Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What The Presidential Debates Showed Us

Let's start with their respective temperaments.

America's financial industry is on life support. We're involved in two wars. What kind of individual do we want as president?

Judging by the debates, do we want a president who's cranky, sarcastic and condescending–one who can barely look at his opponent during the first two encounters? Or do we want a president who's calm and measured–a steady hand at the wheel during uncertain times?

John McCain is known to have a short fuse. Perhaps the demeanor that characterized his debate performances comes from the knowledge that his campaign strategy isn't working. 

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told us that he wanted this campaign to be about personalities and not issues–especially not the economy. That was a startling but honest admission: they don't have the issues, so they want the campaign to ultimately be a referendum on Barack Obama.

But economic reality punctured the plan. So no matter how many times Sarah Palin repeats her vile and inflammatory accusation that Obama is "palling around with terrorists," the populace can't help but focus on whether they'll be able to stay in their homes, keep their jobs and hold on to their savings.

McCain famously admitted that he doesn't know much about economics. During the debate, he proved it by falling back on the same Republican policies that have failed us over the past eight years.

In a speech in Pennsylvania, McCain offered his chief weapon in increasing employment: "I will help to create jobs for Americans in the most effective way a president can do this — with tax cuts that are directed specifically to create jobs..."

We know exactly what this means: more tax cuts for the wealthiest segment of the population and major corporations. After eight years, this policy has worked brilliantly, hasn't it? Bush has created a new gilded age in which the income gap has grown in a way not seen since the 1920s. Clearly we're not being flooded with new jobs for the picking. Apparently the wealthy are doing what they've always done to stay wealthy: not "creating jobs," but investing their profits.

But McCain still peddles the myth that the "trickle down" economics is about to work. Just give it a little more time. And during the debate, he continued offering more of the same. Yet while doing so, he objected to being compared to George Bush.

Obama, on the other hand, explained his goal of reversing the regressive tax structure favored by the Bush administration and McCain:

Now, Senator McCain -- the centerpiece of his economic proposal is to provide $200 billion in additional tax breaks to some of the wealthiest corporations in America. ExxonMobil and other oil companies, for example, would get an additional $4 billion in tax breaks. What I have said is I want to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of working Americans ...independent studies have looked at our respective plans and have concluded that I provide three times the amount of tax relief to middle-class families than Senator McCain does.

McCain's response:

The whole premise behind Senator Obama's plans are class warfare-- let's spread the wealth around. I want small businesses -- and by the way, small businesses that we're talking that would receive an increase in their taxes, right now -- who -- why would you want to increase anybody's taxes right now? 

McCain does not answer Obama's statement that "98 percent of small businesses make less than $250,000" and would therefore be unaffected by a tax increase. He also has no response to the fact that the middle class will get a bigger tax break under Obama's plan. That point was acknowledged by Business Week, hardly a liberal publication. 

McCain's statement about "class warfare" is standard Republican rhetoric. Yet haven't they conducted class warfare with tax breaks for those who least need them and by instituting a regressive tax structure in behalf of those who benefit the most from our economic system?

We can also contrast the two candidates' positions on health care. Obama's goal is to extend it to more Americans than ever before:

 If you have health insurance, then you don't have to do anything. If you've got health insurance through your employer, you can keep your health insurance, keep your choice of doctor, keep your plan.

The only thing we're going to try to do is lower costs so that those cost savings are passed onto you. And we estimate we can cut the average family's premium by about $2,500 per year. If you don't have health insurance, then what we're going to do is to provide you the option of buying into the same kind of federal pool that both Senator McCain and I enjoy as federal employees, which will give you high-quality care, choice of doctors, at lower costs, because so many people are part of this insured group.

McCain's plan revolves around an inadequate $5,000 and avoiding governmental involvement:

But I want to give every American family a $5,000 refundable tax credit. Take it and get anywhere in America the health care that you wish.

Senator Obama wants to set up health care bureaucracies, take over the health care of America through -- as he said, his object is a single payer system.

If you like that, you'll love Canada and England.

I'm curious: How many citizens in Canada and England are clamoring for the health care system that we have here in the U.S., in which 47 million have no coverage, including millions of children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau? How many are lobbying for a system in which, according to a study by Harvard University, half of all bankruptcies are caused by illness or medical bills? Is there a yearning abroad to divert health care funds by the millions to the overhead of medical insurance companies? Do our allies really want these same insurance companies that weed out those with "pre-existing conditions"?

The fact is that McCain's plan is a scam, as Obama pointed out:

Now, what we haven't talked about is Senator McCain's plan. He says he's going to give you all a $5,000 tax credit. That sounds pretty good. And you can go out and buy your own insurance.

Here's the problem -- that for about 20 million people, you may find yourselves no longer having employer-based health insurance. This is because younger people might be able to get health insurance for $5,000, young and healthy folks.

Older folks, let's healthy folks, what's going to end up happening is that you're going to be the only ones left in your employer-based system, your employers won't be able to afford it.

And once you're out on your own with this $5,000 credit, Senator McCain, for the first time, is going to be taxing the health care benefits that you have from your employer.

And this is your plan, John. For the first time in history, you will be taxing people's health care benefits.

By the way, the average policy costs about $12,000. So if you've got $5,000 and it's going to cost you $12,000, that's a loss for you.

Last point about Senator McCain's plan is that insurers right now, the main restrictions on what they do is primarily state law and, under Senator McCain's plan, those rules would be stripped away and you would start seeing a lot more insurance companies cherry-picking and excluding people from coverage.

That, I think, is a mistake and I think that this is a fundamental difference in our campaign and how we would approach health care.

Think about it: McCain, the loyal Bush Republican, rails against tax increases. Then he proposes for the first time a tax on employee health care. How is this not a tax increase? And how does it help those who depend upon their jobs for medical care? Further, how does $5,000 compensate for an average $12,000 plan?

It doesn't. John McCain simply doesn't have the answers to the pressing needs of the American people, and he doesn't have the steady temperament that we require now. For the answers and the temperament, we must look to Barack Obama. That's what the presidential debates showed us.

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