I’m going to rebut Senator Obama’s positions with Republican talking points, and then make a broader comment about what a sensible liberal has to do in order to achieve the most important items on their agenda. The speech I’m quoting from is here. I will provide links to the sources backing up my arguments as questions arise; I just wanted to get this written first.
A. Senator Obama’s conflation of domestic/foreign affairs, and inability to understand what the President is primarily responsible for
Senator McCain has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has made “great progress” under this President. He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisors – the man who wrote his economic plan – was talking about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a “mental recession,” and that we’ve become, and I quote, “a nation of whiners.”
Senator Gramm was the gentleman who said that bit about us being “a nation of whiners.” He said it in response to something very specific – whether or not we are in a recession or not. Here’s the complete argument, from the Washington Times:
“You’ve heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession,” he said, noting that growth has held up at about 1 percent despite all the publicity over losing jobs to India, China, illegal immigration, housing and credit problems and record oil prices. “We may have a recession; we haven’t had one yet.”
“We have sort of become a nation of whiners,” he said. “You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline” despite a major export boom that is the primary reason that growth continues in the economy, he said.
“We’ve never been more dominant; we’ve never had more natural advantages than we have today,” he said. “We have benefited greatly” from the globalization of the economy in the last 30 years.
Mr. Gramm said the constant drubbing of the media on the economy’s problems is one reason people have lost confidence. Various surveys show that consumer confidence has fallen precipitously this year to the lowest levels in two to three decades, with most analysts attributing that to record high gasoline prices over $4 a gallon and big drops in the value of homes, which are consumers’ biggest assets.
“Misery sells newspapers,” Mr. Gramm said. “Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.”
Now you may not agree with Senator Gramm’s tact, but he’s making a serious argument that has to be refuted point-by-point. Does Senator Obama have a response to the 1% growth rate, the major export boom, and the fact that the media does play up negative news? If he does, you don’t see it in the acceptance speech.
What you do see is a conflation of domestic and foreign priorities in the Obama speech. Yes, there are heroes in quiet ways, such as the ones making brakes every day for a closing plant, and heroes who take bullets over and over. But no one said they were whining; Senator Obama himself says they are “without complaint.” Sen. Gramm’s complaints are quite obviously aimed at the media primarily. And what Senator Obama refuses to admit – and what has been a theme all throughout the DNC – is whether the foreign has any priorities over the domestic (cf. Plato’s Republic – if we each have the perfect job for our ability, those who can kill others/guarantee security rule over us by default). If this were to be admitted, it would be devastating for the “George Bush sucks” argument. That there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack on US soil, that Iraq is far more stable and the surge has succeeded, that a shift in priorities will be the death of the Taliban in Afghanistan – those are major foreign policy accomplishments in an unstable, difficult world where talking alone means nothing when countries are willing to invade each other over far less than WMD (witness Georgia).
B. Equality of opportunity means you need to do more than talk about humble people whom you think you represent
Senator Obama uses the caricature that George Bush can do nothing right to make his case. He doesn’t really argue this. His speech gets worse when he tries to demonstrate that he understands the Republican ideology:
For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.
If this were true, I wouldn’t be a Republican. The argument is that lower taxes and deregulation allow for the market to flourish. Private individuals can work together to make opportunities for still more individuals. Taxes crush economic growth, especially taxes on people who have the income to invest.
No Republican – except the nuttiest sort – is going to say there should be no welfare or no anti-poverty legislation. The argument in the 90’s against AFDC was that it was corrupt beyond recognition, and there were workfare programs – i.e. Wisconsin’s – that were doing excellent, creative work with individuals who needed help and genuinely extending equality of opportunity. We want to see results for the money we put at problems, not throw money at problems, so we’d much rather see private solutions than government ones. The reasoning here is that private industry may have incentives to do a better job than bureaucracy.
Obviously that reasoning can be challenged, but the way Senator Obama framed the problem, you’d think the opposition party had absolutely no reasoning but only wanted to beat up on poor people.
Now Senator Obama’s primary appeal to us concerns equality of opportunity. He cites his young vets, students, his family, the workers he helped out early in his political career as being his heroes, but his primary solution is tax-relief, which doesn’t put him at odds with the Republicans in substance, unless you really believe that Republicans want to tax 95% of working families for the heck of it – the money can’t possibly be that substantial.
C. So what does energy dependence have to do with anything?
It’s funny that Obama launches into this tirade after his discussion of taxes, because all you need is an IQ of 2 to realize that funding energy alternatives is serious cash. Cash that you might have to tax to get. The real means for equality of opportunity driving Senator Obama’s vision is in this paragraph:
As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. 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. And I’ll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy – wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.
