October 14, 2008

What Are We Voting For?

Print More

The polls show that Barack Obama will likely be the 44th President of the United States. John McCain has fallen prey to a struggling campaign with a continuously changing message, a running mate who leaves much to be desired and ultimately an opponent who has run a superior campaign. Yet, for all of the debates, media coverage and hoopla surrounding the presidential election, many Americans are unclear if not down right uneducated about the candidates’ actual policies. At the very least, voters owe it to themselves to read through the candidates’ policy proposals. Are we voting for merely a competent person, or are we voting for a proponent of policies that will effect positive change?

Those who vie for the presidency must bring more to the table than pure policy proposals, but these proposals and the way in which they are developed offer great insight into how a given candidate would conduct his administration. Policies illustrate how a candidates’ values influence such decisions as well as how a candidate works with advisers and colleagues in order to formulate policy. Certainly there is more to a presidency than strictly rules, but the fact that so many voters are uninformed about what the candidates propose for the country is a troubling thought.

When the nation is not informed about what a candidate sees for the country in terms of policies, the only stream of information comes from television ads or pundits on news programs. For example, Barack Obama’s ads claim that every American earning below $250,000 will receive a tax cut, but the ad says nothing about the fact that these tax cuts are in fact refundable tax credits, which are in essence a form of welfare distribution. And what about McCain’s support of the gas tax holiday, which in fact has no economic rationale to support it? There has been no effort to bring these points, or others concerning policy decisions, to the forefront. The debates have been a forum to get some face time, throw a few jabs and avoid making a mistake. In the previous election, as lackluster as both candidates were, the debates offered some substance. One exchange between Bush and Kerry concerning tax cuts was centered around the fact that many small businesses are formed as S Corporations and the various tax implications of this type of business organization. The point here is that as mundane as policy details and ideas may be, it is ultimately what will shape the country.

This line of thought leads to an event recently held at Cornell University entitled “McCain v. Obama in 3D.” The event entailed a discussion among professors from various universities with diverse areas of expertise, including health care policy, social security and immigration policy. The guest professors discussed the policy proposals of both Senator McCain and Senator Obama. The event received some negative press, most notably from the Cornell Review, for not exciting guests and not having the same intensity and electricity that a campaign rally might. The fact of the matter is that more of the same is not needed. Will listening to Senator Obama speaking to an energetic crowd in Europe help voters? Or will Senator McCain’s tour of Iraq and conversations with soldiers increase our understanding of his presidential capability? The next president will affect this country based on policies he supports and devises. As unsexy as it may be, the future of many Americans and the country as a whole will be shaped by nuanced policy details. Sometimes the excitement and energy of a campaign rally needs to take a back seat to an intellectual debate.

The counterargument is that there is no telling what policies concerning healthcare, the economy, and other topics will actually be enacted during the next administration and that, more importantly, a president should be elected on much more than what he writes in a policy paper. I agree with both sentiments. However, there must be room for a logical, detailed debate to take place. Ultimately, this is a call for an educated and informed populace, a necessary and imperative component of a functioning republic.