Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 26, 2008
POLITICS: The First McCain-Obama Debate

I kinda hate writing up debates, given the extent to which posts get pored over for any sign of conceding that my side did anything but slaughter the opposition. That said, let's take on a few points about tonight's debate.

(1) This was a great debate. Fiesty, back and forth - there was too much crosstalk, but this was not just a stilted debate of the type that, frankly, you get when George W. Bush is involved. Jim Lehrer sounded old and wheezy but did manage to get the candidates to go after each other.

(2) If I had to use a word to describe Obama tonight, it would be "lawyerly" - he interrupted McCain repeatedly, he let nothing pass without a response. He was well prepared, didn't stammer as much as in past debates and had clearly worked on smiling rather than staring at his shoes when criticized. It was, in fact, a stronger presentation than his past debate performances, although as usual he had no memorable lines. Obviously there were a number of things he said that didn't hold water, but I'm not feeling energetic enough to wade into all that just yet.

(3) The upside for McCain is that he was highly energetic, and probably went a long way to dispelling concerns about his age. His effortless mastery of foreign policy and repeated and pointed dismissals of Obama's naivete were brilliant (Obama really doesn't know the difference between a tactic and a strategy), although on a number of occasions you could see that - betraying the fact that he was winging it - he was rushing to cover vast swathes of ground in a single answer without a prepared spiel. I suppose it was inevitable that he'd refuse to get sucked into the endless debate about the decision to go to war in Iraq. He eventually got good shots in on the surge but never quite cleanly explained how Obama was willing to lose the war. Probably the highlight for McCain was mocking Obama's idea that you could just disavow things said by Ahmedinejad once you've agreed to meet with him. McCain did start building the case that Obama's too far to the left to work across the aisle, but needs to ratchet that case up with specifics in the future.

(4) In general, I suspect this debate comes as a positive for both candidates, but isn't the game-changer the past 10 days of polling sugests McCain needs. Probably my biggest disappointment, among a couple of places where McCain let Obama off the hook, was failing to lay into him as he did in the speech here for Obama's obstruction of reforms McCain had pushed to head off a key element of the credit crisis two years ago. When Obama started to say anything at all about how we got into the credit crisis, the response should have been a "how dare you" moment, and McCain just let him slide. He may live to regret that.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:08 PM | Politics 2008 • | Politics 2008 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

In the Econ portion of the debate, Obama mentioned something about the FDR administration buying houses. With all the increase in government functions associated with FDR, I'm surprised that I've never read about any kind of a program of that nature, but I'm not suggesting that I am an unparalleled expert on that portion of history. I Googled the topic and found nothing, but that was perfunctory on my part. Did anyone else hear that line as I did, and does anyone know if it is factual?

Posted by: NRA Life Member at September 27, 2008 12:19 AM

Weren't Fannie Mae and/or Freddie Mac created then, albeit possibly in another guise, and didn't the extension of that program create what eventually became these entities - later to become privatized - after the return of WWII servicemen and women?

I'm no expert either, so I'm sure this isn't precisely accurate by any means.

Posted by: macsonix at September 27, 2008 1:56 AM

PS, I thought this debate made up a little bit of ground for McCain; he was on the attack throughout, as Crank noted, though he surely looked the worse for wear.

Overall, I'd say that he made points with the crowd who doesn't usually keep score. Soundbyte-wise, I figure McCain as a half-length ahead in a close finish. However, on a matrix of 20 subcategories, I was surprised to tally a total of 28 points to Obama and 21 to McCain.

His pounding down the point of excessive spending will resonate, as will the toughness he exhibited and his repeated reference to a lack of experience on the part of Obama, to a smaller degree methinks. Will it be enough?

Posted by: macsonix at September 27, 2008 2:04 AM

McCain said a lot of things I think people want to hear. I believe Obama misstated McCain's tax policy--I think McCain needs to point out that the rates he endorses are the ones we pay now and that Obama is looking to raise taxes in a recession.

Obama is a better debater than he is given credit for. Still, the things he said don't sound much like the things he said to beat Hillary. In fact, I wonder if the Left "win" this election what exactly they wil have won? An invasion of Pakistan? Who's this guy again?

Lefties cannot win running as lefties. Who knows if Obama is even a lefty?

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 27, 2008 8:13 AM

I think the debate was a draw, and the country wins as a result. Obama wants to link McCain withBush, and Bush was desperately to avoid such a link. Because the Bush presidency is already acknowledged as among the greatest disaster in American history. Go on everyone, admit it.

And Crank, McCain has to be a bit careful accusing Obama of any financial screwups--I was surprised that Obama didn't give a little history on the Keating 5 and the S&Ls. That too may come.

Lehrer was great--as was usual with politicians, neither would answer a question, and Lehrer wouldn't let them off the hook.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 27, 2008 9:28 AM

Daryl, the difference is that McCain has an answer to the Keating stuff: that he has 20 years' worth of record to show he learned his lessons from it. And now is old and wise enough to see Obama making some of the same mistakes.

Posted by: The Crank at September 27, 2008 9:36 AM

I think both guys accomplished what they needed to accomplish (if not what they wanted): Obama as "presidential." Calm, measured, mature, on-point. And NOT an "angry, black man." This his "John is right . . ." in comparison to McCain's, "You don't know what you're talking about . . ."

