Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

28 February 2008

Senator Clinton, Please Step Aside!


Dear Senator Clinton,

The time has come for you to accept the inevitable. You will not be president of the United States.

That fact is not entirely your fault. You were a credible candidate, and you waged a valiant campaign. Over your political life, you have done good things to improve children’s health care and the lives of ordinary Americans.

But your campaign has hit a wall. Everyone seems to know it now but you.

Women and men all over our nation gave you every benefit of the doubt. They hoped not only that you would be the woman who could become president. They also hoped you would give gender discrimination the coup de grace by governing better than the vast majority of men. Now even the most ardent feminists are losing that hope.

What has happened? Have you done something wrong? Not really. Your biggest mistake was voting to invade Iraq without reading the NIE, but you can’t go back and change history.

Gail Collins said it best today. You are a good candidate and had a good campaign. But you are up against a once-in-a-century candidate, in a critical period when voters are paying extraordinary attention. As Collins put it,
    “[You] might have been able to handle all that, and the fact that [Obama] is a product of Kansas and Hawaii and Kenya, of Christians and Muslims, of a single mom on food stamps and Harvard Law, if he didn’t also turn out to have the best learning curve in political history.”

Your last bastion has crumbled. You used to be the better debater. But no longer. In Austin and in Cleveland, Senator Obama showed himself more skillful, more substantive, more incisive, more relaxed and confident, and generally more gracious. As Collins acknowledged, he is one of the smartest people—and one of the quickest learners—ever to enter presidential politics. The fact that he has been right and prescient on the most important issues facing our nation didn’t hurt.

If the truth be told, your distinguishing characteristic is not your gender. You are a lawyer’s lawyer. You have run every minute of your campaign like a zealous advocate, splitting every hair, giving no quarter, and conceding nothing.

You have never acknowledged personal error in your fateful and ill-informed vote to invade Iraq. You have never said, honestly and openly, “I was wrong.” As recently as two days ago, you said, “I regret deeply that President Bush waged a preemptive war, which I warned against and said I disagreed with.” (Emphasis added.)

Like a zealous lawyer defending a client’s presumed innocence, you never acknowledge an iota of personal responsibility. In disputing Senator Obama’s indisputably better judgment on this critical issue, you have split hair after hair.

On health care, you want to have it both ways. You claim that your plan would insure far more people than Senator Obama’s. You know that the only difference between the two plans is your mandates on adults without children. Yet you failed even to acknowledge that mandates will hurt some people, as Massachusetts’ actual experience has shown. With mandates, some folks pay fines or suffer other penalties and still have no insurance. By refusing to take the bad with the good in your plan, you played the zealous advocate well but insulted our intelligence.

Like a lawyer playing on a jury’s prejudices, you have tried to divide us. First you labeled Senator Obama the “black” candidate. That didn’t work. People recognized him for what he is: a mixed-race candidate with strong appeal even to folks who have never known an African-American well. Then you tried to exploit differences between Latinos and African-Americans. The jury on that ploy is still out: it seemed to work in Nevada and California, but it probably won’t win in Texas.

Finally, in Cleveland, you tried to turn Jews against Obama. You associated him with the anti-Semitism of Louis Farrahkan, whose only conceivable relationship to Obama is shared African ancestry and Farrakhan’s support for Obama, not vice versa. As a Jew, I wish I could make you understand how low, mean and small that attempt made you look in my eyes.

But there again, you played the consummate lawyer. You split hairs. When Senator Obama reported he had “denounced” Farrakhan, you demurred. Denouncing wasn’t good enough, you said; Obama should “reject.” And so Obama did, in a gracious concession that will become an enduring classic of presidential debates. “[I]f the word ‘reject’ . . . is stronger than the word ‘denounce,’” he said, “then I’m happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.”

As Senator Obama demolished your hair-splitting attempt to divide us, I and millions of Americans recalled your husband disputing what the meaning of “is” is. Bill also knows the lawyer’s trade well.

Your pedal-to-the-metal lawyer’s approach may have done us all a service. Despite the “legalization” permeating our society and our culture, millions of Americans still have not gone to law school. They have never immersed themselves in our adversary system or studied its rich history.

Thanks to your effort, these millions now understand—deep in their gut—that hair-splitting, take-no-prisoners advocacy is not the best way to solve difficult problems in the real world, or even to address them honestly. They know for certain that zealous advocacy will not heal wounds of division, stop our precipitous national decline, or banish hard times. They want a problem solver, not a lawyer, to lead us. They want someone who will concede the right in order to serve the greater good.

That is why, even if by some miracle you are nominated, you will lose to John McCain.

Now that you have taught us this lesson so magnificently, it is time for you to leave the stage. Further demonstration would only damage your persona and your party and tarnish the Clinton legacy, if any gleam from it remains.

Your humble servant,

Jay

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27 February 2008

The Cleveland Debate


Barack Obama’s victory began in the snows of Iowa. He sealed it last night in the snows of Cleveland.

On every issue, he came out ahead in both substance and style.

In heated and repeated exchanges on health care, Obama made two things clear. First, the only important difference between his health-care plan and Senator Clinton’s is the mandates in her plan. Obama carefully explained how Clinton’s mandates would act on people, not government: they would force ordinary people to do things they otherwise would not do. Second, he made clear that his campaign’s mailers, about which Clinton had complained so angrily, do nothing more than draw attention to that fact.

Here’s what he said:
    “The reason [Senator Clinton] thinks that there are more people covered under her plan than mine is because of a mandate. That is not a mandate for the government to provide coverage to everybody; it is a mandate that every individual purchase health care. And the mailing that we put out accurately indicates that the main difference between Senator Clinton’s plan and mine is the fact that she would force in some fashion individuals to purchase health care.”

Clinton lost credibility by failing to acknowledge that basic difference and its consequences. She dodged and weaved, becoming argumentative and defensive. But she never took clear responsibility for imposing mandates that would force adults without children to purchase heath insurance whether they want it or not.

As on so many issues over the course of her campaign, Clinton wanted to have it both ways. She wanted to argue that her rival’s plan doesn’t reach “universal” coverage. But she refused to acknowledge that her plan would reach that goal—if at all—by ordering people about.

The exchange over health care highlighted a crucial difference in style of governance. Clinton would command; Obama would encourage and collaborate. As Obama pointed out again, Clinton’s eagerness to command obedience and freeze out collaboration (even from within her own party) doomed her 1993 health care plan. He made our choice crystal clear. We can nominate a candidate with an imperial style, or we can have genuinely collaborative governance.

On foreign policy, Obama made two key points. First, he patiently explained that his opposition to war in Iraq, before it began, had been no free ride. Although he was not then in the U.S. Senate, he was engaged in a political campaign, and his opposition was politically risky.

More important, his opposition to the invasion was not a bare political position. The most important thing about it was his reasoning and his judgment, which were prescient and correct. As he pointed out in the debate:
    “On the most important foreign policy decision that we face[d] in a generation—whether or not to go into Iraq—I was very clear as to why we should not—that it would fan the flames of anti-American sentiment, that it would distract us from Afghanistan, that it would cost us billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and would not make us more safe, and I do not believe it has made us more safe.”

