Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Libertarians & Greens + Obama, Behavioralist + Brotha Love

This is really shaping up to be a fascinating political season. Yesterday, former Republican Congressman, Clinton impeacher and grade-A hypocrite Bob Barr gained the nomination of the Libertarian Party. Today, it appears former Democratic Congresswoman and Bush-administration critiquer Cynthia McKinney has enough support to become the Green Party's presidential candidate. (Does this mean no Nader?) In the case of Barr, it might spell danger for Republican nominee John McCain in some Southern and Western states, while McKinney is sure to draw votes away from Obama in California and the Northeast.

One question to consider will be who will siphon off more votes from the main parties' candidates, particularly in the swing states? Also, will Barr be able to push McCain further to the right to hold onto to the GOP's traditional constituencies, or will he help define him as more moderate, the narrative the media are determined to convey? I doubt McKinney will have any effect on Obama's policies, but it would be great if she could effect a more progressive approach, particularly on economic issues.

Nevertheless, there'll be two more candidates, neither of them viable, but both of whom will appeal to pockets within both of the two main parties' supporters. Then there's always the indefatigable Ralph Nader and the irrepressible Ron Paul...and maybe even Hillary Clinton (would you be surprised?)!


Speaking of Obama's economic plans and perspective, in the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books, John Cassidy explores the presumptive Democratic nominee's links to economic behavioralism, another "third way" between (or amid) conservatism and contemporary liberalism and neo-liberalism. Two of the major theorists whose ideas underpin many of Obama's policies, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, promote an approach they call "libertarian paternalism," or "nudging" people to make better choices, since the insights of behavioral economics has undermined the rationalist orthodoxy that mainstream economics and economists have taken as a matter of faith. "Libertarian paternalism" sounds awful to my ears, and while it's a clunker of a name, it also, if accurately described by Cassidy, is too incremental and inadequate to address the array of social, political and economic problems, domestic and global, that we face. What it certainly is not is the progressive approach some have projected onto Obama. Cassidy ends his article thus:

But for what policy purposes are the masses to be mobilized? According to Obama's program, the answers include another middle-class tax cut; more tax credits for education and fuel-efficient cars; a bigger budget for the National Science Foundation; and the establishment of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, with an annual budget of $6 billion. At best, these proposals would represent a useful start in redressing the inequities and shortcomings produced by twenty-five years of Republican domination. If the next Democratic president wants to leave a truly lasting legacy, he or she will have to do more than nudge the country in a different direction.

It's something to consider, lest people's unreal expectations be dashed, swiftly come January, against the shoals of reality.


On a more mundane plane, here's a tidbit about the Senator's Lefthand Man: truly a "Brotha Love." (Just hold the mayonnaise!) Don't get jealous, now....

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