Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Obama as Anti-Lincoln, Now in Song

From the indispensable
, a lyrical accompaniment to
my deadly earnest thesis below
about Obama as the anti-Lincoln.

So what are we to make of Obama’s proposal for a "civilian national security force" ? Is this like Jefferson’s First Inaugural reference to a united people being the best security of the new nation? Or is this a praetorian guard for Obama, presumably recruited from the inner cities? The former possibility makes no sense given what Obama says about funding it.

The Election

I gotta admit there’s little more to say. It’s too late to argue the case for McCain with any effectiveness to those not already on board. The polls just don’t look good, but Obama’s ground game does. He’s now pouring money into Georgia, probably more to influence the senate race than to get a few more electoral votes. I don’t know for sure that Obama will win, but I’m not going to be making any predictions, given that I’ve stopped betting or choosing against teams I really want to win. Obama has run a fine campaign, and McCain, it seems to me, has given us his best. It’s not some meltdown of the "conservative movement." The Republicans have not proven to be particularly competent for a while when it comes to governing, and this year competence gap has been pretty wide when it comes to campaigning. It goes without saying we have to honor the spirit of McCain’s "nothing is inevitable" stump speech by doing what we can to affect the outcome. Never give up, as Mac says.

To be fair or at least balanced, here are ten reasons John Podhoretz thought up that McCain might still win. They aren’t really backed up with much data, as John admits.

UPDATE: Here’s some data-based encouraging news: McCain is actually one point up in Zogby’s daily poll yesterday. I discovered that after going through all the very discouraging polls of those who’ve already voted, especially in Georgia. So maybe there’s still hope.

Statstic du Jour

From the Tax Foundation:

But a new study on inequality by researchers at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris reveals that when it comes to household taxes (income taxes and employee social security contributions) the U.S. "has the most progressive tax system and collects the largest share of taxes from the richest 10% of the population." ... The table also shows that the U.S. collects more household tax revenue from the top 10 percent of households than any other country and extracts the most from that income group relative to their share of the nation’s income.

(H/T Powerline)

Obama’s Ambition vis-a-vis Lincoln and the American Founding

Obama’s speeches and books make liberal use of Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence, but in far different ways than they intended. What isn’t appreciated is how Obama’s rhetoric fits perfectly his political strategy and tactics.

Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod’s "bookshelves are filled with Abe Lincoln biographies, but what he says he admires about Lincoln isn’t just his philosophy but his political effectiveness, the Great Emancipator’s secret shiv."

Not just conservatives will repeatedly bleed from that "secret shiv" wielded by an Obama Administration. Moreover, his campaign skillfully displayed time after time neo-Lincolnian "political effectiveness"--e.g., turning Obama negatives into formidable political plusses and transforming the most appealing features of the American political tradition into a post-modern willfulness that reinforces the Administrative State and undermines true liberty.

Thus, Obama’s frequent recourse to the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln is not just a sign of self-flattery but of grand ambition, to remake America, in the name of a new, new birth of freedom.

In this, does Obama not recall Lincoln’s warning, issued short of his 29th birthday:

Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.

Distinction will be his paramount object; and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

So to such an ambitious type a terrorist William Ayers blowing up some buildings is child’s play, beneath contempt; black liberation theology is mere recreation; international capitulation follows naturally from nationalism’s exhaustion. Obama is hunting bigger game: A whole mentality, expressed succinctly as Reaganism but more broadly as the American political tradition, is what must be overthrown--in the name of the Declaration of Independence. Obama replaces Lincoln as its great interpreter.

No, YOU Can’t!

The mantra of the Barack Obama campaign--when it isn’t simply "Hope" or "Change"--has been "Yes We Can!" In a country built on "can do" attitudes stretching all the way back to Benjamin Franklin (or earlier), such an appeal gets to the center of the American heart. It has served Obama well, but does he really understand it in the same sense that most Americans understand it? Or is Obama’s politics of "can" really a politics of "can’t"? As Terrence O. Moore ably demonstrates, understanding the real import of "Yes We Can!" requires a serious examination of just who Obama means when he says, "We." His conclusion? "We" is "they"--as in "they" (Obama and his crack team of government experts) promise to do everything you once thought you could do, only better. The implication, of course, is that you really can’t.    


We tend to think, along with Miranda, that nothing ill "can dwell in such a temple."
But a professor--who has taught courses on beauty--quoted in this New York Times report, describes this as the "halo-horn effect." Not poetry, this piece or his words, and therefore ugly. Yet, the article and he persist. And now, appropriately, the prof will write on the ugly instead of the beautiful. He investigates whether ugly is only skin deep. And the whole of us, of course, is prejudiced against the ugly. Awfully funny stuff, unintentionally, and the bad prose is worth a glance because it is in the end about something good, and reminds us why we hope beauty’s rose might never die. Beauty is good, even if she says nothing.

Not a Great Day

A fair look at the poll suggests that Obama moved a bit further ahead yesterday. And there’s no doubt that the early voting, as Joe says, has gone Obama’s way so far, although by how much is hard to say. Rasmussen says about 54-45, and I bet that’s nearly right. Good news: There’s a new poll that has McCain only down 5 in PA.

Early voting

Even if there is a late surge toward McCain, about which one might have hopes (but also doubts), the early voters may make this a done deal.

If in fact 30-35% of the voters will get to the polls early, and if they favor Obama by margins higher than the national polls suggest for the electorate at large (a function, if nothing else, of Obama’s well-funded campaign organization), then the math is hard to ignore. Suppose turnout is 150 million (a conservative estimate, I think). If 30% vote early, that’s 45 million. If Obama gets 60% of the early voters, he starts election day with a 9 million vote lead. At 55%, he starts with a 4.5 million vote lead. Under the first scenario, McCain would have to win 54% of the votes on election day to pull even. Under the second, he’d have to win 52.5% of the votes. Only the second seems even a remote possibility.

Of course, the national result doesn’t matter, except in the minds of those who bear bitter memories of 2000. Not all states permit early voting. Among the battleground states that make it easy are Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa (I’m being generous to McCain here), Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin. McCain has a tiny lead in the RCP average in only one of them (Indiana). I don’t have time to do the math for all these states, but, again, McCain would have to perform significantly better than the polls to overcome a lead Obama established in the early voting.

This is not impossible, especially if the Obama campaign got a higher proportion of its voters to the polls early, leaving the McCain a somewhat larger share of the Election Day electorate. But if you give a well-organized and well-funded campaign a couple of extra weeks actually physically to get its voters to the polls, they’re going to take advantage of it. The turnout of likely Democratic voters will be higher than ever, since there’s more time to drive busloads and vanloads of voters to the polls.

An eleventh hour break in McCain’s direction is highly unlikely to overcome the advantage Obama has established. Hillary Rodham Clinton would, on some level, sympathize.

"The political genius of the man is that he is a blank slate."

Faoud Ajami on Obama, in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Is Barack Obama A Socialist? Is Anyone?

The McCain campaign has accused Sen. Obama of being a not-so-secret socialist. Many of Obama’s journalistic supporters, if that’s not a redundancy, have denounced the Republicans’ invitation to a seminar on twentieth-century ideologies. The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg says that McCain has reached the “bottom of the barrel” by “suggesting that the dystopia he abhors is not some North Korean-style totalitarian ant heap but, rather, the gentle social democracies across the Atlantic, where, in return for higher taxes and without any diminution of civil liberty, people buy themselves excellent public education, anxiety-free health care, and decent public transportation.”

The problem with asserting – or denying – that Sen. Obama is a socialist, is that the term, which was once merely hazy around the edges, is now just haze. In Brian Morton’s novel, Starting Out in the Evening, published in 1998 and set in New York, a character tells his girlfriend that he still considers himself a socialist. When she asks him to expand on that declaration, he says, “A socialist is someone who sits around pondering the question of whether it can possibly mean anything anymore to call yourself a socialist.”

The old sine qua non, social ownership of the means of production, has been quietly but firmly set aside, for the pedestrian reason that it worked terribly everywhere it was tried, and nobody could offer a convincing explanation of how to fix it. “The socialist economic project, consisting fundamentally of national planning and extensive public ownership, has been thoroughly discredited as a means of economic growth,” Paul Starr wrote in the American Prospect in 1991. “It is now indisputable that communism impoverished the people who lived under it, and it is not clear how or why a more democratically planned socialist economy would do much better – or that such a system is feasible at all.” Even in western Europe, “the idea of a planned national economy has been abandoned or planning of limited scope has accommodated the basic contours of capitalism. Although European social democrats have Marxist grandparents on their family tree, they have largely outgrown not just Marxism, but socialism itself.”

So if socialism isn’t what Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas argued for, what is it? Two years ago Bernard Sanders was elected to the U.S. Senate from Vermont, making him the first self-described socialist to join the Club of 100. When a friendly radio interviewer asked Sanders to define socialism, he said, “Well, I think it means the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship, all of our people have healthcare; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interest. I mean, to me, it means democracy, frankly. That’s all it means. And we are living in an increasingly undemocratic society in which decisions are made by people who have huge sums of money. And that’s the goal that we have to achieve.” Socialism, in this formulation, is no longer an ideology with an ultimate goal or any interest in intellectual rigor, but just an assortment of leftists’ inclinations and resentments.

Before scoffing at the idea that Barack Obama is a socialist, then, it might be useful if someone could explain how, exactly, Obama’s political philosophy is fundamentally different from Bernie Sanders’. What are the ideas that Sanders believes in, and that Obama considers outlandish, impossible or pernicious?

William Connelly on Our Abiding, and Laudable, Partisanship

For a deft defense of the laudably partisan nature of American politics, see my friend Bill Connelly’s op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Short version: partisanship is good, both presidential candidates will not govern without it--despite their best efforts or rhetoric--, and it’s that way by design and for our own good. It’s how the American citizenry sorts through their political options, and while it does allow for some bad results, the benefits, in the long run, outweigh the drawbacks.

Advice to McCain

Andy Busch has some last minute advice for John McCain.

A query for the campaign finance mavens

That means you, Hayward.

I have been making the argument to students that Barack Obama’s extraordinary fundraising success has forever raised the bar for presidential candidates and completely destroyed a public financing regime that he (and his opponent) allegedly favored. In the future, only candidates who demonstrate the capacity to raise this kind of money will be taken seriously.

Public financing will come to be regarded as only being for losers, like Dennis Kucinich. (And...?)

Never mind that Obama made a promise when it was politically advantageous and broke it when it was politically advantageous. (He’s different from other politicians, to be sure, but only inasmuch as no one seems to hold him accountable for his previous undertakings.)

Am I right about this? Will public financing die a quiet death (along with one of its principal advocates, who shall remain nameless)? Or will Democrats, once firmly ensconced in the White House and both branches of Congress, repent of their sins and seek to protect us from this year’s excesses, thereby insulating incumbents from the perils of well-financed challengers?

Obama’s Piece of the Pie

On the way to Ohio last week, I picked up a book in the airport that outlines Obama’s "Plan to Renew America’s Promise" and includes several of Obama’s more famous speeches. In reading it, I could not help but notice the way that Obama has picked up (ultimately for the purpose of discarding) the tone of Bill Clinton and his "third way" or "New Democrat" speech. That is to say, he covers up his Liberal tracks with Conservative sounding platitudes. His speeches and his "plan" are laced with language such as "government can’t solve all our problems," "personal responsibility," "hard work," "self-reliance," and "we don’t like to see our tax dollars wasted." But I could not help but notice that this phraseology was always employed as the follow up to some more outrageous and liberal claim.

An example that seems especially fitting given the direction of the campaign: his speech in Flint, Michigan last June. He titles this speech, Renewing American Competitiveness and, in it, he outlines plans for a top-down approach to solving all of America’s economic woes. What seems at first to be an inspiring look at what America, at its best, is capable of doing is--upon closer examination--a cynical evaluation of the prospects of Americans when left alone to their own devices and in possession of their own freedoms. Note this paragraph:

[His plan is] designed to restore balance and fairness to the American economy after years of Bush Administration policies that tilted the playing field in favor of the wealthy and the well-connected. But the truth is, none of these short-term steps alone will ensure America’s future. Yes, we have to make sure that the economic pie is sliced more fairly, but we also have to make sure that the economic pie is growing. [emphasis mine] Yes, we need to provide immediate help to families who are struggling in places like Flint, but we also need a serious plan to create new jobs and industry.
See how he does that? He talks about slicing up an economic pie in a way that no longer favors the wealthy and well-connected but then, to play to what’s left of any sentiment resembling American self-respect, he also notes that we have to make the pie "grow."

Now, maybe I’m overly sensitive to things like sloppy metaphors, but I can’t help but think there’s a tell in there. He’s trying to marry two completely incompatible ideas. I mean, pies are wonderful and delicious, but the last time I baked one I noticed that it did not "grow." Pies (at least the kind worth eating) do not grow, they only shrink. If your pie is growing, it’s probably a rotten pie and it’s only growing mold. So maybe "pie" is the wrong metaphor for an economy one expects to see grow. It’s certainly the wrong metaphor for an American economy that has always grown and, quite naturally, spread itself without the intervention of wealth spreaders in Washington.

In fact, I’d say an economy is more like a fruit tree than a pie. It doesn’t come to us a finished (and limited) product--like a pie, ready to feed our hunger or satisfy some deep craving for sweets not earned. Rather, an economy presents itself like that tree as raw opportunity that depends upon our efforts to nourish it, protect it, and help it grow. When we do that and fortune smiles on us (because chance can never be removed from the equation), it may yield fruit--fruit that we can use to make our own pies (or cider). Indeed, it may yield fruit that carries within it seeds for the growing of more trees! So, if your object is to yield more fruit to make possible the baking of more pies, it’s probably better (and more just) if you just leave the slicing of those pies to the ones who baked them. Better, that is, unless we want to go back to an economic philosophy that says, "You work. I’ll eat."

Kiddie Vote

Well, the old reliable Weekly Reader poll of the nation’s children gives Barack Obama a decisive victory. Not to be outdone, the Nickelodeon poll also gives the Democrat from Illinois the edge. But do note that the margin of victory in the second poll was much, much closer (and within the margin of error) than the margin in Weekly Reader poll. Indeed, the margin in the Weekly Reader poll was almost laughable in giving Obama 54% of the vote and McCain only 42%. While the Weekly Reader’s bragging rights boast a correct prediction in 12 of the last 13 elections, this particular prediction appears to me to be swept up in a ball of exuberant and youthful enthusiasm--spurred on, I’d venture to guess by reading some of the accompanying commentary, by similarly exuberant teachers talking about the "historic importance" of this election. The Nickelodeon poll--though newer to the game--also boasts an impressive level of accuracy in that it has correctly picked 4 of the last 5 presidents. It, unlike the WR poll that is conducted in the classrooms of America, is an online poll. In that poll McCain was only two points behind Obama.

Since this election year has been all about giving the advantage to the new, the slick, the technologically savvy, and so forth, I’ll go along and say that the Nickelodeon poll is probably a better representation of reality. The question is whether McCain can overcome a 2 point difference in less than a week’s time. For the answer to that question, I guess we’ll have to wait for the ultimate poll--the one in which children are not supposed to participate.

Keeping Hope Alive

The best news today: McCain did better, once again, on the RCP average. And he’s only three down in the Rasmussen trackng, which is widely thought to be the best of the trackers. Obama is also topping out at around 50 everywhere, it seems. That allows us to have some hope that the undecideds breaking massively for McCain...

The worst news: McCain seems behind in all latest polls from the battelground states, although usually not by much

Obama: U.S. and Nazis Similar

There’s a lot of change going on outside of the Court, that, you know, the judges have to essentially take judicial notice of. I mean you’ve got World War II. You’ve got the doctrines of Naziism, that we are fighting against, that start looking uncomfortably similar to what’s going on back here at home….

That now much-discussed 2001 radio interview affirming "economic redistribution" contained as well the above snippet which Mark Levin uncovered and broadcast on his show yesterday (Oct. 28). (Click on the “We have nothing in common with the Nazis” heading in the left column.) This moral equivalence perfectly reflects his autobiography’s post-modern casualness about justice and lack of devotion to America that disqualify a person from being President.

What can Obama mean by similarities between Nazis and Americans? Presumably not government regulation of the economy! An alliance with the Soviet Union? He surely can’t mean the temporary relocation of West coast ethnic Japanese--who, after all, were free to leave the relocation centers, if they had jobs or schools to attend outside the West coast.

This is all of a single narrative intertwining terrorist William Ayers, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi in his past and attacks on defending American interests in the world today. The point isn’t that Obama necessarily holds the same views as these extremists (though he well might; it’s hard to say he doesn’t); it’s that he even regards them and their views as legitimate and non-objectionable--until his ties become politically inconvenient.

Which Obama Will Show Up Tonight?

So Obama goes on TV tonight (or is it tomorrow??) with his half-hour broadcast where he’ll try to close the deal. What will we see? The "audacious" Obama of last year, or the relatively cautious Obama we’ve seen since mid-summer? As several observers have commented, Obama decided to become relatively boring as a way of making himself into Bill Cosby/Dr. Huxtable. Occasionally the mask has slipped, when surprised by Joe the Plumber. (Obama doesn’t have to worry about such pesky questions from Joe the Reporter.)

The cautious approach would counsel for a bland, soothing broadcast. I’m betting, however, that Obama goes for it. I think he’ll try to strike bold notes, maybe even making a broad partisan appeal for a strong Democratic Congress to enable him to implement his mandate, rather than repeating his "reach across the aisle" sentiments. This is something Reagan didn’t do in 1984, much to the chagrin of many conservatives. It would be a high risk strategy, as it could easily backfire and cause some voters to split their ticket as a hedge against Obama’s unknown inclinations. It would be a sign to me that he really does intend to govern as far to the left as possible. With a big enough majority, he doesn’t have to reach across the aisle.

Jeanne Cummings of the Politico thinks it may be extravagant overkill.

Global Recession

In graphic form.

Is There Something Happening Here?

To paraphrase Stephen Stills, "There’s a man with a poll over there, tellin’ me, I’ve got to beware." Beware of polls, perhaps.

It is the dream of every trailing candidate to repeat the Truman in 1948 experience. But the nonstop polling of modern election cycles suggests we can’t be surprised like that again, and even the late polls in 2000 picked up most (though not all) of the late Gore surge. That said, number-cruncher extraordinaire Jay Cost has been noting oddities in recent poll results that suggest this election has some intrinsic weirdness (to use a technical political science term) going on: "They [the leading polls] are disagreeing with one another in ways that can’t be chalked up to statistical ’noise.’ That gives me great pause." Me, too.

McCain Isn’t Surging

...but he seems to be creeping toward the margin of error in the Rasmussen, Zogby, and Gallup polls. Go to RCP and see for yourself. Other good news: Wicker looks more like a winner in MS.

