OUR ENDLESS ARGUMENTS WITH OURSELVES

MONDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2008

OUR ENDLESS ARGUMENTS WITH OURSELVES

[Hint: They don’t come to an end in January, 2009.]

INTRODUCTION

— 4 dirty little secrets, 4 talking points, 4 big issues, and 4 burning crises —

Some think it was Guiseppi Garibaldi, the Italian revolutionary, who said, “The more things change – the more they stay the same.”

Whoever said it, he or she was probably kvetching about some revolution that failed expectations.

They all do.

I can guarantee that – whether you are voting for Obama or McCain – if your expectations are revolutionary, they will be frustrated.

Campaign rhetoric, straight talk or not, must always follow certain rules. You have to inspire, so you are urged to exaggerate. You have to propose, but you are urged not to get too specific. When you succumb to the “dramatic promise” gesture (as in “read my lips, I won’t raise taxes”) you can pretty much be sure you will be screwed by your own words.

And, yes, in this media saturated environment, nothing – I mean NOTHING – can be buried forever. So the game afoot is to bury the skeletons until November 5.

In every presidential election cycle, the candidates talk in circles about issues that approach one or two concerns of actual importance to the country. But in fact, campaign talk is actually designed to seem to address our concerns while actually saying almost nothing of substance.

At worst, the candidates avoid talking about anything that is really important. The game is to sound important and relevant without tying one’s self down to a policy position that will need to be abandoned. As a result, the outcome of the election is often decided by marginal voters who are driven by boutique issues that will never come up in the real world and who are overly impressed by vague themes worthy of a high school class election.

The 4 DL SECRETS

Here are the four Dirty Little Secrets of Campaign 08:

[1] Neither candidate can roll back the seas.

[2] Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain can repeal the business cycle.

[3] Neither can reverse the consequences of a fifteen year credit-real estate bubble created by bipartisan greed, shortsightedness and neglect.

[4] But either or both of them can really screw things up (much as a well meaning FDR did) by making the recovery slower and more anemic than necessary. [The Great Depression could have been reversed in three instead of nine years.]

This leaves us voters in a place where we need somehow to measure a candidate’s judgment, adaptability and willingness to jettison ideology in favor of the practical and workable. Good luck with that. Senator Obama’s resume is full of air pockets and McCain’s only hints at his approach to decision making.

We face an economic crisis, an ongoing terror jihad against us, an energy shortage and a cranky national mood. And that’s just the short list. Here’s what I propose to survey in the rest of this piece wherein I talk about (but fail to solve the problems presented by) the following:

[A] THE CANDIDATES’ FOUR BEST TALKING POINTS;

[B] THE FOUR REAL ISSUES – wherein REALITY is IGNORED;

[C] THE FOUR BURNING CRISES – one or more will burn the incumbent;

[D] WHAT NOW?

Jay B. Gaskill

From a secure, undisclosed location in Northern California

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THE FOUR BEST OBAMA TALKING POINTS

[1] A post-racial solution to racial politics via the candidate himself:

Simply by being African American Lite, i.e., not strident, by projecting his thoughtful, cool charisma and by carefully avoiding all racially heated rhetoric, Barack Obama has succeeded (at least partly) in personifying the post-racial era that his prospective presidency offers to usher forth.

[2] Partisan transformation through the cult of personality and end to the Bush-era:

Again, the charisma is the message. “We are the change we’ve been waiting for” as a slogan, would have been laughed off the stage in any other era. But the change mantra is driven by Bush fatigue and propelled by a particularly charismatic speaker.

[3] Middle class reparations via income redistribution:

This looks a lot like a reworking of the “black reparations” theme, now understated and aimed at a much larger constituency. The “middle class” rhetoric, no matter how that is defined in real world terms, was designed to obscure the Marxist / class warfare look-and-feel of previous political attempts to “take from the rich and give to the poor”.

[4] Soft power internationalism:

This approach has failed historically, even in the middle of an unpopular war (as in the McGovern and Kerry defeats). But now, conditions may favor a “new approach”. The US has been free for seven and ten months from a terrorist attack. In the context of a sudden recession and the three trillion dollar wealth hemorrhage, the resources devoted to a very long term military struggle overseas are resented.

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THE FOUR BEST MCCAIN TALKING POINTS

[1] Middle class empowerment:

This is the upwardly mobile approach, focusing on middle class aspirations to improve ones’ situation through hard work, savings and risk taking. Those movers and shakers with a classic left mindset often fail to grasp just how powerful the “audaciousness of middle class hope” can be. For example, liberal leaders are repeatedly puzzled when opposition to high inheritance taxes surfaces among the “working classes”.

[2] Partisan transformation through common sense, reform and divided government:

This is the “come let us cross party lines” approach, as augmented by the “but I’ve already done that” track record argument shared by both Senators McCain and Clinton. The reform piece is another “look at my track record’ argument. It has appeal, but the lack of specific targets, other than vague references to “earmarks” and “greed” has blunted the cutting edge. But the divided government argument has legs, partly because there is no partisan aisle to cross if this election, as predicted, functionally eliminates the republicans. The one meaningful bipartisan conversation would be the one across the street between the White House and the Congress. The American people have a history of preferring a divided government as the best way to achieve bi-partisan cooperation.

