CONCORD, N.C. – John McCain sharpened his attack on presidential rival Barack Obama’s economic proposals Saturday, accusing the Democrat of seeking to turn the United States into a socialist country and convert the IRS into a giant “welfare agency” that would dole out cash at Washington, D.C.’s discretion.
“The only ‘welfare’ in this campaign is John McCain’s plan to give another $200 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in America,” Obama fired back during a massive rally in St. Louis. Police estimated the crowd at 100,000.
In recent days, McCain has seized on a comment that Obama made in defending his tax policies to Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, an Ohio man now better known as “Joe the Plumber.” Obama, who was canvassing Wurzelbacher’s neighborhood last weekend, told him: “When you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
Delivering a national radio address before setting out for stops Saturday in North Carolina and Virginia, McCain said Obama’s approach “sounded a lot like socialism.”
“At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives,” the Republican nominee said. “They use real numbers and honest language. And we should demand equal candor from Sen. Obama. Raising taxes on some in order to give checks to others is not a tax cut. It’s just another government giveaway.”
Obama has said that his plan would cut taxes for 95 percent of working Americans, including Wurzelbacher. McCain has claimed that 40 percent of Americans don’t pay income taxes, either because they are elderly or don’t make enough money.
“In other words, Barack Obama’s tax plan would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington,” McCain said in his radio remarks.
Strategists for the Arizona Republican see Obama’s spread-the-wealth comment as a major gaffe – providing a badly needed opening on an issue that has worked to the benefit of the Democratic nominee amid the nation’s financial crisis.
For decades, Republicans have portrayed Democrats as acolytes of big government, top-down solutions. But socialist theory is more radical and arguably more sinister-sounding. It calls for collective ownership of most private enterprise and the creation of an egalitarian society.
Obama responded to McCain’s charges at a sun-splashed rally at the Gateway Arch.
“Lately, Sen. McCain has been attacking my middle-class tax cut,” Obama said. “He actually said it goes to ‘those who don’t pay taxes,’ even though it only goes to working people who are already getting taxed on their paycheck. That’s right, Missouri: John McCain is so out of touch with the struggles you are facing that he must be the first politician in history to call a tax cut for working people ‘welfare.’ ”
Obama cast their differences as a question of values.
“John McCain thinks that the way to rebuild this economy is to double-down on George Bush’s policy of giving more and more tax breaks to those at the very top in the false hope that it will all trickle down,” Obama said, to boos and catcalls. “I think it’s time to rebuild the middle class in this country, and that is the choice in this election.”
The Illinois senator was referring to McCain’s plan to make permanent the tax cuts enacted under President Bush. Obama would allow those cuts to lapse, as Congress intended. McCain claims that letting the cuts expire amounts to a tax hike, which would badly undermine the struggling economy.
Standing beneath the 630-foot stainless steel sculpture, his suit jacket off, Obama spoke to an audience that covered hundreds of yards of sloping hillside at a park in downtown St. Louis. Others stood on balconies and in side streets, or peered from the windows of nearby high-rise apartments.
The crowd far surpassed the 75,000 people who showed up to see Obama in Portland during the primaries, as well as the 80,000 who packed Denver’s football stadium to hear his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention. (The biggest crowd of the campaign, an estimated 200,000 people, gathered in Berlin during Obama’s summer swing through Europe.)
Missouri supported President Bush in 2000 and 2004, and has gone with the winner in all but one presidential contest over the past century. Obama’s visit was his seventh since clinching the Democratic nomination in June.
McCain, by contrast, was fighting to make up lost ground Saturday in Virginia and North Carolina, states that Republicans used to take for granted.