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Elizabeth in a Few Final Words

I have complete election exhaustion. I’ve watched, I’ve read, I’ve listened, and I’ve written. I’ve discussed. I’ve debated. I decided to take a public position with these papers because I believe this election is the most critical within my lifetime. I’ve been voting since 1970, casting my first ballot in a presidential race in the Nixon/McGovern match-up of 1972. We were embroiled in the Vietnam War then, and we couldn’t have had two more different candidates. But 1972 seems like nothing in comparison with the time we’re living through now.

In these last days before Election 2008, I think there might be some final points to recall before we vote. In 2000, the issue was illustrated—as you might remember—with the words “It’s the Economy, Stupid,” which were posted in one of the Clinton campaign centers as a way to keep volunteers focused on the message of the campaign. This year, things cannot be so simply expressed. We have a war in Afghanistan, a war in Iraq, military incursions being made only this week into Syria and Pakistan, a housing crisis, a banking crisis, a health care crisis, and an energy crisis. Frankly, you couldn’t pay me enough money to be President of the United States under these circumstances, but two different candidates with two different views are asking for our votes, so we’ve got to make a decision.

Several months ago, I saw an interview on Larry King Live with filmmaker Michael Moore whom, as I said in an earlier paper, I don’t always like. In this case, Moore was in his hometown in Michigan, in a bowling alley with his friends. Larry King was asking him about his friends, who are mostly blue collar workers in the town and in the surrounding area. How were they planning to vote? he wanted to know. Moore said that, at first, they were McCain supporters but, over time, he’d convinced them to consider Obama. He explained that after trying every means available to get them to think about the Democrat, he’d finally used an analogy that seemed to go to the heart of things. He’d said to them, “If you take your car to a mechanic and the mechanic does a lousy job on it, would you take it to the same mechanic the next time it needs a tune up? Or would you try a new mechanic?” They said obviously they would try a new mechanic. He then suggested that they use that approach in the election. The current party in office, he pointed out, has brought us to the state we’re in now. “Why don’t you try the other party?” he suggested. “If they blow it, you can throw them out in the next election.” When he was done speaking, the camera, which had been focused upon him, backed off to show his friends in the background. They were bowling in matching T-shirts. The T-shirts read “Bowling for Obama.”

I’d love to reach out and put every American into a Bowling for Obama T-shirt because my belief is that it makes no sense to hand the Presidency to the same political party that has brought us the crises and emergencies that I listed in my first paragraph. But I cannot do that, so I’d like to make a few final points about where we find ourselves today:

The Situation:

Under the Republicans, median family income has been falling for seven years now, when adjusted for inflation. (Economic Policy Institute, May 1, 2008)

The number of unemployed workers rose by 11.7% over the past year, an increase of 797,000 people. We have lost more than 3 million US manufacturing jobs since 2001. Between December 2007 and March 2008 alone, the U.S lost a net of 240,000 jobs. (Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2, 2008; Economic Policy Institute March 29, 2008)

Premium costs for employer-based health care are rising 10 times faster than incomes. (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, April 29, 2008)

Home foreclosure filings have increased by 112% over the past year, reaching 1 in every 194 households. (RealtyTrac Staff, April 29, 2008)

The price of a gallon of gas has increased by 156% since 2001. (US Department of Energy, Retail Gasoline Prices)

Over the past year, the cost of milk increased by 13.3%, the cost of bread increased by 14.7%, and the cost of eggs rose 29.9% (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2008)

These are statistics that should trouble every American. I realize, however, that when push comes to shove in people’s lives, many of them tend to hunker down and vote for the guy who promises to better the condition of their own individual pocketbooks, and that often comes down to taxes. That being the case, perhaps a look at the McCain tax plan and the Obama tax plan will illustrate how your pocketbook will or will not be affected.

The Tax Proposals

According to the Tax Policy Center, here is how the average taxes would change in 2009 based on the two candidates’ proposals, and the minus sign (-) indicates money being returned to you:

Income Level McCain’s Proposal Obama’s Proposal
$19,000 - $38,000
$38,000 - $66,000
$66,000 - $112,000

I’m using only four of the levels of their plans because somewhere within that range is what is considered a middle class income, depending upon costs where you happen to live. If you want to see how your own taxes will be affected, you can calculate them on Taxcut@BarackObama.com. People over 70 years old should be particularly interested in looking at these plans as Obama’s plan does not tax people in that age group making under $50,000.

I think it’s important not to get caught up in some of the smoke and mirrors of tax talk. For example, it’s nice to hear that John McCain’s tax plan calls for raising estate tax levels from $1 million to $5 million, and what that means is that the first $5,000,000 of someone’s estate will not be taxed upon his death so it can pass freely to that person’s heirs. That sounds excellent, doesn’t it, until you stop to ask yourself how many people actually have estates worth $5 million to pass on to their children. This is similar to John McCain’s proposed tax cut of $175 billion to corporations, with $45 billion of that tax relief going to Fortune 500 companies (Thinkprogress.org September 23, 2008). That sounds great—at least I think it does—until you delve deeper and see that 59% of this tax cut would end up in the pocketbooks of the top 1% of the wage earners. That translates to what’s called Trickle Down Economics, which is the very economics we’ve been practicing, the same economics that have helped to get us where we are today.

Other Issues

If you’re not a tax issue voter, there might be other concerns you have, and once again a comparison between the two candidates could be of some use:

Issue John McCain Barack Obama
Iraq War Continue till victory   Draw down troops, let Iraqi Government take over
Iran No discussion without unspecified preconditions beingmet   Diplomacy
Healthcare Tax credit of $2,500/person $5,000/family per year; tax on healthcare if employer provides it   All children covered; un-insured citizens may join large insurance pool subsidized by government
Energy Resume offshore drilling
Resume nuclear energy
  Drill on lands already leased for that purpose
Explore and develop alternate sources
Supreme Court Stated he’ll appoint conservative judges in the manner of Bush   Stated he would not have appointed nor did he vote for Bush appointees; judges should be experts in constitutional law
Global Warming No specific plan given
Ranked 26 out of 100 by non-partisan environmental group League of Conservation Voters
  Plan: National Low Carbon Fuel Standard based on California’s proposed plan which  supports renewable fuels, flexible fuel vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The Campaigns

One could argue that a candidate’s campaign says something about the candidate. During my lifetime so far, there have been sixteen presidential elections. There have been allegations made and tricks played (the pregnant women carrying signs declaring Nixon’s the One being a memorable example), but I don’t recall ever before witnessing the sort of stuff that has gone on in this election. Some of the turns that the campaigns have taken have troubled me greatly, and I’ve found the use of fear and the tactic of applying labels to an opponent something of deep concern. I direct this concern, by the way, to both candidates in this election. I have objected as much to the Democrat’s continual use of erratic, war hero and patriot as I have to the shifting drama of the Republican’s use of inexperienced, naïve, friend to terrorists, socialist, redistributor, and once again inexperienced.

Obama’s campaign has run like a well-oiled machine. My fellow writer Scott Turow, who knows Barack Obama—they were both attorneys in Chicago—says that top to bottom the campaign is all Obama. “He’s brilliant,” was Scott Turow’s assessment, “and the campaign shows this.” He explained that Obama has brilliant organization and command skills, not bad qualities in a President. Obama’s campaign has been largely financed by millions of voters. Although I myself gave the maximum allowable by law to Obama, both in the primary and in the general election, I am the rare exception. The average amount of money given was $86. What this means is that individual voters are making an investment in the presidency. They’re taking an interest and they’re taking part.

McCain’s campaign has not run so well, his most recent use of Joe the Plumber to make foreign policy statements about Israel is perhaps one of the better examples. But of additional concern here is that it is staffed in part by 177 lobbyists. This should be of concern to voters because of what the employment of lobbyists portends: Having lobbyists work in your campaign suggests that some form of payment (not necessarily in money) will be extracted later, such payment going to the firms whom the lobbyists represent. In this there is a form of quid pro quo. I work for you and when the time comes, you grant me what I ask.

While McCain pledged last March to run a positive campaign, he was not able to hold to this pledge. This could be, at least in part, because he hired to work for him the firm who, in the election of 2000 in which he was running against George W. Bush, came up with the advertisement that suggested McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. (I must confess that I wonder why it’s always an illegitimate black child.) Because the Democrats are sensitive about negative advertisements—this sensitivity arising from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads in the 2004 campaign, Obama’s campaign did not hesitate to counter ad for ad. This, unfortunately, resulted in most of the presidential campaign turning into dueling commercials filled with allegations and innuendoes.

The “Presidential” Decisions

Each of us ultimately must decide how we feel about the early presidential decisions made by the candidates. They made two. One involved their selection of running mate. The other involved their response to the economic crisis.

For me, Senator McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin was both disconcerting and revealing. I was disconcerted that, given the array of potential vice presidential material within the Republican party, he would choose someone from the conservative extreme of the party. When politicians come from an extreme group within a political party, consensus with representatives from other parties or even other groups within the same party is difficult to reach in matters of grave importance. Additionally, Sarah Palin as a city council member, mayor of a small town, and governor for brief a time of a sparsely populated state had limited experience on the national stage and while this might not be problematical in someone well-educated, well-spoken, well-read, and deeply involved in public policy, her history and her performance in the vice presidential debate did not indicate this was the case. The choice of Governor Palin was revealing as well, in that it demonstrated on the part of Senator McCain a reckless impulsivity that should give the voter pause. This reckless impulsivity is demonstrated by the fact that he had met her only once and had spoken to her only twice before selecting her as his running mate.

In contrast, Senator Obama’s choice of Joe Biden appeared to have been reached after careful vetting, interviews, and conversations, both on the part of Obama and on the part of a committee organized to make vice presidential recommendations. As a longtime member of Congress, Biden is well known, has a history of Senate bills that can be examined, and possesses extensive foreign policy experience.

In the economic crisis, we were able to see both “presidents” at work. Their response to the crisis can be a guidepost as to what to expect from them in the future. I found Senator McCain’s response puzzling, like a shotgun going off in the hope that something would hit a target. I found Senator Obama’s approach measured and thoughtful. He sought the advice of experts, and I find that immensely reassuring.

So there you have it.

To Conclude

It’s no coincidence that a list of newspapers across America have endorsed Barack Obama. It’s no coincidence that—in a groundbreaking move—key figures from both political parties have endorsed him. I urge you to consider giving him the opportunity to make a change in our government. As Michael Moore suggested to his friends in Michigan, you can always throw him out at the next election.

On a personal note, I’d like to say that writing these papers has been an excellent exercise for me. I’ve learned more about the candidate I’ve supported since last January, and I’ve learned more about myself. I’ve learned more about other people. Most of what I’ve learned has been uplifting. Some of it has not. Only one of my friendships came to an end as a result of these papers, but I can live with that. What I couldn’t have lived with was saying nothing. Not this year. Not this election.

Please vote on November 4, if you haven’t yet voted. It’s not a privilege to do so. It’s a duty.

- Elizabeth George
Whidbey Island, Washington

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