Nothing Can Make You Happier

...than reading an essay on HAPPINESS by ME.

And those Brothers Judd say some appreciative things about this essay and ME.

Hope I Want to Cling To

Duane Patterson offers some hope for dejected conservatives on the question of the polls. Note, especially, his discussion of a post from a blogger in Virginia who had dinner with a Democrat pollster.

I have no idea if the things this Virginia blogger claims have any merit or grounding in reality. But I will say that there are enough signs of some movement toward McCain and enough bizarre (and varied) results in polls that also seem to defy on-the-ground observations, that I begin to wonder. I am chastened by the prospect of allowing the wish to become the father of my thought . . . but our eyes should be open to all of the possibilities, not just those that seem most likely. Obama keeps tracking back to Ohio and Pennsylvania . . . and Virginia? It’s enough to be at least interesting, I’d say.

Radical Redistribution and a Radical Court

These are the real objectives of an Obama Administration according to our own, Robert Alt in an article today in the New York Post. Alt, a former law student of Obama’s at the University of Chicago, carefully examines Obama’s statements in the now-famous PBS interview wherein Obama describes his views about the court and redistribution. If Obama does not want redistribution to take place through a radical court, it is not at all clear that he does not want it to take place alongside of one. Alt also finds Cass Sunstein’s spin to be unimpressive though not surprising. Sunstein, Alt notes, is also the guy who argues that people ought not to complain when government takes for the purpose of redistribution because government, in making markets and wealth possible, ought to have some claim on both for the purposes it deems important. Read the whole thing.    

Obama’s coming judicial revolution

This is not an issue that is going to sway the election, but it ought to be sufficient to persuade any friend of the Constitution to show up at the polls. Steven G. Calabresi outlines what’s at stake, if you didn’t already know.

As for the judicial path to redistribution, of which much has recently been made, this post seems to offer the most "judicious" examination of Obama’s views, circa 2001. Yes, he is sympathetic to redistributive concerns, but he doesn’t think the courts are particularly well-suited to a job that can better be accomplished by the political branches. Make no mistake about it, Obama will seek to spread the wealth around, but what we should expect from his judicial nominees is sophisticated and activist judicial leftism, especially when following "the letter of the law" produces a politically uncongenial result.

The Backlash Begins Already

Good article in the International Herald Tribune on why Europeans will surely end up disappointed by a President Obama.

Leakers Suck

The reports of disharmony within the McCain and Palin camps cause John J. Pitney to offer some good observations about possible motives for revealing this information and some good advice to McCain staffers: Shut up!

Murtha in Trouble

Politico is reporting that Jack Murtha’s opponent for his congressional seat, veteran of the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom William Russell, is getting an unexpected boost in the polls and in funding as a result of Murtha’s "racist" and "redneck" comments. Good.

From the "I’m Not Making This Up" Department

Apparently something called the National Inhalant Prevention Council (NIPC) has protested a Wendy’s hamburger TV ad that features people breathing helium and floating around the room, with the tag-line, "Don’t fill up on just anything." The NIPC thinks this promotes unsafe behavior, because, yeah--people will go out and start breathing helium and stuff. (Helium is actually harmless to breathe; it’s a substitute for the 80% nitrogen in normal air for deep sea divers, duh.) I know I’m going to stay awake nights worried about this.

Who knew there was a National Inhalant Prevention Council. Maybe it was formed just last week. It seems to me that although it is not quite a perfect fit, NIPC’s acronym should be pronounced "nit-pick."

Statistic du jour

From a defense(!) of New York City’s prospects for the future in the New York Post: "New York City’s secret is that it periodically reinvents itself. In 1950, we had more than 1 million people working in manufacturing. Today, we have more people working in higher education than in manufacturing."

Get Rauchy

The National Journal’s inimitable Jonathan Rauch goes all mavericky on us with this piece making the counter-intuitive case that liberals should favor McCain and conservatives should favor Obama, on policy grounds. I don’t buy it, but it is always fun to see Jonathan’s quirky mind at work.

Obama on Redistribution

This 2001 radio interview would seem to confirm that Obama is a fairly radical guy. (On NPR, of course.) Wonder if this will get any traction in the last seven days.

Greetings from Rhode Island

1. Don’t forget that you can see ME in scenic NEWPORT, RI at the NAVAL WAR COLLEGE at NOON and SALVE REGINA COLLEGE at 4. The topic: "Liberalism and the Future of Nations," which has a strong vote American, not European subtext.

2. Zogby continues to have McCain down 5, which isn’t such bad news. The news from all the battleground states has them all within the margin of error but VA and PA. There’s finally a poll that casts doubt on the possibility of Sen. Al Franken.

3. Here’s another thing that ticked me off about David Brooks’ column yesterday: He says straight out that McCain would be an OUTSTANDING president, but he will lose and seemingly deserve to lose merely because of campaign missteps. So David is all unspeakably sad (and I feel his pain). But, in real life, there’s still time for most people to vote for him anyway, preferring reality to atmospherics.
I, for one, doubt Mac will be an outstanding president, but he’s still far and away the better of the two alternatives as chief excecutive, although he’s clearly come in second in terms of campaigning.

McCain in Zanesville

I note that John McCain is speaking at a rally in Zanesville as I write (now from California again). I woke up in Zanesville this morning and spent all of yesterday talking to folks who were desperate to get tickets to see him. Most Republicans I talked to were down--but not quite out. They are stunned by Obama’s poll numbers and can offer no explanations for them based on what they claim to see around them. In other words, the polls seem to defy their observations. The GOP headquarters was doing brisk business. This is interesting, perhaps. Southeast Ohio is one of the parts of Ohio that is most in question. I note that the instant poll (not scientific, I know) on the Zanesville paper’s website has McCain up by 9. I’d caution too that there’s more to Southeast Ohio than Zanesville, but Zanesville is still pretty representative.

In Defense of Industry

In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Fred Smith, the founder and CEO of FedEx argues that our tax and regulatory structure is out of wack:

"The United States has a completely uncompetitive tax structure in general and it has a particularly onerous tax structure for firms that are asset-intensive. If you run an industrial company like FedEx, which employs 290,000 folks, most of whom are blue-collar people, the way we have to run this business is to equip those workers with billions of dollars of assets that allow them to pick up and deliver millions of things around the world."

His theory is that the tax bias against capital explains why so much top U.S. talent got whisked off to become investment bankers. "Not too many young people coming out of school are studying to be production managers at General Motors." He says that most of FedEx’s first line managers come not from the top flight universities, but out of community colleges and the military. "The top talent has wanted to go to Wall Street." . . .

He uses an example from FedEx. "Look, our capital budget as we went into this year was about $3 billion. We went out to Boeing in July for our board meeting to see the new triple seven, [the Boeing 777] which we have bought. If we had a lower corporate tax rate with the ability to expense capital expenditures, guess what? We’d buy more triple sevens. We absolutely have to cut the corporate tax. Our current tax rate is about 38%. Even Germany has a 25% rate."

Smith’s point furthers the point I tried to make a

a little while ago: Banking and finance might need more regulation, but industry probably could use less.

Good News on Sunday

The Mason-Dixon poll has McCain up 6 in GA. Zogby has McCain moving from 12 to 5 down over several days.

On David Brooks’ column today: I think he’s right to criticize McCain for not having a "progressive conservative" domestic policy. Mac didn’t even explain his good health care plan and was obsessive on earmarks, which didn’t impress anyone. But I gotta add that McCain has never been known for his interest in or eloquence on economic policy. Not only that, David, when he was at Berry in April, said the election would turn on whether Americans could get comfortable enough with the idea of Obama as president. If so, he would surge at the end and probably win easily. That projected surge, everyone knows, occured relatively early with the first debate and, of course, the very scary economic semi-collapse. The amazing thing, in a way, is that McCain hasn’t collapsed altogether, which should give Republicans some hope and fear for the next nine days. I don’t think the battle of the health care plans would have helped Mac all that much. The trouble is that his plan is on the "ownership society" model, which isn’t so popular when people feel threatened by economic forces way beyond their control. One more rant: Brooks has been all over the map on Palin; he praises her for achieving "debating parity" with Biden one week and then calls her a "cancer" the next. Now he says she’s a conventional Republican, which is a lot different from a cancer.

Hidden Signs of a McCain Victory?

The American Thinker thinks so.

Take that, Lawler!

Polls Not So Apart (Anymore)

There has been, rather unfortunately, a convergence of the national polls. Six of the seven that reported tody have Obama ahead between 7 and 9.

Here’s some news that could be worse but isn’t good: Gallup tells us that the early voting has mirrored very closely the national polls. That means Obama isn’t doing as well as some feared. But it also means he already has a 7 to 9 lead, and those who’ve voted can’t change their minds.

The Campaign Against Total Democratic Control

And especially against Barney Frank. Can McCain stay on this message, with the relevant commercials etc., for the next week? To make it more authentic, he should add praise for his own record of bipartisanship, which is very, very real. There’s some reason to hope that harmmering this one point home will make a difference. It puts the attention on the economy and shows that, even if Obama is a smooth, smart guy, the all-Democratic government isn’t going to be marked by wisdom and moderation.

Ashbrook Center

Thanks to the Ashbrook Center family

Peter Schramm and company were most genial hosts for our event yesterday. The Ashbrook Scholars asked excellent questions in our afternoon session and the friends of the Ashbrook Center provided a wonderful audience for our celebration of gloom and doom in the evening.

I note that we complained about the McCain campaign's unimpressive ground game. It certainly pales in comparison both with the GOTV efforts of the 2004 Bush campaign and the exceedingly well-organized and well-funded 2008 Obama effort. But I'll also note that my drive through the Ashbrook part of Ohio (on my way to the Turnpike and ultimately to my alma mater, Michigan State University) displayed plenty of physical evidence of a McCain presence. Indeed, there are surely more yard signs for both campaigns this time than there were in 2004.

Categories > Ashbrook Center

Two Days in the Heartland With a Band of Joes

Two days in small-town western New York remind us who live in big Eastern cities about why we fight, and the footsoldiers who carry on that fight. Despite being New Yorkers, doomed to defeat in the State, they worked enthusiastically on the McCain campaign. I dined with Joe the small businessman (and County Republican chairman), Joe the local radio talk show host, Joe the successful alumnus, and Joe the professor (and local politico). They (and their Joans) are sober, sensible, and active citizens--and all appalled at Obama. Many of their Democratic neighbors seem to be, too, they tell me. There are thousands upon thousands more of their fellow Americans in small towns further south, in Pennsylvania; in West Virginia and Virginia; and west through Ohio (sounds like Ashland, doesn’t it?) and Indiana.

Should McCain win, the victory is theirs, these American Joes, these happy few, this band of brothers.

Whether in victory or defeat, let’s not forget these Americans of the heartland.


1. I really, really enjoyed the Ashbrook discussion last night. The crowd was large and appreciative, and the hospitality was unsurpassed.

;2. I sort of agree with Julie that we didn’t get the audience much hope that McCain could win. It’s not inconceivable that he could. So I’m tempted to give him some unsolicited advice, But I’m starting to notice that Mac just doesn’t deal well with advice that doesn’t seem to him authentic. Let him give it his best shot in the way he thinks best. You can count on him to fight to the end.

3. Alright, some advice: The one huge flaw in your campaign that’s not a matter of controversy is the lack of organization. David Broder today writes about his visit to some rural county in OH: The Republicans were giving out yard signs. The Democrats, of course, we’re doing lots more. Some kind of ferocious call for an all-volunteer army to get out the non-early voters might really help. Right now, the danger is there that the organization gap will produce a result even worse than the one polls show. (OK--one more piece: Lay off Obama, trumpet your own virtues and the irreversible damage that can come if the Democrats control everything.)

4. It’s certainly untoward to be speculating at this point about whether or not Sarah Palin becomes a national force if McCain loses. We still should be talking up her (real!) virtues in an incredibly hostile, even venomous environment. But here’s one reason she’s been mismanaged by her own party’s strategists: McCain, apparently, didn’t really wanted her. He wanted Joe Lieberman. And so the Sarah pick looks inauthentic to lots of voters, and maybe to Mac himself. The standard of authenticity for Mac is unreasonably high: We expect him to choose purely and honorably, even at the expense of success. He’s the one who put that standard on himself. Especially with the economic crisis and all that, Lieberman would certainly not have been the ticket to victory. Right now: Sarah keeps McCain from falling lower than he has, but she’s also an impediment to him to getting to a majority. And that’s because the Republicans have let the MSM and the Democrats own the development of her narrative.

5. The worst pieces of news today for McCain: The stock market is tanking AGAIN. And there’s one poll that has Obama up one in Georgia (one of many, but still...). Obama could easily carry Georgia, in my opinion.

The Future?? It’s Under Control

So today finds me near Charlotte, North Carolina at Belmont Abbey College for this conference on "the future of conservatism." I have no idea what the future is at the moment given the bleak electoral outlook, but it’s okay; thanks to Schramm, I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I’m sure I’ll be able to figure it out.

Re: Palin’s Limits

Our Sarah’s problems came up prominently in discussion at the NLT Bloggers Confab last night, and opinion was split about whether she has fatal limitations and has taken too many hits below the waterline, and whether she was badly served and prepped by the McCain campaign (unanimous agreement on this point). My view is that she is very talented and capable, but would never have been able to break into national politics on her own owing to the peculiar isolation of Alaska.

Now that she is here, what next? Assuming McCain-Palin lose (no--I haven’t given up hope yet, but stay with me here), will she be a contender in 2012? Much as I like Douthat, he’s too young to remember that there is nothing being said about Palin now that wasn’t said about Reagan in the 1960s and up until he won in 1980. And Reagan made several blunders at the beginning of his official public career and even after becoming governor that might have been more damaging had they occurred on the national stage instead of just in California. Palin is playing for big stakes, and everything will depend on what strategy she adopts after returning home to Alaska. I actually think her path is harder if she ends as Vice President two weeks from now. She needs to step up her game, to be sure, but I don’t think she needs a wholesale makeover.


No Left Turns Bloggers on Election '08

For those of you who were unable to make it to last night's conversation on the election, here is a link to the podcast. Video will be available sometime next week if you'd rather wait until you can watch as you listen. Our conversation was informal but, also, brutal in its honesty about the prospects before Conservatives as we look ahead to the final week and a half of this election and, it seems, to a likely Obama Administration.

If I may offer myself and my fellow bloggers a gentle criticism, I would say that while an honest assessment of the negatives in front of us is important--it isn't important only for the sake of brutal academic honesty. Such brutal honesty is fine as far as it goes and we'd all rather be right than wrong in seeing the outlines of the political field before us. But once a brutal political fact is asserted, it is also important that we not seem to permit marinating in it or appear to be satisfied merely with nailing the diagnosis. We ought, also, to point to a prescription. Political problems require political answers and an important first step in getting to one, of course, is a more complete understanding of the nature of the problem. But we should also remember that we are talking about political consequences that will have a real impact on the lives and futures of our friends and fellow citizens (to say nothing of ourselves). Given that reality, there is also something to be said on the side of duty; duty to look beyond the problems and toward solutions.

After last night, I am more convinced than ever that the conservative political problem is at once rhetorical and intellectual in that it has failed to connect with the people in such a way as to lift them up to understand as well as love their country. The post-60s Liberal problem might be said to be a reverse of the conservative one in that it offers an understanding of America (that it is an incorrect understanding is beside the point) but it has failed--at least until, perhaps (oddly) this year, to give convincing evidence of love for country. I recognize that this is an odd thing to say, in a way. In a year when the Democrat candidate appears to have connections to questionable people who have expressed more than one variety of deep-seated contempt for America, Conservatives ought to have been able to make a convincing case that Obama did not, in fact, love his country. But this assumption misses the fact that Obama and Conservatives are talking about two completely different things when they talk of love for country. Conservatives made a mistake in thinking that it would be sufficient (to say nothing of possible) to tie Obama to the contempt of Wright, Ayers, and even Michelle.

Obama claimed not to share the sentiments of his more hate-filled associates even as he embraced them as something of a piece with the American experience; a piece of the fabric of our lives. He tells us that he loves America because he is capable of loving all things and, especially, of loving those things that he thinks can be "changed" or made to serve something called progress or--even less dogmatically--"the future." His love letter to America may, in fact, be a love letter to himself. But it should also be remembered that Obama, in embracing Wright at the same time that he distanced himself from Wright, gave every other American permission to write themselves a similarly self-indulgent love letter if only they agreed to come along and be a part of this important moment in our history.

With Obama, you are entitled to your weaknesses and to your cynical narrow interests--especially if you can put them to work for the purposes he believes will move us forward. The only thing you are not permitted to do or to be is someone who is retrograde or reactionary in Obama's view. If your own particular brand of weird opinions do not permit you to move forward with the rest of the country shouting "Yes We Can!" from on high, then you must be defeated. And Obama will not blink as he sets about defeating you. If Conservatives and Republicans fail in this election--as appears now to be the trajectory of events despite some cheering poll numbers--I believe it will be because in recent years (when, by the way, we had ample opportunity to do otherwise) we have failed. We have failed not to prove that we love our country but, rather, to give a satisfactory and compelling explanation of why we love our country.

For good or ill, it now seems clear to me that Barack Obama understands himself to be offering both an understanding of and a reason to love America. Remember that he described his "A More Perfect Union Speech"--where he addressed the question of the Reverend Wright--to be a "teaching moment." From Obama's point of view and if you share Obama's views, this was exactly the right way to understand the situation. He rightly saw the danger and, instead of seeking to mitigate it, he embraced it as he embraces all things. He made it his opportunity.

It is not sufficient to argue that his brand of "love" for America amounts to a condemnation of America as we ought to understand it. This assumes too much. People are looking for a way to understand their country and no politician today can assume that he's working from a pre-existing or deeply held understanding that is healthy at the start. Our educational system has made sure of that. So there is no way for a politician today--particularly an American politician--to speak in short hand about his love of country and putting his "country first" and expect that people will understand him as he understands himself. He is obliged to teach.

It is true that this simpler and older expression of love for America still has some massive appeal (it's not for nothing that Sarah Palin drew crowds of 60,000 + and inspired a two-week surge in the polls for McCain) but good as that was, it required a follow up--an explanation or an understanding of itself that could have been shared with the American people and would have translated itself into confidence in our ticket. People need to know that a candidate thinks he knows what he is doing and why he is doing it. They need to know that a candidate has confidence in his understanding of his purpose. This is why people think Obama is cool. He has that confidence. I think he is wrong to have that confidence because he is wrong in his understanding of America--to say nothing of the character of Americans. Unfortunately, the argument about why he is wrong has not materialized in any public way that was sufficient to our purpose. It may be--though I cannot say for certain--that this has to do with a lack of understanding about that purpose at the top of the ticket.

Having said that, however, I understand that the odds against McCain and Palin (and we don't really need to review those) were stacked heavily against them. Their instincts in responding to the onslaught from Obama and those seduced by him in the media were not entirely wrong and we should be grateful to them for the few high points in the campaign that pointed to hopeful signs on our side (including some healthy fundamentals) and, at the same time, speak volumes about the problem. That there was so much energy stirred by a young, attractive, and conservative governor from America's Western Frontier who exuded a kind of manful (yes, I understand and appreciate the irony in that term) independence is a massive fact that ought not to be forgotten as we move forward. And that a humble guy in Ohio named Joe could come closer than any politician in this election yet has done to causing Barack Obama to lose his "cool" and inspiring the hearts of the American people is also not an insignificant fact. Starting here, we might begin to build a more resonating case for ourselves as we look ahead both to the Congressional races in 2010 and, of course, for a more serious challenge in 2012.

Categories > Elections

Palin’s Limits?

This post by Ross Douthat is worth thinking about. Douthat argues: "that Sarah Palin might well be a formidable contender for the GOP nomination in 2012 even if she’s massively unpopular with the sixty-five percent of America that doesn’t vote in Republican primaries."

Douthat’s point is congruent with something that I have heard several times of late. I keep running into people who claim that they gave very serious thought to Senator McCain until he tapped Governor Palin as his VP pick. Admittedly, this is not a scientiffic sample, but I suspect it reflects a trend. As I have said before I think Palin is rather more moderate than many people think. But that’s not how she is perceived.

Douthat notes the problem: "Given the way she’s presented herself on the campaign trail and/or been used by the McCain campaign, and given the media narrative surrounding her candidacy at the moment, for Palin to be elected President of the United States would require an image makeover even more substantial than the one Hillary Clinton underwent between the late 1990s and this year."

Biden and the Court

Deborah O’Malley considers Joe Biden’s views on the Court, not to the Senator’s advantage.

Shameless Self-Promotion

So I’ll be at Ashland/Ashbrook tomorrow with the other bloggers. I promise not to be too defeatist and not say too much along pre-mortem postmortem lines. I’m actually bigger than ever that people show grow up, show up, stop whining (and there’s plenty whine about), and vote. But I also think, as Steve H sort of admitted below, that the polls that now show a wide margin are more realistic. So the Republicans had a rather miraculous victory in the 2000 recount and miraculously defied the exit polls with massive turnouts in key parts of FL and OH in 2004. Three miracles in a row might be a bit much even to pray for. But I’m not against it.

On Monday, I will talk at NOON at the Naval War College and at 4pm at Salve Regina College. Both, of course, are in Newport, RI. My topic is MODERN LIBERALISM AND THE FUTURE OF NATIONS.

I Give Up

Just when you think it’s over. . .

I have to prognosticate tomorrow night at the NLT Gala Bloggers Confab, and this morning brought news from the Wall Street Journal and Zogby-Reuters that Obama has jumped out to a double-digit lead. It feels that way to me: that 100,000 person rally Obama had in St. Louis the other day was remarkable. I’m pressed to recall a campaign rally that big before.

But then this afternoon AP has the race dead even. It is hard to tell from the text of the story why this poll is so different from the others, except for the little detail that they randomly called cell phone numbers. I do know that the increasing use of cell phones is a huge methodological problem for pollsters who are used to landline-only calling. But you’d think cell phone users would tilt toward Obama, wouldn’t you? In any case, the story doesn’t give us enough to go on. But these two polls can’t both be within a correct margin of error.

An Optimistic, Individualistic Vision of America (Finally)

Jonah Goldberg writes today about a simmering kind of disgust that is percolating among McCain supporters. Their disgust is not for McCain who, finally via Joe Wurzelbacher, seems to have found a way to connect with their deepest political instincts and understanding. Their disgust is with the legion of reporters and the Army of Democrats who just don’t seem to "get" what moves them. These folks are now showing up at McCain and Palin rallies, carrying signs that say things like "Phil the Bricklayer," "Rose the Teacher." The media breathlessly report that Joe--and, by implication, Phil and Rose--are not in danger of having to pay higher taxes because they are nowhere near the magic number of $250K. In doing this, they betray a bit of cynical exasperation. They are also saying that they don’t believe Joe or Phil or Rose are really capable of reaching for those levels. As Jonah puts it, "They think [Joe is] stupid or a liar for not understanding that a promised check from a President Obama is more valuable than some pipe dream about future success."

Jonah calls this a rebirth of a kind of "optimistic, individualistic vision of America" that he notes has been sorely lacking in McCain’s campaign and I’d add has been sorely lacking in the majority of Republicans for the last several years.

As always, Jonah elaborates the point with grace and wit. But I have to say that a fellow named Tito Munoz (discussed in this article) may have put it even better: "Joe the Plumber has an idea. He has a future. He wants to be something else. Why is that wrong? Everything is possible in America. I made it. Joe the Plumber could make it even better than me. ... I was born in Colombia, but I was made in the U.S.A."

Questioning Obama’s Patriotism?

For years, at least since Michael Dukakis ran for President, Democrats have been complaining that Republicans are questioning their patriotism. For the most part, this is simply clever demagoguery. Questioning someone’s patriotism does not sit well with voters, and hence it is useful to play the victim card.

But all this does raise a question: is there something to the charges? As I understand liberalism, it does not believe in patriotism. The reason why liberals always wish to build international institutions like the UN and th World Court, and the reason why liberal lawyers believe in applying internationally popular laws to America is because liberalism is an ideology that wishes to transcend the nation-state. Liberals wish to create a world in which patriotism is not necessary. In that sense, liberals don’t believe in partiotism. To the degree that they love America, it is because they see America as a vehicle for furthering that vision.

Conservatives, by contrast, believe that we are, of necessity, stuck with a world of particular nations and balance of power. Hence patriotism can be a good. We believe that our nation is particularly good, and hence particularly deserving of love. I suspect this is what they mean when they suggest that conservatives are mean-spirited and divisive. They are blaming the messenger. Human nature ain’t what liberals think it is. The hatred we have seen in the Left, since it was invented during the French Revolution, is the result of reality clashing with their hopes for universal peace, harmony, and brotherhood. It is what happens when a vision of the future crosses the fine line between idealism and misanthropy.

A Tipping Point?

"What happens when the voter in the exact middle of the earnings spectrum receives more in benefits from Washington than he pays in taxes?" Adam Lerick asks in today’s Wall Street Journal?

In 2006, the latest year for which we have Census data, 220 million Americans were eligible to vote and 89 million -- 40% -- paid no income taxes. According to the Tax Policy Center (a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute), this will jump to 49% when Mr. Obama’s cash credits remove 18 million more voters from the tax rolls. What’s more, there are an additional 24 million taxpayers (11% of the electorate) who will pay a minimal amount of income taxes -- less than 5% of their income and less than $1,000 annually.

In all, three out of every five voters will pay little or nothing in income taxes under Mr. Obama’s plans and gain when taxes rise on the 40% that already pays 95% of income tax revenues.

Is It Over?

Charlie Cook, a most capable and balanced analyst, explains why it might be reasonable to think it is. Obama has all the advantages when it comes to organization, enthusiasm, money, and early voting. Any "Bradley effect" (and they’ll probably be very little) will be negated by the huge African-American turnout. The focus won’t shift from the economy prior to the election. Today’s polls are slightly worse for McCain than yesterday, and Obama’s is still viewed every favorably. Surges require more troops and a new strategy, and McCain doesn’t have either. I’m not SURE about the bottom line here, but Charlie makes it tough to ignore so much evidence.

So as not to seem too defeatist, let me add some Zogby data showing McCain remaining competitive and even gaining ground in the key battlground states, despite slide a bit nationwide. We still have to wonder whether McCain has the resources to close the deal in these states.

UPDATE: Zogby, sadly enough, shows rapid movement to Obama over the last 48 hours.

Podcast with Charles Kesler

I just finished a podcast with Charles Kesler who is, among other things, the editor of the Claremont Review of Books. We discussed his most recent essay in the CRB, "The Audacity of Barack Obama." It was a very good conversation and I thank him for agreeing to it. I recommend you give it a listen.

Obama’s Tears, his Family, and his Faith: Part III of Reflections on

Our prayers are with Barack Obama as he visits his ailing grandmother, a woman who, with his late grandfather, raised him in Hawaii for several years. His affectionate portrayal of “Toot,” with all her many virtues graces the pages of Dreams from My Father. She came to public attention in his famous speech on race, in which he renounced the Reverend Wright for his belief that America could not change its racism. He could not disown him any more than he could disown his own grandmother, “who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street” and who indulged in racial and ethnic stereotypes “that made me cringe.” (The episode is more complex than Obama lets on his speech, as his autobiography makes clear, pp. 87-89).

Obama will doubtless shed tears as his grandmother fails. In Dreams from My Father he weeps at length twice—first, when he is moved by a sermon by the Reverend Wright, “The Audacity of Hope.” He does not weep because he has come to accept God and all his power and mercy (a point I misunderstood in my earlier post) but because he sees the power of God over others’ lives—a power he does not yet accept. He weeps because he is outside the community the Reverend Wright is calling into being in his stirring cadences. (In his later book, The Audacity of Hope, he will note that he was baptized—why doesn’t he mention this in the earlier book? This is a rare revisiting of his earlier book in the later.) The other time he weeps is when he visits the graves of his father and grandfather, in Kenya. Earlier he had declared to his Kenyan relatives, in jest, “I am Luo.” Obama sees himself as fulfilling their dreams, moving beyond the modernity that opened up their lives, while it threatened their control over life:

“For a long time I sat between the two graves and wept. When my tears were finally spent, I felt a calmness wash over me. I felt the circle finally close. I realized that who I was, what I cared about was not longer just a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words. I saw that my life in America—the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I’d felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I’d witnessed in Chicago—all of it was connected with this small plot of earth an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain I felt was my father’s pain. My questions were my brothers’ questions. Their struggle, my birthright.” [429-430]

At book’s end, with his brother at Obama’s wedding, he follows the tribal custom of dribbling drinks on the floor, and toasts to “a happy ending.” “And for that moment, at least, I felt like the luckiest man alive.”

The world and Obama, Obama and the world. Who is Obama? How does he understand being an American? How does he understand being human?

What he writes about faith is central to understanding who he is. Thus, we cringe when we read in Audacity of Hope about the “the books of Timothy and Luke” and are reminded of Howard Dean’s claim that Job was his favorite New Testament reading (102, from the 2008 Vintage edition; add about 40 pages to get the correct citation in the first, 2006 edition). The focus on faith went beyond his anthropologist mother’s influence. She had gotten him interested in political philosophy (244), which he tried to apply in his community organizer work. His mother enabled him to float above cultures, but he willed himself to be rooted in the black community.

It was the Reverend Wright who changed his life, by making him part of the black church and giving him roots. Obama’s earlier book noted the political importance of being a church member ”to spur social change.” And he discovered that he could retain his modern skepticism and embrace this church that called sinners. “It was because of these newfound understandings—that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved—that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized” (Audacity, 246). This is social gospel Christianity. His later conversion account is prosaic, compared with his earlier, tearful encounter as one who held back. One is led to wonder whether the same man wrote both books. The key here is that when he wrote as a politician, he was a changed man.

But not completely different. We are reminded in all this of chapter 18 of Machiavelli’s Prince, “In What Mode Faith Should Be Kept by Princes.” A careful reading of this brief, rich chapter praising malleability or change helps illuminate Obama’s political character. Princes must keep up appearances but must always be in charge of the way they appear.

Critics have derided Obama as “the messiah,” ridiculed the Greek columns at his acceptance speech, and lampooned his “presidential” seal, with a Latin (!) motto expressing a rather un-classical view. But the criticism goes much deeper. The flaw of Marxism (and its competitor social gospel Christianity) on this point is making man into a God. Theoretically, there should be no place for tragedy, no place for tears. Toot’s decline restores Obama’s humanity, for the moment. As we pray for him and his family, we should pray for all the candidates and for the United States of America as well.

My first post on Obama’s autobiography is here , the second here . My next posts will focus on his view of the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln.

Patio Man

David Brooks argues that "Patio Man," the quintessential American suburban voter, wants stability, which the Democrats are promising (except when Joe Biden speaks about the crisis that’s going to test Barack Obama’s mettle). But if what they deliver answers the pent-up demands of the party’s left wing, watch out.

[T]he shift in public opinion is not from right to left, or from anti-government to pro-government, it’s from risk to caution, from disorder to consolidation.

There is a deep current of bourgeois culture running through American suburbia. It is not right wing, but it is conservative: a distrust of those far away; a belief in convention and respectability; and a strong reaction against anything that threatens to undermine the stability of the established order.

Democrats have done well in suburbia recently because they have run the kind of candidates who seem like the safer choice — socially moderate, pragmatic and fiscally hawkish. They, or any party, will run astray if they threaten the mood of chastened sobriety that has swept over the subdivisions.

Patio Man doesn’t appear to care much about social issues, according to Brooks. Judging from my neighbors, he’s probably right. But that’s because he and they wrongly think that you can have economic and social stability without a strong moral foundation. I don’t blame proponents of abortion rights and same-sex marriage for the fix we’re in. Their attitudes are symptomatic, not foundational. The foundational attitude is the self-indulgence in which we all share, a self-indulgence that is articulated every day on the radio by Rush Limbaugh and that is practiced by Patio Men, Women, and Children, but not so much by their parents and grandparents.

But it may be too late for Cato the Censor or his "Abrahamic" counterpart.

Rod Dreher Makes a Tough Point

...about our likely future, relying on the authority of ME.

Rhetorical Blandness and Sideshow Stupefication

That’s powerpoint "teaching" for you, according to our Ivan the K.

While you’re over there at CULTURE11, go to the POSTMODERN CONSERVATIVE blog, where Ralph Hancock is leading a deep discussion about Plato, Strauss, postmodernism rightly understood, the dignity of ordinary life, and many other fascinating topics.

Gore Gored

This FrankTV guy, whom I’ve never heard of before, offers this terrific YouTube send-up of Al Gore, complete with tin-foil hat. (About 2 minutes long.)

Two Good Posts from "The Campaign Spot"

Jim Geraghty at NRO’s Campaign Spot had a couple of good (and cheering) posts today on the state of the race and the polls.

Joe on Loin Girding and (Augean) Stable Cleaning

What in the Biden is he ranting about?

Peter Myers on Frederick Douglass

Peter Myers was here for a Colloquium on his book, Frederick Douglass: Race and the Rebirth of American Liberalism last Friday. About 40 minutes of remarks from him and then conversation with the Ashbrook Scholars. First class program (and book).    


1. The national tracking polls are about the same or maybe a very slight McCain drop. I’d say he’s closer to 6 than 5 down.

2. But the new state polls from a variety of sources are discouraging. Obama seems to have large leads in VA, NC, and OH. Clearly McCain would need all three to win, and just as clearly Obma is better organized. And VA and NC will probably have a bit of the ol’ reverse-Bradley effect, as they did in the primaries.

3. Senate: Bad news--Dole seems to be falling further behind in NC. Good news--Coleman has pulled even with Franken in MN and McConnell’s lead in KY is narrow but real. My real fear here is that the dominant party tends to win all the close ones in a really decisive year.

Update: The OH polls are wildly inconsistent, but the very newest one, posted in the last hour by Rasmussen, has McCain up by 1. And the same pollster has McCain up by 2 in FL and only down 3 in NC.
So the one needful state that still looks really bad with consistency in VA. The actaul data aren’t as bad as what almost everyone, including me most of the time, expect.

Trust the People

This was the motto that Winston Churchill’s father encouraged him to remember even as he was--shall we say--slightly more aristocratic than the average Joe. He didn’t mean that the people are always going to be right, of course. They’re not. But the fact remains that they are more often right than are the self-anointed experts and the self-declared wise. Of course, this was fitting advice for a future Prime Minister who was half-American in fact and, maybe, more than that in sentiment.

But for Conservatives--to say nothing of so-called "Progressives"--there has always been some tension in accepting that rule of the people. The wise guys of both types like to think that they’d do better without the annoying necessity of seeking consent. Bill Kristol offers an excellent column today that begins to examine the fundamentals of American sovereignty. Is it wisdom or is it the people--with all their flaws--who rule? Here, Kristol concludes, the people rule. This means that there has always been a kind of populism alive in American politics. It’s not simply a Progressive invention--though, as with most things, they succeeded in using it for their own purposes and to different ends.

The use to which Progressives put populism gave it a bad name as a kind of pandering to the baser instincts in people at the expense of reflection about and refinement in choice. But Conservatives are too quick to mistake refinement in tastes with refinement in intellectual or political ability. There is more than one way to skin a cat and there is more than one way to basic political wisdom. Some can get it from reading Plato and Aristotle at an ivy league institution, and others may learn it from washing windows under Communists or by installing toilets in America under a regime of excessive taxation and regulation. Most often, the readers of Plato and Aristotle would do as well to listen to the wisdom of the window washer or toilet installer as those window washing and toilet installing folks would do well to listen to the readers of Plato and Aristotle.

Though our regime is set up to encourage trust in the people, it is also true that the American people have not simply spurned wisdom. We’ve tried to set up ways for it to guide us with our institutions and by declaring the foundational principles of those institutions before a candid world. We’ve had varying degrees of success in maintaining those institutions and principles but, in all, it’s still a darn fine country and we are still a darn fine people. We still produce gentlemen like Joe Wurzelbacher and we still produce fine scholars and thinkers.

It’s too early for post-mortems on the election and it’s certainly too early for post-mortems on the performance of the conservative media critics who have been struggling with this burgeoning acceptance of populism in Conservatism. Those critics are not wrong to caution prudence . . . but, in general, they need also to follow their own advice--separating out the visceral from the intellectual critique. When this election is (finally) over the most important conversation within Conservatism is going to be this one. Bill Kristol’s column today should be bookmarked as a good starting place for that conversation.

Joe Biden, Helping the Ticket Again

Imagine if Sarah Palin made a remark about McCain being old or hot-tempered. Ya think the media wouldn’t be all over it? How about this from slow-Joe Biden:

“Mark my words,” the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned at the second of his two Seattle fundraisers Sunday. “It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”

Biden added this little nugget, just for grins: "I’ve forgotten more about foreign policy than most of my colleagues know, so I’m not being falsely humble with you."

The Bradley Effect Revisited

Since the "Bradley Effect" is back it the news this weekend, I refer everyone to my NLT post last February debunking the original incidence in California.

