Musings on the Election

Programming Note

As I get into this, I just want to state for the record that when I write “Democrats” or “Republicans” I mean the official establishment of the party apparatus and their elected politicians. I’ll make it clear in context if I mean individual voters of whichever affiliation. So if I write “the Democrats are full of shit,” I don’t mean my wife or the guy next door, I mean Obama/Pelosi/Reid/Dean/the Democratic Congressional caucus/the Democratic Party.

Congratulations

First off, let me say that it’s a testament to how far we’ve come as a nation that an African-American can even be nominated for the Presidency, much less elected to it. My congratulations to President-Elect Obama and all his supporters — not only did you win, but you won big enough that the legitimacy of our election system can’t be seriously attacked this time.

Jonah Goldberg:

[D]uring the debate over the financial crisis, Obama said that a president should be able to do more than one thing at a time. Well, I think we members of the loyal opposition should be able to make distinctions simultaneously. It is a wonderful thing to have the first African-American president. It is a wonderful thing that in a country where feelings are so intense that power can be transferred so peacefully. Let us hope that the Obama his most dedicated — and most sensible! — fans see turns out to be the real Obama. Let us hope that Obama succeeds and becomes a great president, for all the right reasons.

What Scares Me

Ever since the early primaries, I’ve looked on this election as a choice between a merely bad President and an appalling President, and the American people have just elected the appalling one.

Look, we’re in a point in the cycle of history that basically assures that whoever the President turned out to be, he or she would be the Herbert Hoover of the 21st Century. Unfortunately, we’ve elected the candidate who I fear will be the [Herbert Hoover + Jimmy Carter + Franklin Roosevelt + Neville Chamberlain], instead of the [Herbert Hoover + Theodore Roosevelt].

Maybe Obama will govern as a center-left mainstream politician, as he insisted during the general campaign. But I tend to give more weight to what a politician does and says when the national klieg light isn’t on him, and back before he was a serious candidate Obama said a lot of things that make me think his first instinct is to govern from the far left.

(That’s assuming he’s capable of governing at all, of course. It’s a truism in American politics that the skills necessary to get elected aren’t the same skills necessary to run the country. Obama’s never governed anything — not even run a successful business — his state senate position was part time, and he’s spent all his time in the big leagues of the U.S. Senate either preparing to run or running for President. He’s got his name on a few pieces of legislation both in Illinois and in the Senate, but it seems that either his patron tacked his name onto already-completed bills or he attached himself to uncontroversial extensions of uncontroversial programs. It remains to be seen if he has the temperament and strength of will to head up the cutthroat world of the White House or the vast machinery of the Executive Branch, much less be able to manipulate Congress to do what he wants.)

Some examples: Conferring the prestige of a Presidential summit on execrable dictators without preconditions. Raising capital gains taxes on the grounds of “fairness” regardless of any decrease in revenue. Fleeing from our promises to Iraq even if it would mean genocide. Refusal to exploit our energy resources. Deliberately making the cost of energy “skyrocket”.

I’m sure there are more that I can’t think of right now. But these were all policies he advocated before he had to “run to the center” to get elected. Are these ideas going to be tossed in the name of expediency, or are they core principles waiting under a layer of camouflage? I have no idea, because he has no record of how he behaves in executive office, and that’s a little frightening.

Money Talks

Public financing for presidential campaigns is dead forever. The Obama campaign has proven that hundreds of millions of dollars can be raised for a campaign, and significantly it’s proven that large amounts of it can be raised semi-anonymously over the internet. Any future candidate who limits themselves to the $84 million provided by the government is an idiot.

Of course, they might be breaking the law. It’s impossible to prove that the Obama campaign accepted large amounts of illegal money either from foreigners or from Americans in violation of the contribution limits. But the campaign was pretty disingenuous about assuring us that there was nothing going on.

I think that our so-called campaign finance reform laws are idiotic and need to be completely thrown out, but that’s a subject for another post. I do think that the law as it stands needs to be respected, and I would be very reassured if someone could either fess up about the whole thing or definitively prove that illegal contributions weren’t an issue.

Nevertheless, being able to throw around bushels of money and outspend one’s opponent by a four to one ratio certainly made a difference.

