McCain on policy

One or two of Senator McCain's pronouncements on policy issues and other matters during the third and final debate raised some eyebrows.

Healthcare:  McCain berates Obama for his proposed compulsory universal healthcare programme, preferring to give everyone a $5,000 tax credit and leaving it to individuals to spend it on health insurance if they feel so inclined.  Housewives and mothers with layabout husbands or partners (surely such people exist even in the United States?) won't be too impressed by that.  McCain also invokes the freedom of all Americans to choose the best healthcare scheme for themselves, their families "and their employees".  And their employees?  What kind of freedom is that?  Under existing arrangements the power of employers to determine, in effect, the healthcare schemes that their employees may join is one of the most questionable aspect of healthcare in the US, at any rate as perceived by us unregenerate old socialists in Europe;  to propose to perpetuate it seems perverse.

The recession:  McCain seems to think that government spending should be cut — or at best frozen — at the start of a deep recession, rather than doubled or trebled or whatever it takes to create jobs and get demand and consumption going again.  God help America if he becomes President and can't grasp that!  He's right of course that this is no time to raise taxes, but this seems to be for conservative doctrinal reasons, not because he understands the dynamics of recession.  Like the British Tories, he doesn't appear to understand that increases in government spending in a recession and reductions in taxes need to be funded by increased government borrowing, not by cutting government spending (although as Obama rightly pointed out, there should be plenty of scope for cutting government spending on things that don't create jobs and revive demand, and transferring it to things that do, such as infrastructure projects).

Promising to eliminate the budget deficit and to balance future budgets, as McCain did, looks equally misguided in a time of recession.   Perhaps this is a throwback to Reaganomics and Thatcherism, guided by Mrs T's conviction that the economics of a country should be analogous in every detail to the economics of managing a Grantham grocery.

Neither of the candidates really seemed prepared to tackle head-on the grave issues raised by the imminent prospect of recession, nor the budgetary and fiscal implications of the huge-scale bailouts and recapitalisations of the banks from public funds.  Perhaps to do so would have been too damaging electorally for the candidate brave enough to discuss these matters, if his opponent continued to pretend that they didn't exist.  To become President, you have to look on the bright side, if you can find one. 

Oil dependency:  Senator McCain seems to be fixated on reducing American dependence on foreign oil (for national security reasons) but gives no hint of understanding the need to reduce dependence on any oil (for the sake of the future of the planet).  Perhaps he's stuck with his running-mate's enthusiasm for the alarming slogan "Drill, baby, drill!", which must sound like plain common-sense if you're in Alaska.  Senator Obama is reassuringly sound on the urgent need to develop alternative, green, fuels.

Down's Syndrome and autism:  McCain clearly doesn't know the difference between the two.  He went on at length about autism, in the context of Governor Palin's deep understanding of the condition and the need to do more to help the parents of autistic children (Sarah Palin's child has Down's Syndrome, not autism).   But we're assured that he's not really confused at all:

McCain was not mixing up the two disorders, according to Palin spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.

"McCain speaks often of autism because he has seen families who are deeply affected and he knows that the Palin family has been affected in a similar way by having a beautiful baby with special needs," she wrote in an e-mail. "He was drawing a parallel between parents of children with special needs."
(Washington Post, 16 October 2008)

Oh, yeah?

This might all sound like kicking a man when he's down.  But he's not that far down, considering that he's the candidate of a party whose sitting President is the most unpopular in American history, presiding over a near-collapse of his country's banking system, the nationalisation of a raft of banks, and the imminence of a recession that threatens to deteriorate into a global depression, facing a gifted, articulate, intelligent and charismatic opponent.  Considering that political background, it's hard to explain Obama's mostly slim leads in the major swing states (as well as nationally — only 4 points ahead according to today's Rasmussen poll).  He should by rights be heading for a landslide.  How important is the Bradley Effect going to be?  It's not so much that some people — no-one knows how many — are going to vote against Obama because he's black but are ashamed to admit it to the pollsters, thus causing Obama's support to be overstated in the polls:  it's just as much the tendency of racism-driven voters refusing to tell pollsters how they intend to vote and accordingly being put down as undecided, or else excluded from the figures altogether.  Most American commentators are playing down the Bradley Effect as a likely major factor this time, but no-one really knows.

Two other factors are going to be significant:  first, that voting has already begun in some states, and by the official polling day (4 November, less than three weeks away) around a third of the electorate may already have voted — probably good news for Obama.  Secondly, that by now most voters have probably made up their minds and aren't likely to be swayed by fresh arguments or campaign advertisements, unless in the next seventeen days or so there's some major cataclysmic event that changes all the calculations — the likeliest being some terrorist attack, which would benefit McCain.  Yet there's still a significant number of undecided voters, or at any rate voters who won't tell the polls how they mean to vote — probably most in practice going for McCain.  

Truman, 1948So it's too soon and rash to count Obama chickens.  Remember not only Bradley but also Truman in 1948! We may yet find the result hingeing on the outcome of court challenges to the validity of a handful of hanging chads in Florida.

(Hat-tips: my wife and my daughter — the New York one.)


5 Responses

  1. Carl Lundquist/LA says:

    >> And their employees?  What kind of freedom is that?  Under existing arrangements the power of employers to determine, in effect, the healthcare schemes that their employees may join is one of the most questionable aspect of healthcare in the US, at any rate as perceived by us unregenerate old socialists in Europe;  to propose to perpetuate it seems perverse. <<

    <g> It would be difficult for an old European lefty to handle, I would not doubt.   The model that the Americans will eventually adopt will be an insurance model, not an NHS model and well largely replicate what you object to.   In fact, the one universal American system, Medicare, the system for those over 65 has adopted the insurance plan.   That is the Feds rely on private firms who contract with individuals, or employee groups to provide basic and comprehensive care with Medicare supplemental policies.   The plans that cover welfare recipients — in Calfornia, MediCal — operate on the same basis, the states/counties contracting with providers for care of invidual recipients.

