Who can best lead the US - Obama-Biden or McCain-Palin?

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October 19, 2008

What follows is the column as it appeared in the Midland Daily News.

Click here for a longer version of this article with 29 endnotes.

Click here to read responses to this column

 

            Let’s take a look where Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Joe Biden (the Democrats), Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin (Republicans)  stand on issues.

War and Foreign Policy

            President Bush initiated a preemptive war of aggression in Iraq after 9/11. McCain supported it and continues to support it until we achieve success. Obama opposed this war from the beginning and pledges to work with Iraq to bring it to an honorable conclusion.

Bush played on our fears since 9/11 castigating all nations who are not for us as against us. McCain continues to play on that fear by referring to our “dangerous world.” While recognizing that there are threatening dangers in the world, Obama believes in working with other nations to provide stability rather than going it alone. He  bases this  on hope rather than fear.

 “Big Government”

            Republicans have waged a successful campaign in the last thirty years against Big and Wasteful Government. They have tagged the Democrats as the Party of “tax and spend”. There’s more to big government than programs however.

            Since 1980 there have been three Republican Presidents and one Democrat. The national debt has increased from one trillion to over ten trillion dollars since 1980. The only time there was a balanced budget was during the second term of Bill Clinton, the Democrat. The Republicans borrow and spend. While preaching fiscal responsibility Palin has acquired from the federal government millions of dollars first as mayor and then as governor.

The economy

            McCain has admitted he is not an expert on the economy  but his “econ brain” is none other than former Sen. Phil Gramm who introduced in 2003 legislation that ended the traditional separation of the banking, investing, and insuring sectors of our economy. This deregulation contributed greatly to our current economic crisis. In the 1980’s McCain was one of the supporters of the deregulation of the Savings and Loans. Within five years they were down the drain and in need of help. Joe Klein wrote that McCain advocated and won the bailout of the failed S&L’s at a cost of $165 billion to the taxpayers.

            McCain continues to call for deregulation. He wrote in an article published this month that the solution to the health care problem is to deregulate the health insurance industry, “like the banking industry”. If he gets elected we can expect a worsening situation in the health insurance industry.

            Obama has always supported responsible regulation and has a workable though not perfect plan for improving health care access.

Vice Presidential choice

McCain made a brilliant decision in picking a woman to be his running mate, but unfortunately his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin shows poor judgment. Palin was under investigation for abuse of gubernatorial authority. On October 10 the investigation reported that Palin did indeed abuse her executive authority as Governor of Alaska in trying to get her former brother-in-law fired as a trooper.

According to a Time article this report shows that the “Palin administration” is  “shockingly amateurish.” Such abuse of power was rampant in the Bush administration for the last eight years. We don’t need four more years.

            Sen. Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate, is qualified and experienced with many years as a Senator and well versed in foreign policy.

Campaign Practices

            While it can be reasonably said that all four candidates have made misleading  statements about opponents, the McCain-Palin team has sunk to a new level of inflammatory rhetoric.  Palin has disgraced herself by inciting her audiences to hatred. In Florida one participant yelled “kill him.”  This is unconscionable speech from a potential future Vice President.

            In the debates all have waffled on answers and hurled accusations against their opponent, but Palin was especially brash in stating that she wanted to talk about energy, not the answer to a question given her.

            McCain takes the prize however for his response to a question about social security. He began by saying he will answer the question and then proceeded to say we know the problem and we know the solution and we will fix it. He didn’t answer it at all.

Abortion

            For some people abortion is the only issue because they say it is fundamental to all rights. While the Democratic Party supports Roe v. Wade, it also supports pre-natal and post-natal care to help reduce the need for an abortion. The Republicans on the other hand removed their language of support for pregnant women and urged the passage of a Human Rights Amendment that would guarantee rights to a fetus from time of conception.

The Religious “problem”

            Radical Muslim extremists attacked the US on 9/11 giving Islam a bad name. Unfortunately too few Americans are distinguishing between radical and mainline Islam. Perhaps it is because there is also an extremist element called fundamentalism in Christianity, Judaism and the perennially peaceful Hinduism.