The Press

The mainstream media has spent the last six months giving Obama a big, warm, wet, sloppy blowjob. Now that they’ve rested back on their heels, they’ll be looking to see if that makes them his bestest girlfriend or his prison bitch. I’m leaning more towards “prison bitch,” myself, and the existence only now of stories questioning this or that about Obama is evidence that they might have noticed too.

Seriously, the MSM has completely given up on impartiality and objectivity. When pressed they’ll sometimes come close to admitting it, but mostly they’ll self-righteously savage anyone who questions them. Who do they think they’re fooling? People on the right have lost all trust, and people on the left revel in the bias since it’s cheerleading for their team. But the media’s circulation/viewership and stock prices just keep going down.

Mandate?

The term “mandate” gets thrown around a lot in politics — My 50.05% of the popular vote demonstrates that the American people have given me their mandate! — and that of course cheapens the term into mere mouth noise. A 4% 6.4% margin in the popular vote is less than Bush got over Kerry GHW Bush got over Dukakis or Clinton got over Dole. It certainly doesn’t get up into Reagan/Mondale or Nixon/McGovern territory.

This election was no landslide, and Obama has no particular mandate to make any great changes. Most voters were voting against eight years of Bush as much as they were voting for four years of Obama. I mean, look, a history-making candidate running against a mediocre opponent and the legacy of a horribly unpopular President during an economic crisis with a blowjob media strewing flower petals in his path was only able to get 52% of Americans to vote for him. That doesn’t look like a mandate to me, it looks like a weak candidate who was given lots of advantages and still barely made it.

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

I think that at some point some section of the press will ask an inconvenient question and the Obama White House will shut down and get secretive. Really secretive — like to Nixon or Clinton levels. I think we’ve already seen the precursors of this in Obama’s refusal to release his college transcripts, his medical records, or his state senate papers, and in his campaign’s snubbing of a Florida TV station that made Joe Biden the teensiest bit uncomfortable.

Or they’ll discover what all Presidents do — that Congress is not their friend, even if it’s controlled by the same party. Some subcommittee will ask for some testimony from some minor appointee on some slightly embarrassing bagatelle and the White House will stonewall, for no particular reason except their own obstinacy.

Lessons for the GOP

The MSM, no matter how depleted and insolvent they are by 2012, will never treat a Republican fairly. Even though they may come around to asking Obama and the Congressional Democrats some hard questions during the term, when the campaign starts they will all fall into line and put their kneepads back on.

Therefore, the GOP needs to run a smart candidate who is unafraid to take on the press directly.

Note that I said smart, not intellectual. “Intellectual” connotes a preference for abstractions and philosophical niceties over reality; in a politician intellectualism tends to drive them to harsh uncompromising measures when their preconceptions are challenged by events. Look at Lenin, for example, forcing the Russian people onto the Procrustean Bed of the New Soviet Man ideal. Look at Woodrow Wilson, probably our most intellectual president ever, but also no great fan of the Constitution as written, an odious racist, an enthusiastic crusher of civil liberties during the Great War, and the author of the Palmer Raids and the first Red Scare after it.

No, the GOP needs a smart and unafraid candidate. A candidate who can speak clearly and lucidly without falling back on doublespeak or the daily talking points. A candidate who can answer the questions that are asked but turn their answer to their advantage, instead of ignoring the actual question and repeatedly answering the question they wanted to hear. A candidate who has no problem saying with a smile, “well, gee, Charlie, the very fact that you asked that question just proves how full of crap you are.” A candidate who knows where they stand on all the issues and can defend their position in their own words, but if surprised by an issue they hadn’t thought of can fall back on their principles and answer on the fly without embarrassing themselves and backtracking later. And as much as it pains me to say it (since I’ve learned that “proper” language is what comes out of peoples’ mouths, not what comes out of a dictionary), a candidate who doesn’t say nucular.

(Actually, this sort of candidate is what all parties need for all positions. Were politicians more like this, they wouldn’t be ranked down with the Ebola virus in popularity polls.)

I think that treating the press like a debate opponent will be necessary in the future. Pandering to them doesn’t work — as with all bullies, it will just invite their abuse. Ignoring them won’t work — for good or ill it’s where a large fraction of Americans will get their news and form their views of the candidates, even if they have to work to filter out the bias. Attacking the press will just make the Republican candidate look like a whiner; best to let unaffiliated proxies do the complaining.

