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Posted by on Sep 23, 2008 in Economy | 37 comments

Obama, Listen Up!

When I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I was “back on the fence” about the presidential election, I came under some pretty heavy rhetorical fire. I didn’t care about “the issues”, I was told, and “I wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade”.

Since that post, I’ve been doing my best to wade through the overheated rhetoric, spin, and flagrant lies coming out of both campaigns (and their supporters), trying to find something that will give me a sense that either one of the two contenders will be different from what I’ve come to expect out of their respective parties.

And I’ve finally come across something that could sway me. It came from Barack Obama:

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said in an interview aired Tuesday that the cost of the mortgage bailout plan may rein in his ambitious plans for health care, energy, education and infrastructure.

Obama’s comments reflect the possible new constraints on the next president’s ability to expand or start programs or cut taxes. The government financial interventions of the past two weeks could cost more than $1 trillion.

How refreshing! Unfortunately, there’s a problem. The interview quoted above took place on Monday, while on Sunday — the day before!! — he basically said he was going to be able to keep all the promises he’s been making on the campaign trail.

Hello? Senator? That was hooey and you knew it!

Listen up, Obama! Your party’s supporters aren’t going to agree with me here, but speaking as a bona fide moderate independent, I can tell you that you’re about to blow this.

Yes indeed, we want change. So how about if we start with a little truth about this mess we’re in: that because we’re in hock up to our little eyebrows, sliding (more deeply?) into recession, and about to take on even more danged debt, the government won’t be handing out any presents for awhile.

And while you’re at it, how about if you tell your party that compounding the mammoth financial liability Congress is about to hand to our grandchildren is a non-starter, and they can nationalize the auto industry in some alternate universe?

Nobody I’ve talked to — for weeks — believes for a second that we’re going to see tax cuts or expensive new programs during the next administration. Stop treating us like we’re idiots! That’s a large part of why people are not buying fully into your message lately.

And don’t tell me how your opponent is telling just as tall — and even taller — a tale. We know that too. John McCain long-since stopped talking “straight”. He’s all about hiding his running-mate in bubble-wrap now, and spinning the high-speed noise machine.

But from you? I have much higher expectations.

You want to lead? You need to start now. Right now.

Start with the truth. We already know what it is; we just need to know that you do, too.

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Copyright 2008 The Moderate Voice
  • RyanS

    Unfortunately telling the truth and winning a presidency in this country are mutually exclusive. I don’t think Jesus himself could win an election if he ran on a platform of raising taxes. I think your putting an impossible double standard in front of Obama. Even though I think that we should raise taxes. I wouldn’t want Mr. Obama to say that in his campaign.
    The only thing that will get us out of the situation we are in is a drastic wave of regulation, raised taxes, withdrawl from the middle east wars and a drastic 30-40% reduction in the budget. Held for about 15-20 years. No body in there right mind would run for president with that plan. Its the right pill but its bitter and people as a whole are childish.

    • “Unfortunately telling the truth and winning a presidency in this country are mutually exclusive. “

      So RyanS — who does this say more about: the candidates telling the lies, or the people who insist upon hearing them?

  • jwest

    But……but…… you have to believe!

    If you don’t believe, it won’t matter how hard you tap those ruby slippers together, you’ll still be stuck on this side of the rainbow.

    Come on, ObamaPals. Everyone join hands with Polimom and help her get the dream back. Yes We Can!

  • RyanS

    What believe that if you deregulate people won’t cheat. That companies won’t group think themselves into piles of debt. Or that the size of the deficit doesn’t matter… This seems more like “belief” to me.
    Since this has been the mantra of the Republicans for the last 20 years. I have a member of the opposition.

  • CStanley

    Polimom, I greatly admire your principled centrism and attempts to cut through all of the spin. I’ve got to admit that the fact that I hold conservative principles makes it easier in many ways- I do give Democratic candidates a chance to sway me, but it almost always comes down to seeing through the smokescreen on both sides and then deciding that neither candidate holds up to scrutiny so I vote with the ideas that I believe are best for the country. I imagine that if you don’t start with an ideological bias it must be much more difficult since there’s no default position to fall back on.

