On the policy side: While McCain has free trade and market-based instincts, nothing has set my teeth more on edge than him going on about oil speculators:
"There's a certain speculator effect here; how big that is is impossible for me to judge,'' McCain said in an interview on Bloomberg television today. "There should be a thorough investigation.''
This is a very basic misunderstanding of economics (or if he actually understands it, a very disappointing pander to the public's misunderstanding). "Speculators" are just investors...if they believe the price of something will go up, they buy now so they can sell later. That's all.
Speculators can indeed cause the price today to rise...but, in a way, that's their job, because if prices are indeed going to go up in the future, then by investing based on that, they cause prices to go up some now, spreading out the distribution of prices over time and, most importantly, encouraging us to change our behavior now, before we actually have expensive oil or a shortage.
Speculators may make money, even big money...but also, all the time, they lose their shirts when they are wrong. Those same oil speculators are probably in a world of hurt now, given that oil prices have been dropping for months. Notice that government is not going to step in and keep them from losing money when they are wrong, so government shouldn't step in and keep them from making money when they are right.
Similarly, and conveniently covered in the same article, there is this obsession with "independence from foreign oil":
"There's a finite supply of oil in the world that's controlled by cartels,'' McCain said. "The lesson here is not so much to beat up on them, the lesson is to lower our dependence on foreign oil.''
Let's just be clear on this...there is no such thing as oil independence. Doesn't exist, will never exist. Oil is fungible. This means that oil producers dump oil onto the market, and the market delivers the oil to people willing to pay for it. There is no real connection between the producer and the consumer...and if Consumer A says, "I'm not buying oil from you anymore!" then the oil automatically goes to the next highest bidder, Consumer B, who may now buy more because it's cheaper since Consumer A isn't driving up the price.
If Consumer A gets oil by digging it out of his backyard (probably at a much higher cost to himself), then by doing so he reduces the overall price of oil a bit, for a short time, but he doesn't keep the oil from being sold by foreign nations or profits from going to the foreign producer.
In almost all cases, anyway, actual consumers are going to buy pretty much the cheapest oil available to them. If the US digs up some oil but charges more for it (which they would almost have to, if they are selling it to the limited audience of the US), then consumers will buy someone else's oil because it's cheaper. So the net effect on foreign countries of us drilling our own oil (which I'm totally in support of, by the way) is basically nil -- at most, very small and temporary.
Probably the simplest way to conceptualize it is this: There's a big pool of oil out there that we all draw from. Various people pour oil into the pool, and the size of the pool goes up and down based on who is pouring how much into it. But when you go to suck some oil out of the pool, it's just a big pool -- you don't know where this particular jot of oil came from, you are just going to suck it out in the most convenient, cheapest way you can.
Here's how Dilbert puts it:
And, just to try and keep things mixed up, here is one opposing view and several opposing views here.
All that said, I totally support the US drilling for all the oil we can, since it will reduce overall prices some and since it's a bit hypocritical to tell other countries they aren't allowed to limit the supply of their own oil to us when we won't drill our own.
Those are the two things that stand out most for me on the policy side right now, in part because if we continue down the road of restricting short selling and other measures to "stop speculators", and if in an attempt to have "oil independence" we pass wacky laws to keep out "foreign oil", we may well run our economy even further into the ground.
On the campaign side, they have completely mis-managed their greatest asset, Sarah Palin. First, by introducing her with an emphasis on the wrong items and in ways that neutralized what the items they did trot out.
First, on what they did: The "Bridge to Nowhere" was totally in their favor, if they'd marketed it differently. Palin should have said up front that she'd once supported the bridge, but when she got the power to change things and she realized the problems, she changed the policy, unlike Obama and Biden, who insisted on the bridge to the end. By not adding an extra sentence or two to flesh this out, they lost the issue (though perhaps, given how lightly Obama claims are vetted by the press, they just didn't expect what would happen).
Similarly, on the whole earmarks thing...Palin cut earmarks by some 35% from the previous Alaska administration, but because they painted her as totally anti-earmark, they again lost the issue even though it's in their favor. Palin made substantial cuts to earmarks with plans to continue reducing them. But the campaign made it black and white, allowing the press to simply paint her as a hypocrite because she was still involved in earmarks.
What I'm really annoyed about, though, is what hasn't been presented at all, the most impressive thing about Palin:
When faced with a corrupt party machine run by her own party, Palin exposed and fought that corruption, against huge odds. No one disagrees with this, because it's black and white, but no one in the country knows about it because, for some reason, the campaign didn't introduce her with this as a main item.
Contrast this with Obama: When faced with a corrupt party machine run by his own party, he...joined the machine. He never fought any corruption or corrupt politicians in Chicago, and actively supported corrupt Chicago politicians after he became a US Senator. While he didn't engage in some of the worst tactics (though he did engage in some pretty nasty politics to get his opponents thrown off the ballot), he nurtured the support of the corrupt establishment to further his career.
This difference should have been a cornerstone of the introduction to Palin, yet it wasn't. It's infuriating.
