Friday, September 26, 2008

Thoughts On The First Debate

The first debate is in the record books.

McCain appeared confident. Any questions about his age or his mental agility have been answered. He was aggressive without being overbearing, and he won the debate on foreign policy hands down. The difference in experience and knowledge on foreign policy issues was readily apparent.

That said, it is economic issues at the top of the list today, and Obama did better on the economic issues than McCain. McCain did poorly in response to several of the questions on the economic issues, and I am left wondering whether he was saving the attack on “regulation” and the cause of our current fiscal crisis until after a deal is reached in Congress on the bailout. At any rate, given the importance of economic issues today, it is no surprise that, according to a CBS poll, undecideds gave the night to Obama.


Obama did well on some of the questions, and he won the economic portion of the debate on at least an emotional level. In a Fox News survey of undecided voters, the majority thought Obama won the night because he seemed to understand and connect more with "Main St." I suspect that perception was likely set in the opening statements, before the first question was even asked. Obama's statement was a consise itemization of his priorities to address the fiscal crisis. McCain's statement, was not focused on the economy. First impressions and emotions matter to a large swath of people - and at seems a lot of them are among the undecideds.

In substance, Obama was on the defensive much of the night. He attempted to interrupt McCain on several occasions and seemed on the edge of anger at least once. McCain got under his skin. And while I did not think that Obama repeatedly stating his agreement with McCain’s positions sounded bad during the debate itself, cut and spliced onto a Youtube video even before the end of the debate, it sounds pretty cutting.

The debate format was very good. Jim Lehrer did an excellent job as moderator.

My thoughts on some the specific questions and responses:

McCain did a very poor job of explaining why his economic policies would be better for “main street” than those of Obama.

Obama kept trying to tie McCain to Bush’s economic policies, but McCain fairly well neutralized that. And indeed, later in the debate, McCain tied Obama to Bush.

McCain allowed Obama to pin the current fiscal crisis on “eight years of bad economic policies” without any substantive rebuttal. This is an issue McCain could rebut and explain clearly in ten sentences or less – and it would be a devastating indictment of the socialist policies of the left as well as Sen. Obama’s inaction. That was the low point of the evening, and it occurred within the first minutes of the debate. If McCain repeats that in the next debate, I think he can kiss his presidential aspirations goodbye. People are too upset about the economy, and if he lets them wrongly blame he or Republicans generally, he will lose a close election. Thankfully, McCain will get another bite at that apple in the next debate. I hope that his reticence in making a rebuttal this time around was in respect to the negotiations going on in Congress over the subprime rescue operation.

McCain’s comments on reigning in spending and earmarks were good. They will play to the base. But he has the base with him now. A lot of Middle America will be somewhat swayed by this, but again, McCain needs to do a better job of explaining why it is far more to their advantage than Obama’s plan to increase spending by $800 billion. That is a massive chunk out of our economy that Obama plans to take from the private sector and turn it into public sector spending. That will do nothing to create wealth or grow the size of the pie for all Americans. It will merely result in greater shared misery.

The real high points for McCain on the economics issue came when he talked about a spending freeze and specific measures to cut wasteful spending, such as an end to ethanol subsidies. Obama would not name a single program that he would cut or freeze.

On foreign policy, McCain looked far more knowledgeable and confident than Obama. Obama committed no major gaffes, but the gravitas and experience gaps here were very visibly a canyon. McCain was speaking from experience, Obama was speaking from cue cards.

McCain was the aggressor and sounded much wiser on the answers to questions about Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. He let Obama get away with the tired and false meme that our standing in the world has deteriorated over the past eight years because of Bush policies. McCain should have mentioned that, today, there are more pro-American leaders of foreign nations than there were eight years ago. The only people who do not like us today were the same people in Europe who did not like us 8 years ago or 18 years ago.

There were a few minor gaffes by Obama, only one of which McCain pounced on. Obama claimed his policy to meet without preconditions with the heads of enemy states was supported by Kissinger. McCain told him that was wrong and, subsequent to the debate, Kissinger called the media supporting McCain. The other was Obama’s bizzare assertion on Georgia that McCain was not given an opportunity to respond to:

. . . back in April, I warned the administration that you had Russian peacekeepers in Georgian territory. That made no sense whatsoever.

And what we needed to do was replace them with international peacekeepers and a special envoy to resolve the crisis before it boiled over.

Does Obama know that Russian peacekeepers were there – and had been there for years - per agreement between Russia and Georgia? He's acting like he just found out some secret information. And what makes Obama believe that “international peacekeepers” would have stopped the Russian invasion?

McCain’s response to the 9-11 question was, I thought, very good. I must admit I had forgotten that he was one of the legislators who had taken on the administration to get the 9-11 Commission set up.

My favorite line of the night – McCain comparing the stubbornness of Obama in refusing to acknowledge the success of the surge to the stubbornness of the Bush administration in refusing to acknowledge the need for it. Let's not have another four years of McBama.

Most memorable lines of the night both came from McCain –

“Reform, prosperity, and peace, these are major challenges to the United States of America. I don't think I need any on-the-job training. I'm ready to go at it right now”


“I guarantee you, as president of the United States, I know how to heal the wounds of war, I know how to deal with our adversaries, and I know how to deal with our friends.”

Most other blogs had a similar take:

Confederate Yankee

Hot Air

Jules Crittenden

Michelle Malkin

Tiger Hawk

Voldka Pundit

Jennifer Rubin at PJM

CNN had their debate report card.

Much more at Memorandum.

You can find the full transcript of the debate here.


Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me? Obama won on all fronts. McCain did a good job, but lets be serious. Obama spoke about national security with great clarity, knowledge and composure. John McCain basic argument was that he has been to more places and knew the names of leads. How does that make him more able to handle national security? I know lots of names too.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the last blogger. That's just like saying Sarah Palin has foriegn policy experience becuase Russia is a neighboring country, HUH??? Who care's about how many names and experience he has with going to our War stricken countries. What people are thinking about today is Obama statment that "I am not talking about whether the surge was successuful, I am talking our the judgement of why were in IRAQ in the first place????? Barack address how we could save money on our homefront, we can one reduce the amount of troops in IRAQ an focus on Afganistan reducing our spending by humm $10 billion a month umm around about $100 billion a year. That would put $100 billion back in our economy. Oh and McCain sick answer about a spending freeze will only decrease our proverty rate and put this country in a deeper recession, so how is that looking out the little man when half of that budget helps the little man like minories, seniors, and children. FACE it, McCain did militantly well, but I think American's can see clearly that we can't afford McCain, he would be a liability not an asset.

Anonymous said...

Did you watch the same debate I did??? McCain looked on the edge of an eruption all night. He had a pompous smirk on his face and twice I thought he was going to verbally eplode and was waiting for steam to come out of his ears. And he will not win my vote by playing the POW card. By the way was the difference between a tactic and a strategy the only thing he learned in his bottom one percent graduation performance from the naval academy that his daddy and grandpa got him into in the first place. I don't want some underachiever as president. We've got one right now and look where that has gotten us.

Anonymous said...

You are definitely not someone who benefited from the exchange in this debate. You clearly came in with great bias for McCain, then proceeded to put your blinders on for the entire time. This was not a slam dunk for McCain by any means during any portion of the debate. In one portion of the debate, Obama clarifys his position on "meeting without preconditions." McCain responds by essentially ignoring his critique and continues his precrafted response as if it was read from a cue card. There were week points for Obama, like the "I have a bracelet too," line, but that was fairly short lived. Both candidates displayed a very comprehensive knowledge on all of the issues and this was pretty much a draw. To say that McCain won the debate means that you weren't really paying attention.

suek said...

Heh. The bots have arrived.

Anonymous said...

The most memorable line to me was, that is using a hatchet when what you need is a scalpel.

And I was struck how McCain kept mentioning his pork barrel comment, when Obama put it into context. The tax and Iraq dollars dwarf that amount. And truth be told some earmarks are good. McCain should have kept with Obama and spoke to that rather than repeating his pork barrel amount again.

GW said...

Hello Suek. I linked to a lot of CNN articles in the above, and they are coming over from the "sphere" tool.

Joanne said...

McCain made mention to look at the records of how Obama and himself voted in the Senate - it is all on record, but people still will listen to Obama and his lies. Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour, and Obama's past behaviour speaks volumes as to how he will continue to conduct himself. It is hardly even reasonable to assume the most far-left voter in the Senate is going to suddenly swing closer to the center, even though this is what he is trying to get people to believe in order to grab more votes. A leopard doesn't change his spots, and Obama cannot change who he is.

Anonymous said...

Why isn't anyone talking about McCain's statement that he doesn't need on-the-job-training if and when he enters office? How can he say that with a straight face and then turn around and endorse Sarah Palin? It's ridiculous. Is she ready to lead? He is 72-years-old with 4 bouts with cancer under his belt, and we all know that there will be more bouts. How can anyone not question McCain's judgment when Palin could very well have to take office in the likelihood that he dies? Yes, McCain answered questions solidly, and was unflinching, but so was Obama. Are people giving McCain credit because he's the older guy? Older doesn't necessarily mean wiser.

KG said...

I see the leftbots are out in force--funny how they almost always post as 'anonymous' isn't it?
Either they lack the basic nous and courtesy to get a nick or they're ashamed to identify themselves. Perhaps all of those things..
Scum, as always.

vinny said...

if you carefully think about what was said, McCain is the winner. trouble is, that people respond to appearances and obama was younger, not smiling, and spoke with a clear tone. I didn't care much for McCain's smirks too. He could have decimated obama on this fiscal crisis, but he didn't; I was disappointed.

suek said...

I hear you, GW, but these are too similar...more like astroturfing...