AP Debunks McCain’s Attacks on Obama’s Experience

John McCain has been trying to hide how inexperienced his vice presidential pick is by making incorrect claims about Barack Obama. Obama has had far more experience dealing with national issues in both the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate than Palin has had in less than two years as Governor of a state with as small a population as Alaska.

Prior to being Governor, Palin had no meaningful experience, being mayor of a tiny town where most functions were performed at a county level. In contrast, Obama worked as a community organizer and taught Constitutional law prior to entering the state legislature. The significance of Obama’s years in the state legislature of Illinois should not be discounted. While members of the U.S. Senate are able to have staffers handle much of the work on issues, members of state legislatures are forced to have a much more hands on approach.

AP has disputed some of the recent claims made by John McCain regarding Obama’s experience and the attacks based upon voting present in the Illinois legislature.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain says his vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin, was already an experienced government official while his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, was working as a community organizer.

She wasn’t. Palin was finishing college, getting married and working as a TV sportscaster when Obama was directing a church-based community group on Chicago’s South Side in 1985-88.

McCain sought to make the comparison in an appearance on Fox News Sunday, criticizing Obama as too inexperienced to be in the White House despite his choice of a running mate who’s also being called too unseasoned for that role.

Challenged about his vice presidential choice, McCain said as governor of Alaska for the last two years, Palin “has had enormous responsibilities, none of which Senator Obama had.” Later, McCain elaborated that “as a governor, she has had executive experience. She didn’t sit in the state legislature.”

The same contrast could be made with McCain himself, whose entire 26-year political career has been spent in Congress.

It’s true that in recent years, more presidents have come from governorships than from legislative bodies. But it’s a stretch to argue that running the statehouse in a small state is ideal preparation for the issues that will confront the next president, from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to coping with a half-trillion-dollar budget deficit and serious energy and health-care problems.

In the same interview, McCain continued the theme, noting that “when she was in government, he was a community organizer.”

That’s incorrect. When Palin was first elected to the town council in Wasilla, Alaska, in the fall of 1992, Obama was wrapping up work in Chicago on a voter-registration drive. When that job ended, he joined a Chicago law firm and became a lecturer at the University of Chicago law school, and the Chicago Tribune picked him as one of “25 Chicagoans on the road to making a difference.”

Obama’s community organizing career had come years earlier, in 1985-88.

McCain also highlighted what he termed Palin’s independent streak, praising her for often bucking her own party leaders.

“When she was taking tough positions against her own party, Senator Obama was voting ‘present’ 130 times in the state legislature, on every tough issue, whatever it was,” McCain said.

That charge was reminiscent of attacks waged on Obama by his fellow Democrats during this year’s primary campaign, including Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

It’s true that Obama voted “present” dozens of times, part of the thousands of votes he cast in an eight-year span in Springfield. Illinois lawmakers commonly vote that way on a variety of issues, and he has countered that many of those votes were cast because of technical or legal considerations about the underlying legislation.

Often, Obama voted “present” with large groups of other Democrats to protest what they saw as Republican trickery or abuse of power. Other times, voting that way sends a message that a lawmaker supports a bill’s intent, but has concerns about how the legislation is drafted. Voting this way also can be a way to duck a difficult issue, as McCain charged, although that’s difficult to prove.

There are also cases where legislators vote “present” as part of a strategy. Obama did this on some abortion measures, voting “present” to encourage some wavering legislators to do the same instead of voting “yes”. Their “present” votes had the same effect as “no” votes, so getting them to vote present helped defeat the bills.

Sarah Palin’s Role In Defending Us From Russia

Republicans have demonstrated a remarkable amount of chutzpah in claiming that Palin’s minimal experience in government comes any where near Obama’s experience, which is already less than that of most presidential candidates. To try to claim that Palin has some experience in foreign policy, both Fox News and Cindy McCain have cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia. AP reports (via Andrew Sullivan) that Palin played no role in defense activities of the national guard, which are under federal control:

Maj. Gen. Craig Campbell, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, considers Palin “extremely responsive and smart” and says she is in charge when it comes to in-state services, such as emergencies and natural disasters where the National Guard is the first responder.

But, in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, he said he and Palin play no role in national defense activities, even when they involve the Alaska National Guard. The entire operation is under federal control, and the governor is not briefed on situations.

Palin Backed Alaska Independence and Called Shallow By Woman Claiming To Be the Real Miss Congeniality

It turns out that that Sarah Palin’s backing of Patrick Buchanan for president in 1999 was not the most extreme case of her backing a far right third party. Members of the Alaska Independence Party are stating that Palin used to be a member of the group. Their platform is listed on their web site and is preceded by this quotation:

“The problem with you John Birchers’ is that you are too damn liberal!”
~ Joseph Vogler, Founder Alaskan Independence Party

Now that we find how little effort John McCain put into vetting his running mate, who knows what other surprises might come out. While he probably did want a candidate who would appease the religious right, I wonder if he had any idea how far to the right Palin is, even by modern Republican standards.

After finding that Palin both backed Patrick Buchanan and a group which thought that the Birchers were too liberal, it is no longer much of a shock to find there is even controversy as to whether she really won the Miss Congeniality award. Amy Gwin claims she really won the award. She also stated,  “I wouldn’t support her if she was my very best friend. I support Obama and don’t share any of her  politics. She’s very shallow.”

