While I know none of this information is itself news to the campaign, the comprehensive nature and easy-to-search quality of this document is what makes it novel; whatever inaccuracies one might encounter while debating a McCain surrogate or attempting to convince an undecided voter, the following contrast piece guarantees a quick, clear, and confident answer, pushing back at McCain with hard facts on the five key issue areas he has focused on during the campaign:
Leadership and Experience
Ethics and Government Reform
National Security and Foreign Policy
Bipartisanship and Crossparty Appeal
(A printable Microsoft Word version of this document with endnotes is also available for those who do not have a portable computer on them when confronting inaccuracies, and need a hard copy instead)
First, a quick bullet point summary, then the full piece...
Leadership and Experience
1. Unique Strengths
Barack Obama's diverse heritage provides an inherent credibility in the world's two most explosive regions (Africa and the Middle East) that no past leader has been able to offer America; his election would consequently improve our standing and security more on the first day than McCain could in four years, as his "upbringing would serve us well if he were president, both in the understanding he would bring to issues of America's role in the world and in terms of how the world views America". Top academic experts in foreign policy say Obama's informal experience offers more insight than any conventional expertise, and top journalists on the subject of the Middle East call him "the only hope for the US in the Muslim world", as we're otherwise "facing two or three decades of problems in the Mideast, with 1.2 billion Muslims". Conservative Andrew Sullivan puts it best: "If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama's face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can." Obama's rise has the Muslim World giving America a second look, and he is already viewed with more confidence in 22 countries than McCain.
2. Foreign Policy Resume
Aside from spending years of his childhood in Indonesia and earning an International Relations Major major in college, Barack Obama has spent four years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; in that time, he has become the most traveled Freshman Senator, he helped negotiate a Nigeria cease fire, he has reduced loose weapons stockpiles in Russia, and he spoke out in Kenya and South Africa against the violence in Darfur. By 2007, it was noted how Obama was "shaping the foreign policy debate", and how he was "putting more substance into his pitch than candidates often do"; since then, everyone from bipartisan watchdog groups to American soldiers have noted that Obama is the candidate of substance and not McCain. Indeed, McCain's foreign policy experience is unimpressive according to his own campaign website bio and wikipedia bio, and he appears outright inept traveling abroad when compared to Obama: "[McCain] looked to Lieberman several times for reassurance on his answers and seemed a little flummoxed... but Obama, who was making only his second visit to Israel, knew precisely what he wanted to say about the most intricate issues confronting and concerning Israel, and expressed himself clearly, even stridently on key subjects."
3. Domestic Resume
Every President must swear to protect and preserve our Constitution, and Obama would be the only Constitutional Law Professor to become President after having instructed in that field for over a decade; this experience will have a positive effect on everything from judicial appointments to protecting liberty to respecting the limits of executive power. Obama went on to serve for eight years in the Illinois Senate, adding state legislative experience to his local grassroots work as a community organizer; he sponsored 823 bills and cast over 4000 votes in the state senate, and as a US Senator, co-sponsored 570 bills, including 15 which became law. It is exceedingly rare in history for a Presidential candidate to understand first-hand how things work at the local, state, AND federal level; Barack Obama has that experience, while John McCain has only served at the federal level. Furthermore, Obama's time either in public service or pertaining directly to Constitutional Law adds up to twenty-five years, the same amount of time John McCain has been in elected office.
4. Executive Leadership
While John McCain's only executive experience is running his campaign, Obama has a more diverse resume that began over twenty years ago; as director of the Developing Communities Project in Chicago for three years, the budget Obama oversaw went from $70,000 to $400,000, and as President of the Harvard Law Review, Obama had eighty people working under him. During this year's Democratic primary, Obama had 1280 employees at a cost of 2.61 million dollars a month, which increased to over 2000 employees in the general election, more than the President's White House staff; Obama built his campaign from the ground up to the largest in history, rejecting money from political action committees and federal lobbyists, while McCain nearly ran his campaign into bankruptcy despite taking money from all comers, almost eliminating himself from the Republican primary six months before all his rivals' campaigns could collapse. Obama's leadership in running a tight campaign, described as a well-oiled machine that is devoid of internal struggle, gives us an insight into how he would lead as President; McCain's executive leadership since the primary, meanwhile, has remained dismal: "McCain's aides acknowledge frustration among fellow Republicans for the slow-to-start campaign." His missteps have brought into question his ability to lead, he has made himself appear unpresidential, and his campaign has gone so far in thwarting responsibility as to claim that McCain does not speak for McCain; his campaign website has a supporters page which is still to this day blank, despite the story being publicly mocked months ago. Questions about McCain's leadership go back much further, however, from assaulting a foreign leader in 1987 to pushing an old lady in a wheelchair in 1996 to repeatedly exploding in anger at members of his own party; as a result, even McCain's Naval Academy classmate and fellow POW refuses to vote for him. John McCain ate cake with President Bush while Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and when floods hit the Midwest earlier this summer, McCain issued a statement while Obama grabbed a shovel to fill sandbags, also organizing campaign supporters online to deploy volunteers and donations for disaster relief; by the time McCain got there for a campaign appearance one week later, he went against the explicit wishes of the Iowa Governor not to distract from relief efforts, while Obama canceled his campaign appearance that week. McCain has barely showed up for work in the Senate this year, missing 63% of the votes in 2008, and he was the sole absence on a Medicare vote for which even Ted Kennedy showed up despite his cancer; furthermore, for someone whose career in office has been an endless string of apologies for offending people, McCain hardly seems a leader with good judgment, but someone who has simply relied on The Legend of John McCain to attack others freely and without reprisal (the most chilling and disheartening irony being that by the very laws put into place by Bush and McCain, McCain's mistreatment in captivity no longer qualifies as torture).
