From Chie: Today is November 4, 2008 and I hope it is the day we elect the first African-American as President of the United States. Yes – I support Barack Obama. While I agree with many of his positions (not all of them), that is not the main reason I voted for him. I believe, perhaps naively, that he can be transformational to Washington politics. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, you have to agree that our federal government has become completely dysfunctional. Perhaps it always has been, but it wasn’t obvious to me until the 1980s. Each side has adopted a “winner-take-all-no prisoners” attitude and it is now so partisan that people in Congress will vote for or against something, not on its merits, but just so the other side loses.
I want a leader who will try and bring both parties together so that we don’t have “sides” anymore. Someone who can take a vision of America the Great and acknowledge, even embrace, the different viewpoints it takes to get there. I want a cerebral leader. Someone who has thought with depth and intelligence on the issues facing our world today. I also want someone who has the temperment to deal with the egos and pettiness that pervade Washington. To be frank, I don’t want Joe Six-Pack in the White House with his finger on the red Button.
I think Obama has those qualities I’m looking for. He became the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, in large part because of support from conservative, federalist students. He was recommended to the University of Chicago as a law professor by federal judge Michael McConnell (nominated by President Bush and considered one of his Supreme Court nominees). As a Senator, he has shown that he can cross party lines to work with Republicans. For example, his work with Dick Lugar (R-IN) on a nuclear proliferation bill as well as with Tom Coburn (R-OK) on a bill regarding how government grants, loans and earmarks are awarded. I also think that because of his multi-cultural background, he will bring a much need perspective to discussions on race, poverty and entitlement programs in the U.S.
I do not doubt that John McCain has stood up to his party. I do not doubt that John McCain has crossed party lines. But John McCain lost his credibility with me when he chose Sarah Palin as his VP (see my Sept. 23, 2008 blog: Sarah Palin – The Last Straw.)
When I have asked McCain supporters why they are voting for him, they never respond that it is because of his “Jobs for America” or “Lexington Project” that are described on his website. Usually they respond with the following reasons: 1) Obama is a socialist and/or 2) our country is safer now. Since neither of those statements are true, I have to assume their reasoning is more faith-based than rational. And, much like religious faith, political faith is belief without evidence and not something that can be argued away with reason. However, for those of you who are still (unbelievably) undecided, I would like to address both of those issues.
Socialism is an economic theory where there is collective ownership in the production and distribution of goods and services to create an egalitarian society. Despite its resurgence in countries like Venezuela, its failure as an economic theory is well-documented with the fall of the Soviet Union. (It took the Russians 75 years – given enough time it will fail in Venezuela too.) Obama is not calling for the nationalization of what little industry we still have here in the United States, nor is he calling for an egalitarian society where failure is protected and merit goes unrewarded. (Ironically, the recent nationalization of our financial institutions and the protection of their CEOs was brought about by Hank Paulsen and George W. Bush – Republicans. Apparently, if you give money to rich guys it’s considered a rescue and not welfare.) However, what Obama does believe is that for big societal issues like poverty and universal health care, the federal government can be used as a tool to help those in need. Grass roots projects, community-based organizations and free markets can not solve these issues without government assistance. And, in order to pay for these programs, governments have to rely on taxes.
Now taxes, specifically graduated income taxes, are nothing new to the United States. In order to pay for the Civil War, Congress enacted the first income tax law in1862. It was a tiered tax structure where those earning more were taxed at a higher rate. Congress abolished and re-instated income taxes several times until 1913 when the 16th Amendment to the Constitution made income tax permanent. Tiered tax structures are not a new invention.
Also, the “spreading the wealth” phrase that has been used by the McCain campaign since the last debate is largely due to Obama’s plan to increase taxes on those making over $250,000/year. If you are making more than $250,000/year, then yes, your taxes are going to go up under an Obama presidency. However, Obama wants to restore the tax rate to no higher than the same level people were paying 8 years ago. These are the same tax rates that were in place under the Clinton administration and lower than the tax rates under the Reagan administration.
