A Taxing Debate

The Town Hall debate. It is, legend has it, John McCain’s natural element, where he feels most comfortable. At ease among the crowd, he’s said to work the room like everyone’s favorite BINGO caller; his breathy, Reaganesque tenor reassuring to folks as they listen to him berate that guy with the funny middle name. John McCain can pander to anyone, anywhere, but when they’re right there in the room with him, he positively thrives. John McCain is the master of the town hall meeting.

As long as he’s the only candidate in the hall.

Watching McCain and Barack Obama work the red carpet in Tuesday night’s debate was like seeing a 21st century remake of the Nixon-Kennedy debate. From a purely physical standpoint, contrast Obama’s lithe, agile presence and strong baritone to McCain’s hunched, jerky movements. One candidate looked relaxed, in command; the other, restrained and uncomfortable. Given that McCain couldn’t just say whatever he pleased about his opponent’s positions without a rebuttal, it’s easy to understand why.

Take the issue of taxes, for example. McCain followed the lead of just about every Republican over the last 50 years and tried to characterize Obama as just another tax and spend Democrat. McCain said Obama wants to raise your taxes, including on 50% of small business revenue. Oh, no! He’s voted to raise your taxes 94 times before in the past! Crikey! $860 billion in new spending! ZOMG! Fortunately, Obama was there to point out that McCain wasn’t exactly telling the whole story, just the parts that served his purposes.

Unless the Nashville town hall audience (not to mention those watching at home) was made up exclusively of people whose families make over a quarter of a million dollars a year, then Obama wasn’t going to be raising “their” taxes. His plan calls for tax cuts to 95% of all Americans, primarily the middle class, a group Sen. McCain seems to have forgotten exists, given how infrequently he mentions that phrase. As for small businesses, only 481,000, or about 2%, make over $250K [mediamatters.org]; all others would see either no increase or see their taxes lowered. That “50% of small business revenue” comes from that 2% of all small businesses, making them borderline “big business.” Obama voted to raise taxes 94 times? Hogwash [www.factcheck.org]. And by McCain’s own standard, counting votes for tax increases or against tax cuts, he’s voted to raise taxes 477 times [www.johnmccainrecord.com]. As I learned in 2nd grade math, 477 is greater than 94. And while Obama does propose a lot of new spending, McCain never mentions Obama’s plan to cut more than he’s spending. Of course, Republicans do their own share of big spending (see Bush, George W., 2001 – 2008), but they’re pumping billions of dollars into wars and the military industrial complex instead of social services and programs that go to help U.S. citizens. John McCain has no problem blowing $10 billion a month in Iraq while he calls for an across-the-board spending freeze here at home. Think the large corporations and those small percentage of people that are enjoying the Bush tax cuts (that McCain wants to expand) are going to suffer from that spending freeze? Now, what about the middle and lower classes, think they might feel the effect?

In a John McCain-only town hall meeting, nobody would hear about any of that. In a town hall debate with Barack Obama, it just makes John McCain look bad.

– Michael Turner