    • CStanley — the real problem I have is that neither party matches my ideology: fiscally conservative, socially liberal — and I’m not on an extreme edge w/ either of those. If there was a party for me, I’m sure I’d take the same approach as you do — or anyone else does who has a political home.


  • Mike_P

    I can’t find a transcript that includes the questions he was asked at today’s press conference, but Obama did address this topic directly. I’m taking this from memory (I was listening while driving) but he talked about how most of the programs he called for were funded as well under the plans. And he reiterated that in some cases some might have to be delayed depending on the situation in January.

    I don’t know, he seems pretty up front about it, considering that such statements could theoretically hurt him with the Democratic base.

  • Ok, so what’s your problem here? On Sunday, he was trying to keep up hope that he could still maintain his campaign promises. On Monday, reality sank in and he leveled with us that that won’t be possible. This honesty is refreshing and much more than we’ve come to expect from candidates in the past (who always promise the moon but always fail to deliver). Also, you should check out his speech from yesterday, posted here on TMV (“Obama’s three-pronged reform plan”). No longer denying this reality, he has already come down to earth. So what could he say or do to assuage your doubt? What more do you want from him? You want specifics from your leaders, you need to make specific demands (and “I want them to lead” doesn’t cut it.) You seem to be operating on a double standard here.

    • So davigoli — that auto industry $ looks good to you right now? You’re down with that?

  • Amanda

    polimom – in the NY Times article you cited, Obama pointed out that the $700 billion amount is higher than he thinks is necessary. Perhaps that’s where the difference comes from between the two statements. He can’t single-handedly prevent the current administration and Congress from passing the bail-out as it is, though I do think he should cut down some campaign stops and head to the Senate to state his piece. Perhaps his preferred method of “fixing” our current crisis would have allowed him to move forward with his various plans.

  • casualobserver

    I hope both parties are wining and dining you, Mom, because your vote is the only category left with any actual value.

    Given your fence position, do you assign any value to whether Congress and Executive are the same party or not?

    Do you think the rookie will actually run the show or could Pelosi and Reid just run their own agenda on him? Do you think he would have the guts to veto anything that comes out of a Dem controlled Congress? If Obama gets in, it won’t be the stuff mandates are made of.

    • co — I do, in fact, assign great value to balance of power. And that’s part of my problem with Obama here: I need to see him stand up to his party. As you can probably tell from my post and earlier comment, he could start by telling the Dems in Congress that no, now is NOT a good time for more bail-out money for other industries. Unfortunately, he has been supporting the auto-industry billions (as has John McCain). (Note: feel free to correct me if there’s been more recent info than this.

      However — as important as I think balance is, I’m not sure it outweighs my desire to have a level-headed captain at the foreign policy helm — something that John McCain is evidently not going to bring to the equation.

  • pacatrue

    I just find it interesting that, at least this close to an election, it’s virtually impossible for people to take criticisms of a candidate’s statements as just criticisms of those statements and not view them in comparison to other candidates. I include myself in this. My continuing reaction to polimom’s post is, “McCain has made no mention of not giving his tax cuts nor has he ever spelled out any program other than earmarks he would cut and this remains true even with the bail-out going forward and non-partisan projected debts higher than Obama’s, so why are we giving Obama who has at least recognized reality partially a hard time?”

    This may or may not be true, but it’s only relevant if we have to always compare candidates. If one ignores that there is an election and that McCain exists, then Polimom’s basic point stands as accurate. Obama’s equivocating a bit here and in an ideal world, he should not.

    Incidentally, I don’t think Obama could politically get away with raising taxes on the middle class at this point at all, but if we are suddenly a trillion dollars more in debt than we were last week, he might “delay” them for two years or so. I’d still be surprised if he raised them, however.

  • RyanS

    It says a lot about both. It says that, unfortunately, we as a people aren’t mature enough to hear anything that might conflict with our wants. It also implies that someone who wants to get into a position to have any influence will have to at least appeal to that sentiment, and at worst make the assumption that the majority can’t be wrong. Then adopt, promote, and implement those positions as their own.

    I like to think that I’m not naive. I can tell Obama’s promises are greater than anything he can deliver. At least he has a track record for public service, and his promises are the closest to what I think we actually need now.