            Fundamentalist Christianity appears most clearly in the United States in the effort to have creationism taught in our public schools as science. Creationism is the Biblical myth that says God created the world in six days. Palin has long been associated with the fundamentalist strain of Christianity called Pentecostalism.

            This fundamentalism also appears in the Catholic Church when Catholics including some bishops tell us that we are courting eternal damnation if we vote  for candidates who support Roe v. Wade. These pronouncements are contrary to the bishops’ own teaching.

Hopeful change

            Obama is giving us a vision of hope for the future. He appeals to the higher nature of all of us in reaching out across dividing lines but more importantly reaching across the ocean and around the world to encourage all nations to work for a better world.

            Obama and Biden have the strength, ability, experience, and charisma to lead us in these troubling and uncertain times.

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Who can best lead? (longer version)

            Sen. Barach Obama and Sen. John McCain both support change in our country. Let’s look at a few areas of needed change.

War and Foreign Policy

            After the attack on 9/11/01 President George W. . Bush diverted attention from al Qaeda, the perpetrators in Afghanistan, to an aggressive pre-emptive  war in Iraq and thus  squandered an opportunity to lead the world against the threat of global terrorism. McCain supported it and continues to support it until “a competent, trained, and capable Iraqi security force is in place and operating effectively,[i] without regard for Iraq’s wishes. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq demands “a fixed date for the withdrawal of American troops.” [ii] Obama opposed this war from the beginning and will work with Iraq to bring it to an honorable conclusion.

The Bush administration’s motto is “if you aren’t for us, you are against us”, creating enemies around the world. Bush capitalized on the fear generated after 9/11. McCain pursues the same fear in his campaign by referring to the “dangerous world” [iii] in which we live.  While recognizing that there are threatening dangers in the world, Obama believes in working with other nations to provide stability rather than going it alone.

Energy policy

We have recently experienced the highest price for gas at the pump that was unthinkable a few short years ago, although the price is declining as I write this column. Oil companies on the other hand are realizing the highest profits ever. While McCain writes on his website that we need to pursue alternative energy sources and become energy independent he supports vigorously the oil industry as shown in the sound bite heard at the Republican Convention “Drill now!”. The effect of new drilling will not be realized for at least ten years. Obama is talking openly and forcefully for government incentives to produce alternative energy and free this country from dependence on foreign oil within ten years.[iv]

“Big Government”

            There is a belief that the government is too big and full of waste and corruption. This fuels the hatred for all taxes. The Republicans have traditionally gained the upper hand in this attack by calling the Democrats the “tax and spend” party.

            A look at some facts however reveals a different picture. The size of the Federal government is not only determined by programs but by its spending. A deficit is the amount of money spent in excess of revenue. Since 1980 there have been three Republican presidents and one Democrat. The only time there was not deficit spending was during the second term of Bill Clinton, the Democrat.

            Annual deficits add to the national debt. The national debt during the same time period has increased from about one trillion dollars to over ten trillion dollars. During the second term of Bill Clinton was the only time that the government was actually reducing the debt. The ratio of the national debt to the Gross Domestic Product steadily declined from shortly after World War II to 1980 when Reagan became President. In September 2008 that ratio reached its highest point since 1953. [v]

            Much of the debt accumulated in the last eight years has been to pay for the war in Iraq estimated at about one trillion dollars. Another trillion has been added in the past few months with the economic stimulus package in the spring which gave taxpayers borrowed money, not a refund of our taxes that we had already paid. The bailout of AIG, Fannie May and Freddie Mac and the most recent rescue plan have further increased the deficit.

            Adding insult to injury, McCain picked Palin because of her fiscal restraint but she was a big part of this government spending until she was picked for VP.

