Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The second debate

The second Presidential debate between Obama and McCain was supposed to be a townhall-style meeting.  But all it had in that vein was questions from voters, with some voters personally asking the questions and Tom Brokaw reading off some questions submitted via the Internet.  There were no follow-up questions, with only one somewhat extended discussion between Obama and McCain.  That was one shortcoming.

There were some good questions, and good answers - Obama mentioning the $400k AIG junket, Obama's "I'll take out bin Laden even if he's in Pakistan" statement, McCain saying "talk softly and carry a big stick."  Though Obama hit McCain hard on that last point, mentioning "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran", McCain's promise to annihilate North Korea, and "Next stop, Baghdad!"

Earlier in the campaign, Obama hit McCain for suspending his campaign to work on the bailout plan, saying a President should be able to work on more than one thing at a time.  So perhaps in a turn of events, when Brokaw asked them to prioritize between health care, SS/Medicare and energy, McCain said "we can work on all 3!" while Obama said "first energy, second health care, and third, education" (but not entitlements!)

In response to a question about the effect of the bailout plan on ordinary working Americans, McCain gave his standard stump speech, while Obama explained how the plan would affect ordinary folk (as in small businesses may not make payroll due to a lack of credit), in addition to his spiel.  There were one or two questions where neither answered, and instead gave their standard stump speech.

Overall, though, I thought there was no clear winner (though the CNN and CBS flash polls say Obama won by a bit).  Obama came off looking very unruffled, looking intently at McCain when McCain was speaking - as the talking heads said, good body language, and most importantly, Obama looked Presidential.  I thought McCain looked old, perhaps even wheezing a little.  So all in all, Obama won.

Aside - the in-house audience was made up of undecided voters from the Nashville area.  What...?  Do Tennesseans really matter? :-)  And KeithO and ChrisM kept talking about McCain's "that one" (referring to Obama) and "not you, Tom!" (on candidates for SecTreasury).  That was stupid, and those comments barely registered on me.  On this, I am with Mike Duhaime, the McCain guy, who said Mathews should focus on the substantive issues.  Now, if only the McCain campaign itself would follow that advice...

[Update] EJ Dionne reminds me of a question that I thought McCain would hit out of the ballpark, but didn't: "As president, what sacrifices -- sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American dream and to get out of the economic morass that we're now in?"  McCain's campaign was centered around sacrifice (well, mostly military, apparently), but it was Obama who gave the much better answer.  As Dionne writes:
McCain spoke almost entirely about cutting or freezing government programs. It was a strange answer from a man whose military career was characterized by years of punishing patriotic sacrifice.

Obama caught the idealism behind the query, criticizing President Bush's call for Americans to shop after the Sept. 11 attacks. He spoke of the need for individual energy conservation; called for expansion of service programs, including the Peace Corps; and described the hunger among young people to serve their country. McCain sounded like a legislator, Obama like a president.

Update 2: Jon Stewart, one of the most astute political observers, reminds me of Obama's reply to McCain's "let folks buy health insurance across state boundaries" - that the insurance companies would move to the state with most lax regulations to reduce their cost and increase profits, like the banking industry does in... Delaware! Ummm.... with the help of regulations written by your VP? Ouch!

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