Tag Archives: Obama

Obama and McCain, associations and philosophy

The McCain campaign is trying to associate Obama with Bill Ayers, an unrepentant domestic terrorist. The Obama campaign is trying to associate McCain with George Bush, an unpopular President. I agree with both campaigns, in a way, but disagree strongly with their approaches.

Too many details and talking points on both sides – “Obama voted this way”, “McCain voted the same way”, etc.,etc. I yet believe that the modern Islamic “Jihad” is the major threat to our Western civilization, but also agree that the current financial meltdown is a major problem of the moment. The details of particular policies of the moment are less important than the basic philosophical background of the candidate – the “where is he coming from” to use the vernacular.

I believe that there is evil in this world, sociopaths who have no empathy with other human beings. But I do not assume that anyone who disagrees with me has an evil motive. Rather than let you guess as to my political orientation may I state up front that in my early voting days I would have been called a “Rockefeller Republican” (for the younger among you Gov. Rockefeller was considered to be quite “progressive”). One of the great partisan divisions of today is that each side impugns the motives of the other. There is legitimate disagreement as to the best way to accomplish the mutual goals of the moderates of both left and right.

There are individuals who are personally greedy and say “the devil take the hindmost” – and they are equally represented on both right and left, they just take different forms. But I believe the great majority share the goal of reasonable prospertity for all people. In my opinion the view of the left that government is the answer, that there is a “goodness” in those who would enforce the dictates of equality, is wrong. And I think that has been proven over and over again in government programs. The bureaucrats are as self serving as anyone else. But one can argue with equal validity that “commercial man” is a natural predator against his brethren, and that only the “fine sensibilities” of governmental employees can ensure an equality of opportunity.

And therein lies a phrase, the Declaration of Independence spoke of the “persuit of happiness”, not a guarantee. The government has a suitable role in ensuring equality of opportunity. Those of the left can cite the idealistic Marxian paradigm, and those of us on the right can speak of the depradations on the the populace of Communist dictatorships. When you come down to it government can be defined as a benevolent paternal figure, elected by the people to enhance their lives – or it can also be a hereditary king. If we look a bit at Plato, and his view of democracy (which is more like Ross Perot’s “instant referendum” on every bill by computer) we see that it is a bit more like anarchy. The best possible government would be an omniscient and benevolent dictator – but where are we going to find that guy?

Obama comes from a background that believes in the benificence of government, and therefore a heavy role for government in setting social goals. I would call this the “European socialist model”. McCain comes from a background that believes in the free market, but with some regulation to avoid anarchy. This, in my mind, is the model that has done well for the United States, on average, over its history. Each candidate has suggested programs that I agree with, and programs that I disagree with – no one is perfect!

I find Obama’s associations with Ayers, not as a bomber but as a currently active educational revolutionary, to be indicative of a basic philosophy. Just as his associations with Raines and others who profited from the manipulation of policy to achieve a social goal. Yet it is legitimate that his campaign lists the corporate lobbyists who work for the McCain campaign.

This brings us to a question as to lobbyists. It seems that if a lobbyist represents the interests of a  corporation (that really is a collection of shareholders and workers) then it is evil – but if the lobbyist represents the views of a union, or an interest group that has self-defined the “public interest”, then he is merely exercising his Constitutional right to petition the government. In my over 70 years of watching the process I have found no monopoly of rectitude on either side, had Linus Pauling (Nobel in Chemistry) been right on the common cold we’d all be taking massive doses of Vitamin C, and the common cold would no longer be a problem.

It is a matter of argument as to whether the common good is best promoted by government or by a free market, I stand on the side of the free market – but I fully respect the arguments of the other side, as long as they are couched as argument rather than a polemic that impugns my motives. The same applies to matters of foreign policy and the interrelations between countries (and, not necessarily the same, their governments). In this case I do not agree that either governments or peoples are amenable to negotiation, there is national (or tribal) interest that often overrides the logical long term world view that I wish they would share.

So to complete the circle of this posting as to associations I will say that I view the past associations of Obama to be relevant, but only in their indication of his basic philosophy of government and world affairs.  I do not agree with that basic philosophy, but I may not be correct (was going to say right, but you already know I’m “right”).

BTW, do refer to my “Shape of Politics” posting that is now in the archives of this “blog”.

Best, Jon

Obama after Wisconsin

Barack Obama made a 45 minute campaign speech in Texas after his victory in Wisconsin. His theme is change, but his speech was themed on a return to failed policies of the past. I heard Woodrow Wilson, I heard FDR, I heard George McGovern, I heard every union organizer of the twenties and thirties.

 If Obama is the Democratic party’s candidate for the general election that speech will come back to haunt him, McCain’s speech on change in the right direction is a better direction. McCain (full disclosure, he has been my “man” for years) has a problem in presentation, and how much of that is due to injuries in his captivity is not clear (broken jaw and shoulders).

 Until that speech tonight by Obama I was rooting for him over Ms. Clinton because I thought that if my man lost the general election he would be a better President than she (a tabula rasa who would learn in office, a fox versus her badger). That one speech has changed my opinion – this man is committed to policies that might have been valid seventy years ago, but are not now. This is not the empty suit I thought of him as, this is a committed leftist who would “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs”, i.e., our free market economy that, although flawed in many ways, is an engine of productivity – and in being that is also a fount of help for the weakest of the world.

The Snub

It is difficult for me to believe that the media have made so much of the “great snub” by Obama of Hillary at the State of the Union address. Fox News has used a body language analyst (not their regular one) who sees the snub, I’m not sure what other media have done, but I assume they have done something similar.

