, as callow and inexperienced. The day after Obama was elected, Putin threatened to place short-range missiles near Poland, which seems an obvious test of Obama’s will. Given Obama’s inexperience, he will have to respond aggressively. But given the state of the American military (overstretched), he will have a hard time doing so.

Further, Obama is under a great deal of pressure not to fail in the task of protecting the American people from Islamic terrorism. George W. Bush, for all his shortcomings, did not allow any attacks on American soil after 9/11. That’s the standard Obama has to live up to—and it may be an impossible one. It would be relatively simple (I assume) to hire a small airplane to crash into a nuclear power plant, or a sporting event, or a school, or to coordinate a nationwide string of school shootings, or something equally horrible.

So, foreign enemies will aggressively seek to test Obama—but Obama can’t let them do the least bit of damage to America, or risk being unfavorably compared to George Bush. Not an ideal position for the President-elect.

The financial situation may well present a tougher challenge for the President-elect. The health of the U.S. financial system depends, in large part, on the health of the stock market. The stock market depends on the confidence of big business. Democrat majorities make big business unconfident.

It will be hard for Obama to reassure corporations that he won’t hurt them while simultaneously playing to his liberal base. That is why the stock market plunged following Obama’s election.

Making Obama’s situation worse, he has promised to let Bush’s tax cuts expire. Everyone agrees: the worst thing to do during a recession is to raise taxes. Tax hikes remove money from the economy, and cause people to save instead of spend. Had Obama realized that the bottom would drop out of the world economy, it is doubtful that he would have made his tax hikes promise. Unfortunately for him, however, he did, and now has to face the consequences.

Had John McCain been elected president, his position would have been very difficult. Obama’s will be worse. This is a mixed blessing for Republicans—on the one hand, a poor Obama presidency would make winning in 2010 and 2012 much easier. On the other, it wouldn’t do much for the United States of America. Most Republicans wouldn’t want a massive worldwide recession as a convincing demonstration of liberalism’s failures—but they could get one.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The End of the Mainstream Media

Ask any conservative, and he’ll tell you that one of the primary reasons John McCain lost was due to the bias of the “mainstream media.” And certainly, most newspapers were very hard on McCain—the New York Times, the “newspaper of record,” was obviously unfair to McCain throughout the campaign, the best example being a wholly unsupported story of a alleged McCain affair. Obama led the newspaper endorsement race—he received nearly three times the number of endorsements as McCain.

Television was even harder on McCain. MSNBC, of course, is full of crazy liberals (“crazy” sounds a bit harsh, but really, what else can you call Keith Olbermann?), but CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS were also notably tougher on McCain than Obama. They scrupulously vetted every detail of Sarah Palin’s life (they were particularly good at ferreting out the exact cost of Palin’s clothes), while leaving such interesting issues as Barack Obama’s relationship with radicals such as Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers unexplored.

So the mainstream media was biased against John McCain. So? Worrying about how the “mainstream media” covers an election is like worrying about the union vote—both have some influence, but not nearly as much as in the past. The days of the “mainstream media” as a key political force are over.

During the Eighties, the three networks could count on a combined audience of around 80-90 million. Now, their combined viewership is under twenty million. And the evening news is still losing viewers.

Twenty million doesn’t qualify as “mainstream.” In the past, there may have only been a few lonely conservative television voices in opposition to massive liberal hordes. But now, the liberal television monopoly has evaporated, leaving the networks with an audience of old folks who haven’t caught up to current news gathering trends.

The situation is much worse for newspapers. In times past, every city had at least two daily newspapers. Now virtually every city has only one, and most of those are struggling. New York Times stock is classified as a junk stock, and the paper loses readers every year.

Even cable television doesn’t present a huge difficulty for Republicans. CNN leans left, while the Fox News Channel and MSNBC are unashamedly right and left leaning, respectively. (Though it should be noted that MSNBC is far more biased than Fox). Fox News makes up the two to one disadvantage by drawing far more viewers than either of its competitors, making cable news, on the whole, actually reasonably balanced ideologically. (Cable news might be neutral ideologically, but its coverage this election was dreadful. It managed to find and overanalyze every irrelevant story while carefully avoiding stories that were actually informative and useful).

Really, the media forces arrayed against John McCain weren’t all that formidable, especially given the power of the conservative media. Rush Limbaugh gets about twenty million listeners a week; Sean Hannity gets around twelve million. (Granted, many of Hannity’s listeners also are also included in Rush’s totals, and vice versa, but not all are). Other radio hosts draw smaller but still impressive audiences. Laura Ingraham gets over five million weekly listeners—that alone is more listeners than Katie Couric gets.

Fox News and the conservative blogosphere also provide opportunities for conservatives to get their message out. Millions watch Fox News (The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity and Colmes are the two highest rated cable news shows), and the conservative blogosphere, if not as influential as the liberal blogosphere, still has the influence to drive stories. Republicans don’t lose elections because of the liberal media.

