The Electric Commentary

Friday, October 22, 2004


After thinking long and hard about whom I should endorse for President, I am finally comfortable enough to make a recommendation. All of the EC contributors were debating whether or not to offer a group endorsement, but in the end our views were not compatible enough to constitute one coherent platform. Therefore, we will be offering endorsements as individuals.

I have bemoaned this campaign since is started over a year ago. I realize that I am in a niche market politically, but the lack of a fiscal conservative in this race basically disqualified both candidates as viable options for me. However, just because the presidential candidates disagree with me on a fundamental issue does not mean that one is indistinguishable from the other.

When you vote, you should think about the candidates as mascots, for that is all that they are. This is Ronald McDonald v. The Burger King. The only true way to judge the two is to first look at the policies espoused by the administration as a whole, and then look at the likelihood of that agenda being enacted. Ignore personalities, talking points, Vietnam, the National Guard, Lambert Field, Manny Ortiz, Mary Cheney, Kerry’s naked daughter, Bush’s hammered daughters, Halliburton, the Patriot Act, the many creative uses of the English language employed by our President, and all of the other crap that the campaigns try to foist on us as being relevant campaign issues.

So what does matter? There are two issues that are far more important than anything else; Iraq, and National Spending.

First, Iraq.

Whether or not going there was a good idea is sort of irrelevant at this point, but let’s look at it anyway. I am actually a bit of a neo-conservative with regard to foreign policy. I believe that the promotion of democracy abroad is the best way to ensure national security and the best way to improve the lives of those in other countries. I am not averse to pre-emptive military action per se, but the justification for it should be well articulated and well supported. Moreover, I can understand the attractiveness of Iraq, as it should have been easier for those formerly under a totalitarian regime to realize a democratic government than for those under an Islamic theocracy. Obviously the example of Afghanistan shows us that this is not necessarily the case.

The Bush Administration gave many reasons for the war (I went to see Dan Drezner take part in a foreign policy debate a few months back, and I believe that he put the number at 38 separate reasons) and I always thought that the most important one was democracy promotion. They failed to emphasize this, to their detriment.

So, I don’t have any large objections to the existence of the Iraq war. That being said, I echo the concerns of Andrew Sullivan that the war is being run by incompetent ideologues operating in an anti-negativity bubble. Not once has the administration admitted a mistake. Only once (George Tenet) did someone lose his or her job over a mistake, and in Tenet’s case, it was the huge "mistake" of Abu Ghraib. Bush talks of accountability, but words mean nothing when there are no subsequent actions.

Donald Rumsfeld had a view for creating lighter more efficient armed forces, a sort of giant Special Forces operation, but the result was an understaffed military, not a more efficient one.

But there are two sides to every story. Would John Kerry be better? Or more appropriately, would he be worse? No politician has ever done a worse job at articulating his position on an issue than John Kerry has on Iraq. Can anyone tell me what he will do? Will he stay or pull out? If he stays, how long will he stay? Will elections still be held in January? I don’t know.
But there are clues.

Simply pulling troops out would be political suicide for Kerry. I believe that the public pressure on Kerry would not allow him to do worse than the President. While his assertions that he will get the UN or NATO involved are annoying and border on outright lies, they are ultimately harmless. Whether he wants to or not, Kerry will have to be aggressive in Iraq, or he will lose, just as Bush may lose this election for that very same reason. (Dan Drezner's reasoning in his endorsement is similar.)

Kerry would also repair our relationship with Europe. Some conservatives play this off with platitudes about not caring what the French think of us. Personally I don’t care what the French think of us. The French can barely govern their own country and will probably be bankrupt within 25 years, however, it is undeniably easier to get things done on the international scene when other nations are not openly hostile toward the President. This should not be the deciding factor, but it is a factor, and it does matter. European politicians, after all, are under pressure from their constituencies too. If they are too friendly to the US at a time when the US is unpopular they will be voted out of office, and that is not in our best interest.

I honestly don’t know if Kerry would be better or worse than Bush. Is it better to have someone that you agree with perform poorly or someone that you disagree with perform well? And who knows if he will perform well? He may be awful. In fact, I suspect that an awful performance is likely.

I have concluded that John Kerry will be forced kicking and screaming to continue with initiatives that I favor. His superficial appeal to European ninnies (yes ninnies) is a bonus. And if he is worse than Bush, it should be easy to vote him out in four years, just as Bush will have been voted out after four years.

Domestic Issues

As for domestic issues (let’s talk spending and free trade) I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. The frying pan and the fire. A fool, and the man who follows the fool. Bush has increased domestic spending enormously and at the same time, cut taxes. He has participated in what can only be described as blatant fiscal irresponsibility. That being said, he is not without a few positives.

While discretionary spending is rampant and awful, entitlements pose the greatest threats to the country's fiscal solvency. Social Security faces a population problem, and Medicare faces a retiring baby boom with rising healthcare costs (not unrelated, by the way). Bush has proposed a workable solution – private health care accounts for current workers. I, in an uncharacteristically non-libertarian stance, wouldn’t even mind seeing these become mandatory for my generation (to prevent irresponsible use in the future, or borrowing against accounts). Bush has proposed similar accounts to alleviate pressures on Social Security. Kerry has vehemently stated that he will never privatize Social Security.

What a dork.

The current system will collapse. Pundits deride Bush's plan as too expensive, citing a one trillion-dollar "transition cost." This is simply bad accounting on two fronts.

First, as Arnold Kling has pointed out, it could be financed by borrowing and, because the future liability will disappear, paid back as my generation retired, without increasing taxes.
Second, this one trillion-dollar "transition cost" is already on the books, although the government hides it from you through Enron-style accounting. The way in which SS is currently funded is that workers pay in to the government, and the government pays that money out to the retired, but notice that something is missing. Money is still owed to future generations, i.e. my generation. This money must either come from my generation or the next generation, and it is this set up (which Milton Friedman once compared appropriately to chain letter) that is responsible for the deficit in the first place. If the government were totally honest they would list the future liability of SS as a current expense.

Kerry has no plan (at least no articulated plan) to fix this, and that is a huge liability in my book.
As for drugs, they are both terrible, but at least Bush is against price controls and re-importation from Canada (which, by the way, won’t reduce prices here anyway, but will either increase prices in Canada or lead to shortages their).

I find despicable the anti free-trade sentiment in this country. Free trade is great for the economy. It creates jobs, it ensures efficiency and it keeps prices low. Unfortunately almost every ad I hear is touting a plan to protect American jobs from those dirty foreigners, or touting "fair trade." I have news for everyone: All trade is fair. If it is not fair, than it is not trade, but is instead coercion or theft. When people trade, both parties are better off and wealth is created. Barriers on trade create inefficiencies, job losses and, most importantly, a decline in productivity. Productivity is the most important single economic property for measuring the welfare of a society and almost anything that stunts productivity should be viewed as an enemy to society.

That being said as far as I can tell neither candidate knows a thing about the economics of free trade (or his ass from a hole in the ground). Bush passed tariffs in swing states with strong labor interests, and Kerry and Edwards have made the "evils of outsourcing" a centerpiece of their campaign. Outsourcing is not a bad thing. Bush is probably a bit better (Kerry’s voting record is not encouraging), but this is basically a wash.

All of this caused me a lot of consternation, as both candidates, with respect to domestic policy, are losers. If both candidates are losers, and in favor of harmful policies, then obviously you should chose the one who will act the least. The two houses of Congress will, in all likelihood, remain Republican, and while the Senate is vulnerable, the House will almost certainly remain Republican. If Kerry is elected he will face a hostile Congress for at least two years and more likely all four years. I happen to like gridlock quite a bit, and this is an appealing setup. Much of Bill Clinton’s good fortune can be attributed to a hostile Congress.

Bush has had a friendly Congress his entire first term and he has used his power solely to enact laws that piss me off.

Therefore, I must begrudgingly endorse John Forbes Kerry for President. I believe that the citizenry will keep him in line with regard to foreign policy, and the Republicans in Congress will check him on domestic policy. Perhaps if Bush had been facing an opposition Congress during his first term I wouldn’t be writing this. It is disturbing that he never vetoed a bill over his four years. I often think that if I were President I would veto almost every bill, but he was not restrained, and he used his power foolishly.

