Wednesday, October 15, 2008

None of the Above

I have never sat out a presidential election, not since I started voting, but this year’s selection leaves me cold. I will vote, but probably not for the top of the ticket. The problems I have with both candidates are just too serious.

For McCain: He keeps talking about “victory” in Iraq and Afghanistan, as if victory in any reasonable sense of the word was possible. The Aghans (with our aid) were able to drive the Russians out some years ago. This time it’s different, said one of the prominent neocons in an interview, because the Aghans didn’t like the Russians, but they like us(!). If McCain really intends to hang in there until we defeat the insurgents, our children and grandchildren will still be fighting in that God-forsaken place decades hence.

If that weren’t enough, there’s Sarah Palin. If placing Sarah the so-called heartbeat away from the presidency was an example of McCain’s judgment, this alone should disqualify him. Yes, she had momentary pop-star quality, but so what? We’re talking about the presidency here, not a People magazine celebrity. She can’t do much harm in Wasilla, but she can do a whole lot of harm in Washington.

Finally, I fear that McCain sees himself as a warrior, and I worry that the same hawks who brought us Iraq will counsel him to bomb or invade Iran and North Korea. We’ve tried war; it’s time to try diplomacy.

Now to Obama: He endlessly tells us that he will lower taxes for 95 percent of us, which, if people vote their pocketbooks, should guarantee a landslide. But what about the other five percent? Let’s say that the top one or two percent – the Warren Buffets and Bill Gateses – don’t care, because they’re tax-proof. Question: How many of the next three percentiles are the very people we need to dig us out of this recession? I am talking about the managers and accountants and venture capitalists whose brains and talents we so desperately need right now? I am also talking about the doctors Obama will need to implement his ambitious expansion of health care services and the scientists and engineers he will need in order to help us invent our way to energy independence.

Let's say you are flying in a jetliner that is trying to land during a storm at night, with one engine shut down because of an oil leak. Is this the time you want to start arguing that pilots are overpaid? Or do you want the very best, most overpaid pilot you can find at the controls? Right now the economy is trying to land in a storm, and it has sprung a leak.

Notwithstanding Wall Street's recent excesses, we are still a meritocracy, and the Obama tax plan takes dead aim at that notion, not just through the higher tax rates but through means-testing, vanishing exemptions and the like. If it were just another transparent ploy to win votes it would be understandable, but I am afraid Obama’s convictions are as sincere as they are misguided. If only he had spent a few years running a small company....

Obama’s protectionism (rewarding companies that keep jobs in the U.S.) is hard to understand in one whose background should engender a world view. His is a foolish plan, because it would lead to retaliation. Borrowing two billion dollars a day from overseas lenders, we obviously need to cultivate relations with China, Russia, India, etc., not antagonize them. In this respect, McCain and Obama are equally culpable.

We have had flawed candidates and flawed presidents before, and we have always muddled through, as we will this time. But I do fear the interregnum between Election Day and the January inauguration. Polarization is high in the land, and the world situation is a tinderbox. The opportunity for mischief-makers, domestic or foreign, has never been higher.