            While mayor of Wasilla Palin hired a lobbyist who obtained federal funds for Wasilla. He was successful to the tune of $27 million, about $400,000 per resident of Wasilla at that time![vi] Despite her “Thanks but no thanks” for the now infamous Bridge to Nowhere, Alaska receive the money for other transportation needs. Two years ago Palin supported the bridge in her campaign for governor. [vii]

The economy

            Former Sen. Phil Gramm introduced legislation in 2003 that ended the traditional separation of the banking, investing, and insuring sectors of our economy.[viii]  In just five years we are experiencing the greatest threat to our economy since the Great Depression of the 1930‘s. The number of home mortgage foreclosures  increases every day. This debacle is accentuated by the scandalous compensation packages given to executives of these companies whether they performed well or not.[ix]

            McCain has admitted he is not an expert on the economy  but then it is necessary for him to pick top quality economic advisors. His “econ brain”  is none other than Phil Gramm who said in July 2008 that the American people are “whiners”[x]  when it comes to the economy. It is probably from Gramm that McCain based his statement that the economy is “fundamentally sound”[xi], as recently as September 15 2008.

            This isn’t the first time McCain has supported faulty deregulation. He was one of the supporters of the deregulation of the Savings and Loans in the 1980’s. Remember those fine banking institutions? Within five years they were down the drain and in need of a bailout. McCain was one of the infamous Keating 5 Senators who advocated and won the bailout of the failed S&L’s at a cost of $165 billion to the taxpayers. [xii]

            McCain has not learned from these two mistakes . His solution to the health care problem is to deregulate the health insurance industry, “like the banking industry”, he wrote in an article published this month.[xiii] If he gets his way we can see by the end of his first term a meltdown of the health insurance industry.

Vice Presidential choice

            McCain made a brilliant decision in picking a woman to be his running mate, but unfortunately his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin shows poor judgment. Palin was under investigation for abuse of gubernatorial authority. Prudence would dictate avoiding this dilemma. Furthermore she and all her underlings in the government refused to testify in the investigation[xiv] until the Alaska Supreme Court ordered them to testify. [xv] “An Alaska state legislative investigator found [on October 10]that Gov. Sarah Palin abused executive power when she and her husband engaged in a campaign to oust her former brother-in-law, Mike Wooten,  from the state police force.” [xvi] More importantly however, a Time article says the report shows that the “Palin administration” is  “shockingly amateurish” by its “coordinated application of pressure on safety commissioner, Walter Monegan,” to get Wooten fired. [xvii] Such abuse of power was rampant in the Bush administration for the last eight years. We don’t need four more years of that.

            Sen. Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate, was quite candid in an interview that Sen. Hilary Clinton may be more qualified than he to be Vice President. Picking up on an email from the McCain campaign Fox News ridiculed him for not thinking he was the best.[xviii]  While it may have been politically imprudent to say that, the reality is that there are many people qualified to be Vice President in both parties. At least Biden is qualified and experienced with many years as a Senator and well versed in foreign policy.

Elitist insiders

            The Republican Bush administration has been aloof, distant, secretive, and inflated with power. Yet McCain dares to characterize the Democrats as the elitists who need to be thrown out. McCain has been in Washington since 1983. While McCain speaks of “straight talk”, he has stopped giving interviews in June because the media is biased.[xix] So much for his openness with the media. Much to his credit however he has distanced himself from the Bush administration but the reality is his voting record during the last eight years has been overwhelming support for Bush policies.

Campaign Practices

            While it can be reasonably claimed that all four candidates have made statements about opponents that were misleading and/or inflammatory, the McCain-Palin team has sunk to a new level of inflammatory ads, phone messages, and Palin’s speeches. They insinuate a close connection between Obama and the former radical William Ayers who is now a respected Professor in the Department of Education at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Obama was clearly not linked with Ayers when Ayers was spewing venom against the United States in the 1970’s because Obama was only eight years old! Ayers and Obama served on the board of a community anti-poverty group Woods Fund of Chicago, between 2000 and 2002.[xx]

Palin has disgraced herself by inciting her audiences to hatred. In Florida one participant yelled “kill him.” [xxi] This incident should be enough to convince the McCain-Palin campaign to back off their incendiary comments and ads.

