Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Debate

Claire and I watched the debate last night between Barack Obama and John McCain and, in general, thought that both men did well, with Obama doing a bit better, in expressing themselves and their vision for leading the country. Obama was a bit clearer in how he would handle the current economic mess, while McCain stuck to vowing to eliminate earmarks; a good start, but not much of a solution. On the other hand, the right answer to the question of how the economic crisis will affect either man’s plans as President is: “Well, pretty much everything I’ve been promising is now off the table. Sorry.” Nobody was willing to say that, however.

I want to note something that relieved me, which was McCain’s vow to outlaw the use of any sort of torture in our interrogations. His running mate said some criminally stupid things about Obama wanting to coddle terrorists during her inauguration speech, but it’s no surprise that McCain understands the worthlessness of information gained during torture. Torture is a tactical failure and a moral cancer; it puts our troops at risk and hands a propaganda victory to our enemies. It is very reassuring to hear that both candidates will outlaw torture if elected President, especially at a time when we’re finding out that the sitting President has authorized these practices.

In terms of foreign affairs, the two men were closer allied than they wanted to admit. The “time frame for withdrawal from Iraq” that Republicans bashed Obama for calling for has now been called for by the Iraqi government as well. And because the surge has gone better than expected (realism here seen as unpatriotic), McCain’s bluster about “losing” if the United States leaves Iraq to the Iraqis is beginning to sound delusional. Lastly, it’s hard to believe that either man would differ greatly in dealing with Iran or Pakistan if elected.

If Obama did well enough to “pass muster” in the debate, McCain wasn’t so far behind him. The main problem he had was that it’s clear that he despises Barack Obama. His attempts to repeat the claim that Obama “just doesn’t understand” were somewhat effective, until Obama spoke and demonstrated that he did understand whatever topic was at hand. McCain already gave up “foreign policy experience” as a talking point by electing a novice as VP, so he had to keep quiet on that, while Obama was free to make “judgment” a talking point, a good strategy given McCain’s bizarre and alarming diva posturing over the last few weeks.

Throughout, McCain was reduced to grumbling sullenly as the young hotshot demonstrated a semblance of gravitas that he lacked himself. Whenever Obama would give an answer and McCain would chuckle derisively or make snide comments, I was reminded of Hillary Clinton doing the same things during her debates with Obama; it didn’t work for her either.

I have a sense that the world is in the process of historical change- one could argue that the 21st century is just now beginning. I am doubtful that Obama is really the agent of change that he claims to be. But it’s hard to listen to McCain rehashing Reagan’s talking points and not hear the fading voice of the twentieth century.


Holly said...

I did not watch the debates, I can't bear it. But I have a question about what you've written here. You say that the right answer is all bets are off about other issues until the financial crisis is resolve, and what I am wondering is, why has the campaign up until now been willing & able to ignore that elephant in the living room. I saw this coming months and months ago when the mortgage industry shat the bed, and I am no kind of economic expert.

So... did everyone just decide that as long as it was middle/low income working class who were losing their homes, this was all probably going to be OK, but now that it looks like people who were making money hand over fist could lose *their* holdings, it's an emergency?

Or were the candidates well aware that this was going to happen (how could they not be?!) and continued to play with the rest of the band as the iceberg cut a giant hole in the ship?

Rufus said...

Well, the answer in DC seems to have become, "Don't worry about it. We can always borrow more money if we have to!" I think that neither candidate is really prepared to deal with this crisis. And, to be fair, a lot of people didn't know how bad it would be- the bank failures caught many experts off guard- and we still don't know how bad it will get. Again, I'm worried that the bailout will just be throwing good money after bad.

In general, it looks like McCain has no idea what's going on- his plan, again, is to cut out earmarks, which is good, but not nearly enough. He has no new ideas for this specific problem that I can see. Obama still plans to tax the wealthy more heavily, and otherwise not to worry about the deficit, which he doesn't see as being as important has economic inequality. He also doesn't seem to have a plan B for dealing with this specific problem. So, both of them seem to be steeped in a DC culture that sees all spending as good and necessary. I don't know a lot of politicians who seem steeped in reality. Actually, Ron Paul has been talking sensibly about all of this, although I think it's unnecessary to go back on the gold standard.

But, this is what I want every American to get tattooed on their right arm: "Deficit spending is also a tax increase". People are always glad that the politicians vow not to raise taxes, but when they still raise the debt by billions and spend freely, that means that you're eventually going to get taxed!

The Pagan Temple said...

Actually, cutting out earmarks is not a good idea. It's easy to point out a relatively few bad ones and disparage the whole concept, but by and large they add to the economy. Get rid of all of them and you harm the economy.

As for the Gold Standard Ron Paul is touting, that is ludicrous. Back when our economy could be measured in the tens of billions of dollars, or maybe two or three hundred billion, it was fine, but we now have going on a ten trillion dollar economy. We only have a few hundred billion in Fort Knox, which is by far the largest reserve.

Even if the government confiscated all the other holdings in the country (which would probably be blatantly illegal and unconstitutional) it would not be nearly enough.

Maybe if they added silver, diamonds, rubies, etc., a variety of precious metals and minerals to back the dollar, it might go a little farther, but with a ten trillion dollar national debt and counting, I doubt it.

The only way it would come close to working is if you totally eliminated all trade deals and went back to the days of tariffs, and then you've got a whole other set of problems.

Bottom line, one way or another, we are screwed. The only question is will it be one of those screws that last a good long time or will it be a quickie, and I'm not hopeful.

I almost wish they would let the thing crash and burn, it would be more painful at first, but it probably wouldn't last near as long. What they are doing is just geared towards propping up the banks and Wall Street. Nobody else is going to benefit from it.

This business about them wanting to keep credit flowing is a blind. Banks make money by loaning it, so even if interest rates rise for a while, most of the people that need loans that qualify will get them, and then after three or four years interest rates will finally start to go back down.

Yeah, it might be double digit interest rates for a while. Yes, it will be hard for some time to come, but its still better than what it is probably going to be if we go the route we seem headed.

Rufus said...

You've got a good point on earmarks. Check out this chart from Foreign Policy on how much of the federal budget to actually goes the dreaded earmarks:

It's a drop in the bucket and a fake solution. Sort of like offshore drilling to solve the problem with gas prices.

The Pagan Temple said...

It's roughly one half of one percent of the entire federal budget. For John McCain to harp on something like that makes him sound like an old man rocking on his front porch yearning for the days when a Snickers bar used to cost a dime. It's ridiculous.

You hear all the time these old people talking about the government spending on some minor project costing two or three hundred million dollars and I think man if you only knew. I just don't have the heart to tell them because sometimes I don't think they could grasp the concept of trillions of dollars. It's not just old people though, a lot of people don't get it.

The oil drilling is a different story. We need as much of that as we can get if we are going to phase over into alternative energy, because that's going to be twenty or thirty years-at least-before we can get to that point. It's more than just getting to the right place with the science, it's as much a logistical problem as anything.

Switching the entire national power grid over to something else is going to be a massive and expensive undertaking. Then there is the adaptations to new kinds of engines in autos, which won't be cheap either. Imagine what the first few million hydrogen fuel cells are going to cost. Quite a bit I'd wager.

Even the construction involved, of things like wind farms, nuclear plants, clean coal processing plants, all the new things that will have to be constructed pretty much from scratch. It will take a few years just to acquire the land and clear it for use. So you are definitely talking about decades, not years, before everything is ready to roll and especially before everything is one hundred percent moved over.

rufus said...

Sure, we're going to need all the help we can get. My point is just that offshore drilling isn't much help. If they started drilling today, production wouldn't begin for at least a decade, according to the energy department. At best, they could get 1.5% of global oil consumption out of all the oil-rich states, in a decade.

Aside from the debt problem, the industrialized western world will face four major shortages in the future: food, minerals, petroleum and people. You're right that we need all the help we can get on oil. But, it will probably be hard no matter how we slice it. Again, it's a matter of an ultimately finite supply and a highly-increased demand.

Holly said...

I hesitate to mention this, but... this would be a terrible time for China to call in their bills with America.

rufus said...

Well, it still would be bad enough for them too that it won't happen for a while. Now, I do think that the arab states are going to start switching to a different currency to sell oil. (And, actually, I think that credit card lending is going to implode before too long.) But calling in the debts now would sink a number of other economies too, including China's. Anyway, when it happens, the government will probably just default and screw them over.

Ah, there's not a lot of good news in this.

The Pagan Temple said...


You're right, it would be like cutting off their nose to spite their face if China was to call in their chips now. As for defaulting, technically the US could do that, but it would kill our credit if we did. Who would buy bonds from that point on? The dollar would take a real big hit internationally.

Of course the main people who would get screwed wouldn't be the Chinese, it would be the American businesses with holdings in China, who would snatch them up and nationalize them probably real quick.