Tag: Ducking the Issues

Bernanke op-ed in the Wall Street Journal

Ben Bernanke wants to assure people that the Fed isn’t just throwing money at the current problems, unaware of the long-term impact on inflation.

My colleagues and I believe that accomodative policies will likely be warranted for an extended period. At some point, however, as economic recovery takes hold, we will need to tighten monetary policy to prevent the emergence of an inflation problem down the road. The Federal Open Market Committee, which is responsible for setting U.S. monetary policy, has devoted considerable time to issues relating to an exit strategy. We are confident we have the necessary tools to withdraw policy accommodation, when that becomes appropriate, in a smooth and timely manner.

Gee–is everybody confident now? He goes on to tell how it will be done. A few observations:

1) The chairman of the Federal Reserve Board is worried enough about confidence that he chooses to make this statement.

2) He does so in a form that allows no questioning or rebuttal.

3) To the extent that he discusses the tools to contract the money supply, it’s all pretty much the same as before. They aren’t nearly as all-powerful as he wants us to believe.

4) Bernanke says almost nothing about the international dimension–including foreign exchange and the impact on what has been the world’s reserve currency.

5) All his promises miss the political dimension altogether. Are we really to believe that those who have been personally helped by recent policies–bailed out banks, investment houses, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.–are going to sit by and watch the Fed crank up the pain? The relation of Congress and State governments to the stimulus package is similar to that of an addict to cocaine. The American people will want their freebies, and they won’t want to pay for them.

I’m supposed to feel more confident after reading this?

Bernanke Op-ed in WSJ: The Fed’s Exit Strategy – WSJ.com



By now you’ve probably seen the news of Sarah Palin resigning as governor of Alaska. My first reaction was Whaaa?????? Since I too am aware of all internet traditions, my second reaction was to cruise over to LGM and see what DaveNoon had to say about things. My third reaction was to scan the blogosphere for newsy-political gossip. TPM, employing the patented Duck methodology of analysis, had as good a take as anyone:

It looks like a duck and quacks like a duck. Either Palin is resigning ahead of some titanic scandal (which should emerge in short order if it exists) or her resignation was triggered by an even more extreme mental instability than we’d previously suspected.

Why would she stick around as Alaska governor? Maybe to govern> Perhaps come up with some sort of signature program or philosophy on which to run? I know this all sounds crazy in the context of Palin, but those obsessed with the R nominee in 2012 need to relax. At this point 4 years ago, no one considered Obama a serious candidate. George Allen was still a contender. Palin is out for reasons that will certainly emerge over the coming weeks. I’m now officially done with 2012 until November 10, 2010.

(updated after reading the morning paper) Kurtz goes there–the press won’t have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore.

…really, I just couldn’t resist Marshall’s Duck line. How could any self respecting Duck blogger let that one slide??


The Duck of Bush

President Bush made a secret, surprise visit to Iraq and the local reaction wasn’t entirely friendly:

In other news, serious analysts might want to take a look at the draft of a federal report by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The New York Times has the text online.


Ducking the Issues: The Candidates “Debate”

Why, o why do I subject myself to this exciting town hall styled ‘debate’? Is boring, and my prediction is that it stays boring, and in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t do all that much. And yet, I feel compelled to watch and blog. I guess it gives me something to do while my brisket is in the oven. Mmmmmmmmm brisket!

McCain is good in this format, its his strength. He’s hitting many of the same themes of the last debate. Obama is decent as well–he’s better at speaking directly to the questioner, whereas McCain is on campaign message a bit more. He told these same stories in the last debate for those of you who might have missed it.

I don’t really think that Warren Buffett would want to be Treasury Secretary…

That Obama knew the price of gas in Nashville is a good thing, obviously someone will instantly fact check this, but assuming he’s right, its a nice I’m in touch with your needs moment.


McCain has the zinger of the night– Nailing Jello to the wall. Of course, invoking Herbert Hoover is never good, as Hoover was the Republican. I like how McCain talks about taxes as if the tax code alone can solve economic problems.

Of course, the “Straight talk Express has lost a wheel” on the tax issue.

Keep ’em coming!

A commission! Did he say a Blue Ribbon Commission? Well, you can’t do any better than that!

Finally, McCain throws Bush and Cheney under the bus by name. Should I time stamp these little missives? Eh, too much work.

McCain likes the Kitchen Sink approach to solve problems. On health care–lets do lots of things. Here’s where he has a fundamental message problem, he’s saying government is the problem, the private sector is the solution. Has not read the financial pages lately? The unregulated market, the unregulated financial companies just got us into a mess. Everyone is looking to the government to bail us out.
(no one is getting his little do the math project, as my wife just asked, what’s he even talking about, do you understand his plan? no).

