Below, I set out to compare the candidates' positions on a few of the key issues they will face. Framing the issues is important: I do so according to goals that I think a majority of Americans would agree with. Readers can certainly differ with which goals to set and emphasize: thus do good people differ.
|Economic Growth||Proposes more than $342.5 billion in stimuli on a single page of his website, which is more than 10% of total Federal spending. Presumably wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to make up the difference. All of this will slow growth. Supports unions and trade restrictions, which lower real income for most Americans. Also, higher corporate tax rates would speed outsourcing and protectionism would cost America friends abroad.||Proposes lower taxes and freer trade. Both of these help growth and raise real income. Proposes some loan bailouts and other goodies which would dampen growth. It's unclear whether he will govern as a conservative or only run as one; it's also unclear whether he could do anything but slow the rush to protectionism of an anti-growth Congress.|
|Energy Independence||Opposes drilling, has a menu of subsidies for alternative energy. Short-term goal is 10% alternative energy use by 2012. He's more likely to move toward public transit and walking-friendly development. Some of the loss in economic growth will be traded off against energy/environment gains.||Besides drilling here and now, Supports new nuclear plants, a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels. Also supports curtailing "speculation", which is a bad idea, a menu of subsidies. Honestly, drilling isn't important: we will drill eventually, and drilling later just means we'll have more oil left when the world is running out.|
|Budget Balance||Wants to repeal most of the Bush tax cuts, despite the fact that government revenues increased after the tax cuts. This will hurt the economy (see above) and increase the deficit. He further claims he'll cut pork spending and increase transparency. His website does not mention entitlement programs. This issue is very hard to judge a priori, but Obama will have difficulty fending off spending proposals from Democratic Congress.||Emphasizes growth as means to balancing budget. Aims to balance the budget by 2013 (we've heard that one before). Also claims he'll fight pork and entitlement spending. He has credibility on pork, but it's hard to believe Congress will bend to his will on entitlement reform.|
|Fair Judges||Obama's Blueprint and website are silent about judicial appointments. Does anybody imagine he would appoint a moderate? This is where Obama's ties to the far left of the Democratic Party are most worrisome.||Issues standard GOP promises about constructionist judges. The Democratic Senate guarantees he'll have to offer moderates. Likely to appoint judges with expansive view of Federal regulatory power.|
|Health Care||Proposes national health provision, which would cover everyone but raise costs (through taxes) for everyone as well. Private insurance and high-quality care would quickly become the domain of the wealthy.||His "plan" is a smorgasbord of small-scale reforms and proposals, with the stated goal of insuring everyone. Don't bring a knife to a gunfight, John.|
|Working with Iraq||The choice of Biden hurts Obama's ability to cooperate with Iraqi leadership; otherwise, he should be fine unless the Bush-Maliki withdrawal agreement breaks down, or war breaks out.||McCain has many friends in Iraq, but few outside. He earned his stripes by supporting the Surge before it was cool. He also has the trust of the U.S. military establishment, more than Bush or Obama.|
|Reform Immigration||Proposes standard talking points, but emphasizes small-bore fixes. Is unlikely to get the Democrats to agree on any large reform, except to continue to exclude most skilled workers.||Chastened into putting security ahead of reform, his heart is still in favor of immigrants. He supports loosening immigration for skilled workers. This is the issue on which the candidates match most closely.|
|Transparent Government||Statements on ethics mainly address the Bush administration. There's much to be said against Bush, but partisan reform isn't reform. Most of Obama's proposals offer information transparency, but few substantive changes.||Has made cutting pork a signature campaign issue, and government reform is his biggest legislative passion. He'll use lobbyist reform and pork as a club to beat Congress.|
In sum, my overarching feeling about the candidates is that while well-intentioned on some issues, Obama will be dragged down by the many "friends" of the Democratic Congress. Democrats have proliferated small groups that feed off the Federal government - and any policy that benefits the rest of us must hurt one of these special interests. He won't do it. Obama also has a Neanderthal view of the economy, and could do serious damage in that department.
McCain, on the other hand, has generally favorable positions, and is far less beholden to his party and to special interests. Some of McCain's policy areas are shallow, and he's likely to punt health care and serious budget issues to Congress. Still, the issues where the candidates differ most starkly - trade restrictions and economic growth - fall sharply in McCain's favor.