I think that presidential debates are crucial to our understanding of how we can use our votes to better this country.
I’ve been a supporter of both of these gentlemen at different points of this election cycle – I respect them both, but I also believe they’ve each made some grave mistakes. I can’t pretend to be actually “undecided,” since my lifelong commitment to women’s and civil rights clearly dictates my choice in their pairing, and because of that certainty I don’t know whose side I fall on a lot of the other major issues of this election.
Hopefully after the debates I’ll be able to make a more educated decision.
The debate begins…
Question #1 – Their responses to the bailout plan, and how it can be made to work within the framework of their respective financial plans.
McCain is crushing Obama. He’s animated, slightly amusing, and is hammering the same numbers again and again. I know Obama’s earmarks aren’t a huge deal in the scheme of things, but McCain just made him sound like a robber baron.
Obama is stuttering, slow on the draw. Hasn’t gotten in any good lines except the “that’s a quarter of a million” line about where his rich line is drawn in the sand.
Verdict: Obama has the right idea, but isn’t communicating it clearly enough. McCain 3, Obama 2.
Question #2 – What plans will have to be delayed in your presidency because of the bailout.
Obama leads off. First thing that doesn’t get cut: energy independence. Great answer, but doesn’t resonate. Health care is #2, but should have come first.
Lots of braniac priorities. Goes off on moon launches and broadband. Sounds like Kunicich.
McCain goes right after spending – no actual policies he wants to keep, just spending. On Barack: “It’s hard to reach across the aisle from that far on the left.” And Obama laughs? His being the most-liberal senator is a fact – he better be careful with the laughter.
McCain is not really answering the question, but really great facts and figures. Coming off as very measured and experienced.
Obama comes back for the rebuttal stuttering, still hammering energy. Barack, Gore lost the election. Now going after Medicare giveaways? This is not entirely true.
“John mentioned me being wildly liberal, that’s just me opposing George Bush’s wrong-headed policies.” Comes back with an anecdote about working with with the most conservative member of Congress. Kinda awesome.
Moderator flummoxed. No one seems to be answering any of his questions.
McCain: howabout a spending freeze on everything except veterans, defense, and other vital issues.
Obama: “hatchet where you need a scalpel,” comes back with not wanting to leave early childhood education out of the equation. Pretty effective.
McCain going to the money to terrorists place. Offshore drilling and nuclear power … “you can’t get there from here.” He’s treading a precarious line here with the nuclear power push.
Moderator STILL flummoxed – totally interrupts McCain’s Mr. Burns monologue.
Obama invokes Great Depression & Roosevelt effectively, but probably lost all the non-nerds in the audience. “No doubt as president that I’ll have to make some tough decisions … have to know what our values are, who we’re fighting for, and what our priorities are.” Rhetoric warming up, but language still dull.
McCain slams Obama’s health care plan (although, Obama’s earlier point about McCain’s tax on employer benefits looms over that conversation).
McCain: “I would suggest he start by canceling some of those new spending programs.” Body slam.
Obama: Swings hard with the first Bush attack. “90% agreement with … this orgy of spending.” Finally some attack. McCain back with the Ms. Congeniality line, makes it sound like he opposes the president on a lot of things that I’m pretty sure he agrees with him on.
McCain: “A partner who’s a pretty good maverick.” Slimy smile.
Verdict: Obama stays on-message and specific, but McCain doesn’t blunder too widely. Obama 3, McCain 2.
Question #3 – Lessons of Vietnam versus lessons of Iraq.
McCain leads off. Advised of a fundamental change of strategy “we are winning in Iraq; we will come home with victory and honor. That withdraw is the result of every counter-insurgency that succeeds … We will see a stable ally in the region. The consequences of defeat would have been increased Iranian influences … there was a lot at stake … they have succeeded … we are winning in Iraq.”
Obama: “Fundamental difference … should we have gone into the war in the first place.” Here we go… says he disagreed from the start. Thinks we dropped the ball in Afghanistan.
McCain looks like he ate a canary. Obama: “We took our eye off the ball; [Iraq has a surplus, yet] we are spending $10 billion dollars a month … at a time we are at great distress at home.”
Will not hesitate to use force, and will use the military force wisely. Convincing?
