Sunday, March 02, 2008

Shark on dead tree

Read my latest column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here. I understand that it is a bit vague. It's hard not to be in 800 words on that topic. My point is that conservatives need to think harder about how our core principles apply to today's issues. In 1980, there was a need to disrupt the postwar consensus about the state, taxation and regulation that had lead to a stagnant and increadingly unproductive economy. It was no longer working in a world that was even then globalizing. There was a need,as well, to disrupt an international consensus that left millions to their chains.

Things are different today. (Nothing stays the same.) My purpose in writing the piece was to participate in the discussion of how we ought to respond. I hope to be able to continue to participate in that conversation here and elsewhere.

Here are examples of the kinds of things I think we should be talking about.

We have a health care system that has evolved by accident and which, although it workes well for most people, doesn't work as well for everyone and creates certain economic inefficiencies.

We have a stubborn residual underclass that liberal welfare policies have helped to create and that we have not managed to eliminate or reduce.

Economic growth and free markets are going to create some greater measure of equality. The idea is that we'll all be better off as a result of the growth and innovation that results from relatively unfettered markets. I think the past 25 years have borne that out, but there remains a need to demonstrate that growth trickles down and there are limits to the degree of inequality that is consistent with social cohesion. I tend to think that the former is currently more a challenge than the latter and that Bush's concept of an ownership society was the kernel of the way in which it ought to be addressed. Unfortunately, for Bush, Iraq crowded everything else out.

Globalization challenges our educational system - a system that is well funded and underperforming. We have tried to respond with vouchers and I think that remains a good idea, albeit one in need of a bit of reform. Bush responded with No Child Left Behind, an odd combination of conservative (high standards) and liberal (unprecedented federalization of education) approaches. Maybe it doesn't need to be abandoned but it ought to be rethought.

The Republican Party went into the tank on spending during the Bush years. If we can't control spending, what is the rationale for us?

While I think that the charge that Bush's income tax rate reductions were "tax cuts for the rich" is misleading (any across the board cut in a progressive tax will favor the "rich"), our emphasis on the estate tax, capital gains and dividends - while ignoring the AMT - left us open to the charge that we are more concerned with the wealthy. There are good reasons to address capital gains and dividend rates, although I might have done it differently. My own prejudice is against taxing different sources of income at different rates. Capital gains taxes ought to be imposed after appropriate adjustments in basis and the problem of double taxation should be addressed by eliminating - or drastically reducing - corporate income taxes. Money should be taxed when it is received and at the same rate no matter how it is earned. (Although, in service of the ownership society, it might be appropriate to exempt an initial dollar amount of capital gains.)


Seth Zlotocha said...

Quite astonishingly, Barack Obama, the candidate who is said to call for a "new" politics of the future, is mired on the losing side of those issues. Beneath the glitz, he seems to want a return to the failed policies of the past.

What specific policy proposals by the Obama campaign justify this statement?

Craig Nolen said...

What your are missing is that that question is unabashedly misleading and redundant. Obama hasn't proposed any substantive policy. Obama's foreign policy reflects Bush's foreign policy. His healthcare policy reflects Sen. Clinton's healthcare policy with a few minor tweakings. His stance on NAFTA reflects that of Sen. Clinton.

So Seth, please tell me what policy of his is new and will work.

Anonymous said...

I like your timely “philosophers Chad and Jeremy quote”.

Thank you for another thoughtful column.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Nice non sequitur, Craig. Here's the issues portion of Obama's website; he lists around 30 policy ideas for the economy, over 30 ideas for foreign policy, along with more seventeen sections listing additional ideas on fiscal policy, education policy, energy & environmental policy, health care policy, civil rights policy, and a number of other policy areas. So save me the half-baked opposition talking points on Obama's supposed lack of substance b/c, first, it's just not true, and, second -- as Andrew Sullivan has put it -- compared to McCain, Obama is a wonk (here's McCain's comparatively sparse issue section if you want to compare for yourself).

Craig Nolen said...

You're missing the point. What are his new policies that are the future for America. I mean since Washington is broken, shouldn't he bring something new to the table since the traditional positions don't seem to be working for us. I read the Blueprint when it first came out and it really doesn't seem to be that substantive. I am in no way in love with McCain's plans for America. I just support him more than any of the other candidates left.

Seth Zlotocha said...

You seem to be missing the point of Obama's campaign, Craig. Obama has never said his policy ideas are going to revolutionize the federal government. What Obama has promised to change is the political culture that has made Washington, as Obama has stated on numerous occasions, a place where good ideas go to die. In other words, it's not new ideas that are needed, but rather a change in the culture that currently kills so many of the new ideas that are already out there.

So what Obama proposes is twofold.

One, as GOP state senator from IL Kirk Dillard has pointed out, "Barack had a way both intellectually and in demeanour that defused skeptics." Adding that Obama has a "unique" ability "to deal with extremely complex issues, to reach across the aisle and to deal with diverse people." So he's demonstrated an ability to tackle complex issues in an inclusive manner, which would be a refreshing quality for a president in this country after eight years of the current unilateralist administration. More on Obama's success in bringing diverse groups together on complex issues is in this article.

And, two, Obama has demonstrated an ability to bring new and previously disillusioned people into the political process through the tone he establishes for his campaign, and I believe he'd set a similar tone in his presidency. And getting people to believe in the promise of the political process again is more than just campaign rhetoric; rather, it's crucial since participation is the only way to ensure that government can be a democratizing force as opposed to one that is controlled by the few who pay attention and, more importantly in recent decades, donate lots of money to further their own interests.

And it's not that the difference would be night and day under an Obama presidency. But as Andrew Sullivan has noted (emphasis mine): "No he will not transform politics. He won't abolish our problems. He won't eliminate our enemies. He won't disappear partisanship. That's not the point. He's a decent, reasonable human being prepared to tackle these problems outside the depressing template of Morris-Rove politics. One way he can begin to do that is to bring a wave of support with him, to appeal beyond Washington to Americans who know this country is in a terrible mess and want to fix it. That's what Reagan did. He wasn't perfect. But we still remember the difference."

And if you're interested in how Obama and the advisors he's put around him approach policy ideas, I'd recommend this recent article from TNR, which explains that approach as far more utilitarian than innovative.

Craig Nolen said...

Well put Seth.
Unlike most Obama supporters you have put some time into understanding your candidate rather than going with the flow and supporting the popular choice who speaks prophetically.

I was surprised to find out that Obama is for the death penalty. I am a staunch conservative, but even I am against the death penalty.

I disagree with nearly all of Obama's ideology but I respect you for choosing him after making substantial effort to understand him as a politician and a leader. I believe that Obama will do a good job in attempting to unite America if he is elected president. I would suggest that Obama start talking about the change he seeks not in terms of policy but in the way policy is implemented and tested.