Politics As Self-Delusion

The Ezra Klein article I cited below raises a larger issue, which is the curious phenomenon of the gulf between what people say they want and what they actually advocate.

In health care the way this plays out is upper-middle class lefties, who are upset that their health plan costs so much (and, in many cases, that they can’t visit their doctor with unbounded frequency for every ache and pain without thinking about money), thus run around saying “health care needs to be reformed!”, totally oblivious to the fact that any such “reform” would work by taking more money out of their pocket one way or another. In the extreme version, of course, this can turn into the tragic (and incurable, I suspect) case of the $500k/year New York finance Obama-socialist who thinks his health care costs are too high and that makes a good case for reform.

But actually there are many examples of this divorce between stated goals and political reality. Let’s take all the folks who supported the big McCain-invented issue of “campaign finance reform” 5-15 years ago, for example. Most of those people, when hearing and using that phrase, probably didn’t really know any details of what McCain was always yammering on about and just had some vague notion that it would involve ‘getting the money out of politics’. Well whoop dee doo, “campaign finance reform” passed, and Bush (mistakenly) signed it. So we got what we are all supposedly asking for – ‘to get the money out of politics’. And then Barack Obama 2008 proceeded to spend a record number of hundreds of millions of dollars to buy win the Presidency. I know, I know, this is because he didn’t accept public funds – but wait a minute. Wasn’t “campaign finance reform” supposed to get the money out of politics full stop? Wasn’t it foreseeable that a charismatic like Obama could decline public funds and then spend a record amount? Yes and yes. Shouldn’t this undermine somewhat the arguments people were using to garner support for “campaign finance reform”? Yes. So will all the former “campaign finance reform” enthusiasts look at this reality and have second thoughts about what they supported? I’m not holding my breath.

The larger issue here is that it’s quite often fruitless to take peoples’ stated political views seriously, to analyze their likely effects and outcomes, to discuss them. People don’t adopt their political views for such tangible, objective reasons as that. Often, people adopt political views for how it makes them feel, or for how “cool” it makes them in front of others, or perhaps simply for the age-old healing power of self-delusion.

That’s why we elected Obama, after all. Electing Obama has led to “change”: it ended the Iraq war, it closed up Guantanamo, it stopped torture, it Made Us Safer, it made The World(tm) like us. Well okay, it didn’t actually do any of those things, not in reality. But it has allowed the majority of the country to delude themselves into thinking those things have happened – and that’s the important thing, apparently.

A Tax Hike I Could Really Get Behind

Here’s a potential Obama decision I could get behind (if it’s not just a posture): Administration Is Open to Taxing Health Benefits. Of course, it’s no surprise, because if you read the article you’ll see this would be essentially an embrace of a McCain position that Obama had criticized during the campaign.

One of the stupider side-effects of our tax code is that virtually everyone in the country has become conditioned to believe that health care has to come from your employer, via a “plan”. Health care and employers are linked! Everyone knows that! If you have a job, you can have health care, because (hopefully) your employer signs you up for a “plan”. Conversely, if you don’t have a job, you don’t have health care, because how can you get a “plan”? And if you switch jobs, you have to worry about whether your new employer would have a “plan” for you. Would it be as good? Etc.

No one seems to ask, why do health care services have to come in the form of an employer-provided “plan” in the first place? Virtually nothing else is done this way.

Let’s think about cars. Your car needs regular gasoline fills, oil changes, tune-ups, and minor repairs. I don’t know about you, but here’s how I handle those things when they come up: I take my car to a specialist of some sort, he performs the service on my car, and in compensation I give him a thing called “money” (or at least, my credit card). Then I go home and forget about it. If my car needs more work, I end up paying more; if it needs less work, I pay less. Of course there is risk of huge repairs being required, but for that I have a thing called “insurance” that requires ongoing payments, and in return I am covered for catastrophic repairs above a certain amount. I bought this “insurance” myself, after some shopping around, and mostly haven’t needed it. I also used “money” for that. It’s the money that I get from my employer, not the “plan”. This is better! I have more freedom to choose how I use that money. People should prefer this! It’s like the difference between getting $100 cash and $100 gift card for Olive Garden. Is there any real confusion as to which is preferable?

But what if we handled those things the same way we handled health care?