    The inevitability of the system is due to the fact that it presently covers some 80% of the population.  The missing bodies are largely the young, healthy and newly hired.   The politics involved concern how to force them into the insurance pool.  Employers do this easily.  Catching those out side the pool will involve some sort of direct or indirect complusion.  Such coersion is, I suspect, easier in the European social structure than the American.   And then we have the huge number of illegal immigrants that we cannot even compel to follow our immigration laws   You cannot tax them if you do not know that they are there. 

    That said, I suspect that the McCain plan which is more specific than the good wishes of Obama, will be a non-starter.  Too revolutionary.  Americans tend to be conservative and incrementalist — as Hillary-Care found out.  

    Oil Dependency:   McCain has no monopoly on drilling.   The Demos have finally conceded the point that we drill or we walk.   We do have some assets tho, and both sides, including Exxon et al., are conceding the facts.  We have a whole lot of coal –, we are the Arabia of coal.   Equally we have a hump of natural gas.  The American SW has a lot of sunny, low latitude desert.   We even have a bit of geothermal.   We also have a LOT of uranium sitting in closed mines that can reopen tommorrow.

    What is going to happen, even under a Obama administration, is that the forces of NIMBY  and BANANA in the petroleum, coal, and atomic industries are going to be severely weakened.

    Polls:  Bush may not have the lowest end-of-administration approval ratings.  If he beats the some 21% of Harry Truman, it will be close.  I am old enough to remember that 1952 debacle.  Interminable war, depressed economy, and scandals in his administration.  Harry narrowly missed leaving town on a rail and Eisenhower came in as The Saviour of His Country.   GWB thus has a glimmer of hope for his historical reputation — but just the barest glimmer.

    Brian writes:  Thanks, Karl.  Penetrating insights, as always.  Just for clarification about health plans:  I certainly recognise that Americans will never contemplate anything remotely resembling our National Health Service ("socialism", although not so regarded over here!).  And it wasn't an insurance-based system that I was questioning:  that's obviously inevitable in American circumstances.  What sticks in my gullet, or craw, is the idea that a person's health plan (and often that of his or her spouse and children) depends on his/her employer.  I know in some detail of the kind of exploitation and deprivation of choice that this sometimes entails.  It seems to me almost as objectionable as tied cottages, where if you lose your job you lose your home, too.  As for the McCain proposals, AFAIK he hasn't yet explained how to check that every US citizen is spending his or her $5,000 on health insurance, that he/she is renewing it every year, that the health plan covers spouse and children, that it provides adequate cover in the small print, and so forth.  Or is Joe the Plumber, say, free to spend it on cigareets and whiskey and wild, wild women if he doesn't mind not having health insurance for himself or his kids?  Of course anything that includes compulsion and universality is going to involve problems of administration and enforcement, but they needn't in my view be insuperable.  Most governments contrive somehow to compel most of their citizens to pay tax, for example.

  2. Andrew Milner says:

    I'm starting to suspect that some 18 months ago, Republican grandees decided that, "After eight years of Bush, no way can a Republican win the White House”. Especially as things could only get worse. The downside was of course that a Democrat president might just be rash enough to initiate a full, independent investigation into the events surrounding the attacks on 9-11. In that event, a lot of top Bush Administration officials would be joining GWB in non-extradition Paraguay. Remember how McCain referred to the Kennedy assassination as an “intervention” in the most recent debate. Slip of the tongue or what? Unless the next president has a death wish, he would be well advised to let that sleeping dogs lie. So, rather than squander a top-drawer candidate on this particular lost cause, they nominated John McCain when he came along. The miscalculation was that at one point he looked as if he might be in with a chance, and a better candidate would have made a win possible. Of course the choice of Sarah Palin added another dimension to the situation. To win, the Democrats have to win big. Because a close result can be "swung", face it the Repugs have form in that area. Remember John Major in 1992? He wasn't supposed to win, but unfortunately no[-one] advised John of the cunning plan.

    Brian writes:  Very spooky!  Are things really that bad in the dear old US of A?

  3. Peter Harvey says:

    The health care system that Carl is describing seems similar to the German system: everyone* has to be a member of one of a number of private non-profit-making mutual health insurance societies, with freedom to choose which to join. It seems to work well enough. There is a State system to cover people who for one reason or another aren’t in a normal scheme.

    *People with income above a certain level can opt out and cover their own health costs directly.

  4. Andrew Milner says:

    Just to clear up a minor misunderstanding, I spend most of my time in the Central Japan Alps. And when I do get into Tokyo, the Press Club is no place to pick up hot stories. Those guys act like bidders at an auction. In fact you get more leads at the auto auctions. Bet you wish you were in yen.

  5. Carl Lundquist/LA says:

    >>Very spooky!  Are things really that bad in the dear old US of A? <<

    In a word, no. 

    Given the fish bowl nature of American politics and the Rat Factor in Washington inside politics — vast and deadly conspiracies are the stuff of college dormitory bull sessions.   Evidence for that?  Well there are the Pentagon Papers and Watergate and Deep Throat for two examples.   Kennedy assasination plots have long been given their quietus by Posner for one. 


    Watergate and Deep Throat