Sunday, October 5, 2008

Now they're worried about experience?

In Newsweek's Oct. 6, 2008 issue, Alter and Zakaria are apoplectic about Palin's lack of qualifications.

These are the men who for months have been assuring us that Obama's lack of experience is irrelevant. What matters is his judgment.* Zakaria went so far as to assert that Obama's having lived abroad for two years (as a pre-teen boy aged 10-12) is worth more than a PH.D in foreign affairs, negotiating experience, and world-wide travel as an adult.

But then, of course, Obama has a Y chromosome and we all know what that means: he was born with a gene for Presidential leadership.

Lithwick, in her column entitled From Clarence Thomas to Palin argues that Palin represents the worst effects of Affirmative Action. What does she think Obama represents? No White man (or Black man or woman) with his resume would be where he is today. (The Economist, another supporter, admits that Obama ". . . has the thinnest résumé of any nominee in living memory" but, like Newsweek, will probably announce on Nov. 1 that it doesn't matter). Obama was named President of the Harvard Law Review after the requirements, which he didn't meet, were changed. He got into the Illinois Legislature by disqualifying all of his opponents. Then, in his last 2 years when Democrats gained the majority, he convinced Emil Jones to give him credit for legislation he had little or nothing to do with. He won his Senate seat after his initial Republican opponent had to drop out and was replaced by a carpetbagger. Then there was that plum Democratic Convention speaking spot. And Oprah's endorsement. [Much of this was documented in The Chicago Tribune's March 25, 2008 series entitled Barack Obama: The Making of a Candidate.] His only accomplishments in life have been the advancement of his own career. Nobody can name anything he has ever done for anybody outside his family or any time that he risked political capital for a principle. Indeed, he has shown repeatedly throughout this campaign that he will swing in whatever direction he has to in order to win.

Andrew Sullivan, in a Dec. 2007 Atlantic puff piece gives these reasons for nominating & electing Obama: :"What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan." "Consider this hypothetical. It's November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America's soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama's face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can."

Michael Kinsley in his July 10, 2008 Time column asserted that "For many Clinton supporters, the chance to elect an African-American President represents the culmination of a cause they have been fighting for all their lives." Oh? As a lifelong liberal, that's news to me. I keep looking for another RFK and, believe me, the Kennedys' support notwithstanding, Obama doesn't even come close.

*Judgment: a one-sentence objection to the Iraq war uttered at a meeting where he wasn't even the main speaker, in a liberal district, that got 0 publicity at the time (in contrast, say, to the abuse Barbara Lee endured for her principled vote against the war authorization bill). His pastor, his decades' long friendship with Rezko, Ayres and throwing his grandmother under the bus 3 times (in his memoir, making her seem even worse in a speech, and finally nailing her with that "she's a typical white woman") don't count.

For the record, I don't happen to think Palin is qualified either and can't help but wonder why McCain didn't choose one of the several much more qualified Republican women. But I don't think Obama is qualified to be President either. And if we are to have one unqualified person on either ticket, it seems preferable for that person to be in the VP slot.


From the street vendor to the cab driver to the President of the United States, we are all economists and financial experts now. Everybody (including my favorite bloggers) knows that the bailout package is good, bad, will work, won't work, etc., etc. The Congress should have done x, or y or z. Some cite certain economists for support. Most don't bother. What is uniform is their lack of doubt about their particular take on the problem if, of course, they believe that there is indeed a "problem".

The truth is much simpler and a lot more scary: NOBODY KNOWS WHAT WILL WORK.

We are in uncharted territories. Although, as The Economist (Oct. 4-10, 2008) and other publications have noted, we can look back at other economic crises (S&Ls in the 1980s, Sweden & Japan in the 1990s, and, of course, The Great Depression), there are two problems for people trying to draw lessons from them. First, they are all different in very important ways. Second, even economists disagree about their causes and whether or not the measures taken were necessary or the best available. (Some now wonder if letting Lehman fail did much more harm than good.)

Much of the difference in the opinions of various experts today can, I suspect, be traced to their convictions about the primacy of The Free Market. The ones who are sure that FDR caused the Depression by too much government interference (that the market would have worked itself back to health much more quickly if the government had just let people starve) pretty much oppose government interference today. And vice versa.

Is there a problem? Well, I think one would have to be living in an alternate universe not to recognize that we are in or close to a worldwide financial panic. That it may not be rational is irrelevant. Panics are, by definition, irrational. It is hard to imagine (though not impossible) that any proposed fix could be worse than doing nothing. And, as far as I can tell, the bill that passed the Congress gives the Treasury Secretary and the Fed a variety of tools for dealing with it. We can, at this point, only hope that they be pragmatic (is it working?) rather than ideological in their choices.