Well, first of all, I’d have to sign up for an Auto Care Plan through my employer. (If I had no employer, I simply wouldn’t have an Auto Care Plan, and presumably would start whining to the government to cover me.) On the first day or week of my job, I’d go to a seminar at my employer, where some lady who works for my company (for whom this is her full-time job!) would explain to all us new hires the options we have for a Car Care Plan. Plan A offers $5 co-pays for oil changes but we have to get our oil changed at particular places, Plan B has $10 co-pays but more freedom in choosing oil change shops, etc. Then on the basis of this we’d have to choose which Car Care Plan we want. We’d be stuck with this choice for a whole year, if we chose wrong we have to wait till the next “Open Enrollment”. Having thus chosen, we’d then get a plastic card to carry in our wallet (because Lord knows we don’t have enough of those), a huge amount of brochures and literature about our Car Care Plan (which of course we all read entirely, right?). And so every time my car needs an oil change, or gasoline, I have to have that card on me (if I forgot the card, can’t get the service – they don’t accept mere money, or at least, if I use money, there’s a huge markup), and pull out that card, and fill out some forms so that the gas station or oil change shop can properly bill our Car Care Group. (All gas stations and oil change shops have people on staff whose full-time job is to fill out and submit that billing and deal with all the paperwork involved.) Sometimes there are mistakes or I forgot to fill in one box, then my Car Care Group nags me and sends me a bill or says I have 45 days to clarify the paperwork if I want the thing to be covered. I might have to call them during office hours 9-5 to argue with them, convince them the thing should’ve been covered. Maybe I win the argument. Then maybe they send me a check, which I’ll have to deposit.

Ah, the convenience of being in a “Plan” to pay for and evaluate the cost of things, as opposed to the hassle and cost of using “money”! One predictable result is that I’d just stop taking my car in for maintenance. Too much trouble.

But health care is important, you say. I’m trivializing things by comparing it to car repairs. Well then, what about food, do we handle “Food” this way? Everyone needs food! Do we handle “Shelter” this way? Everyone needs shelter! Indeed, Food and Shelter are actually the most high-priority forms of health care. You don’t get either of those, you can forget about all the other aspects of your health (cholesterol level, etc.). So then, why don’t we have a system where your employer is expected and/or required to provide you with a “Food Plan” or a “Shelter Plan”? Instead what happens is that your employer gives you a thing called “money” in the form of a thing called a “salary”, and you use that “money” to obtain Food and Shelter yourself.

Revolutionary!

Oh, but health care is too expensive, you say. Well, one reason (not the only reason but one reason) it’s expensive is that people over-consume health care. Why? Because they don’t see the costs. Everyone (at least, many of those who overconsume) is in a “Plan” of some sort, which insulates them from the actual cost of their choices.

So why do it this way then? Well, it’s a historical legacy dating back to the ’40s. There were wage controls, and Congress came up with letting employers provide non-taxed benefits. So “health care plans” (among other things) were set up as ways for employers to offer attractive compensation that wouldn’t be taxed or controlled away, and they’ve been with us ever since. Take away the tax advantage, though, and just maybe the incentive structure starts pointing in a normal direction again.

I’m proud to say that I’m with President Obama 100%. (Again – assuming he’s sincere.)

Obama and the “Important” Election: Response to Pastorius

Pastorius wrote below this post:

Are you telling me that when George Bush ran against Michael Dukakis there were people running around saying it was the most important election evah?

I must have slept through it.

Anyway, I’m in my forties, and whether this is the most important election evah, or not, Barack Obama definitely sucks more than any candidate in my lifetime, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter …

I responded briefly but wish to expand here.

Generally, I guess where I’m partially coming from is this: the reason we could end up with a sucky candidate like Obama as President is because we have sucky people with sucky ideas in this country. Lots of them. At least half of them. And those people aren’t going away! We will have them regardless of who wins the Presidency. They will make decisions and support this or that stupid cause, illogical principle, or self-defeating notion, regardless of who wins the Presidency.

Am I being harsh in calling them sucky people? Well, millions and millions of people are going to vote for Barack Obama to be the next President

  • because he is black, and they are black. or
  • because he is black, and they are nonblack, and it is ‘chic’ to like/support a black person. or
  • because he is “cool” and they wish to sign up for being cool themselves by joining the cool crowd. or
  • because they (bizarrely) think they ‘won’t have to worry about their mortgage’, i.e. gumdrops will rain from the skies, if he wins. or
  • because they want to stick it to “the rich” (defined as: everyone who makes more money than they do). or, more generally
  • because they are opposed to our country’s defense, success, and power.

Or any number of other reasons I not only have no respect for but I think represent symptoms of a deeper syndrome, a fervent wish for national suicide, mutual vampirism and self-immolation.

Now, suppose John McCain somehow wins tomorrow. Will these people – which is to say, these bad ideas – go away? Not a chance. We will still have them and they will still affect our public life. The only question is how much these ideas will be damped by McCain winning the election.