Next is how they responded to stupid sexist attacks on Palin. She should have laughed off the "lipstick on a pig" stuff and just made fun of Obama for saying it, without taking offense. They should not have done commercials demanding apologies -- they should have laughed, poked back at him, and moved on. This is a party and particular politicians who don't believe in all the victimhood crap, and they shouldn't have stooped to it. Responding light-heartedly for various items would have made Palin much more bullet-proof, and would fit in with her real personality.
Finally, they shouldn't have put her on major network interviews where she would be singled out in a way no other politician has been in this race and where she would be easily tripped up. They should have put her on radio shows with sympathetic hosts to let her get her grounding and to get her message out to the base (which is what mattered), then worked up to major interviews.
In those major interviews, they shouldn't have crammed her full of half-remembered facts that she would inevitable stumble on. She should have been honest about what she didn't know, have a couple of fallback lines for how she would address her areas of ignorance, then steered the interview to things she does know -- when asked about various policies, she should have talked about how she addressed them in Alaska, not tried to provide a national or international perspective on them.
Palin's lack of national and international knowledge and experience is a weakness and they just have to accept that; her very successful history in Alaska fighting corruption and (at the state level at least) reducing earmarks and spending and governing as the most popular governor in the country are her strengths, and it's the campaign's job to let her strengths shine.
Handling Palin correctly may end up being the difference between winning and losing. They can still fix it to some degree, and I hope we see a real Palin at the debate this week.
A final nail in the "biased media" coffin...remember when Charles Gibson interviewed an inexperienced VP pick with no international experience and little knowledge of national issues, someone whom the country should want to know and come to trust as being strong on the issues? Here are the questions he asked John Edwards that day in 2004:
1. Senator Edwards, they went at you hammer and tong last night from the podium here at this Republican Convention, saying the fundamental security of this country was at stake in this election, questioning John Kerry's ability to be commander in chief. I wonder how you felt as you listened.
2. Did it make you in any way second-guess the decision at the Democratic Convention not to mention George Bush from the podium so often, not to engage as directly?
3. You have used this line about two Americas and they have turned that from the podium night after night after night, saying, A, that there aren't two Americas, and, B, that what's really there are two of, two John Kerrys. And they get into this theme about John Kerry's conflicting votes on various issues. How are you going to answer that?
4. This crowd was chanting "flip-flop" last night. It is this elemental issue that they're trying to make that there are two John Kerrys, citing his conflicting votes on a number of issues.
5. You speak with such equanimity this morning. Didn't they make you mad last night?
6. Did you get mad, though?
John Edwards, good to talk to you. Thanks very much.
And here are the questions he asked Palin four years later:
1. Governor, let me start by asking you a question that I asked John McCain about you. And it is really the central question. Can you look the country in the eye and say, I have the experience, and I have the ability to be not just vice president, but perhaps president of the United States of America?
2. When McCain asked you to take the spot on the ticket, for a moment, did you think no?
3. And you didn't say to yourself, am I experienced enough? Am I ready?
4. Doesn't that take some hubris?
5. But this is not just reforming a government. This is also running a government on the huge international stage, in a very dangerous world. When I asked John McCain about your national security credentials, he cited the fact you have command of the Alaskan National Guard and Alaska is close to Russia. Are those sufficient credentials?
6. National security is a whole lot more than energy.
7. Did you ever travel outside the country prior to your trip to Kuwait and Germany last year?
8. Have you ever met a foreign head of state?
9. Let me ask you about some specific national security situations.
10. Let's start, because we are near Russia. Let's start with Russia and Georgia. The administration has said, we've got to maintain the territorial integrity of Georgia. Do you believe the United States should try to restore Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
11. You favor putting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO?
12. Under the NATO treaty, wouldn't we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?
13. Let me turn to Iran. Do you consider a nuclear Iran to be an existential threat to Israel?
14. So, what should we do about a nuclear Iran?
15. What if Israel decided it felt threatened and need to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities?
16. So if we didn't second guess it and if they decided they needed to do it, because Iran was an existential threat, we would be cooperative or agree with that?
17. So if it felt necessary, if it felt the need to defend itself by taking out Iranian nuclear facilities, that would be all right?
18. We talk on the anniversary of 9/11. Why do you think those hijackers attacked? Why did they want to hurt us?
19. Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?
20. The Bush -- well, what do you interpret it to be?
21. No, the Bush doctrine, annunciated September 2002, before the Iraq War.
22. The Bush doctrine as I understand it is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with us?
23. Do we have the right to be making cross-border attacks into Pakistan, from Afghanistan, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?
24. But governor, I am asking you, do we have the right, in your mind, to go across the border, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?
25. And let me finish with this. I got lost in a blizzard of words there. Is that a yes, that you think we have the right to go across the border, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government? To go after terrorists who are in the Waziristan area?
[He then gets into misquoting her on religion, but I'll keep this to the policy stuff.]
Interesting difference, eh? Now I should say, I think the questions Gibson asked Palin are very good questions, and except when he misquoted her and for how they edited out her more moderate responses, this is the way interviews of candidates should be done. It's too bad he didn't feel the need to get into depth with John Edwards, who was if anything less experienced than Palin.
But perhaps he treated the top of the ticket differently? I don't want to make this post even longer, but check out the full interview with Obama here, or get a summary here.