Ethics and Government Reform
1. Overspending and Corruption
Dozens of Republicans have been arrested and indicted in just the last few years for corruption and other crimes, and no less than archconservative Bob Novak points out that earmarks went up 285 percent when Republicans had control of Congress, representing the biggest increase in history. While Barack Obama does not assert that all earmarks should be done away with, he argues that the majority of them are wasteful, and he has worked to curtail them through increased transparency and accountability; Obama spearheaded and passed a bipartisan bill with Senator Tom Coburn that has tracked one trillion dollars of federal spending, making every earmark, grant, loan, and contract public knowledge, as well as the lawmakers who enabled them. John McCain rejects all earmarks universally in his rhetoric and claims to have never requested one, but asked for and received a 10 million dollar earmark in 2006 and a 14.3 million dollar earmark in 2003.
2. Lobbyists and Influence
Obama has a stronger reform record than any Presidential candidate in modern history, having sponsored and passed the strongest ethics reform bill at the state level in decades, The Gift Ban Act, as well as the strongest ethics reform bill at the federal level in decades, The Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act. He has also co-sponsored public finance reform in Presidential and Senate races, he has been a leading advocate for a bill to require Senate candidates to file their disclosures electronically, and he authored the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, as well as a bill to improve voter access to polling places; John McCain's single reform accomplishment after twenty-five years in the Senate is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill. Obama, with no federal lobbyist/PAC money and over two million contributors, most of them small donors, is as a result not indebted to lobbyists and special interests; in fact, "you would have to go back a century and a half to name an incoming president with so few debts to repay". McCain's campaign staff full of lobbyists is well documented, with at least 133 lobbyists running his campaign and raising money for him, his campaign manager lobbying from aboard the Straight Talk Express, and another lobbyist advisor connected with a bribery scandal involving access to the Bush administration; McCain's change in position to support oil drilling gained him a huge spike in donations from oil executives, he has received ten times as much money from top CEO's as Obama in return for offering huge corporate tax breaks, and he has spent Congressional money on his wealthy donors, not to mention that his running mate is a fellow phony reformer who is about to be deposed in an ethics probe. Conservative George Will says of McCain: "although his campaign is run by lobbyists; and although his dealings with lobbyists have generated what he, when judging the behavior of others, calls corrupt appearances; and although he has profited from his manipulation of the taxpayer-funding system that is celebrated by reformers...he seems sincerely to consider it theoretically impossible for him to commit the offenses of appearances that he incessantly ascribes to others." McCain gripes that Obama did not accept public financing this year, but Obama only suggested that he might, given that McCain could easily go around those rules with ads from independent 527 groups; sure enough, not only is the McCain campaign relying on 527s as their principal means of attacking Obama, but they have even been caught in illegal message coordination with 527s, whereas Obama got the MoveOn 527 to shut down and changed DNC policy to no longer accept PAC or federal lobbyist money. The fact is that despite McCain's griping, Americans prefer a large base of small donors over the current broken public financing system, and the polls back that up; the Obama Presidential campaign is the first in living memory where average Americans own a majority share, as more than 50% of donations to Obama have been $25 or less, 80% of them have been $100 or less, and 93% of them have been $200 or less. This is by far the closest to true public financing in American history, a progressive milestone, and yet at the same time the conservative notion of voluntary donations only is adhered to; the McCain campaign's mix of affluent donors and taxpayer money, on the other hand, satisfies neither approach.
3. Character and Credibility
Obama believes in authenticity and consistency as a necessary starting point: "I want to be saying the same thing in the primary as I'm saying in the general election as I'm saying in the Oval Office. I don't want to make promises that I cannot keep. I don't want to simplify issues or demagogue issues simply to win short-term favor. We need to be straight with the American people." The evidence shows that Obama has never backed off of any of his core promises, and as conservative David Brooks puts it: "I've been poring over press clippings from Obama's past, looking for inconsistencies and flip-flops. There are virtually none." Obama has been noted for his "straight-ahead style" and "refusing to back-slap or pander", breaking with the old approach to politics: "the most striking thing to me about the Senator's performances was the scrupulous honesty of his answers, his insistence on delivering bad news when necessary"; "that's Obama's approach, and in a country where people increasingly seem to regard politicians as professional liars, no wonder people find it refreshing." In contrast, John McCain, known and respected in 2000 for being a straight shooter, is now "making diametrically opposed policy promises to different audiences at the same time" and "talking out of both sides of his mouth"; his supposedly open town halls are in fact pre-staged events by the local Republican Party with planted questions in the audience, often held at the facilities of corporations that support John McCain. With McCain's National Online Communications Director busted impersonating an undecided voter online, the campaign caught lying about being in a cone of silence at Saddleback, and McCain himself lifting his Cross in the Dirt story from one of his favorite authors, his campaign's willingness to lie in this election has severely damaged his credibility; on top of it all, after claiming for months that Obama was not ready to lead, McCain chose a runningmate with zero foreign policy experience: "It's about honesty. The question should be whether McCain -- and all the other Republicans who have been going on for months about Obama's dangerous lack of foreign policy experience -- ever meant a word of it. And the answer is apparently not."
National Security and Foreign Policy
John McCain is a long time neoconservative, a philosophy based on the perceived right to occupy other countries and spread democracy by force: " Neoconservative champions of an 'American Empire'... chafe at the notion that there are, or should be, limits to American power or that the American interest should be defined as anything less than a globe-spanning, benevolent imperium." McCain continues to believe in this foreign policy perspective despite the fact that Osama Bin Laden has commended it for making Al Qaeda's job easier. Bin Laden's goal to frame the battle against terrorism as a holy war between Muslims and Christians has also been aided by John McCain's willingness to define alliances along religious lines, and by his refusal to denounce his campaign spokesperson's blanket statement that Muslims want us all to "kneel or they're going to kill us"; the fact is that America is not fighting a WWIV against terrorism, as terrorism can only ultimately be defeated in the long run by local negotiation and not outside military force. Due to being dominated by a failed neoconservative ideology, "Republicans are facing deep doubts about whether they can be capable stewards of the country's foreign policy"; in addition to failing to see the clues leading up to 9/11, strengthening terrorists by lumping them all together, and prisons for terrorists often holding the wrong men, our government's torture of captives and mismanagement of justice has resulted in an inability to prosecute the 20th 9/11 hijacker and Bin Laden's right hand man - both of whom went free. GOP donors have been charged with aiding terrorists in Afghanistan, one of McCain's top donor firms has plead guilty to funding a terrorist group in Columbia, and McCain's campaign manager has remarked that a terrorist attack would be a big advantage for their campaign. While John McCain is pushing a schizophrenic foreign policy platform to satisfy the same old neoconservative thinking, Obama would be the first true post Cold War President, giving him the ability to identify and track down terrorist cells unhindered by a dated mindset that only understands warring nation states; Obama correctly predicted in 2002 that the war in Iraq would "strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda", and was the sole Presidential candidate who insisted on talking about terrorism and instability in Pakistan last summer, for which he was mocked at the time, but which now looks quite prescient after the assassination of Prime Minister Bhutto and resignation of President Musharraf.
US troops overseas contributed six times as much to Barack Obama as they did to John McCain; McCain has voted against increasing veterans benefits ten times since 2003, and despite his multimillion dollar fortune, accepts a yearly $58,000 veterans disability check while opposing an Obama supported bill to give all veterans more benefits; John McCain has also said the VA should stop treating routine medical problems, has suggested bringing back the draft, and receives a score of 20 out of 100 from the Disabled Veterans of America, while Obama gets an 80 out of 100. Our troops support Barack Obama's Iraq policy over John McCain's by thirty percentage points, and 70.6% of US military donations last spring went to candidates in favor of withdrawing from Iraq.
