After much guessing, the on again, almost off again, 2008 Presidential Debate was back on again.
Barack Obama and John McCain squared off in Oxford Mississippi.
The moderator was Jim Lehrer, who has a reputation being tough, and more importantly…fair.
Jim Lehrer once said that he stays humble during debates because before he goes on stage, he looks in the mirror and repeats to himself several times, “This is not about me.”
If only more people in the media had his sense of honor and ethics, the Fourth Estate would not be held in such low esteem.
The debate was supposed to only be about foreign policy, but life is event driven, not topic driven. Therefore, a healthy dose of economics was to be interspersed with global events during this debate.
Before getting to the debate itself, I would like to shamelessly self promote a debate between a pair of gentlemen who will be making the case for their respective candidates. If you are in the Los Angeles area, please check out my debate with this other fellow. Below is the flyer for that event.
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT
TO THE MIDDLE EAST:
A DEBATE ABOUT 2008
JEWISH JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 16TH
MEET ‘N GREET: 6:45 PM
DEBATE: 7:15 PM
CHABAD JEWISH STUDENT CENTER @ USC
CHABAD @ USC
2713 SEVERANCE STREET
LOS ANGELES, CA 90007
RUNYA@USC.EDU FOR DETAILS OR TO RSVP
While I make the case for John McCain and Randy makes the case for Barack Obama, last night the candidates were on their own. Below is my recap of their debate without my surrogacy, although perhaps my analysis will make up for that. I do not expect either of them to provide analysis of my debate with Randy, but time will tell. With that, here is the debate recap.
They were both asked about the financial crisis. Obama called this “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.” No, it is not. He said that we have to move “swiftly,” and “wisely.” He spoke of “oversight.” Naturally, he blamed President Bush, and linked him to McCain. It was standard boilerplate.
McCain started by offering prayers for Senator Ted Kennedy. While it was a very gracious thing to do, I personally am getting sick of McCain’s graciousness. It is never returned, and is seen by the left as weakness. Senator Kennedy has nothing nice to say about those on the right, and given how the left treated Jesse Helms, the right should offer nothing towards Senator Kennedy. McCain then spoke about the beauty of “coming together,” which is code for republican surrendering, liberals getting everything they want, and then blaming republicans anyway.
One of the reasons Jim Lehrer is such an excellent moderator is because he wants to get to the meat of the discussion. Realizing that neither man offered much substance in their opening remarks, he firmly asked each of them if they favored the current bailout plan.
Obama danced, saying that he “had not seen the language yet.” He then shifted to how the problem started. He simply does not answer questions. “We did not set up a 21st century regulatory system.” That phrase says nothing.
When asked if he would vote for the plan, McCain said, “I hope so.” He then said “sure.” He then shifted to accountability. “Greed is rewarded, corruption is rewarded.”
Obama agreed with McCain about accountability before bashing Wall Street.
McCain blamed Washington, DC, and Wall Street. McCain also praised the American worker, which sounds nice but means little.
The candidates were then asked how they would solve the financial crisis.
McCain spoke about cutting spending, saying he would “veto every spending bill that crossed his desk.” He then spoke about the 932 million in spending Obama has requested earmarks for.
Obama agreed that spending was out of control, and claimed that he no longer requested earmarks for his home state. He then claimed that McCain would give tax breaks for the wealthy. This was standard class warfare, not breaking any new ground. Obama again claimed that he would cut taxes for 95% of Americans, which would be tough since only 62% of Americans pay any taxes at all.
McCain then pointed out that Obama suspended his earmark requests out of political expediency, and not out of altruism. He also pointed out that Obama was proposing 800 billion in new spending. “The worst thing we can do in this economic climate is raise taxes.”
Obama then interjected, saying that he only wanted to “close loopholes.” That is code for raising taxes. Obama insisted he pays for all of his expenditures on things like health care.
