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.
So we are now in the period when conservative Republicans and McCain will see whether they can live with one another. Despite my opposition to McCain, I still regard my vote as gettable by McCain, but it won't be easy. (Yes, I know that McCain may not care about my vote -- but I do.)
One of the best things I can say about McCain is that he is close friends with Phil Gramm, and rumor has it that Gramm might be McCain's Secretary of Treasury. I like Phil Gramm. I really like Phil Gramm. So if Gramm were to be Treasury Secretary, that would make a McCain presidency a much more attractive option.
As long as we are filling his cabinet, lets move on to Attorney General. Ted Olson has endorsed McCain and I can imagine McCain appointing him. I have a lot of respect for Ted, who was my former boss at Gibson, Dunn. If he were the Attorney General, that would make things look even better.
Vice President? That will, no doubt, depend on political considerations, but I would be happy to see Fred Thompson get the nod here. A Huckabee VP is, to understate it, a dealbreaker.
These three appointments would increase my level of comfort with McCain. And, to tell you the truth, they are not all that unlikely. We shall see.
Mike makes an engaging case that a McCain presidency might either saddle Republicans with responsibility for policies they don't really support, or foreclose conservative/libertarians from re-emerging as a successful political movement; so it would be better if McCain were to lose the general election, assuming he is the Repulican nominee, and for Mrs Clinton to win. Mike seems less sure - for good reason, I think - about preferring Barrack Obama as well.
Mike takes an optimistic view - from a conservative/libertarian point of view - of what would follow from a Clinton administration. Optimism is very American, but pessimism, or at least caution, is characteristically conservative.
What can be expected from a Clinton or Obama presidency with a Democratic House and Senate?
(1) A quick withdrawal from Iraq, with every likelihood that Iraqi supporters of democracy and opponents of jihad will targeted as "collaborators" with the absconded Americans, and very possibly massacred. For years to come, this will be an object lesson around the world to anyone who considers making common cause with the United States. In Latin America, the Middle East and the Gulf, in Asia, everywhere, the lesson will be clear: never defy the anti-American Left, because the United States is always one election away from abandoning you and leaving you to your fate.
(2) Socialised medicine. It may transform medical care for the worse - and massively discourage the flow of research and new treatment that free markets have fostered in recent decades - but it will be virtually impossible to reverse or reform once embarked on. This has certainly been the European and Canadian experience. (Of course Canadians in very large numbers seek medical care in the US. Where will Americans go?) Imperfect analogy: many academics suspect or believe that the tenure system isn't good for the academy - but how many would willingly give up tenure once they have it?
(3) Effectively unrestricted immigration, at least from Mexico and Central America. Driving licences for illegal immigrants are the symbol (and effective vehicle, as it were) for such a policy.
(4) A leftist federal judiciary, and enlisting the United States in the "transnational" trends now fostered by the European Union and by the (very partisan and ideologised) world human rights lobbies.
John McCain has one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate. His views about immigration are very likely different from mine. I think the McCain-Feingold law is thoroughly bad. But as someone has pointed out in the last few days, there has been only one ideological conservative elected President since Calvin Coolidge, and Ronald Reagan himself supported or acquiesced in many things (or at least some things) that conservatives-libertarians-fusionists might reject or even deplore.
Reagan isn't on the ballot this year. No keeping cool with Coolidge either. Winning by losing would be nice. Beware - says the chastened conservative voice - of losing by losing.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Well, it certainly looks like it will be McCain as the Republican nominee. Now, we can watch as McCain and the Republican base make an attempt to reach an agreement of some type. And so more words about how someone of libertarian/conservative views (which I will call fusionism in this post) might be better off if McCain loses are not likely to reach many welcome ears. But so be it.
I want to explore two situations in recent history. They are the two high points for the Republican party and certainly for fusionists. The first is the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. This election, combined with a Republican takeover of the Senate for 6 years, was a tremendous success, and arguably established a limited realignment.
The second highpoint was the Republican Revolution of 1994, when Newt Gingrich led the Republicans to a takeover of the House and Senate. This was also dramatic. While the Republicans have now lost both houses, it is no longer so inconceivable that they will retake them again in the future, as it seemed to be in the three or four decades before that.
Now, what made these triumphs possible? Well, one thing was a strong, visionary fusionist who led the way. George H. W. Bush would certainly not have done it, nor would Robert Michel (who led the House Republicans before Gingrich ).
