Meet Your Candidates For The 2008 Election

(published 2008)

In 1966, a nationwide survey of college freshman stated that 60 percent felt politics was a vital issue and made a conscious effort to pay attention to it. In 2005, the same poll saw that number slip to a paltry five percent.

Why has the interest of college students dropped so dramatically?. Some argue it’s because college students feel that there are no longer any good causes to fight for. Or, maybe it’s out of sheer frustration with the system or disdain for our politicians. Or, maybe there are just too many modern distractions – the e-mail, iPods, video games, surfing the web. The reasons that have gotten here can be debated, but there is no argument about the future. The election this November will have repercussions for all of our futures, and Mercy students can’t let this opportunity slip through their fingers.

The Impact has a goal this issue – to help the college students of Mercy College rise up and cast a vote this election. On Nov. 4, be proud that you live in a country where democracy reigns and there is a political system that allows us, the people, to determine who our leaders are and what they should work for.

The Impact does not believe in endorsing any candidates – in fact, the staff members have multiple points of view and differing party allegiances. It is not our intention to sway readers to vote for Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain. Our only intention is to help the students of Mercy College understand the issues and the candidates’ stances on them. This way, we can all cast an informed vote, guided by our personal opinions, minimizing the influence of campaign ads, T-shirt slogans or political “analysts.”

“Information is the currency of democracy.” – Thomas Jefferson

The War in Iraq

The war in Iraq is one of the most contentious issues in this upcoming election.

Americans are deeply divided over the course the nation should follow, and that is reflected in the divisiveness and rhetoric that the campaigns offer. It is clear that whoever is elected, they face a daunting task.

Iraq is still unstable more than five years after the American led invasion. More than 4,000 Americans have died, and more than 30,000 have been wounded in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. The Iraqi government is still in turmoil, and sectarian violence that has simmered in recent months still threatens to boil over in an instant. But what do the candidates really intend to do if elected?

Sen. Barack Obama has been a staunch critic of the War in Iraq throughout his campaign, and even opposed it before he was elected to his Senate seat or hit the national stage as a nominee for president. He believes the country followed convention and was careless getting into Iraq, and that it must be as careful getting out.

In a letter Obama wrote to the NY Times earlier this year, he stated that he believes efforts should have been maintained in Afghanistan. “It was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.”

In addition to his doubts about the need to invade Iraq in the first place, Obama fears our military is overstretched and over burdened by long deployments in combat zones, one of the strains of our global struggle against terrorism.

The “surge” of troops that deployed to Iraq in 2007 to bolster the security forces there, is touted by the McCain campaign as a success. It too was opposed by Obama before it happened. And, although the “surge” has been labeled by both camps at least partially successful, Obama feels that we are still confronted with the same factors that led him to oppose the “surge” in the first place.

Obama sees the lingering security concerns, as well as the continuing political strife as major threats to Iraq’s long-term stability, and fears a long-term U.S. troop presence there. He has stated in numerous interviews that he believes, “There is no military solution to Iraq’s problems.”

His letter went on to say, “the strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.”

Obama believes it is time to end the war “responsibly.” He advocates plans for a phased withdrawal to pressure the Iraqis to take the lead in governing their own country and reaching political compromises. The withdrawn troops could also be redeployed to bolster efforts in Afghanistan. He believes that the Bush administration and McCain are refusing to embrace this transition. He has also indicated his willingness to negotiate with Iran and Syria, an idea also not supported by McCain, or the Bush Administration.

And, although Obama is quick to point out his longstanding and oft-stated opposition to the War in Iraq, he also says he is not afraid to defend the country. Obama told the Democratic Convention that, “As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation.”

In a clear shot at the Bush Administration, and their perceived mismanagement of the war, Obama went on to tell his party’s nominating convention that he “…will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.”

Sen. John McCain strongly disagrees with Obama on Iraq. He believes American forces should not leave the nation until al Qaeda in Iraq has been pacified, and the country is in the hands of a sovereign, self-sustaining government that can be an ally in the war on terror.

His website says that, “It would be a grave mistake to leave before Al Qaeda in Iraq is defeated and before a competent, trained, and capable Iraqi security force is in place and operating effectively.”

McCain has been an outspoken advocate of the “surge,” which sent thousands of reinforcements to Iraq. That strategy has paid off by many measures, including a recent intelligence estimate and a CBS News poll that found 46 percent of Americans believe the surge helped stabilize Iraq.

By outspokenly supporting the unpopular idea of the “surge” last year, McCain staked his campaign fortunes on the “surge,” and his assertion that, ‘he would rather lose a campaign than see his country lose a war’ has become a campaign mantra. Its success is vital to his continuing viability in the race for president.

