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August 29, 2008 | 15 Comments

The importance of Commander in Chief

Part II of the leadership comparison of McCain and Obama

How much of the President of the United States’ job has been in the capacity of Commander in Chief?

To start—but in no way to finish—answering this question, consider this (difficult) picture:
Wars of the USA

This charts all major military activity of the USA since its birth in 1776. Only wars and conflicts of importance are included; that is, not every use of military force if plotted. For example, Commodore Perry’s mission to Japan, while vastly influential, is not included. The Boxer Rebellion, because it directly used a minimal number of troops, was of tremendous consequence, and so is presented.

The political parties in power at the times of the conflicts are shaded (red for Republican; blue for Democrat; green for Whig; purple for Democrat-Republican; and yellow for Federalist or none). For example, Democrat presidents presided over the beginning of the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, Korean War, and Vietnam War. Republican presidents were there for the start of the Civil War, Grenada Invasion and both Gulf Wars.

Different wars and conflicts are colored variously, and the lengths of the activities are shown. There has only been one period in American history without major conflict: from roughly 1819 to 1831. Two men were President during this time: James Monroe (1817-1825) and John Qunicy Adams (1825-1829; both were Democratic-Republicans). Of these two men, only Adams did not govern the White House during a time of major military conflict (Monroe managed wars earlier in his administration).

Thus, of the 43 presidents so far, 42 of them had direct command over significant military events. Obviously, the military is in use even when not engaged with the enemy. Presidents regulate the military strategically and tactically, for example as a deterrent. A current instance is the placement of missile-defense batteries in Poland to annoy Russia. And the military cannot spring into action suddenly without adequate training and support in times of peace, tasks which require significant interaction.

Whether or not any conflict on this list was preventable or abhorrent or necessary or just, all of human history suggests it is rational to believe conflict and wars will happen in the future. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise. All this implies the obvious: the president must have adequate capabilities as Commander in Chief as it is very likely he will have to exercise these duties. The stated desires of the occupant of the White House also do not correlate with the occurrence of conflict.

It is true that only Congress has the power to declare outright war. Therefore, you might argue, the President’s role in warmaking is limited. But it is also only Congress who has the power to pass the budget: they control the purse strings. to be consistent you would also have the say the President’s domestic role is similarly limited.

To say that these powers belong to Congress obviously does not, and has not as history has shown, lessened the powers the President has and will have in guiding policy, both foreign and domestic.

Lastly, Obama’s own view on the subject are seen at the end of this video:

August 28, 2008 | 24 Comments

Comparing McCain’s and Obama’s experience

Don’t forget to see today’s post, which continues this one

Barack Obama served 143 days in the senate and no days in the military before he began his run for president. John McCain served 26 years in the senate and 22 years in the military before he began his campaign. (These numbers are from Roger Kimball’s blog.)

There are some immediate problems with these numbers. The “143 days” came about this way

From the time Barack Obama was sworn in as a United States Senator, to the time he announced he was forming a Presidential exploratory Committee, he logged 143 days of experience in the Senate.

That’s how many days the Senate was actually in session and working.

The one single Senate committee that he headed never even met — once.

After 143 days of work experience, Obama believed he was ready to be Commander In Chief, Leader of the Free World, and fill the shoes of Abraham Lincoln, FDR, JFK and Ronald Reagan.

But during the 26 years McCain was a senator, the upper house was not in session continually, so to be fair we would have to only count the number of days the senate was actually in session over those years. This is unnecessary, because we all know that government and political business does not stop just because the gavel sounds. Therefore, we should give Obama, just as we are giving McCain, full credit for his time in service, which is to say 3.5 years since his swearing in as a senator in January of 2005. He still gets 0 years (or days) for military service. We also have to, since we gave it to Obama, award McCain his extra half year for the first part of 2008.

Let’s put that in table form for easier comparison:

Obama McCain
Senate 3.5 26.5
Military 0 22
Total 3.5 48.5

Which is to say, McCain has about 14 times as much experience as Obama. However, this still isn’t an entirely fair comparison because McCain, who is 26 years older than Obama, has had a greater chance of gaining time on the job. To make the match up commensurable, we have to adjust for age.

