Political campaigns Essay

Introduction

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            Political campaigns have the tendency to mingle facts with half-truths, sometimes outright distortions. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons there may be, some people do not take the time to find out the facts about claims made in political advertisements.  Others simply refuse to use common sense. For example, despite the overwhelming media exposure of Senator Obama’s association with a Christian Church and its controversial minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, there are still some people who believe that he is a Muslim although he has not been associated with any Mosque. Of course, Obama’s association with Islam is characteristic of the sort of outright disinformation political campaigns are known for. So then, it is no surprise that, in spite of the hundreds of millions of dollars the presidential candidates have spent on promoting themselves and their agendas, some voters are still undecided.  

Of the three most popular president candidates left, Republican John McCain, Democrat Barack Obama, and Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, I will make the case for one candidate. Given the fact that I am a Christian and a social conservative, opposed to abortion and the gay lifestyle, it may come as a surprise when I say that, based on a combination of factors, including policies, vice presidential choice, party history, and campaign style, I do believe that Senator Barack Obama is the best candidate for the nation at this time. It may seem a difficult task for me to present the candidates objectively having already made a choice. I will, however, undertake that task below. Using the most recent, October 30 – November 1, 2008, polling data from CNN/Opinion Research Corporation, likely voters have identified the top issues in this election as the economy (53%), the war in Iraq (13%), health care (13%), terrorism (10%), and illegal immigration (5%) (CNN, 2008). These issues will be incorporated in the presentation of the candidates.

John McCain

            Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee for President, really came into the national limelight in the presidential election of 2000. His two previous national-grabbing events, his release as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and his inclusion in the Keating Five of the Savings and Loan crises, quickly faded from national memory. In the 2000 presidential election, Senator McCain became known as the “straight-talking” anti-establishment Republican candidate, naming his campaign bus the Straight Talk Express and promising never to tell a lie (Barone & Cohen, 2007). McCain’s record as a war hero and his demonstrated independence and willingness to speak his mind in over two decades in the U.S. Senate were his greatest attributes. Unfortunately for McCain, his straight talk would be his undoing in 2000 and would also come back to hunt him in 2008. To understand the link between the presidential elections of 2000 and 2008, we have to go back, as far back as the 1960s, into the history of Republican politics.

            A cursory glance of presidential elections from 1932 to 1960 would show that the Democrats always carried the South (Woolley & Peters, 2008). Of the seven presidential elections from 1932 to 1956, the Republicans won only the elections of 1952 and 1956; and they did so without carrying much of the South. Even the so-called liberal Democrat, John Kennedy of Massachusetts, won the presidency by carrying the South in 1960. In victory and in defeat, the South had been solidly Democratic. The 1964 election witnessed a seismic shift in political alliances. When a son of the South, Lyndon Johnson of Texas, ran in 1964, he won the election but lost in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina (Woolley & Peters, 2008). From 1964 until the present election, the only other time the South would rally behind a Democratic candidate would be 1976 when Georgia Governor, Jimmy Carter, ran for president. The 1976 presidential election would be the last time the South would identify with the Democratic Party in national elections.

Something must have happened in the 1960s to cause this realignment in American politics. As a matter of facts, two things occurred in the 1960s that may account for the political shift in the South. The first development was the inroad that Blacks made into the Democratic Party. At the Democratic Convention in 1964, Lyndon John’s selection was secure but the seating of the Mississippi delegation was a contentious issue. A group, made up of Black and White Civil Rights activists from Mississippi, formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The MFDP argued that the all-White delegation from Mississippi was not legal because it was based on the deprivation of the voting rights of Blacks in the state. The all-White delegation was not representative of a Party which membership included 40% Blacks. To appease the MFDP, the group was offered two seats into the Convention. They rejected the seats, but they had brought the issue of voting rights in the South to the nation’s attention. The mere acceptance of southern Blacks into national politics was a slap in the face of the segregationist South (Fairfax, 2005).