The other thing was an unpopular, Democratic President, who seemed to be out of step with the American people and incompetent. Certainly that was true of Jimmy Carter. But it was also true of Bill Clinton, who had run as a moderate Democrat -- remember that middle class tax cut, which Bill Clinton forgot about before he even was sworn in -- but then betrayed that moderateness by attempting to open the military to gays and to enact Hillarycare.
Now imagine that Carter and Clinton had not been elected. If Gerald Ford had been elected in 1976, he would have pursued moderate Republican policies. While Reagan would have run in 1980, it is unlikely that the country would have been ready to elect him as a more conservative President after 12 years of Republican rule.
Similarly, imagine that Bush had won in 1992. Bush was a moderate Republican, who had broken his no new taxes pledge. I don't think the nation would have been angry at the Democrats had Bush won and I believe it is unlikely that the Republicans would have secured control in landslides of both houses.
Now, ask yourself whether you would have supported Ford in 1976 or Bush in 1992. My guess is that most Republicans would have and would continue to believe that that was the right decision. Yet, they need to recognize that if Ford had won, we might still be fighting the Cold War! I didn't support those Republicans. In 1992, I regarded Bush as unacceptable (and I believe he was better than McCain is), and voted for the libertarian candidate (who happened to be Ron Paul!) I continue to believe I made the right choice. (For what it is worth, I didn't support Ford in 1976 either, but that is a bit misleading, since I was a liberal Democrat at the time.)
It was a tough call whether to support George W. Bush in 2000. I decided to do so, having lost some of my previous headstrongness. I continued to support Bush in 2004 because of the War, although with many reservations. Now, though, a President who has supported big government and is extremely unpopular is causing conservatism to be rejected. In fact, Bush has moved the whole country to the left, with the Republican party nominating its most moderate candidate in decades, with both houses in control of the Democrats, and with Democrats choosing between two candidates, either of whom is likely to be elected, with the more conservative one being Hillary Clinton!
Perhaps it is my experience with George Bush, but I am leaning towards my previous headstrongness. I don't want fusionists to be blamed for McCain or to watch him transform the party. I am not sure about whether fusionists are better off if McCain loses -- who could be sure? -- but I strongly lean in that direction. I admit I might change my mind, depending on what McCain says between now and the election. And I also admit that the arguments are better if McCain loses to Hillary than to Obama (sorry an explanation requires another post). But it is important to remember that no political party can win all of its elections, and if one were picking, this seems like a good one to lose.
Part of my feeling about all of this is captured in a line from the end of Charlie Wilson's War, where upon hearing what seems like good news, the zen-master says "We shall see." That is how politics is. It is just not entirely clear whether fusionists are better off if McCain loses, but do I believe that fusionists can win by losing? Of course, I do. Like the joke about infant baptism, I have seen it done -- more than once.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Eugene Volokh goes for McCain:
I'd vote for either of the Republican candidates in November, and I have some reservations about both. Still, I think that McCain is likely to be very good on defense and on spending, and I think he's eminently electable (not the only criterion, but a very important one). I'm also moved by the views of many lawyers and scholars I know and respect as serious conservatives — such as Ted Olson, Miguel Estrada, John McGinnis, and Stephen Calabresi — whose support suggests that McCain will do a very good job on judicial appointments.
Here is Victor Davis Hanson:
McCain has the most diverse experience of any of the candidates in either party. Sens. Obama and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., may bicker over whether being first lady or growing up in Indonesia constitutes the better foreign-policy background. But no one would question McCain's far greater breadth of service: carrier aviator, combat pilot, wounded veteran, tortured while a prisoner of war for five and a half years, U.S. congressman and senator for a combined quarter-century, 2000 presidential candidate. And the list only goes on.
[H]aving a veteran fighter and savvy old statesman as commander-in-chief makes a lot of sense.
My endorsement? A general election victory for the Democratic Party - now thoroughly the heir of the Henry Wallace Progressives of 1948 - might be bracing. I have no wish to be braced. I voted for John McCain today.
Ilya Somin has responded to two of my posts on McCain. As usual, Ilya makes some very good points. I think his best point is that divided government is beneficial. But as one of the commentators points out, divided government with John McCain is not the normal type. McCain enjoys his maverick, bipartisan reputation and will only be too happy to sign many of the Democrats’ bills.