            In the debates all have waffled on answers and hurled accusations against their opponent, but Palin was especially brash in stating that she wanted to talk about energy, not the answer to a question given her.

            McCain takes the prize however for his response to a question about social security. He began by saying he will answer the question and then proceeded to say

"We know what the problems are, my friends, and we know what the fixes are," [xxii] without giving a single hint at what the problem is or what the fixes are. His answer was also condescending and patronizing in calling all the people present and the TV audience, “my friends.”

Abortion

            For some people abortion is the only issue because they say it is fundamental to all rights. While the Democratic Party supports Roe v. Wade, it supports pregnant women “by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.” [xxiii] In this way the Democrats hope to reduce abortions by reducing the reasons women obtain an abortion.

            The Republican Party supports a Human Life  Amendment that gives protection of the Fourteenth Amendment to fetuses. This is more restrictive than the Platform in 2004 which said, “Our goal is to ensure that women with problem pregnancies have the kind of support, material and otherwise, they need for themselves and for their babies….” .[xxiv] This kind of language was omitted this year.

            For a more detailed look at “Pro-life” see my columns The Value of Human Life is a Moral Certainty, and “Pro-life” extends from before Birth Through Adult.

The Religious “problem”

            The attack on the United States in 2001 opened American eyes to radical Islamic extremists. Too many Americans have not been very discerning in their judgment of Muslims however in equating all of them with this extremism. This is evident in the slanderous attempt to label Obama as a Muslim extremist. This radical Muslim extremism falls in the broad category of religious fundamentalism that is also rising in Christianity, Judaism and even the perennially peaceful Hinduism.

            Fundamentalist Christianity appears most clearly in the United States in the effort to have creationism taught in our public schools as science. Creationism is the Biblical myth that says God created the world in six days.

            Palin has belonged to an Assembly of God church in Wasilla for many years although she has not been very active in it since she became Governor of Alaska. The Assembly of God Church is part of the fast growing Pentecostal movement in Christianity that began about 100 years ago. Pentecostalism is a form of fundamentalism.[xxv] Many Christian evangelicals are also fundamentalist.

            This fundamentalism also appears in the Catholic Church when Catholics, including some bishops, tell us that we are courting eternal damnation if we vote for candidates who support abortion. Every four years the bishops issue a document on voting. The one in 2007 is called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility. I have studied and reflected on this document thoroughly and concluded there is nothing that prevents me from voting for Obama-Biden. For an analysis of this document see my column The Bishops give good advice on voting on my website.

            Douglas W. Kmiec and Nicholas P. Cafardi are two Catholic professors who are staunchly opposed to abortion. They have concluded that Obama and Biden represent the Catholic social justice goals more than McCain and Palin. Fr. Richard McBrien  says that these single issue bishops violate their own teaching.

            Kmiec, professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University, was a former constitutional lawyer for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. [xxvi] Cafardi is a law professor and former law school dean at Duquesne University, a Catholic school in Pittsburgh.[xxvii] Fr. Richard McBrien  is professor at Notre Dame University. [xxviii]

Hopeful change

            Sen. Joe Biden in his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention characterized John McCain as “more of the same, not change.” [xxix] It sounds to me that Biden is right on. McCain does not represent the change we need.

            Obama is giving us a vision of hope for the future. He appeals to the higher nature of all of us in reaching out across dividing lines but more importantly reaching across the ocean and around the world to encourage all nations to work for a better world.

            Obama and Biden have the strength, ability, experience, and charisma to lead us in these troubling and uncertain times.