The second political development of the 1960s that attributed to the change in southern politics came during the administration of Lyndon Johnson. As a sort of validation of the claims of the MFDP and a repudiation of southern-style racial politics, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Politics in the South would no longer be the same again. Among conservative Democrats who viewed the Democratic Party as the party of integration, a massive exodus occurred from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. The leader who came to exemplify the ideals of these new Republicans was Ronal Reagan, a former Democrat himself, thus the name Regan Democrats (Fairfax, 2005). Those conservative Democrats who remained in the Democratic Party were also Reagan Democrats because, when it came to national elections, they voted for the Republican candidate. Although the Republicans would not admit it, their politics has been tainted with more than a modicum of racism. In a rather strange way, the Republican Party is also the party of those who identify themselves as conservative Christians, Evangelicals, or the Religious Right. It is with this background that we must understand the politics of the Republican Party and McCain’s first presidential campaign in 2000 and his current candidacy in 2008.

According to Robert Timberg (1999), McCain started his 2000 campaign with some political weaknesses. His accomplishments in the U.S. Senate established him more as a maverick than someone who appealed to the party politics. In other words, McCain had not endeared himself to the Republican Party base, the political and religious conservatives. To compound this disadvantage, the Senator was not good at fund-raising and he was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as being very temperamental (Timberg, 1999). While his maverick image did not endear him to the Party base, it made him a darling of the media and acceptable to the growing segment of voters who described themselves as independents.

Without the funds to mount a 50-state campaign, McCain decided to pick his fights. He skipped the Iowa caucuses to stage his first real campaign in New Hampshire, a state whose voters are famous for their independence (Alexander, 2002). His bet on New Hampshire paid off. On February 1, 2000, McCain defeated the Republican Party favorite, George Bush, by 19 percentage points, 49% to 30% (Barone, 2007). It soon became evident that McCain was a threat to the Party establishment and its conservative base. Political analysts were predicting that if McCain won the next battle, the South Carolina primary, his nomination would be difficult to stop. The response of the Bush campaign was, “We gotta hit him hard” (Carney, 2008).

The day after a new poll showed McCain leading Bush by five points, what ensued is remembered as, perhaps, the dirtiest political campaign in modern American elections. McCain was accused of abandoning veterans, being a homosexual, a closet liberal, and mentally unstable (Alexander, 2002). “While the (Bush) campaign itself launched a fusillade of negative attacks, a network of murky anti-McCain groups ran push polls spreading lies about McCain’s record. They papered the state with leaflets claiming, among other things, that Cindy McCain was a drug addict and John had fathered a black child out of wedlock, complete with a family photograph” (Carney, 2008). In the South were race-mixing is taboo in some quarters, the “out of wedlock” Black child lie was very effective. “It was, even by G.O.P. standards, unusually foul stuff” (Carney, 2008).

The dirty campaign against McCain worked. On February 19, 2000, he lost to George Bush by nine percentage points, 42% to 53%, a 14-point turnaround. The Republican Party also lost me in South Carolina in 2000. I could not associate or identify with the Christianity of people who ardently oppose abortion because of one of the Ten Commandments that says, “Thou shall not kill,” but they engage in political smears, totally ignoring another of the same Ten Commandments that says, “Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

On February 29, 2000, exactly ten days after the South Carolina primary, Senator McCain gave a speech in which he declared: “I am a pro-life, pro-family, fiscal conservative, and advocate of a strong defense. And yet, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate. They distort my pro-life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters…. The political tactics of division and slander are not our values. They are corrupting influences on religion and politics and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country.

Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right” (New York Times, 2000).  If McCain had any illusion that his Christian conservative friends in the Republican Party practice the virtue of forgiveness, especially after he had called some of their leaders “the agents of intolerance,” he was about to learn otherwise. This brings us to the 2008 race.

Even before Senator McCain won the Republican nomination in March 2008, he was already being rejected by the Republican base. Two months earlier, James Dobson, an influential leader in the Evangelical community, had stated that he could not vote for McCain “under any circumstances” If McCain could not win the Republican base, he could not create excitement about his candidacy, a major factor in getting people to vote for a candidate. McCain had to prove to the conservatives that he was one of them. He visited George Bush at the White House to get the President’s endorsement. That was not enough. Although McCain had opposed most of Bush’s policies, the Senator declared that he had “supported George Bush more than 90% of the time.” That was still not enough. To show that he was another conservative just like the President, the Senator began to endorse policies, like the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, that he once opposed.

