The Sovereign Mind

Free thought on politics and real life

Posts Tagged ‘Bob Barr

Snapshot of an Undecided Voter: T minus 6 days

with 2 comments


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It’s been almost two weeks since my last update, and I am still undecided.  There were a few times in the past few weeks that I thought I might decide, only to be reminded of what I don’t like about the candidate I was about the choose.

I won’t post the chart I used last time that maps out where I stand on all of the issues.  Instead, this time I’ll focus in on the key factors that keep me on the fence.

Why I might vote for Obama:

1) I agree with Colin Powell when he said this:

On the Obama side, I watched Mr. Obama and I watched him during this seven-week period. And he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this and picking a vice president that, I think, is ready to be president on day one. And also, in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a, a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well.

Republicans have often pointed out how Obama speaks well in front of a teleprompter, but when speaking off the cuff his words don’t come as smoothly. They insinuate that this is a sign of his lack of knowledge on the issues. Listening to him speak in the debates and in other venues, I actually get the opposite impression. He seems like a man who thinks about what he is saying, and tries to get his words in line with his thoughts. That means he doesn’t often come up with zingers off the cuff, but when he speaks I at least hear real ideas. Heaven knows it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a president that thinks before he speaks.

Incidentally, I have been struck by the level of detail outlined on Obama’s website regarding his positions, in comparison to McCain. He clearly has done a lot of thinking and researching these issues (and has assembled a team that has spent a lot of time doing likewise). If we are to reject the politics of bumper stickers, then I think Obama deserves credit for that.

On the other hand, the McCain campaign has been panicky. They have relied on old politics of culture war (“Obama’s a celebrity”), of misrepresentation (“Obama will raise your taxes”) and of fear (“Obama is a terrorist’s friend” and “Obama is a socialist”). They have not spent much time talking about issues, and when they do it’s mostly bumper sticker slogans (“Drill, Baby, Drill”) that don’t inspire confidence that they’ve done much thinking. Granted, Obama has done his fair share of spin (“McCain wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years”, and “McCain can’t use a computer”). I don’t think either candidate has lived up to his promise to run a “new politics” kind of campaign, but in the balance I think McCain has gone further. For Obama, such moments are the exception to the rule, whereas McCain’s entire campaign seems to be revolved around such tactics lately. Perhaps that’s just because he’s losing, but for a man of integrity that’s no excuse.

2) I don’t think Sarah Palin is qualified to be vice president, and especially not president. McCain claims to have picked her because she is a maverick and a reformer. I agree that she is a maverick, but the reform spin has been mostly nullified in my mind by the finding of the ethics report that she overstepped her authority as governor of Alaska. In addition, being a maverick and a reformer is not enough to be president. You need knowledge and experience, both of which Palin lacks. At first, I defended Palin in the experience category, noting that she has more executive experience than Obama. However, even though both Palin and Obama are relatively inexperienced, Obama has proven he is knowledgeable (see #1) whereas Palin has reinforced her inexperience. It’s true that Obama has made some gaffes, but that is to be expected in a long campaign. Some of Palin’s comments, however, don’t appear to be just gaffes but reveal a fundamental lack of knowledge on the issues and a lack of judgment on where talking points should end and real discussion should begin. If she can’t handle the media, how will she handle foreign leaders?

Palin’s inexperience scares me, but the choice also reflects negatively on McCain. I don’t know if McCain really chose her, or if he was coerced to do it by the Republican party powers that be. But either way does not reflect well on him. If McCain really thought she was the best person for the job, that calls into question his judgment. If the choice was forced upon him, then that’s even worse–that means he is not really a maverick, but is beholden to the old political forces of party politics.

Why I might vote for McCain:

1) Obama is trying to sound like a moderate now, but his legislative record is very liberal, and recent comments regarding “spreading the wealth” hint at this as well. If the congress weren’t also ruled by liberals, this wouldn’t bother me so much given the points I outlined above. However, I have little reason to believe that Obama would stand up for the voice of moderation against Pelosi and Reid. That could spell disaster in terms of running up the deficit and helping our economy recover.

The argument has been made that Republicans have done nothing to help the deficit either. I agree, but McCain has done enough to convince me that he is serious about cutting spending, even though I don’t believe he can live up to his promise to balance the budget in four years. Obama has not done anything to convince me that he is serious about reigning in spending.

