Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hey Wall Street: Who's Your Daddy?

The professor in me has to start out with the point that our basic structure of popular economic theory, that there is a spectrum from "right" free-market ideologies to "left" socialist ideologies, is badly outdated and has been for some time. All of the large Far Eastern economies, for example, long ago ceased to be fixed on this spectrum. Nonetheless ironies abound as everyone reacts to the meltdown of some of the largest private investment firms and banks in North America. The central irony is that our thoroughly modern generation of positively feral free-marketeers, whose like had not been seen since the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, are now to be bailed out with taxpayer's dollars (700 billion dollars, raising the national debt from $10.6 trillion to $11.3 trillion).
This circumstance outrages leftists and rightists alike, from members of various socialist parties in Italy and Spain to John McCain, who argues that weathering the storm would result in a stronger dollar over the long term, a not-totally-unreasonable argument with the added benefit of lots of populist red meat.
The problem for the ultras of all stripes is not that anybody is willing to sacrifice themselves out of some misguided sense of fairness to Lehman Brothers, but almost everybody (McCain and not all Italian Communists excepted) thinks that letting Freddie Mac go down might do serious enough damage to the economic system itself that it's worth the money to prop it up. I'm not into drama; reading along as far as I can see there's a good chance that this financial evaporation ("evaporation" is more accurate than "meltdown," no?) won't in fact result in major institutional changes.
Here's the irony that I like best, though: It was the Bushies who wanted to effect radical institutional transformation. They wanted to get rid of Social Security altogether. One of the President's major initiatives (a failed one) was to urge Americans to privatize their retirement funds. Driving the federal government farther and farther into debt was seen as a way to weaken it. The ideological project was to reduce the federal government to a more minor player, with more power in private hands. The entry of many more middle-class, individual investors into the stock market, although over-stated by corporate boosters, was a significant movement that was a real victory for free-marketeers. However, years of Republican dominance in Washington chopped away at regulation and oversight - not an ad hominem charge on my part but simply what conservatives proudly proclaim to be their agenda - resulting in the present train-wreck (more fun word than either evaporation or meltdown), and the final upshot looks to be that the hated "State" will end up as major shareholder, no doubt cooperating with the non-rich shareholders that have been treated like fodder by the Bushies and their corporatist supporters. That, in other words, is the apparent accomplishment of George W. Bush: the exact opposite of what he set out to achieve.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Biden Takes the High Road

Joe Biden was exactly right to raise the issue of stem-cell research in response to Republican attempts to portray Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old mother of a Down's Syndrome child, Christian pro-life advocate and opponent of sex education in schools and stem-cell research, as someone who will look out for the interests of working mothers and women in general. Policy, policy, policy: who will deliver a larger share of the wealth to working women, through progressive taxation, safeguarding Social Security and extending health coverage to uninsured people (most of whom are women and children)? The Democrats, and the Republicans actually propose moving in the opposite direction on all of these things. Who would keep abortion, terrible thing as it may be, safe and legal and out of back alleys? The Democrats, Republicans the reverse. Both George H. W. Bush and W. were likely believers in the science of stem-cell research, but both vetoed it because they had to throw sops to the Christian Right for political reasons. Now the GOP VP nominee is part of the Christian Right herself. The good news is that if the campaign is decided on the issues, the Democrats win. The bad news is that, with the exceptions of the Iraq war and oil (not even energy) policy, the campaign has yet to be about the issues after all these months. So, as I said, Biden is exactly right to hammer the Republicans on stem-cell research, and he should not be scared off by phony McCain campaign posturing.
This is important because McCain appears for the moment to have achieved his twofer from the Palin nomination: he has solidified his right-wing base and has also caused some movement of independent and undecided women voters to the Republican column. When the election is as close as this one appears to be even a point or two of movement can swing the election. I didn't think that McCain would gain many women voters with the Palin choice, but I turn out to be wrong about that. I thought that since women voters in general tend to be slightly less conservative and slightly more liberal than male voters, Palin's extremism would turn them off. I think that part of my reasoning was right: if we are talking about undecided voters at this point after the conventions and VP picks, we are talking about voters who may have as strong opinions on issues as anybody else, but who are more likely to be unclear on what the actual policy positions of the candidates are. If they are presented with kabuki theater posturing about who is the more noble Roman, as the Republicans favor, they will vote accordingly. If they are educated about the positions of the parties, as Joe Biden started working on with his remarks on stem-cell policy, we may get a very different outcome. Press the attack, keep talking about real policies. Education, environment, health care.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

More Clarity is Good

One theme I've noticed on my politics blog lately is the need for clear electoral choices, which is a concomitant condition for the possibility of the Democrats defining themselves. I mentioned that Obama ought to state a clear, unambiguous and comprehensive pro-choice position, for example. So I think it might be a good thing if the religious right succeeds in getting out the message that we're hearing from Gary Bauer, Rev. Dobson and the like on why Sarah Palin makes them happy with the ticket. As a GOP congressman explained to a CNN, I think it was, reporter on the floor of the convention: "We teach these virtues (abstinence), but then life goes on." So there you have it: ban education about sex and birth control from the schools and teach abstinence, and let the teenage women have babies as a consequence. The position does not deny that abstinence-based policy may contribute to teenage pregnancies. The conservative position is that these pregnancies are a normal part of life, and to let them happen - oh, well yes, to coerce these events, in fact, by banning not only abortion but sex education. So if that is how you feel about the matter, you maybe should vote Republican, all other things being equal. If not, not.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sarah Harriet Palin Myers

It's a really consistent effect that Democrats tend to think that the Democrats will win and the Republicans are blowing things, Republicans the reverse. Even the most seasoned pundits fall prey to this. Having said that, no matter how I tote up the pros and cons, I just can't see Sarah Palin as anything but a net negative for McCain. There will be a lot of discussion about her inexperience and lack of qualifications (indisputable), and the fact that McCain skipped over so many more qualified Republicans will bring the discussion back to the pandering issue (which will turn out to be a delicate matter, ultimately decided by women voters). The idea seems to be that you get the undecided and independent women voters while simultaneously shoring up the conservative base. The glitch there is that undecided and independent women voters do not appear to be conservative this time around. They want abortion rights, and they are pro-environment, while Palin's signature issues are radically pro-life and anti-environment. As to that, McCain has (inexplicably, to my liberal mind) problems with "movement" conservatives, but if there are two issues where he has been firmly on the Right forever, they are abortion and the environment: thus she adds little to the ticket's conservative profile to anyone paying attention. Meanwhile on the age issue this looks like a backfire to me: most importantly her inexperience forces us to consider the future of an incoming 72-year-old president who has had skin cancer three times, but more viscerally the sight of the two of them looks like an old man with his daughter (girlfriend?), and the undress-me glasses don't help (OK maybe that's just me. My 58-year-old sister wondered what older women would make of a mother of five with a Down's Syndrome infant out running for president).
But on top of all that, this morning I'm thinking this: when George W. Bush appointed old cronies like Alberto Gonzalez and Harriet Myers to high office, he very clearly was expressing contempt for the institutions: to hell with those eggheads and careerists who labor for decades developing the backgrounds to run the government. Lawyers and scientists and all that: all you need is the Bible! McCain has to, at a minimum, run as not-Bush to have even a chance of winning. This is a Bush judgment all the way.