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In contrast to England, presidential election offers distinct choices

Saturday, June 7, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:05 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

LONDON — I watched on the BBC as Barack Obama finally proclaimed the end to the long national nightmare (or national reality show) that has been the Democratic nominating process. British journalism has paid a lot of attention to our politics lately. And why not? Come what may, we’ll have a winner in November, while the Brits may face another two years of unhappiness and uncertainty.

I mentioned last week some similarities between the political scenes here and at home. The most notable is that both nations are currently led by deeply unpopular chief executives. However, the analysis by the BBC’s political correspondent illustrated a crucial difference, one that may operate to the advantage of us colonials.

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Commentators from all sides agreed that no matter who wins the next national election in England, there aren’t likely to be major changes in policy. Polly Toynbee, one of my favorite (or favourite) columnists in the Guardian, complained bitterly the other day that the Labourites seem as committed to tax cuts as are the Conservatives. And a pleasant youngish Conservative MP who spoke to the MU students last week said his party’s promise is to do more efficiently most of what the Labour government is doing now.

When the BBC analyst put capsule summaries of key positions advocated by Mr. Obama and John McCain on the screen, he noted the dramatic differences on the war and the economy. The interesting similarity he highlighted was notable, too. That was Mr. McCain’s Bush-rejecting recognition that global warming is a real threat, though he proposes to do less to combat it than does Mr. Obama.

As a small-d democrat, I believe that healthy politics demands that candidates give voters real choices. Those we’ll have. As a Big-D Democrat, I worry that the primary pander-fest has led Mr. Obama to take too many Republican-lite positions. We Democrats forget at our peril Harry Truman’s dictum that, given a choice between a real Republican and a Democrat who talks like a Republican, voters are likely to choose the real thing.

Probably the most troublesome of these pseudo-Republican positions is on taxes. You remember the Clinton-Obama debate in which they competed for the favor of the “middle class” by vowing to repeal the Bush tax cuts only for those making more than $200,000 or $250,000 a year. I’m sorry, as the British are always saying even when they’re not, but those aren’t middle-class numbers, not when 90 percent of Americans make $100,000 or less.

If we’re to tackle the festering problems mainly ignored under both Bush and Clinton presidencies, and I mean the full range from crumbling infrastructure to criminally inadequate health care, the government at both state and national levels is going to need more rather than less revenue. I want a candidate who’ll face up to reality.

Mr. Obama’s no-mandate plan that seems certain to produce less-than-universal health insurance is another worry. Hillary Clinton was closer to having it right.

Still, with an Obama-McCain campaign, we’ll have a clear set of choices for our country’s future. The British should be so lucky.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Columbia Missourian and is professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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