Not that much, I don’t think. Which is why I don’t think the election is all that important.

Elections done right give people what they want. It does seem to me as if the people want Barack Obama. This is because those people have really bad ideas about the world. And that, not who sits in the White House, is the real problem we are going to be saddled with, it seems to me.

My Fear: The Subprime Frontrunner

Erica Jong Tells Italians Obama Loss ‘Will Spark the Second American Civil War. Blood Will Run in the Streets’

“If Obama loses it will spark the second American Civil War. Blood will run in the streets, believe me. And it’s not a coincidence that President Bush recalled soldiers from Iraq for Dick Cheney to lead against American citizens in the streets.”

“Bush has transformed America into a police state, from torture to the imprisonment of reporters, to the Patriot Act.”

(More insanity at the link above.)

So here is my fear: that McCain will win. In a sense, I share this fear with Erica Jong.

This may seem like an odd thing to say given that I prefer am less against McCain to win the Presidency than I am against Obama winning the Presidency. Indeed, if I were going to vote (which I don’t think I will), I would vote for McCain. So why do I fear a McCain win?

Because the media have brainwashed the public so successfully into expecting an Obama blowout. So if McCain actually does win, in that context, I’m afraid we will see an insanity breakout (as illustrated above) of epic proportions.

Here’s the problem, as I see it: with every election that goes by, it seems to me that the media and polling institutions get more and more divorced from reality. There has always been a media bias, but only in recent years has that media bias translated so dramatically into the kind of cooked poll numbers, heavily-slanted predictions, and attempts at creating self-fulfilling prophecy that we have been seeing. The media seem to have really found their oats these past 8 years, realizing that they have the power to manage and control expectations of political outcomes. It seems as if they have collectively decided to use that power to its utmost, with no scruples or honor about it whatsoever, and with no regard for anything resembling objective truth. And it seems to be only getting worse.

In the 2000 election, media and pollsters told us that Al Gore had a slight lead (let’s say something like 51-49) over George W. Bush. Yet the actual election was a statistical tie, if measured by popular vote. And of course, Bush won via the Electoral College. So, the media/polling picture departed from reality, but only slightly (let’s call it 2%).

In 2004, the media and pollsters told us that Bush was very very unpopular, that the Iraq War was a detested disaster, and that Kerry had a slight lead or perhaps even a better lead than they told us Gore had had in 2000. Yet Bush carried a popular-vote lead and won the Electoral College more handily. We now had – let’s say – a 4% divergence from reality. The pre-election media/poll picture was getting less accurate and more mythical.

And people started to notice, too. So much so that when Bush won, frustrated lefty commentators started saying – apparently with a straight face and believing their own spiel – stuff like “this can’t be right, look at the polls! look at the exit polls! Exit polls are never wrong!” This sort of argument was sincerely used by otherwise intelligent-seeming people to argue that the election must have been ‘stolen’. It had to have been! Polls can’t be wrong, and the polls told us that Kerry would win! Some even suggested the polls ought to carry more weight than the actual election.

The cognitive dissonance caused by unrealistic media-created expectations had real effects, too; stories popped up post-election about Kerry supporters who had to seek counseling after the election. The media essentially told all these people a fairy tale that Kerry would win, a fairy tale based on a combination of wishful-thinking and propaganda. The people who believed that fairy tale received a shock.

So that brings us to 2008. The media essentially tells us to expect an Obama blowout. But what if this, too, is a fairy tale? What if 2008 is just a continuation of the trend we started seeing in 2000 (2% distortion) and 2004 (4% distortion)? What if the picture the media and pollsters have been painting this year is distorted by even more, by 6-8% or so?

That’s what we’re being told is the size of Obama’s (supposed) lead, isn’t it?

Arguing against my paranoia here, I suppose, is that the media’s view is based on hard data. You know: polls.

Here’s the thing about polls: the more you learn about how they are done and calc’ed, the more you realize that they all contain a zillion fudge factors. It’s not as simple as ‘ask 1000 people whom they’ll vote for and extrapolate the fractions to the entire country’. All the pollsters multiply Democrat responses by one number and Republican responses by another (usually smaller) number. There are other factors and weightings that go into polling models, including geography, social class, whether someone is (claims to be) a registered voter or a ‘likely’ voter, or whatever. By the time you add up the effect of all these factors, who knows how accurate the polls really are? 5% margins-of-error really begin to add up if you’re multiplying several of them together. Not only that, but the more fudge factors and ‘models’ are thrown into a polling calculation, the more wiggle room there is for, well, bias to creep in. A (D)-leaning pollster might decide to weight the (D) responses 2-to-1 over the (R) responses, if he “thinks” (=hopes) that (D)s now have a ‘natural 2-to-1 background advantage’ in the country. Once you allow the existence of that kind of factor, the potential is there for cooking poll numbers however you like. And the more factors and the more complex the model, the more potential there is. It all boils down to incentives, and bias is a very potent incentive.

