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Indecision 2008: Experience, Economy, and Environment

September 2nd, 2008 by Max Gladwell · 13 Comments

Opinions and observations about the 2008 presidential campaign.

Now that the Democratic and Republican tickets are complete, we’re prepared to offer our humble opinions about this most historic presidential contest between Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin. Though most of our political writings are in the context of social media and sustainability, this is the rare exception. We’re daring to join the chorus of pundits who’ve already put their stamp of punditry on this 2008 race. Here is ours.

Our political compass points neither left nor right, and we can hardly be described as centrists. Our politics is an individual viewpoint grounded in the principles of reason, morality, freedom, capitalist democracy, and the American Constitution. It is libertarian in so far as the free market is the most efficient type of economic system for a free and democratic society; it is liberal in so far as the free market lacks morality and requires government to regulate it accordingly. This is a delicate balance, which tends to skew one way or another when lobbyists and special interests get involved.

We reluctantly submit that there is very little choice in this two-party system. Each is ultimately controlled by special interests, though as Bill Maher once noted, “The Democrats are controlled by a slightly less scary group of special interests.” Two of the more damaging entities that come to mind: Big Oil and the Teachers’ Union. Each wields undo influence to the exclusive benefit of its constituency and to the detriment of the rest of society. Big Oil helps keep us enslaved to a toxic and unsustainable energy source; the Teachers’ Union keeps us enslaved to a broken and inefficient education system that is last among developed, first-world nations. Both of these compromise our national security and should be dealt with accordingly. And these are but two of a long list of examples.

It’s through this type of political lens that we look at the two candidates and their respective running mates.

Long before Biden and Palin were announced as the Vice-Presidential candidates, we threw our support behind Obama. Truth be told, we were also supporting Hillary Clinton (HRC) and would have been satisfied with her presidency. The Clintonian political philosophy isn’t perfect, but it worked damn well in the ’90s on many fronts. Bush inherited a huge budget surplus, and look where we are eight years later. We certainly shouldn’t have to recount Bush’s many abysmal failures and abuses of power. In fact, it’s challenging to find a success in any objective sense, unless an historic expansion of executive power, complete with appointing a Chief Justice to sign off on it, can be considered a success. But Republicans have to realize that this cuts both ways. The only hope is that the next president is magnanimous enough to restore balance to the three branches of government and uphold the central principles of our Constitution.

When it comes to the current race, the Republicans, for lack of much else, are targeting Obama on his experience…or lack thereof. But how does this stack up in a historical context?

After attending Columbia and Harvard, where he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama served partial terms as both an Illinois State Senator and U.S. Senator. If the tables were turned and this was a young Republican, you can be sure Abraham Lincoln would be invoked at every opportunity, so here it is. Obama’s experience aligns with Lincoln’s almost to the day. The opponents of John F. Kennedy and William J. Clinton said the same thing and were proven wrong. On the other hand, both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush appeared to have some of the “right experience”, whatever that is, and look how those turned out. So there is zero consistency or basis for this experience claim. Which is to say that history shows presidential experience to be arbitrary…with the exception of one thing.

The truth is that no job can specifically prepare one to be President of the United States. It is wholly different from running a company, a state, or serving in the legislature. This is partly why we have such a rigorous election process, which now starts almost two years before election day and includes a lengthy primary process. In addition to Obama’s previous experience, this is why we’d argue that he is, at the very least, qualified to be President.

Obama organized and lead the most successful presidential campaign in U.S. history, a feat and accomplishment that may never be repeated. He was running against the formidable Clinton political machine, which included the popular former President Bill Clinton. Hillary was the clear front runner. Her brand was stronger than ever and universally known. Most assumed she’d get the nomination. Obama said in June of 2007, “We’re like Avis. We have to try harder,” in reference to his distant number-two spot in the polls. Through superior judgment, strategy, and use of technology, Obama overcame incredible odds, but only after going the total distance of the primary. Obama defeated Clinton fair and square. This was an incredible victory and achievement for the freshman Senator from Illinois.