Hurray for foreign policy (we at the Duck should be excited about this, no?). I was just about to type “There you go again” on the Sen. Obama doesn’t understand, and Obama basically does that. Nice flip to McCain doesn’t understand.

This is such a status quo debate, so Obama wins in the grand scheme of things. No game changers here.

Brokaw, why must everyone have a doctrine? This question seems….. so Clinton Administration, so 1990’s.

Pakistan is the new Cambodia. Why must we re-fight the Vietnam war? Trudeau nailed this one this past Sunday.

Here’s what bothers me about this Israel / UN question from the Navy vet. He frames the UN as an impediment to US interest, as standing in the way of help to an ally. No one challenges the frame, that the UN could be a tool to help the US reply to just such a threat to world peace. This throws the UN under the bus, and in the long run, undermines the organization’s effectiveness as a tool of US diplomacy. McCain has no problem doing this, I had hoped for a bit more from Obama.

I like this last question, its perhaps one of the most important aspects of qualification for Presidential leadership. Obama pivots straight into his closing remarks. So does McCain. In part the question is vague enough to allow this, but I would have liked a more honest, reflective answer.

Ok, not as bad as I had thought it would be. Nate and Sean think that Obama won, and say that the focus group dials tilt toward Obama. Again, no game changer, Obama retains his lead. McCain makes no inroads.

Time to tend to my brisket, its been cooking for a nice 4 hours.

(and if anyone is interested, we can do the food chat and recipe share in a future post)


The Central Front Front and Center

What is the “central front” in the war on terrorism?
According to Obama, its Afghanistan. According to McCain, its Iraq. Bush–still president–has long asserted that its Iraq.

A pair of articles in the NYT yesterday and today suggest otherwise–Pakistan should perhaps be at the center of the discussion.

While Obama may in fact be closer to the mark with is focus on Afghanistan, the source of NATO’s troubles in Afghanistan seems to be emerging from Pakistan. The resurgent Taliban uses Pakistan as a safe haven to rest, re-arm, and retreat as needed. Now, we learn, much of this seems to be happening with the active assistance of the Pakistani ISI.

First, we learn that

A top Central Intelligence Agency official traveled secretly to Islamabad this month to confront Pakistan’s most senior officials with new information about ties between the country’s powerful spy service and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas, according to American military and intelligence officials.

The C.I.A. emissary presented evidence showing that members of the spy service had deepened their ties with some militant groups that were responsible for a surge of violence in Afghanistan, possibly including the suicide bombing this month of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the officials said.

There’s a reason why Obama, the Bush Administration, and just about anyone else with an official or semi-official position talks about Afghanistan and not Pakistan, as it is rather impolitic to do so. The government is fragile, the ISI seemingly has its own agenda, and Pakistan is a critical ally in the Afghanistan campaign. With official support from the government, the US can conduct certain operations in Pakistan, as well as use it for logistics and support to operations in Afghanistan. The CIA also relies on the ISI for intelligence on numerous terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

Of course, the reason the ISI knows those groups well is because it supports many of them. As today’s NYT reports,

American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful spy service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.

The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack, the officials said, providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.

The American officials also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The fact that this is coming out in the press is rather significant. As the Times reports, this was not the first time the US secretly confronted Pakistan over ISI support for militants. Now, however, as the story leaks, it puts more pressure on Pakistan. Some of this pressure may be welcome and help prod the government to cooperate with the US. It could, however, just as easily backfire and serve to further isolate the US from an increasingly radicalized Pakistani defense and intelligence establishment.

What makes Pakistan the central front in the war on terror is threefold. First, it is the source of support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants the US is currently fighting in Afghanistan. Cut off the Pakistani supply lines and safe havens and the US has shown that NATO forces can assert control over Afghanistan. Second, it remains the one place where radical anti-American elements are poised to take control of a state. The ISI is incredibly powerful in Pakistan–perhaps more powerful than the recently elected government, and it is rife with those who sympathize with Taliban goals. Moreover, there are a large number of radical schools in the tribal borderlands producing a cadre of future militants. And, of course, third, Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal.

So, when candidates are asked about the central front in the War on Terror, they should say Pakistan. But to do so is to fail the first test of diplomacy, and as a result, the best one can do is Obama’s work-around: a focus on Afghanistan and its open border with Pakistan.


