THE US PRESIDENTIAL election is always among the most-closely watched political events in countries around the world – and Slovakia is no exception. The next US president will influence both international and domestic policies while the global financial crisis will present a huge challenge. The leading candidates are the Republican party candidate, John McCain, and Barack Obama, the nominee of the Democratic Party. The Slovak Spectator spoke to the local chapter of Republicans Abroad and Bill Quam, the local representative of Democrats Abroad, about key issues in the presidential campaign, each candidate’s approach to foreign policy issues, their response to the global financial crisis, and the way they are handling their campaigns overall.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How has the culmination of the global financial crisis affected the presidential debate? What solutions does your party’s candidate offer, and how do they differ from the solutions offered by his opponent?
Republicans Abroad (RA): The economic crisis has become the defining issue of the campaign and has made clear a number of the differences between the candidates on economic issues and on how they would help put the American economy back on track. Senator McCain believes that the entrepreneurs are at the heart of American innovation, growth, and prosperity and that entrepreneurs should not be taxed into submission. People who work in small businesses, like the now-famous “Joe the Plumber” of the campaign commercials, are the backbone of the American economy and Senator McCain would keep their top tax rate at 35 percent and maintain the 15 percent rate on dividends and capital gains. He would also cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.
As Slovakia has demonstrated so convincingly, a lower corporate tax rate is essential to keeping good jobs in the United States. America was once a low-tax business environment, but as our trade partners lowered their rates, America failed to keep pace. The United States now has the second highest corporate tax rate in the world, making America a less attractive place for companies to do business. I think you can count on a Republican administration to try to resolve this problem and expect that a Democratic administration would not. Additionally, it is quite clear that the Republican Party in the United States today is the party of free trade – a policy which will be crucial in bringing the global economy back.
Bill Quam, Democrats Abroad (BQ): [Former chairman of the Federal Reserve] Alan Greenspan recently remarked that he now realises there were significant and fatal flaws in his unlimited credit “trickle-down”, free-market Republican model of the last 18 years. The questions the voters now have of the candidates are vastly different from those that were being asked as recently as two months ago. The American people have increasingly realised that the vision of Senator Obama for America is more grounded in the fundamentals they can understand and believe have value. Senator McCain has yet to lay out a substantial plan for America that rings true. Senator Obama has reached out to ordinary people from all walks of life to ask for their ideas along with their money and the American people have responded with substantial amounts of both. In the American political process this is an unheard of approach and one that demonstrates the fundamental nature of practical change that Senator Obama will bring to the office of president.
Senator McCain still adheres to the belief that all ideas must flow from those who have a vested interest in supporting the status quo. For eight years America and now the world has suffered from this top-down approach to government. Senator Obama believes that now is the time for ordinary Americans to once again provide more input into practical solutions for America. Senator McCain continues to believe that we need an increasing reliance on the same self-serving, vested interests that have formed the foundation of the last eight years under President Bush. The new vision America needs must be practical and pragmatic and Senator Obama is the one who can deliver on this need.
TSS: How do you evaluate the debate in terms of fairness and balance? What is the major difference, in your opinion, if you compare it to the last presidential race? How do you assess the media coverage of the presidential campaigns?
RA: Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama are skilled, committed, gifted individuals who in very different ways represent so much of what’s best about America. It’s important to remember, I think, that when Barack Obama was born, it was inconceivable that an African-American could be elected president. In fact, when he was born, African-Americans in many places in the United States did not even have the same access to public facilities as did whites. On the other side of the political spectrum, Senator McCain’s story is also one of accomplishment in the face of trial, as the veterans of the Vietnam era in the US have reclaimed their rightful place in American society.
Interestingly, public opinion polling data consistently show that well over half of the American people have a favourable opinion of both candidates in this race. I think this is the fundamental reason why this campaign – although perhaps viewed as “negative” by some, particularly outside the United States – has really avoided deteriorating into the most serious kind of mudslinging that we’ve seen in the past. It has been a campaign by and large run on the issues by two candidates who have done their best to stay focused on the issues. Now it’s up to the American people to decide who they believe will best lead America forward.
BQ: Until this election, the American political debate has been marked by an increasing use of wedge or narrow issues that have tended to fracture and divide America. Senator Obama has worked to be as inclusive and open as possible. Possibly due to the significant number of global difficulties that affect an increasingly large number of Americans, there is a willingness on the part of more voters to reject the negative campaign tactics that have consumed the McCain campaign and embrace a more open and inclusive campaign approach that Senator Obama fosters by design.
