Monday, September 1, 2008

Responses to reservations about Obama

I've defended Obama against the extreme prejudice and unfair attacks he's been subjected to--and I really believe that anyone with an open mind and a feeling heart who gets to know him will at least acknowledge that he's a "good guy."

But of course, he has his flaws. He’s a quick learner, but he still has a lot to learn. (I would say the same of McCain, except that I don’t see him as being as receptive to learning.) I don’t know how well some of Obama’s proposals would work, assuming they are put into practice in exactly the way he has proposed them. But he is intelligent and pragmatic enough, I believe, that he’ll make adjustments when needed. Here are my responses to some specific reservations some have:

1. Lack of experience: Especially considering his relative youth (though he’s not as young as John F. Kennedy was), Obama has lots of experience relevant to serving as president. He has rich, direct experience with the world and with life and with much of the variety that makes up America. His work as a community organizer put him in touch with people struggling with unemployment and community problems. It involved hands on, practical experience. He has not had experience as an elected executive (neither has McCain), but he’s been actively involved in local, state, and national politics for more than two decades.

2. Lack of accomplishments: Again, his accomplishments have been impressive given his age. Contrary to Sarah Palin’s claim that he hasn’t had a single legislative accomplishment, he proposed or sponsored many pieces of legislation at the state and national level. Among the bills he helped turn into law as a senator (sometimes working closely with Republicans) are these: the 2007 Ethics Reform Law (described as the "most sweeping since Watergate"), legislation requiring lobbyists to disclose their bundling activity, legislation (co-sponsored with Republican Dick Lugar) to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons and keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists, legislation to help protect medical benefits for veterans and improve services for homeless veterans, and various items dealing with energy and health care. (For more, see

3. Socialism: The latest McCain campaign line has been that Obama’s proposals amount to socialism. That’s rubbish. Consider these points: (a) When the Bush tax cuts for those with higher incomes were proposed, McCain opposed them, on the grounds that they would make it impossible to give the middle class as much tax relief as he believed might be needed. That's essentially Obama's position. Does that make McCain a socialist? Obviously not. (b) McCain makes his claim about Obama in part because the tax cuts Obama proposes for those making less than $250,000 a year may lead to refunds to some people who have not paid taxes. But that happens now (e.g., Earned Income Credit--established under Reagan) and would also happen under McCain’s own health care plan, which gives a credit to everyone, including those who pay no taxes. (c) Another reason for McCain’s claim is that Obama’s tax cuts are made possible by increasing taxes (modestly) for those making over $250,000 a year. But McCain’s credits for health care are funded by taxing people for the health care benefits provided by employers, and so he also provides credits through taxes levied on some taxpayers. (d) The United States has had a progressive tax system for a long time, and McCain doesn’t propose to scrap that. (In fact, see the note at the end.) All Obama is proposing are some minor adjustments to the current tax code. It is absolute nonsense to call that “socialism.” It may be fair to say that Obama’s proposals do not assume a state of pure, unregulated capitalism, but neither do McCain’s. In fact, the United States has had a “mixed” economy for a long time. It has not been purely capitalist since the late 1800s when “robber barons” ruled, leading to reforms that virtually everyone believes were necessary to temper or eliminate the abuses that come with pure, completely unregulated capitalism. (e) Some call Obama’s health care plan “socialized medicine.” It is not. (See the next item.) (f) Clearly, America’s closest encounter with socialism has been the bailout recently proposed by President Bush and supported by both parties (and both candidates). In particular, the government’s buying of equity in banks has amounted to partial nationalization. But Obama (like virtually everyone else) views such measures as temporary responses to an extreme crisis. They do not represent his general approach to the economy. (But he does favor some measure of regulation of Wall Street. See more on this below.) (NOTE: See the note at the end of the post for statements McCain and Palin have made favoring the "sharing" or shifting of wealth.)

