In which the humble blogger makes a final attempt to settle the matter with a 17-Point Issues Checklist.
Based on my limited understanding of a number of important issues, and weighing some personal qualities of the candidates, who comes out on top? Who should get my vote? In no particular order, here we go:
Taxes: Not sure I follow all the wrinkles of the plans here, and, having seen these rodeos for years, I know both sides have surprises in store. Also don’t see how Obama can deliver any kind of substantial tax cut for what he says will be 95% of the middle class. A $50 cut is better than a poke in the eye, but I bet there won’t be much in the stocking for the average, uh, Joe. (Note the obvious tension here, which always arises in matters of taxation, between what might be good for me and what might be best for the country.) Based as much on my lack of knowledge as anything, I call this one a Tie.
National Security/Defense: When it comes to America’s military presence in the world, there’s much less difference between the candidates than many think. Obama’s no reflexive pacifist, and McCain doesn’t think bombs settle every problem. Obama was wrong about the Surge. But. . . I’m settling this one by focusing on our armed services, which are battered and exhausted after years of multiple deployments. Regardless of our (too far-flung?) commitments, experts say the force is almost broken. Too much has been asked of too few. They need to rest, and I think they’re more likely to get it with. . Obama
The Coming Entitlement Disaster/General Spending: Both men have shamefully ducked this issue. Both sides favor gigantically bloated government. Nobody has a plan to deal with what the country actually owes in coming entitlements and the crushing burden that will place on future generations. “Hope the Chinese keep buying our debt” is a not a plan. Tie
Six Degrees Factor (Unsavory Associates). Call me old-fashioned, but the question of Obama’s ties to Rev. Wright over the past 20 years still vexes me, as it did the day I voted for Obama in the Texas primary. To me Wright is at best a Bible-thumping, conspiracy-believing loon and at worst a black racist. Obama’s rationale in Dreams From My Father helps some, as noted here, but it’s still not dispositive, a fancy legal term I picked up recently. I also don’t like McCain’s links to people like televangelist John Hagee and Watergate tough guy Gordon Liddy, but one key difference: McCain didn’t spend the last 20 years going to weekly seminars held by either man. Advantage: McCain
Vice-President Pick: For reasons discussed here, Obama.
Health Care: Both candidates will bring more of the uninsured into the fold, they say. Experts say it looks like Obama’s plan will bring in more than McCain’s. On the assumption that more is better here, and keenly aware that the medical lobbies and insurance companies have barely begun to weigh in, I’ll go with Obama.
Overall Experience. Having now read books by both men and oodles of mag pieces, I know both have had fascinating formative experiences that make them quite unlike most of our presidents. One can easily imagine crises and problems that would play to McCain’s strengths and others that might yield to the Obama touch. If by “experience” we mean, “an existing public record that serves as a reliable indicator of how they might behave if X happened,” I’ll go with: McCain.
Intellect/Quality of Mind: McCain is certainly not dumb, but on the evidence of his book and his speaking, Obama is extraordinarily smart. Obama.
Vigor, Health: Much of the kvetching about McCain’s age, skin cancer, wrinkles, odd body language, etc. is just ugly ageism; comparable remarks about Obama’s racial characteristics would bring universal outrage. (Maybe the critics will somehow never get old.) All that aside, however, it would be highly unusual if Obama didn’t have more of the stamina it’s going to take to cope with the world’s most demanding job. Obama can probably handle a string of 18-hour days and jet-lagged junkets better than any septuagenerian. So, Obama.
Environment: One of those rare categories where you can feel good about both candidates. Either will go miles beyond Bush. I’m tempted to give McCain a slight edge here because of his association with the West and because he has represented a state with the pressing water problems that will be/should be on the agenda. and I’ll bet Obama doesn’t even own a pair of hiking boots. McCain
National Image/World Opinion. Can 100 million French, Kenyans, Cameroonians, Filipinos, Swedes, Moroccans, Spaniards, Cretans, Brits and Turks be wrong? Nyet! Obviously it’s Obama.
Bipartisanship–can’t bear to write another word on this, but see here if you like. McCain
Party ID. Does one party or the other fill me with enough confidence or dread to deserve a nod? No. Tie. (But see “GOP Fatigue” below.)
Racial Justice/White Guilt. I don’t include this mockingly. The experience of slavery put a horrible curse on this country and blighted generations of African-American lives. Just as a measure of fear is sometimes the right reaction (sorry, FDR), so is a measure of guilt. There is no “making up” for the shame, humiliation, and violence visited upon innocent people, but a black President could serve as a symbol of real progress in racial matters and an inspiration to young blacks. (Sweetener for conservatives: His election would stupify ethnic and religious tyrants around the world.)
This issue alone woudn’t justify handing the country over to someone radically unqualified, but Obama’s not. Obviously, Obama.
Social Issues. As I confessed in a column 20 years ago, “Wasn’t Paranoid Enough” may be my epitaph. I find myself unable to see the world in terms of shadowy groups plotting to take away my rights, possibly because I’m too nice, or too lazy, to take away anyone else’s. As I’ve noted when bemoaning cultural trash like torture-porn movies, I detest them and will say so, but wouldn’t support any move to outlaw them. Likewise, the big G’s of Gawud, Guns and Gays don’t worry me overmuch despite what people out on the flanks of these issues say. A city council ordinance here or there restricting manger scenes, or insisting that Santa be included in the manger, does not a War on Christians make. As for a woman’s right to choose, calm down. Even if McCain squeaks by, he’ll have at most a razor-thin margin in the Senate. He won’t be able to get a Roberts or an Alito confirmed, much less a dedicated anti-choicer. Tie.
Immigration: Both guys favor the Comprehensive Immigration/legalize millions approach that almost killed McCain in the primaries, with some add-on lip service toward tighter borders and more workplace enforcement. Maybe we’ll hire the extra enforcers with all that leftover money. Tie.
GOP Fatigue/Turn the Page: There’s also the argument that after eight years, we’re just sick of the Pubs and we want something new. (Voice in head: Are Charlie Rangel, Barney Frank, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi “new”?) Okay, okay, but what I meant was, both parties have their healthy instincts and valid insights, along with their genetic defects and blind spots. Maybe it’s time to see if the Dems have learned anything in 8 years. With fingers crossed, Advantage: Obama.
Okay, there it is after all these months. A decision! Now I just need to run out and vote early before something happens to . . . Wait..wait…Oh, no! What’s this?