Standing in front of a room-dominating “Jobs for America” banner, Senator John McCain brought his new more aggressive campaign to Denver on Monday, emphasizing the economy, jobs, taxes, free trade, and energy.
Before moving to twenty minutes of prepared remarks, McCain renewed his challenge to meet Barack Obama in a town hall meeting environment, offering to participate in such an event “anytime, anywhere” as Obama once said he would.
Senator McCain’s first subject was the economy and jobs. He acknowledged that the economy is slowing and that “more than 400,000 people have lost their jobs since December” as well as noting that “to make matters worse, gas is over $4 a gallon….the cost of everything from energy to food is rising.” Having described the problem, McCain focused on small businesses “which are the job engine of America”, saying he “will make it easier for them to grow and create more jobs”.
Throughout this stop on the campaign trail, Senator McCain made direct comparisons between his positions and those of Senator Obama. He pointed out several significant differences, starting with Obama wanting to hamper small business “by imposing a ‘pay or play’ health mandate on small business. This adds $12,000 to the cost of employing anyone with a family. This means new jobs will not be created. It means existing employees will have their wages cut to pay for this mandate.”
Moving on to taxes, McCain used a line voters are likely to hear frequently over the next four months: “If you believe you should pay more taxes, I am the wrong candidate for you. Senator Obama is your man….Senator Obama will raise your taxes. I won’t. I will cut them where I can….When you raise taxes in a bad economy you eliminate jobs. I’m not going to let that happen.”
He laid out just whom Obama’s tax hikes would hurt: small business owners, anyone with “an investment for your child’s education”, anyone with a mutual fund or retirement plan which owns stock. “He will raise estate taxes to 45 percent. I propose to cut them to 15 percent.”
The next topic of McCain’s remarks was free trade, for which he used the example of Crocs shoes, a Colorado company, noting that the company employs over 600 people in Colorado and that more than half of its sales are outside the US. In the bigger picture, McCain pointed out that “twenty-five percent of all the jobs in this country are linked to world trade. In five states alone — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and here in Colorado — over five million jobs depend on open markets.”
While recognizing that “free trade is not a positive for everyone” and proposing “a comprehensive reform of our unemployment insurance and worker retraining programs”, McCain was unequivocal in his stance that “building barriers to Crocs or any American company’s access to foreign markets will have a devastating effect on our economy and jobs, and the prosperity of American families.”
McCain took a strong swipe at the establishment overall regarding fiscal responsibility: “This Congress and this Administration have failed to meet their responsibilities…. Government has grown by 60 percent in the last eight years. That is simply inexcusable…. I will veto every single bill with wasteful spending.” McCain knows that his history of not asking for earmarks is a strong positive with a wide range of voters and reminded the audience that “in 2007 alone, Senator Obama requested nearly $100 million for earmark projects. I have never asked for a single earmark in my entire career. He supported the $300 billion pork laden agricultural subsidy bill.”
Moving to the subject of energy, McCain decried “dependence on foreign oil”, blaming it on “the failure of politicians in Washington to think long term.” He told the audience about his “Lexington Project to secure our energy future”, focusing on increasing domestic production of oil and gas, developing “more clean energy” and saying “we will build at least 45 new nuclear plants that will create over 700,000 good jobs to construct and operate them.” In what was likely an eye-opener to many, McCain also emphasized the development of clean coal technology, noting that “our coal reserves are larger than Saudi Arabia’s supply of oil…. In the state of Colorado, over 80 percent of the electricity comes from coal, and in Ohio it’s over 90 percent.”
Again pointing out an important difference between his positions and Senator Obama’s, McCain said that Obama’s “answer to the Lexington Project is no; no to more drilling, no to more nuclear power…. For a guy whose ‘official seal’ carried the motto ‘Yes, we can,’ Senator Obama’s agenda sure has a whole lot of “No, we can’t.”
Senator McCain ended his prepared remarks with a passionate expression of his love for his nation: “Nothing has ever mattered more to me than the honor of serving America, and nothing ever will. If you elect me President, I will always put our country first. I will put its greatness; its prosperity and peace; and the hopes and concerns of the people who make it great before any personal or partisan interest. I will keep that promise every hour of every day I am in office.”
According to a newspaper report, “the McCain campaign said it does not screen town hall participants”, something which seemed clear as McCain took some tough questions from the audience.
The first question came from a veteran, just on the polite site of being a heckler, who questioned McCain’s assertion that he has the full support of veterans organizations. McCain handled him deftly and stood strongly on his record on veterans issues.
After making an important point about business tax competition, and the US having the second-highest corporate tax rate in the G-8, a disabled veteran who is a Hispanic Democrat from Pueblo (in southern Colorado) said that he had resigned his leadership positions in the local Democratic Party to support McCain. After thanking him, McCain took a moment to make a poignant comment: “I hate war. Nobody knows that more than the veteran, because the veteran is the one who feels most keenly the loss of a comrade. I believe we are in a transcendent struggle with radical Islamic extremists. I will bring our troops home, but I will bring ‘em home with honor and in victory; I will not bring them home in defeat.”
A somewhat odd question, posed to McCain more than once, asked about “the trampling of the Constitution” domestically, including the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act renewal. McCain said that he strongly supporting the recent FISA bill, noting that “there must be a balance between individual rights and the necessity of national security.” He strongly defended the necessity for “telecommunications companies not to be held liable” for their assistance in the defense of the United States.”
McCain answered two questions about health care, emphasizing that “there are not incentives now for people to keep health care costs down” and that insurance needs to be available, affordable, and portable, including the ability to keep policies across state lines. “I don’t want the government making decisions; I want families making decisions about health care in America.”
Regarding immigration, Senator McCain joked “this meeting is adjourned” and said that “legal immigration is the vitality of America” before admitting that his attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform failed because “the American people remember that we passed a law in 1986 that gave amnesty to a couple million people and we said we’d secure the borders. We gave the amnesty, only we didn’t secure the borders, and now we have 12 million people here illegally.” He discussed enforcing the border and working with Mexico on the issue, noting that “we now have a president of Mexico who is committed to helping us…but we have to secure our borders.”
In a wide range of questions, dealing with issues from Social Security (McCain wants to “fix” it) to the impeachment of President Bush (McCain is against it) to the Community Choice Act (he’s against that as well), to student loans, Senator McCain showed why he is so eager to debate Senator Obama in an unscripted environment. He was quick on his feet, giving forceful and thoughtful answers to questions from supporters and detractors alike.
McCain’s new aggressive campaign topics are reminiscent of the 1990’s mantra “It’s the economy, stupid.” If history is any guide, his emphasis on the glaring differences between his free market views and Obama’s high-tax and protectionist views are the smart strategy during a time when the war in Iraq is receding as an issue and in a nation which needs to be reminded of the tremendous economic risk which an Obama presidency would pose to all of us who need to work for a living.