Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Should We Raise the Debt Ceiling?

Washington is still engulfed in an intense debate about whether to raise the federal debt ceiling. In the end, I predict the debt ceiling will be raised in return for some sort of spending cuts, or at least a commitment to cut spending in the future.

The responsible choice is to raise the debt ceiling. Not doing so carries with it the risk of defaulting. In that case, it would be hard to convince people to invest in treasuries for the foreseeable future. If an outright default does not happen, investors would still view the US political system as increasingly dysfunctional and demand higher interest rates, meaning that our debt would grow. This leaves us with two unappealing choices. Taxes could rise which make most people unhappy and decrease the amount of money available for consumer spending and investment at a critical time for the economy. The second option is that our budgets would slowly choke off money for anything besides defense and core entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security. Investments in education, job training, and a safety net for the poor among others would all be hurt.

It is possible to imagine how conservatives might like how either of these scenarios plays out. By preventing the government from borrowing more money if they force default, conservatives would require people to pay higher taxes to finance the level of government spending we have now. They may well bet that when faced with a choice between higher taxes and lower levels of government spending, citizens will choose the latter.

But this does not take into account the short term political fallout that could accrue to Republicans in the event of a government shutdown. Republicans have traditionally opposed government programs more than Democrats. The loudest voices on the right want a dramatic reduction in the federal government’s role in the lives of Americans. Even more mainstream ones such as Paul Ryan want to substantially restructure entitlements like Medicare by making what amount to cuts. It will be easy for Democrats to say they were willing to make compromises, but that Republicans were so bent on gutting Medicare and Social Security that they were willing to let the country default on its debts.

Politically, President Obama stands in a decent position to win. What he needs now is a credible plan to reduce the deficit long term that avoids some of the cuts that the Ryan plan or other conservative variants have. Republicans will then have to acquiesce to his budget in which case they share in any of the political pain, or they can allow the country to default and walk away from a reasonable proposal and be tagged as radicals for a generation for wanting to make changes in popular entitlement programs that the majority of voters will not support.

In this game of chicken between the two parties, the stakes could not be higher. If reasonable choices are not made, America will be the loser.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Christians and Gay Marriage

Gadson Review Readers,

Here is another guest post from Margaret Mou, who posted "A Plea For Religious Tolerance in the Bible Belt" a couple of months ago. The post should be--as the first post was--well worth the read!

Sitting at the table over a bowl of salad and wine, Marcus probes my opinions on religion and politics: two subject areas that out of courtesy and politeness, people usually don’t broach. However, Marcus challenges my perspective, which resulted in solidarity of some aspects, reevaluation of others, and definitely a stronger friendship. So, another thank-you to Marcus.

Food for thought for today: gay marriage (with a Marcus & Margaret twist).

Many argue that marriage is fundamentally a religious institution. Marcus brought up an interesting idea that some advocate: give everyone gay or straight civil unions and let churches define marriage however they wish. Those who support this idea think that civil unions would be a solution to the debate since everyone would be treated equally under the law while churches would still have the freedom to choose which marriages to recognize. Of course, some churches would choose not to allow gays to marry meaning that they would not be able to recieve a fundamental religious rite.

So I retorted with the question, “Should gay Christians have the right to get married?” An assumption implicit in my question is that being gay is often innate and not a chosen way of life (seeing as the Bible has spoken in favor of heterosexuals), as well as the presence in some sort of faith in a traditional Christian church.

I feel like every person should have the right to choose who they want to be with, and that churches should refrain from judgment. Hasn’t religion taught us to be better people, to accept all kinds of backgrounds? And thus, shouldn’t gay Christians also be allowed to have the blessing of the community as well as the rest of the heterosexual Christians?

There’s also the point of the fact that it’s the church’s opinion of whether or not to acknowledge the marriage of individuals, but if I were in charge of the decisions of a church, I’d gladly welcome anyone who chooses to marry under my smiles and love.

And my inner sappiness comes out, wishing each and every individual the ability to find a healthy love and be loved in return, and to celebrate that magic without any hindrances, without any obstacles, and without any scorn from others.

-by Margaret Mou

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thoughts on Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden is finally dead. The biggest questions about his death remain unanswered however.

What does bin Laden’s death mean for Al Qaeda and terrorism more broadly? Perhaps terrorists view bin Laden as a martyr and launch a wave of attacks in retaliation. It is without a doubt that there will still be terrorists and that Al Qaeda will continue to operate in some fashion. But I can’t help thinking that getting bin Laden will greatly help America’s counter-terrorism efforts. Bin Laden was the most visible symbol of terrorism in the world. The fact that the US spent over 10 years trying to get him shows that it means business when it goes after terrorists. In effect, if you mastermind attacks, the US will hunt you to the ends of the earth. I think—or at least I hope—that has some deterrent effect on would-be terrorist leaders.

Secondly, what will this mean for Obama politically? In the final analysis, probably not much. George W. Bush saw his approval rating spike after American forces captured Saddam Hussein in 2003 only to see it go back down as the 2004 election approached. Similarly, Obama faces an election coming up next year where the focus will be on the economy, where Obama is not polling so well. So while this may be a short term boon, I doubt it will do much for Obama long-term.

What do you think this will do for Obama’s political fortunes? Take the poll!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Republican Presidential Rankings List Updated

The informal race for the Republican nomination is well under way. It is time to update the rankings list I came up with for the candidate most likely to come away with the nomination. Here it is! The list is somewhat abbreviated due to the uncertainty over who will ultimately run.

1. Tim Pawlenty

I realize this pick will come as a strong surprise to most. He barely registers in most polls and he has low name recognition. The reason I think he currently has the best chance to do win is because he has done the most of anyone outside Mitt Romney to lay the groundwork for a campaign which will pay off in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire. He also has the best chance to be the consensus conservative in the race. No wing of the Republican Party seriously objects to him. The same cannot be said of other major contenders. What I suspect is that the race could come down to him vs. another candidate who has angered some portion of the party’s base. In that competition, you’d have to give Pawlenty—who has angered no one—decent odds.

2. Mike Huckabee

It’s true that Mike Huckabee has not made the serious moves that some other contenders have. But there are some powerful factors in his favor. He is almost always at the top of national polls. He still retains a large following from his 2008 campaign. I would say he is the odds on favorite to win in Iowa and South Carolina if he runs due to his popularity with social conservatives. It’s difficult to see a current candidate challenging him for the evangelical voters in Iowa where he won in 2008. With early wins from these crucial states, Huckabee would have momentum to carry him to Super Tuesday. One of his principal defects as a candidate in 2008 was that he was unable to raise a lot of money. But with higher name recognition, and all the contacts from his 2008 campaign, I suspect he will be able to raise more money even if fundraising is never his strong suit. The biggest problem for Huckabee is the fact that some fiscal conservatives have questions about his record as Governor. But Huckabee is far to the right of Obama on taxes and spending and fiscal conservatives may well decide that his electability and appeal to working class swing voters make him worth nominating so he can beat Obama even if his record isn’t perfect.

I think these two currently have the best chance to win. But clearly, the field is in flux right now in part because it is unclear who will actually run. I will be able to make predictions with greater certainty as the field takes shape.