Instant Classic Steyn Column

Don’t miss Mark Steyn’s column on Joe the Plumber, "now the most notorious plumber in American politics since the Watergate plumbers. And they weren’t licensed, either."

And don’t miss the line about Larry Craig in the Minneapolis Airport bathroom.


The first Russian church is opened in Cuba. Raul Castro attends opening.

Crass conflict

That’s the title I gave to my latest Culture11 piece. The editors gave it a different one, which is why they’re paid the big bucks. It’s all about Republicans, Democrats, faith, and reason. In about 1,000 words, no less.

Obama’s Experience?

One thing this campaign has demonstrated is that Senator Obama knows how to organize and run a campaign. From his realization that he could beat Senator Clinton by picking up delegates in smaller states and hanging close in larger states, to his fundraising talents, to his decision to invite 80,000 people to his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention--creting a huge number of people motivated to work for him, Obama has shown political talent.

Perhaps that’s part of what he learned as a Community Organizer. The job, however, seems to have a less pleasant side. Obama is a talented lawyer, and he knows how to use the law. He was able to game the system to keep others off the ballot when he first ran for office, for example. The link to which Steve points below notes that Senator Obama also seems to be inclined to keep those who disagree with him from being able to voice their opinion. Is the heckler’s veto, combined with litigation designed to make opposition more costly also something he learned as a community organizer?

Senator Obama wants to bring us all together in a world of peace, love, and brotherhood. Those who disagree with his vision are being divisive, and ought not be allowed to ruin things. I hope that’s not how he, and the people around him see things, but I fear that it might be.

Biden on JOBS

He called it a three-letter word, probably because he’s been lectured about not using the four-letter kind. Where’s the outrage? What if Sarah had said this? Quayle’s POTATOE was genius by comparison.

Cody flies 100 years ago

The American born Samuel Franklin Cody, cowboy, sharp shooter, and generally interesting fellow, took a bunch of horses to England, fell in love, and stayed. About five years after the Wright brothers flew, he became the first in England to fly. "To commemorate Cody’s achievement, a replica of his fragile aircraft was unveiled in the presence of Lady Thatcher, the former prime minister, and other dignitaries." Good story, with a short video.

Un-Fairness Doctrine

If Obama wins, and the Democrats indeed try to reinstate the broadcast "fairness doctrine" (better known as the "Hush Rush" rule), Unfair will be a crucial blog to have bookmarked.

My two cents’ worth

Here, along with contributions from other political scientists, including one from whom I took a class when I was an undergraduate. He surely doesn’t remember me.

McCain’s Mini-Surge

According to RCP, he’s down an average of 4.9% in the polls. So jwc (with me agreeing, I admit), for example, was wrong to say he’d never crawl within 5 again. According to David Brooks, the country is stuck with a reactionary lurch to the left that will produce unsustainable (European-style) economic policies that will make our downturn worse and make America far less able to endure the demographic crisis just around the corner. And the same can be said about politically correct social/cultural policies alien to the ways most Americans live, including an unprecedented kind of judicial activism. That overreach, Brooks predicts, will cause a backlash. Well, maybe so, but it’ll be a reasonable backlash against decisions that will be almost impossible to reverse; when reasonable people are impotent, they get unreasonably angry. Every conservative has to admit that an unprecedented overreach will produce an unprecedented backlash, and it would be better, if possible, to moderate them both. If you like out-of-control culture war, vote Democratic across the board this time.

According to aesthetic or Crunch Con Rod Dreher, a big McCain and Republican defeat will be a just judgment on their sins and errors. I have to admit there are plenty of those, and the biggest of them was to be so corrupt, incompetent, and clueless as to allow the Democratic "negative landslide" of 2006 to occur. Truth to tell, if the Republicans controlled Congress, the Obama presidency wouldn’t seem that bad.

BUT, Brooks admits, any moderation in ambivalence in the smart and cool Barack himself will be overwhelmed by the ideological extremism of the most dogmatically liberal Congress ever.

SO it’s really, really important to vote for McCain to moderate the overreach. Just as it’s really, really important to vote Republican for Congress--especially for the Senate--to have some kind of check on the big-time reactionary excesses.

Lots of conservative purists are saying that McCain ain’t so conservative and doesn’t deserve our allegiance. Not only that, Sarah screwed up the interviews and hasn’t read enough books. Well, he is a piece of work and Sarah should have been better prepared. So what? All that posturing is just stupid and self-indulgent: The point of voting is to make life as good as it can be for Americans, espeically ordinary Americans who depend on government in many ways to enjoy peace, prosperity, and freedom.

As a social scientist, I think McCain only has a ghost of chance; I’m sticking with my August prediction that it’s about 10-20%. A complete collapse of his campaign is probably just as likely as a successful surge. But for now I’m moved by his favorite closing argument about nothing being inevitable and all that.

Random Observations

1. If you go to RCP and look at the polls including 10/16 or 10/17, it appears that Obama’s real margin now is 5%. No McCain bleeding right now, still time for a surge.

2. On the Senate, the result could be pretty bad or really bad. Right now there are five races in the South that could go either way--NC, KY, GA, TX, and MS. They all go R, and no way the Ds get to 60. They all go D, and my prediction is they get 62. NC is enouraging insofar as Dole is hanging in there, but there’s a general consensus she’s unlikely to be reelected. Texas shouldn’t be as close at it is, but probably still R. Texas is one state where McCain really will be a help. Wicker holds a statistically insignificant lead in MS and is a lame candidate for a variety of reasons. Those in the know say a huge African-American turnout in MS will make the prez race closer than the polls show. If that’s true, Wicker loses. Chambliss is now targeted by Sam Nunn and friends in a big, big way, and a likely big, big African-American turnout in Georgia puts the odds against him at this point. I’ve haven’t seen any very recent polls on McConnell, but the few things I’ve heard don’t sound all that promising for him. The WSJ reminds us of the importance of the filibuster as a weapon in 1993-94.

3. I for one cringed some at McCain’s repeated use of Joe the Plumber. But surely the MSM/D fake outrage about his various human failings--and their intensive investigation of every nook and cranny of his existence--is something worse than negative campaigning.

Supermajority, or, unchecked left-wing ascendancy

This Wall Street Journal editorial is very good in explaining the kind of change (also see below) that is coming if Obama is elected: Liberals would dominate the entire government for the first time since 1965 or 1933.   

Charles Kesler on Obama

Charles Kesler’s "The Audacity of Barack Obama," in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books is now available through RealClearPolitics. First class piece showing Obama’s ambition to the be the greatest progressive.    

Fed Up

Today’s Wall Street Journal features an interview with Anna Schwartz, Milton Friedman’s co-author in A Monetary History of the United States. Her conclusion? Bernanke is fighting the wrong war:

We now hear almost every day that banks will not lend to each other, or will do so only at punitive interest rates. Credit spreads -- the difference between what it costs the government to borrow and what private-sector borrowers must pay -- are at historic highs.

This is not due to a lack of money available to lend, Ms. Schwartz says, but to a lack of faith in the ability of borrowers to repay their debts. "The Fed," she argues, "has gone about as if the problem is a shortage of liquidity. That is not the basic problem. The basic problem for the markets is that [uncertainty] that the balance sheets of financial firms are credible."

Read the whole thing. 

Ashbrook Center

Race and Obama Matters

Barack Obama may be cool and collected, but so is John McWhorter. This New Republic piece considers how folks would and should think about race if Obama loses, or wins. Thoughtful. Also see this interesting, albeit less satisfying, essay on Obama and Ralph Ellison by David Samuels. Related is this essay in The Economist by Glenn Loury. Also see the essay in the Chronicle by Gerald Early 
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Sen. Saxby Chambliss

We hosted Sen. Saxby Chambliss on campus today. He’s in an unexpectedly tight race for reelection, running against his fraternity brother. (I should add that Chambliss and his Senate colleague Johnny Isakson attended UGA at the same time and married sorority sisters; Jim Martin, Chambliss’ challenger is two years younger. The Southern equivalents of Skull and Bones are the fraternities and sororities at the flagship state university.)

But back to Sen. Chambliss. He spoke very impressively on energy policy and quite lucidly on our current economic woes, winning over colleagues who aren’t exactly your typical Republican voters. (I won’t swear that they’ll vote for him, but they surely won’t slit their wrists if he wins reelection.) Chambliss has a style that isn’t exactly post-partisan, but his partisanship is subtle and understated, a model for what might work and win in this very bad Republican year.

In response to a question about the partisan climate in Washington, D.C., he made two interesting points, one institutional and one cultural. The institutional one is familiar: generally speaking the Senate is less bitterly partisan than the House (a function of statewide races, often with relatively evenly divided electorates). The other built upon his experience attending a weekly prayer breakfast, for Senators only. When you hold hands and pray with someone, he said, you don’t care whether they’re Republican or Democrat. I think he’s right. I seem to recall that Hillary Clinton has attended those breakfasts. Has Barack Obama? Or has he been too busy running a post-partisan campaign?

A tax increase I can support

Anyone else around here willing to support a tax on all foundation endowments, including those of colleges and universities, in excess of, say $1,000,000?

I’d go further, actually, and end the tax deduction for anything that is not directly helping poor people--helping them get health care, food, education, etc. I’m not quite sure where religious institutions would fit in.

Update: A few more points. Wealthy people sometimes give significant donations to Harvard to get their sons into the college. Why should they get to write off the bribe? Second point. It can’t be good that foundations can buy and sell stock without paying capital gains, but everyone else has to. That has to bias the market somehow. And one final point for now. The commentator below has a good point. Charities are perpetuties. In that sense, they are like the aristocratic institutions of the medieval era. America was founded upon prnciples opposed to such things.

A Rare Twofer

Several people have pointed to Joe the Plumber’s comment that Senator Obams can " "tap dance...almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr." Inevitably, this had led to charges of racism. Actually, since we’re talking about Sammy Davis, Jr., Joe will presumably be accused of both racism and anti-Semitism!

A Tightening Race?

Some of the polls indicate that it may be. I have always believed that the race is tighter than the polls suggest--for all kinds of reasons. Are people lying to pollsters in order not to appear racist? I think that’s probably true to some degree, but I wouldn’t hang my hat on it or even hope for it. But there’s also this to consider (particularly if we do get a surprise result and people then are too quick to yell "racism!"): Although it’s true that McCain is going to have to have a perfect storm on the electoral map in order to get to the magic number of 270 (which I admit, at this point, looks pretty bleak) speaking more broadly, Obama is going to have to have a perfect storm in turnout (particularly of the young) and a change in historical party affiliations in order to support the numbers he’s been polling. The thing to remember when considering these facts is that it is easy to talk big ("I’m going to vote, even though I’ve never voted before!" and "I’m changing parties because I’m so mad at Bush!") but actually doing what you say--particularly if we get a soul-searching second look at McCain and a serious critique of Obama--will be harder for many of these apparently "energized" voters to do. And I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of voter fatigue. Who isn’t sick of this darn campaign?

Why Can’t We Get These Guys to Find Bin Laden?

Okay, so I turned 50 years old yesterday. No need for cheers and jeers--I got plenty of those all week.

Today I received my first e-mail solicitation from the AARP. Figures. (Of course, if we had truth in labeling laws for interest groups, AARP would stand for Angry Advocates for Rapacious Pensioners. I’m not joining.)

"Surely the reality it, the people who lent all this money have been incredibly stupid."

A remarkably prescient send-up of the credit crisis from two Brit comedians--taped over a year ago. (A YouTube video--about eight minutes long, but worth the watch; best stuff at the end.)

Hat tip: Roger Ream

McCain--Pretty Good. Obama--Really Bad

That’s the truth, as Yuval explains. Obama seems cool, and he certainly is calm. But the truth is he’s an utterly conventional--and quite extreme--liberal reactionary. McCain, meanwhile, is quite a fascinating and rather unique piece of work, far from perfect but altogether a much better choice.

Yeah, but What Does Jimmy Buffett Think?

Warren Buffett says it’s time to buy stocks, for the reasons I laid out here last week. I’m still following his advice, but it takes some steady nerves.

P.S. I believe Jimmy and Warren are distant cousins, which accounts for the headline.

The Last One

The last living survivor of the Titanic is 96.

McCain the liberal?

How bipartisan would a President McCain be, Ann Althouse asks:

Better a principled, coherent liberal whose liberal choices will, if they don’t go well, be blamed on liberals than an erratic, incoherent liberal whose liberal choices will be blamed on the party that ought to get its conservative act together.

Obama’s Mean-Spiritedness Emerges

I just heard the two candidates speak at the Alfred Smith annual dinner, where notables (and the two presidential candidates) are expected to deliver humorous, self-deprecating speeches. Both were funny, but I sensed an overflow of bile in Obama’s contribution to the evening. McCain’s by contrast was funny and gracious (with a couple barbs). The evening’s remarks reinforced why Aristotle made wittiness literally his ultimate moral virtue.

Some representative quotes here.

A Fake Debate

While watching yesterday’s debate between Senators McCain and Obama, I kept thinking that their ten point plans were beside the point. The question is not what a President Obama or McCain would propose, but what would we actually get, after Congress had its way with the proposal. Too bad no one asked them to speculate about what the actual bills would be.

Liberal Elitist Contempt for Middle America

Does anyone really want to argue that high powered liberal elitists have anything other than utter and complete contempt for middle America? What they did to Sarah Palin, despicable as it was, was one thing. She is a public person and she had to know that she was jumping into a shark-infested pool. All things considered, she held her own. But Joe the Plumber? I have no doubt that he can handle the attacks . . . but why should he? As Jules Crittenden puts it, Joe is just a guy.

On the other hand, I won’t second the counsel Crittenden offers to Joe. Crittenden thinks he should just hold his tongue now and go back to plumbing before he gets caught in a "gotcha." I think I’m more inclined to trust Joe to make that call for himself.

Joe Wurzelbacher for President!

The now famous, Joe the Plumber talks not only about what it takes to be prosperous, but also about what it means to be an American. He talks about the kind of pride all Americans ought to have in themselves that propels them to resist efforts to cast them as peasants dependent on a patron and spurn suggestions that they can’t make it on their own. This video and this interview are only a couple of the several I’ve watched or read of this guy and, I’ll tell you . . . he gets it. They are all very, very good. Is it too late to draft this guy? We ought, at least, to invite him to come to our blogger’s talk next week. Joe, if you’re out there, I’d be proud to buy your ticket--not because you need my help but, rather, because you deserve my gratitude.

If You Really Want to Know

...why attacks on Obama’s character, associations, and actual political opinions don’t work, consider that plenty of voters just don’t care. They know that they probably won’t even like him as president, but they’re so negative or angry that anything MIGHT be better...

More Free Advice

...from Frank on why liberal-leaning independents still might want to vote against utter Democratic domination. Frank sticks to energy, the economy, and national security. It’s still possible to focus the campaign message with guys like Frank in mind.

Our Election and Elections Past

Here are some comparisons by ME that might give McCain the audacity of some hope.

Voting in Ohio

On Tuesday, the full Sixth Circuit found that the Secretary of State actually needs to follow federal law and send records mismatches identified between motor vehicles and the Secretary of State records to the county election boards. The only thing surprising about this case is that the Secretary of State arbitrarily decided not to do this leading up to the election. As Judge Gibbons said in her concurrence, “As far as I can tell, the Secretary submitted no affidavits relating to harm to her in carrying out her duties or the public interest.” Despite howls of disenfranchisement, the court noted that a mismatch does not remove a voter from the rolls, it simply permits the board to investigate to see whether there are errors or fraud (multiple or false registrations). What the Secretary of State seems to forget is that allowing fraudulent votes to be cast dilutes the votes of actual legal voters, and that this is itself a violation of the right to vote.

Of No Consequence

...that’s the truth about the debate in terms of the outcome of the election. Obama stayed in character and probably increased people’s comfort level with him. McCain was more aggressive and relatively competent. I really liked the shots he took at Biden and his comments on the judiciary etc. in general. But he didn’t take it to Obama on Fannie as the real cause of our woes. Nor did he mention the danger of "unified government" under the Democrats. Finally, I’m not being critical; McCain gave it his best shot.

Tonight’s debate

This was, I think, John McCain’s best performance. He was consistently on the offense, setting the tone of the debate, and forcing Obama to react.

Of course, all Obama has to do is try to run out the clock, and he will likely be able to do that, as he did with Hillary Clinton.

I have to write 150 words about the debate and the way forward for the campaigns for the Atlanta paper, to appear on Sunday. Any suggestions?

I will say that this was the best of the three debates, because it approached most closely what we actually mean by a debate, with give and take. Bob Schieffer did a pretty good job of asking good and difficult questions, and the candidates responded less frequently than usual with canned answers.

My only disappointment with McCain was his judicial answer, which I found lacking in coherence. He’s right to argue that "elections have consequences," but that doesn’t square well with his claim to focus only on qualifications. He could have stressed constitutionalism much more than he did and he could have pounced on Obama’s blather about judges who stress fairness and looking out for the little guy, which perhaps ought to be the job of our representatives, not our judges. McCain’s wisecrack about the statute of limitations was on point, but insufficiently well-developed, frightfully close to the kind of Dole Senate-speak that we saw in 1996.

Our Friend Thomas Frank

I was as surprised as the next conservative when Thomas Frank became a columnist for the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. The Journal editorial page is conservatism’s most prominent platform, while Frank’s criticisms of conservatives – in many articles and his books, What’s the Matter With Kansas? and Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule – are among the most strident on the Left. As I’ve slogged through one predictable essay after another I’ve kept thinking, “Why does the Journal give so much valuable real estate to this guy?”

Now I get it – and I’m embarrassed it took me so long. A house lefty who writes an article on “My Friend Bill Ayers” does more to remind conservatives why they’re conservatives than a Fox News marathon. What’s hard to understand is why Frank, in every other instance hypersensitive to the way conservatives and capitalists exploit the worker, would be complicit in advancing the WSJ editorial agenda by turning in copy indistinguishable from a right-wing parody of left-wing obtuseness.

Frank could have titled his piece, “My Hero Bill Ayers.” Ayers is not only “a dedicated servant of those less fortunate than himself” and “unfailingly generous to people who ask for his help.” He is a “kind and affable and even humble” man, who “has been involved with countless foundation efforts and has received various awards. He volunteers for everything.” Saint Francis has no right to polish this guy’s halo.

There was, of course, some vaguely unpleasant business involving Ayers a very, very long time ago. Frank skips past the Weathermen trivia quickly, describing it as a group that “planted bombs and issued preposterous statements in the Vietnam era.” How does Frank feel about all that? “I do not defend the things Mr. Ayers did in his Weatherman days.” (But neither does he criticize them.) “Nor will I quibble with those who find Mr. Ayers wanting in contrition.” Those who make this accusation might be right, but the point is too insignificant to argue about.

