October 8, 2008

In which I say who won last night's debate and almost abandon my cruel neutrality pose.

When I woke up this morning, I decided to concentrate my mind on the question which man won the debate. It wasn't my first thought. My first thought was: Is it late enough to get up? I was pleased to see it was 6:15, and then woke up too much before remembering that I was up until 1 am, analyzing the damned debate, fretting about the illusive earpiece, skimming the 800+ comments, and mellowing out in contemplation of the absurdity of monkeys serving hot towels and drinks in a Japanese restaurant.

I put up a poll in last night's live debate post, and the answer I chose was the one that was by far the least popular. Who won? I said "both," the answer that got only 1% of the vote. I answered that like a kindergarten teacher that wants all the children to feel good about themselves. Oh, you were all just fine. You were likable enough.

What that means is, I don't expect that much from people or government. I don't get too high when I'm high, and I don't get too low when I'm low. Neutrality is a comfortable stance for me, so my "cruel neutrality" vow has been easy to keep, the opposite of a burden, a liberation.
Who am I supporting in the presidential contest? You shouldn't know, because I don't know. In fact, I'm positioning myself in a delicate state of unknowing, a state I hope to maintain until October if not November... So I'm taking a vow of neutrality... cruel neutrality.
It's October now, so I can say I kept my vow. It's not the vow keeping me neutral anymore. I don't like deciding, especially between 2 men I've long viewed as dangerously inadequate. The tumultuous financial crisis reminds me why I prefer to wait until the end: We get a better idea of what problems will plague the new President.

It is the response to the present crisis that mattered most last night, and the candidates tiresomely repeated old talking points. McCain kept trying to stoke outrage over earmarks, and Obama continued to lecture us about conserving energy. They clung to their old pet solutions when we are staring at a huge new -- I mean, newly perceived -- problem. Are they so utterly lacking in creativity and flexibility that they cannot offer us anything new in the face of dramatically changed circumstances? Or are they both just determined to play it safe and say nothing in these last few weeks that can be spun against them?

The first half hour of the debate was excruciating, with question after question about the crisis. The candidates' evasions were mind-numbing, and, despite my commitment to live-blogging, I had no words, not even little idle comments. I nearly gave up.

But this morning, I decided to make an effort to say which man had done the better job. It was Barack Obama. And I'm not saying this just because I admired his relaxed demeanor and youthful image and felt uneasy about the older man's jerky movements and desperate grimaces. I'm saying it because I am inclined to think that with the development of complex securities and the pursuit of profit along the edge of disaster, the free market failed spectacularly. When we need new regulation, Obama effectively associated McCain with his party's love of deregulation.

McCain offered no defense of his party, only assertions that he had tried to get regulations passed. So, there he was, embedded in failure. He didn't stand by the principles of conservatism. Here's the transcript. The word "conservative" appears exactly once, when McCain said (about Social Security):
We know what the problems are, my friends, and we know what the fixes are. We've got to sit down together across the table. It's been done before.

I saw it done with our -- our wonderful Ronald Reagan, a conservative from California, and the liberal Democrat Tip O'Neill from Massachusetts. That's what we need more of, and that's what I've done in Washington.
I don't believe we really understand the problems or "the fixes," and I certainly don't believe that reaching across the aisle works magic. That's not a basis for solving a problem, but a technique that works to some extent when you have a solution.

Look at how McCain failed to promote conservatism. McCain brought up Ronald Reagan 3 times: once to say he opposed him about sending troops to Lebanon and the other 2 times to say it was wonderful the way he worked with the liberal Tip O'Neill.

McCain never presented the conservative alternative to Obama. He never even called himself a conservative last night. He was wandering all over that red carpet, microphone in hand, and I have the feeling, in retrospect, that he was truly bewildered, mouthing old phrases, trying to slip by. But one old phrase that was missing was "I'm a proud conservative." Remember when he used to say that?

Or did he? Remember this?

