“The heat is on.” That’s not just a clever song hook from the movie “Beverly Hills Cop” (thanks to recording artist Glen Frey for that one).
It’s now the reality of this year’s presidential race. It’s our own Sen. John McCain, the Republican Party nominee, squaring off with who we now know to be the Democratic Party nominee, Sen. Barack Obama. And a hard-fought battle no doubt lies ahead.
Obama’s clinching of the sufficient number of delegates became “official” on Tuesday, and later that night he delivered his first speech as the Democratic nominee-in-waiting.
But wisely, McCain delivered his own speech Tuesday night, and in his remarks he both welcomed Obama to the battle, and contrasted their vastly different policy positions. And before you make up your mind as to which of these candidates represents “the old” and which represents “the new,” let’s take a look at some of Obama’s positions.
McCain regularly makes jokes about his age (he describes himself as being “old as dirt”). But there is no joking about what is old and new when it comes to the ideas that are in play in this race, and McCain addressed that head-on:
“I have a few years on my opponent, so I am surprised that a young man has bought in to so many failed ideas. Like others before him, he seems to think government is the answer to every problem; that government should take our resources and make our decisions for us. That type of change doesn’t trust Americans to know what is right or what is in their own best interests. It’s the attitude of politicians who are sure of themselves but have little faith in the wisdom, decency and common sense of free people. That attitude created the unresponsive bureaucracies of big government in the first place. And that’s not change we can believe in …”
So what, exactly, is McCain getting at here? Let’s start with fiscal and taxation policy. Obama has proposed a near-doubling of the capital gains tax rate, which currently stands at 15 percent (Obama has at times suggested that it be raised as high as 28 percent). Why would he propose this? Presumably Obama believes governmental agencies can do better things with that money than you can (never mind the fact that it’s your money) — and that is most certainly a pre-1980s idea.
This idea has apparently played nicely for Obama on the campaign trail when speaking in front of college students and disgruntled blue-collar workers. It also fits nicely with his theme of juxtaposing “the wealthiest of Americans” and those so-called “fat-cat executives,” against all the rest of us “working Americans who are hurting.”
But here’s a little 21st century reality check: unlike the 1960s and ’70s, “rich people” aren’t the only Americans who own stocks. Now, in 2008, more than 100 million of us are invested in the stock market, and Obama is proposing to essentially double the amount that the government would take away from anybody who earns money on stock investments. That’s not just a hit on “the rich” (a vaguely defined group of Americans that Obama loves to malign). That’s a direct hit on any of us who are invested in the market, regardless of whether we’re rich, poor or middle class.
And let’s consider Obama’s views on energy policy. It was less than three weeks ago when he delivered an important speech on this subject to a very environmentally conscious audience in Oregon, and the message sounded oh-so-1970s.
“We can’t continue to drive our SUVs” Obama assured the audience, “… and keep our thermostats set at 72 degrees.” And why not? Well, because at our current rate we’re using a “disproportionate amount” of the world’s energy resources, and that presumably makes other people around the world upset.
This message is antiquated, and troubling, on a variety of levels. For one, it ignores the reality that our nation’s greater rate of energy consumption is brought about in no small part because of our enormous economic productivity — which is productivity that affects the entire global economy — and because we offer a much higher standard of living than most other nations. Those aren’t bad things. They are good things, and they are but two of the many reasons why people from around the globe want to live in the United States.
But Obama’s message on energy also implies a fatalistic vision of scarcity; we don’t “have enough;” we are inadequate as a nation; we can’t solve our dilemmas. That was the message of President Jimmy Carter regarding energy problems, and in many ways, the messages of presidents Nixon and Ford, as well.
So what’s old and what’s new? What’s 21st century thinking, and what’s “retro?” I hope Americans will be watching this race very carefully over the next five months.