 I am not an expert in body language, but I do have eyes that can look at a photo. We see Obama facing a quarter to the camera’s right, his back three quarters to Hillary. We see Teddy Kennedy facing away from the camera, and a bit to his left (and the camera’s left). We see Hillary reaching her handshake directly toward the center of the frame, but her head is turned a bit to her right (camera and TK left), and her eyes turned sharply to her right.

 I don’t need a course in body language to see that she has reached out her hand in the direction of TK and that both have been distracted to someone off camera, left. For Obama to have turned away from her hand in a snub he would have to had the reaction time of a cobra, and a turntable to spin on in order to get his back to her in that crowded scene.

 A non-event, created by a single still photo. I hold no brief for either Hillary or Obama, I am a Republican. But I find no joy in this sniping by the media (and perhaps supported a bit by Hillary’s non-statement in a later interview). Perhaps Hillary and Obama are at personal loggerheads (as my candidates, McCain and Romney seem to be), but that still photo didn’t show that. It is is my interest, as a Republican, that there be dissention in the Democratic party – but this was both silly and unfair to Obama.

 Look at that still, it will be shown over and over again, everyone is looking in a different direction.

Obama’s speech, and college education

This article is in no way a criticism of Barack Obama’s position on education, I only mention his name as I just heard his speech after his South Carolina primary victory. My comments are a critique of the conventional wisdom that we need to spend more money to provide college educations to more students – a view espoused by both Republicans and Democrats.

 I think we have too many colleges and college students!

 The great failure of our educational system is at the secondary school level, our colleges are having to provide basic skills that have been neglected at the high school level. It is an improper form of argument to use personal anecdotes to prove a point, but in this case I think I must resort to that approach. When I entered college in 1953 the admission requirements were greater than the graduation requirements of most colleges of today. Except for those applying to the engineering program all applicants had to have a reading facility (the equivalent of about 2 years high school study) in 2 foreign languages and one ancient one. They also had to have a facility with mathematics through algebra and plane geometry, and a certain level of knowledge of English literature and general history. This applied to those who would study a science in college as well as those who planned for the liberal arts.

 In the fifty years since my graduation I’ve been shown papers from PhD candidates in various fields which had a complete lack of coherant sentences. (Oops, right now Hillary is speaking of college education – tomorrow it will be a Republican). I agree that we need an educated populace to both continue our leadership in technology, and for the benefit of the individual citizens. But I do not agree that the solution is more college education.

 In the summary of the year in the year book of the Princeton class preceding mine the writer spoke of hitchhiking a ride to the college (we weren’t allowed cars, hitchhiking was a necessary skill for PU – although there were no credits given). The truck driver dropped him off at the college and asked “are you a student here?”. When the answer was “yes” the next question was “what trade are you learning”. In that day and age when one could wonder the value of studying the old philosphers it was a question that caused some introspection. Is college a place where one learns to use the “mechanical tools” for success – or is it a place for advanced learning?

 Let me set up another controversial proposition. I think the GI Bill, after WWII, may have been a net negative to the country, and for all future vets. There are many, including some prominent jurists, who benefited from the GI Bill – and who might have had no education without it. But I also saw others, in my summer jobs while in college, who were in jobs that could be performed by a high school graduate. Not everyone is capable of higher learning, but the proliferation in the fifties of GI Bill college graduates lowered value of a college degree. (May I emphasize that this is not a criticism of all GI Bill collegians, many were proper college material). The result was that the corporations, with a glut of college graduates to choose from, placed a college degree requirement on low level clerical jobs.

 The good old Law of Unintended Consequences! The college degree requirement relieved the high schools of the need to provide basic skills. The number of colleges proliferated, and they needed students to fill their rolls, the admission requirements deteriorated, the high schools had less incentive to educate in the “three Rs”.

This may sound like an elitist manifesto, but it is not intended that way. College should not be a “trade school” even if the trade is high finance. A classmate of mine, who is one of the most successful financiers in the country, majored in philosophy and wrote his senior thesis on Emmanuel Kant. College should be a place of learning for those who want it, high schools should provide all the basic skills for success. It is a denigration of the student to say that he/she can’t learn at that age.

I hold no brief for the European system of education where students are aimed toward traditional trades or higher education by testing at age 12, and then again later. The “pre-selection” allows no room for the “late bloomer”. I like the flexibility of our system where one can gain basic skills later in life (through GED exams, etc.) and come back to the higher learning. Theoretically a carpenter can study and later go to Med school, although I’m not sure why a good carpenter would really want to (but my godfather was an engineer who went into medicine by hard work at a later age).

 We have lost, in some sense, the value of learning. I am not financially successful – but I consider my life to be a success. These days, in my retirement, I do woodworking and make musical instruments – at a point in my past I had a brief career in music as a performer. Perhaps, had I not gone to college (and particularly Princeton where I was taught nothing, but given the opportunity to learn from the best in each discipline), I might have been a woodworker, or a rich star in music. But I wouldn’t swap that education for anything – I turn a lovely piece on my lathe, then play a tune on the harp or lute I’ve built, then pull out a book on history or philosophy or science. I confess that I boast, I happen to have the facility to do those things.

 We let down our children when we don’t give them the primary and secondary school education that will allow them to seek their own level, and to make the best use of their god-given skills. I wonder often about the WWII vet I watched at an insurance company (coming full circle back to my earlier comment) whose job was to read applications and stamp them “refused” or “for review”. “Refused” was for obvious errors, all else was passed to higher authority. Eight hours a day of that, with no ability to advance (as he wasn’t really intellectually qualified) must have been a “downer”. The same man might have had a talent for working with wood, or for growing things – but the “conventional wisdom” put him in a dead end job.

May I again emphasize that I use Obama’s name in this only as a “tag” as he is far from being alone in the view that college education is the “be all, end all” for success. I believe our failure is not so much in not providing college as it is in not providing education. Primary and secondary school should be our emphasis, let college be for higher learning.