Near the debate’s end, in one of her few moments of graciousness, Clinton acknowledged that she would change her vote on Iraq if she could. “I’ve said many times,” she asserted, “that, although my vote on the 2002 authorization regarding Iraq was a sincere vote, I would not have voted that way again.” In effect, she acknowledged making a big mistake—on the biggest issue of our generation. Yet until her acknowledgement later in the debate, Clinton seemed to want to put the responsibility for that mistake solely on Bush.

On Pakistan, Clinton still tried to ridicule Obama’s foresight and wisdom. Half a year ago, last summer, he questioned our credulous reliance on Musharraf and suggested pursuing bin Laden in Pakistan if necessary. Clinton accused him of wanting to bomb Pakistan, as sovereign nation. “Last summer he basically threatened to bomb Pakistan,” she said, “which I don't think was a particularly wise position to take.” Obama replied patiently, explaining that he had suggested not bombing, but taking out Al Qaeda leaders based on actionable intelligence (and only if Musharraf wouldn’t). Then he also pointed out that our government did exactly that just this month—killing a senior Al Qaeda commander.

Having been bested on every argument on substance, Clinton lost on style, too. For most of the debate, she was shrill, defensive and angry. She seemed to be seething with suppressed resentment and anger. Little about her was presidential.

In contrast, Obama showed presidential stature, patience and statesmanship. He displayed a range of emotions—seriousness, earnestness, humor, caring and genuine warmth. He concluded with a gracious nod to Clinton—mirroring hers to him in the last debate—saying that he respected her public service and was proud to have campaigned with her.

Despite her claims of overweening “experience,” Clinton’s record is empty on the things that count most. She was wrong to authorize Bush to invade Iraq without even reading the NIE. She was wrong to impose mandates on small business in her 1993 health care plan. She was wrong to develop that plan behind closed doors, freezing out members of her own party. She is wrong to construct her plan around mandates on individuals today. She was wrong not to develop a credible and comprehensive plan to capture or kill our worst enemies, Osama bin Laden and his crew. And she was wrong to criticize and ridicule Obama’s plan, which proved both prescient and right.

Clinton was not defensive, angry and frustrated for nothing. She had and has a lot to explain away. Obama had nothing to apologize for, so he could be gracious, statesmanlike and presidential, which he was. At the end of the debate, Clinton reminded the audience of her sole remaining advantage: she is a woman.

Now it’s up to the voters of Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont to decide accordingly. Let’s all hope they were paying attention and watched the debate.

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Note to readers: I have not provided links to individual quotes and paraphrases because the New York Times this time published the entire debate transcript on a single web page, making it easy to search electronically.




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26 February 2008

Gossip and Policy


We are all being tested.

It is now six years and five months since 9/11. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still alive, well, and plotting against us.

Next week will mark two years, six months since Katrina. Tens of thousands of displaced people still live in trailers, many being poisoned by formaldehyde. The levees around New Orleans are no higher than they were before the flood. Six months after the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, we have no national commitment to repair our decrepit infrastructure.

It is now ten years, two months since the Kyoto Protocol and seven years since the first Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change. We have done virtually nothing to address the growing problem of global warming, except adopt weak gas-mileage standards for oil-fueled vehicles in the face of an increasing scarcity of oil.

We used to be a “can-do” people. These facts reveal a nation in decline.

Is there a great national dialogue on these themes? In a word, no.

In the most important election in forty years, we gossip. We obsess constantly over whether our next president will have African genes, posses two X chromosomes, or be over 70. We scrutinize minutiae of campaign tactics. We worry for days over rumors that our Republican candidate might have had a “relationship” with an attractive female lobbyist. We study pictures of Barack Obama, taken years ago, in native Somali garb. These things, we are told, are news.

We are in our present predicament because selling gossip as policy worked for Bush and Rove. Rove taught us that homosexual marriage, abortion and the Ten Commandments’ absence on courthouse lawns were vital national issues. And look what a mess we are in!

Several unusual events are increasingly likely in the next ten years. A homosexual couple might move into your neighborhood. Your president might have African ancestors. Your neighborhood gas station might run out of gas, perhaps for considerable periods. The bridge you are driving on might collapse. The plane you are flying in might collide with another for lack of a modern air traffic control system. Or an Al Qaeda nuke might take out Washington or New York.

Which of these possibilities interests you most? The answer depends on whether you prefer gossip to policy.

Are our venerable media helping us make the distinction? In a word, no. They are busy selling gossip as news.

One of the most remarkable things I have seen in our media recently was a lead editorial that the New York Times ran nine days ago. Entitled “Questions, Not Just on Iraq,” it posed a series of penetrating and seldom-heard questions about foreign policy. The answers to those questions ultimately may determine whether we have to go to war again, or whether we will face terrorist nukes in our own cities.

The questions were important. They needed asking. But why, I wondered, did the Times ask them of us, the public? Shouldn’t it be asking them of our candidates for president and our current policy makers? Are we all reporters?

I would love to see answers to those questions. But you won’t get them from the Times or the mainstream media. If you want them, you’ll have to pull the raw data off the Internet, with the help of Google or another search engine. Then you’ll have to do your own analysis. Our youth already have discovered this fact; they don’t pay much attention to the mainstream media.

Meanwhile, the rest of us regale ourselves with pictures of Obama in native dress, charges of plagiarism, and rumors of John McCain’s romantic relationship spawned by unnamed sources. We all gossip while Rome burns. (Hillary seems strangely immune from gossip, perhaps because she’s already been the butt of gossip over the most spectacular sex scandal in our history.)

Yes, we are being tested all right. This election will test whether we, the people, can tell the difference between gossip and policy.

Which candidate promotes gossip, and which is serious about policy? Can we discover and compare policy differences ourselves, with the help of the Internet?

Our future depends upon answers to these questions and questions of policy. But don’t look to our media for answers. You won’t find them there. Instead, you’ll find all the gossip you can absorb.

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23 February 2008

The Sizzle and the Steak

Who’s got the sizzle, and who’s got the steak?

The conventional wisdom is that Barack has the sizzle. He’s charismatic. He’s hopeful. He’s inspirational. As the Washington Post reported today, websites are starting to spoof him as the “Messiah.”

Hillary seems to have the steak. She’s the careful plodder, the Earth-bound candidate. With “my 35 years” behind her, she’s the safe and dependable one. Or so the conventional wisdom goes.

Call me curmudgeon and maverick, but I think it’s exactly the opposite.

Who’s the glibber debater? Hillary. Who can rattle off a list of her accomplishments—going back 35 years to her graduation from law school—at the drop of a hat?

Who gets those gleams from women seeing Hillary breaking their glass ceiling and bearing their heavy cross of gender discrimination? When you think about the soaring aspirations of victims of discrimination, remember two important statistics: African-Americans are 12% of our population; women are a majority. So who’s the “Messiah” for the most?

Now let’s look at the steak. Four very real problems appear at or near the top of every voter’s list: the mortgage/credit crisis, health care, the war in Iraq, and Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Let’s take them one by one.

1.  Mortgage/Credit Crisis. For the mortgage/credit crisis, Hillary prescribes a five-year interest-rate freeze, a form of price control. That’s a bold proposal. It seems to promise instant relief at her command.

There’s just one problem. As every economist of any repute has said—even Fortune Magazine—the freeze won’t work. It will have disastrous effects on the rest of the economy, causing non-frozen interest rates to skyrocket, and in a time of rising inflation at that. Like every price control throughout the last century, it will distort the free market and have unintended consequences.

