When this endless presidential campaign first began, I like many students was looking to be swept off my feet by a candidate. In contrast to Hilary Clinton, whom I ardently opposed, Barack Obama did just that. Not a single person I knew supported President Bush, so Obama’s message of “change” seemed like the perfect prescription for our government.
My conversion from an Obama kool-aid drinker to a well-informed supporter of Senator McCain began last spring in my political science class ‘War and Peace in American Foreign Policy’. As Professor Kenneth Schultz guided the class through the past forty years of American foreign policy, I was struck by a name that recurred in my readings: John McCain. Even while wearing my Obama t-shirt, I could not dismiss the fact that McCain played an important role in so many matters of global importance—from Vietnam to Bosnia and Kosovo. But in true college student fashion, I chose to forget this point the very second I finished my final exam.
Not until I left the Stanford bubble did the name John McCain resurface in my conscience. I soon began to question what specific parts of the government Obama planned to change and how he might do so. This prompted me to research the issues most important to me in this election: energy, taxes, and foreign policy. I also began to discern my personal opinions from the campus consensus.
I started with energy. The question I asked myself was “What does the government need to do to expand our energy resources?” My conclusion: Everything! This means that the government must invest in all alternative energy sources from clean coal to nuclear, including off-shore drilling. To my dismay, this last energy source put me at odds with Obama’s energy policy, which states that “Drilling in open areas could significantly increase domestic oil and gas production,” but does not fully endorse this method of production. On the other hand, McCain energy wants to drill now in addition to pursuing alternative energy technologies. I was discouraged to discover whose policy I actually supported. But in spite of this setback, I was still not ready to surrender my t-shirt. (With regard to recovering resources from ANWR, I had not yet decided. I figured the next president could collaborate with the leaders of Alaska to decide the best course of action).
I next explored the complex issue of taxes. Until this summer, I had little concern for tax policy. I then received my first paycheck of the summer and therein discovered that the government had received 32% of my wages from the past two weeks. Taxes suddenly became of great interest to me. At first glance, Obama’s plan to reduce taxes for 95% of working families bolstered my support for him. His rhetoric, however, eclipses the details of his plan. For example, his tax “cuts” are actually tax credits that will subsequently decrease as one’s income rises. This certainly stifles the American Dream. It also means that the one-third of Americans today that currently incur no income tax liability will essentially receive a check from the government. This strategy of reallocating the income of one select group of Americans to another less privileged portion of the population reminded me of something: socialism. Of course, I do not oppose taxes in general, but rather the redistribution of wealth that Obama’s tax plan calls for. McCain’s plan seeks to stimulate the economy in true Republican fashion through tax cuts on corporations and those in the highest income brackets in order to relieve the burden on small businesses and encourage innovation. As an admittedly small-government kind of girl who believes in earning her wages and keeping them, the McCain plan appealed to me much more.
I reached these conclusions before the escalation of the financial crisis and the $700 billion bailout plan, which both candidates supported. Recent economic events have merely reinforced my support for McCain. Due to the instability of the stock market, investors need incentives to invest. Obama’s proposal to double the tax on capital gains will create yet another disincentive to enter the market. McCain, on the other hand, pledges to cut the capital gains tax, and by doing so, will encourage investment.
The last major issue I examined was foreign policy. As an International Relations major, I am ashamed to say that I had not yet evaluated the candidates’ foreign policies by this point. During this process of evaluation I recalled McCain’s notable experience with foreign affairs. I also found that while Obama acknowledges the use of military force as a necessary means for dealing with foreign adversaries in certain situations, he has repeatedly emphasized his plan to initiate discussions with the leaders of dangerous regimes. Upon learning this, I rejoiced to discover an issue on which Obama and I shared similar views. However, McCain also supports diplomatic measures in foreign policy. Where these two men differ is in their analyses of the international community. McCain unlike Obama realistically acknowledges the erratic nature of the leaders of many dangerous regimes. He understands that not every actor in the international system plays by the rules of the European Union, NATO, and the UN, and therefore, diplomatic efforts are not always sufficient when dealing with leaders of authoritarian regimes. The Russian invasion of Georgia in early August proved this point. Once again, my support for Obama took a hit.
After objectively evaluating the issues, I realized that despite my resistance to endorsing McCain, I clearly opposed Obama on the issues of energy, taxes and foreign policy. How could I justify the $27.00 I spent on my t-shirt and the excitement I thought to be genuine? Now I can see that I somehow got caught up in the rhetoric without realizing that I fundamentally disagree with him on how the country should be governed. Despite my earlier ignorance, I have redeemed myself by judiciously choosing which candidate to back. This, I suspect, is more than many other Stanford students can say for themselves. To those students supporting Obama out of ease and emotional reaction, I encourage you to consider the issues surrounding this election and make an informed decision.