Obama’s Electibility

He’s by far the most popular Democratic politician in the country, and second only to Rudy among all politicians. In fact, he’s the only Democrat currently active in electoral politics to crack 50% approval, and he gets 58.8% (Bill Clinton’s the only other Democrat with >50% approval, with 55.8% – yes, Obama beats Bill). And if you don’t trust the peoples’ opinion on this, the markets are in agreement: based on current Tradesports odds, Mankiw estimates that Obama is by far the most electable potential candidate of either party. As if that didn’t make me happy enough, Gore is second.

Another Reason to Oppose Richardson

Gov. Bill Richardson [D-NM] looks like an excellent presidential candidate on paper. Like the only two Democrats elected president in the last thirty years, he has gubernatorial experience. Unlike them, though, he has foreign policy experience, having served in Congress and as the US Ambassador to the UN. He even has executive experience at the federal level, having served as Energy Secretary. If that were not enough, he’s the enormously popular governor of a swing state, and is Latino, meaning he could turn key states like Florida, Arizona, and – just maybe – Texas. One would think that this would add up to an enormously well-qualified, and extremely electable, candidate.
I started having my doubts about Richardson’s electability when I met him about a year or so ago. He’s a friendly guy, but he can’t give a stump speech for his life. Actual quote: “One thing no politician talks about is education.” Seriously. As Kerry’s failure to win a completely winnable election showed, charisma and oratorical ability matter, and from firsthand experience I can say that Richardson has neither.
But even after that I believed that Richardson could – if he won the primary and general elections, which I thought were long-shots at best – make an excellent president. Now I’m not so sure. You see, back in the 1970s, when he was a Congressman, Richardson was a member of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, a group led by Scoop Jackson. Scoop Jackson, of course, was the right-of-Nixon anti-communist Senator who – motivated by little more than thousands in Boeing campaign contributions – birthed the neoconservative movement. His staff included – this is a Democrat, mind you – Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and Richard Perle. The CDM itself was particularly shady, supporting “foreign allies who share America’s democratic values — whether it is the government of Israel in the Middle East or the government of El Salvador’s Jose Napoleon Duarte in Central America.” Jose Napoleon Duarte, of course, led a military coup in El Salvador and presided over numerous death squad massacres, such as El Mozote. The CDM also lent its offices to Team B, a Ford Administration project that worked to dramatically exaggerate Soviet capabilities without any basis in fact. In short, the CDM formed the larva of neoconservatism, and Richardson was a member.
This could be written off as youthful indiscretion if it did not influence Richardson’s later views. But in retrospect, it has. He has called a phased withdrawal from Iraq “not sensible policy”. He has praised the “Bush Doctrine” for creating the Cedar Revolution, even though the two aren’t connected in the least. Moreover, his rhetoric in both statements was suspiciously like that of a neoconservative. The bottom line is that after the last eight years, we cannot afford to turn our foreign policy over to someone who comes from the same intellectual tradition as Wolfowitz, Feith, and Perle. It’s just too dangerous.

Random 2008 Thoughts

  • Don’t discount Wes Clark. He’s almost always forgotten, but he could very well run. He has a PAC and has been signaling interest for a while. He also has a huge asset in New Hampshire: Carol Shea-Porter. She got her political start campaigning for Clark in 2004, and Wes helped her out and stumped for her when the national Democrats didn’t. She was a good enough campaigner to win in a heavily, heavily Republican district while running against an incumbent that no one thought was vulnerable. That will be very helpful to Clark come 2008.
  • Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made big mistakes when they did not actively back the other newly elected NH congressman – Paul Hodes – in 2006. Kerry chose him as one of the recipients of his PAC money, as did Clark and Bayh. Bayh, Biden, Dodd, Edwards, Kerry, and Vilsack all campaigned in NH for Hodes. Kerry even set up Hodes’ GOTV operation for him – an operation that most likely lead to his win, given the Republican nature of the district. But not Hillary or Obama. In Obama’s defense, his PAC only endorses Senators, and thus his omission of Hodes is much more excusable than Hillary’s. Both Obama and Hillary called Hodes on election night to congratulate him for his victory. Maybe they should have started sucking up sooner.
  • Don’t forget NH Gov. John Lynch. If I had to guess, Evan Bayh, Chris Dodd and Tom Vilsack are the most likely candidates for a Lynch endorsement. While Lynch got every potential candidate in August 2006 (so Obama wasn’t in the picture) but Hillary to promise to participate in the primary in 2008, regardless of the primary schedule, Bayh was the only candidate publicly backing NH when the DNC’s proposal to stick in a caucus between Iowa and NH was first floated. Richardson, Kerry, and Edwards all signaled support for the proposal, and Hillary only gave Lynch a private assurance of opposition (with her not promising to participate or to publicly back the old schedule, it’s safe to say that Lynch won’t be backing Hillary). Dodd and Vilsack did not take part in the primary debate in any great degree, but have been sucking up to Lynch like crazy. My money’s on a Bayh endorsement, but anything’s possible. It would be quite bizarre if the three major Democratic elected officials in NH all backed different candidates – Shea-Porter Clark, Hodes Kerry, and Lynch Bayh. Lynch has significantly more clout and is much more popular than either Shea-Porter or Hodes, so his endorsement would matter more, meaning that even if he were the only major politician backing Bayh, his word could make a difference.
  • The right-wing Nader is coming. John McCain is running for president, and Jim Gilchrist – of Minuteman fame – has promised to run as a Constitution Party candidate if McCain did the same. Gilchrist is a potent vote-stealer. He ran as an American Independent – the California version of the Constitution Party – in a Congressional Special Election in 2005, and received 25.5% of the vote, whereas the Democrat received 27.8%, and the Republican (the victor) 44.4%. That he could take over a third of Republican votes tells you something. Even a minor, Nader-level candidate who pulls 2-3% of the vote can act as a spoiler. If Gilchrist can rouse up nativist Republicans, he could pull double digits – particularly if a pro-immigration candidate like McCain or Giuliani is the nominee. That adds up to a very good lookout for the Democrats, no matter their nominee. If the Republicans run a conservative, he’ll be that much easier to defeat. If they run a moderate, Gilchrist will steal his votes. It’s win-win for the Dems.
  • Canadian Politics

