Baling Out of the Bailout

The House votes “no.”

By a vote of 228-205, the House this afternoon rejected a bill aimed at ameliorating the credit crisis. The vote was bipartisan, with Democrats in favor by 140-95 and Republicans against by 133-65. It’s not clear what is next, and that uncertainty drove markets down. It has also driven down John McCain’s stock, according to many conservative commentators. National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru:

Not that it’s the most important fallout, but this vote is very bad for McCain. He was trying to get House Republicans on board, after all, and he failed. Blaming the Democrats for the failure will not and should not work, given the ratios on both sides.

Commentary’s John Podhoretz:

Perhaps the House Republicans whose objections to the bailout bill gave sufficient cover to House Democrats terrified of their constituent calls to join them in torpedoing the legislation will be proved right somehow, and legislation can be substantively improved or the market can somehow stabilize on its own in the intervening days before a new bill can be designed. Perhaps the stock markets around the world will not crash. Perhaps the credit markets will not instantly calcify. Perhaps the fact that Republicans broke against the bill 2-to-1 will not lead to a general consensus that the failure of the bailout legislation was entirely due to Republicans, since 94 Democrats voted against it as well. Perhaps people will accept the Republican complaint that Nancy Pelosi gave a really nasty speech just before the vote tally and made ten Republicans so angry they decided to vote “nay.”

Perhaps.

But probably not.

On Intrade, where people bet real money on the presidential race, Barack Obama now has a lead of 338 electoral votes to 200. (A candidate is “leading” in a state if it costs more to bet on his victory than on his opponent’s.) This morning Obama’s lead was 311-227, but Florida has switched to a narrow Obama lead. The Intrade market now has Obama’s overall probability of victory above 60%–roughly where it was before the conventions sent McCain briefly into the lead.

David Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason who blogs at Volokh.com, is highly critical of Pelosi:

Speaker Pelosi’s speech before the House today was remarkable, but not in a good way. She was trying to round up votes for a bailout package that shes [sic] claims to believe is essential for the stability of the American economy. She can’t, and doesn’t want to, pass the bill without a substantial number of Republican votes. So what does she do? You would think she would say, “let’s pass this emergency measure now, in the best interests of the country, and talk about who is to blame later.” Instead, Pelosi began her speech with a highly partisan tirade against “Bush” and “Republican” economic policies, which were allegedly to blame for this situation. She focused on an attack on the growth of federal deficits, which clearly are at best tangential to the current crisis. That, to me, is the sort of irresponsible thing you do when (a) you’re not claiming there is a vast emergency; and (b) you are in the minority, and not claiming to exercise leadership.

It’s a very tricky political situation: a crisis that seems to demand immediate and unpopular action by Congress five weeks before an election. House incumbents of both parties must be wishing this had happened two months later.

Happy Days
We’d say John McCain and Barack Obama both did pretty well in Friday’s debate. Both men were, for the most part, smooth and well-spoken–making the event far less dramatic than the 2000 and 2004 debates, which pitted the inarticulate George W. Bush against, respectively, the volatile Al Gore and the supercilious John Kerry.

If one assumes that debating skills are indicative of governing ability, less drama is good news for the country. Both McCain and Obama seemed plausible as a president–which works to Obama’s advantage, since his plausibility was in doubt going in.

One thing that bothered us, though, was Obama’s closing statement:

You know, my father came from Kenya. That’s where I get my name.

And in the ’60s, he wrote letter after letter to come to college here in the United States because the notion was that there was no other country on Earth where you could make it if you tried. The ideals and the values of the United States inspired the entire world.

I don’t think any of us can say that our standing in the world now, the way children around the world look at the United States, is the same.

And part of what we need to do, what the next president has to do–and this is part of our judgment, this is part of how we’re going to keep America safe–is to–to send a message to the world that we are going to invest in issues like education, we are going to invest in issues that–that relate to how ordinary people are able to live out their dreams.

And that is something that I’m going to be committed to as president of the United States.

Barack Obama may be the world’s leading expert on Barack Obama, but he managed to misstate a crucial fact in his father’s life story. Obama père came to the U.S. in September 1959, the Washington Post reported in March–which would mean that the letter-writing campaign Obama fils describes would have taken place in the 1950s, not the 1960s.

Why is this important? Because it is weird to hear a left-liberal politician wax nostalgic for the “moral authority” the U.S. supposedly enjoyed in the 1950s–before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the War on Poverty, America’s defeat in the Vietnam War, women’s liberation, gay liberation, Roe v. Wade, Nixon’s resignation–all the liberal triumphs of the 1960s and ’70s. It is conservatives who usually argue, rightly or not, that the era since the 1950s has been one of moral decay.

Presumably it was to divert attention from this contradiction that Obama misstated the decade in which his father attempted to come to America. Liberals, at least those who weren’t there, remember the 1960s fondly. But however one evaluates the legacy of the 1960s and early ’70s, is there really any substance to Obama’s claim that “our standing in the world now, the way children around the world look at the United States,” has deteriorated? (Obama’s father, by the way, was a “child” of 22 or 23 when he arrived in the U.S.)

Our sense is that there is not, that Obama is painting a rosy picture of the past in order to disparage contemporary America. It’s nothing more than feel-bad rhetoric.

In fact, we’d say the most salient contrast between America in 2008 and America in 1959 is this: In 2008, Obama fils has an excellent chance of becoming the next president. In 1959, there were large portions of the country where Obama père would have been treated as a second-class citizen. Obama père seems to have seen past America’s imperfections and focused on its greatness. If Obama fils is to be the next president, one hopes he will learn to do the same thing.

There Oughta Be a Law?
Here’s a weird lead paragraph from a Washington Post story:

Defying a federal law that prohibits U.S. clergy from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit, an evangelical Christian minister told his congregation Sunday that voting for Sen. Barack Obama would be evidence of “severe moral schizophrenia.”

Is there really a law dictating what clergymen can say from the pulpit? Wouldn’t this violate both freedom of religion and freedom of speech? Maybe not. The law is not a prohibition but a qualification for tax-exempt status:

Johnson and 32 other pastors across the country set out Sunday to break the rules, hoping to generate a legal battle that will prompt federal courts to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

The ministers contend they have a constitutional right to advise their worshipers how to vote. As Johnson put it during a break between sermons, “The point that the IRS says you can’t do it, I’m saying you’re wrong.” . . .

While the ministers say the rules stifle religious expression, their opponents contend that the tax laws are essential to protect the separation of church and state. They say political speech should not be supported by a tax break for the churches or the worshipers who are contributing to a political cause.

It’s an interesting argument, and we’re not sure who has the better of it. But oddly, by casting the tax code provision as an outright prohibition, the Post seems to concede the argument to the protesting preachers.

Reliable Sources
Sen. Ted Kennedy, recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, “was briefly hospitalized Friday after suffering a seizure,” the Boston Globe reports:

Kennedy was adamant in the hospital about returning home in time to see Friday night’s presidential debate, which began at 9 p.m., said a Kennedy associate who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of Kennedy’s illness. He returned back home by 8 p.m., according to family spokeswoman Melissa Wagoner.

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