John Obama and Barack McCain: Two Very Different Men

September 5, 2008 by  

For those who did not have a chance, or the inclination, to watch the coverage for the Democratic and Republican conventions over the last couple of weeks, I am happy to provide this comparison of each party’s nominee for the office of President of the United States of America, based upon each man’s acceptance speech. I am not here providing a comparison of their proposed government policies: you can find those everywhere else. What I provide here is a comparison of the candidates’ philosophies, to the extent express statements allow me to perform one. The reason is simple: many of the decisions a president will make are not foreseen years, months, weeks, or even days in advance. By knowing their respective philosophical commitments, one can at least determine the general nature of policies which are, or are not, likely to be adopted in the future.

Metaphysics: The Nominees’ Views on the Nature of Reality

Republican nominee John McCain referred to “god” eight times during his speech, out-godifying Obama, who referred to “god” just twice, 4 to 1.

Whereas Senator McCain closed with the words: “Thank you, and God bless you, and God bless America”, Senator Obama took the diametrically opposed position on the facts of reality with his contra McCainian use of periods instead of commas: “Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.”

Another stark contrast can be drawn with respect to the issue of who we all are. According to McCain, “We’re all God’s children, and we’re all Americans.” Not so, says Pennsylvania’s former deputy attorney general (and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton supporter) Philip J. Berg, who yesterday served Obama and the Democratic party with a lawsuit alleging Obama lied about being a US citizen, and challenging his eligibility to be president.

Epistemology: The Nominees’ Views on Obtaining Knowledge

McCain referred to “faith” three times, including one reference to Americans having “faith in the wisdom, justice, and goodness of its people.” He referred to reason twice:

“For reasons known only to God, I’ve had quite a few tough ones in my life.”


“I’m going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank him, that I’m an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on Earth.”

For McCain, we should have faith in others’ reason, and reasons for faith in god. In short: we should have faith in the reasons for having faith in God. Shorter still: we should have faith, but reason is superfluous.

Here, Obama’s message is clearly different. Although he used the word “reason” only once, he made his hallowed respect for it clear: “The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great, a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.” Now, sure, the sentence isn’t entirely intelligible, but we can at least gather that, when it comes to getting a presidential nomination, reason, for Obama, is indispensible.

Moreover, Obama did not use the word “faith” even once. Taking the polar opposite view to McCain, he said “Let us keep that promise, that American promise, and in the words of scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.” His reference was to Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful”. So, for Obama, one does not need faith: one only needs hope, because we can just rely on Jesus to have enough faith for everyone.

To sum up Obama’s epistemology: one needs only to hope for a promise that is a reason…er, something like that. But faith has nothing to do with it, so he is definitely different than McCain when it comes to his epistemology.

Ethics: The Nominees’ Views on What One Ought to Do

McCain condemned the “me-first, country-second crowd”. He said he intends to honour the Stanley family for their sacrifice of their son. He told a touching tale of how he used to to do things “for [his] own pleasure; [his] own pride”, and how he “…didn’t think there was a cause more important than” himself. He explained that, thereafter, he discovered “the limits of [his] selfish independence”, learned that “no man can always stand alone”, and found that “nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself”. In short: it is right to sacrifice others, it is right to sacrifice oneself, and sacrifice will make you happy. Shorter still: dying makes one happiest of all.

Obama carved a path in the opposite direction, not referring to “sacrifice” at all. Instead, he explained, the “promise of America” is “the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.” Obama explained that that promise “…has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west…”.

The difference is astounding. Whereas McCain says it’s right to sacrifice of oneself, Obama says it is right to move where you will be kept by others.

Politics: The Nominees’ Views on the Government’s Use of Force

Implicitly referring to Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, McCain asserted that “We’re dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights.” He added that: “education is the civil rights issue of this century”, praising the gain of the civil right of universal access to public schools.

Obama did not use the word “rights” in his speech, but he did say that government should “provide every child a decent education”, that “Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education”, that he’ll “invest in early childhood education”, and “make sure you can afford a college education”.

The difference is clear: McCain believes you have a right to a tax-funded education, whereas Obama’s promise of a tax-funded education is not founded upon rights. More succinctly: McCain asserts that you have a right to other peoples’ money, whereas Obama regards other peoples’ money as something that the government can give to you if it chooses to do so.


To sum up, McCain and Obama are miles apart on what counts: philosophy. McCain is the more goddy American child of god, whereas Obama is alleged to be the periodically goddy child of Kenya…or Indonesia, or someplace. McCain has faith, whereas Obama has hope in a promise for reason in a guy who has faith (er, something like that). McCain puts himself second, whereas, in stark contrast, Obama puts others first. McCain says you have a right to tell the government to take tuition money from others, whereas Obama says you do not need such a right because he is already more eager than McCain to take that money, and more.

The media will, no doubt, spend the next two months telling you how diametrically opposed these two candidates are; how they have two dramatically different visions for America; how your vote will make a huge difference in respect of the course of America’s future. As the above comparison shows, the media will not be misleading you one bit.


9 Responses to “John Obama and Barack McCain: Two Very Different Men”

  1. Johnny McCormick on September 6th, 2008 6:45 pm

    I love it

  2. Johnny McCormick on September 6th, 2008 6:47 pm

    although I have to admitt your title picture is straight out of my nightmares

  3. Ted Keer on September 6th, 2008 9:04 pm

    Absolutely Brilliant!

