October 31st, 2008 by Rightsideup

I’ve started seeing the post-mortem pieces appearing in the media about what went wrong for John McCain, how the Republicans are out of touch and need to change, and whether Palin will be the candidate in 2012. Aside from the obvious point about doing an autopsy on someone who’s still breathing, there is a lot of muddled thinking in all that’s being written.

Firstly, the problem for the Republicans in this election isn’t too much conservatism. In fact, it’s the opposite. For president they’re running an apathetically middle of the road Republican with very little personal charm, a notoriously bad temper, serious health issues and very little track record of successfully running anything, who tried to use his VP pick as a bandaid to patch several holes in his own candidacy (youth, gender and conservatism being the obvious ones).

Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress have been doing their best impersonation of Democrats for so long that voters figured they might as well have the real thing. Spending has increased more and more quickly under the Bush administration than under the Clinton administration, and not just because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The utter failure to use their combined occupancy of the White House and the majority offices in Congress from 2000-2006 to push through any meaningful changes or improvements in the way the country is run was reason enough to kick them out. But the fact that they also presided over such a bloating of the government with so little effort to reduce not only pork barrel but also all other forms of spending was a disgrace. They gave their natural supporters so few reasons to vote for them it’s remarkable that they still have so many seats. Of course, that will change next week too.

The idea that conservatism has had its day, or that Sarah Palin represents anything like the kind of candidate needed to revive its fortunes, is preposterous. Republicans (conservative ones, at least in theory, with the exception of Bush 1) have occupied the White House for 20 of the last 28 years. They also had majorities in Congress for a good chunk of that time period. Voters are rejecting not conservatism, but a Republicanism that’s lost its teeth and no longer knows what it stands for. If you vote Democratic, at least you know that the bigger government, higher taxes and increased regulation are all deliberate and coordinated attempts to achieve a certain goal. When Republicans enact the same policies it’s out of lassitude and spinelessness.

The Republicans in Congress were punished in 2006 for not being conservative enough and instead of learning their lesson they nominated one of their own number for President in the face of several other options with no connections to Congress (the only institution in the country with a lower approval rating than President Bush). Far from being a Washington outsider with the power and will to change the status quo, McCain was Exhibit A in all that’s gone wrong in the nation’s capital for the last few years. As such, for all his speeches attempting to misappropriate Obama’s change message, McCain was powerless to say what really needed to be said in this election: that Republicans had abused the trust of the American people and he intended to regain that trust by being true to the core principles of the party. Instead we get this misguided stuff about standing up to his own party: does anyone actually want that? Don’t we really want him to stand up against his colleagues in Congress and be true to his party, which surely consists of registered Republican voters?

Sarah Palin as a candidate in 2012? Why on earth would that be a good idea? She was a terrible and cynical choice for the VP role, simultaneously exposing McCain’s poor decision making and fondness for a gimmick, and neutralising the best attack against Obama that McCain had: the former’s inexperience. If we’ve learned anything since Palin was nominated, it’s that she has very little meaningful executive experience, she’s way out of her depth in a national campaign, and perfect SNL fodder. She has brought no lasting bounce to McCain’s campaign and arguably has hurt it considerably. If all we want for president is someone with reliable conservative instincts and two X chromosomes, there are plenty of choices out there. But if we want someone capable of not just winning an election but running the largest country in the world we surely need much more than that.

Imagine now that Mitt Romney had been either the Republican presidential candidate or McCain’s VP pick. How different things would look. Against Obama’s inexperience and the combined Democratic ticket’s Congressional background, you’d have a true Washington outsider, someone who’s only been tainted by politics for four years, with all four spent in an executive role. Someone who truly understands the economy and money, and could explain it all to voters with patience and credibility. As VP, he would be a wonderful counterpoint to McCain’s crusty maverick – reliably conservative (who wants a maverick with his finger on the nuclear button, anyway?), confidence-inspiring, with economic and executive experience, and ready to take over at any minute should McCain not last the full four years. It’s too late for all that now, of course, but why couldn’t voters and McCain see this at the time? Was McCain really that desperate?

