Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

09 October 2008

McCain and Obama: A Handy Comparison Chart

Notes to readers: During the primary campaign, one of my most popular posts was a chart comparing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This post provides a similar chart for the general election, with several new categories added. It begins with war and foreign policy because they are presidents’ special field of action. Most links are to primary source material, not blogs. For a much shorter comparison of Obama and McCain penned just before the election, click here.

Wars In Iraq and Afghanistan
Planning for Conflict and Strategic Vision
Decorum and Self-Restraint
Openness in Foreign Policy
Understanding of Economics
Economic Advisors
Energy Policy
Health Care
Education and Training
Bipartisan Initiatives
Work Experience
Notable Books
Money and Politics

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
    John McCain:

      (2002) Supports war in Iraq from beginning and votes to authorize war

      (2002-2003) Accepts and repeats Bush Administration’s claims that Iraqis will receive our troops as liberators and that war will be quick, easy and cheap

      (2004-2006) Works behind scenes, in secret, to remove Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense

      (2006-2008) Supports “surge” and “winning” in Iraq

      (2008) Supports staying in Iraq, in full force, without a timetable, and regardless of developments in Afghanistan or elsewhere, until commanders say we’ve “won”

    Barack Obama:

      (2002) Opposes war from beginning, based on own judgment, while supporting war in Afghanistan

      (2003-2006) Supports troops and war in Iraq once begun

      (2006-2007) Opposes “surge” in troop levels but supports change in strategy

      (2007-2008) Recognizes success of “surge,” change in strategy, and Sunni Awakening in reducing violence in Iraq

      (2008) Supports withdrawing combat troops from Iraq on flexible sixteen-month timetable, in order to: (1) pressure Iraqis to take over, (2) force political reconciliation among Iraqi factions and (3) shift combat emphasis to Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Planning for Conflict and Strategic Vision
    George W. Bush: (2002-2006) has no plan for aftermath of Iraq invasion

    John McCain:

      (2001-2007) States no plan to fight Al Qaeda in Pakistan

      (2007-2008) Promises to let commanders decide when war in Iraq has been “won”

      (2008) Proposes to use same strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan as in Iraq, and to shift forces only after “winning” in Iraq

      (2008) Has no plan to relieve exhausted and overextended military other than “winning” in Iraq

    Barack Obama:

      (2007, August) announces and publishes comprehensive plan to fight terrorism, including Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan

      (2006-2008) Proposes careful drawdown of troops from Iraq as means of relieving overextended “voluntary” military and providing for contingencies, including difficulties in Afghanistan/Pakistan

      (2007-2008) Proposes to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan immediately upon taking office, to meet urgent need for more troops there

      (2008) Proposes intensive diplomacy with allies in Europe and Middle East to encourage greater contribution by others to military and economic efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan

    John F. Kennedy:

    Lyndon B. Johnson:

    Richard M. Nixon:

      (1969-1974) Continues negotiations with Soviet enemy without preconditions

      (1972) Begins talks with “Red” Chinese without preconditions, which world hails as breakthrough in diplomacy and Nixon’s greatest foreign-policy achievement

      (1972) Begins first round of Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT I) and achieves Ballistic Missile Treaty

      (1972) Begins Salt II Talks immediately after success of SALT I

    Gerald R. Ford: (1974-1976) Continues SALT II talks with Soviet enemy and normalization discussions with China without preconditions

    Jimmy Carter:

      (1976-1980) Continues negotiations with Soviet enemy and China without preconditions

      (1976) Normalizes diplomatic relations with China

      (1977-1978) After intensive involvement in personal diplomacy, secures Camp David Accords, which achieve peace between Israel and Egypt and provide framework for all subsequent diplomatic effort to resolve Israeli-Palestinian dispute

      (1979) Achieves SALT II agreement which, though never ratified, sufficiently reflected both sides’ strategic interests that both sides adhered to it as if ratified

      (1979-1980) Talks with Iran after Islamic revolution without preconditions and secures release of American hostages without war or loss of any hostage