McCain: “how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind.” Essentially: Obama, your point is moot – let’s talk about the lessons we’re going to take away. Very effective.
Obama self-defeats again – acknowledges that McCain has many good points. However, plugs Biden’s experience effectively without smarming. “Senate inside baseball” – great line.
“John you like to pretend that the war started in 2007 – talk about the surge … at the time the war started you said it would be quick and easy and we knew where the WMDs were. You were wrong.” Continues on what he’s wrong on. Pretty awesome, but then restates the question, and he restates something that’s completely not the answer to that question.
“I’m afraid that Senator Obama doesn’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy.” Snap. “Senator Obama is refusing to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq.”
They’re both really hammering here, but it’s hard to discern who’s winning separate from your personal opinion. Both of them are very good at this rhetoric.
McCain hits Obama for opposing funding for troops, and Obama looks completely flustered and keeps trying to interrupt. But Obama slams that back at him – they both denied funding, based on different opinions on how it was based on a timetable.
Obama is backsliding. I think he’s getting into too many specifics. McCain slams him (kinda lying), and Obama sips water while shooting McCain the death glare.
OMG, stop with the finger in the air and the head shaking. Obama is so unlikeable here.
Verdict: Obama never even vaguely answered the question, McCain hit him effectively on how his approaches would have bungled whatever successes we’ve found. McCain 4, Obama 1.
Question #4 – More troops to Afghanistan? How and when?
Obama leads off with unequivocal “absolutely.” Says “Taliban” like he’s going to sing a Harry Belafonte song.
I hope foreign policy doesn’t just equate to terrorism-related war. I’m really hoping for a Russia question, maybe also something general about UN or NATO.
I honestly don’t even know what Barack is talking about now. They better make fun of that on SNL tomorrow, because it was unintelligible.
McCain leads with apologizing for his mistaken opinion on Afghanistan. Strong gambit – “we can’t ignore those lessons of history.” “If you’re going to aim a gun at somebody … you better be prepared to pull the trigger.” McCain not ready to threaten Pakistan in that manner at this time. “You don’t SAY THAT out loud.”
McCain is fucking rocking this one. Obama clearly sees this question slipping through his hands. McCain is talking about specific ground cover … he’s studied the shrubs and rocks there. Bombing of hotel a sign of … I can’t even keep up with this, he’s really slamming through this talking points. “I know how to work with them, and I guarantee you I wouldn’t publicly state I would attack Pakistan.”
Obama tries to firm his definition – he would only interfere with Pakistan if top level targets were there. Teases John about bombing North Korea into extinction and singing songs about bombing Iran. One of the more hilarious lines so far, but he’s on defensive right now so it’s just tossed off.
“We alienated the Pakistani population … [we said] he may be a dictator, but he’s our dictator.”
“I don’t think that Senator Obama understands that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came into power. You know all this business about bombing Iran, let me tell you about my record.” The person he admires the most is Regan? And he voted against something Ronnie wanted to do because he was afraid, and his fears were founded. Supported Bosnia, “it was the right thing to do to stop genocide; I supported what we had to do in Kosovo … [stop] ethnic cleansing and genocide … Somolia … peace-making force.”
It’s not just that he’s making good points, but he makes them incredibly saliently on this topic. He’s very easy to understand and interpret. Heading into personal anecdotes. Wearing a bracelet. “The war I was in.” He’s actually seeming a little emotional, for McCain.
Obama: “I have a bracelet too.” He’s really slow on the draw on a couple of lines in this one. “Are we making good judgments about how to keep America safe precisely because sending our military into battle is such an [enormous?] step.” His sentences are completely calorie free. McCain looks very sure of himself here.
“You might think with that kind of concern Obama would visit Afghanistan.”
Verdict: This one was tough, but I have to credit McCain with some great, memorable answers. McCain 3, Obama 2.
Question #5 – Your reading of the threat from Iran to the security of the United States.
McCain leads … um… What is an existential threat to the state of Isreal? Are we reading Camus here? There won’t be another Holocaust. That’s more of a quintessential threat, no?
Forming a league of democracies. I think the McCain crazy train has arrived.
But, wait… “The Iranians have a lousy government, therefore they have a lousy economy.” Wow, invokes the French first in his superhero league. Surprising, but valid.