There needs to be a realignment of the party’s priorities. On the political compass (whichever one you use) the GOP needs to shuffle a little closer to the economic liberty position and away from the Culture War position. Because, face it, the Culture War is over and the social-conservative Republicans lost. I’ll address why in a later post, but basically the American people on the whole don’t like the extreme positions, and the social cons scare lots of otherwise centrist people to death and keep them from voting Republican.

The GOP should take as its platform the principle that while Republicans may personally agree with the social con positions, and will afford every chance for the social cons to make their case in the public square, they will not as a matter of policy attempt to legally enforce the social con position on the American people.

Instead, the GOP should stand for economic and personal liberty, the free market, federalism, and decreasing the size and intrusiveness of government, and must be able to make the case for why those principles will bring prosperity — only the cranks like me care about the shape of government; the vast majority just want to feel like things are looking up for their families.

Democratic Predictions

  1. Popularity is a very fleeting thing. Barring a one-off rally-round-the-flag event, if Obama governs from the left his approval ratings will be half their starting levels by 2010; 60-70% if he governs from the center.
  2. Anti-Americanism runs deep overseas. Foreigners who profess to love us because of Obama will go back to hating us by next March; foreigners who love us now will still love us, only less so.
  3. The Bill and Hillary Show is over. Hillary Clinton will have a long career ahead of her as a lioness of the Senate, and hopefully there will be another female Democratic candidate for the presidential ticket in four or eight years, one who isn’t horrible.

GOP Predictions

  1. The GOP will make gains in Congress in 2010, but not re-enact 1994. There’s no charismatic leader with strong enough principles in Congress right now who could lead a majority-changing movement.
  2. The Republican nominee for 2012 will be:
    • Sarah Palin — 40% chance
    • Bobby Jindal — 25% chance
    • Other known Republican — 10% chance
    • As yet unknown Republican — 25% chance
  3. There will be a major housecleaning, although I’m not sure yet which corner’s junk will be thrown out. Fifteen years ago I predicted that it was the Democratic Party that would self-destruct and reinvent itself, but now I’m coming to the conclusion that its the turn of the Republican Party to do so.

Recap

I congratulate President-Elect Obama on his historic victory. I hope he proves me wrong. Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.

Regardless, there will be no Obama Derangement Syndrome from me. Obama is the President; contra the attitudes of many over the past eight years he is my President. I will oppose and criticize his every move if I think they are wrong or bad for the country, and I’m sure I will get angry on a regular basis, but spittle-flecked hatred will not be found here. I will not take the attitude of anything the Democrats want, I’m agin it. Civility and mutual courtesy must prevail in political discourse, else we are no better than barbarians.

This I pledge on my honor as an American.

5 thoughts on “Musings on the Election

  1. Chia the Wonder Spod

    I pray strenuously that Jindal will Wait It Out.

    I see an Obama Halo Effect. I see the Dems gaining additional seats in 2010 – the economy should have started to turn around by then, Obama’s conciliatory stance towards Europe and those aforementioned terrorist nations will have quietened things down for a bit. I see the Dems then getting cocky, and going a little too frat boy; 2012 goes to Obama against a lackluster Republican candidate (Palin 2012 is *already* being bantered). I’m hoping that that will sound a death knell for the social conservatives. In 2014, Dems lose the mid-terms to fiscal cons, and 2016 brings in Jindal – now 45, with a bunch of executive experience.

    The problem with Jindal running right now is that the average person from Kansas or South Carolina isn’t going to a) know who he is, or b) be ready to accept an Indian. Too much raw nerves going on with outsourcing. I think eight years of Obama would go a long way to getting us used to a President who’s a little darker than either of us.

    Reply
  2. admin Post author

    The margin is 7% not 4% as you claim.

    If you round off, yes. Wikipedia and http://www.electoral-vote.com show 52.6-46.2, for a margin of 6.4%, with the other 1.2% going to 3rd party candidates.

    Still, out of the last ten elections, Obama’s vote margin ranks sixth. Nixon/McGovern 23.2%, Reagan/Mondale 18.2%: those were mandates.

    Reply
  3. Rob

    Conferring the prestige of a Presidential summit on execrable dictators without preconditions.

    You mean like Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and any number of US Presidents who met with the Soviets- who were infinitely more of a threat to the US?