McCain’s forced association with an unpopular president was a necessary evil. It may have won him some friends within the conservative community. Mega-Church conservative preachers, John Hagee and Rod Parsley, endorsed the Senator only to find that their endorsement was not welcome because of controversial positions they had taken on the Holocaust and Islam, respectively. As he considered a running mate, there were speculations that he wanted Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turn Independent. For the Republican base, Lieberman was completely unacceptable. “Advisers say conservative ire pushed McCain away from picking Lieberman,” read a newspaper headline (Bumiller ; Cooper, 2008). McCain, the maverick, surrendered to the right wing of the Republican Party and selected Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, a pro-life member of the NRA. With one selection, he satisfied two segments of the Party base, those opposed to abortion and those opposed to gun control. Unfortunately, Palin is obviously unprepared for the position. Republican friends and foes have called Palin unqualified. The maverick had become the panderer. Palin will bring home the base but she will drive away everyone else. This is a guarantee formula for defeat.

It is, however, very important to see whether the campaign and policies adopted by McCain are right for this time. Since the Republican Convention in early September, Factcheck.org had recorded close to 20 misleading claims about Senator Obama from the McCain campaign. One of the most disturbing distortions was the claim that Senator Obama wanted kindergarteners to be taught sex education. According to Factchek.org, “A McCain-Palin campaign ad claims Obama’s ‘one accomplishment’ in the area of education was ‘legislation to teach ‘comprehensive sex education’ to kindergarteners.’ But the claim is simply false, and it dates back to Alan Keyes’ failed race against Obama for an open Senate seat in 2004.” McCain, who lost in 2000 because of a smear campaign, should have known better than try to win with smear instead of the issues. As the distortions multiply, McCain is not only losing the election; he is also losing his credibility, the one thing that had set him apart from other politicians.

On the McCain-Palin official campaign web site, the slogan for their economic plan is Taxes: Simpler, Fair, Pro-Growth, And Competitive (McCain-Palin, 2008). To accomplish this mantra, McCain offers a six-point plan: (1) Keep taxes low, (2) Cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%, (3) Allow first-year deduction, or “Expensing”, of equipment and technology investments, (4) Establish a permanent tax credit equal to 10% of wages spent on R ; D. (5) Allow families to keep their business, and (6) Opening new markets through free trade. All of these together could translate into a great economic plan that could miraculously revitalize the American economy within a year.  The fundamental problem with this economic plan is that it falls right into the stereotype of Republicans caring only for business and not the ordinary people. Frankly, how many average Americans can relate to points 2 to 6? When McCain talks about keeping taxes low in point 1, it is not even about the middle class. “John McCain will keep the top tax rate at 35 percent, maintain the 15 percent rates on dividends and capital gains, and phase-out the Alternative Minimum Tax” (McCain-Palin, 2008). Congress established the Alternative Minimum Tax so that the wealthy could not exploit tax loop holes and not pay any taxes at all. Is the average American voter really in the top tax rate and is concerned about dividends, capital gains, and the Alternative Minimum Tax? Here is a plan that buys right in another stereotype that Republicans are only concerned about the wealthy and not the middle class and working poor. On issue number one, the economy, McCain does not have a plan that he can sell to the American people in these difficult times.

The war in Iraq has been a mixed blessing for Senator McCain. On the one hand, he endorsed the Congressional bill giving the Bush administration the authorization to go to war. On the other hand, he supported the surge which has contributed to the decline of violence. The facts have been exposed that the war was entered into with misinformation. All of Europe and most of the rest of the world sympathized with the United States after the September 11th tragedies. The U.S. had a great case to go to war in Afghanistan and NATO joined in. Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 9-11, and the war in Iraq turned the world against the America. Saddam Hussein was not a good man, but that cannot be America’s justification for going to war with another country. Bashar in Sudan, with the ongoing genocide is Darfur, is not a good man; the Castro brothers in Cuba are not good men; Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is not a good man;

Kim Jung Il of North Korea is not a good man; and Robert Mugabee of Zimbabwe is not a good man. Will the U.S. also invade Sudan, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and Zimbabwe? The war in Iraq has created greater destabilization in the Middle East and has made America less safe. Why? The Shiite-dominated Iranian government, an enemy of the U.S. and a major supporter of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, was kept in check by Sunni government of Saddam Hussein. The new Shiite-dominated government in Iraq, thanks to the Americans, has formed close ties with their fellow Shiite in Iran; thus, the biggest winners of the Iraqi war are not the Iraqis or the Americans, but America’s enemies, the Iranians. John McCain must accept some blame for this situation.

