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Defining Differences
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. 7/18/08

Conventional political wisdom holds that presidential candidates must cater to their party core positions in order to win the nomination. They can move closer to the mainstream once it is secured. That principle certainly seems to describe Sen. Barack Obama’s slide toward the center since prevailing over Sen. Hillary Clinton. Sen. McCain similarly appealed to his party’s conservative base to become the presumptive nominee, especially by modifying his views on immigration overhaul in favor of stricter enforcement methods first. McCain, however, has since stayed generally on message while Obama now seems to be waffling a bit on earlier positions, especially with regard to how quickly he would end the war in Iraq.

I believe that what you see in John McCain is pretty much what you will get. He is moderately conservative with plenty of Washington experience but modest oratory skills. He has an independent nature and will make his own decisions. He will always attempt to do the right thing, I believe, regardless of political consequences and he is willing to reach out to Democrats to get things done.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

What you see in Barack Obama is a young and charismatic campaigner with a very slim political portfolio. It’s hard to predict what you will get if he is elected other than a really fine speaker. However, past record is usually the best predictor of future performance and his voting record as a freshman U.S. senator and Illinois state legislator suggests that he would be the most liberal president since Jimmy Carter, who actually ran as moderate. His promise to bring change made him the presumptive nominee but he has yet to define the change he envisions and how he plans to bring it about. With the election less than four months away, details are urgently needed. Meanwhile, as reality begins to intrude on his idealism, his message of change grows vaguer yet.

The campaigns are quick to accuse each other of flip-flopping. The term is overused. Although consistency is often a virtue, refusal to change one’s mind in the face of new facts is not. Still, fundamental changes in philosophy and inconsistency in stating positions can suggest that the candidate is indecisive or too influenced by opinion polls. I believe that Sen. Obama realized that to win the big prize he had to move toward the political center where most Americans who actually vote reside.

There are key issues which differentiate the candidates and which their campaigns could exploit to their respective advantage in the critical months before the elections. For McCain, the most important are energy and the war against terrorism. For Obama, they are health care and the economy.

The energy issue, particularly the price of gasoline and its effect on the price of goods and services is huge, as is the gap between the candidates’ respective positions. Republicans favor additional offshore drilling and more nuclear energy. Democrats, for the most part, display an abysmal ignorance of the oil industry and pricing mechanisms, blaming big oil for most of the problems, opposing additional offshore drilling and placing too much faith in the ability of conservation and clean energy programs to solve the problem. Their simplistic response usually begins with “We can’t drill our way out of this problem.” Well, no, but isn’t it obviously part of the solution? McCain should go further and support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I have it on good authority that the caribou really wouldn’t mind.

McCain clearly has the advantage regarding the war on terrorism. Polls have consistently shown that most Americans believe he would do a better job than Obama in defending them against terrorist attacks. His military experience and mature judgment are plusses in this regard.

The Democrats have a clear advantage on the healthcare issue. At least 47 million Americans lack healthcare insurance. Many more may be in danger of losing work-related coverage and pre-existing conditions make it all but impossible for some to obtain new coverage. Catastrophic illness or injury can drive middle income families to bankruptcy. Those without coverage are overtaxing the capacities of our emergency rooms, endangering all of us. The world’s largest economy can do better than this and we should. Republicans who respond that we have the best health care in the world should talk to some Americans who can’t afford or access it.

George W. Bush will be blamed for the struggling economy and Republican candidates will be tarred by the same brush. It’s unfair of course, but that’s politics. Economics is obviously not a strong suit for either candidate but that’s what advisors are for. However, Mr. McCain’s key economic advisor, the financially savvy former senator from Texas, Phil Gramm picked a poor time to refer to a nation of whiners and a “mental” recession, not a real one. Well, the economy may be booming in oil-rich Texas, which currently boasts a 4% annual growth rate, but many other parts of the country are hurting and the remark was ill-timed. McCain appropriately distanced himself from it but the damage was done. CRO

copyright 2008 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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