Lots of allies in that answer … I didn’t know McCain liked other countries.
Obama believes the Republican Guard is a terrorist organization. Okay. “The single thing that has strengthened Iran … is the war in Iraq.” Is he coming around to answering the question soon? Talking about centerfuges … is 4000 centerfuges a threat? I bet braniac knows…
“Not only would it threaten Isreal, but it would create an environment where it would set off and arms race in the middle east.” Invokes need to cooperate with Russia and China, “I think Senator McCain would agree they are not democracies.” Awesome line, totally should be on the highlights reel, but probably too subtle.
Obama: “Tough, direct diplomacy.” Basically saying the silent treatment is bullshit, not only with your girlfriend, but also in Korea and now in Iran.
Moderator: “Senator [McCain], what about talking?” Elise and I both laugh.
McCain jokes over pronouncing some names correctly but comes out quickly and hugely pro-Isreal.
This is a really well-matched question. Does sitting across the table from an enemy state legitimize them? What if they’re already legitimate? This is a major ideological debate between our two candidates, and there is no right answer.
McCain: “I’ll sit down with anybody, but there has to be preconditions.”
Obama will meet with anybody if he thinks it will keep America safe. Uh-oh, I see where he’s going. Kissinger endorses Obama’s approach, yet he’s a McCain adviser. McCain looks a little contrite there, having just invoked Kissinger pretty prominently in his previous answer.
“[Meeting without preconditions] doesn’t mean you might come over for tea one day.” AWESOME. Obama finally found one where he has a clear answer that is gaining some traction. This has been really tried and tested. Using North Korea as an example, how badly it was flubbed when we gave them the silent treatment. Really tying this answer together to the entire thread of discussion on this question.
We’re on shaky ground. Can I get a Mutlu shoutout? We need to send Obama a Mutlu CD.
“McCain said he wouldn’t meet with the Prime Minister of Spain … if we can’t meet with our friends I don’t know how we’re going to [deal with terrorism].”
McCain tries to laugh off his senility, but it does not come off terrifically. However, he brings in the father knows best approach – inference on the “fundamental difference of opinion” is that McCain differs because he has experience. “South Koreans are three inches taller!” Random facts! What is the highest point in their nation? Go! “We don’t know the status of the dear leader’s health.” Nice world affairs nerd joke there.
Again with Regan. This is starting to be a slightly effective anti-Bush push.
Obama rebuts well. This was a great question for them both. Finally they’re starting to sound a little presidential.
McCain, first laugh of the night: “[Are you saying we’ll meet with Iran and they say they’ll bomb Isreal into extinction and] we’ll say ‘Oh no you’re not?’ Oh, please.” Really, kinda a great line. “Senator is parsing words.”
Obama: I AM NOT PARSING!
That was a great question for them both.
Verdict: In hindsight, it was McCain who did more parsing here. Maybe Obama misspoke in the past, but he’s sounding reasonable right now. Obama 3, McCain 2.
Question #6 Russia – competitor, enemy, or partner. Go.
Obama says their actions in Georgia were unacceptable. Follow through on 6-point cease fire. He’s really sticking to the bullets on this. Again, hitting 21st century behavior vs. 20th. He’s building a levee against a hugely adept McCain rebuttal.
Wants more of those smaller states in Nato. “Also can’t return to a cold war [policy?] with Russia.” Noose lukes? “We have to have a president that is clear that we’re not going to deal with Russia based on staring into his eyes and seeing his soul … the way he’s behaving lately deserves a sharp response.”
McCain, cagey. “A little bit of naivete there – he doesn’t seem to understand.” “I looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes and saw three letters – a K, a G, and a B.”
Here’s the thing about this – the more McCain slams Obama here, the more he’s going to sound hawkish on Russia, which is it’s own danger. He’s trying to avoid it by making this about energy independence. Here’s where McCain starts to become a little too much of a wonk – he just outlined a pretty complex relationship between political power and energy pipelines in the area a little too quickly, probably lost a lot of viewers.
Hits the “I WENT THERE” point again effectively. Fuck Carmen Sandiego, I’m John goddamned McCain. “And watch Ukraine.” Um, sure. No, really: “watch Ukraine, and let’s make sure they know we are their strong ally.”
