Thursday, February 21, 2008

The coming Matt Santos landslide

Surely one of today's more inventive uses of newsprint was the Guardian's extended comparison (by Jonathan Freedland, no less) between Senator Barack Obama and the (entirely fictional, but more admirable) Matt Santos. Pity it was a straight lift from Jamal Simmons on

Malcolm is coming round to the notion of Obama being "his" candidate in November, and President from the 20th January 2009. He also notices that Obama is risking moving fractionally to the left on some issues (but Malcolm awaits a more positive, more Clintonesque, plank on health insurance).

There are, however and as they say, "issues".

Malcolm would wish to start with the idea that Obama is cleaning up, sweeping all before him. Not quite true. Paul Lukasiak at Taylor Marsh ("the antidote to Right-wing Talk") has done the numbers, and they are surprising to anyone who took the newsprint and tv-punditry on trust:
... on Super Tuesday, 295,952 more primary voters cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton than for Obama, [...] If we include all the states that held primaries before Super Tuesday (NH, SC, MI, FL) Clinton was up by 468,024 votes—that was 2.51% of the total votes cast. ...

Only now that Obama has a miniscule lead of 128,736 in the number of votes cast (and that includes assigning all the “uncommitted” votes in Michigan to Obama) has the media focused on total votes cast. This lead represents less than 1% (0.62%) of votes cast in the primary elections held so far, yet it is trumpeted by the media endlessly.

But, since this is actually the Democratic primary, perhaps we should look at how Democrats have actually voted. Based on the available exit polling data, we find that Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead over Barack Obama in the number of votes – As of February 16, 2008, 391,992 more Democrats voted for Clinton than Obama.

In other words, it's déjà vu all over again: as in Florida in 2000, the winner is the winner because Fox News says so.

Then there is the small matter of policy. There was an important account of Obama's stated aims by Clive Crook , originally in The Atlantic, and reprinted (surprise, surprise) in the Financial Times:
Last week, in a speech at a General Motors plant in Wisconsin, he unveiled an economic plan. It mainly gathered previously announced ideas, spun to appeal to the “working Americans” in Mrs Clinton’s base. Indeed, the Clinton campaign accused him of plagiarism. Costed (conservatively) at more than $140bn a year, it includes comprehensive reform of healthcare, subsidies for alternative energy, investment in infrastructure and tax cuts aimed at the low paid. Unwinding some of the Bush tax cuts, together with unspecified increases in other taxes on companies and the higher-paid, would pay for it all, he said.

The goals are worthy. The US healthcare system is long overdue for reform. The country’s infrastructure has suffered years of increasingly apparent neglect. The Bush administration’s tax cuts worsened inequality at a time when economic forces were already pushing strongly in that direction.

But American corporate taxes are already high. Post-Bush, top marginal rates of tax on personal income are not low, when you take state and local taxes into account. Mr Obama’s proposal to restore top rates to the levels of the 1990s, and then lift the cap on social security taxes as well, constitutes a swingeing rise in the highest rates. Very high rates applied to a narrow base is bad tax policy. A more broadly based and (above all) far simpler tax system with a moderately progressive structure of rates is the way to combine increased revenues, a more equal distribution of post-tax incomes, and tolerably efficient incentives. No sign of this in Mr Obama’s proposals. It is also a great shame that Mr Obama, like Mrs Clinton, has adopted a populist stance on trade. He attacks her for having once supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he blames for “exporting jobs”.

Well, yes and no. What else would one expect from a Democrat, and at "a General Motors plant in Wisconsin"?

Two thoughts on that:

  • It isn't just the poor exploited capitalist who is being scalped by those pesky taxes. Property taxes at $10-15,000 (part of those "state and local taxes") a year on your nice suburban Cape? Makes the Community Charge seem cheap at the price. Then there's health insurance, which is going up at 7.7% a year, twice the rate of inflation, another $11,500 a year on the family budget.
  • Meanwhile, real wages are going south. Even when the US economy was growing, real incomes declined:
Since 2000, the median household income of non-elderly households is down $2,572 (or 4.8%) compared to $1,669 (or 3.6%) for all households.

The real income of the typical household has fallen five years in a row, despite the fact that the last three of those years—2002, 2003, and 2004—have been years of economic expansion. Over these years, our workforce has become a great deal more productive, as output per hour is up 15% from 2000 to 2004.
Heaven help them in the coming recession.

And now for the good news. Dubya's "popularity" continues to grate along the bottom of any credible range. The latest CBS Poll had him at 27% (versus 65% "disapproval"). Even his tame Fox boosters can only get him up to 32% (and even that's down on their previous findings).

The last thing that John McCain needs now is White House endorsement -- which, of course, he promptly received.

Nor should we ignore McCain's present embroilment with the media, over his alleged "affair". This can be "spun" in so many ways: McCain is already attempting to "go to war" with the New York Times, which may be a good move with the anti-liberals. His Conservative opponents will see it as manna from heaven, for this is a story which could hurt.

In 1973 McCain came back from five horrific years as a prisoner of the Viet Cong. His wife, Carol, mother of his three children, had been involved in a motor accident, thrown through the windscreen and seriously injured, on crutches and no longer the svelte item he remembered. In 1979 he met Cindy Hensley, just 25 years old (and 17 years his junior): they became "involved". He married her in May, 1980, just a month after divorcing Carol. From the tone of some sites, McCain may be in for some swift-boating.
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