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    September 26, 2008

    Live-blogging the presidential debate

    Posted by: Chris

    Artsenatorspool After a relatively quiet week here on the blog, I'm going to live-blog the first presidential debate in Oxford, Miss. I'll be adding a bit of armchair commentary from Steve Koval, my former co-blogger at the Washington Blade, who is visiting Rio along with his husband Manapat.

    As the candidates are introduced, Mr. Koval notes that John McCain looks particularly old alongside Barack Obama.

    9:05 p.m.: On the Wall Street bailout, of course, and surprisingly it is Obama who is more detailed while McCain immerses himself on inside-the-Beltway talk about House Republicans. Staying vague won't cut it for either of them, in my view. Obama was also effective pointing the finger at the Bush administration and Republicans like McCain for the role deregulation played in getting us into this mess.

    9:11 p.m.: Both avoid saying how they'll vote on the package but McCain is more evasive, switching the subject to a story about Eisenhower. Huh?

    [We could do without Jim Lehrer's gimmicky attempt to get the candidates to talk directly to each other. He already stepped all over Obama's attempt to call McCain out for saying "the fundamentals of the economy are strong."]

    9:14 p.m.: McCain hits Obama on earmarks, but cites as an example the study of bear DNA in Montana, even though my friend Koval says that Sarah Palin pushed for a similar earmark for Alaska. Obama does a good job of putting earmarks into perspective, but McCain presses on.

    [Lehrer won't give up on getting the candidates to talk directly to each other. What's up with that?]

    McCain suggest an effective argument on business taxes, rather effectively rebutted by Obama. Why doesn't Obama jump on McCain's definition of "rich"?

    9:26 p.m.: Obama ducks a question about what government won't be able to do in order to pay for the $700 billion bailout. Fiscal conservatism is a weakness of his, to be sure.

    McCain ducks as well, hitting Obama on his "liberal" voting record. Surely that dog no longer hunts. I guess we'll see.

    Artdebatewidegi 9:32 p.m.: McCain pushes a spending freeze, which is a political lead balloon. Not surprisingly, Obama isn't going for it. McCain's old saw about cutting foreign spending is a winner among xenophobic Republicans, but is a prime example of why I no longer recognize my former party.

    9:38 p.m.: Finally a direct blow from Obama to McCain on Bush and the Republican control of Congress and voting with Bush on budgets, etc. Long overdue. McCain's response is weak: "maverick" and not "Miss Congeniality." That's the best he's got?

    9:40 p.m.: Switching to foreign policy, McCain's lesson from Iraq is "don't have failed strategies"? Nothing about the dangers of pre-emptive action? Nothing?

    Obama's response is much more direct: We should never have fought this war, and took our eye off the ball in Afganistan.

    Wow, McCain actually scares me when he says, "The next president of the United States won't have to decide whether we should have invaded Iraq." Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. By contrast, Obama hits McCain square between the eyes on his failed judgment on Iraq. In response, McCain is patronizing and then ducks every point that Obama raised.

    9:50 p.m.: Afghanistan: Obama becomes a bit bogged down but makes the central point about how the war in Iraq has siphoned away the forces in Afghanistan actually fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. McCain repeats his belief that the Iraqi surge strategy will work in Afghanistan as well, making a big deal about Obama should never had said "out loud" that he was willing to strike inside Pakistan's borders.

    9:57 p.m.: Again McCain is patronizing toward Obama: "I don't think Senator Obama understands that Pakistan was a failed state" when Musharraf took power. McCain's story about wearing a soldier's bracelet is particularly telling: So if our troops die in war, we are committed to fighting and fighting, no matter whether the war is just and winable, simply because we have already lost troops.

    I love Obama's counter, which says that American troops never die in vain, regardless of whether America pulls out of a conflict.

    How on earth can McCain keep hitting on Obama for not having traveled as much to the region when McCain selected a running mate who only got a passport last year!

    10:03 p.m.: McCain suggests a League of Democracies, but does he stop for a second to imagine what a democratically elected government of Iran would look like? Does he think it would be appreciably friendlier toward Israel or the U.S.? What happened, after all, when the Palestinians held elections -- we got Hamas, a terrorist organization, as the official government entity.

    10:09 p.m.: Obama hits McCain squarely on how Henry Kissinger and four other former secretaries of state agree that the U.S. president should sit down with our enemies without preconditions. Surely Americans are tired after eight years of failed isolationism as a strategy for countering Iran, Cuba, North Korea and the like.

    I love the line about the prime minister of Spain from Obama, and McCain's inside-baseball line about not yet having a seal won't fly. Again he patronizing with "what Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand..." I fundamentally don't get why it "legitimizes" the outrageous rhetoric of Iranian president by sitting down with him.