McCain correctly pointed out that the United States has a 35% corporate tax rate, while Ireland has an 11% rate. McCain wants to lower our corporate tax rate, and Obama wishes to raise it. McCain wants to double the dividend “from $3500 to $7000.”
Obama kept agreeing with McCain, but he made a fascinating assertion. He claimed that due to loopholes, American corporations actually pay among the lowest corporate tax rates. This is ludicrous, but fascinating nonetheless. He also claimed that McCain wants to tax health care benefits.
McCain again hammered home that he has tried to control spending while Obama has not. Obama appeared to be holding back laughter at that point. They sparred over tax breaks for oil companies.
Lehrer then asked another hard hitting question. He wanted to know what the candidates would give up if the $700 billion dollar bailout plan was passed. This was a great question because candidates talk about cutting spending, but were now being asked for specifics.
Obama did not answer the question. “It is hard to anticipate what the budget will look like next year.” He then talked about how his energy plan would “free us in 10 years from foreign oil.” This had nothing to do with the question. He mentioned health care and education. He saus we must “invest” in them. Of course when he says invest he means “spend.” He also wants to fix the infrastructure. In fact, the entire answer was about new spending he would enact. The question was what he would cut. He wants to eliminate programs “that don’t work.” Of course, he did not name one.
When McCain mentioned that Obama had the most liberal voting record, Obama again laughed. I am not sure if this will be seena s Al Gore eyeball rolling in 2000 or George W. Bush angry sighing in 2004, but it was a tad obnoxious to me.
As for McCain, he actually listed specifics. He would cut ethanol subsidies, and cost plus contracts at the Defense Department.
Obama could not bring himself to cut anything. He again agreed with McCain, saying that we have to “make some cuts.” He did not offer one tangible cut.
McCain laughed himself when Obama claimed that he was liberal because he needed to counterattack President Bush. Obama claimed to work with conservative Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
McCain then proposed a spending freeze on everthing but defense, Veterans Affairs, and entitlements. The problem is that entitlements are the biggest part of the budget.
Obama stated that a spending freeze “takes a hatchet to what might require a scalpel. There are some programs that are currently underfunded.” He simply does not understand that a machete is needed. He wants to spend more on early childhood education. He wants to spend less on Iraq.
As the discussion tilted towards energy, McCain pointed out that Obama is against drilling. Obama kept laughing, which seemed condescending.
Lehrer then asked the candidates to answer if the current economic climate would even affect their budgets. Obama acknowledged that it required tough decisions, before going into the standard stump speech.
McCain then gave a strong response, saying that he did not want to ‘turn the health care system over to the Federal Government.” He then pointed out that Obama is proposing 800 billion in new spending, and that he could cut spending by canceling some of his own proposals.
Obama then referred to President Bush as “your President.” McCain reaffirmed the maverick credentials of him and Sarah Palin.
The debate then shifted to Iraq. The candidates were asked what the lessons of Iraq were.
McCain reaffirmed his concern with the initial post invasion strategy, before mentioning that he supported General David Petraeus and the surge.
Obama insisted we should not have gone in to Iraq in the first place. Obama keeps insisting how brave he was to stand up and oppose the war. It was not risky because he was not in the Senate at the time. He also insisted that “Al Queda was stringer than at any time since 2001.” This is completely false, but Obama has every right to be wrong.
McCain then pointed out that Obama was against the surge, which Obama claimed “exceeded his wildest expectations.” McCain then hit hard by pointing out that Obama did not go to Iraq for 900 days, and despite chairing a subcommittee dealing with Afghnaistan, never held a hearing.
The best Obama could do was praise his selection of Joe Biden. Obama even said that General Petraeus “has done a brilliant job.” Give Obama credit. He is smooth. He then stated that McCain was wrong about the war about WMD and the initial war.
McCain then pointed out that “Obama does not know the difference between a tactic and a strategy.” McCain reminded the audience that Obama will not admit that we are winning in Iraq. Obama keeps saying that is not true. McCain then pointed out that Obama voted to cut off funding for the troops.
