Why I'm Voting For Barack Obama

07 October 2008

[I will be updating and adding to this list a lot between now and November]

I. Energy Policy:

  • Summary: This is one of the most important issues for me in the 2008 election. As I see it, we need to reach three goals: (1) change our auto fleet so that it is no longer dependent on oil as a fuel source; (2) reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our power plants; and (3) make sure that our energy policy isn't written by industry lobbyists, and that it doesn't ignore informed expert opinions. These are all tough goals to reach, and each will require a future President to be both honest and aggressive.
  • (1) Dependence on Oil: With respect to the first goal (which is long-term), Obama simply has a better plan. First of all, Obama will increase fuel efficiency standards by 4% every year. This is a very important step, and is really integral to reducing our dependence on oil. McCain, on the other hand, only promises to enforce existing fuel economy standards. In fact, he has actively opposed increasing fuel economy standards in the past (in 2003 and 2005). This is simply bad policy. Without updating our fuel economy standards, we'll continue to be the world's largest consumer of oil. McCain's hands-off approach means more fuel-inefficient cars, and more oil consumption for the foreseeable future. This approach simply hasn't worked for the past 20 years. If we keep this hands-off approach up, we'll only get hit harder by future price shocks.

    In addition to fuel economy, Obama also supports Amtrak funding and increased public transportation. McCain does not. In fact, he has actively opposed increased public transportation funding, and has attempted for years to dissolve Amtrak.

    Both candidates propose tax credits for the purchase of efficient vehicles, but Obama's proposal is better (it's $2,000 more than McCain's, and not as restrictive in where it applies). This is important, because the best end-result we could hope for is plug-in electric vehicles that cost less than traditional gas-powered vehicles. Tax credits are important because they encourage both investment and future purchases.

    McCain gets some points for his "$300 Million Prize To Improve Battery Technology For Full Commercial Development Of Plug-In Hybrid And Fully Electric Automobiles," but Obama still has better investments to promote similar technologies and make electric cars commercially available.

    In addition to falling short on these important issues, McCain has made a big lie the centerpiece of his energy plan. McCain has repeatedly told the public that drilling in the protected OCS areas would lead to consumers "pay[ing] less" at the pump. It wouldn't, and McCain is lying when he says that it would. In reality, the Department of Energy estimates that OCS drilling in the protected areas would only result in an additional 200,000 barrels of oil per day at peak production (in the year 2030, by their estimates). This, they say, would have an "insignificant" impact on the price of gas. Even the National Petroleum Council (which exists "to represent the views of the oil and natural gas industries") only argues (unrealistically) that we would see an extra 900,000 barrels of oil per day at peak production in the year 2025. When you compare that to a world market that currently consumes 86 million barrels of oil per day today (and will consume much more in 2025 and 2030), that works out - at best - to a savings of pennies per gallon. "Insignificant" is the right word. Yet McCain has consistently pretended that he has the power to reduce the price of gas by tapping these "insignificant" resources. If he wants to argue that this will reduce our trade deficit, that's one thing (though not the most compelling argument). But to lie about its effect on the price of gas is ridiculous.

    McCain and his lobbyist advisers have also repeatedly lied about the environmental risks of increased OCS drilling in the protected regions, telling us that "not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage." In reality, they did. The Department of Homeland Security estimated the total oil spills at 9 million gallons. The Mineral Management Services' pipeline damage report measured 113 destroyed platforms and 124 offshore spills, resulting in 734,000 gallons (17,700 barrels) of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. You could even see the oil slicks, 10 miles wide, from space.

    McCain also loses points for his ridiculous "gas tax holiday" proposal (which would starve public transportation of funding and increase our dependence on oil).

    Finally, McCain constantly touts nuclear power as something that will lead to a "reduction in our dependence on foreign oil." The problem here is that only 3% of our electricity here in the United States comes from oil. Our dependence upon oil comes pretty much entirely from our auto fleet (as well as from home heating). Yet McCain opposes increases in fuel efficiency standards, and his official spokesman George Allen has already said that "John McCain does not wish to mandate any particular building standards for energy efficient homes or buildings." So unless McCain is proposing nuclear powered cars (he's not), he's simply not being honest about our country's oil use.
II. The Federal Budget:
  • The nation is already $10,000,000,000,000 in debt. This is a really big, but often overlooked, problem. This section is still a work in progress, but for now you can just read through this non-partisan analysis of the candidates' positions, and these two independent fact-checks (1, 2) calling McCain out for his dishonesty/confusion on the issue. This report (pdf) is also worth a read. So is this post, and this Wall Street Journal article (contrast that with this one). Also, take note whenever McCain's top economic adviser says something like this: "I would like the next president not to talk about deficit reduction."
III. Health Care

IV. Social Security
V. General Intelligence:
  • Summary: The next President will be making some very important decisions, managing one of the largest organization on the planet, and dealing with some very complex issues. Therefore, he must be a very, very smart person. He has to be able to think on his toes and quickly come to understand the problems (and potential solutions) at hand. Although it is a tough thing to quantify, general intelligence is one of the most fundamental requirements for the next President.
  • Obama: When it comes to general intelligence, Obama certainly has the credentials. Obama studied at Columbia and Harvard on scholarship, where he received degrees in international relations and law. He even became President of the Harvard Law Review, which is one of the highest academic achievements a young lawyer could hope to reach. Afterwards, Obama taught Constitutional Law (something important for a future President to know) at one of the nation's top law schools. These are things that you can't accomplish unless you are really, really smart.

    During interviews, as well, you'll notice that Obama is very thoughtful and careful to address the questions actually being asked. Even when a question has multiple parts, he'll go through them one-by-one. Rather than mindlessly repeating the campaign's talking-points, he listens, understands, and responds. This isn't the most remarkable feat in the world (everyone should be capable of understanding and addressing basic questions), but Obama's basic communication skills just make McCain's bloopers and blunders look all the worse in comparison.
  • McCain: When it comes to general intelligence, McCain looks really bad on paper. McCain graduated fifth from the bottom of his class (894/899) at the Naval Academy, and holds no other degrees.

    During debates and interviews, McCain consistently looks like a fool. Whether he is dodging questions, misunderstanding issues, forgetting his own position, or mindlessly falling back on talking points, McCain has an uncanny ability to make me cringe. Just look at these clips:

    McCain didn't make it into politics based on his big ideas or intellectual credentials. He made it there based on his compelling personal story.

VI. Temperament and Diplomacy
  • Summary: In the world of politics and diplomacy, you won't be in agreement with all of the people all of the time. Especially on the global scale, you'll find yourself in situations where compromise is necessary. You can't just be an irrational hot-head. You need to keep your bearings and keep the peace without unnecessarily making concessions to irrational positions. It's a tough balance to strike, and a tough thing to predict. Nonetheless, it is one of the most important traits for a potential President to possess, and we can get an idea of how a future President would act by looking back at their past efforts to behave as adults.
  • McCain: Although McCain has indeed taken some positions contrary to that of his party (although he's pretty much flip-flopped back on all of those by now), he has often been inflexible and undiplomatic in those contrary positions.

    For example, McCain once bucked his party on immigration reform (though he has since flip-flopped back on the issue). However, in bipartisan meetings to negotiate the bill, Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) raised some objections to the judicial appeals process for immigrants. McCain exploded at Cornyn, shouting "Fuck you! I know more about this than anyone in the room!" He added, "This is chickenshit stuff!"

    On a separate occasion, during a select committee meeting in the Senate, McCain "mocked Grassley to his face and used a profanity to describe him" (Chuck Grassley is a Republican Senator from Iowa, who was at the same meeting). After Grassley requested an apology, McCain stood up from his chair and refused to show Grassley any civility. Instead, "[t]here was some shouting and shoving," which Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE) had to break up. McCain called Grassley "a fucking jerk" and they stopped talking altogether for a long time.

