27 February 2008

Election #2: John McCain

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
February 24, 2008

For conservatives and libertarians, voting for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is like hearing nails on a blackboard. He grates on you. Here are some areas for concern.

First, his record on taxes is mixed. While his record on taxes has at times been good (in 2006 the National Taxpayers Union gave him an A), there have been real signs of a leftist worldview. He voted against President Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, parroting the Democratic line that they were tax cuts for the rich. This is disturbing both because it is a lie and because it indicates that he doesn’t recognize taxes are just too damn high. In 2003, he voted to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for more welfare, this time in the form of federal spending on education. He still refuses to sign a pledge not to raise taxes.

Second, his record on judges has been disturbing. In the past, he voted for hard-left Justice Ginsburg, knowing full well that she would be a hard-left vote on the closely divided Court. When the Democrats began to filibuster President Bush’s judicial nominees, particularly those who resemble Supreme Court standouts Thomas and Scalia, Republicans threatened to change Senate rules allowing filibusters of judicial nominees. McCain led the Gang of 14, a group of fourteen Senators including seven Democrats, who protected the judicial filibuster. In doing so, the Republicans in the group stabbed conservatives in the back. The weakness of Republican Senators is precisely how Republicans end up selecting people like Justice Souter, a reliable hard-left vote, and Justice Kennedy, a wishy-washy swing vote.

Third, McCain’s record on immigration has been abysmal. Along with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), he co-sponsored a bill giving amnesty to the 12-20 million illegal immigrants. An amnesty would result in an ungodly amount of welfare being paid out. Robert Rector of the Heritage Institute estimates that each low-skilled immigrant household costs the taxpayers roughly $20,000 and $1.2 million over a lifetime (2004 figures). This is significant because 50-60% of illegal aliens lack a high school degree and individuals lacking such a degree head about a third of these households. In addition, a recent study by the Pew Research Center estimates that between 2005 and 2050, new immigrants and their children will account for 82% of the population growth. This will result in a 45% increase in the size of the population (from 303 to 438 million). Does anyone seriously think this is good for current Americans, their children, or the environment?

His sponsorship was no fluke. Earlier he fought against a border fence that would have helped to secure U.S. borders. In 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, which required proof of citizenship before an individual could vote or receive state benefits. McCain was among the bill’s most visible opponents.

Fourth, his record on free speech will live in infamy. The McCain-Feingold Act tore into the heart of the First Amendment. The bill aimed to accomplish a couple of goals. One goal was to remove the role of soft money. Soft money is money that political parties spend in support of candidates and that is not subject to the contribution limits that characterize money given directly to candidates’ campaigns. A second goal was to shut down the ability of labor unions and corporations to put out sham issue ads. These were ads that mention a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.

When McCain-Feingold passed, it raised concerns with regard to private groups like Moveon.org and the Wisconsin Right to Life who express their views on issues and candidates without satisfying the campaign contribution limits (which would sharply reduce their voice) and disclosure requirements. The interpretation of McCain-Feingold will either restrict their ability to do so, which constitutes limits on political speech, or gut the act’s purpose, which is to lessen the role of money in politics.

In passing McCain-Feingold, Congress and the President, along with a block of the Supreme Court allowed the government to restrict free speech. To see why this is a restriction, imagine that McCain and his fellow do-gooders prohibited newspapers (including the New York Times) from spending more than $50,000 on an issue. This would obviously restrict newspapers’ freedom of expression because it would directly curtail their ability to get out their message. This act does the same for other private groups. McCain’s flippant response, “[I] would rather have a clean government than one where, quote, First Amendment rights are being respected.”

Fifth, his foreign policy views are scary. He has been foursquare for the war in Iraq and mentioned a desire to stay in there “for a hundred years.” His public statements on Iran paint a worrisome picture of an interventionist who might start a second war against Iran in order to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons. As Pat Buchanan points out, President Bush has caused trouble with Russia with our interventionist policies. He’s put NATO bases on the Russia’s doorstep. McCain’s rhetoric suggests he would cause even more trouble. Picking a fight with the Russian bear courts disaster.

