Not Just the First African-American President

For two years now, everyone has talked about Barack Obama becoming the first black president, barely 40 years after the civil rights revolution. Obama himself has often said, “I  don’t look like I came out of central casting when it comes to presidential candidates.”

But his achievement is even more striking than “first African-American president.” There are tens of millions of white Americans who are part of ethnic groups that have never produced a president. The fact is, all 42 of our presidents have been of British, Irish, or Germanic descent. We’ve never had a president of southern or eastern European ancestry. Despite the millions of Americans who came to the New World from France, Italy, Poland, Spain, Scandinavia, Russia, and other parts of Europe–not to mention Asia and the Arab world and Latin America–we’ve never had a president who traced his ancestry to those parts of the world. Indeed, it’s often been said that “we’ve never had a president whose name ended in a vowel” (except for a silent ”e” such as Coolidge, and with the exception of Kennedy), which is another way of saying “not of southern or eastern European heritage”).

As Philip Q. Yang put it in his book Ethnic Studies: Issues and Approaches, “There have been no presidents of southern and eastern European descent; and none of Jewish, African, Latino, Asian, or Indian descent.” We’ve had 37 presidents of British (English, Scottish, or Welsh) or Irish descent; three of Dutch descent (Van Buren and the two Roosevelts); and two of Swiss/German descent (Hoover and Eisenhower). Of course, these categories usually refer to the president’s paternal line; Reagan, for instance, was Irish on his father’s side but not on his mother’s. But that doesn’t change the overall picture.

In this light, Obama’s achievement is even more remarkable. He has achieved something that no American politician even of southern or eastern European heritage has managed. But I think we can assume that from now on there won’t be any perceived disadvantage to candidates of Italian, French, Asian, or other previous genealogies not previously seen in the White House. For that, congratulations to Barack Obama.

Cato Today

Presidential Power

Op-Ed: “New President Won’t Tame Presidential Power,” by Gene Healy in the Orange County Register.

After seven years of an administration that has recognized few, if any, limits on executive power, it’s only natural that many people look to the Obama-Biden ticket to put the presidency back in its proper constitutional place.

Article: “Obama’s the Candid Candidate on Energy,” by Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren in Forbes.

Sen. Obama’s frank confession about what his climate change policies will mean to electricity consumers is one very good reason why so many conservative and libertarian intellectuals are gravitating toward his candidacy. It’s not that right-wing thinkers necessarily endorse his climate change policies. It’s that right-wing thinkers are increasingly tired of Republican hypocrisy and make-believe policy fights.

Article: “Obama’s Tax Deceptions,” by Alan Reynolds in National Review Online.

Barack Obama famously claims, “I’ll give a tax break to 95% of workers and their families.” The Obama team never explained that figure, because they made it up….Obama said, “If you work, pay taxes, and make less than $200,000, you’ll get a tax cut.” That too is flatly false. Single workers who make more than $80,000 (or joint returns above $155,000) would not get a tax cut under Obama’s plan.

Podcast: “The Obama Agenda: Free Political Speech,” featuring John Samples

More Unwelcome Big-Think from Donald Kerr

Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence, created a stir last year when he opined about “privacy” in a way that redefined the concept as congenially to the intelligence community as possible.

I put it this way in a critique at the time:

“If you’ve identified yourself to your ISP,” he appears to think, “you’ve identified yourself to me.” The folks in his world may think that way, but that’s not the way the rest of us look at it, and it’s not consistent with a sound interpretation of the Fourth Amendment or life in a free society.

Now he’s back at it with “cybersecurity.”

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reports on two recent Kerr speeches that have “called for a radical new relationship between government and the private sector” in this area:

One approach would have the government take equity stakes in companies developing technical products, in effect expanding the practice of In-Q-Tel, the CIA entity that invests in companies.

