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Live-Blogging the Debate: The Blogs to Read

26 Sep

I’ll be busy at one of the last Fall For the Book readings tonight so I won’t be following the debate as closely as I’d like.  You, however, should follow along with these fine bloggers who will be giving you some of the best foreign policy and political commentary as they live-blog the event:

  • Ned Resnikoff and Charlie Eisenhood at NYU Local: Sweet political barbs from the Big Apple’s progressive, hipster capital.
  • Democracy Arsenal hits you with a right hook of wonkishness and lays you out with a southpaw of firece foreign policy analysis.  Or some other such boxing/defense policy metaphor-combo.
  • Dan Drezner: The man boasts political economy and foreign policy bona fides. If you mess with him, he will cut you.
  • Think Progress: It’s a virtual room full of wonks and twenty-something Beltway progressives, including Matt Yglesias. You don’t have to drink to hang out, but you will have to provide your own booze.
I’ll weigh in with a (hopefully) substative take post-debate, but until then enjoy your Friday.

What Obama’s Economic Argument Should Look Like: The Great Risk Shift

23 Sep

One of the things that seems to be missing from the Obama campaign’s economic rhetoric is a coherent narrative under which he can group his policy proposals .  Citing deregulation, the influence of lobbyists (with strong ties to the Republican party and John McCain’s campaign), and tax cuts for oil companies is a scatter-shot of political sins and policy failures.  But as Ezra Klein observed recently when critiquing an Obama ad, these things don’t really go together in the minds of voters:

But the substance of the ad, the solutions, are a string of disconnected, and fairly unconvincing, sentences. “Reform our tax system to give a $1,000 tax break to the middle class, instead of showering more on oil companies and corporations that outsource our jobs.” This would be fine if McCain were publicly advocating the “Oil Companies and Outsourcers Tax Cut of 2008,” but as he won’t admit to favoring these things, it just sounds like Obama is another politician promising Good Stuff, and no one really believes in Good Stuff. 

Jacob Hacker’s idea of “The Great Risk Shift” would be one, I think powerful, way of thinking about the current crisis and forming a positive argument.  It also has two major political messaging benefits:

  1. Like Bill Clinton’s 1992 message, it tells the voters what the Republicans are doing wrong (they’re shifting the burden of financial risk from other players in the system–who can and should assume their own risk–and shifting it to the middle and lower classes).  It’s the worst features of both Big Government and free-market fervor: regulatory capture, corporate patronage, and bailouts for those at the top combined with little to no oversight to keep markets running smoothly (even if you favor a “night watchmen” for regulatory oversight, it’d be best if that watchman wasn’t asleep on the job). 
  2. It offers a flexible range of policy responses.  The campaign doesn’t have to adopt all of Hacker’s proposals to make the case against McCain’s plans.  You could offer a more populist, John Edwards inspired package under the narrative of restoring safeguards for the American worker as easily as you could a more limited, “iPod government” initiative.

The message of the late 80s and early 90s was that “trickle-down economics” had failed to actually trickle down.  The message for the remaining days of this campaign should be that average voters deserve a governemnt that makes all players in the system assume their fair share of risk.

I Believe in Dylan Matthews

15 Sep

You’ve got to support a guy who is fake-running to be a UC representative at Harvard and references Thomas Carlyle as part of his biography:

In fact, if Thomas Carlyle were to have met Dylan, he would have hanged himself in despair at the impossibility of achieving such greatness. And Thomas Carlyle was a total baller.

Walt Whitman would agree, and Whitman was the OG of American poetry in addition to being a super-pimp¹, so he would know.

¹When you think about it, a good 50% of Leaves of Grass says as much.

