McCain and Policy

Tyler Cowen ponders John McCain’s health care proposals for a bit and then muses:

Trade aside, so far I’ve yet to see many actual policy proposals from the McCain camp. Mostly I’ve seen attempts to signal that they won’t do anything too offensive to the party’s right wing. Very few of these trial balloons seem to be ideas that McCain had expressed much previous loyalty to. I don’t even think we should be analyzing these statements as policy proposals. We should be wondering why the Republican Party has given up on the idea of policy proposals.

I’m a little unclear on how this happened myself — the GOP seems to have decided to blow a not-very-appealing idiosyncratic element of George W. Bush’s personality into some kind of principled objection to policy proposals. Meanwhile, I understand that free traders are not very impressed with Democratic rhetoric these days but I think it’d be generous to describe this as a policy proposal:

John McCain Will Lower Barriers To Trade. Ninety-five percent of the world’s customers lie outside our borders and we need to be at the table when the rules for access to those markets are written. To do so, the U.S. should engage in multilateral, regional and bilateral efforts to reduce barriers to trade, level the global playing field and build effective enforcement of global trading rules. These steps would also strengthen the U.S. dollar and help to control the rising cost of living that hurts our families.

There doesn’t seem to be a recognition here that the multilateral WTO trade process has basically run aground. But it’s run aground. A president who wants to lower barriers to trade in a way that’s economically significant (as opposed to, say, the Colombia deal) needs some bright ideas about how to do this. In McCain’s defense, such ideas are hard to come by, but if you want to tell people that lowering trade barriers is an important part of your economic strategy then you need some.