  4. Paul McKeever on September 7th, 2008 7:29 am

    Over at Diana Hsieh’s Noodlefood Blog, William H. Stoddard opines that “At a very fundamental philosophical level, Barack Obama is reaffirming the Enlightenment, and McCain is rejecting it.” I responded as follows:

    “Barack Obama is reaffirming the Enlightenment, and McCain is rejecting it.”

    Not so and, for the most part: not relevant. In terms of political philosophy, Locke arguably stands at the commencement of the enlightenment. However, the “Scottish Enlightenment” includes the likes of Hume, who asserted one cannot derive oughts (which includes rights) from the facts of reality. The French Enlightenment includes the likes of Diderot and the other fatalists/determinists, who denied man has free will. Even the “problem child of the Englightenment” – Rousseau – is considered by some to be an Enlightenment philosopher, though he is best categorized as standing at the commencement of Romantic philosophy. What these philosophers and polemicists had in common was a belief that reason is a means to obtain knowledge but, even there, they argued about what kinds of knowledge it can be used to discover, and about whether things like divine revelation are a way of obtaining knowledge. Accordingly, to say “the enlightenment” is to say very little about morality.

    This is especially true if we’re comparing McCain to Obama. Consider their respective acceptance speeches. In his acceptance speech, McCain takes the Lockeian view, essentially borrowed by Jefferson, that man has rights, but that they are given to him by a supernatural being. You cannot get more “Enlightenment” era than that…unless you regard Rand to be an Enlightenment philosopher (I don’t: she’s in an era and league of her own).

    In contrast, Obama doesn’t mention the word rights at all during his acceptance speech, which is completely compatible with his statement that “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.” That Obama states “proposals [must] be subject to argument, and amenable to reason” does not imply that reason, for him, is a means for discovering morality and, more importantly: many (most) of those who claim to advocate reason do not accept Rand’s assertion that it is the faculty by which we discover morality. Many so-called advocates of reason are whimsical or religious Humean empiricists (e.g., most economists today). That Obama speaks of reason, but not of individual rights, serves as evidence that he is no more an advocate of rationality than is Hume or Kant. In fact, during his acceptance speech, he said that “America’s promise” was that “fundamental principle that I am my brother’s keeper”.

    In summary, as to William’s conclusion that “At a very fundamental philosophical level, Barack Obama is reaffirming the Enlightenment, and McCain is rejecting it”, I must say I strenuously disagree. Politically, I’d argue that Obama’s political philosophy is more akin to the Romantic Rousseau, and that McCain’s is more akin to the Enlightenment’s Locke. However, it is at the the more “fundamental” levels of philosophy where there is NO difference between Obama and McCain: both are altruists, and – as such – neither is committed to reality or reason. Both have false metaphysical, epistemological and ethical commitments and, as such, that one them claims that man has rights is pretty much irrelevant, because rights as a floating abstraction are prone to being interpreted as their antithesis.

    For a more detailed, and more tongue-in-cheek, comparison of the McCain and Obama acceptance speeches, I would direct you to my blog post of two days ago:



  5. Ralf Wilmes on September 8th, 2008 9:22 am

    I would just add this politically profound vision which I’ve read in the associated press in April:

    “(…)Which is exactly the trait McCain sees in many members of the post-Sept. 11 generation: a willingness to step away from the XBox and “American Idol” and give up time and comfort to make a difference”

    I knew it! The Xbox would be trouble!

  6. Glenn on September 11th, 2008 3:29 pm

    How bout a little metaphysics from Sarah Palin…

  7. Ryan on September 12th, 2008 5:54 am

    Hi Paul,

    As I was watching the Time magazine-sponsored presidential forum tonight on CNN, I couldn’t help but relate everything they said (well, everything McCain said – I was on my dinner break, so I didn’t get to watch the part with Obama) back to this post. (In case you didn’t know, the purpose of the forum was for each candidate to discuss his dedication to national service so that they’d have something non-controversial to talk about on the anniversary of 9/11.) I swear that, in the space of about 20 minutes, I heard either the word “sacrifice” or “service” from McCain atleast that many times. When asked about whether or not national service should be mandatory (e.g., a law which would give every American citizen the “choice” of doing either military service or civilian/community service), he completely evaded the question and yammered on about the importance of “serving a cause greater than one’s self”. Then, when asked how much government money he would be prepared to spend on a “national service” bill, he said that the government didn’t necessarily have to provide money for such things and that they could be organized at the grassroots/community level (i.e., voluntarily), but that he hoped anyone involved in such activity would be drawn to it because of the desire to help others, not because of any personal gain that he/she might derive from it. So in other words, the difference between McCain and Obama (like I said, I didn’t watch Obama speak, but knowing where he stands on all other issues) is that, while they both believe that one’s duty is to serve others with no regard for what he/she might gain from it, McCain just believes that it requires less government coercion and can be organized at the local level (e.g., being guilt-tripped by family, community organization and church leaders, etc.).

    I never liked either guy, but as I kept listening to what I was hearing and relating it back to this post, I kept realizing just how minimal the differences are between them. So I just wanted to let you know that this post really helped guide my thinking about the two presidential candidates. I can’t vote, though, being a Canadian – so take that for what it’s worth. 🙂


  8. Paul McKeever on September 12th, 2008 11:20 am

    That’s great Ryan! Thanks for telling me. Hopefully it will help others in a similar way.



  9. Renee Katz on September 24th, 2008 9:23 pm

    Holy crap that pic was the first thing I saw when the page loaded and it scared the shit out of me. It looks like a burn victim who’s face is melting off or something.

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