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February 12, 2008

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Don't you suspect that McCain's talk of keeping the Bush tax cuts permanent is playing to the base for the sake of getting the nomination, sort of like the Democrats scrambling to one-up each other on how quickly they'll toss Maliki et al. overboard once sworn in?

Ugh, Andrew. Must you draw the false parallel?

"Scrambling to one-up each other on how quickly they'll toss Maliki et al. overboard once sworn in."

I think I you're talking about the idea that Americans will withdraw from Iraq.

I'm not sure, though, because it's a bit, well, non-standard to assume that an American withdrawal will lead to the fall of the Maliki government. In point of fact, most assessments are that the Shia under Maliki will win any subsequent civil war.

That said, the parallel is quite problematic. First, the Democrats haven't been trying to one-up each other on Iraq. Second, Obama is quite sincere in his plan to withdraw most combat forces within 16 months.

The Democratic dynamic first: Obama hasn't changed his position since entering the race. Edwards and Richardson called for immediate and total withdrawal. Clinton then moved in that direction; one candidate's move isn't really one-upping.

Even there her positions are carefully hedged in a way that McCain's tax cut pledges are not.

More relevantly I have little doubt that neither Clinton or Obama will fail to follow through with their Iraq policies. The political cost would be too large.

Similarly, I have no reason to believe that McCain will fail to follow through with his intention to try to make the cuts permanent. He can't renege without generating a rebellion among the Congressional GOP.

That said, I suspect that he won't succeed, because he'll have to deal with a Democratic Congress.

In other words, if you like the idea of four more years of American involvement in Iraq, don't think that medical care is a problem in America, and are willing to take the risk that he will succeed in his inevitable effort to extend the tax cuts, then a vote for McCain makes sense.

I am not even remotely claiming that it would be crazy to vote for the man.

I am stating that I simply don't understand how someone could have preferences that rank McCain /between/ either of the Democratic front-runners, or how someone can be so undecided between him and the Democrats that small ephemera could sway your vote.

First point is that I don't think that you'd have Maliki, Hakim, and the SIIC in charge of one side of any civil war; you'd rather have a free for all between Hakim and Sadr at the same time as the central part of the country splits into warlordism (or, more accurately, removes even the fiction of a central Iraqi government). But okay, I will grant that there was a little bit of straw-manning going on in my wording of that first bit.

To continue, though, I don't think it's a false parallel at all. Hillary would, I think, be more responsible about leaving MiTT-type troops in place to act as adult supervision for the various Iraqi Security Forces, but can't possibly say that to a base whose position is to demand immediate and complete withdrawal from Iraq yesterday. Likewise, Edwards was originally not for a complete Iraq withdrawal until he threw his hat into the presidential ring this time around. The only reason he adopted his "no help at all for Iraqi Security Forces" posture was that he is telling the base what it wants to hear.

I'll grant that Obama and Kucinich have had consistent positions, but for the rest, what I see going on is the standard primary business of saying what you need to lock up the nomination. WJC, after all, ran to the left of Tsongas in 1992 and then proceeded to govern as a centrist.

And all of that comes back to in a Clinton/McCain contest, I would in fact be severely torn between the two. I think that both would be responsible with respect to tax rates (i.e. letting the tax cuts expire) and how to extricate the U.S. from the Iraq Unpleasantness (i.e. both would allow for some sort of stabilizing presence of U.S. forces to keep Hakim, Sadr, the various Awakenings, etc. from launching into open war with each other), but I think that both are saying what they need to to lock up the nomination.

Andrew, presidents have a very good record of trying to do what they say that they are going to do during their campaigns. Think about why President Clinton failed to reform health care. Hint: it wasn't because he didn't try his damndest.

If you believe that McCain /won't try to do what he says he will/ on fiscal policy, then nothing I say will convince you.

Since McCain will face a Democratic congress it might even turn out to be true, but that's not the argument you're making.

Similarly, if you believe that McCain will draw down the American presence in Iraq /in contravention of his myriad statements to the contrary/ then nothing I say will convince you.

If what you want are tax hikes plus a drawdown in Iraq, then Hillary trumps McCain. You're more likely to get both. End of story.

So why are you temporizing?

My first guess is that you like McCain, and you don't like Hillary Clinton.

Fine. No problem. Gotcha. Makes sense. I used to like him too, until he (1) sold out in '04 and (2) I realized just how strangely militarist he is. Mileage varies on both, I still respect you.

Second guess is that you don't really want an American drawdown in Iraq, and that's your number-one issue, but for some reason you don't want to face up to the fact that said position means that you support McCain over Hillary.

And like I said, it makes total sense to say you believe a Democratic congress will reign in McCain's ability to follow through on his fiscal promises, so you don't even need to make a tradeoff.

