Work and Days

An Endless Campaign

Clinton vs. McCain vs. Obama

Obama’s Unknowns

I still maintain that Obama is the easier candidate for McCain for a variety of reasons that remain unchanged. He has no experience in adversarial politics, neither at the state nor federal level. Just five years ago, no American knew who he was. He has never weathered a hostile press conference; and to the degree an obsequious press has ever rubbed him wrong, he seemed offended and off-putting. His wife is a complete loose cannon, far more so than was Teresa Kerry or Hillary Clinton. In a current fawning piece in The New Yorker, we nevertheless still hear her in action:

Back in the Explorer, I asked [Michelle] Obama if she thought that her husband, as the Democratic nominee, could take John McCain. “Oh, yeah. We got him,” she replied.

We “got him”—as if the Harvard duo have had far more life experiences than the man whipped and tortured at the Hanoi Hilton?

Her speeches are tales of woe, with the constant Hillarian refrain “People, ask me how do you do it!” Then references to camp, lessons for kids, etc follow, with the usual Ivy League Law School loans to repay.

I keep expecting a John McCain to say, “People stop me all the time, and ask, “John, how do you do it when you can’t raise your arms above your head?”

It’s Not Over!

I had a bet with Peter Robinson that Clinton, Inc. would pull out all the stops. I think I will win it. Note the story line emerging: (1) Florida and Michigan should not be “disenfranchised”; (3) the “big” important states, won by popular votes, should not count as much as small red-state “caucuses”; (4) the candidate going into the convention with the more recent wins and the momentum should not be denied; (5) the duty of the super delegate is to weigh the intangibles that transcend mere states won or lost; (6) the Democratic primaries simply don’t reflect popular will, when a Hillary can win Ohio by a landslide (add CA, MASS, NJ, NY, etc.) and yet pick up scarcely more delegates than the loser Obama; (6) how can a caucus delegate in a small state count more that the aggregate votes of thousands in a big-state primary?

And all these innuendos are before we get to Clintonian arm-twisting of the super delegates, and the return of Carville, Begala, et al. I admire Obama for taking on and nearly dismantling this machine. But he is in a vampirish war where the stake must be driven and left in the heart. So he will have to welcome the fray, go head-to-head with the Press, reply in kind to Hillary, and stop the messianic come-to-Jesus holy man approach—that, yes, got him where he is (but I don’t think any further).

Meanwhile McCain

There is a great opening for McCain in the Dickensian rhetoric of the Democrats. His more honest review of issues rather than horror stories of the hapless eventually will come across as the more serious.

In contrast, their speeches are simply strung-together macabre stories of the repossessed, evicted, uninsured, gas-less, car-less, and undernourished—in other words, just about the opposite of what you see in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I just went to one, in one of the poorest cities in one of the poorest counties in California. The people had nice cars (and big 4×4 trucks!), there was a line at the electronics and photo-lab section check-out lines; 85% of the people seemed to be on cell phones; 60% could be charitably characterized as moderately overweight; and the carts most definitely were not just full of staples.

So far McCain talks of America as an idea, a society in it together, his opponents as the loose confederation of various groups and constituencies, each with a higher insatiable claim on the public purse than its rival.

Which America?

So what is the real America? Two points: one, 4-7% are in dire straits, either jobless, facing home repossession, or without some type of medical coverage—in other words, somewhere around 12-20 million. And that is something society should try to address and must. But the notion that the country as a whole suffers these maladies, or that they are entirely induced by outside forces, or that individuals don’t have some responsibility for their fates is ludicrous.

The second, is that with $4 a gallon gas looming, a global recession perhaps on the horizon, massive collective debt, and a psychological mood of retrenchment, perhaps half the country will need to scale back a notch or two—but from a level of existing privilege and affluence that is simply staggering.

Not the 1970s

While killing time at the kidney-stone doctor, I was browsing through a recent sales catalogue of homes in the Fresno area. What struck me was not that they are discounted or not selling, but rather the sheer size and amenities in comparison to their counterparts in the 1970s.

My parents bought a small (1200 sq ft) tract house in Santa Cruz ($25,550) in 1972. It was fairly typical of a new mass- produced home of the era. The bedrooms were small, the baths tiny, the kitchen as well, with a single car garage and minuscule yard. In comparison today’s new tract home has the unimaginable, kitchens with granite, stainless steel enormous appliances, bathrooms designed for aristocrats, etc.. My point is simply that our homes, our TVs, our cars, almost everything we use are far bigger, nicer, better than what the 1970s offered, and to such a degree that the difference is not conveyed by a mere word “house” or “car”.

Our 1972 Olds 98 (my dad bought it used) in terms of reliability, comfort, ease of driving, and safety was a relic, a deathtrap, a clunker compared to a 2007 Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. None of these considerations appear in statistics about income, unemployment, purchasing power, etc.

After all, how do you measure the value of a lap-top with wifi, or the notion that you can sit at Starbucks and have a 10-million volume library at your fingertips? What does one pay for that privilege? At the same Wal-Mart, I was behind someone who spoke no English and seemed to have just arrived from Mexico. He was talking to no one in particular but very loudly—and then I noticed he had a high-priced blue-tooth remote cell on his ear—an appurtenance only a Wall-Street financier would have had just 10 years ago. This is not the first time I have noticed the access to high-tech electronic goods and purchasing power of our seemingly most underpriveleged citizens.

Yesterday, (as an example of the widely diverse information at our fingertips) I was tracing a short in my car, and trying to finish an ancient Greek composition. I got online in 5 seconds to download the Honda service manual, and also glimpse at Woodhouse’s English-Greek (reverse) dictionary for the proper word for “outlaw” in ancient Greek (wanted to know whether it was phugas or adikôn), a reference work that I could never have afforded to buy even as used. So life is richer, more varied, and, yes, better than before, and not even Barack Obama can convince one otherwise.

A Sad Campaign

The public doesn’t want bromides like Obama’s “Change” and “Hope” but honesty and detailed analysis and suggestions. Instead we get from Obama and Hillary let’s go green, get solar and wind and, presto, get off foreign oil! There is no information offered along the following lines: A is how many barrels we import; B is how many we consume daily; C is the shortfall; D is how we can make up the difference with a. more drilling; b, more conservation; c. alternative energy sources; d. nuclear power; or e. flex fuels.

That would take about 30 seconds of a candidate’s speech. Better yet, he/she could say I support a or b or c and d, but not e and here’s why. And because Obama sets the professed bar of honesty and transparency so high, he falls the most into hypocrisy when his platitudes are even more empty than the others.

When he and Hillary go at it, trying to oubid each other in entitlements and new programs for an apparently 1930s America, they sound like feuding Roman wannabe emperors, each offering the Praetorian Guard more cash and the public more bread and circuses.

Sierra Splendor

I’ve been up to Huntington Lake again this week. In some places (remember this is nearing mid-March) the snow has drifted up to 10 feet and more in depth (and another storm is coming). At about 2 PM it was in the 60s, bright and sunny. Again what struck me was that on weekends, a mere 1 ¼ hours away from the greater Fresno area of 1 million, the place was completely empty, hardly a soul except for hard-core snow-mobilers. One would think a family might get in their used Toyota, drive the 130 miles round-trip, spend their $20 in gas, and experience spectacular views, crystal clear air, warm temperatures and snow everywhere. And yet again not more than 5-6 seemed to be doing that. Are the alternatives of TV, the video game, the Internet, the mall, Wal-Mart/K-mart/Costco still available in Depression-era America?