Critique of Obama's speech

I read the transcript of Obama’s speech today, and since 38 million people watched it, I think its safe to say this speech will form the predicate for how he seeks to define himself for the next 9.5 weeks. As usual, he was thin on specifics and policy proposals, though I detected a few in there. Also as usual, he reversed himself on some points.

Obama’s best line to my mind was the one toward the beginning where we spoke of how “we measure progress” by several populist themes. He stated goals that Democrats, Independents, and even Republicans can agree with. But in so doing, I think there were several points on which he was vulnerable:

  1. The Democrats have not made “progress” on bread and butter issues, and Obama exemplifies their party’s commitment to putting the need for reducing gas prices in the backseat to their environmental lobby. The GOP’s fight on this issue during the Democrats August recess helped lower gas prices by nearly $0.50/gallon.
  2. I would be interested in a fact check on his assertions as to the job creation records of Clinton v. Bush and the average income levels over those periods.

Obama then spoke of his fight for manufacturing plant workers on Chicago’s south side 2 decades ago to show he could identify with “rust belt” displaced workers. All I could think of at this point though was his comments about small town folks clinging to guns, religion, antipathy to those who are different from them, and antipathy to immigrants due to their bitterness at economic hardship. I sure hope that line gets some play at the RNC next week.

Next, he invoked his grandmother and her heroic sacrifice. What rushed to my mind was his marginilization of her as a “typical white person” and his bizarre assertion at the Saddleback Forum where she was the 2nd most influential person on his decisionmaking after his wife, and before Senators.

Next, he promised to change the tax code. This approached a substantive proposal, almost. First he started on cleaning up the tax code from lobbying interests. This is good, but McCain promised this first – to put an end to special interests and pork barrel spending. Obama does not have the record on this one. The litmus test on this was the farm bill, where every special interest came home to roost. Obama voted for it, McCain voted against it. Only one candidate put his money where his mouth was.

Also on the tax code, he promised to eliminate capital gains taxes for start ups and small businesses. This sounded like a reversal to me, since I was under the distinct impression that he favored increasing the capital gains tax to a record high level, doubling it. In any event, McCain has already beat him to that platform. And, Obama is bad for small business and start ups due to the way he would tax higher income brackets. As VP Cheney aptly noted in his stellar debate performance against the philanderer John Edwards, “its not too smart” to do this because of the way it negatively impacts small businesses incorporated as S-Corporations. It would severely damage one of the biggest job creators in this country – small businesses.

He then contrasted himself to McCain by saying he would not subsidize outsourcing jobs overseas. (This theme came up several times). I believe McCain must respond to this characterization. McCain must also promise to have the tax code encourage keeping jobs in America and not shipping them overseas. The Dems have successfully used this line for 4 years now, and its misrepresenting McCain’s stance.

He finished his taxes litany by saying he would cut taxes for 95% of working families. I think McCain should compare/contrast their tax plans – explain the $5000 health care plan tax credit, his doubling the dependent exemption, Obama’s Democrat party’s war on the child tax credit, the Obama tax on capital gains impact on families with investors (41% of public), Obama’s numerous spending program proposals, the lack of any Obama promise to not raise taxes, the increase in federal entitlement program taxes, etc.

Obama promised to end our dependence on foreign oil in 10 years. No specifics. No concrete measures. Nothing approaching a policy proposal, much less a plan as to how to do that. McCain should highlight Obama’s opposition to nuclear energy, offshore drilling, domestic drilling, and then contrast that with his own “all of the above” approach.

Obama then said drilling was a stopgap measure, not a long-term solution. Unless I am very much mistaken, earlier in the summer Obama stated he opposed drilling expansion because it would not produce a near-term benefit and was solely a long-term measure. I’d love to juxtapose those two lines in a video clip. We should produce some concrete stats at our convention as to the potential benefits of domestic drilling expansion, offshore drilling, and nuclear power, what it means for the price of gas and national security.