On health care, McCain believes that health insurance should cover pre-existing conditions. This is a commendable position that would prevent the practice of insurers’ discrimination against those who are already sick. The problem with McCain’s plan is affordability. He proposes a $5,000 tax credit for per family and $2500 tax credit for singles. While this amount may cover the single person, experts are saying that the average cost of health insurance per family is $7500. There are at least three problems with the McCain plan. First, as a tax credit, the money is not available until the tax-payers file their taxes. Until then, they must bear the full cost of the insurance. Many people are working and uninsured because they cannot even afford the barely subsidized plans that employers offer. It is unrealistic to assume that these same individuals would be able to bear the full cost of health insurance. Secondly, families will have to pay an additional $2500 to afford the average insurance which costs $7500 when the McCain plain is providing only $5000. This cost is in addition to all the other health-related costs. Thirdly, the most ridiculous aspect of the McCain health care plan is that the $5000 tax credit that is given to each tax payer will be considered income. While this income will not be taxed, it could also affect other benefits for low-income families. If this plan is not mandatory, I don’t see people rushing to embrace it.

Senator McCain once favored comprehensive immigration reform. Once again, to appease the Republican base, he abandoned his maverick position for a policy which is a thinly veiled anti-Mexican policy. If America’s security is enhanced by walls along its borders, then why aren’t we building walls along our border with Canada? The illegal immigration issue is much more than walls along the border with Mexico. Of the estimated 12 million people in the U.S. illegally, it is safe to assume that all of them did not come through Mexico. Some came legally and over-stayed their time, making them illegal. Others came legally and then became illegal due to bureaucratic inefficiency in the process. If the government bureaucracies, like the IRS and passport offices, that serve citizens can be so inefficient, imagine the kind of services that non-citizens get. Let us recall that the immigration agency responsible for issuing visas was the same agency that was issuing visas to some of the 9-11 terrorists long after 9-11. With this kind of inefficiency, many who wish to uphold the law will be forced into illegal status. The focus on barriers along the Mexican border shows a narrow-minded understanding of the illegal immigration issue. McCain had adopted a very comprehensive view on the issue; unfortunately, he surrendered his objectivity to appeal the Republican base. The policies and independence that make McCain, the maverick, an attractive candidate in 2000 are the exact qualities he has abandoned to appeal to a narrow group. He has severely diminished his own chances for attracting a broader group to his presidential cause.

Senator Barack Obama

It is often said that politics makes strange bedfellows. One of the greatest ironies of the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election is the fact that the very first Black candidate with the real chance of becoming president of the United States became a legitimate candidate, not through the support of the Black community but through the support of the White community. When we look at the Democratic primaries, we see the Party’s faithful clamoring for what was called the dream ticket. Many people saw this as Senator Hilary Clinton being the Party’s nominee and Obama being her running mate. No one, perhaps not even Obama himself, could have imagined that he could upset the Party’s favorite.

Up to the time of the Iowa caucuses, no one really believed that Obama had a real chance of upsetting the political veterans of the Democratic Party. Everyone attracted to Obama’s eloquence and charisma quietly reasoned that America was not yet ready for a Black person to become president. Black Americans were tentative in their support of Obama because of the Bradley Effect. Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles ran for governor of California in 1982. All polls showed him having a substantial lead up to the day of the election; but the man whom many had assumed would become the first Black governor of California lost the race. Many attributed Bradley’s defeat to deception among White voters. As the theory goes, many White voters would claim to be voting for the Black candidate only to do otherwise when it really mattered. This is called the Bradley Effect.