Ilya also expresses some skepticism about whether the Democrats will govern in an unpopular way. Ilya is right to do so. It is always possible, but the unpopularity of the Democratic Congress should give one some pause in arguing that the Democrats have learned how to be popular. I don’t think Hillary will be popular as a President, but it is always possible. Yes, she experienced the rejection of her husband’s administration during the Republican Revoltuion, but it would still not be surprising for Hillary – or anyone flush with victory and with both houses from the same party – to overreach.
Obama is another story. While he is clearly talented, he is also – dare I say it – less experienced. But he is also more liberal than Hillary, and I believe there is still a great danger that he will overreach ideologically.
In the end, I agree that there is a risk that the Democrats will be successful. But that risk must be balanced against the greater risk in my opinion of a McCain Presidency. Yes, I know McCain has been good against spending, but he is happy to regulate, and a Democratic Congress can simply pass regulations instead. A bad Republican presidency is a serious matter. If you doubt that, just remember that we are in the position we are now because of George Bush.
Monday, February 4, 2008
I have great respect for both John McGinnis, my frequent coauthor, and Steve Calabresi, my long time friend and my note editor in law school. But I must disagree with them on John McCain's judicial appointments. Yes, McCain's appointments would be better than Hillary's or Obama's. After all, Kennedy and O'Connor are certainly better than Ginsberg or Brennan. But that is the problem: the Republicans have had enough Kennedys, O'Connors, Stevenses, and Souters. McCain will be facing a Democratic Senate. He will need to compromise. Even if one believes that Republicans would be mad at him for appointing a moderate if the Republicans had the Senate, he will always be able to say that a true conservative could not be confirmed. I predict that McCain will appoint a highly qualified, blank slate -- a stealth nominee who is stealth to the conservatives in his party as well as to the Democrats --a more qualified Justice Souter.
Obviously, I am not sure about this, but I certainly think there is a good chance of it. And even if I thought the Court were the most important issue, I would not think it worth sacrificing everything else for the possibility that McCain is better than I predict.
In my last post, I
explained why John McCain’s policy positions render him unacceptable to
me. Here, I respond to what might seem
like the strongest argument for McCain: that he has the best chance of beating
When I say to other
Republicans that I oppose McCain, I am often asked, “But don’t you think McCain
is better than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? I must admit that however little I like McCain’s positions, I do like
them quite a bit more than Clinton’s and Obama’s. But that is the not the entire issue. The question is not merely who do you like
better; it is also where do you want the Republican party to be in four years
If McCain wins, the Republicans will have a President who pursues a set of policies that will include many undesirable things. This will have one of two effects (or possibly a combination). Either the Republicans will be transformed to the party of these undesirable things – campaign finance, more regulation, which is a really bad thing – or they will fight among themselves, greatly weakening the McCain presidency. In either event, the McCain presidency is unlikely to be successful from the perspective of a free market Republican – it either will pursue bad policies or will be ineffective. If, as seems likely, those policies turn out to be unsuccessful, it will be the Republicans who will be blamed for them.
Compare this to the situation if the Republicans lose. If Hillary is the President, there is a good chance – a very good chance – that the Democrats will govern poorly. Watching Bill Clinton serve as First House Husband is likely to turn the nation off. More importantly, the big government liberal policies of the past were rejected for a reason – they don’t work. The nation does not seem to remember this lesson, but they will learn it again. The last time a Clinton served in the White House with a Democratic Congress, although different in many ways, did not turn out badly for Newt Gingrich and Free Market Republicans. Moreover, under Hillary, the Republicans will be forced to regroup and rethink. They will purge the opportunists and become better again – just as they did in 1995.
If we focus on 2012, there is a choice. Do we want the Republicans to run John McCain again, following a poor presidency? Or do we want a reinvented and reinvigorated Republican party that runs someone who believes in the right things? To ask the question is to answer it.
This argument requires that one postpone gratification – that one focus on the future rather than the present. But that should not be hard for conservatives and libertarians, both of whom are quite comfortable with long run arguments. Sadly, the nation appears to have turned left and there is not much that can be done now. The best option at this point is to regroup and to be ready to fight in 2012.