Barack won’t mess with the free market. He promises to crack down hard on predatory lending to stop the foreclosure wave from getting bigger. He’ll subsidize folks facing foreclosure to keep them in their homes. And he’ll seek, like the current administration, private solutions to keep the markets functioning but give homeowners less dangerous loans. His solutions are pedestrian—even plodding—but they will work. And they won’t damage our complex credit economy.

2.  Health Care. Then there’s health care. Hillary wants to force everyone to buy health insurance, whether they can afford it or not. That’s another bold and commanding solution. But it’s another economic mandate. It will have severe unintended consequences. It will impose a regressive tax on young, healthy, blue collar workers and will create gratuitous and unnecessary opposition to health-care reform. And it will leave some poor people paying fines and still having no health insurance, as Massachusetts’ actual experience proved.

As for Hillary’s failed 1993 proposal, it failed in part because of mandates (then on small business) and in part because Hillary developed it behind closed doors, freezing out members of her own party. How cautious and careful was that? How cautious and careful is her promising to make the same mistakes a second time?

3.  War in Iraq. On Iraq, the record is clear. Hillary voted for our bold and commanding invasion. She did so without even reading the crucial intelligence report. Barack, although not in the Senate, spoke out against the invasion.

Here’s what Barack said five months before we invaded, about the same time Hillary voted for war:
    “I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda.”
Pretty cautious and plodding, right? And pretty good foresight.

4.  Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda in Pakistan is our single most serious foreign problem. We must defeat it before it acquires nuclear weapons—from North Korea, Pakistan, Russia’s loose nukes, or maybe even Iran.

Six months ago, Barack proposed a comprehensive plan to deal with that threat. Much of his plan involved pedestrian blocking and tackling. He had a six step plan to implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, which the Bushies have largely ignored. He proposed replacing the madrassas that train terrorists with real schools to give poor Muslims a future.

Those pedestrian proposals got little attention. What caught everyone’s ear was his suggestion that we stop coddling Musharraf and go after Al Qaeda, by ourselves if we have to. Since then, hasn’t every event on the ground in Pakistan—from Al Qaeda’s resurgence, through Bhutto’s assassination, to the Pakistani elections just held—proved him right?

Hillary ridiculed Barack’s proposal. But to my knowledge, she has never proposed or published a plan to defeat Al Qaeda as detailed and comprehensive as Barack’s. And she thinks that our policy toward Pakistan and Al Qaeda Central is something best dealt with in secret, by experts like herself, out of public view. Whose policies pose greater risk?

On the four greatest issues of our times, Barack has been right, prescient, cautious and practical. Hillary has been careless, risky, inventive and bold.

Barack’s boldest proposal was to go after bin Laden in Pakistan, but it was only a part of a much larger comprehensive plan. Hillary’s bold economic proposals flout well-established economic learning and threaten unintended consequences. And what could have been riskier than her vote to invade Iraq without reading the critical report, without letting arms inspectors finish their jobs, and without forcing Bush to continue displomacy?

So who’s got the sizzle, and who’s got the steak? There’s a clear answer, and it’s not the conventional wisdom.

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22 February 2008

The Texas Debate


Last night Obama all but clinched the nomination. You wouldn’t know it from the headlines in the mainstream media, which focus on all sorts of irrelevancies. Apart from his slow start and Clinton’s impressive closing statement, the debate was all his.

On health care, Obama beat back Clinton’s strong challenge. He explained carefully how her mandates would hurt poor families who can’t afford health insurance. He cited actual experience in Massachusetts, where poor families had to pay fines for not buying insurance and still had no insurance. Later he pointed out how Clinton’s secretive and combative approach to health care reform had doomed her 1993 proposals to failure.

Obama consistently took the high road and prevailed. On economic policy, he showed how Clinton’s proposals differ from his only in detail. “The problem we have,” he argued, “is that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die.” Again and again, he contrasted his open, unifying and flexible approach, and his disdain for lobbyists, with Clinton’s secretive, lobbyist-friendly, politics-as-usual approach, which has produced gridlock in Washington.

At crucial moments, Obama managed to cast aside his natural humility and stand up for himself, even against a woman much like his mother. On the question of serving as commander in chief “from day one,” he responded as follows:
    “[O]n what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation—whether or not to go to war in Iraq—I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief. I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on [Iraq].”
Later, speaking of the general-election race against McCain, he pointed out that a candidate (he) who had opposed the war from the outset would draw a more credible contrast to McCain than one who had supported it initially and then waffled (Clinton).

That was not the only foreign-policy point Obama scored. He also noted that he had been right on going after Al Qaeda in Pakistan and on not coddling Musharraf, and that Clinton had been wrong. He won support among Latinos by promising to make improving relations with Mexico a priority. In the same vein, he also noted that our entire annual aid to Latin America would pay for one week of the war in Iraq.

Two crucial exchanges exposed Clinton’s character. When asked about her earlier opposition to unconditional talks with enemy leaders, Clinton all but recanted. She virtually copied Obama’s ideas right before our eyes, from his immediately previous statement, squirming a bit as she did so. For those who remember her calling Obama “naïve” for those very same views earlier in the campaign, it was a quintessentially sleazy Clinton moment. No doubt her strong supporters will praise her “flexibility.”

Doubts about Clinton’s character climaxed when the questioning turned to her charge that Obama had “plagiarized” a line in his recent speeches from Deval L. Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts. Said Obama, “the notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who’s one of my national co-chairs [and] who gave me the line and suggested that I use it, I think is silly.” The audience gave him laughs and thunderous applause.

Obama then turned serious. He ran through a list of our real problems, saying “I’m happy to have a debate on the issues, but what we shouldn’t be spending time doing is tearing each other down. We should be spending time lifting the country up.” Again he got applause and cheers. When Clinton’s turn to speak came, she tried to reassert the same “plagiarism” charge again, and the audience booed her roundly. That was the only time I have ever seen an audience boo Hillary Clinton.

And so it went all night. Obama easily disposed of the “all hat and no cattle” charge, rattling off lists of specifics at various points in the debate. Midway through the debate, he gave that charge the coup de grace in the following words:
    “Senator Clinton of late has said ‘let’s get real.’ And the implication is, is that, you know, the people who have been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional—(laughter)—and that— (chuckles)—that, you know, the —(laughter)—you know, the 20 million people who have been paying attention to 19 debates, and the editorial boards all across the country at newspapers who have given me endorsements, including every major newspaper here in the state of Texas—(cheers, applause)—you know, the thinking is that somehow they’re being duped and that eventually they’re going to see the reality of things.”
At that point, the entire audience seemed to sympathize with Obama.

At the debate’s end, after her own rousing closing statement, Clinton herself seemed to sense what is coming. “And you know, whatever happens,” she said,” we’re going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends.”

She’ll need that support once the citizens of Texas and Pennsylvania have had their say. Ohio is less certain, but another debate like last night’s should end Clinton’s run for the presidency.

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P.S. For those who’d like to read the debate for themselves, the New York Times has a complete transcript, to which the links in this post refer.


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21 February 2008

Comparing Obama: Three Essential Readings

Are you one of many voters still undecided between Senators Clinton and Obama? Are you confused about their programs, policies and positions? Do you wonder whether there is any real difference between them? Then this post is for you.