    McCain’s promises on the other hand are the same ones given many times before. Cut taxes, deregulate, family values, abortion is evil, science is bad, don’t take my guns away, government is bad. We’ve been on this mary-go-round for almost thirty years. LET ME OFF!

    If McCain is only parroting these points then doesn’t that make him the greater liar?
    Unfortunately, we live in a representative democracy where the majority of people do not value truth, only appearance.

  • punditdad

    Feels like you are trying to catch Obama in a “Gotcha” moment rather than to see if his programs and ideas are aligned with your values. Do you believe that he is truly interested in a different approach to many of the basic problems our country faces? If not, then I think trying to fault him by wanting to spread his message and talking about his expensive programs or how he is going to pay for them is moot anyway.

  • DLS

    Well, to the True Believers, I suspect it will be as — I already have suspected openly; that if we can throw $700B or more at Wall Street to bail it out, followed no doubt by now-more-encouraged Big Three in Detroit (other automobile manufacturers should sue if they get anything — that’s market interference and should either not happen or be given to all manufacturers), followed by the airlines, and why not also spend on all those vote-buying Magic Money Tree promises of Big Benefits Obama has made?

    If we can proceed to exceed a deficit of one trillion dollars, what’s another trillion for “human needs” [gag] or just redemption of bold promises to those whose votes have been for sale?

    He has said himself that he’ll “phase” them into existence, which is to say gradually or incrementally, and probably based on how easily he can raise taxes “because, sadly, I have been left with no other choice.” [Believers nod heads up and down]

  • DLS

    Well, to the True Believers, I suspect it will be as — I already have suspected openly; that if we can throw $700B or more at Wall Street to bail it out, followed no doubt by now-more-encouraged Big Three in Detroit (other automobile manufacturers should sue if they get anything — that’s market interference and should either not happen or be given to all manufacturers), followed by the airlines, and why not also spend on all those vote-buying Magic Money Tree promises of Big Benefits Obama has made?

    If we can proceed to exceed a deficit of one trillion dollars, what’s another trillion for “human needs” [gag] or just redemption of bold promises to those whose votes have been for sale?

    He has said himself that he’ll “phase” them into existence, which is to say gradually or incrementally, and probably based on how easily he can raise taxes “because, sadly, I have been left with no other choice.” [Believers nod heads up and down]

    * * *

    Note that there is a lot of pro-financial-industry nonsense going on right now and the degree to which we see Paulson and Bernanke, even, acting like the equivalent of global warming alarmists or catastrophists (“Pass this now or risk recession,” etc.) in trying to panic or push Congress (and the people to influence their representatives in Congress) to rush to approve this bailout plan without delay.

    There’s no need to do that, you realize. Only some in the financial sector actually are observing chunks of sky falling toward them. That’s not so for everybody else.

  • GeorgeSorwell


    You’re certainly free to flunk Obama when he fails to live up to the higher standard you have set for him.

    But for the sake of comparison: Just how low, relatively, is the standard you’ve set for John McCain? 90% 75%? 28%?

    And if you were to measure them in absolute terms, just how great is the disparity?

    • LOL!! George, my standard for John McCain is pretty danged low, to be honest.

  • DLS
  • APR

    Maybe I’m just tired and not comprehending very well. But I have no idea what your point is Polimom. Obama said one thing Sunday and another Monday and you seem to give more credence to what he said Sunday, or at least don’t believe what he said Monday. That doesn’t seem to be based on any objective facts, more just your perception of what he will or wont do. To me (and I may well be wrong on this!) you seem to have made up your mind that Obama is not going to be fiscally responsible as President.

    Also, where in the link that you provided does it say anything about nationalizing the auto industry? I see an article about providing low cost loans to an American business sector. While the utility and justification for the legislation are certainly debatable, the legislation doesn’t say what you say it says. Also, it does clearly say that Obama and McCain have both endorsed one of the loan programs involved.

    • APR — if he said one thing on Sunday and another on Monday, how do you know which is right? Jeesum, these were a whole day apart! Do you just go with the most recent utterance?

      • APR

        Given the rapid evolution over the weekend of this financial crisis, I guess I’d be willing to accept a change in his policy over that one day time period. So yes, I certainly would go with the most recent statement, particularly if he has not since changed back to his original statement.

