Considering Obama For President, Not Partisan Leader

It appears that one of the reasons that Barack Obama is one of the candidates I’m considering happens to be the same reason why Big Tent Democrat feels his statements are “inexcusable for someone who wants to be the standardbearer for a political party.” He is directly referring to a speech today, but I don’t think I’d be distorting his argument to say that this applies to Obama’s entire campaign theme. A longer portion of Obama’s speech is quoted in his post, but this contains the gist of what he objects to:

What you learn when you spend your time in these neighborhoods trying to solve these problems is that there are no easy solutions and no perfect arguments. And you come to understand that for the last four decades, both ends of the political spectrum have been talking past one another.

It’s true that there were many effective programs that emerged from Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. But there were also some ineffective programs that were defended anyway, as well as an inability of some on the left to acknowledge that the problems of absent fathers or persistent crime were indeed problems that needed to be addressed.

The right has often seized on these failings as proof that the government can’t and shouldn’t do a thing about poverty – that it is a result of individual moral failings and cultural pathologies and so we should just sit back and let these cities fend for themselves. And so Ronald Reagan launched his assault on welfare queens, and George Bush spent the last six years slashing programs to combat poverty, and job training, and substance abuse, and child abuse.

Big Tent Democrat objects to the nonpartisan tone:

Can’t we all just get along? There is an essential dishonesty in Obama’s approach. HE acts as if there is only the need to find common ground because Republicans really DO care about poverty and the common man and the Common Good. There is little difference between Democrats and Republicans on such issues says Obama. We’re just “talking past each other.”

This is a common, but unrealistic, attitude among many bloggers. Bloggers spend so much time on line, or perhaps even with political activists in the real world, that they think that everyone is polarized as the political world. The average person pays far less attention to politics than bloggers, and doesn’t accept the full platform of either party. Many people do vote Republican and are also decent human beings who care about poverty and other issues. As Obama argues, Democrats do not necessarily have all the answers.

The question is whether we want a President or a partisan political leader. While I’d prefer someone with a little more experience, and more of a track record on national issues to analyze, Obama does show more promise than most of the other candidates in being able to look for solutions without pandering to traditional Democratic special interest groups. This does not mean he betrays the underlying principles of most Democrats.

By trying to move beyond partisanship. Obama may actually do more to achieve the goals of partisan Democrats. If he can maintain his current momentum, Obama has a better chance of getting elected than Democrats like Clinton and Edwards, and we cannot take for granted that the Republicans will be unelectable in 2008. Obama also has the potential to do more to help other Democrats get elected, and achieve liberal goals once elected.

Richard Clarke on What the Intelligence Report Doesn’t Say

Richard Clarke has an essay in the New York Daiily News on the recently released National Intelligence Report, concentrating on what it doesn’t say as opposed to what it does:

First, it fails to note that the intelligence community’s judgment has changed significantly since its last report in 2006. Back then, they were saying that Al Qaeda was suffering. Not any more. “[W]e judge that Al Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here,” says the report.

In other words, Al Qaeda has been recovering on President Bush’s watch, particularly these last two years. The President rushed to point out that while that may be true, Al Qaeda is still not ascapable as it was on 9/11. Is thatall he can say he has accomplished against the organization that attacked us nearly six years ago, the organization he said he would destroy?

Second, the NIE notes that Al Qaeda may use “regional terrorist groups” and cites, as an example, “Al Qaeda in Iraq.” What it does not say, but can be read between the lines: “Al Qaeda in Iraq” is a different organization than the folks in Pakistan and Afghanistan who attacked us. Put another way, the President is wrong when he claims that we are fighting in Iraq the people who attacked New York and Virginia. “Al Qaeda in Iraq” did not even exist until after we invaded Iraq.

Third, the NIE slides quickly over the fact that the reconstituted Al Qaeda is in Pakistan – which is supposedly our ally in the war on terrorism. We have reportedly given the Pakistani government more than $10 billion since 9/11. Yet, while the Pakistanis have cooperated in going after some Al Qaeda leaders who were holed up in their big cities, they also signed a written agreement that effectively created a sanctuary for terrorists in their northwest territory.

Bush says if we leave Iraq it might become a sanctuary for Al Qaeda. Pakistan already is.

Clarke sums up the failings of the Bush administration:

Most people in Washington think talk of impeachment of Vice President Cheney and then Bush is hyperventilating political hyperbole. But what will they all say the day after another Al Qaeda attack on the U.S.?

