Monday, September 29, 2008

Obama: the safe alternative to McCain

John McCain's whole strategy has been based on essentially two elements-- the first is to try and suggest that for America to elect Barack Obama would be to take too big of a risk, and the second is to argue that McCain is a 'safe' alternative.

But I think that might be just a little bit backwards.

An article out yesterday in the New York Times (maybe why one of McCain's managers tried to stage a 'pre-emptive strike' against the Times) by accusing them of bias even before this article came out highlights John McCain's own gambling habits and more importantly ties to the gaming industry.

Senator John McCain was on a roll. In a room reserved for high-stakes gamblers at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, he tossed $100 chips around a hot craps table. When the marathon session ended around 2:30 a.m., the Arizona senator and his entourage emerged with thousands of dollars in winnings.

A lifelong gambler, Mr. McCain takes risks, both on and off the craps table. He was throwing dice that night not long after his failed 2000 presidential bid, in which he was skewered by the Republican Party’s evangelical base, opponents of gambling. Mr. McCain was betting at a casino he oversaw as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and he was doing so with the lobbyist who represents that casino, according to three associates of Mr. McCain.

The visit had been arranged by the lobbyist, Scott Reed, who works for the Mashantucket Pequot, a tribe that has contributed heavily to Mr. McCain’s campaigns and built Foxwoods into the world’s second-largest casino. Joining them was Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s current campaign manager. Their night of good fortune epitomized not just Mr. McCain’s affection for gambling, but also the close relationship he has built with the gambling industry and its lobbyists during his 25-year career in Congress....

in his current campaign, more than 40 fund-raisers and top advisers have lobbied or worked for an array of gambling interests — including tribal and Las Vegas casinos, lottery companies and online poker purveyors.

This is troubling to me on two levels.

The first is the matter of McCain's campaign rhetoric. Now, I know that the way the game is played in Washington is thought lobbyists who can raise millions of dollars to help a candidate-- if he gives them what they want-- or millions to defeat him if he goes against their interests. But Mr. 'straight talk' has staked a lot of his campaign by claiming to be a reformer, and in particular one who doesn't tie himself to lobbyists or special interests. Instead of being a hypocrite about it, why not just fess up, and say 'I've been a tool of the gaming industry for years?' The article even quotes a gaming industry expert who calls McCain, “One of the founding fathers of Indian gaming” Yeah, there are people who might have trouble with that one, but at least then McCain wouldn't be pretending to be something he's not, and that he never was.

The second way this is troubling to me is much more profound, however. Now, I recognize that there is nothing illegal about gambling in a casino, and many good and honest people do. But it also says something about a person's decision making process. And let's face it. The recent past, whether it be McCain's gamble that he could raise enough money fast enough in 2007 to support a $100 million political machine for the primary (a gamble which failed), his gamble that he could skip the Iowa caucuses and still chase down Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination (a gamble that succeeded, thanks to Mike Huckabee getting in Romney's way), his gamble to choose none of the VP candidates his campaign had been vetting for months and instead pick a little-known Governor or Alaska to run for VP (a gamble which looked like it succeeded early on but as time goes on appears more and more questionable), or his gamble last week to play chicken with the debate and try to get credit for the bailout package (a gamble which failed), it is clear from John McCain's decision making process that he likes to take chances, often acting impulsively.

It isn't hard to look for another individual who makes decisions the same way. And on virtually all of them, John McCain has stood right by his side and rolled the dice with him. That person of course is George W. Bush.

President Bush gambled by pushing forward with deregulation, including of banks and of the financial services industry. John McCain stood right there alongside of Bush.

President Bush gambled that we could pass trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. It's true that John McCain voted against the first round of tax cuts, but now he stands right with Bush in wanting to make them permanent.

President Bush gambled that we could take time away from the Afghan war and the people who had killed 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11 to go invade another country, Iraq. John McCain stood with him on that decision.

President Bush gambled that the Iraq war would be short, easy and lead to a democracy that we could count on to help us find all those WMD that had to be stored in huge stockpiles all over Iraq. John McCain gambled on that right alongside of President Bush.

President Bush tried to gamble with our Social Security into a privatization scheme that would have tied it to financial markets. John McCain stood right there with Bush and gambled on that one too. Thank God that Barack Obama and Congress stood up and gave a resounding 'no' to that one. Imagine how much more quickly the financial 'iceberg' that Social Security faces would be coming at us if our Social Security was all wrapped up in the financial mess we see right in front of us.

The problem with gambling of course is as Kenny Rogers sang in the song, "The Gambler,"

You've got to know when to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em.
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table,
There'll be time enough for counting,
When the dealin's done.

And for both George Bush and John McCain, their downfall is that second line. Have you ever seen either of them fold and admit to a mistake? Admit that maybe we need to do something differently than what they've been pushing? Well, yeah-- John McCain did change his position on the Bush tax cuts that got us here in the first place. Now he wants to keep them. Trust me, they really like guys like that in Vegas, ones who even when they have a winning hand, throw it away in exchange for a losing hand.

After eight years of a Gambler in the White House (and not a very good one, at that) I'm certain that WE can't take the roll the dice on another risk-taker, especially one who has shown he really doesn't play his cards very well.

Luckily we don't have to. There is a safe alternative. When Barack Obama makes a decision he doesn't gamble. The way he chose Biden is instructive. He collects all the information that he has available. He reads it and ponders what he has read (Obama even took a week off the campaign trail out in Hawaii so he could work throught this decision.) He puts his head together with his advisors (which now includes Biden, who as the chair of the Foreign Services Committee has a great deal of experience in the one area where Obama recognized that he might need some help.) Obama is also a man of faith, so I suspect he prays for help in making the right decision. Then he makes it. And once it is made, he sticks firmly to it. At the same time, he does learn by experience. So for example, this year he opposed a 'vacation' from the Federal gasoline tax (an idea that McCain supported,) relying on his experience from doing the same kind of thing in Illinois and observing that the tax cut failed to reduce gas prices in Illinois (the reason for why it doesn't work would involve a discussion of the mathematical/economic concept of a relatively inelastic equilibrium point on the supply and demand curve which is too complicated to explain here, but Obama gets it.)

With the country facing it's most difficult economic crisis since the 1930's, we need a deliberate and careful decision maker, and one who is forceful in carrying out decisions but also able to recognize what works and what doesn't.

What we can't afford is to gamble on another gambler.

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