Of course, there is the matter of Iraq and the War against Islamic Extremists. Yes, John McCain would be better in Iraq. But I don’t believe that Hillary will pull out the troops quickly in Iraq. Once elected, she is likely to proceed as Nixon did in Viet Nam (how funny that Hillary is like Nixon in so many ways!) She will act gradually to ensure that there is “peace with honor” (of course, she will not say that). If Obama is elected, that is a less happy story. He might try to withdraw more quickly. But if he does, the results will come back to bite him (and sadly us). He will be a one term president for sure then.
I am not happy about this situation. I would rather be electing Ronald Reagan again. But there is no Ronald Reagan this time, and the nation would not elect a new Ronald Regan again this time either. Sadly, Jimmy Carter had to be President for Ronald Reagan to be President. Our best option is to prepare for 2012.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
This will be the first of two posts that I plan to write on the presidential election. The first post will give my reasons for opposing John McCain and therefore supporting Mitt Romney. The second will discuss the fact that McCain is much more likely to beat the Democrats than Romney and how we should weigh that fact.
On the basis of their political positions, I simply cannot vote for John McCain. Like many free-market Republicans, I have long disliked him. Now that he is the front runner, and is said to have the best chance of beating the Democrats in the general election, I have thought long and hard about whether I can support him. At this point, I simply cannot.
There are just too many issues where I strongly disagree with John McCain. Let me list some of them:
1. Not only does McCain support McCain- Feingold, it is one of his signature issues. This will infect many aspects of his presidency, including his appointment of judges. It will be devastating to have a President and a Congress who strongly support this issue at the same time.
2. McCain opposed the Bush Tax Cuts, and what is worse, used class warfare rhetoric to criticize them.
3. McCain has taken strong positions against doing anything about illegal immigration. I don’t believe his recent “conversion” on the issue. For the record, I favor a large amount of legal immigration, but I believe that illegal immigration needs to be addressed.
4. McCain opposes strong interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, for top members of Al Qaeda like Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
5. McCain wants to close down Guantanamo.
6. McCain favors reimportation of drugs.
7. McCain takes a strong position on opposing global warming. For the record, I think that the evidence probably supports taking some actions now, such as establishing prizes for the development of technology reducing greenhouse gases, but not the kind of strong regulatory actions that McCain seems to support.
8. McCain opposes drilling in ANWR.
9. McCain generally favors regulating American business, including pharmaceutical companies and transportation companies. This is his instinctual reaction to actions he does not like. He does not seem to understand economics. Recently, he spoke about the subprime problem in terms of “greedy people on Wall Street who need to go to jail."
10. McCain would not be good on judges. Despite his claims to the contrary, there is strong evidence that he would not have appointed Alito. And he is not likely to appoint people who think campaign finance is unconstitutional.
I recognize that
McCain has been good on some issues. As he constantly reminds us, he vigorously supported the surge. And he seems to be
strongly against excessive spending. He
even opposed the Bush Prescription Drug bill. But I just don’t think these are enough.
More importantly, I don’t trust McCain on most domestic issues. I know McCain was against Medicare prescription drugs. But imagine that the Democrats have control of both houses and they send him a national health care bill that does not spend too much federal money but instead imposes obligations on employers. Would McCain sign it? My fear is that he would do it in a heartbeat.
In the past, I thought the strongest argument for McCain was that he was the most likely candidate to beat the Democrats. Isn’t half a loaf better than nothing? I now believe that this argument is mistaken – and will explain why in my next post.
Update: I respond to Ilya Somin's comments here.
I went to the opera Friday night. It was Tannhauser. (Yes, of course I cried at the end. Didn't you?) The only irritating aspect of the evening was a conspicuous mention in the program that "Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and the County of San Diego" had donated over $200,000 to the San Diego Opera. No, no, no, no, no. Supervisor Slater-Price did not contribute $200,000 to the opera. San Diego taxpayers did. Maybe that's a good thing or maybe that's a bad thing. But it has nothing to do with the generosity of Ms. Slater-Price. And I was very
surprised annoyed that she would have the poor taste to allow the San Diego Opera to suggest otherwise.
This morning I googled Ms. Slater-Price and discovered that the story is worse than I had realized. Ms. Slater-Price showers public funds on quite a few cultural and artistic non-profits. In return, their leaders are asked to contribute significant time and money to her re-election. Ah! Now I see how that works.