It is hard to see how John McCain could have won the 2008 election. Unlike 2000 or 2004, it was not a close-run event. But still, what if he had? (And with, say, Vice-president Pawlenty, not Palin.)
If the Supreme Court upholds Obamacare, then it is a no-brainer. Similarly, if you believe that President McCain would have let the auto industry go hang, then it is a no-brainer. But if the Supreme Court throws out the first and you do not believe (as I do not) that McCain would have done the second, then it is worth asking. Would a McCain administration have been better or worse?
The is one giant gain from a McCain administration: we would probably have a carbon ceiling and a carbon price. Assuming that the ACA does not survive, and that Detroit would have, what Obama administration accomplishments would have fallen by the wayside under a President McCain?
- Passed the stimulus ... but McCain would have passed one as well. It would be more weighted towards tax cuts, but similar in size;
- Passed Wall Street reform ... but some sort of bill was inevitable, what with a Democratic congress, and McCain was not a particular friend of Wall Street;
- Killed Osama bin Laden ... but honestly, if the opportunity arose, a McCain administration would have handled that as well as President Obama. McCain was not George Bush;
- Ended the war in Iraq ... thing is, I am not convinced that the Iraqis would not have kicked us out in 2011 anyway, given the political realities in Baghdad;
- Abolished “Don't Ask, Don't Tell”;
- Stopped torture ... oh, come on! Of course McCain would have done that;
- Kicked the banks out of the federal student loans;
- Boosted fuel efficiency standards ... but with a climate bill it would not matter that much. Plus, I think this is the kind of policy where the old pre-2004 McCain might have resurfaced, a safe way to be mavericky;
- Passed mini stimuli in 2010 and 2011 ... they would have been bigger under McCain. The Democratic Party is structurally less-disciplined than the GOP, and I know that McCain’s advisors are foxhole Keynesians. Put his election at risk, and we get them;
- Halted the construction of new coal plants ... but again, not necessary with a climate bill;
- Signed the New START treaty.
Monetary policy would have been about the same. And both Souter and Stevens would still be on the Supreme Court. No difference there, at least as of early 2012.
So what have we got? No equal rights for gay Americans to serve their country; the vampire squid continuing to suck blood from federal student loans; and no START treaty. Plus some greater risk of a catastrophic economic mistake.
On the other side, a market for carbon! And, ironically enough, possibly more stimulus. But a market for carbon! A weak market, with big caps, and no permit auctions ... but a market.
The difference seems not huge once you take the ACA and auto bailout off the table. (I am assuming that Libya would have gone similarly and that when confronted with the military and diplomatic reality, President McCain would have stayed out of Syria.)
I must be missing something. Can somebody help me out and tell me what?