Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Reagan Amidst The Democratic Race

I've always been underwhelmed by Reagan and wonder why he's so lauded by the Republicans. I was in India for most of the time he was President (that is, till August 1987) but read enough about international and US affairs to form an opinion about him even way back then.

His admirers say he "defeated" the Soviet Union and "won" the Cold War though they're quite vague about how he did it. Outspent the communists in an arms race? Dragged down the Soviets in Afghanistan by building up the Bin Ladens and the precursors to the Taliban against them? Some of these explanations for Reagan's supposed success sound quite bizarre. I think he was mainly lucky that enlightened leaders like Gorbachev realized the value of market driven systems and Democracy, and their reforms overlapped with Reagan's tenure. True, he didn't do anything stupid like GWB may have done in launching military adventures to re-unite the communist block against the US and halt their reforms. But that's hardly saying much.

On the domestic front, Reagan's policies were even less creditworthy. His tax cuts and build up of deficits created a temporary boom that borrowed against the future and pushed economic woes in the lap of his hapless successor, George H.W. Bush. I couldn't understand the Reagan nostalgia, but didn't have the words to articulate this. Then last year I came across this March 19, 2007 column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times which (to paraphrase Hillary) found my voice. He's since written many columns that drive the point of Reagan's fake legend home.

I'd have expected a literate and well-read person like Obama to have seen all this. So I was quite surprised like many others to see Obama compare Reagan and his Reagan years favorably to the Clinton years. I can understand his taking pot shots against Bill Clinton in order to get at his wife Hillary (I've always been skeptical about Obama's "clean campaign" promises) but this is the worst way to do so. Last night in the CNN Presidential debate in South Carolina Obama tried to qualify what he had said earlier, but it isn't enough. His comments prompted Krugman to write another column yesterday (January 21, 2007) about debunking the Reagan myth.

Last night Obama also took a cheap shot at Hillary mentioning he was doing all those grand things in the community while she was sitting on the corporate board of Wal Mart. Hillary returned the favor by referring to his work for a Chicago slum lord who is a campaign contributor. The exchange was unseemly and I may be prejudiced but Mr. (purported) Clean is the one who started it, and she'd have suffered if she had not retaliated.

So far Obama seems to be having it both ways on the racial front. He's winning the African American support simply because of skin color (even though ironically he doesn't share any of the typical African American history) and skillful references to issues like the Jena 6. Think about it - if all else was exactly the same, would Oprah have endorsed and campaigned for him the way she did if he was white? At the same time his other supporters don't yet seem turned off either by his subtle play of the race card, or by his lack of substance.

The polls show Obama will sweep South Carolina because of the African American vote, and I'd expect the Hillary camp to be braced for this. Hopefully, she'll be able to recover adequately for Super Tuesday on Feb. 5th when over half of the total delegates will be elected.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Unexpected Quarter Exposes Obama

Of late in regard to the Democratic primaries race I've been pleasantly surprised by Paul Krugman, Professor of Economics at Princeton and a top New York Times columnist. I've always admired his incisive logic, compelling reasoning and biting sarcasm that lays bare the bankruptcy of several Bush policies.

At the same time I thought Krugman would be too liberal to appreciate Hillary, and would instead favor more populist candidates like Obama and the "new farther left" John Edwards. Till some months back Krugman had been openly distrustful of Hillary, fearing for instance that she may be too beholden to drug companies and health insurers who have contributed to her campaign.

But he seems to have taken a lot of pains to understand each candidate's position and proposals on issues, and makes well-founded pronouncements. Hillary seems to have now won his respect, with the "turnaround" starting in September on healthcare issues. On the other hand, he has been increasingly troubled by Obama's stances on several hot button issues including approaches to the economy, healthcare, and social security. And I thought I was the only one who saw through Obama!

Seriously though, see Krugman's past five columns dating back to mid November that expose Obama's shallowness and policy shortcomings:

In case you're wondering, I haven't "cherry-picked" Krugman's columns here, by omitting any since September 2007 that praise Obama or criticise Hillary. So there you have it. Paul Krugman sees through Obama's rhetoric and appreciates those offering more substance, even if they're centrists like Hillary who are not his natural allies. The question is: will the voters in general?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thank You, New Hampshire

I was pleasantly surprised by the Democratic election results last night in the New Hampshire primaries. Most pundits and polls had predicted a huge win for Obama, so it was good to see that NH voters did not ape Iowa. Hillary's slender victory has obviously huge implications though her path to nomination is still uncertain.

I also welcome the McCain win in NH on the Republican side. He's my favored candidate on the Republican side though well behind Hillary because I do not share his stances on taxes, healthcare or choice vs life issues.

A nice graphic created by daughter Rubina for the New York Times today shows the detailed profile of New Hampshire voters supporting both the Democratic as well as Republican candidates.

