2008/10/07

Detailed examination of Biden-Palin debate

This really struck me early in the debate, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin said:

"Now, Barack Obama, of course, he's pretty much only voted along his party lines. In fact, 96 percent of his votes have been solely along party lines..."

Well, okay, but remember that Palin's running mate, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), has voted with G. W. Bush 95% of the time. Also, as a fellow member of the incumbent party, he and Palin are pretty much guaranteed to give us four more years of pretty much the same policies.

Palin: "...we need also to not get ourselves in debt." This chart demonstrates that the national debt went steadily downwards under all of the Presidents from Truman to Carter, underwent dramatic increases under Presidents Ronald Reagan, the elder George Bush and the younger George Bush and in between the Bushes, it fell under Clinton. Again, to vote for McCain-Palin is to vote for four more years of the same. Looking at the rhetoric McCain used in his debate with Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), he came up with a few minor savings, but he failed to specify any big-ticket items he'd eliminate. By specifying that he'd eliminate the Iraq War as a spending item, Obama did far more to establish his deficit-fighting credentials than McCain did.

As the McCain campaign has touted Palin as an energy expert, let's look at her comments in that area:

"Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper."

Of course, Palin also says:

"Now, as for John McCain's adherence to rules and regulations and pushing for even harder and tougher regulations, that is another thing that he is known for though. Look at the tobacco industry. Look at campaign finance reform."

But let's go with the idea that Palin is a believer in small, limited government. Okay, but then she talks about her desire to do something about America's energy supplies. Her initial set of talking points are about causing greedy oil companies grief and of denying them tax breaks. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) agrees that Palin imposed a windfall-profits tax in Alaska, but points out that the McCain-Palin team will ask oil companies to pay even less in taxes, according to McCain's already-published tax plan. Here's more from Palin:

"When we talk about energy, we have to consider the need to do all that we can to allow this nation to become energy independent.
"It's a nonsensical position that we are in when we have domestic supplies of energy all over this great land. And East Coast politicians who don't allow energy-producing states like Alaska to produce these, to tap into them, and instead we're relying on foreign countries to produce for us.
"We're circulating about $700 billion a year into foreign countries, some who do not like America -- they certainly don't have our best interests at heart -- instead of those dollars circulating here, creating tens of thousands of jobs and allowing domestic supplies of energy to be tapped into and start flowing into these very, very hungry markets.
"Energy independence is the key to this nation's future, to our economic future, and to our national security."

What's the likelihood that America can become energy independent? Well, there's a concept here called "Peak Oil" that Palin doesn't appear to be familiar with. Essentially, there's only so much of the stuff. The US extracted half of all the oil that we'll ever extract back in the 1970s. The rest of the world is at or near that same point. It is simply impossible for the US to ever become energy independent by drilling for more oil.

Palin later mentioned "hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of clean, green natural gas," but natural gas is not exactly environmentally-friendly. Like oil, natural gas is a fossil fuel. Like oil, the burning of it produces a great deal of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Natural gas is "the cleanest of the fossil fuels," so Palin is not entirely wrong in her description of it. Using more natural gas can certainly be part of the solution to America's energy needs, but only part.

Can the US build more nuclear power plants? Well, yes, but no one has ever figured out how to dispose of nuclear waste, material that's no longer radioactive enough to heat water, but that's still too toxic to keep around humans.

What's left? Alternative energy! Defined as:

solar energy, wind power, geothermal, biofuel, biodiesel, hydrogen

basically:

every form of renewable energy

Now, the conservative website Human Events claims:

...no matter how fast we pursue every form of alternative energy known, our economy will remain largely oil-based for decades.

And I believe that's a true statement, but it's also a true statement that we're never going to get to energy independence by simply drilling for more oil and by digging up natural gas. The McCain-Palin path is a guaranteed dead-end. The alternative energy path may take quite awhile to produce real results, but progress in this area won't happen by the US sitting on its collective duff. As the world's leader in technology, the US is uniquely positioned to make real progress in this area. And obviously, alternative energy solves the problem of depending on foreign countries. One hardly needs a commercial relationship with Saudi Arabia if one is getting sufficient quantities of electricity from wind power.

I noticed that this assertion of Palin's was not disputed after Biden shot it down:

"But when you talk about Barack's plan to tax increase affecting only those making $250,000 a year or more, you're forgetting millions of small businesses that are going to fit into that category. So they're going to be the ones paying higher taxes thus resulting in fewer jobs being created and less productivity."

And Biden's answer:

"...95 percent of the small businesses in America, their owners make less than $250,000 a year. They would not get one single solitary penny increase in taxes, those small businesses."

So yeah, some small businesses would get extra taxes, but obviously not "millions." It's difficult to categorize Palin's statement as anything but a flat-out lie.

And Biden's right. Palin's statement: "We have got to win in Iraq," is not a plan. It's not at all clear what "win" means in the context of Iraq. One of the major problems of fighting a guerrilla war is in identifying who exactly the enemy is. "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is clearly part of the problem, but only part. The Sunni insurgency, the backbone of which was Saddam Hussein's army, dismissed and left on their own by J. Paul “we really didn’t see the insurgency coming” Bremer, is now the backbone of the "Awakening Councils" and we'll see what happens now that the Shiites have assumed command of them. The Shiites (Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is a Shiite) have essentially been biding their time, waiting for the US to leave. Juan Cole says:

My best guess is that Iraqis will go on fighting their three wars, for control of Basra among Shiite militiamen; for control of Baghdad and its hinterlands between Sunnis and Shiites; and for control of Kirkuk among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. They will fight these wars to a conclusion or a stalemate. It is only the battle for Baghdad that has been fought at a lower intensity because of the American surge in any case, and I would be surprised if it does not start back up as US troops leave.

Nothing in Iraq was truly solved by the US invasion of 2003. A vacuum was opened up and various groups are simply waiting for the US to leave so they can continue their own power struggles. Iraq is and was not Eastern Europe of the 1950s through the 1980s. There is/was no movement "yearning to breathe free." The US invasion was not greeted with flowers. It was entirely correct to describe Saddam Hussein as an evil dictator. He was certainly that. But Hussein's regime was not communism and he ruled the same territory that his predecessor did. Palin's statement "we're getting closer and closer to victory" is simply nonsensical.

I can certainly understand Palin's frustration here:

"No, in fact, when we talk about the Bush administration, there's a time, too, when Americans are going to say, 'Enough is enough with your ticket,' on constantly looking backwards, and pointing fingers, and doing the blame game.
"There have been huge blunders in the war. There have been huge blunders throughout this administration, as there are with every administration."

But properly putting blame where it belongs is an essential part of moving forward. And I'm really not sure we can describe many things as mere "blunders" when we don't know the full background story behind them. The Bush Administration is, and has been, an extraordinarily secretive group. Remember, the firing of the US Attorneys starting in 2006 was pieced together mostly by the blogs. We owe absolutely nothing to most of the traditional media (McClatchey Newspapers being a big exception, they made many positive contributions) for uncovering that. I do agree with this statement of Palin's:

People aren't looking for more of the same. They are looking for change.

I and most of the people who watched their debate, however, did not agree that the McCain-Palin team constitutes a change. John McCain and Sarah Palin are offering "more of the same." It's been charged that a first term of McCain equals a third term of Bush. I and most of the country agree with that.

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