Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama's speech ...

OK, the temple didn't look as bad as the overhead shots suggested. But the speech ... nothing special. If you buy into a Steinbeckian view of America, you loved it. If you don't (and more of the facts are on your side), it was fairly uninspired.

At Brazen Maverick, young Mr. Sarver asks conservatives just what they didn't like about the speech. It's a fair question. Here are a few answers.


The government did not, for example, stand by and watch a major American city drown. State and local government do appear to have stood by while an unprecedented storm approached. After it hit, the government's response to something that had never happened before was not as rapid as we wanted it to be. Bush, as is his wont, was slow to recognize that one of his people was not on top of things. At the end of the day, though, the loss of life from Katrina was a fraction of what what pre-storm projections suggested it would be.

As noted above, I don't think that his view of the American economy is accurate. There are economic problems. The value of homes has gone down but only after, during the earlier Bush years, they went way up. If you bought at the peak, this can be a problem, particularily if, whether by unfair inducement or not, you bought more than you could afford. But most people don't have subprime mortgages and very few are in foreclosure.

Unemployment is up, but is still below levels that used to be considered full employment. Growth has slowed but not stopped. Gas prices are maddening but they just aren't catastrophic. Obama's story rings hollow.

More to the point, these problems are not, for the most part, the result of government policies and won't be fixed by them. In fact, the policies that are advocated by Obama are likely to make them worse. A windfall profits tax will decrease oil production and do nothing to promote alternative energy sources. Raising taxes into an economic slowdown is more likely to exacerbate the slow down than to remedy it. While foreign competition undoubtedly can cause US job loss, protectionism always results in a net economic loss.

As for foreign policy, I heard two things. The Iraq War was bad and people in other countries don't like us as much. Both points are largely irrelevant. I have always been an Iraq War agnostic but the present issue is not whether to invade Iraq, but what to do now that we have done so. On that question, Obama has been consistently wrong and McCain has been consistently right.

Beyond the issues, I just don't think the speech was very interesting. Obama is a great speaker. This was not a great speech. If you are a believer, it struck the right notes. But if you are not, I don't think it was likely to have converted you.

14 comments:

Sam Sarver said...

Professor,

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. But as to the speech not being "very interesting," I have to ask some more.

With regard to the fairly lengthy sections of the speech devoted to the need for personal responsibility and better parenting, is it just that these are so obviously right that you find them ho-hum, or do you find them to be disingenuous, despite coming from a shining example of exactly how far a good upbringing can take a person willing to work hard?

Towards the end of the speech, Obama mentioned that, though we probably won't all agree on things like abortion and gun control, there are certainly things about those issues we do agree on, i.e. the need for fewer unwanted pregnancies and the fact that it's probably a good idea to keep inner-city gangs from being armed with automatic weapons. Were these similarly of no interest to you?

I don't dispute that employment numbers by themselves aren't bad, but what have you to say to the fact that people are having to work multiple jobs to make up for the income lost when their factory jobs went offshore? This one is particularly of interest to me and my wife, because she grew up (and I went to college) in Galesburg, Illinois, a town rapidly deteriorating because the Maytag plant that was the town's biggest employer moved to Mexico. As a result, former plant workers were having to compete with their own children for jobs in and around town. Is this issue not that interesting, or do you not see a problem with giving companies further incentive to move jobs overseas? I'm not necessarily saying we should punish those companies that do such things, but wouldn't it make greater economic sense to give an incentive to keeping jobs here?

Home values aren't down by apocalyptic amounts, as you say, but what does it tell us when foreclosures are up by leaps and bounds, and even bedrock institutions like Freddie Mac are having to worry about their liquidity? Is further deregulation of the mortgage market really a good way to ensure Countryside's loans are on the up-and-up in the future, or that we don't have another Bear Stearns fiasco?

I'm not sold on the idea of a windfall profits tax on the oil companies, but is it just not that interesting that McCain thinks their current profit levels still aren't good enough, and that instead, we must give them even more tax breaks?

By the way, whatever happened to McCain's budget hawk streak? I have to tell you, seven years ago this month, I was in Washington and spent four hours in the Senate Gallery, hoping to hear Senator McCain, my hero at the time after his quixotic run for the presidency the year before. And hear him I did. He railed against Democrats and Republicans alike for placing pork-barrel spending above a balanced budget. Where did that go? Since when did the abysmal record of the Bush Administration on the deficit become of no great importance? Is cutting taxes on the richest of the rich and the biggest corporations (generally the biggest sources of revenue) while continuing to fight a war that costs $10 billion a month really a good way to make sure that our country isn't mortgaged to the hilt, with the principle creditors being China and Saudi Arabia?

I respect the fact that you disagree with my positions and Senator Obama's, but it seems a bit dismissive to call last night's speech uninteresting.

James Rowen said...

Hey, Rick; That student is taking you to school!

Mike Plaisted said...

Let's see...Katrina denial? Check. Denial of real economic pain throughout the country? Check. Unemployment not so bad? Check. Gas prices not so bad? Check. Bush in now agreeing to do what Obama has always said (deadline for withdrawal) and it's McCain who is right? Check.

I think maybe it wasn't the columns of the Acropolis of your paranoid vision that is bothering you, I think it's the pyramids of Egypt. Because you are swimming in De Nile.

I hope McCain stays as clueless. Obama will win in a walk.

Rick Esenberg said...