For some reason, though, you prefer to argue that your man is lying through his teeth. As justification, you present rather tortured versions of Edwards' stand on the war and a profound misreading of recent political history as precedents.

Huh?

Finally, here's the part that /really/ flummoxes me: you're torn because you believe that there's little effective daylight between McCain and Clinton on the war and taxes. So ... those are the only issues that you care about?

Really? Health care, bank regulation, mortgage relief, nothing? No tie-breakers at all between two radically different candidates?

Heck, not even identity tie-breakers, she's a woman/he's a combat vet? Nada?

I can't say much to that.

Never understood the McCain thing. He's a far right Arizona senator who manages to be professionally friendly with liberals, and he only looks moderate because we've had eight years of the radical right in office.

I think it's mainly due to his excellent grasp of PR. It's hard to find details on how his senatorial or campaign staff functions (Republicans being the secretive party), but what does come up over and over again is how McCain deals with reporters. For an ex-combat vet (who was in a CAGE) he deals with J-school dropouts very very well.

It hasn't yet translated into popular appeal -- which is why I am not particularly worried -- and man, he's increasingly old and frail in his appearances. I have to assume that this is with the benefit of the finest wardrobe and make-up people money can buy.

On the other hand, I've heard he and Feingold are friends off the Hill as well. But friendship isn't policy.

hey Noel,

Sorry I've not been online. We've had teh crud here: some nasty with a sore throat, coughing, and the nsal drippage from infernal palces. Lyuda got it first from colelge and brought it home. Avrora went down on Friday. I succumbed on Sat.

Yes, as odd as it might sound, McCain's choice of Veep will sway my vote. McCain's policies will only last as long as McCain is President. At his age, notwithstanding his mother's longevity, and the life he's had it's still VERY likely he'll bite the dust before the end of his tenure. We all know the Presidency ages people very quickly and McCain's pretty damned old as it is. If his Veep is of the Fundie Bunch, nuh uh, no frakkin way. I didn't vote for Huckles for a really good reason!

If McCain weren't so old, I'd not even be thinking about this.

Now, mind you, Noel, that I can be swayed to vote for Obama if he gets the nomination. I don't vote for the party, I vote for the nominee. I happen to think voting in the Repugnants gives me a chance to sway things a wee bit more than in the 'Brats, especially in Cali, and there are some things that I agree a tad more with the Repugs than the Brats. Out of the Repugs on the menu this time around, McCain was the best of the lot. I would have voted for early-to-mid 1990s Romney - or at least what he appeared to be then - but he's now a chameleon to show whatever people want: I went to church with guys like him. I would never vote for them[1]. Huckles... oy. Never. T3h 3v1L, don't make me laugh.

To be perfectly honest, if you all nominate Clinton, I'm probably not going to vote for her, but its not because she would necessarily be a /bad/ President. I really abhor the idea that two families will have controlled the White House for two decades already and we'd be set for it to be nigh on three.

If I were a Democrat, by the time the election got to California, I would have voted Obama.

Yes, yes, Carlos, I know. It's not necessarily a purely /rational/ idea. It's emotional and a tad idealistic. I'm fully aware of that.

1. Yes, I grew up in /that/ Church. I don't go anymore. If you provide a verifiable, testable hypothesis and it blatantly and utterly fails to pass even if you squint. Uh, yeah, no thanx. I don't go around bad mouthing them either. *shrugs*

As a side note, my wife is learning about the Protestant Reformation in her first American history class right now. It' something that being a Ukrainian they didn't touch on at all: it wasn't a part of their religious heritage whatsoever, so post Soviet Union it simply wasn't covered. During the Soviet Union, uh yeah, not then either. It's fun. :) She thinks that this ought to be taught in Ukraine now because of the various missionary churches coming into Ukraine now.

Ob WI: Marx decides that people need to go through stages of development in religion as well as economics. Protestantism is one such stage before getting to the ideal of atheism. Effects on Protestants in the West that they are supposed to be a "stage" towards atheism? Does the USSR set up a sanctioned "Protestant" Church?

Will, I hope you feel better!

I have to admit that I can't parse your post at all.

You're going to vote for somebody in the hope that he dies in office so that his veep can take over and stop his bad policies?

I can't be reading you right.

Perhaps you meant to say: "I support occupying Iraq and I don't support universal health care, but since McCain is old I might hold my nose and vote for Obama (but not Hillary, because I am opposed to dynasticism) if McCain makes a crazy his veep."

Am I wrong? I don't understand the "sway" bit at all. Especially since your vote probably won't matter in the general, living in California and all.

Will, I'm getting a sneaking suspicion that HDTD readers who oppose socialized medicine and support a prolonged occupation of Iraq are very reluctant to say so explicitly. That's too bad, if I'm right.

