Wednesday, October 8, 2008

One thing that needs to get more play with the debates, foregoing the obvious discussions of McCain's "That one" comment or Bill Ayers, or whatever else we can dredge up, is the fact that McCain is proposing two very, very bad policy suggestions that are also radically new (not to mention all the other bad policy that McCain brought up last night): the first I have already talked about - that is, the League of Democracies. Since that post, Matthew Yglesias has brought the idea up a few times. I am tempted to paraphrase Barack Obama on taxation with regard to the league of democracies: "John McCain supports a league with other democracies, who don't need it and didn't ask for it." Support from other Democratic nations for the League is almost nil: ex-British Prime Ministers might support it, but the only acting head of a country who supports the idea, to my knowledge, is the conservative PM of Denmark. Because, despite claims to the contrary, the League of Democracies would be no more effective in policing global crisis than the UN, the entire idea behind the League seems to be, not to create a positive force for good in the world, but to diminish the influence of China and Russia. McCain would like to use it as a foreign policy hammer. Another example of him, again paraphrasing Obama, this time on the budget, "using a hatchet where we need a scalpel."

The other issue that McCain keeps trumpeting, and that the mainstream press seems to be supporting him on (my only explanation is that they are thickheaded) is a budget freeze. As Yglesias puts it, "a lot of the press’ leading lights seem to think we ought to follow Herbert Hoover off the cliff. Everyone’s been living too high on the hog and we need to liquidate everything. Massive suffering will be good for us." The belief that reigning in government spending is what is going to get us out of the credit crisis is absurd. Again, from Yglesias:
Meanwhile, as you may have noticed, there’s a credit crunch afoot. A lot of people or business who might think they have solid ideas about how to invest some money in new production or sales are finding they can’t get the loans they need to do that. One of the few entities that still can easily raise large quantities of money on favorable terms is the federal government. If the feds don’t take up that opportunity and borrow cash that gets plowed into something or other, then there’s going to be no new economic activity at all. What we ought to be doing is debating not whether to spend, but what to spend the money on since, clearly, it’s much better to have the money spent on something useful than on something pointless.

The low-budget government mantra makes no sense. McCain likes to attack earmarks, and certainly there are absurd earmarks, but if we break down the budget (and our current deficit), it is not earmarks that are the problem. Indeed, many earmarks are very important, and provide good things: the earmark in the current bailout bill that provided funding for renewable energy, for example. But the budget problem is not one of earmarks. For starters, we have a 10 billion dollar-a-month war going on. Defense spending is ludicrous, and it is to McCain's credit that he offered to reign it in (unfortunate as it may be, given his record, that most of the budget cuts will probably be to veterans' affairs organizations and not to military spending).

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