Monday, January 07, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Candidates

I haven't been following the 2008 presidential campaign too closely for two reasons:
1) Most of the coverage is empty horse-race stuff. Who's winning, who's losing--not discussion of issues.
2) The discussion of issues that does take place is mostly grandstanding empty statements, or statements of extreme stupidity.

I have nonetheless managed to form a few preferences. Here are my views so far in no particular order.

Giuliani: This man is crazy. I 'm not sure he's qualified to head the executive branch, and his inability to speak coherently about anything except 9/11 doesn't help. He sounds like a dangerous shoot-first-ask-questions-later sort.

McCain: I cannot forgive McCain's disregard for the First Amendment. His campaign finance reform trampled it, while accomplishing nothing. He is also far too willing to involve the government in foreign affairs. The government is simply too blunt an instrument to conduct the delicate surgery that would be necessary to improve the world by force and cajoling. I'm not saying that doing so is impossible, merely unlikely, and dangerous to try. It would also be possible for the government to make the country a better place by banning specific kinds of speech, but I don't think it's likely, and giving the government that kind of power would result in all sorts of unpleasant results.

Huckabee: Wants a national smoking ban. Wanted to lock up people with AIDS. His religious rhetoric worries me, too--social conservatism makes me nervous.

Mitt Romney: This guy is too slick. I just can't buy anything he says. It doesn't help that he and the Republicans listed above aren't really saying anything I like. I suppose personality shouldn't matter, but given that I'm not likely to agree on the issues with anyone who gets elected, I would at least prefer that I not think of the worst stereotype of a used car salesman every time I see the president on television.

Fred Thompson: Why is this guy in the race again? He doesn't seem to have anything unique to offer.

Ron Paul: Oh, Ron Paul. Why must you torture me? You say most of the right things about limited government and foreign policy, but then you rabildy rant against immigrants or obsess about monetary policy. Monetary policy is one of the least of our concerns; the post-depression era has seen the best economy in U.S. history, and the past twenty-five years have been remarkably stable (meaning that recessions have been relatively mild and short). I can live with this monetary policy. I could also live with Paul's monetary beliefs (after all, many brilliant economists have advocated commodity standard--not necessarily gold), but then he starts talking about this North American Union silliness (It's not going to happen; Americans are too xenophobic/nationalist/jingoistic). And now this. Paul is potentially a racist homophobe. Hopefully this story will turn out to be false. (As an aside, I'm not convinced the bit about secessionism is really a knock against Paul, nor is an association with Thomas DiLorenzo. Clearly there is no excusing genuine racism, however.) He also recently said that he does not believe in the theory of evolution. While this does not really disqualify him from being president (and to his credit, he said he didn't think the issue really had anything to do with being president), I must admit it does make me think slightly less of him--I can't help it, I'm a big fan of science and not a big fan of superstition. If only Ron Paul would stick to the basics of greatly reducing the role of government--legalize drugs, end foreign intervention, eliminate many government agencies, eliminate price controls and corporate subsidies--I would feel comfortable with him. Despite all this, Ron Paul still probably comes the closest to my own set of policy positions. I just don't know if I can vote for him.

Hillary Clinton:
She strikes me as an ordinary politician. I don't think I agree with her on many things, and I really don't enjoy listening to her speak. She gives me the same fakey vibe that Romney does.

Barack Obama:
Obama is interesting to me. Among all the candidates, he and Ron Paul are the only ones that I can listen to for more than thirty seconds at a time without getting irritated. He certainly has a gift for speaking without sounding like a politician. I'm not a big fan of his positions regarding free trade and making labor markets less competitive by giving labor unions more legal advantages. On the other hand, he did correctly point out a mistake made by Bill Richardson during a debate. Richardson said that he didn't support pollution taxes because they would be passed on to consumers, making goods and services more expensive, so he favored a tradeable pollution permit system instead ("cap and trade"). Obama made the exactly correct point that a tradeable pollution permit system also raises prices to consumers, for exactly the same reasons that pollution taxes do so. But he said that it's worth it. Now I don't agree with him that the money raised should be spent on government-funded research in alternative energies (simply raising the price of pollution to the right level will take care of that on its own), but he displayed a level of economic knowledge that was encouraging. Now if only he could read up on the economics of trade and competitive labor markets, he might be an attractive candidate to me.

John Edwards: I really don't like this guy. His entire campaign is based on the idea that corporations are greedy and bad. As I've said before, that view is far too simplistic, and it leads to bad policy. Corporations do bad things when the incentives encourage them to do so. They'll pollute, overfish, overgraze, and take your money in the form of subsidies. On the other hand, you likely do the same thing, by driving your car, buying fish that weren't sustainably harvested, eating beef that might be from South America, and collecting government benefits. I wouldn't call you evil for doing so, and I don't think it's fair to call corporations evil, either. After all, corporations produce the things we want, including the drugs that treat Edwards's wife for cancer. That doesn't make them good, either. It makes them a tool to be used. Policy has to be designed to make sure the tool gets used properly--to make sure the incentives are right. There are solutions to these problems: pollution taxes or tradeable permits, enforcing property rights in fisheries and rain forests, and eliminating agricultural subsidies (and other business subsidies). These solutions require careful thought, not outraged ranting.

Are the Libertarians running anyone this time? If the candidate isn't a nut, maybe I'll vote for him or her. Or maybe I'll just sit this one out.

UPDATE: The New Republic story on Ron Paul is out, and it doesn't look good for him.