Frank, however, immediately does go on to quibble, saying that Ayers’ critics have it wrong, and their criticism reveals their own shortcomings, not his: “His 2001 memoir is shot through with regret, but it lacks the abject style our culture prefers.” As several critics have shown, the “shot through with regret” summary is a howler.

Contrast these mild and carefully measured criticisms with how Frank assesses Republicans’ attacks on Barack Obama for associating with Ayers. “This is their vilest hour,” he says evenly. “The McCain campaign . . . has chosen to mount its greatest attack against a man who poses no conceivable threat to the country, who has nothing to do with this year’s issues, and who cannot or will not defend himself.” (Really? Why can’t he, or won’t he?) The Republican efforts to criticize Ayers, and criticize Obama for associating with him, are “desperate and grotesque.”

So. Denouncing a guy who tried to set off bombs in police stations and military bases? A crime against humanity. Being a guy who tried to set off bombs in police stations and military bases? The moral equivalent of jaywalking.

There’s an interesting ambivalence/hypocrisy/dishonesty about the attitude of the American Left in 2008 to the American Left of 1968. “We don’t go in for that sort of thing anymore,” the modern leftist insists, but can’t refrain from adding, “When you think about it, though, the ‘excesses’ committed in those days were understandable, defensible and really quite noble.”

The voting is less than three weeks away, and Obama is ahead in all the polls. The one thing that might yet turn the election in the Republicans’ favor would be for Thomas Frank to write a Journal article every day until November 4th.

The Truth About Obama, Fannnie, Freddie, and Our Crisis told clearly and concisely by that honest liberal Free Frank Warner. I wish McCain would be reading what Frank has to say right about now. He might even be able to make the case that our deepening financial crisis should actually be making people more inclined to vote for him.

Getting Deregulation Backward

If one wants economic growth, a country needs three things: a secure medium of exchange, the right to hold, use, or transfer one’s property at will, and a government that ensures the first two. The current financial panic makes me wonder if we have the equation out of balance in the US. Our banks, although heavily regulated in some ways, have a great deal of liberty in how they do business, and they have taken liberties with financial instruments. (To be sure, this was done partly because Congress and the administrative bureaucracy egged them on in the real estate mortgage department. But that’s not the whole story). Even so, mistakes made in finance pose systemic risks unlike those of any other industry. A couple of years ago, a blown transformer (or something like that) in Ohio took down the power grid of the entire Eastern US. The Financial system is similar. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to coin money and regulate the value thereof precisely because they understood the importance of guaranteeing a stable circumating medium.

Given OSHA regulations, zoning restrictions, ADA regulations, affirmative action, environmental regulations, minimum wage requirements, union-friendly laws (particularly in some states), and a host of other regulations, industrial businesses have less freedom of action. We have a heavily service economy, I suspect, partly because the regulatory burden on services is lower than that on industry. That truth applies, even moreso to financial services.

Two further comments on the financial sector. The S&L mess of the 1980s was, to a great degree, the result of two main factors. The high inflation, and interest rates, of the late 1970s made the S&L business model of charging 6% interest on mortgages and giving 3% interest on money in the bank untenable. Rather than admit that the game was up, Washington tried to free the S&Ls to be more like regular banks. The result was excess and corruption. The new model worked for a few years, but ultimately was doomed. Might that be part of the problem now? The old regulations of banks, drawn largely from the 1930s were dead. No one quite knew what to replace them with. Hence our financial sector was allowed to get over-leveraged. There is also the rise of private equity. That provided competition and a rival to emulate.

A further question: Was the financial sector given more freedom precisely because it’s a white collar business? The argument makes some sense: the folks on Wall Street are big boys, and, for that reason, don’t need the kind of big brother watching them that, the argument goes, is necessary to keep the auto makers from exploiting their workers. We have deregulated trucking and airlines and have had some success with that. But the deregulation was only partial. These businesses gained more liberty to pursue or not to pursue certain lines of action. They did not, however, get anything like at-will hiring and firing, nor did they get relief from a host of other regulations. Finance, precisely because it does not pollute, does not need large parcels of land, or any raw materials (with the partial exception of precious metals) was easy to deregulate. Liberating other industries from the grip of regulatory bureaucracy would require more work.

Not long ago, I was speaking with a colleague who teaches the history of the late Roman Empire. He noted that it was less expensive to grow food in Egypt and ship it to Byzantium than to grow it closer to home. He suggested that we are, to a degree, in a similar situation. To him, however, the new plutocrats and the Republicans are at fault. There is certainly some truth to that. (Even Reagan did not turn back the Administrative state that the Progressives built upon the original American constitutional order). On the other hand, the reason why basic goods are so much more expensive to produce in American than abroad is the high cost of labor, regulations, and taxes. Were we to drop the regulations noted above, and perhaps scale back the hand-outs (ie: “entitlements”) that we now give to poor, middle class, and even wealthy Americans, we could change that situation.

I can’t help thinking that Senator Obama will win this year because he represents the hope that there is another answer.

TV Show Theme Song Quiz

A great time-waster for middle aged guys like me trying to avoid today’s lousy poll numbers. I got nine out of ten. Which shows I watched too much TV in my youth, or haven’t killed enough brain cells yet with my wine collection. (Don’t you still have some bottles of Palin Syrah?--Ed. Yes, but I’m saving those for election night: they’ll work either way.)

My Latest Star Turn. . .

. . . as moderator of the Manhattan Institute’s panel discussion at the National Press Club yesterday on modernizing the nation’s electricity gird can be viewed online. I called Peter Huber’s compelling idea for a national "backbone grid" the "No Electron Left Behind Act."

Yes, I’m suffering from some kind of plague, so my voice is scratchy and weak, no doubt bringing great joy to much of Washington. (But hey--you can still annoy people through blogging!--Ed. Indeed.)

Chavezmo on the Rocks

The falling price of oil is causing problems for Hugo Chavez. It’s also going to cause problems soon for our pal Pat Deneen: remember our bet from back in June? Check out this paragraph:

Goldman expects crude to average USD 75 in the fourth quarter and USD 70 at the end of the year, but added: "Should the financial and economic crisis cut deeper into demand, the market could fall as low as USD 50 a barrel."

Oil at 13-month low this morning, just barely above $75 a barrel. Pat--better get your favorite maitre’d on speed-dial.

Fathers and Sons (Thoughts on Obama’s Dreams from My Father, Part II)

A couple other contemporary autobiographies help illustrate the remarkable character of Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory takes young Ricardo through the steps by which he became the Americanized intellectual Richard, while young Barry became Barack, signifying sentimental ties to Africa and Islam. Clarence Thomas’s My Grandfather’s Son describes a man who grew to appreciate his American roots and his grandfather’s discipline; it is truly an American story. Obama’s memoir describes his halting attempts to find a home in place after place, within America and in Asia and Africa.

Thomas saved his soul by rejecting the flotsam of American higher education, in favor of his grandfather’s character lessons, which eventually brought him to appreciate one of the finest achievements of western civilization, natural law. Obama lost whatever bearings he had by absorbing the post-modernism and faddish sophistry of the contemporary university, rising to high status in the legal community even before graduating from Harvard Law School. “I was a heretic,” he declares, as he denounces the certainty that plagues politics and religion—“one man’s certainty always threatened another’s.” And a heretic will believe in “the truth of his own doubt.”

He bears the stamp moreover of his Kansas-born mother, who died of cancer in her early fifties She was a leftist intellectual, so devoted to her anthropological field work in Indonesia that she sent her son to live with her parents, in Hawaii. He did not grow up poor (as he portrays himself, on the stump); he had a zealous graduate student for a mother. Those are two very different things, as anyone who has been in graduate school knows. His Kenyan father abandoned his wife and Obama when he was two.

The Obama we find at the end of his quest to discover himself is not anti-American, but he is a-American. He is not a Muslim, because he lacks the certainty that faith requires. Just as he rose above certain otherwise confining situations, Obama rises above his American birth. That is what the Declaration of Independence comes to mean for him: becoming independent, tearing up one’s roots, even flinging the dead dendra in the faces of other, less sophisticated types. That explains his foreign policy of moral equivalence, his deflating of American privilege, his recent insistence on “sharing the wealth.” One telling example of his approach: He tops off a list of Hawaiian injustices with “the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war.” But ethnic Japanese in Hawaii were not relocated en masse as they were on the mainland. Obama does not know his State history and is only too quick to issue condemnations.

He knew his Kenyan graduate student father only from one brief visit and some letters, and then later, upon his death, from the tales of his African relatives. Obama is fascinated and appalled at the father and grandfather he discovers. He loves his African relatives, but he sees his distance. He declares himself “too busy” to learn the native Luo of his relatives, while a relative chides him for being “too busy to know his own people.” An aunt explains how Kenyan ways have been multicultural for centuries. What then is the meaning of being rooted in Africa? Isn’t there a better way to view relationships across the globe?

He found one link in Chicago. As a community organizer, he needs acceptance by the local ministers. He feels a distance from the Christian church, but he becomes a Christian through the preaching of Reverend Wright, in particular a sermon entitled “The Audacity of Hope.” Despite the emotion with which he describes his conversion, this has all the appearance of a political choice. (For a magnificent interpretation of Obama’s Audacity of Hope, see Charles Kesler’s
in the Fall Claremont Review of Books [subscriber only, so do subscribe!].)

It is fascinating to think that in 2009 the two leading public voices of the left and the right in this country will likely be two black men who needed roots and fathers—Barack Obama and Clarence Thomas. This is an invitation for all Americans to rediscover their roots, as descendants of immigrants and as native-born. It is a struggle between Christian faith and nihilism, between a rooted American and a cosmopolitan.

The first part of these reflections on Dreams from My Father was here.


The folks over at (they do terrific work, by the way) have fun with the idea that John McCain keeps bad company, too--not Bill Ayers, but Members of Congress! And since he works with Barack Obama, he’s only two degrees of separation away from Bill Ayers himself!

Doubting Congress

Our Ivan the K ably defends the proposition that it’s an indispensable part of McCain’s final surge to call attention to how much the Democratic Congress would run amok without experienced presidential restraint. Some experts have been explaining Obama’s surge by a sort of Clinton nostalgia: The last time a smart Democrat was in the White House we had big-time prosperity. But that’s only because he had to deal with a Republican Congress. Clinton’s first two years with the Democratic Congress were a mess.

McCain as adult supervisor

Ivan Kenneally has some advice for McCain: Start selling yourself as the adult who will--as president--supervise the underachievers in Congress.

The Market

A sign of stabilization in the market: "It was the first time in nine sessions that the Dow Jones industrial average didn’t close up or down in triple digits although it did swing in a 700-point range." It fell 76.62, or 0.82 percent.

Bloggers Talking

Some of our own NLT Bloggers are getting together over dinner (next Thursday, Oct 23) to talk about the election. Although it is a dinner, we mean to have a good and informal conversation among ourselves and the two hundred plus who are coming. If you are in the area, come on over and join Lawler, Ponzi, Knippenberg, Hayward, and Voegeli. Call the Center at 419-289-5411 for reservations; ask for Linsey Bruce.

"Plumber Rich" and Proud of It!

Here’s the transcript of Sarah Palin’s interview on Rush Limbaugh’s show today where she discusses her affinity with people who are "plumber rich" and all good Americans who only want the freedom to get there--or beyond it--someday. Whatever happens on November 4, Republicans will do well to remember that there are only two reasons why McCain isn’t 20 points down in the polls right now. One of them is the weakness of Barack Obama. The other is Sarah Palin. She and the brand of conservatism that she represents aren’t going to go away--no matter who wins this election.

Home Schooling . . .

. . . will be a growth industry during a Barack Obama administration, opines Andrew Breitbart.

Rock Star Politics

Maybe it takes a rock star to figure out how to combat an opponent who thinks he is a rock star.

Soak the Plumbers! Obamanomics 101

A plumber in Ohio wants to know why Barack Obama thinks it is a good idea to punish him for fulfilling the American dream. Why is he being taxed more and more for every success he achieves in his business? "Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?" the plumber demanded to know when given the opportunity to question Obama.

In response, Obama offered the following: "It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too. My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody ... I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody."

Not so fast. Does Barack Obama really care about the people who are behind this plumber or does he, instead, want to make sure that the plumber stays behind his ultra-rich constituency? Robert Frank offers some insights into the factors driving the support of the ultra-mega rich toward positions that seem, on their face, to go against their interests. We know that the ultra-rich increasingly favor higher taxes on the wealthy and tend to spend their time talking about idealistic ways that the government can and should spend tax dollars.

But is it really altruism that drives these patrons of society? It looks to me more like a kind of expensive taste; a "Gucci Liberalism," as they used to say.

Revealing as it is, Frank’s piece doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. He is content to believe that neither candidate will want to tout the results of a survey that shows support for one candidate coming from the "rich" and support for the other candidate coming from the "ultra-rich" in an age where populism rules the day. After all, the "richies" have already decided so the candidates are only competing for the votes of the rest of us. Who among us will consider that our interests are aligned with either category of rich people?

McCain should reconsider that counsel if he reads Mr. Frank’s report. Obama told the plumber that he’s concerned about the people behind the plumber. So Obama wants to tax the plumber (and his richer friends who can afford it) and spread their wealth to those behind and, somehow, this is supposed to improve the economy for everybody. Well, that’s poppycock and we know it. The truth is that he’s protecting his buddies above the plumber from the competition of folks like the plumber. This plumber and other small businessmen like him need to learn their place, pay their taxes happily, and keep their mouths shut about issues that are (obviously) beyond them. They can’t understand things noble causes like caring for the environment or health care justice. They only know things like plumbing and how to grub out a living. If these guys are not taxed heavily, then they might grow their businesses and then expand into real estate or other sectors of the economy. Their children may become lawyers, professors, or politicians. Their families might become very wealthy and then (gasp!) they might begin to expect that they can associate with the likes of Barack’s patrons!

Like Jed Clampetts (only of a more hard-working than lucky variety), these rubes might tote their guns and their God into Martha’s Vineyard or Beverly Hills and upset the whole social order with their small-minded politics. The plumber’s kids, if they don’t just stay put in the plumbing business, should take Michelle’s advice, go to college (on government grants, of course), learn from the faculty there how to become Democrats enlightened, and then work in the non-profit sector so that they don’t interfere with the high-minded efforts of their betters in the classes patronizing Barack Obama. If they’re lucky, maybe they can write a couple of best-selling auto-biographies.

A populism, rightly understood, would explain to the American people why there are those who want to see their hard work and success punished and who, exactly, they are. And it would also encourage those behind the plumbers to understand that their real friends are not those who want to patronize them with favors from the government, but those who are happy to have them come along--as employees or as competition--in a truly free economy.

Why Do Electors Have to Go to College?

Here are some elementary reflections on how this endlessly fascinating and fake-controversial institution works these days by ME. It goes without saying that it doesn’t look like this election is going to generate any EC controversy at this point.

Who Knew. . .

. . . that you’d get good political analysis from Howard Stern. Here he trips up voters by attributing McCain’s positions to Obama, and no one notices. . . or changes their vote. Truly cult-like.

Gerard Alexander remarked to me last night that, if four or five years ago, you had predicted that we’d soon see a presidential campaign suffused with self-conscious messianic fervor, you’d be certain that it would come from the religion-soaked Republican Party.

What Did Obama Know About Himself and When did He Know it?

“When classmates in college asked me just what it was a community organizer did, I couldn’t answer them directly. Instead, I’d pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White house, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in the Congress, compliant and corrupt. Change in the mood of the country, manic and self-absorbed. Change won’t come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots.

“That’s what I’ll do, I’ll organize black folks. At the grass roots. For change.”

In this self-deprecating account of how he came to his calling, Barack Obama now identifies this choice as “part of that larger narrative,” more an “impulse, like a salmon swimming blindly upstream toward the site of his own conception.” But now his whimsy, written when he was 33, has become his signature theme! (Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance [1995, 2004], 133-134). Who’s he snickering at now?

As a politician Barack Obama has been creative and resourceful. But his mind has been predictable in the sense that we have had laid out for us his intelligence and insight, as well as his blindness and hubris-—by himself. Indeed, early in 2008 in A Bound Man: Why We are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win, Shelby Steele saw a tragedy in the making, a Zelig, a protean character who tries to live in too many worlds at once--“an iconic figure who neglected to become himself.” (And of course Sarah Palin accused him of running for president in order to discover who he is.)

But Dreams from My Father is of greater significance than the Palin riff on it; if that were all to it, Obama’s excellent Socratic adventure would not have carried him this far. This elegant, compelling work is a fountain of insight into his mind. (These recently raised authorship issues, while worth pursuing, are not relevant to my analysis.) Since he may well be our next President, we are obliged to ask: What did he know about himself, and when did he know it? The fact that he admits he makes some things up (xvii) does not compromise the book’s importance as his narrative, his love-song to his bi-racial, far-flung family, “an honest account of a particular province of my life.” And in fact Dreams from My Father is an insightful book on race and American life.

In the course of several postings on his book, I’ll compare it with other notable autobiographies, including the recent one by Clarence Thomas. I’ll note the significance of both the Declaration of Independence and of the now-notorious Reverend Wright (his declaration of dependence). I will bring forth the book’s (and its author’s) underlying theme, its post-modern pathos. This intellectual radicalism, not his connections with William Ayers, etc., is the fundamental problem with Obama. His conception of himself and the country he would lead make him misunderstand it. More an Oedipous than a Socrates, he is crippled in his capacity to protect and defend his country.

Overmatched and Dysfunctional

Bill Kristol is right to characterize McCain’s campaign that way in the article Julie links below. But I also note that the advice Bill gives McCain now is quite different from what he was telling him just a week or two ago. At this point, we all have to concede that Mac’s strength is his authenticity, and his weakness is every other area of campaigning--from issues to debating to strategy to raising money to organization. So he has to get back in character, and we have to hope that the result isn’t disaster. There’s little point in the various experts offering any more unsolicited advice.

The most recent polls show Obama ahead everywhere that was studied--including North Dakota--with the exception of Georgia. But the truth is he isn’t that far ahead. Maybe the Stock Market surge will create space for a McCain surge in the mode of Truman or Humphrey or Ford. Even McGovern closed fast and avoided a record lost. Even the MSM gets bored with any guy who’s ahead too easily for too long.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for September

Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Bob Dienhart

Ike May

Annette Tyson

David Cooper

Clark Irwin

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter October’s drawing.

No More Mr. Nice Guy?

