Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Take on the 2008 Candidates

After reading notes by Joel Sedgeman and Ben Gaulke on the 2008 Presidential candidates, I feel strangely compelled to comment on them as well. This isn't meant to be comprehensive, so if your favorite is left off the list, this means 1) I don't know enough about them to comment coherently, or 2) I don't think they're a serious enough candidate to bother with. I'll leave it to your better judgment which are which.

So, beginning with the Democrats, who (as I'm sure most of you can guess) I have decidedly little enthusiasm for:
  1. Joe Biden: Not a serious candidate, but I agree with Ben Gaulke that he's clearly the best the Democrats have to offer. And he's got the same odds of winning the nomination that I do. If he did, though, he'd have a shot at my vote depending on who the Republicans nominated.
  2. Hillary Clinton: Clearly the prohibitive front-runner. The only serious obstacle to her nomination I can see, barring campaign suicide, is concern about the dynastic implications of having elected Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton for 20+ years. On a personal level, what I find is most of the things I hate about Bush, with few of the redeeming features. In the words of Warren Meyer, "in response to a Republican President thought to be over-reaching, secretive, and overly fond of executive power, [Democrats] seem ready to nominate Hillary Clinton, who may be one of the few people in the country more secretive and power-hungry." Between that and dreading HillaryCare II, it makes me shudder. But at least she wouldn't be a total softy when it comes to foreign relations. She's got the guts to be tough on foreign policy and the political shrewdness to force some much-needed compromises on big issues through Congress (one thing Bush has seriously lacked).
  3. Barack Obama: I feel less compelled to comment much on him, simply because it seems clear to me that his time is not yet come. He's too green (in the experience sense) to be a serious threat to Clinton. Also, a total foreign-policy dope, who believes that "aggressive personal diplomacy" is a talisman which converts unfriendly regimes to friendly ones. I don't see how that's possible, except for values of "aggressive personal diplomacy" approaching "entering negotiations with a loaded gun and an intent to use it on said unfriendly regime's leaders." And that's not particularly likely to work either, no matter how satisfying it may sound to some people. He's also caught in the tough position of being a black Democrat running for President. He's going to have trouble because he'll either be accused of being a race traitor for not being confrontational enough on race issues, or he'll simply be unelectable if he follows the Jackson/Sharpton method. It'll be a very difficult tightrope he'll have to walk to have a shot. Stupid identity politics...
  4. John Edwards: He scares me more than Clinton, because he's a populist Democrat, with a hose-the-rich flavor of politics that could have disastrous consequences if implemented. Also, not only does he want universal health-care, but he wants to make it illegal to opt out of the universal insurance system. Not okay.
General comments on the Democratic front-runners:
  1. They all, to different extents, want to "tax the rich" to pay for everything. Edwards is just more extreme about it. Unfortunately (for the Democrats), it's simply not possible to extract the amount of money they want to from "the rich," particularly not without levels of taxation that will drive them out of the country or into retirement, at which point we'll discover, much to our collective chagrin, that having doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers really does help society function.
  2. They all want to impose single-payer or single-provider health care, which I think is a profoundly bad idea for reasons I'll expound upon at a later date, if at all. If you're interested, let me know and I'll go to the trouble of articulating it.