    10:15 p.m.: The question is Russia, but my general reaction is being very impressed with Obama's command of these foreign policy questions. At the very minimum, he is competing with McCain as equals on this debate stage -- and given the difference in experience levels between the two, that's a big victory.

    McCain's repetitive patronization of Obama really works my nerves and judging by CNN's "audience reaction" graph, I'm not alone.

    10:30: p.m.: Obama's rhetoric about restoring America's standing in the world is optimistic and forward-looking, even as it criticizes the direction of the last eight years. In response, McCain is once again patronizing about what Obama "doesn't understand."

    Clearly this was a debate strategy by the McCain camp to portray Obama as a naive rookie, over his head on foreign policy issues. Given Obama's command of the issues, not to mention his foreign tour this summer, that won't fly. And it can't help but raise questions about McCain's own veep pick.

    10:34 p.m.: McCain makes his broader case against Obama, that he's inexperienced and naive. So that's where he's going. And of course it rings incredibly hollow given Sarah Palin.

    My partisan pal Koval says McCain did better than he expected, while my reaction was that Obama did better than I expected. My conclusion draws not just to my own preferences (thanks for the comment, Kevin) but also because Obama seemed at least an equal on foreign policy with McCain -- which was his critical objective.

    Also, McCain's patronizing attitude toward Obama reminded me of every know-it-all elder who suggested those of my generation don't know what we are talking about despite all their very clear failures on the very issues they're talking about.



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    1. Kevin on Sep 26, 2008 10:28:17 PM:

      10:27pm -- hmmmmm I wonder who you support.

    1. susanj on Sep 26, 2008 10:54:02 PM:

      Thanks for doing the hard work of sitting through this b.s. so I don't have to, Chris. (I know, I know, I should watch it but McCain makes my teeth hurt). Did you get any sense that McCain's bizarre "will he, won't he, show up for the debate at all" strategy was a factor in this debate?

    1. Strict Scrutiny on Sep 26, 2008 11:42:27 PM:

      McCain did better than I thought he would. Seems like his campaign was flagging recently and I guess I figured he'd be more subdued and probably not as prepared.

      I thought they were both pretty vague on the economy and the bail out, and wasn't impressed. Although I'm surprised (and disappointed) that Obama didn't slam McCain for trying to reinvent himself as the candidate in favor of more overight. McCain and the Republicans have been the champions of DEregulation for decades (remember Reagan and his "Govt. isn't the solution, it's the problem;" and "Let's get govt. off the peoples' backs?") Yeah. And now McCain says we need more regulation? Riiiiiiiight.

      The other thing that was irritating was Obama's centrist positioning. Seemed like he was trying to appear more hawkish on foreign affairs, especially regarding Iran. Sigh. I suppose it plays well to masses, but it's still irritating.

    1. Tim C on Sep 27, 2008 9:47:18 AM:

      Y'all did better than I did. In spite of best intentions, I fell asleep somewhere around Afghanistan and never was fully alert after that.

    1. Kris on Sep 27, 2008 11:40:35 AM:

      John McCain Wins The First Debate

      "It was one of the most substantive debates in recent presidential campaign history and John McCain won it. The Arizona senator was cool, informed and forceful in Friday's first presidential debate of the general election campaign. He repeatedly put Barack Obama on the defensive throughout the 90 minutes session. Obama did little to ease voter concerns that he's experienced enough to handle foreign and defense policy. That was his number one task Friday night and he failed." – Des Moines Register

      "John McCain was very lucky that he decided to show up for the first presidential debate in Oxford, Miss., Friday night. Because he gave one of his strongest debate performances ever. While Barack Obama repeatedly tried to link McCain to the very unpopular George W. Bush, Bush’s name will not be on the ballot in November and McCain’s will. And McCain not only found a central theme but hit on it repeatedly. Obama is inexperienced, naive, and just doesn’t understand things, McCain said." – Politico

      "Throw in his bumbling, stumbling and naivete on national security and foreign policy and Barack Obama came across last night as exactly what he is -- one of the most inexperienced politicians ever nominated for president. And John McCain never looked more presidential." – Pittsburgh Tribune Review

      "Throughout the debate, which focused on both the economy and foreign policy, McCain had facts, figures and names at his fingertips, speaking from decades of experience in the trenches - literally and figuratively - and repeated the phrase, "Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand . . ." He called Obama naive, dangerous and inexperienced, and his attacks, which seemed to frustrate Obama, put him on the defensive for the majority of the night." – New York Daily News

