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Palin agrees with Bush even more than McCain

As he wrapped up his interview with Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama this evening, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann asked about Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and whether she is ready to be president. Obama demurred on that question, but told Countdown’s host that he has a different problem with Palin — he thinks she would be even more inclined to continue the Bush administration’s policies than McCain would be:

Olbermann: “One more campaign question. It pertains to not knowing someone or something. This is a question I have not really heard asked directly of anybody in a position perhaps to answer it, let alone answered.

“In your opinion, is Governor Palin experienced enough and qualified enough to become president of the United States in the relatively short-term future?

Obama: “Well, you know, I’ll let you ask Governor Palin that when I’m sure she’ll be appearing on your show.

“But rather than focus on a resume, I just want to focus on where she wants to take the country.

“As far as I can tell, there has not been any area, economic policy or foreign policy, in which she is different from John McCain or George Bush.

“In many ways, in fact, she agrees with George Bush even more than John McCain. So if John McCain agrees with Bush 90% of the time, maybe with her it’s 97%. And so my — the thrust of our argument is going to be that the McCain-Palin ticket is offering the same stuff that has resulted in the middle class struggling, not seeing their incomes go up, seeing their costs go up, falling deeper into debt, at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure, unable to save or retire.

“Those are going to be I think the issues that ultimately matter to the voters, and that’s why I’m trying to offer to them a very clear set of prescriptions, very clear ideas about what we intend to do, how we want to change the tax code, stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, give 95% of Americans tax relief.

“Have an energy policy that is serious about climate change, is serious about weaning ourselves off of Middle Eastern oil, investing in solar and wind and biodiesel so we’ve got energy independence and creating jobs here in the United States, having a health care system that makes sure that we don’t have 47 million people without health insurance.

“That message of possibility is, I think, the one that the American people are looking for.”

Part two of Olbermann’s interview airs tomorrow night at 8 p.m. ET. As we noted earlier, the interview Obama taped with Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly for The O’Reilly Factor also continues tomorrow and Wednesday evenings, also at 8 p.m. ET.

Obama accuses Republican rivals of dishonesty

Barack Obama broadly accused his Republican rivals of dishonesty Monday, citing former lobbyists working for John McCain, Sarah Palin’s shifting stance on the “Bridge to Nowhere” and their promise to change Washington.

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With national polls finding the Democratic presidential nominee trailing or in a dead heat with McCain, Obama began the campaign’s final eight-week push by criticizing McCain’s popular running mate as much as the Arizona senator himself.

He said Palin has an interesting biography — “Mother, governor, moose shooter. That’s cool,” he said — but the election should be about who can change people’s lives for the better. He said that won’t come from a Republican ticket that almost always supports the same positions as President Bush even though they say they will bring reform.

“I mean, you can’t just make stuff up,” Obama said of a new McCain ad that says Palin “stopped the Bridge to Nowhere.” “You can’t just recreate yourself. You can’t just reinvent yourself. The American people aren’t stupid.”

Obama wouldn’t go so far as to say McCain and Palin are lying, even when the audience tried to goad him into it, but he began showing an ad Monday that did.

“Politicians lying about their records?” an announcer asks over a shot of McCain and Palin boarding a plane. “You don’t call that maverick. You call it more of the same.”

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds responded to the charges of dishonesty by saying: “Barack Obama should familiarize himself with the honest facts: John McCain and Governor Palin have actually reformed government to root out money in politics and fought wasteful spending — Sen. Obama has not.”

Obama’s ad was a response to the new McCain commercial called “Original Mavericks” that claims Palin stopped the bridge, a $400 million proposal to connect an island off Alaska with just 50 residents and an airport.

She originally voiced support for it during her campaign for governor, although she was critical of the size, and later abandoned plans for the project. She used the federal dollars for other projects in Alaska.

Obama said McCain’s claim that lobbyists will no longer run Washington when he’s president “doesn’t seem very plausible.”

“Sounds pretty good until you discover that seven of his top campaign managers and officials are — guess what? Former corporate lobbyists. So who is he going to tell?

“What they are going to try to do is what they always do, which is attack, go on the negative, distort, mislead, assert,” Obama said, as members of his invitation-only audience of 350 began yelling “Lie! Lie!” Obama just cocked his head in response as if to say he wasn’t going to go there.

Michigan has supported Democratic presidential candidates in the most recent elections, but it is up for grabs this year and is one of the few blue states Obama could be in danger of losing. Monday’s stops in Flint and Farmington Hills marked his third visit to Michigan in nine days, a time when Palin’s addition to the ticket has resulted in a bounce in the polls for the Republican ticket.

McCain won Michigan in the 2000 Republican primary but lost it to Mitt Romney in January, partly because of his unapologetic assessment that not all of Detroit’s lost auto industry jobs would be recovered.