    It seems wrong that there’s more talk about the Democratic and Republican primaries -which aren’t for more than a year – than about the Liberal leadership convention in Canada that’s happening next weekend. Basically, the two people who matter – the Bill Clinton and Paul Tsongas, if you will – are Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae. Ignatieff is a first-term MP who formerly directed the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard. He’s an international relations expert, focusing on humanitarian intervention. He has some unfortunate positions – namely, support for the war in Iraq and for a “lesser evil”, civil liberties-compromising approach to the war on terror. However, he has displayed sanity on the issue of Israel and retracted his support for the war, and I like the idea of an academic leading a country; as John Hodgman would say, there’s a tweediness there I can be a part of. Moreover, Bob Rae isn’t even a Liberal – all of his time in office is as a New Democrat, the socialist party of Canada. He also was a terrific failure as premier of Ontario, suggesting that he wouldn’t do particularly well leading Canada as a whole. So I’m rooting for Ignatieff.

    A Reason to Be Glad for the Democratic Congress

    Despite wrecking the US’ trade policy, the Democratic congress will not be all bad news economically. Take this, for instance. Bush’s plan to make permanent his tax cuts is now DOA – which means that we’ll be getting a big bucket of extra revenue after 2010. But apparently, many newly elected House Dems are pushing for a repeal of the tax cuts ahead of schedule. Due to Bush’s excessive spending in other areas, this won’t get us a surplus. But it’d be a great leap towards one.

    More Trade Silliness

    My worst fears about the new Democratic leadership have been confirmed: it plans to reject two bilateral trade pacts because they lack minor labor clauses. That objection is what is known as de minimus, and the people who latch onto it as an excuse for their economic xenophobia are called idiots. Nice job, Nancy.

    Fair Traders Pretend to Know What the Hell They’re Talking About. Again.

    In yet another attempt to demonstrate that 200-year-old economics is utterly beyond him, Harold Meyerson has a hatchet job up on the Hamilton Project. Hamilton, he complains, “greater public investment in education, health care, research and development, and infrastructure; balancing the budget; and wage insurance for workers,” which to him is not “remotely adequate to the problem, which is ultimately that of wage convergence in the globalized economy.” The protectionist Economic Policy Institute, on the other hand, Meyerson trumpets. The EPI has called for “a pay-or-play health insurance system (employers can cover their own employees in private plans or pay taxes into an expanded version of Medicare that will cover everyone else)” – how this is different from Hamilton’s call for more health investment in ways other than specifics, only Meyerson knows – “a retirement system in which employers can offer their employees pensions or, with their employees, pay into a system administered by Social Security” – how this is different from hardcore SS privatization is truly beyond me – and for “a series of policies to decouple globalization from downward pressure on wages — adding some enforceable labor standards, for instance, to the rules of the World Trade Organization.” Take that last proposal to heart. The anti-globalization movement for years has accused NAFTA, the WTO, and other trade regimes of aiding and abetting sweatshops, decimating the environment, costing the US thousands of jobs, etc., etc. And yet when it comes time for them to think up an alternative system, the proposal they have is to add lousy labor protections to the WTO – which are in NAFTA and the Jordan trade pact in any case. This should show beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a distinct lack of intellectual seriousness among “fair trade” types. They criticize violently a system that works overwhelmingly well while failing to offer any plan that differs from it in any substantial way. These are not serious people, and they do not deserve to be engaged with as such.
    P.S. Jeff Faux’s mercantilist proposal, quoted in the piece, to deprive poor workers abroad of manufacturing opportunities provided by federal R&D money shows that “fair traders” don’t give a damn about world poverty either.