It’s similar to the problem that existed in creating bond ratings for mortgage-backed-securities. The rating agencies surely had very complex and scientific objective-seeming models for, say, defaults and foreclosures of the mortgages that back all these bonds, credit-default swaps, CDOs, etc. Models that contain a zillion and one factors that each have to be estimated, modeled, measured individually. The models all said, of course, “this senior tranche of a CDO backed by such-and-such uncorrelated bonds deserves a AAA rating”. The ‘correlation’, of course, being a phony parameter that turned out to be, well, basically 1. We all saw what happened as a result: a bubble in subprime-backed bonds and CDOs that turned out to be completely divorced from reality.

What if the same thing is going on in media reports and polling? Only, not due to greed, but due to bias and, well, ‘hope’, on the part of pollsters and media types?

Is Obama the “subprime” frontrunner?

The media have told us that Obama will win. As a (sort of) McCain supporter, I hope they’re wrong, of course, but in a way I also hope that what the media have been telling us is based on reality – not on wishful thinking and bias. However this election turns out, I hope it wasn’t all just a…just a bubble.

How Rich I Would Be

I wish I had a nickel for every person who

  • supported the financial bailout and called people stupid if they didn’t favor it, but never had any real idea what the bailout involved
  • blames the current financial crisis on something they vaguely call “deregulation” but can give no details, can make no argument, and obviously doesn’t know what the hell they are talking about
  • pretended to kinda like John McCain in 2000 in arguments with (R)s (when he was running against Bush) but now calls him evil incarnate
  • claims to be tired of “negative campaigning” and the politics of personal destruction, but wrote approximately 70 bajillion blog posts last month speculating about Sarah Palin’s baby
  • is going to vote for Obama to be our next President primarily because he is cool, and they want to be cool too

Oh, how rich I would be.

The Politics of Joe Destruction

So let me see if I understand. Obama was on a photo-op/meet-and-greet. A guy named Joe, whose house Obama went past, asked him some critical questions about Obama’s tax ideas. McCain’s side incorporated Joe and his life and times into their argument. Obama’s side (which includes the media), on the other hand, focused on destroying Joe.

Joe, you see, must be destroyed now.

This is not civil politics. This is not reasoned debate. The lefties like to posture as if they’re the “intellectual” side and fret about the supposed “anti-intellectual” sentiments they detect, but this is hardly that.

This is just more high school politics.

I ask Obama supporters – supposedly the “intellectual” side, remember? – what on earth this guy named Joe’s biography has to do with a valid argument over how high taxes ought or ought not to be, and get nothing but blank stares and “McCain started it!”.

Pathetic and juvenile. High school politics.

High School Never Really Ended

Robin Hanson likes to say that politics isn’t about policy. This seems to be hyperbole, but there is something to it. That post links to an interesting article called My Team Vs. Your Team. Key quote:

…what has happened in recent years is that partisans have come to identify with their parties in much the manner that sports fans identify with their teams. The strong views they feel on many issues do not drive their party affiliation; it is their party affiliation that drives their strong views.

A few years ago I found myself losing interest in politics as it was generally conducted. The debates didn’t seem like genuine debates and the stances people took didn’t seem secure or grounded. I decided that most politics we see is indeed based on little other than “my team vs. your team” – even on an issue as seemingly substantive as the Iraq invasion/reconstruction – and this was why politics seemed so boring to me. Kabuki debates that are really about something else.

“My team vs. your team” goes nicely with my belief that one’s allegiance to the (D) or the (R) party has a lot to do with how one wishes to see themselves – i.e., whether they wish to be cool. The (D) Party is the “cool” team, the team for “cool” people and their mascots. One thing you are doing when you pick your “team” is choosing your identity. The (R) Party is certainly not for people whose sense of identity is tied up with a wish to be seen as “cool”.

But there is no denying that Barack Obama is “cool”. Look at those socialist-art posters with one-word slogans: oh my my are they cool. How about that “yes we can” Youtube video? Damn, that was cool. Look how he swaggers and carries himself, but not in an overly-testosterone-filled way. Sure is cool. He has cool friends; cool Hollywood people like him, such as Sarah Silverman and John Cusack. He talks cool. I could go on and on. Make no mistake about it: the dude is fricking cool.