Meet the new boss…

A focus on foreign policy has returned to the campaign, and the Washington Post had an telling series of articles yesterday and today on what the next President might do in the Foreign Policy arena. A column in Sunday’s Outlook section speculated on what lies ahead:

The next president will inherit a turbulent, intractable world that sharply constrains the room for creative new U.S. initiatives, according to many foreign policy experts of varying ideological persuasions. Despite the sharp campaign jousting, it’s not hard to imagine the next president – even a Democrat – pursuing basically the same set of policies as Bush has in recent years on such big subjects as North Korea’s nuclear program, Arab-Israeli peace talks, development and conflict in Africa, Russia’s increasing belligerence and China’s integration into the world.

“The truth is, a combination of realities . . . make a certain degree of continuity more likely than not,” [Kurt] Campbell told me.

Philip Zelikow, a University of Virginia professor who served for two years as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, echoed that thought. Obama and Clinton’s “critique in general of the administration, aside from Iraq, is we are going to be more competent and collegial,” he said. “They don’t really debate many of the underlying premises of the administration’s current policies.”

This may come as a surprise and a shock to fans of the candidates, all of whom have distanced themselves from the current administration. Even McCain has been critical of Bush to demonstrate his independence on key issues such as Iraq or terrorism, though admittedly not nearly as critical as Clinton or Obama. Regardless, those expecting that campaign criticisms presage a break with the past across the board in US Foreign Policy should temper their expectations.

[H]istory also tells us to be cautious about using campaign rhetoric to predict how presidents will operate on the world stage. In 1992, Bill Clinton famously attacked George H.W. Bush for coddling “the butchers of Beijing,” only to revert to the long-term U.S. strategy of patiently trying to engage China. In 2000, George W. Bush sharply condemned Clinton’s approach to “nation-building” — only to engage, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in two of the biggest nation-building projects in U.S. history.

Here’s another good reason to be dubious about grandiose promises of foreign policy change: Bush himself has shifted course. After his wholesale repudiation of all things Clinton in his more ideologically charged first term, Bush moved to reorient his foreign policy along more traditional, realist lines, experts say. He has opened nuclear negotiations with North Korea, sought to repair frayed relations with key European allies, backed off from pressuring friendly Arab regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to democratize, and made a new diplomatic offer to Iran over its nuclear program. So far, he has resisted pressure to open a third war front by bombing Iranian nuclear facilities.

Today’s paper has a full profile of Obama’s foreign policy team and his major foreign policy positions. The Post’s analysis:

Yet for all the criticisms leveled at Obama, and his own professions of being the candidate of change, most of the policies outlined in his speeches, in the briefing papers issued by his campaign and in the written answers he gave to questions submitted by The Washington Post fall well within the mainstream of Democratic and moderate Republican thinking. On a number of issues, such as the Middle East peace process, Obama advocates a continuation of Bush administration policies but promises more energetic and intense presidential involvement.

Now, this expose might come as a surprise and shock to those up to their eyeballs in campaign horse-race coverage, but none of this should surprise anyone familiar with IR theory. All the major IR theories have a strong structural bias, that is to say, the ability of any one individual to shift world politics ranges from not at all to rather limited. The most liberal of foreign policy analysis theories suggest that a different President would make different policy choices, but the menu of those choices and the resulting pay-off matrix changes little from administration to administration. No presidential candidate can alter the international balance of power, and all strands of realism say that the pressures of power politics will, largely, push any president onto the same path. Even constructivists, who celebrate agency, still acknowledge that though president’s may make history, they will be doing so in circumstances not of their own making (yes, nod to Marx there….). The norms, rules, and identities that constrain and enable world politics don’t change with one Presidential election—developing new norms and identities takes and effort, limiting the number of changes any President can make.

Ergo, IR theory, writ large, suggests continuity on a wide range of key foreign policy issues. This should be neither a surprise to any observer nor a detriment to any candidate. It’s the

“combination of realities . . . make a certain degree of continuity more likely than not”

What is certain to change is the tone of US foreign policy. Obama certainly sounds different than Bush. Bush is, simply, unpopular around the world, and Obama gives one heck of a good speech. The question is: Does that really matter, and how much?

I think that the answer is that it does (after some reflection, I think my scholarship naturally leads me to this answer), and I’m hoping to have a post in the near future spelling out my reason why.


Texas Two-step

Reading between the lines of a front page story in this mornings Washington Post:

Hillary Supporters: Oh My Heavens! We just read the rules for the Texas primary and discovered that even if we win we might not win! Why didn’t you tell us this earlier? How unfair is that?!?! Our big Texas strategy could fall apart because of these rules where our voters don’t count as much as we need them too. Is there any way we could question the established rules to help our candidate win?

