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Monday, June 09, 2008

The Dumbening Begins

In this primary between Obama and Hillary, the policy issues between them were relatively minor. Healthcare mandates, Obama's more net-friendly tech policy, and most importantly Obama's early opposition to the Iraq War were the most noticable among them.

All things considered, there was a fair amount of focus on policy in the primary. ABC's horrendous Philadelphia debate aside, the few differences were pretty well fleshed out for anyone concerned.

Given that promising (a relative term) start, the deep divide between Obama and McCain on a range of important issues, and McCain's professed desire to run a clean campaign, I'm hoping for a relatively substantive election. Now, I'm not naive (well, not THAT naive) so when I say that, I put the emphasis on relatively.

Cue the dumbening. The LA Times editorializes that McCain and Obama are actually pretty similar. Their trick, you see, is that if you don't examine the issues, then Obama and McCain are the same! Take, for instance, their assertion that Obama and McCain are on "common ground" on climate change.
Environment. The differences between the two on the environment tend to be a matter of degree. They support the same policies, but in general Obama wants tougher (and costlier) regulation. Both want to create a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases -- Obama's would reduce them to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, while McCain's would cut them by 60%. Both want more energy-efficiency programs and renewable energy, though Obama would spend more to get them. McCain is a big proponent of nuclear power, an issue Obama has largely avoided thus far.
Yes, McCain is that elusive creature, a Republican who acknowledges the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate change. No discussion, however, of the distinction between McCain's cap-and-give approach versus Obama's cap-and-invest. These are not marginal distinctions, either. Obama has laid out a suprisingly forward thinking energy platform to push this country towards renewable energy, while McCain has no policy at all.

Steve Benen at noticed the same thing, but Ezra Klein put it best:
A week ago, I laughed off fears that any reporters in America would be dim enough to argue that Barack Obama and John McCain, contrary to what they say and what their policies suggest, are actually quite close to each other ideologically. Today, the LA Times takes a shot at proving me wrong. Happily, the Times' editorial page isn't quite able to convince itself of this bit of tomfoolery, but they give it a go. I hereby promise to never again underestimate the media's ability to turn any campaign into an ideas free contest of personalities.
The first presidential election that I have any real memory of was Bush v. Gore. I was going into 10th grade, and I remember very clearly lots of people asserting that the two candidates were identical save for their personalities. I remember most explicitly Bill Mahr, still on ABC at the time, constantly referred to them as "Gush and Bore." He wasn't the only one either.

Bush and the Republicans deliberately obfuscated the actual policy differences between the two candidates, and even the two parties. If you listened to Bush (or any of 10,000 talking heads) tell it, Bush trusted you and Gore trusted the government, but other than that they're the same. On specific issues from the patients bill of rights, to climate change, to social security, to tax policy, Bush and co. made at best grossly misleading to at worst downright deceitful statements. Bush pretended to support the patients bill of rights when he did not. Does anyone remember "by far the vast majority of my tax cut goes to people at the bottom end of the economic ladder." That was a fun one.

Please don't make me live through that again.