Obama never competed in the state during the primaries as the national party punished Michigan and Florida for holding early contests, stripping them of their delegates. The Democratic presidential candidates largely bypassed the states.

The automotive manufacturing state has been especially hard hit by the economic downturn, and Obama spoke in front of fuel efficient hybrid vehicles that he says he would help Michigan produce to create jobs. The Illinois senator stoked frustrations among residents of the Flint area where the unemployment rate is more than 12 percent — double the national average.

“You don’t have to tell the people of Flint or the people of Michigan that our economy is not in good shape,” Obama said to shouts of “Yeah!” from the audience. “You do need to tell John McCain — because just a few weeks ago he said the economy was fundamentally sound.”

Obama said McCain can’t bring change when he votes with President Bush so often.

FACT: Palin For The Bridge to Nowhere

A new ad from John McCain’s presidential campaign contends his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, “stopped the Bridge to Nowhere.” In fact, Palin was for the infamous bridge before she was against it

THE SPIN: Called “Original Mavericks,” the ad asserts the Republican senator has fought pork-barrel spending, the drug industry and fellow Republicans, reforming Washington in the process, and credits Palin with similarly changing Alaska by taking on the oil industry, challenging her own party and ditching the bridge project that became a national symbol of wasteful spending.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton came back with fighting words. “Despite being discredited over and over again by numerous news organizations, the McCain campaign continues to repeat the lie that Sarah Palin stopped the Bridge to Nowhere,” he said.

Burton said McCain would merely carry on supporting President Bush’s economic, health, education, energy and foreign policies, and that means “anything but change.”

THE FACTS: Palin did abandon plans to build the nearly $400 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport. But she made her decision after the project had become an embarrassment to the state, after federal dollars for the project were pulled back and diverted to other uses in Alaska, and after she had appeared to support the bridge during her campaign for governor.

McCain and Palin together have told a broader story about the bridge that is misleading. She is portrayed as a crusader for the thrifty use of tax dollars who turned down an offer from Washington to build an expensive bridge of little value to the state.

“I told the Congress ‘thanks but no thanks’ for that Bridge to Nowhere,” she said in her convention speech last week.

That’s not what she told Alaskans when she announced a year ago that she was ordering state transportation officials to ditch the project. Her explanation then was that it would be fruitless to try to persuade Congress to come up with the money.

“It’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island,” Palin said then.

Palin indicated during her 2006 campaign for governor that she supported the bridge, but was wishy-washy about it. She told local officials that money appropriated for the bridge “should remain available for a link, an access process as we continue to evaluate the scope and just how best to just get this done.”

She vowed to defend Southeast Alaska “when proposals are on the table like the bridge and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that’s so negative” — something that McCain was busy doing at the time, as a fierce critic of the bridge.

Even so, she called the bridge design “grandiose” during her campaign and said something more modest might be appropriate.

Palin’s reputation for standing up to entrenched interests in Alaska is genuine. Her self-description as a leader who “championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress” is harder to square with the facts.

The governor has cut back on pork-barrel project requests, but in her two years in office, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest per-capita request in the nation. And as mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist and traveled to Washington annually to support earmarks for the town totaling $27 million.


John McCain has an impressive personal story. Imprisoned by the North Vietnamese for five and a half years, mostly in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” he showed great courage, resilience and reservoirs of strength. It is the central narrative of his life, a theme he returns to again and again.

In choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, McCain picked another politician with an interesting personal narrative. Hers isn’t heroic — as his is — but it is still inspiring. A mother of five, she overcame long odds to oust the entrenched Republican governor in 2006. When she and her husband learned their fifth child would be born with Down syndrome, they didn’t terminate the pregnancy. That’s a decision I and many other Americans find admirable.

McCain hopes those compelling biographies will be enough to take him and his running mate over the line in November. Since personality matters as much as (and sometimes more than) policies — George W. Bush was elected in 2000 because he was Mr. Congeniality — the Arizona senator has decided to give short shrift to issues and go all out on charming personal stories.

“This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates,” his campaign manager, Rick Davis, told The Washington Post last week.

So it’s no surprise McCain’s acceptance speech on Thursday night was heavy on biography and short on policy prescriptions. The short film that introduced him offered a romantic, Hollywood-esque arc: A rambunctious young man trying to earn his place in a family of war heroes goes off to the Naval Academy and becomes a fighter pilot; he is chastened by the torture he endures at the hands of his enemies; the young hero not only survives but triumphs, winning a seat in the U.S. Senate. It’s quite a tale, with the added dimension of truth.

McCain seemed most comfortable when he was speaking of the ideals he embraced in those years — honor, service, courage. But he was oddly lifeless and unconvincing when he rattled off a laundry list of domestic issues, touching on “school choice,” health insurance and taxes. That’s clearly not where his heart is.