And that, folks, is the reason he is likely to be our next President. Because he’s cool. To correct Philip K. Dick: it wasn’t the Roman Empire that never ended.

It was high school.

McCain’s Ego Problem

In 2000, John McCain was nominally the favorite Republican of everyone on the left. Don’t know how many times I heard folks on the left say “you should vote for McCain over Bush in the primary” or “if I were conservative, I’d be for McCain”. Supposedly they all respected him and liked him and, if not outright supportive of him, at least could tolerate him as President if it came to that. This is what lefties tended to say, anyway, during the 2000 (R) primary.

Obviously that was all phony nonsense. Even at the time it was apparent that all that was really going on was that the left wanted McCain rather than Bush to get the (R) nomination because they thought he’d be easier to beat in the general election, since Bush had raised so much money and had the well-known last name and all.

This is all ancient history of course. I bring it up partially to highlight the stark contrast between then and now, a time when we have seen the inevitable demonization of McCain by the same left which formerly claimed to respect him. (I know such people will tend to claim that McCain “changed”, but I don’t buy it. McCain didn’t change, what changed was the political logic – there was no longer any reason to pretend to like John McCain.) But I wonder if part of McCain’s problem in this horribly-run campaign has been that he always believed them when they did so.

McCain may have genuinely gotten the impression over the years that his ‘maverick’ act actually impressed certain folks on the center-left. The reality of course being that the left merely found it a useful way to drive a wedge into the (R) position, to divide & conquer. This would make a lot of sense, and could explain some things about the passive and presumptuous nature of his campaign.

It’s ironic. McCain’s ego has actually gotten him pretty far. But one problem with having a big ego, as McCain does, can be that you find it all too easy to believe people who pretend to like and respect you.

Why Wall Street’s Economic Philosophy Is Like John McCain’s

This is disgusting. In fact, as far as I’m concerned if the man who did this had any honor, he would resign:

US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was humbled as tempers rose and threatened to scupper a deal to prevent world economic meltdown.

In a dramatic gesture to keep hopes alive, he got down on bended knee to plead with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to stay and keep talking.

From the moment I first heard talk of this “bailout”, I had my suspicions. This little episode does nothing to dispel them.

Henry Paulson got to his position as Treasury Secretary by way of Goldman Sachs. Now he “gets on his knees” to “beg” members of Congress – personally beg – them to throw taxpayer money at….well, at Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms. Throw money at them in exchange for their junk.

On the face of it this is disreputable, dishonorable, nauseating, sickening, corrupt, and shameless.

Paulson is clearly too close to the issue. Wall Street folks are cloistered in their little world, which they think is the whole world. Indeed, they mostly tend favor a bailout. Why wouldn’t they? It will probably help them. That’s understandable enough. Steelworkers favor steel tariffs and Wall Street workers favor bank bailouts.

My problem is that the people – like Paulson – who are salivating over a bailout are so self-deluded they actually tell themselves their position comes from a genuine concern over the country. To sheltered, privileged Wall Street, Wall Street is the country.

I have seen chicken little article after article over why a bailout is so necessary from Wall Street insiders and followers (and heard the same thing in private conversations), and it always boils down to things like, The commercial paper market will seize up!

There are two fascinating observations to make here.

One is just that when people spend their daily lives highly focused on one aspect of the economy – be it commercial paper, or last-cash-flow senior tranches of subprime HELOC deals that take losses pro rata, or whatever – they often seem to start deluding themselves that whatever they’re focusing on is the entire world. And this is not a knock against Wall Street because it’s not only true of Wall Street, not by any means. Medical doctors think that medical-research funding is the most important thing in the world. Physicists think that funding for particle accelerators is the most important thing in the world. And so on. I’ve seen this pattern recur time and time again, and it always makes me uncomfortable. Get out of your little circle and look around, it makes me want to say.

But the second point is something I hadn’t previously suspected about Wall Street types: they don’t believe a free market works. They really don’t.

They’re all scared that commercial paper, or whatever, will seize up and stop. And then companies who need to roll over debt won’t be able to? at all? ever?, and the economy will…come to a grinding halt? Forever? In other words, the story they’re telling themselves is: supply will not surface to meet demand. What kind of people believe this?

People who don’t believe a free market works.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disputing that the credit bubble can and has and will lead to disruptions in the market. But the idea that companies will need to roll over debt and won’t be able to because somehow no one on the earth will be willing to lend to anyone else (at any price??) strikes me as ridiculous, dystopian, and economically illiterate.

In fact, it is John McCain-style economic reasoning.