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[ii] Campbell Robertson and Riyadh Mohammed,

“Maliki Pushes for Troop Withdrawal” New York Times, August 25, 2008

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/26/world/middleeast/26iraq.html?emc=rss&partner=rssnyt

[v] Mark Wieczorek, “The National Budget, Debt & Deficit” http://www.marktaw.com/culture_and_media/TheNationalDebt.html Also see Department of the Treasury website: http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt_histo5.htm. see also  Steve Stoft, http://www.zfacts.com/p/318.html

[vi] Alec MacGillis, “As Mayor of Wasilla, Palin Cut Own Duties, Left Trail of Bad Blood”,

Washington Post, Sunday, September 14, 2008; A01

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/13/AR2008091302596_pf.html

[vii] Michael Kinsley, “Sarah Palin's Alaskonomics”, Time,

Sep. 09, 2008. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1839724,00.html

[viii] “Top Advisors”, The Progress Report, September 16, 2008. The act is Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

[ix] Neil Weinberg, Michael Maiello and David K. Randall, “Paying for Failure”, Forbes, May 19, 2008

[x] Patrice Hill, McCain adviser talks of 'mental recession', The Washington Times, July 9, 2008. http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2008/0519/114.html?boxes=custom

[xi] “McCain calls U.S. economy 'fundamentally sound' on same day Lehman Brothers declared  bankrupt”,  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1056475/McCain-calls-U-S-economy-fundamentally-sound-day-Lehman-Brothers-declared-bankrupt.html, September 27, 2008)

[xii] Joe Klein, :Their Brand is Collapse: Time September 15, 2008. http://time-blog.com/swampland/

[xiii] John McCain, “Better Care at  Lower Cost for Every American” Contingencies Sep-Oct 2008. http://now.eloqua.com/e/er.aspx?s=785&lid=9958&elq=D3F1233C6F0E43B2A450CE94

 

[xiv] Nathan Thornburgh, “Palin's Troopergate Moves Getting Bad Reviews in Alaska

Time, September 23, 2008

[xv] “Seven Palin Aides to Testify in Abuse-of-Power Probe” By the Associated Press,

05 October 2008.

http://www.truthout.org/100608J

[xvi] James V. Grimaldi and Kimberly Kindy, “Probe Finds Palin Abused Power in Case of Trooper”, The Washington Post, October 11, 2008. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/10/AR2008101003167_pf.html

[xvii] Nathan Thornburgh, “What the Troopergate Report Really Says”, Time, October 11, 2008, http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1849399,00.html

[xviii] Aaron Bruns and The Associated Press, “Biden: Hillary Clinton 'Might Have Been a Better Pick' for VP’”, Fox News, September 10, 2008. http://elections.foxnews.com/2008/09/10/biden-hillary-clinton-might-have-been-a-better-pick-for-vp/

[xix] Jay Carney and Michael Scherer, “McCain's Bias Claim: Truth or Tactic?”, Time, September 8, 2008. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1839416,00.html

[xxi]Politics of Attack”, New York Times,

07 October 2008. http://www.truthout.org/100808M

[xxii] Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, “False Threats”, The Progress Report, October 8, 2008.

[xxiii] Alec MacGillis, “Conservative Dems Hail Party Platform's New Abortion Plank”, On the issues, August 

13, 2008. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/08/13/conservative_dems_hail_party_p.html

[xxiv] “Comparison of the Republican Party's
platform on abortion topics: 2004 & 2008”, http://www.religioustolerance.org/aborepplat.htm

[xxv] Amy Sullivan, “Does Sarah Palin Have a Pentecostal Problem?”, Time daily, http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1848420,00.html

[xxvi] Mary Barron, “Obama values draw one time Reaganite to Democratic ranks”, National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 2008.   http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=print/1677

[xxvii] Bruce Tomaso, “An anti-abortion Catholic supports Obama -- here's why”, The Dallas Evening News, October 3, 2008.   http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2008/10/an-antiabortion-catholic-suppr.html

[xxviii] Thomas C. Fox, “Theologian says one issue bishops violate their own teaching”, National Catholic Reporter, October 7, 2008.  http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=node/2089

[xxix] Joe Biden, Acceptance Speech, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVH58DeUThg, August 27, 2008.

 

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