Friday, August 29, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum . . .

It's too easy to make fun of Barack Obama giving his speech in front of faux Greco-Roman architecture. "Does he think he's a Greek god?" " . . . a Roman Emperor?" etc. But let's make fun of him for substantial reasons.

Through most of the acceptance speech, I was rolling my eyes at the substanceless claptrap that was, yet again, coming out of his mouth. Then, much to my surprise, for the first time, he actually said something. And I agreed with maybe 2/3 of his ideas. Which means one of two things: 1) he purposefully avoided specifics, because the specifics he gave would have never gotten him the nomination (you can't agree with me 2/3 of the time and win the DNC nomination), or 2) he lied about most of the 2/3. I personally don't believe for a minute that the Senator with the most Leftist record in the Senate was telling the truth about what he wants to do. The strategic move to the middle to try to get elected was completed last night.

Obama said that "government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves." And nothing else, I would add. Which means, little at all. But what does Obama think it is? "protect us from harm [vague, but good so far] and provide every child a decent education [all the home schoolers disagree with this, of course]; keep our water clean [I'll give him this one -- if he's talking about property rights enforcement] and our toys safe [the consumer actually does this best, so he's wrong here]; invest in new schools [would be much better if privatized] and new roads [for practical reasons, I'll give him this one] and science and technology [private industry and university grants can do this quite well without government -- all nonmilitary technology was developed by the private sector, not the government]." Quite a mixed back of things that we really cannot do reasonably well, and things which government has little to no business being involved in.

Obama: "That's the promise of America -- the idea that we are responsible for ourselves [I don't believe he believes this for a minute], but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper {someone should tell his brother in Kenya that -- hey, Obama, charity begins at home!]."

Obama: "I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America." I believe the first part, not the last part. He things private industry is the problem, not the solution, and that therefore all corporations need to have more taxes levied. I wish I believed all of it.

"I'll eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow." This is a demonstration of Obama's ignorance [of course, this IS the guy who thinks cars still need tune-ups]. Capital gains taxes are paid on stocks, bonds, and property that have gone up in value. It has nothing to do with small businesses and start-ups. At all. Unless it's someone buying property, of course. Or a brokerage. On the other hand, everyone who owns stocks or land -- I own a house and I have a small portfolio, though I'm far from rich (I'm middle class even by Obama's definition) -- do have to pay capital gains taxes. I'm not a small business (which don't own stock anyway), so I guess I and the other 100 million Americans who do own stock, property, etc. will probably face higher taxes.

"I will, listen now, cut taxes -- cut taxes -- for 95 percent of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class." I wish that were true. But what about the other 5%? And what if the economy gets better? The implication is that when it's no longer "an economy like this," that this no longer applies.

"And for the sake of our economy, our security and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president: In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East." And I have some magic beans to sell you. Government can do nothing of the sort. Never has, never will. That's not what governments are designed to do. They are especially not well-equipped to change the laws of nature.

Obama did say, "drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution." Nobody ever said it was anything but a stop-gap. MIght as well get what you got, though.

This angered the greens in the party: "I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power." We can safely harness nuclear power. We just need to stop the government from preventing the production of new plants. The Left want to emulate France in all things except one: they get 80% of their electricity from nuclear power. Also, he won't tap anything, as that is done by private companies. ANd coal is pretty clean already. When was the last time you heard about acid rain?

"I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars." If the American people want it, the auto companies won't need government to help them retool -- they will do it all on their own. In fact, they are. And these cars are becoming cheaper, too, so Obama's already way behind the curve on this. Rhetorical claptrap is all it is.

THere was of course more talk about throwing more money at education, even though there is no correlation between spending and outcome. "I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability." Really? I don't believe it. The teachers' unions won't allow it. I have a Ph.D. in the Humanities, but I can't teach without certification. That's nonsense. I don't need additional certification -- I have a Ph.D. Naturally, teachers don't want to compete with me, so their unions had laws passed to prevent me from competing. Naturally, the unions would like to have higher salaries, but the unions are practically useless here, or else they would have higher salaries and better benefits. My wife had the worst health insurance she ever had when working for Dallas ISD. This is insurance provided by government (keep that in mind when Obama talks about universal health care). And the TEA absolutely will not stand for "higher standards and more accountability." And if there is one thing you can count on, it's that a Democrat will be beholden to the unions.

"If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums." How? By magic? Force? Threat? That's all government has. YOu may get lower premiums, but you will also get less coverage and care. Of course, he knows this, and that's why he wants to do it. Why? So he can justify true socialized medicine.

"And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most." Anecdotes always override facts in peoples' minds. Unfortunately. You never hear about the vast majority of people for whom the insurance company came through and covered them, of the insurance that covered an experimental procedure, of the continuing coverage when jobs were changed. All of this happened with my mother when she was dying with cancer. Now that my anecdote cancels out Obama's anecdote, can we please deal with truth and facts? I am so tired of hearing the stories of the one person in America who is having this or that problem, and using that unique situation used as justification for ruining lives, systems, and the economy as a whole.

"Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations." On the last one, he already pooh-poohed the only real solution: privatization. It's either privatization, where everyone will get to retire rich, or keep it in the government, where it is used to loan money to the government at a low interest rate and requires ever-higher taxes.

"And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have the exact same opportunities as your sons." They do, by any reasonable yardstick. The differences in pay stem from the choices men and women make. Consider doctor pay. Women make less than men, but men are more likely to go into a specialization (which pays more) and into private practice, while women are more likely to go into things like pediatrics or being a family doctor and are more likely to work for nonprofit hospitals. There's nothing wrong with any of these choices, but the choices many women doctors make result in lower wages. A nonprofit hospital simply cannot pay as much as a for-profit hospital. There is no insidious plot by men to keep women down. It's time that the paranoid rhetoric stopped.

"I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less -- because we cannot meet 21st century challenges with a 20th century bureaucracy." Please do. Shrink government any way you can. Better, how about you propose a "sunset law" that makes everything just go away unless directly voted on again every ten years or so.

I'm not sure he will get good in foreign affairs simply because I don't think he understands how many people think. He doesn't believe that someone can in fact be ill-intentioned. He doesn't believe that religion really matters in people's lives. He doesn't take real threats seriously. I do fear he'll be far more like Chamberlain than Roosevelt when it comes to foreign policy. And I fear he'll be more like Roosevelt when it comes to economic policy (Roosevelt's rhetoric still has people fooled into thinking his policies helped rather than hurt the economy, as all objective studies show). I've been back and forth on the abortion issue over the years, but Obama believes in out and out infanticide. On social issues he and I might agree somewhat on gay rights, but probably on little else.

Finally, economist Arnold Kling gives a great list of things no politician will ever be able to accomplish. In other words, any politician promising to accomplish anything in these areas that is beneficial is lying to you.

Next week I get to pick apart the Republicans. Should be fun.
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