Friday, September 26, 2008

The Great Debate

Before tonight's debate, I had a conversation with a friend about his expectations of the candidates. He responded by expressing his hope that he would be able to divine the essential character of both John McCain and Barack Obama. It didn't take long for the candidates to show their true colors. In response to the first questions about the economy, Obama gave us "blamecasting" about the alleged failures of Republican leadership, suggesting that Republicans invariably believe that "regulation is always bad," and weaving in the need for a new energy policy and improved educational opportunities (with Jim Lehrer egging him on). Meanwhile, McCain expounded upon the need for oversight and accountability in any financial rescue plan, expressed empathy for the suffering of those Americans beset by present economic difficulties and restated his optimism about America's future, all the while (appropriately) distancing himself from members of his party.

Both candidates played to their strengths; McCain simply was able to display more of them by way of direct reference to positions that he has taken during his time in Washington. He repeatedly discussed his record of holding the line on government spending, while Obama was left to run against George W. Bush. When McCain suggested a government spending freeze, Obama almost pulled a "Saddleback" as he attempted to give another one of his circuitous responses, speaking of using a sledgehammer when a scalpel would be more appropriate. McCain honed in on Obama's
$800 million in new spending and his $932 million in earmark requests, even as Obama... ran against George W. Bush.

And when the conversation turned to Iraq, "Whoa Nellie." We heard little to nothing new from Obama about the conduct of the war or how we are winning it, only how Bush mislead the country into the war in the first place. For his part, McCain remarked on the success of the troop surge, the courage of American troops, and Obama's seeming unwillingness to acknowledge what the surge has wrought. Similarly, on the matters of Afghanistan and Iran -
absent McCain's cringe-inducing flub of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's surname - McCain seemed more in possession of the facts, particularly as it pertained to the war in Afghanistan, while Obama recapitulated elements of his campaign stump speech. (It really got bad when the candidates discussed the Russian invasion of Georgia; Obama had to concede that he was essentially in agreement with McCain's statements and approach on the matter - one of several times he said as much - before retreating to his default of energy independence. Obama may not win the debate, but he gets the prize for best non sequitor.)

There is no doubt that McCain is the better, more experienced debater and came across as more quick-witted, energetic and informed. He was able to parry Obama's "McSame" thrusts, while making Obama look like a whiny liberal scold who - no matter the issue - will bloviate on energy independence/alternative energy, affordable college, rebuilding infrastructure, getting our troops out of Iraq, etc. (Insert "yawn" here.) McCain's most effective weapon was the phrase, "I have a record..." (with his second being, "What Sen. Obama does not understand...") as he repeatedly evidenced his encyclopedic knowledge of a variety of issues. He made the most of his tenure in Washington, an especially difficult task in the era of "change." As McCain noted, there are some advantages to experience.

No comments: