I haven’t posted my reactions to the debate yet, mostly because it was soooo boring. The most interesting issue of course was the fiscal crisis (which I don’t really understand) but it was guaranteed that neither candidate would say much about it because of the ongoing negotiations in Congress.
However, I chided Obama for promising to go over the budget line by line in his speech in Denver. In the debate Obama was quite sober on this topic as McCain launched into his obsession with earmarks. A Senator who wants to invest his energy into fighting with the Air Force to save a few billion dollars on a deal for aerial tankers is really doing the American people a service. For a President to do the same is a huge waste of time. McCain wanted to freeze non-defense discretionary funding. The problem is that this represents something less than a third of the budget. Even a 10% cut would not resolve the fundamental issues and the earmarks themselves are less than $20 billion – a lot of money, but less than 2% of the entire federal budget.
The real fiscal action is in the non-discretionary spending (those enormous entitlement programs.) A Senator taking those on alone is Quixotic. These are the kinds of big issues that, while not easy, are on a scale that only the President can lead.
The McCain campaign would probably argue that the earmarks are an ethical issue, showing the growing corruption in Congress and their power to perpetuate themselves in office. Maybe, but not really. This Congress is probably not the most corrupt in history and generally the American people have assumed throughout American history that Congress is a corrupt, venal institution.
If McCain hopes to lead a massive struggle to reduce the federal government’s role in the economy, more power to him. There is massive frustration among the Republican rank and file that the reformers they sent into office over a decade ago have presided over a massive increase in federal spending. But if McCain believe he make Congress a less self-serving institution then he is hoping for a change in human nature and that is more of a liberal project.