Kerry is the lesser of two unqualified morons and I hope that my lengthy rationale above helps you feel slightly less dirty after you pull the lever on November 2nd. Personally, I still feel the need to take a shower after writing the paragraph before this one. And remember there’s always 2008.

Read Danny's Endorsement
Read Ryan's Endorsement


  • EC not endorsing badnarik is a travesty

    By Blogger ahren, at 2:03 PM  

  • First of all, it's just me, not the whole EC.

    Second, while I myself am a libertarian, I find the actual Libertarian party to be somewhat insane.

    Third, voting for Badnarik is useless. I prefer a more pragmatic approach.

    Fourth, I disagree with the isolationist stance recently taken by the Libertarian party.

    I agree with them on a lot of issues, but I don't like Badnarik and if they are ever going to be a decent third option, they need to find better candidates. Voting for a loser will only induce more losers in teh future.

    Or are you just kidding?

    As Kang said:

    "What are you going to do, it's a two party system!"

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 2:37 PM  

  • 1)not kidding at all.
    2)i also disagree with the isolationist stance, but as a whole the party aligns with what i believe much better than any other despite that difference.
    3)badnarik might be a "loser," but are you honestly telling me that bush or kerry are less loserish?
    4)you say voting for badnarik is useless. well, so is voting for kerry or bush. somewhere ( maybe) there was a study of the economic benefit of voting, and it turns out that even in an incredibly close state that tips the entire election, the chance of your vote actually making the difference in the election is about .0000001% (or thereabouts), so clearly there's no rational economic basis for voting for either kerry or bush either. thus the primary motivation to vote, if you're going to do so must be something else-- either a personal expression of your views or the need to feel part of something or some combination thereof. you strike me as an intelligent person without the latter need... thus, my surprise.

    is the case really that you disagree with the isolationist stance so much, that it trumps everything else-- the war on drugs, tyranical two-party system legislating other options out of existence, universal health care, etc.?

    also, i don't mean this as an attack. it's just an interesting discussion. maybe i'll write a blog on it.

    By Blogger ahren, at 4:13 PM  

  • You should blog about it. And you should write an endorsement for Badnarik too. Who knows, maybe I'll change my mind.

    Point taken about the uselessness of voting. Since I am in Illinois it's even more useless. I'll take it from 3.

    3) They are losers in the truest sense, but for some reason people find them engaging. I'd love to see a legit 3rd party form out of the Republican fiscally conservative libertarians and the democratic social liberals, and I think that the best way for that to happen is for a party like the Libertarians to find an engaging stage presence.

    Remember the reform party? Ross Perot's littler start up? It didn't even have an ideology, it just had Ross Perot, and he got about 19% of the popular vote. Not bad. Then he went away and his party basically ceased to exist. The Libertarians have a nice ideology to back up a personality, but they still need the personality.

    So yes, they're losers, but they are established losers. 3rd parties need higher standards or they will remain 3rd parties forever.

    4) This is a fine argument, but if you follow it to its logical conclusion, why even vote at all?

    And, it's not just my personal vote that is important, my endorsement is also (a little bit) important. Granted,I don't have 548 readers from Florida to influence, but perhaps some of my 47 or so readers will take my advice, which increases my statistical effect. Maybe I'll even get this published on a Carnival and have 150 readers. So, it need not be a personal expression because I'm communicating it to other people.

    Plus I like the game theory approach and I wish everyone would use it.

    5) It doesn't trump everything, but it is a big deal. I expect better sense out of the Libertarians (security wise and fiscally).

    But my disagreements with the Libs are minor. Honestly, if they were not a marginalized party I would almost certainly vote for them. Hopefully someday they won't be, but voting for Badnarik will not aid in that endeavor.

    I also think that if Bush loses the republicans will have a bit of a civil war, and a thrid party will stand some chance at gaining legitimacy next time around by stealing disgruntled republicans. But that's just speculation.

    Have a good weekend Ahren.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 4:48 PM  

  • This sums up a great deal of my Libertarian Party problems:

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 3:57 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Amazon Logo