Obama has had about 26 years opportunity to gain career knowledge (we don’t count the first 20 years of life for either man). McCain has had 50, or about twice as much time. So let’s redo the table dividing by the total amount of time available, which gives us the fraction of experience to available time. I’ll then multiply by 100 to turn the number into a percentage. We also have to be careful to note that when McCain was serving as a senator, he obviously could not serve in the military, and vice versa. For example, the amount of time McCain could have served in the senate was 50-22=28 years, of which he spent 26.

Obama McCain
Senate 13.5% 92.9%
Military 0% 91.7%
Total 13.5% 96%

The conclusion is that McCain spent nearly all his time in direct training for the position of Commander in Chief, and Obama has spent about a little less than one-seventh of his.

You could argue for the inclusion of Obama’s time spent in other activities, such as the 3.5 years when he served on the eight-person Chicago-based Woods Fund “Poverty” Board with terrorist bomber William Ayers (whose reward for calling for the killing of his fellow Americans was to be made distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago). But most people aren’t anxious to bring attention to this service. However, in the spirit of generosity, let’s award him the full time. That ups Obama’s experience percentage to 27%.

Also, Obama served on the Illinois state legislature, which affirmatively counts as government experience. He served 7 years there, but that time overlapped entirely the time he spent sitting next to, but certainly never approving of or chatting with, radical leftist Ayers. The final table is (remembering again, that when Obama was in the State house, he could not be in the senate, etc.):

Obama McCain
Local 31% 0%
Senate 18.4% 92.9%
Military 0% 91.7%
Total 40% 96%

Thus, even in a generous counting, McCain still has more than twice as much experience as Obama.

This analysis assumes that any government service counts for gaining experience to the position of Commander in Chief, but surely direct military experience should be weighted at least slightly higher. I do not attempt such calculations.

Update. Thanks to LarryA who notes “Senator McCain was sworn into the Senate for the first time on Jan 6, 1987, 21.6 years ago, not 26.5 years ago as stated in the article. He was elected to the House four years before that, but the article is comparing Senate experience.” So the tables above should be changed from “Senate” to “Congress”.

August 27, 2008 | 39 Comments

Climate inactivism

Quick Quiz: what do you call an exceptionally nervous busybody who perpetually overestimates risk and on whose lips are forever the phrase, “Something must be done!”

Answer: That person is an activist—activism is a manner of life which nowadays can even be proclaimed a profession.

What, then, do we call somebody who rationally attempts to quantify risk and who soberly (on most days of the week) weighs his options and sometimes proposes that the best course of action is no action at all?

That person is an inactivist.

Isn’t that a great name? I love it! But I didn’t think of it. Frank Bi, who runs a site called The Journal of Inactivism, did.

Old Frank’s intent is that the label be taken ironically. To him, an inactivist is to be despised. Let me tell you something about irony, Frank. There’s an art to it that few possess; its use requires a rare talent. I sometimes flatter myself that I can successfully wield this heavy sword, but I fail nearly every time, as regular readers of this blog can attest.

And so have you failed, Frank, but do not despair. We can rescue your neologism and put it to good use. It can lead a second life of good service.

Thus, I counsel that we adopt the moniker “climate inactivist” at once. Just look what it has going for it.

“Climate skeptic”, a term many favor, is apt to be misleading. I, for example, am not skeptical that there is a climate. Inactivist, however, neatly captures and succinctly describes the attitude of many of us.

We, who do not deny that mankind influences climate, even sometimes harmfully, but who reckon that our uncertainty in the mechanisms of the hideously complex global climate system and the imprecision its forecasts, coupled with the glut of extravagant and ridiculous claims of evils that await us, are not strong enough evidence to yet warrant government-imposed mandatory taxes and regulation. We, who do not deny that that day might come, and who do not discourage voluntary and personal actions. We propose to take no action until our certainty is much stronger.

We propose to be inactive—we are inactivists.

This proposal will be voted upon at the next secret meeting.

Incidentally, to take us on a tangent to an unexpected dimension, Scott Kurtz presents the evil Statistician Magician! (I don’t have a cape.)