At any rate, the post-mortems will begin in earnest on the 5th, and there will no doubt be much self-examination in the Republican party. I just hope they learn the real lessons from this campaign rather than the lessons the media wants them to learn.

July 10th, 2008 by Rightsideup

(back from vacation so likely to be posting slightly more frequently again)

CNN has a story about a Gallup poll relating to John McCain’s age and Barack Obama’s race, and it draws some strong conclusions from the poll. But it seems to me that the poll is asking the wrong questions:

The question should be, “does John McCain’s age / Barack Obama’s race make you any less likely to vote for him?” The numbers of people who say these facts are a problem in both cases are pretty tiny anyway, but nowhere in this question are voters asked to rank these concerns against other factors that may influence the way they vote. All 11% of those saying McCain’s age is a problem may think that other factors outweigh it (or may be Democratic voters who wouldn’t vote for him in the first place), while many of the 9% who think Obama’s race is a problem are probably systemic racists who would be unlikely to vote for a black man for president regardless of other factors. Don’t we need more information here to draw the kind of conclusion CNN does?

June 20th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The media’s going easy on Obama again (contrary to his bizarre suggestion here that the media has been going easy on McCain). This time it’s in relation to his incredible about-face on taking public financing. He and John McCain had made a deal (publicly announced at the time) that they would both take public financing, which is supposed to make the whole process fairer, more transparent and so on (if you’re into that kind of thing). Now he’s dumped the deal, without even talking to the McCain campaign about it first, something else they had promised to do.

The announcement was made in a video (available here on Obama’s website) to supporters. Under the video, the beg for additional funds comes under the heading, “Declare your independence from a broken system”. He just gets more audacious all the time, doesn’t he? The video thing is interesting – you can look at it from the cynical or non-cynical point of view. The cynical POV is that he did a video because when he says stuff people are swept along, but when you see the same words written down they leave you cold (apparently, it was the same with FDR). So when you have a tough message to get out, like this, you have the wonder-candidate speak it to camera instead of issuing a press release. The less cynical version is that he now needs to raise funds all the more, so they turned this into a beg for money, which is often delivered in this form. Which do you think it was?

Of course, Obama’s people have suggested that there was a negotiation with the McCain campaign, and they couldn’t come to an agreement, as per this CNN article:

Obama counsel Bob Bauer said Thursday he had met with Trevor Potter, his counterpart on the McCain team, on June 6 to discuss a possible joint townhall appearance later in the month, and that the two discussed the public funding issue for 45 minutes.

“I asked him to address a [series] of issues of concern to the Obama campaign–the McCain campaign’s active raising and spending of private money since February for a general election campaign, including for media, while we were still in the middle of a primary contest,” said Bauer in a statement. “He gave me his perspectives–the best arguments he could offer for an agreement on both sides to accept public financing–and it was clear to me that these offered no basis for any further exchange.”

The same article was subsequently updated to incorporate comment from the McCain campaign, as follows:

Trevor Potter disputed the Obama campaign’s account, telling CNN Thursday that he had met with Bauer on a completely unrelated subject, and that campaign financing had only been discussed in an abstract way.

“We then spoke in general terms about the public financing system, with Bob outlining reasons it could be considered ‘broken’ or irrelevant in 2008, and I explaining why Sen. McCain remained committed to it and thought it was good for the country,” said Potter.

“Other than this informal discussion, there have been no contacts between the two campaigns on the subject, and this discussion contained no negotiations or even offer to hold negotiations. I cannot begin to explain how the Obama campaign could twist my reiteration of Sen. McCain’s support of the system, and hope the two candidates would participate in it, into what they said today,” he added

“…An attempt to imply otherwise by any representative of the Obama campaign (and an attempt to turn an informal conversation between Bob Bauer and me into a discussion of negotiations between the campaigns) is a complete misrepresentation of the facts”

Another example of the man who talks so much about integrity in the process going against his own word and pursuing exactly the route to financing so derided by so many in his own party, and then lying about the circumstances until someone contradicts his version of events. Who knows where this will go next? So much for Obama’s “purity”.