Maybe that Bush ignored warnings about the first attack six years ago and then, after half measures, pulled some intelligence and military resources off the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and shifted them to Iraq, then needlessly attacked Iraq, thereby creating a second Al Qaeda group, and funded the Pakistani government, which created a sanctuary for Al Qaeda where the group reconstituted.

Sixty Percent in Military Poll Said US Should Withdraw from Iraq

Not only are many in the military contributing to Ron Paul, many are telling pollsters it is time to leave Iraq:

Nearly 60 percent of readers who participated in a recent poll said the United States should withdraw its troops from Iraq now or by the end of 2008. More than 40 percent of the respondents agreed the pullout should begin immediately because “we’re wasting lives and resources there.”

Analyzing the results further, they write:

The online poll tracks closely with nationwide scientific surveys that show a strong majority of Americans now opposed to the surge of 30,000 combat troops and dwindling support for keeping U.S. forces in Iraq through next year. poll participants offered a wide range of views on the current situation in Iraq, with some saying in online comments the war is lost and others holding firm with President Bush’s strategy.

“This is not a war – it’s an invasion – $12 billion a month, wasted lives, wasted resources, and not a damn thing has changed except the U.S. troop body count,” writes reader with the screen name “leekujawa.”

“Over 70 percent of the American people are against this whole nightmare and yet there is still no timetable for withdrawal,” “leekujawa” continues. “The entire executive branch has thumbed its nose at the American people.”

Intelligence Report Verifies Criticisim of Bush “War on Terror”

Republicans have tried to frame the debate over Iraq as a case of Republicans being strong on national security while Democrats are weak. Liberals have countered by arguing that we need to be both strong and smart, but foolish Republican policies have only acted to strengthen foes such as al Qaeda and Iran. The lastest National Intelligence Estimate confirms arguments that the Iraq war has strengthened al Qaeda, and adds further evidence to the Democratic argument that Bush should have concentrated on fighting al Qaeda rather than getting involved in Iraq. The Washington Post reports:

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush has been able to deflect criticism of his counterterrorism policy by repeatedly noting the absence of any new domestic attacks and by citing the continuing threat that terrorists in Iraq pose to U.S. interests.

But this line of defense seemed to unravel a bit yesterday with the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate that concludes that al-Qaeda “has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability” by reestablishing a haven in Pakistan and reconstituting its top leadership. The report also notes that al-Qaeda has been able “to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks,” by associating itself with an Iraqi subsidiary.

These disclosures triggered a new round of criticism from Democrats and others who say that the administration took its eye off the ball by invading Iraq without first destroying Osama bin Laden’s organization in Afghanistan…

Some terrorism analysts say Bush has used inflated rhetoric to depict al-Qaeda in Iraq as part of the same group of extremists that attacked the United States on Sept. 11 — noting that the group did not exist until after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. These analysts say Bush also has overlooked the contribution that U.S. actions have made to the growth of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has been described as kind of a franchise of the main al-Qaeda network headed by bin Laden.

Many Attorneys in Giuliani’s Firm Backing Others

Not even all the attorneys in Rudy Giuliani’s own law firm are backing him. The New York Daily News reports that many in his firm are backing others, especially Richardson and Obama. Only twenty of the approximately 400 attorneys in the firm contributed to Giuliani last quarter. (Nothing is reported in the story on previous quarters, which might change the percentage, but not the fact that Giuliani has collegues backing other candidates.) Nearly one-third who have contributed picked someone other than Giuliani. Four contributed to Bill Richardson, three to Barack Obama one to Christopher Dodd, and only one to another Republican–Mitt Romney. None contributed to Hillary Clinton, but one contributed to Emily’s List, which has endorsed Clinton. Considering his support among trial lawyers, it is surprising that John Edwards was not included. Perhaps these attorneys predicted Richardson’s move ahead of Edwards by some metrics including the latest poll out of New Hampshire.

The Free Market and Health Care

Who says doctors and lawyers can’t agree? The Annonymous Liberal replies to John Stessel’s recent column on health care by providing essentially the same arguments I’ve made in recent posts (including here and here) debunking arguments from Rudy Giuliani:

It’s always the knee-jerk free market worshipers like Stossel who are the most clueless about how markets actually work. Stossel thinks that the problem with our system is that third parties (i.e. insurers) pay for most services. The implication is that if people paid out-of-pocket for medical costs, they would be more cost-conscious and would shop around for better deals, thereby forcing providers to compete and lower prices. This makes sense until you actually switch on your brain for more than three seconds, at which point you realize that it’s total nonsense.