Despite the recent bombshell that the White House forged a document to sell the war in Iraq, and the former top US commander in Iraq's admission that the war was really just about oil, McCain continues to believe the Iraq war was and is the right thing to do, having no problem with us staying for "a hundred" or "ten thousand years"; this is despite reports of our government using assassins, chemical weapons, and distributing religious coins to spread Christianity, validating anti-American terrorist propaganda. John McCain said just one month after 9/11 that invading Iraq was a priority over catching Bin Laden, and his supposed maverick split with the Bush administration on Rumsfeld is a fiction, as he would have chosen Rumsfeld and Cheney himself; McCain also claims to have been more restrained than Bush in not saying things like Mission Accomplished, but the facts show he was for Mission Accomplished before he was against it. McCain has recently confused Iraq with Afganistan, Sunnis with Shiites, and has contradicted himself repeatedly in the course of the same interview on the issue of timetables, at one point calling Obama's withdrawal plan a "pretty good timetable"; with Iraq Prime Minister Maliki saying that a timetable is a sign of victory and not defeat, that Obama's sixteen month plan is the right time frame, and that the surge is NOT the reason for the turnaround in Iraq, McCain has lost the national security advantage to Obama.
The theocratic government of Iran, happy with neoconservatives for strengthening Iran's regional influence by deposing the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, endorsed George Bush in the 2004 election. Obama's position of talking to our adversaries instead of the neoconservative "ignore or invade" approach is preferred by 67% of the American public, and even the Bush Administration ended up giving in and talking to Iran in recent months for the first time. A small group of neocons, the same people who pushed for invading Iraq, go as far as to regularly compare the Iranian President to Hitler in their effort to whip up a frenzy that will result in invading Iran: "They are wrong and recent history tells us they are dangerous." McCain has joked about bombing Iran with laughter and song.
John McCain supported talks with Hamas and had a fundraiser on one of his finance committees who was an agent of Hezbollah. Obama's strong support for Israel's security is coupled with an equal respect for the plight of the Palestinian people, as evidenced by statements that suggest he would be the most evenhanded President regarding the conflict that we have ever had; Obama is the first candidate ever to, in the course of addressing Jewish groups, "suggest that there is any onus on the Jewish state when it comes to making peace with its neighbors". With policies of neoconservative overreach having damaged Israel's security as much as America's, such evenhandedness would be a welcome change for both sides of the conflict.
Bipartisanship and Cross Party Appeal
1. Bucking The Party Establishment
Unlike John McCain, who eventually ditched every single policy position where he had broken with his own party in order to win the Republican nomination, Barack Obama went through the entire Democratic primary insisting on positions that infuriated progressives and challenged Democratic orthodoxy, such as opposing universal health care mandates, addressing the future Social Security crisis, and advocating merit pay for teachers; he even went against many of his own major donors to support the writers' strike. The idea that Obama "moved to the middle" after winning the nomination requires ignoring all those instances, and does not hold up on closer examination, as Obama has always been consistent in his rejection of doctrinal filters. As even one Republican consultant put it during the Democratic primary, Obama is "not trying to cobble together the old Democratic coalition of interest groups"; while McCain has a record of bipartisan work with the Gang of 14 in the Senate, Obama has also worked across the aisle with Republicans such as Dick Lugar and Tom Coburn, his anti-earmark bill with the latter being met by strong resistance from many Democrats, and his ethics reform bills receiving a similar response from members of his party. Although Obama is progressive on many issues, "in his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly, Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean"; in an analysis of foreign policy positions, "Obama seems to be the cool conservative and McCain the exuberant idealist", and according to conservative David Brooks, Obama has "a worldview that precedes policy positions" and "a conservative temperament". Some Republicans open to Obama "see his primary advantage in prosecuting the war on Islamist terrorism... prepared to set their own ideological preferences to one side in favor of what Obama offers America in a critical moment in our dealings with the rest of the world"; for others, Obama's efforts to keep the Harvard Law Review balanced as its President, accomplished by respecting the views of its conservative minority, reveals how he will govern. It has also been argued that Obama's approach, involving the emphasis on strong families and personal responsibility in speeches delivered to inner city audiences, is actually a new path altogether which surpasses "either the liberal or conservative prescriptions".
2. No Maverick
With a record of voting with George W. Bush 90% of the time and rising, John McCain's views are costing him among moderate to liberal Republican voters; McCain's allegedly moderate record on energy and the environment is a fiction, and his position against a woman's right to choose is far outside the mainstream. While McCain's phony reformer image has long been propped up, it has fallen apart under a desire to be President in the worst way, and a staff of Bush advisers who have McCain so far out of the decision making process that there is actually someone on his campaign to make sure McCain sticks to the McCain campaign's message.