The media say there’s not much difference between them. Clinton said she’s got way more experience than Obama. She also says that Obama is all hope and no substance, all speeches and no action.

But none of the millions of voters who know Obama, who have read his speeches, position papers and books, and who voted for him so far (including me) believe any of this. We think what Senator Clinton and the media are saying about him is—to use Obama’s brand of understatement—“inaccurate.”

Would you like to know why? All you have to do is read the following:The first two readings are Obama’s own words. The third is mine. A modest person like Obama never touts his own qualifications, so it’s one of my most viewed posts.

Reading these three things will take you less than an hour. It will open your eyes to the promise of Obama, not just in hope, but in penetrating thought, sound judgment, prudent and comprehensive policy, and strategic action.

You also might want to compare Clinton and Obama in character or leadership, or with a handy comparison chart. The results might surprise you.

You won’t find this information in anyone’s stump speeches or any debate. You won’t find it in the current mainstream media (although the first two items were published there some time ago.) If you want to understand what all the fuss is about, you must read and decide for yourself.

Will you devote an hour to getting informed on the most important election in forty years?

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P.S. For those who want more, I’ve also posted a more extensive reading list. But you can get a good idea of how substantive, thoughtful, prudent and comprehensive Obama’s policies are just from reading the first two items linked above.



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20 February 2008

Hillary’s Last Stand


The results for Wisconsin are almost all in. With 96% of precincts reporting, Obama leads Clinton by 17 percent, 58% to 41%. It’s another landslide to add to Obama’s string of overwhelming victories in red states.

What makes this victory so meaningful is that it wasn’t supposed to be anywhere that big. Isn’t Wisconsin one of those manufacturing states that have been hemorrhaging jobs for as long as anyone can remember? Doesn’t it have a lot of white, rural, blue collar workers without a college education? Aren’t they supposed to be Hillary’s constituency?

Think again. The more people hear Hillary repeating “my experience,” “my 35 years,” and “ready on day one,” the more they turn off. Most folks don’t like to hear people—especially politicians—talking constantly about themselves. That sort of stuff might go over well in New York or California, where self-promotion is as natural as breathing. But not in the Midwest.

It’s not just Hillary’s little mantras. It’s her proposals, too. There are very few things that Richard Nixon and the Soviet Union’s last leaders ever agreed upon. But they all agreed that a “command” economy, with mandates and price controls, doesn’t work. Hillary has mandates in her health-care plan and price controls in her mortgage-crisis plan. What planet is she living on? Maybe she just doesn’t understand economics.

Hillary’s biggest problem is that she has a ceiling. As the queen ready to be crowned and the first serious candidate of her gender, she once had a big, ready-made constituency hungry for an easy Democratic victory. But the past three months have seen Democrats leave that constituency in droves.

Why? The more you get to know Hillary, the less you like her. It’s not just the thought of listening for four years to someone whose favorite subject is herself. Nor is it just her economic policies, which no one from Nixon to Gorbachev would touch, with the possible exception of now-retired Fidel Castro.

It’s her character. Who would spend a lifetime promoting racial harmony and then throw it all away by playing the race card just to win a primary or two? Who would twist in the wind on minor issues, like whether New York gives undocumented aliens drivers’ licenses to keep the roads safer? Who would highlight, as a closing argument in an important primary, that her opponent used a few lines from another politician without proper attribution? Do these acts show a sense of perspective?

But you have to give Hillary one thing. She just doesn’t quit. The Wall Street Journal’s columnist Peggy Noonan likened her to Rasputin, the “mad monk” from pre-Soviet Russia:
    “Deep down journalists think she’s a political Rasputin who will not be dispatched. Prince Yusupov served him cupcakes laced with cyanide, emptied a revolver, clubbed him, tied him up and threw him in a frozen river. When he floated to the surface they found he’d tried to claw his way from under the ice. That is how reporters see Hillary.”
In her next paragraph Noonan disclaimed the analogy as over the top, although she didn’t delete it.

Yet even Noonan missed Hillary’s essence. While Hillary seems to have Rasputin’s legendary tenacity, ambition, and unscrupulousness, she is no Rasputinova. Rasputin was human. He had some sort of compelling animal magnetism that historians can’t explain.

Hillary is more like a poorly programmed robot. If she went under the ice (politically speaking) she would just subside into the frigid water, repeating in a mechanically cheerful voice, “my experience,” “my 35 years,” and “ready on day one.” Maybe Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania will put a quick end to this race and spare her that ignominy.

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18 February 2008

An Obama Reading List


[For a post-general-election update to this list, click here.]

Everyone knows this is the most important presidential election since 1960. Are you willing to do a little homework to be sure you’ve made the right choice?

Hillary and the media say Obama is all hope and no substance. The tens of millions of people (including me) who voted for him don’t believe that for a nanosecond. Would you like to decide for yourself?

What follows is a reading list of materials by and about Obama. Except for Obama’s books, the suggested readings are short and easy to digest.

Everything in the second column was written by Obama or (in the first case) summarized by his campaign staff. If you read the material linked there, even excluding Obama’s books, you’ll know enough about him to make a rational decision, free from “spin.”

The readings in the third column are commentary, mostly my own. They also include posts from other blogs and the mainstream media. They are optional, but they provide perspective and counteract the consistent misinformation provided by the Clinton campaign and much of the mainstream media.

You should be able to read most of the listed materials in an hour or two. Are you willing to devote that much effort to making the most important electoral choice of your life?

Scroll down for the list. There are still some tricks to HTML on this site; maybe the nice folks at Google will help me again.


















































IssueObama’s Own WordsCommentary
Mortgage and Credit Crisis Obama’s Proposals
 
Clinton’s proposals (my analysis)
Health Care
 
Obama’s Comprehensive Plan My analysis
 
Fighting Terrorism Obama’s Comprehensive Plan My analysis
Al Qaeda threat
Diplomacy and Foreign Policy Obama’s Comprehensive Plan (Scroll down for full text)
War in Iraq
 
 
Obama’s speech on the war
(five months before our invasion!)
Clinton’s record on war
 
Vision for the Future
 
2004 Keynote Speech on Unity
Audacity of Hope
My analysis
 
 
Emphathy and Understanding
 
Dreams from My Father
(esp. "Chicago," pages 133-295)
My analysis
 
 


Following is another table with links to commentary on various aspects of Obama’s character and comparisons to the Clintons and past presidents. I have to rely on commentary for these points because Obama doesn’t talk about himself much. That’s one of the many things that make me think he’ll be a good leader.
Judgment
 
 
Comparison with Clinton
Comparison with JFK
War and foreign policy analysis
Experience
 
 
Table of Presidents
My analysis
Myths about experience
Self-Restraint My analysis (comparison with Bill)
Integrity Comparison with the Clintons
Obama/Clinton Comparisons
 
 
 
 
 
Major issues & life experience
Comprehensive issue overview
Likely impact on policy
Demonstrated leadership
Political philosophy
Faith and evangelicals
 


Following is a third table with links to selected material published from the original date of this post (2/18/08) to date.
SubjectObama’s Own wordsCommentary
CharacterN.A.Obama’s Sense of Perspective
ComparisonsN.A.Comparing McCain and Obama

Strategic Vision
Foreign PolicyNational Security Speech in Richmond

Interview (First) with Bill O’Reilly (Video)
 

RaceObama’s Speech on RaceMy Reaction
VictoryObama’s Victory Speech
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15 February 2008

Hillary-ous Economics


“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Hillary’s economic policy proposals are testing this old saw on the American public. She now proposes to flout the laws of economics a second time. Maybe she hopes the people on whom her candidacy most depends—poorly educated and ill-informed working people—won’t notice.

