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August 12, 2004

what the next president will face

(continuing yesterday's thought .... ) Whoever wins in November will face the following dilemmas, I believe. It can be politically suicidal to discuss such grave challenges during an election. However, a candidate could lose a contest like the current one for failing to address the nation's most serious problems. And if he won, he would have no mandate to govern effectively. Therefore, at least in private, the candidates should be thinking about these dilemmas:

1. The fiscal crunch. The American people are demanding—and Kerry is promising—a balanced budget, major federal action on health care, and no tax increases for middle-income families. We can't have all three. Therefore, Kerry should be thinking about which two promises he'll actually fulfill. He should then decide whether he's going to make that choice now (and how he'll explain it), or whether he'll obscure the choice during the election and try to finesse it next spring. For his part, Bush has essentially chosen: no new health benefits and a lot of borrowing. Kerry's failure to present a truly convincing budget will make it easier for Bush to run on his indefensible platform. Even if Bush gets away with this and wins the election, he should be thinking about how he can govern for the next four years with huge deficits.

2. the manufacturing crisis. We have been losing manufacturing jobs since 1980 or even earlier. The slope has been smoothly downhill, regardless of tax policy (see this pdf. p. 24, table 619; or cf. the graph on this pdf, p. 3). Neither tax cuts nor tariffs are likely to fix the problem. Education is a solution in theory, but not an easy one to achieve, especially given the fiscal crunch described above. Remember that we'd need to retrain millions of adults, not just educate the next batch of kids better. Community colleges are the closest thing we have to an infrastructure for adult education, and they now handle about 11 million Americans annually. That's just 4 percent of the population—mostly not people who previously worked in heavy industry.

3. Iraq. I have no business speculating about how Iraq will look in six months or a year. I do believe that the hope of getting substantial assistance from foreign countries or the UN is unrealistic. They have other moral priorities: above all, Sudan. This doesn't mean that they will do anything about Sudan, but it gives them a pretty solid excuse for not helping with Iraq, where we've already committed our own blood and treasure. Besides, the US intervention is so unpopular that foreign leaders will take big chances if they support it. I'm sure that many would like Iraq's condition to stabilize and improve. But there are a lot of things they would like, and Iraq is one problem that they are happy for us to handle on our own.

(Nick Beaudrot's critical response to yesterday's post is well worth reading.)

August 12, 2004 8:22 AM | category: revitalizing the left | Comments


Darnit, I had a big post here, and then I went to look at comments on the Washington Monthly, and it went away. Let me explain. No, that will take too long. Let me sum up:

There are ways out of the fiscal crunch that involve goreing fewer oxen. They all assume Kerry wins the election.

(1) "End the Grand Bargain" as I like to put it: cut defense spending and push Europe and friendly countries [but particularly Europe] to raise its own army. This would require a serious shift in European political and public attitudes, plus the US hasn't really encouraged anyone else to raise an Army in the post-WWII era [proxy wars excepted], so I consider it very unlikely.

(2) Repeat Mark Warner's trick in Virginia: spend a year trimming the budget, then say "I've done all I can do. But we still need to do things like fix roads and provide health care, not to mention invest in new energy research. We must raise taxes". Then get as many business leaders as possible, hopefully in places like Ohio and Missouri and Virginia and Colorado and Arizona and Iowa and Minnesota, to back you. As Mark Schmidtt puts it, this might -- just might -- split the Conservative Party from the Nihilist Party. I think this is the most likely scenario.

(3) "Discover" the fiscal picture is gloomier than previously thought after the election, and raise taxes on the top 20% of earners, not just the top 2%. This might seriously hurt Democrats in the midterms, especially if the GOP downplays its cultural conservatism.

(4) If the Democrats gain control of the Senate, spend two years tarring Republican ties to any and every unfavorable industry: Big Oil, Enron, Big Pharma, the Insurance industry, Halliburton, etc. If the public views this as irrelevant to the people's business, it might cause a backlash, but who knows.

August 12, 2004 12:55 PM | Comments (1) | posted by niq

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