Granted, this experience doesn’t necessarily equip one to be President. But consider this: it’s the one thing, save for a few former VPs, that all past Presidents have in common. It’s perhaps the only consistency one can find between any two Presidents, whether good or bad. Each of our Presidents demonstrated sufficient leadership, tenacity, vigor, judgment, and strategy to get elected. Almost by definition, this qualifies one to be President. As we’ve seen with Bush and Carter, though, it’s no guarantee that they’ll be good at it. It just means they’re qualified through the only means we know: America’s system of democracy.

When it comes to McCain and Biden, we take it for granted that they are at least minimally qualified to be President through their successive decades in the Senate. Biden also brings more foreign policy experience than any individual serving in government today. As for Obama, we’re making the case that, in addition to serving as both a State and U.S. Senator, he has proven his leadership and competence through the same election process shared by all past Presidents. This leaves only Governor Palin in question.

Like all VPs, Palin has been appointed to the position. The only vetting she received was by the McCain campaign, and even that now appears incomplete. Most have never even heard of her. Imagine if she’d been in the Republican primary race, vying for the top of the ticket. The pundits would have had a field day. With a simple phone call, though, she’s next in line for the Presidency.

So here’s the prevailing opinion about the choice of Governor Palin: It’s a hail-mary pass intended to draw attention away from the historic and youthful nature of Obama and his message of change. McCain hopes to lure disaffected Hillary voters who might still be sitting on the fence. Palin’s positions on abortion and gun control will appeal to the Republican base. None of these, however, seem to overcome the rationale behind putting such an inexperienced and untested candidate on the ticket. After all, one can think of a long list of experienced, vetted Republican women who would better serve these objectives. Meg Whitman, Christine Todd Whitman, and Kay Bailey Hutchison come to mind. The reality is that Palin is not a serious pick for VP. She’s little more than the Republicans’ sacrificial lamb…and a willing one at that.

Despite recent polls, the Republicans know they’re going to lose in November. In fact, the Republicans know this in the same way the Democrats knew in 1984, when they pitted Mondale-Ferraro against a very popular Regan-Bush. Yes, Mondale and Ferraro were sacrificial lambs, and women should feel insulted that each party has chosen to put a woman on the ticket only in the knowledge that they’ll lose. This is precisely why a better and more qualified woman is not on the ticket. Whitman, Whitman, and Hutchison don’t need the national exposure, and they don’t want to tarnish their brands with a loss. And if the Bush administration and McCain’s age and Obama’s phenomena weren’t enough to convince you that this election is already over, look to history.

When the economy is in trouble, the incumbent party gets voted out every time. In 1932, FDR beat Hoover in the midst of the Great Depression. In 1980, Regan beat Carter during record inflation and sure signs of a recession. In 1992, Clinton beat Bush on “The economy, stupid.” And in 2008, Obama will beat McCain because we’re in the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression. There may be exceptions, but this is clearly the rule. So Palin’s inexperience and other issues won’t matter, and the Republicans know it. They’re just going through the paces and minimizing the damage with an eye to 2012.

This essentially renders Palin’s positions on the environment moot. Still, it’s interesting to see the left react as it has to Palin’s environmental policies. It reminds us how the right reacts with social issues like abortion and gay marriage, as if a candidate’s positions on these automatically qualify or disqualify them to lead our country. That’s how we ended up with Bush. He appointed pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, but the rest of the country is in shambles. The same can happen with a green President. Because green candidates are a lot like green products.

A product’s green quality should not be the sole reason you buy it. First, it has to perform. You don’t want to settle for an inferior product because it’s green, just as you don’t want to settle for an inferior candidate. You also don’t want to pay twice as much for an equivalent green product because that’s not economically viable. Ideally, you want a product that is superior to its competitors at a lower price that just happens to be green. In terms of candidates, we think Obama lives up to this criteria. He’s far from a tree-hugger, but he’s a thoughtful and reasonable leader. As a result, he’ll do the right thing when it comes to environmental policy not because he’s “green” but because he tends to do the right thing.

And that’s essentially why we support Obama-Biden for President.

Photo: Comedy Central

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Tags: Politics