Hillary’s economic mistakes are classic. She proposes to order the economy about like one of her campaign managers. No doubt if things go completely sour, she’ll upbraid the economy and fire it.

Hillary’s most recent mistake is a proposal to freeze interest rates for struggling homeowners. Interest is nothing more or less than the price of a loan. So her interest-rate freeze is a price control. Well-established economic theory and a century of experience show that price controls don’t work.

Any introductory course in economics explains why. Price controls distort the natural balance between supply and demand that is the essence of a free-market economy. They are the proverbial monkey wrench thrust into a delicate machine in order to slow a single cog.

For readers with the background and patience to read them, I’ve summarized the reasons why price controls don’t work in more detail below. Every basic college economics course teaches them.

But you needn’t have a firm grasp of economic theory to understand why price controls don’t work. All you need to know is a little economic history. Lenin tried price controls. Stalin and his successors did, too. Mao tried them. Our very own Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter tried them. None worked, and all had unintended consequences.

For us Americans, the most fascinating failure was Nixon’s. A conservative Republican, he had opposed price controls all his life. But he imposed them nevertheless, out of political expediency. They failed. As one report notes, “Ranchers stopped shipping their cattle to the market, farmers drowned their chickens, and consumers emptied the shelves of supermarkets.” The conclusion of Nixon’s own economic advisor is worth repeating: “we have now convinced everyone else of the rightness of our original position that wage-price controls are not the answer.”

Hugo Chavez is trying price controls right now. That’s why the shelves of markets and groceries in Caracas are empty despite Venezuela’s oil wealth. He’s doing us all a service in proving once again, to this generation, that the laws of economics still hold true.

“What’s the big deal?” you might ask. Aren’t even the Republicans freezing interest rates right now? Yes, they are. But there’s a big difference in duration. The Republicans propose freezing interest rates for thirty days, to allow private markets to adjust. That’s a temporary emergency measure, not a price control. Our huge economy is resilient enough to withstand an interference that short. But Hillary proposes to freeze interest rates for five years.

Just think how much and how quickly interest rates have changed over the last five years. Then you’ll understand why a freeze that long is bad economics. Our credit economy can stand a brief “time out;” it can’t survive being handcuffed for half a decade in a time of rapid global economic change.

Hillary’s other hilarious economic proposal would “solve” our health-care crisis with “mandates.” It would force people who don’t want health insurance to buy it.

The notion behind this plan is that rising health-care costs aren’t responsible for our health-care crisis. “Free riders” are. Supposedly there are many, many people who can afford health insurance but won’t buy it because they don’t think they’ll get sick. If they get sick, they go to emergency rooms, driving up health-care costs for the rest of us. There are so many of them, the story goes, that if we just force all of them to buy insurance, cost increases will disappear and we will all enter health-care Nirvana.

If you want a “fairy tale,” this is it. The health-care “free rider” is Hillary’s version of the Republicans’ “welfare queen”—the mythical woman who used fraudulently procured welfare payments to get rich. Like health-care free riders, welfare queens were a neat bit of demagoguery, a powerful metaphor with no empirical support.

The notion of so many people free riding is inherently implausible for a whole host of common-sense reasons, including the aversion to risk that pervades our culture. But Hillary gets away with her implausible claim because no one has any idea how many—or how few—health-care free riders there are in fact.

How would you measure the number of supposed “free riders” accurately? Would survey takers go into hospital emergency rooms and ask patients, “Are you here because you gambled with your health and refused to buy health insurance even though you could afford it?” Wouldn’t that be like asking voters whether they refused to vote for Senator Clinton because she’s a woman or for Senator Obama because he has African genes?

Can you think of any reliable way to measure this so-called “free rider” phenomenon accuately? I can’t. Nor, apparently, can economists. There is a lot of speculation and guesstimation, but no hard evidence either way.

Without hard data, no one can definitively challenge Hillary’s claim that free riders—not free-market cost increases and the high price of innovation—are responsible for our health-care crisis. She thinks she can fool the public and win the election with an inherently implausible claim which there is no practical way to prove or disprove conclusively.

There’s a word for that: demagoguery. She wants us to believe that there is such a thing as a free lunch, and that only she can provide it.

Our purblind media have fostered the myth that there is no significant difference between Senators Obama and Clinton. Nothing could be further from the truth. Obama understands economics. Clinton does not. Her economic proposals demonstrate that point beyond dispute. In a time of rapid economic decline, that difference ought to be decisive, if only voters could see it.

We jeer at Hugo Chavez and his economic demagoguery. But we have a serious candidate for president engaged in the same enterprise. It’s so easy for a candidate to say, “Just give me all that power and I’ll command your problems away.”

Yet life is not so easy, even for a president. A president must be smart, not just commanding. You have to understand the economy before you can fix it.

King Canute once tried to command the tides. He failed. Every leader from Lenin to Nixon to Carter to Chavez who tried to command the economy failed.

Command economics in the Soviet Union and Communist China reduced great powers to third-world status. If we voters are gullible enough to elect a leader with third-world economic ideas, a third-world economy is what we’ll get. No one will think that’s hilarious, least of all working people, who are always the first to get hurt.

Why Price Controls Don’t Work

Three things happen under price controls. First, private firms go out of business as the costs they pay for things like labor and raw materials go up and they can no longer make a profit by selling products at controlled prices. To avoid this outcome, the government has to subsidize the losses incurred by the controlled businesses. Or the government can take over the affected businesses entirely and run them itself, paying for the continuing losses out of its general revenue. That, in essence, is the story of the Soviet Union and Communist China.

If the price controls are not too severe, the private market can still function. But the private market will produce less of the controlled commodity at the controlled price. Producers, who still have to make money to survive, have to follow the inexorable law of supply and demand, on the cost side. They produce less output, causing shortages compared to what a free market would provide. In Hillary’s case the effect will be a shortage of credit, driving up interest rates in the non-subprime-mortgage part of our economy.

The government can try to get around the laws of economics by controlling more and more. Nixon did that by trying to control wages (producers’ cost of labor), in addition to prices. He failed. That’s also what our Fed does in lowering general interest rates. But more control always has unintended consequences. For the Fed, inflation is one.

As the government begins to control more and more of the private economy, it enters a vicious circle. More control means more unintended consequences, which require more control. After a while the nation begins to look like the Soviet Union or Mao’s China. We all know how those experiments turned out.

There’s also a simpler way to understand why price controls fail. If a productive firm is inefficient, in a free market more efficient firms eventually will replace it, perhaps producing lower prices. But if a productive firm is efficient, forcing it to lower prices will force both it and its efficient rivals to lose money.

If the losses continue, even the most efficient firms will die. In order to keep them in business, someone has to pay for the losses that price controls force them to incur. Investors can pay by throwing their money down a rathole (unlikely!). Government subsidies can pay—which means you and me, through taxes. Or the buying public can pay, through shortages, rationing, poor quality, and delay. That’s what happened in the Soviet Union, with empty grocery stores and long waits for basic commodities like toilet paper.

There are no other alternatives. Someone or something must pay the difference between the controlled price and the (higher) costs of production. This result follows from economics’ most basic law: there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Hugo Chavez is dumb enough not to understand economics and not to learn from history. He is running the same failed experiment again. Do we want our next president to follow his lead?


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14 February 2008

Iraq and November


With apologies to Wisconsin and Hawaii, we now have a three-week recess before Ohio’s and Texas’ crucial contests on March 4.  We can think about something besides the horse race.

As David Brooks opined on the Lehrer News Hour recently, real events—not promises, programs, platforms or politics—will decide the race between Senators Clinton and Obama. Even if that prediction is wrong, events are almost certain to decide the contest with John McCain in the fall.

While we were all watching the primaries, events in Iraq began to change profoundly. It is now possible to imagine a benign or even favorable outcome of our sacrifice there.

Since the Sunni “awakening” that preceded our “surge,” Al Qaeda in Iraq has been on the run. With the Sunni sheiks on board, all three major Iraqi ethnic groups—Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish—now hate Al Qaeda. And all three have ample reason.

To paraphrase von Clausewitz, insurgencies are local politics by violent means. They cannot exist without sanctuary and logistical support from the people. Al Qaeda in Iraq is losing that support and therefore its battle for survival. Even our generals are starting to say so, despite their understandable desire to distance themselves as far as possible from That Idiot Rumsfeld’s moronic optimism.

But the most profound change happened yesterday. The Iraqi legislative logjam broke, and results came pouring out.

By a single vote, the Iraqi Parliament passed a package of measures including laws for revenue sharing, federalism, and provincial elections. The revenue-sharing law just temporizes; Parliament will have to re-negotiate it in a year. But the federalism and election laws have the potential to remake Iraqi society for the better.

For some time, Joe Biden, other knowledgeable folk, and even I have been arguing that partitioning is the only path to Iraq’s salvation. The new federalism law is a giant positive step toward “soft” partitioning.

Even more important are the provincial elections, now scheduled for October. Five months ago, I argued that Iraqi provincial elections and reductions in our own casualty rate are the only true “benchmarks for success” in Iraq. Provincial elections can remake Iraqi society from the grass roots up. (This benchmark of success of course depends on the outcome of the elections, which may take some months to evaluate.) Reductions in our casualty rate not only keep support here at home from evaporating entirely; they suggest that Iraqis support our presence, too.

So what does this mean for our presidential election? Plenty. Despite John McCain’s over-the-top invitation to stay in Iraq for “100 years,” people know he is a straight shooter. When he points—as he will—to discernible military and political progress in Iraq, people will listen. His persona as war hero with legendary physical and moral courage won’t hurt his message.

Perhaps concern with our ailing economy will overwhelm Iraq as a general-election issue. But don’t bet our party's future on it.  Counting on Iraq not being an important factor in the fall is whistling past the graveyard.

If (as seems likely) positive changes in Iraq continue, both Clinton and Obama will have to “pivot” to a position more favorable to our enterprise there. They will have to do so some time between now and the general election campaign.

When, how, and how gracefully each pivots may determine who becomes the Democratic nominee.  Grace and good timing in pivoting also will influence, if not determine, who becomes president. Iraq’s provincial elections will come in October, right in the heat of our presidential campaign.

As usual, my money is on Obama. Not only is he smarter than Clinton, with far better judgment in foreign affairs. He also understands, as Clinton does not, that real change in any society comes up from the bottom, not down from the top.

Obama promises real change here at home by inspiring a “movement” that brings new voters and new centrist political forces into play. Just so, October’s provincial elections promise to remake Iraqi society from the bottom up.

So far, Iraq’s elections came too early. They arrived in the midst of a foreign invasion, an insurgency, rampant violence, political and social turmoil, and a then-brief respite from three decades of Stalinist tyranny. By October, Iraqis will have had five and one-half years to assess their situation, their neighbors, their leaders, their principles, and their future. They are now—and only now—in a position to build lasting political institutions.

Senator Obama understands this. When, how and how well he breaks the news to a party and a public bone tired of war will test his ability to serve as president.

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12 February 2008

Another Red State, and What a Victory!


Today Senator Obama swept the so-called Potomac Primary. He beat Senator Clinton by double digits in Delaware (53% to 42%), by more than 3 to 1 in the District of Columbia (75% to 24%), by 26% in Maryland (61% to 35%) and by 29% in Virginia (64% to 35%). The last three wins were not just victories; they were routs.

In this post we focus only on red states, at least some of which a Democrat must win to become president. So Delaware, D.C., and Maryland, which were blue in 2004, don’t count. With the electoral tide turning strongly Democratic, any Democrat is likely to win them.

But Virginia is another story. It was a red state and part of the Old South. Richmond, Virginia, was the capital of the Confederacy.

Obama’s stunning victory there suggests that Richard Nixon’s so-called “Southern Strategy”—using race to divide and confuse us, the people— is dead and buried. According to the Washington Post, Obama beat Clinton in Virginia by double digits among women and Latinos, ran even with Clinton among white voters, and beat her by nearly 9 to 1 among African-Americans. Like the rest of us, Southerners of all kinds today want honesty, open government, good judgment, non-ideological problem solving, unity, and hope.

Obama’s landslide in Virginia is momentous for another reason. The most densely populated parts of Virginia are bedroom suburbs for people who work in our nation’s capital. What we call national and international news is local news to them. They know politics and politicians. They are an affluent, well-educated and well-informed group. Their overwhelming vote for Obama should tell us something about the two candidates’ relative merits and prospects for the general election.

Obama’s landslide in Virginia also added to his long list of victories in red states. Here’s an updated version of my red-state table, arranged in descending order of the decisiveness of Obama’s wins. As before, the blue rows show Obama’s wins, the pink Clinton’s, and the darker shades of each color wins by a margin of 2-to-1 or greater.


Red StateObama/Clinton
Vote (percent)
Edwards
Vote
Obama/Clinton
Ratio
Electoral
Votes
Idaho80/17 - >4 to 1 4
Alaska74/25 - 3 to 1 3
Kansas74/26 - >2.5 to 1 9
Nebraska68/32 - >2 to 1 5
Colorado67/32 - >2 to 1 9
Georgia66/31 2 >2 to 1 15
South Carolina55/27 18 2 to 1 8
Virginia64/35 1 >1.8 to 1 13
North Dakota61/37 1 >1.5 to 1 3
Louisiana57/36 - >1.5 to 1 9
Utah57/39 3 1.5 to 1 5
Alabama 56/42 1 1.3 to 1 9
Iowa38/29 30 1.3 to 1 7
Missouri 49/48 2 1 to 1 11
New Mexico48/49 2 1 to 1 5
Nevada45/51 4 1 to 1 5
Arizona42/51 5 1 to 1.2510
Tennessee41/54 4 < 1 to 1.25 11
Oklahoma31/55 10 <1 to 1.7 7
Arkansas27/69 2 <1 to 2.5 6


Here is an updated version of the second table comparing the electoral votes of the red states that Obama has won with those of the red states that Clinton has won. The second line compares the totals of electoral votes of red states won by a 2-to-1 or greater margin. The third column shows Clinton’s deficits in electoral votes.
 
