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Political Animal

Ownership 2008

By Brian Morton | Posted 10/1/2008

Even though polling at this point shows that Sen. Barack Obama gained the most out of last week's presidential debate, there was a glaring vacancy in his answers that he could and should rectify before meeting Sen. John McCain again in front of a national audience.

Many pundits, commentators, and journalists seem almost disappointed that the debate was short on the rhetorical fireworks and knockout punches of previous such contests. There were no "You're no Jack Kennedys," no "There you go agains" or any "Poland is not dominated by the Soviet Union" self-immolations of past debates. But even though a debate without playground insults doesn't make for great television, often it makes the deeply serious issues our country faces more stark.

This viewer was only disappointed in one thing--the absence of history. In his acceptance speech at Invesco Field in Denver, Obama had the beginnings of a case he could have made during the debate that would make it crystal clear to American voters why there needs to be a change in the way this country is run:

For over two decades, [McCain has] subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy--give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is-- you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps--even if you don't have boots. You're on your own. Well, it's time for them to own their failure.

Obama never made the case that it isn't just McCain or George W. Bush--it is the entire Republican theory of governance that has driven the country off the cliff.

Fourteen years ago the GOP surged to power on a campaign of hypocrisy and lies: term limits, the line-item veto, lower taxes, and less government. Once the Republicans took hold of all of the reins of power--a grip on virtually all three branches of government--they behaved as if they were the ruling panjandrums of a Third World military dictatorship.

In terms of changing the fiscal environment that led to the current financial crisis, look at the drumbeat of Republican efforts to shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the workers. In 2003, in the first of four Bush tax cuts, the Republican leadership in Congress, according to The New York Times, pushed for terms more favorable to the wealthy than even the president's plan. The Republican plan that came out of the House of Representatives called for capital gains to be taxed at 15 percent (right now, the GOP is trying to eliminate the tax entirely as a response to the crisis it helped create), and taxpayers with incomes of more than $1 million would have received an average tax cut of $105,636.

In 1969, the top tax rate was 69 percent, and we sent a man to the moon. Now it's under half of that, and bridges are collapsing at the same time the economy is, but we've spent eight solid years funneling money to the privileged classes and Wall Street Masters of the Universe who, not that we need to be reminded, wanted to be the stewards of your Social Security money four years ago.

In a 2004 report, the Economic Policy Institute pointed out that in 1979, 70 percent of private-sector workers had employer-provided health care. In 2000, only 63 percent did, and that number dropped to 60 percent by the time the report was published. And the GOP argues that Americans have "too much" health care, and John Goodman, an informal adviser to McCain and the head of the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis, says the next president should simply issue an executive order preventing the Census Bureau from listing anyone as uninsured, thus "disappearing" the problem.

These are things Obama needed to list--just a few of them in a long, long litany--to tie John "Maverick" McCain tightly to his party. Unless McCain, like his buddy Joe Lieberman, decides to entirely disassociate himself from his party, the failures of Republicanism are his failures as well. They called for them, they pushed for them, they passed them into law, and they need to own them. The failures of the last eight years are the property of the Grand Old Party, and Obama should make sure that Americans know who signed the deed.

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