10.18.2008

Obama for President

This will probably be my one and only blog about the 2008 Presidential Race.  My vote for president will go to Barack Obama.  I'm happy to say that despite the negative ads on both sides and some rather hurtful comments from respective supporters, we enter the 2008 election with two candidates I actually like.   Past elections have always been about choosing the lesser of two evils, as such I've paid (or tried to pay) close attention to the details of what each candidate brings.

"I am not George Bush"

Really?  Well neither am I, but it wouldn't have taken me 6 months to say it.  As I've stated many times before, Senator John McCain virtually backed into the nomination by simply surviving the primaries.  Ironically, I thought he was the only Republican who had the potential to bring down Barack Obama.  So far however, he's blown it.   I don't really believe the national polls are accurate.  But it is kind of hard not to believe Obama is in control.  

I like McCain's passion, his undying dedication, and fierce independence.  But decision-making, ability to motivate people, and his age have been issues for me.   I was really hoping to see something that would make me pause and say - this could be the best choice.   He's fond of calling himself a maverick and saying he knows how to get things done and how to reach "across the aisle" to form bipartisan coalitions.  Reality says otherwise:

  • Maverick?  Yes, but that not only puts him at odds with his own party, it also isolates him without many people he can count on for votes.  He has to work 2-3X as hard to garner support from his own party than he would if he weren't such a "maverick".  History clearly shows that McCain has trouble uniting his party.  What has happened to make me believe he suddenly has the ability to unite the country?

  • Does he know how to get things done?  Probably, but with 26 years in the Senate, he'd better know SOMETHING about how government works.   But knowing how government works isn't the same as knowing how to get things done.  In McCain's case, I would argue that if he knows how to get things done then why don't we have affordable health insurance?  Why haven't our educational system improved?  Why are we still grappling with the solvency of Social Security?  Why aren't we free from foriegn oil dependence?  I'm sure he has excuses - namely the Democrats standing in the way - but during his tenure, he's had several periods where Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and we STILL don't have these most important things.  

  • He acknowledges change is needed but doesn't seem to understand that 26 years of experience in the Senate is defined to be part of the establishment, not an agent of change.

  • Is he too old?  I would hope this isn't an issue, but it is reality.  Therefore his running mate has to be smooth and polished, ready to take command in the event of the unthinkable.   I have no reason to believe Mrs. Palin is that person.  I think she would look cute in Oval Office with her red Naughty Monkey stilletos.  But I don't think she'd make an effective president.   

  • Why did he decide on Palin?  Was it to win votes or to run the country?   Frankly, I find it quite insulting that he expects me to accept a VP who doesn't even know what the VP does on a daily basis (he/she presides over the Senate, but is part of the Executive branch of government not the Legislative branch, Mr. Cheney).   She can't tell us what magazines she reads, so how are we to expect her to know how to read the actions of Russia as a legitimate threat or a bluff?   If I were Palin, I would be insulted too because I would have been set up to fail.  
The Issues: Healthcare

As for the issues themselves, again I think he is insulting the public without knowing it.   Let's look at Senator McCain's plan for health insurance.  He says with him in office we will get a $5000 tax credit so that we can buy the plan of our choice.  What he doesn't say is that $5000 is for a FAMILY, not for single taxpayers.  Single taxpayers will get $2500.  

What makes this insulting is that he's playing this harp as if a family would get $5000 in their pocket to use each year to buy insurance.   That sounds nice, but he's said this is a tax credit which is profoundly different than a tax refund.   This is more than symantics, it's a real monetary difference.  For example, 

Say Joe the Plumber hadn't bought his business yet and he makes $50,000/year.  Under McCain's plan, Joe would get a $5000 tax credit.  That makes his taxable income $45,000.  Great!  But hold on.... 

Without the tax credit, Joe would pay about $12,250 in taxes. 
With the trax credit, Joe would pay about $11,000 in taxes.  That's a savings of only $1250.  Plus.. He doesn't see this credit until April of the following year when he files taxes.  If he is unable to afford health insurance today, then he'd have to wait a year before he can even afford the insurance.  

By the campaign's own calculations, the average cost of insurance is about $7800/year per family.  Which means Joe will still be paying more than $6000/year in health insurance for his family, not the $2800 that the campaign seems to imply.  And on top of that, the government gets less money to pay for othe programs.  AND... I guarantee there would be no adjustment for inflation (in health care that's 10% year-over-year) so this $5000 credit that is already insignificant would be even more insignificant year after year.  Who wins in this situation? No one.  