Black voters have become conditioned to the Bradley Effect. So they did not think that Obama would really have a chance in the White community. Polling data from late October 2007 showed that Hillary Clinton was heavily favored over Obama in the Black community by 57% to 33%. While Black men were evenly divided between Clinton and Obama, Black women supported Hillary by 68%. Black voters have been the Democratic Party base since the contentious Convention of 1964. They, however, bet their hopes on the White Democratic candidate most likely to succeed than on the Black candidate who may not. Blacks also felt a sense of indebtedness to President Bill Clinton for the improvements, real or perceived, his presidency made in the Black community. This is what makes Iowa a historical oddity. When the people of the predominantly White state of Iowa gave Obama his very first victory, the Black electorate began to see the Bradley Effect as having been overcome. The realization that a White state could vote for Obama gave Blacks the freedom to trust the White electorate again. After Iowa, the Black vote was up for grabs. The same Black community that had given Hillary Clinton solid lead in October was now weighing its options.

Iowa forever changed the Black community and American politics. The traditional Black leaders did not know it and the Clintons did not know it. When Bill Clinton made his “fairy tale” description about Obama’s claim regarding the war in Iraq, the Black community took that as disrespect to the first Black candidate with a real chance of the presidency. No longer deterred by the Bradley Effect, Black Democrats abandoned Hillary Clinton in a massive way. Hillary won New Hampshire, but for the rest of the primary season, never again would she see a majority of the Black vote go her way.  The Democratic Party base was not falling in line with Party’s leadership. Black leaders, on the other hand, were being more cautious. Many of the Black leaders, like John Lewis of Georgia, either threw their support behind Hillary or remained neutral. They had seen eloquent and charismatic Black candidates before; and they could not imagine that someone whose identification with the Black community was questionable could be a legitimate candidate. Unfortunately for the Black leaders, there was a generation divide within the community. Although many new Black leaders revere the stalwarts of the Civil Rights, this new generation does not see Black leadership as being an overwhelming preoccupation with traditional Black issues, such as civil rights, affirmative action, discrimination, police brutality, and so forth. The new leaders see Blacks as being part of an integrated society in which all social issues are equally Black issues. This generational divide is exemplified in the actions between the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the old guard, and his son, Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. While the older Jackson was tentative in his support of Obama, the younger Jackson was a high operative in the Obama campaign. This tentativeness of the older Black leaders, in one way, severely minimized their initial impact on the race. Iowa had given the Black community the go-ahead and the community was going ahead whether its traditional leaders followed or not.

The battle lines had been drawn between the old and the new. South Carolina and North Carolina, two states with very high Black populations, would decide this generational battle within the community. When the battle was over, the Black community had gone overwhelmingly for Obama. By the time the primaries got to Pennsylvania, Hillary had completely lost the Black vote. Her support among Blacks in the Quaker State was 10% to 90% for Obama. Seeing that their community was moving on without them, the old guards began to get on board. One by one, prominent leaders in the Black community began to switch their support from Clinton to Obama. It was obvious by the end of the Democratic primaries that the Black community, the Black voters in particular, would never be the same again.

One of the most interesting developments from the Democratic primaries was that a Black leader could emerge without focusing on “Black issues” but on “American issues”. In a real twist of political irony, a comment made by Hillary Clinton and then used against her by the Obama campaign, has really come to symbolize the new political reality among Black voters. Hillary said that the Civil Rights would not have been realized without President Johnson, not intending to minimize the role of Civil Rights leaders but to show the influence of White power brokers, a component Obama was lacking, was essential to the success of African America objectives (Cloud, 2008).

What is obvious from the Democratic primaries is that the White power brokers who are important in this election are not the old boys’ network but a new generation of Democrats who refused to be limited by racial stereotypes. The consequence of this shift in political perspective is that Democratic leaders, Black or White, could appeal across race based on common concerns and not stereotypical issues, which means that Obama does not have to focus on traditional Black issues in order to appeal to Black voters.  This transformation of the Democratic Party, partly attributable to the efforts of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, is an enormous benefit to Senator Obama. Despite all the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement, it took the White state of Iowa to make race a non-issue in American national politics.