Obama then rattled off natural gas and clean coal technology as two venues of pursuit for energy independence. What exactly does he think McCain’s “all of the above” means exactly?

O said he would seek to safely harness nuclear power. Umm, it already can be safely harnessed, as we’ve been doing for over 30 years. So why Obama are you against McCain’s excellent plan for 45 new nuclear power plants. McCain should highlight how much energy, how many jobs this would create, how Europe safely uses them, how we safely use them, and how Obama opposed this due to his pandering to the environmentalist lobby.

Obama promised fuel efficient cars to be built in America. Well, cars already are built in America, even when foreign owned, because its cheaper than shipping them overseas. So nothing new there really. The auto jobs being lost are parts manufacturers, and Obama’s statement reflects a lack of understanding or insight as to how “fuel-efficient cars” would have parts that the international market would not be able to undercut American production on as they have done in the past. How are we going to get “fuel efficient cars”? Obama never says. He does not appear from his past statements though to support subsidies to companies with R&D potential via tax incentives to get this done. He has opposed McCain’s $300 million reward for the economical electric car engine idea. So Obama would regulate. Regulation does not necessarily advance science, however, and if the market would have sustained more fuel efficient models in existence, it would already be doing so. This will necessarily increase the price of cars, a bread and butter issue for most of us in middle class America. Obama then inexplicably asserts these vehicles will be affordable. I don’t think so Senator. Not with your approach anyway. The man has no understanding of the market.

Obama then pledged to spend $150,000,000,000.00 on affordable renewable energy. Wind power, solar power, and biofuels, five million jobs that cannot be outsourced and will pay well. Well, by my math, even if 0% of that $150 billion over ten years went to R&D, overhead, materials, etc, necessary to achieve affordable renewable energy, that would still only leave an average of $3,000 per year per employee. Not exactly well paying jobs. That said, McCain’s all of the above approach needs a counter proposal that makes sense by the numbers, has more credibility via detail when contrasted with Obama’s, and points out Obama using this money to pander to special interest lobbies for biofuels that have proven less efficient and more expensive than alternatives (corn-ethanol pandering to Iowans perhaps). McCain could promise other markets via trade agreements for that corn crop group while not conflating their needs with the energy crisis. And, he could put one of those nuclear plants in Iowa creating jobs there. Obama’s proposal/plan is far too vague.

Obama promised to invest in early childhood education. He stated he would do this by raising an army of new teachers (from where he did not say) with better salaries with more accountability and higher standards. How he would raise standards while hiring more teachers to the tune of a new army is perfectly unclear. This is best described as the Washington D.C. model. It did not work to throw money at the problem. Good teachers do not just grow on trees. Higher salaries may draw some more effective people into the field perhaps, but for the most part teachers are in it for their love of children. They deserve more money. But not just anyone can teach. Teaching requires not only someone who is educated but someone with patience, drive, and ability to connect with youth. This “proposal” is far too thin on specifics.

Next, a real proposal was given, to promise college tuition to anyone willing to do the requisitie military or community service. Appealing notion. Not sure of the price tag or logistics though. Don’t we already have a GI bill for the military? Certainly we could build on that, especially for those who serve in war. Obama’s plan is clearly to outpromise McCain on spending for military families in his bid to cut into that demographic. McCain should just remind folks of Obama’s vote against providing the military equipment soldiers needed during a time of war that cost soldiers lives in order to register again his belief the war should end and pander to the anti-war lobby. That said, the community service for college education is interesting. Obama may have stumbled on a real bread and butter issue. McCain should have some sort of response ready on this since this could turn into something over the next couple of months. In fact, I would bet on it.

Obama promised health care for all. We should remember Clinton’s critique that his plan would not provide health care for all, and tout McCain’s market based plan and how that would maximize coverage. Obama’s plan claims to lower premiums for those of us with health care coverage and provide great, Congressional-quality health care to those with none. Is that an entitlement? How does it help the middle class to give the poor better health care than they have, which is supported by John and Jane Q. Taxpayer? McCain needs to make the connection on this bread and butter issue as to why his market based approach is better for Americans than the Obama plan. He cannot cede this issue to the Democrats. Hilary’s out, and the Democrats who cared most about health care are in larger numbers up for grabs.