Sixth, on social issues, McCain is half nanny, half jack-booted thug. His nanny-state campaigns show up in his view that no issue is too small for the government to address. He led a campaign to ban a private martial arts competition, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, because it offended him. He succeeded in getting the competition and ones like it regulated by the states. He pushed for federal involvement in investigating baseball in steroids and advocated hasher penalties for athletes using steroids. His jack-booted thug ideas include his push for compulsory national service during peacetime. In thinking that government force should be used to make young Americans serve others (this in addition to the 35% or more they will pay in taxes), McCain shows that he has no understanding what it means to live in a free country.

Seven, despite his repeated assertions of his own integrity and honesty, McCain has welcomed a plethora of conflicts of interests and is a standard-issue liar. In the late 1980’s, McCain was a member of the Keating Five. They were a group of five Senators whom the Senate Ethics Committee criticized for their having interceded on behalf of a campaign contributor (Charles Keating) who lavished them campaign contributions. Also, former lobbyists occupy a number of leading positions in McCain’s campaign. They include his campaign manager, chief political advisor, senior advisors, and top fundraising official. A former lobbyist also serves as his Senate chief of staff. None of this is illegal, but for someone who publicly frets about the roll of lobbyists in politics, the stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming. As George Will and Ann Coulter pointed out, on the campaign trail McCain repeatedly lied about Mitt Romney’s statements in this campaign and about George W. Bush in the last.

Conservatives and libertarians are thus left with an ugly choice. McCain’s likely opponent, Barack Obama (D-IL) will likely push harder to raise taxes (he’ll likely raise income taxes, capital gains, dividend taxes, and estate taxes), socialize medicine (the government already accounts for 47% of all money spent on medicine), provide amnesty for illegal aliens, and strengthen race preferences. Obama will likely have an interventionist policy in the mode of President Clinton’s many humanitarian missions and the war against Serbia. On the other hand, Republican members of Congress act more like conservatives when they face a Democratic President rather than a Republican one. In addition, if McCain gets elected this will encourage other candidates to govern from the left and then run for office paying lip service to right (see, e.g., Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and George W. Bush). All in all, conservatives are probably better off with a lesser evil like McCain. But a lesser evil is still an evil.

13 February 2008

Election #1: Barack Obama

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
Monday, February 11, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) stands a good chance of being the next President. Although behind in delegates (as of Monday, he has 1,121 to Hillary’s 1,148, you need 2,025 to win) and in campaign cash raised ($118 million versus $104 million) and still available ($38 million versus $19 million), he is gaining ground against Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-NY). What is mysterious is why voters love him. Here are some reasons why this is surprising.

First, in the past, hard-left candidates usually do poorly. According to the National Journal, Obama was the most liberal Senator in 2007. The nonpartisan National Taxpayer’s Union, which grades on a Congressperson’s taxpayer-related votes (specifically it grades them on taxes, spending, debt, and regulatory burdens) gave Obama an F and a grade of 6 out of 100. He looks at the American taxpayer the way the obese look at lunchtime buffets.

Second, he has called for massive tax increases and this is usually fatal to Presidential ambitions. According to Brian DeRose writing in the Washington Times, Obama wants to increase the inheritance tax, lowering the threshold from $3 million to $1 million. Note that this could return us to the confiscatory tax rate of 55% that was in place before 2001. In addition, he would raise the tax rates on capital gains by 8% (20% to 28%) and on dividends by 13% (15% to 28%). This is a declaration of war on people who have put money away from retirement or invested in the market.

