Work and Days

2008 Politics

What we are looking for?

A candidate who would not talk about reducing deficits, but promise instead surpluses to such a degree to buy down the national debt and so leave us less vulnerable to the Middle East, Chinese, Japanese, or European possession of trillions abroad; who would give someone some credit for taking out the two worse regimes in the Middle East and avoiding a reoccurrence of 9/11; who would state a simple principle that for every new spending initiative offered, a cut elsewhere or new tax increase would be promised to ensure no additional draw on the treasury; who would close the border to illegal immigration now, and explain that we can then bicker over other issues while the pool of illegal residents insidiously shrinks due to voluntary repatriation, intermarriage, deportations of criminals, and earned citizenship; who could craft some sort of bargain to drill oil offshore and in Alaska, build more refineries and nuclear power plants, and still toughen conservation standards and invest in alternate energy–and tell us exactly why and how and when we will be less dependent on foreign oil; and who could explain to us and the world abroad exactly how the US presence overseas leads to global peace and security, and do that both in daily impromptu and formal fashion.

Impressions about the Candidates

Given my column with Tribune Media Services, I can’t endorse a political candidate. But here are some impressions. First, the Democrats.

Clinton. She has run a Giuliani-like campaign, hoping that her vast lead in the national polls would make the early primaries irrelevant. That standoffish tact in her case was based on her name recognition, and deft and serial repositioning on the issues, like Bill’s triangulation in the 1992, 1994, and 1996 elections.

Her current problem is that while a majority may be satisfied with the Clinton years in retrospect, they have no desire to repeat them. Second, the more voters come to know Hillary—hence the original idea of keeping her aloof, as some sort of image rather than a flesh and blood candidate—the more she appears less than genuine.

Consensus? I don’t think she can ever get 50% of the vote, and, if she gets the nomination, her election chances will hinge on some sort of third candidate draw away. Watch Bill Clinton; his sudden prominent role will invite renewed press scrutiny that has been dormant the last six years. And while always undisciplined, he is even more so when someone else pays the consequences for his indiscretions.

Edwards. Again, I am confused by him. He was a moderate, new southern Senator, and now has almost overnight morphed into a hard left demagogic populist. But in the midst of this metamorphosis, he has not lost his conspicuous appetites for the noveau riche lifestyle, which can only cause embarrassment by the abyss between his word and deed. The agenda is more of the same like Obama’s: the ossified liberal approach of raising taxes for more entitlements, predicated on the idea that Americans are in need of more government support; more outsourcing of security concerns to international bodies, and appointment of more liberal judges to expand government influence when legislative remedies are too lethargic or not found.

Obama. The most talented impromptu speaker of the entire field, and maybe the brightest. He also seems conflicted, at least from his memoirs: By his own admission his white mother’s family’s influence was the far greater in formulating his education and discipline, yet he seems more inspired by the nebulous image of his black father.

So far he has shown a brilliant triangulation that would make Dick Morris proud—giving glimpses of “authenticity” that will ensure the African-American vote, but enough Ivy-League assurance that he is, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a safe bet for whites and Asians. His views? They are little different from Edwards’—government is the first solution to each crisis, anti-Americanism abroad is always due to what we do at the moment, rather than what we represent in the abstract; social pathology is a result of some sort of –ism or societal failure rather than the lapse of the individual; life is always getting worse for the poor and middle class, when in fact it has gotten far better in recent years; economic growth is mostly zero sum—the rich benefiting not from expanding national wealth and production but by taking riches from someone else. I would expect either Obama or Hillary to lift the current income caps on Social Security deductions, something that would cost the upper-middle classes thousands of dollars per year, as well as reinstate estate taxes that again won’t bother the poor and rich, but will double-tax the middle class. I could go on, but we all know the script: the best and brightest need our money to save people in ways we dumber others are clueless about.

Biden, Dodd, Richardson et al. They remind us that neither aggregate experience counts in presidential races—nor qualification beyond a minimum standard. That said, their collective sanctimonious attitude is reminiscent of Kerry’s sigh that he couldn’t believe he was losing to “this guy”. Despite long political careers, they all three exude a sense of smugness, and don’t quite seem to equate their present failure with the voters’ perceptions that they are functionaries of a sort, lacking both Obama’s and Edwards’ charisma, and Billary’s name recognition. Then in the case of Dodd and Biden, there is something about the US Senate as a prerequisite for Presidential candidacy: it offers no executive experience, but ensures plenty of opportunity for loud speech-making without consequence.