John McCain, you may recall, rather famously (and idiotically) made the argument, in the context of the immigration issue, that if Mexicans weren’t imported to pick lettuce, lettuce would not get picked.

Do you agree with the economic philosophy of John McCain? Because Wall Street does. McCain was claiming that the whole lettuce industry would undergo a meltdown – lettuce won’t get picked!! – if that particular price for labor weren’t available. Paulson, and Wall Street in general, believes something precisely analgous: that the entire economy will undergo a meltdown – commercial paper won’t sell!! – if they don’t get the particular price they desire for asset-backed securities.

Two of a kind, in my book. Equally economically illiterate. And equally embarrassing. But between McCain and Paulson, one of those guys has no economic training or background, so it’s understandable. The other guy, though, should know better.

Why People Vote

What I was trying to get at here, not all that successfully I think, was that I’m afraid modern politics has become a sort of fantasy proxy fight for most people, in which the symbolism of vicarious success is more important than tangible results or practical effects. We adopt this or that politician, who becomes our mascot, and it becomes psychologically important to us for him to win. If he wins, we become happy. We decide to hate the other guy and demonize him/her (just look at the rabid obsession the left has with Palin).

Why?

For cultural reasons: If our mascot wins it will mean ‘the good guys’ are in charge and we stuck it to ‘the bad guys’. The only question is who do you think are the good guys, and which set of bad guys do you want to stick it to? It almost doesn’t matter what actually happens as a result of this or that guy winning, what they do or don’t do in office, etc. Inevitably, his supporters will spend the next 4-8 years feeling vaguely satisfied defending whatever he does, and his opponents will spend the next 4-8 years fuming and demonizing/distorting whatever he does.

That’s how most people choose whom to vote for, I believe.

I don’t claim to be an exception, I’m certainly susceptible to the same tendencies. Although I don’t really like John McCain much and disagree with him about many things, and I kinda like Obama the person and only disagree with him about a smidgen more, I feel myself wanting to see McCain beat Obama. Why?

Because Obama’s supporters are such fricking sheltered, naive, egostitical, shallow, and amoral snobs that they are damn near insufferable. So, I don’t want them to get their way; I don’t want that aspect of our culture to be in the forefront or the limelight. The left has the exact same reason for having overreacted to Palin as much as they have; they don’t want the aspect of our culture that she represents to be in the limelight.

Now obviously this is not a good basis on which to select executive leadership. The reality however is that I just don’t think it matters all that much who wins. I may not even vote. In fact, I probably shouldn’t. (And it doesn’t matter anyway, because my state is a classic ‘safe state’; the (D)s could run a Charles Manson-Jeffrey Dahmer ticket and it would get 55%+.)

Meanwhile, believing (as I do) that this is how and why people choose whom to vote for is a major bummer and seriously demoralizing. It’s almost enough to make me say, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson: “”When will people learn? Democracy doesn’t work!”

Lie

Obama’s campaign and supporters seem to have hit upon the single argument they intend to zoom in on for why Barack Obama should be President as we approach the election: because McCain and Palin “lie” so much, according to them.

So, like, for example, when Palin claimed she visited Iraq, that was a “lie”, because she only visited a border outpost on the Iraq-Kuwait border. The fascinating thing is that Sarah Palin never, as far as I can can tell, actually claimed to have visited Iraq. Regardless, this is still a “lie”, just ask the left, and therefore we’re supposed to hear that magic word “lie” and think: ‘Well that settles it: Barack Obama should be President. I’d been basing my prior support for McCain-Palin on the belief that Palin visited Iraq. If she hasn’t, I no longer support them.’

I have no wish to wade through all the “lie” chronicles that have been created and no doubt will be created by the left. My impression is that McCain and Palin, being politicians, “lie” just about as much as most other politicians, including Obama and Biden. McCain, indeed, a little bit more perhaps. But the interesting thing is why the left thinks that this argument is somehow dispositive. If “lying” were to disqualify politicians from office we’d have no officeholders.

More to the point, did the “lie” argument work in 2004? 2000? The real question is why the left keeps, oblivious to the results, latching onto “they lie!” as an election strategy. We’ll see whether it works, I suppose, but I have my doubts.

I’m reminded of the OJ Simpson trial in which the prosecutor lawyer made “domestic violence” a crucial part of her argument as to motive, before a jury mostly made up of black females. The motive? “Domestic violence”, she said. That’s all she had to say, she seemed to think. One can imagine this argument worked among her friends and lawyer colleagues, who were responsive to any argument involving “domestic violence”; therefore, it was a good argument! And look how that trial turned out…

I suspect the same sort of dynamic may be going on here.

The Obama Discount: Mostly For the Married and Childless

I wrote before about an Obama tax cut calculator which (I gather) is supposed to make us prefer Obama to McCain. Thing was, as I observed, the results were a little funny: a “McCain will tax you ___ more” message – call it the “Obama discount” vs. McCain – would mysteriously disappear the more children you entered. It seemed that the more children you had, the more eager Obama became to tax you more than McCain.

I finally decided to run a decent-sized sample of scenarios through the calculator to illustrate this pattern I suspected. I used filing status = single, married (one earner), married (two earners), number of children = 0-2, and a sample of incomes ranging from 25k up to 200k. The results – the “Obama discount” – are summarized in the pivot table below:

  • If your spot in the table has a number in it, that’s “how much more McCain will tax you”, i.e. your Obama discount. (For married/2-earner families I divided that number by 2 for a “per-earner” value to keep things scaled consistently.)
  • If the table has no number in it, the Obama tax cut calculator didn’t have any such message, and one has to assume Obama would tax you more.

The obvious pattern here is that if you go far enough to the right (have enough children), you’ll eventually hit a point where Obama will tax you more than McCain. The bottom line being that Obama wants to tax big families more than McCain does.

The second obvious pattern is that the more money you make (further down you are in a sub-table), the more likely Obama will want to tax you more than McCain. No surprise there.

A final pattern, less expected and contrary to what I’d first thought, is that Obama wants to tax single people more than McCain does. After all the “single” sub-table has fewer Obama-discounts in it than the married/2-earner sub-table.

Put these together and you get the obvious conclusion that if you’re single and have a lot of children, you’ll pay a lot more taxes under Obama than under McCain. For example, Obama wants to tax a single mother with 2 kids making $50k more than McCain does. Compared to McCain, Obama is mostly interested in giving a tax discount to married, childless couples who both work.

And I learned it all from an Obama tax-cut calculator created by Obama fans. Amazing.

Anyway, the ‘Obama discount’ table for your perusal:

UPDATE 9/21: Thanks to commenter Isaac A. who points out that this pattern doesn’t actually hold for the $35k income level. The opposite pattern is especially strong for a married couple making $35k combined with 3+ kids. So I have to amend my results to say that Obama favors you being married-and-childless, OR making only $35k. Especially with kids. Another way to put that is to say Obama, while he likes childless married couples of virtually any income, wants anyone who has kids to subsist on $35k.

Unintentionally Revealing

Here’s an Obama tax cut calculator.

Now, I should say I’ve never quite understood the logic behind this type of thing. I mean, Obama is running for President, not Chief Legislator. A President can’t singlehandedly cut (or raise) taxes even if he wanted to. Any tax package proposed (or any other kind of legislative package proposed) would have to get through Congress and would become suitably warped. Thus, taking what candidates are proposing at face value during the campaign as if they will be enacted wholesale upon swearing-in is more than a bit silly.

That said, I went ahead and did the calculation and got a number. Then I tried it with a slightly smaller AGI (not quite remembering what my actual AGI was) and got a smaller number. But this time a message flashed on the screen saying: “John McCain would tax you [however-much] more than Obama”. I thought hmm howcome I didn’t see that message on the first run?

Reasonable hypothesis 1: If you run this calculator with your data, and don’t see that message, McCain will cut your taxes more than Obama would. After all, if Obama was gonna cut more, they’d have shown the message!

Then I noticed, on my second run, I had forgotten to put in my number of dependents. Oops! So my data, showing my tax cut and the “McCain would tax you more” message, was actually run for a 0-dependent household. I corrected this and tried again.

No “McCain taxes you more” message this time.

Reasonable hypothesis 2: McCain wants to give more dependent tax credits than Obama does. After all, inputting more dependents made the “McCain taxes you more” message go away. Therefore the more dependents you have, the more McCain wants to cut your taxes compared to Obama.

I tried this with several different income levels and #dependents. Same pattern persists all the way down to about a $25k/$50k AGI for single/married.

There is also a parallel pattern for single with children vs. married with children: Obama’s numbers show a tendency to impose a clear ‘marriage penalty’ vs McCain’s.

So what I’ve learned from this little calculator is that if you’re married and/or have children, Obama wants to tax you more than McCain does, unless your income is somewhere in the neighborhood around $25k per wage earner, or less.

Barack Obama wants to tax non-lower-class families more than John McCain does.

Good to know! Handy tool, that ObamaTaxCut.com website. I’m glad that McCain supporters went to the trouble of….

What’s that? Obama supporters made it, you say? Egad.

