The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Plumbers and Socialism

Last night, the two Presidential candidates held their third and final debate. Senator McCain was far more aggressive in it than he was during the first two, looking for some type of “game changer” that would cast Senator Obama in a particularly bad light. He had some success in this department but the person or group he turned to the most in his attacks was not William Ayers or ACORN, although they received their share of airtime too, but rather Joe the Plumber.

Joe the Plumber is Joe Wurzelbacher, a prosperous Ohio plumber who confronted Obama this past weekend over his tax policies. McCain seized on Joe’s story as an opportunity to portray Obama as something far more repellent than a pal of terrorists or a sleazy lawyer conspiring to help others commit voter fraud – namely a big government socialist.

Obama ran across Joe at a campaign rally last Sunday. Joe explained he wanted to buy the plumbing firm he had worked at for some time but Obama’s tax proposals were giving him second thoughts. “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?” he asked.

Joe would be the owner of one of those rare and lucky – or unlucky, depending on how you look at it – small business that clear more than $250,000 per year in profits. Under Obama’s plan, his tax rate on the excess over $250K would rise to thirty-nine percent from the current thirty-six percent figure.

Wurzelbacher protested that he had worked hard for fifteen years to get to the point he was at now and did not see why he should be penalized for his success.

Say what you want about Obama as all talk and no substance and lacking political courage to stand up to those who disagree with him. Yet here he was facing the exact sort of voter he desperately needs to keep winning over in places like Ohio, who was challenging him on his tax policy. Yet he did not freeze up, stammer, hem and haw, equivocate, or attempt to weasel out.

Instead, he told Wurzelbacher, “It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you has got a chance at success, too . . . But listen, I respect what you do and I respect your question and even if I don't get your vote, I'm still gonna be working hard on your behalf because small businesses are what creates jobs in this country and I want to encourage it.”

Contacted after the debate, Wurzelbacher refused to name which candidate for whom he intended to vote. However, he made it clear that Obama did not convince him about the rightness of his approach, declaring, “I didn't think much of it.” As for McCain’s approach – “Why raise taxes on anybody?” – Wurzelbacher unsurprisingly asserted, “He's got it right as far as I go.”

So in the battle for the heart of Joe the Plumber, I think we must declare McCain the victor. However, it was something else that Obama said to the Ohio man that McCain seized upon to launch his attacks. Obama said, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.”

From the perspective of McCain and many conservatives, the term “spread the wealth” are code words, and not very veiled ones at that, for “socialism.” McCain would hit upon this theme repeatedly throughout the debate. “The whole premise behind Senator Obama’s [tax] plans is class warfare,” he proclaimed.

He returned to it and Joe the Plumber during the discussion over healthcare. “Now, Joe, you're rich, congratulations, and you will then fall into the category where you'll have to pay a fine if you don't provide health insurance that Senator Obama mandates, not the kind that you think is best for your family, your children, your employees, but the kind that he mandates for you. That's big government at its best.”

He touched on it yet again, albeit less directly, on the topic of trade agreements. “I am a free trader,” he confirmed and then charged, “I don't think there's any doubt that Senator Obama wants to restrict trade and he wants to raise taxes.” The last time the U.S. followed such a policy, McCain concluded, “we went from a deep recession into a depression.”

There is really nothing new in McCain seeing Obama as a big government socialist and himself in the opposite mode. The Republicans repeatedly said at their convention that they felt government should get out of the way of individuals. McCain is just endorsing this viewpoint and condemning his opponent for failing to do so. However, on one topic – the Supreme Court and its position on several issues – McCain seemed to think socialistic government intervention is not only desirable but also a moral and legal imperative.

The two candidates profoundly disagreed over whether Roe v. Wade was decided correctly but both pledged not to use a judge’s position on that case as a litmus test for appointing Supreme Court Justices. McCain pledged a complete indifference to ideology and pointed to his past confirmation votes for liberal Justices as proof. Obama argued that general ideology and judicial temperament deserved consideration.

