Thursday, September 18, 2008

Der Alte

John McCain got confused again last night in an interview about American foreign policy towards Latin America. The details aren’t particularly important—nobody really thinks McCain is unaware that Spain is in Europe. He’s not Palin, after all—but the episode and the somewhat panic-stricken way his spokesmen covered for him is getting to be routine. There’s nothing mysterious going on. McCain is simply getting senile, a fact that is hardly surprising in view of the man’s age and medical history. Time, torture, boxing, cancer treatments, and heavy drinking will do that to you. And blaming the guy is also beside the point since he has far more serious things to apologize for than mere decrepitude. The question is, do we really want to witness a long process of increasingly embarrassing public gaffes, all relentlessly denied and covered up by the PR sharks while a subterranean succession-struggle plays out in the White House basement? That wouldn’t be a very pleasant spectacle even in settled times, but it might be fatal in an age in which great power competition is awakening from its post-Cold War slumber and economic and environmental crisis require an energetic response.

Of course it is possible that McCain’s mental state is better than it appears to be, and the remarkably uninformed or merely strange remarks he makes reflect his previous level of ignorance rather than the advent of dementia. If so, his age remains a serious issue because one can hardly expect a 72-year old to learn on the job—heck, I’m 63 and you can’t teach me anything! McCain is certainly not going to rethink his assumptions or listen to new ideas. What you get it is some fraction of what the man was ten or twenty years ago; and if that wasn’t all that much to begin with, you can’t expect that McCain will turn out to be an American version of Adenauer, Mandela, or Gladstone.

By the way, is it decent or patriotic for Republicans to support the candidacy of an obviously incompetent man? Why do they keep nominating people like that?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Proverb from the Chinese

The Federal bailout of AIG is demonstrating an important point: the alternative to regulation is not laissez faire; it’s socialism.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

You Can’t Get Behind the Man Behind

A right-wing hippy of my acquaintance was giving Obama trouble the other day for trying to buy votes. I didn’t immediately get what she meant, until she explained that the Obama tax plan, which, according to her, would reduce the tax bill of families making around $40,000 by a couple of thousand, counted as a bribe . I was going to point out that the McCain plan, which would save billionaires something like half a million a year, was presumably pretty motivating for them as well. In fact, the issue had little to do with pandering. The lady simply doesn’t believe that income tax should be progressive in the first place. Along with astrology, astral bodies, acupuncture, and seventy-two other kinds of woo, she buys into the flat tax mythology, presumably because, due to a failure of nerve, she chickened out of going all the way to belief in the flat earth. To be fair, she actually doesn’t believe in any kind of income tax. Indeed, for her the very idea of an income tax is so unconstitutional, even an amendment to the Constitution couldn’t make it constitutional.

To me it very much matters to make the following point clearly: Obama’s tax policy is not buying votes or anything of the sort. In favoring a tax system that redistributes wealth, he’s simply supporting policies that are an integral part of the general outlook of the Democratic Party as they are of most political parties of the left, center, and moderate right all over the world. Similarly, Democrats are hardly pandering or buying votes when the call for universal health care. They’ve been calling for that since Truman’s time at least. If you are opposed to progressive taxation, health care, or indoor plumbing, you are of course perfectly within your rights to do so; but it hardly seems fair to equate support for such things with what Republicans do when they grudgingly come up phony health care schemes or float the notion of a gas tax holiday they don’t believe in themselves. That’s pandering. What Obama is proposing may or may not be wise policy, but it is in line with what he and most Democrats think is right.

Now Democratic candidates certainly hope that people will vote for them because of the benefits they will gain from their policies. I’m not clear what’s wrong with that. Or is the problem that the wrong sort of people will benefit? After all, Republican policies are also aimed to benefit somebody, just not the majority of people. The structural difference between the two parties is that the more democratic party doesn’t have to lie as much as the oligarchic party to get elected by popular vote. McCain is setting some kind of record for bald-faced lying on television; but the fundamental reason he is lying is not a character flaw, but a deep political necessity. When Democrats get dishonest, as they surely do from time to time, it is a moral defect. It isn’t a part of the partly platform.