September 30, 2008

Stupid Machiavels

Bill Kristol has a plan:

[T]here is someone who might be able to save the economy—and incidentally the Republican party: John McCain.??He should come back to D.C. But this time he needs to take charge—either by laying out the outlines of his own plan, or presiding over meetings at which a real plan that can pass is cobbled together. He might also insist on the immediate passage of a couple of provisions (raising or removing FDIC insurance limits, for example) that could mitigate the damage that could be done over the next few days.??It?s time for McCain to act decisively, and to lead, as he did with the surge. No one else seems up to it.

It’s doubtful Kristol actually thinks Bernanke, Paulson, and McCain can ?save the economy? (though perhaps I?m wrong here (?), the neocons? FDR love runs pretty deep). What Kristol really thinks is that vigorous advocacy of the bailout would work politically, play well with the public. 

As Kevin Gutzman wrote yesterday, in ?94 Kristol was front and center in opposing Hillarycare, arguing, in a famous memo faxed out to Who?s Who in the Republican Party, that ?a new federal entitlement to medical care would create a vast new constituency for the Democratic Party.? 

Socialized medicine has always been a tricky issue for Republicans since polling reveals that most Americans actually support it. Or kinda sorta, as much depends on how one articulates the issue (?universal? being a much more attractive modifier than, say, ?government-run.?) Americans are faced with rising insurance costs and simply want the pain to go away; they don?t recognize that it’s precisely the heavily socialized industries?most notably medicine and higher education?whose prices are outstripping inflation. Anyway, back in ?94, Kristol seems to have made a good decision for rather cynical reasons (and was and is perfectly willing to live with the highly government-subsidized status quo in healthcare just as long as we don?t use the U- or S-word.) 

A recent Pew poll indicates that 57% favor some kind of government bailout of the financial markets; however, this seem to me highly inconclusive. More than 50% of those surveyed admit that they don?t understand what?s happening on Wall Street (actual ignorance is probably far higher), and since the public?s been given a steady diet of bailout propaganda from the president, the Fed chief, and the presidential candidates of both parties, it?s not too surprising that so many are led to think ?We must do something!? Conservative activists, on the other hand, have definitely been anti-bailout and have reportedly jammed the wires on Capitol Hill.

Contra Kristol, it would still seems to me that active opposition to the bailout is the right tactic. As I wrote yesterday, ?Obama could easily rally support across the heartland by opposing all Wall Street bailouts. Indeed, it would seem to be a ‘duh’ political decision as it?d be a good way for Obama to differentiate himself from McCain and depict himself as the real ‘ain?t from Washington’ reformer.? Moreover, McCain?s support of the bailout doesn?t do much for either his ?maverick? or ?conservative? image, since, just as with amnesty last summer, Bush and the Democrats are pretty much united in advocating propping up prices, expanding federal power over markets, and giving welfare to investment bankers. In the case of the bailouts, Kristol would seem to be, in John?s Zmirak?s phrase, a pretty?stupid Machiavel.?


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