Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fannie Mae and the Death of Conservatism

George Bush's Treasury Secretary announced today that to save it from bankruptcy, the Federal Government will be taking over Fannie Mae, the mortgage-backing giant. While widely reported in the media, the larger significance of this seems to have been ignored. For those who have studied history, you will remember that Fannie Mae (originally the Federal National Mortgage Association) was originally a government program created as part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Under constant pressure from conservatives, who insisted that the secondary trading of mortgages could be better handled by the open market, and that it was inefficient and a waste of taxpayer-money to have it as a government-run monopoly, Fannie Mae was privatized in 1968. Conservatives have been swearing by the laissez faire gospel for years; have been drilling into the heads of the American people that the free market can solve all of our problems; that private industry can always handle things cheaper can more efficiently than that dreaded "big government." Isn't it ironic that it's George Bush, a Republican, who finally has to admit that there really are things the government can do better, and make Fannie Mae a government program again? This is truly the death of modern conservatism. Should we expect Republicans to notice the ideological consequences of their own president's decision? Probably not. After all, if they cared about reality it all, they might have given up their ridiculous viewpoint after Calvin Coolidge's policies caused the Great Depression.

Lest I be misunderstood, I'm not advocating socialism. I generally believe in capitalism and the free market. I just think we have to recognize that the market will not solve all our problems, and that improving social welfare requires a large and active Federal Government, because they really can do it better.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Personality Cults and Double Standards

In my post on the Democratic Convention, I complained that it was too much of a Barack Obama personality cult and not enough about the issues. I should have held my fire. In comparison to the Republican Convention, the Democratic Convention was a veritable think tank. The Republican Convention was entirely personality cult. John McCain, war hero, maverick, reformer, country first. At least Obama's personal speech was heavy on policy details, even if the rest of the convention wasn't. Even McCain's own speech didn't talk a whole lot about policy. When he did, it was the same old, tired, worn-out conservative catch-phrases and platitudes that have gotten us into the mess we're in now. "Cut taxes", "smaller government". McCain promises to reform Washington, but can't cite a single example of how he will do so. He talks about government working for people, but the fact is that in order for government to work for people, it needs to be bigger and have a larger tax base to work from. The Republican myth that cutting taxes for the wealthy will someone help grow the economy and benefit everyone has never been put to the test better than in the last few years. The bottom has not benefited from this giveaway to the top, not even in a small trickle. Corporate profits are at record highs, while average wages are down, unemployment is up, inflation is up, and the dollar is weaker. The exact opposite of what Republicans predicted has happened, and yet they still try to cling to their notions.

It is true McCain has taken a handful of positions at odd with his party's base in the past (though most of his attempts have been unsuccessful), but he can't mention those now, because neither he nor the audience to which he was speaking currently supports any of those ideas. Absent any real meaning, "reform" has become just another empty word from politicians, just like they have accused Barack Obama of doing with "change." Obama responded to his critics with a convention speech heavy on the details of the kind of change he wants to bring, which you can agree or disagree with. McCain responded by playing up the personality cult even further.

It's not surprising that a party bereft of issues would play up personality. What is surprising is the double standard. After spending the summer derisively mocking Obama's so-called "celebrity" as if it were a sin to be popular they built out of their candidate exactly the kind of mythical figure they accuse the Democrats of doing with Obama. Could you imagine if speakers at the Democratic Convention had said things like, "Barack Obama's whole life has been leading up to the presidency," of "God created only one Barack Obama"? The McCain campaign and the media would have been all over their supposed messiah-complex. John McCain is the biggest political media celebrity there ever was. Without the press helping to disseminate his maverick image, John McCain never would be in the position he's in now. The press has been complicit in letting him grab the spotlight and use them to his advantage. His whole career has been a public relations stunt with no real substance. He gets his name on big, important bills, but won't take the steps necessary to ensure their passage. The media has bought into his self-crafted image wholeheartedly. And then he has his surrogates get up there and rail against the so-called "liberal media?" How dare he? The Republican Party clearly has nothing left but to lie about and distort their opponent's agenda, out of a desperate hope to somehow convince the voters that someone other than the Republicans are responsible for the disasters of the last eight years. After all, what could be a worse sin than standing in the way of the entitlement of their Chosen One?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Comparing Veepstakes Winners

When I first heard on Friday that McCain had picked Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate, my reaction was "What was he thinking?" They can't possibly use the attack anymore that Obama isn't experienced enough to be president, after picking a vice-president even less experienced than he is. The McCain campaign clearly decided that the experience argument wasn't working, and they'd have to make this an ideological campaign. Of course, this isn't the best year for the conservative ideology, which means they want to play a typical Rove-style God, guns, and gays campaign. Therefore, I suppose they wanted to pick an ultra-conservative to appease the base, but they still could have gone with Pawlenty, who is just as conservative, and with far more experience.

To those who would say that she's no worse than Obama, I would beg to differ. First of all, the district Obama represented in the state senate is considerably larger than Wasilla, Alaska. Furthermore, Obama has 4 years in the US Senate. That's 4 years on the Foreign Relations Committee, 4 years steeped in the issues important to the national political scene. He's already written numerous essays and a couple of books laying out his worldview and governing philosophy. While I do wish he had more experience, there is certainly enough information out there for the public to make an informed decision on whether they trust his judgment and find his worldview appealing. On Sarah Palin, there is nothing. She's governed a city of 7000 people, and one of the smallest states in the Union for a year and a half. None of that provides anyone with any idea of how she would approach Iraq, Russia, or China. From what I understand, she's done a decent job as governor (though one of her biggest accomplishments was raising taxes on oil companies, something John McCain has said he would oppose under all circumstances). Yet John McCain's claim that she reinforces his image as a reformer falls somewhat flat, given that after getting elected on a reformist, clean-government platform, a year and a half later she's already under an ethics investigation herself.

They obviously chose Palin over the more qualified candidates for one simple reason: she's a woman. (Though I still find it a little odd, given that off the top of my head I could probably name half a dozen Republican women more qualified than Palin.) They saw some of Hillary Clinton's supporters still not committed to Obama, and figured they could peel some of them away by putting a women on the ticket. Really, this is an incredibly condescending choice, and shows tremendous disrespect for the women of America. Do they really thing that Hillary Clinton's supporters (myself included) supported her only because of her anatomy/genome? Of course not. Sure we liked the idea of the first woman president, but we supported Hillary because she was a qualified candidate who stood up for the issues important to women (and men). The McCain-Palin ticket is against all the issues important to the women's movement. And I don't just mean abortion rights. They're against increasing access to contraception. They're against more funding for prenatal care and family leave. They're against requiring equal pay for equal work. The forces of the status quo, in their last ditch effor to prevent change, will offer some symbolic, yet meaningless, change, in order to convince people that real change is unnecessary. If McCain's people think Hillary's voters are going to vote someone who's both profoundly inexperienced, and stands for none of the issues they care about, simply because she's a woman, they've got another thing coming to them.

It's funny how McCain announced his pick of Sarah Palin, the most thoroughly unqualified choice for vice-president in recent history (a choice especially important given McCain's age), in front of a poster reading "Country First." By picking a choice with no qualification other than appealing to a particular demographic that he thinks could help him politically (whether or not it actually will), McCain has shows that he puts politics before country. Compare that with Obama's pick of Biden, who more than makes up for his lack of experience. Biden is clearly the most qualified person he could have chosen, with decades of experience and accomplishments in both foreign and domestic policy. The consummate foreign policy expert in the Democratic Party, and a real leader in the Senate. He could have gone with someone like Tim Caine, who might have helped him politically to win Virginia, but he chose to pick someone who's truly qualified to be president. So who really puts country first?

Unconventional Convention Thoughts

Sorry, it's been a while since I last posted, but news can get rather boring over the summer, and there just isn't much to say. I thought I should devote at least one post to my thoughts on the democratic convention. Overall, I think it was a fairly successful convention, but it could have been better. My critiques basically fall into 2 categories:

1) Too much talking about Obama. I felt they spent too much time praising Obama, and what a great guy he is, and not enough actually talking about issues, and the plans the Democratic platform has to offer for the country. I do think Barack Obama did this well in his own speech, but, in contrast, at the Kerry convention, there were a lot more speakers who really gave detailed policy addresses. I understand that since Obama is still a relatively unknown figure nationally, they needed who define him before the Republicans did, yet I think this could have been done in a way that seemed like less of a personality cult.

2) Not enough attacking McCain. Of course, every speaker said McCain is "more of the same." And how many times did we hear "votes like Bush 90% of the time?" But they should have been more personal in the attacks. None of the criticism for being like Bush will stick if they don't first tear down the image people still have of him as a maverick that he built up in the 2000 campaign. They needed to go after McCain as just another pandering politician, whose views drift with the winds of political convenience. The only speakers, who, I thought, really hammered this point were John Kerry and Bill Richardson. They should have done one of those biopics for John McCain, but highlight everything negative in his career. They should have brought up how he cheated on his wife while she was recovering from injuries after she waited for him patiently the 7 years he was a prisoner of war. The public needs to know that this guy's not only wrong on the issues, he's a real dirtbag. Another point is that in order not just to win this election but to help cement permanent Democratic majorities, they should have spent more time connecting Bush's failures, not just with personal incompetence, but with the failure of conservatism as an ideology. Bill Clinton brought this up, and so did Barack Obama, but they should have had everyone hammer this point home. Everyone talks about wanting to make this a respectful campaign, and reaching out to work with the other party to solve our problems. You can't work with the other party to solve our problems when the other party is the problem. Everything wrong with America today really can be summed up in one word: "conservatism." The only way we're going to fix it is by beating the Republicans into submission. And we're not going to do that by playing nice.