The 10 Biggest Differences Between Obama and McCain That Will Affect Your Daily Life

Election '08

When the polls open in 18 days, voters will be faced with a stark choice in presidential candidates -- a choice that ultimately comes down to one question: What do you want the next four to eight years of your life to look like? Because the next president will shape the issues that affect the way we live our day-to-day lives.

The future of Social Security, health care, education, income, employment, civil rights and democracy itself all hang in the balance. And the two candidates are worlds apart in their visions for the country.

From the fate of the Supreme Court to the future of Internet access, here are the 10 most important differences between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.

1. Who They Want to Tax

Tax cuts targeted at the wealthiest Americans during a period of runaway spending -- with hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- have resulted in massive federal deficits.

Both Obama and McCain say they'll control spending and cut taxes, but they are miles apart on the question of who would get those cuts.

According to an analysis of his tax plan by the Tax Policy Center, Obama would cut taxes on the 95 percent of filers who make less than $227,000 per year and raise taxes on the 5 percent whose incomes exceed that amount. Compared with current policy, Obama's tax plan would increase government revenues by $627 billion over the next 10 years.

McCain would make Bush's "temporary" tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans permanent. His plan would cut taxes on top earners by $23,000 per year. He would cut taxes for all other Americans as well, but his cuts would only be deeper than Obama's for those earning between $112,000 and $227,000 -- about 20 percent of the population. Compared with current policy, McCain's tax plan would decrease government revenues by $595 billion over the next 10 years, meaning that new spending cuts would be necessary to avoid growing the deficit even larger.

2. How They Would Shape the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court regularly hears cases on everything from personal injury to sexual harassment to environmental health -- cases that set legal precedents and can affect our day-to-day lives for decades, even centuries.

Our next president could name as many as three new justices for the bench. John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter are all likely candidates for retirement, which means the new picks would be replacing three of the court's four moderate- to liberal-minded justices.

If Obama becomes president, the political calculus of the court will probably stay the same. If McCain becomes president, you can count on an influx of conservative ideology.

First up on the chopping block would be Roe v. Wade. McCain has already promised that much. And if something happens to McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, takes his place, watch out. Not only does she want Roe overturned, she has made it clear that there should be no exceptions even in cases of rape or incest. Under her watch, a 12-year-old raped by her father would be forced to bear the child. For all of conservatives' talk about values, it's hard to imagine a worse way to start a family.

3. How They View Democracy

One of the biggest and clearest differences between Obama and McCain concerns voting rights. The Obama campaign believes in expanding the right to vote and has registered millions of new voters in 2008. The McCain campaign and the Republican Party believe in limiting voter turnout and have taken many highly publicized steps in swing states to suggest that Obama loyalists are plotting to vote illegally.

The McCain campaign has been criticizing voter registration efforts by the low-income advocacy group ACORN as an attempt to steal the election. The group registered 1.3 million voters in 2008, mostly young people, people of color and other working-class constituencies. State Republican parties, GOP prosecutors and sympathetic groups have been pursuing litigation and other legal tactics in key swing states -- notably Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan -- concerning the validity of voter rolls in order to create bureaucratic hurdles for election officials. This can only complicate the voting process on Election Day and create a climate to discourage new voters from casting ballots.

4. How They Want to Change the Health Care System

Middle-class Americans are now being priced out of health care. Nearly a quarter of Americans lack adequate health insurance to cover medical expenses, now the number one cause of family bankruptcies.

The current system is unsustainable, and the candidates' proposals for fixing it are as different as night and day. Obama's plan would drastically reduce the number of uninsured (from 47 million to about 18 million) and would require children to be covered; McCain's plan would have little effect on the uninsured population. Obama's plan would allow individuals who currently have employer-paid health insurance to keep their benefits; McCain's plan would begin the dismantling of the entire employer-paid system. Obama would create an additional social safety net: a public health plan that would give people without access to insurance through an employer or entitlement program like Medicare guaranteed coverage with the same comprehensive benefits that members of Congress now enjoy. McCain doesn't favor safety nets. Instead, he would place a $3.6 trillion tax on workers over the next 10 years and use revenue from that tax to give people a credit ($2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families) to purchase insurance on the open market. The trouble is, the average family policy costs $12,000, and it's much harder for an individual to negotiate good prices than an employer.

Perhaps most importantly, Obama's and McCain's health care plans reflect different philosophical approaches to human health. Obama has stated that he believes health care should be a right. McCain has stated that health care is a responsibility. That puts Obama in touch with the philosophy behind universal health care (guaranteed in every developed nation but ours) and puts McCain out of touch with the needs of everyone but the wealthy.

5. Their Plans for Iraq

An early opponent to the invasion of Iraq, Obama's current plan seeks a phased withdrawal that would last until 2010 -- although he has said he will revise his strategy depending on the facts on the ground. Beyond 2010, Obama says he will leave a "residual force" in place "to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel." He also intends to retain control of Baghdad International Airport and the Green Zone, and keep the U.S. embassy in place.