    The list goes on. Pretty much everyone who has worked with McCain in the Senate agrees. That's why he saw so little support from the GOP during his last run for President. Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH) has said "His temper would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger. In my mind, it should disqualify him." So when it comes to reaching across the aisle and engaging in diplomacy, I doubt that McCain would seriously do either.

    In addition to these temper tantrums, McCain has made some childish formulations of how he would conduct his diplomacy. For example, at the height of Sunni/Shia violence in Iraq, McCain said this: "One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, ‘Stop the bullshit.’ " He has also insulted
  • Obama: This subsection is a work in progress. For now, I recommend reading through this FOX News article (seriously).
VII. Federal Agency Appointments
VIII. Federal Judges
IX. The First Amendment and Civil Rights
  • Free Speech: Take note that McCain pushed to ban flag burning, and Palin repeatedly pestered her town librarian to find out how she could go about banning books (asking her on three separate occasions about it). Keep in mind that at the same time, Palin's church was pushing to remove the book "Pastor I Am Gay" from bookstores. When the librarian refused to comply, Palin said that she would be fired (for not fully supporting Palin). Palin now says (implausibly) that she was only asking a "rhetorical" question (on three separate occasions). That is absurd on its face, and any thinking adult should find it obvious that Palin is now lying.
  • Church and State: The United States Constituion only mentions religion twice. First, it says this: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" (Article VI). Second, it says this: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" (The First Amendment). Just to underscore the point, Congress unanimously signed the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, saying this: "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." The reason for this separation, as stated by James Madison (father of the Constitution), is that "religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together." When James Madison objected to a bill granting public land to a Baptist church, this is what he told the protesters: "Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, I could not have otherwise discharged my duty on the occasion which presented itself."

    John McCain, on the other hand, says things like this: "The Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation." This comment is precisely backwards. Whether he is insincerely pandering to what he thinks people want to hear (as the BeliefNet interviewer himself suspected) or truly clueless, I think that we have to hold McCain accountable for his off-the-wall wrongness.

    McCain also says equally absurd things about the United States being "a nation founded on Christian principles." If he really believes this, I'd like for McCain to explain a few things. Which religious belief informed the Founding Fathers to create a Democracy? That concept is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

    Which religious belief informed the Founding Fathers to allow freedom of speech and of the press? That concept is nowhere to be found in the Bible, which actually advocates the death penalty for heresy ("anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death").

    Which religious belief informed the Founding Fathers to create a system of checks and balances? Separation of powers? Bicameralism? Those concepts are totally alien to the Bible, and are secular in origin.

    I'm really getting tired of people like John McCain trying to pretend that the Constitution was based off of the Christian Bible. It wasn't. The United States government is a completely separate institution, which performs a completely separate function. As a practical matter, the blurring of these lines could lead to a McCain administration funneling more tax dollars to exclusively religious institutions, as well as appointing federal judges who erode the line of separation
  • Don't Ask, Don't Tell: One of the big issues (that has been building for years now) is the right of homosexuals to serve in the military without lying about their sexual orientation. Under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy we currently have, homosexuals are allowed to serve in the military only if they conceal the fact that they are in fact gay. This is an extraordinarily silly (and immoral) policy.

    Unfortunately, John McCain supports this kind of discrimination in the military. Not only does he support it, but he says things like this: "Open homosexuality within the military services presents an intolerable risk to morale, cohesion, and discipline." He also calls it a threat to national security. As if the military will fall apart if homosexuals tell the truth. John McCain needs to grow up.

    But that's not all. McCain also says things like this: "I believe polarization of the personnel and breakdown of unit effectiveness is too high a price to pay for well intentioned but misguided efforts to elevate the interests of a minority of homosexual servicemembers above those of their units." But it hardly seems like a misguided effort to elevate your interests when all you're asking for is to not get fired for being who you are. Since the DADT was first implemented, more than 11,000 servicemembers have been discharged for just that (many of whom even had special skills needed by the military).