2) Looking only at issues in general, I tend to agree with McCain more than Obama. I side more with McCain on taxes, energy, and social issues. That’s not to say that his ideas have no flaws, however, and that Obama’s have no merit in my mind. But on the balance I favor McCain’s policies. If the campaigns and candidates were just the sum of their policy proposals, I would have decided for McCain a long time ago. But it’s not, nor should it be. It’s also about the candidates and how they run their campaigns, which can be viewed as the ultimate job interview.

Why I might (probably not) vote for Barr:

I’d like to stick it to both parties. I’ve written before about why third parties can be important to our political process, even without winning. So I would have no problem voting for a third party, even if I knew the candidate wouldn’t win, if I truly believed that the candidate was the best choice. But I can’t bring myself to vote for someone I don’t think would be a good president. I have some libertarian in me, the libertarian party is just a bit too libertarian for my taste. I would welcome them to have a role in our political system, but not as president.

So how will I make up my mind

The main question I will need to answer is which side of the candidate is real and which is fake. If I vote for Obama, will he be the liberal that he was as a senator, or the uniting post-politician he claims to be now? If I vote for McCain, will he be the maverick that I’ve admired in the past, or the same-old politician I’m seeing now? So, in the end, the policy positions have been laid out and nothing new is likely to come around on that front. So for the candidates, it’s all about convincing me that I can trust them. The candidates have one week to convince me one way or the other. Let’s hear the closing arguments.

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Written by Mike

October 29, 2008 at 7:25 am

Snapshot of An Undecided Voter

with 3 comments

Issue Obama McCain Barr
Economy      
Taxes      
Spending  
Iraq War  
National Security      
Foreign Policy      
Experience    
Leadership  
Politics As Usual  
Abortion  
Other Social Issues    
VP Pick    
Health care    
Energy    
Totals +2 +4 +1

According to some in the media, I must be stupid, or at least uninformed, and maybe a little irresponsible, or worse. I still have not decided for sure who I’m going to vote for. I guess I need someone smarter than me to explain some things slowly without using big words. I’m sure once I know a little more about the candidates, the right choice will suddenly become clear.

Yeah right. I’ve been following the election for over a year. I’ve researched as best I could, considering I’m not an expert in any particular topic. But I remain undecided. Political pundits think that we are all what I call “spherical voters” (that’s a geek joke–look up spherical cow). What I mean by that is a voter who is a stereotypical Republican or Democrat, or rural vs. urban, or black vs. white. These are the same pundits who can’t believe any Hillary supporter would support McCain. I even heard one caller to a radio show suggest that we don’t need a general election–just count the Democratic and Republican primary votes up and whichever party got the most voters should win. Briliant. Surely there isn’t any voter fickle enough to support candidates from different parties, right?

But sarcasm aside, there are less than three weeks to go until election day, and I still haven’t made up my mind. Maybe some of you would be interested in a snapshot of my opinion at this point. Of course, the chart on the right is a simplification of the extremely complex and advanced (there goes the sarcasm again) thought processes going on in my brain, but I think it generally depicts where I am at the moment.

Checks are good. Xs are bad. Everything else is mixed. It’s interesting to note that I give more positives and negatives to McCain, and I’m pretty luke-warm on the other candidates. I’m not sure what that says about me or them.

So that gives a small edge to McCain, but the total number of checks available is 14, so McCain leading with a net 4 is pretty sad. Also, this is just a snapshot; this is not set in stone by far. I can see several of my thoughts on these issues changing if the candidates would just shift slightly. For example, I would probably give Obama a check on energy if he would at least give some mention for the need for nuclear power in his official energy proposal, which doesn’t even mention the word “nuclear”. I know he’s talked about it in other places (specifically how it needs to be safe, and how McCain makes fun of him for it, and so Obama makes fun of McCain making fun of it, yada yada yada), but if it’s not in his official proposal, I’m not betting on him supporting it under any circumstances.

Of course, we could discuss any one of these issues forever, and there are many other important issues that aren’t much on the radar this election cycle (ie. education, crime). I’ll try to post more specifics between now in the election. In the meantime, if you feel you can convince me to change my view on any of these issues, feel free to try. I’ll post the updated chart if and when it changes.