    George Herbert Walker Bush: (1991) Talks with Saddam’s Iraq before, during and after Gulf War to set conditions for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait and for arms inspections under UN auspices

    Bill Clinton:

      (1994) Negotiates with North Korea without preconditions and achieves agreement freezing nuclear enrichment

      (1993-1995) Negotiates with Serbia, without preconditions, including during NATO bombing of Serbian troops

      (1995-1997) Normalizes relations with former enemy Vietnam and establishes embassy there

      (1995-2000) Assists Great Britain in talking with terrorist organization (Irish Republican Army) without preconditions; talks later produce peaceful resolution of decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland

    George W. Bush:

      (2001-2003) Refuses to talk with Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, North Korea or Syria without preconditions

      (2002) Identifies Iran and North Korea as members of “axis of evil”

      (2003) Cuts short diplomacy and arms inspections to invade Iraq

      (2004–2008) Begins multilateral talks with North Korea and makes progress on nuclear disarmament

      (2008) Makes low-level unofficial contact with Iran in third-party talks

      (2008, October 12) Takes North Korea off list of state sponsors of terrorism in exchange for its dismantling its main nuclear weapons site under limited verification program

    John McCain:

      (2003-2006) Supports George W. Bush’s identification of Iran and North Korea as “axis of evil”

      (2006-2008) Throughout presidential campaign, insists on policy of refusing to negotiate with adversaries without preconditions

    Barack Obama:

      (2007) Observes that “[n]ot talking doesn’t make us look tough, it makes us look arrogant”

      (2007-2008): Proposes talks with adversaries, including Iran, North Korea and Syria, without preconditions but with proper preparation

Decorum and Self-Restraint
    John McCain:

      (2007) In public forum, jokingly sings “Bomb, Bomb Iran”

      (2007) When a questioner complains about staying in Iraq for fifty years, cavalierly replies “Make it 100”

      (2008) In general election debates, calls opponent “naïve” and “dangerous” and claims opponent “doesn’t understand” disputed issues

    Barack Obama: (2007-2008) In primary and general election campaigns, uses no language stronger than “inaccurate” and “not true” to describe opponents’ claims and positions; refrains from negative comments on opponents’ character, abilities or motivation

Openness in Foreign Policy
    John McCain:

      (2004-2006): Fights mismanagement of War in Iraq and calls for Rumsfeld’s removal behind scenes, in secret

      (2008) In presidential debate, insists that our intentions to fight Al Qaeda and Taliban inside Pakistan, and not just our strategy and tactics, remain secret

    Barack Obama:

      (2007, August): Makes public comprehensive strategic plan to fight Al Qaeda and Taliban, including strikes against bin Laden inside Pakistan

      (2007) Recommends that U.S. support democracy in Pakistan and reduce support for dictator Musharraf

      (2008) While leaving military option vis-à-vis Iran “on the table,” avoids discussing preparation for war with Iran as “inappropriate” for one of two presidential candidates

Understanding of Economics
    John McCain:

      (1980-1982) Supports Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act (DIDMCA) of 1980 and Garn-St Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, which set stage for savings-and-loan meltdown by allowing savings-and-loan companies to compete with commercial banks, encouraging them to take on imprudent risk

      (1982-1988) Continues to push for deregulation as savings-and-loan crises arises and deepens, eventually costing taxpayers $ 124.6 billion

      (1987-1990): Intervenes in regulatory process on behalf of Charles Keating—a campaign contributor and savings-and-loan executive who later served jail time for fraud and became symbol of savings-and-loan crisis—and is criticized by Senate for “poor judgment”

      (1999) Votes for Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which deregulates financial industry by (among other things) repealing Depression-era prohibition against combining commercial and investment banking

      (2000) Votes for omnibus bill containing Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000, whose “Enron loophole” encourages unregulated trading in energy that led to Enron’s collapse and energy crisis of 2001

      (2007, March) Appoints former Texas senator Phil Gramm, co-author of Gramm-Leach-Bliley and prime mover of Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000, as campaign co-chairman and principal economic advisor

      (2007) Admits that the “issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should”

