FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE: MISMATCH
McCain Brought His Shovel; Obama brought His Game
(Sept. 26, Oxford, Mississippi) In this highly anticipated first presidential debate, which almost did not occur, John McCain and Barak Obama answered questions from PBS host Jim Lehrer. This debate was scheduled to address foreign policy however, due to the current financial crisis; the first 40 minutes were spent dealing with questions related to the perilous economic situation. Each candidate fielded these questions with basic boiler plate political rhetoric. Neither offered any substantive ideas or proposals regarding how to practically handle the financial mess, the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression of 1929.
McCain found himself in a particularly precarious position since, in his role as a Senator; he was a staunch proponent of government deregulation of financial institutions of all kinds and helped craft the legislation that made the current financial crisis possible. He has a strong pro-business, trickle down economics voting history in the senate as well as many close relationships, some rather dubious, with corporate leaders, executives and lobbyists. He also was unable to divorce himself from the fact that he has voted for virtually every piece of legislation that George W. Bush supported. McCain was unable to cast himself as an agent of change after 26 years in Congress.
Barak Obama demonstrated an impressive understanding of the current crisis as well as economics and fiscal policy and comported himself well during this segment of the debate. While McCain never looked at Obama directly, whenever McCain was responding to a question, Obama turned and looked directly at McCain. This simple component of body language gave the Illinois Senator an air of confidence, comfortability, and command of the issues.
When the questions finally moved to foreign policy, McCain’s alleged strong suit and an area he has drawn sharp distinctions between himself and Senator Obama, again he failed to score any real body blows aside from repeating condescending, dismissive, sometimes contemptuous comments regarding his opponents “lack of understanding”, “inexperience” and other similar statements. McCain was clearly determined to establish the theme that Obama lacks “the experience, knowledge and judgment” to be Commander-in-Chief.
The starkest differences among many were regarding the war in Iraq. Senator Obama had opposed the war since 2002 while John McCain, a former Navy pilot and POW in Viet Nam, was one of the strongest, most vocal ally of President Bush. During this segment of questioning, McCain became aggressively dismissive of the younger Obama, saying several times while referencing his opponent, “he just doesn’t get it”, “What Senator Obama doesn’t realize is…” and some even more pointed borderline sarcastic criticisms. During one exchange McCain said that Obama “Does not understand the difference between tactics and strategy.” Obama scored a countercharge soon there after when he stated “John thinks the war began in 2007. It didn’t.” This was in reference to McCain continually touted the “success of the surge.”
Overall it was lackluster aside from the few exchanges when both candidates briefly trades jabs with an occasional body punch.
Of course, the post debate spin doctors for each candidate declared their man as the winner while public opinion polls show that the majority of viewers basically judged the debate as a draw. The fact that the race remains in a statistical dead heat, this close to the general election, raise a of host of questions regarding how the electorate perceives Senator McCain and Senator Obama. The complexity of the world and current domestic problems; the challenges that our next president will face, combined with the historic nature of the tickets, may be elements that set the stage for a protracted vote count before a winner is declared.
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