Written by Mike

October 16, 2008 at 11:30 pm

Our Little Pre-Existing Condition

with 2 comments

I hesitate to post a picture of my son for all the world to see, but I thought it was important that you see my inspiration for this topic. Too often we talk of politics as if it’s some cold theoretical science. Once in a while, politics and real life collide and we understand why the policy debates matters at more than just a cerebral level.

On my son’s first birthday, he enjoyed his first–and probably last–birthday cake. Since he was born he has had severe reflux. After being told a hundred times that he would grow out of it, he was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE) shortly after his first birthday. The disease causes him to be allergic to many foods. The hardest part is that we don’t know which foods he is allergic to, since traditional allergy testing is not as effective for kids with EE. After his diagnosis we removed some foods we thought bothered him the most, but we didn’t see any significant improvement. Finally, as many EE patients eventually do, we took away all foods and fed him a complete-nutrition hypo-allergenic formula. The taste of the formula is horrible, which is why he needs the NG-tube so that he can get enough. After that we saw improvement in his condition. We finally got to see the little boy inside of him–the one who is not screaming all of the time. We are now trying to introduce foods one at a time, to see which ones he reacts to. So far, the only food that he can eat is pear (precious, blessed pear). My son will probably deal with this for the rest of the life, unless some miracle cure is found.

My point in sharing this is not to make you feel sorry for me or my son. I would not trade out trials for anyone else’s. Firstly, there are many kids worse off than he is. His condition is chronic, but not fatal. Secondly, as parents, it is our responsibility to teach our kids how to deal with life, with the challenges it brings. We will teach him to be strong, and not to be a victim. Lastly, I am fortunate enough to have a good job where I bring home enough to support my family so my wife can stay home with him and our daughter, and I have good health benefits. Sure, there have been times when we have disagreed with our insurance company on what is best for my son, but in general they’ve been good. For example, they agreed to cover his expensive formula, which we’re told most insurance plans will not. They would not, however, cover his portable feeding pump, insisting that we instead feed him manually (a process that requires him to sit stationary for a half hour, six times a day). So we had to turn to our secondary insurance for that: eBay.

Had my family been in less fortunate circumstances, I might have had to find a way to pay for my son’s health-care, or a costly insurance plan that would agree to pay for his needs. Saying we are “high risk” doesn’t seem adequate, since there is nothing unsure about it: my son requires expensive health care, and he probably will for the rest of his life. Doctor’s visits every-other week, expensive testing and supplies, not to mention his formula. If not for my employer-sponsored pool, what insurance company would cover us? They’d be foolish to.

With this in mind, how the presidential candidates deal with pre-existing conditions is not just one part of their health care proposal. To me, it is the foundation on which the plan either succeeds or fails. So, let’s look at each of their plans on this issue. I would love to have enough time to analyze each of their plans in full, but here is just a brief overview of how I view their plans.

John McCain

McCain’s health care plan tries to encourage a more market-based approach to health care, where individuals would be more able to choose their own coverage instead of relying on their employer. The thought is that this would make individuals more cost-conscious about their health care, which in turn would lower costs overall. The problem, though, is without the protection of a employer-sponsored pool, how is it possible that high risk patients could possibly get affordable plans on the free market. This is an example of one of the problems with the free market that I outlined in my previous post. McCain’s solution:

As President, John McCain will work with governors to develop a best practice model that states can follow – a Guaranteed Access Plan or GAP – that would reflect the best experience of the states to ensure these patients have access to health coverage. One approach would establish a nonprofit corporation that would contract with insurers to cover patients who have been denied insurance and could join with other state plans to enlarge pools and lower overhead costs. There would be reasonable limits on premiums, and assistance would be available for Americans below a certain income level.

So, high risk people would be pooled with other high-risk people and those pools would be sold to the insurance companies? Nothing about that says “affordable” to me. I appreciate the “reasonable limits on premiums”, but he does not mention how that would be accomplished. The bottom line is that I’m sure to get worse coverage at a higher rate than I am now if my employer decides to drop their plan due to McCain’s plan.

