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

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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  • At Monday, February 18, 2008 at 4:59:00 PM EST, Blogger Aleckii said…

    very well put. I'm a Malaysian living in Russia (what are the odds of that?) and have been following the presidential election in the states for a long time. And yes- I'm rooting for Obama too.

    I honestly feel that having Obama leading your country, this world might end up a better place

  • At Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 5:02:00 PM EST, Blogger Unknown said…

    I'm 24 years old. I'm an independent. I support Barack Obama's candidacy for all of the same reasons that you do. I'm also a staunch supporter of the Fairtax. From my assessment, all of the economic goals Obama has set for America would be met and/or exceeded by successful implementation of the Fairtax, yet his stance on the bill is listed as "against" on the Fairtax website. I am not yet a year removed from college, and I make between 50k and 75k as an engineer. My life, and the life of every other middle class American would be greatly improved by the Fairtax. We could invest more and there would be more jobs available to the unemployed. Many people oppose it for reasons that I believe derive from fear of the unknown and/or plain ignorance. Once you take a close look, you realize that it is progressive in nature, but still serves the purpose of relieving the punishing taxes on corporations, freeing the market to invite jobs back to our shores. $13 trillion of US money is currently being used in other countries for one reason: to avoid our punishing tax code. It needs to change. I think Obama, being the change agent that he is, is the best way to bring it about. Have you read any of the literature on the Fairtax and if so, what are your thoughts?

  • At Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 10:24:00 PM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Charles,

    Thanks for your comment and your question.

    I wasn’t sure what the Fairtax is, so I had to look it up on the Fairtax Website. It’s essentially a national sales tax, with features (such as exemptions for people below the poverty line) designed to make it progressive. It resembles the sales taxes or “value added taxes” so prevalent in most of the developed world outside the United States.

    There is nothing new about this idea. Scholars, think tanks and economics professors have been urging a change from an income tax to a consumption tax for decades. The shift makes good economic sense: by taxing spending rather than income, a sales tax encourages savings and investment. Almost everyone who studies economic theory believes that a consumption tax would be fairer, better and more economically efficient than what we’ve got.

    The problem is politics. The income tax has been with us for almost a century—95 years to be exact. In that time, our entire economy has grown up around it. Millions of people—tax lawyers, accountants, tax preparers, and IRS employees—depend directly on the income tax for their livelihood. Without it, they would be unemployed. Whole industries depend on tax deductions to motivate extra spending by their customers. They include the mortgage, housing, restaurant, entertainment, and travel industries.

    Every time Congress proposes even a small change, lobbyists and interest groups come out of the woodwork, and the fur flies. After all the dust settles, nothing much has happened. The reason: even small changes in the tax code can make drastic changes in many people’s lives, livelihoods, and fortunes. They fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening. And that’s just with a small change in one section of our thousand-page tax code.

    Steve Forbes was right to call the tax code a “monster.” It’s a metastatic cancer on the body politic.

    But getting rid of it without killing the patient is just as hard as excising metastatic cancer. I don’t think we’ll see it in my lifetime, if ever. It’s about as likely as having a new constitutional convention and reconfiguring our government from the ground up. There are some reasons why that might be a good idea, too, but it will never happen.

    As for Obama, he’s smart enough to understand both economics and politics and not to waste his extraordinary talent and political capital on the impossible.


  • At Monday, February 25, 2008 at 9:34:00 PM EST, Blogger Unknown said…


    I recognize that calling the passage of the Fairtax a long shot is a vast understatement. I understand that there are very strong political forces in Washington from all directions pushing the tax code in all types of convoluted, non-progressive ways.

    That is precisely why it fits perfectly with a dynamic candidate like Barack Obama.

    Obama has the political savvy and charisma to garner grassroots support from people of all walks of life. What better candidate to promote an idea as revolutionarily beneficial to Americans as converting the tax system from income to consumption? He would be the perfect agent to soothe the fear of the unknown for average middle class Americans.

    "The problem is politics." Why, that's the exact obstacle Obama's campaign promises that his administration would overcome.

    The reason I believe in Obama's campaign is because after reading his speeches on various topics, I'm convinced that his would be a Presidency dictated by reason, intellect, and pragmatism. As you have stated throughout your blogs, Obama is highly intellectual, and his cabinet would be filled with intellects. That is how he's shaped his foreign policy, his healthcare plan, and his economic policy.
    Given the intellect surrounding Obama and his apparent basic understanding of economics, he has to recognize the potential benefits of the fairtax, and how it would address all of the problems he seeks to solve with his economic plan--the difference being the fairtax truly would address these issues, his plan most likely won't.

    The best boost we could give to our economy would be completely overhauling the tax code, implementing a consumption tax, and fortifying it with indefinite locks on the rate. Teams of economists have researched all of the necessary checks and balances to be included.

    You recognize its potential benefits, most scholars and economically proficient people do as well. That leads me to believe Obama does too.
    My guess is he's against it not because of its merits, but because of the same reasons you mentioned: politics, lobbyists, etc.

    So the question is, is Obama really and truly committed to what he says? Don't get me wrong, I understand what a tremendous job Obama faces as President, and his plate will be very full with Iraq and healthcare, and pursuing such a drastic change in what has over the course of a century become a very fundamental part of our society would probably be too much.

    But I truly do believe in the change that Obama promises me I can believe in. I'm too pragmatic to think the fairtax is actually going to get passed in the next presidency. I think Obama is going to be a great president nonetheless. I just wished his audacious intelligence was bold enough to attack such a corrupt tax code, no matter how deep seated it is; because it is as corrupt as it is deep seated.


    I just want to say that I've recently began reading your blog. I've learned a lot. I'm interested to know what you teach, if you're able to disclose.


  • At Tuesday, February 26, 2008 at 3:00:00 AM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Charles,

    I see in your own comments the perennial conflict between idealism and pragmatism.

    The best response I can give is to quote your own words: "I'm too pragmatic to think the fairtax is actually going to get passed in the next presidency."

    Obama is no Messiah. He's a human being, albeit an extraordinarily gifted one. I think he may be as good as Lincoln. So does Ken Burns.

    But even Lincoln only solved three big problems: winning the Civil War, eliminating slavery, and preserving the Union. And if the truth be told, he didn't do that great a job of winning the Civil War.

    Like the Civil War, the greatest problems we face today are of our own making: corruption, division and incompetence. If we can solve those three, we can take on energy independence, our economic troubles, and global warming, and the terrorists won't stand a chance. But solving them is no small challenge. I think the fairtax can wait.

    As for your question about me, I can't answer without disclosing my identity, which I'd better not do. Sorry.



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