I have fewer problems with the Republicans in general than the Democrats, but that's not to say I don't have my quibbles.
  1. Fred Thompson: His pre-campaign was great, and his real campaign has sucked. Regardless, he's my favorite of the potential nominees. He's fairly solidly planted in the leave-me-the-heck-alone branch of conservativism that I espouse. I'm a big fan of his tax plan, the best part of which is simplifying the awful mess.
  2. Mitt Romney: Don't really know enough to comment, other than to say that his politics is a little too "religious right" for my taste. I view his health-care and gun control accomplishments as Massachusetts Governor as strikes against him, as well as his newfound switch on many policy positions to those more traditionally conservative. He's a little on the slick side (in the unscrupulous-used-car-salesman sense).
  3. Mike Huckabee: He's taking up the mantle of the "compassionate conservatives," which means he'll just be expanding the size of the government on pace with what most of the Democrats would do. More government bureaucracy - just what I want. Also guilty of the greatest meaningless phrase ever, because it's either oxymoronic or tautological: "I believe in free trade, but it has to be fair trade."
  4. Rudy Giuliani: He's even more authoritarian than Bush and Clinton, and as president, he'd have nobody looking over his shoulder. I don't like that picture, even if I tend to like his policy positions. I think it's dangerous to elect someone like him to the presidency. And I have it on good authority that he's a little crazy, in an "I can do whatever I want" sort of way.
  5. John McCain: I admire his stance on the Iraq war, and he's pretty fiscally conservative, which is good, but I will never forgive him for Campaign Finance Reform. He's a sponsor of the greatest concerted effort to effectively repeal the first amendment's free speech clause since the Alien and Sedition Acts. I will stay home before I reward that with my vote.
  6. Ron Paul: He's a nutcase. Isolationism and the gold standard are neither advisable nor achievable. Give it up, man! On the other hand, his views on health care are the best I've seen, and his overarching philosophy is one I can largely support, which can hardly be said for any other candidate but Thompson.
General comments on the Republican candidates:
  1. Most of them are far too authoritarian for my taste. I realize that this is a common symptom in politicians, but Republicans seem to be trying to make it a part of the party platform. You do not need more executive powers. Shut up and go through due process like everybody else.
  2. They're pretty much all for less gun control, which I think is good, though the point may become moot depending on the outcome of the upcoming DC gun ban case.
  3. I'm also a fan (in general) of the jurists Republicans tend to nominate for the higher courts. "Living Constitution" my foot. It's "living" only in the sense that it contains a mechanism for change - amendment. They tend to do a better job of sticking near the meaning of the text than most of their Democrat-nominated counterparts.
  4. Most are in favor of cracking down on illegal immigration (even Ron Paul!). I have a hard time supporting this. Yes, they're illegal. In the same sense that jaywalking is illegal. It's not a moral thing, just an arbitrary law thing. The vast majority just want to work hard, live the American dream, and give their kids the advantage of being born in the best-off country the world has yet known. Can we really condemn them for that? We need to find a way to let more of them come in legally. We can talk about cracking down once we have a mechanism in place that allows basically anyone in legally who isn't intent on mooching off the welfare system, getting locked up in prison, or going dangerously insane.
Feel free to talk back to me in the comments. I enjoy a good (civil!) debate.