Another proposal is to provide the same protective capabilities applied to government Web sites, ending in .gov and .mil, to the private industry’s sites, ending in .com, which Kerr said have close to 98 percent of the nation’s most important information.
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“We have a responsibility … to help those companies that we take an equity stake in or those that are just out there in the U.S. economy, to protect the most valuable assets they have, their ideas and the people who create them,” he said.

The government-ownership-of-private-assets train is rolling out of the station and Kerr wants his agency to be on board. But he’s wrong. It’s the responsibility of private owners to secure their assets.

This is big-think we do not need. Just like with his contortion of “privacy,” Kerr would upend the roles and responsibilities of government and the private sector by giving government an ownership stake, for “cybersecurity” reasons or any other.

Lula’s Heart vs Brazil’s Interests

Brazil’s president, Luiz Lula da Silva, has informed everyone whom he favors in today’s election: “This (financial) crisis, among other benefits it will cause, will get Obama elected as president of the United States. It will get a black man elected, which is no small matter.”

This is quite ironic. During Lula’s tenure as president of Brazil he has heavily focused his relationship with the United States on commercial issues, particularly two: the elimination of a U.S. tariff on Brazilian ethanol and the reduction of U.S. farm subsidies for which Brazil has refused to negotiate a Free Trade Area of the Americas. On both issues, John McCain favors Brazil’s interests while Obama opposes them.

McCain has said he would eliminate the tariff on Brazilian ethanol (which is probably costing him Iowa). Obama would keep it. McCain also voted against the farm bill which extended the agricultural subsidies that Lula complains so much about in international fora. Obama voted in favor of it.

It seems that Lula’s left-leaning heart has lead him to favor a candidate that goes against his country’s own interests.

Obama’s Pandering to Seniors

“Many seniors are struggling to keep pace with costs,” Senator Obama told a largely senior audience in Florida on September 18. Social Security benefits are adjusted for rising prices but not for rising taxes, including increased fees for Medicare. Using a line from his tax plan, Obama said, “This strain has been greater since 1993, when taxes on social security benefits were raised. Millions of seniors saw their net benefits go down.”

Thanks to Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax law, single seniors with incomes above $40,048 in 2007 had to pay income tax on 85% of a portion of their benefits, and those with income above $46,850 had to pay tax on 85% of their entire benefits. That 1993 tax increase hits couples with incomes above $54,278.

In retirement communities in key states like Florida and Arizona, Obama has cleverly tapped into senior resentment about the Clinton era, when “millions of seniors saw their net benefits go down.” But then he pulls a bait and switch trick.

Clinton’s 1993 tax hike reduced after-tax benefits for seniors earning more than $50,000—because they continued working after age 65 and/or because they saved for retirement.

Obama proposes to fix that by eliminating income tax for seniors earning less than $50,000. He says, “When I’m President, we’ll work to see that no retiree making less than $50,000 each year has to pay income tax. This will eliminate income taxes for about 7 million Americans, at a savings rate of roughly $1,400 each year. And 22 million seniors won’t even have to file a return and hire an expensive tax preparer.”

If Sally is 60 years old earns $49,000 by working, she would pay a higher income (and payroll) tax than Sam who is 66 and makes $49,000 from retirement income. Is there any rational explanation for that other than a shameless attempt to buy senior votes?

To help pay for such arbitrary tax favoritism, Obama wants to increase the tax rates on capital gains and dividends—two taxes that hit frugal seniors much harder than young people.

As I wrote in my Hillsdale College paper, “The argument for Obama’s tax plans is expressed in terms of fairness, rather than the impact on incentives and economic performance, yet the implied concept of fairness remains ambiguous. A single senior with a retirement income of $50,000 has the same per capita income as a two-earner family with $250,000 and three children. Yet the retired senior would be exempt from income tax, under this plan, while the large working family would be required to pay federal and state taxes of up to 46% on their next dollar of income while losing valuable deductions (e.g., for state income taxes and mortgage interest) and also losing five personal exemptions (which were supposed to be partial compensation for the added expense of supporting a larger family). The fairness of such a reallocation of tax burdens is, to put it mildly, not self-evident.”