The historic nature of Obama’s candidacy is not lost on the American people. It is also true that the world has never shown such enthusiasm over an American presidential candidate. Many celebrities would envy the crowds he drew in Europe. Even the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, seemed to have some sort of irrational exuberance about meeting Obama. Perhaps Obama’s universal attraction may be attributed to the fact that in a world in which ethnic minorities are usually persecuted and not celebrated, the United States, through Obama, is about to offer hope to all ethnic minorities. The American people, however, are not going to choose an unqualified person to be president just to make history or offer hope to the world.

There are two weaknesses of the Obama candidacy. The first is his lack of executive experience. He has not run a company or even a small town. It seems like a great gamble for the American people to trust such a person to run the affairs of state, especially in these critical economic times. Secondly, Obama has been a U.S. Senator for less than a full term, too brief to have a record by which to gauge his priorities. These are two very valid arguments against Obama; however, the Senator has provided a resounding counter-argument in the form of his campaign. He started his campaign with little name recognition, no money, and very little political connections. Of all the presidential candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, he has run the most efficient campaign. While the Obama campaign was always running on a surplus, McCain’s candidacy was almost derailed when his campaign went broke temporarily. Of course, running a campaign is nothing like running a country; but if the management of their campaigns is any indication of their executive skills, Obama wins this job hands down.

If the campaign management answers questions about Obama’s ability to manage, then his senatorial record in Illinois answers questions about his political philosophy. Immediately after Obama entered the Illinois Senate, he worked with Republicans to reform laws pertaining to ethics and health care (Slevin, 2007). Through these reforms, he demonstrated his willingness to work in a bi-partisan fashion and his interest in ethical practice and health care. Obama also sponsored a law to increase the tax credits for low-income workers, worked on welfare reform, and helped increase childcare subsidies. In 2001, when Congress and Wall Street were not thinking about home owners, the Illinois Democratic Senator worked with the Republican Governor to regulate predatory payday loans and mortgage lending to avoid home foreclosures (Allison, 2000 and Long ; Allison, 2001). Given these accomplishments in the Illinois Senate, it is safe to say that Obama’s concern for low-income workers, health care, ethics in government, and mortgage owners is a part of his record and not just campaign rhetoric.

In terms of his campaign style, the Senator from Illinois has focused more on the issues then on personal character. The McCain camp tried several character attacks, but none really worked. First he was compared to Moses and Jesus, insinuating that he had a messiah-complex. That did not work. Because of the huge crowds attracted to his events, both in the United States and in Europe, Obama was compared to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, two celebrities famous for nothing substantive. This line of attack did not work either; but the McCain campaign was not done yet. Obama’s minor association with a 1960s radical, William Ayers, now a professor at the University of Chicago, was used to accuse Obama of “paling around with terrorists.” The insinuation was that Obama must be a terrorist or harbor some anti-American sentiments through his association with Ayers. Finally, because Senator Obama told a plumber that his tax cuts were intended to “share the wealth,” the Senator is being accused of being a socialist.

The Obama camp could have used McCain’s divorce and his Keating Five debacle to put a negative spin on McCain’s character, but they never did, perhaps for a very good reason. From the beginning of the Republican Convention on September 5th to the October 31, 2008, McCain’s favorability rating went from a high of 60% to a low of 44%.  In the same time period, Obama’s favorability rating went from a low of 43% to a high of 59% (RCP, 2008). Many would-be voters have blamed the McCain camp for the negative tone of the campaigns. Obama’s above-the-fray style worked to his advantage. This is not to say that the Obama campaign has not engaged in negative ads or political distortions. From the beginning of September to the end of October, Factcheck.org record 10 misleading claims by the Obama side. All of the misleading claims from the Obama camp were issues-related and not character-related. For example, as the stock market plunged in mid-September, an Obama ad claimed that many seniors would have lost their savings in the stock market if the Bush-McCain plan to privatize social security had been implemented. According to Factcheck.org, this ad is misleading because the privatization plan would have excluded anyone born before 1950. That would include everyone 58 years and older. In other words, some people would have lost their retirement in the stock market, but it would have been those who are 57 or younger and not seniors.

