Saturday, September 27, 2008

Deadblogging* the Debate (Part One)

Here are my thoughts as I watch the debate between Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama. I'm starting and stopping, sometimes rewinding, and cross-checking with a transcript of the debate posted at this website. I won't pretend to be impartial--I find the conservative platform immoral, and the liberal platform just a bit less so--but I'll try to be as charitable as I can be to McCain.
  • Hey! McCain isn't standing on a box. Good for him.
  • Obama looks a little rattled at the beginning, which is strange for him. He struggles to articulate what have been his stump speech points for months. Good work, though, in tying the current crisis to not just McCain, but to the core of conservative fiscal philosophy. Obama also had a broad but explicit outline of what the solution should be.
  • Not sure what to make of McCain's aside about Senator Kennedy's most recent health problem. Seems opportunistic, a little overt ethos/pathos overkill, but could be heartfelt. I suppose I should give him the benefit of the doubt.
  • McCain tried a quick joke about either the length of his senate career or his age, and the audience didn't bite. Not a chuckle. McCain smirked for a moment, and then went into his next point like he'd been goosed.
  • McCain answered the first question by acknowledging (for about a minute and a half) that there is a crisis, and that it is serious. He then told us that he's happy that congresspeople of both major parties are working on solving this crisis. McCain's description of the fix is completely general.
  • I like that Lehrer is trying to keep the candidates on task and away from posturing.
  • Obama, even after Lehrer's shepherding, is trying to drag the discussion back to his stump-speech material. Three minutes of talking so far and he's used the word "shredded" twice.
  • McCain is steering back into his campaign slogans, too. I wish (and I know there's no reality in this wish) politicians could just answer simple questions without trying to score points.
  • McCain makes some good points about accountability and corruption, and somehow manages to not mention how that has developed under Republican governance, and how it seems to permeate the Republican party--including McCain's own campaign.
  • Obama again ties the Wall Street crisis to underlying conservatie laissez-faire philosophy. Great move.
  • McCain responds again with generalities and then some crazy-talk about the "fundamental goodness and strength of the American worker." Not what Lehrer asked, and not a response to what Obama said.
  • Clever shift by McCain on question two. He decries Big Government, acknowledges that Republicans have contributed to waste--and then shifts to earmarks, and Obama's record on earmarks. This is a solid, debatable point for McCain.
  • Great parry by Obama. $18bn in earmarks is certainly minor compared to $300bn in tax cuts to the wealthy. McCain's charge could have put him on the defensive, but he did a judo toss. Still--these earmark issues and the specifics of the tax cuts need more investigation.
  • Both senators dealt with this question well.
  • McCain's rebuttal to Obama is much less coherent than his original point was. Then Obama interrupts to clarify what he claims are distortions or misrepresentations by McCain. This is the kind of bickering that looks destructive to the process even if it isn't. It would be better if the moderator had the latitude, the information, and the wherewithal to handle these disputes himself, because when it's he said/he said nothing is settled, and it looks pathetic on both sides.
  • Obama's interruption is also a little tedious. He's reiterating his stump-speech economic points. It would have been better, I think, if he'd hammered McCain on the distortion instead of trying to clarify his own position--which doesn't need more clarifying. But as I write this I wonder how many conservatives have heard these points. Maybe it does need reiteration in this venue.
  • Obama finished strong on this point. His insistence that the tax policy will hurt more than an elimination of earmarks will help was good. His tying the economic issues to Bush's term was good--tying them to Bush I and Reagan and beyond would have been better.
  • McCain lost me on this one. A five thousand dollar tax credit to buy health insurance? Is he on crack?
  • Obama gives a good shot on tax loopholes. It's great how he takes the time to agree with part of what McCain says and then reveal the distortion.
  • Obama just killed McCain on the health-care credit. McCain changed the subject and didn't even address the issues--he just offered more generalities.
  • Now we're into the bickering again. I'm tuning them both out. More disputed figures, more accusations. Next question, please.
  • Obama's answer to Lehrer's next question (As president, as a result of whatever financial rescue plan comes about and the billion, $700 billion, whatever it is it's going to cost, what are you going to have to give up, in terms of the priorities that you would bring as president of the United States, as a result of having to pay for the financial rescue plan?) is both well-structured and direct. Much better delivery than in the beginning of this debate.
  • I think math and science are both important, but the humanities-geek in me is snarling at Obama's focus on those skills. We need well-rounded humans, not biological computers.
  • McCain has barely started his answer to this question and he's already talking about Obama. How about if you tell us what you intend to do, Senator McCain? (Good line about reaching across the aisle, though. I chuckled.)
  • Weird description of the results of McCain's involvement in the Boeing/DoD contract: "We fixed it, and we killed it, and people ended up in federal prison, so I know how to do this." Huh?
  • I appreciate McCain's approach to examining every agency for efficiency. Nothing wrong with examining them. Does he not realize that will take money, though? Would he support that kind of funding, or when the time comes would he reject it as "typical liberal tax and spend?"
  • Good point by Lehrer: neither mentioned large-scale changes. Obama's proposals are more specific than McCain's, but they're both pretty general. Maybe we can't expect better in this format.

I'm going to cut this post at the twenty-nine minute mark and pick up again in a second post (and probably a third and a fourth). This debate lasted 97:12 according to the video timer. It will take time, and I'm grading right now, too.

* Since I'm not watching the debate live, and since I'm not posting as I write, I can't consider this "liveblogging," though it is a moment-by-moment response to the debate. Thus I coin the term "deadblogging."


Jess said...

If I hear John McCain refer to himself as a "maverick" one more time, I am going to swallow my tongue, gag, and die.

Anonymous said...

The audience did not laugh at McCain's joke because they were told to not applaud or make any noise at all. I was a little disappointed with the debate. Same old stuff. Obama didn't look pleased about the way it went when he left the podium. He needs to start kicking butt!

Jason said...

But doesn't his mavericky maverickness make you want to vote for him? My friends? Maverick?

I think Obama needs to punch McCain in his swollen jaw. Then McCain dies and Obama is king of the debate!

Wait . . .