Electoral Differences between McCain and Bush

Why is it that John McCain picked Sarah Palin?  The answer lies in how George W. Bush won the presidency.  President Bush jumped on a wave of conservative ire aimed at the Democratic Party and President Clinton on the heels of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  By driving a convincing message that he would realize the conservative agenda, Bush energized the huge electoral machine of right wing moralists.  This shifted the field to the right, and required VP Gore to play a more moderate game than he would have otherwise played, and it just did not ring true to anyone.  Bush didn’t really play to the moderates, except to be some sort of compassionate conservative.

McCain argues that he is a moderate, and so he should have played to them.  Instead, he tried to play President Bush’s game of driving to the right after the primary was won.  The New York Times recently had an article that compares the campaigns to the faux campaigns found in the last two seasons of West Wing.  In that series, at one point it is argued that the Republican candidate (Vinick) could wiin ALL fifty states by expanding the moderate base of his party.  This is what McCain could have tried to do, but it is not what he did.  Instead, he attempted to play to both bases, and he argued neither convincingly.  By bringing in Sarah Palin he alienated the center.  And it wasn’t enough to sooth the right.

There was no way that George Bush’s strategy would work for John McCain.  McCain is also the victim of bad timing, with regard to the economy, an issue about which the public as blamed the Republicans nearly exclusively.  Barack Obama, merely has to mention the economy and McCain’s ratings drop.  That is vaguely reminiscient of President Clinton’s old slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  Were it only the economy, perhaps McCain could have survived.  However, the War on Terror also looms like an albatross around the neck of Republicans.  People are sick of it.  Finally.

And so, before Democrats start to crow too loudly, one should point out that neither of these two problems, the economy or our current geopolitical environment, are simple problems, and both will require serious consideration and absense of hubris to repair.

Update: Obama now up by 14

This according to a new CBS/New York Times poll. Why?  For the precise reasons I’ve been writing: McCain has managed to dirty himself with the mud he and his running mate have been throwing.  The funny thing is that the mud just keeps on coming.  The next trick will be a new message from the McCain campaign.  We call that “too little too late”.

Now some people are talking about The So-Called “Bradley Effect”, where Tom Bradley ran against George Deukmejian for California Governor and peaked too early and lost.  This should not be confused with the Tom Bradley Blunder of the Lee Atwater Invitational Dead Pool.  In the case of the Bradley Blunder, one of the invitational entrants mysteriously requested that Tom Bradley’s name be struck from her list of people to die.  It later emerged that she had met the former mayer of Los Angeles and liked him.  The lesson: never meet people who you bet money will die.

McCain v. Obama: Personality and Judgment

How does one take the measure of an individual?  How will a person react under stress to unpredictable circumstance?  President Bush was so unengaged that he probably didn’t know when he should have been feeling more stress.  He failed to oversee little things, like the war in Iraq and the economy.  One actually wonders what he did in the White House all of these years.  But I digress.

John McCain likes to think of himself as a straight talker.  In general I think that’s true but it’s not always the case.  I liked that he took his change of heart to support drilling off the coast of California to the environmental lobby and told them to their face (even though I hate the idea of drilling off the coast).  Having heard him talk I like how he has handled opposition when dealing with abortion.  Still, I dislike that he did in fact flip flop on drilling, and I don’t like that he refused to answer a simple question by the press, like, “How many houses do you own?”

I am also deaply saddened by McCain’s resorting to negative campaigning, in spite of his protestations to the contrary.  To me, negative campaigning is the loser’s last refuge, and here it is as if someone said to McCain, “Do you want to be known as a statesman nice guy loser, or do you want to win?”  And he decided he wanted to win, damn his principles.

While the practice has been executed flawlessly by Republicans, it should be noted that Democrats can play the game as well, as Senator Clinton did in the primaries.  As distasteful as behaving this way in the general is, it is unforgivable in primaries, and Clinton violated what some call the Reagan Rule, named after the President who reminded members of his party who the opposition was.

Barak Obama has done very little negative campaigning.  He has another quality, however, that I like.  He has stated openly that he is not an idealogue.  He seems to take every situation as it is presented to him and responds appropriately.  This makes him perhaps a more difficult public speaker because he can’t just blat out the one liners.  It makes him unpreditable at times.

His level of education wards off some of my concern about his unpredictability, and he is not inarticulate.

This leads me to believe that Obama has better judgment and the appropriate personality for the job.

McCain v. Obama: The Economy

Bureau of EconomicsI typically surprise many of my friends with just how fiscally conservative I can be at times.  I believe for some reason that people should get the government they pay for, and no more.  To me that means not running a deficit.  One of the best things we can do for our economy is balance the amount of money we’re taking in versus what is spent.  I do not suggest that this needs to be done on a year by year basis, but rather on a decade by decade basis.

I do not believe in tax breaks for the rich, or even for the upper middle class.  In the United States we have a creaking infrastructure, as I have previously mentioned.  Our roads are in need of repair, our education system is in shambles, our health care system is reserved for the upper middle class who work, and we do not as a country save enough.  To me that means we as individuals have to pay for all of these things somehow.  Either we pay for them in our taxes or we pay elsewhere.  If we pay elsewhere, often times those who cannot get left behind.  In some of these areas I believe that to be bad policy.

Where do the candidates stand?  Senator McCain wants a corporate tax cut from 35% to 25%. As Republican proposals go, this one is pretty mild, and nearly heretical for a Reagan Revolutionary.  Indeed according to Wikipedia at least, McCain generally prefers reducing the deficit to other forms of tax cuts.

Recently, Barack Obama recently sat in a discussion next to Robert Rubin and said that at the time that he would not have been as fiscally conservative as President Clinton was.  The problem with that statement is that it was at least in part that fiscal discipline that closed the budget deficit that itself caused interest rates to drop.  His web site states that he would provide for a $10 billion foreclosure defense fund, and a $20 billion general stimulus package.

At the same time he wants to cut taxes for the middle class as well as for senior citizens.  Once again, Obama does not say how he would pay for all of the programs he mentioned.  I don’t have a problem with the programs, or even the bill for those programs.  But he has to say how he is going to pay for those programs.

Until I hear more details from Obama, McCain gets this round.

Obama v. McCain on Education: And the winner is…

It is typical for candidates to speak in platitudes on the campaign trail.  As the son of a teacher and a parent I look at the education system in America as creaking.  The average teacher salary in California is $59,345 while the median salary in California for people with between five and nine years of experience is $67,552.  In other words, we grossly underpay our teachers and undervalue our childrens’ future.  While the states take the lead on providing for our childrens’ education, the federal government has had a role for quite a long time.  The No Child Left Behind Act has done a very good job of leaving all children behind, unless you have a lot of money for private schools.  Teaching to tests and eliminating such “frivolities” as orchestra, music, and art, does not make for a well rounded education.

What am I looking from the candidates?  I want money, plain and simple.  I want them to see more money devoted to education.  Providing tax breaks is not the answer to me, because it generally robs money from our public school systems.  The lack of economies of scale in both the private and the public market for the foreseeable future would be intolerable.  In addition, faith need not apply.  Want religion?  Go to church, temple, or whatever else suits you.  Want science, arts, music, reading, language, and social studies?  Let’s have that in the schools.  I am not opposed to choice of school so long as everyone has that choice, it is not used as a back door for religion, and the basic standards are upheld (including building, health, etc).

How do the candidates rate?  According to OnTheIssues.Org John McCain believes in school choice, but does believe creationism should be taught alongside evolution in our schools (but see below).  He would fund education by reducing subsidies in other areas, including sugar, oil, and ethanol.  He wants tax breaks for charter schools, and he is a strong proponent of vouchers that could be used for any school, including religious schools.  He claims the money would not come from other education efforts, but that’s the sort of thinking that only someone who has been in Washington too long could have, and as a fiscal conservative, it offends me.

At that same web site, Barack Obama’s position boils down to this: we don’t pay teachers enough, we didn’t put any money into the No Child Left Behind Act, hire more teachers, pay excellent teachers excellently, provide a capital improvement fund for crumbling buildings, and free education for people who maintain a B average.  My problem with Obama’s plan is that it is a wishlist a mile long with a bill to go with, and perhaps even more than I could stomach, and he does not provide a way to pay for any of it.

Still, on the whole I am far closer to Obama than McCain on education.  If we are to err, it seems right to err on the side of too much, rather than too little, education.  If people reach their potentials through education, the other problems seem so much easier.

So round one goes to Obama, but it was a decision, not a knockout.  In fact, in scoring the candidates, I’d give Senator Obama a B- for having the right idea but not clearly stating how he would pay for it, but Senator McCain a D for bringing church into the back door of schools, but at least stating what he would do.  Or put another way: 80/100 for Obama, and 65/100 for McCain, a difference of 15 points. Have faith, Senator McCain.  There are many more issues.