Tag Archives: politics


Sound and Fury: Looking Beyond the 2008 Elections

While standing in line today waiting to vote, I was reminded of that great line of George Carlin’s: “Think of how stupid the average person is and realize half of them are stupider than that.” Considering how sharply-but-evenly divided we are on the question of who should be the next US president, it is easy to think that the ‘other half’ is the stupider because they’re voting for ‘that guy’ and we are among the smarter – because we won or despite losing, whichever way it goes.

Although the choice of president is very important, he’s typically just the most visible element of the government. There are special powers and privileges and a gifted rhetorician can sway and engage popular opinion in support of his efforts to work with Congress. Nevertheless, let’s remember that much of what we have heard and been told until now is only so much sound and fury which signifieth, well, maybe not as much as we thought.

Regardless of which side you’re on, the most important thing to remember is that there are natural constraints to what the next president will be able to accomplish. We’re in a rough economy and we have a divided electorate. So, whether tomorrow you Greet the Dawn or fear the Apocalypse, let’s take a moment to look beyond the elections and consider the months ahead.

The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s highly unlikely that Sen Obama, as President, would change the course of either of these wars from the one they’re on under current leadership. By leadership, I’m referring to the military leadership and not the Bush administration. The surge has shown itself to be a success with deaths in Iraq falling to the lowest point in the war. Indeed, there were fewer killings in Baghdad last month than occurred in Chicago. A president McCain can keep his campaign promise to support the troops and Obama will be forgiven if he accedes to realities on the ground if he abandons a fixed schedule for troop withdrawal.

The US and Worldwide Economy. Since government has only a few albeit very powerful tools available to influence the direction of the economy – the power to tax your money, spend your money, and throw you in jail if you don’t cooperate – much of what can be tried is underway: massive Keynesian stimulus spending via checks to US tax filers (not necessarily payers but we’ll discuss that another time) and massive, unprecedented bailout dollars to major financial institutions. In light of the major commitments already in place and the enormous existing government debt, it’s unlikely that the next president will be able to engineer major new spending programs in this weak economy. If McCain tried, the Democrat majority is likely to oppose his budget efforts. Massive spending by an Obama-led congress would probably risk a further market meltdown, as Clinton learned to his disappointment in 1993.

Where, then, can the next president get his way? For Obama, two places. Regulations, rules, and other soft-cost legislation and judicial appointments. Resurrecting the fairness doctrine, removing the secret ballot for union votes, and enacting other rules that are designed to guide the economy should be fairly easy for him to accomplish and the costs will be hard to calculate. A compliant, Democrat-led Congress will likely be quick to move on any judicial nominations they receive. A President McCain, on the other hand, would have a bigger hill to climb. He’ll need to be uncharacteristically Reaganesque and win the support of the public to put pressure on their own legislators to get his agenda through. And, assuming there’s no Democratic super majority, he’ll need to dust off the Veto pen.

In any event, we’ll soon see how my broad predictions pan out.