Unfortunately, they seem to think they do, which might explain virtually every Republican’s deadly fear of the media. When the McCain campaign introduced Sarah Palin to the nation, they didn’t introduce her via Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly—rather, they introduced her on ABC’s Evening News, letting the left-leaning (albeit usually fair) Charlie Gibson interrogate her. After an interview with Sean Hannity, Palin next appeared with Katie Couric, then disappeared from television.

She didn’t appear with Rush Limbaugh till much later in the campaign; she never appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show. The McCain could have introduced Palin through the liberal or the conservative media—they choose the liberal media, solely because it was “mainstream.”

Another case in point: conservatives spent months bemoaning the fact that the “mainstream media” wasn’t covering Obama harshly enough. It wasn’t—but what did anyone expect? It was obvious from the start that Obama (or Hillary, had she won the nomination) was going to get a free ride, and if conservatives wanted anyone to dig up dirt regarding Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers, they were going to have to do it themselves. They didn’t, and they have only themselves to blame.

Conservatives should adjust—this isn’t the Eighties anymore. What with the power of talk radio, cable TV, and the Internet, conservatives are now on an equal footing with the liberal media. They should start using their resources, instead of accepting the pronouncements of the networks and the New York Times as the acknowledged reality.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Why McCain Lost

There was never much chance that John McCain would become president. Every single poll in the last three weeks of the election put him far behind Barack Obama. In addition, 2008 was never going to be a Republican year—McCain would have had to run a nearly perfect campaign to win, and he didn’t. And finally, candidates trying for a third consecutive term for their party rarely do well—the last candidate to win in those circumstances was George H. W. Bush; the last one before him was Harry Truman.

McCain’s campaign may not have been perfect, but he did exceed expectations. He got about 46% of the vote, which, while not particularly impressive, did at least stave off an Obama landslide. The Democrats won’t have a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, and they didn’t get the thirty or more House seats some predicted. This election was awful for Republicans—but not the Democrat landslide 2006 was.

McCain did many things right in his campaign. The Palin pick got a lot of media criticism, but Palin was almost certainly a net bonus. True, her disastrous interviews hurt McCain, but she energized the conservative base in a way that, say, Mitt Romney couldn’t. She energized conservative voters, and her charisma must have helped the McCain campaign in swing states.

McCain’s television ads were another strong point—until he ran out of money. The “Celebrity” ad (the one with Paris Hilton) successfully distracted from Obama’s Berlin trip, and McCain’s “the One” ad poked fun at Obama’s messianic image.

But during the key last month of the campaign, Obama’s massive fundraising advantage caught up with McCain. Obama saturated the airwaves, leaving McCain unable to get his message out.

Of course, it was impossible for McCain to keep pace with Obama’s fundraising, given his decision to adopt public financing for his campaign. (How does the Republican candidate accept public financing, while the Democrat doesn’t? It really should have been the other way around—public financing for political campaigns in a profoundly unconservative idea). Obama broke his pledge to follow McCain’s lead on accepting public financing—that decision may have given him the election.

Another factor in McCain’s defeat was the lack of a sympathetic media. The “mainstream media” was solidly opposed to George Bush—but the conservative media wasn’t. Bush could always count on Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the rest of talk radio to support him. McCain couldn’t—virtually the entire conservative movement opposed his nomination, and even on those occasions when Rush Limbaugh (among others; Rush is simply the best example) praised him, it was always with reservations.

Had McCain had any media (liberal or conservative) help at all, his campaign might have looked quite different. But he didn’t, which made clear victories in the debates an imperative. But it’s hard to win a debate outright, particularly when one is a debater of John McCain’s rather mediocre caliber, and he couldn’t.

McCain would have needed considerable luck in order to win—and didn’t get any. Quite the contrary—weeks before the election, the U.S. stock market crashed thousands of points. The Republican party (not unreasonably) got blamed, which didn’t do much for McCain’s brand.

Worse, McCain tried to help the situation. He suspended his campaign, proposed postponing the first presidential debate, and flew to Washington to help. He didn’t help much, but that didn’t matter—he mistake was drawing attention to himself. During a time of crisis, it is best to lie low. McCain managed to link himself to the financial crisis, which did not attract voters already suspicious of the GOP.

But perhaps the most important factor in McCain’s defeat was the absence of any coherent political philosophy. McCain’s beliefs were a mixed bag, without any rhyme or reason. He supported offshore drilling—but for some reason, was dead set against any drilling in ANWR. He supported corporations—but favored a crippling tax on carbon emissions. He supported a lower corporate tax rate—when not criticizing “Wall Street greed.” (“Greed” is sort of the point of Wall Street). Voters couldn’t place McCain ideologically—he was a cross between Teddy Roosevelt and Barry Goldwater, and that hybrid just doesn’t work.

