The Big Debate

Tough one to call. At the beginning I was a bit glum, since I thought McCain had the better of the early exchanges. The Joe the Plumber stuff was pretty effective (the first time). I felt McCain seemed forceful and confident, and he was pretty successful at fitting his criticisms into his answers. Obama took his usual supercool, do not engage approach, but this left him on the defensive.

But the tide definitely turned toward Obama as the night wore on. It became more and more obvious that McCain was struggling to remember his lines, and his tone was frequently snide, condescending, and desperate. The Joe the Plumber stuff, moving the first time, got reduced to just another cynical tactic by the fourth or fifth time he went to that well. The part where McCain could not remember Michelle Obama’s name and referred to her simply as “your wife” was also telling.

On the abortion issue, both were lying through their teeth in denying their lack of a litmus test for Supreme Court judges. Choosing the correct justice is one of the main bones a President can throw to his base, and neither is going to spend political capital doing something unnecessarily courageous. Frankly, I don’t see what’s so terrible about having a litmus test. It’s not as if passing the litmus test on abortion is the only criterion a President will use in selecting a justice.

On the substance of the answer, I thought Obama was excellent. He forthrightly defended abortion rights but added that common ground can be found in taking steps to try to reduce the number of abortions. Exactly the right position. McCain, on the other hand, chose to mock the idea of having a health of the mother exception on late-term abortions. As if women and doctors are desperately looking for excuses to terminate their late-term pregnancies, and will exploit any weakness in the law to do that.

Obama was far more convincing on health care as well. His policy proposals make a lot of sense and were delivered well. McCain looked lost on the issue.

So, we’ll have to wait and see. Did other folks think McCain landed some shots? Or did they think he looked mopey and truculent through most of it? In the past it has seemed that voters prefer Obama’s cool approach over McCain’s histrionics. Hopefully that trend will continue.

Comments

  1. #1 Orac
    October 15, 2008

    So, we’ll have to wait and see. Did other folks think McCain landed some shots?

    Yes. McCain landed a really good zinger when he said, “Senator Obama, if you wanted to run against George Bush you should have run for President four years ago.”

    He should have used that one in the first and second debates, where it might have made a difference, and then hammered home a message around it, heck, even building much of his campaign around the concept that he’s not George Bush. Unfortunately for McCain, it’s probably way too late now for this to work.

  2. #2 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 15, 2008

    Yeah, that was a good line. But McCain being that eager to distance himself from the current administration does serve to remind people of just how badly the Republicans have screwed up over the last eight years.

    The snap polling seems to be going Obama’s way, and with the exception of National Review all the political web sites I’ve checked are only disagreeing over the magnitude of Obama’s victory. Yay!

  3. #3 Jim Harrison
    October 16, 2008

    McCain can’t really distance himself from Bush, not only because he agrees with Bush’s approach to economic issues but because he is embedded in a party that is wedded to that same approach. Voting for McCain is voting for the Republicans and all that implies. In this respect, his situation contrasts markedly with what Humphrey faced back in 1968 because then it was not only the candidate but much of the party that had repudiated LBJ. Which, though it wasn’t enough, is why Humphrey had some success in distancing himself from Johnson.

    By the way, the biggest whopper put out by both candidates was the notion that either one is going to balance the budget in the next four years. It’s not just that such an outcome is politically and probably arithmetically impossible. Obama surely and McCain probably understand that running a big deficit is absolutely what the situation requires. O well, Roosevelt ran on a platform of balancing the budget, too, so lets hope somebody is fibbing.

  4. #4 Badger3k
    October 16, 2008

    Well, if you start with the man-love that McCain has been showering Good King George with for most of the last eight years and end with McCains voting record where he sided with Bush somewhere in the 90% range (I’ve seen estimates and averages from 89-95% so far, but go with a low estimate), it would be real hard to see where the separation of Johnny McBush is. I seriously doubt that McCain could have made that an effective talking point. So far, all I’ve seen are small clips and a few transcripts of parts, but the YouTube “deer in the headlights”, where Obama surprised McCain on his “Joe the Plumber will pay fees” was funny. I hope that was real, as the looks on McCain’s face (looked like a clear “Oh, Sheeeet!” moment to me) were priceless (http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/Americablog/~3/422268186/ctrl-alt-del-restart.html)

  5. #5 RBH
    October 16, 2008

    The betting at Intrade says Obama won convincingly. He’s up 3.6 while McCain’s down 4.4 after the debate. And the bid/ask spreads were very thin, one tick, meaning it’s on good volume.

