A common complaint from political commentators about Gov. Sarah Palin is that she fails to offer details. For example, on CNN, following the vice-presidential debate, Gloria Borger of U.S. News & World Report carped that Palin wasn’t specific enough in her responses about bankruptcy laws, gay marriage, and the spending promises that would need to be cut in the wake of the financial crisis.
Certainly there were moments when the governor could have given more details about her ticket’s plans. I would have liked to hear a more robust defense of reducing corporate tax rates, for example.
But there’s a tremendous double standard on these demands for specifics. Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden have skated past discussions on several key policy areas, speaking in broad generalities and never having to worry that interviewers will challenge them on their contradictions.
Take the issue of trade. During the Democratic primaries, Obama denounced his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, for suggesting that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been good for America. Obama proudly stated: “I don’t think NAFTA has been good for America — and I never have.” His campaign website teeters between highlighting trade’s benefits and pushing for “fair trade,” liberal code for erecting new trade barriers. Obama coyly promises to “amend” NAFTA and “work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to fix NAFTA so that it works for American workers.” But what does that mean?
Americans deserve a more thorough articulation of how Obama views the importance of economic engagement with the world. After all, having foreign markets available for exports, as well as being able to import lower-cost goods, has been an engine of growth and improved standard of living in the U.S. His statements suggested that a President Obama would reverse the commitment of all administrations in recent decades to seek greater trade liberalization. Will reporters press him to explain more?
Social Security is another area where Obama is quick to tell you what he opposes — personal retirement accounts and raising the retirement age — but gives only a small glimpse into how he would address this program’s multi-trillion-dollar projected shortfall. Naturally he’s recommended raising taxes on the wealthy — more payroll taxes for those with incomes in excess of $250,000. Yet analysis shows that even if he were to apply the full payroll taxes to everyone over the current cap — a much more aggressive proposal than Obama’s — it would only delay the time when Social Security begins running deficits by about six years. And these tax hikes would do nothing to change Social Security’s fundamental financing problem of having no meaningful savings to pay retirees.
No presidential candidate has issued detailed legislation that explains every painful choice needed to fix Social Security over the long term. Yet Sen. John McCain has offered principles that make his approach clear: He supports creating personal savings accounts, like 401ks, as a part of the system. He has stated that both benefit reductions and tax increases have to be on the table (the later wins him no favors among much of his base, but shows that he truly is committed to taking a bipartisan approach to this sensitive issue). Where are the reporters pressing Obama for details on how he would approach this program, which consumes one-fifth of the federal budget?
The media has been quick to pepper Gov. Palin with nitty-gritty questions about her position on abortion. Both Charles Gibson and Katie Couric focused on situation in which a woman (in Couric’s interview, specifically a 15-year-old girl) is pregnant as a result of incest. It certainly isn’t the framework that pro-lifers would choose to articulate their belief that the unborn child, regardless of how conceived, deserves protection. But it’s a fair question.
Yet the media have given Obama a pass on this issue, even while controversy swirls around his record. Obama has claimed that people are lying about his record when they say he failed to support a bill requiring that babies born as a result of botched abortions receive medical care. But his record is clear. He did in fact help defeat such bills while in the Illinois Senate, including one with language identical to the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which was passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate.
Obama told Pastor Rick Warren that defining when a baby gets human rights is “above my pay grade.” Apparently it is above the pay grade of mainstream media reporters to press the would-be president on his abortion record.
This campaign season could use a lot more specifics. Just don’t expect to get them from the pro-Obama media.
— Carrie Lukas is the vice president of Independent Women’s Voice and a contributor to National Review Online.