About

Debatable was an opinions journal at Middlebury College that lasted from 2007 to 2009. The magazine sought out thoughtful, provocative writing on social issues relevant not only to Midd students but to any college students across the nation.

Articles remain here, for posterity, and for your commenting enjoyment. Thanks for visiting. Everything is debatable.

Racial Equality and the ’08 Presidential Election

Rachel Pagano

Courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

Courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

We are now in a period of political transition where the end of the seemingly-ceaseless election and the anticipation of President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration have left a vacuum in the world of politics. Columnists and politicians on both sides of the political spectrum have attempted to fill the void by discussing the fact that Obama will be our first African-American president. From John McCain’s concession speech on election night to the articles and TV shows the week that followed, we have been hearing about the major step in race equality that America has taken. It is therefore appropriate to ask: what role did racial identity truly play in the presidential election?

Racial equality in America is a very important issue. In our laws, our actions and our customs, we must show ourselves worthy of the principle “that all men are created equal,” stated in the founding document of our country. This presidential election gave us a unique opportunity to act in accordance with that principle, which, in my opinion, is not the same as voting for Barack Obama. Racial equality means just that—equality of race—which dictates that race should have no part in a person’s decision regarding whom to vote for. The voter should look at the candidates in terms of what they support, what they have done, what they plan to do, how they act, and what they seem capable of doing. Based upon a due consideration of these questions, a voter must decide which of the two candidates he or she believes would make a better president. Whether the person who embodies these characteristics happens to have black or white skin should never be a reason to vote for or against any candidate.

This is not to say that the post-election reaction was wrong. It is a different thing to celebrate the fact that for the first time in American history, the legal possibility of an African-American becoming president has become a reality, than to use race as a qualification for voting for him. John McCain was right when he indicated that this election is something of which all Americans can be proud. It has shown the great distance America has traveled since Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech in 1963. America has demonstrated that race is no longer a barrier to being elected to the most powerful office in the county. Pride in this fact rightly unifies a country divided along political lines.

In the wake of the election results many people, knowing that I was an ardent McCain supporter, have patted me on the back, and asked with a half-smile, “How you doing?” I cannot say that I am not disappointed, as I honestly think that McCain would have done a better job leading our country. However, I can say I am proud to be a part of a country where race is not a barrier to presidential election. I can also say that as a citizen of this country, I accept the laws by which Obama has been duly elected. Therefore, when he is inaugurated, I will stand behind him since a citizen should support his President. Still, I believe that one of the duties of a good citizen is to criticize the President when criticism seems due. So we’ll see what happens.

The Global Recession: the Age of Big Government

Jeremy Martin


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Courtesy of bulletin.aarp.org

The global economic slowdown has compelled policy-makers to arrive at a series of controversial decisions, an important one being the embrace of “Big Government” policies. Stuck in the worst financial quagmire since the Great Depression, countries around the world are now using this approach to stop the bleeding. Washington adopted Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s bailout plan, initially set at $700 billion but recently raised to $1 trillion. The European Commission followed suit in Brussels with an injection of $2.3 trillion into various sectors across the Euro zone, and China plans to spend $586 billion by 2010 in order to stimulate its own limping economy. Such actions have been taken by other developed and emerging economies alike, further proving that the worldwide recession is here to stay.

Never before have we seen the Big Government phenomenon at work on such an unprecedented scale. By making Big Government strategies the bedrock of their country’s political platform, policy-makers endanger the likelihood of finding a real, inward-oriented panacea for the problems faced by their constituents.  Policy-makers dedicated to massaging tense markets through interventionist mechanisms, particularly in the U.S., have neglected investment in human capital and infrastructure—two necessary components for expanding business operations and opening up opportunities for hiring workers.