He pointed to the case of Lilly Ledbetter as an example. She sued her employer for pay discrimination after finding out, following years of loyal service, that she had received less pay than her male counterparts despite doing the exact same job. The Supreme Court shot down her suit because it had taken her too long to bring it.

“I think that it's important for judges to understand that if a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family, and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up, if nobody else will,” Obama said. “And that's the kind of judge that I want.”

McCain was outright dismissive about Ledbetter’s discrimination claim. “Obviously, that law waved the statute of limitations, which you could have gone back twenty or thirty years,” he snapped. “It was a trial lawyer's dream.”

Obama thought Ledbetter knew best whether she was the victim of unfair treatment and deserved to seek restitution for it. McCain felt the government knew best.

McCain then went on to lambaste Obama for one of his votes in the Illinois State Legislature regarding partial birth abortions. “One of the bad procedures, a terrible . . . I don't know how you align yourself with the extreme aspect of the pro- abortion movement in America.”

Obama replied, “I am completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial-birth or otherwise, as long as there's an exception for the mother's health and life, and this did not contain that exception.”

McCain jumped on that answer as disingenuous. “Just again, the example of the eloquence of Senator Obama. He’s for the health of the mother. You know, that’s been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That’s the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, health, unquote.”

McCain has a point in saying that consideration for the woman’s health is a provision that is ripe for abuse but this is a straw man argument if used to suggest the woman’s health is not a viable and significant consideration during pregnancy and one probably best left to doctors.

On the subject of vouchers, he mocked Obama’s arguments against them. “Because there's not enough vouchers; therefore, we shouldn't do it, even though it's working?”

Yet is not McCain saying here that even though partial-birth abortions are sometimes the best procedure, we still should never use them because we cannot be sure they are always medically necessary?

When Obama objected to cries of “traitor” and “off with his head” directed at him by crowds at McCain/Palin rallies, McCain had a strong moment defending his supporters. “I'm not going to stand for people saying that the people that come to my rallies are anything but the most dedicated, patriotic men and women that are in this nation and they're great citizens . . . because someone yelled something at a rally.”

Yet is not McCain saying here that because a few doctors might perform a partial-birth abortion out of personal preference or convenience rather than medical necessity, then all doctors should be viewed with suspicion and prohibited from using the procedure?

What is more, McCain is saying that government and not the woman and her doctor should decide if a late-term abortion is the lesser risk than carrying a problem pregnancy to term as well as which medical procedures strike non-medical professionals as too grotesque to be permissible. Obama stated he believed “women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers are in the best position to make this decision.”

Finally, if everyone supposedly knows that “health of the mother” is just liberal code-speak for “without limits,” then what about McCain’s standard for how he will pick Supreme Court Justices? “I will find the best people . . . who have a history of strict adherence to the Constitution.” Doesn’t everyone also know that “strict Constructionist” is just Republican code-speak for “socially conservative.” This is the standard President Bush claimed to follow and it gave use Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.

On the controversial topic of abortion in general, Obama says, “But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together.” McCain says, “Those of us who are proudly pro-life understand that . . . We have to change the culture of America.” Obama is looking for ways in which everyone can have a voice and follow their beliefs and values. McCain is looking for ways to bring everyone around to his camp’s beliefs and values.

Excuse me, Senator, but that sounds an awful lot like women should have to pay a fine (or worse) if they have an abortion when government think they should not or file a lawsuit that government regards as trivial rather than do what they think is best for their families and themselves. That sounds like big government. That sounds like social warfare.

Joe the Plumber might like McCain’s policies but Josephine the Plumber (remember those old Comet cleanser commercials? John McCain does) might not be so enthusiastic.

I tend to stand with Obama’s Vice-Presidential nominee, Joe Biden, who argued in his debate that Democratic economic policies were not socialistic but common sense fairness and plain human decency. However, if we are going to get socialism in some form from our next President, regardless of who that may be, I think I am more comfortable with “big government” sticking its nose into Joe the Plumber’s wallet as opposed to it sticking its nose into Josephine the Plumber’s legal rights and vagina.

No comments: