Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Lonliest Runner

As Sen. John McCain came into tonight's affair, he and everyone else involved knew that he was decidedly the underdog. By way of failings of commission and omission, he has put himself in the position of having to renounce "straight talk" for sharp attacks against his opponent. To be sure, the subprime mortgage meltdown and the larger economy subsequently grinding to a halt did his campaign no favors.

That said, McCain himself did much to drain the reservoir of goodwill that might have otherwise allowed him to be competitive with Sen. Barack Obama. His long-troubled relationship with the conservative base of the GOP, his demonstrated propensity for leaving his fellow Senate Republicans in a lurch to sign on to some "Gang of..." scheme, and his embrace of various liberal causes - most notably, anthropogenic global warming - all served to create a seemingly unbridgeable chasm between himself and his party.

Having received the baton from Gov. Sarah Palin after last week's VP debate, McCain had to run the longest lap of the presidential race by himself. At the outset, he began by scribbling a note to himself; I could only hope that it was a reminder to himself to take the gloves off. Predictably, Sen. Obama began by running against President Bush, AIG, "greed and excess" in particular and capitalism in general as he swerved away from answering the initial question about how to fix our present economic crisis. McCain missed an opportunity to indict Rep. Barney Frank, Sen. Chris Dodd, ACORN, et. al in providing an equally winding and substantive answer to getting the economy back up to speed by stabilizing the housing market.

And then, and then... McCain developed a calcified spine as he lambasted Obama for being or "hand in pocket" with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae prior to their respective flameouts. Obama's retort was to the effect that he sent a letter to Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. (We might well expect that, should an international crisis break out under his aegis, Obama will send a tersely worded letter to the appropriate parties - with an obligatory CC to the United Nations.) To be sure, the town hall format did help McCain considerably; as the debate wore on, Obama sounded much more tentative. You could hear the gears grinding in his head as he attempted to make his stump speech boilerplate sound coherent. (See Silliness Alerts below.)

Obama's singular gift is that of saying absolutely nothing of significance with great eloquence and empathy, as he assiduously avoided laying out specifics for most of his proposals. In contrast, when provided the opportunity, McCain spoke to exactly where he would attempt to cut government spending.
Obama did go on to threaten reductions in entitlement spending, hopefully by the end of his first term. (Fact check alert: Obama's alleged willingness to take on entitlement spending is belied by his evidenced unwillingness to reduce his own spending plans based on current economic realities, his scandalous assertions about McCain's approach to Social Security and his bloated and hyperregulated approach to health care.)

Inexplicably, Obama tried to pick up the 9-11 cudgel to bash the President by suggesting that - while Bush did some "smart things at the outset" - he missed opportunities to move America towards energy independence. (Never mind that - until recently - Obama opposed the offshore drilling that would allow for exactly that.) And when it came to foreign policy vis-a-vis Georgia and Russia, Obama once again allowed that he agreed with some of McCain's ideas.

Silliness alert #1: During the debate, Obama suggested that allowing consumers to shop across state lines to purchase health insurance would provide insurers opportunities to set up shop in states where there are minimal requirements health policies, similar to the way that banks incorporate in Delaware. Of course, this is absolute pap! If insurers wish to sell insurance in a particular state, they would be required to meet that state's provisions for coverage.

Silliness alert #2: In discussing an Obama Doctrine (and I can scarcely think of two more frightening words), Sen. Obama said words to the effect of "If we could have stopped Rwanda..." I am certain that History will continue to ask not whether we could have stopped the genocide in Rwanda, but why Bill Clinton failed to do so.

Silliness alert #3: If - based on al Qaeda's activity in both Pakistan and Afghanistan - Pakistan is indeed the "central front" in our war against the Taliban as Obama suggested, why isn't Iran a central front in our efforts in Iraq based on Iran's activities against American soldiers?

I think it's safe to say that while it was close, John McCain carried the night. Sadly, for Tom Brokaw's part - as outstanding an anchor as he was (especially relative to his successors) - he was reduced to being a debate scold with his hectoring about keeping time.

Update: MSNBC seems to agree with Sen. McCain about Obama's spending increases in relation to his ethereal spending cuts...

OBAMA: "Actually I'm cutting more than I'm spending so that it will be a net spending cut."

THE FACTS: Obama has many ambitious plans to spend more taxpayer dollars on a variety of federal programs, including clean energy technologies and job training. He's said he'll cut pork-barrel programs and the costs of the war in Iraq to pay for it — as well as raise taxes on the wealthy — but the specifics of his new spending plans greatly outweigh the few spending cuts he's identified.
as well as McCain's efforts to strengthen regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
OBAMA: "I believe this is a final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years, strongly promoted by President Bush and supported by Senator McCain, that essentially said that we should strip away regulations, consumer protections, let the market run wild, and prosperity would rain down on all of us. It hasn't worked out that way. And so now we've got to take some decisive action."

THE FACTS: McCain has indeed favored less regulation over the years but supported tighter rules and accountability on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years before the start of a financial crisis prompted in part by those giant mortgage underwriters. Obama was not a leader in that unsuccessful effort. Some of the current problems can be traced to legislation passed in 1999 that lifted many regulations over the financial industry. That deregulation was championed by then-Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, a McCain supporter, but also by President Clinton, who signed the legislation, and by former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, now a top Obama economic adviser.

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