Bob Barr

Barr’s health care plan is vague, but basically amounts to having the government get our of health care and let the people buy their own. He doesn’t mention anything about pre-existing conditions, but another part of his website hints at how he would handle the problem:

Government should stop acting as the welfare agency of first resort under the guise of providing social insurance. In general, private charity should be the first resort for anyone in need. The process of welfare reform begun by Congress in 1996 should be continued to reduce even further people’s dependence on Washington. In 2007, for example, Americans gave more than $300 billion to charity, an increase over 2006 despite growing economic uncertainty. Government should eliminate regulatory barriers that inhibit private philanthropy, and expand tax deductions to encourage charitable giving.

Personally, I love the idea of expanding tax deductions for charitable giving, and I agree that Americans are very generous. I would love to believe that Americans would be willing to take care of each other, without the need for government. That sounds like the ideal solution, but unfortunately I can’t believe it just yet. The fact is, even with the government health programs we have today, there are still many people suffering because they can’t get affordable, quality insurance because of pre-existing health problems. Clearly, the charitable organizations are not fully up to the task today. So why should I believe that we, as a community, would all step up, if we are not already doing it?

Barack Obama

If McCain and Barr don’t do enough to help high risk individuals get affordable health coverage, Obama’s plan goes too far the other way:

The Obama-Biden plan will create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals purchase new affordable health care options if they are uninsured or want new health insurance. Through the Exchange, any American will have the opportunity to enroll in the new public plan or an approved private plan, and income-based sliding scale tax credits will be AFFORDABLE, ACCESSIBLE COVERAGE OPTIONS FOR ALL provided for people and families who need it. Insurers would have to issue every applicant a policy and charge fair and stable premiums that will not depend upon health status. The Exchange will require that all the plans offered are at least as generous as the new public plan and meet the same standards for quality and efficiency. Insurers would be required to justify an above-average premium increase to the Exchange. The Exchange would evaluate plans and make the differences among the plans, including cost of services, transparent.

I credit the Obama campaign for at least recognizing that something needs to be done about this issue, and not treating it as an after-thought, as it feels the other campaigns have. However, I feel he has gone too far in the other direction. Under his plan, patients would pay only according to what they make, regardless of their health status. This basically takes all decision making out of the hands of the free market regarding who insurance companies can cover and at what price.

The problem I have with this is that some pre-existing conditions are not preventable, but some are. Should I really be charged more to compensate for those who make poor decisions, have illegal habits, or have dangerous lifestyles? Obama loves to criticize McCain for using a hachet instead of a scalpel when it comes to the economy. To me, Obama’s plan feels like a hachet.

Conclusion

Clearly, this is not a problem that will be solved by any of the candidates. Whoever gets elected, I hope that the conversation on this issue doesn’t end. I don’t have the solution. My instincts always favor a free market solution, but on this issue I simply don’t see how the free market alone can make this work. If anyone can show me why I’m wrong, I’m all ears.

But here are some guiding principles I’d like to see discussed:

  1. A fair system would penalize people for their choices, not their health status. It’s fair for a smoker to be charged more for health coverage than a non-smoker, for example. I’d be in favor of regulation that requires insurance companies to come up with formulas to determine premiums based only on choices, and to publish their formulas so it can be independently verified that customers are being charged according to the formula. I admit though, that this is easier said than done. How would you, without bring an end to freedom as we know it, charge people who eat big-macs more than those who don’t? And how do you implement this without over-simplifying the formulas so much that they disproportionally punish only the choices that are easily measured (ie. smoking)?
  2. Insurance companies should be given a limit for how long after an application is accepted before it can be denied because of errors on the application, with the exception of lies about behavior. Insurance companies should not be allowed to deny coverage to a person after that person falls sick, just because they forgot some minor detail on their insurance application years earlier. It should be the insurance company’s responsibility to investigate the application before accepting the application.
  3. There needs to be more transparency. In the industry I work in, there are several well-respected companies who’s sole business is rating our type of service. This is an essential service to potential customers. Why aren’t there more private entities who can rate the insurance plans offered to us? They could rate them based on how well they treat those with rare conditions? What is the level of customer satisfaction? They could present their finding in easy to read reports, so customers can have confidence in what they are getting. Such transparency go a long way, in my opinion, to inspire the insurance companies to make sure they are treating their customers fairly.

I hope we can get beyond talking points and start talking about the real issues. Unfortunately, real discussion will probably have to wait until after the election, when the pressure is off and people can start thinking with a clear mind. I’ll be ready.

Written by Mike

October 14, 2008 at 9:44 pm