Did you see the vice presidential debate last night?
I’ll admit that I didn’t watch the whole thing. For one, the Phillies were busy taking Game 2 of their series against the Brewers (go Phillies!). But also because I’m not a big fan of political debates. Rarely do you discover anything significant because these debates are like court: it’s not whether you speak the truth but how well you speak it. And that, I find bothersome.
In the early stages of the debate, that’s exactly what happened. In particular, the exchange about voting history on taxes was all about presentation and spin. For example, Palin began by claming that McCain has never supported a tax hike in his tenure. This is, strictly construed, true. However, McCain has opposed several tax cuts, including the 2001 Bush cuts (which he now supports extending) but opposing tax cuts is not the same as supporting a tax hike, right?
Not really. Because McCain’s campaign doesn’t use the same definition when it applies to Obama. The campaign has continued to imply that Obama voted time and again for tax hikes. During the debate, Palin said, “Barack had 94 opportunities to side on the people’s side and reduce taxes and 94 times he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction, 94 times.”
That sounds like a lot more than the “no tax hikes” claim from McCain’s camp, right? Only it’s a different standard. Biden responded to this, saying:
“…[u]sing the standard that the governor uses, John McCain voted 477 times to raise taxes. It’s a bogus standard…”
And he’s right. Whether you agree or not with the substance or policy of the votes, you can’t use one standard for one party and another standard for a different party when you’re making a comparison. It’s ridiculous. It’s like comparing quarterback pass completion rates in a football game and only counting interceptions for the one team; the standards have to be consistent.
Interestingly, in the midst of the debate, which I was following on twitter, I raised this same issue. One of the folks at Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), an organization headed up by Grover Norquist, took issue with my statement (which I stand by) that it was semantics. Comparing “tax hikes” while only including opposing tax cuts as hikes when it suits the campaign is disingenuous. The twitter user (taxplaya) disagreed, saying: “there is only one definition–ours. we’re atr. we own the tax pledge. mccain is clean. mccain has never voted for a tax hike.” So now you know how ATR feels about it – and, apparently as a taxpayer, your own interpretation of tax hikes and cuts is irrelevant.
But back to the debate. In that same exchange on taxes, Palin accused Obama of “supported increasing taxes as late as last year for those families making only $42,000 a year.” Biden pointed out that McCain cast the same vote as Obama – it was a procedural vote.
C’mon folks. Procedural votes, votes against extending cuts and votes against cuts are not tax hikes. So let it go. Both of you.
The rest of the debate on taxes was mostly slinging accusations back and forth about what their running mates’ respective tax proposals would accomplish. Both Biden and Palin focused on what tax cuts would mean to the middle class (nothing new there) and how tax policy would affect other arenas, like health care (nothing new there either).
In the end, I felt kind of like I feel after eating rice cakes. The whole thing was kind of bland and empty, leaving me feeling pretty unfulfilled. I was hoping for something more rich and interesting – the flourless chocolate cake of debates. Not so.
It would be great if all of the candidates could stop with the phony stats and accusations and focus on the real issues. Is that really too much to ask?
(If case you’re interested in reading what Biden and Palin had to say, you can read the entire transcript of the debate here.)
- McCain v Obama on Tax: Is It Really Just the Lesser of Two Evils?
- Obama v. McCain: Who Has the Best Tax Package For You?
- Election 2008: McCain and Obama Tax Plans
- Did The Debates Offer Enough ‘Hope and Change’ for the Obama/Biden Ticket?
- “No New Taxes” Swears McCain