Monday, July 10, 2006

Edwards gets it wrong on "predatory" lending

John Edwards, a probable Presidential candidate who I am generally positive about(mainly because he's so positive himself), has a problem: a weakness for demonizing business and infantilizing the poor. In a speech in Iowa, he said that something must be done to stop predatory lenders who prey on working families.

Interest rates are high with payday loans because of the high risk of default. Cap the rates, and high risk consumers will simply not be able to get credit. Now I would bet that to John Edwards, this is just fine. He doesn't think they should get credit anyway, because the won't use it wisely.

So as I said, he's managed to demonize business and infantilize the poor in the same speech. I've said before that Edwards' only real weakness as a candidate is his tunnel vision acquired from his experience as a trial lawyer, where he saw the dirty underbelly of business practices. It probably also didn't help that many of the people he represented were in fact helpless.

In order for Edwards to become President, he'll need to demonstrate that he'll represent all Americans, not just "the little guy". He'll also need to show that he believes that we, the people, are adults capable of making our own decisions about the use of credit.

Besides, payday loans are local businesses and thus not subject to the federal governments' regulatory jurisdiction. Edwards would also do well to understand the Constitutional seperation of powers between the states and the federal government. Only states have the power to regulate strictly local businesses.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Hillary Clinton's electability

James Carville makes a pretty convincing case that Hillary Clinton is indeed electable, challenging what has seemingly become conventional wisdom among bloggers and television pundits.

The idea that Clinton can't win is based on two faulty assumptions:

The Democratic base doesn't like Clinton, so she can't win the nomination

On the contrary, Clinton is very popular with the Democratic base, raising more money than anyone else by far, and polling high favorables among Democratic voters. She is unpopular with the netroots, a very tiny subset of the Democratic base, and one not very representative of the views of the Democratic base. The netroots is mainly made up of white urbanites and suburbanites, and are more likely to be students or professionals than the base as a whole.

The more powerful parts of the base are labor and African-Americans. Within these two Democratic groups, Clinton is very, very popular. And these are the groups that decide Democratic primaries. Clinton can be beaten, of course, but she has to be considered the frontrunner, with good reason. She's got the money, the name recognition, and the allegiance of the interest groups that count the most.

Clinton can't win a general election because she is such a polarizing figure

This contention is a little stronger, but it's not a sure thing either, not by a long shot. Carville points out that Clinton is considered to be a strong leader by 68% of Americans. So right off the bat she's doing well on an issue where Democrats have been weak in recent elections. Carville also points out that Clinton, unlike most Democrats, responds effectively to attacks from the opposition. Something that Kerry and Dukakis failed miserably at.

Sure, Clinton won't win many Republican votes. She'll even cause Republican voters to be more motivated than they would be otherwise, thus increasing turnout. But if the Republicans nominate a weak candidate like George Allen or Bill Frist, it won't be enough. Democrats hated George Bush with a lot more passion than Republicans can work up for Hillary Clinton, yet failed to beat him despite solid turnout. Elections are still won in the center. And among independents, she polls well enough to win.

I do think that Richardson, Warner, and Edwards are all superior candidates in a general election. But Republicans wishing for a Clinton candidacy should beware of what they ask for. She can certainly win, especially if Republicans fall prey to their own hubris and foist an out of the mainstream character on the voting public just because he's ideologically pure. Personally, if I was a Republican I'd be wanting John Kerry again. Or Wes Clark, who shows no aptitude whatsoever for campaigning and is not enough of an Eisenhower-type to be able to overcome it. Or Russ Feingold, the netroots darling who is too much of a gadfly to win.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Cool! A debate already?!

Well, probably not. Newt Gingrich has issued a challenge to John Edwards for a debate on the issue of poverty. Edwards has made poverty his signature issue, and he has a lot of very interesting ideas for how to alleviate poverty. As well as some impressive goals, involving ending poverty in 30 years. I'd say that's impossible for many reasons which I'll go into in another blog post if I feel like it.

Anyway, Edwards' camp has declined the debate. Which begs the question of why? Edwards did debate the far less formidable Steve Forbes in Nov. 2005 on a variety of issues. It was pretty boilerplate stuff, with Forbes touting America's still robust social mobility and Edwards pointing out that current policy values wealth over work.

So why avoid Gingrich? Probably because Gingrich is first, an outside the box thinker who will throw some very unpredictable curveballs Edwards' way. Second, Gingrich states correctly that education is the single biggest reason for poverty, and Edwards' ideas on that subject are a bit sparse. Gingrich says it's because Edwards won't take on the teachers' unions. He is probably right. Edwards, while a great ideas man, has never shown a willingness to take on the Democrats' special interest groups. Nor is he particularly good at answering tough questions. Gingrich of course also has faults, but there is no doubt he is every bit Edwards' equal as an ideas man and isn't beholden to special interests.

Probably the most amusing part of the Edwards' camp response was that Gingrich should have done something about poverty when he had the chance, rather than jawing about it now. That's probably the best softball ever tossed by an opposing campaign and Gingrich can hit it out of the park by citing his accomplishments as Speaker: Welfare reform, free trade agreements, and sharp reduction in poverty during his term. What did Edwards do in his six years in the Senate? Not that he was a bad Senator, he was a very good Senator. But all he really did was support steel tarriffs(a bonehead Bush move that may have cost 50,000 jobs in other industries due to the higher steel prices), and favor extending unemployment benefits while our unemployment was only 6%.

Edwards should accept the chance to debate. He should apply his formidable intellect to the problems of public schools and propose solutions, some of which will inevitably anger the teachers' unions. He should also sell his other ideas on poverty.

Win or lose, this debate would raise the profile of both candidates at a time when they both need to rise in the polls. And what's more, it would be good to see two of the brighter intellects in politics talk about poverty.