Victor Davis Hanson effectively takes apart the notion that the McCain camp has taken a nasty turn and rightly directs his scorn at those elements of sometimes conservative bent who have jumped ship on the grounds that this is all just too "distasteful" for their stomachs. On the other hand, Bill Kristol makes a different argument. His stomach has not gone weak, but his brain is telling him that the legitimate attacks on Obama are not working or, at least, are not working in the way they are being offered at the moment. He suggests that this has to do with McCain’s lack of comfort with the style and a failure to understand the primary and common concerns that will move the voters at this late date in an election. The time for planting the seeds of doubt with Wright, Ayers, et. al. was in the summer. Now he should be reaping the crop. It’s too late for planting. Kristol is probably right about how he should proceed going forward.

UPDATE: Michael Medved has been talking about the notion that McCain should stop his attack on Obama for Ayers/Wright (though Mac hasn’t really mentioned Wright) and other questionable associates and suggesting that this idea is only half-baked. It’s true, he says, that focusing on this exclusively or primarily and sectioning it off from the broader campaign--as though it were not related to the big issues in the race (and right now, the only real issue is the economy)--is stupid. It’s not just a question of who Obama likes to hang out with or have tea with or go to fundraisers with or serve on boards with. It’s a question of what other things they share--like ideas. Noting the similarities between Obama and these questionable people in terms of thinking on the issues is not only fair, it could be effective. Is it not, for example, interesting to note that Bill Ayers’s daughter works for Hugo Chavez and that Hugo Chavez is, as most Americans know, a violent and vocal critic of America and of democratic capitalism in general. Doesn’t that have something to do with the economy? To what extent do the people surrounding Barack Obama agree with this sort of critique of our economic system? To what extent does he agree with it? That said, Medved also very much liked Kristol’s article--especially the part that advises McCain and Palin to open up and get back to that looser McCain style of letting reporters--even when they are in the tank for the other guy--have free access to you and your ideas untethered by a manuscript. He needs to look like he’s having fun again.

Professor Harry Victor Jaffa Turns Four Score and Ten

As numbered by the 90th Psalm, the Master turned four score and ten on October 7. A Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute, he remains active by teaching a class at Chapman Unversity Law School and writing a book on Leo Strauss. Anyone who wants to know and love America needs to devote a significant portion of his life to the study of Harry Jaffa’s words and deeds. A belated happy birthday to America’s teacher, and may he enjoy a wider and even more thoughtful following in the years to come!

Yuval on the Real, Fundamental Difference on Health Care

...between our two candidates. McCain’s plan levels the playing field between employer-based and other sources of health care. Say, as Biden often does, that your employer really does spend $12K on your health care. Without the tax break, he might not want to do that any longer. Then, it follows, he would give that compensation directly to you in salary. Instead of paying you in insurance, he’d pay you in salary. So you could expect, say, a 9K raise. Plus you’d receive a 5K tax credit or subsidy from the government for insurance (which it could afford because of the increased tax revenue that would come from taxing money spent on health care). You’d end up with maybe 14K to spend on health care for your family, with a wide variety of private options from which to choose. You could afford to choose to have private, affordable, portable health insurance. Health insurance that is much more really YOURS.

NOT ONLY THAT, Yuval explains how Obama’s plan would be a magnet pulling people away from employer-based health care into a system run by the government.

Let’s hope that McCain goes on the offensive by laying out these specifics and aggressively accusing Obama and Bidening of being extremely misleading the public when it comes to comparing the two plans.

Sarah on Abortion

Well, here’s a very eloquent speech she gave, which very accurately shows how extreme Obama’s record is on this issue. Would that she could have used this evidence in the debate with Biden, challenging Joe to talk about the real differences between the two Democratic candidates on this issue. Joe, of course, really thinks ROE was some kind of compromise, is for outlawing partial birth abortion, and is against federal funding of abortion. Why wasn’t she ready and able to do this? I suspect it wasn’t her call.

Random Observations

1. You don’t have be a big-time social scientist to know that, as long as the stock market bleeding continues, McCain’s will too.

2. The election today would be a landslide. And a lot of the election IS today (and yesterday); a huge amount of early voting is going on.

3. It’s very possible--almost likely--that the early voting will carry Obama to victory in Georgia. He’s within the margin of error in the most recent poll. Senator Chambliss, the most recent studies show, has even less chance of holding on.

4. The Republican blame game today is mainly on how McCain isn’t a true conservative. That’s true, of course, in this sense: He doesn’t really "get" the characteristic conservative take on domestic issues. Mac didn’t make a secret of that, and he won the nomination as a "warrior" opposed to the waffling Romney who could do nothing more than articulate our "interests."

5. But, truth to tell, Mac’s hyper-patriotic convention speech doesn’t speak at all to the anxious concerns ordinary Americans have today. WELL, maybe it could in this way: I want to a lead Americans in the direction of honorable self-discipline. I’m phasing out Fannie Mae etc. I want us to return to the time of 20% down on home mortages, based on an honest appraisal. I’m not against the "rescue" etc. to ease the pain in the short-term, but over the long-term we don’t want overly politicized and insufficiently risk-averse institutions such as Fannie Mae to keep tempting Amreicans to lose all sense of prudence in their personal finances.

6. The average American is complaining that he didn’t really know how risky investing in stocks is. He knew that the market would have its ups and downs. But not like this. The whole 401(k) retirement strategy seems discredited, and people really do want government to do something to make retirement planning less risky.

7. There are lots of articles, including one by a professor in the local paper, that say that the era of neo-liberalism is over. That means that the rough consensus on behalf of market-based globalization that included Clinton, Bushes, Thatcher, and Blair is collapsing. That consensus, of course, is one reason I always preferred Hillary to Obama. But it’s not so clear how Obama stands on "neo-liberalism." Rubin, who really and truly does excel at "trickle-down economics," is an Obama advisor. The leaders in the Democratic Congress are another mattter.

8. The likely result of this election is an extension of 2006. The landslide two years ago was based on the perception of incompetence, cluelessness, and corruption among the Republicans. Well, that perception is back. McCain and our Sarah have responded to the crisis in a way that’s spun by the MSM and actuallly seems, I’m sad to say, clueless, and they’re not exuding competence. The corruption should point to Fannie and Democratic Congressional leders, but the Wall-Street (allegedly Republican) greed "narrative" is carrying the day, because nobody very visible is opposing it effectivley.

9. I was on a great panel discussion on Saturday morning at Georgetown with Gil Meilaender and William Saletan. Saletan really knows his stuff and is a pleasure to hang out with. His take on the election: Don’t worry, Obama is boring. Saletan really is a maverick when it comes to his unusual--yet quite defensible--combination of opinions and insights, which I’ll talk about later. (Nobody inside the Beltway thinks McCain has a chance, and everyone agree that this Ayers stuff ain’t working.) Gil, of course, is great too, although not so obviously political. The event was sponsored by our Dr. Pat Deneen, who will admit over lunch that some of our present woes might have their source in evildoers in the Democratic Congress

Fitting Juxtaposition?

By the way, Peter and I are presently attending the fall regional meeting of the Philadelphia Society in San Antonio (I’m actually president this year), and we’re holding our meeting across the street from the Alamo. Which someone took note of given the current election outlook--conservatives. . . the Alamo. Sounds about right just now.

Osama for President??

Apparently in New York.

The $250,000 Maginot Line

George Packer’s New Yorker article on the working-class voters of Ohio contains an illuminating exchange – more illuminating than the author intended. He spoke with Barbie Snodgrass, a single mother who works two jobs in Columbus as a receptionist and cleaning lady. She is barely keeping her head above water on a little more than $40,000 a year. Packer notes that Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver had policy details on the economy and health care, “which seemed tailored to attract a voter like Snodgrass, but they filled her with suspicion.”

Why? Snodgrass did not believe Obama’s promise to rescind the Bush tax cuts for high-income households: “How many people do you know who make two hundred and fifty thousand dollars? What is that, five per cent of the United States? That’s a joke! If he starts at a hundred thousand, I might listen. Two hundred fifty—that’s to me like people who hit the lottery.”

We don’t know what Packer said to Snodgrass during the interview, but he tries to correct her editorially: “In fact, only two per cent of Americans make more than a quarter of a million dollars a year, but that group earns twelve per cent of the national income. Nonetheless, the circumstances of Snodgrass’s life made it impossible for her to imagine that there could possibly be enough taxable money in Obama’s upper-income category—which meant that he was being dishonest, and that she would eventually be the one to pay.”

Although Packer is evidently conversant with the Census Bureau statistics and Snodgrass sounds too busy to look them up, it turns out that her fears are more realistic than his reassurances. The data Packer was referring to comes from the Census Bureau’s table showing “Income Distribution to $250,000 or More for Households” in 2007. A little calculator work bears out two of his points. First, the 2,245,000 households with incomes at or above $250,000 constitute 1.92% of the 116,783,000 households in America last year. Second, the $938.55 billion those households received last year amounts to 11.89% of the $7.895 trillion that all American households received.

Neither fact, however, renders the Obama tax and spending plans realistic. The $938.55 billion received by the households making more than $250,000 can be broken down into two parts: They get $561.25 billion to get from zero dollars per year to $250,000 per household; and then they get $377.30 billion in excess of $250,000 per household. The petty cash drawer Obama and Packer want to reach into to pay for new and bigger social policies doesn’t have $939 billion, but only $377 billion. That’s not 11.89% of all household income; it’s 4.78%.

$377 billion also represents 13.8% of total federal outlays in Fiscal Year 2007. Even if an Obama administration could capture every one of those 377 billion dollars for the U.S. Treasury, the effect would be to modestly augment what the federal government is already doing, rather than dramatically expand its role and presence in American life, as FDR and LBJ did.

But, of course, Obama can’t and won’t tax all, or most of those $377 billion. In the first place, much of this $377 billion is already taxed by the federal and state governments, meaning that the portion of that money left to be captured by new federal taxes is considerably less than $377 billion. In the second place, a 100% tax bracket on income over $250,000 will yield zero revenue – this is the one postulate of supply-side economics that no one disputes. Third, Obama is proposing what his top economic advisors describe as merely “partial rollbacks” of the Bush tax cuts for families making more than $250,000. The top tax bracket, for example, would return to 39.6%, not the 70% that greeted Ronald Reagan in 1981, or the 90% bracket JFK encountered in 1961. The revenue stream to the Treasury from such tax increases will be a small fraction of $377 billion per year. Fourth, the Obama campaign proposes tax cuts for people making less than $250,000 per year that will cost the Treasury less than the tax increases on the rich folks will bring in, “making the proposal as a whole a net tax cut,” according to his advisors. A net tax cut is a difficult basis on which to enact a net spending increase.

Candidate Obama promises to close loopholes and tax havens, and to “go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less.” This reformulation of Ronald Reagan’s promise in 1980 to scour the budget for “waste, fraud and abuse” is certain to be as futile. The federal government does its share of stupid things, of course, and its share of things stupidly. But every one of those things has a tenacious constituency defending its favorite program, a constituency that rightly believes presidents come and go but interest-groups fight forever . . . and prevail.

An Obama victory in November appears likely. It appears even more likely that an Obama presidency has already been pre-trivialized by the nominee’s contradictory campaign promises. He should have turned to Barbie Snodgrass for advice.

The Anointed One

“Reality-based community,” according to Wikipedia, “is a popular term among liberal political commentators in the United States. [It] was first used to suggest the commentator’s opinions are based more on observation than faith, assumption, or ideology. . . . Some commentators have gone as far as to suggest that there is an overarching conflict in society between the reality-based community and the ‘faith-based community” as a whole.”

One Obama worker, however, must have missed a memo. Donna Steele, campaigning for Obama out of Service Employees International Union headquarters in Ohio, was asked by the New Yorker’s George Packer how she would make the case to working-class voters who were wavering between McCain and Obama, or thinking of not voting at all. She said that McCain would tax health benefits and cause oil prices to increase, but, “I think gas prices are going to miraculously go down because of [Obama’s] policies. . . . When something good happens, faith has a positive effect, the aura of it. It’s called hope, faith, and it’s change, and you get enough people together and it’s massive change.”

Re: Random Observation #5

Concerning Peter’s Random Observation #5 below--yes, the stock market is really bad. I’m not a rich guy, but I crossed the six figure loss mark several weeks ago, and you don’t even want to know how ugly today’s 700 point loss was. I won’t know to total for another half hour yet, until mutual fund prices settle and are posted for the day. BUT, I’m drooling. Remember Warren Buffett’s axiom that the time to buy is when there is blood running the street and everyone else is panicking. He’s been waiting ten years for this moment, and that’s why he’s now buying up GE, Goldman, Constellation Energy, etc. Remember that shareholders have been beating on him for years about holding 40 to 50 billion in low-return cash. Just wait, he said.

Even if there is a really deep recession, the risk level now being priced into stocks and bonds is absurd. See this piece by my pal Kevin Hassett on just how absurd it is getting.

So yes, I have been buying stock every day this week, a little at a time. I’m still getting pounded of course and am almost out of new money to throw in. But the stock market has never turned in a negative ten year return even during the Great Depression. I figure I’m going to get a great return. I did in 2002 when I threw in big both times the market dipped to 7,500 or so.

And hey, if it doesn’t work out, my losses will allow me to escape Obama’s intended higher tax rates he wants to throw at me. So it’s win-win either way!

FRIDAY UPDATE: Looks like I’ll be going with the tax loss strategy!

Random Observations

1. I’m up in the DC area, but haven’t gotten in the Beltway yet.

2. But I did get two emails this afternoon with something like this message: McCain’s housing scheme is nuts. It now looks like Obama is more the more fiscally conservative of the two socialists running.

3. My quick reponse: But Obama with a Democratic Congress...?

4. We really do need some straignt and smart talk about what happened to our economy. It’s not going to come from our national candidates, it appears.

5. This may seem dumb and obvious: But this stock market thing is really, really bad. It’s in a way worse than 1929, because ordinary Americans are now so dependent on the price of stocks for their future. And talk about a force beyond the ordinary guy’s comprehension and control...
There are limits to what might be expected from personal responsibility.

Forget Your Father’s "Dreams" . . .

. . . how about some good old-fashioned "Wisdom" from our fathers or, failing that, from our grandfathers? Victor Davis Hanson offers some today at the close of an article discussing the lessons to be learned from the financial mess we’ve all created: "Save your money. Don’t borrow what you can’t pay back. Look first at a man’s character, not his degrees. And if a promised return on an investment seems too good to be true, it probably is." Good advice like this is hard to come by these days because we have gotten out of the habit of understanding it. It is even harder to take such advice when we have gotten out of the habit of desiring to deserve our gains more than we desire the gains themselves. But perhaps, in the end, this mess will have a chastening effect as the baubles of illusory gain appear more and more illusory and it becomes clear to more and more people that the only reliable way to achieve some level of material success is to put the bulk of one’s effort into the service of deserving it.

Judges, International Law, and the Next Administration

Peter often brags (deservedly) about the notable accomplishments of Ashbrook Scholars. Here is another post that he can add to his bragging list. Deborah O’Malley, an alumni of the Ashbrook Scholars program has joined the ranks of the legal center at Heritage. She just published a timely op-ed discussing the Supreme Court’s unseemly attraction to international law, and warning that this trend could get worse if advocates of "transnational" jurisprudence like Obama advisor and Yale Dean Harold Koh were to join the court.

The defense offered by Justice Breyer for his invocation of international law is fairly weak, and O’Malley calls him on it:

Justice Stephen Breyer insisted that the "enormous value...of trying to learn from the similar experience of others" justifies giving weight to foreign laws. It’s particularly valuable, he says, when addressing human rights issues. Why? Because "you’re asking a human question, and the Americans are human -- and so is everybody else."

It is rare that one sees the "I’m a Pepper; he’s a Pepper; wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?" theory of constitutional adjudication. Yet this approach appeals not only to Justice Breyer, but also to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who admonishes that we "can join hands with others" by paying homage to international law.

Humor aside, the trend to rely upon international law is a major issue for the Court, and it should be a major consideration for the candidates to address. Definitely worth a read. 

Another Way to Pass Time During the Age of Obama

The Lingerie Football League??? Be sure to scroll down for the CNN video excerpt: "No, I don’t feel exploited at all." Must be one of Bill Clinton’s core constituency.

In the Age of Obama. . .

. . . it just might come to this. (A YouTube video--very funny; just 1:32 long.)

Smart Money or Tax Planning?

Now THIS is interesting: last night someone plunked down $140,000 on Intrade that Obama will lose. Does someone know something, or is this speculator simply hedging with a bet that will provide a big tax loss?

Near the Bottom?

An interesting analysis of where the housing sector and trade deficit are right now.

Hat tip: Richard Starr/Weekly Standard.

Pre-Mortem Postmortems

1. Well, the web is full of them. David Brooks allegedly said somewhere very recently, for example, that Obama would win by nine. That’s close to the predicton he made at Berry last April and one I made for different reasons in August. David said that the election would be close until the last couple of weeks, when there would be a sharp break one way or the other. The issue: Is Obama up to the job? If he shows he is, he wins. If not, McCain is a solid alternative. Well, David might say, if asked today, that the economic crisis just caused the break to happen early. I still 1980 is most relevant analogy. This election could morph into something much worse if the Republicans get too dispirited and their bases get de-energized. Still, there remains the ghost of chance that the early break will fade. The election in 1980 occured just the right week for Reagan, maybe this week is Obama’s peak.

2. Evans and Novak say the Republicans nominated the wrong candidate. A guy with high-powered economic expertise could carry the day for them. Well, until the economic crisis, it was thought that only McCain among the Republicans could win, because he could play the maverick card. And mobody much feels the love for Mitch. It is true that, knowing what we know now, Mitch might be a real match for Obama under these exact, unforeseeable circumstances.

3, Ivan the K suggested to me that one gimmick McCain might try now is to say he’ll make Mitt his Secretary of the Treasury/Bailout Czar. And then send him on the road for cogents partisan (yet still true) explanations of what caused and what can cure what ails us financially. I really think this would have more promise than screaming Ayers and Wright, although I still doubt it would work. Mitch could rule on the health care issue. He got it done, so to speak, in Massachusettts.

4. Any fair person has to admire the way Obama has negated McCain’s foreign policy advantage. He hasn’t said anything McGovernite or even European in a while, and it turns out to be an advantage for him that he doesn’t have much of an official voting record.

5. Good news: Rasmussen reports that McCain and Senator Chambliss have significantly widened their narrow leads in Georgia. And Al Franken’s lead is now within the margin of error.

Statistic Du Jour

Via Richard Epstein:

Pray tell, what patterned principle dictates that we should have 12% of all mortgages made to low-income borrowers in 1996, 20% in 2000, 22% in 2005 and 28% by 2008?

