Topic: Government and Politics

Obama Said McCain Is Confused

According to the New York Times, Sen. John McCain

stepped up his criticism of the Bush administration by pounding the lectern and demanding that the government support his plan to buy troubled mortgages from homeowners. “And why isn’t the Treasury secretary ordering them to do that?” Mr. McCain asked.

And then he went on:

“We finally learned what Senator Obama’s economic goal is. As he told Joe the Plumber in Ohio, he wants to, quote, ‘spread the wealth around.’ He believes in redistributing the wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs and opportunities for all Americans. Senator Obama is more interested in controlling who gets your piece of the pie than he is in growing the pie.”

“Socialist!” someone in the crowd yelled.

Presumably the listener yelled “Socialist!” after McCain’s gibe at Obama’s “spread the wealth” plan, but it’s possible that the writing was a little sloppy and the charge actually came in response to McCain’s demand that the federal government buy up mortgages.

The Next President and the Use of Force

Robert G. Kaiser shows in today’s Washington Post what many of us have known for some time: notwithstanding their differences over the wisdom of going to war in Iraq, Barack Obama and John McCain may largely agree on the wisdom of going to war in general.

Neither man wants you to believe that, of course. It behooves them to highlight their differences, both to rally their core supporters, and to make an affirmative case for why they should be chosen by the voters to lead the country for the next four years. These differences are most pronounced in domestic matters: in fiscal policy and on taxes, on health care, and on the benefits of international trade.

But, Kaiser writes, the two candidates share many similar views on national security:

[B]oth have revealed a willingness to commit U.S. forces overseas for both strategic and humanitarian purposes. Both agree on a course of action in Afghanistan that could lead to a long-term commitment of American soldiers without a clear statement of how long they might remain or what conditions would lead to their withdrawal.

Both candidates favor expanding the armed forces, Obama by 92,000 and McCain by as many as 150,000. Both speak of situations when the United States might have to commit its troops for “moral” reasons, whether or not a vital American interest was at risk. Both accept what Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and professor at Boston University, calls the “unspoken consensus which commits the United States to permanent military primacy” – shared, Bacevich said, by leading figures in both parties.

Obama has worn his opposition to the Iraq War as a badge of honor. And rightly so. His principled stand, taken at a time when precious few politicians were willing to do the same, has allowed him to turn his opponents’ (first Clinton and now McCain) supposed advantage – their experience – into a liability, or at least a nullity. If experienced politicians could make such a colossal blunder as to support a war that now two thirds of all Americans believe to have been a mistake, then what is the value of experience?

But the great unknown remains the lessons that Obama has taken away from the Iraq experience. Was the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein from power a good idea, poorly executed? Or was it a bad idea at the outset, further complicated by bungling in the Executive Branch? Obama has signaled that he believes the latter, but some of his advisers seem to have more confidence in their ability to pull off similar missions in the future – say, for example, against the government in Sudan, as Obama advisers Susan Rice and Tony Lake suggested in late 2006.

Given the continuing influence within the Democratic Party of the so-called liberal hawks, there is even the disturbing possibility that a President Obama would be more prone to military intervention than his predecessor.

That said, John McCain’s continued strong support for the Iraq War is merely one of many examples of his enthusiasm for using our military to solve distant problems. He has adopted a similarly bellicose stance toward North Korea and Iran, and has hinted darkly at a confrontational posture toward Russia that could ultimately result in a ruinous military conflict. In that respect, I wholeheartedly agree with Justin Logan’s deliberate ambivalence in his most recent paper, “Two Kinds of Change: Comparing the Candidates on Foreign Policy”: “The best case that can be made for Senator Obama’s foreign policy is the fact that the alternative to his approach is Senator McCain’s.”

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that the lingering effects of the Iraq War will greatly limit the next president’s enthusiasm for foreign military intervention. But nothing that either candidate has said during this campaign gives me sufficient assurances that that is the case. Foreign policy has generally been pushed aside during this long campaign, an understandable shift given the current economic climate. But it is not too late for both men to clarify their views on the use of force, and to explain how they might differ from their opponent.

