Monday, September 29, 2008

Obama: the safe alternative to McCain

John McCain's whole strategy has been based on essentially two elements-- the first is to try and suggest that for America to elect Barack Obama would be to take too big of a risk, and the second is to argue that McCain is a 'safe' alternative.

But I think that might be just a little bit backwards.

An article out yesterday in the New York Times (maybe why one of McCain's managers tried to stage a 'pre-emptive strike' against the Times) by accusing them of bias even before this article came out highlights John McCain's own gambling habits and more importantly ties to the gaming industry.

Senator John McCain was on a roll. In a room reserved for high-stakes gamblers at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, he tossed $100 chips around a hot craps table. When the marathon session ended around 2:30 a.m., the Arizona senator and his entourage emerged with thousands of dollars in winnings.

A lifelong gambler, Mr. McCain takes risks, both on and off the craps table. He was throwing dice that night not long after his failed 2000 presidential bid, in which he was skewered by the Republican Party’s evangelical base, opponents of gambling. Mr. McCain was betting at a casino he oversaw as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and he was doing so with the lobbyist who represents that casino, according to three associates of Mr. McCain.

The visit had been arranged by the lobbyist, Scott Reed, who works for the Mashantucket Pequot, a tribe that has contributed heavily to Mr. McCain’s campaigns and built Foxwoods into the world’s second-largest casino. Joining them was Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s current campaign manager. Their night of good fortune epitomized not just Mr. McCain’s affection for gambling, but also the close relationship he has built with the gambling industry and its lobbyists during his 25-year career in Congress....

in his current campaign, more than 40 fund-raisers and top advisers have lobbied or worked for an array of gambling interests — including tribal and Las Vegas casinos, lottery companies and online poker purveyors.

This is troubling to me on two levels.

The first is the matter of McCain's campaign rhetoric. Now, I know that the way the game is played in Washington is thought lobbyists who can raise millions of dollars to help a candidate-- if he gives them what they want-- or millions to defeat him if he goes against their interests. But Mr. 'straight talk' has staked a lot of his campaign by claiming to be a reformer, and in particular one who doesn't tie himself to lobbyists or special interests. Instead of being a hypocrite about it, why not just fess up, and say 'I've been a tool of the gaming industry for years?' The article even quotes a gaming industry expert who calls McCain, “One of the founding fathers of Indian gaming” Yeah, there are people who might have trouble with that one, but at least then McCain wouldn't be pretending to be something he's not, and that he never was.

The second way this is troubling to me is much more profound, however. Now, I recognize that there is nothing illegal about gambling in a casino, and many good and honest people do. But it also says something about a person's decision making process. And let's face it. The recent past, whether it be McCain's gamble that he could raise enough money fast enough in 2007 to support a $100 million political machine for the primary (a gamble which failed), his gamble that he could skip the Iowa caucuses and still chase down Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination (a gamble that succeeded, thanks to Mike Huckabee getting in Romney's way), his gamble to choose none of the VP candidates his campaign had been vetting for months and instead pick a little-known Governor or Alaska to run for VP (a gamble which looked like it succeeded early on but as time goes on appears more and more questionable), or his gamble last week to play chicken with the debate and try to get credit for the bailout package (a gamble which failed), it is clear from John McCain's decision making process that he likes to take chances, often acting impulsively.

It isn't hard to look for another individual who makes decisions the same way. And on virtually all of them, John McCain has stood right by his side and rolled the dice with him. That person of course is George W. Bush.

President Bush gambled by pushing forward with deregulation, including of banks and of the financial services industry. John McCain stood right there alongside of Bush.

President Bush gambled that we could pass trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. It's true that John McCain voted against the first round of tax cuts, but now he stands right with Bush in wanting to make them permanent.

President Bush gambled that we could take time away from the Afghan war and the people who had killed 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11 to go invade another country, Iraq. John McCain stood with him on that decision.