See? That was always the problem. And now, it's really showing. McCain has lost definition. He's stumbling along to the finish line, hoping to achieve his lifelong ambition, to seize the crown at last. But why? To show he can get along with Democrats? I worry about what awful innovations the new President will concoct in league with the Democratic Congress, but at this point, I'm more worried about McCain than Obama.

This is not a commitment to vote for Obama, and I'm still going to provide the service of observing events from my slouchily neutral posture, to which no vow currently binds me. But you see the trend, and the destination is almost inevitable.

ADDED: I should have paid more attention to this. I heard it last night, but couldn't understand how it would deal with the crisis. It seems like a massive government benefit going out to people who overextended themselves taking loans. Why not give money to all the frugal people who believed they couldn't afford to buy a house? I don't understand the theory, other than as political pandering.


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Simon said...

Darcy said...
"[I]f McCain loses, I wonder how much he'll eventually really grasp as to why?"

It isn't hard to see why. Over the last eight years, the Axis of Avarice - Bush, DeLay and Frist shipwrecked the GOP. They betrayed the principles and policies they were hired by the party to implement, and instead governed like exactly the big government fiscally reckless liberals we sent them to Washington to cast out. Even on judicial appointments, the area where Bush has generally been good -- well, look, I was at a conference earlier this week, and Wendy Long talked about how terrific Bush's two appointments to the court are. And Bush talked about his two appointments to the court. But let me tell you one name that wasn't mentioned by anyone, at any time during the day: Harriet Miers. Bush does not get credit for Alito from me. Bush attempted to appoint Harriet Miers until strenuous resistance from conservatives - and Miers' apparent incompetence before the murder boards - led to him giving in and appointing Alito instead. I haven't forgotten that.

If all that wasn't bad enough, they were consumed by pathologies of their own - the Bush administration by sheer incompetence, particularly in terms of communication, and the House and Senate by corruption. Let me give an example and a clarification. The example is the US Attorneys "scandal." There, the administration did something indisputably legal, and that - to judge by David Iglesias' appearence on Fresh Air today - would seem to be reasonable. Yet the administration let the Democrats turn this into a weapon; they never competently explained to the public why there was no there there, and it wasn't enough to leave the job to surrogates and supporters. And the clarification is that by corruption I don't mean Bill Jefferson corruption; I don't mean to suggest that Tom DeLay or anyone like that was personally on the take, and I don't think they were. But I think that pork for votes and the K Street Project's influence-peddling are corruption, and the public isn't dumb. They gave us a thrashing for that in '06.

Those are the roots of why this is such a monumentally difficult year for Republicans. Even on the war: the war wasn't popular, but what made it politically toxic was the administration's incompetence in prosecuting it. McCain advocated the surge long before it happened, and Bush resisted; if Bush had fired Rumsfeld even as late as January '06, and had he listened to McCain about the need for more troops sooner, our losses in Congress would have been far less pronounced, and Hillary Clinton would have been the Bob Dole nominee of 2008.

Darcy said...

Well, I agree on all of that, Simon. But McCain should have been the one of the least tarnished by all of that.

The financial crisis was a perfect storm against him, I will say that. I think he mishandled how to respond to that, though.

Bruce Hayden said...

Let me fix that for you. Greed is the default setting of your average human being, Wall Street is neither the exception or the rule. While there is a hue and cry from the electorate to reign in Wall Street greed, a little introspection on Main Street is also a tad overdue.

Also, how about government? Could political contributions have helped cause the failure to regulate here? I would suggest that politicians are no less greedy than anyone else, just more likely to pretend that they aren't.

The acceptance that greed is a universal condition of man is really one of the things that distinguishes economic conservatives from their liberal brethren. Socialism depends on the assumption that if man is not ungreedy already, he can be perfected to be so (using the government to coerce this behavior in the case of communism).

Bruce Hayden said...