The most important decision that any candidate makes upon becoming the party’s presumptive nominee is the selection of a running mate. Obama’s choice of Senator Joe Biden shows extreme confidence in Obama’s willing to have someone who can disagree with him be his partner. All political analysts agree that Biden is an extremely qualified choice, with his only negative being what most call “the gift for gaffe,” making comments that are not politically savvy. Now that we know Obama’s concerns, his political philosophy, and his self-confidence, let us examine his and the Democratic Party’s position on a host of issues.

Senator Obama does not believe in abortion as a personal choice, but he supports a woman right to make that choice. In other words, he is pro-choice, which is in line with the Party’s position. Both Obama and his Party believe in the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but both also believe that certain arms, particularly assault riffles, are not necessary for personal safety and should be banned. This is also same the position of all law enforcement agencies. The Republican Party and the National Riffle Association oppose the ban on assault riffles and see this as a Second Amendment issue.

On immigration, Obama has a five-point comprehensive plan: (1) Create secure borders, (2) Improve Immigration system, (3) Remove incentives to enter illegally, (4) Bring people out of the shadows, and (5) Work with Mexico (Obama-Biden, 2008).. Border security entails an increase in “personnel, infrastructure, and technology” on American borders and ports of entry. Improve the immigration system by fixing the dysfunctional bureaucracy and keeping families together by increasing the number of legal immigrants. Remove the financial incentives for illegal immigration by penalizing businesses that hire illegal immigrants. Bring people out of the shadows that by allowing those who are currently illegal and have not committed crimes to pay a fine and begin the process of legalization. And since the illegal immigration problem is not just an American problem, work with Mexico to find mutually beneficial solutions. These points are not listed in any order of priority because they are all supposed to be implemented simultaneously. This is quite different from the Republican plan of build the wall first before doing anything else.

            Senator Obama offers a 10-point economic plan. The ten components of his economic plan are as follow: Jumpstart the Economy, Provide Middle Class Americans Tax Relief, Trade, Job Creation, Support Small Business, Labor, Protect Homeownership and Crack Down on Mortgage Fraud, Address Predatory Credit Card Practices, Reform Bankruptcy Laws,  and Work/Family Balance.  To jumpstart the economy, Obama will provide a $1000 energy rebate to familes to offset the rising cost in energy. The energy rebates will be partly funded from tax imposed on the excessive profits of the oil companies. Obama will give $25 billion to the states to prevent cuts in health, education, housing, and other assistance because of income lost due to declining tax revenues. States would receive another $25 billion to maintain infrastructures, such as schools, roads, and bridgres, and prevent one million job loss in the process.  Obama will seek fair trade agreements, seek revision of NAFTA, assist workers train for new jobs, penalize companies that send jobs out of the country, and reward companies that create jobs at home.  According to the Obama plan, his administation will invest in manufacturing sector to create five million new eco-friendly jobs in addition to the jobs that would be saved by investing in infrastructures. Individuals and businesses that earn $250,000 or less will pay no taxes.

            On Health care Obama offers several options. First, he wants those insursured who are satisfied with their policies to keep them but at a lower cost. Secondly, for  those who don’t have health insuranc, he wants them to have the option of buying into the same system used by Federal employers, including senators and members of Congress. Thirdly, Obama wants to subsidize the premiums paid by small businesses to enable small businesses to offer health insurance to their employees. For large corporations that do not provide health insurance for their employees, the Obama plan will impose a yet to be determined fine. Finally, Obama will create a health insurance fund in which large corporations will contribute to offset the costs of subsidy to small businesses. The Obama plan will be paid for in part by cost savings from increased efficiency in medical processes (transitioning most records from paper to electronic formats) and costs reduction in Medicare and Medicaid.

            When the American people were sold on Iraq being a threat and it was politicallly unpopular to stand against this view, Senator Obama oppsed going to war with Iraq. He did not believe that Iraq was relevant to the war on terror; and he also believed that the Americans would not be received very well in Iraq. McCain supported the war, claimed Americans would be welcomed as liberators, and the mission would be accomplished fairly easy and quickly.  McCain has been wrong on all points and Obama has been correct. Obama has supported a time-table for troop withdrawal in order to pressure the Iraqis to make political progrss. McCain opposes any kind of time-table. The Bush administration and the Iraqi government have both agreed to time-table for troops withdrawal. While the war was in progress, Obama opposed certain funding bills that did not contain a time-table for troops withdrawal. McCain, on the other hand, opposed funding bills that contained time-table for withdrawal. Senator McCain supported the troop surge when Senator Obama opposed it and said that it would not work. The troop surge has contributed to the decline in violence but the political progress that it was supposed to foster has not materialized.