President Bush gambled that the Iraq war would be short, easy and lead to a democracy that we could count on to help us find all those WMD that had to be stored in huge stockpiles all over Iraq. John McCain gambled on that right alongside of President Bush.

President Bush tried to gamble with our Social Security into a privatization scheme that would have tied it to financial markets. John McCain stood right there with Bush and gambled on that one too. Thank God that Barack Obama and Congress stood up and gave a resounding 'no' to that one. Imagine how much more quickly the financial 'iceberg' that Social Security faces would be coming at us if our Social Security was all wrapped up in the financial mess we see right in front of us.

The problem with gambling of course is as Kenny Rogers sang in the song, "The Gambler,"

You've got to know when to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em.
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table,
There'll be time enough for counting,
When the dealin's done.

And for both George Bush and John McCain, their downfall is that second line. Have you ever seen either of them fold and admit to a mistake? Admit that maybe we need to do something differently than what they've been pushing? Well, yeah-- John McCain did change his position on the Bush tax cuts that got us here in the first place. Now he wants to keep them. Trust me, they really like guys like that in Vegas, ones who even when they have a winning hand, throw it away in exchange for a losing hand.

After eight years of a Gambler in the White House (and not a very good one, at that) I'm certain that WE can't take the roll the dice on another risk-taker, especially one who has shown he really doesn't play his cards very well.

Luckily we don't have to. There is a safe alternative. When Barack Obama makes a decision he doesn't gamble. The way he chose Biden is instructive. He collects all the information that he has available. He reads it and ponders what he has read (Obama even took a week off the campaign trail out in Hawaii so he could work throught this decision.) He puts his head together with his advisors (which now includes Biden, who as the chair of the Foreign Services Committee has a great deal of experience in the one area where Obama recognized that he might need some help.) Obama is also a man of faith, so I suspect he prays for help in making the right decision. Then he makes it. And once it is made, he sticks firmly to it. At the same time, he does learn by experience. So for example, this year he opposed a 'vacation' from the Federal gasoline tax (an idea that McCain supported,) relying on his experience from doing the same kind of thing in Illinois and observing that the tax cut failed to reduce gas prices in Illinois (the reason for why it doesn't work would involve a discussion of the mathematical/economic concept of a relatively inelastic equilibrium point on the supply and demand curve which is too complicated to explain here, but Obama gets it.)

With the country facing it's most difficult economic crisis since the 1930's, we need a deliberate and careful decision maker, and one who is forceful in carrying out decisions but also able to recognize what works and what doesn't.

What we can't afford is to gamble on another gambler.


angelin said...

Obama supports a cap-and-trade policy to limit domestic greenhouse gas emissions and would require polluters to buyallowances.
McCain supports a cap-and-trade policy but would distribute some allowances at no charge.
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Eli Blake said...

And your point is?

Zach said...

Of course Obama doesn't lose his cool and is safe. He has yet to stand up and say he stands FOR anything, other than change.

McCain takes gambles, because in today's two-party system, having your own principals and beliefs is a gamble. Running a campaign in a risky way is not necessarily a sign that someone will run the country in a risky way.

Electing a man to President who has somehow come across as "optimistic" and "hopeful" despite not standing FOR anything, and standing AGAINST just about everything (at least in speeches), is risky. We have no idea what this man wants to do, other than create change. What kind of change? How is he going to create it?

That's a risk we can't afford to take.

Eli Blake said...


Obama has laid out exactly what he is for, he did it in his convention speech and again during the debate last week.

However there are a lot of ways to make decisions, some of them good, some of them not so good.

It's not to say that a gamble can't work sometimes (the classic example was Kennedy getting the Russians to take their missiles out of Cuba by threatening to blow up the world.) But in order to make it worth pursuing there should not be any reasonable alternative since the cost of failure is, well, extreme.