  • DLS

    “if his programs and ideas are aligned with your values”

    That’s not the only issue here. With this bailout, obviously the psychological floodgates for the willing are wide open now, but just where is Obama going to get the money to pay for all his spending programs? Or will he just add more debt, GOP-style? If he insists on income tax reductions for households or individuals under $250,000, he’s already lost from the start, given what the income distribution happens to be in this country. The only way to raise a substantially larger amount of revenue to pay for his grandiose spending plans from the federal income tax is to increase taxes on those far below $250,000 annually. (And as I’ve already asked elsewhere, earlier — what about other taxes? The Clinton gang thought about a VAT _without_ abolishing the income tax; why not might Obama think of the same thing, for health care, for example, as was thought of for health care earlier? And, of course, there are always vast new motor vehicle fuel taxes to bring us up to the much higher levels found in Europe, even if that will cripple motorists and promptly cause expected revenues to diminish greatly.)

  • Maggie22

    I’ve always voted for candor — but I guess I use a different standard. For me it’s more disqualifying than qualifying. By that, I mean that if a candidate crosses a line such that I no longer believe them, then I’ll vote against that candidate. It’s not clear how I could vote if my standard were that I need 100% candor. So in my world, I’m voting against McCain with all that I have. Let’s just say that he crossed the disqualifying line a while back and is now just working on hitting record lows in my book.

    Given that, I’m probably more forgiving of Obama. He’s not crossed the line. He doesn’t hit the highs I could wish, but he does seem to me to do better than most. If you listen. He’s always said his program was “pay as you go” — so I’ve always heard his list as a set of priorities he’d pursue *if* budgetary exigencies work out (e.g. that tax revenues don’t sag if he hit a major recession). So that he finally admits on Monday that this crisis is severe enough to suggest that the overall budgetary picture will be grimmer than he expected doesn’t bother me. I think it’s taken a while for the seriousness of this problem to sink in with all of us.

    Not quite sure why McCain gets a pass in your book on this. But we all of our way of looking at things.

    • Maggie, you misunderstand me. I don’t give McCain a pass.

      But for me, voting against somebody has really gotten pretty danged tiresome. I really really want to cast a vote — just once — FOR somebody.

      So… yes, Obama did in fact say the magic words one day after he said something different. The proximity is the problem… but if he comes in strong behind his most recent statement, and continues to give people the real information, then for me, this will be a much different ballgame.

  • And for the record (since there seems to be some idea that by criticizing Obama, I’m somehow okay w/ McCain) — he’s full of it, too, when he says he won’t raise taxes. This hole is going to be WAYYY too deep.

  • GeorgeSorwell


    Republicans were once the party of fiscal responsibility, but their current dogma, articulated by none other than Dick Cheney, is “Deficits don’t matter.”

    A great deal of Republican success at the ballot box has been based on the famous No-Tax Pledge they sign.

    Meanwhile, under Republican leadership we’ve had two expensive (and poorly managed) wars and the largest new entitlement program since the 1960’s. So when Republicans say things like they’re going to cut taxes no matter what else is going on, I’m really pretty inclined to believe them. It’s when they say something different–for example, something fiscally responsible–that I’d be dubious.

    Not that it’s going to happen–Republicans saying something fiscally responsible, I mean. It wouldn’t surprise me if the McCain plan for economic recovery would be to promise everyone in America a pony.

    He’d win.

    Plus, Obama has a funny last name.

    And his middle name? Oh, Polimom, don’t even get me started!!!

    Maybe you have a good reason to hold John McCain to a lower standard. But I can’t think what it would be. So, sorry if I missed the point of your post.

    • “sorry if I missed the point of your post. “

      I’m sorry too.

  • CStanley

    Polimom, since you responded to my earlier comment with an explanation of your mixed ideology, I have a follow up question.

    Do you consider your fiscal conservatism or your social liberalism to be more important at this time? I would think that would be the only way to puzzle this out, along with the point others have mentioned about divided government.

    And as far as social issues go, are there really any grave concerns with McCain/Palin? I know that a lot of social liberals would say Roe v. Wade, but you strike me as a thinking individual who would recognize that EVEN in the event of R v W being overturned (which certainly might not happen anyway), the states would still probably enact laws that were in keeping with the general spirit with which that decision was handed down (the trimester construct, viability, etc.)

