This was previously posted on www.anton-wahlman.com on or before 2008-01-03:
I am typing this as my flight passes right over Iowa, the start of the most open presidential election in at least three generations, perhaps ever. At least eight candidates have a reasonable shot at making it all the way, according to the conventional wisdom. The list of vice-presidential candidates is even longer.
In our generation, we have seen only one majorly consequential presidential election - one in which policy changed dramatically - and that was Ronald Reagan's 1980 landslide against Jimmy Carter. Those of you old enough to remember the sorry state of affairs in 1980 will appreciate the change away from 15% inflation, 20% interest rates, 10% unemployment, rampant street crime and Iran holding the US embassy hostage for 400 days. Today's 2% inflation, 5% interest rates, 5% unemployment and the ability to cross Fifth Avenue without being robbed is not the historical norm. Try to appreciate it, perhaps for a change.
I don't know whether this election will prove nearly as consequential as the one in 1980, but with the unprecedentedly large number of candidates, the ground is fertile for stark contrasts. Let's start with the democrats:
John Edwards is running a campaign which blends the 1948 Karl Marx Communist Manifesto with Vladmir Lenin's 1917 revolutionary words and a trial lawyer's obsession with suing every company for any reason. His rhetoric centers around "not negotiating" with business owners, because the taking of their property isn't realistically going to be voluntary. In other words, do what Lenin did in 1917 - just take or regulate private property into oblivion, creating a socialist state.
There is one exception, of course - the trial lawyers, who will help bring about the end of all non-lawyer private enterprise by suing them so they have to shut down or be unable to compete. In John Edwards' world, that's the only Kosher form of private enterprise.
Clinton and Obama are masters in the art of talking a lot but saying nothing. They talk about all of the things that are wrong with America - people not buying health insurance, people polluting too much, people being too racist, and so forth. They wow to "fight" for health, "fight" for the environment, "fight" against racism - basically, "fight" for everything and everyone, except Iraq, where it isn't Kosher to fight. These "fights" are each defined as a new government program, because Clinton has very well-meaning plans for your life - pay for health care! Reduce that carbon footprint! Don't harbor those racist thoughts! Beacause you can't fix your problems on your own, we need to tax you so that we can employ a few million new government bureaucrats in order to tame your habits.
Welcome to the Western European welfare state. You know, the one with 10% unemployment, mimicing Jimmy Carter. It would be 1976 all over again.
I can't tell any material difference - or any at all - between the proposed policies of Clinton and Obama. Talking in platitudes of "change" and "experience" doesn't constitute a policy difference. They both want to "fix" social security by increasing taxes on those making over $100,000 per year. They both want to "fix" health care by making it mandatory to pay for it, and if you can't or won't pay for it, someone else will be forced to do so - either your employer, or the government. And you know where they get their money - prices on products, and your tax bill.
As for Iraq, they both say we have to leave, but not before some time after 2013. Perhaps. As for winning against Al-Quaeda, what do you mean? 9/11 was a loooong time ago. Britney Spears wasn't even in rehab then.
The republicans are a bit more interesting, because at least they don't speak only in platitudes ("I'm for better education, and we have to do something about the environment").
Mitt Romney would be the first President in 3 generations with solid Wall Street experience, hopefully a welcome change. Clearly a competent man, but his record as governor of Massachusetts is a bit sketchy, with tax increases and forcing people to buy health care insurance. Having made hundreds of millions of dollars, he would be viewed as just a rich guy buying himself into the office. Sort of like Jon Corzine.
Rudy Giuliani is the real deal on almost everything from economics to foreign policy. He has vowed to personally press the execution button if we capture Bin Laden alive. He also doesn't carry all of this annoying abortion baggage surrounding many other republicans. This means he could win California and New York, securing the whole election.
Mike Huckabee is the best speaker, and he has humor. Unfortunately he shares, at least in part, a fatal flaw with all of the democrat candidates - he failed Economics 101, as he doesn't seem eager to support tax/spending cuts, deregulation or free trade. Nevertheless, he can out-debate anyone on style and humor points.
John McCain is obviously the foreign policy candidate, and like it or not, he has an independent streak, refusing to support Ethanol subsidies while campaigning in Iowa. With terrorism and rogue regimes not going away anytime soon, we couldn't go wrong with a war hero in charge. The last two were very successful - Generals Eisenhower and Grant. One only wonders if young Americans who don't remember Jimmy Carter's 1970s stagflation will want to vote for a 71-year-old fighter pilot who spent 5.5 years being in a Vietnamese torture chamber.
Fred Thompson is the Ronald Reagan character, not because he is an actor, but because he is a bit lazy and comfortable with his mainstream right-wing ideology. He doesn't have plans for you. He just wants to try to cut the size of government while burning Al-Quaeda's ass. Not a bad place to be.
All of this brings us to the most interesting candidate - Ron Paul. He is like the kid in the fable who insistently points out that the emperor has no clothes. Federal employees? Fire them. Taxes? Abolish them. Regulations? No communism in America. The welfare state? Unconstitutional. The monetary system? Back to gold. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would have been proud.
In coming hours, days, weeks and months, there will be a lot of election-year noise, and for good reason. Just remember that noise may not equal results. In the election 40 years ago, 1968, Richard Nixon pointed out that the loudmouths don't always win. Rather, the silent majority tends to win. The bigger question in 2008 is whether the silent majority now looks like a generation or two without good knowledge of history and economics. Have we gone from the greatest generation - represented by Ronald Reagan - to the tabloid/celebrity-obsessed generation represented by 40 channels of television garbage?