This thread is dedicated to Busy, because I care.
Main Street - WSJ.com
On Saturday night at the Saddleback Church in Southern California, Rick Warren showed Jim, Gwen, Tom, Bob and Co. what a presidential moderator can accomplish when he makes the debate about the candidates and not himself.
Over the course of a two-hour, televised forum, the best-selling evangelical author and pastor took a novel approach to our presidential debates. He asked Barack Obama and John McCain the same simple questions -- and then gave them time to answer.
AP Barack Obama and John McCain with Pastor Rick Warren, Aug. 16.
For example, here is how Mr. Warren asked the candidates to talk about their flip-flops: "Give me a good example of something, 10 years ago, you said that's the way I feel about [it] and now, 10 years later, I changed my position."
Likewise on abortion: "I know this is a very complex issue. Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?" And again on the Supreme Court: "Which existing Supreme Court Justice would you not have nominated?"
These are not your standard-issue Beltway questions, and their directness made them hard to evade. Nowhere was this more evident than in Mr. Warren's attempt to get the candidates -- both of whom are trying to persuade the American people they are tax cutters -- to draw some fundamental distinctions between their approaches. In simple but arresting language, he cut to the chase.
Here's how he put it: "OK. Taxes. Define rich. I mean give me a number. Is it $50,000, $100,000, $200,000? Everybody keeps talking about who we're going to tax. How can you define that?"
Plainly this is a man who understands that it is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than to get a direct answer from a politician running for election. And indeed, while Mr. McCain was at first shy about giving a specific number, in the end he did allow that someone who had an income of, say, $5 million could pretty definitely be said to be rich.
Yesterday's Politico hooted that with this response Mr. McCain handed his opponent the perfect fodder for a TV commercial. That, of course, overlooks those who might actually find attractive Mr. McCain's fuller explanation. "I don't want to take any money from the rich," he said, "I want everybody to get rich."
Mr. Obama, by contrast, started out much more directly, suggesting that if you make $150,000 or less you may be poor or middle class. A family with an income above $250,000, he went on to say, is "doing well." And if you find yourself in that category, he's going to target you for a tax hike -- all in the name of creating "a sense of balance, and fairness in our tax code."
In fact, the idea of fairness is at the heart of his whole economic argument. And he goes back to it in almost every public appearance.
He talks about it as a general theme: "It is time for folks like me who make more than $250,000 to pay our fair share."
He invokes it as a solution for Social Security: "[W]e will save Social Security for future generations by asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share."
He points to how it guides his energy policy: "The first part of my plan is to tax the windfall profits of oil companies and use some of that money to help you pay the rising price of gas."
And he stuck to it on capital gains, even after ABC's Charlie Gibson noted that the record shows increased taxes on capital gains -- which would affect 100 million Americans -- would likely lead to a decrease in government revenues: "Well, Charlie, what I've said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness."
Translated into ordinary English, what that means is that it doesn't really matter whether a tax increase actually brings in more revenue. It's not about robbing from the rich to give to the poor. Robbing from the rich will do, especially if it's done in the name of fairness.
Now there are good reasons Mr. Obama is not likely to pursue the revenue side of the fairness question. As this newspaper noted in a recent editorial, the latest data from the Internal Revenue Service does not show to Mr. Obama's advantage. As we come to the end of the Bush administration, the top 1% of American taxpayers already pay 40% of all income taxes -- the highest level in 40 years. The top 10% of income earners pay 71% of the taxes.
Mr. Warren, a man of the cloth, has done us a great service by asking the candidates to answer a pretty secular question: What kind of income makes an American "rich"? Maybe in the more secular setting of an upcoming debate, one of our nonpastor moderators could ask the candidates the moral question: What specific rate of individual taxation would it take for the rich to be paying their fair share?
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