Posts Tagged ‘McCain’

Gas Stamps Would Be Better than a Gas Tax Holiday

May 2, 2008

Senators McCain and Clinton have both recently proposed a “Gas Tax Holiday” under which the 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gasoline tax would be suspended this summer to help ameliorate the high costs of gasoline.  Senator Obama has rightly opposed this proposal, arguing that any reduction in gas prices (which many economists argue would not even occur) would only amount to $25-30 per driver this summer and is insufficient to really counter $4-per-gallon gas.  He and others have also argued that the tax holiday would reduce the funds available to repair our roads and bridges and encourage more driving at a time when we need to discourage driving.

Supporters of McCain and Clinton argue that Obama’s opposition to a Gas Tax Holiday shows that he is out of touch with the issues facing ordinary people, especially those with low incomes.  They imply that a savings of $30 issignificant to poor families and that Obama is too rich or detached to realize this.  I believe this is just political posturing on their part.  If the gas tax were suspended for 3 months and the savings were $30 as Obama suggests, that would be just $10 per month.  Given the amount of money some poor people spend on lottery tickets, cigarettes, and alcohol, I doubt this amount of money would really make a difference to most people.  Even if it would make a difference to some of them, it is clear that gas prices will keep going up and that working, low-income people need much more relief.  The only problem with Obama’s response to his opponents is that he has not really proposed an alternative policy to help poor people cope with the high price of gas.

Rather than pursuing a tax suspension that might not even lower the price of gasoline, a much better idea would be to create a Gas Stamps program for low-income people who own and drive cars in order to get to work.  This could be done quite easily by extending the current Food Stamps program.  I did some research about this program and learned that the phrase “food stamps” is an anachronism; in most states, actual stamps have been replaced by debit cards that are automatically replenished monthly and can be used at most grocery stores to buy food.  Gas stamps would really help poor people pay for their gas and would not stimulate gasoline consumption across all economic groups the way a Gas Tax Holiday would.  It could be funded with a sales tax on low-mileage cars and trucks which is something we should be implementing anyway to steer consumers toward higher mileage vehicles as part of a national policy to lower our consumption of gasoline and oil both for financial and environmental reasons.

An intersting fact about the Food Stamps program is that the government does not count a car owned by applicants when considering eligibility provided the car is used to commute to work or transport a disabled household member.  This means that the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service which administers the Food Stamps program already knows whether or not food stamp recipients own cars and how many they own, so the program could easily be extended to add a monthly gas stamp benefit to the existing food stamps debit card.  The only other thing needed to fully implement the program would be to allow gas stations to register with the program so that they could accept the food/gas stamps debit cards.

Senator Obama should propose a Gas Stamps program as a more realistic way of helping poor Americans deal with the high price of gasoline.  Doing so will show that he is more realistic about helping poor people bear the high price of gas and prevent Senators McCain and Clinton from claiming that he is insensitive or out of touch.  But he better propose this quickly before the primaries in Indiana or North Carolina.


Misguided Analysis of Electability

March 8, 2008

Several articles I have read about the electability of Senators Obama and Clinton indicate that many people (especially Clinton supporters) are misguided in their analysis.  An example is a an article from today’s issue of The Washington Post.  The article discusses that Obama’s strategy has been to rack up delegates in lots of Republican states (many of which held caucuses) to overcome the advantage Clinton has in Democratic strongholds.  Several people interviewed in the article expressed concern about the fact that Clinton has bested Obama within several demographic groups such as working-class whites and Latinos.

These people are misguided because all that really matters is whether Obama or Clinton can beat McCain in enough states to win enough votes in the Electoral College in November.  It doesn’t matter if a group of people prefers Clinton to Obama as long as they prefer Obama to McCain.  For instance, there is very little doubt that California, New York, and Massachusetts would vote for Obama over McCain in November even though these states voted for Clinton over Obama in the Super Tuesday primaries.  Likewise, it doesn’t really matter whether Latinos prefer Clinton to Obama; what matters is whether they prefer Clinton or Obama to McCain.

I have not yet seen any polls comparing how Latinos would currently vote in a McCain/Obama contest, but a CNN poll of Latinos in Texas found that 81% of Latinos in Texas a quick troop withdrawal from Iraq.  That might lead them to support Obama over McCain even though they went for Clinton in the Texas primary.    Additionally, the CNN article about the poll reported that a prominent Latino Republican adviser, Lionel Sosa, has repeatedly warned that the Republican Party will lose the Latino vote if it does not change its rhetoric on immigration.  While all Democratic candidates have actively been campaigning in Latino communities, the Republican candidates were “fighting to see who is more anti-immigration” according to Lionel Sosa.  McCain supports a border fence but has had a softer approach on the immigration issue than most other Republicans.  The poll also showed that 78% of Texas Latinos favor bilingual education programs, another thing Republicans have opposed.  Finally, even though Texas Latinos leaned toward Clinton, it is not the case that they did not like Obama; the poll showed that 76% of them had a favorable view of Clinton, 66% had a favorable view of Obama, and only 48% had a favorable view of McCain.  (Only 34% had a favorable view of Bush.)  Given all this data, I suspect that Latinos in Texas, California, and other states would strongly support Obama over McCain.  So, their preference for Clinton over Obama is no reason to worry about his losing their votes in November. 

Along these lines, a recent state-by-state poll by SurveyUSA predicted that Obama would beat McCain in the Electoral College 280 to 258, wining the Northeast states, the Potomac states, the upper Midwest, the West coast, Hawaii, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico but losing Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  SurveyUSA predicted that Clinton would also beat McCain in the Electoral College 276 to 262, winning the Northeast (including Pennsylvania and New Jersey but not New Hampshire), Maryland (but not Virginia), some of the upper Midwest (but not as many as Obama), California (but surprisingly not Washington and Oregon), Hawaii, New Mexico, and Florida.  So, the margins would be quite similar for Obama and Clinton.

Here are the electoral college maps published by Survey USA:

Obama vs. McCain

Clinton vs. McCain 

More Republicans Would Vote for Obama than for Clinton

March 7, 2008

CNN reported the results of an ABC/Washington Post poll that asked how people would vote in McCain/Obama and McCain/Clinton matchups in November.  Amongst other things, the poll measured the percentages of Republicans and Democrats that would vote for candidates from the opposite party.  These results showed that more Republicans would vote for Obama over McCain than for Clinton over McCain.

In particular, 16% of Republicans said they would vote for Obama over McCain.  Only 9% of Republicans would vote for Clinton over McCain.  The head-to-head matchups showed:

Obama beating McCain 52% to 40% (with 8% undecided)
Clinton beating McCain 50% to 44% (with 6% undecided)

So, these are more datapoints suggesting that Obama is more electable than Clinton in November.

McCaskill’s Natural-Born Proposal Is Flawed

March 1, 2008

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri proposed legislation on the Senate floor this week that would declare that any child born abroad to U.S. citizens serving in the United States military would be considered a “natural-born citizen” and therefore eligible to be elected President of the United States.  I find Senator’s McCaskill’s intentions to protect the rights of children of American military families commendable and also admire the Senator, a Democrat, for proposing legislation whose first beneficiary would be Senator John McCain, a Republican.  However, I think her proposal as currently formulated is misguided and needs modification.

As I wrote in a recent blog post, it is clear that the original New York Times article and most people who have commented about it on TV and in newspapers have misconstrued the term “natural born citizen” as having something to do with where a person is born.  Instead, I argued that “natural born” is related to “naturalization” which is the process by which someone who is not born a citizen becomes one; this suggests a much more likely interpretation of “natural born citizen”, namely a person born a U.S. citizen.  Under this interpretation, a child of military personnel born abroad the way Senator McCain was would be a “natural born citizen” and therefore eligible to be elected President.  But so would all other children of U.S. citizens born abroad.

The problems with Senator McCaskill’s proposal are that it would adopt an incorrect interpretation of “natural born” into U.S. law and could actually deprive some American citizens born abroad of the right to become President.  It would probably also violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  Any new legislation aimed at clarifying the Constitution’s meaning of “natural born citizen” should be sure to do so in a manner that is as inclusive as possible, giving all U.S. citizens born abroad the same right.

It’s worth noting that the first Congress enacted a citizenship law (Act of March 26, 1790, Chapter 3, Section 1, Statute 104) that stated “the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens.”  This gives clear evidence that the framers of the Constitution, some of whom served in the first Congress, understood “natural born citizens” to be those people who were born U.S. citizens regardless of where they were born.  If the above statute is still in effect, then new legislation might not really be required to clarify this issue.

Is McCain Natural Born?

February 28, 2008

The New York Times  published an interesting but rather silly article  today entitled “McCain’s Canal Zone Birth Prompts Queries About Whether That Rules Him Out”.  The article asked whether Senator McCain is really eligible to become President since he was born outside of the United States.  (I do not believe the Times was seriously trying to undermine McCain’s candidacy with this article, but just thought the topic was interesting.)  At issue is what the framers of the U.S. Constitution meant by the words “natural born” when they wrote “No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.” The article in the Times indicated that this question has been debated in law school review articles and civics class debates almost since the Constitution was written.  It also indicated that the eligibility of previous Presidential candidates including Barry Goldwater, George Romney, and Lowell P. Weicker has also been questioned in connection with the same clause.

While the article was interesting, there is a very easy way to interpret what the Founding Fathers meant by “natural born”.  The article and political pundits on the cable news networks seem to assume that “natural born” has something to do with where a person was born, in particular whether or not they were born inside the United States itself.  If that interpretation were correct, then the eligibility of people like Senator McCain and past candidates would hinge on what “inside the United States” meant.  For instance, Barry Goldwater was born in the Arizona territory before it became a state.  Would that count as being born inside the United States?  John McCain was born in a U.S. military base in the Panama Canal Zone to American parents.  Is a U.S. military base “inside” the U.S.?  What about a person born to American parents in a U.S. territory such as Guam?

Those are all tricky questions that would probably have to be resolved by the Supreme Court or addressed through a constitutional amendment.  But I believe that the above interpretation of “natural born” is off base.  I think “natural” in “natural born” is clearly related to the word “naturalization” as in the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) (which was renamed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) in 2003).  The website of the USCIS has an FAQ  about Naturalization that says the following about U.S. citizenship: “A person may become a U.S. citizen (1) by birth or (2) through naturalization.”  The FAQ also states: “If you are not a U.S. citizen by birth or did not acquire U.S. citizenship automatically after birth, you may still be eligible to become a citizen through the normal naturalization process.”  These definitions makes it clear that somebody who is born a U.S. citizen cannot be naturalized since they are already a citizen — they are already “natural”.   A much more likely interpretation of “natural born citizen” is therefore “born a U.S. citizen” rather than “born inside the U.S.”  Under this interpretation, Senator McCain who was born a U.S. citizen is clearly eligible to become President.

In case this is not enough to convince you, consider that the first Congress enacted a citizenship law (Act of March 26, 1790, Chapter 3, Section 1, Statute 104) that stated “the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens.”  This gives clear evidence that the framers of the Constitution, some of whom served in the first Congress, understood “natural born citizens” to be those people who were born U.S. citizens regardless of where they were born.

One more note on this: another interpretation of “natural born” (although obviously not meant in the Constitution) would be “born through natural means”.  So, maybe someone born through in vitro fertilization will run for President some day and have their eligibility challenged on that basis.  I hope that doesn’t happen, but won’t be surprised if it does.

For more on this topic, see my post “McCaskill’s Natural-Born Proposal is Flawed”.

Questions About McCain Article in The New York Times

February 22, 2008

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article about John McCain’s relationships with lobbyists including one he had with a woman named Vicki Iseman during his 2000 campaign for President.  The article was widely interpreted as suggesting that Senator McCain had had a sexual relationship with Ms. Iseman,although it did not actually say this.  Overall, I thought the article had journalistic integrity and merited publication.   I do not believe that the article was intended to attack McCain or derail his presidential campaign.  It did not even claim that his relationships with lobbyists actually were inappropriate.  I think the main point of the story was that McCain has a blind spot about his own relationships with lobbyists because he firmly believes that he is honorable and is not influenced by lobbyists to act contrary to the public interest.  Note that the title was “For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk”.  The New York Times could have used a very different title if they had wanted to emphasize other aspects of the story, for instance: “McCain Had Romantic Relationship with Lobbyist During His 2000 Campaign” or “McCain Has History of Close Relationships With Lobbyists”.

However, I did have some questions about the story, especially the part about the supposed romantic relationship with Ms. Iseman.  I think the article could have and should have been more specific about what their sources had actually said about this relationship.  In the second paragraph of the article, the reporters wrote “Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself” (my italics).  

My first question is: what did the writers or the sources mean by the phrase  “convinced that the relationship had become romantic”?  Did the sources “know for a fact” that the relationship was romantic, or did they just “believe” this? People often believe things to be true even if they do not know with absolute certainty.  For instance, I believe that life exists on other planets, but I have no proof.  By using the word “convinced”, the article left open the interpretation that McCain’s advisors had proof that the relationship was romantic.  I think the Times should clarify what its sources really meant by “convinced”.

I found it interesting that the reporters talked about the relationship differently later in the article where they wrote “some of the senator’s advisers had grown so concernedthat the relationship had become romantic that they took steps to intervene” (my italics).  This is a much weaker statement than that in the second paragraph of the story because it does not imply that the advisors knew or had proof that the relationship was romantic, only that they were worried that it might be.  “Concerned” is weaker than “convinced”.  Even this statement could be interpreted by some readers as meaning that the advisers did have proof that the relationship had become romantic.  If the advisors did not actually have proof and meant that they were worried about the possibility, then it would have been better if the reporters had written “some of the senator’s advisers had grown so concerned that the relationship might have become romantic that they took steps to intervene.”  This version would have made it clear that the advisers were worried about the possibility of a romantic relationship but did not know for a fact that there was one.

My second question is: what did the sources mean by “romantic” in both sentences? Did they mean a physical, sexual relationship or an overly friendly relationship in which Senator McCain and Vicki Iseman had romantic feelings for each other? The first is obviously a more serious charge than the second, especially since Senator McCain was married to his current wife, Cindy, during the 2000 campaign. I find the term “romantic” ambiguous in the article and think the Times should clarify what their sources actually meant.

My last question is: why did the article discuss the relationship with Ms. Iseman in the second paragraph?  As I indicated above, I do not think that the main point of the article was to charge Senator McCain with sexual improprieties or even with inappropriate relationships with Ms. Iseman or other lobbyists.  I think the main point was that the Senator has often failed to realize that his relationships with lobbyists can create a perception of hypocrisy given his frequent criticisms of other politicians on this issue and his promotion of tighter campaign finance rules.  By writing about McCain’s relationship with Ms. Iseman at the beginning of the article, the Times gave this aspect of their article more focus than they should have.  If the article had started by indicating that McCain has a history of relationships with lobbyists and has sometimes failed to realize the consequence of these relationships and had then put the details about his relationship with Ms. Iseman in the middle of the story (on page A19), I think there would have been much less fuss about this article.

One more detail that I found interesting about this story is the picture of Ms. Iseman.  The printed edition of the paper used a picture of her cropped to just show her face, neck, and shoulders, but the online version of the article cropped the same picture to show more of her torso making it clear that she is wearing a ball gown.  Many people including TV commentators  attacked the Times for this choice of picture referring specifically to Ms. Iseman’s ball gown (suggesting that they had only seen the online version of the story).  Bill Keller, the Executive Editor of the paper, wrote about this in a “Talk to the Newsroom” article on the Times website, indicating that the picture of Ms. Iseman was the only one they could find from a legitimate, licensable  source (Getty Images).  He wrote that the Times “cropped the picture to show only her face” in the printed version of the story while acknowledging that the photo on the website showed her head and torso.  Looking at the actual printed page, it is clear that the picture had to be cropped to just show her face and shoulders in order to fit; the website apparently did not have the same space constraint, so a larger cropping was used.  If the Times did want to avoid a depiction of Ms. Iseman that showed her ball gown, then it should have used the same head and shoulders version of the picture in both locations.

Joel Klein: Obama the Best Executive By Far

February 17, 2008

Joel Klein wrote a great article for Time Magazine that made observations similar to those in my post that compared the management skills or Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Prominent Democrats in states that held caucuses told Klein that Obama had organizers on the ground and made appearances while Clinton was late to the game or never showed up.  He went on to write:

If nothing else, a presidential campaign tests a candidate’s ability to think strategically and tactically and to manage a very complex organization. We have three plausible candidates remaining–Obama, Clinton and John McCain–and Obama has proved himself the best executive by far. Both the Clinton and the McCain campaigns have gone broke at crucial moments. So much for fiscal responsibility. McCain has been effective only when he runs as a guerrilla; in both 2000 and ’08, he was hapless at building a coherent campaign apparatus. Clinton’s sins are different: arrogance and the inability to see past loyalty to hire the best people for the job and to fire those who prove inadequate. “If nothing else, we’ve learned that Obama probably has the ability to put together a smooth-running Administration,” said a Clinton super-delegate. “That’s pretty important.”

Klein has gone beyond what I wrote in so far as he’s included McCain in his comparison.  McCain has been in Congress since 1982, and his campaigns have been the only large organizations that he has run since then.  (He did achieve the rank of Captain in the U.S. Navy and commanded at least one squadron of naval aircraft.)  While he’s had more success this year than in 2000, Klein is right to point out that his management of his campaigns has been lackluster at best.

McCain Explains “100 Years in Iraq” Comments

February 15, 2008

Last night on Larry King Live, Senator McCain explained and defended the comments he made during a New Hampshire town hall meeting on January 3 about staying in Iraq for 100 years.  He explained to Larry that he had been talking about a 50 or 100 year military presence in Iraq similar to what the U.S. has in place since World War II and the Korea War in Germany, Japan, and Korea.  He expressed the opinion that what Americans care about is American casualties rather than how long the troops are actually there.  He added, “It’s not a matter of how long we’re in Iraq, it’s if we succeed or not.”

I want to give Senator McCain fair credit on this point.  I went back and checked what he actually had said in New Hampshire on YouTube.  I’ve even included the clip below.  He quite clearly indicated in his original comments that maintaining a presence for 50 or 100 years would be fine with him if American troops were not being injured and killed.

So, I think Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should stop attacking him on this point, or at least stop conveying the impression that McCain is willing to see American casualties continue for 100 years.  It would be more honest if the Democratic candidates argued that they don’t believe McCain’s scenario of a long-term peaceful military presence in Iraq is really feasible and that setting timetables to pull out our troops sooner will pressure Iraq to make political compromises and take responsibility for their own country.

Is a Vote for Huckabee a Vote for McCain?

February 3, 2008

Several political commentators and blogs have stated the view that a vote in the Republican primaries for Governor Huckabee is effectively a vote for Senator McCain. For instance, The Conservative Post blog told Huckabee supporters on January 29 before the Florida primary: “you are throwing away your vote if you vote for Mike”.  I’d like to analyze this view below.

I would first like to say that there is no such thing as “throwing away” or “wasting” a vote. People vote to express their preferences on candidates and issues, not necessarily to vote for the winner.  In many Congressional two-person races, the district clearly favors the Republican or Democratic candidate and the result of the election is obvious before anyone votes; but, people in that district’s minority party should still vote for their candidate so that shifts in voter sentiment can be registered.  Voters who believe strongly that Huckabee or Paul are the best candidates for President should vote for them if expressing their opinion is more important than the ultimate outcome. That being said, it does make sense for voters who care more about the outcomes of elections to consider whether or not their preferred candidate can win the election itself or at least win some delegates (in primaries and caucuses) when more than 2 people are running.  Some might argue that “making a statement” instead of focusing on the outcome is a stupid way to vote, but that is a choice each voter is free to make.  

Another point I want to make is that people who state the view that a vote for Huckabee is really a vote for McCain are obviously making the following assumptions:

  1. Huckabee supporters are conservative and want a conservative to win the Republican nomination.
  2. Romney is more conservative than McCain.
  3. Huckabee supporters would vote for Romney if Romney and McCain were the only choices left.

While the first of these assumptions is clearly true, the second is debatable and the third is quite possibly false.

In the case of the winner-take-all Republican primaries, the situation was ambiguous. In the Florida Republican primary, McCain won with 36% of the votes, Romney came in second with 31%, Guiliani came in third with 15%, and Huckabee came in fourth with 14%.  McCain won all 57 delegates.  Given that Romney and Huckabee were competing for conservative voters, it is tempting to combine Romney’s and Huckabee’s numbers and argue that Romney could have beaten McCain 45% to 36%.  Of course, this leaves out the voters who voted for Guiliani, Thompson, and Paul. If one assumed that Guiliani and Paul supporters would have voted for McCain and that Thompson supporters would have voted for Romney if their preferred candidates had not been on the Florida ballot, one would end up with McCain beating Romney 54% to 46%.  So, one could (somewhat simplistically) argue that McCain would have beaten Romney if all the second-tier candidates had dropped out.  If that were the case, then people who voted for Huckabee did not waste their vote any more than people who voted for Romney.  McCain still would have won all the delegates.

Note that the assumption above about how Florida Republicans would have voted if some candidates had not been on the ballot is actually quite simplistic.  CNN’s exit polls asked Republicans about their second choice preferences. The numbers are a bit tricky to interpret since they show second choice preferences amongst all the voters rather than broken out based on voters’ first choice.  But the numbers do show that 24% of voters whose second choice was McCain voted for Huckabee while only 19% of voters whose second choice was Romney voted for Huckabee.  Since almost equal numbers of voters picked McCain and Romney as their second choice (20% and 19% respectively), this suggests that more Huckabee voters would have gone over to McCain than to Romney if Huckabee had dropped out of the race before the Florida primary.  So, the argument that voters who voted for Huckabee cost Romney the election in Florida is quite weak.

As we move toward Super Tuesday and beyond, the current polls show that Huckabee leads Romney in many of the Southern states while trailing McCain.  Certainly, Huckabee voters should vote for Huckabee in those states.  In fact, one could argue that Romney supporters in those states who don’t want McCain to win should vote for Huckabee to make sure that McCain doesn’t win the delegates from those states. On the other hand, Huckabee supporters in states like California where he is far behind both McCain and Romney should probably vote for their second choice candidate (if they care more about the outcome than in making a statement) since Huckabee is very unlikely to win any delegates in those states. But voters who do not have a preference between the alternative candidates should vote for their first choice even if he has no chance of winning any delegates.