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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hillary Clinton - the "comprehensive" presidential candidate?

Rant begins

Greg Mankiw points to a comment by Sen. Clinton in a recent Financial Times interview in which she "agrees" with Paul Samuelson's (wrongly interpreted) claim that comparative advantage and free trade might not accurately reflect today's world. I am sure Prof. Samuelson sleeps better at night knowing that Sen. Clinton "agrees" with him. Why didn't she just say, "As suggested by Nobel winning economist Paul Samuelson..."? I am not sure how much economics training and understanding Sen. Clinton has and thus I wonder if she is truly qualified to "agree" with Prof. Samuelson.

However, that's not my point. I followed Prof. Mankiw's link to the interview and here's the first question and the first sentence of the answer:

FT: House prices are falling, oil prices are rising, the dollar is depreciating rapidly. What would you do differently to President George W. Bush to address what economists fear is the very real threat of an economic downturn because of the credit crunch?

HC: I would take a comprehensive approach starting with actually paying attention to it in a public and presidential way, which has not yet happened with President Bush.
Wait a second: "comprehensive" approach? Where have we heard that term before? I thought we were engaged in "comprehensive immigration reform."

So, I googled the two phrases: "hillary clinton" "comprehensive approach" and came up with 6,240 hits.

Here are the first few:

  • "comprehensive approach to the problem of unintended pregnancies"

  • "The comprehensive approach addresses the multiple challenges that HIV/AIDS"

  • Hillary laid out her comprehensive approach to expanding health care to 47 million Americans who are uninsured, ending the war in Iraq, decreasing our dependence on foreign oil by investing in renewable fuels and green technology, strengthening the middle class and making college more affordable.

  • "...is a comprehensive approach that, if it were pursued in addition to a diplomatic offensive, would be the best way to end our involvement in Iraq in the right fashion."

  • "Hillary Clinton’s campaign that the former First Lady be allowed time during ... on a comprehensive approach for reforming our broken immigration system. "

  • "... a comprehensive approach to Iraq that halts the President's escalation policy and provides..."

  • "Hillary Clinton says she plans to take a `more comprehensive approach` to the role of first lady than that being exercised by Barbara Bush" [from the 1992 campaign trail!!]

  • "That is unfortunate because this crisis demands a more comprehensive approach that is adequate for the scale of the problem." [about freezing adjustable rate mortgage adjustments]

  • "We haven't done the public education around it, but I’m going to be laying out a very comprehensive approach as to how I think we could." [about wind energy]

  • "We need a smart, bold, daring, comprehensive approach to child poverty—one that is based on the fundamental premise that all our children are all of our responsibility." [child poverty]

  • "Under their integrated health care system, primary care physicians work together with specialists to develop a comprehensive approach to treat each patient." [expensive health care at the Mayo clinic]

    I could go on, but we have hit diminishing returns. It seems that "comprehensive approach" is a favorite term of Sen. Clinton, but also (I admit) of other politicians.

    Is "comprehensive approach" just another buzzword of the cycle like "information superhighway"? I hope so, because throughout history, rarely has any government done something "comprehensively" without injuring the life, freedom, and pocketbook (or a portion of all three) of its citizens and, sometimes, the citizens of other countries.

    Further, what exactly is meant by "comprehensive?" The American Heritage dictionary offers two definitions for "comprehensive:"

    1. So large in scope or content as to include much: a comprehensive history of the revolution.
    2. Marked by or showing extensive understanding: comprehensive knowledge.

    If any reform is "comprehensive" by the first definition, it is likely to be very expensive and frought with unintended consequences - such reforms are likely worse than the problem(s) they aim to solve. If a reform was "comprehensive" according to the second definition, then perhaps there is a positive probability that it won't be a disaster.

    However, reforms that are characterized by definition one are unlikely, by default, to qualify for definition two. Moreover, reforms that are characterized by definition two are unlikely to qualify for definition one. Nevertheless, it seems politicians imply that any "comprehensive" reform they propose satisfies both definitions. While it is possible, history shows that it is highly unlikely to be the case.

    Perhaps the only item in the list that might be accurately described as "comprehensive" would be that referring to doctor-patient cooperation at the Mayo Clinic. However, as anyone who has watched House knows, medical treatment might be more accurately described by definition 1 and not definition 2. Once again, the result is loss of life, liberty or treasure.

    I wonder if any of the presidential candidates can be accused of showing "extensive understanding" of anything other than being a political animal. Perhaps Kucinich and Paul?

    Rant over

    I tend to like Ron Paul, he knows exactly what he believes and why and he's willing to actually stand up for it.

    Although, his views on monetary policy seem unrealistic. I don't think it is possible to go back to the gold standard, and I don't think it would be smart to disband the Federal Reserve.

    I tend to dislike Hillary Clinton. Mainly because she just seems like a "normal" (how sad) politician who will say whatever needs to be said to win. I don't want socialized health care, although I do feel that reforms need to be made.

    I'm going to take a comprehensive approach to voting...or something.
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