As a result of globalization, the economic slump that originated in the U.S. has bloomed into an ominous phenomenon referred to as “systemic risk,” where idiosyncratic shocks like the credit crunch threaten the stability of the entire global financial system. In the past months, big investment banks, insurance companies, and mortgage finance businesses have either collapsed (like Lehman Brothers) or merged (like Merrill Lynch and Bank of America). Consequently, the federal government has handpicked those companies that are worth saving, or, perhaps more accurately, are capable of being saved. Other regions like the EU are now scurrying to boost market liquidity by guaranteeing loans, bank co-insurance, and increased minimum protection for deposits of up to €100,000.

Unfortunately, our country, America, has tallied the most impressive (or in other words, unimpressive) list of all. The Troubled Asset Relief Program will dish out $1 trillion for Wall Street banks and troubled mortgaged-backed securities. Furthermore, the federal government wishes to rescue the Auto Industry with $30 billion for companies like Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. It has bought up mortgage linchpins Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for $200 billion, and increased its bailout for insurance giant A.I.G. from $85 billion to $150 billion. Within this maelstrom one incontrovertible fact remains clear: U.S. politicians have grown increasingly committed to Big Government in resuscitating the domestic economy and hitting the brakes on systemic risk.

This is not to say that our government should sit with its hands tied. Clearly our nation and others need help in some form or another. U.S. unemployment has reached the highest rate in 14 years, hovering around 6.5% and likely to surpass 8% by 2009. The U.S. stock market is 35% below its peak last fall and with foreclosures and tightening credit, any economic analyst would agree that the future continues to appear less bright.

It is therefore no surprise that some Americans in peril have ardently defended the government’s fiscal, monetary, and structural policies. In the minds of federal constituents, government spending should be used as a last resort, and if used correctly, can do some real good. This is only partly true. Americans and their democratically-elected politicians have consistently avoided a libertarian vision of life. FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s “Great Society” definitely had their merits.

Yet the U.S. also has a history of bad government spending and inefficacy. Programs like Medicare (which is cash-flow negative) and Social Security (which will be within the next decade) are far from effective. Not to mention recent $100 billion federal executive departments such as Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, which speak to the Bush Administration’s outright rejection of limited government.

And so, with a new administration on the way, we can see two roads diverging in a very troubling wood: one which points out how the conservative ideology—the belief that greed is always good—has provoked the crisis. The other perspective echoes what FDR spoke of in his second inaugural address: that “we have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

Whatever the case may be, we will surely witness some bulked-up version of Big Sam — higher taxes, more regulation and increased spending — after inauguration day. Obama’s proposed plans are estimated to require a 39.6% personal income tax, a 52.2% combined income and payroll tax, a 28% capital-gains tax, a 39.6% dividends tax, and a 55% estate tax, all of which are much higher than what taxpayers have doled out in the past. According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama’s economic strategy amounts to $800 billion in spending on various plans such as green energy, establishing an infrastructure investment bank, expanding health insurance, regulating drug company and energy firm profits, and creating a mortgage-interest tax credit.

The upper class alone surely cannot and, most likely, will not pay for Obama’s plans. Instead, the middle class will probably end up assuming the “beast of burden” position, paying the costs of the policies that are purportedly intended to help them. According to his own web site, “Senator Obama is the only candidate with a plan to provide broad-based tax relief to the middle class, offering a credit of $1,000 per family or $500 per individual every year, and eliminating income taxes entirely for seniors making less than $50,000.”

Obama’s platform is both laudable and worrisome at the same time.  He appears to overlook the vital role of capital formation in creating businesses and jobs. Drastic redistribution of income and wealth spells disaster for entrepreneurs, small family-owned businesses, and investors alike. With the current bailout plans tacked on top of Obama’s economic remodeling, there is no question the U.S. debt will balloon.

We need to push Big Government to step in for other, arguably more pressing long-term issues such as more sound sustainable development, which Obama supports in principle, in a way that can provide jobs and produce consumer-friendly technology for industries like agriculture and construction. Do not ban NAFTA or raise barriers to free trade. Obama and his administration must resist gimmicks like the Gas Tax holiday and petty tax benefits to the middle class. Avoid empty promises and do something that can actually get done.