Obama claimed that the funding issue was about a disagreement on a timetable. Obama stated that in 16 months, we should reduce our troops.
McCain mentioned that “Osama Bin Laden and David Petraeus both see Iraq as the central front in the War on Terror.” He pointed out thatr the success of the surge may have succeeded beyond Obama’s expectations, but not his own.
The debate shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan. The candidates were asked if more troops were needed there. More specifically, Mr. Lehrer wanted to know how many troops were needed, and when.
Obama eventually said that he would send 2 to 3 brigades, but other than that mainly carped about Iraq without answering the question. He said that we need to “press” the Afghan government. He did not say what that meant. He also said we need to “deal with Pakistan.” That also was left unexplained.
McCain pointed out that threatening to cut off aid to Pakistan was irresponsible, as was threatening military strikes into Pakistan. This was McCain pointing out that he was the adult in the race by saying, “You don’t do that. You don’t say that out loud.” He also kept reminding America that he has been to these places, and Obama has not.
Obama then dodged the issue, instead going for a rankout contest by criticizing McCain singing the “Bomb Iran” song to the tune of the Beach boys “Barbara Ann.” He stated that America “coddled” Pervez Musharraf. This is an area where Obama is fundamentally wrong. Working with Musharraf was the right thing to do.
McCain then spoke about his long record. It was another reminder of his experience vs the inexperience of Obama. Both candidates then told the obligatory story of the average citizen that agreed with them.
Obama then launched a broadside. “It was not true that you were always concerned about Afghanistan.”
McCain then shot back hard. “If you were that concerned, you would have gone to Afghanistan.” McCain reminded America of the places he has been, that he speaks from actually having been there. When McCain stated that Obama did not understand the situation, Obama laughed again.
Mr. Lehrer then shifted the debate to Iran.
McCain spoke forcefully, saying a nuclear armed Iran is “an existential threat to Israel.” He also added that “We cannot have a second Holocaust.” He again mentioned his “League of Democracies” proposal. He also stated that, “Iran has a lousy government.” He also brought up that Obama voted against the Kyl-Lieberman amendment that would have labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
Obama insisted that he believed the IRG was a terrorist organization, and always has. This man truly does know how to be for and against everything. He does not get called on it. He stated that we “cannot tolerate” a nuclear armed Iran. He wants more sanctions. Somebody ought to remind him that sanctions failed, and will fail again. Obama also mentioned why we must talk to people.
McCain then reminded the audience that Obama would meet with Armageddonijad “without preconditions. Obama tried to explain that preconditions was not the same as preparation. He would make sure that there were advance preparations. McCain accused Obama of parsing words. McCain emphasized the preconditions, and Obama laughed again.
Then Obama said something that made McCain laugh. “Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful person in Iran. He might not be the right person to talk to.” The Mullahs notwithstanding, this was a way of hiding on Obama’s part. Armageddonijad is absolutely the public face of the country.
Obama criticized the notion that “unless you do what we say, we won’t have direct contacts with you.” I wish McCain had said, “Exactly. Now you get it.” Obama seems to think that laying down tough parameters is a bad thing. Obama called Iran a “rogue regime.” He then admitted that it “may not work.” It is outstanding that Obama concedes that his methods may not work. He also insists that wasting time on a method that does not work will strengthen our position.
Obama blamed the current North Korea problem on our disengagement with them. Actually, it was Bill CLinton and his need to talk everything to death that allowed him to declare dialogue a complete success. North Korea simply violated the agreements they made. Obama alluded to McCain wanting to get tough with Spain.
McCain dismissed the Spain comments, and referred to Iran’s comments about Israel as a “stinking corpse.” He used that to explain that preconditions were required, and that Obama’s views on the subject were “naive and dangerous.”
They sparred over remarks made by Henry Kissinger. Obama was clearly on the defensive, as McCain reminded Kissinger was a 35 year friend of his.
