Campaign 2008: Taking Stock

After two years, endless charges and countercharges, the 2008 campaign is down to its final day. It seems like a good time to take stock of what I liked about this race and what I did not.

I liked fact checking. Never before in a political campaign have so many done so much to call out candidates who fudge, exaggerate, manipulate data, and outright lie. I don’t know that all of this fact checking slowed the growth in irresponsible rhetoric, but it made us far more aware of each bit of blarney. I like that TPC did its part on taxes and health, and props to others out there doing similar work.

I did not like that Barack Obama vowed to cut taxes by nearly $3 trillion over the next decade but would not offer a credible plan to pay for all his campaign promises. I liked even less that John McCain would slash taxes by more than $4 trillion and that he too, did not have a serious proposal to reduce the impact on deficits and the debt.

I liked that both Obama and McCain were willing to propose ambitious plans for addressing the staggering misallocation of health resources in the U.S.

I did not like that instead of engaging in a serious debate on this critical issue, the candidates were happy to invent parodies of one another’s plans and then criticize these half-imagined proposals. Obama seemed satisfied to accuse McCain of “taxing your health benefits,” while McCain ripped Obama for having government bureaucrats decide what care you got. Both allegations were grossly misleading at best.

I liked that both candidates began their campaigns by talking about big changes in energy policy, including their (very different) versions of a cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions. Both seemed to recognize that raising the price of fossil fuels is a good way to reduce demand (duh).

I did not like that both abandoned this issue as soon as gas prices rose and the economy slowed. It has been months since either candidate has said a word about the importance of price in the effort to slow consumption of carbon-based fuels.

I did not like that they had so little to say about the recent financial meltdown. Obama told us little more than that it was George Bush’s fault. McCain said he’d cut earmarks. Um, the economic slump is a pretty important issue, and I would have liked to know what each man planned to do about it.

I liked that Obama and McCain nearly engaged each other on the fascinating issue of how the tax code redistributes income. I didn’t like that it never got past McCain’s ridiculous claim that Obama is a socialist.

I liked that McCain and Obama had a couple of fairly serious policy debates (especially #3).

I did not like that many people, including far too many journalists, seemed more interested in Joe the Plumber’s views on fiscal policy and Sarah Palin’s wardrobe than they were on the tough issues that will confront the next president.

Oh well, better luck next time.