4. Obama’s health care plan: Obama’s plan is not “socialized medicine.” Contrary to McCain’s assertions in one of the debates, Obama will not be deciding who you can have as a doctor or what procedures you can have. (Have you noticed that insurance companies tend to decide those things for us currently?) Here’s a summary of Obama’s plan:

Under Obama’s proposal, those who now have an employer provided plan would simply keep it, but possibly with reduced premiums. Those without an employer-provided plan would have affordable choices through a “national health-care exchange” that includes private options and the option of choosing a national health-care plan. Businesses (with the exception of some small businesses) would be required to provide health insurance to employees. Insurers would be prohibited from denying coverage or setting prices based on health status or pre-existing conditions. Preventive care would be emphasized, and coverage of children would be mandated. Government would pay for a portion of catastrophic care coverage. A tax credit would be provided to help small businesses provide health care coverage. There are also provisions (which would have no tax consequences) to reduce drug costs and the cost of malpractice insurance for physicians. (For more, see "Obama's and McCain's Health Care Proposals".)

5. Obama’s tax proposals: Obama has proposed reducing taxes for those making less than $250,000 a year and increasing taxes (modestly) for those making over that amount. I’ve heard estimates that that means tax cuts for somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 to 95 per cent of Americans, including most small businesses. His plan also includes tax credits for every job a company creates as long as the job remains in the United States. I have no problem with his plan in general—it seems fair to me, especially considering that some of the wealthiest businesses and individuals have figured out ways to pay a disproportionately small amount of taxes and also considering that middle class Americans work just as hard as those who are wealthier.

But I have pondered the concerns some have that these increased taxes might slow economic growth by making less money available for investment. I don’t know how valid those concerns are. But I believe there’s some evidence that economic growth would not be stunted. The tax rate for those making over $250,000 would still be smaller than it was under Clinton, and the country’s economy did exceptionally well under Clinton. In fact, someone pointed out (I believe it was Mario Cuomo) that the times in recent history when this kind of adjustment was made to the tax code, the economy was not hurt but benefitted. (See also this article in the Christian Science Monitor for a similar assessment.) Given the fact that Obama intends to emphasize health care and education, including reducing health care costs through a much stronger emphasis on prevention, it can be argued that he intends to help put in place a foundation for economic stability and growth that could have a very beneficial long-term effect on the economy.

For an objective comparison of the two candidates' tax plans, see,CST-NWS-tax30.article or For a favorable assessment of Obama's approach to the economy, consider the comments of former Republican Senator Larry Pressler, who now backs Obama: "I just got the feeling that Obama will be able to handle this financial crisis better, and I like his financial team of [former Treasury Secretary Robert] Rubin and [former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul] Volcker better. . . . [McCain's] handling of the financial crisis made me feel nervous" (see Note also that conservative Harvad economist Charles Fried, Solicitor General under Reagan and until recently associated with the McCain campaign, now backs Obama (see These endorsements suggest to me that Obama's economic proposals are reasonable.

6. Economic responsibility: Some have expressed concern that Obama, with all his ideas for health care, education, etc., plus a Democratic congress, would spend us into the ground. That’s not going to happen. For one thing, Democratic leaders have already started talking about having a “pay as you go” plan (such as was practiced under Clinton, when the U.S. debt stopped its growth). There is strong sentiment among Democratic leaders that we need to reserve the immense deficit spending that has taken place under Bush—by far the worst deficit spending in American history. I am confident that Obama will be realistic and careful, taking into consideration the economic realities. (By the way, I’m sure McCain has the same intentions. The one thing I hold against him economically is that he favored deregulation through much of his Senate career—the very kind of deregulation that helped lead to our current economic crisis. The fact is that, when some people are using lots of other people’s money—as has happened in the mortgage and investment worlds, lack of rules and supervision does not lead to good results.)

