Saturday, April 19, 2008

Malaise, Despair, and Spring Fever
If it weren't for the Clintons' mad insistence on staying in a race they can't possibly win but just might force their enemy to lose, the country would be enjoying a much-earned and devoutly wished-for respite from presidential politics right now. I see this everywhere in work and social settings: nobody wants to talk about the race anymore, and everyone is disgusted with everybody.

Yes, the ABC debate Wednesday night was a singular disgrace; the absurdity of 45 minutes devoted to insider-politics bullshit and manufactured pseudo-scandals actually raises the question of whether representative democracy can thrive or even survive when its media tribunes are so entirely devoted to minutiae and irrelevancies. The lame excuse of the moderators--that all the issues they raised had sprung up in the two months since the previous debate--looks even lamer when you think about what else has happened since then: the collapse of Bear Stearns and the roiling of financial markets, the deepening mortgage crisis, the Petreus/Crocker hearings on Iraq, new revelations that the highest officials of the Bush administration discussed the specifics of torture tactics, the administration's vacuous promises of steps toward thinking about the discussion of long-term potential action around climate change, and all manner of other things.

But the outrage also reflects despair and bafflement that the good and necessary contest we were looking at two months ago, Obama versus McCain, is obscured by the refusal of the First Narcissists to go away and the hijacking of an issues-based campaign in favor of, literally, complaining about complaining. Democrats have the additional frustration of seeing their prospects dim in a year when everything should be going their way.

I'm not immune to this either. In about an hour and a half, I'll be headed to the Philadelphia area for the Jewish holiday; my plan had been to go down earlier today and do some volunteering for the Obama campaign in my home town. But between personal and spousal fatigue, and my own utter exasperation with the campaign that won't end, here I sit on Saturday afternoon, waiting for it to be freakin' over already.

edit: okay, this and this are almost-sufficient reasons to be glad the campaign continues...


The Navigator said...

I was astounded, though I shouldn't have been, that Clinton accused Obama of whining about tough questions, when in fact
1. the only one who's whined about tough treatment was Clinton herself, who cited an SNL skit as though it were an accurate portrayal of reality and then complained that she always got the first question in debates, and
2. Obama didn't say the questions were too tough, he said they were irrelevant distractions on unimportant side issues, and he was of course completely correct.

Also, I got a robo-call from Clinton on Friday saying that Pennsylvanians couldn't afford Obama because his health plan wouldn't cover everyone (valid argument) and would impose a 'hidden' $900 tax on families, a ridiculous argument for someone imposing a mandate that all families buy insurance - you can't pin her down because she won't release exact figures, but there's simply no way her plan would cost less than Obama's.

The Navigator said...

That said, it's a little depressing that Obana's ads have all been about oil prices and job losses due to factories moving and outsourcing, two things presidents have very little influence over. He's been careful not to make unrealistic concrete promises, but he's implied rather unfairly that "ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas" will stop jobs from going overseas, and that he doesn't take money from oil companies, when in fact he takes plenty of money from oil company executives, and in any event it doesn't matter much because there's nothing he can do to bring down oil prices.

Feral said...

A few comments on Oil:

Prices of oil and gasoline rise for a variety of reasons; the most significant of which are 1) the growing demand for energy by the rising economies of China and India, as well as developed automobile-dependent economies like the United States
2) A dearth of U.S. oil-refining capacity (hasn’t increased since the 70s)
3) Commodities traders bidding up the current price of oil to reflect the potential of future risks to supplies

Aside from these, we also have the fact that Saudi Arabia is now producing near capacity (they used to leave wiggle-room in production in order to be able to regulate price), resulting in increased reliance of the west on unstable producers like Iran & Venezuela.

I think that a President can have an influence on all these factors. Not a huge influence, but an influence none the less. An international policy underlining the symbiotic economic relationship with the unstable producers, rather than highlighting the difference in ideology or economic policy or whatever, can go a long way in taking out much of the risk in supply forecasts. Increased research into alternative industrial energy (rather than consumer – a bigger challenge, since companies act predictably, but people are fickle) can provide alternatives for China and India, as long as advancements are shared with them without cost; perhaps as payback for the industrialized world being responsible for most of the environmental problems we face today. China and India have no interest in protecting the environment, but if presented with cleaner ways to continue on the industrial path (nuclear, etc.), it would be in their interest to listen, if for nothing else but protecting their bottom line by way of reducing dependence on expensive oil.

Oil prices are going to continue going up, but there are political ways to slow its momentum down. It might be a stretch to think any of this would bring jobs back to Pennsylvania, but it could buy us precious time to reduce overall dependence on oil, before we descend into a Mad-Max style global war for oil (in which case, ironically, bitter rural Pennsylvanians would probably fare better than average)

David said...

Being home this weekend, seeing the gas prices, gave me a new appreciation for NYC's extensive mass transit network. Even though our fares are already the highest in the country, and bound to shoot up much more in the wake of our state legislature's failure to pass congestion pricing.

To Feral's point, I was wondering over the weekend how much lower gas prices would be if we'd never gone to war in Iraq. I guess the answer depends on how much impact criterion #3 has in comparison to #1 and #2, which obviously would be relevant even without the war.

Feral said...

...not to mention the potential advances that could've been made towards solving the problem by putting $3 trillion to better use...