Experts may have caused this crisis, but that doesn't mean that amateurs and know-nothings (people who couldn't explain the difference between a stock and a bond let alone what a credit default swap is*) - including me - know enough to fix it.

I think a little humility would be appropriate.

*Ira Glass's This American Life once again comes to the rescue. Another Frightening Story on the Economy

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Economic Crisis - A Republican Plot?

If I were a conspiracy addict, I'd believe that this entire economic crisis was devised by Republicans. Why?

Well, simple. Just as in 1990, knowing they would lose the Presidency, the Republicans have made sure that the economy would be in such a mess, and the deficit so huge, that even a Democratic President with a Democratic Congress would be unable to implement any of the traditional Democratic policies - not that Obama or Pelosi or Reid has any interest in them anyways.

So, Obama will get the blame for the recession that may last into 2010 - close enough to Congressional elections to give the Republicans a solid chance at winning back one or both Houses. And the strategy will probably succeed.

What's the Difference Between a Republican and a Democrat? Convictions

Watching John McCain and Sarah Palin mouth the same old Republican platitudes (low taxes, government is bad, etc., etc.) at a time when most of the people in the country know it is just those principles which got us into this mess, has made me aware yet again of the strength of Conservative convictions and the weakeness of Liberal ones.

Obama can barely bear to mention the word Democrat. His campaign is all about him. He panders to the Right, not even to the center. He is all "soft": both parties are at fault, we have to come together, etc., etc. Why? Well, partly of course, it's because he has no political convictions, but mainly because he cares only about what he has to do to win.

Unfortunately, this describes most Democrats today. Republicans (Conservatives) stuck to their principles throughout the reigns of FDR, Truman, Kennedy and LBJ. Their mantra of personal responsibility (social Darwinism), low taxes, no government regulation (except, of course, when it comes to morality), and the supremacy of the free market has never changed.

We can see this in the McCain/Palin campaign. At a time when McCain needed to reach out to Independents and disaffected Democrats, he chose possibly the least qualified and most conservative Republican woman candidate around because she would appeal to the Right Wing base of the Party. He, himself, has given up any pretense to being a maverick. He continues to sell himself as a Bush Republican, but a Bush Republican who will actually govern as a Republican.

The Democrats, OTOH, after the Vietnam War seemed to completely lose their way. Not only did they stop promoting Democratic (Liberal) values, they stopped defending them. Even Bill Clinton campaigned and governed mainly as Republican Lite. (Hillary, OTOH, is much closer to the FDR, RFK ideal.)

Today we have Obama, Pelosi, Reid, etc. all bowing to the Conservatives, begging for their support, doing everything they can to avoid creating controversy, least they be accused of being Liberals.

What I don't understand is why. Why do Conservatives never lose faith in their principles, no matter how much reality differs from fact while Liberals caved in at their first major loss (to Reagan)?

Obama's luck

Much as I dislike Obama, I can't but admire his luck. He became President of the Harvard Law Review after they changed the requirements for the job (which, of course, he didn't meet). He got into the Illinois legislature by getting all his opponents disqualified. He won his Senate seat because the Republican candidate had to bow out due to a sex scandal and the Republican Party had to fly in a carpetbagger. He beat Hillary because of the crooked caucuses and a media that decided it was time for a biracial President and this guy was the one to be it. And he will beat McCain because the stock market has imploded - reminding everybody just how corrupt and incompetent Bush's Republican Administration has been.

I've read that Obama, before he got in the race, had considered whether this was the right time to run - not, mind you, whether he had the experience to run or had plans he wanted to implement but whether he could win - and it is clear that he was right. It is unlikely that a man with his past could have won against a successful Republican Administration (think Reagan).

Obama is President - Don't Need the Polls to Know

Well, if there had been any doubt about this election, close as the polls have been, it is over. The economic crisis has driven the last nail in the McCain/Palin coffin.

How did I reach this conclusion? Not from the polls. I've been reading the WSJ and watching Fox for the last week. Neither the paper nor the Republican news channel has shown any enthusiasm for the ticket and when forced to defend it do so with an air of "well, we have to at least go through the motions".

This was eminently clear after the VP debate when I watched Rove, Barnes, Krauthammer, etc. (a bunch of guys who look almost as old as McCain) trying to whip up some enthusiasm. These guys know politics and they know the race is over.

This doesn't thrill me. I think Obama is just about the least qualified and one of the least deserving people ever to run for the Presidency. He has no experience, no principles, nothing he wants to accomplish other than getting the job - which pretty much sums up his whole career. I suspect that Biden will do all the hard work. And, to make matters worse, his supporters, including the media, believe in him as if he were the Messiah. We can expect no public oversight or criticism. He can change his positions every day, as he has, and his defenders will defend him.

I console myself with the thought that Hillary will not be held responsible for his loss or for fixing the mess Bush is handing over to Obama.