To a great extent, I agree with Simon's analysis of what went wrong with the Republican party. The Tom Delays, Ted Stevens, Trent Lotts, etc. have no place in a party dedicated to small government. I think esp. pernicious was Tom Delay's view that it was the Republicans' turn at the head of the public trough.

Bruce Hayden said...

Hayden - Ever wonder why Obama got more Freddie and Fannie contributions than anyone except for Dodd? Who has had two former Fannie Mae CEOs helping (ok, one indirectly). This is the guy who you think is going to regulate intelligently?

Ever wonder why in 3 separate shots, Lifetime Senator McCain refused to name "My dear friend" fellow Lifetime Senator, Dodd in the debate where he accused Obama as secondary in Fannie and Freddie graft?

It is rather humorous, isn't it? I think for a lot of those supporting him, it is not that heartfelt, given his friendships with so many of the "enemy".

I think that this is one reason that so many on the right are so enthusiastic about Gov. Palin. She does what we all would love McCain to do, which includes stepping on toes, when naming names about the problems we face and who was responsible for them.

Bruce Hayden said...

To say that Dodd or Franks were responsible for not reigning in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and that McCain and Bush were thwarted white knights is ignorant. There were plenty of politicians of all strips taking cash from FANMAC (including McCain--he just took it from the board of directors instead of the corporations; a distinction without a difference.)

That McCain and Bush tried to do something is laughable. They made token speeches but didn't try. They tried in the same way Obama tried. I was going to say it's like when your kids say they tried to clean their room, yet only picked up their underwear--unfortunately, that's a bad analogy because by absolute measure, your kids did more than the politicians.

The difference between Bush, McCain versus Obama here is that the former two did make those speeches and made at least some effort to impose regulations on Fannie and Freddie. At least McCain had his name on a bill that would have done so. There is no evidence that Obama did anything at all, there is some reason to believe that he was opposing such, given that in three years he was able to rise to #2 in Fannie and Freddie political contributions, 4-5 times the level that McCain got over a much longer period of time. They must have thought that they were getting something for their money. What was it?

Trooper York said...

My personal favorite Elizabeth Bennet is of course the immortal Greer Garson. However I must confess a shameful secret. Keira Knightley is the exception that proves the rule as she is the one skinny skank actress that I find eminently bangable. I believe it was performance as the savage Guinevere in King Arthur, but what are you gonna do. Two bracoiles up for her that skinny whore.

Bruce Hayden said...

Chicago politics at work: Sheriff in Ill. county won't evict in foreclosures:

CHICAGO (AP) - Residents of foreclosed properties in Chicago and other parts of Cook County don't have to worry about deputies forcing them out. Sheriff Tom Dart says that starting Thursday his office won't take part in evictions.

Dart says he's concerned that many of the people being evicted are renters who were unaware that their landlords have been failing to pay their mortgages. He says his deputies have no way of knowing whether they're removing someone who has defaulted on a loan or someone who has been faithfully paying rent.

Dart says he thinks he's the first sheriff in a major metropolitan area to stop such evictions during the ongoing foreclosure crisis.

Dart says the number of mortgage foreclosures in Cook County has skyrocketed and will probably keep rising.

I don't know about Cook County, but throughout much of the country, the sheriff's office is involved in the foreclosure process. Even if they aren't, it is typically trivial to determine whether or not a property is under foreclosure - just check the county records for the property. And if that is too much work, look and see who is doing the foreclosing. Ask for a copy of the lease, and if the same party is evicting that is on the lease, then it is probably not the mortgagee.

Darcy said...

Oh, good call, Trooper. Greer Garson was stunning. I liked that version very much.

(Skipping the Keira stuff...lol...)

My favorite Garson film is "That Forsythe Woman". I don't know much about her, but she had a fascinating onscreen presence.

veni vidi vici said...

Keira, nightly.

"I'm still enjoying examining the various oddities of the race (reactions to Palin, the Obama kid videos, etc.) but my desire to tear down Obama or build up McCain has waned considerably."

