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Friday, April 09, 2004

budget rentals



It's always been pretty clear that the $87 billion supplemental the US Administration got for Iraq after the costs increased, umm, unexpectedly, was not really a final demand. Rather it was likely to run out, if not actually in November then not long afterwards, and there would need to be another (immensely unpopular, if you remember) infusion of the mighty dollar very soon after that.

I haven't seen anything much on how the budget is going, especially the military part. Maybe the US spent less than it thought it would. But assuming it's been spending at about the rate that was planned, the uprising can't be helpful. There are stories of infrastructure, newly reconstructed, being destroyed; that will have to be rebuilt, expensively, and foreign contractors will probably be used, also expensively, and they will require protection which will likely be given by private military contractors, also expensively. But there is also talk of military reinforcements of uncertain size and over uncertain duration, which can't be cheap, and the forces there seem to be giving up a lot of hardware (burning humvees, burning tanks, and the like) which presumably needs replacing. The careful reader will be able to tell this is not an author who understands the ins and outs of military budgeting (do replacement tanks come out of the supplemental? I guess not). But nevertheless: destruction costs money, right?

So I want to raise the question of how (say) a mid-summer supplemental request would affect the political world. Two thoughts: Congressional support would be scarce, regardless of party; the administration would be looking to Kerry, probably, to get bipartisan support behind the proposal. The request might not be passed. It might be passed along bipartisan lines and cause enormous recriminations within the Democratic party. It might be passed along partisan lines and become a major election issue. If Bush is still bumping along in the high 40s, and still pretty much even with Kerry in matchup polls by then, it would certainly sort things out one way or another... We will have to wait for this one.

Also: please, somebody, research the changing brand perception of Hummers. GM has put a lot of money into the brand on the basis of their popularity after the last Gulf War (I guess). Does the fact that they seem to be quite vulnerable things when shot at work against the whole macho Scharzenegger image?

Thursday, April 08, 2004

The possibility of forgetting



From the Washington Post this time last year...



Monday, April 05, 2004

Oven Chips



Both Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum say more or less positive things about the prospects of McCain as VP under Kerry. It all sounds a bit Hillary-really-is-running-for-President to me, but it's something I heard quite a bit of at a recent conference, also from people who I would have thought would know better, so let me take it seriously for a moment.

The debate gets carried on like this:

1) McCain is not really a Democrat, despite his evident discomfort with the Republican party;

2) His contribution to more progressive politics therefore depends on his electoral value for the ticket;

3) He is a popular guy so that contribution is positive;

4) You then have to balance the positive effects of winning by a landslide against the negative consequences of McCain as VP not actually being particularly progressive

This is an appealing but (I think) wrong-headed analysis. McCain is an actual Republican Senator. Of twelve "Key Votes of the 107th Congress" identified in the 2004 Almanac of American Politics, McCain and Kerry voted together on six (patients' bill of rights, campaign finance reform, ANWR, bar cooperation with the ICC, trade promotion authority, authorization of force in Iraq) and against each other on six (Bush tax cuts, Ashcroft confirmation, bar gays in boy scouts, $ for hate crime prosecutions, overseas military abortions, union protections in the department of homeland security). Of the topics on which they agree, progressives are of course going to be uncomfortable with at least some; perhaps trade promotion authority, probably authorization of force in Iraq, maybe even the ICC. That is not the point, though.

The real problem is that (3) above is a problematic assumption, even if McCain is popular, if the combination of Kerry and McCain on the ticket causes problems for them. Journalists might choose to start talking about whether, and how, their previous disagreements have been muted - it would be a wonderful story for them, ticking all the boxes of crappy journalistic coverage of politics: it would be focussed on the horse-race and the mechanics of campaigning; it would emphasize the importance of verbal and act consistency at the expense of all other concerns; it would appear to show hypocrisy and a change of image as McCain, with that whole reputation for "straight talk", would have to use the usual political tactics to avoid talking about their disagreements. In other words, what if the whole election campaign is about whether Kerry and McCain now agree about tax cuts; why McCain has had to change his views about tax cuts; how exactly McCain's language about tax cuts has changed over time; and how McCain is no longer willing to talk openly and unscriptedly about tax cuts.

Meanwhile their previous disagreements on some issues could actually give the Republicans *more* ground to focus on the liberal aspects of Kerry's voting - what if the whole election campaign is about whether Kerry and McCain now agree on that gays in the boy scouts issue?

Et c. et c. In other words, it's not just that McCain is not a progressive; it's that in combination with Kerry, McCain's strengths would become the ticket's weaknesses and the chance of the Kerry campaign actually getting its message out would be minimal. If McCain does't improve the electoral prospects of the ticket then the whole how-much-do-his-conservative-views-matter argument is moot.

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