Wednesday, November 5, 2008

More Obama

I wrote two posts after the election but didn't put them up because they seemed not to say what I wanted them to say. Having re-read them, I think they hold up better than I was giving them credit for. Here's the first:

I've seen a couple of emails from people who voted for John McCain and it makes me wonder where the Republican Party goes from here. The party needs to start by understanding why John McCain got the votes he did and what they can (and cannot) build on.

What the GOP cannot count on in 2012:

1. Obama the inexperienced. A lot of folks had deep misgivings about Barack Obama as a candidate. They were concerned about a lack of experience and concerned about a lack of depth that was hidden by his soaring rhetoric. He's going to president and in four years, for good or ill, he'll have experience.

2. Obama the radical. Even more potently, many Americans were concerned about what Obama's real views were. Some of this was based on falsehoods like his being a Muslim (or having been raised as one) but these attacks gained plausible support for many conservatives when they learned about William Ayers, Rashid Khalidi and Jeremiah Wright. If Obama is radical, time will tell. I do not believe he is, nor do I believe that he harbors any anti-American views. I don't believe he's a socialist looking to have government take over massive sectors of the economy. But again, time will tell.

If Obama is not up to the job, or if he turns out to be too radical, the Republicans can be assured of victory in 2 years and again in 4. This is the genius of the American system: no one in our government has the kind of power to do much lasting damage without the support of the people. (Almost all of the most consequential decisions of the Bush administration were made with solid popular and Congressional support; and if the surge hadn't worked the troops would probably be on their way home now anyway).

What the GOP can count on
1. Joe the Plumber. No, not the actual Joe the Plumber, but the underlying idea that Joe was meant to symbolize. (Having the actual Joe out campaigning was, in my view, a real mistake for McCain.) The refrain from conservatives I hear over and over is "what happened to personal responsibility?" Bailouts for Wall Street are unpopular, so the political establishment (including McCain) propose bailouts for homeowners to "even the score." Yet what conservatives want are no bailouts for anybody. Here, John McCain failed to take a chance. His very early position was to be skeptical of handing taxpayer money over to people who made bad decisions and gambled with their homes. But, afraid of losing hard-hit areas like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Nevada, he turned around and proposed his own $300 billion bailout plan. If he'd stuck with a personal responsibility theme instead the worst that would have happened is that he would have lost all these states. But in the end, he lost them all anyway and wouldn't conservatives feel better about it if he'd lost them heroically fighting against a bailout? President Nixon spoke of a "silent majority" and the housing crisis is one where I believe a silent majority exists. It consists of people who, despite having seen their home values drop, are not willing to hand over their money to irresponsible neighbors in order to try to prop up home values. For these conservatives, even if you could prove that they'd be better off paying for a bailout, I think they'd rather take the hit than establish a regime where the irresponsible are cushioned.

This is a respectable position. The government has been trying hard to avert another Great Depression which was really, truly, bad for just about everyone. And that may require some interventions that conservatives hate. But many conservatives seem willing to accept some undeserved losses in order to prevent others from getting undeserved gains. This is not cruelty; it's a realization that if people are rewarded when a gamble pays off but protected when it doesn't, they'll keep on betting more and more so that each bailout will be bigger than the last. Better to take the pain now of letting them all fail than the death-by-a-thousands-cuts of ever increasing bailouts.

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