This is why the McCain camp can call Obama a “tax and spend” liberal. This money has to come from somewhere – the whole plan depends on getting new technology as soon as possible through public funding. There’s no trust of us as individuals who are free, but there is a deep-seated belief that as we embrace the future, we are better for it. You might say that since Senator Obama has outlined tax breaks, he can’t possibly hold back on those promises for these promises.
But remember: the Republicans will preserve tax cuts, and historically are pledged to giving them. The real difference between both parties is on spending priorities. If Senator Obama doesn’t spend money on new technology, then the Democratic party is substantially no different than the Republican party economically. And that would mean the lobbyists for companies who have a vested interest in these sorts of programs could easily go to the McCain side.
Now Senator Obama says that his money for this and the “army of new teachers” he wants and the “health care for every single American” is going to come from corporate loopholes being closed. Besides the fact that very rich people have ways of dodging taxes that no government could hope to counter, we have noted above that if you assault the rich, you lose out on investment. If they don’t invest, you don’t get economic growth. They simply move and take their money elsewhere.
Given that Senator Obama himself is a product of class mobility, surely he understands that as problematic as some rich people are, many understand what most Americans are going through and would be happy to help in a private capacity? No?
D. Memo to Senator Obama’s Campaign Advisor: Tell your candidate to shut up about foreign policy
This passage makes absolutely no sense:
For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just “muddle through” in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell – but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.
And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we’re wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.
That’s not the judgment we need. That won’t keep America safe. We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.
You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq. You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.
Wait a second – it looks like we actually did defeat al-Qaeda by occupying Iraq. They considered it the forefront of the battle against us, and lost there. And that’s taking Senator Obama’s cynical view of things, purposely discounting the work the Bush administration did in the Phillippines, the pressure put on the Saudis, the efforts in Somalia and Ethiopia. Moreover – the tough talk has stopped Libya completely, and pushed North Korea to the negotiating table. Is Senator Obama this blind? If he becomes President, he’s going to need to talk tough.
Furthermore – no country has lost more lives in the War on Terror than Iraq. They need and deserve that $79 billion surplus. There is no debate here, just as there is no debate about partitioning Iraq, as Senator Biden wanted to do. When the Iraqi Parliament was informed of Senator Biden’s plan to divide Iraq, several lawmakers there asked him what he thought they were dying for.
Afghanistan is clearly causing us problems now because of Pakistan, which has a vested interest in the Taliban – they created it. Talking to Pakistan, Senator Obama, is going to do squat unless you’re ready to play some complicated diplomatic games. Judging from your analysis right now, you are in no position to attempt those games.
But Afghanistan before was cleaned up in a matter of months – the resurgent Taliban isn’t because we failed with the troop levels and resources, it’s because another country is literally next door rebuilding them. Again, I don’t understand one bit of where this analysis is coming from, but if a colleague of mine offered it, I’d call him an idiot to his face.
E. If you’re liberal, how can you be realistic?
The deep problem with this speech is how it assesses the situation. There are elements of truth – I personally think the job market is no less than broken, actually – but Senator Obama doesn’t get at the difference between the quality of work available and the benefits one receives from work. He almost exclusively sides with the benefits; his world is one where as long as people are getting stuff, they’re happy.
That’s not my world. That’s not my America.
I think the denial of reality has to happen because liberals can’t outright call Republicans gay-hating women-hating fascists. They can’t do this because it’s not true for the majority of conservatives, especially not the evangelicals I know who are genuinely tolerant. So they have to make up a narrative where we pretty much hate poor people and want to kill people all across the world and give money to corporations who are our true gods, and pretty much just stop short of calling us evil. We’re just really, really misguided.
I’ve outlined where Leftist thought can emerge in critiquing Senator Obama’s speech. If he portrayed Republican ideas on economics realistically, he could respond with something like “lower taxes work best in conjunction with these social programs.” Instead, he just moves to energy, teachers, and healthcare, and the loose thinking just makes absolutely no sense to me, it looks like a grab bag of government funded waste waiting to happen. If he portrayed the conduct of foreign policy realistically, he could have had an argument I would have no quarrel with, which is whether we should be in Iraq in the first place (I would still argue we had to be there). He could have argued that American interests are better served any number of other ways.
But by not taking up the decision-making behind Iraq, he drops the best argument he had against Republican thinking. He just assumes the decision was wrong, and there’s no mention of the good our soldiers – the ones he claims to represent – have done specifically there.
For a powerful contrast with this speech, look at President Bush’s Second Inaugural Address, where the logic does add up. The true American promise is one we share, not one we grab. It has to be extended globally in some way. The world is a dangerous place, and building windmills for power while withdrawing troops from places terrorists are coalescing doesn’t help. What does help is when we look beyond ourselves and reach out to others.
If you’re liberal, and want to be realistic, think about how selfish Senator Obama’s wishlist is.