Home > Election 2008 > The Case for Barack Obama, Part II

The Case for Barack Obama, Part II

November 3rd, 2008

Let’s continue looking at the issues. In Obama’s book, he outlines three big investments that will make America more competitive; I wrote on this back in January when I made my initial “Why Obama?” post:

I believe that Obama also has an intelligent and correct focus on what is important. I myself have always believed that the three best investments that we as a nation could make are in education, infrastructure, and science. In his book, in the chapter titled “Opportunity,” Obama lays out his big three investments: Education, Science, and Energy. He lays out the case for each, and I find myself reading his words as if I were reading my own. And while he placed energy in third place ahead of infrastructure, I find myself having to agree that it is a more pressing matter, and am not discouraged because he highlights the importance of infrastructure elsewhere.

The section I refer to in his book begins on page 159 (paperback edition). Let’s take a look at each issue:

Education: First, getting children off to a solid start: Obama plans to focus on pre-school education initiatives, making sure that kids are either prepared or that whatever problems exist are flagged and acted on right out of the gate. He would increase Head Start programs and work to provide affordable child care–a critical factor with so many families having both parents forced to work full-time jobs.

Second, financial aid for students: creating $4000 scholarships that will help cover critical costs for most students–especially from low-income families–in exchange for community service, a deal that will create a positive feedback effect, getting more kids through college at the same time that you are helping the community, a large part of that going to creating an environment which further encourages education and increased personal success. This is about as close as you can come to legislating morality–not by forcing people to follow your code, but by giving them a chance to earn a college education while experiencing first-hand the value of public service.

And finally, paying attention to teachers. As Bill Maher said, we call them heroes, but we pay them like chumps. Obama would focus on recruiting, preparing, retaining, and rewarding a talented population of educators. If anything, Obama goes nowhere near far enough, but his attention to this subject is a huge plus for me, even though it will not affect me personally (I am quite a bit outside the sphere his policies will influence). The reason I am encouraged is that it pays attention to something that needs addressing: if you want good education, you have to be willing to pay teachers a fair salary. Of course, hold them accountable–but the conservative emphasis has been on accountability, in a fashion that rewards cheating and short-changing students.

On McCain’s site, he also mentions Head Start–but instead of promising to quadruple the program as Obama has, McCain mostly emphasizes existing programs and policies, with attention paid to better-performaing Head Start centers. He promises a certain amount of funding, but it is unclear how this compares with existing levels–and McCain lays a caveat even on that, which depends upon “availability of funding,” claiming more money will be spent “if more funds become available.” In other words, there is no solid promise of increased funds at all. McCain does something similar with teacher development and rewards: he talks about doing these things, but when you read the fine print, you discover that he only talks in terms of using existing funds–in other words, he will not add a single extra cent into such programs. Instead, we’ll simply be left with rearrangement of what funds are already there, but teachers will have to face a whole new set of performance requirements–and if they are anything like what conservatives have pressed on education in past years, they will likely make things worse, not better. When you get to college education, it’s just more of the same: simplify, fix, improve–but never add another cent to education.

In short, Obama plans to actually add to existing education programs, starting new initiatives, funding and expanding programs, giving new and real incentives to teachers and students in ways that will truly improve education–whereas McCain will simply rearrange existing funds and then claim he’s fixed everything.

Science and Technology: Number One on Obama’s web page is a statement of support for Network Neutrality–something which McCain’s web site dismisses as a buzzword, a clear signal that he opposes it. Right there, Obama has my respect; Network Neutrality, far from being a buzzword, is all about the rights of the user and protection from corporate entities abusing the Internet for unearned profits. Obama also gets my attention with his statement of support for modernizing America’s Internet infrastructure–something the Bush administration utterly failed to do. I have 100 Mbps fiber-optic service direct to my apartment; if you live in the U.S., can you say that you have the same? For $40 a month? An aggressive government policy (“e-Japan”) got Japan’s infrastructure modernized but quick; Obama looks to be the best candidate to do this for America, a very wise move if the U.S. wants to stay on top of this rich market it created.

Other issues high on his list include diversity in media ownership–another vital issue–and recognition of the right to privacy, something that conservatives like McCain detest, as they see such a right as helping the pro-choice movement. But the right to privacy is an essential issue for the 21st century, and it is telling that Obama recognizes this. McCain’s policies, favoring DRM and parasites like the RIAA, point away from privacy and toward corporate ownership of what you paid for.

Beyond this, Obama has sheafs of policy initiatives that would use technology to forward American competitiveness in business, similar to how Al Gore did this when he kept the Internet alive in the 80’s; that would educate children in Math and Science (think 1960’s) to meet the technological challenges coming; to retrain adults to adapt to new technologies; and to apply technology to address the nations’ problems.

Some of McCain’s technology policies are similar to Obama’s–they both support R&D tax credits, for example. Both support training the workforce; one can guess how much emphasis each would actually place on it. But McCain’s focus on technology is far more oriented towards business lobbyists’ goals rather than those important to most Americans. He uses the advancement of technology, for example, as an excuse to lower corporate taxes and scale back all capital gains taxes, not just the taxes for those who truly need a break.

Beyond that, McCain lists as top priorities open trade (cheap imports while American manufacturing jobs get shipped overseas), intellectual property (those RIAA and other media lobbyists are very generous), and “keeping the Internet free from government regulation” (giving away ownership of the Internet to the telecoms so they can charge people for not being slowed down and force them to use only software the telecoms sell them). In short, McCain’s technology package was mostly drafted by business lobbyists.

There’s really no comparison: Obama would modernize and revitalize our technology industry for the benefit of all Americans; McCain would just be a shill for the corporations.

Energy: Both candidates claim to strive for Energy Independence; the differences come in how they plan to achieve that goal.

Obama’s plan emphasizes clean energy technologies, creating a new energy infrastructure upon which millions of new jobs would be based–essentially a Clean Energy boom similar to the Internet boom of the 90’s. Obama would encourage use of hybrid cars and creating renewable energy resources in large numbers within the next four to seventeen years. These are the policy drives that Obama lists as most important.

The top initiative listed on McCains site: drill, baby, drill! Just months ago, he recognized the fact that drilling would take about a decade to produce new oil supplies of any note, and even then they would not be significant enough to truly reduce prices. That was before he climbed onto the oil company bandwagon, and now drilling (not in the untapped areas already possessed by oil corporations, but in the other places, mostly environmentally sensitive, that the oil companies want to access using their own artificially high prices as an excuse) is “the” answer.

A lot of other policy initiatives between the two candidates are similar, but the key here is which initiatives each emphasizes: Obama with the development of new and clean energy sources, McCain for more drilling and exploitation of oil, coal, and nuclear.

The theme of the last two issues I’ve gone over here makes clear a fundamental and important divide between the two candidates, demonstrating Obama’s attention to forwarding the nation’s interest first, and McCain’s attention to serving the corporations whose lobbyists make up the bulk of his campaign.

Again, a very clear choice for American voters.

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