To cite a specific example, when Obama picked Biden I remember a gleeful Republican talking head saying (this is an exact quote,) "There is a thick file of Biden." Well, yeah there is a thick file on Biden. But the Obama campaign was able to look through it, decide that there wasn't anything too earthshakingly awful in it, and feel comfortable that after decades of oppo research there really wasn't anything on Biden that wasn't known yet. And let's face it-- since he's been running about all the GOP has come up with to attack him is a couple of gaffes (which he's always been prone to make.) In contrast, McCain's gamble on an unknown and unvetted Alaska Governor is looking worse every day. And yes, I've finally met a man who said he will vote for Obama because after he heard the Katie Couric interview he's scared to death of what will happen to the country if Palin ever becomes President.

But given how dangerous the world is, what we need is a leader who carefully considers his options before taking action (and make no mistake about it, Obama will take action) rather than one who impulsively swings as soon as he thinks he has a reason to.

Zach said...

I will be totally honest and admit that I did not watch his convention speech. I did, however, see an ad that for a moment made me feel like an idiot right after my first post. In the ad, Obama says, "Here's what I will do to fix the economy," or something to that extent. Oh no, I thought, he actually DOES have firm policy stances. Then I sighed a sigh of relief.

He went on to say that he would implement commonsense policies which stopped favoring large corporations and put the middle class back as the first priority.

Now maybe I'm just too dumb to get the commonsense policies, but what exactly are they? When you really do have firm and well thought out plans, and you know that your opponents are saying that you don't, offering no more detail than "common sense policies" really isn't helping your cause.

Leaders should take risks. Calculated risks, but risks still. Also, I would like to reiterate the idea that how a person campaigns and how a person will run a country are two totally different stories.

Eli Blake said...

Obama has proposed, among other things:

1. a major initiative to make the U.S. energy independent and design and put into production a new generation of alternative fuel vehicles (the development and implementation of the plan = more U.S. jobs.)

As a corollary to this he proposes a lot of new investment in science education and research, and also making the tax credit for research and development permanent (he's not against specific and targetted tax cuts, he just thinks that the broad, far-reaching, enormous and deficit-producing tax cuts of the Bush administration have been reckless and hurt our economy.)

2. While he opposes an across the board capital gains tax cut, he does propose a cap-gains tax exemption on start-up businesses in order to encourage investment in startups.

3. Create a 10% universal mortgage credit for homeowners who do not itemize. This would most benefit people trying to stay in a home but earning less than $50,000 per year.

4. Create an exemption in bankruptcy laws for people who can prove they are having to declare bankruptcy due to a specific medical crisis. For years we've treated people who end up deep in debt because of cancer treatment the same as people who just went on a spree at the mall, and the truth is they are not the same at all. Obama recognizes that.

4. Just this week he proposed increasing the FSLIC insured coverage in banks from $100,000 to $250,000. This would encourage moderately wealthy people to keep more of their money in banks and give people more security for their retirement savings.

Zach said...

1. What is the major initiative? Another "commonsense policy?" Calling it a major initiative doesn't make it a specific policy point.
2. Basically subsidizing certain businesses? That's a great policy in American economic policy, and which we should keep up.
3. Why are people earning less than $50,000 in a home that they "own?" If they can't afford it, they should be renting. We need to quit babying people and allow them to live within their means.
4. This sounds great in theory. The problem (other than restricting the natural market) with overly regulating is that the costs (both in regulating and litigating) get absurd. Remember FMLA? Great in theory. But at large companies, in particular in the area where I work, you have people with FMLA intermittent leave from work because they have migraines, or diabetes, or some other problem which in no way detracts from their ability to work. I can see the same thing happening with this proposal.
5. This is an actual solid policy proposal, and one which I don't totally oppose. You should work for Obama's campaign, because you're the first one who has made me aware of one of these.

Anonymous said...

I think that McCain has been around long enough to know when taking a chance is warranted. I'm not even completely sold on voting for him (I was about two weeks ago but I'm back to at least considering Obama), but decision-making isn't an area where I have reservations about McCain.

On the other hand, if you can quote Kenny Rogers in a post then you're not so bad.