  6. #6 Jonathan
    October 16, 2008

    Maybe someone should tell McCain that what launched Obama’s political ascendancy was a DNC speech – after the caucuses. In other wrds, Obama couldn’t run in 2004 or he’d be too inexperienced and unknown.

  7. #7 Diane
    October 16, 2008

    Obama needs to stop saying the “worst financial crisis since the Great Depression” line. He used it, what, four times last night? He seems to relish the sound of the words.

    I actually liked McCain more than I usually do last night, up until he started calling the people who agree with Roe v. Wade “pro-abortionists”. If I’d been undecided, that alone would have pushed me into the Obama camp.

    I think the real winner was the moderator. I was very impressed with him and his ability to keep the discussion on track. Also, McCain’s wardrobe people. Nothing says “maverick” like sparkly pinstripes.

  8. #8 JimV
    October 16, 2008

    I thought the best moment for McCain was the “voting ‘present’” anecdote, and the worst moment probably scoffing about the woman’s health exception. In general I was unfavorably impressed by his angry demeanor.

    I didn’t see why Obama was defensive about the issue of who was more willing to break with his own party. The main times I remember McCain doing that (on the Bush tax cuts and on torture), he was siding with the Democrats. Obama could have pointed that out and simply said he didn’t need to break with his party leadership on those issues because his party was right.

    I usually have to wait for the fact-checkers to report, but this time I caught several things that sounded fishy on the fly, mostly by McCain, such as when he complained that the Obama campaign had not responded to the John Lewis statement linking the McCain and George Wallace campaigns. If I knew that was wrong, why didn’t McCain? Am I paying more attention to this campaign than he is? Scary thought, for both of us.

  9. #9 Robert O'Brien
    October 16, 2008

    On the substance of the answer, I thought Obama was excellent. He forthrightly defended abortion rights but added that common ground can be found in taking steps to try to reduce the number of abortions. Exactly the right position. McCain, on the other hand, chose to mock the idea of having a health of the mother exception on late-term abortions. As if women and doctors are desperately looking for excuses to terminate their late-term pregnancies, and will exploit any weakness in the law to do that.

    John McCain was absolutely correct; ‘health of the mother’ is weasel language. Late term abortions should only be allowed in those cases where the death of the mother is immanent without an abortion and she (or someone legally authorized to decide on her behalf) elects to have one. Abortionists like to claim that late term abortions are as rare as hen’s teeth and, even then, only performed when necessary, but the facts keep getting in their way.

  10. #10 Reginald Selkirk
    October 16, 2008

    I’m glad McCain’s opinions on women’s health and women’s reproductive rights came out clearly. Palin’s extreme views are already known. They’re not going to sucker many of the Hillary fan base.

  11. #11 Reginald Selkirk
    October 16, 2008

    On the abortion issue, both were lying through their teeth in denying their lack of a litmus test for Supreme Court judges…

    Transcript of the debate

    MCCAIN: I would never and have never in all the years I’ve been there imposed a litmus test on any nominee to the court. That’s not appropriate to do.

    MCCAIN: I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test.

    I.e. it’s a litmus test, but he insists on using different rhetoric.

  12. #12 Reginald Selkirk
    October 16, 2008

    McCain brought up the three million dollar ‘overhead projector’ again. it is difficult to believe his claimed support for science education when he’s pulling crap like that.

  13. #13 Robert O'Brien
    October 16, 2008

    McCain brought up the three million dollar ‘overhead projector’ again. it is difficult to believe his claimed support for science education when he’s pulling crap like that.

    That would be a great thing to spend money on if we were not so far in the financial hole, but if we dig much deeper we will pop up in China (which is appropriate, since the Chinese hold so much of our debt).

    Of course, if we had not been dragged into the Iraq War by the neocons, we’d have more money to spend (although, our financial system took a hit on 9/11 apart from their collective stupidity), but we were and now things are tight.

  14. #14 Free Radical
    October 16, 2008

    I think more needs to be said about the incredible moderation by Bob Schieffer. He horse-whipped those candidates into saying more of substance in those 90 minutes than we’ve heard this entire campaign. He actually used the discussion periods for serious, back-and-forth discussion, and seemed less concerned with preserving a meticulous format than with making sure the questions got answers. I mean, what about the question of whether these two candidates would be willing to look one another in the face and repeat what their campaigns have been saying on TV? That’s a strong and insightful indictment of the political system itself, to say nothing of the individual candidates.