The Issues: Foreign Policy

Foreign policy is an issue I think both candidates would serve us well.   They each have something to bring that would restore the trust and faith our allies have longed for.  They would do so in very different ways, but I have to give Obama the nod on this one.  Obama has a cool persona about him.  He analyzes and doesn't jump to conclusions.  Nor does he let things fester until they are out of control.  He was right on Iraq, Afghanistan, then and now.   He brings to the table a fresh idea that should be common sense: diplomacy, something the Bush administration waited until the final hour to deploy.  If we want to resolve differences with our enemies, ignoring them and slapping them with sanctions won't go very far.  Sanctions only hurt the people of the countries in question - it doesn't hurt the regime one bit.  Obama understands this and apparently McCain does not.  

The Issues: Economics and Taxes

Unfortunately for McCain the evil twin sister of Deregulation appeared just before the election.   That's bad enough, but she puts McCain and the entire Republican Party in a position to put their money where their mouth is and they choked.   You see, this whole idea of "government getting out of the way" and "let the market forces prevail" sounds good when times are rolling high.  But as soon as the road gets bumpy or even breaks apart, the call then is for government intervention.   As much as I hate to see my 401k blown to smithereens, I think the GOP should find a national policy that works in both good times and bad and either they support government assistance in the markets or they don't.  

As I see it, McCain and Republicans in general want it both ways - let the markets flow freely and when the idiots in control mess up, THEN the Federal government will rescue them so that they can continue doing stupid stuff.   Democrats and Obama specifically are clearly more suited to be fiscally responsible.  

Will McCain be another 4 years of President Bush when it comes to taxes and the economy?  Yes, without a doubt.  If McCain were president, I think he would try once again to "stimulate" the economy with another round of tax refunds.  Bush got lucky on the first try.  It barely made a blip the second go around and a third attempt would make no sense.  The fundamentals are NOT sound, Senator McCain.  Many core elements of society/economy have been falling for decades including education, technical expertise, and now we are manufacturing fewer and fewer products - much like Rome did before it fell - while trying to provide "services" to the world.  

For Obama's part, his tax policies are fair I think.  Are they designed to stimulate the economy?  Yes, and no.  Supply-side economics does work, as much as I hated to admit that when President Reagan implemented it.  However this is a different period than the 1980s.  Consumers now drive the economy, not business.  So, a tax break for the Joe the Employee is a good thing that will possibly get the economy moving sooner rather than later.  A tax increase for the well-to-do is not only overdue, but it is justified in my opinion.  We are in the middle of two wars, we need a lot of domestic things too like energy innovation, affordable health care etc. and taxes are needed.   Wall-Street types will be hit by this proposed tax increase and they deserve to pay us back for such horrid financial discipline.  

The Issues:  Education

This is the issue that brings the starkest contrast between Obama and McCain.  And it largely due to something Obama has mentioned time and again that has gotten zero press.  Sen. Obama has said on many occasions that improvement in education will require EVERYONE, not just government, not just teachers, but especially parents.  Our kids need discipline, guidance, resources, etc. things that government simply doesn't and cannot provide.  I believe in this issue quite strongly as I have watched our society get dumbed down more and more with each passing year (how many times have I seen apostrophe abuse - you know where every plural from of every word suddenly gets an apostrphe - talk about dumbing down).  McCain however wants to give vouchers to parents and hope everything works out.  

Not that vouchers are a bad idea, but like health care, education isn't necessarily a good industry that benefits from competition.  At the collegiate level yes, competition is a great thing.  At the primary and secondary level however, it is not.  ALL kids need the basic instruction and it needs to be quality instruction.  So it really doesn't matter whether Susie gets in to the best grade school - she needs quality instruction whether she gets in or not.  If she winds up at the worst school in town, not only does she pay the price in terms of her job prospects, but WE also pay if she can't read and winds up with a job that requires her to read (like a bus driver who doesn't know the difference between a yield and stop sign - an accident waiting to happen) especially if she winds up on welfare.  

The Issues: Energy

This is another example of Sen. McCain insulting the intelligence of Joe the Plumber.  You see, we have high gas prices now.  We have a rule in place that restricts drilling in the outer continental shelf (OCS) for environmental reasons.   We don't know exactly how much oil is there, nor do we know what type of oil (we make gasoline from light sweet crude oil).  We don't know where the best place is to drill.  We don't know how much it will cost per barrel to get that oil out.   It takes 10-15 years to build a new offshore oil rig or land-based oil refinery.  

So, opening up the OCS to drilling is a sucker punch to get us to vote for McCain.  If we were to open up the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve and the OCS today for drilling,  gas prices will not come down next summer.  In fact they may NEVER come down.  Why?  Let's count the ways.

1) Companies have to research and explore the shelf to find the oil before they can start drilling.  Once the oil is found and drilling spot is determined.  A rig has to be built, manned, and deployed.  Entire process:   a MINIMUM of 10 years.  So, forget about relief at the pump next year.

2) During their research, companies will determine how much it will cost to pump that oil.  If they determine that it will cost them $80/barrel and they don't believe the world market will stay above $90, they may decide not to drill at all.  OR, if they do decide to drill, you can bet oil prices will stay at or well above $90/barrel.  So, again, no relief at the pump.

3) If the oil isn't light sweet crude, then we will see no benefit at the pump.  Oil companies will sell the crude, but it just won't be the grade that produces gasoline.  

4)  Even in the case the oil is light sweet crude,  chances are pretty high according to current estimates, that the amount of oil available and can be pumped per day will be less than 3million barrels.  That's FAR less than the 25 million barrels/day we are currently using.  By the time such offshore rigs are built we could be consuming 3X that much.  

5) China and other emerging countries are pushing demand for oil to all new levels.  By the time we have a well in production on the OCS sometime near 2020, oil demand could still far outstrip supply, causing again - no relief at the pump.  

Sen. McCain has been in the Senate for 26 years.  We've been dealing with oil dependence for 35 years.  True leadership would have made this an issue years ago - like in 1982.  But true leadership isn't what we've had in Washington or anywhere else. In his defense, if Sen. McCain has pressed for drilling on the OCS the entire time he has been in the Senate then I'm not aware of it and he hasn't stated such in any of his ads or in the debates.    Also in his defense, he is touting other forms of energy - nuclear, solar, wind, etc. - each of which also has challenges and none of which is mature enough to fully support our energy needs.  However to that I'd say he's had 26 years to make that a priority and to my knowledge he hasn't made it a priority until now.   And even still, his ideas don't involve the People.  He seems to think all it takes for government to put out incentives.  Whereas Obama knows that he has to implore people to take action, not just offer incentives.  

The Intgangibles

I've heard many people compare Barack Obama to John F. Kennedy on many levels.  I've even heard he comparison from JFK's children.  That's saying something to me.  I wasn't born yet when Kennedy took office, but as a history buff, I've learned a lot about his life and career.   One thing really stood out.  He gave us a national focus, something that we can strive for and acheive together as a nation.  That focus was to land a man on the moon and safely return him to earth.  It sounded almost loony at the time, but we made it happen and it was a very proud moment.   What is remarkable about this national focus is that it wasn't war.  So often case the only time we are focused as a nation is to end a war (with the exception of Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and whatever we call the conflict in Afghanistan).  

Sen. Obama wants a national focus for us as well.  That focus is to create a new industry - alternative energy - that will save us in many ways.  When we reach that plateau we will have:

  • Less carbon emissions/greenhouse gases so as to reduce global warming

  • New jobs

  • A new economy

  • oil independence, which by definition leads to better national security
Obama is inspiring.  He makes people want to take action and he doesn't pretend that government has all the answers.  I don't know how he would have handled 9/11 and its aftermath, but it seems to me he would have asked us all to sacrifice something in order to get this mission over with swiftly and effectively.  I have a strong suspicion that he wouldn't have allowed our soldiers to go for very long without armor on their HumVees (if you recall, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared that the company couldn't produce any faster or any more than they have; truth is the administration never asked).  If the defense contractors couldn't produce fast enough, Obama proabably would have issued an executive order creating a new plant  or hiring more workers, whatever it took to get the job done.  

Sen. McCain does not inspire me - with the exception of his experience as a POW.  He hasn't asked anything of me except to quietly go about my day while his administration fixes things for me.   That kind of government has never worked.  


....

So, with 16 days to go, I have to say my mind is made up.  Obama is my choice.  He's a leader, not a politician.  

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