Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On McCain's Choice of Running Mate

It's possible that the reputation of the Republican Party has been so besmirched by the overspending of recent years that the current candidates it might field, or their positions, will be immaterial in the upcoming election. After Regan said the problem with running a fiscally sound government was the Democratic Congress, and after the Republican Congress under Clinton said the problem was the Democratic President, Americans finally gave the Republican Party the "perfect storm" of solid control over both the executive and legislative branches of government. The results of the last election, and subsequent polling, shows the public didn't like what Republicans delivered.

The Republicans may have made the people so sick of what the country got when it elected Republicans that their party may have become a hard sell. Nevertheless, I take a skeptical view of as much as I can see, and it doesn't seem the Democrats have exactly lined up the slam-dunk people had expected at the end of the current president's second term.

Over at the Enlightened American, Mr. McCain's running mate was criticized as delivering unconvincingly a speech that targeted the wrong audience. The problem with this analysis isn't that it proved wrong -- though at least in the short run this seems to be the case -- but that it isn't the analysis of anyone McCain's ticket was targeting with the speech. Enlightened American already had announced support for Obama.

When a dedicated partisan hears the words of the announced enemy, those words of course ring false. It's the enemy speaking. But think for a moment of the people who haven't already committed themselves to hating the Republican ticket. To those ears, a description of how government should be about helping working people, and how politicians should take hints from the best of the citizenry and serve the common good, is a plausible advertisement for the speaker's political party. Each party's adherents believe that their chosen party has the right people and the right policies to do all the things that make them confident in government: create and protect jobs, protect Americans and their interests at home and abroad, moderate the risks of living in a highly globalized economy, and keep apple pie warm. The differences aren't so much in what they want -- peace, prosperity, and bliss -- but in what direction those things lie.[2]

That from the lips of a candidate for public office a series of pro-service, altruistic sentiments sound like an advertisement for the opposing party only underscores what NPR has been saying about the similarity of the major parties' candidates.[1] NPR was pretty clear in the radio broadcast I heard well before the Republican Convention: both candidates are eager to distance themselves from Bush policies and to advocate energy independence, environmental protection, and victory in Afghanistan (which Obama in particular I recall describing as "a war we must win" -- I use italics not for personal preference, but because of the emphasis in his voice). NPR played little clips from their own statements about their positions to "prove" the candidates were singing the same song, and it was fairly persuasive.

Even specific policies seemed similar. NPR lined up Obama and McCain advocating caps on carbon emissions, for example, and if you'd seen the words written you'd never tell the candidates apart. The candidates' differences seemed mostly in whether the emissions credits would be allotted in large part without cost to existing businesses (McCain) to soften the blow of the cap's application, or would be distributed exclusively by auction, in effect a revenue-generating mechanism taking the form of a one-time tax on enterprises subject to the carbon tax and predicting a need to own the right to emit carbon dioxide (Obama). Both envisioned a future in which organizations able to reduce emissions would be able to sell -- trade -- the right to make the emissions, thereby making a valuable asset out of emissions reductions. Each doubtless had reasons to give supporters that the specifically advocated policy was superior, but the fact stands that each preaches the same strategy.

Both have health care proposals I will address in another post, because neither will work as described to prospective voters. The candidates either don't understand what is wrong with their proposals, or expect their constituents to be more attracted to the rhetoric surrounding their position rather than that surrounding the opposing position.

The discussion which candidate is the authentic agent of change is interesting, but in light of the candidates' claimed similarities is likely more filled with FUD than substance. Voters will likely be interested in hearing about infrastructure issues, tax policy, energy independence, the cost of health care, and numerous other issues on which the candidates will offer a variety of statements. The question is whether the statements distinguish the candidates from each other, not against an incumbent barred by law from seeking re-election.

The real question about McCain's running mate isn't whether her speech is well-received by those who are set to oppose her, but what happens to her relationship with potential admirers once the teleprompter is turned off and she fields unscripted questions. Since she's liked by both Republicans and independents (according to the prior link, from NPR), the question is whether she's going to say something to turn off folks who, thus far, have liked what they've seen. Excitement about which campaign can make the others' candidates appear more inexperienced may give way to issue arguments, which would be a nice change from normal politics.

On the other hand, I expect FUD to enter high pitch as November draws near -- and I stand prepared to be disappointed in the works of either party after the election.

[1] I note that NPR is not particularly inclined to pander to Republicans; I draw attention to the kid-glove treatment received by Clinton when campaign contributions were found to have been seemingly pressured from the pockets of financially-constrained recent Chinese immigrants by the Tong, which in the NPR broadcast was described only as a community organization. Why the Tong might have supported Clinton for President is a mystery we need not examine, given the results of the Democratic contests. The fact that this was so danced around raises some questions about political bias in reporting (not that it doesn't go both ways, *cough*Fox News*cough*), but those can sit happily for another post.

[2] To offer a metaphor possibly more appropriate to lost politicos and to those who would craft national policies on the basis of feelings rather than a searching examination of the result of the policies, we can suppose that on a good day they might all agree they want to take a heading that's pretty close to the direction announced by everyone else looking for office. However, it's not clear which candidates might have a working compass, if anyone, even if they were inclined to speak truthfully about its output, and we regularly find the candidates pointing in different directions, posting bigger and bigger signs with an arrow declaring the direction of the intended heading. As voters, we find ourselves on our own to ascertain which ones, if any, are even close about the direction to any of their announced destinations. One sport for serious voters is to look at the signs with the arrows and labels, and try to reverse-engineer where the candidate endorsing the sign wants to take passengers, which may be at great odds with the labels placed on the arrow-signs. The alternative to identifying a crazy intended destination is that those endorsing mislabeled signs are just clueless, which happens often enough to want to dream up a different way to travel.

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