With self-identified libertarians, voters who strongly support individual freedom and non-interventionalism, the neoconservative takeover of the Republican Party has soured them on the GOP, as the Democratic Party looks like more and more of a natural ally; Obama leads by fifteen points among libertarians, and some conservatives speculate that Obama is a libertarian paternalist.
Obama's crossover appeal to conservatives goes way beyond libertarian voters, however, as he has been endorsed by such unlikely figures as Contract With America co-writer Larry Hunter, conservative blogger Dorothy King, Bush biographer Steven Mansfield, Bush pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, former neoconservative Francis Fukuyama, National Review senior editor Jeffrey Hart, and Reagan Assistant Attorney General Doug Kmiec; other lifelong Republicans to endorse Obama include Susan Eisenhower, former GOP Congressman Jim Leach, Republican mayor Jim Whitaker, GOP Congressional Nominee Joel Haugen, Reagan policy advisor Bruce Bartlett, Republican mayor Lou Thieblemont, and Reagan Assistant Secretary of the Army Delbert Spurlock, along with countless individual Americans who are for the first time voting Democratic this year. When it comes to Obama, Republican women "don't see him as a partisan", and "are expressing concerns about John McCain", while even conservatives who haven't endorsed Obama have remarked that many of his policies, such as his education plan, are better than McCain's; in contrast, not one policy position of John McCain's has been described as superior to Obama's by a single moderate or progressive journalist, nor is there a single high-profile progressive or elected Democrat who has endorsed of McCain (Joe Lieberman doesn't count, having changed his registration from Democrat two years ago after losing his primary).
Bush and the GOP's effect on the economy has resulted in the worst severe poverty since 1975, with the number of severely poor Americans growing by 26 percent between 2000 and 2005, and the worst job creation since the Great Depression; this has left America with the worst child poverty, education, and life expectancy of all civilized countries, and resulted in 38% of Americans struggling to pay for food. In addition to the world's largest bond fund manager declaring that tax cuts for the rich and deregulation have been a failure, the evidence shows that Democratic Presidents are better for the economy, and that since 1900, Democratic Presidents have been better for growth, employment, the stock market, and reducing the deficit.
Obama's tax plan will cut middle class taxes three to eight times as much as McCain's plan according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, and will cut taxes for 95% of Americans; despite their other criticisms, the conservative Wall Street Journal admits "For Obama, Taxes Are About Fairness", and even the ultraconservative Weekly Standard notes that "McCain's charge that Obama is planning a massive tax increase doesn't apply", adding that, "every day that passes makes one thing clearer and clearer: Barack Obama knows precisely what he wants to do to the U.S. economy, and John McCain is intent on proving his self-confessed lack of knowledge with a charming set of homilies." Indeed, McCain has been inconsistent on tax cuts; he embraces thirty cent gas tax relief gimmicks and claims to want a level playing field, but he has no problem with the fact that Republican policies impose a hidden deficit tax of more than $1 per gallon of gas, or the fact that 2/3 of US corporations paid no annual taxes from 1998-2005.
Obama explains how to pay for his programs better than any Presidential candidate in recent history: "his agenda actually does come pretty close to adding up. It's really not normal for a candidate's budget numbers to be even in the near ballpark of making sense... when was the last time we had a presidential candidate who came [so] close? Hell, I think McCain's plan, if you put a number to it, would fail to add up by about ten times that amount. Obama's is the most restrained, least pandering budget plan we've seen in a presidential campaign for a very long time." John McCain said that he does not understand the issue of economics as well as he should, and his economic plan is a mess of contradictions that has several serious problems, including a substantial increase to the national debt: "according to the Tax Policy Center, over the course of a decade Obama's plan would result in a national debt over one trillion dollars smaller than you would get under McCain's plan." While Obama's plan has received endorsements from Nobel Prize economists and the SEC chairs under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, the McCain campaign had to trick 300 economists into signing a short statement later attached to an economic plan they never read.
4. Out of Touch
Unlike Barack Obama - who was born to an eighteen year old single mom, who took a $13,000 a year community service job, and who was only able to pay off his student loans in the last couple of years - John McCain has had access to tens of millions of dollars for the last three decades and has never had to stress about paying a bill in that time. McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns, doesn't know what kind of car he drives, and spends $250,000 a year on house servants; when asked about what income level represents the line between middle class and rich, McCain said five million dollars a year. His chief economic adviser says we have become a nation of whiners and that the recession is all in our minds, his chief adviser on health care said that anyone with access to an emergency room effectively has insurance, and McCain himself called Social Security a disgrace.