My view is that the main issue on which most voters will cast their vote is who they feel is better able to create jobs and grow the US economy. On this point it must be noted that over the last 50 years or so the US economy has preformed a full percentage point better under a Democratic administration than a Republican one. Most of the polling data suggests that with the global economic meltdown and nationalisation of large sections the US and global financial network are in fact the exclusive election issue. Senator Obama is the only candidate with a substantial and practical jobs-creation and economic vision for America.
TSS: Foreign policy is now one of the key battlefields of the US elections, with the situation in Iraq posing the most burning challenge. Why has Iraq had such a key importance during the presidential debate? What is the main difference between the two candidates' approach towards this issue?
RA: More than almost any other issue, Iraq shows the importance differences between the candidates, both in substance and in style of leadership. When almost everyone in any kind of leadership position in Washington was convinced that it would never be possible to stabilise Iraq, Senator McCain supported a “surge” in US forces to end the violence. Why? Because he had been to Iraq numerous times, was in close communication with our commanders there, and understood that we needed to change the balance of forces on the ground if we were to be successful. He fought for the surge against opposition, not only from Democrats but from within his own party as well.
Today, of course, we know that Senator McCain’s strategy has paid off. From June 2007 through March 2008, sectarian and ethnic violence in Iraq was reduced by 90 percent. Civilian deaths and deaths of coalition forces fell by 70 percent. This has opened the way for a return to something that approaches normal political and economic life for the average Iraqi. Political reconciliation is occurring across Iraq at the local and provincial grassroots level. Sunni and Shi’a chased from their homes by terrorist and sectarian violence are returning. The Sons of Iraq and Awakening movements, where former Sunni insurgents have now joined in the fight against Al Qaeda, continue to grow.
Today, all the gains that have been won with the surge would be lost if we were to follow the policy advocated by Senator Obama to withdraw most of our troops and leave behind only a small “strike force” to battle terrorists. That is, in essence, the same strategy of withdrawing from Iraq’s streets that failed in 2006. John McCain advocates continuing the successful counterinsurgency strategy that began in 2007.
BQ: The war in Iraq is not going well since America, Iraq and other countries have lost so many human lives and squandered so many financial resources. Prior to the total global financial meltdown, the war in Iraq was an important issue for the voting public. As the weight of the loss of life and the $10 billion a month American expense, the seemingly open-ended commitment that forms the centrepiece of the McCain-Bush plan for Iraq is now losing the support of the American voters. The Republicans have fostered a faulty belief that since Senator McCain was a member of the military he is better suited to lead at this time. In light of the fact that the ideas formulated by Senator Obama are the very ideas put forth by the Iraqi government the notion of who would be a better Commander-In-Chief is changing. The voters now realize that the Obama’s “Vision for America” is better grounded in reality.
There is a substantial need for a new direction in American approach to global issues. America will not withdraw and disengage from Iraq and the world stage. However, Senator Obama and the American public know we must also rethink how we engage countries that pose a global threat. Senator McCain has expressed numerous times the only way forward for the US is to continue with the same policies toward Iraq that have created a world that is less safe for all of us. Senator Obama is ready to lead America in a new foreign policy direction that will work with our allies with cooperation to ensure our world of tomorrow is safer that our world of today.
TSS: What are the most important foreign policy issues that pertain to Europe? Do you expect any fundamental change in the US approach towards Europe? What are the most important challenges in the relationship between the United States and the European Union, and how do the candidates view that?
RA: The nations of Europe have been and will continue to be America’s closest allies in addressing the key issues of our time across the world, and no one in this campaign understands this better – or has more experience on the issues – than John McCain. These have been very difficult years in the transatlantic alliance, but even in the most tense and awkward times, Senator McCain has come regularly to Europe to meet with our allies and to debate the hard questions facing all of us with those who disagree. Whether it’s about fighting terrorism, responding to the evolving foreign policy of Russia, expanding and modernising NATO, containing the nuclear ambitions of Iran, dealing with climate change, or addressing the economic crisis, Senator McCain has shown clear leadership in trying to build alliances with Europeans to solve problems. This is exactly the same approach he will take as president, and it involves a great deal more than holding grand events and making popular speeches.
Senator McCain will also work closely with European leaders to help move the agenda on climate change because he believes it is in Europe’s and America’s interest to do so.
BQ: Over the last eight years our world has undergone a series of substantial and fundamental changes. The old world has forever vanished. As we have seen, the answers to the challenges the US and EU now face far exceeds the ability of any one country to unilaterally address.
The total financial interconnectedness of our world will require new, fresh ideas if the US-EU partnerships are to grow and prosper in our changing financial landscape. Senator Obama is willing to engage in all of the EU specific and wider global issues of common concern with a renewed sense of the traditional balanced, uniquely American, brand of diplomacy.
3. Nov 2008 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová