1 – ECONOMY AND TAXES
Both candidates will increase the national debt, but the McCain plan is centered around keeping taxes low across the board and cutting out wasteful spending, something that I believe is critical when the economy is in a slump. Unlike Obama, McCain has a strong record of voting against earmarks and other wasteful spending in Washington. McCain would keep the Bush tax cuts permanent, as well as dramatically lower the estate tax and create other high-level tax breaks. This is in line with my philosophy that allowing people who control the most money do more with it stimulates the economy far more than giving tax breaks to people who contribute very little to begin with. Obama's plan reduces taxes for the lowest income-earners and increases taxes on the upper income-earners. My problem with Obama's philosophy is that the bottom 75% of income-earners only pay 14% of the total tax as it is. Therefore, adjusting their already small contribution is not going to do much to stimulate the economy. Meanwhile, Obama would place an even greater tax burden on the people who already contribute the lion's share, placing more restrictions on the people who have the greatest impact on the economy. Another portion of Obama's economic plan that seems backwards to me is his proposed windfall tax on energy companies. This would increase the burden on the entities who are already finding it difficult to keep up with the demand, and will simply result in the increased costs being passed on to the consumers while doing nothing to address the real problem of supply vs. demand.
During his acceptance speech, Obama claimed that he would pay for "every dime" of his massive government spending proposals by "closing corporate loopholes and tax havens." However, Obama cannot possibly pay for all of his proposals without a dramatic increase in taxes. Obama continually claims that 95% of Americans would see their taxes decrease under his plan. The 95% number actually refers only to families with children. At best, the number is closer to 80% of American households, but regardless of the actual number, it doesn't tell the whole story. Obama plans to drastically increase taxes on upper-income individuals as well as increase taxes on capital gains and dividends. Therefore, chances are good that your employer will see an increased tax burden under the Obama plan, and much like the windfall energy taxes being passed down to the people at the pump, if your boss has an increased financial load it is unrealistic to expect that you will suffer no ill effects from it. Therefore, you personally may qualify for a tax cut under the Obama plan, but you will probably still be indirectly affected by Obama's other tax increases. Another example: Obama plans to tax interest as ordinary income, so even if you get a tax cut, you will still be indirectly taxed through your savings account. No matter how Obama tries to sell it, his plan would be one of the largest single-year tax increases since World War II, and history shows that dramatically increasing the tax burden during economic slowdown does not have a positive effect on the economy.
In short, Obama's plan is philosophically similar to a redistribution of wealth. While a lot of people will like his plan because they feel like they are getting something out of it, I disagree with this because it could discourage economic growth. Obama's promise for tax breaks to 95% of the people sounds good and appeals to our selfish nature, but we have to look beyond the immediate gain to the long-term impact of taking from the rich to give to the poor. Most of the wealthy people in the country are rich because they know how to make money work for them. If we continue to hinder their ability to do this and distribute their gains to people who are less inclined to chase such large financial dreams, eventually there won't be any more rich people to tax. McCain's plan is to encourage those people who already enjoy working with big budgets to continue to do just that. This philosophy trusts that people who have earned a fortune know what they are doing, and can continue to grow indefinitely provided they are given the freedom to do so. In order to continue to grow financially, they need to reinvest their money, and that process has a much deeper and longer lasting economic benefit for people across all economic classes.
Most people who get angry with the "tax breaks for the rich" line do so purely out of envy. However, a point I often make is this: If you take more money from the rich and give it to the poor, the poor might be able to buy a little more, but the price of those goods are going to go up because it will cost more to produce them. On the other hand, when a fabulously rich person buys a ridiculously lavish yacht, he puts a whole crowd of people to work and injects a massive amount of money into the economy. The more tax breaks that go to the rich, the more money gets reinvested and the more people get jobs.
I see Obama vs. McCain on taxes as Obama wanting to level the playing field by bringing those at the top down, while McCain wants to lift them up, and my belief is that a higher water line raises all of the boats.
