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Editorial: Obama's Stances On Key Issues Surpass McCain's

This story was written by Editorial Board, Harvard Crimson

Our next president will face a seemingly overwhelming deluge of problems: two wars on the ground, an economy mired in recession and a nation whose image has been tarnished, both at home and overseas. Getting America back on its feet will be a monumental challenge.

Of all the disastrous legacies of the Bush Administration, perhaps the most disturbing is the profoundly anti-intellectual bent to its governing style. The Bush presidency has been marked by a willful disdain for the importance of ideas and knowledge. Flying by the seat of ones pants may be an acceptable tactic for fighter pilots, but it should never be the modus operandi of our chief executive.

In our search for the antidote to the eight poisonous years of the Bush administration, we looked carefully at the voting records, decisions and speeches of both major party candidates. We considered their policy proposals and their campaign conduct. But most importantly, we considered whether they would have that essential respect for the intellectual heavy lifting of competent governance.

With these factors in mind, we wholeheartedly endorse Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for president. Unlike Bush, Obama is a man who has profound respect for ideas, facts and knowledge. As a state senator, U.S. senator and presidential candidate, he has proven himself more than willing to surround himself with experts and engage with them.

We believe that Obama has a comprehensive plan to put America back on its feet and restore our nations reputation. We are also impressed with his selection of Sen. Joe Biden as a running mate; we believe that the combination of Bidens foreign policy experience and Obamas expertise on domestic issues will prove a potent combination in the White House. This will be especially crucial considering that Democrats are very likely to expand their majorities in the House and the Senate come November.

By contrast, we have been less than enthused by the Republican ticket this year. Although we respect and honor Sen. John McCains long record of public service, including his service in the Navy and in the Senate, we cannot help but question his judgment in selecting his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. Palins nomination has been controversial, and while we understand her appeal to a limited slice of the electorate, we do not believe that she is prepared for the nations second-highest office.

Economic Policy

In the past few weeks, Americans have watched helplessly as over $1 trillion of our nations wealth has simply disappeared; during the third quarter of 2008, the American economy actually shrank. Meanwhile, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the total collapse of the investment banking sector have exposed critical weaknesses in the American economy the largest and most important component of an increasingly global exchange of goods and services.

Regardless of the specific degree to which the Bush Administration is to blame for the current crisis, the economic policies pursued over the past eight years have rewarded unbridled greed and corruption while neglecting the backbone of the American economy the middle class. For the vast majority of Americans, McCains economic agenda, which will make the Bush tax cuts permanent and continue the discredited trickle-down policies of the past eight years, is unlikely to mitigate the pain of a very real recession.

Obamas plan, on the other hand, correctly assesses that the best way to help American families is to give tax relief to the middle and lower classes, whose spending will help to stimulate the national economy during the current downturn. It is true that some Americansthose making over $250,000 a year will see their tax rates return to those of the Clinton era, but such an ncrease in taxation is justifiable, since the additional revenue will be used to repair the disastrous legacies of the Bush Administration.

Obamas plan is not perfect. We are concerned about his support for agricultural subsidies, which distort the global market for food and prevent developing countries from being able to earn foreign exchange. His lukewarm stance on free trade including a vague promise to renegotiate NAFTA and his refusal to support free trade agreements with important allies like South Korea is also a cause for concern. But compared to the economic plan of his rival, a self-proclaimed footsoldier in the Reagan Revolution, Obamas plan is by far the better.

Energy Policy

Perhaps the most pressing issue at stake in this election is our next Presidents energy policy. George W. Bushs presidency has been marked by a stubborn unwillingness to recognize the importance of human action in mitigating climate change. Our energy and transportation sectors, which are overwhelmingly dependent on nonrenewable fossil fuels like coal and petroleum, are long due for a comprehensive overhaul.

To his credit, McCain has defied the Republican leadership to advocate for a cap-and-trade system of controlling carbon emissions. But his selection of Palin as a running mate has destroyed whatever credibility he might have had on this issue. Palins energy policy what little there is of one largely consists of chanting drill, baby, drill at campaign rallies, a strategy soundly rejected by the U.S. Department of Energy. Even more frightening to us is the governors refusal to acknowledge the scientific consensus on climate change.

Obamas plan, by contrast, is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale debate. Obama supports a comprehensive cap-and-trade emissions reduction scheme, which would auction off pollution permits to various firms. Obama has voted for critical tax credits to the renewable energy sector, including wind and solar energy companies. Additionally, Obamas plan to invest a significant sum up to $15 billion in the development of alternative energy technologies represents a much-needed departure from the failed policies of the past eight years.

Obama has also offered a comprehensive plan to secure American energy independence, which is of particular importance given that at current rates of consumption, the U.S. will become dependent on foreign suppliers many of whom are hostile and volatile regimes for 75 percent of its oil needs. Obamas policy proposals correctly target the transportation sector, which accounts for 70 percent of American oil consumption. By mandating a flex-fuel standard for all automobiles, expanding hybrid-car tax credit, and significantly increasing the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, Obamas plan has the potential to significantly decrease the importation of petroleum in the short term.