    “On the abortion issue, both were lying through their teeth in denying their lack of a litmus test for Supreme Court judges. Choosing the correct justice is one of the main bones a President can throw to his base, and neither is going to spend political capital doing something unnecessarily courageous. Frankly, I don’t see what’s so terrible about having a litmus test. It’s not as if passing the litmus test on abortion is the only criterion a President will use in selecting a justice.”

    I think the only real issue is one of semantics. John McCain was calling the Democrats cowardly and partisan for having an IDEOLOGICAL litmus test – he claimed the only reasonable question was one of qualification. He THEN made the case that supporting Roe v. Wade proved that one was not QUALIFIED to be a Supreme Court Justice, since it demonstrated what McCain felt to be a faulty understanding of the Constitution. In what possible way is this substantively different from an ideological litmus test? Your IDEOLOGY says that abortion is unconstitutional. It’s not a dispassionate intellectual exercise – everyone has their own interpretation of the Constitution, and will nominate a justice who supports it. Good try, McCain – adroitly sidestepped.

    As to Mr. O’Brien – there are a couple problems with your position. First of all, the article to which you linked appears to be stating that over the course of 10 years, more than 20 babies with minor birth defects were aborted in the later stages of the pregnancy. The article itself, however, goes on to note that 600-700 infants per year are born with such defects. Simple math leads me to conclude, than, that 20 out of perhaps 6500 infants with club feet were aborted – in other words, just over .3%. Does this no longer qualify as a rarity?

    Additionally, my even ANSWERING this point was tantamount to an acknowledgment that your reasoning was sound – which it is not. Saying that abortion is currently misused is not the same as saying it should be outlawed. You’re speaking as though “health of the mother” is being used as an excuse to avoid banning late-term abortions altogether – which it manifestly is not. Obama made it quite clear he supported EXACTLY the position you claim – permitting late-term abortions ONLY in the event of demonstrable jeopardy. According to the current Democratic Platform, the abuses you chronicle will be illegal. Period.

    It’s a real shame liberals don’t have any catchy phrases like “weasel language” to discuss anything and everything they don’t like.

  15. #15 Azkyroth
    October 17, 2008

    That would be a great thing to spend money on if we were not so far in the financial hole, but if we dig much deeper we will pop up in China (which is appropriate, since the Chinese hold so much of our debt).

    Of course, if we had not been dragged into the Iraq War by the neocons, we’d have more money to spend (although, our financial system took a hit on 9/11 apart from their collective stupidity), but we were and now things are tight.

    An intelligent answer from Robert O’Brien. Can the apocalypse be far?

  16. #16 Robert O'Brien
    October 18, 2008

    You’re speaking as though “health of the mother” is being used as an excuse to avoid banning late-term abortions altogether – which it manifestly is not. Obama made it quite clear he supported EXACTLY the position you claim – permitting late-term abortions ONLY in the event of demonstrable jeopardy. According to the current Democratic Platform, the abuses you chronicle will be illegal. Period.

    That’s false. Period. If Obama supported my position EXACTLY then he would not be advocating for a ‘health exception,’ he would be advocating for a ‘life’ exception only.

    When my state liberalized its abortion laws 40 years ago, 92% of abortions performed in the first year were for reasons of ‘mental health.’ The testimony of an abortion doctor against the Hyde amendment is instructive here:

    “In my medical judgment every [pregnancy] that is not wanted by the patient, I feel there is a medical indication to abort a pregnancy where it is not wanted…In good faith, I would recommend on a medical basis, you understand that, and it would be 100%…I think they are all medically necessary.”

    source

    Also, Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, voted against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which was inspired by the murder of Laci Peterson and her 7.5 month son, and I have no doubt Obama would have voted likewise were he in the Senate at the time.

    In fine, the Democrats have not changed one iota when it comes to abortion on demand.

    It’s a real shame liberals don’t have any catchy phrases like “weasel language” to discuss anything and everything they don’t like.

    The limited vocabulary of the Left is not my concern; I recommend reading more books (not including coloring or comic books).

  17. #17 Free Radical
    October 21, 2008

    I don’t think you’ve convincingly drawn any substantial distinction between a “health exception” and a “life exception” – the distinction, if it exists at all, is a quantitative rather than a qualitative one. The perspective of that doctor is FAR from the norm – few, if any, liberals would argue that not wanting your child is equivalent to a health risk. You’re ridiculously caricaturing the liberal position to prove a point, as your kind are wont to do, and I would consider your failure to respond to my criticisms further proof that you’ve no other way of seriously making your point.

    By the way, two words in Latin doesn’t make you a scholar and us a bunch of idiots – indeed, the fact that you represent the party of ignorance and anti-intellectual pride would undermine your claim to any kind of intellectual superiority.

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