Consensus—the most interesting candidate is Obama. And if I could be assured he wouldn’t win the general election, I would hope that he is the nominee. His summer and autumn presence would ensure a lively, articulate debate, a newcomer who is not one of our tired past.

Republicans…

I confess at the outset I don’t know enough about Huckabee to comment, either his past career or his present bromides—other than his foreign policy statements. They are terrible–erratic, self-contradictory, poorly articulated, and inexact about how he would differ from the present policy abroad other than his generic Bush is “arrogant” motif.

Romney suffers from the paradox that the more he seems polished and in control of the facts, the more he is charged as somewhat robotic. His ability to serve as a Republican governor should attest to his political skills, but just as often it is cited as a liability as a conservative who sacrificed principles for expediency in a liberal state. It is hard to ascertain to what degree his religion governs such impressions. In the meantime, of all candidates in both parties, he appears the most presidential and at the same time the most vulnerable to criticisms of smoothness.

Giuliani, like Hillary, assumed after the early polls a coronation rather than a barroom fight. He is the quickest on his feet, toughest on questions of Islamic fascism, and probably the most savvy on political matters. I have no idea the extent to which his personal life, his New York ties, or his lack of state-wide or national election experience matter, only that they have all been used to erode his lead.

McCain. I think I share the same odd impression as millions of other moderates and conservatives whose logical reservations are more than outweighed by McCain’s emotional appeal. They all worry about McCain’s past positions on immigration, taxes, campaign finance reform, and harsh invective against Rumsfeld. But all that seems to matter little in the last analysis given his present steadfastness on the war and his own saga of courage. When I watch him speaking, he seems old and tired, sometimes on the verge of an outburst—but somehow deserving of our collective support. I would sleep easily with a President McCain, the oldest and most deserving in some sense of all the candidates..

Thompson. I never quite understood why the press charged someone 65/6, with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in remission, as “lazy.” He is not. The wonder is not that he is not as vigorous as Romney but that he is out on such a breakneck campaign at all. He seems the ideal Vice President candidate. That he could not meet the impossible pre-candidacy hype does not mean he won’t bounce back and run a strong second or third in the primaries.

Things that don’t compute

I never understood why the Left did not blame the radical Palestinian movement—at the time Marxist inspired and Soviet-funded—for the zeal behind Sirhan Sirhan’s assassination of Bobby Kennedy, or the hard-core Soviet/Comitern communist movement that enticed a Lee Harvey Oswald who shot Jack Kennedy.

Never either understood how an Al Gore could live in such exceptional splendor amid conspicuous consumption and rail like an Old Testament prophet about the Western consumer lifestyle and its culpability for global warming. Nor was it easy to understand how a self-acclaimed man of the people like John Edwards would chose to dwell in a 30,000 square foot home, with a 2,000 sq. ft “John’s Room” inner sanctuary—rather than say a 5,000 square foot more modest abode?

I never understood the radical environmental movement that so castigated the US, when most of the global bumper-sticker eco-crimes—the Soviet sloppy and polluting exploitation of Siberia for gas and oil, the Japanese harvest of sperm whales over the last quarter century, or the Chinese contamination of the soils through systematic leaching of industrial chemicals—were elsewhere.

The same disconnect applies to religion. I’m no fan of Huckabee, but it seems to me he evokes God and Christianity no more than did Jimmy Carter, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, or the Rev. Al Sharpton, who at one time or another, all ran for President. And why are we in near paralysis over a presidential candidate who is Mormon but worried little about the Mormonism of the Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, by now infamous for his shoot-from-the-hip slurs and hysterics?

Of course, there are liberal explanations for all of the above: these leftists were driven over the brink to assassinate the Kennedys in a climate of fear, extremism, and violence brought on by the American right-wing gun culture.

A Gore or Edwards or Kerry are to be commended because, unlike others of their class and status, they at least are “doing something about it” by using and galvanizing their resources to work for the poor, if even in the abstract. And liberal Christianity poses no threat, in its tolerance and advocacy of social change, to government in a way right-wing nationalist evangelicals do. Or so they say.

One thing we all agree on—this will be the dirtiest and roughest campaign in a generation, something that will easily trump 2004.