Thursday, February 7, 2008
Maimon's response to my posts (the first one is here) on McCain is characteristically thoughtful. I agree that he makes some good points about what might happen if McCain loses. And they scare me too. Socialized medicine, premature withdrawel from Iraq, a leftist judiciary -- they are all quite possible under Obama or Clinton. But Maimon overreaches a bit. Unrestricted immigration from Mexico? That's what the Kennedy-McCain bill would have produced.
The problem with these predictions is that they are too easy. Yes, they seem obvious and vivid, but the world does not work this way. As my examples of winning by losing involving Ford and Bush I have shown, politics is less predictable than this. So lets think a bit about immigration. If the Democrats have the Presidency and both houses, one can expect the Republicans to unify and fight. They will be able to filibuster any outrageous immigration bills that Hillary and Ted Kennedy attempt. By contrast, if McCain makes a deal on immigration with Kennedy, then it will be quite difficult to fillibuster and stop it. If you care about stopping illegal immigration, my guess is that we are better off without McCain in the White House.
What about premature withdrawel from Iraq? I think it will be very hard for a Democratic President to do that. If the surge continues until January 2009 and things remain stable until then, what does Hillary do? Start to withdraw troops? And when the bombs explode, who will be blamed? No, I think Hillary will recognize this problem and will not withdraw very quickly. Perhaps Obama would start to withdraw, but I don't think he would get very far. The political system might come up and bite him. I don't mean to sound too certain about this. I am not. But I think Maimon's predictions are way too certain on the other side.
Maimon also predicts socialized medicine, and this is the scariest possibility. Yet even here, one should not give up all hope. After all, remember what happened the last time Hillary attempted to use a Democratic White House and Congress to pass health care.
Notice that Maimon says nothing about the Republicans' winning by losing with Ford and Bush. Imagine what Maimon would have said if I told him Bush I should lose to Bill Clinton, because he will lead to Republican strength. Well, I am not sure I have to imagine it. I knew Maimon and I believe I made that argument to him. I am sure I made it to our co-blogger Gail Heriot, who if memory serves, wasn't too impressed.
Finally, let me add one more example. Did the Republicans win by losing the Congress in 2006? Hard to say, but let me make the case. It is often said, and I am inclined to believe it, that President Bush only decided to push the surge when it became clear that the Democrats would be taking over the Congress. He knew then that time was limited and he had to do something. If the Republicans had won, we might still have too few troops in Iraq and a catastrophe on our hands. If the Democratic takeover was the cause of the surge -- a big if, I grant you -- then the signal achievement of Bush's second term was due to winning by losing.
Let me conclude with this point. I suspect that I have convinced very few of you of my position. The basic problem, I believe, is that it all seems so speculative: It could happen, but is it likely? But I think the various examples I have given suggest that our ability to predict matters in politics is not very good. We see through the glass only darkly. If winning by losing happens as often as I suggest, then it could be far more common and likely than it seems. That would mean in cases where winning by winning seems unlikely -- where we have to compromise on our principles in order to win -- we may be better off by not making that compromise.