Hey, Rick; That student is taking you to school!

No, he's engaging in reasoned and civil discourse - obviously reflecting the excellent training that he is recieving at Marquette University Law School. You can tell that Brother Plaisted, by way of contrast, went to Wisconsin.

And I have answers. But I have to go to a reception for our entering students first. Free food and drink, you know.

Sam Sarver said...

Professor,

As I also have an engagement this evening, I thought I'd post an addendum to my earlier remarks.

You argue that the Katrina response was bad, though not as bad as it could have been. You state that unemployment is up, but not to the point where we are at less than full employment. You note that home values are down, but not tremendously so. You say gas prices are up, but not catastrophic. The war, you insist, probably was a bad idea, but we're getting it right now, 3000+ casualties later.

Which of these things is better than it was eight years ago, and why should I believe your party when it tells me that the third time is the charm, and that they'll get it right this time by doing more of exactly the same thing? I hate to be cliche, but I can't help but think of the of-cited statement that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. I don't want to claim that it is "insanity" to vote Republican, but doesn't it seem a bit much to say that doing the same thing that got us into this hole will somehow get us out? Or are we really just "a nation of whiners," complaining about a state of affairs that really isn't all that bad?

Rick Esenberg said...

Let me start with the part of young Mr. Sarver's comment that I find to be the most salient. Why don't I think that Obama's comments on personal responsibility and better parenting are very interesting?

In characterizing the speech, I focused more on what I took to be its central theme of economic populism. The statements that Mr. Sarver refers to are more interesting but don't grab me because I see little in Obama's record that flow from them. He remains a fairly standard big government liberal.

I missed the "more abortion" and "machine guns for Crips" planks in McCain's platform. Maybe they are saving that for St. Paul. As far as abortion is concerned, this is a subject that a guy who voted against protecting survivors of abortion ought never to mention.

Are you better off than you were eight years ago? Although I dislike that question for reasons I'll get into, the answer, for many people, may well be "yes." The economy actually was in recession in 2001 and housing values today are higher than they were then.

But, more fundamentally and as I am sure you'll agree, we can't just look at whoever is President and say that he is responsible for whatever the state of the economy is. We need to point to some specific policy that we think has caused a problem. The loss of factory jobs has been going on for my entire adult life. Sam, you're in my class. You know how old I am. I used to sing Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown" to my son when he was still little enough for his Daddy to put him to bed and he's your age. Long time, don't you agree?

But trying to stop that by distorting markets results in a net economic loss. It's great for the Maytag employees in Galesburg. It's not so good for people who buy washing machines or Mexicans who need work.

The increase in gas prices is caused by market forces that are not going to change and they are probably the most important thing in moving us toward alternative technologies. When you are my age, your car (and mine but I'll be driving slowly in the wrong lane and pissing you off) won't run on gas and it won't be the government that made that happen.

I hadn't noticed that McCain had moderated his opposition to pork barrel spending. He has changed his position on tax cuts, but one can make a case that they helped end the recession that Bush inherited and that 9-11 exacerbated and that raising marginal tax rates in a sluggish economy is a very bad idea. He can argue that he opposed them because he did not expect corresponding fiscal restraint - and he was right. As President, he can fix that with the stroke of a pen.

(Beyond that my views on taxes are heterodox and deserve, if anyone cares, their own post some day.)

Deficits are a relevant issue and both McCain amd Obama have put forward proposals that may not quite add up. But given the choice between a Chicago pol who loves new spending and a guy with a long record of fiscal restraint, I think the choice on that issue is easy.

My point on the war and Katrina is that they are not so much problems of ideology as of execution. Nobody was "in favor" of a long period of unrest in Iraq or the slightest delay in relief to hurricane victims. Bush's failings on these issues stem from what I think was his greatest weakness (and he had many strengths) - his unshakable loyalty to the people under him. He was reluctant to see that they were not doing what he wanted them to do. That's a serious failing, but it is personal, not partisan or ideological. It tells us nothing about 2008.

reddess said...

Hey Professor

What do you mean that one can tell Plaisted "went to Wisconsin"? What's wrong with Wisconsin? Has the jerk of the week forgotten that I went to Wisconsin?

Mike Plaisted said...

Yeah! What she said!

Anonymous said...

"No, he's engaging in reasoned and civil discourse - obviously reflecting the excellent training that he is recieving at Marquette University Law School. You can tell that Brother Plaisted, by way of contrast, went to Wisconsin."

This is amazing -- the "Perfesser" from the third-tier law school dissing the first-tier law school.

Hey, Ricky, play your cards right and maybe Ken Davis will give you an interview!

Anonymous said...

anony 8:30

Congratulations...you have been selected the jerk of the week.

Do you have parental permission to be on the blogosphere honey? The way you name call, you sound like a catty little 13 year old girl.
Temper, temper.

reddess said...

anon 8:11

anon 8:30 isn't really engaging in name calling; he/she is just having a little tantrum. As you would do with any child, ignore the bad behavior. It will go away.
Right anon 8:30?

reddess said...

anon 8:30

PS
How dare you insult my husband by suggesting that he work with a comedian.
Please. We do have standards.

Anonymous said...

Note to the second wife: Ken Davis is the dean of the state's top rated law school. Is there a comedian of the same name?

Rick Esenberg said...

Note to mt ill tempered little stalker: Yes, there is, although Dean Davis may be better known.