Quick Overview of McCain and Obama on Education

With the economy and financial system in turmoil, education has been a bit player in the election. Andrew Coulson has a new must-read overview of Obama and education at NRO (with a sequel to come).

But I thought I’d throw up my very short and simplified version of where I see both of the candidates on education…

The differences between Barrack Obama and John McCain on k-12 education policy center on school choice and funding. McCain is more supportive of school choice and local control than Obama, and Obama supports a much larger increase in federal education spending.

While both candidates speak favorably about school choice, only John McCain supports policies like vouchers and education tax credits that would allow parents to choose any school that works for their child, public or private. Barrack Obama wants to increase funding for charter schools, but speaks often of “accountability” for them. “Accountability” is often a code word used by political actors who wish to restrict the relative freedom of action and independence that make charter schools attractive to many parents.

Obama supports a large, $18 billion increase in federal education spending, with $10 billion of that increase devoted to an expanded federal effort in early education and preschool. Preschool, however, has been shown to be expensive and ineffective at increasing long-term achievement. And the federal government’s effort at other levels hasn’t worked either.

McCain proposes to hold spending at the same levels and focus on expanding virtual education, tutoring and school choice, and encouraging local reforms.

No More FDRs

Robert Zoellick tells the presidential candidates to aspire to be ”a 21st-century FDR” because “A World in Crisis Means A Chance for Greatness.” A new New Deal, a new Bretton Woods, a new multilateralism–holy cow, the president has it in his power to make the world over again. Poor Bill Clinton, who reportedly told friends after 9/11 that he was frustrated that he never got such a great defining crisis to deal with. Now another president is going to get a chance to knock some heads together and have historians call him great.

But what is Zoellick thinking, urging Barack Obama and John McCain to reach for greatness? Aren’t these two candidates megalomaniacal enough? McCain, who thinks that only corruption could explain anyone disagreeing with his position at any given moment, was a childhood admirer of Napoleon and now names the imperialist, meddlesome Teddy Roosevelt as his presidential model. And Obama of course said on the day he secured the Democratic nomination for president

that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to remake this great nation.

Don’t give these guys any more ambition than they have now. The cult of the presidency is quite enough already.

The Promise of Divided Government

Former Catoite Radley Balko argues that the Republican Party deserves to lose because it “has exiled its Goldwater-Reagan wing and given up all pretense of any allegiance to limited government.” He goes on to detail all the sordid ways in which the GOP has indeed betrayed its allegedly pro-free market, limited government beliefs and thus “forfeited its right to govern.”

I don’t disagree with any of Balko’s analysis, but I do take issue with his conclusion for one very simple (some would say banal) reason: The best way to limit the federal Leviathan is to have Congress and the presidency controlled by different parties. See, for example, the relevant parts of former Catoite Stephen Slivinski’s book, Buck Wild: How the Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government.  Slivinski calculates that when one party controls the political branches, the growth of real per capita government spending is 3.4%. Under divided government, the rate is 1.5%. And it doesn’t much matter whether Democrats or Republicans are in sole charge: 3.3% government growth under Democrats vs. 3.6% under Republicans. The most libertarian combination seems to be a Democratic president with a Republican Congress, where the average rate of government growth is 0.4%.  (This is also the rarest alignment in modern times, so it may be less significant statistically.)

In short, yes the Bush administration, enabled by a corrupt (ideologically and otherwise) Republican Congress, has been the second coming of LBJ.  But rather than reward a party whose leaders in Congress have even lower approval ratings than President Bush with unified control of government, it might be better for limited government if the Dems gained in Congress (preferably without a filibuster-proof Senate because judges and international treaties are my pet issues) while losing the White House.  Which isn’t to say that this would necessarily be better than a President Obama with a Republican Congress, just that the chance of the GOP taking over even one house of Congress is only slightly greater than the chance that Bob Barr will be elected president.

Brecht on Bloomberg

The New York City Council has gone along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s urgent and high-pressured request that it overrule two votes of the people and allow him to serve another term. The council’s joint project with the mayor to ignore the will of the people puts me in mind of Bertolt Brecht’s famous poem on the East German government, The Solution: 

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?