Even less persuasive was his attempt to snatch the mantle of change from his rival, Barack Obama. (How many times did he use the word “change”?) McCain is 72 years old; besides, he is a card-carrying member of the Republican Party, which has held power for the last eight years. It’s hard to run as an insurgent if you’ve been part of the establishment.

The aging war hero apparently believes that he is still the “maverick,” the daring, even swashbuckling, senator who bucks a Republican machine to serve the interests of the people above the party — a “Mr. Smith” played by John Wayne instead of Jimmy Stewart. But that McCain gave up the good fight after his crushing defeat at the hands of Bush forces in the 2000 Republican presidential primary. Since then, the “maverick” has set about ingratiating himself to the same establishment he now vows to fight. He has adopted nearly every one of Bush’s failed policies.

Don’t be fooled by Palin. She’s just a fresh face to rev up the culture wars. She opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest; she urged an Alaska librarian to ban books; she believes “creationism” should be taught in public schools; she asked ministry students at her former church to pray for a plan to build a $30 billion natural gas pipeline in the state, calling it “God’s will.” In choosing her, McCain caved in to the rigid Christianists who now form the core of the GOP.

Still, his gamble could well pay off. Even in a year when voters say they agree with Democrats on most issues, the polls still show the presidential contenders virtually tied. It’s a very close race.

No wonder. The John McCain on display as he closed his speech, speaking passionately of duty and sacrifice, is still a compelling figure. That McCain, who has not always been on display this season, is a man who wants to resist partisanship, a man who wants to clean up corruption, a man who would shrink from the vicious attacks his campaign has, in fact, run against Obama. If voters believe in that McCain and think that’s all the country needs, he wins.

But if the campaign is fought on the issues, McCain loses. That’s why he stays away from them.

McCain & Obama Joint 9/11 Plans

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama said yesterday that they would put aside partisan politics for a joint appearance at ground zero to mark the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, in a statement, said they would appear together at the World Trade Center site on Thursday “to honor the memory of each and every American who died” in the 2001 attacks.

The campaigns already had agreed to suspend television advertising critical of each other on Sept. 11. The McCain campaign has said it will air no ads that day.

Both campaigns have been running negative television ads and, at the just-concluded political conventions, pulled no punches in exploiting partisan differences.

Obama and McCain said Thursday would be different.

“All of us came together on 9/11 – not as Democrats or Republicans – but as Americans,” they said. “We were united as one American family. On Thursday, we will put aside politics and come together to renew that unity.”

A group backing community service,, wants Sept. 11 to become a national day of voluntary service and had asked that Obama and McCain perform acts of community service instead of campaigning.

Obama and McCain: 1st Job is Lowering Taxes

Job No. 1 for the next president? In the minds of an overwhelming number of Americans, it’s fixing what ails the sick economy. What the voters will have to sort out are very different approaches offered by Barack Obama and John McCain.


Both of their fix-up plans rely heavily on tax cuts, but in sharply different ways that speak to the historic differences between Democrats and Republicans.

McCain, borrowing a page from Ronald Reagan and President Bush, would keep tax rates low for higher-income taxpayers and slash rates for corporations, arguing that this is the way to jump-start a lethargic economy and create more jobs.

Obama, focusing on a theme of many past Democratic campaigns, seeks to target his help to the squeezed middle class and address the growing income inequality between rich and poor. He would retain all of the Bush tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year, but would do away with Bush’s cuts for people making more than that.

The money raised from tax increases on the wealthy would be redirected by Obama to tax relief for lower-income Americans.

Unlike a lot of campaign debates where the promises of neither side get enacted into law, this war of words will make a difference because all of Bush’s tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2010.

Since neither party wants to go back to the tax rates in effect before 2001, whoever wins will have to work with Congress to pass legislation shaping how the tax code will look beyond 2010. At stake will be billions of dollars.

Under Obama, the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers, those making roughly $600,000 or more, would see their taxes go up on average by $93,709 in 2009, according to an analysis done by the Tax Policy Center, because Obama would begin implementing his tax changes even before the scheduled expiration of the Bush cuts.

Under McCain, those same taxpayers would see an average reduction of $48,860, reflecting in part additional cuts he is proposing.

By contrast, the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers, those with taxable income of roughly $19,000 per year or less, would see their taxes cut by an average of $567 under Obama’s program and $21 under McCain’s plan, the tax center estimates.

For the 20 percent of taxpayers right in the middle of the income scale, making roughly between $37,600 and $66,400, the tax break would be $1,118 under the Obama plan and $325 under the McCain plan in 2009, according to the analysis done by the tax center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, two Washington think tanks.

In addition to tax cuts, both presidential candidates are out promising voters a lot of programs in the areas of health care, energy and education.

