September 23, 2008

How Important is '08?

In the investment world, capital preservation instruments like money market funds are often looked down upon. It's like keeping a money in a mattress, some experts sneer. But if every other investment is losing money hand over fist then capital preservation doesn't look so bad. Sure you are losing purchasing power by putting your money under the mattress, but you're not losing your shirt either.

I feel similarly about McCain vis-a-vis Obama, and Ramesh Ponnuru bolsters flagging motivation in the latest NR by bringing up something that gets tossed around a lot: whether it would be better if Republicans lost this time around in order to set the table for a more favorable future environoment to conservatism. I have to admit the thought crossed my mind that if Obama has a Carter-like presidency it could disrupt the normal cycle of liberalism's turn at governance. (Arthur Schlesinger theorized that conservativism and liberalism generally have fifteen-year cycles of strength.)

Ponnuru's first reason hoping for a McCain victory is foreign policy. He then continues by pointing out an Obama win insures Roe v. Wade will persist another generation, while likely spawning other "rights":
My second reason is judges. Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens is 88; Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 75. Surely both would retire in order to let President Obama extend their liberal activism for several decades. David Souter, 69, might also retire...Even if Obama merely kept the current liberal-conservative balance, Roe v. Wade would stay on the books for another generation. If he tilted it farther leftward, the Court would surely invent a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, reinvent one to partial-birth abortion, and make the death penalty a dead letter. And then: Mandatory voting rights for felons? A right to euthanasia? The possibilities might not be limitless, but they would not be limited by the Constitution.

A Republican sweep in 2012, assuming it happened, would undo almost none of the damage. Even a dozen years of conservative appointments to the Court might not undo it. None of the major activist precedents of the Warren Court has been reversed.

...McCain may pick the wrong nominee, as Reagan sometimes did and any Republican might, or he may cut a bad deal with Senate Democrats. If so, it would mean only that some of his appointees turned out by accident to be as liberal as all of Obama’s would be by design. Only one Democratic appointee of the last half century, Byron White, has not been a reliable liberal activist.

The third reason is health care. As James Capretta has pointed out in these pages (September 1), Obama’s health-care plan is designed to evolve into a national health-insurance program along the lines of Canada’s. The resulting government monopoly or near-monopoly on health insurance would stifle innovation, require bureaucratic rationing, and infringe on freedom. But it would also move American politics permanently leftward...

First, the inevitable disappointments and failures of a nationalized system would just as inevitably be blamed on underfunding, creating a bidding war that liberals would usually win. On those occasions when voters understood that spending had to be controlled, they would prefer that liberals control it, so as to do the bare minimum necessary.

Second, the creation of a new health-care regime would alter the incentives for all the interest groups involved. In the short run, at least, squeezing money out of the government system would be more advantageous than abolishing it.

Third, the creation of a new system would make free-market alternatives look more radical to the public than they do now, because they would be more radical. The public’s aversion to risk, which now hurts advocates of liberal policies as much as it helps them, would only help them.

So national health insurance could be a lasting political success for liberals even if it is a colossal policy failure; it could, indeed, succeed politically because of its failures.
The best argument George Will can come up contra McCain is this:
Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.
And yet who was more "intensely personal" and Manichean than George Bush, who considered Saddam Hussein evil but Vlad Putin a soul-mate? What could be more impulsive than removing Hussein without having a post-war plan? And yet George Bush gave us two very strong Supreme Court justices, while his cautious and reflective father gave us David Souter. I don't see any reason to suppose that McCain wouldn't give us good judges.

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