The Obama train pulled out of Super Tuesday with a head full of steam, and proceeded to make the case for Democrat frontrunner status with Saturday and Tuesday's primary sweeps. The Democrats hottest property is winning voters in rural areas and the south, and giving Hillary Clinton a serious run for specifically her own money.
Senator Obama has been able to impress the voting public with a very powerful message, a promise to "build a coalition for change that stretches through Red States and Blue States," and to basically cure every ill that ails us. However, the more policy minded among us have not been swept off our feet.
In many of my previous writings, such as "Dishonest Dems," "The Obnoxious American Loves Hillary," and "The Real Debate," where I attack the underlying policies of the left, people who disagree with what I've written tend to refer to the articles as hit pieces or claim the arguments used are "straw men." (Other, more salacious nouns have been used to describe me as well). Everything and anything has been thrown in my direction to avoid actually debating the points raised. So I figured I'd beat my detractors to the punch and titled this article as such.
But this isn't really a hit piece. The media, the Democrats, and even independents and Republicans have given Obama a free pass on talking about his policy. After 8 years of Bush, Americans are so blown away by the idea of a president that can actually speak, that all other considerations have been dashed, at least for now.
As far as the common complaints about Obama, let me say that I don't care about his race, or whether Hillary made racist remarks about him (or not), or whether he is black enough, or experienced enough or anything unquantifiable like that. This article is based entirely on Obama's own statements and policies taken from his website. This isn't an attempt to trash anyone, especially not a person who might become the next President of this great country. But I do have some serious reservations with the policies put forth by both Democrat candidates and especially those of Mr. Obama. The candidate's stance on the issues have not been widely discussed so this article will dissect Obama's positions.
On Changing the State of Politics
The one word many associate with Obama's candidacy is that he would truly be the "change" candidate. We've all heard that he would approach Washington politics in a new way, stop partisanship, reach across the aisle, and so on. But all of this is pretty clearly a lot of election talk. Obama has a 95% rating from Americans for Democratic Reform, which ranks congressional members based on how liberal they are. The full support of Ted Kennedy adds to Obama's liberal creds.
It's not just about the support of one of the most liberal members in the history of the Senate, nor a ranking from some left wing advocacy group. Obama's rhetoric and policies are a stretch for any right-leaning centrist like myself, not to mention a more dyed in the wool Republican. Obama has been able to smoothly sail from one primary victory to another selling the high level idea of change, of a new working paradigm to Democrats and surprisingly even some Republicans. Not delving too deeply into the details of his platform, and how he'd actually accomplish some of the change he talks about has worked very well for him thus far. However, once you actually do dig deeper, a treasure trove of liberalism is found, making it extremely hard to believe the sincerity of these claims to work in a more bipartisan fashion in Washington.
Given the large number of expected GOP retirees in this election cycle, resulting in likely gains for the Dems in both houses, perhaps Obama believes that when he does reach across the aisle, it will be another liberal there waiting to take his hand.
On the Economy
Obama's economic plan is steeped in the usual Democrat heavy-handedness. Income redistribution, protectionism, increased regulations – all of the anti-capitalist, economy crushing concepts are there.
"Obama will restore fairness to the tax code and provide 150 million workers the tax relief they need. "
Obama is right that our system of taxes is unfair, but he is wrong about who it's unfair to. Americans who are in the top 50% of earners pay over 96% of all income taxes. This means that the bottom 50% of earners pay the remaining, which comes out to just over 3% of all income taxes. The top 1% alone are paying over 30% of all income taxes received by the government.
According to the Tax Foundation, over 43 million tax returns, which represent as many as 91 million individual Americans, will pay no federal income taxes at all, and a decent percentage of those people will even get money back from the government, money that they never paid, by way of programs such as EITC. As a percentage of the population, nearly 40% of tax filing Americans are not paying taxes, compared to around 18% of Americans back in the 80s.
If Obama is really looking to inject fairness in the tax code, then it's these types of things that need to be changed. Unfortunately, Obama is actually looking to make this situation even more lopsided. And to what end? Does increasing taxes on the rich really help the economy? Most economists and thoughtful Americans think not. Experience has shown higher taxes reduce spending by the people. Balancing the government's budget deficit is good business, but this has no meaningful impact on the nation's economy.
There are two real deficits we should be concerned about. First, is the trade deficit, and this is something the government cannot resolve without being protectionist and further hurting the economy. Second is the amount of credit to assets held by individuals and corporations. Increasing taxes reduces the amount of money available for individuals to pay off their debt, as well as to build savings, and only hurts the economy further.
Maddeningly, Obama also supports tax increases on the "rich" to pay for Social Security, which is a form of collective savings that is not solvent, and one we cannot rely on. So basically, forget about managing your own retirement comrade, let's let the Government do it for us.
Aside from the few extreme holdouts who believe that during the Clinton years, balancing the budget, the higher taxes and interest rates, and not the dot com boom, was the reason for the positive financial environment, it's clear to pretty much everyone else that money does a lot more for the people and the economy when the people are allowed to keep the money they earned, and are free to spend it, or save it as they choose.