Ayers, the real issue

Many people have suggested that Senator Obama’s long-term working relationship with William Ayers suggests that Obama is more of a Lefty than he lets on. But it seems to me that, the real scandal is, as the New York Times reminds us, Ayers is not far out of the mainstream of the Education school. That’s why Mayor Daley reports that "he has long consulted Mr. Ayers on school issues."

Such rot as there is in the U.S. today begins largely at school.

Is Main Street Really "Bailing Out" Wall Street (or anybody, for that matter)?

Steven Malanga writes a must-read piece on the reality of who pays what in our convoluted tax system today. All the shrieks of outrage from politicians eager to exploit the disgust of voters for the excesses of Wall Street neglect the following fact: "Many Americans probably won’t pay a cent of the cost of this bailout. That’s because a rapidly increasing percentage of U.S. households legally pay no income taxes, and many others pay so little in taxes that they already get back more from the federal government in services than they send to Washington." As Malanga says, if you want to see who is really paying for the bailout (and most everything else) you need to drive through the area where the mansions are in your town.

While this information ought to cause some number of pitchforks to be lowered, it also ought to cause some deep questioning of our tax policies--to say nothing of our spending. Malanga notes, "Of the 138 million households who file tax returns, only about 16 million, or 11 percent, earn enough to pay more to the feds in taxes than they get back in services."

Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain are promising any kind of tax reform that seeks to reverse this trend. Indeed, according to Malanga, Obama would increase the number of households not paying any federal income tax to 44% while McCain’s plan comes in at just one percentage point lower. As we move ever closer toward a situation where more and more people have a "stake in growing government entitlements" and fewer people contribute to the financing of these entitlements, at what point do those paying the freight begin to ask, "Since when did it become just for me to work while you eat?" They will, trust me, find ways around such a disproportionate tax system . . . none of which will be of benefit to those of us most in need of their best efforts.

Malanga sums it nicely: "That’s a prescription for a static economy largely bereft of opportunity. On the other hand, we probably won’t have to worry about volatile markets in such a world." Indeed. Welcome to the stability of stagnation.

The FDR Strategy

In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt, and a sympathetic Congress, passed laws that kept the Depression going which, after blaming the rich for not investing, he used to justify more laws that kept it going still longer. All that was following what Hoover did. Am I the only one who worries that we could wind up making the same mistakes?

The classic understanding of the Depression is that it was exacerbated from Recession to Depression for three reasons:

1. The Federal Reserve not backstopping a major financial freeze (they kept waiting until it was a "real crisis")

2. Hawley-Smoot tariff hike.

3. Tax hikes in a futile effort to balance the budget in bad times.

The Fed has avoided mistake number one. I fear both candidates, plus the new Congress, will do two and three.

Arthur Schlessinger once said, "There seems no inherent obstacle to the gradualadvance of socialism in the United States through aseries of New Deals.”
Each step represents a further weakening of our liberty, and ain’t good for the economy either.

The Real Downside of American Productivity explained by ME. These remain the best times ever to be young, smart, pretty, and industrious, but I’m starting to notice that we all get old.

Polls Apart?

Steve H. is right to say that today’s polls don’t seem so bad for McCain. He’s still within the margin of error more than not. The CNN poll on the debate show, I think, that Mac may well have been right not to have been tougher on Obama than he was. Even his tentative forays caused him to be judged less likeable than before, but not more of a leader. McCain has to go the authentic, honorable, character route, which is somewhat incompatible with even perfectly legitimate negative camapaigning. McCain is doing as well as he can do in the debates, and Obama, unfortunately, has mastered his new unthreatening, centrist demeanor. Mac is the candidate we have, although not the best imaginable one in our situation, and at least he’s unlikely to tank completely. That means there’s more than enough uncertainty not to declare the election over. Other good news, two of the weakest R senate candidates, Dole of NC and Stevens of Alaska, are now both up 1.

It Ain’t Over. . .

. . . until the fat lady sings that it’s over. Or something like that. In today’s news you can use, today’s tracking polls show the race tightening again--what’s up with that?

An arrest has been made of the person who hacked Palin’s private e-mail account. Son of a Democratic politician in Tennessee.

And Larry Johnson marshalls the evidence that Obama is indeed a real socialist. Caveats in order, though: Johnson was so far in the bag for Hillary that he couldn’t see daylight by the end of primary season. He’s also the guy who wrote in July 2001 in the New York Times that there was little or no prospect of a terrorist strike occurring inside the U.S. Right, Larry. And why should we still listen to you?


I didn’t watch the darn debate. Did something fun instead. Experts say it was boring and muted. Highlights for McCain seem to be holding his own on health care and a classy closing statement. Boring equals safe and Obama wins if he comes away a safe choice. Not a game changer, maybe not even a bleeding stopper. It’s almost always the case that the first debate sets the tone. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I get around to watching the whole thing.

The Secret Word

Was the word "liberty" spoken in tonight’s debate?

Tonight’s debate

Again, not a "game changer." Barack Obama was good enough to hold his advantage, and John McCain not good enough to diminish it.

McCain had an opportunity to pin some of the blame for our current woes on the Democrats in Congress--the same Democrats, he could have said, who chair committees now and will be even more influential should Obama win next month--and, while he didn’t exactly blow it, he didn’t exactly forcefully hammer it home.

That Other Sort of Depression

We haven’t seen a lot of great comedic writing about the ongoing credit crisis. Megan McCardle, however, reminds us that economics is, ultimately, a branch of psychology. She then unpacks the various psychological tendencies that piled up the kindling for the financial markets. One of them is "optimistic bias," which she defines: "People tend to be overconfident about their own abilities and the outcome of their plans. Something like 90% of people think that they are above average drivers less likely to get into an accident than the average joe. This is so pervasive that there is actually a scientific name for the few people who accurately assess their own future, their abilities, and what other people think of them: clinically depressed."

What is a "School Reformer"?

Sol Stern takes up the substance of "reforms" proposed by the likes of William Ayers. The Annenberg Challenge and Barack Obama’s association with it sound innocuous enough on the face of it. If the only objection were that Obama had been "paling around" with a bad guy (Ayers), held a fundraiser in his home and happened to serve on a board with him--it would be one thing. It is certainly enough to show that Obama lied when he characterized Ayers as just "some guy in my neighborhood." But the real question must be to what extent does Barack Obama agree with the thinking of William Ayers? Obama has denounced the terrorism for which Ayers remains unrepentant. But will he denounce the praise Ayers lavished on Hugo Chavez? Will he denounce the agenda Ayers promotes of getting schools to teach that America is an inherently racist and militaristic country with a capitalist system that is inherently unfair and oppressive? Does Barack Obama support that narrative? It is a fair question given that it now appears that the foundation for which Obama and Ayers worked did support such a view of America.

So the real question for Obama is not so much "Who are your friends?" but, rather, "What do you believe about America?" Is it really unfair to suggest that his associates provide us some clues on that score?

Has the Bleeding Stopped?

As usual, I don’t really know. I will say that two of three tracking polls that include 10/6 have McCain within the margin of error. And the newest polls from the battleground states do too. The econmic news, of course, remains really bad, and McCain really hasn’t gotten his anti-Obama message down yet. So I think there’s reason for hope, as there’s also reason to fear a Democratic landslide. I agree with Mike Murphy that the three McCain talking points about Obama should be--too weak, too liberal, too inexperienced. To be balanced, let me add that if I were Obama, here would be my three McCain points--too old, too unbalanced, too Bushie.

BLOODY UPDATE: The Gallup tracking now has Obama up by 9. And he is up by 15 in PA. Things aren’t get better, and they may be getting slightly worse.

Any Openings for McCain?

As we look back, a cycle of the McCain campaign is discernable. From roughly mid-July to the week after the Republican convention McCain was running circles around Obama on a daily basis, culminating in a slight lead in the polls on early September after the Palin nomination.

But with the financial crisis obviously the wheels have come off the Straight Talk Express Bus. Right now McCain-Palin think Obama is vulnerable on the fact that many voters still don’t know that much about him, and especially how left he may or may not really be. Fine and dandy, but it may be too late for this to work. I suspect Obama has a strong answer in the can to use tonight about William Ayers if McCain brings it up. Will McCain have a hide-ripping riposte?

Suggestion for McCain for tonight: Go after Obama on the union card-check wish list. McCain should say that Obama wants to take away union members’ right to a secret ballot--an issue that polls 90-10 against among union households, and allow union goons to show up at your house to "help" you fill out and turn in your card. Why hasn’t the McCain campaign made an issue of this at all? Baffling.

As Ohio goes....

This WaPo article describes the results of a poll showing Barack Obama leading John McCain in Ohio.

These numbers could be turned around, but the strategy for doing so--making Obama himself the issue--is high-risk, with little margin for error and no more (perhaps even less) prospect for success.

Congressional Approval Ratings

The Harry Reid/Nancy Pelosi directed Congress now has an approval rating of just slightly less than 17% . . . Nearly 76% of the American people disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job.

These are numbers that would be very interesting to me if my name were John McCain. It’s fair to say that the "Republican" brand is weak because of the low approval numbers for President Bush. But his ratings, low though they are, outdistance the ratings of Congress by more than the spread between Obama and McCain.

Pete Wehner argues, among other things, that they should be pointing out the ways in which a President Obama would work in association and agreement with Reid and Pelosi.

Sarah’s More Right Than Joe on Judicial Activism

...says ME. That’s because one party nominated lawyers, and the other aimed higher.

One Economic Argument for McCain

1. The national polls have Obama at 50% or better and an average of about 7% over McCain. The senate polls suggest a real possibility that the Democrats could win 62 seats, including MN, MS, and GA. That would include Senator Al Franken (who hasn’t even been funny for a decade), a possibility that deserves but will not get a hilarious SNL skit.

2. One reason can be seen in the article from the WaPo below: Obama seems to be more competent when it comes to things economic, his advisors more expert, etc.

3. But the author of said article may have a clever "subtext" that "subverts" what he actually says: The evidence suggests that deregulation is not the real cause of our financial crisis. The main damage came from the risky business of the intensely partisan and hyper-regulated Fannie and Freddie. The main danger is that the crisis will produce an angry and really completely misguided overreaction against deregulation.

4. Obama himself could conceivably be prudent enough to manage that anger and not come forward with too many perverse new policies. But Obama with a heavily Democratic Congress? Wrongheaded animosity is bound to run amok in Congress, and a Democratic president can’t be expected to control it. The Democratic Congress, as the author says, will deeply compromise what MIGHT be the personal prudence of the president and his advisors. A united Democratic government is bound to mess up the economy more.

5. So the only way to really manage wrongheaded animosity is to elect McCain, who will veto the most outrageous overreactions. This position will become much more credible if Mac exhibits a lot more economic competence and more real sense of the causes of the crisis. The economist who wrote the POST article seems open-minded enough, for example, to be turned around.

Fun with Anagrams

Did you know that "Obama-Biden" offers up the following anagram: "Bomb an Idea"? I’m working on snipping up and rearranging a bumper sticker and lawn sign now.

I’m open for entries for McCain-Palin.

Fannie, Freddie, and us

No shill for the McCain-Palin campaign, the WaPo’s Sebastian Mallaby shows how the Obama campaign’s deregulation narrative is either stupid or mendacious.

In so doing, he cites two papers written by Columbia University economist Charles Calormis. I’ve read the second one, not (yet) the first (which is 113 pp. long). Suffice it to say that the deregulation of the financial services industry by Republicans in the last eight years is obviously not the problem. On the other hand, a major contributor is Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s management of "political risk," which involved enormous lobbying expenditures and the adoption of a new mission--the aggressive promotion of affordable housing--that ensured Democratic opposition to Congressional efforts to rein these GSE’s in.

Here are two snippets from the second paper:

In June 2003, in the wake of the failures of Enron and WorldCom, Freddie’s board of directors suddenly dismissed its three top officers and announced that the company’s accountants had found serious problems in Freddie’s financial reports. In 2004, after a forensic audit by OFHEO, even more serious accounting manipulation was found at Fannie, and Raines, its chairman, and Timothy Howard, its chief financial officer, were compelled to resign.

It is eloquent testimony to the power of Fannie and Freddie in Congress that even after these extraordinary events there was no significant effort to improve or enhance the powers of their regulator. The House Financial Services Committee developed a bill that was so badly weakened by GSE lobbying that the Bush administration refused to support it. The Senate Banking Committee, then under Republican control, adopted much stronger legislation in 2005, but unanimous Democratic opposition to the bill in the committee doomed it when it reached the floor. Without any significant Democratic support, debate could not be ended in the Senate, and the bill was never brought up for a vote. This was a crucial missed opportunity. The bill prohibited the GSEs from holding portfolios of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities (MBS); that measure alone would have prevented the disastrous investment activities of the GSEs in the years that followed. GSE immunity to accounting scandal is especially remarkable when it is recalled that after accounting fraud was found at Enron (and later at WorldCom), Congress adopted the punitive Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which imposed substantial costs on every public company in the United States. The GSEs’ investment in controlling their political risk--at least among the Democrats--was apparently money well spent.


The events in 2003 and 2004 had undermined the legitimacy of the GSEs. They could no longer claim to be competently--or even honestly--managed. An important and respected figure, Alan Greenspan, was raising questions about whether they might be creating excessive risk for taxpayers and systemic risk for the economy as a whole. Greenspan had suggested that their most profitable activity--holding portfolios of mortgages and MBS--was the activity that created the greatest risk, and three Federal Reserve economists had concluded that the GSEs’ activities did not actually reduce mortgage interest rates. It was easy to see at this point that their political risk was rising quickly. The case for continuing their privileged status had been severely weakened. The only element of their activities that had not come under criticism was their affordable housing mission, and it appears that the GSEs determined at this point to play that card as a way of shoring up their political support in Congress.

From the perspective of their 2008 collapse, this may seem to have been unwise, but in the context of the time, it was a shrewd decision. It provided the GSEs with the potential for continuing their growth and delivered enormous short-term profits. Those profits were transferred to stockholders in huge dividend payments over the past three years (Fannie and Freddie paid a combined $4.1 billion in dividends last year alone) and to managers in lucrative salaries and bonuses. Indeed, if it had not been for the Democrats’ desire to adopt a housing relief bill before leaving for the 2008 August recess, no new regulatory regime for the GSEs would have been adopted at all. Only the Senate Republicans’ position--that there would be no housing bill without GSE reform--overcame the opposition of Senators Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), the banking committee chairman, and Schumer.

The GSEs’ confidence in the affordable housing idea was bolstered by what appears to be a tacit understanding. Occasionally, this understanding found direct expression. For example, in his opening statement at a hearing in 2003, Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.), now the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, referred to an "arrangement" between Congress and the GSEs that tracks rather explicitly what actually happened: "Fannie and Freddie have played a very useful role in helping to make housing more affordable, both in general through leveraging the mortgage market, and in particular, they have a mission that this Congress has given them in return for some of the arrangements which are of some benefit to them to focus on affordable housing."[12] So here the arrangement is laid out: if the GSEs focus on affordable housing, their position is secure.

I suppose I can hope that a President Obama won’t do the what he’s promising, that he is simply saying what it takes to get elected. But I suspect that much of what he says (both awful and not-so-bad) falls into that category, which is to say, we’re not getting much guidance for what he’s going to do from what he says he’ll do. Reminds me of another eloquent and "empathetic" Democratic politician.

The Presidency and the Courts Conference

Down in Cincinnati--trying not to get in anyone’s way--stage being built, sound, lights, never mind the Secret Service--as Roger works his prudence. The scribbled sign behind me reads "T-1, One day to POTUS." The President’s speech will conclude the conference and you can listen to him and the rest of it live by going here:

Give Me a Bleeping Break!

Sarah’s accusation of Obama’s association with a terrorist, as an isolated campaign point, will surely hurt more than help. The advice coming from the WEEKLY STANDARD and elsehwere that the campaign can be turned around simply by going negative on Obama the man is ridiculous. The comparison between this election and 1976 is pretty weak: Obama is far superior to Carter, and Ford was a fairly trusted and respected incumbent. McCain’s ghost of chance would come from showing that he understands the real cause of the financial crisis in fairly partisan Republican way (which means implicating the Democrats), taking on Biden’s lies on judicial activism (while showing that Obama is far to the left even of Biden on abortion etc.), defending in detail his quite defensible health-care reform as real and desirable change, getting real tough and specific on the real differences between the two parties on energy policy (which means embracing the Palin let’s do everything policy), trumpeting the dangers of a very liberal united government (taking people’s eyes away from Obama’s baloney platform and toward what a very liberal Democratic Congress would actually do and roll back), and driving a wedge between Obama’s and Biden’s record on war, foreign policy etc., showing, from the record, that Obama is actually pretty much of a McGovernite, and generally attack politically correct boboism on the level of "cultural" and educational policy. Right now what people really think is McCain doesn’t have a clue and Obama does, and going after Obama’s character isn’t the ticket at this point. None of this plays to McCain’s strengths, but it’s still all about ways he would be a better president than Barack, despite Obama’s obious intelligence and, so far, tactical and strategic superiority as a compaigner.

The end of prosperity?

Apparently Niall Ferguson wrote this just before Congress passed the bailout bill, but it seems to me to be one of the clearest pieces I have read on the international economy and how the crisis may have been averted. I think it includes a pretty good explanation of the cause of the Great Depression and how our situation may differ. 

Also note this morning’s news that Europe’s four largest economies have rejected a joint strategy on their bank crisis. The Germans and the Brits insisted on going it alone. Note that the other EU members were not included in the discussions.

VP Debate Makes No Difference at All

That’s the conclusion of the Rasmussen study. Biden was judged the winner by almost exactly the margin separating the two presidential candidates at the moment. with partisans on both sides saying almost unanimously their guy or gal won. The only interesting stat: Palin comes out much higher than Biden on both the Very Favorable and Very Unfavorable front. Clearly she really has solidified the base, but she hasn’t converted many undecideds.

Sowell on Fannie, the Democrats, and the Crisis

Thomas Sowell reminds us of the large role government pressure played in the explosion of the subprimes. He also reminds us of the many close connections between Fannie Mae and the Democrats, not to mention how much Fannie has contributed to Obama in just a few years and the role the mismanager Franklin Raines has played in advising his campaign. The narrative of the unregulated free market being the cause of what ails us doesn’t hold up that well under close examination. McCain has to understand and use this stuff to restore morale and credibility to his campaign. He shouldn’t exaggerate it, but just say what’s straight-talk true. He should also, of course, lay off the earmarks.

What Sowell says is basically confirmed by the long and meticulously researched article on Fannie Mae in the Sunday NYT. That article doesn’t mention the connections with Obama etc., but if you read it carefully it’s clear what really happened.