At 12/03/2007 10:56 PM, Blogger David Schraub said...

Welcome back to the blogosphere!

I feel compelled to defend my man Obama, though. The "experience" problem gets bandied about a lot, and frankly, I think it's utterly BS. Obama's educational background is top-notch, and his time spent as a professor (constitutional law at U.Chicago) and community organizer is great. Talking about electoral experience? Come election day, he'll have more experience in elected office than Clinton, Edwards, Giuliani, Romney, and Thompson.

On foreign policy, I think you're being uncharitable, to say the least. If personal diplomacy was the only tool in Obama's foreign policy toolbox, maybe you'd have a fair objection. But anyone with Samantha Power in his foreign policy stable is not going to be a one-trick pony like that (Power might be the single foreign policy thinker I respect more than any other -- she is awesome -- but in general his foreign policy team is fantastic). And I think that personal diplomacy should be part of the arsenal -- effective diplomacy would have been a huge help in dealing with Iran, for example. He's got an A+ score on Darfur accountability, too, which I like -- including sponsoring legislation to send in military force to the region (so he's not a reflexive pacifist).

Finally, on the race issue, I think you'll need to back that up some more, because it's a claim that strikes me as based a lot on assumption and thinly on any empirical evidence. Certainly, Obama hasn't locked up the Black vote. But from my observations, pressure on him from Black Democrats has stemmed from three sources, none of which would require him to be radical. 1) Normal policy disagreements -- Black people aren't automatons, they are perfectly capable of evaluating candidates on merits, 2) The wing that -- bluntly -- thinks that White America will never elect a Black President (they're going Hillary), and 3) legitimate calls for Obama to be more outspoken on issues of racial justice (like the Jena Six case). But speaking out against those sorts of appalling injustices is hardly moving into Sharpton territory (Obama's done a pretty good job defusing this too, e.g., by derailing the Von Spakovsky nomination to the FEC).

At 12/04/2007 8:40 PM, Blogger Randomscrub said...

Thanks for the welcome back.

I must admit to not having looked particularly closely at Obama's record (largely because he's unlikely to get my support based on his policy positions).

My assessment of his (in?)experience was based largely on the fact that he hasn't debated particularly well, and got absolutely skewered on the illegal immigrant driver's license question, which was a question that was fairly obviously going to come up. He has simply appeared, on many occasions that I've seen, to be unprepared for the wattage of the spotlight on him. This may not be reflective of inexperience in more important matters, but they usually correlate pretty well.

His foreign policy plan to deal with Iran also did little to dispel the naive image I hold of him. Yes, he did not speak only of "aggressive personal diplomacy." He also said he'd offer them money and promise not to hurt the regime if they (1) quit fomenting terrorism and (2) give up their nuclear program. Plans like this seem to have learned little from the debacle of a deal with North Korea that let them have their nuclear cake and eat it too.

It seems to me that he needs more exposure to the big stage of national politics before he'll be polished enough to unseat Hillary, and that he simply hasn't been in an elected office high enough up the political food chain to have learned the ins and outs of diplomacy. I figure he'll be ready to give it a better run in 2012 (if the Dems lose) or 2016.

On the race issue, I'll admit that this is very much an outsider's perspective, and I hope I'm wrong, though I've seen little evidence to either prove or disprove my assertion. In my own defense, I never denied that black people would evaluate him on the issues, I merely posited a guess for how such evaluations would turn out based on my assessment of the current racial/political climate.

At 12/04/2007 10:29 PM, Blogger David Schraub said...

I almost never watch the debates, finding them rather useless, but the line I've heard from the pundits (buttressed by the one debate I did see) is that he's been solid but unspectacular. In any event, I care a lot more about what he can do when the camera is off than what he does when its on.

On FP, that's an interesting example you choose for two reasons. 1) The Bush administration reverted to Clinton's approach on NK after pretty much going the straight belligerency route six years prior and seeing that not just fail, but be counterproductive (NK accelerated its program due to perceived US threat). 2) Iran is a particularly awful example because there is a metric ton of evidence that had we been in a more diplomatic mood, we could have swayed Iran to at least helpfulness at a dozen points of entry (not the least of which, Sunni al-Qaeda does not make Shi'ite Iran happy fellows. Indeed, Iran did give us intelligence in our first incursions into Afghanistan, and was open to shuttering its nuke program if we'd only make the right overtures. Which we didn't, because that's not manly enough. Obama's approach, without question, would have yielded better results towards Iran than Bush's.

Experience: You can choose to say that Obama hasn't had enough experience "at the high levels" if you like -- but don't be surprised if I call you out if you turn around and support Romney, Thompson, or (especially) Giuliani, all of whom have comparable or less experience than he does (in fact, even Hillary, who you contrast with Obama, has only a little more time in the Senate and less in elected office generally).

Finally, on race, I think it would be charitable of you to assume that Black voters won't suddenly go insane unless they show otherwise. "Absence of proof in either direction" should be interpreted generously, don't you think (how, precisely, could they even "prove" they won't demand Obama do something "crazy" in the first place? Sign a petition? The absence of noticeable pressure in that direction is proof enough, I think -- until shown otherwise).


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