Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 7, 2008
POLITICS: The Second McCain-Obama Debate

Who won this one? Well, it depends where you stand, where you think the candidates stand, what they were trying to accomplish and whether you saw the first debate.

The elephant in the room for those of us who follow these things carefully - and for the candidates - was Obama's recent surge in the polls. Obviously that colors everything, in the sense that it creates the sense that McCain needs to slaughter Obama rather than just beat him on points. I think McCain did a better job in this debate than Obama did in several respects (slightly moreso than in the first debate, although much of the debate was almost literally a replay of the first debate) but if you think he needed to flatten Obama and utterly destroy him in a single night, he didn't do that. As in the first debate, both candidates basically did what they wanted to do, but I give the advantage to McCain mainly because he was much more able to throw Obama on the defensive and dominate the body language of the debate.

Style

As we have seen before, these two show the hallmarks of their professional training. Obama's a lawyer and an academic, and he prefers to leave no point unrebutted; McCain's a fighter pilot, so he prefers to be aggressive and throw his opponent off rythm. He's clearly the more belligerent debater. Also, McCain showed up looking to debate Obama, because he's running against Obama; Obama showed up looking to debate Bush, because he's running against Bush. Thus, Obama would often launch harsh, negative attacks against Bush and mention McCain as an afterthought, whereas McCain more consistently went directly after Obama's integrity, his accomplishments, and his promises. McCain prowled around the stage and left Obama literally complaining about keeping up with him - not the dynamic you'd expect given their ages - whereas Obama stuck more to the traditional Democratic script in focusing on emoting to the crowd (McCain was more interested in channeling the audience's anger).

(BTW, the townhall debates tend to favor the Democrats, since they tend to involve a lot of people asking for personal government solutions to their problems, although Bush excelled at the town hall in 2004 against Kerry, who was stiffer and less comfortable talking about the social issues that came up. If Palin ever runs at the top of the ticket, though, I could see her doing well in that format. McCain, of course, has traditionally excelled at town halls but in more wide-ranging formats).

Obama looked much more forlorn this time when McCain was talking, much less able to stand at his podium and smile. Undoubtedly that was partly due to the lack of podiums and partly due to the aggressiveness of McCain's early attacks, especially on the Fannie/Freddie stuff (when McCain mentioned cronyism he pointed at Obama). Obama also stammered more, though he's still doing better at this than earlier in the race, not trying to ad lib without a net.

Probably the highlight of the evening was McCain shaking hands with the Chief Petty Officer...you could tell, visibly, that McCain's voice dropped to a different range and he got more comfortable and more serious when talking about national security.

Substance

It's hard to add more to the foreign policy side of this debate, which largely and in some cases verbatim repeated the first debate (other than Obama saying "If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in?" - hmmm, maybe we should have sent troops to Europe in the 1940s to stop Hitler...) The big opening Obama created that McCain hit but never quite exploited was the fact that Obama's willing to consider going in to countries with military force for humanitarian purposes, like Clinton or Woodrow Wilson, but he lacks the willingness to stay until the job is done. That is the real lesson of the debate about the surge in Iraq (McCain again successfully called out Obama's inability to admit error on that one, drawing no response). Which of course is why McCain opposed interventions in the first place in places like Lebanon and Somalia where we didn't have the willingness to take sides, stay and fight to the finish.

Other than McCain's new plan to buy up and renegotiate mortgages (which is rather more government than I can ever get comfortable with), probably the weakest point of the night for McCain, and the one where Obama really did give a better answer, was on priorities; even when I backed McCain in 2000, I thought George W. Bush did a better job of realistically setting and ranking priorities. Obama took the Bush path in that sense tonight, and I do tip my hat to him for that. (Although you will note that he basically all but dropped entitlements off the list)

On the Fannie/Freddie issue McCain roared out of the gate well, but he could probably have used to hit that one a second time, since he really does need to hammer home his theme on that point. Unfortunately, that sort of sustained negative assault is hard to carry in the townhall format. McCain also kept up his theme of looking beyond the rhetoric to the record...Obama also never responded to McCain pointing out that Obama's never taken on his own party, since there's nothing he could say.

We did get a number of sharp contrasts tonight. On GSE reform, McCain supported legislation; Obama wrote some letters. McCain sees health care as a responsibility and favors choice and a national market, and wants to decouple health care from employemnt, Obama sees it as a right, prefers state mandates on the contents of plans, and won't answer McCain's questions about the penalties for non-participation. McCain wants a spending freeze and to take a hatchet to the budget; Obama is proposing massive new spending (he claims he'll offset the many billions in new spending with cuts in...oh, nobody really believes that) and prefers a scalpel. I think a lot of voters would like to see somebody take a hatchet to the budget for once. Obama wants to stress energy conservation, McCain more drilling and nuclear. Obama wants a "Volunteer Corps" and WPA-style highway projects as jobs programs.

Obama was clearly hugely relieved that there were no questions about Bill Ayers, as his campaign's panicked tone whenever they deal with the issue suggests concern that he's genuinely vulnerable on that point.

Both gave solid closings, McCain's was better but different.

