A Slight Difference

05/25/2011 12:50 pm ET

Both Obama and McCain said two things during their final debate that indicate how pro-business they both in fact are, and how constricted the political spectrum has become, especially since there was no one to challenge their assertions.

For Obama's part, the moment came when McCain challenged him to name one time when he bucked his party's leadership on a major vote in Congress.

Obama responded:

"...[I]n terms of standing up to the leaders of my party, the first major bill that I voted on in the Senate was in support of tort reform, which wasn't very popular with trial lawyers, a major constituency in the Democratic party... So I've got a history of reaching across the aisle."

So...why didn't the "liberal media" jump on that one?

For those who missed it, "tort reform" is the clever misnomer for a suite of measures that have made it more difficult for victims of injustice and corporate crime to seek justice in the courts.

While demonizing trial lawyers, for well over a decade the Chamber of Commerce has made tort reform legislation its top federal legislative priority.

For example, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, the investor tort reform law that passed in the late 1990s, would not have passed without being a priority for Big Business. It was the only bill that Congress passed over a Clinton veto his two terms. According to securities law expert John Coffee, the PSLRA was one the most important reasons why investors in Enron and other companies got fleeced, because it took away an important deterrent. The PSLRA made it much more difficult to sue accountants, lawyers and banksters (the market system's so-called "gatekeepers") for "aiding and abetting" financial and accounting fraud.

Although the Chamber continues to push the tort reform agenda forward, two years ago (12/06), The American Lawyer declared, "It's Over" -- in effect, they've already won.

So why, then, is Obama bragging about casting his vote for a bill (The Class Action Fairness Act) that says "prevents many middle-class Americans injured by defective products, manipulated by deceptive marketing, or discriminated against by unfair employment practices from ever being able to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable. As a result, the threat of lawsuits will be less of a deterrent to corporations that engage in deceptive or discriminatory practices or seek to cut corners by skimping on product safety."

Because, by casting that vote, Obama sent a signal to the business community that he didn't come to Washington to challenge corporate America's agenda, that he wouldn't reverse course on these questions if elected president.

Of course, for the rest of us, it means he sides with the corporate criminals.

As for McCain, his linguistic legerdermain was much more frequent and probably of even greater consequence. Take the moment when he (once again, that old saw) asserted that U.S. businesses are taxed at higher rates than corporations from almost every other country in the developed world.

(Don't you hate it when he says something like that with an impish grin, as if he knows he's lying? Haven't we had enough of Republican presidents with their impish grins -- as if immaturity is a sign of leadership? So much for "straight talking" expressions.)

It's well known that a huge number, if not most American corporations - esp. large multinationals -- haven't paid anywhere near the statutory rate (35%) for well over a decade.

Perhaps it was just another of those McCain senior moments, and he forgot that Just two months ago, the GAO reported that two-thirds of U.S. corporations paid no federal income taxes between 1998 and 2005.

(That's in addition to an earlier GAO report that most U.S. firms paid NO income taxes during the 1990s.)

No -- McCain knows all this. And he doesn't care, He's just throwing more red meat to his biggest base -- Big Business.

I would agree that on taxes, there is a big difference between the two (how many times does Obama have to explain his proposal?), except that neither mentioned the need for a carbon tax (which, as William Nordhaus explained in a recent issue of NYRB, is the most efficient way of addressing global warming) or a speculation tax on exchange-based transactions (combined with other reforms, like forcing all derivatives trades to be traded through an exchange -- a tax that would put the onus of paying for the bailouts on those who make the most money on the market and inject the most risk into it, just like we have a gas tax to make those who use the roads more pay for highway repairs).