Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The Political Hoedown
The Town Hall Presidential Debate
Wouldn't it have been neat if they could've actually done the town hall debate in a town hall instead of another cheaply built, blue felt stage? I think so.
I also think it's very hard to watch these two debate. McCain obviously dislikes Obama, finds him repellent on a number of issues and morally questionable. Obama, on the other hand, thinks McCain = Bush and that Bush = Misguided and Evil so....
Tom Brokaw moderated at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. Could've been worse, but it wasn't terrific, let me tell you.
Deep breath, people. Here we go. I promise to be quick.
The night started very well for John McCain, since Barack Obama didn't even thank him for being there, a standard courtesy. In their first economic go around, McCain had decidedly more "original" content in his answer than Obama's bland stump speech cannibalization. In fact, we were introduced to what could have been (and sort of was) a too-repeated Obama phrase, like McCain with maverick: middle class.
That's right, Obama let you know, America, then he believes there is such a thing as the "middle class." Class. McCain referred to this strata of citizens as "middle income," a key distinction. Republicans start culture wars, but Democrats thrive on class warfare. This set the tone for much of the economic and domestic back-and-forth. While McCain hammered down his various tax and health care policies (on the latter, not as effectively as he might've), Obama insisted it was all to benefit the upper class in the country, not you, the...middle class.
It doesn't matter than 2/3 of corporate tax cuts benefit the workers directly in bonus, incentive and wage increases, or that the last President to raise taxes on anyone during a recession-leading-to-depression was Herbert Hoover. But it's hard to say that (and McCain tried with the latter) without sounding angry and crotchety, and McCain already has enough issues with that. Obama had to rest on his laurels last night, his staid, tried and true method of cheerleading his tax policy, and that's tying the cuts under the Bush Administration to McCain (though he voted against them).
Let's be quick about Tom Brokaw. He wasn't a bad moderator, and would've been decent for a standard debate, but he put too many of his own questions in the mix. What he was good at was slapping Obama down each time he ran over his limit or tried to get the last word in after good McCain jabs. It was inappropriate for Obama to, acting like a brat, interrupt Brokaw or McCain (Can I respond? Can I? I need to!) just because he felt he'd gotten the bad end of a question.
!!Commentary!! The media won't pick up on it or criticize him for this, because it'd show he isn't cool under pressure, can't practice proper decorum and just doesn't look presidential at all times. !!Commentary!!
*Bush + McCain = Answer for Obama
*Obama's Inexperience + My Record = McCain's Responses
*Fannie Mae + Obama = McCain Attack Strategy
*Deregulation + McCain = Obama's Sharp Retorts
There are many formulas like those, used broadly over the last and this debate. Obama really went after every economic turn by McCain as an attack on the middle class by dint of being pro-business and pro-across-the-board tax cuts. On foreign policy, McCain is hammering the line that Obama doesn't have the wherewithal to be commander-in-chief, the experience, the judgement. Their attacks against the other weren't as pointed as their VPs made in their debate, as the mood of the country has turned from that thinking and what's less hostility and more solutions.
The one spot where McCain came out clearly ahead and didn't lose even after Obama spoke was on energy and climate change. He made the case that he stood against Bush, that he toured the world seeing the effects of global warming and that he had a solution - which he spelled out - for what to do. Obama agreed with McCain and restated McCain's solution in his own words, to sound different, added a few canned points as an afterthought. In a time-tested method, Obama used bigger numbers (5 million new jobs with green tech, he said, vs. McCain's hundreds of thousands) to try and seem like his version of the same was shinier, better. But it was the same answer.
To be perfectly fair, the biggest score for Obama came when he brought up the "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" jingle McCain sang with a group of vet buddies (to the tune of the Beach Boys' Barbara Ann) and talked about McCain's "annihilate North Korea" comment (I can't find a direct quote). It started with a compliment to McCain, to which McCain laughed and said "Thank you," but turned on a dime into a direct attack. Obama knew he had the Arizonan by the short ones, McCain knew it and probably anyone who reads an editorial by a center/center-left writer knows it, too. The purpose is clear: McCain is hardly even-tempered or a cool hand at the tiller, but a reckless man. Will it work, or do people want a little saltiness in their commander-in-chief and President?
To ramble on about each topic would take up too much of your time. Find the transcript if you want fuller quotes. I will talk briefly about health care and what was left unsaid.
Health care is a huge issue, one that will be at the centerpiece of the next debate. McCain can turn opinion toward him if he drives home a broad, solid domestic agenda that touches on health care, entitlement spending and education, coupled with an economic life preserver. But last night, that first issue wasn't really handled all that well - by either.
Obama spoke about his plan, which includes you keeping your policy if you like it, going after insurance giants to lower premiums and offering a buy-in to the federal insurance package government employees get for the uninsured, though he didn't mention any of his penalties or mandates, which do exist, and how this would increase the government's participation in the process.
At his turn, McCain glossed over any tax on employers' health care plans, a key attack-point by Obama, but did stress the $5,000 deductible credit offered towards insurance, allowing people to supplement, compliment or replace their current coverage. He also talked about state insurance regulation and how he'd do away with it so insurance companies will be forced to compete across state lines, something controversial, but theoretically promising.
So what's the net gain here? Both have policies that read very well for the average income American, but each has hidden clauses, and we're left until next week (or a search on Wikipedia) to find out what they are. I wasn't satisfied with Obama's answer, because he denied what he was offering was really a massive expansion of government spending and insurance interaction, and when has increased government in our personal lives every been that good? God love him, but McCain didn't defend the tax portion of his plan, which is a new revenue stream, and why it netted out ahead for the consumer (if it did).
So that was a failing that needs to be addressed next week.
Where do they turn now?
According to Gallup, McCain is down 11 points (52 vs 41). Look at Rasmussen, and the situation is a little better (51 v 45) and Zogby is even rosier (47 v 45), but RCP's average has Obama up well over five points.
"Despair" is the word I use when talking to McCain supporters. Obama has a dozen days of positive polling numbers and a terrific spread for most of that. Coming back, it's climbing uphill while greased up, drunk and chained to a few ranting partisans.
McCain didn't mention William Ayres, unrepentant radical/domestic terrorist, radical Rev. Jeremiah Wright or Tony Rezko, the unholy trinity in Obama's past. If he is sincere about winning, he has to swallow his ethical objections and start telling America that not only is Obama inexperienced, he has past associations (not including the Fannie Mae tie) that should preclude him from the Oval Office, dangerous associations with people whose views are not only out-of-step with "middle America," but even most liberals.
Sarah Palin has been going after the Obama-Ayers connection, and the media is slowly picking up on it. Watch this topic.
Comfortably in the lead, at least a few points outside the margin of error in polls, Obama needs to play defense and limit his negativity. Barring any "October surprise" regarding terrorism (or massive, Republican-backed economic recovery), Obama can rest easily knowing that he doesn't have anything to do him active damage beyond his control. Bringing up the Keating Five scandal won't help him, because McCain has been relatively forthwith about it. With the proper ad campaign, tailored to link Bush and McCain even more, while stressing his economic plan, the odds are stacked for him to walk away with a bigger victory than Bush in 2004.
Next Wednesday is the final debate, another standard podium affair. It'll cover domestic issues and the economy, so look for fireworks and hard proposals.
I'll be back before then if there's a reason.
By the by, if anyone out there wants to write "The Case for Obama," let me know. I'd like a last-week binge of opinion, including pieces pro-Obama as well as McCain.