To be fair, Obama does have some good ideas about closing loopholes and getting rid of tax shelters and other shady practices, and it would be nice if McCain would address these issues more thoroughly. However, I strongly disagree with the ideas surrounding socialism, and Obama's plan contains too much of this for me, so my economic vote goes to McCain.
2 – FOREIGN POLICY and JUDGMENT
Lately, Obama has been trying to make himself appear somewhat more enlightened when it comes to Iraq than what I believe is actually the case. These days he portrays himself as bravely standing up against the Iraq war from the beginning and cautioning against dropping the ball in Afghanistan. The truth is that Obama was not yet in the US Senate at the time the war began, and he certainly wasn't a voice in the wilderness in his district when it came to opposing the war. Further, he made no mention of Afghanistan when he spoke against the war in 2002.
Obama tries to portray himself as possessing better judgment than McCain, which he wants us to believe is a stronger trait than McCain's real world experience. However, even if we say for the sake of argument that Obama was right about not going into Iraq in the first place (which I don't necessarily believe is true) he has shown very poor judgment on Iraq-related issues since then. Rather than support any efforts at victory once the war was underway, his proposals have all centered solely around various forms of troop withdrawal (currently a 16-month timeline for pulling out active-combat troops). He has stuck with this philosophy despite continued warnings from people such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, who has said that setting a fixed withdrawal timeline could be "very dangerous."
Further, Obama was opposed to the "surge" strategy that has resulted in great success in Iraq, which to me also shows poor judgment on his part. In my mind, Obama's statements about meeting unconditionally with Iran also show poor judgment. He has also shown poor judgment in somewhat less serious matters. The infamous Jeremiah Wright is a prime example. Although he finally distanced himself when it became politically necessary to do so, the fact remains that he was a member of that church for 20 years and had plenty of opportunity to do the right thing and chose not to. The "lipstick on a pig" comment also shows poor judgment. While I certainly don't think that it was intended as a derogatory comment toward Sarah Palin as some McCain supporters have suggested, I certainly do think that it was a particularly bad choice of words given Palin's joke about Pit Bulls and lipstick just days before.
Back to Iraq, Obama's platform has been mostly stagnant since 2002, and he continually relies solely on his position that we shouldn't have gone there in the first place. Whether or not we should have gone to Iraq is no longer an issue. The fact is that we are there now, and I want someone in charge who has the understanding of how to appropriately handle the current situation without making things worse, not someone who keeps saying, "I told you so." McCain supported the surge while Obama kept trying to undo the past.
3 – ENERGY
While both candidates support development of new alternative energy sources, Obama proposes to accomplish this through large taxpayer-funded government programs, while McCain proposes to accomplish it through tax incentives for energy companies. Obama has promised to deliver oil independence in ten years. Even if he could somehow manage that, his plan would leave a huge economic hole where the energy industry used to be. Obama's campaign ads vaguely promise to "fast-track alternative energy" as the solution. However, when you look more closely, you see that this refers to a ten-year government fund to develop new energy technology. I think we can all agree that any viable petroleum-free energy industry is easily ten years away. To people paying high gas prices, ten years probably doesn't seem all that fast, and Obama's reluctance to pursue domestic oil drilling or nuclear power doesn't provide me any confidence that he will appropriately address the current energy problem.
On the other hand, McCain plans to provide tax incentives to energy companies who develop new energy sources. To me this makes much more sense because it will keep the energy industry viable even after oil is no longer a primary energy source. Further, McCain's plans address the short-term problem through increased emphasis on nuclear power as well as increased domestic oil drilling, which I believe is the only solution to provide any real relief while we work on long-term oil independence.
4 – CHARACTER / QUALIFICATIONS
Even those who oppose him have to admit that John McCain is a genuine American hero. The horrors that he endured during the Vietnam war are thankfully unimaginable to most of us. After returning home, he took command of a large Navy training squadron and turned around what was considered a somewhat poorly performing unit and won the squadron its first-ever Meritorious Unit Commendation. He won election to the US senate in 1987. During his time in the senate he has earned a reputation as a spending hawk, becoming one of only a handful of senators who consistently rejects bills based on wasteful spending. He has also become known as a "maverick" by going against his own party when he believes they are wrong and "reaching across the isle" to work with Democrats when he believes they are right. Despite criticism from Republicans about his straying from the party, McCain's political record is strongly conservative. McCain has demonstrated how much importance he places on these values by choosing a person to run with him who has also earned a reputation for independently standing up against her own party. Additionally, Sarah Palin is the only candidate with any genuine executive experience, something which I feel is important when filling the office of both President and Vice President.