He also plans a ground war on the upper class. Social Security is heading toward the cliff. By 2017, it will run a deficit that will quickly lead to three choices: privatize social security, significantly cut benefits, or jack up taxes. Obama has fastened on the last option. Currently, the combined social security tax (both employee and employer side) is 12.4% but only up to $97,500 in income. Obama wants to remove this cap and hence tax the rest of the income at this rate. Michael Tanner of the CATO Institute points out that this would raise taxes on 9.2 million Americans and by more than $1.3 trillion over the first ten years. Tanner notes that this would be the largest tax in U.S. history.

At times, his intended ground war on the rich gets farcical. According to the Congressional Budget office in 2007, the highest 5% pay an effective federal tax rate of 29% compared to 5.7% for the lowest fifth. According to IRS figures, in 2005, the top 5% paid 60% of the income taxes, while the bottom 50% paid 3% of them. Yet Obama wants to excuse another 10 million lower income Americans from the tax rolls. He doesn’t just want to soak the rich, he wants to beat them like a rented mule.

As a side note, you don’t need to be an economist to figure out what will happen to the stock market and the U.S. economy when you tax the snot out of production and investment by ratcheting up taxes on capital gains, dividends, inheritance, and income.

Third, his positions on some of the most inflammatory issues are at odds with the American people. He supports amnesty for the 12-20 million illegal aliens. By a wide margin, Americans hate this policy for many reasons, the most obvious being financial. According to Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, each low-skilled immigrant household costs the taxpayers on average around $20,000 (2004 figure) and $1.2 million over a lifetime. Note this figure takes into account the taxes they pay. This is a staggering figure given that 50-60% of illegal aliens lack a high school degree and individuals lacking such a degree head about a third of these households.

Fourth, his voting pattern is nearly indistinguishable from his rival. The National Journal reports that of the 267 measures in which both he and Clinton cast votes for in 2007 they differed on only two. Richard Lau, a Rutgers University political scientist noted, “The policy differences between Clinton and Obama are so slight that they are almost nonexistent to the average voter.” As a side note, one difference was funny in that Hillary Clinton voted against a Senate Office of Public Integrity, which would handle ethics complaints against Senators. Given the Clintons’ penchant for campaign-finance felonies, you can just imagine the horror with which she viewed it.

Fifth, Obama has no new ideas. Even his most fervent supporters would have to admit that his focus on “change” is as empty as it is unoriginal. Despite the fact that federal and state governments already account for 47% of expenditures on medicine, he and Hillary both envision vast new socialistic programs in medicine. He would also have the usual grab bag of handouts to welfare recipients, schools, and other groups already awash in subsidies.

So why is Obama so popular? One explanation is that he contrasts sharply with his opponent and the current President. The Clintons’ flagrant campaign-finance scams, congenital lying, and aggressive misuse of the government, make them a scary prospect, even for someone who agrees with their views. President Bush’s unnecessary and expensive war and liberal Democratic spending habits have made him incredibly unpopular. Furthermore, Obama is not as tainted by time in the Senate or the Bill Clinton Presidency as were political hacks like Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del), Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM). However, this contrast can’t entirely account for it because the level of enthusiasm for him hardly fits with a lesser-of-two-evils theory of voter attitudes.

Nor does he unite people. In his competition with Hillary, he is heavily favored by blacks (roughly 80% in California) and strongly disfavored by Hispanics and Asians. In fact, one can make a good guess as to how a minority voted just by looking at which group to which that person belongs. He also will be an anathema to conservative and libertarian voters.

Obama is bright, warm, and funny. However, we don’t know how bright he is because we don’t know what his standardized test scores were or whether he earned his spot at Harvard Law rather than being let in through affirmative action. In addition, his competitors are also bright so this doesn’t distinguish him. Except for Hillary and Sen. Dodd, his Democratic competitors also had engaging personalities so this doesn’t distinguish him.

In the end, I don’t have an explanation as to why he has so captured the American people’s attention. He is a hard-left Senator who adopts the same positions as his opponent. He doesn’t have any obvious advantages in policy expertise, integrity, or experience. He has a likeable public personality, but so does Tom Hanks and I doubt he would do well if he were to run for office. In short, Obama is a mystery.