Tag Archives: Obama

On the Obama victory

Let me start by saying that I’m very happy that Obama won over McCain, and I think it’s wonderful that so many people were compelled into action on behalf of their country. It’s also inspiring to see Democracy in action, an entire country throwing out a set of leaders without a drop of blood spilled. I’m looking forward to seeing what Obama will do, and more importantly, what he’ll ask of us.

But as you might expect, I’m also a lot less excited about this than other people who wanted to see McCain lose. The cult of personality that has sprung up around Obama among young people worries me, and I’m not sure it bodes well. For a group of people who hold religious zealots in such contempt, when Obama supporters gather it makes Baptist revivals look rational and sober. The students at Harvard were beside themselves last night, running around screaming and chanting his name. (One undergrad dislocated her knee during the ensuing revelry.) It was a bit scary, seeing Cambridge turn into Caracas during a Chavez rally.

That’s not the kind of country we are supposed to be. We don’t worship our leaders in America, we tolerate them. We don’t chant the name of our next president, we start making fun of him on SNL before he’s even in office. We don’t expect miracles of change to come through leaders, we expect progress to come from us and for our policians to get out of the way.

Obama will come to power, and inevitably not that much will really change. Of that I’m certain. It’s always that way. We have a campaign, and with all the focus-grouped advertising and inspiring speeches, we forget that a president can’t magically create jobs, or make oil cheaper, or reduce the cost of healthcare. The presidency is a small rudder on a huge boat. You can hold up a million signs that say Change, but when you put them in the water, they don’t do much to move a ship like America. The government can shift money around, and can turn insurance premiums into taxes, but it can’t change the great forces at work in the world. It can’t stop the fact that Chinese workers are 100 times cheaper than American labor, it can’t make the banks start lending again, and it can’t make MRI’s suddenly affordable. It can’t magically fix underperforming schools, or rejuvenate inner cities beset by crime.

I’m not suggesting nothing will get done. Policy certainly matters, and in the short term the government can be greatly effective in shifting burdens around. But I am saying that whatever will happen, it most certainly is not worth getting this excited about it. If America is to prevail over its problems, it will require ugly solutions, hard work, brutal sacrifice, a bit of luck, and a lot of time. It won’t come from jawboning about change and patting ourselves on the back for finally electing a guy who can put together a sentence.

I hope that I’m wrong, and that last night’s orgy of self-congratulation was just the relief of a long eight years finally being over. I hope that there hasn’t been a shift in the national cultural skepticism about politicians and the role of government. In my mind, nothing will bring about our failure quicker than the idea that our success lies in the hands of our politicians.

O’ gets an “F” on Schedule D

After the recent PA debate, Obama’s people complained that much of the time was wasted on cheap personal politics. I can see their point, and the moderators seemed to be overcompensating for criticism that the media has been too easy on Obama. However, maybe the reason Obama’s people want us to focus on the personal attacks is that when he was posed a couple of substantive questions about his economic plans, he failed miserably to provide an intelligent answer, or even a direct one. From a recent Wall Street Journal editorial:

But Mr. Obama has also said he’s open to raising – indeed, nearly doubling to 28% – the current top capital gains tax rate of 15%, which would in fact be a tax hike on some 100 million Americans who own stock, including millions of people who fit Mr. Obama’s definition of middle class.

Mr. Gibson dared to point out this inconsistency, which regularly goes unmentioned in Mr. Obama’s fawning press coverage. But Mr. Gibson also probed a little deeper, asking the candidate why he wants to increase the capital gains tax when history shows that a higher rate brings in less revenue.

“Bill Clinton in 1997 signed legislation that dropped the capital gains tax to 20%,” said Mr. Gibson. “And George Bush has taken it down to 15%. And in each instance, when the rate dropped, revenues from the tax increased. The government took in more money. And in the 1980s, when the tax was increased to 28%, the revenues went down. So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?”

Mr. Obama answered by citing rich hedge fund managers. Raising the capital gains tax is necessary, he said, “to make sure . . . that our tax system is fair and that we are able to finance health care for Americans who currently don’t have it and that we’re able to invest in our infrastructure and invest in our schools. And you can’t do that for free.”

But Mr. Gibson had noted that higher rates yield less revenue. So the news anchor tried again: “But history shows that when you drop the capital gains tax, the revenues go up?” Mr. Obama responded that this “might happen or it might not. It depends on what’s happening on Wall Street and how business is going.” And then he went on a riff about John McCain and the housing market.

To be fair, I think the WSJ was a bit simplistic and unbalanced in their criticism, because while capital gain revenue may have gone up when rates went down, that doesn’t mean total tax revenue didn’t decrease. It’s possible that people simply moved money from fixed-income assets into those producing capital gains, and that the reallocation from highly taxed income to capital gains resulted in a net decrease in total tax revenue, the increase in capital gains taxes notwithstanding. I don’t know if that’s the case, but you’d think a competent newspaper reporter might have bothered to find out.

Regardless, the important thing is that Obama didn’t make this case, or any case, for that matter. His first answer was diversionary, and his second was just plain dumb. He essentially said “Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but I’m going to do it anyway.” Great. For what it’s worth, he had a much more reasoned response to these kinds of questions during a recent interview with Maria Bartiromo, so maybe he just had a bad night.