While I'm happy about Hillary in NH, here are my other comments:
  • I regard Obama to be superficial (especially compared to Hillary) even though he's a great talker. Still, I'll give him his due. His concession speech last night was gracious, as were his comments on today's news shows. This is something Hillary can emulate. And yes, someone who can speak so well without notes as Obama has to have good clarity of thought.
  • Why is Hillary so keen to project confidence in the outcome of the primaries? I was turned off to see her campaign manager babble about how they expected to win NH on the eve of the elections because of the enthusiasm of the crowds who greeted her. Hillary in news show appearances also said something about how she was the only one predicting victory when all others didn't. I think it'll be more honest and also better in winning voter goodwill and sympathy if they admitted to their worries and anxiety, and then said how gratified they are by the outcome. Doesn't political psychology 101 say that it is good to play the underdog, lower expectations and then beat them? That's accepted wisdom in debates, so why not in poll outcomes? Over-confidence and a I-knew-it-all-along refrain comes across as arrogant, while a little humility wins voter sympathy and support.
  • Hillary's emotional moment and her fighting back tears was a genuine and unplanned act, in my view, despite allegations to the contrary in some of the media. It seems to have won over voters for her, which supports my contention above. Few people doubt her strength, so she doesn't have to hide her emotions to prove it. So many in the media say that she comes across as so much warmer and likable in smaller private gatherings. I hope she opens up more in public appearances as well from now on.
The outcomes are wide open. Thanks to you, NH, exciting (and hopefully happy) days are ahead.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Post-Iowa Rejoicing - Count Me Out

I'd almost recovered from jet lag following our India trip when the Iowa primaries results came in. It is good news for Republicans on both fronts. Their Republican winner Mike Huckabee is not only personable and likable, but also a truer Conservative who more consistently reflects their core values than Mitt Romney. They should also welcome the Democratic outcome as their most formidable opponent Hillary Clinton suffered a blow by coming in third place. Obama would be easier to beat as a Democratic nominee since people like me will either switch support to the Republican candidate, or simply sit it out at home.

Partly for reasons touched on in my October 18th post I voted with Republicans in some significant races in the last two elections. I supported Joe Lieberman in November '06 in the senate general elections (as did 70% of Republicans) after he was rejected as a Democratic nominee (my June 6th post has some painful details). In the process Democrats lost a senate seat since Lieberman is now an Independent. Then last November it was Republican Thomas Boughton who was re-elected Mayor of our Danbury city which otherwise leans Democrat. Boughton secured two-thirds of the votes both because of his good performance record and because his Democratic opponent was so weak. Now it'll likely be a three-peat for me (not voting Democrat) if Obama gets the Democratic nomination.

So why don't I like Obama? It's not about the issues, since he and Hillary are pretty close on those. It's about his personality, which ironically is supposed to be his strong suit among most Americans. To me he hasn't come across as anything more than a great talker. Hillary isn't perfect by any means but she's shown a lot more depth and understanding on the issues, especially while answering questions. I also see strong character and determination in her that should make her effective. And okay I'll admit it - it's also because she's the wife of Bill Clinton whom I like a lot.

Obama won Iowa mainly on the strength of his overwhelming support amongst the youngest voters. That's not surprising - they're the most naive and hence likely to be taken in by him. Okay, I'm half-kidding. I know enough older people even in my closest circle of family and friends who are normally sane and rational folks, who happen to like Obama.

It's interesting how the results in one little state like Iowa have so much influence on others, starting with New Hampshire. That's why these initial primaries carry inordinate weight. The U.S. became a superpower largely because of the independent and entrepreneurial thinking of its people. Are the current generations losing these traits of their forebears? Right now the polls show that Obama's support since the Iowa primaries has surged and that he is tied or slightly ahead of Hillary in New Hampshire. My own decisions are hardly based on what other people think - why can't more Americans be like me? Half-kidding again.

But seriously, I'll close with some other observations:

  • Why do candidates try to project themselves as sure winners? Hillary proclaimed in a recent TV interview "I WILL win" and I remember Kerry trumpeting the same confidence in 2004 even when the polls showed him to be trailing. I disagree with the pundits and think that this is a bad tactic. This over-confidence tends to turn people off, and is almost a matter of reverse psychology, if you will. I'd advise more humility for Hillary. Remember, Huckabee surged in the polls and took Iowa with his lower key approach.
  • I also disagree with the pundits who say Hillary would need to sharpen her attacks on Obama after the Iowa debacle, as he's surging in New Hampshire. Such negative campaigning tarnishes the image of the attacker, and Hillary with her likability issues is particularly vulnerable to such perceptions. I think she should effectively counterattack if criticised for sure, but otherwise continue taking the high road and win support through her clarity of vision, honest and in-depth answers to questions, and all this mixed with a little self-deprecating humor.
  • I suspect there could be plenty of manipulation to sabotage the opposite party in the current system of voting by independents and wonder why no one else has brought this point out. Say that I am a Iowan (or New Hampshire) Republican at heart and am registered as an independent since this is the most advantageous. Then if I know that Hillary is the Democrats' most formidable candidate I'll simply go and vote for Obama (or Edwards) in the Democratic polls just to undermine Hillary. I suspect some (may be a lot) of this has happened in Iowa and may be repeated in New Hampshire. The solution is to only allow party card holders to vote in their respective primaries (as is the case in our CT state) and to have a cooling off period for those who want to switch parties.
  • Why do we have this system where the order of the primaries in the states remains fixed? This makes the pocket states of Iowa and New Hampshire unduly important on a permanent basis, and is unfair to other states. While Iowa and NH naturally like the status quo, why don't the other states use their clout in the national convention to push for a more equitable roster system where other states get their chance to be first in subsequent elections? It's not relevant in the current election cycle but the states and the two Parties should considering this longer term.

Iowa disappointed from my perspective. And I don't have that much faith in New Hampshire. Let's see how the primaries turn out there in two days.