Having watched the Obama campaign for the last six weeks, I can tell you two things for certain about this election:

First, Issue #1 for the Obama campaign is the economy. Duh.

Second, Issue #1 for the majority of the electorate is also the economy. Duh.

Why then does the McCain camp seem so intent on dodging the subject; forever trying to make this election about military/foreign policy experience (probably a bad idea) and the Iraq war ?

I think I have a few ideas:

Those signs are all over Ohio right now. So are these:

Americans are feeling the sting of this economic downturn. Gas prices are increasingly unbearable, the housing situation remains dire, lending institutions are hanging on by a government financed thread; things are not going well. Besides the fact that McCain is not so well versed in economics, what does he have to fear from whiny American voters?

Well, his tax policy.

Courtesy of the Washington Post.

This spiffy graphic comes from the Washington Post, based on data from a study done at the Tax Policy Center. The juicy entirety of the findings can be found here, and they are actually interesting even to those of us not well versed in economics.

If I were an economist, I could make all sorts of informed inferences about what this graph and the full study means. Maybe Kevin can help us out with that. For now, all I want to do is to point out some very clear points:

While both candidates aim to mostly reduce taxes, McCain’s most drastic decreases are on the top 1% of Americans, while Obama’s only increases affect the same people. The difference between them tops $1 million.

Stances on taxing the rich are a rather fundamental element of most voters’ political psyche and are not likely to change over the course of one debate. McCain wants to drastically lessen the progressive nature of our tax code, while Obama wants to deepen it at the highest tiers. It is pretty simple and I’ll leave the merits of either stance to our readers to debate. The point is that this dichotomy is pretty typical of a Presidential race. Republican wants to tax the rich less, Democrat more. Whoopee.

The next point is the big one: After you account for the richest 1% of Americans, every other bracket would actually see a tax reduction in Obama’s plan. This goes against conventional wisdom for 99% of Americans that Democrat=higher taxes. This brings me back to the signs in Ohio. With Obama’s plan, 95% of Ohioans would see at least a $1,000 decrease in their taxes. I daresay that helps out average Americans with spending, fuel consumption and other life expenses more than any relief package (of which Obama believes we need another, by the way).

I won’t go into whether or not one tax plan is actually better than the other, because again, I’m not an economist. However, I’ll venture a guess as to what most Americans are interested in hearing about. As you move down the income scale, Obama’s tax cuts are more substantial than McCain’s. As you move down the income scale, the number of American’s fitting into the bracket is much higher as well. And I’ll tell you what, with the breadth and effectiveness of the Obama campaign’s voter registration and get out the vote efforts, this is something for the McCain camp to seriously worry about. People are listening.

Fewer taxes is always a welcome element to any politician’s platform in the eyes of most voters. However, when you are coming into office during an economic downturn, during a long term war investment and one of the most serious national debt situations in the nation’s history, the government has to make money somewhere, doesn’t it? China already holds over $1 trillion in reserve, I don’t think they want much more of our debt. I’m not so sure the gold standard is the answer yet either, but maybe Dr. Paul can sell me on that one on Sept. 2nd.

I don’t have answers, but I think its pretty clear why McCain isn’t keen on discussing the economy. Obama is driving the issue hard, and has the policies to actually compete and really out do McCain on an issue that is traditionally a strength of the Republicans. “It’s the economy, stupid” isn’t enough for the Obama camp. They are pointing that slogan at their rival and backing it up with some real ideas. We’ll see how that works out for them.

Meanwhile, hold on to your hats kids, the economy is going to be it this year.