McCain has famously declared that the United States will remain in Iraq until "victory" is achieved -- even if it takes another 100 years. He has long refused to name target dates for troop withdrawals, claiming that it would be tantamount to giving terrorists a timeline for defeat. More recently on the campaign trail, however, he has claimed that Iraq can be "won" by 2013. Still, he has said he reserves the right to reassess the situation upon taking office.

6. Their Views on Energy

Both Obama and McCain talk a lot about a new energy future for the United States and weaning ourselves off dependence on foreign oil. But the two candidates have a different take on how to get us there.

While Obama has pushed for renewables like wind and solar, McCain has failed to make any meaningful move in that direction, missing all eight votes this year in the Senate to support renewable energy.

Instead, McCain strongly advocates nuclear power and believes it will play an important role in addressing climate change. While Obama has given lip service to the issue, saying he supports "clean and safe" nuclear power, McCain has pledged to "set this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America."

The serious flaw in McCain's nuclear ambitions is that the world's leading scientists are calling for immediate action on climate change. Serious results need to occur in the next five to seven years, but a nuclear plant would take a least a decade to get on line.

Plus, experts from MIT and elsewhere say that more than 1,000 new nuclear reactors would be needed to come close to being a real solution to climate change -- an unrealistic goal, even if you ignore nuclear energy's other drawbacks of safety and expense.

7. How They Treat Our Vets

With American soldiers serving multiple tours of duty in Iraq -- and with thousands more scheduled to be shipped to Afghanistan -- the current burden on our military men and women is unprecedented. Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs is in the midst of a scandal over its systematic blocking of veterans benefits and shocking attempts to cover up PTSD and suicide rates. The result is a serious health crisis among American troops.

Obama has helped pass laws designed to assist homeless veterans and improve care for wounded veterans. He has received an 80 percent approval rating from the Disabled Veterans of America and a B+ rating from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

McCain's record on veterans' issues is abysmal. He was given a D rating from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Disabled American Veterans reports that he has voted for legislation benefiting veterans only 20 percent of the time. McCain voted against health care funding for veterans in 2003, '04, '05, '06 and '07. And unlike Obama, McCain refused to support the Webb GI Bill, which was critical to ensuring that soldiers who enlisted with the hope of eventually going to college would be able to do so.

8. What They Think America's Young People Should Know About Sex

The United States has some of the most frightening rates of teen pregnancy and STI transmission in the industrialized world: Each year, almost 750,000 teen girls become pregnant, and 1 in 4 teen girls has an STI. The Bush administration's response has been to fund sex-ed programs that don't actually teach kids about how to practice safe sex.

McCain agrees with the commander in chief's failed approach to sex education. When asked by reporters in March of last year whether he is in favor of abstinence-based programs, McCain replied, "I think I support the president's policy."

McCain's position is reflected in his voting record. In 2006, McCain voted against a Senate proposal that would have funded teen-pregnancy prevention programs and sex education about contraceptives.

Obama is a proponent of comprehensive, age-appropriate, science-based sex education. Obama supports the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act, which would devote federal funding to science-based, medically accurate and age-appropriate information about safe sex. He was also a co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act, a measure that would increase funding for family planning programs and sex-ed programs that combine teaching abstinence with methods of safe sex.

9. Internet Access

You couldn't ask for a clearer difference between McCain and Obama than the one on the issue of whether the Internet should be kept as an open public space. Quite simply, Obama is for preserving the open nature of the Internet, while McCain favors private control over it. Telecoms and tech corporations have stealthily positioned themselves to seize control of the Internet from the public, primarily through deceptive multimillion-dollar lobbying and PR campaigns that attempt to reshape public understanding of how the Internet works, who owns it and what role the private sector plays in keeping it open. In order to ensure that broadband networks are open to all producers and consumers of Internet content on fair and equal terms, Washington needs to enact a series of legal safeguards to protect from market encroachment on public space.

10. Their Views on the Global Market

Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain is calling for dismantling the trade regime built up over several decades during both Republican and Democratic administrations. But their big difference on trade policy is this: Obama rejects the idea that the status quo is acceptable, while McCain argues that we need much more of the same and that anyone who believes differently is a knee-jerk protectionist.

Obama has not sponsored the Trade Act of 2008, a bill being pushed by the Fair Trade Caucus, nor has he called for a dramatic change in the underlying philosophy that has guided policy makers in recent years. But he has criticized globalization that "favors only the few" and has called for amending NAFTA, if necessary, in order to protect American workers. He also favors closing tax loopholes that reward companies that offshore jobs, supporting firms that create U.S. jobs and improving transitional assistance for workers displaced by foreign trade.

McCain, on the other hand, supports current trade policy. He has argued against agricultural subsidies, a key issue for anti-poverty campaigners in developing countries, and suggested that "fast-track" authority -- which allows trade treaties an expedited trip through Congress -- is an overreach by the executive branch. But he insists that trade is all about opportunity, that NAFTA has had an "unambiguously" positive impact on the U.S. economy, and that the status quo must be continued.

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