McCain believes that offering a timetable for withdrawal is effectively stating a date of surrender, and would only embolden the enemy. He believes the gains achieved by the “surge” would be lost if we were to follow the policy advocated by Obama to withdraw most of our troops and leave behind only a small “strike force” to battle terrorists.

McCain also thinks Obama’s plans for dialogues with the leaders of Syria and Iran are misguided. His website states it is unwise to offer, “Unconditional dialogues with these two dictatorships from a position of weakness.”

In his acceptance speech for the Republican Party’s nomination for president, McCain went a step further saying, “Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism and is on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Rather than offering a dialogue McCain would like to see the international community apply further diplomatic pressure on the two nations to stop their practices that McCain believes fuel the instability and violence in Iraq.

By preserving the albeit tenuous stability in Iraq that the “surge” has achieved, and by continuing to provide security and economic assistance at least for the foreseeable future, McCain sees a day when Iraq can offer a meaningful partnership in the region, and in the wider War on Terror.

Higher Education

The candidate’s positions on higher education are of obvious importance to college students, even if it isn’t always front page material for the media at large. But what would each candidate do if given the chance to try and improve the quality of college educations offered Americans?

According to the Department of Education, in academic year 2006-07, the Federal government provided $16.5 billion in grants to college students. But, lack of information about college prices and grant programs have led to calls for simplifying the student aid system, in an effort to get more grants to more students.

The College Board recently issued a report, based on two years of research, entitled, “Fulfilling the Commitment: Recommendations for Reforming Federal Student Aid.” This report offers a strategy for improving the effectiveness of the federal financial aid system, and to reduce the enrollment and graduation rate gaps between affluent students and those from less privileged backgrounds. The report concluded that simplifying the federal student aid system is a prerequisite to increasing its effectiveness.

The College Board’s report states that, “…the most important purpose of student aid is to expand the educational opportunities available to those young people and adults who face financial barriers to college enrollment and success.”

The report offers a few suggestions for how to level the playing field for prospective college students, and to make college more affordable. Their recommendations include plans to increase the maximum dollar amount available through a Federal Pell Grant. Also, the report recommends simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. They advocate revising the current FAFSA form to make it simpler and more user-friendly, and support a plan for cooperation between the Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service to share data as initial steps toward this simplification and redesign of FAFSA.

Obama’s very first bill as senator sought to increase the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,100, as is now recommended by the College Board’s report. Obama is also a sitting member of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, which helped pass the legislation to expand the grant system.

McCain believes that America’s education system needs to be streamlined, as it is bloated by bureaucracy, at the same time that we are seeing increased competition from overseas in almost all areas. He believes that higher education is vital to keeping America on track, and that the processes associated with the college experience must be modernized to address the challenge posed by overseas competitors.

McCain’s website offers that he would help parents make better informed decisions by making more information collected by the government available to them. Currently, hundreds of statistics are reported to the federal government each year, but are not released to the general public. McCain believes that making this information available to families will help students and their families make more informed choices about their higher education.

Obama has plans to simplify the application process for Financial Aid. Obama would cut through some of the red tape that students and their families face by eliminating the current federal financial aid application and enabling families to apply simply by checking a box on their tax form. By authorizing their tax information to be used by the government, the need for a separate application would be eliminated. This simple idea could save a lot of paperwork, as the federal government processes hundreds of thousands of applications annually according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

McCain also think that the Financial Aid system is too complicated, featuring too many programs, and a complicated application process that can deter eligible students from seeking student aid or even realizing that they qualify for government assistance. The McCain campaign states on its website that, “Consolidating programs will help simplify the administration of these programs, and help more students have a better understanding of their eligibility for aid.”

Along with his program to expand the information available to students about colleges, McCain would like to simplify and streamline the tax benefit system. With improvements to the system, McCain sees an increase in the number of benefits claimed, as currently, the system is so complicated that many eligible families don’t claim them.

Obama advocates what he calls the “American Opportunity Tax Credit.” Obama would strive to create a universal and fully refundable tax credit that he hopes would ensure that at least the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans. The plan would also cover up to two-thirds of the average cost of tuition at a public college or university and make community college tuition completely free for most students. Recipients of the credit will be required to conduct 100 hours of community service.

Both candidates seem to embrace some of the recommendations of the College Board’s report. But, after the election, it remains to be seen what our next president will be able to accomplish. Obama and McCain each have a record and a platform to stand on. However, their ability to work with Congress and address the problems faced by the nation’s college students remains to be seen.

Health Care

Wealth care is a major topic that comes into play for not only the Presidential but local elections as well. It quite simply is something that affects every single person living in this country, and knowing just what each candidate’s ideas for improving what has become a bloated and self-depleting system is imperative.

