The Long View 2004-10-04: The First Presidential Debate; The Vatican; EU Accounting

A very pure version of the Red vs. Blue electoral map.

A very pure version of the Red vs. Blue electoral map.

The George W. Bush versus John Kerry election in 2004, as described by John here, is a very interesting foretaste of things to come. Bush is described, accurately in my opinion, as a cheerleader for the war in Iraq launched in 2003, while Kerry was interested in the details but less obviously committed to do whatever it was that needed doing. In retrospect, our subsequent Presidents fit that mold as well; President Obama's Hope and Change, and President Trump's Make America Great Again! themes are both more about allowing people to project their hopes and desires onto a charismatic figure, than a detailed policy brief.

President Obama didn't manage to live up to everyone's expectations, but he remained popular nevertheless. We might expect that Trump's campaign promises will follow a similar path, and perhaps his approval rating as well.

The First Presidential Debate; The Vatican; EU Accounting

Last night, John Kerry and George Bush were trying to do different things. Kerry was trying to start an argument about factual and policy questions related to Iraq. Bush was questioning Kerry's consistency. The theme of Bush's remarks was that nothing is so important in winning a war as the obvious determination of the leadership to win it. He repeated the point so often that he sometimes sounded monomaniacal. Kerry did very well, but he signally failed to sound as determined to win the Iraq War as Bush did. The failure is lethal, I think. Kerry did not dispute that the war should be won; he was less clear about why or how. A tie is not enough when you are 10 points behind.

As a speaker, Kerry was significantly but not embarrassingly better than Bush. (Kerry was, perhaps, aided by a debate format that prevented him from bloviating to his heart's content.) However, Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention was very good, too. The convention helped him not at all, and Gallup suggests that the same pattern is repeating itself:

Prior to the debate, viewers chose Bush over Kerry in handling the Iraq war by 54% to 40%. After the debate, the comparable figures were essentially unchanged, 54% to 43%.
As I have noted before, Kerry's tepid pro-war stance actually discourages a large part of his base. Provided the incumbent seems acceptably competent, it also does nothing to attract people who think that war and security are the most important issues.

I predict that Bush will ace the domestic policy debates, much though I disagree with most of his program. There are no global solutions to the questions involved, and Bush is actually pretty good at MBA stuff.

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On the matter of polls, I was astonished by a result in a parody poll that appeared in The Weekly Standard of October 4, nominally from the Pew Research Center. In an answer to the question "What are you thinking right now?" we learn that 8% of the people were thinking:

If you could have really small elephants as pets, I would totally have one.

How did they know?

* * *
Despite John Paul II's opposition to the Iraq War, the Vatican's current policy is becoming indistinguishable from Washington's. At least, that is one way to take a recent round up in Chiesa of signs and portents of a shift of policy:

The first indication came on September 20. Cardinal Camillo Ruini [president of the Italian bishops' conference] spoke to the permanent council of the Italian bishops' conference, and repeated the duty of the Christian West to "oppose organized terror with the greatest energy and determination, without giving the slightest impression of considering their blackmail and their impositions," and at the same time, to transform into "our principal allies" the elements of the Muslim world that desire liberty and democracy.

The Holy See has become very keen on getting NATO to support Ilad Alawyi's government in Iraq, and specifically to help secure democratic elections in that country. Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, put it like this:

The child has been born. It may be illegitimate, but it's here, and it must be reared and educated.

Such assistance would be consistent with either Bush or Kerry's plans for Iraq. The Kerry people might find it embarrassing if it were offered without his intervention.

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On a completely different note, readers are aware that members of the euro-zone now work under fiscal constraints comparable to those of the states of the United States. Most states are forbidden by their own constitutions from running deficits in their operating budgets; euro countries are supposed to keep their deficits under 3% of GDP. However, creative state legislatures in the US have long since learned how to shift their debt off-budget. Europe is now following suit, as Floyd Norris explains in today's New York Times piece, European Budget Games: Why Paris Can Seem to Act Like Albany:

In France, [for instance,] the determination to spend is similar, but the tactics being used would be quite familiar in many a state capital. The government owns the major electric and gas utilities, which face huge pension bills. You might think that would harm the budget, but France has a better idea.
The two utilities will transfer part of their pension obligations to the government, thus making them more attractive to investors. They will pay the government at least 7 billion euros to take on the obligations - and that money will count as revenue for measuring the budget deficit. It is a neat trick to balance a national budget by taking on additional obligations.

This is almost as much fun to think about as the tiny elephants.

An important difference (between America and Europe, not the elephants) is that the balanced-budget requirements are self-imposed by the states. As far as the federal system goes, states can issue all the debt they like, on or off-budget. States without these caps have defaulted in the past, to the surprised consternation of their foreign creditors. The euro restrictions, in contrast, are imposed from the outside.

Once again, we see that the European Union is becoming a system of post-democratic tyranny, mitigated by unenforceability.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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