    Furthermore, this is hardly a question about "unit cohesion." Charles Moskos, the principle author of DADT himself, has stated: "Fuck unit cohesion. I don't care about that...I should not be forced to shower with a woman. I should not be forced to shower with a gay." It should be perfectly clear to any observant person that this is a question of whether or not the private prejudices of certain individuals within the military should be sufficient to bar an entire class of people from military service. The answer to that question is clearly "no."

    In contrast, Obama has said that he would repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. However, he won't make this a litmus test for his appointees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Eh, at least that's not nearly as bad as McCain's position.
  • Defense of Marriage Act: This subsection is a work in progress. Suffice it to say that McCain voted for this horrible bit of legislation. McCain also campaigned in Arizona in favor of a ban on gay marriage, running political ads devoted exclusively to the issue. Because of people like John McCain, homosexual couples and families will be materially worse-off.
X. Honesty and Integrity
  • This section is a work in progress. For now, you can check out these examples of McCain dishonesty. There is plenty more on the way.
XI. Science and Technology
  • This section is a work in progress. You can read about Obama's plan here, and McCain's plan here. I also recommend watching this video.
XII. Ultimate Fighting
  • I happen to be a fan of Ultimate Fighting. Therefore, I don't like the fact that McCain, a lifelong boxing fan, has made it his personal crusade to shut down the sport.
  • From Slate:

    "When I tell people I'm an ultimate fighting fan, they invariably respond: "Don't people get killed all the time doing that?" But no one has ever been killed at the UFC--though boxers are killed every year. No one has even been seriously injured at the UFC. On the rare occasions when a bout has ended with a bloody knockout, the loser has always walked out of the ring.

    But this does not impress boxing fans, who are the most vigorous opponents of extreme fighting. McCain sat ringside at a boxing match where a fighter was killed. When I asked him to explain the moral distinction between boxing and ultimate fighting, he exploded at me, "If you can't see the moral distinction, then we have nothing to talk about!" Then he cut our interview short and stormed out of his office."

  • As far as I know, Obama isn't in the business of shutting down UFC.
XIII. Abstinence-Only Education:
  • Congress spends a lot of money on abstinence-only education. About $87.5 million each year. Recently, Congress commissioned a study from Mathematica to find out if it was really worth it to spend so much money on such programs. It turns out, abstinence-only education doesn't really do anything: "The impact results from the four selected programs show no impacts on rates of sexual abstinence." The American Medical Association, Office of National AIDS Policy, Institute of Medicine, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Health, and American Academy of Pediatrics all agree: comprehensive sexual education would be much better. As it stands, we're basically flushing millions of dollars down the toilet, doing nothing other than subsidizing certain groups to proselytize and spread misinformation about condom failure rates. This is madness, and I'd rather not have another President who is unreasonable and fiscally irresponsible enough to extend these programs.
  • It's also worth noting that federal funding of abstinence-only education has a history of subsidizing religious proselytization. For example, over $1 million in federal funds were spent on the Silver Ring Thing, an abstinence-only group that attempted to achieve its goal by handing out silver rings lined with bible quotes. Currently, the Stop and Think program is receiving funds for abstinence-only education in Oregon. This group requires that its supervisors “possess an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ; possess knowledge of the Word of God, and the ability to communicate it’s [sic] truth; exhibit a loving and merciful spirit; [and] attend a Bible believing local church or fellowship.”
  • On this particular issue, John McCain "strongly opposes efforts by the Democratic-controlled Congress to eliminate abstinence-only sex education classes for school-aged children." This is an irrational position, and a waste of money.
  • This bizarre exchange with a reporter speaks for itself:

    Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”

    Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”

    Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?

    Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

    Q: “I mean, I think you’d probably agree it probably does help stop it?”

    Mr. McCain: (Laughs) “Are we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception – I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.”

    Q: “But you would agree that condoms do stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Would you say: ‘No, we’re not going to distribute them,’ knowing that?”

    Mr. McCain: (Twelve-second pause) “Get me Coburn’s thing, ask Weaver to get me Coburn’s paper that he just gave me in the last couple of days. I’ve never gotten into these issues before.”


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