Dr. Frank On The Election

We don’t even necessarily have the same politics, so it’s amazing how closely he mirrors my thoughts on Obama, the Bay Area, and Obama’s supporters all in one post. Why he “kind of wanted Obama to win”, and other key observations:

…where I live an Obama victory would, again at least initially, make everyone very, very happy. [...] Obama makes people feel good about themselves, and that’s not merely a reason he has sparked such enthusiasm, but is also a good in itself (i.e., it’s not just a political matter, but also has a degree of what they sometimes try to call “substance” as well, albeit indirectly.)

…Perhaps rationality in national politics is always a pretense, and people always vote from their gut in the end, rationalizing after the fact choices that are in reality senseless, tribal, animalistic, and purely instinctive.

…Devoted, not to say blinkered, Obama partisans like Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall spent the weekend after the Palin announcement desperately trying to assure their readers and themselves that the Palin pick was a big mistake, an error in judgement that called into question McCain’s fitness as an executive, a reckless gamble, and a disaster that proper “vetting” could have prevented. How long would it be, they wondered, before Sarah Palin was forced to withdraw from the race in disgrace? They wish. The indications of this failure of “vetting” are so far rather thin and petty, and against that has to be stacked the pretty significant fact that picking Sarah Palin has, over the course of one week, reawakened the once-dormant culture war, against all – or at least my – expectations, and thereby revived a candidacy that seemed destined to lose. That may be a bummer, guys, but it’s not failure.

Geez, I didn’t mean to excerpt so much of it. Okay, just go read the whole thing. Especially the parts about “vetting”.

President Tigh

Is John McCain really a Cylon? I was a skeptic but the evidence just keeps piling up.

Point: McCain

The more frenzied rhetoric I read from the left today regarding how inexperienced Sarah Palin is, their digging up stats on how small Alaska is, digging up old quotes and clips, grasping at scandals, etc., etc., the more convinced I become that this choice of running-mate has them scared to the bone.

Grab some popcorn.

The Librarian Fantasy

Seeing McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin put me in the mind of this classic quote from a great little movie, The Station Agent:

Joe Oramas: It’s the librarian fantasy, man. Glasses off, hair down, books flying.
Finbar McBride: She doesn’t wear glasses.
Olivia Harris: Well, buy her some, it’s worth it.

It’s worth it.

No he can’t (think)

It’s dawning on me that I’m going to have to start paying a bit more attention to John McCain, given that he’s almost certainly going to get my vote for the Presidency in November (despite the fact that I find him creepy and in some ways kinda despise him).

It seems almost universally agreed that the key to understanding and unraveling the creepy fiery fireplug that is John McCain has got something or another to do with “honor”. The only question is what does “honor” mean to John McCain, or as an explanation for John McCain. This old piece seems to come pretty close to the truth of the matter, and yet it leaves so many things unexplained. Like, how can a man who claims to be so obsessed with “honor” not see that in nurturing his “maverick” (i.e. traitorous) role within his political party, he was behaving in a way that was the opposite of honorable? Does he, in fact, think that “honor” is merely about endlessly insisting how honorable he is?

Today I caught this on Youtube:

Which, of course, I knew was coming. I didn’t get the whole way through but the one McCain quote/incident that really struck me, which I had forgotten about, was the bizarre one that went like this:

Now, my friends, I’ll offer anybody here $50 an hour if you’ll go pick lettuce in Yuma this season and pick for the whole season. So — OK? Sign up. OK.

You sign up. You sign up, and you’ll be there for the whole season, the whole season. OK? Not just one day. Because you can’t do it, my friend.

This, of course, embodies a truly idiotic economic argument. It is, quite simply, the argument of an economic illiterate.

So that’s when it hit me, why McCain seems like such a paradox to me. I’d been missing a key factor in the McCain conundrum. Yes he is honorable, but he is also downright stupid. The man is a dummy. This is the only thing that makes sense. On issues like this, he falls for some dumb-ass argument or another, probably that some trusted friend has told him (honor is all about trusting in friends), and then sticks with it against all logic and reason. And this explains his bitterness and vehemence too: after all, if you argue against McCain’s dumb-ass lettuce-Yuma argument, that’s like you’re dissing McCain’s friend Joe Bloe (or whoever told him the argument), and DAMMIT, Joe Bloe is a veteran and an honorable man, &c.! So McCain ain’t having that.

It is in that sense that McCain is “honorable”. And indeed, there’s something to be said for that sort of personal loyalty. In fact, by figuring out that John McCain is stupid, I’ve actually increased my estimation of him a notch or so. But maybe that’s just me, because that’s the weird way I think.

Okay, there’s no “maybes” about it. It’s just me.

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