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Senator Government Lost the Final Round

John on October 16, 2008 at 2:14 pm

It was a slip of the tongue, but when John McCain accidentally called Barack Obama “Senator Government” during their final debate, it seemed to fit. In fact, I don’t think it needed to be corrected so much as amplified. Barack Obama is Senator Government. He’s running on an economic platform whose guiding principle is to “spread the wealth around.” For those that missed the genesis of this comment, here it is:

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I have two comments about this before I get back to the debate itself. First, during his discussion with Joe and during the debate last night, Obama repeated his claim that 98% of small businesses fall below the $250K a year line. Here’s what the tax policy foundation said about that claim:

That 98 percent figure is technically correct under certain assumptions, but it’s basically irrelevant given the latter point he wanted to make. Under Sen. Obama’s metric where the mere number of tax returns affected by his tax plan is what matters (2 percent), a small business that earned $100 in business income and had only one employee would have the same “drive” of the economy as a small business that earned $500,000 in net income and had 50 employees. Obviously, that’s ridiculous, but it has fit with the theme of this campaign: if it sounds good, say it regardless if it’s misleading (or not true).

I’m a small business man. In addition to my main job, I also do work on the side designing and building websites. I have paid taxes on this income. I have a city business license. But, basically, I do this to pay for school. Last year I might have made $5K doing 2-3 jobs. The point is, I’m representative of the small business owners Obama says are below that line, the 98%. Here’s the key point. This is not a source of income my family can live off. The kinds of small business whose taxes will go up are the kinds who employ me to do their websites, i.e. companies with a few dozen employees who really make a difference to this economy. Those are the folks Obama is going to boost taxes on. And the result will be that, among other things, they decide to put off the new website. They lose. I lose. America loses. More on this at Ace’s.

On to point #2…

Spreading the wealth around is not just an off-hand comment signifying nothing of importance, it’s the core of Obama’s plan. His most effective and overused line in the campaign is his promise to cut taxes on 95% of all Americans. This “tax credit” obscures the fact that over 30% of Americans pay no federal taxes in a given year. So what he’s calling a tax cut is in fact a tax increase on someone else paired with a commitment to “spread the wealth around.” So we increase the burden on those providing people with jobs and we give money to those who are not contributing significantly to the economy. This may work as sheer populist demagougery, but it’s not a good economic plan and it’s not honest.

So, getting back to the debate. McCain won last night. Not a knockout, but a clear win. The key to his victory was his willingness to confront, to interrupt and to follow up. Senator Government is a great orator, but a lot of what he’s saying doesn’t withstand a sharply worded follow-up. Last night McCain pressed him and Obama was smirking and out of rythym trying to respond. Many of his responses (on Ayers for instance) sounded scripted and rehearsed. This is a guy who is using a mental teleprompter even when a real one isn’t available.

McCain needs to take a lesson from this. He did best in this debate where there was an opportunity for real engagement. He did worst in the previous debate when Obama was allowed to spout his programs with no follow-ups.

Senator Government is still ahead and may well win this thing, but it’s not over yet. I’ll say it again. This race is not over yet. McCain can regain the momentum if he continues to confront, interrupt and follow-up. The media has consistently refused to do this to Obama. Sixty percent of their stories about Obama are positive (compared to just 39% for McCain). That’s the winning margin here. McCain needs to force the issue and make the press play fair.

The fat lady hasn’t sung quite yet. That’s what I saw last night.

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