Obama
Electoral
Votes
Clinton
Electoral
Votes
Clinton EV Deficit
All red states won1104466
Won by 2-to-1 or greater53647


As explained in my previous post, this analysis suggests that Obama will do far better than Clinton in winning red states, which any Democrat must do to win the presidency. As time goes on even nominally pledged Super Delegates will come to understand who can win.

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10 February 2008

Winning Red States


Senator Obama continues to rack up impressive wins in red states. He’s not just winning by small margins. His string of 2-to-1 and better victories continues to grow.

Here’s the same table I posted after Super Tuesday, updated for Obama’s decisive wins in Louisiana and Nebraska and Clinton’s narrow win in New Mexico. The table is arranged in descending order of the decisiveness of Obama’s wins. As before, the blue rows show Obama’s wins, the pink Clinton’s, and the darker shades of each color wins by a margin of 2-to-1 or greater. (Obama’s landslide in Washington state doesn’t count, as Washington is a blue state.)

[Please scroll down to see the table. I can’t fix this gap with my knowledge of HTML.]

























Red StateObama/Clinton
Vote (percent)
 Edwards
Vote
 Obama/Clinton
Ratio
 Electoral
Votes
Idaho80/17 - >4 to 1 4
Alaska74/25 -  3 to 1 3
Kansas74/26 - >2.5 to 1 9
Nebraska68/32 - >2 to 1 5
Colorado67/32 - >2 to 1 9
Georgia66/31 2 >2 to 1 15
South Carolina55/27 18 2 to 1 8
North Dakota61/37 1 >1.5 to 1 3
Louisiana57/36 - >1.5 to 1 9
Utah57/39 3  1.5 to 1 5
Alabama 56/42 1  1.3 to 1 9
Iowa38/29 30  1.25 to 1 7
Missouri 49/48 2  1 to 1 11
New Mexico48/49 2  1 to 1 5
Nevada45/51 4  1 to 1 5
Arizona42/51 5  1 to 1.2510
Tennessee41/54 4  1 to 1.25 11
Oklahoma31/55 10 <1 to 1.5 7
Arkansas27/69 2 <1 to 2.5 6


Why is this table important? Because of the 2004 electoral map, which identified red (for Bush) and blue (for Kerry) states.

By definition, John Kerry won every blue state that Clinton has won in the primaries, plus those that Obama has won. But he didn’t win the general election. In order to win the general election, any Democratic nominee must win red states.

Here is a second table comparing the electoral votes of the red states that Obama has won in the primaries with those of the red states that Clinton has won. The second line compares the totals of electoral votes of red states won by a 2-to-1 or greater margin. The third column shows Clinton’s deficits in electoral votes.
 Obama
Electoral
Votes
Clinton
Electoral
Votes
Clinton EV Deficit
All red states won974453
Won by 2-to-1 or greater53647


As John Kerry proved to our chagrin, Democrats need some red states to win. But polls suggest that at least some of those red states are already purple and likely to swing blue.

Who is more likely to capture red states in a general election? Is it the Dem who won them by a small margin even among Democrats? Or is it the Dem who won them by a landslide in primaries or caucuses, showing both extraordinary enthusiasm among supporters and the ability to attract new voters, independents, and even some Republicans?

As the blue part of the first table above grows (and it will!), the advantages of nominating Obama will dawn on both Democratic voters and Super Delegates.

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08 February 2008

A Baker’s Dozen Reasons Why Obama is Best


[This post compares Obama to Hillary Clinton as of February 2008. For an updated (10-08) comparison of Obama to McCain, click here.]

1. Obama can keep us safe. He understands foreign cultures, and he can think “outside the box.” As Vietnam and Iraq both proved, domestic-style “triangulation” spells defeat in war.

2. Obama has good judgment. On the last decade’s most important issues—health care, Iraq, Iran, and Al Qaeda in PakistanObama was right and Hillary was wrong. Good intentions and noble effort—even over “35 years”—are not enough.

3. Obama can win. Super Tuesday proved what we already knew. Obama appeals to independents, nonaligned voters, and moderate Republicans. Conservatives respect him for his consistency on issues, his understanding of economics, and his political courage. Hillary appeals only to our Democratic “base.”

4. Obama will build a new Democratic majority. FDR created a Democratic majority for two generations. He did so by finding an alternative—regulated free markets—to the false choice between the laissez faire capitalism of the Gilded Age and the socialism/Communism then threatening to engulf the world. Barack Obama provides an alternative to our sterile discord between right and left dating back to the 1960s. The country hungers for a new direction.

5. Obama understands economics. Paul Krugman notwithstanding, no government edict ever solved a real economic problem. That’s the lesson learned from Nixon’s and Carter’s failed price controls, the failure of welfare until Bill fixed it, and the universal failure of Communism in the last century. As FDR proved, the way to fix problems in a free market is to understand how free markets work and then make small, intelligent adjustments. Passing a law to mandate an economic result went out with the Soviet Union. Obama understands this; Hillary does not.

6. Obama is smarter than Hillary. He predicted the precise consequences of our invading Iraq. He said that “an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda.” He also identified Al Qaeda in Pakistan as our single most dangerous foreign threat. Hillary did neither. Obama made a health-care proposal that will solve our most pressing problem (millions of people who can’t get or can’t afford insurance) with the least political resistance. Hillary proposed solving a non-problem (forcing people who don’t want insurance to take it) in a way that will create strong political headwinds.

7. Only Obama offers real change. His foreign policy will elevate dialogue and cooperation over reflexive unilateral use of American power. His domestic policy will focus on understanding and adjusting the free market, not trying to command it as King Canute tried to command the tides. He will put the sterile debate between neoconservatives and sixties liberals behind us. Yet in all things he holds dear our most fundamental liberal values: civil rights, respect for individuals, diversity, pluralism, and freedom of choice. You can agree or disagree with his new directions, but you can’t truthfully deny that he is the only harbinger of real change.

8. Obama promises open and transparent government. The dirty secret of our age is that our own Executive Branch has become far too powerful and secretive. Obama has promised to conduct health-care negotiations on C-SPAN. Hillary conceived her failed 1993 health-care proposals in secret. More than once, she has suggested that foreign policy discussions should be left to experts in secret. If you want to see the Internet and other electronic media used to open up and build democracy, Obama is your choice.

9. Obama will stop the “culture wars.” He will do so with new policies and just by being who he is. He has the gifts of perspective and genuine empathy. Hillary does not. Hillary would exacerbate the culture wars because she is a Clinton and because she carries all the Boomers’ excess baggage.

10. Obama will promote unity and equal opportunity. Hillary and Bill risked inflaming racial discord just to win the primaries. They are not racists. But for their own ambitions they put at risk the Democrats’ half-century wager on racial harmony. In contrast, Obama personifies racial harmony just by being who he is. He is half black and half white, and he rarely mentions race unless asked. His person and his politics are where we want to be.

11. Obama has virtue. Hillary does not. Running against an honorable, plain-speaking, politically and physically courageous war hero like John McCain, Hillary will lose, and rightly so. Obama has a chance to beat McCain because he also has virtue. He’s honest, thoughtful, wise, understated, politically courageous, and focused on real issues. If Obama and McCain are the two parties’ candidates, we will have the cleanest, most substantive and most uplifting general election campaign in half a century. That alone will help heal our wounds.

12. Obama represents the future, not the past. He personifies human dignity, equal opportunity, openness, transparency, and globalism. Like it or not, these things are here to stay. Hillary personifies the last century’s left-right divisions, domestic parochialism, and culture wars.

13. Obama has youth and energy. Huge, pluralistic countries don’t do well under aging leadership. Russia and China have cast off their aging bureaucrats. They now have young, brilliant, dynamic leaders capable of solving the enormous problems of big, complex, multi-ethnic states in a globalizing twenty-first century. We, too, need a young, brilliant, dynamic leader, or we might be left behind.

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06 February 2008

Who Can Win? Obama Takes the Heartland and the South


[For an updated version of this essay, with updated tables, see this post.]

Super Tuesday may not have decided the Democratic nomination. But it proved one thing decisively. It showed who can win the general election.

Remember the 2004 electoral map? The coasts were blue (for Kerry), while the Heartland and South was red (for Bush). Super Tuesday proved that Obama can best change all that.

Here is a table of all the 2004 red states that have voted in an official Democratic primary or caucus so far, showing the percentage votes for Obama and Clinton and the rough margin of victory. (Florida is omitted, as Obama didn’t campaign there and it’s not supposed to count.)

[You may have to scroll down to see the table.]
















Red StateObama/Clinton
Vote (percent)
Edwards
Vote
Obama/Clinton
Ratio
Electoral
Votes
Idaho80/17 - >4 to 1 4
Alaska74/25 -  3 to 1 3
Kansas74/26 - >2.5 to 1 9
Colorado67/32 - >2 to 1 9
Georgia66/31 2 >2 to 1 15
South Carolina55/27 18 2 to 1 8
North Dakota61/37 1 >1.5 to 1 3
Utah57/39 3  1.5 to 1 5
Alabama 56/42 1  1.3 to 1 9
Iowa38/29 30  1.25 to 1 7
Missouri 49/48 2  1 to 1 11
Nevada45/51 4  1 to 1 5
Arizona42/51 5  1 to 1.2510
Tennessee41/54 4  1 to 1.25 11
Oklahoma31/55 10 <1 to 1.5 7
Arkansas27/69 2 <1 to 2.5 6


As this table shows, Obama won eleven red states, shown in the blue rows, with a total of 83 electoral votes. Clinton won five red states, shown in the pink rows, with a total of 39 electoral votes. Obama won more than twice as many red states as Clinton, with more than twice as many electoral votes.

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Look at the fourth column, showing the ratio of victory. Clinton won by more than 2 to 1 in only one state—Arkansas, the state that Bill had governed. Arkansas had only six electoral votes.

Obama won by more than 2 to 1 in six states with a total of 48 electoral votes. The difference between the red states that Obama carried by more than 2 to 1 and the single state that Clinton carried by the same margin is five states, amounting to 42 electoral votes.

A 2 to 1 margin is a 67/33 win—a landslide by any political calculation. Why were Obama’s victories over Clinton so crushing in those six states? The two senators were much more equally matched in the big states with large numbers of Democratic voters.

The most likely explanation is that Obama attracted far more new, independent, nonaligned and Republican voters than Clinton. It follows that he would be far more likely to win those five excess red states in the general election, giving him 42 more red-state electoral votes than Clinton would have.

Super Tuesday’s results therefore show exactly what Barack Obama has claimed on the campaign trail all along. He can assure a Democratic victory far better than Hillary Clinton by turning red states blue.

As that reality sinks in, all those who prefer a Democrat in the White House to John McCain should vote accordingly.

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04 February 2008

The Clinton-Krugman Health-Care Swindle


[For 2009 posts on the health-insurance industry’s mammoth swindle, click here or here.]

Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, is at it again. On the day before Super Tuesday, he’s showing his bare-knuckle partisanship for Hillary Clinton and her health-care mandates. His column is rife with misinformation.

Here’s his key paragraph:
    “[A recent study] finds that a plan without mandates, broadly resembling the Obama plan, would cover 23 million of those currently uninsured, at a taxpayer cost of $102 billion per year. An otherwise identical plan with mandates would cover 45 million of the uninsured — essentially everyone — at a taxpayer cost of $124 billion. Over all, the Obama-type plan would cost $4,400 per newly insured person, the Clinton-type plan only $2,700.”

Surely Krugman, who purports to be an economist, is familiar with the law of supply and demand. According to that law, the higher the price, the fewer people will buy a thing. That law works in a free market, without any mandates at all.

If you increase the market price of insurance from $2,700 to $4,400—an increase of 63%—you’ll decrease the number of willing buyers accordingly. You can’t calculate the exact decrease without knowing the slope of the demand curve, which economists call the “elasticity” of demand. But it’s not unreasonable to think that 8% of buyers might drop out for each 10% increase in the price. If that’s the case, i.e., if 50.4% of the buyers dropped out, the higher-priced plan would have only 22.3 million buyers, fewer than what the so-called “Obama” plan in the study has.

In other words, the good old demand curve from Economics 101 explains the decrease in coverage in Krugman’s key paragraph without regard to mandates. Fewer people buy health insurance in the so-called “Obama” plan because it costs more.

The second point to note about Krugman’s so-called analysis is the actual price. Today’s generally accepted market price for decent health insurance for a family of four is $12,000. My own insurance costs over $6,800, for myself alone (my wife has her own insurance).

So what kind of insurance would people get for the $2,700 that Krugman assigns to Hillary’s putative plan? Not much. It would be insurance against catastrophic loss only, with high deductibles. In other words, Hillary’s $2,700 plan would keep sending a good fraction of today’s uninsured back to the emergency rooms, for which we all pay.

Krugman’s transparently partisan analysis ignores the most basic economic law of all: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If the problem of universal health insurance could be solved by insuring more people at a lower total cost, as Krugman’s paragraph states, we would have solved it long ago. Something has to give, and what gives in the study Krugman cites is quality. You can’t get much health insurance for $2,700.

Unfortunately, neither mandates nor intellectually dishonest columnists can repeal the laws of economics.

As for politics, Krugman errs even more wildly. He plays right into the hands of conservatives, the insurance companies, and the drug companies.

The American people don’t like being told what to do. Even the Russians abandoned “command and control”—after trying it for over 70 years.

Apparently Krugman thinks that Democrats can get a foot in the door for “single payer” by starting with mandates. But that’s exactly what Hillary tried to do in 1993. She failed.

You might believe that the coming Democratic tidal wave will be strong enough to overwhelm Americans’ deeply ingrained resistance to “socialized medicine,” which has kept us from having a rational health-care system for over half a century. But don’t bet your health on it. On April 19, 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported [subscription required] that John McCain already had started pounding Hillary for her health-care mandates, although the general-election campaign had not even begun.

Senator Obama has a brilliant plan to bring the insurance companies along toward greater government involvement by controlling costs and making their lives easier. Hillary and Krugman want to stop free-market cost increases, in essence, by passing a law against them. Who’s the realist?

      NOTE: For earlier and more complete discussions of mandates and Paul Krugman’s views, see Post 1 and Post 2.


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