Obama promised to protect pensions ahead of CEO bonuses by reforming bankruptcy law. This was a winning line, and as such, it demands a response. McCain has promised to take on CEO’s golden parachutes, it is almost an emotional issue for him. But it is off-message for him to occasionally go there. McCain should note, however, his promise to change the law so as to go farther than Obama and prosecute these villains. Americans hate these CEOs with golden parachutes while the blue collar employees pension is gambled away. We hate them. But McCain’s plan goes further on this populist road. While McCain is on the subject, he might point out again who took public funding, who reneged on the issue and is getting more money from rich CEOs and corporate lobbyists tied to special interests. McCain is not beholden one penny to special interests. However much Obama has received from his adoring admirers, he is beholden to special interests into the hundreds of millions. What did he promise them, America should wonder.

Obama next vaguely promised equal pay for equal work. A weak overture to appease the women in his base. He has no passion on this issue. Let Palin take this one on.

He then promised to fund all his programs through closing corporate loopholes, offshore tax shelters, etc. I’m surprised he didn’t pick Senator Dorgan as his veep. A popular notion, but I’m sure McCain is not in favor of tax evaders as Obama would purport. Is there a study perhaps as to what policies could increase American tax revenue in taking on these “shelters” and what, if any, effect it would have on American jobs? How would McCain increase public funds when addressing this issue. We can expect to hear more and more about this one in the months ahead as well, so it should be addressed at the convention. While on the subject of funding, it should be noted (by McCain and Palin) that Obama/Biden have never promised to stop pork barrel spending. They are not even pretending to try to change that “business as usual” approach. Palin should have a field day on this one.

Obama promised to go through the federal budget line by line to elminate programs that are failing. Well, McCain has promised the same, and unlike Obama, he has a record of voting against them. I note Obama failed to mention examples of such programs or how much money he would cut in this regard. Doesn’t want to upset any special interests I suppose.

Obama pledged he’s ready to have a debate about who’s ready to be Commander in Chief. Well, McCain might point out Obama has reneged and/or backtracked twice in his commitments to debates and townhalls, including refusing 10 town halls after pledging to meet and debate McCain “anytime, anywhere.” I would say McCain should challenge him to an extra debate on that topic. Obama is obviously hoping the one scheduled for foreign policy will be all he has to do. McCain should challenge him to do that debate or townhall without a teleprompter and without media censoring/controlling which questions are asked. And he should do it publicly, perhaps at the convention.

Obama accused McCain of saying we should “muddle through” Afghanistan and failing to follow Bin laden to his cave. Where’s that cave Senator Obama? Short on specifics again? That’s okay this time because nobody knows where he is. Obama is clearly alluding however to his promise to send special military forces without permission into our ally Pakistan’s country (which through black ops we would already do if we knew where Osama was). This likely does not sit well with his pacifist portion of the base, and makes bad foreign policy. Might point out Obama failed to chair a single meeting on his subcommittee on this one too.

Obama stated McCain stands alone in his refusal to end the war. McCain should double back with Obama’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the surge worked, Obama’s stubborn refusal to listen to the Commanders on the ground, Obama’s stubborn refusal to go to Iraq until pressured to do so by the McCain campaign, Obama’s stubbornly publishing his plan for Iraq before meeting Commanders there. Should point out he took a politically unpopular stand that has proven to save American lives, and won us the war, increased stability in the region and avoided the civil war Obama was content to forecast and blame on others when legislating withdrawal. Obama’s purported courageous stand of opposing the war in 2002 was before he was in the Senate and was not unpopular in his liberal Chicago base where he served in the Illinois state senate, nor among his netroots financial backers.

Obama has stated Bush and Iraq have endorsed his timeline for withdrawal. McCain’s point that we will leave Iraq victorious is the seminal point Obama misses here. Victory and defeat are of no matter to Obama. He never speaks of it. Winning wars and not losing them seems like a logical foreign policy.

Obama referred to Bush-McCain foreign policy. Hmm, isn’t Bush’s veep Cheney? I thought so. McCain’s foreign policy thinking process is very different than Bush’s and is informed by both a military career, a Senate Career, and studying military history and international relations when he got back from Nam. McCain should highlight these distinctions. How about a line like, “I’m John McCain, not George Bush, and I’m running for President.”

Obama pledged a “sacred commitment to give” to soldiers “the equipment they need in battle”. This quote should be put in an ad juxtaposed against his vote against doing exactly that. Two sides of every issue without fail.

Obama defines negativity implicitly “But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes.” That’s good Senator Obama, because Senator McCain does not. That’s why he’s the maverick, and you’re the junior Senator who always votes his party line and never votes against his base. Never. I count at least 30-40 issues Obama has changed positions on during the general election for political purposes, (or at least, coincidentally with his political interests, which raises the question). Negativity and who the negative candidate is will be an Obama theme to election day. Obama is the negative candidate, however, as I portrayed in an earlier diary entry.

Obama then conflates the issue of soldiers of all political stripes fighting and bleeding together with him and McCain both putting the country first. Hmmm.

Obama said we can agree to reduce unwanted pregnancies, keep AK47s away from criminals. Okay, we can. But you have no bipartisan initiatives on either abortion or gun control and have taken positions that are so far from “middle ground” that you again are a liberal partisan of the far left on each of these issues. And, I’m not sure if your insinuation that gun control means we can regulate guns in cities where there are gangs but not in rural hunting areas comports with the NRA or the 2nd Amendment, Professor.

Obama noted gay rights as an area of agreement where loved ones should not be denied civil benefits and hospital visitation rights. Okay, fairly non-specific on the former, and no problem on the latter. Move on.

On immigration – don’t separate families. Well, for Hispanics, this is a huge issue, and Obama’s outreach with a one-liner, while hitting heartstrings, gives them little attention. McCain must make a concerted outreach to Hispanics and address the aftermath of these raids and pledge not to separate families, “mother from child” as Obama says. McCain should also note how he has stood up to his party and helped address Hispanics needs, going against party interests while Obama has not.

Obama noted employers hiring illegal immigrants undercuts American wages and jobs. Perfectly true, but Obama offered no solutions. McCain should offer solutions, and a plan on this. Given the split in the GOP on this, and perhaps McCain’s view diverging from a sizable portion of the base, this is a tricky line to walk in my view.

Obama stated “If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.” This is tailor made material for a McCain commercial on Obama’s negativity. It should be utilized when we paint Obama as a “negative” and “old world politics” candidate. Obama continued “You make a big election about small things.” How about using that line on the energy proposal issue and Obama’s idea for tire inflation?

Last, before delving into meaningless rhetoric completely devoid of defining either himself or his beliefs on any issue whatsoever, Obama cited three bipartisan efforts. He stated he helped open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable. (He worked that bill with McCain, long before the two were the nominees, and even then Obama was accused of political posturing). Second, he worked on a bipartisan basis to provide care for our vets. Hmm, not sure if that’s remotely controversial. Does Obama think that but for his leadership Republicans and Democrats would not have come across the aisle on that one? Last, he mentions keeping nuclear weapons from terrorists. Again, nothing even slightly controversial about that. Is McCain supposed to be the “give nukes to terrorists” platform candidate? Please. This measure was so non-controversial a voice vote passed it and they didn’t even take roll call. Obama had no leadership role on any of these “bipartisan efforts” at all. The fact these are the three he cites should be pointed to as an example of just how little he’s done. While on the topic, its worth mentioning how little time he’s spent in the Senate, (less time than he’s spent running for President in fact).