June 17th, 2008 by Rightsideup

John McCain has apparently now started saying that he wants states to be allowed to drill off their coastlines. According to Jim Geraghty’s Campaign Spot blog:

John McCain just completed a press conference here in Arlington, VA. Not the most chock-full of news appearance the senator has ever made, but one clear headline coming out of it — tomorrow he will call for the lifting of “the federal moratorium on states that choose to permit exploration” off their shores.

He said that in the coming weeks, he would be focusing on “America’s energy crisis” – the country’s dependence on foreign oil. Tomorrow he will call for the lifting of “the federal moratorium on states that choose to permit exploration.”

“We must embark on a national mission to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil… exploration is a step toward the longer-term goal.” The candidate repeated his advocacy of a federal gas tax holiday.

Asked about the offshore drilling, McCain responded, “Right now there’s a moratorium, and they have to be lifted. I’m not dictating to the states that they drill for oil. I’m saying the moratorium should be lifted so states can choose that option if they want to.” He added that the situation might require “additional incentives… in terms of tangible financial rewards” to states that permit drilling. He said he didn’t have a particular position at this point on an appropriate distance from the coast for offshore drilling.

Campaign Carl Cameron: Is lifting moratoria a way of addressing conservative irritation with your position on ANWR?

McCain: “I believe ANWR is a pristine area… but I also believe lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas is a very high priority.”

I kind of feel like McCain’s boxed himself into a corner on the ANWR thing and the journalist who asked him that question kind of hit the nail on the head. Here’s an opportunity to open up some clear blue water between himself and Obama on an issue which is close to the hearts of many voters, and yet he’s allowing environmentalism (not an issue likely to swing votes) to trump it.

The moratorium idea’s a good one, but the logic should be followed through with a similar position on ANWR – let the Alaskans decide if they want to drill there – who else cares? Who is ever likely to visit the area? There aren’t even any roads leading to it. Pristine it may be (the ellipsis in the quote above is Geraghty’s and not mine so I don’t know if he elaborated on that) but that isn’t an argument in itself for preventing drilling there. The bottom of the ocean may be pristine too, but if no-one’s ever going to see it I assume no-one will object to drilling for oil there.

I just came across this site, which looks interesting. Haven’t had time to explore it yet but might make it the subject of a future post.

June 10th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The 24/7 news cycle and constant filming and audio recording of candidates means that every utterance, no matter how off-the-cuff or insignificant the candidate intends it to be, now takes on the same aura as only a formal speech would have in the past.

Case in point: this quote from John McCain, courtesy of Reuters:

“There’s nobody who represents me better today than Mitt Romney,” McCain said.

Are you listening, governor? That could be the sound of a vice presidential offer coming down the road …

It’s not quite clear from the context whether this line was spoken during a speech or during more informal time with reporters. However, you can bet McCain didn’t want the media putting the spin on it that the Reuters reporter/blogger does here. Even if that’s the case, though, it continues to be remarkable how complete the reconciliation between the two men has been since their rancorous exchanges during some of the later debates.

April 17th, 2008 by Rightsideup

As in almost every election cycle recently (or so it seems) there have been allegations from some quarters that there is little to separate the candidates on the issues, and this is one of the reasons why people aren’t engaging in the process more. There’s always some truth in this, and certainly (for all Barack Obama’s protestations to the contrary) all candidates and both parties are more or less equally guilty of playing the game of politics as usual.

But it is worth remembering that there are real and significant policy differences between the major candidates and especially between the two major parties, and pointing out what these are. This, after all, is what we’re all fighting for.

So, what are we fighting for?

