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Obama Feeds the Hungry Crowd

By Brian | September 3, 2008 | Share on Facebook

Since I commented on the other big speeches from the Democratic National Convention, I figured I should weigh in on Barack Obama’s acceptance speech as well. In short: If Hillary and Bill Clinton delivered homeruns, then I think I’d have to say that Obama hit a triple (or, to stretch the metaphor beyond the breaking point, he hit a double and then took third with the help of one or more errors).

I’ve gone through it point-by-point for those who are interested. For those who are not, I recommended moving on to this adorable post about a baby and a pigeon.

The first part of the speech was more of the “Hope and Change” rhetoric we’ve come to expect from Obama. And, no question, he’s damn good at it. I still maintain his oratory skills are helped along by the Presidential fumbling we’ve been sensitized to for the last eight years, but be that as it may, he got through the “style over substance” part of it just fine:

With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for presidency of the United States.

If he considers speaking center stage in front of 90,000 screaming fans to be humble, I can’t wait to see what he does when he’s feeling boastful.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives — on health care and education and the economy — Sen. McCain has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has made “great progress” under this president. He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisers — the man who wrote his economic plan — was talking about the anxieties that Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a “mental recession,” and that we’ve become, and I quote, “a nation of whiners.”

OK, if he can tell us we’re a better country than this, then I can tell him he’s a better candidate than this. This kind of rhetoric is flag pins and arugula salads, dressed up in economic terms to make it sound more legitimate. Anyone who’s paying attention knows that the economy has made progress under George W. Bush (e.g., 5 million new jobs), and that the fundamentals (unemployment, inflation, productivity) are strong. Does that mean times aren’t tough right now? Of course not. It means that down-cycle economies can have strong fundamentals, and that without them, things could be a hell of a lot worse. To suggest that Bush mishandled the economy because it teetered close to recession in his last year is about as stupid as saying the same thing about Clinton’s last year, where just about every economic fundamental was in worse shape than it is right now. And Clinton’s economy was far superior to George W. Bush’s.

As for Phil Graham, his “mental recession” comment spoke directly to the feeling of recession despite the lack of an actual recession, and the “whiners” he referred to were the media punditry who jumped the gun on declaring a recession, and then spent the better part of 2008 down-talking the economy to justify their earlier predictions. Obama knows this and so does John McCain. Unfortunately, McCain is so concerned about polling data and political strategy that he immediately distanced himself from Phil Graham when the comment came out, and handed the Democrats a baseless talking point. I expect to see it on campaign ads and partisan talk-shows, but IMHO, this schlock has no place in a convention speech.

It’s a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

I know we haven’t gotten to policy statements yet, but this line caught my ear. I hope someone pushes him on his belief that businesses have a responsibility to create American jobs and look out for American workers. As a shareholder in more than a few businesses, I think businesses have a responsibility to minimize expenses, maximize quality and maximize profits. As an American, I think government should incent businesses to create/keep American jobs by making America the best place to do business. This is the second time, to my knowledge, that Obama has approached a desired goal with the stick and not the carrot (the first being his community service program, wherein schools would lose federal funding if a certain percentage of its students didn’t do community service). I find it ironic that someone who is so good at inspiring others seems bent on mandating change from people, rather than inspiring it.

So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president.

My favorite part of these speeches. People always denigrate this section as the “laundry list,” but I look forward to it every four years. This is the stuff I hope to hear more about in the coming weeks – especially in the debates. This is when we put away our flag pins and mental recessions and start talking about running the country.

Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

You know, unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I’ll eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will, listen now, cut taxes — cut taxes — for 95 percent of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

Tax breaks to companies that keep jobs in America? Works for me. In fact, it goes directly to what I said earlier – incent companies to do business here, rather than mandating it (or declaring it their “responsibility”).

Eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses? That’s a new one for me. I had heard that Obama wanted to keep the Bush tax rate of 15% in place for those making under $250,000 per year, but this is even better. His problem will be the fact that most small businesses are sole proprietorships who file individual tax returns. So if your business generates income of $300,000 per year, it’s unclear if you fall under the benevolent small business, 0% capital gain rate or under the dreaded wealthiest one percent, regular-income (read: 28% or more) tax-rate. More to come, I hope…

Cut taxes for working families? Again, news to me. I had heard that he would keep the Bush tax cuts in place for those who make under $250,000 (and this was a change from his original plan to let all the tax cuts expire). Now he’s cutting those tax rates? Again, good news in my opinion. This time, the problem will be our pesky progressive tax system, where a tax cut for the working families also means a tax cut for the super-rich, since everyone in America pays the same tax rate on their first $50,000.

And for the sake of our economy, our security and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president: In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East. We will do this.

Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last 30 years, and by the way John McCain’s been there for 26 of them. And in that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil that we had as the day that Sen. McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I’ll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy — wind power and solar power and the next generation of bio-fuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.

