U.S. Sen. John McCain

What One Hand Giveth...

Traditionally, Republicans have headed their campaigns with talk about taxes.  Democrats, they say, will raise your taxes, so vote for us. The McCain campaign hasn't been any different.  What is different this time around is that Barack Obama's tax plan is dramatically better for middle-income families. Accordingly, Obama's been hitting back.

His latest ad, "Taketh," lays the truth on thick. While John McCain's rhetoric about "tax credits for health care" may sound good, Obama points out the fine print: McCain's plan will levy a tax on employee health benefits for the first time ever.

Have Some Borscht with Your Apple Pie

In the presidential debate last Friday, Jim Lehrer asked the candidates about their position on Russia. Characteristic of the dreadfully dull debate, they managed to give precisely the same response. Senators Barack Obama and John McCain both called Russia’s aggression into Georgia “unacceptable,” recognized the need to reassure our European allies, and stressed the importance of working with Moscow, rather than against it

Peering into the recent past, Obama has been consistently firm on Russia, but has stuck to his broader theme of making diplomacy and negotiation a first-string response. McCain takes a harsher tone, and has been accused of trying to take the U.S. back into a Cold War with Russia. He has talked up the threat Russia poses, proposed ejecting Russia from the G-8, and advocated the creation of a League of Democracies—an organization from which Russia would be excluded.

It is true that Russia has been flexing its military muscles recently—most obviously with the incursion in Georgia. In the conflict, however, the Russian military did little to show it deserves to be feared. The army’s most senior commander in the field was wounded when poor intelligence led them into a Georgian ambush. The military’s limited technology was nearly useless—even their radios didn’t work, forcing officers to communicate via cell phone. And most of the bombs dropped were not modern smart bombs, but older, dumber bombs.

Still, by most measures, Russia’s performance in the field was better than in either of the Chechen wars in the ‘90s, and Moscow is getting serious about upgrading everything from equipment to tactics. The Kremlin will increase defense spending by 26% next year, much of which will go toward improving and updating the country’s nuclear program.

Beyond bombs and submarines, Russia has been looking for friends among America’s antagonizers. Moscow just offered a $1 billion military loan to Hugo Chavez’s government in Caracas. In November, Russian warships will enter the Caribbean for the first time since the Cold War, on their way to joint exercises with the Venezuelan Navy. Russia has 10 warships docked in Syria, and is helping to renovate Tartus port; in Iran, Russian technology and fissile material is helping to build a nuclear reactor, and Russian surface-to-air missiles may protect it.

Higher oil prices have gotten Russia back on her feet, and the Kremlin’s activities of late indicate that the government seeks to be taken seriously. Increasingly isolated on the world stage, Russia is responding by building its own coalition and trying to establish power within its historical sphere of influence. Moscow is asserting itself particularly in the Middle East, establishing its own version of the Monroe Doctrine: This is our backyard, so keep your meddling fingers out.

Though Russia’s military is a shadow of its former self, and from a security perspective, Moscow does not presently pose a credible threat, Russia is capable of making life difficult for the U.S., whether by turning off the gas, by giving cover (both literal and political) to Iran, or by bolstering Chavez in Venezuela.

But Russia and the U.S. share a number of interests, many of which were laid out last week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: Fighting terrorism, stopping nuclear proliferation, denuclearizing North Korea and finding a secure, stable resolution between Israel and the Palestinians, among others. John McCain’s aggressive, antagonistic ideas about Russia have the potential to become self-fulfilling prophecy. What we need now is not to escalate tension with a powerful state that has the capability of causing us great trouble, but to work together where we have common ground. The U.S. would be best served by keeping Russia engaged, rather than forcing it out into the cold.

Hey Buddy, Spare a Trillion?

A trillion here, a trillion there... A new ad from Barack Obama  critiques John McCain for his profligate spending plan. Obama wonders: Can we afford John McCain?

New Obama Ad Attacks Golden Parachutes

The Obama campaign put out a new ad this morning riffing on the main Democratic triumph in the bailout bill: caps on executive severance pay. The primary target is McCain campaign advisor Carly Fiorina, who walked away from HP with a $42 million goodbye gift. Barack Obama says that's got to change.

Do You Believe We Should Talk with Chavez?

US Sen. John McCain seems to have gotten pretty tired of talking about the economy, and understandably so. After a week of losing on economics issues,  McCain's latest ad attempts to bring the discussion back to foreign policy, where he has a percieved advantage.

The ad hammers Obama for a comment he made in a primary debate, saying he would meet with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, among other less-than-friendly world leaders, without precondition.  Obama has since backtracked on that point


This may begin to set the stage for Friday, when the two candidates face off in a foreign policy-themed debate.


New Ads from McCain Hit Obama on Economy

A pair of ads from the McCain campaign attempt to recover some of the losses that McCain has suffered in the polls this week after getting thrashed by the Obama campaign on the economy.

"Advice" criticizes Barack Obama for taking advice on the economy from Franklin Raines, former chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae.  You can guess why that might be a bad thing, but  the Washington Post-- the source cited in the ad's attacks on Raines-- reports that the connection between Obama and Raines is much more tenuous than the add would lead you to believe.



"Patriotic Act" goes after Joe Biden for his suggestion that paying higher taxes was a patriotic thing to do. This ad, at least, is based on something Biden actually said.



Seems to me that after landing a lot of punches last week, John McCain has been forced to backpedal all week, and is playing defense on the economy.

On Earmarks

Earmarks, pork, district development -- the American people have heard a lot about how federal money comes to their hometown. And we obviously have the McCain-Palin pledge to "shake up Washington" to thank for that...

Politics aside -- plenty of others have pointed out the half-truths, disturbingly misleading ads, and the endless repeating thereof -- what is an earmark anyway? The original term is actually "pork-barrel spending," which came about in the early 20th century. From Merriam-Webster's:


pork barrel
: government projects or appropriations yielding rich patronage benefits; also : pork 2

Two quick points. Let's be clear: lots of politicians use earmarks, including Sarah Palin. But not all of them use it as a rallying cry like McCain has.

Second, earmarks are one of those little paradoxes in politics that are important to understand. People have a low opinion on Congress as an institution, but many members of Congress have individual approval ratings above 50%. People say that want to elect a leader who sticks to his principles and doesn't consider public opinion polls, but then say "Hey why doesn't he listen to us?" when elected officials ignore public opinion (See Bush, George W.). 

Earmarks fall nicely into this category. It may be a good buzz word for how McCain will change Washington with the veto pen, but generally people favor the federal funds brought to their districts. Keep that in mind next time you hear the word.

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