Now, is that fair? No, of course it’s not fair. In an ideal world there would be a flat tax rate or even no tax rate. Also, in an ideal world, there would be no need for child labor and OSHA laws because there would be no exploitation of labor. There would be no need for the SEC, FDA, EPA or NAFTA because markets would be open, honest and free of corruption. Poverty would simply mean that you didn’t make as much as the next guy – not that you were living in your car and your children were going hungry. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We don’t even live in a fair world. Only children believe life is fair- and that is because their world is incredibly small and self-contained. We don’t live in a fair world because evil, greed and corruption exist and without laws and regulations in place, scum rises to the surface. Human beings are horrible at self-policing. I can not think of one industry that has managed to avoid government intervention because they were sufficient at self-regulation. Given free rein, societies and/or organizations almost always end up with a Lord of the Flies scenario. Power corrupts.
But I digress. Let me state for the record that I do not want to pay higher taxes. However, I think I should because 1) I can and 2) because I have a vision for what this country can be. For those of you who disagree I offer the following analogy. The most successful people in the U.S. are much like the U.S. itself. For all its faults, the United States allows people to succeed and prosper like no other country in the world. The end result is that the U.S. is THE superpower country – the one with the most money and clout. Being a superpower means being a leader and leadership carries responsibilities. We give food and aid to countries that need help (due to war, corruption, natural disasters). We intervene, as a policeman, between other countries to stop genocide and oppression. We provide a tangible example of the success of capitalism and democracy. We do this because we understand that as the world prospers, so do we as a country. By helping and nurturing other countries we ensure our own success. The same is true on an individual level. With wealth and power come responsibility. People can not adopt a “let them eat cake” attitude towards those less fortunate around them. Not only is it morally bankrupt, but it will prove to be financially unwise in the long-run. If those of us with a bigger slice of the pie, can share some of our piece with people without pie, then hopefully those without pie will take that piece, learn to bake and we all end up with a bigger pie. (Sorry about that baked good metaphor). All I’m saying is that even if your tax rate is higher, we can all still make money when the country prospers. It happened under Clinton and it can happen again. The leap of faith is making sure our money is used wisely by Washington. That has not happened over the last 8 years.
With regards to the war, I do not believe our invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq has made us safer. Not only was Iraq not responsible for the 9/11 attacks, but they also did not have any weapons of mass destruction. In 2001, the estimate on al Qaeda was a few thousand members. Since then, the “war on terror” has become a recruiting ground for terrorists at a cost to the U.S. of about $10 billion/month. Is the region more stable? No. In fact, it is more unstable because besides Iraq, we’re losing in Afghanistan and our already stretched military is being asked to face yet another front in Pakistan. Are we viewed as liberators in a free and democratic Iraq? No. We’re viewed as occupational forces by most of the population and have, at best, a shaky relationship with its very tenuous and unenthusiastic government. George W. Bush’s decision to use a pre-emptive strike against Iraq was viewed as arrogant and unwarranted by our actual allies and our reputation and credibility in the world has been diminished. But perhaps most importantly, after seven years we still have not captured Osama bin Laden. If we had taken even half of what this war has cost us (about $500 billion) and devoted it solely to tracking down Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, he’d have been caught, stood trial and sentenced by now. Also, Osama bin Laden was Saudi Arabian. Why didn’t we go after Saudi Arabia? They’re one of the most conservative Arab countries in the Mid-East with one of the worst human rights records. George W. says they’re an ally. Have they helped us search/capture bin Laden? Have they given us a break on oil prices? Apparently Saudi Arabia is an ally only to those who own oil companies.
Withdrawal from Iraq will not be easy. We broke the country and we have an obligation to fix it. We also have an obligation to protect the Iraqi citizens who assisted us from retribution within their own country. Obama does not advocate for an immediate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. Our military would work with the Iraqi government for a phased and responsible withdrawal. By setting up a targeted phase-out date we would be strongly encouraging (force) the Iraqi government to step-up and assume control of their own country. I understand John McCain’s stance. In Vietnam he saw first hand what happens when a war is mis-managed. But to stay in a country that doesn’t want us there, incurring a cost (both in dollars and lives) that can be better used elsewhere, to fight a war that isn’t making us any safer, does not make any sense to me. We have a $450 billion deficit. We have spent $45 billion on reconstruction in Iraq and it is costing us $10 billion/month to stay there. Iraq has a $25 billion budget surplus this year. They can afford to pay for their country’s security – we can not.
Bottom line: Vote Obama.