Mr. Lehrer then brought up Russia, and how America should see Russia.
Obama blathered. He said that Russia”s actions in Georgia were “unacceptable” and “unwarranted.” We would “explain” to Russia the right way to behave. I am sure they would listen to us and thank us for the explanation. Obama never actually did say how he viewed Russia. He insisted again that he worked with Richard Lugar on securing loose nuclear warheads. This is sheer fantasy. He did not.
McCain brought up Obama’s reaction to the Russia-Georgia situation. He called Obama’s initial response “naive.” McCain also connected the dots by showing that the situatio between Russia and Georgia had worldwide effects on energy. He also stated that he would admit Georgia and the Ukraine into NATO.
Obama agreed with McCain, but insisted that he was tough from the beginning as well. He claims that he stated that Russia’s actions were “illegal” and “objectionable.” Somebody ought to explain to Mr. Obama that this is why many Americans see the democrats as soft on defense.
Obama then springboarded onto his green agenda, although thankfully he did not use the idiotic phrase “green collar jobs.” Obama explained that we had to “walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.” Perhaps he was referring to himself.
McCain mentioned that Obama is against nuclear power despite his protests to the contrary.
As for Dick Lugar, Obama laughed when McCain claimed that he was the one who supported Nunn-Lugar back in 1990.
Obama seemed very defensive when he actually decided to become the moderator of the debate. He turned to Lehrer and said, “Let’s move on.” He truly believes that any time he is asked a tough question, we should just move on.
The last question dealt with whether the candidates thought there would e another 9/11 type of attack on America.
McCain said that it is “much less than it was after 9/11. We have a much safer nation, but we are not yet safe.” He then again emphasized his bipartisanship on the issue. He also said, “I know our allies, and I can work closely with them.”
Obama again spoke of getting away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also claimed that it is important that we are “perceived in the world” better. He insisted that we are “less respected now.” I wonder who he thinks does not respect us. Perhaps he worries that Iran does not respect us.
Obama laughed for the umpteenth time when McCain said that, “Obama still doesn’t understand,” with regards to the necessity to succeed in Iraq. Specific dates for withdrawal is an area of disagreement among the men.
McCain then firmly stated that he “doesn’t believe that Obama has the knowledge or experience, and that he has made the wrong judgments in a number of areas.” All the platitudes in the world from Obama do not minimize the truth of this statement.
For some reason Obama laughed again when McCain accused him of stubbornly clinging to beliefs, such as the surge not working. McCain also made it clear that Veterans knew that he “loved them and would take care of them.”
McCain ended very strongly by saying, “I don’t need any on the job training. I am ready to go right now.”
Obama then concluded by talking about his father in Kenya, and the 1960s. He mentioned that our standing in the world has slipped. This did not rebut the inexperience issue. He again mentioned education in what was a foreign policy debate.
McCain finished by saying, “I know how to heal the wounds of war. I know how to deal with our adversaries. I know how to deal with our friends.”
On style points, the debate was a draw in the sense that neither candidate landed a knockout blow or made a major gaffe.
I am curious to see if Obama’s constant laughing will be seen as condescending in the same manner that was Al Gore and his rolling eyeballs.
On substance, of course John McCain won. He has plenty, and Obama has none.
Yet image does matter, and despite being unable to offer anything tangible, Obama evades very well. He offers nothing, but makes it seem like he is actually saying something.
As expected, Jim Lehrer did an excellent job. He remains a first class moderator. He struck the balance of being tough but remaining polite, and not making himself the focus.
Obama comes across as a cerebral academic professor, which is what he was. He remains cool and detached.
This debate probably changed few minds. However, one positive was that it did deal with issues, and did not spend time on nonsense. I again give Jim Lehrer credit.
The answers were sometimes lacking, especially by Obama, but the questions were substantive.
This was a good debate about issues that mattered.