Health Care

The only First World nation without a system of universal health insurance, the U.S. is home to some of the best hospitals and research centers in the world; it is also home to more than 40 million uninsured people. But despite the mounting problems of the health care sector, the Bush Administration has made little progress in expanding the pool of insured Americans.

Obama offers a detailed, well-planned, and prudent strategy to expanding health care coverage to the uninsured. For those fortunate enough to have health insurance, either through the employer-based coverage system or on the open market, his plan offers the promise of significant cost reductions. For those in need of health insurance, Obamas plan offers the opportunity to purchase a comprehensive and federally-backed health care policy at a comparatively affordable price. And regardless of whether or not a family currently has insurance, the Obama plan emphasis on preventative care promises to reduce the overall burden on the health care system.

McCains proposal, on the other hand, reflects a very different approach to the health care crisis. His plan for a $5,000 health care tax credit for every American seems attractive at first glance; unfortunately, he plans to recoup the extraordinary costs associated with this credit by taxing employers on health benefits. As such, instead of expanding coverage, the McCain program is likely to discourage employers currently the largest providers of health insurance in the United States from offering health insurance as a benefit. This would be catastrophic to the public health of the United States, and would leave more Americans at risk.

Foreign Policy

In January 2001, George W. Bush entered the White House proclaiming that he would conduct a humble foreign policy characterized by an explicit disavowal of nation-building. In January 2009, he will leave his successor with every single one of his disastrous legacies, including two very real wars on the ground, an angry and resurgent Russia, and hostility overseas. Our next president will have to not only correct Bushs errors a Herculean task in and of itself but will also have to restore Americas standing in the world.

McCain, who has run an inconsistent and erratic campaign based on the themes of foreign and military policy, has seemed at times, more Bushian than Bush himself. Despite 26 years of Congressional experience, McCain continues to perceive foreign relations as a field where moral absolutes predominate, neatly splitting the world into virtuous friend and despicable foe.

Obama, by contrast, brings intellectual maturity and an emphasis on diplomacy to the White House qualities that more than compensate for his lack of executive experience. In contrast to the hawkish, take-no-prisoners, attitude of the Bush Administration, Obama has emphasized the importance of dialogue and negotiation.

Beyond issues of style, we back Obama on his content as well: We agree that moving troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan will help to stabilize Afghanistan and restore some sense of stability in the midst of an ongoing civil war. We find Obamas plans for a relatively rapid withdrawal from Iraq to be sensible, especially considering the fact that the Iraqi government is running a massive budget surplus while the American treasury is suffering from record budget deficits.

Obama has also conclusively demonstrated a far-reaching understanding of the importance of American leadership in the worldespecially in supporting the fragile democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. More importantly, an Obama presidency would restore a sense of symbolic purpose and legitimacy to the United States. As a living example of Americas multicultural and diverse heritage, he would be a persuasive, powerful, and effective communicator of Americas interests and values.

Cultural Issues

Four years ago, a significant portion of the American population believed that two social issues abortion rights and the rights of same-sex couples to wed were sufficiently important to the countrys future that they turned out to vote in record numbers. While we wish, like many sensible Americans, that these two issues were not so divisive in the political arena, we believe that Obama and his campaign have largely transcended what has been thus far an utterly pointless, divisive and unnecessary social divide.

Throughout the campaign, the Republican ticket has demonstrated the divisive, religiously motivated tactics that have characterized the Bush presidency hardly an encouraging precedent. During the presidential and vice presidential debates, both GOP candidates expressed their skepticism about Roe v. Wade and the importance of womens healthand reproductive choice. Palin remains dogmatic in defining pro-life to prohibit all abortions, even in the case of rape, incest or medical necessity; and McCain openly mocked the question of a mothers health during the presidential campaign.

This abrasive and intolerant stance on a very personal issue stands in stark contrast to the Obama campaigns willingness to work across the aisle with pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. We are appreciative of Obamas solidly pro-choice voting record, but we are even more excited about his outreach to those who may disagree with him a more inclusive approach which can defuse these tense social issues and allow for real progress on this important public health issue.

Surprisingly enough, one of the few major issues on which the two campaigns have agreed is a rather conservative approach to gay marriage. Although Obama has not supported legislative efforts to ensure marriage rights for same-sex couples, we believe that it is far more likely that same-sex couples will be treated equally under Obamas watch, should a case involving the Defense of Marriage Act make it to the federal court system. On the other hand, the vocal support given to Palin (and, by extension, McCain) by the intolerant and extremist representatives of the religious right is particularly worrisome. For too long, these demagogues of bigotry and anti-intellectual skepticism have dominated the discourse in American politics; it is time thatBarack Obama restores a sense of dignity and unity to the United States of America.

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