John McCain made some crucial mistakes that doomed his campaign. But he also made some smart moves, and the odd negative ad aside, ran an honorable campaign. He lost, but he may have helped pave the way for a Republican renaissance in the near future. He is an honorable man, and was a fine presidential candidate, and I am proud to have cast my vote for him.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama Wins

Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States. I can’t say that I am very happy with that fact—I’ve spent the last two years hoping that that very thing wouldn’t happen. It has, though, and I think that the country will suffer for it.

But lets keep a sense of perspective here. Barack Obama won’t be the worst thing to happen to the country. He is, at least, a decent man who is as honest as any politician is. The Republicans have fought liberalism from behind before—they can do so again. Obama’s election is not grounds for despair.

I imagine that there are quite a few conservatives very angry (or discouraged) about Obama’s victory. I’m not. Obama ran a fine campaign, and given the current incompetence of the Republican party, his victory should come as no surprise. I disagree with Obama on most issues. But he is still my president, and I wish him well in governing the country, and congratulate him on his victory.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Era of Republican Dominance Isn't Over

It sometimes seems a bit hard to believe, but America has moved very far to the right over the past several decades. The top marginal tax rate has been cut by more than half. The federal courts are full of Republican appointed judges who, if not all strict constructionists, at least are definitely not judicial activists. Our foreign policy is so aggressive that even the Democrat nominee for president seeks to burnish his foreign policy credentials by threatening an invasion of Pakistan. And Bill Clinton was right—the era of big government—if not of big spending—is, for the time being, over.

But many believe that that situation is changing. The Republican party was soundly repudiated by voters in 2006. It lost its majorities in both the House and the Senate, and President Bush has seen the lowest approval ratings of any president since Nixon. And the trends has continued in 2008—the Democrats could possibly (though are not very likely too) find themselves with a filibuster proof 60 seat majority, and the House Democrats could add another thirty seats to their lead. And while McCain still has a shot at winning the presidential election, it really isn’t a very good one; Barack Obama will probably be our next president.

Given the world financial crisis, which was caused by free markets run amuck (well, that and hyper-low interest rates, and government influence on former mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but the “free markets run amuck” narrative is the story everyone believes), and bungled Iraq War, it seems that perhaps the die is turning. Many believe that conservatism’s time is over, at least for the time being, and statist liberalism is coming into the ascendancy.

Paul Krugman’s recent column sums up this line of thought pretty well. The idea is that moderates will be left out of the new GOP, which will take a hard turn to the right. From there, it will become the party of intolerance and extremism, casting whatever remains of the moderate wing out. The Democrats will start getting the majority of the independents, and the Republicans will spend decades out in the cold. Liberalism, according to this line of thought, will prevail.

I disagree. Not only will conservatism remain the nation’s dominant political philosophy, I believe that the Republicans could very well retake their position as the country’s dominant political party.

The GOP has passed through its darkest days: things simply can’t get worse than the combination of a mismanaged war, a bungled hurricane, and a serious financial crisis. Voters have good reason to be angry at the Republican party—when people criticize Bush in my hearing, I rarely bother defending him, since I usually agree with much of what they say. (How do you defend his handling of the Iraq War? Or Bush’s budget control?) The Republicans in Congress are incompetent and corrupt. You can’t blame people for disliking, and even hating, the Republican party.

But all the hate people should feel for the GOP has manifested itself in a pretty mild way. True, the Republicans go crushed in the 2006 midterms, but the Mark Foley story stole the narrative and anyhow, the losses in 2006 were not particularly bad for considering the circumstances (two-term presidents nearly always lose congressional seats during their sixth year midterms).

2008 has also been quite mild for the GOP, considering the still considerable level of Republican hate. The Democrats will win some more seats in Congress, but will probably find themselves a bit short of a filibuster proof majority. Obama will probably win the presidential election (but don’t let the odds dissuade you from voting), but McCain still has a chance. This is impressive, given that McCain is a mumbling old man while Obama is a silver-tongued orator with a great personality. And whatever happens, Obama certainly won’t have a Reaganeque landslide victory. The GOP is bloodied, but still competitive.

Perhaps the true political mood of a country can be read better from the way it is governed than the electoral results, which are often nothing more than the results of a popularity contest. And the Democrats, in their brief stint in power, have done nothing to move the country very far to the left. Along with the moderate wing of the Republican party, they proposed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. It failed—shot down by the conservative wing of the Republican party. Democrats tried to force the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq, again with the help of some moderate Republicans. That failed too. They tried to accuse Bush of corruption. And apart from catching Scooter Libby, who got pardoned anyway, they couldn’t get any results there either.

The Democrats haven’t just been unable to get anything done—they have been blocked by the conservative part of the Republican party. If the electorate is as far left and so many Democrats (and Republicans) seem to think, the influence of the more conservative part of the Republican Congress would be much less than it is. Conservatism still has influence in Washington—and so does the Republican party. Don’t count the GOP out yet.