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.


The Objectivist said...

One explanation that people might give of his popularity is that the media have fallen all over themselves trying to portray him in a good light. For example, there is almost no mention of his name near things like inheritance tax, amnesty, and tax increase.

The same was largely true of Bill Richardson who failed to catch on. So I doubt that this is the correct explanation.

The Objectivist said...

Note that no one has asked him about wedge issues, specifically race preferences, gun control, and gay marriage. Once asked, things could get much uglier for him because he'll either have to give evasive answers, which will show him to be a professional politician, or he give an answer which will confirm that he is a hard-left candidate.

Why has no one asked him real questions?

zenithmbr said...

because schools take into account more factors than just race alone, it seems foolish to single out african americans when questioning whether they got in on academic merits alone. i should hope that when you see a white person or an asian who graduated from these top ivy league schools you similarly question: "well i wonder if they got in because they're smart or maybe they got in because they lost their penis in a horrible tractor accident at a young age." because admissions are dependent on more than race alone and other life factors can be taken into account, it seems hypocritical to only subject racial minorities to this line of questioning. i therefore assume you question all graduates from ivy league schools academic merits equally.

The Objectivist said...

Dear Zenithmbr:

Thank you for your note. I have two objections to it.

1. First, even if the credentials of some members of the Ivy League suggest they did not get in for their intelligence (e.g., football and basketball players at Duke), it simply does not follow that we should not be skeptical about the credentials of other groups who usually have to receive preferential treatment.

2. Second, the data is well-known and uncontroversial. If you look at the data in Grutter v. Bollinger and Hopwood v. Texas, there is in effect an admission by the schools that they are using different standards for admitting races. This has a predictable effect, black students have lower GPAs and fail the bar and medical boards more frequently than individuals let in under the usual standards.

3. None of this is to take a position on preferential treatment. It is just to say that when it comes to favored minorities, it makes no sense to put our heads in the sand and draw inferences about ability that are legitimate in the context of Asians and whites but not other groups.

In any case, thank you for your note.

zenithmbr said...

My point is, simply, that if you are going to be skeptical about african americans then you should be skeptical about all other races as well because it is also likely that whites and asians are admitted for reasons aside from academic ability. while it may be proportionally more probable that african americans are admitted for non-academic reasons, i doubt if obama were asian you would question his abilities even though it is reasonable to do so given affirmative action programs preferences for diversity that is non-race based as well as race-based. it seems that we should be skeptical about all students regardless of race, and to pinpoint african americans seems irresponsible, and frankly racist. on your reasoning even the most highly qualified african american should be subject to the question 'well i wonder if he just got in because he's black.' I understand you think this is a reasonable inquiry given the facts on the ground, but to pick out a minority group and denigrate them as a whole does not seem fair. after all they were not the ones who instituted the affirmative action programs. if you're going to take out your anger about affirmative action on anybody it should be the supreme court, but leave the african americans out of it, it's not their fault that the programs are in place.

zenithmbr said...

eg.) if you write an article about Hillary Clinton, I should hope you question whether she got into Yale Law because she is a woman or because perhaps she has PMDD, both characteristics a school may potentially think add 'diversity' to the classroom, especially in the early 70's, even though affirmative action was still in its infancy.

hangzhou7906 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Objectivist said...

Dear Zenithbar:
I like your point and don't think anyone should wish to denigrate African-Americans, many of whom are bright and hard-working.

However, here is the issue.

1. Is Barack Obama so intelligent that he was admitted to Harvard Law against standard competition (white and Asian competitors)?

The fact is that affirmative action prevents us from having a confident answer to this.

Whether this denigrates anyone or not is beside the point. We are picking a President and these inferences matter to the extent that a President's intelligence matters.

A similar point is that we should not assume that whites admitted into Yale in the 1950's or earlier are very bright if they had conenctions.

Here is my question for you. Do you think that we can infer the intelligence of your average white or Asian student at Yale Law?


The Constructivist said...

Interesting that you never mention his opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq....

zenithmbr said...

i don't think you can infer anyone's intelligence merely by the school that they attend. there is no school that i know of in the states that has EVER admitted students on the basis of intelligence alone. being that so many students get accepted to schools due to economic status, athletic abilities, past life experiences, hard work that has achieved good grades, race, etc. it would be foolish to try to infer anything about someone's intelligence on the basis of the school that they attend. it seems to me that you are advocating racism, essentially saying 'we can infer that the black ones are dumb and the whites and asians are smart.' also, i found it somewhat interesting that you didn't note anything about mccain's intelligence in your latest blog. he graduated 894th out of 899 in his class at the US Naval Academy. is there a double standard? or do you only apply your standard for intelligence to black people?

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