Moderator Jim Lehrer was the big winner last night as he effectively asked the candidates that one question that should always be asked of politicians who make policy proposals: What do you want less of?
He didn’t quite phrase it in those words, but he did recognize that the federal handout to banks would restrict the ability to put resources to use elsewhere.
Barack Obama was so confused by the question that he responded with a list of things he wants MORE of: energy independence, alternative energy, fuel-efficient cars, fixes in the health care system, education, investments in technology, something about the Chinese spacewalk, affordable college, roads, bridges, broadband lines, a new electricity grid. Later, he added early childhood education.
John McCain did a little better, saying he would eliminate ethanol subsidies. He also acknowledged the out-of-control nature of defense spending.
But neither really got at the issue that Lehrer was trying to address: $700 billion spent on near-worthless mortgage assets is $700 billion made unavailable to productive uses elsewhere in the economy.
McCain did finally blurt out: “How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs?”
I hope he takes that idea back to the handout negotiations. I would have liked to have seen Lehrer press them even more on this.
Overall, from the financial portion of this debate, McCain seems to me the least of the evils. He showed a slight, albeit very slight, propensity to restrain spending; whereas, Obama talks like there is an infinite pile of cash that he can spend without consequence.
Though I do disagree with McCain about earmarks, I admire the fervor with which he opposes them. He said that earmarks have tripled in the past 5 years to $18 billion. I don't know if that is true, but if he is right and that continues, we can expect $54 billion in 2013, $162 billion in 2018, $486 billion in 2023, and a whopping $1.46 trillion in earmarks in the year 2028. Ah, the wonders of the exponential function.
Unfortunately, it was downhill from there for old John. As the topic switched to the Iraq occupation, McCain reminded us all that he lives in a fantasy world. He sung the praises of “the surge,” and declared that we are winning in Iraq. McCain has been repeating this mantra for months, but has not yet offered support for this evaluation. I’d love to know what he means when he says the surge is working. In its first report (September 2007) on the surge, The Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that “The Iraqi government met 3, partially met 4, and did not meet 11 of its 18 benchmarks.,” and used phrases like “violence remains high” and “It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased." The GAO’s June 2008 report offers little evidence that the surge or any other aspect of our occupation could be referred to as successful.