But the outlook for the federal budget is much darker now than in 2000. In that year, candidate Bush traveled the country promoting across-the-board tax cuts as a way to fix what ailed America in the wake of a sudden slowdown in growth and a bursting of the bubble in high-tech stocks.

With the Congressional Budget Office and others forecasting record-breaking surpluses totaling $5.6 trillion over the decade, it seemed like a good idea to a lot of Washington policymakers to return a part of those surpluses in the form of a $1.35 trillion tax cut passed in 2001 and a follow-up measure in 2003.

The problem was that the surplus forecast turned out to be wildly inaccurate because of an unforeseen recession that began in 2001 just as Bush was taking office and the soaring costs of fighting a global war on terror that began in the wake of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The federal books were in the black in 2001 — for the fourth consecutive year — but since then, the U.S. has returned to running huge deficits, including the largest in history in dollar terms, a $413 billion imbalance in 2004.

Now, with the government pumping out $106.7 billion to Americans in stimulus payments to keep all the problems in housing and the credit markets from pushing the country into a deep recession, the deficits are surging again.

The CBO predicts a $400 billion imbalance this year, and the administration is forecasting that the deficit for the next budget year that begins Oct. 1 will hit an all-time high of $482 billion.

That forecast doesn’t include the cost of the government takeover announced by the administration on Sunday of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That effort, which has the potential of adding tens of billions of dollars to the deficits in the short run, won the qualified backing of both Obama and McCain.

The CBO’s current forecast for the next decade doesn’t look that bad on paper, projecting the budget will go into the black in 2012, giving the country a small surplus of $270 billion over the next 10 years.

However, that forecast comes with a warning label. The CBO has to make its estimates based on current law, which has the Bush tax cuts expiring after 2010 and makes no provisions for further outlays to keep the Alternative Minimum Tax on the wealthy from hitting millions of middle-income taxpayers, a huge expense every year.

The economic plans that McCain and Obama have put forward do include the billions needed to deal with the AMT plus extending the Bush tax cuts. McCain would extend all of them except the total elimination of the estate tax, while Obama would extend only the cuts for individual taxpayers making less than $200,000 annually or couples making less than $250,000.

With those big-ticket tax cuts plus the impact of other changes in the tax code included, McCain’s plans would slash revenues by $4.2 trillion over the next decade while Obama’s reduction would be a slightly smaller $2.9 trillion. Both would transform the CBO’s small surplus over the 10-year period into big deficits, according to the tax center.

The two campaigns argue that it is not fair to hold them to the unrealistic CBO baseline. Rather, the campaigns like to compare their proposals to a current policy baseline which assumes the Bush tax cuts are extended and the AMT is patched every year. Under that baseline, according to the tax center, McCain’s plan would cut taxes by $596 billion over the next decade; Obama’s would increase taxes by $627 billion during the same period, reflecting the fact that Obama is raising tax rates on the wealthy and boosting the taxes they pay on dividends and capital-gains earnings. Obama is also not embracing McCain’s proposal to cut the top rate on corporate taxes.

Regardless of the baseline used, the government’s debt would go up sharply — by $3.5 trillion under the Obama plan and by $5 trillion over the next decade under McCain’s plan, the tax center estimates.

While both campaigns argue they are not getting enough credit for their plans to cut spending, history shows that campaigns always pledge to pay for their tax cuts but seldom achieve that goal because spending cuts prove much more difficult to get through Congress.

And how about the overall goals — McCain’s effort to give the country a boost by cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations and Obama’s efforts to narrow income inequality?

Economists say there are things to like in both programs. They generally favor reductions in top rates as a way to spur new investment and job creation, so on that point McCain’s program gets good marks. However, there are worries that the higher deficits that are expected because of the tax cuts could drive up interest rates, raising the cost of money for businesses and result in less investment, not more.

For Obama, the concern is that all of his new and expanded tax credits, such as his “Making Work Pay” refundable credit which would provide low-income workers with a maximum of $500 per individual and $1,000 per family, will further complicate an already complex tax system and won’t make a very big dent in the problems of income inequality.

And neither candidate is talking very much about tackling what all experts see as the biggest budgetary challenge facing the next president — the explosion in the government’s big benefit programs for Social Security and Medicare as the baby boomers retire.

Obama has proposed levying a 2 percent to 4 percent tax on payroll earnings above $250,000 a decade from now to deal with Social Security, but experts say that would fix only a small part of the problem with the pension program. And neither campaign has put forward any proposals that experts say would make a meaningful dent in fixing Medicare, the far bigger entitlement problem because of soaring health care costs.

Some experts see tax increases, not cuts, in the country’s future regardless of who wins the presidency.

“We are starting out with very big deficits, and the demographics are turning more unfavorable with all the baby boomer retirements,” said Nigel Gault, senior economist at Global Insight, a Lexington, Mass., forecasting firm. “The deeper you get into the next presidency, the more likelihood that taxes will have to be raised.”