Worst Case Election Scenarios: Not So Bad

9 Sep

Jamelle thinks that a popular vote loss for Obama would mean Very Bad Things:

It would – in every possible way – be an utter disaster for our politics.  In fact, I’d rather see McCain win the popular vote and the Electoral College; just so we could avoid the poisonous attacks and Republican accusations of illegitimacy* which unquestionably would follow in the wake of an Obama electoral college win, but popular vote loss.  If Obama wins this election, I want it to be a clear and convincing win; ideally, he’d break fifty percent.  But if that doesn’t happen, fine.  The most important thing is that he comes away from the election having won the more votes than John McCain

Although I agree a popular vote routing would be a heavy political stone to carry right out of the inaugural gates, I don’t think it would be the disaster Jamelle predicts , regardless of Republican rhetoric.  It’s useful to remember here that Bill Clinton only won only 43% of the popular vote–that’s 57% of the electorate who voted for someone else.  It didn’t seriously inhibit Clinton’s early policy goals (a good case can be made that the bungling of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hurt Clinton more in his first 100 days than his lack of popular support). And four years later Clinton captured just under 50% of the popular vote.  

Politically, if not tempermentally, the country is still relatively split, and this election is going to be close like the past two presidential elections.  I think it’s safe to assume that neither Obama nor McCain would win with a large enough margin to be called a “mandate.”  Obama is still favored to win, but not by much more than 3-5% of the popular vote.  If McCain wins it’s likely to be even closer, so either candidate will have to make some sort of bid for public political unity.  I think Obama is in a stronger positon to do this than McCain, whose “maverick” brand has been tarnished and would come to Washington trailing a Republican establishment heavily invested in Nixonland politics.  The Democrats will certainly have their work cut out for them, but Obama’s political skills and charisma–not to mention disaffected moderate Republians and Bush fatigue–would go along way to greasing the legislative wheels in his favor.

Two Quick Takes on Canadian Politics

28 Aug

Well, not Canadian politics exactly, but the politics and views of Canadians.  From time to time, I like to click through the Canadian political blogosphere.  It’s an interesting contrast to the terms of debate in America–both the literal terms (the Conservative party is more moderate than the Republican right; the Liberal party is further left of center ) and which issues are a priority north of the border.  And then sometimes there’s a bit of dissonance:

If I am being branded a social neo-liberal, then I suggest the right do their homework a little more. I am a small “c” conservative, and I utterly reject social progressivism, except perhaps in the case of hereditary rights. I do not believe in progressive taxation, nor social security for employment, nor government control of free markets. I do not agree with surrendering 33% of my income toward social progressivism. As a classical liberal I believe in the free market, with restrictions only on collusive interests and foreign manipulation of domestic controls.

That’s right, free markets for everyone except in the case of”foreign manipulation,” because markets stop at the imaginary line we call borders.  And domestic controls, which might be things like safety standards or, well, I’m not sure what–sounds like nasty market regulation stuff to me.  And “bah” to foreigners and this “multiculturalism” drivel.  I mean, is labor really subject to market forces? Free markets for me but not for thee.

This isn’t really classical liberalism; this is favor for some open markets at the expense of others (as a corrective, see: all the work of Will Wilkinson).

Then there’s Jason Cherniak asking “What’s Obama scared of?“:

My concern is that the supposedly charismatic man of change seems, ultimately, scared of competition. When he ran against Hillary Clinton, he successfully destroyed her campaign by arguing that she would somehow be cheating if she were to follow the rules and try to win the votes of what we call “ex-officio delegates”. Now, when it came time to pick the number 2, he went with bland and boring. It is as if Mr. Obama wants absolutely nobody to ever forget that he is the star and whomever else might be around him is all but meaningless.

Bland and boring?  Evan Bayh is closer to Mr. Vanilla.  Kathleen Sebelius, despite her impressive perch as a Democratic executive in Republican leaning state, isn’t exactly a rousing figure.  Joe Biden, on the other hand, has that uniquely Washington problem of occasionally stating exactly what he’s thinking.  Biden is a pretty strong and well-established figure in the Democratic party–and yet Obama chose him to be his running mate (a man who also, as the McCain campaign has reminded us, said that Sen. Obama wasn’t ready to lead).  Hardly the behavior of a primadonna.

Give It Up, Ahab

28 Aug

I’ll second these observations from Dylan Matthews and Jamelle.  Strangely, this whole thing reminds me of a scene from Star Trek: First Contact:

But in the end, of course, the sacrifice is worth it and the Pequod sails safely back to harbor…

That Was Fast

6 Aug

From a comment by Obama that Republicans “Take pride in being ignorant”, to a post on TNR’s The Plank, to a website, courtesy of one of TNR’s regular commenters.  That’s pretty quick, even by internet standards.