After the first statement from both they sounded strong on this answer. A lot of the debate isn’t about someone being correct, just that people have salient, defensible points, and here they both do.
Obama goes hugely on the defensive – says he effectively agrees with McCain, and additionally … um … I don’t even know. Basically just that he agrees with McCain in full, and generally defers to his more presidential judgment.
“We can’t drill our way out of the problem.” Turns the question around to McCain’s opposition of innovations in energy, which is actually a terrific way to rebut McCain’s answer.
McCain pushes for more answer time, jokes about solar (no one in AZ is against it), and hits a major offshore drilling point. Again, value of that depends on your stance.
Re-re-re-re-rebuttal from Obama that is mostly flustered stammering. Obama again directs the moderator like he’s in charge.
Verdict: I think Obama mastered this exchange, but I have to dock him a point for being an asshole at the end instead of sticking his landing. Obama 2, McCain 2.
Question #7 – Likelihood of another 9/11.
McCain: less likely now than on the day after 9/11. That’s a valid response. Talking about the 9/11 commission with Lieberman as a way he differs with Bush. More than 40 recommendations, and “most” written into law. “We have a long way to go in our intelligence services … so we don’t ever torture a prisoner ever again.”
Concise and formidable answer. “America is safer today than on 9/11, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a long way to go.”
Obama: “First of all, I think we are safer in some ways.” Still weak on chemical sites, transit, courts. Biggest threat? “Not a nuclear missile coming over the skies; it’s in a suitcase. That’s way nuclear proliferation is so important.” Believes in missile defense to a point … we’re veering off topic now. Seems to be connected to thinking that nuclear prolif is the biggest physical threat to us, and that’s where we have to devote our attention.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Americans don’t have the imagination at the moment to care about these James Bond suitecase bombs. Yes, they’re the greater threat, but I think the wide swath of the audience wants you to talk about how you’re going to make us safer from our own airplanes being used to demolish national landmarks.
Obama obliquely addresses it: taking fight to the source.
Ends with some nationalism: “The way we are perceived in the world [has changed.] … restore America’s stance in the world. We are less respected now … and this is the greatest country on earth.” I would have been interested to see how this would have gone if Obama got to go first. This stuff would have been very powerful as the leadoff answer.
McCain has a great line about fragile sacrifice and treasure that I can’t type fast enough to capture. It’s beautiful. “I think Americans will judge as to whether that’s the right path or the wrong path, and who should be the next president of the United States.”
Obama thinks Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are the biggest threats, but also the debt with China, and that Iraq has caused us to turn a blind eye on it all. “The conspicuousness of [China’s] presence [in Latin America] is matched by our absence … we have viewed everything through this single [Iraq] lens.” Ties back to health care and science and technology. Connects decline in economy to a potential decline of national security. SCORE.
This section yields his best quotes of the night. Obama: “Nobody is talking about losing this war. We’re talking about the next president having a stronger strategic vision.”
McCain: I’ve been involved in every major national security issue over the last 26 years. Strong close from John. Comparing Bush stubbornness to Obama, which takes some balls. “We need more flexibility in the president of the united states than that.” Ouch.
On veterans: “I love them, and I’ll take care of them, and they know that I’ll take care of them, and that will be my job.”
Do I like McCain better right now because he speaks more slowly?
McCain: I don’t think I need any on-the-job training.
Obama: “My father was from Kenya – that’s where I get my name.” Compares why his father came here to if that same image remains today. Wants to send a message to the world that we’re going to invest in issues where ordinary people can succeed in their dreams (paraphrase; he said it much better).
McCain: “I know how to heal the wounds of war, I know how to deal with our adversaries, and I know how to [deal?] with our friends.”
Verdict: Strong response from both. Obama 3, McCain 3.
If you made it through that, you might want to take a look at the AP fact check, which debunks some of the more contentious points. Specifically, McCain’s “failed state” comment appears to be fictional.
Ms. Couric says it best: experience vs. judgment. On this particular range of topics I think experience has the edge. My final tally is McCain 18, Obama 16. Though they were both credible, I’m not really seeing a benefit to voting Obama based on tonight’s performance.