Amen to both the above sentiments. McCain has failed to present a rationale for his candidacy. Pointing out his opponent's flaws and the failings of the opponent's proposed governance is insufficient if not accompanied by constant pounding out the positive reasons why voters should elect you. Despite what McCain's saying in speeches and on the trail which does lay this stuff out in spades, the media has ignored that part of his speeches (in some cases, actively and egregiously so - see Patterico on the LA Times' coverage a couple days ago), so his chances of pulling this thing off are greatly diminished.

The failure to present a coherent brand in these debates is unforgiveable. Leave the negs to Palin; he should be hammering a few key points over and over - in that sense, he's got a lot to learn from Bush about campaigning (and how to win).

Obama was likewise a burbling well of policy gibberish last night, so it was difficult to tell who won (although on the radio driving home yesterday I felt McCain was getting slaughtered during the first portion).

I was pleasantly surprised that McCain did borrow a page from Bush during the closing statement, though. Bush mentioned in his "A Charge to Keep" autohagiography that he never forgot to end campaign speeches by asking the people there for their votes. McCain was smart to do this; I had wondered why he neglected to do so in the first debate, since it is good retail politics.

Will it help him any at this point? I'm not expecting it to. Positions are hardened among the electorate, and both sides are running out the clock to what will be a nailbiter on November 4. I think it's both laughably weak and objectionably pathetic that team McCain may be coasting in reliance upon being bailed out by the "Bradley effect" on election night. If that's all they've got between now and then (i.e. if they don't find a way to start selling their own ideas rather than just slogging off on Obama (which is fair play, but shouldn't be the only thing they talk about)), they deserve to lose. And sorely.

WTF happened to political leadership in this country? How are we supposed to "lead the world" if the corridors of power are filled with the shitheels we've put in DC?

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

This was the Ben Franklin debate (has been for a couple of weeks). Ben Franklin, you know the guy who said he kept his mouth shut and let people think he was a fool rather than open his mouth and prove it. McCain said he didn't know economics, proves it by blaming Chris Cox etc. He should have chosen an economic adviser as VP, Lawrence Summers for instance. McCain didn't get ready to govern. Obama's criticisms have been schtick; he doesn't believe Bush's deregulation caused this. But if he can pin it on the Republicans, heh, school can start later.

PJ said...

I am inclined to think that with the development of complex securities and the pursuit of profit along the edge of disaster, the free market failed spectacularly.

Much has been written above about this passage, and I agree with the critics. I don't think you can defend the assertion that the market that failed was a "free" one in any meaningful sense. I would certainly agree that private-sector participants in that market made some terrible judgments, but the market itself was heavily distorted by the government.

When we need new regulation, Obama effectively associated McCain with his party's love of deregulation.

This reads as though it was Obama's debating skill, rather than the merit of his point, that has persuaded you. I hope that's not true.

While I would agree that Obama did "effectively associate McCain with his party's love of deregulation," I do not agree with Obama's implied claim that McCain himself loves deregulation. In fact, Virginia Postrel has called McCain an "instinctive regulator" (http://tinyurl.com/3u68mw) and provided evidence. To the extent that Obama has used his debating skill to make people believe that McCain in principle abhors regulation, I believe he has fooled the rubes.

And I say this as someone who wishes that McCain were a principled deregulator and who believes that the net effect of government on the subprime mortgage crisis was to make it worse, not better.

Arturius said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hoosier Daddy said...

This is just something ignorant conservative racists (but I repeat myself) say to basically prove that they don't know anything about economics or history but they sure hate government and poor people.

Doyle, are conservatives like Sowell, Rice or Powell racists or just Uncle Toms in your eyes?

Anytime you want to discuss history or economics you just let me know sparky. Make sure you bring your A game.

tim maguire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim maguire said...

Simon, I've seen that Barone quote and I agree--Republicans nominated the only man running who just might win and Democrats nominated the only man running who just might lose.

But still...

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