I applaud Obama for some of his principles but I think he should alter how he plans to execute his proposals. Let’s go for a ‘new’ New Deal, and, as recent Nobel Prize winner in economics, Paul Krugman, says, emphasize the provision of “aid to beleaguered state and local governments, so that they can sustain essential public services, [which] is important for those who depend on those services; it’s also a way to avoid job losses and limit the depth of the economy’s slump.”

If Big Government is going to raise taxes, fine. Our country must face the music. But why not do it for something worthy like making higher education less costly and cutting military expenditures for the two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? As Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s future Chief of Staff) put it, “I don’t think we need Big Government, but Big Solutions.” Big or small Government, the U.S. is in pretty deep with $44 trillion in unfunded entitlement obligations and $9 trillion stacked up in national debt. In light of globalization, we must first look inward by investing in human capital, sustainable development initiatives, and efficient infrastructure for actual change. For once, we need to let the world be and focus our attention on rebuilding our own country.

This will be more possible with Democrats dominating the Senate and the House of Representatives. But I don’t expect Obama and the Democrats to have all the answers. We’re walking through cash quicksand and we need to find prudent ways to get out. Looking ahead for long-term solutions, not short-term fixes, is the key. In this globalized world, you can run, but you cannot hide from volatility. In the meantime, let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Be The Change

Stephanie Preiss

There’s a lot of talk right now about change.  Obama’s motto is, “Change we can believe in.”  My favorite quote of his is: “Be the change.”  But talk is cheap, as always, both because it does not cost anything and because words are, on their own, quite empty.

So if Senator Obama means not only to talk about change, but to engender it, it would be useful to figure out what this change actually looks like so we can evaluate his vision.  We know that policies can change;  “bad” ones can be revised, “corruptions” removed, and “special interests” curtailed.  We all know that most people are frustrated with the way things are.  But we need a broader and concrete sense of what change really is.

Change really means taking things back to the American public—you know, the pesky individuals who elected those dysfunctional politicians in the first place.  If the people and their government are in discord, then it is the government’s responsibility to bridge the gap.  After all, their single and sole duty is to serve the public good.

When you consider why special interest groups have so much agency in the current political scene, it has as much to do with organization as it does with corruption.  Special interests groups are made up of individuals who organize their demands within a structure and combine their individual power under a central authority.  The reason that unions are so powerful is that they speak for a large number of voters who the politicians are eager to please. As individuals, these people would have much less negotiating power than they do as a whole, which was the reason behind unionizing workers in the first place.

Regular people can be organized, too.  Your block, your neighborhood, your co-workers, your fellow single parents, Latinos, homosexuals, Upper-East-Siders, and PinkBerry fiends alike—each of these shared affinity groups could serve its members more effectively than its members can serve themselves as individuals.

But wait just one second, you might say. How are organized Nascar Dads going to get along with those pesky Upper-East-Siders?  They may both want change, but what type?…that will pose a problem.  Change is cute, you say, a nice idea.  But the word is looking as empty as a promise that offshore drilling will lower the price of your next tank of gas.

Enter: the American political regime.

Our political system allows every voice to be heard, but ultimately forces those voices to collide and interact until some sort of reasonable compromise is reached.  You and your co-workers cannot single-handedly take over the world, but if you are organized, then you cannot be ignored.  Even at the lowest local level, you will use your leverage to ensure that your grievances are at least acknowledged by the office across the hall.  But this will only happen if you are organized.  If you are mad about the new brand of toilet tissue in the bathroom that you share at work, but you keep this concern to yourself, it is unlikely that you will live to see the day of change—even if there are others on your side.  But once you mention your concern at the weekly bagel brunch, and your boss has a chat with the boss across the hall, it is more than likely that the two parties can reach a compromise.