No one should deny that Barack Obama has had an impressive success story so far. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991 he worked as a civil rights attorney and community organizer before being elected to the Illinois senate in 1997, and then to the US senate in 2004. A great deal of his time since then has been spent campaigning for the office of President, which is ironic given that he himself stated in November 2004 that this would be a primary reason for him to NOT run for the office of President. Obama does not have much history in the US Senate, but despite his reputation for voting "present" instead of "yes" or "no," his voting record shows that he typically votes along the Democratic party line. Although his quick rise to fame is worthy of accolades, it does not provide much background from which we can judge his capabilities as a potential President. In choosing Joe Biden, who has been in the US senate since 1972, as his running mate, I believe Obama is trying to make up for his obvious lack of experience. Biden brings a great deal of foreign policy knowledge with him, but it seems to me that this goes somewhat against Obama's "change" motto, since Biden is one of the deepest rooted Washington insiders currently in the Senate.
There is a line attributed to former US Representative J.C. Watts about character: "Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking." While all politicians are somewhat guilty of reinventing themselves to suit the public image, I have seen more of this in Obama than McCain, and perhaps part of it is due to Obama still finding his legs as a senator. While years of experience can help someone be a better politician, they can also be a burden, especially in a year such as this when we are awaiting the departure of an unpopular President and the general mood of the public toward government is pessimistic. One of the primary reasons Obama supporters I know are behind him is they feel he will be something different and be a change from the old politics that have brought us to today. In that respect, Obama's short time in the Senate works for him, because he can claim to not have been involved in the system so long as to be corrupted by it, and that might very well be true. However, for people who are pessimistic about government, a man who plans to deliver a larger, more powerful government with more control over individuals and more of the people's money in their pockets is not delivering change for the better. If it comes to more of the same vs. a change toward socialism, I will pick more of the same.
Obama has repeatedly stated that McCain's presidency would represent more of the "failed policies of the past" and in support of that he points out that McCain has voted in agreement with Bush 90% of the time. Based on voting records, this is true, but based on Obama's voting record, he agrees with the Democratic party 97% of the time. That means that while McCain could be called 90% Bush, Obama can be called 97% Pelosi, and while Bush is currently very unpopular (his rating is currently about 27% in favor), the approval rating of congress under the control of Nancy Pelosi is currently even worse at 17%! Therefore, the change Obama wants to bring to Washington is a change from bad to worse: A change from the policies that have earned Bush his dismal approval ratings to the even less popular policies and practices of the Democrats.
Obama has also suggested that McCain is running for Bush's third term. In response, McCain says that Obama is running for Carter's second term. In many respects, McCain is right. There are several similarities, but the most striking to me is that Carter also experienced an energy crisis under his watch, and his solution was to increase taxes on the energy companies, just like Obama wants to do today. Carter's tax increases had a negative impact on our domestic oil industry and resulted in increased importing of oil... something we are still having to deal with today.
"Change" is not the same as "improvement," and I would definitely prefer the failed policies of the Bush administration over the failed policies of the Carter administration. However, John McCain is not another George Bush, and he is in fact more likely to break away from the old left vs. right politics than is Barack Obama. While certainly conservative, McCain's record clearly shows that his reputation as a maverick is well-deserved. On the other side, although Obama's record is somewhat scant, from what he has accomplished so far it appears that he is a down-the-party-line liberal. To borrow a line from his campaign, that is not the change we need.
Amongst all of this, one thing continues to pop up in my head, and that is the fact that Obama himself stated that he would not be qualified to be President in 2008:------- Barack Obama - November 2004 -------
I keep wondering what changed his mind. Nothing so far has changed mine. Barring some unforeseen event, on November 4th I will vote for John McCain.