Ralph Nader

            Ralph Nader’s candidacy is a very strange one. He is the least likely candidate to win and yet he is the most difficult to explain. It does not seem practical to do a party history for Nader becauese he does not belong to any one politcal party. Or, it may be said that Nader belongs to almost every political party except the Democratic and Republican Parties. For example, according to Politics1.com, Nader is the candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party in California; elsewhere, he is the candidate for the Independent Party, the Natural Law Party, and the Independent-Ecology Party. It therefore comes as no surprise that even on Nader’s official campaign web site, it does not indicate any party affilation. Given the schizophrenic nature of Nader’s party affiliation,  it would be best to discuss Nader and some of his positions outside the context of a political party.

            Ralph Nader came into the naitonal spotlight in the mid-1960s when he successuflly sued General Motors for invasion of privacy. The GM Corvair, a compact car, was involved in many accidents and the company was facing over 100 lawsuits relating to this vehicle. Nader did a research on the Corvair, discovered its defects, and made the findings public. In retaliation and to silence Nader, GM had his phones tapped, checked his background for anything embarassing, and tried to entrap him with prostitutes. When Nader discovered GM.’s scheme, he sued the company and won, earning him both national recognition and the credibility of being a consumer advocate. General Motors was forced to publicly apologize to Nade (Luger, 1999). With his new found fame and the $284,000 net settlement, Nader luanched his career in consumer activism, beginning with the establishment of Public Citizen, a non-governmental organization (NGO).

            Betweem 1972 and 1992, Nader made some half-hearted efforts at the presidency. It was not until 1996 when he became the candidate of the Green Party. He performed beyond expecations. Building on this effort, Nader ran again in 2000. His performance in the 2000 presidential election would forever remain a part of American political controversies. Some believe that his performance in New Hamsphire and Florida cost Al Gore the election (Allen ;  Brox, 2005).  Exit polls showed that most of those who voted for Nader would have voted for Al Gore. In other words, without Nader, Al Gore would have won the election of 2008. Encouraged by his performance in 2000, Nader ran again in 2004. This time around, he did not have much support. Believing that a Nader candidacy would peal votes away from the Democratic candidate, some wealthy Republicans funded Nader’s campaign, tainting the independence of his candidacy (Simmons ; Simmons, 2006). There was no repeat of 2000 because Nader’s impact was negligible. This bring us to 2008.

            The Nader-Gonzalez campaign does not have positions on abortion, gun control, and illegal immigration.  On health care, “The Nader campaign favors replacing our fragmented, market-based system with a single-payer health plan – where the government finances health care, but keeps the delivery of health care to private non-profits, and allows free choice of doctors and hospitals for patients” (Nader-Gonzalez, 2008). Nader’s economic policy is anchored by fair trade, jobs creation by investing in infrastructural improvements, rearranging budgetary priorities from military spending and tax cut for the wealthy and corporations to emphasis on spending on public infrastructure and common wellbeing.  Nader believes that America should defend itself against terrorism, but he is very strong opponent of the war in Iraq. In this policy synopsis, we see that Nader views align more with the Democrats than with the Republicans. So it is understandable why Democrats see his candidacy as a help to the Republicans. In the presidential election of 2008, Obama has generated a strong following that will not be impacted by Nader.

References

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McCain-Palin (2008). “Jobs For America.” The McCain-Palin official campaign web site.     Retrieved on October 29, 2008 from http://www.johnmccain.com/Issues/JobsforAmerica/smallbusiness.htm

Nader-Gonzalez (2008) “Nader-Gonzalez ’08.” Official web site of the Nader-Gonzalenz    campaign. Retrieved on November 12, 2008 from http://www.votenader.org

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The Avalon Project. “President Jackson’s Proclamation Regarding Nullification, December 10, 1832.” The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. Retrieved on November 10, 2008 from http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/presiden/proclamations/jack01.htm

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