    I dunno- JFK’s “we must not negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate” sounds fine to me. A meeting does not imply OH NOES MUNICH. It’s a meeting.

    That, and the invocation of Neville Chmberlain’s pretty tiresome when everI see it. Look, Nazi Germany in 1937-1938 was OBVIOUSLY rearming to the point where it would be the world’s most dangerous nation. That’s why Churchill was speaking out vehemently about it.

    Iran? North Korea? As mortal threats to world peace on the scale of Nazi Germany? No, not so much. Hell, the only reason the Iranians didn’t get their butts kicked by the Iraqis in the Iran-Iraq war was because they sent waves of 12 year olds into battle as suicide squads. Iran is at best a third-rate military power, even with a nuke.

    Does that mean we want them to have nukes? No. We need to put pressure on them to stop their nuclear program, and we’ve got lots of countries in Europe that will help us with that. But please, let’s stop with the “negotiations with Iran == Munich in 1938”.

    As for Obama’s other policies… er, OK. You’re a conservative/libertarian, and I’m not going to waste any more of my breath trying to convince you that liberals being in power are anything other than the opening of Seventh Seal of the Apocalypse. Let me leave you with something from Aristotle, though:

    “It is clear then both the best partnership in a state is the one which operates through the middle people, and also that those states in which the middle element is large, and stronger if possible than the other two together, or at any rate stronger than either of them alone, have every chance of having a well-run constitution.”

    (Aristotle is referring to rich and poor as “the other two”.)

    So, given that the share of US national wealth of the rich has increased dramatically compared to that of the poor and middle since about 1980- which is about when conservative economics based on supply-side theory, trickle down theory, and reducing capital gains, marginal rates and so on became the preferred method for Republicans to stimulate the economy and reward their campaign contributors- is Aristotle full of it? Should we even care what some old dead Greek guy thought?

    Reply
  4. admin Post author

    You mean like Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and any number of US Presidents who met with the Soviets- who were infinitely more of a threat to the US?

    They were Nixon and Reagan were negotiating from a position of strength, in the middle of big strategic arms buildups (and in Reagan’s case, conventional buildup as well), and didn’t approach negotiations with the attitude of “what can we do for you that will make you feel better?”

    I dunno- JFK’s “we must not negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate” sounds fine to me. A meeting does not imply OH NOES MUNICH. It’s a meeting.

    JFK’s performance at the Vienna summit gave Krushchev the impression that he was too weak to stand up to challenge; thus we got the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Not, perhaps, the best example for advocating negotiations.

    That, and the invocation of Neville Chmberlain’s pretty tiresome when everI see it. Look, Nazi Germany in 1937-1938 was OBVIOUSLY rearming to the point where it would be the world’s most dangerous nation. That’s why Churchill was speaking out vehemently about it.

    But Churchill was a voice crying in the wilderness until September 1939. Conventional British wisdom was that Hitler would be satisfied with the Rhineland Austria the Sudetenland Czechoslovakia and posed no threat of general war.

    Iran is at best a third-rate military power, even with a nuke.

    One nuclear bomb, as they say, will ruin your whole day. Iran doesn’t have to be a credible invasion threat to the U.S. if it can covertly blow up Seattle, because, while we could destroy their military pretty quickly if we wanted to, a major U.S. city is unacceptable losses. Iran doesn’t have to even be a credible invasion threat to Saudi Arabia if it can make the price of oil skyrocket by threatening Riyadh.

    we’ve got lots of countries in Europe that will help us with that.

    They’ve tried and failed. And failed, and failed, and failed, and, oh yeah, failed some more. Even the Eurosquishes are on the verge of giving up completely after, what? ten years? You can’t pressure someone who considers your “threats” to be unenforceable powder puffs.

    Should we even care what some old dead Greek guy thought?

    I don’t know. Aristotle lived in an almost completely static economy, where things like the money supply were determined by who’d discovered the latest gold mine. JFK said “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and I don’t think it’s all that terrible that the top quintile got a huge raise when the bottom quintile only got a big one. And going back to Aristotle, our middle is and has been for decades enormous compared to the other “classes” — our wealth graph is hardly the pyramid one might see in, say, Bolivia, but rather is far more turnip-shaped.

    I don’t have any hard numbers to hand on wealth shares, etc. Care to give me a link to something official?

    Reply

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