      Debate Fact Check: Barack Obama Misstates Position On Talking With Iran

      "Obama said that "I was called naive when i suggested that we need to look at exploring contacts with Iran, and, you know what? President Bush recently sent a senior ambassador, Bill Burns, to participate in talks with the Europeans around the issue of nuclear weapons." This comment both overstates the case and does not accurately reflect Obama's position. Obama has said he would begin direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program without preconditions, a stance that has worried key European allies." – The Washington Post

      "Debate Fact Check: Barack Obama Misstates Position On Taxes

      "During Friday's presidential de"bate, Sen. Barack Obama provided a loose interpretation of his tax plan, saying that those making less than $250,000 a year "will not see one dime's worth of tax increase." It's not entirely true. Obama has called for higher taxes on income, capital gains and dividends for individuals making $200,000 per year; his tax plan imposes higher taxes on couples starting at $250,000 a year." – ABC News

    1. Allan on Sep 27, 2008 12:15:29 PM:

      Spin it, Kris, Spin it!

      You forgot that McCain doesn't know the name of the new leader of Pakistan, that he made a huge gaffe claiming that Pakistan was a "failed state" when Musharaff staged his coup, that dozens of newspapers other than the few you cited called the debate either a draw (which redounds to Obama, the current leader, and the one who had to prove that he holds his own on foreign policy) or a clear win for Obama.

      And most important of all is not the effect the debate had on fierce partisans like you and me, who of course think our candidate won. It was the undecideds and independents who were tuning in, perhaps for the first time, to really pay attention.

      All the post-debate polls and focus groups show a decisive victory for Obama among those groups.

      So what happened last night? Republican mouth-breathers like Kris think McCain won, Obama supporters are prouder than ever of their candidate, and the undecided people in the middle saw a cranky, snotty old man who couldn't even look Obama in the eye. Game, set, match Obama.

      President Obama. Get used to it, Kris.

    1. Kevin on Sep 27, 2008 12:19:41 PM:

      Kris and Allan:

      As one of those undecided voters, I can say that you both can go to hell. The debate didn't make any difference to me. I'm much more concerned about what's going on back in Washington right now, and so is the country.

    1. Allan on Sep 27, 2008 12:35:25 PM:

      How McCain-like of you, Kevin. And yes, I mean that as an insult.

    1. GMichael on Sep 27, 2008 10:56:43 PM:

      "Also, McCain's patronizing attitude toward Obama reminded me of every know-it-all elder who suggested those of my generation don't know what we are talking about despite all their very clear failures on the very issues they're talking about."

      I was thinking the same exact thing! And if I heard McCain say "You don't understand" one more time I was going to throw something at the TV. Obama was at least gracious in saying he agreed or would look for common ground on major issues.

      McCain remained me of that great uncle at Thanksgiving that rambles on about the 60s and complains about how the kids today have no respect. McCain's condescending attitude and utter lack of respect for Obama exhibited by his snide laughs and inability to not even once look at his opponent once clearly put him at a loss. Being an Obama supporter I saw that as disrepect to my opinions and beliefs. At least Obama showed that respect and offered Americans from all walks of life and opinions a seat at the table.

    1. Karl on Sep 30, 2008 1:10:52 PM:

      Hi, Citizen Crain! I'm new to your blog and want to say thank you for it, as it shines with intelligence and wit. My name is Karl, and I share a bit of your history in that I was editor of GayLife in Chicago for a couple of years in the past. Now I've lived in Europe for nearly 20 years, and I am just gobsmacked at what is happening in America these days. That anyone (and particularly, if all readers will forgive me -- any, and I mean ANY LGBT person) could for a moment think of supporting the McCain/Palin ticket (also known as the McPander/ShriekingChristianFascist ticket) is astonishing to me. I'm a gay American expat. But the same amazement is demonstrated by so, so many people in Europe and elsewhere in the world, who simply cannot imagine a third Bush term, which is what McPander would represent. I encourage readers to go to www.economist.com/vote2008, which is a global vote on the US presidential election with countries assigned "electoral college" votes in accordance with their size (five for Latvia where I live, 1990 for China). Obama currently leads McCain by 8,414 electoral votes to ... three. Yes, three. I know that the American government, at least in the Bush version thereof, doesn't give a flying f*ck about what the rest of the world thinks, but the Economist site tells us precisely what it thinks, and I agree with it. I grieve for America, I really do, and I say that as a Christian and lay worship leader in my Anglican church. The Republicans represent Christianity which encourages Christians to be as stupid as they can possibly be (the earth is 7,000 years old and similar balderdash). I say again. I grieve. Good luck to you in Brazil, I hope that both you and I will live to see the day when we can bring our significant others to America, and thanks for your blog -- thanks very, very much.

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Sep 30, 2008 3:14:14 PM:

      Yes, because, as we know, those abroad are so much better informed about what conditions in the United States are really like.

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