Why Obama Might Really Carry Georgia

McCain’s comfortable double-digit lead has dropped to only six, according to the latest study. And Obama is clearly organized in the state, and McCain isn’t. Here’s a conversation I overhead between two average white businessmen at the local PANERA this morning:

First guy: "I’ve already voted. I just don’t like what’s going on."

Second guy: "Maybe I’ll vote for Bush for dictator. Don’t you think it’s sketchy he wanted to give $700 billion dollars with no strings to someone he appointed?"

First guy: "I had to cancel a trip this week because I couldn’t get any gas. That damn [Republican Governor] Sonny Perdue should have had a plan ready, but he didn’t." [There’s been a severe gas shortage in Georgia, with almost all stations out at times. And the charge that the governor decided not to have an emergency plan ready is semi-true, as far as I can tell.]

Whatever the true facts might be in each case, it’s clear who’s been blamed and why.

Opening Up a Mortal Wound on Obama? (Updated)

The New York Times attempts to dismiss the notion that Obama and unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers have a close relationship. But read closely the article raises more questions than it settles, many of which have been more thoroughly investigated by Stanley Kurtz’s NRO columns and other writings. McCain touched on the issue once a few months ago but failed to follow through on it.

As vital as it is for the McCain campaign and its supporters to focus on facts and ask pointed questions, it is also incumbent on our side to shoot down crazy allegations, which are readily refuted and discredit those raising the real problems of Obama’s associations. In a recent talk WSJ reporter John Fund referred to Obama as a potential "facilitator president"--one who would appear moderate but make possible the wildest dreams of the most extreme leftists, through funding their non-profits or appointment to lower-level government positions.

Stanley Kurtz skewers the article on NRO today.

Language analysis of Biden/Palin debate

According to CNN something called Global Language Monitor says that "Gov. Sarah Palin spoke at a more than ninth-grade level and Sen. Joseph Biden spoke at a nearly eighth-grade level in Thursday night’s debate between the vice presidential candidates." It turns out that newspapers are written on a sixth grade reading level, while "Abraham Lincoln spoke at an 11th-grade level during his seven debates in 1858 against incumbent Stephen A. Douglas in their race for a Senate seat from Illinois." Liberman was next highest, then Reagan, then Kennedy, then Palin. Here is the site for the "media analytics and analysis company." I wonder if the Gettysburg Address (circa 280 words, only 32 or so are Latin based words, the rest Anglo-Saxon) would come in at about a third grade reading level? Amusing.

"Corporate greed"

Yes, I’m tired of hearing that line from people who should know better. But when was the last time you heard a defense of corporate responsibility (i.e., creating more wealth for shareholders) from the corporate world? If those who are getting the brunt of the criticism aren’t willing to defend themselves, don’t expect politicians to do the dirty work of defending every twist and turn of the capitalist/free market system. It’s the equivalent of defending Sen. Larry Craig’s rights in the name of protecting the dignity of the U.S. Senate.

Wine Review: Palin Syrah!

I cracked open my first bottle of Palin Syrah tonight, to accompany a BBQ grilled, butterflied chicken, Alton Brown-style.

An unusual wine--full bodied in color and texture but at the same time light on the palate. And while dark, it was also quite clear--it has been filtered. I thought it would open up more with some air (like our Sarah), but not much. Not at all tart! But very drinkable and enjoyable. Solid, I’d say. Especially at a mere $12 a bottle. Maybe not a wine to make you wink at the world, but I’d definitely recommend it. Liberal wine snobs will definitely turn their nose up at this wine, just as you’d expect them to. It’s a wine for the rest of us.

NB: There is no vintage year on the label; must be a blend of more than one year’s grapes. Hmmm. . . This could be symbolic, too. A wine for more than one year? I expect so. . .

Bar Stool Economics

Our tax system explained.

President Bush speaks at our conference

The Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs and The Cincinnati Lawyers Chapter of the
Federalist Society are co-sponsoring a conference on The Presidency and the Courts on Monday, October 6th, in Cincinnati. The panelists include: Charles Miller, Wendy Long, Robert Alt, Jeffrey Sikkenga, Louis Bilionis, Ed Whelan, Doug Cole, Michael J. Gerhardt, David Forte, and Paul Clement. Former Attorney General Edwin Meese will speak at lunch and

President George W. Bush will speak in the afternoon. It is fair to say that it will be a great conference (see the themes of the panels) and then to have the President, who has done so much good for the Federal Courts (think of his Supreme Court appointments), talk about his judicial philosophy is about as exciting as it gets! His trip to Cincinnati is mentioned in today’s White House Press Briefing.

Yuval on Biden’s Self-Confidence

Just about every time Joe sounded really sure of himself, he was saying something that just isn’t true. That’s not an insignificant talent, and one Sarah still needs to acquire. Levin is especially concerned about the truth about McCain’s portable, affordable, and sustainable health-care plan. Sarah, of course, didn’t saything really to counter Biden’s mischaracterization. I think that’s in part because some decision had been made not to make a big deal out of any real change in our anxious times. But Mac needs to get Yuval on board before the next debate--or at least he needs to get this article in the highest priority part of his briefing book.

The Symbolic Constitution

Several commentators have noted that Senator Biden does not seem to know that the legislative branch, not the executive is article I of the constitution. Moreover, he does not know what jobs the constitution assigns to the Vice President: John Hinderaker conventinetly highlights Biden’t mistakes:

Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history. The idea he doesn’t realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that’s the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.

And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there’s a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.

The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he’s part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.

Biden, a longtime liberal leader of the Judiciary committee, is trying to make a technical argument. The trouble is, he, like many liberals, he does not know, or perhaps even care, what the constitution says in exact detail. He knows platitudes about separations of power, and, as a longtime Senator, that the Vice President can cast a deciding vote. He does not seem to know much beyond that. For someone who believes in a "living constitution," the actual text of the constitution, of course, is a secondary consideration. Instead, they take platitudes about liberty, equality, and separations of power and the like, and reinterpret them to suit what they thing the needs of the day are.

I am reminded of Senator Obama’s comment about going to the UN after Russia invaded Georgia. The details of the UN Charter matter less than what he takes to be its fundamental aims. Senator Obama seems to believe in "living" international law.

First-class Intellect and Termperament

Those are the qualities, according to Charles Krauthammer, Obama has displayed, and they have trumped questions about his experience and convictions. He certainly has passed the "Reagan threshold" of 1980. Charles’ column is, in fact, "defeatist."

The general pundit consensus on Sarah this morning is that she won by not losing or losing badly. She no longer deserves to be ridiculed and all that, and she still will get the job done of energizing the base. But she did nothing to substantially change the character of the campaign, and she certainly said nothing to make Joe or Barack sweat.

The remarks of Mickey Kaus Peter links below are, as usual, astute and fair and balanced. He says Sarah helped herself but in no way hurt Obama, which was, finally, her job. He also says that Biden seemed pretty authentic, which, I will add, he also seemed in his convention speech.

David Brooks, who’s also authentic and astute in a somewhat confused way, surely exaggerates when he claims that our Sarah
achieved DEBATING PARITY with their Joe. He does well in reminding us that her debating strategy was to present her ticket and especially herself as a RADICAL ALTERNATIVE by severing all ties with the Bush administration. Mavericks never look back. To me, that strategy is a Hail Mary pass if there ever was one. Mickey and David seem to agree that our Sarah has a promising future, but that future is probably not now.

Sarah vs Hillary

For those of us who like to pretend to look into the future and talk about a Sarah-Hillary contest in the next cycle or two, I note Mickey Kaus’ comment: "Big loser, again, is Hillary. In two years Palin will be so much better she won’t even be in the same league."

Experts Say Palin Exceeds Expectations

The instant experts (such as Gergen and Holmes on the CNN webpage agree that Sarah exceeded expectations and held her own. Strangely enougn, Biden is being underrated a bit (in my opinion) by the MSM at this point. His was certainly a strong performance, probably on an objective scoring system the best of the four. At this point, in the spirit of the shameless self-congratulation of NLT, I praise myself for saying that Barack and Mac each made the best possible choice in running mates. But I still say nothing happened that will initiate another McCain surge, and he better be able to defend his health policy in his next debate.

UPDATE: ON the same webpage, we now have the CNN instant poll. It shows Biden winning the debate, but not by an overwhelming margin. Palin is judged much more likeable, but Biden by a large margin more qualified to be president. This doesn’t confirm the "stomping" theory of jwc on the thread below, but it does confirm my view that nothing happened to stem the trend in the Obama/Biden direction. So, unfortunately, I’m inclined to agree with the jwc judgment that McCain will be very, very lucky to get within 5 of Obama again.

ONE MORE UPDATE: The CBS poll showed a decisive win for Biden among undecided voters and that the debate gave the Democratic ticket a small but real bump. I have to say, ever ready to modify my judgment in light of new evidence, that the voters seem a bit more pro-Biden that most of the experts.

Palin’s Lost Opportunity et al.

She did not tag Biden on judges, and the wacky world view which liberal lawyers occupy. Here’s where Sarah’s good sense plays well. Probably the McCain polling showed no profit on the subject. As Bush finally did on Iraq with the generals: fire your pollsters and hire others. And, concededly, the format stifled development of the issue.

The issue that the courts point to: Do we want the most leftist ticket in American history (of major parties) to take control of the Presidency and Congress, and subsequently the Supreme Court? Someone needs to sound the alarm, which the McCain camp’s themes don’t raise.

All this "maverick" talk reminds me of the individualists who comprise "the herd of independent minds." It reeks of process and style and avoids substance. Is eccentricity a virtue?

Michael Barone addressed the election to a group at the White House the other day. He gave the group no encouragement whatsoever.

I am more optimistic: Once the bailout/rescue bill passes, McCain’s numbers should stop tanking. (If McCain had a chance to lead a revolt defeating it, that would have been another thing.) But he needs to strip Obama of his moderate mask and make him the issue.

Finally, McCain could get a boost from President Bush, who will receive obligatory poundings from McCain-Palin. Conscious of his low approval ratings, the President has pulled back from the political scene--which has been the theme of his second term disasters, when he failed to calculate the political consequences of his policies and decisions: Iraq, Katrina, and immigration, for openers. The result of this shrinking of the executive branch has been to convert our regime of separated powers into a parliamentary one. Parliamentary regimes directly translate the passions of the people into policy and law--with disastrous consequences. Fighting his instincts and his past practice, Bush has to be pulled back into his constitutional responsibilities. That activity may not avert a Katrina for Republicans and a dark night for America. But it is Bush’s constitutional duty.

She Was Great

Only caught the last half-hour, but from what I heard, she was great.

More thoughts tomorrow. Long day; I’m going to bed now.

Sarah Palin passes the test

My quick reaction is this. Lawler’s comment below is entirely sensible, although the comment about this not being a "game changer" I question for two reasons: There are two many variables to talk about one thing being a game changer (largely because of the economic conditions and the confusing political realities circling them); second, Palin was perfectly sensible and was able to reveal her disposition toward the questions. In other words, her character was revealed enough so that those who may have started to drift from her will come back. The base that she brought back when she accepted the nomination will come back to McCain now. The fact that she was a bit nervous is not the issue, that is normal. The fact that she was pretty good substantively and gutsy and not as artificial in her manner as expected by some (the over-coaching effect) is entirely to her advantage. She will, again, be seen as the normal--read, more like us, less like the Washington types--person in the campaign which is, especially important for, for example, mid-Western folks. People like her and relate to her. In this sense, she has done good work for the McCain campaign. By the way, I thought that Biden was very good, perhaps the best I have ever seen him. But his running mate is Obama.

Our Sarah and Their Joe: Both Good

I said before that I thought McCain and Obama both did well. But I enjoyed both Sarah and Joe more. Biden was quick and well informed and did very well in dissing the Bush administration and connecting McCain to it. He was somewhat boring but no windbag and behaved like a gentleman. Sarah clearly didn’t know quite enough to "call him out" (as she said) some of the times he was quick and loose with some facts. But she was feisty and folksy, was prepared, kept her cool, and performed admirably for someone, as she said, who’s been on the national stage for only five weeks. It was more her night than his, I would say. My guess based on no facts: If this debate had been a couple of weeks ago, Americans would have given their hearts to Sarah and declared her the winner. But they might be going with Biden because they’re starting really to buy the idea that Barack is safe and needed change. I doubt the debate was a "game changer," but I bet it stopped Mac’s bleeding, at least.

What Palin Should Do

Jennifer Rubin offers some solid and specific advice for Sarah Palin to use in tonight’s debate. I especially like her second point: "hone in on the dangers of a tax increase during a recession" and do so making good use out of Biden’s claim that paying high taxes is patriotic. She should talk about the high spending proposed by Obama/Biden and ask how that will help our troubled economy. She might also make good use out of the fact that Biden is such a tightwad when it comes to spending his own money on charitable causes. And then, top it off with questions about this story (h/t: Michael Medved’s show). Isn’t it interesting that both of the guys on the Democrat’s Presidential ticket have managed to avoid getting into mortgages that were over their heads even as they managed to get into houses that were beyond their means? Gee . . . I wonder how they did that? They must both be some kind of real-estate geniuses.

GOP bleeding and the VP debate

John Hinderaker�s opinion on the GOP drop in polls, and tonight�s debate, is entirely reasonable. It may be odd (even unheard of?) that a VP nominee could stop the bleeding in one evening. No pressure on her at all, I would say.

No Predictions

I have no idea how things will go tonight for our Sarah. I’m inclined to agree with the idea that she’s got a case of the jitters, like a pitcher with a blazing fastball and wicked curve brought up quickly from the minors who is roughed up in his first start by a Manny Ramirez line-drive through the box. Reagan had some bad outings in California back in the 1960s when he was first getting started, but he was not on the national scene. I also suspect some of the McCain people, being conventional political consultants, are trying too hard to turn her into Henry Kissinger overnight instead of playing to her strengths, or worse--they may have been slightly jealous of her popularity and wanted to keep her under wraps so McCain could keep the limelight for himself.

My half-case of Palin Syrah wine arrived yesterday. Alas, I’m going to miss the debate altogether, so I’ll have to give my review later on. I suspect it is a "full bodied and tart" wine. Tonight I’m attending the world premier of the documentary film Do As I Say (based on the Peter Schweizer bestseller) because, well, I’m in it--somewhere. (You can hear my voice briefly on the trailer, but no pic. I’m told I get some decent screen time.)

Things Look Really Bad

...for McCain now. The RCP map is now 353 for Obama, and MaCain’s favorable rating is slipping. Mac is clearly behind now in all the key battleground states, with Obama opening up big leads in Florida and Virginia. The big switch in the last few days is voters between 50 and 64 who say they fear that a combination of White House and Wall Street criminal irresponsibility has threatened their retirement. Right now, truth to tell, such people would much rather have the security of an old-fashioned pension than a shrinking and shaky
These are times that favor railing against deregulation and the promise of paternalistic competence. People are already voting in Ohio and elsewhere, which is sure to help the better organized Democrats. The advantages of Mac and Sarah--their characters--seem a lot less important right now. If McCain could choose a running mate tomorrow, he’d surely go with Mayor Bloomberg, who would have been booed out of the convention way back then. (Lieberman, of course, wouldn’t have helped then or now.)

Whoa! Penalty Flag At Least

So I’m flipping channels, and I happen upon MSNBC’s new Rachel Maddow show, and she’s doing a segment on conservatives who have turned against Palin (David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, etc), and much to my surprise, there was my photo and name (misspelled-"Stephen"--common mistake) as being among those conservatives in the list.

I must have missed this article. Have I been sniffing too much glue? When did I do this?

I’m wondering how to register a complaint with MSNBC. Probably a waste of time, given how far gone they are.

UPDATE: Video now up on the MSNBC site. My Post Office mug and name come up about the 1:15 mark.

A Pox on My House??

That’s the title I gave to an op-ed I wrote for a local paper, reposted here.

For a less, er, "creative" title and a picture of my ugly mug, go here.

Happy Birthday Jimmah

If people supposedly get wiser with age, maybe we can still hold out hope for Jimmy Carter, who turns 84 today.

But probably not. Over to you, NLT Southern Command, Knippenberg and Lawler.

Scarcity and Decade Analysis

The so-called challenges of the 21th century getting you down? Then go back to THE SIXTIES with ME.

What Role Did the Media Play in the Popularization of Loose Lending?

Steven Malanga of Real Clear Markets and the Manhattan Institute tells a convincing narrative about how the notion that it should be "ok" to give loans to people who may not be able to pay them back got a foothold first, in our politics and next, in the banking industry. I don’t know why I am surprised to see that it may have come from the media--in fact, I’m not--but I am surprised to see such a clear and direct link established. Malanga shows that a prevailing journalistic meme from the early 90s regarding the injustice of local banks to minority lenders, gained popularity through the assistance of deeply flawed computerized model. It was developed, primarily, for lazy investigative reporters and a desire to duplicate the Pulitzer Prize winning efforts of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for it’s story on the theme.

These sets of stories accusing banks of blatant racism took hold--despite severe criticism from academic reviewers who questioned the validity of the model and its use of incomplete data. Eventually, they began to affect the political climate in Washington and a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston seemed to lend some credence to the general theme of these newspaper stories--even as it proved them to be greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless and despite severe criticism even of this study from independent researchers as well as an FDIC economist, government went on a campaign to encourage banks to lower their standards to make more minority loans. Of course, the standards had to apply to all . . . not just minorities.

In the midst of this and to convince banks to accept this new regime, sophistry followed. All sorts of clever arguments were developed to explain why up was down and down was up. Banks bought it--no doubt, in part, because the competition was buying it too and there was a lot of money to be made . . . for the time being. In addition, when Freddie and Fannie began easing up on their standards for mortgage purchases, the housing market boomed and banks were only too happy to embrace these new standards. Moreover, those CEOs who did this with the most gusto, like Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide, were heralded as geniuses and pillars of the community. They were honored and celebrated to such an extent that it is hard to imagine the case of whiplash they must be suffering now.

It would be wrong to say that the media is to blame for the mortgage crisis. But I think Malanga ably demonstrates that what is to blame is a kind of misplaced and compassion-driven logic that patronizes the needy at the same time that it inadvertently victimizes them. It is the story of the last 60 years (or more) of American politics.

Character vs. TV Competence

Joe Carter gives an eloquent case for our Sarah against her conservative critics. The comparison with the unfortunate Admiral Stockdale is a bit confusing, though. Sarah’s TV incompetence remains puzzling. I thought the interview with Charlie was mostly fine. Why has she gotten worse? It’s not just the liberal media and all that.

The Cheering Stops (and the Drinking Begins)

Craig shared with us a very disturbing study. Obama has large leads in the key battleground states--including Ohio and Florida. The reasons given for his surge: the debate, confidence in Obama’s economic competence, and growing concern over Sarah’s competence.