[3] Economic empowerment:

This is classic, red meat Regan doctrine – Reduce taxes, get government off the entrepreneur’s back and let capitalism work, but the McCain campaign so far seems to lack the Reagan gift of street-level explanation. Joe the Plummer instantly made the blue collar version of the case in a way that no blue blood, country club republican ever has.

[4] Steady, experienced national security realism:

This should be a winning argument for McCain, even among a large plurality of democrats, but the whole issue set is overshadowed for now by the financial meltdown.

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THE FOUR REAL ISSUES – wherein REALITY is IGNORED

[1] The Energy Thing

The situation calls for a massive, comprehensive effort to achieve the impossible with an impractical time frame: true energy self sufficiency at a low cost. In the real world, this means that no practical energy source, including nuclear power and local coal and oil resources, can be ruled out on ideological grounds. I’ve addressed the nuclear energy question (and the needed augmentation of America’s electric grid) in a separate article. This could have been John McCain’s best issue. LINK: http://jaygaskill.com/GoNuclear.htm . A candidate who takes this issue seriously would have been about funding and construction timelines.

[2] The loss of American Manufacturing Infrastructure

This is the problem that Ross Perot warned us about. Neither free trade nor protectionism will solve it now. Some form of industrial policy (meaning a massive public/private investment strategy) is probably needed. Neither candidate will touch the issue except in vague, fog-ball rhetorical flourishes.

Industrial policy is populist-nationalistic in essence, and it involves proactive support for key manufacturing and infrastructure elements.

[3] The great immigration flood

Neither candidate chooses to talk about it. I find this truly amazing in light of the overwhelming popular sentiment favoring a major change in the “open door” policies of the last several administrations. The failure of the republicans to take up the issue of immigration without assimilation is the single biggest reason for the lack of conservative confidence in McCain’s “me, too” approach to this issue.

[4] The Trade, Fiscal & Credit Deficit Time Bomb

We hear rhetoric only. Yes we owe China half the national debt. Yes, we’ve promised benefits we can never fund. But how – really – do we get out of this? We hear a resounding campaign silence from both camps. This is because any practical solution involves short term sacrifice, mid term sacrifice and long term sacrifice. The bottom line: The country cannot afford to pamper its boomers and its leaders can’t afford to tell them that right now.

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THE FOUR BURNING CRISES – At least one of which will burn the new incumbent badly

[1] Real Estate Deflation Driven Credit Meltdown

Truth be told, both candidates are thrilled that the current administration and congress get to sweat this one out for now. Neither candidate is willing to say the truth – that real estate prices were too high, and that the government just has to let them fall to meet incomes. And neither candidate has a realistic clue about what to do next.

[2] Collapse of American Auto Industry

Look for a partial bailout of GMC, Ford and Chrysler. But without a massive commitment to nuclear power and a new electric grid, no manufacturer can afford to commit to a plug-in and drive strategy, which is the only technology “on the self’’ that can revolutionize the industry in the near term. A hydrogen powered transportation system? Not for at least 15 years. The economy can’t wait.

[3] Resurgence of Malignant Marxism

Marxism has broken out again in our hemisphere and it is in the interests of China and Russia – and even some Middle East mischief makers – to stoke that particular fire. Ironically, communism, socialism and the other Marxist economic models have failed, yet petro-dollars have given the corpse artificial life. Oil money has been just enough to resurrect this dismal, authoritarian way of life for one more shot at the American jugular. The timing is good for our enemies because we are suffering from an acute form of the “nobody loves me” neurosis, made worse by the post modern multiculturalism that acts like a “guilt virus”. What are the symptoms of this virus, you ask? They include policy ambivalence, addiction to the grand moral gesture and an aversion to self assertion. Will we be cured in time? Stay tuned…

[4] Dangerous Oil Supply Vulnerability

Windmills and camp songs won’t get us out of this in time. Unfriendly dictators and enemies hold most of the energy cards. We’ve dithered for fifteen years, trapped in arguments about boutique issues other than national survival. We need to actually build stuff that works. And time’s up.

WHAT NOW?

Part of leadership is “follow-ship”. This doesn’t mean that policy differences have to be submerged in some sort of national “salute the leader” exercise. But there have been all too many instances in which the current president’s opponents refused to go along with good policy just so the same idea could be repackaged later with different credit.

Let’s leave aside the detailed merits of the bailout (I remain a skeptic about the current approach – you can see what I’ve been saying at this link: http://jaygaskill.com/TheGreatMeltdownOf08.htm ).

The remarkable thing was that congress actually deliberated over a weekend and arrived at a compromise in record time on an immense question with lasting consequences. Ironically, this was only possible because President Bush was a lame duck, thus eliminating any risk that coming together would in any way help the “other” party.

That may or may not ever happen again in our lifetimes.

I hope you feel better.

JBG

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