Several top Clinton strategists and fundraisers became alarmed after learning of the state’s unusual provisions during a closed-door strategy meeting this month, according to one person who attended.

The rules of the Texas Primary / Caucus / Delegate selection fracas are beyond complicated and arcane. There’s a primary AND a caucus, on the same day. Delegates are distributed on the basis of turnout in the previous two elections by State Senate district. The results of the caucus aren’t announced until the state convention in June. The best explanation I’ve read of it was in the Houston Chronicle, here.

In a nutshell, if Obama wins big in Austin (self-styled ‘weird‘ college town), and large African-American districts in Houston (especially) and Dallas, he can counter-act Hillary’s expected sweep of the heavily Latino parts of the state.

I’m guessing that Obama’s people read these rules a while ago, and that’s why they don’t seem so worried about it.


Reader Challenge: Chuck Norris facts– Huckabee version

I’m sure you’re all well aware that:

  • Chuck Norris doesn’t read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
  • There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live.

You can read the other top Chuck Norris facts here and here.

You’ve probably seen Chuck Norris with Mike Huckabee, his top celebrity campaign endorsement, appearing with him everywhere in Iowa and New Hampshire. Huckebee’s actual plan to stop illegal immigration? “Two words: Chuck Norris.”

The question to our loyal readers and the blogosphere writ large is this: What are top election facts about Chuck Norris?

Rob Smith, on NPR, has a few:

For instance, perhaps you didn’t know that Huckabee’s bumper stickers don’t have glue? They stick to cars because Chuck told them to. And, when Chuck Norris gives a stump speech, it is on an actual stump — that he pulled from the ground with his teeth.

Your contributions are hereby solicited in the comments, and in a perfect world, this will become one of those memes that sweeps the blogosphere…


Ducking the Issues: What counts for Foreign Policy experience?

Hillary Clinton is running as the “Experienced” candidate. Her political experience consists of 8 years in the US Senate and 8 years in the White House as First Lady. In her speeches and discussion, she leaves a great deal of that resume deliberately ambiguous, and in doing so, raises a very important question: How should one count the experience of being First Lady? The New York Times addresses that issue today:

In seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton lays claim to two traits nearly every day: strength and experience. But as the junior senator from New York, she has few significant legislative accomplishments to her name. She has cast herself, instead, as a first lady like no other: a full partner to her husband in his administration, and, she says, all the stronger and more experienced for her “eight years with a front-row seat on history.”

Many First Ladies have significant influences on their Presidential spouses, all the way back to Martha Washington and Abigail Adams. Hillary’s influence and importance in the Clinton White House is not in dispute—clearly she was a close political and policy adviser to President William Clinton. The issue here is if this “front-row seat” counts as substantial foreign policy experience for a Presidential candidate, especially when Hillary has questioned Obama on his lack thereof. That, I think, is a legitimate and open question.

The case against:

Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance. She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president’s daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda.

And during one of President Bill Clinton’s major tests on terrorism, whether to bomb Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, Mrs. Clinton was barely speaking to her husband, let alone advising him, as the Lewinsky scandal sizzled….

But other [former Clinton] administration officials, as well as opponents of Mrs. Clinton, are skeptical that the couple’s conversations and her 79 trips add up to unique experience that voters should reward. She was not independently judging intelligence, for the most part, or mediating the data, egos and agendas of a national security team. And, in the end, she did not feel or process the weight of responsibility.

Susan Rice, a National Security Council senior aide and State Department official under Mr. Clinton who now advises Mr. Obama, said Mrs. Clinton was not involved in “the heavy lifting of foreign policy.” Ms. Rice also took issue with a recent comment by a Clinton campaign official that Mrs. Clinton was “the face of the administration in foreign affairs.”

“Making tough decisions, responding to crises, making the bureaucracy implement decisions that they may not want to implement — that’s the hard part of foreign policy,” Ms. Rice said. “That’s not what Mrs. Clinton was asked or expected to do as first lady.”

That’s rather important stuff. Of critical important, I think, is her lack of a security clearance. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she now has clearance to greater intelligence and military information than she did while in the White House. She didn’t know all the information, and she didn’t sit in on the most critical and classified decisions. Given that today’s most pressing security issues—terrorism, war, and nuclear proliferation—revolve heavily around intelligence and classified material, its seems reasonable to question whether or not her experience is relevant, as she didn’t directly deal with these things as First Lady. While she certainly had her share of tough decisions to make, none of them were based on national security intelligence.

