Monday, August 18, 2008

Answering readers' questions- on the Saddleback Civil Forum

Liz asks :
"Justin, did you see the forum at Saddleback with Obama and McCain? What did you think of what McCain said about the Russia/ Georgia situation?"

No, I didn't watch it (we don't have cable) but I just finished reading the transcript. I also saw the review of it on NBC Nightly News last night.

McCain didn't say anything about Georgia that he hasn't said previously, and then nothing remarkable. That he's been there, thinks it's "wonderful," that we should support Saakashvili and that he's concerned about the new Russian assertion of power in the region. Again, one of his top advisers is a paid lobbyist for Georgia, so no surprise there.

But, what else was said at the forum that I thought was interesting?

1. Barack Obama's words were clearly less "stumpy" than McCain's. While the audience groaned when he reiterated his pro-choice position, Obama made the point that abortion takes an emotional toll on women and that we need to find incentives for women to keep their babies or give them up for adoption.
The recognition that people respond to incentives is big for me. Because abortion will likely never be outlawed in the U.S. So, I favor Obama's realist approach on the issue--reduce abortions through incentives.

2. Warren asked "What do you define as 'rich'?" Obama claims he's giving the middle class a tax cut when he's not. The data say he's raising marginal income tax rates for everyone considerably. See here and here. (HT: Greg Mankiw).

I'm hoping at one of the debates the candidates are able to use powerpoint. The tax issue should be a slam dunk for McCain. But, I have little faith in his team to understand or exploit this.

But, Obama makes the important point that tax hikes are necessary if we want to eliminate deficits:
"Generationally for us to invest or for us to spend $10 billion a month on a war and not having a way to pay for it. That I think is unacceptable. Nobody likes to pay taxes. I haven't sold 25 million books but I've sold a lot of books lately. I've written a pretty big check to Uncle Sam. Nobody likes it."

McCain, however, makes some fundamental Republican mistakes. The first was surprising, calling the $700 billion we spend on oil the "greatest transfer of wealth in history" to countries "that don't like us very much" and spend some of it to fund Al Qaeda and other terrorists. McCain is quoting T. Boone Pickens here. Last week, Rush Limbaugh bashed Pickens for calling this a "transfer of wealth," accurately pointing out (and quoting an economist) that it's an exchange of wealth, not a transfer. McCain's team apparently didn't get that message. He also claims that tax cuts increase revenue, a myth unless applied only to the very wealthy (on the far side of the Laffer Curve), and then only theoretically, as it depends on how their behavior is altered.

McCain did well to point out that:
We (ie: Congress) spent $3 million of your money to study the DNA of bears in Montana. Now I don't know if that was a paternity issue or a criminal issue, but the point is that it was $3 million of your money. And you know we laugh about it but we cry and we should cry.

3. I think McCain had the better answer on education, calling for choice and competition. Obama says he favors merit pay. McCain says he wants every American to have the choice to send their kids to private schools (like himself and Obama) if they desire. I agree.

Thanks for the question!


Liz Waters said...

Thanks for the thoughts! I didn't catch it on TV, but I watched the video online yesterday. It was interesting b/c I thought McCain did a better job of coming across as personable and relaxed than I thought he would. Rick Warren asked some interesting questions, too. Good food for thought!

JTapp said...

William Kristol (a conservative who I don't like) has written his column on the forum today.
He thinks McCain showed how his and Obama's worldviews diverge. I just felt McCain said little that he doesn't say in every campaign speech that he gives, which is why his answers were so crisp, whereas Obama was more honest and a little more intellectual.
I take his point about doing things because we think we're good, even though what we're doing has some not-so-good repercussions (Iraq, Eastern Europe, Pakistan, etc.) is right on.
McCain says "I'll go to the gates of hell if I have to" after Obama every chance he gets, it's not something anyone learned today (or maybe it is... if the Southern Base of Conservatives were watching then he definitely got their votes).

JTapp said...

update: if you go to you can see a roundtable with a few religious leaders, including the ethics chair for the SBC, and their take on evangelicals, the forum, and what will get their votes.