Obama returns contributor’s money

A good friend of mine put me on to a story in The Daily Kos about a nonprofit lobbyist who tried to give money to the Obama campaign (as a personal contribution) but had his check returned. It seems Obama really is serious about not accepting money from lobbyists. This is the kind of thing that has led me to support Obama, despite disagreeing with him on more than a few policy issues. (Ok, virtually all of them.) But honesty is an important policy, too, no matter which party is in office. I figure the folks I ostensibly agree with are selling us out, so maybe I’ll give integrity a try.

The best part about the story? This guy’s wife had automatic payment set up with Hillary’s campaign (who was happy to take money from them) and now they can’t get Hillary’s campaign to stop taking their money each month. Kind of a thinly veiled metaphor for what a Hillary presidency might be like.

How I learned to stop worrying and love Obama

Maybe love is too strong a word. I typically vote for Libertarians and the occasional Republican, and usually consider Democratic primaries like the political version of NASCAR: I don’t care who wins, but enjoy watching the crashes. However, the Republicans have lately forgotten their core values of limited and responsible government, and are spending like drunken sailors on shore leave (back when the dollar was worth something). The most decent man in the race, Ron Paul, was never even given a chance despite being the only one of the lot who actually understands economics or the concept of a republic. On the other hand, the Libertarian party is starting to get on my nerves, as it’s increasingly clear they will never get their act together and be anything more than a loose federation of ineffective idealists drowned out by a core of anti-government shack dwellers who don’t understand the first thing about classical liberalism but simply don’t like paying taxes. Finally, through the dishonesty and mismanagement of decades of administrations BOTH Democrat and Republican (don’t listen to anybody so simple-minded as to tell you that all of our problems are due entirely to Bush) our country is in the worst shape anybody in my generation has ever seen, in virtually every arena possible. You can thank the Bushes for the wars, of course, but you can thank Carter and Clinton for the lax lending policies that were meant to help poor people get homes but ended up turning the middle class into real estate speculators. And we can thank the lot of them for a corrupt government that bails out corporations and throws subsidies at politically powerful industries, devolving us into a perverse version of capitalism where taypayers take on the risks and the owners of capital still reap the profits.

The upside to things being so dire is that they are, in many ways, clarified. In truth, there is much low hanging fruit which honest politicians of any ideology should agree need to be fixed: earmarks, tort reform, corporate welfare, border security, massive government redundancy and inefficiency, etc. People may differ on approaches to economic theory, but I think it’s safe to say that hardly anybody thinks corruption and graft is a good form of government.

From all the partisan rancor, however, you’d think other than baseball steroids and Tibet, all the problems we face are of inscrutable complexity and hopelessly nuanced. But all the partisan heat is just part of the divide and conquer strategy employed by our “leaders” on both sides. Like clever sleight of hand sharps who get you to look at what the Right hand is doing while the Left hand is taking your watch, they hope that if they convince you their opponent is evil, you’ll fail to notice they’re not much better.

At this point, whether or not we have universal health care pales in comparison to whether or not we return to being a society with integrity. It is a common mistake and conceit to think if only we have the right system of government with the right laws, all else will fall into place if we just sit back and watch. This applies to those that think all will be right if we only have more socialism, as well as to those that think more laisez faire capitalism will automatically cure our ills. A government only applies rewards and forces, or the lack thereof. It is a force, not a fate. What matters more, above all, is the value system and cultural dynamics of the people under that government. Capitalism may enable great things, but it is a guarantee of nothing without a society composed of individuals who take responsibility for themselves and their neighbors, and who are thus capable of operating with the trust necessary for free trade to work. Capitalism is merely the absence of interfering artifice, in some sense, and the exposure to natural restoring forces; it will punish a society that does not treat its members with respect and fairness in the long run, but it will not inherently cause anybody to change themselves. On the other side of the idealogical spectrum: to the extent that socialism represents the will of the people to help each other, it is unnecessary, and to the extent that it represents an essential collective coercion of individual actions, it is unsustainable in the long run. I don’t mean to equivocate between socialism and capitalism; that matter is for another time. My point is simply that in either case, the notion that our destiny is in our system is a fallacy. It is in our culture, and a government can either be a road or a bog, but the private sector is the only thing that can do the driving.

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Obama’s speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church

Here is a transcript of the speech given by Obama at Dr. King’s church in Georgia. This is taken from their website, where it is a bit buried, and I figure they won’t mind any extra exposure this can get. These days it’s pretty safe—trendy, even—to speak truth to power, but Obama is the first Democratic candidate I’ve ever seen who has the guts to speak truth to the people.

The Scripture tells us that when Joshua and the Israelites arrived at the gates of Jericho, they could not enter. The walls of the city were too steep for any one person to climb; too strong to be taken down with brute force. And so they sat for days, unable to pass on through.

But God had a plan for his people. He told them to stand together and march together around the city, and on the seventh day he told them that when they heard the sound of the ram’s horn, they should speak with one voice. And at the chosen hour, when the horn sounded and a chorus of voices cried out together, the mighty walls of Jericho came tumbling down.

There are many lessons to take from this passage, just as there are many lessons to take from this day, just as there are many memories that fill the space of this church. As I was thinking about which ones we need to remember at this hour, my mind went back to the very beginning of the modern Civil Rights Era.

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