After all, while I obviously think either position is bad for the country, neither is crazy and neither says "F*** you, I got mine."

You've almost characterized my positions, but let me make a couple of corrections.

In the first place, I think that we do need a drawdown in Iraq--the current predicament of 1/3 of the Army and Marine Corps spinning up to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq, 1/3 deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 1/3 coming off of deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq leaves the U.S. with basically no troop strength in reserve. But... 50k troops keeping an eye on things in Iraq is a very different thing from all troops out of Iraq. And as far as I can tell from McCain's statements, he doesn't plan on keeping 160k troops in Iraq indefinitely--he just doesn't believe in an attempt to wash America's collective hands of the problem in the space of a little over a year. His "hundred years" remark was in a (flawed, IMO) comparison to the occupations of Korea, Japan, Germany, etc.

Otherwise, you are perfectly right that at this point, I really only have two issues that I have a burning concern about--the federal government not being in hock to the PRC and an Iraq that's not an utter conflagration.

So while drawdown + tax hikes is a clear win for Hillary, drawdown that leaves something resembling an Iraqi state in place + tax hikes is much less clear.

On the issue of candidates and promises, I want to start with the caveat that I may be wrong (you are an economist and I am a medievalist). That said, in the first place, GHW Bush ran by making his famous "read my lips" pledge for the Reaganite base and then looked at the budgetary numbers and backed off. Likewise, ISTR reading a few leftists who were quite upset that Clinton enacted much less than he had promised upon taking office because of his and Rubin's concerns with getting the budget balanced ASAP. Unless I've missed something, the above seem uncontroversial.

And how is my understanding of Edwards' position tortured? He voted for the war in 2002. In 2004, his position was that some sort of extrication needed to be found out of Iraq that wasn't a full-fledged retreat. In 2008, his position is that he would not even provide military aid to the Iraqi security forces. It seems to be very much in keeping with him tracking changes in the Democratic base and adjusting his position as necessary.

Andrew: thank you for explaining. It seems to me that you should vote for McCain.

The problem, of course, is that McCain is the most unprincipled and confusing politician still in the race.

(I am not joking.)

http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/02/the_mccain_enigma.php

Regarding the three examples you mentioned, let me briefly explain.

(1) Bush I ran into a great deal of trouble from his own party when he backtracked on taxes. "Exceptions that prove rules" are events that turn out not to be exceptions when closely analyzed, and this fits the pattern. He paid a very large political price for his (correct, IMO, of course) decision to raise taxes.

(2) Bill Clinton failed in his big 1993 health care initiative and then proceeded to lose the House. There was a post-midterm internal battle between Reich and Rubin over Administration spending policies, but the fuzziness of Reich's plans and the political impossibility of achieving any of them ended the Clinton Administration's ambition of completing the New Deal.

Clinton did break a promise in 1993, but it was a general election pledge for a "middle class tax cut." Instead, the Revenue Reconciliation Act of 1993 raised taxes on the top 2% of taxpayers. It also greatly expanded the EITC, however, a very lefty goal. (The EITC expansion reduced taxes on 15 million families, which is how Bill argued that the middle class had in fact received a tax cut.)

Uncontroversial stories are often wrong.

(3) John Edwards moved far to the left on a number of issues after leaving the Senate. In point of fact, he drove the entire field leftward. (Obviously, I happen to think that this was a good thing for the country.) I can't see into his heart, but I find it very hard to believe that he would have tacked back to the right on any of his signature issues after the election.

He was in favor of withdrawal by late 2007, although he then stated that there were some circumstances under which he might reintroduce troops. By January some were characterizing his position as having changed, but that's hard to see.

http://mediabloodhound.typepad.com/weblog/2007/02/oped_column_edw.html

http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/Politics/story?id=3145232

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/01/02/america/edwards.php

http://www.johnedwards.com/issues/iraq/

The exception was one unfortunate debate performance where Clinton and Obama outmaneuvered him into stating that he would never ever ever send troops back into the country.

I don't think you were arguing that Edwards might have been politically-motivated rather than sincere in his populism. Although I must say that there is a lot of evidence that he was and is sincere. After all, he changed his position rather early in the campaign season, when it was risky to do so.

Rather, it seemed that you were arguing that Edwards would abandon his position in the general election and upon assuming office.

There is no evidence of that.

I will admit that the experience of the last eight years has made me far more likely to take politicians at their word about what they say that they will try to do.

oy. I wrote that badly then. Very badly. My head must be more messed up than I thought. My apologies!

I am worried that McCain will put an anti-Science, uberconservative Fundie in the Veep slot. I DO NOT WANT THAT. McCain's policies will last only as long as McCain lives then.