Update: AIP chairwoman retracts statement that Palin was a member, but Palin’s views and ties to right wing extremism remain a concern.

Update II: A reader has written in stating that Palin won the Miss Congeniality Award in the Miss Alaska pageant while Gwin won the title in the local Wasilla pageant. The story I linked to has also removed mention of a controversy as to the Miss Congeniality award. It appears that this “controversy” has been resolved.

Why We Latte Drinking Liberal Elitists Can Vote Democratic

There has been considerable discussion about voters who appear to vote against their economic interests. This peaked with the publication of What’s The Matter With Kansas in which Thomas Frank questioned why lower income voters would vote against their economic interests by voting Republican. Similarly, if we accept this simplistic interpretation of economic interest and the political parties, there are many of us liberals who might be thought to be voting against our economic interests by voting Democratic. A recent article on economics from a historical perspective in The New York Times sheds some more light on this.

Alan Blinder summarizes the differences under Democratic and Republican administrations:

The stark contrast between the whiz-bang Clinton years and the dreary Bush years is familiar because it is so recent. But while it is extreme, it is not atypical. Data for the whole period from 1948 to 2007, during which Republicans occupied the White House for 34 years and Democrats for 26, show average annual growth of real gross national product of 1.64 percent per capita under Republican presidents versus 2.78 percent under Democrats.

That 1.14-point difference, if maintained for eight years, would yield 9.33 percent more income per person, which is a lot more than almost anyone can expect from a tax cut.

Such a large historical gap in economic performance between the two parties is rather surprising, because presidents have limited leverage over the nation’s economy. Most economists will tell you that Federal Reserve policy and oil prices, to name just two influences, are far more powerful than fiscal policy. Furthermore, as those mutual fund prospectuses constantly warn us, past results are no guarantee of future performance. But statistical regularities, like facts, are stubborn things. You bet against them at your peril.

The second big historical fact, which might be called the Great Partisan Inequality Divide, is the focus of Professor Bartels’s work.

It is well known that income inequality in the United States has been on the rise for about 30 years now — an unsettling development that has finally touched the public consciousness. But Professor Bartels unearths a stunning statistical regularity: Over the entire 60-year period, income inequality trended substantially upward under Republican presidents but slightly downward under Democrats, thus accounting for the widening income gaps over all. And the bad news for America’s poor is that Republicans have won five of the seven elections going back to 1980.

The Great Partisan Inequality Divide is not limited to the poor. To get a more granular look, Professor Bartels studied the postwar history of income gains at five different places in the income distribution.

The 20th percentile is the income level at which 20 percent of all families have less income and 80 percent have more. It is thus a plausible dividing line between the poor and the nonpoor. Similarly, the 40th percentile is the income level at which 40 percent of the families are poorer and 60 percent are richer. And similarly for the 60th, 80th, and 95th percentiles. The 95th percentile is the best dividing line between the rich and the nonrich that the data permitted Professor Bartels to study. (That dividing line, by the way, is well below the $5 million threshold John McCain has jokingly used for defining the rich. It’s closer to $180,000.)

The accompanying table, which is adapted from the book, tells a remarkably consistent story. It shows that when Democrats were in the White House, lower-income families experienced slightly faster income growth than higher-income families — which means that incomes were equalizing. In stark contrast, it also shows much faster income growth for the better-off when Republicans were in the White House — thus widening the gap in income.

The table also shows that families at the 95th percentile fared almost as well under Republican presidents as under Democrats (1.90 percent growth per year, versus 2.12 percent), giving them little stake, economically, in election outcomes. But the stakes were enormous for the less well-to-do. Families at the 20th percentile fared much worse under Republicans than under Democrats (0.43 percent versus 2.64 percent). Eight years of growth at an annual rate of 0.43 percent increases a family’s income by just 3.5 percent, while eight years of growth at 2.64 percent raises it by 23.2 percent.

That paragraph begins with a key point. While the rich do better under Republicans and the poor do significantly better under Democrats, “families at the 95th percentile fared almost as well under Republican presidents as under Democrats (1.90 percent growth per year, versus 2.12 percent), giving them little stake, economically, in election outcomes.”

Since affluent liberals have “little stake” economically in the outcome, we are free to vote Democratic based upon matters such as social issues, civil liberties, and foreign policy. The propensity for many “latte drinking elitists” to vote Democratic is increased as Democrats have begun to realize where much of their support is coming from. It is no coincidence that John Kerry promised not to raise taxes on those making under $200,000 per year in 2004, and this year Barack Obama has increased this figure to $250,000. As the figures show, we even benefit economically more from the Democrats than the Republicans.

Even without the data in this article I had realized this was the case. I figure that under Democrats taxes might be a little higher, but this is more than offset by both increased business income and increased returns from the stock market under a the Democrats as compared to the economy under Republicans. It is worth paying a little more taxes if in the end I wind up with more money in my pocket (and if Obama can keep this campaign promise, there won’t even be higher taxes this time).

While it certainly makes sense for affluent liberals to vote Democratic, this still does not explain why so many others vote against their economic interests by voting Republican.

Update: The election results verified this view as affluent voters did wind up voting for Obama over McCain, with this post revisited here: The Affluent Voting Democratic Based Upon Values and Economic Self-Interest

Update II: Affluent Voters Key to Obama Victory