In terms of real tax fairness, I come down on the side of a flat income tax, with no loopholes, and no excuses. For every $1000 earned, you pay your $150, or $200, or whatever, but everyone pays their share and it's the same share percentage wise. That's real fairness, and Obama's plan is anything but.
But regardless of what plan I happen to favor, can anyone honestly say that Obama's economic plans will do anything to improve the economy? Will they do anything to inject real fairness into the tax code? And most importantly, in terms of Obama being the "change" candidate willing to work across the aisle, how is this any kind of "change" from the usual class warfare engaged in by the extreme left?
A big part of Obama's position on Iraq deals with the fact that unlike Hillary and many other Democrats, he never supported the war in the first place. In countless debates and speeches, Obama touts his judgement during the precursor to the Iraq war as one of the main reasons he should be elected president.
But there is much more to having "Judgment You Can Trust" than simply being anti-war. And while everyone can agree that the execution of the war was terrible, most Americans did support taking Saddam out of power at the time – Obama's "judgement" was actually on the fringe when he took his stance. While nobody likes hippies, by mishandling the war, Bush bailed out the liberal, anti-war position just in time for the 2006 elections, and with plenty of angst leftover for 2008. However, had the Iraq war effort been more successful, it's likely that wide support would have continued. So while bad management put Obama's position in the right place for this election cycle, the question remains whether he was executing wisdom beyond his years in the decision not to go to Iraq, or is he simply against any kind of military action, except in the most obvious self defense situations?
Much more importantly, while Obama may have held a position that turned out to be in line with the views of most Americans once the war effort went sour, that does not mean he would be any good at resolving the issues we now face in Iraq. Obama's main "Plan for Ending the War in Iraq" is withdrawal. His website details how he'd accomplish the withdrawal:
Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.
The above is nothing more than what Kerry was pushing during his failed 2004 presidential bid. The only difference seems to be in terms of the person saying it. While Obama has none of the "pro-war" baggage of Clinton or Kerry, claiming the moral highground for never having supported the war in the first place, his plan is essentially the same as Kerry, Edwards and Clinton.
Moreover, if the plan in Iraq is to withdraw, why take 16 months to do it? Once we've elected Obama, all of the people causing trouble in Iraq will simply wait out the withdrawl. In the meantime, soldiers will be getting killed while waiting to retreat. This withdrawl plan as it is makes no actual sense in terms of saving American lives in Iraq, and of course does nothing to save Iraqis who share our interest in establishing a real country there.
A more nuanced position might be to argue that withdrawing is no plan for "ending the war in Iraq" as Obama's website claims. In fact, all this would accomplish is ensuring that the US is no longer part of that war. But the war itself would clearly continue. Considering that we started the war, I cannot imagine the kind of diplomacy hit our already tarnished name would take. And in terms of reaching across the aisle, it's worth pointing out that this position is a non-starter for a majority of Republicans.
Obama's Iraq policy has more to it than withdrawl, such as "pressing Iraq's leaders to reconcile," "Regional Diplomacy," and "Humanitarian Initiatives." These plans sound great but it's laughable to suggest that we could accomplish any bit of it after pulling our troops out, and inviting the instability that would follow shortly thereafter.
And then there are those pesky current events to consider. The surge has helped to turn things around. Sure, the gains there have been tenuous, sure, this could all go very bad or even worse, at the cost of even more tragic loss of American and Iraqi life. But in the America that I grew up in, we didn't give up so easily, especially in the face of actual positive results.
No discussion on Iraq would be complete without talking about Obama's repeated refrain that the war in Iraq under the current scheme would last forever, or as he likes to quote his likely GOP opponent, lasting 100 years. McCain did say that troops would be in Iraq for 100 years, but also mentioned that troops have been in Japan and Germany for 60 years. There is a difference between the active war we have in Iraq and troop presence in countries with established diplomatic relations. Obviously McCain's outlook for the future in Iraq is that eventually, and hopefully soon, our relations with Iraq will be similar to that of Germany or Japan. I suppose hoping for a better Iraq is just a little too much audacity for Obama. And it's kind of disappointing that Obama, who is supposed to be above the political fray, would stoop to such obvious misdirection and gimmickry.
Once again, Obama's position is long on extreme liberal views, and short on anything resembling real change or bipartisanship.
On the Larger War on Terror
Consider Obama's vote this week, which was in favor of prosecuting communications companies that assisted the government in wiretapping terrorists.
Sure, the regulars will come out and claim that this was a vote in favor of our personal rights. But let's be sensible, enabling a whole new suite of lawsuits against American companies who are assisting the government in national security efforts does NOTHING to protect my rights. It may make a few lawyers richer, it might make things easier for terrorists, but my rights will still be the same.
Need I remind everyone that our country is fighting a war, actually two war fronts and one more conceptual war. Historically, Americans have given up some liberties in times of war. Of course, this must be a temporary, and rare thing, and only done out of absolute necessity. We all know the old saying about those willing to give up freedom for security deserve neither. However, I just don't see the freedoms we are giving up, but as a New Yorker who was here during 9/11, I do see a real security issue.
Lets face facts here. Americans are not being rounded up and put into internment camps because of the PATRIOT Act. People reading books in the library are not being prosecuted for their choices (although if they are reading Al Franken, perhaps they should be). There simply hasn't been the abuse of power that so many have claimed would happen. And last I checked, no matter who might be wiretapping my phone in an effort to look for terrorists, if the government wanted to actually use something I said against me in a court of law, they would still need to provide the required warrants, otherwise the evidence is thrown right out of court.
Obama has reiterated the point on many occassions that he would meet with our enemies without precondition. This sounds reasonable, but as the Wall Street Journal pointed out yesterday, noting (along with many other fruitless war time relationships) that Franklin Roosevelt often spoke with Joseph Stalin during WWII, this doesn't always make a whole lot of difference. Ultimately any real relations require a motivated partner. Without that, talking is pretty much just that.
That's not to say I am against the idea of talking with our enemies, but I think there is a bit of disingenuousness to this premise. Does anyone really believe that the problem that the US has with Iran's or North Korea's nuclear programs stem from us simply not talking to them? Or that the resolution to these conflicts merely lay in a heart to heart with Kim? The fact is that there is a dialogue between the US and Iran and North Korea. Just not the naive sort.
But back to Mr. Obama's views on the War on Terror. Well his website doesn't even mention it. It does have a section entitled "Homeland Security," which starts out by saying that America's problem is that we are unprepared for terrorist attacks. This is laughable in the face of almost 7 years without any repeats of 9/11, and considering the countless failed attempts by terrorists on our own shores since that terrible day. But let's forget about that for a second. The main points of his plan (I encourage you to read it, especially if you plan to vote for Obama), not all of which are bad ideas, do not even begin to address the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists or other brands or terrorist.
It's almost as if Obama is more concerned about leaky nuclear reactors and Katrina families than the actual threat of a terrorist attack. And these are all fine and good concerns, but not under the guise of HomeLand Security. Not even close. Is continuing the Democratic Party's constant denial that there is an real threat of terrorism any kind of "real change?" Sounds like the same stuff I've been hearing from the left all along.
Since immigration seems so puzzlingly important to so many this election cycle, even though it is one of the founding principles of this country, I will briefly talk about it here. I think all of the candidates on both sides are full of a lot of hot air on this issue. No one wants these people kicked out, and no one really thinks that it is smart to stop the influx of people who want to become Americans. Sure, there are immigrants who consume public services or commit crimes, and these people should be dealt with accordingly. But I have a feeling most people making the arduous journey to come to America illegally do so for many more reasons than a government handout. Perhaps the American dream?
Obama's immigration platform is similar to the rest of the candidates. Some combination of securing the border and documenting those that are here already. He also has some bits about "cracking down" on those pesky employers who hire illegals. But it's when you read Obama's economic policies, specifically the protectionist parts (i.e. ammend NAFTA) where the true views on immigration come into play.
The reality is that our economic problems of late have nothing whatsoever to do with NAFTA or free trade. Furthermore, the very pro-labor, pro-union, protectionist rhetoric from Obama is precisely the reason why the United States is no longer a viable manufacturer of goods. The price of union labor is too high, especially when compared with the costs of goods in other developing nations. Unions did have their place, but these days they do much more damage than good in the US. Don't believe me? Look at Michigan's (host to the big three automakers, and the most pro-union state in the country) economic numbers as compared to the rest of this nation.
No man is an island, and the answer isn't to bury our heads in the sand or tariff the heck out of cheaper goods from overseas, all in an effort to save jobs here that are no longer viable. The answer is to approach these changing economic times with an eye for what we do well, looking for opportunities with the assets we do have, and there are many. Just not in manufacturing.
Obama's immigration reform is far from the kind of change he parades about in his speeches. And his protectionism, considered ill-advised by Alan Greenspan, is not only more of the same from the Democratic party, but no Republican will consider any of his position to be bipartisan.
Let's Not Waste Time on Soft Issues
As in prior articles, I only talk about the hard issues. First, if the issues above are not handled properly, the soft issues will very quickly not matter. Moreover, I don't believe the governmnet should be governing on issues like Abortion or Gay Marriage. The government's job is to protect our constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nowhere in there does it talk about income redistribution or helping the needy. Certainly helping the needy is a fine goal, and I think this country does a great job of doing that now. Or at least as good as a large government can. I don't think a new suite of entitlement programs, as proposed by both Clinton and Obama are the answer to a country in a time when so much about our future is up in the air.
In a time when there are so many issues that could hurt the future of this great country, it's a wonder that this election has been about anything but the actual policies of the candidates, especially in the case of Obama. I hope that this article helps get the discussion back on track about what the candidates are saying they'd actually do, rather than simply how they make us feel when they give a speech. Now that would be a real change.