      (2008, January) When asked what qualities he would seek in a running mate, replies, “Uh, maybe I shouldn’t say this, but, somebody who’s really well grounded in economics"

      (2008, July) Fires Phil Gramm after Gramm calls stalled economy a “mental recession,” disdains people complaining of economic hardship as a “nation of whiners,” and repeats those comments the next day

      (2008, August) Appoints as his running mate Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, a person with no economic training, experience or expertise

      (2008, September 15) After Wall-Street meltdown begins, insists that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong”

      (2008, September) After supporting deregulation all his life, calls for better regulation of financial markets and for firing SEC Chairman for lax market oversight

      (2008, October) Less than four weeks before presidential election, proposes government buy-up and renegotiation of troubled mortgages, without details or specifics

    Barack Obama:

      (2007): proposes health-care plan based on market incentives, limited government subsidies and competition

      Barack Obama (2008): proposes mortgage-crisis solutions, including regulation of subprime lending and financial markets, and subsidies and other relief for suffering homeowners, but no price controls

Economic Advisors
    John McCain:

      For decades and until recently, Phil Gramm

      Carly Fiorina, the failed and fired ex-CEO of Hewlett Packard, whose education was in medieval history, philosophy and business

      Douglas Holz-Eakin, former head of the Congressional Budget Office and former chief economist for the president’s Council of Economic Advisors under the junior and elder President Bush, respectively

    Barack Obama:

      Robert Rubin, former Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, first director of the National Economic Council, and former Co-Chairman of Goldman Sachs

      Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, former president of Harvard University, and winner of the John Bates Clark Medal for outstanding research in macroeconomics (the theory of regional and national economies)

      Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami, former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, and professor of political economy, now at the University of Miami, formerly at Columbia University, the City University of New York, and the University of Wisconsin

      Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, recipient of the Vaclav Havel Foundation Prize for pioneering work in economic and social throught, and professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley

      Jason Grumet, Founder and President of the Bipartisan Policy Center and director of the National Commission on Energy Policy since 2001

Energy Policy
    John McCain:

      (1996-2007) Over more than a decade, consistently votes against start-up subsidies for alternative and renewable energy and underestimates their enormous potential

      (2007-2008) Makes “Drill here, Drill Now!” the centerpiece of his energy campaign, although experts concur that new drilling will produce no new oil for at least seven years and will have negligible, if any, effect on gas prices later

      (2007-2008) Late in presidential campaign, offers verbal support for renewable energy, after drilling for oil, nuclear energy, and so-called “clean coal” (a nonexistent technology that is a goal of future research).

      (2008) Calls for 45 new nuclear power plants and “all of the above” approach, without emphasis or priority, except for drilling

      (2008) Proposes $ 300 million prize to encourage development of good batteries—one path to energy independence

    Barack Obama:

      (2007-2008) Makes renewable, carbon-neutral energy (wind, solar, tides, and biofuels) centerpiece of his energy policy

      (2008) After renewables, supports so-called “clean coal” (a nonexistent technology that is a goal of future research), drilling for domestic oil and nuclear energy

      (2008) Calls for $15 billion annual investment, for ten years, in research and start-up subsidies for modern energy technology, including good batteries

      (2008) Supports legislation that permits new drilling as part of comprehensive plan, including subsidies for renewable energy; legislation passes as part of recent financial rescue act

      (2008) Calls for eliminating oil imports from Middle East in ten years

Health Care
    John McCain:

      (2008) Proposes [subscription required] taxing all employer-provided health benefits as income and providing a $2,500 per individual and $5,000 per family tax credit ( as compared to $12,000 annual cost of good family health-care plans)

      (2008) Proposes [subscription required] to pay for tax credits by cutting Medicare and Medicaid by 1.3 trillion over ten years

      (2008) Proposes changing federal law to eliminate state-by-state consumer protection, including minimum requirements for insurance and coverage of pre-existing conditions

    Barack Obama:

      (2007-2008) While praising efficiency and effectiveness of government-run Medicare, proposes continuing existing system of private insurance, with subsidies for the poor and regulation to force coverage of pre-existing conditions and prohibit insuring only healthy people

      (2007) Proposes comprehensive steps to: (1) reduce costs through reinsurance for catastrophic events; (2) require public disclosure of providers’ quality ratings and medical errors, (3) jump-start use of electronic records, (4) permit group bargaining with insurance and drug companies and (5) force competition among insurance and drug companies

Education and Training
    John McCain:

      (1954-58) Is nearly expelled from the Naval Academy at Annapolis for insubordination, fighting, partying and breaking rules

      (1958) On graduation ranks 894 out of 899 in his class

      (1974) Attends National War College, military’s elite school to groom officers for command

    Barack Obama:

      (1988-1991) Attends and graduates from Harvard Law School

      (1990) Is elected president of the Harvard Law Review, our nation’s oldest and most prestigious legal journal, becoming first African-American to achieve that honor

      (1991-2003) Spends twelve years teaching constitutional law part time at the University of Chicago School of Law, one of the nation’s top three schools in that field, consistently receiving outstanding evaluations from his students

      (2007) Is described as “certainly the most all-around impressive student I had seen in decades,” by Professor Laurence Tribe, one of the nation’s top constitutional scholars and Supreme Court attorneys, for whom Obama served as a research assistant

Bipartisan Initiatives
    John McCain:

      (2001-2002) Co-authors Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold Act), most recent and most ambitious legislation to reform campaign financing

      (2005) With Joe Libermann (then D., Conn., now I., Conn.), co-sponsors bipartisan energy-independence legislation, emphasizing coal and nuclear power, which does not pass

      (2005-2006) With Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) co-sponsors comprehensive immigration reform, which does not pass

    Barack Obama:

      (2004) Receives praise from leaders of both parties for keynote speech on national unity at Democratic National Convention

      (2006) Analyzes historical and social reasons for excessive partisanship, and how to correct it, in second book, The Audacity of Hope

      (2006-2007) Co-sponsors and pushes to strengthen successful bipartisan reform of Senate’s ethical rules and procedure, curtailing gifts and free travel from contributors and lobbyists

Work Experience
    John McCain: after serving as fighter pilot in Navy (including 5.5 years as prisoner of war), enters politics; serves 4 years in U.S. House and 22 years in U.S. Senate—a total of 26 years in Congress; has no executive experience in private or public sector

    Barack Obama: runs successful organizing effort in Chicago; as civil rights lawyer, represents ordinary people abused by system; teaches constitutional law at University of Chicago part-time for 12 years; serves 8 years as state Senator in Illinois and 4 years as U.S. Senator—a total of 12 years in elective office; has no executive experience in private or public sector

Notable Books
    John McCain:

      With Mark Salter, Faith of My Fathers, an account of McCain’s military family background, troubled naval education, military service and suffering as prisoner of war

      With Mark Salter, Worth the Fighting For, an autobiographical account of McCain’s political career and beliefs, from his return as former POW to his losing 2000 campaign

    Barack Obama:

Money and Politics
    John McCain:

      (1980) Marries woman with a fortune now estimated between $ 37 and 53 million, ruling out personal venal motives

      (1990) Is criticized by Senate ethics committee for “poor judgment” for intervening in regulatory process on behalf of friend and campaign contributor (Charles Keating) who became symbol of savings-and-loan crisis and later went to jail for his part in it

      (2000-2005) Rick Davis, McCain’s current campaign manager, receives $ 2 million as head of coalition lobbying for lax regulation of Freddie Mac (then a quasi-federal mortgage lender, now nationalized and at the heart of our mortgage meltdown)

      (2002) McCain co-leads Senate push for campaign finance reform that produces McCain-Feingold Act

      (2003-2004) Mark Buse, now chief of McCain’s senate staff, gets $460,000 lobbying for lax regulation for Freddie Mac

      (2006) McCain pushes for stricter capital-reserve requirements for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which are adopted

      (2007-2008) McCain accepts federal campaign financing, with limits on direct campaign spending but no limits on spending by party or unaffiliated political-action committees (PACs)

    Barack Obama:

      (2007) Earns $ 3.9 million in royalties on books, ruling out personal venal motives

      (2007) Instructs campaign not to accept money from lobbyists or PACs

      (2008, June) As presumptive nominee, instructs Democratic party not to accept money from lobbyists or PACs

Footnote: As this article [subscription required] explains, the effect of any mortgage buy-up depends on the details, which McCain had failed to clarify as of October 9, 2008.


