Monday, September 29, 2008

Opportunity lost – the First Presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama

The McCain debate needless to say was a disappointment. Prior to the debates, the media revealed that Obama spent days practicing for the debate. It was also said that McCain didn't spend much time preparing, because he does better without preparation. Well from watching the debate, I think McCain should have practiced more. I was hoping for an Obama knockout by McCain. Admittedly, McCain did better on foreign affairs, but he didn't do well on the bailout, and that was the most important issue of the night.

I have said before that we should do debates more like the French where the candidates sit down at a table and dialogue, and the moderator only controls the questioning process. Friday night was the closest to these French debates I have seen except that the candidates instead of sitting were standing at a lectern. Jim Lehrer, the moderator, was to start with a lead question, and the two candidates were to dialogue, but I don't think either candidate got it. On several occasions, Lehrer, said, "Talk to each other", as opposed to the television audience or he would say, "say it directly to him" directing Obama to McCain. McCain not catching on sneered "are you afraid I can't hear him?" This prompted Lehrer to say, "I'm just determined to get you all to talk to each other. I'm going to try." It was like a schoolmarm trying to get her students to follow a new process, but the children, hesitant to change, just couldn't get what the teacher wanted. Isn't Obama big on change? Lehrer just gave up after awhile.

Obama did catch on after awhile, and began talking to McCain, but McCain did not look at Obama once during the entire event. That did not look good. It was also obvious that Obama had practiced for this debate because he had improved in his debating style quite extensively with very few uhs and duhs as is his custom. But, this was a referendum on the economy, and McCain should have and could have done much better even though the focus of the debate was supposed to be on foreign affairs.

What polls showed and what the American public wanted to know was; why did McCain feel it necessary to go to Washington? And what is the difference between his bailout plan and Obama's bailout plan? These questions were not answered. When the three page Paulson plan was announced, the senate was receiving 100 to 1 phone calls against the plan. Obama said, "We haven't seen the language yet "but there is a huge difference between what the Republicans want and what the Democrats want. McCain needed to spell out these differences, and why his plan is what the American public wants. This would have gone a long way in alleviating the public's fears. Moreover, it would have shown once again how McCain is not Bush since McCain was against the Bush plan, but he remained reticent, and said nothing. During this entire round, I wanted to grab McCain's neck and shout, "Don't let this radical leftie near the White House." – but I didn't think he would hear me.

And why didn't McCain say anything about Representative Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd. These are two of the principals involved in the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mess yet they are overseeing this bailout. Wasn't McCain going to name names?

What was amazing was how Jim Lehrer kept asking if there were any fundamental changes that either candidate would do because of this new economic crisis. As circumstances change ones plans would presumably change. But both McCain and Obama stuck to their talking points. McCain finally said he would consider a spending freeze which is actually a good tool. Businesses do it all the time during slow periods in a business cycle. Obama not understanding economics once again said, "The problem with a spending freeze is your using a hatchet instead of a scalpel." At least McCain's pro growth policies of drilling off shore, lower taxes, lower corporate taxes, cutting spending works in any environment whereas Barack's policies of high taxes, socializing health care, etc will hinder growth and kill a slowing economy. Barack, however, stuck to his talking points of raising taxes even on corporations and even after Jim Lehrer prompted questions to both candidates on what they would do differently.

McCain did not spell out how Barack's taxes would destroy the economy and cause the bailout to fail. He needed to do this. He would say one line about Barack's taxes and then go back to his earmark talking points. We all know about McCain's earmarks, but he needed to expose what Barack's taxes will do. Imagine how much it is going to cost to socialize medicine when we just bailed out Wall Street. That is going to kill the economy.

McCain said, "Right now, the United States of American business pays the second-highest business taxes in the world, 35 percent. Ireland pays 11 percent." And Barack Obama shot back that American corporations have all kinds of loopholes. McCain should have said how Ireland has been booming because of its low tax rate. Ireland is a good example. Not sure what loopholes Obama was talking about, the point is you lower corporate taxes, you grow the economy period.

The second part of the debate was McCain's shining point and while foreign policy should be as or more important than the economy, Bush's success on the war on terror has actually hurt McCain – Why? - Because the American public has the memory of a gnat. 9/11 is as distant to the left as Pearl Harbor, and many on the left don't even believe the war on terror remains a threat. They still believe global warming is a greater threat than terrorism.

When Russia invaded Georgia, Obama made three evolving statements, the first showing he had no clue as to what the incursion of Russia meant into Georgia. During the debate, McCain said the following, "Well, I was interested in Senator Obama's reaction to the Russian aggression against Georgia. His first statement was, "Both sides ought to show restraint."" McCain, then showed a very deep understanding of the situation with Georgia and Russia. As McCain derided Obama's naiveté on Georgia, Obama appeared flummoxed. Obama had no clue that Georgia was an ally of ours with 2000 troops fighting alongside of us in Iraq. A sound bite that the media will repeat over and over the next day is an important aspect of a debate. But again, McCain missed an opportunity. McCain knew he would be speaking about this; this would have been an opportune time to sneak in a memorable sound bite. How about, "Obama first said each side needed to show restraint until others made it clear that this was purely Russian aggression, and then he had to google whose side we were on." Or something of that sort.

Obama looked visibly flustered at times during the second half of the debate, and interrupted McCain several times. When Obama first interrupted McCain, McCain should have put him in his place by saying, "Do you mind if I finish my point." But, he did not, he let Obama interrupt him. Several times Obama raised his hand like an impatient child, but then just smirked in the usual Obama condescending way. This is the man that could be president.

In any event the foreign policy part of the debate clearly went to McCain, but the country is focused on the economy and because McCain did not score any major points against Obama on the economy, I believe that Obama won the debate. Polls show that Americans trust Obama ten points more than McCain, and only God knows why. I wonder what the voters base this on. I can only surmise that we are dealing with an illiterate electorate.

I hope someone is prepping Sarah Palin correctly for the VP debate. I was listening to Laura Ingraham this morning, and she makes a valid point. Whoever prepped McCain for the last debate should be fired, whoever has been handling Sarah Palin should be fired. I hope that Sarah Palin does well on the VP debate, and I hope she is being well prepared. She needs to be authentic. She needs to be Sarah Palin.

As of this writing, latest poll data per Gallup shows Obama up eight points less than 40 days to the election - God help us all.

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