7. The Supreme Court: The next president may well make two Supreme Court nominations. These would replace two of the more liberal current judges. Nominations by Obama would not do much to change the current complexion of the Court; nominations by McCain might (though he says he would not use a litmus test), but they could have rough resistance in the Senate. Some people look forward to shifting the Supreme Court further to the right. I don’t. As it is, it is a relatively conservative court, and I would hate to have it go even further in allowing for suspension of civil liberties and in preferring the powers of government and corporations over the rights of individuals. (On this last point, see one example of the evidence:

8. Hot button social issues: Both candidates favor defining marriage legally as a relationship between one man and one woman. Both also favor extending reasonable rights to homosexual couples but without defining their relationship as marriage. On abortion, McCain favors giving the individual states the right to determine policy. Obama believes that "ultimately . . . women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position to make this decision." He opposes late-term abortions as long as exceptions are made for threats to the woman's life or health. And he favors measures to discourage abortion by encouraging sexual responsibility and adoption and making the choice of giving birth (rather than abortion) more economically feasible. I believe more progress in reducing abortions will be made with Obama's approach than with McCain's. (For more on this issue, including the official LDS Church, see

9. “Palling around with terrorists”: This one drives me kind of crazy (1) because it is so unfair and misleading and (2) because it has helped provoke threats of violence. Here’s the truth.

Contrary to Sarah Palin, Obama does not “pal around with terrorists” (or even former terrorists). Contrary to the robocalls now being made, he has not had a “close association” with a terrorist who has “killed Americans.”

I’ve heard reports that no one was killed by the bombings Bill Ayers participated in during the 1960s. But even if someone was killed—which of course would be appalling—I consider phone calls that try to link Obama to the “killing of Americans” by “terrorists” both inflammatory and incredibly misleading. Obama was 8 years old when Ayers was involved in these radical activities, and he has strongly condemned what Ayers did 40 years ago. His association with Ayers was very limited; it mainly consisted of a “meet the candidate” lunch 13 years ago and common membership on a board that also included two university presidents (University of Illinois and Northwestern) and Republicans as well as Democrats. The board was funded by the Republican-leaning Annenberg Foundation, whose president (Leonore Annenberg) is a McCain supporter. I just talked yesterday to a friend of mine (a former roommate at BYU) who lives in Chicago, and he told me he knows Ayers too—everybody in the educational community does. He’s a major advocate for helping high school students at risk. He’s very mainstream these days, and nobody would have felt they had to refuse to associate with him if this year’s presidential campaign hadn’t turned him into a symbol.

Those are the facts. They are not difficult to find out. There’s no mysterious missing information. This issue (or non-issue) is obviously being brought up now, with automated phone calls and frequent mentions at campaign rallies, for political purposes. It’s a distraction. It’s misleading. It’s wrong.

[NOTE ON MCCAIN AND PALIN STATEMENTS ON "SHARING" OR SHIFTING WEALTH: Both McCain and Palin are on record as favoring the kind of "redistribution" of wealth that is inherent in a progressive tax system or, in the case of Alaska, in taking money from large corporations and simply giving it to all the citizens of the state. In 2000, McCain appeared on MSNBC’s “Hardball” and was asked by a young woman why her father, a doctor, should be “penalized” by being “in a huge tax bracket.” McCain answered that “wealthy people can afford more” and that “the very wealthy, because they can afford tax lawyers and all kinds of loopholes, really don’t pay nearly as much as you think they do.” Then:

YOUNG WOMAN: Are we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism and stuff?. . .
MCCAIN: Here’s what I really believe: That when you reach a certain level of comfort, there’s nothing wrong with paying somewhat more.

In Alaska, where there is no income tax or sales tax, government is funded by "huge levies on the oil companies that lease its oil fields. The proceeds finance the government’s activities and enable it to issue a four-figure annual check to every man, woman, and child in the state. One of the reasons Palin has been a popular governor is that she added an extra twelve hundred dollars to this year’s check, bringing the per-person total to $3,269. A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, . . . that 'we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.'” The "collective" sharing of resources by the people as a whole is much closer to "socialism" than anything Obama has proposed. (information and quotations from a New Yorker article by Hendrick Hertzberg:]


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