    Since McCain has never been a religious rightie, we’re not talking about anything too controversial coming out of his administration unless you are pretty hard left, I would think. Palin certainly has personal views that are a lot more socially conservative, but despite the overheated criticisms most people agree that she hasn’t attempted to push those views as law.

    George, I don’t know if this helps (and Polimom, feel free to correct me if I have it wrong) but I think that Polimom might be generally as cynical as I am about candidates from either party (you know they’re lying because their lips are moving) but if I understand her, she wanted to believe the hype that Obama was different. It’s not that she’s giving McCain a pass, just that she apparently holds him to the general standard that most of us have to apply to all politicians in order to even be able to vote- but she did hold Obama to a higher standard because those particular virtues of being postpartisan, pragmatic, and honest were the very reasons that she was supporting him.

    Am I close, PM?

  • Yes, you’re close CStanley. I never saw Obama as the progressive Messiah the far left thought they’d found. I saw him as very pragmatic, and painfully honest. And I still think he hopes to approach problems in a post-partisan manner — if people will let him.

    But you asked a great question. Which of my ideologies is currently ascendant? I don’t know if I can answer in just a comment, but I’ll try.

    Something went off-kilter late in the Democratic primaries. After the FISA vote, and when the expected shift to center began, Obama was coming under such fire from the party’s base that it seems to me he began hewing closer to the traditional ideologies. But this is not a time for bigger government. (I’d have said it would be hard to get bigger than it is now, but recent events are proving that a lie). It’s time to tighten belts and clean house.

    If he is a captive of his party, then divided government is critical. If he’s not, then I really need him to show that. (Hence, this post.)

    Meanwhile, John McCain has also made some shifts, and I’ve found myself questioning recently if he’s even sane. So while I have concerns on the domestic front about fiscal policy, I’m also concerned about bellicosity in the White House during these very volatile times. Even if I thought McCain was going to suddenly reincarnate the fiscal conservatism the GOP once claimed to stand for, his foreign policy would still worry me greatly.

    Finally — I have to disagree with you about what would happen if Roe v Wade were overturned. There are a number of states (including mine) that have anti-abortion legislation still on the books. Yes, some of those would be re-written, but there’d be mighty battles and unrest in those states. And then there are the states that have been passing poison-pill legislation — rigid anti-abortion laws that are set to trigger the instant Roe goes down. I can’t even fathom the chaos that would ensue.

    Would John McCain really push for that, as he’s promised to do for years? You’re right that he’s not especially religious — but the constitutional arguments against Roe don’t require religious zealotry. And even if he didn’t push for it, I’m truly concerned about whether he’ll remain healthy for a full term. Which brings Palin into play. As long as she’s not answering questions about her view of religion and policy (or much of anything else, for that matter), she’s a wild card in my eyes.

    So — as I said, concerns all around. On foreign policy and social issues, Obama is my guy (so to speak). On fiscal policy, though? I just dunno.

  • CStanley

    Thanks for the thoughtful answer- a great discussion, I think, and one that all undecideds ought to be having. This line stood out as particularly apt:

    If he is a captive of his party, then divided government is critical. If he’s not, then I really need him to show that. (Hence, this post.)

    What a great way to put it.

    As for the rest, well, I guess any excessive bellicosity on McCain’s part strikes me as posturing for the hawkish base. He’s certainly more of a hawk than Obama but from my perspective, Obama’s overly conciliatory foreign policy statements are problematic too. Neither extreme would be my preference, but I’m hoping that both men are playing it up to fire up their respective base voters.

    On Roe v. Wade, I can see what you mean in the short term, but as a prolifer it’s hard to find that so troubling because if one does consider abortion to be murder than there’s nothing that really trumps that. And in the longer run, it just seems to me that the status quo now is more out of whack with what people really want (we have de facto abortion on demand, which isn’t what the polling data shows to be the real majority preference) than any changes will be after the dust settles.

  • Sigh….


    If I’d seen that story earlier, I’d have added my GREAT desire to hear Obama’s opinion on adding car debt to the “troubled assets”.

  • nepr

    Polimom: On Nov 4, I’m going to go into the voting booth, vote on the state and local ballot initiatives, here in California, that I have taken the time to research. Then, I’ll get up, walk out and put my card into the box. This is what I’ve done, for the most part, since 1972, inclusive.

    I’ve always felt bad, and depressed after doing this. But, not as bad as I would have felt if I had defiled the concept and promise of democracy by lying in the booth, just as the candidates had lied to me during the campaign.

  • Maggie22

    Polimom, thanks for starting such an interesting discussion. I do get what you’re saying about wanting to vote *for* someone. And while I think Obama has some shortcomings, I should say that this is the first time I’ll really be voting *for* someone in a meaningful way. (What’s shifted for me is that whereas I once thought McCain would be OK, I’m now also highly motivated to vote against him, and since that’s happened, I’m not looking at Obama with such scrutiny.)

    We are opposites, though. I’m a social conservative, who is economically eclectic. That’s left me voting Republican as a rule. But this time the price was too high — and Obama somehow made it easier to think about voting Democratic. Like you, I have never thought he was a progressive; but rather more pragmatic. And I continue to read him really as not being fiscally liberal in the classic sense. The tax policy is about undoing the redistribution towards the wealthy that has occured partly due to Republican tax policies and partly due to the effects globalization has had on our income distribution. Although I’m no egalitarian, I do think societies can only tolerate so much inequality before things go wonky; and I’m not averse to the idea that we might be getting there. (Our bubbly economy seems to me to be symptomatic of a society where the chasing of wealth at the high end has gotten at least a bit off-kilter). In any case, his tax proposals don’t call for a radical shifting of income. And I do believe him when he says that this should be essentially self-contained. The closed corporate loopholes, and higher taxes on the highest brackets offset the lower taxes elsewhere in the system. He claims that the other programs are all to be implemented only to the extent that savings elsewhere can pay for them. In short, he’s always sounded averse to raising the deficit. What he’s not super-hawkish on is the proposition that we should be working to lower the deficit. Normally that would be troublesome, but for a faltering economy it’s not obvious that the best remedy is to go after the deficit. It’s a bit old-fashioned to think that deficit cutting at the onset of what could be a serious recession is counter-productive, but there are enough parallels between now and 1929 for me to think that this might be the one case where old-fashioned economic policies actually make more sense. Obama’s got a good mix of economic advisors, and himself seems to have learned from his stay at the University of Chicago to respect markets more than an old-fashioned liberal would, but without becoming beholding to a free-market ideology that is perhaps not best suited to the moment.

    Dang, didn’t mean to ramble. But all of this is to say that his thinking on the subject doesn’t fall neatly into old categories. In the late 1970’s the economy was strained in part because it had been run by old liberal ideas. That’s what made the country ripe for the Reagan revolution, which offered a salutary correction for the excesses of the old regime. I don’t know if Obama will turn out to be Reagan-esque. But I do think we are at about the same point now that we were back then: the economy is strained in part because it has been run too long on old conservative ideas. Since I’m a pragmatist, I think it’s to be expected that any ideology that is in power too long is going to tend to make things go wonky. Obama’s tilt to the left doesn’t bother me — since I read it as a pragmatic shift, rather than an ideological one.

    But no, he’s not always candid about what he’s about. He’s pandered pretty hard on Nafta, for example. And although he’s always said “pay as you go”, he’s always said it sotto voce. And yes that’s misleading. Deliberately so. But I’m not sure any politician can be purely honest and have a prayer of getting elected. He’s also very cautious — and I worry that this can be a liability. He hasn’t risked telling people hard truths. My idealistic self wishes he would. My pragmatic self thinks that people who tell hard truths are rarely elected. In any case, I am voting *for* him — but not as though he’s some sort of ideal politician.

  • CStanley — the real problem I have is that neither party matches my ideology: fiscally conservative, socially liberal — and I’m not on an extreme edge w/ either of those. If there was a party for me, I’m sure I’d take the same approach as you do — or anyone else does who has a political home.

    I know that I’m late on this post… but I had to add my ‘AMEN’ to CStanley’s comment.

  • GeorgeSorwell

    I’m late also, but I’d like to add that we’ve had divided government for two years now.

    Decide for yourself how that’s been working out.

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