First, and most obviously, health care services are not like TVs and stereos. While some services are elective (and these are already paid for out-of-pocket), the vast majority of medical services are not. If you have a heart attack, you are whisked away to the nearest hospital and operated on. There is no time or opportunity to shop and compare rates. Even for non-emergency care, you usually don’t know what you need until you’ve seen a doctor. And at that point, it’s not very realistic to expect people to get second and third opinions and compare prices (“please don’t treat me, doc, I’m just browsing”). Going to the doctor is a major inconvenience, usually requiring time off work. People don’t like doing it. They just want to be treated and leave. And many don’t even have the option of shopping around. If you don’t live in or near a big city, your options are generally limited. Many people only have one hospital in their area.

Moreover, not being doctors themselves, most people lack the knowledge necessary to meaningfully compare services. Sure, they might be able to determine who’s cheaper, but that doesn’t really help. If anything, I’d be tempted to go with the most expensive provider, on the assumption that what costs more is better quality. I may be willing to buy the bargain brand toilet paper, but when it comes to my life, I’m not fooling around.

Perhaps most devastating to this argument, though, is the reality that when people are forced to pay out-of-pocket for medical expenses, they generally stop going in for routine preventative care and monitoring. This results in worse health outcomes (and unnecessary deaths), and has the perverse effect of raising health care costs. Preventative care has repeatedly been shown to reduce overall costs by heading off (i.e. preventing) the occurrence of conditions that are much more expensive to treat.

Finally, there’s a reason why we rely on insurance to pay health care costs. It’s the same reason we have car insurance and home owner’s insurance: without pooling risk, the costs would be unmanageable. Most people don’t have the financial resources to pay out-of-pocket to settle a lawsuit with another motorist or rebuild their home after a fire or pay for a heart transplant. The only way such things would ever be affordable to an average person is through participation in a large risk pool (i.e. buying an insurance policy).

Edwards Sputtering; Richardson Moves Into Third in New Hampshire

Following the results of poll by University of New Hampshire Survey Center for CNN, WMUR TV in New Hampshire has reported “John Edwards’ support is sputtering. He has gone from an early front-runner to fourth in the race for the Democratic nomination.” Bill Richardson has pulled into third place in New Hampshire, consistent with my recent reports of increased strength by Richardson in several of the early caucus and primary states.

It is far too early to write off Edwards, especially seeing how John Kerry came back after his campaign appeared to be similarly sputtering in 2003. While still possible for Edwards to make a come back, the analogy to 2004 can be better seen with Richardson than Edwards. Like Kerry, Richardson has been running a stealth campaign on the ground in the early states which was often missed by the media. I’m still not willing to predict Richardson can win Iowa as some have, but his momentum in the early caucus and primary states is impressive. Edwards’ problem remains that anything short of a victory in Iowa ends his campaign, and even a win in Iowa does not mean his populist message will be accepted by New Hampshire voters.

Passing an empty suit will likely turn out to be far easier for Richardson than passing Obama and Clinton, but having Richardson as opposed to Edwards as the number three guy on their tail would change the complexion of the race. With Edwards in the race, even Obama appears experienced by comparison. Having more attention paid to Richardson’s resume could turn experience into an issue. While Obama and Clinton could easily ignore Edwards’ proposals as more material for The Onion than a platform for a serious campaign, Richardson could force Clinton and Obama to back away from ideas which could be branded “tax and spend” liberalism. Just as George Bush’s “big government conservativism” has redefined the Republican Party, should Richardson run on a platform of “small government liberalism” he could change perceptions of the Democratic Party. This could represent a more serious problem for Hillary Clinton as Obama has shown an ability lacking in Clinton to look beyond the traditional Democratic special interests.

The poll shows a similar trend in both the Democratic and Republican races. Both Edwards and McCain showed early strength due to name recognition from 2004 and 2000, and both are now struggling as newer candidates are becoming better known. McCain has dropped from first place in New Hampshire earlier in the race to fourth. Nationwide, None of The Above has taken the lead in the Republican race. That’s certainly my choice when looking at the current GOP candidates.