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  • At Friday, October 10, 2008 at 3:04:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    You make Obama sound like he's THE man! Only problem is that he's NOT.

    He takes many stances but has had NO accomplishments legislatively as a State Senator or a US Senator. He has too little history and consorts with some bad ass folks. (Resko, Ayers and his former minister.)

    Why would anyone vote for this guy?

  • At Friday, October 10, 2008 at 11:20:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Anonymous,

    I didn’t make Obama sound like anything. Every point in my post is a fact. That’s why I provided all the links to primary sources, so you can verify the facts for yourself. You seem uncomfortable because the facts don’t confirm your prejudices.

    As for experience, I’ve written a whole essay on it, which is one of my most popular posts. Of course McCain has more experience legislating than Obama; he’s been in Congress 26 years. McCain’s had more successes, like McCain-Feingold. He’s also had more spectacular failures, like his bipartisan bills on energy policy and immigration, both of which failed to pass, and both of which stirred up discord.

    More important, too much experience in Washington politics makes a politician unfit to govern wars in foreign cultures. Lyndon Johnson, Dubya and his advisors proved that.

    Anyway, the presidency is not a union job, to be filled by seniority. It’s the most important job in the world. A president must: (1) understand what course is right and (2) be able to convince other politicians and the people to follow it.

    If you can read the factual history of McCain’s pitiful economic gyrations and think he or his pathetic set of advisors will know how to get us out of our multiple crises, then you’re welcome to your delusions. And how do you think a man who refuses to discuss the issues, but tries character assassination instead, is going to persuade anyone to follow him if he wins? Isn’t that exactly where we’ve been for the last eight years?

    As for Rezko and Ayers, Obama never “consorted” with any of them. Rezko saw what a bright star Obama is and tried to hitch his wagon to that star. Obama ditched him as soon as he saw Rezko’s sleaze.

    Ayers was a “terrorist” when Obama was eight years old and living thousands of miles away. His only modern connection with Obama was Democratic politics in Chicago, which involves millions of players. Anyway, Ayers is now a model citizen, a university professor, and the winner of the Chicago Citizen of the Year award in 1997. If you’re a Christian, don’t you have a soft spot for reformed sinners?

    As for Reverend Wright, if you think that everyone who goes to church thinks and acts like his pastor, then apparently you don’t go to church very much. In fact, Wright is quite different from the sound bites used to caricature him. If you have the patience to read my post on the subject and watch Wright’s interview with Bill Moyers, you might begin to understand how much Wright’s public image has been distorted.

    If you look in your heart, you’ll see that what bothers you is not Obama’s so-called “inexperience,” but his race. If that matters so much to you that you’re willing to slit your own throat economically by electing a weak second-best at this crucial time in history, that’s up to you. If you’re willing to forget how McCain’s party and his simplistic ideology trashed our country and the middle class—that’s up to you. If you’re willing to take the chance (one in six) that Sarah Palin will end up running this country, that’s up to you.

    But you asked whether anyone would vote for Obama. Tens of millions already have, and tens of millions will. Nearly every one of my friends and acquaintances will. Why? Because most of us are highly educated experts. We know we need the best possible president at this critical time in our history, when everything seems to be falling apart. And we don’t give a damn about his race or what a distant acquaintance like Ayers did forty years ago.

    We know our future rides on Obama winning. If you open your mind to facts and to character, and forget about skin color, you’ll know, too. We need the best president we can get. This is no time for prejudice or small-mindedness.


  • At Sunday, October 26, 2008 at 3:13:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    *claps enthusiastically* Well said!


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