On the other hand, there’s the case for:

Her role mostly involved what diplomats call “soft power” — converting cold war foes into friends, supporting nonprofit work and good-will endeavors, and pressing her agenda on women’s rights, human trafficking and the expanded use of microcredits, tiny loans to help individuals in poor countries start small businesses….

Friends of Mrs. Clinton say that she acted as adviser, analyst, devil’s advocate, problem-solver and gut check for her husband, and that she has an intuitive sense of how brutal the job can be. What is clear, she and others say, is that Mr. Clinton often consulted her, and that Mrs. Clinton gained experience that Mr. Obama, John Edwards and every other candidate lack — indeed, that most incoming presidents did not have.

One of the primary criticisms that all Democrats are levying against the Bush Administration is its squandering of soft-power resources, decimating the US’s image abroad. Clinton’s demonstrated experience and sensitivity to soft power tools, her experience “converting… foes into friends” is central to all the Democrats’ foreign policy platforms. While it may be impossible to prepare for the pressures and demands of the Presidency, she has a better idea of what to expect than anything else. You’d have to go back to George Bush I (VP, CIA Director, UN Ambassador), and before him, Nixon (VP) (and that worked out oh-so well….) for comparable White House experience.

So, the question is open: How do we value resume experience as First Lady? How ought we count it, and how should it be discussed on the campaign trail? This is a tough one, one I don’t think we’ve adequately addressed, in part, because we don’t have a language for discussing the professional aspects of spousal duties. In the contemporary Washington power couple, each person as an independent career—he’s Senate Minority Leader, she’s Secretary of Labor… he (was) an Ambassador, she (was) a Spy—so each defines experience on the basis of individual accomplishments. The spouse doesn’t have to define his or her political role vis-à-vis the other. Of course, none of these spousal positions come with a a title, stationary, or an East Wing office. Hence the question—how do we value Hillary’s East Wing experience as she seeks a term in the West Wing?


The Middle Class rises again…

Several days ago, I asked if someone making 97,000 / year was Middle Class, and Rodger followed up wonderful post on the two “two Americas,” economic and cultural.

Matt Bai, NY Times Magazine political writer and new contributor to their political blog The Caucus, raises the issue again. Responding to a John Edwards ad where Edwards promises to “save the middle class,” Bai asks:

All the Democratic candidates, to one extent or another, have been blurring the distinction between the poor and the “middle class” — arguing, in effect, that rising inequality means there is increasingly little distinction between the two. It’s important to define these terms, because they have a lot to do with how you make policy. We know what we mean by poverty, more or less; the federal government defines that by income ($20,650 for a family of four at the moment), and about 14 percent of Americans qualify. But you might be surprised to learn — I certainly was — that there is no recognized definition of what it means to be middle class….

Think about the implications this debate has for an issue like health care. Like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and most of the other Democrats running, Edwards would offer subsidies for “middle-class” families to make insurance more affordable. But how high will those subsidies go? Will health care be more affordable for a household where two working parents make, say, a combined $100,000 but struggle mightily with childcare and a mortgage? Is that family considered middle class or rich?

From Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, Democrats have succeeded in helping the most vulnerable American families when they’ve built the broadest possible economic constituency for their reforms. Most Americans describe themselves as middle class, and with good reason; their daily economic decisions may not be life-or-death, but they’re not easy, either. If the family on the edge of six figures isn’t, in fact, going to get a health-care subsidy, then a lot of American families might not view the proposed program as being about the middle class, at all. And what makes us think they’d support it? And what might that ultimately mean for the lower-income families who need the most assistance?


More than 2 Americas

Peter has a great post about the meaning of wealth in America — and the diverse problem that voters making upwards of $97,000 annually pose to the Democratic candidates in the 2008 election campaign.

After all, Democrats have long been said to represent the interests of the downtrodden. Think about FDR’s “New Deal” or LBJ’s “Great Society.” Yet, Democratic members now hold many House seats in districts that are viewed as affluent by income measures.

Though Peter framed this debate around the positions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, it arguably reflects the “two Americas” theme that John Edwards has been talking about since ’04. He hasn’t been able to gain quite enough traction to emerge as a serious contender.

Keep in mind that the affluent tend to vote at higher rates than do those making less than them. The underclass feels almost completely powerless in many political debates.

In any case, I want to devote this post to a different problem: income isn’t the only difference dividing these urban & suburban residents on the coasts from the rest of the country. The journalist Thomas Frank has famously discussed the importance of the cultural divide separating red and blue states. However, in the context of intra-Democratic struggles, the cultural divide is perhaps best explained in the scholarship of Richard Florida.