Verdict

Naturally, it's always hard to evaluate these things free of your own views as a partisan, and hard as well to avoid dwelling on the additional things that could have been said. Clearly, this was a strong performance by McCain and an OK one by Obama. Probably, given the dynamics of the race, Obama is happier with that outcome.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:24 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Instapolls don't agree with you, and neither do I. Are you really defending the "take over the negotiation of mortgages" $300B new plan? And if McCain said "my friends" one more time...geez, that is definitely a nervous tick. McCain looked old in this debate...he did better last time around, but that's not saying much either.

No game changer, and I think people are starting to get comfortable with a President Obama idea...Obama avoided the knockout, and looked Presidential...McCain swung and missed. And on Pakistan invasion, McCain looked "nuanced", very unusual for a guy that hasn't met a war he didn't like...

Obama big on this one...no knockout for him either, but the format really didn't allow for it...Bring back Jim Lehrer...let's do some follow ups...Veep and this format were boring...

Posted by: AstrosFan at October 8, 2008 1:11 AM

I thought "It Was Brung" Crank?

Your candidate looked and sounded inferior to Obama.

Obama won the debate -- there's really no debate on that...

Posted by: dfd at October 8, 2008 6:40 AM

Crank, what happened?!

You didn't mention Bill Ayers in this post. Doesn't that violate some Red State by-law or something?

Posted by: Mike at October 8, 2008 6:41 AM

CNN ran some polls, but the big one I thought was, "Who showed more leadership," and Obama won that one rather handily. I think it shows that more people are willing to accept this tall skinny black guy as someone who really can be one of us.

So Crank, still supporting the fella who wants to buy all the houses? I'm not big on useless government spending (which I guess you are, since the Bushies took a surplus and gave us the largest deficit in our history), but when you talk about investing the money into a major energy project, which will fire up factories, create a modern distribution system (Biden brought that in), and make us energy independent, that's not spending, that's investing.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at October 8, 2008 7:39 AM

I wonder what Obama would have had to do for Crank to deem him the winner? Make McCain cry? Probably not, that would make McCain a sympathetic figure. Forced McCain to tell the nation he's sorry for leading a sleazy campaign? No, that would just be evidence of McCain getting back on the "Straight Talk Express."

Crank, you're making Hugh Hewitt and The Corner seem like reasonable, level-headed observers.

Posted by: Ryan at October 8, 2008 8:53 AM

Gee, lets see in the study groups being used on tv (CNN, Fox), Mc Cain is picking up undecideds. Polls like CBS and Zogby, which still are not using correctly weighted samples for party indentification, have it down to Obama +2 or +3. And the Republicans have what 100+ million to use in TV ads over the next month. Oh yeah its over-man it must get really loud in that echo chamber.

No democrat has gotten more than 50.5% of the vote in the last 40 years. This election is going to be decided by 1 or 2 points in either direction.

Posted by: dch at October 8, 2008 10:21 AM

Can someone explain to me how the mortgage buy down plan doesn't punish homeowners who bought what they can afford and have made their regular payments?

e.g. Homeowner A bought a house for $300K and has made regular payments for the last five years. His neighbor Homeowner B paid $300K for his house as well, but over the last few months has fallen behind on his payments and now stands to have his mortgage principle adjusted down to 290K by the gov't.

After the adjustment B decides that he still can't afford the payments and wants to sell. Only now he can sell for, say, 292.5K and walk away clean. What happens to A when he tries a few months later to sell his house for 300 or 305K? Potential buyers will point to B's house and say "No. that house is only worth 290K, why should we pay more for yours"?

Conversely let's say A and B both wait 5-years to sell, and housing prices have rebounded. both sell for $310K. Effectively, the mortgage buy down has doubled B's profit in respect to A's. How is this in any way shape or form fair?

I understand that having B's home go into foreclosure would hurt the value of A's home, but @ least it doesn't double the impact of the devaluation by increasing B's chances for a better outcome than A.

I can get behind adjusting interest rates, or even extending the term of the loan. But I just can't make a case for changing the principle.

Posted by: dwb at October 8, 2008 11:51 AM

AstrosFan - "My friends" is something McCain's been saying for decades. And no, I'm not defending McCain's effort to have Treasury do what the House Dems already want bankruptcy judges to do, and renegotiate mortgages.

dfd - I'd agree that, as I said, McCain should have hit back one more time on the Fan/Fred stuff. He unloaded it but he should have gone back a second time.

I put no stock in instant post-debate polls. It takes a few days for the real impact to show up in the overall polls.

Posted by: Crank at October 8, 2008 12:16 PM

Crank and dch:

Is it getting lonesome out on that island yet?

Posted by: macsonix at October 8, 2008 12:23 PM

"McCain won the debate on points" is what conservatives say when Obama objectively wins a debate according to the polling of independents but they can't stomach admitting that. Crank you're kidding yourself if you think the Repubs have eked out 3 small victories in the various debates so far. Last night was the largest Dem victory yet. The poll reactions DO matter, and they are only mitigated when the pundit class agressively sells the opposite view, which they arent doing this time. Not even the conservative usuals.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at October 8, 2008 4:56 PM

The issues were stated, and the plans were told. Now if you believed the Ivy-League illuminati, you weren't listening well. The liberal mantra wants to spend more money, but where will we get it from? Once it's borrowed, the socialist expect us to pay for as usual.

Posted by: Ms. Know at October 25, 2008 1:28 AM
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