Should I pay attention to the Democratic Presidential candidates on TV (or anywhere)?

Flip on the television these days and instead of an entertaining comedy one will often find news coverage of the Democratic Presidential primaries.  Should we pay attention to the speeches and commentary?  Must we read the newspaper?  Perhaps the Web Age has relieved us of the need to sit and watch these men in real time, month after month after boring month.

Here is a chronicle of a personal look at, for example.  Let me know if I would have developed a deeper appreciation for Howard Dean had I watched him on TV or read the newspaper…

His “job creation plan” (under “economy”) proposes to make sure that broadband Internet access is “available” in rural areas.  I thought that, at least for the last several years, it was possible to get two-way high-speed satellite Internet at a reasonable cost ($70/month, a touch more than the $50/month that urbanites pay for cable modems) anywhere in the Lower 48.  I’m in favor of the government funding things that private enterprise won’t, e.g., a wireless Internet that covers the entire U.S. and that is free for low volume usage (helps poor kids in ghettos, rich people with fancy Internet-enabled cars, etc.).  I guess I’d be in favor of the government subsidizing high-speed wired Internet or encouraging competition in high-speed wireless Internet in order to cut prices enough that everyone had it.  But basically Dean’s proposal sounds like a plan to shift money from people who live in cities to people who live on farms… just like every other American politician.  Already I’m beginning to doubt his claim that he is somehow different from Business as Usual in Washington.

Dean has an extensive section on K-12 education.  Whenever a federal politician talks about what he is going to do for America’s schools I immediately think that he is lying.  The federal government pays only about 7% of the cost of K-12 education in this country and therefore has almost no control over what happens in our classrooms.  I pity the poor teacher in her classroom.  She has to answer to the vice-principals and principal of her school.  She has to answer to the superintendent of her city or county.  She has to answer to a skyscraper full of bureaucrats in her state’s central education administration.  And then all of them have to answer to the federal U.S. Department of Education, all of whose employees answer in turn to their Secretary who answers in his or her turn to the President.  There are more layers of management above a K-12 teacher than above an assembly-line worker at GM or Toyota, which makes sense until you reflect that it takes $billions in capital investment to build a car whereas the best education is usually one-to-one or done at small private schools that aren’t beholden to larger bureaucracies.  Honest politicians that I’ve seen over the decades generally start from the position that the federal Department of Education should be abolished.  Then they show up in Washington and find that this isn’t political acceptable so they try to curb its growth.  The dishonest ones make a lot of promises about what they are personally going to do, sitting at their desk in the White House, for a kid in a classroom in Peoria, whose school is almost entirely funded by local taxpayers.  Here again Dean seems a lot like the average political hacks whom he proposes to replace.

On foreign policy Howard Dean complains that the Bush Administration has “disengaged” from meddling in the 55-year-old war between the Arab nations and Israel.  His proposed solution?  “The Israeli government will have to work to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people”.  The U.S. meanwhile will “have to take responsibility with its international partners for helping the Palestinians establish a middle-class democratic society in which women fully participate in economic and political decision-making.”  I feel that Israel and the U.S. are being set up for failure.  On the “improved living conditions” front, a peoples’ living conditions are only going to improve, in the long run, if economic growth exceeds population growth.  The Palestinians have a 5% annual population growth rate, one of the highest in the world.  Unless they all decide to learn to read, learn English, and study semiconductor fabrication, it is tough to see how the living condition of the average Palestinian is going to improve.  So the Israelis will fail to achieve Dean’s goal for them (in fact the U.S. is unable to achieve a 5% annual economic growth rate for itself).  As for the U.S. “taking responsibility” for installing democracy and women’s rights, that sounds vaguely like what we’re trying to do in Iraq and the locals aren’t reported to be happy about it.  One of the readers of this blog posted a comment referencing , which gives some insight into the status of women in present-day Palestinian society.  After reading that article and Dean’s Web site I can’t see Dean as a realist when it comes to the situation in Israel.

Under Energy/Clean Air, Dean says “To reduce oil consumption and global warming emissions, Governor Dean believes we should increase the average fuel economy standard to approximately 40 miles per gallon for all automobiles, including SUVs and minivans.”  This makes me think that we might see some effect on the environment circa 2020 but I don’t see how it would encourage people to buy and drive Toyota Priuses right now and/or ride a bike instead of taking their monster SUV to the 7-11.  Career politicians love elaborate regulations and Dean seems to be one of these folks.  Economists like to address the problem of externalities (pollution, congestion, funding Arab terrorism with every turn of the key) with taxes, then let the market sort out the response.  The Europeans don’t have too many monster SUVs; they have expensive gas and efficient cars.  I’d rather see a $10/barrel tax on oil, a $20/barrel tax on imported oil, and some sort of tax on pollution.

Okay… after less than 30 minutes at his Web site I wrote off Howard Dean as a non-entity.  I wouldn’t bother to leave the house to vote for him and it is inconceivable to me that a majority of Americans would vote for Dean over George W.  Perhaps this process can be repeated for the other candidates, thus freeing up several days of time between now and November.  Are there any Dean supporters who would care to use the comments section to note brilliant ideas from the Howard Dean campaign that I’ve overlooked?  And would I have been more likely to discover these ideas watching Dean on TV or reading newspapers and magazines rather than looking at his Web site?

[Note:  I revised this fairly heavily on January 23 so I’m going to delete the comments that were responsive only to the old version.  Hmm…. it looks like Manila recorded many of the comments as a response to a response and deleting one left the others as orphans.  So now all of the comments are gone 🙁 ]

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