Very interesting: end our dependence on Middle East oil. Not oil, but Middle East oil. Sounds a lot like what John McCain originally proposed. And, once again, I’m glad to hear it. Promising to get off of oil entirely is bill of goods, no matter what people say about Kennedy and the “send a man to the moon in this decade” thing. Getting off of Middle East oil is probably achievable, though, and I’d love to see us try. In this area, even partial success is still success.

The bit about McCain is a(nother) cheap shot – we’ve been investing in renewable energy and fuels at record levels, but it’s come from the private sector, not the government. Again – incentives, not mandates. And $4/gallon gas has done more for fuel efficiency than any government standard ever has or ever will. That said, I think incentives to make America the “Japan” of fuel-efficient cars is an excellent idea – a win-win for our ecology and our economy.

Ditto domestic drilling, natural gas, clean coal, nuclear energy, wind, solar and bio-fuels. Obama’s turnaround on drilling and nuclear energy is truly breathtaking (he was staunchly against these when he ran against Hillary in the primaries), but once again, I’m glad to see the change. I think he’s got it right now. Just like Paris Hilton.

I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American — if you commit to serving your community or our country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Once again, a pleasant surprise. If I’m reading this right, Obama is looking to stand up to the teachers’ union, which has fought diligently for years to keep teachers’ salaries tied exclusively to length of tenure and to avoid standards/metrics that tie performance to results. As the son, son-in-law and husband of licensed teachers, I’d love nothing more than to see excellent teachers paid more than average teachers, in order to encourage excellence in our teachers.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

As much as I’d love to see universal health care, this strikes me as highly suspicious. First of all, like it or not, insurance companies set premiums, not the government. So any politician that “promises” he’ll lower your premiums is guessing at best, and lying at worst. As for the heralded “same coverage that Congress gives themselves,” we need to understand that “same coverage” doesn’t mean “same premium.” Premiums are set based on the population that’s being covered. When we expand the congressional health plan from 535 people to several million, the premiums will surely change. Finally, words like “discriminating against those who are sick” are purely inflammatory. All the people insurance companies deal with are sick people, and anyone who has a claim rejected takes it personally, whether the reason was legitimate or not.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work, because I want my daughters to have the exact same opportunities as your sons.

Pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses – more inflammatory talk. As for Social Security, he hasn’t given us much to go on here, but I’m all ears. As for equal pay for equal work, again, I’m all ears. Also, I’ve got it on my “To Do” list to find out what John McCain thought was wrong with the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which he voted against, since I can’t imagine he’s actually against equal pay for women as he was accused of earlier in the convention. Of course, I could be surprised…

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime — by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less — because we cannot meet 21st century challenges with a 20th century bureaucracy.

Yeah, right. Corporate loopholes and tax havens will generate the billions in extra revenue required to pay for all of the above. I’m sure it feels good to blame the evil corporate overlords, but until I see some numbers, I smell a scapegoat. Line-by-line review of the budget? I’d love to see it, but here in the real world, I know that failed (or failing) programs often come with layers of stakeholders, mountains of rationalizations, and reams of remediation plans to set themselves right. Shutting them down is rarely as simple as the issuance of an executive fiat. But, as above, partial success here is still success, so I say, “Have at it!”

And just as we keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America’s promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next commander in chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have.

And that’s a debate I’m ready to hear. As long as “both of you” is still a viable answer.

The rest of it is some random McCain bashing, a nice allusion to his “red states and blue states” speech from 2004, and a beautifully worded reference to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, given 45 years, to the day, prior to Obama’s.

As I said at the beginning, I think it was a good speech. It set the stage for a substantive policy discussion in the areas of economic policy, taxes, energy policy, education, health care, and foreign policy – assuming that Obama is committed to having that discussion. It contained a healthy dollop of McCain bashing, which is to be expected, but Obama chose to stick with the tried-and-true talking points of the recent past, rather than a straight-up comparison of his ideas with those of his opponent. I’d have loved to hear that, but I’m happy to wait for the presidential debates if I need to.

Oh, and a quick word about the venue: impressive all the way around. To those who think columns are elitist, take a walk around Washington, DC – every third building has columns. I think it’s time to start getting used to seeing Obama near those kinds of buildings…

Topics: Political Rantings | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Obama Feeds the Hungry Crowd”

  1. Jamie Holts says at September 3rd, 2008 at 9:57 pm :
    Hello. I was reading someone elses blog and saw you on their blogroll. Would you be interested in exchanging blog roll links? If so, feel free to email me.


  2. Mike Harmon says at September 3rd, 2008 at 10:01 pm :
    I just stopped by your blog and thought I would say hello. I like your site design. Looking forward to reading more down the road.


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