Republican candidates seem to make overt appeals to their cultural base and the business class voters understand that the talk about abortion and gay marriage (it used to be school prayer and drug policy) is mere window-dressing. As a cynic, I suspect the immigration issue is the 2008 version. These business class voters (whether on Wall Street or Main Street) know that Republican office-holders reliably bring tax cuts, deregulation, and weak government oversight. They know that post-election, the Republicans won’t prevent the low paid migrant workforce from entering the US.

In the end, the economics trump the culture wars.

In contrast, the Democratic cultural base is quite diverse and creates different cross-cutting problems on economic questions. The Democrats cannot readily make a cultural argument that won’t truly offend some of their constituency. If they go too far to the right, as the 2000 Nader problem revealed, many of their voters may go Green instead.

It is difficult for some Democrats to appeal to union, Catholic, and many minority households that are often culturally — and even fiscally — conservative. Those constituencies historically vote blue, but many union voters became Reagan Democrats and some Republican candidates have received large number of Catholic votes based on the abortion issue. African Americans have remained loyal to the Democratic party, but many Hispanics have shifted their votes in different elections.

Generally, those constituencies do not make $97,000 per year. The classic way to appeal to them is via economic arguments about government’s role in providing a safety net — college tuition assistance, Social Security preservation, child care tax credits, etc.

As Richard Florida demonstrates, numerous highly creative, tolerant and socially liberal people from the heartland tend to migrate to large cities and the coasts. Many become wealthy (this is often the $97K crowd) and vote for Democrats anyway because they abhor the dominant “Republican” cultural values they left behind in Nebraska. Most are not very likely to vote Republican simply because that move would bring lower taxes.

These voters want to hear appeals based on the environment, perhaps, or the role of government in promoting the information age. They are quite open to culturally progressive ideas like gay marriage. They don’t care all that much about the classic Dem arguments about government’s role providing a safety net.

They don’t think they need such a net.

Interestingly, however, while many of these voters’ “native” suburban neighbors are nearly as tolerant culturally, they are far more economically conservative. They are Republicans making $97K and up.

Perhaps the best way to explain the culture problem for the Democrats is to consider the Velveeta/Brie divide.

Remember that anti-Howard Dean commercial from 2004 (video link)?

“I think Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government- expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading. . .” — and then his wife picks up the litany: “. . . body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.”

Well, it turns out that most Brie eaters are “soft Republican” voters who support abortion rights and legalization of marijuana. Democratic candidates, conceivably, could appeal to those voters — at the risk of losing some of the culturally conservative traditional base.

More likely, however, many of those “soft Republicans” will become hardened as their economic situation continues to improve relative to the rest of the country and they grow attached to the same Republican virtues that appeal to the business classes. In fact, they become the business class.

Here’s the culture clash for the Dems in a nutshell: Most Velveeta buyers are conservative Democrats who support school prayer and listen to Christian music.

So far as I can tell, none of the 2008 Democratic candidates is able to cross the intra-party cultural divide in the way that Bill Clinton could. Clinton effectively appealed to many different constituencies, but it is far from an easy task. He was a Rhodes scholar and policy wonk who attended Yale, but he was also a white southern man who ate at McDonald’s, loved college sports, and played saxophone.

In sum, the problem Peter identifies separating the appeals offered by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is not exclusively about economics. I suspect both candidates are getting a lot of cash from the affluent members of the party that are culturally liberal. Obama must figure that he won’t offend them much by threatening to raise taxes, so long as the new brand of politics he is selling continues to appeal to their intellect or values.


Ducking the Issues: $97,000 isn’t as much as it used to be

Time for another installment of Ducking the Issues, where we here at the duck take a closer look at issues in the 2008 campaign.

David points out an interesting article, reporting a study by the Heritage Foundation that asserts that the Democrats are now the “party of the rich.” When combined with a discussion between Obama and Clinton in a debate in Las Vegas the other week, you end up with an interesting and revealing set of income and class dynamics at play in the presidential election.

As the Post reported:

The two front-running Democratic presidential contenders, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), sparred over tax policy and quickly got entangled in the question of whether someone making more than $97,000 a year is middle class or upper class. That’s upper class, Obama said. Not necessarily, suggested Clinton.

This raises a very interesting question that we often talk around but rarely discuss in the open:

Who, exactly, can afford to pay more? Who is rich?

Not me. Probably not you. Indeed, most Americans tend to identify themselves as ‘middle class’ whether they have a $50,000 or $150,000 or even $300,000+ annual salary.

