Sunday, June 8, 2008

The End of the Begining of the US Presidential Race

Like everyone else I am preoccupied by the US presidential race. I'm a great fan of Barack Obama and I believe he will win but it is going to be close and there are things to be said for McCain. My reasons for supporting Obama include

1: I'm such a bleeding heart that I get chills every time I listen to one of those speeches. (I know, I know, I am trying to kick the habit.)

2: I liked him back when he was the kind of wonk who edits the Harvard Law Review and gives boring hour-long speeches about tax policy. Despite what some suggest I admire his record in the senate, starting with his commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. One policy wonk's discussion of this record can be found here.

3: I don't believe that McCain would be able to reverse the disastrous decline of US soft power and reputation in the world. Obama certainly could.

4: Removing the Republican establishment from the executive in Washington guarantees a return to a more reasonable notion of executive privilege and most importantly an end to US torture. Given McCain's uneasy relationship with his party I doubt he can achieve the latter and there is reason to believe he would not want to make changes on the former.

The conservative blogosphe in the US is awash with discussion of this lively attack on McCain by Daniel Larison in the American Conservative. Larison says "If style often beats substance, Obama is in trouble because, as his supporters tirelessly remind us, Obama does have a substantive policy agenda (even if he doesn’t spend as much time talking about it and a lot of his boosters don’t care what it is) and McCain’s entire campaign has been even more driven by biography and character than Obama’s." I couldn't have put it better myself.

Queen Bee may be regretting her very generous assessment of my blog. In my defense I will agree with her that one primary consideration for New Zealand's interests is trade policy. McCain is a free trade true believer and Obama is not. It may appear that there is some hope of progressing free trade negotiations for New Zealand under a McCain presidency. Queen Bee may be in much better position to assess this than I am. However a free hand to negotiate such arrangements has over the last decade been voted to free trade presidents by free trade congresses. This is not going to happen again in the near term. Regardless of what happens in the Presidential race, the Republicans are about to go down to a historic defeat in the House and Senate elections. The Democratic majority in both houses will be made up of socially conservative, economically populist, Southerners and Mid-Westerners, the so-called Blue Dogs. Opposition to free trade will be a signature issue for these people and I am almost certain US trade policy will be protectionist whoever is President. I would be sending all those new diplomats to Japan, Korea and India to negotiate free trade agreements there.

Another consideration for New Zealand's interests is that McCain is, I believe, on a personal level very friendly to Australia (where his father spent some time in WWII, he is a not infrequent visitor himself) and also perhaps New Zealand. This kind of personal connection can be important and I don't know of any connections Obama has to Australia or New Zealand specifically. In general Republicans are viewed as giving a higher priority to the Asia Pacific region than Democrats.

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