Friday, October 10, 2008

Time to Take Our Medicine

This will be a difficult post. By the time I get to the end of it I hope that I will have explained why I'm going to vote for Barack Obama.

I am profoundly mistrustful of Obama but all of my suspicions are just that--suspicions. I suspect that Obama's true world view is that of a social democrat but he seems to understand the central place of a relatively unfettered market. I suspect that Obama is a weak legislator but he has successfully adapted his policies in response to criticism and changing conditions. I suspect that Obama is a deer in the headlights with respect to energy policy--or maybe just in thrall to the Green Crazies--and yet he has made such a big deal of the need to craft a workable policy that he can't possibly back out. I suspect that Obama is not a courageous leader but his reticence to get out in front of an issue early only seems to increase his effectiveness. I suspect that Obama will be weak and easily manipulated by his party and its interest groups but it's hard to deny that he has skillfully managed his own campaign and has done so with discipline and a large degree of hard-nosed pragmatism.

Obama exists in some weird, almost quantum, superposition of states. He's a mix of contradictory quantities. Only by electing him will we learn who he truly is. That is far from an ideal situation.

On top of that, I am even more mistrustful of the Democrats. For five years, their overarching principle of government has been simple: "In order to save the village, we had to destroy it." The undisguised glee that they have exhibited, first over this nation's difficulties in Iraq and now over the financial crisis, has been simply despicable. They have wielded legislative power almost as ineptly as their Republican predecessors. I have very little confidence in their philosophy of government. They seem to have utterly discounted all of the benefits of a low-tax, low-regulation, pro-growth policy, even if those policies have now been taken to excess. Their indifference to the realities of foreign policy is matched only by the absurdity of their proposals for conducting it.

The prospect of an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress with a weak, liberal President scares me to death. Everything I know about economics (admittedly less than I'd like to know) tells me that the next four years will usher in a prolonged period of substantially lower growth and substantially higher human misery than any time since the early seventies. Everything I know about foreign policy and the use of military force tells me that the next four years will herald an erosion of our national interest and a time of prolonged comfort to our enemies.

And yet.

And yet it is now undeniable that the Republicans provided us with one of the worst Presidents of the last hundred years. It is undeniable that the Republicans violated the nation's trust by jettisoning all semblance of a rational set of governing principles in favor of an attempt to accumulate raw political power. It is undeniable that, despite sound concepts for the conduct of a robust exercise of both hard and soft power abroad, the execution of that concept has been so ham-handed as to discredit not only the Administration but the policies themselves. But most of all, it is undeniable that, in the face of the three major crises of the past eight years, a Republican administration has managed only one of them to a successful conclusion. The Republicans have so debased their philosophy, and in so doing, their brand, that they are simply not a credible alternative for me, despite my reservations about the Democrats. They have gone from governing using a solid intellectual underpinning that yielded quantifiable improvements to the world in general and our nation in particular, to a party of know-nothings, pandering to the least thoughtful, most reactionary segments of our electorate.

John McCain is a good man. He has more guts and grace under pressure than I could ever hope to have. But I don't believe that he is intellectually up to the challenges that await the next President. In the most recent crisis, he has been uneven at best and incompetent at worst. The campaign suspension stunt was brave and potentially game changing but McCain failed to execute it. Now, his proposals for stabilizing the housing market, while bold enough to actually solve the problem, have also been proven to be better intentioned than they were thought through.

The next President will inherit an America in serious crisis, an America adrift for want of political unity, a philosophy of government, possibly even for want of a workable economic system. Not only will the next President have guide the creation of these new American underpinnings but he will have to sell them. That will require a firm grasp of myriad policy details and the ability to communicate those details to a badly frightened, badly divided electorate. Barack Obama has the intellect and eloquence to be such a President, although he is far from a sure thing. John McCain does not.

The last four weeks have been very difficult for me. I completely agreed with John McCain when he said that the fundamentals of the economy were sound. Now the fundamentals of the economy have been abruptly transferred from what appeared to be a flawed-but-workable set of financial institutions to an utterly dysfunctional government that has little hope of getting things right the first time. In short, I can no longer see a clear way forward.

I hope that, as we do grope our way through this horrible moment in history, the death of the Republican Party does not imply the death of a set of conservative principles that, tempered with a healthy dose of pragmatism, could help us to emerge from this crisis prepared to meet the challenges of a world forever altered by the crisis itself. But that is not certain.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are going to get a chance to try it their way. Soon enough, we'll know whether their vision is any better than that of their opponents. Until then, for lack of a better alternative, I owe them my grudging support.

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