The idea of who is Middle Class and who represents the Middle Class has important political implications. The Heritage study, as revealed in an FT op-ed claims that:

For the demographic reality is that, in America, the Democratic party is the new “party of the rich”. More and more Democrats represent areas with a high concentration of wealthy households. Using Internal Revenue Service data, the Heritage Foundation identified two categories of taxpayers – single filers with incomes of more than $100,000 and married filers with incomes of more than $200,000 – and combined them to discern where the wealthiest Americans live and who represents them.

Democrats now control the majority of the nation’s wealthiest congressional jurisdictions. More than half of the wealthiest households are concentrated in the 18 states where Democrats control both Senate seats.

This new political demography holds true in the House of Representatives, where the leadership of each party hails from different worlds. Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, represents one of America’s wealthiest regions. Her San Francisco district has more than 43,700 high-end households. Fewer than 7,000 households in the western Ohio district of House Republican leader John Boehner enjoy this level of affluence.

Now, Heritage is using this study to argue (in this op-ed) for further tax cuts, asserting that Democrats will wake-up and realize the intrinsic interests of who they really represent, thereby creating a Congressional ant-tax majority. The empirics I buy, but as we’ve recently discussed here at the Duck, its not so much the empirics as the social narrative and meaning attached to those empirics that is more politically significant and salient.

In the campaign, the politics of who is Middle Class does have important policy implications. In this case, how would the two candidates ‘solve’ the social security crisis? Who pays? Each agree with the broad Democratic narrative that those with more should pay more, while those with less shouldn’t be asked to support others until they can first support themselves. The difficulty comes in drawing the hard line between poor, middle class, and rich.

The exchange between Obama and Clinton began when the senator from Illinois said he was open to adjusting the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax. That’s the tax that the government prefers to call a “contribution” to Social Security. Under current law, a worker pays a flat percentage (and employers match it) of wages up to $97,500. Wages beyond that aren’t taxed.

Clinton responded by saying that lifting the payroll tax would mean a trillion-dollar tax increase, adding that she did not want to “fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors.”

Obama replied: “Understand that only 6 percent of Americans make more than $97,000 a year. So 6 percent is not the middle class. It is the upper class.”

Clinton: “It is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors.”

Online calculators allow anyone to make an instant city-to-city cost-of-living comparison. One such Web site calculates that someone making $97,500 in Washington could live just as comfortably on $67,846 in Ames, Iowa.

Both Obama and Clinton make important points. To most people—the 94% of Americans who make less–$97K / year is a lot of money. These are the people that the Democrats are supposed to represent, and Obama, trying to become the standard-bearer of the party, is trying to speak to these folks. Clinton, on the other hand, is speaking to the people she, and the party (according to the Heritage study) actually do represent. New York—especially The City—is home to many of those wealthy Americans and 97K isn’t all that much money in a very expensive urban metroplex like New York (or SF or LA or Boston or here in DC). For instance, did you know that:

The three richest large counties in the country are in the Washington suburbs: Fairfax, Loudoun and Howard. A recent survey showed that 43 percent of people in the core counties of metropolitan Washington live in households with incomes of at least $100,000 a year.

The people Clinton needs to win the race—those Northern VA suburban voters in Fairfax and Loudoun counties who now vote Democrat and have turned Virginia from a Red to a Purplish-Blue up for grabs—these folks are the ones who make the 97K and feel as if they are stretched thin.

But :

Median household income in America in 2006 was $48,201, which, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in 1999.

These are the people Obama needs to win over to his side to win the primary, the main-line democratic primary voters in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina.

I think there’s maybe a follow up post to this on why the Republicans have become more anti-immigrant, diverting the economic insecurity of their lower-income constituents away from economics and onto social-cultural issues (with a security overlay), allowing them to be anti-tax, for example, by arguing that all those making over $97,000 shouldn’t pay any more into the social security fund. But this post is getting a bit long, so we’ll save that for later (though feel free to comment about it).


Ducking the Issues: Campaign 2008

Its always exciting when foreign policy comes front and center in an election. Usually its “The Economy” or some other domestic issue that separates the candidates, so its particularly interesting that the Democrats have turned to foreign policy as the first major issue on which the major candidates have (or have at least manufactured) a stark difference. Today’s installment of Ducking the Issues examines the Clinton – Obama dust-up over meeting with foreign leaders.

Lets go to the Transcript:

QUESTION: In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

COOPER: I should also point out that Stephen is in the crowd tonight. Senator Obama?

OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous. (APPLAUSE) Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward. And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them. We’ve been talking about Iraq — one of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they’re going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses. They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight, in terms of stabilizing the region.