McCain was energetic, sharp, and passionate. Not old and doddering. Not out of touch.

Both of them probably feel pretty good.

Posted by: Mike at September 27, 2008 9:43 AM

I didn't listen to the debate, but I did read the transcript. Your point about the "how dare you" moment reminded me about something McCain said during his convention speech, namely, that the voters don't want to hear us shouting at each other. Do you think that could be the reason? If so, should he be abandoning that philosophy?

By the way, the "John is right" stuff was a little lame. How about, "it is true that..."? But anyway, we are electing presidents, not captains of the debate team.

Posted by: MVH at September 27, 2008 9:57 AM

Update on my question about Obama's reference to FDR. Here is the quote from the transcript. I think he's confusing the S&L bailout with FDR, but I am happy to be corrected with any factual reference. I cannot find one as of now.

OBAMA: There's no doubt it will affect our budgets. There is no doubt about it. Not only -- Even if we get all $700 billion back, let's assume the markets recover, we' holding assets long enough that eventually taxpayers get it back and that happened during the Great Depression when Roosevelt purchased a whole bunch of homes, over time, home values went back up and in fact government made a profit. If we're lucky and do it right, that could potentially happen but in the short term there's an outlay and we may not see that money for a while.

Posted by: NRA Life Member at September 27, 2008 12:00 PM

1. I agree with Crank et al. Both candidates held their own. Though McCain, like an old Chevy, needed a little time to warm up. Barack benefitted from the inclusion of so much talk on the economy, because McCain won the foreign policy discussion. If not for recent events, the whole debate would have been on foreign policy, and McCain may have taken it.

2. NRA Life Member -- Roosevelt instituted the Home Owners' Loan Corporation. It has been receiving an undercurrent of buzz lately. Barack must have picked up on it. See links:
http://www.allbusiness.com/banking-finance/banking-lending-credit-services-mortgage/11461606-1.html

3. An unintentionally comedic article in today's WSJ illustrates why McCain's plan of going back to Washington and pulling all parties together and singing kumbaya belongs in the category of "Things That Work Much Better in Your Head than in Practice".
(see 'An Inside View of a Stormy White House Summit' in today's WSJ)

The article details how the GOP conservatives got McCain's ear earlier in the day, and he raised a few of their concerns at the "Above All Politics Summit" and then all hell broke loose. I think McCain quickly smartened up and caught the next flight to Oxford.

The article also includes a money quote from GWB showing a classic example of his delegate all responsibility downwards style of leadership: "At the end of this debate, I'm going to turn to the Treasury secretary and ask him and Ben Bernanke, 'Does this legislation do what needs to be done to save the economy?"

Ok George -- enjoy the football games today. See you on Monday.

Posted by: Patrick at September 27, 2008 1:04 PM

Thank you Patrick. That was very enlightening. Three things I liked about HOLC was that it would not write a loan unless the borrower showed evidence that the mortgage could be paid, it would not write out loans for more than 80% of the appraised value, and that it was disbanded after it's mission was completed.

Posted by: NRA Life Member at September 27, 2008 2:51 PM

Both candidates did better than I thought they would.

The cross-talk was always because of Obama, Sen. McCain to my view, never talked while Obama was speaking and McCain a great job finishing his thoughts when Obama tried to over talk his comments.

Sen. McCain showed that he is a true leader and his own man. Obama did not come across as such.

Posted by: GingerGuy at September 27, 2008 4:22 PM

Both candidates did better than I thought they would.

The cross-talk was always because of Obama, Sen. McCain to my view, never talked while Obama was speaking and McCain a great job finishing his thoughts when Obama tried to over talk his comments.

Sen. McCain showed that he is a true leader and his own man. Obama did not come across as such.

Posted by: GingerGuy at September 27, 2008 4:22 PM

Obama's crosstalk made the debate frustrating to watch. I only kept watching thinking Obama might break down and start hissing, "Miss it Noonan! Miss!"

Posted by: Rusty S. at September 28, 2008 11:33 PM

Oh Crank, it's almost sad to see you submit a review of the debate like this. The bottom line is that both candidates did what they needed to do: McCain seemed in control of himself and Obama seemed Presidential. McCain's repeated attempts to paint Obama as ignorant of foreign affairs aren't going to stick because Obama was clearly well-versed in every issue that came up.

McCain tried to score points by showing how much first-hand experience he has with every relevant nation discussed, and in the eyes of some people I'm sure he did. But McCain already has the experience factor locked up - there is not a single person in the world, including Obama himself, who doubts McCain's experience. There are people who doubt his judgment, and I'm not sure that he said anything to allay those fears.

The bottom line is that this was McCain's area of expertise and if he won the debate, it was not by much. And thanks to his ridiculous "let's postpone the debate" stunt, whatever win he might have had has been overshadowed.

The numbers don't lie Crank. And the numbers show that Obama today, is in a much better position than he was a week ago.

It's time you start preparing yourself for the reality of an Obama presidency.

Posted by: Dan at September 28, 2008 11:57 PM
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