Obama believes in a universal health care system that will put more power over health care to the government.

According to his website, “Obama will make available a new health plan to all Americans, including the self-employed and small business, to buy affordable health coverage that is similar to the plan available to members of Congress.”

It goes on to explain in detail that Obama hopes to have, “Guaranteed eligibility, comprehensive benefits, affordable premiums, simplified paperwork, easy enrollment all blended together with quality and efficiency.”

Mercy Professor of Political Science Manny Santapau said, “I think we’re overdue for a universal health care, but I don’t think Congress will pass a similar program.”

McCain believes putting more power into private health care providers will help give Americans more of a choice as to which provider best suits their needs.

McCain’s website claims he believes, “the key to health care reform is to restore control to the patients themselves.”

It goes on to say, “McCain will reform health care, making it easier for individuals and families to obtain insurance. An important part of his plan is to use competition to improve the quality of health insurance with greater variety to match people’s needs, lower prices, and portability. Families should be able to purchase health insurance nationwide, across state lines.”

“McCain seems to be more for tax cuts to buy better health care,” said Santapau, who expanded on his opinion by adding, “Quite frankly I’m skeptical about private health care. I think the government has to have some role in it.”

Besides Health Care being a major platform for debate, the economy is as well. At the current time, the American economy is suffering and many feel it is in need of reform.

The Economy

McCain’s website claims, “…McCain has a comprehensive economic plan that will create millions of good American jobs, ensure our nation’s energy security, get the government’s budget and spending practices in order, and bring relief to American consumers.”

He claims his plan will improve America by “reducing the pain of high gas prices, flexible work arrangements [that] can strike the right balance in requiring parents to be involved in the life of their children, and keeping tax rates low.”

In a speech given in New York on Sept. 17, 2007, Obama stated “I believe that America’s free market has been the engine of America’s great progress. It’s created a prosperity that is the envy of the world. It’s led to a standard of living unmatched in history. And it has provided great rewards to the innovators and risk-takers who have made America a beacon for science, and technology, and discovery…We are all in this together. From CEOs to shareholders, from financiers to factory workers, we all have a stake in each other’s success because the more Americans prosper, the more America prospers.”

His website continues, claiming “Obama and [Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe] Biden will cut income taxes by $1,000 for working families to offset the payroll tax they pay.”

With the Presidential debates coming shortly, and the woes on Wall Street continue to drive the market wildly up and down, eyes will be fixed and watching closely when the candidatesate attempt to firmly give their positions on the issues affecting just about every American today.

The “Other” Candidates

Nobody remembers the loser. And, sadly for third party candidates, the same standard applies. More like Leap Year than an election, every four years there is another third party candidate, vying for the presidency against impossibly long odds.

Although third party Presidential candidates may steal valuable major party votes, they fade quickly into the background on Tuesday night, as their election returns relegate them to the backburner for most American citizens. And it looks as if it won’t change anytime soon.

According to a Sept. 22 CNN poll, only seven percent of voters remain undecided. Obama leads the poll overall, but only slightly. The remainder of voters is left for candidates like Maryland Independent Alan Keyes and Connecticut Independent Ralph Nader to scrounge for, even as the larger campaigns fight for every last vote..

Media outlets don’t help their publicity or chances either. Almost every bit of news coverage on the election surrounds either Obama or McCain. Keyes and Nader don’t exactly fill the back page of the morning newspaper with sparkling headlines.

The reality of third party success is becoming harsher as time progresses. Based on recent history and statistics, America is predominantly a two-party system, making the third party candidates the odd men out.

Besides Ross Perot in 1992, no third party candidate has even sniffed 10 million votes in the past 20 years. Forget any Electoral College votes.

In fact, since the controversial 2000 Presidential election, third party candidates have collectively accounted for less than three percent of the entire popular vote come Election Day. Without Nader’s mostly futile attempts, its been even more dismal. Some gawk at the idea of a Green Party or Independent cnadidate, and some blame Nader for “stealing” Democratic votes and allowing George Bush to defeat Democratic Nominee Al Gore in 2000.

In all, there are a total of 11 current Presidential parties that are considered “third” parties. These include various parties such as the Green, Boston Tea, and Reform parties; parties that were established early in American history.

But none have even come close to attaining a seat in the Oval Office in recent years. Oddly enough, the last President who held office not labeled a Democrat or Republican was Andrew Johnson in 1865, who preceded Abe Lincoln and represented the War Union.

This happens to be the first time since 1928 that both major political parties held open contests for the Presidential nomination without an incumbent President or Vice President in the running.

Time will tell if this helps, or stalls, any momentum an independent candidate could gain in November.