  • Taxation – the Democrats want to revoke the Bush tax cuts and generally raise taxes, with the only significant difference being how open they are about the latter aim. Certainly the increases in spending they propose must lead to increases in taxation, but they’d rather leave the voters to connect those dots themselves than spell it out for them.
  • Foreign Policy – the Democrats are essentially embarrassed for America and want to make things right with the rest of the world. Rather than believe that the US needs to act in its own interests, they believe it needs to do what will make the rest of the world happy. This means mea culpas over Iraq and Afghanistan and a speedy withdrawal from the former regardless of the consequences to the US or Iraq itself.
  • Judges – at least in theory, John McCain would appoint the kind of judges Bush has to the Supreme and lower courts – that is, strict constructionists who will not read the constitution’s aura to find new “emanations” and “penumbras” containing hitherto hidden meaning justifying massive increases in governmental power. These judges would further continue to take the court in the direction it has been going in the last several years on abortion, finding room for more restrictions on it and perhaps eventually overturning Roe vs. Wade and leaving individual states to determine their own abortion laws.
  • Healthcare. Here, the Republican position is essentially to do nothing to change the current system, which has flaws but consistently provides higher standards of health care to the vast majority of Americans than citizens of any other country enjoy. Democrats, of course, want to effectively nationalize healthcare and turn the American system into a more expensive version of Britain’s National Health Service, with bloated bureaucracies and massive waiting lists coupled with second-world care.

These are, I think, the four key reasons why anyone who supports the Republican position on these issues needs to be actively engaged with the electoral process and committed to getting John McCain elected. The economy is a red herring as an issue, other than as it relates to tax policy. Education is another where there is little daylight between the positions of the candidates or parties. But these issues ought to get Republicans energized and invested in the process, because if they don’t win there will be a significant negative impact on our economy and way of life.

April 7th, 2008 by Rightsideup

CNN screenshotIs this just wishful thinking on CNN’s part? In a story about the fact that Alan Greenspan has endorsed John McCain, the caption on the picture reads, “Greenspan said he is supporting Obama.” Obama, who is mentioned nowhere else in the article, and who does not appear to be the object of Greenspan’s support or endorsement. I wonder if CNN will correct this at some point…

Click through on the screenshot for a fuller version.

March 31st, 2008 by Rightsideup

Just saw a poll on the CNN site. Looks like the Bosnia thing (and one or two others) have really hurt Hillary’s reputation for trustworthiness:


What’s more surprising is that Obama and McCain are even in this, even though Barack has undoubtedly been much worse in trying to pad his resume and make his achievements sound more grandiose than McCain has. Arguably, McCain has the opposite problem – over-honesty about his weakness in financial matters, for example. But I guess that can be put down to partisanship as much as anything else. Obviously this isn’t scientific – it’s just an online poll with self-selection and no attempt to make the result representative, but it’s telling nonetheless.

March 27th, 2008 by Rightsideup

John McCain is apparently not afraid to say what many of us are really thinking about the mortgage crisis: the two sets of people most to blame are the lenders who lent the money to people who couldn’t pay it back and the lenders who took those loans:

Lenders ended up violating the basic rule of banking: don’t lend people money who can’t pay it back.

The past decade witnessed the largest increase in home ownership in the past 50 years. Home ownership is part of the American dream, and we want as many Americans as possible to be able to afford their own home. But in the process of a huge, and largely positive, upturn in home construction and ownership, a housing bubble was created.

A bubble occurs when prices are driven up too quickly, speculators move into markets, and these players begin to suspend the normal rules of risk and assume that prices can only move up – but never down. We’ve seen this kind of bubble before – in the late 1990s, we had the technology bubble, when money poured into technology stocks and people assumed that those stock values would rise indefinitely. Between 2001 and 2006, housing prices rose by nearly 15 percent every year. The normal market forces of people buying and selling their homes were overwhelmed by rampant speculation. Our system of market checks and balances did not correct this until the bubble burst.

A sustained period of rising home prices made many home lenders complacent, giving them a false sense of security and causing them to lower their lending standards. They stopped asking basic questions of their borrowers like “can you afford this home? Can you put a reasonable amount of money down?” Lenders ended up violating the basic rule of banking: don’t lend people money who can’t pay it back. Some Americans bought homes they couldn’t afford, betting that rising prices would make it easier to refinance later at more affordable rates. There are 80 million family homes in America and those homeowners are now facing the reality that the bubble has burst and prices go down as well as up.

I have always been committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers. Government assistance to the banking system should be based solely on preventing systemic risk that would endanger the entire financial system and the economy.

In our effort to help deserving homeowners, no assistance should be given to speculators. Any assistance for borrowers should be focused solely on homeowners, not people who bought houses for speculative purposes, to rent or as second homes. Any assistance must be temporary and must not reward people who were irresponsible at the expense of those who weren’t. I will consider any and all proposals based on their cost and benefits. In this crisis, as in all I may face in the future, I will not allow dogma to override common sense.

When we commit taxpayer dollars as assistance, it should be accompanied by reforms that ensure that we never face this problem again. Central to those reforms should be transparency and accountability.

Apparently, Barack Obama doesn’t like this truth-telling, although he disguises in it in the robes of a critique of the supposed lack of concrete proposals from McCain:

“John McCain has admitted he doesn’t understand the economy as well as he should. Yesterday he proved it in a speech he gave on the housing crisis.” Obama told a town hall audience Wednesday in Greensboro, North Carolina.

“According to John McCain he said the best way for us to address the fact that millions of Americans are losing their homes is to just sit back and watch it happen. In his entire speech yesterday he offered not one policy, not one idea, not one bit of relief for the nearly thirty five thousand north Carolinians who were forced to foreclose on their dream in the last few months. Not one, not one single idea or a single policy prescription.”

John McCain’s campaign pushed right back on this:

John McCain 2008 spokesman Tucker Bounds today issued the following statement on Barack Obama’s old-style political attacks today:

“Senator Obama’s blatant mischaracterizations aren’t the new politics he’s promised America, they’re the old attack and smear tactics that Americans are tired of.

“Barack Obama’s diagnosis for our housing market is clearly that Barack Obama knows best — raise taxes on hardworking Americans and give government a prescription to spend.

“John McCain has called for an immediate and balanced approach to provide transparency and accountability in an effort to help homeowners who are hurting, while Barack Obama has made a $10 billion election-year promise that is sure to raise taxes and handcuff an already struggling economy.”

Good that they came back to effectively and challenged the allegation head-on, but you can’t help but feel that they should also have capitalized on McCain’s straight-talking approach to the whole issue too. If he won’t be honest about it, who will?

March 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

According to a new Gallup poll, just over a quarter (28%) of Clinton supporters say they will vote for McCain rather than Obama if she doesn’t win. By contrast, just 19% of Obama supporters say they will support McCain. As with any poll, especially one taken so far ahead of the event it relates to, this must be taken with a large dose of salt, but it’s educational nonetheless.

Allahpundit over on Hot Air suggests that this is a measure of “sore-loserness” but I think that misses the point. The point is that there are at least two reasons why someone willing to vote for Clinton would be more likely to switch to McCain than someone who wanted Obama. The first is that, for those few people who can accurately place all three candidates on a traditional left-right spectrum, Hillary is closer to McCain than the comparably more left-wing Obama.

The second, though, and one more likely to be at play here, is that those favoring a serious candidate will prefer both Clinton and McCain over the less substantive Obama. While Clinton has of late taken to embellishing her own credentials she has overall focused far more on specifics and has a greater record on which to draw than does Obama. It’s likely that voters favoring experience and substance shy away from Obama and prefer Clinton to McCain by a greater or lesser margin.

Allahpundit goes on from his initial premise that this is about Hillary supporters being sorer losers to suggest that they key to keeping these numbers high is to make those supporters as sore as possible. But I think the correct strategy would actually be to continue to highlight Obama’s lack of substance, which is behind at least some Democrats’ distrust of him.