Let’s take your office global. This microcosmic picture represents what happens when Regan democrats are forced to share a sandbox with left-wing pinkos.  Each organized group has the leverage to make demands on the other, but not enough so that it can ignore demands the other makes.  When the voices of all Americans interact in this way, we have a well-functioning representative government, and not a group of chummy representatives trading favors in the form of addenda to meaningless bills.

In essence, change means getting out of our government what we should have been getting out of it all along: what we want.  If we want something, we should be able to ask for it.  We should be able to negotiate with opposing parties, and the structure of government—of checks and balances, of representation and election—should allow us to compromise.

But change requires serious organization.  Not just a few manila folders, but binder clips, color-coordinated dividers, accordion files and felt-tip pens.  So who’s organizing?

This summer, Barack Obama employed 3,600 volunteers in states across the country to organize local communities so that people’s interests, concerns, and ideas could be heard.  Volunteers registered voters in supermarkets and on stoops, attended church meetings and soccer games, and made thousands of phone calls each night to Nascar Dads, PinkBerry fiends, and born-again Christians alike.  They held town hall meetings, organized house parties, and spoke with local constituents to find out what local and national issues plagued their specific areas, in search of specific needs and ways to address them.

These Obamakins were young and old, energized, unpaid, and ready to dedicate large portions (if not the entirety) of their lives to ringing in a new generation of government for each other.  And this was months before paid campaign staffers even got their toes wet.

Let me know if you meet any Republicans engaging in similar efforts. I’ll bet you my lunch money they’ll be voting for Obama in November.

Two Palins, Both Hilarious (Though One Unintentionally)

J.P. Allen

[Originally written 9/2/08]

One thing I can’t put out of my mind when I think about Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin: her last name. Was the McCain team aware that she shares a last name with Michael Palin, one of the members of the Monty Python comedy troupe?

I wonder: if Michael Palin’s name were more widely recognized in the U.S. than it is, would Sarah Palin have had less of a chance of winning the nomination? Probably not, but her name has certainly affected the way I think of her. I imagine her dressed as a man in convincing drag, doing silly walks and speaking in a cracking British falsetto (“gendergate,” anyone?).

Though my complaint may not be a common one, I’m sure it will at least strike a cord (or dead parrot) with a few British comedy aficionados. I will try my best to disregard this bias, but correcting my view of Governor Palin will be more difficult. Somehow, I just have trouble taking anyone with the last name Palin seriously.

I didn’t expect Palin (the Michael variety) to get the nomination, and now nobody expects a Palin (the Alaskan) nomination!

[Update: 10/27/08]

After watching the ‘Song for Sarah’ YouTube video embedded above (a proud accomplishment of two Middlebury alumni), I was redirected to an interview with John Cleese—another member of Monty Python—who had the following to say on the issue: “I’m sorry, Michael Palin, to say that you’re not the funniest Palin anymore. But you’re not.”

There you have it.

Third & Final Presidential Debate ’08 – Live Reactions

This is the thread for tonight’s final debate btwn John McCain and Barack Obama, moderated by the incomparable Bob Schieffer.

Treat this thread as a message board: comment freely and frequently! None of your reactions will be edited or changed.

To get to the COMMENT SECTION, click the headline of this post.

When you comment, please be sure to include your name. You have the option of being anonymous, but we believe it’s best to stand behind your opinions. Here we go! Let’s see if the candidates cook upany kind of last-ditch effort to grab votes before everyone heads to the polls… Nov. 4 is right around the corner!

Presidential Debate #2 — Live Reactions

Hi Middlebury,

Here is the thread for tonight’s second McBama debate. Treat it as a chat room: go ahead and comment freely and frequently! None of your reactions will be edited or changed.

To get to the COMMENT SECTION, you need to click the headline of this post.

When you comment, please be sure to include your name. You have the option of being anonymous, but we believe it’s best to stand behind your opinions. Let’s talk!



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