Obama did get this answer right, despite the significant criticism he has endured for it, and its important to note why. First, look at the question–it asks if the candidate would be willing “to meet, without precondition” a number of leaders, and frames it in the spirit of bold diplomacy and leadership from past global peacemakers. Obama seeks to pick up that mantle of global leadership, and does so with his answer. He draws a sharp and important contrast with the current administration, which has chosen confrontation over negotiation in dealing with hostile regimes, and says that he’s willing to chart a diplomatic course.

The key line, of course, is “without precondition.” Now, every world leader, including Bush, is willing to meet with any other world leader, including the aforemention rogues gallery, if the right conditions are met. Were Castro willing to announce his abdication, or were Kim Jong Il willing to de-militarize, they could both win a White House invitation tomorrow. In fact, a hallmark of the Bush administration has been to lay out such stringent conditions on any diplomacy that it renders it all but impossible, thereby creating a rhetorical justification for unilateral action. Obama wants to draw a sharp contrast, and does so.

COOPER: Senator Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don’t want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration. And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy. And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we’re not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be. (APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Senator Edwards, would you meet with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il?

EDWARDS: Yes, and I think actually Senator Clinton’s right though. Before that meeting takes place, we need to do the work, the diplomacy, to make sure that that meeting’s not going to be used for propaganda purposes, will not be used to just beat down the United States of America in the world community. But I think this is just a piece of a bigger question, which is, what do we actually do? What should the president of the United States do to restore America’s moral leadership in the world. It’s not enough just to lead with bad leaders. In addition to that, the world needs to hear from the president of the United States about who we are, what it is we represent.

Clinton (with Edwards tagging along for the ride) does two important things with her answer. First, she draws a contrast between her and Obama. This is the well-reported story, she trumpets her White House (albeit East Wing) experience vs. his youthful inexperience, which when cast as naive, becomes dangerous rather than refreshing and undermines Obama’s campaign mantra of sound judgment. Second, though, notice how she shifts the question to make such an answer possible. Clinton says that she will not promise to meet anyone without some sort of positive deal (negotiated at lower levels) is in place. On the one hand, such is the case–this is how Presidents have historically used the power of the office and the power of a Presidential visit, as a reward for making a deal with the US. On the other hand….

Obama never “promised” to meet with anyone. He said he’d be willing to meet with them, and that he’d be willing to set up such a meeting without a laundry list of preconditions. This does not necessarily imply that he would actually meet with them, let alone become some propaganda on Hugo Chavez’s behalf (do you really think Chavez or Ahmadinejad wants to meet with the American President? It could hurt them as much as us.) Obviously, the President of the United States doesn’t just drop by Fidel’s place for coffee. Obviously, there’s the prep work that Clinton spoke of. But, notice how Edwards and Clinton then take the opportunity to back Obama’s main point–that the current Administration has ignored diplomacy, and in doing so has weakened American’s global leadership.

Moreover, and here’s where I think Obama is in fact justified in his position, Clinton says that she wants to know the “way forward” before she meets with these types of world leaders. Typically, that’s how most high-level meetings happen. But, it also displays a certain degree of foreign policy establishment conservatism (with a small c, as in slow to change). As the questioner points out, bold diplomacy such as Sadat going to Jerusalem or Reagan meeting Gorbachev requires meetings between heads of state without preconditions. It is sometimes the fact that diplomats, operating in a standard policy framework, can’t see a way forward, and need a jump start from an involved President personally willing to invest credibility to move an international reconciliation forward. Could there have been a Camp David Accords without Sadat taking charge and making such a bold statement? If he had left it to his foreign ministry to work out all the details before he took his trip, would the trip ever have been made?

The point is this. Clinton’s answer is a good one, and plays to her real strength as a candidate: 8 years of presidential-level experience in the White House, and a sense that she is a real leader fully capable of making the right decisions for the nation on tough choices. It also knocks her opponent down a peg, attacking what he is trying to play up as his key strength–judgment over experience–by casting him as naive.

However, Obama’s answer does not deserve all the bad press its getting. Its a good response, a fresh response, and reflects an inherent dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration’s approach to foreign policy–especially Iraq. It is in fact rather responsible to offer to talk to Iran, despite our obvious historical and policy differences, in order to make sense of the future of Iraq. Indeed, the very problem with Iraq is that no one has a clue “what the way forward would be” and Obama’s alternative is to suggest that perhaps talking with the Iranians might help improve the situation. Its a reasonable alternative and legitimate policy criticism of the Bush Administration.


© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