I do support the Iraq War. "Pottery Barn rule". Counterinsurgencies are not short term wars. (waiting for the salvo there).

If it can be done in a fiscally responsible way, I do support universal health care. This isn't a hedge. I would really like to see everyone get good health care. However, my experience with government programs of most kinds is that they get really out of control monetarily. I really worry, especially with the health care requirements for the elderly Baby Boomers, that this will cripple, well, anyone that pays taxes. Show it will work and not just produce another bloated ineffective program that we need to bail out time and again. Don't just show me how we can afford it now. Show me how it can be affordable by the time my spawn are supporting my generation. And so on. Do that, and I'll be tauting it alongside you.

I DO believe our current system of health is very broken.

What I meant about being swayed is that I am more than willing support Obama in a general election, if the arguments have been made that convince me that Obama is better than McCain.

Is that clearer?

I hope?

Or should I wait another day before replying again cuz the brain's still futzed.

On a final note, this conversation is somewhat moot as 1) I vote as a Texan in the general election, 2) by the time I realized that Texas would still be in play, I did not have time to register as a Democrat to vote in the Texas primary, and 3) unless Ayub al-Masri and Izzat al-Douri convert to Christianity in a Billy Graham Crusade and Anton LaVey is invited to speak at the Democratic national convention, the next president of the U.S. is being decided now, not in November.

Hah!

Isn't LaVey dead? Of course, how would we know?

Wow, it looks like you have quite a route of Clinton in VA.

Congratz.

Some brilliant sonofagun on McCain's 'victory' speech: "My friends, I am a crazy old man. I have surrounded myself by the living dead, my friends."

Okay, last nights returns seem like they're going to be making this entire conversation increasingly irrelevant, but I want to make one comment to your more recent comment on the issue of GHWB and Clinton. I still find myself wondering if they are exceptions because I'm also thinking about them in the context of Regan. Not the Reagan of myth for the base, for whom it will forever be 1980, but the actual Reagan who governed. When he realized that the Kemp-Roth tax cuts had overshot with respect to how much they reduced revenue, he raised taxes. So too did he sign into law the tax reform of 1986 and, IIRC, an increase in Social Security payroll taxes.

Which is to say, that, with the exception of GWB as a bizarre outlier, the impression I get is one of a tendency of presidents to go into a fairly moderate mode based on the needs of the government once in office.

Andrew, this is a question of interpretation. You're shifting the argument.

Your own example shows it clearly. Ronald Reagan was elected on a platform of dramatic tax cuts, and dramatic tax cuts is what we got. Kemp-Roth slashed rates dramatically.

When that didn't work out as planned, the President did in fact reverse course. (At least partially.) He did that /because it did not work out as planned/. He did not abandon a campaign promise. He tried it and then moderated it.

This is very different from the interpretation that you gave, in which a candidate tacks towards his party's base during the primary and then abandons those promises during the general election or upon assuming office.

In other words, your impression is half-right. Bush 2 is not an outlier because he tried to implement his campaign promises. That is standard, and one needs to misread recent political history in order to believe otherwise.

Bush 2 is an outlier because /once policies turned out not to be working/ he stuck to them.

He is also an outlier (or, I think, a harbinger) in the sense that he was the first president in recent years to be able to govern in a truly parliamentary style, with a parliamentary party.

Does this clear things up? Apologies, Andrew, but I've got to write quickly today.

Yeah, that does clear things up.

And really, I should be dissertating right now rather than discussing politics; your declaration of busy-ness has shamed me into getting off the computer and back to work.

"He is also an outlier (or, I think, a harbinger) in the sense that he was the first president in recent years to be able to govern in a truly parliamentary style, with a parliamentary party."

Expound a little? No caffeine yet and I think that an example would be appreciated.

I'll try to give it another post in a bit, Will. Basically, the American political system has changed but the voters haven't caught up --- many people still say that they are going to "vote for the candidate, not the party," but that is increasingly specious.

Today you get the party, regardless of the candidate.

I don't think that's a bad thing; what's bad is that too many voters don't realize it yet. But it deserves much more explication.

Fair enough. I look forward to the promised posts.

Out of curiosity, are you headed down to TX to help campaign? Seems like a logical thing to do if time permits.

Love the videos.

Interesting discussion, both in the blog post and the comments.

I fall in the Hillary camp--both on those cute quizzes and by choice, but I agree with the proposition-vote Democrat (whether it's Clinton or Obama).

This is a little late, but as regards the Republicans governing as a parliamentary party, you could do a lot worse than reading through the archives at Mark Schmitt's old site. (In case the HTML doesn't make it through, the site's at http://markschmitt.typepad.com/ .) That's where I first came across the notion.

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