Monday, November 03, 2008

If Obama wins

I judge Obama unsuitable for the office, on grounds of character, experience, and philosophy; but I don't believe him to be the devil incarnate. There ought to be some good arising from his presidency, and it would be a useful exercise to try to figure out what it might be.

Unfortunately he has no administrative experience with which to face the largest bureaucracy in the world, so success in administration is going to depend on blind luck in finding good aides. If he has the humility to ask for a lot of advice he might be able to assemble a competent team, but if he relies on his political allies we're probably going to be in the soup. Loosely run bureaucracies have a way of digressing from their missions in favor of empire-building and paper-pushing.

The most striking qualities he has so far displayed are charisma and a mesmerizing speaking ability. These won't cut much ice with the hard-nosed veterans in the Legislature, but if he can hold the attention and favor of enough people the Congressmen will have to listen to him. We have some serious challenges in terms of the economy and the war. If he can inspire enough people to accept the sacrifices and the vision, a great deal could be done. Of course this begs the question of what vision and what action, but we'll try to hope these are wise. That takes a lot of hoping, unfortunately.

Faced with real dangers and real limits (we can't magically make armies appear in Afghanistan--somebody has to help or give permission), he may abandon his silly rhetoric and possibly lead the Democratic party to take ownership of the war. It would be very good to lose this "Republican war" nonsense and work together for a change. The war is complicated and going to be long, with intervals of apparent quiet: we need to hang together no matter which party is in charge.

Unfortunately most of the nice things he talks about doing come with unpleasant price tags, and sometimes nasty side effects. It is nice to think of paying no taxes (I make well less than $250K .. make that$200K .. make that $125K .. make that$75K .. make that ..), but a) it won't happen (we have to raise a huge amount of money soon) and b) the moral hazard of creating a large citizen class with only benefits and no obligations erodes their sense of responsibility for what the government does--makes them children instead of citizens. I discount huge swaths of feel-good promises: I've no confidence that they'll really benefit us.

"Predictions are hard, especially about the future." "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. ... Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God."