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  • « Hate and Fear | Main | The Week on GNW (Oct. 11-17) »

    October 15, 2008

    Live-blogging the last debate

    Posted by: Chris

    Another UPDATE: At least one post-debate poll shows a much closer judgment by voters about the encounter that the early snap polls did last night. The Politico/Insider Advantage poll found voters gave the debate to Obama, 49% to 46%, but independent voters scored McCain the winner, 51% to 42%.

    UPDATE at the end of the post:

    Obamamccainpostdebate Here we are for the third and last debate, unless John McCain decides a gimmicky challenge to more of them in hopes of reviving his sinking fortunes. With three debates (counting the veeps) come and gone sans any real fireworks, now would be McCain's last, best chance to shake things up.

    9:02 p.m.: The warmest pre-debate welcome yet; no eye-dodge by McCain.

    9:05 p.m.: McCain offers more detail on his $300 billion buyout of struggling home mortgages. How odd to see a conservative Republican pinning his presidential hopes on massive government spending and interference in the private sector. Meanwhile, the liberal Democrat Barack Obama replies with tax credits and tax cuts.

    Artmccainap A style point: McCain looks at the moderator; Obama looks at the camera. I've been surprised no one has used that technique so far in the debates. It may be jarring for thos in the hall, but it comes off to the vast majority watching on TV as much more direct. Oops -- as soon as i write that, McCain looks directly at the camera, and then at Obama -- definitely more effective.

    Another style point: Is that a U.S. flag pin on Barack Obama's lapel? Where is John McCain's? Oh that's right -- only non-conservatives are required to prove (and prove again, and prove again) their basic patriotism.

    9:17 p.m.: Neither candidate is particularly effective in explaining how their policies are fiscally responsible. Obama stays very vague, going "line by line" in the budget eliminateing wasteful programs. How many election cycles have we been hearing presidential candidates -- from both parties -- promising this? McCain, meanwhile, just spent half his answer re-trumpeting his $300 billion home mortgage buyout, and the second half decrying growing government spending. Huh?

    9:20 p.m.: The first pre-fab line from McCain: "Senator Obama, I'm not President Bush." Obama ought to reply, "I don't know George Bush personally, George Bush is not a friend of mine, but Senator McCain, your policies are four more years of George Bush." Obama is far more cool and calm in his reply, of course. It works for him since his the frontrunner but in a closer election, a more vigorous response would have been more effective.

    Artobamagi 9:27 p.m.: An effective question from Bob Schieffer. Rather than ask the candidates to promise not to be negative, he challenges them to say directly to their opponent that their campaigns have been saying. McCain was very effective, I thought, pushing Obama on his reversal on accepting public financing. Obama looked somewhat rattled and didn't address it in his reply. This has been McCain's best question in any debate, and it's incredibly ironic considering the angry lies coming from McCain-Palin rallies (more Palin's than McCain's).

    9:35 p.m.: John McCain's anger looks about to boil over. I can't imagine this works to his benefit. Obama's reply on Ayers and ACORN are also very effective. These are not the kind of issues that will sway many voters.

    9:40 p.m.: Oh my -- a running-mate question. Talk about your softballs to Obama! Once again, McCain does a decent job of turning a defect -- Palin vs. Biden -- to an advantage by attacking Biden much more effectively than Obama does Palin. Obama's decision to adopt a prevent defense is understandable, given his huge advantage in the polls, but it is risky.

    9:55 p.m.: Is it enough for Obama to smile when McCain says he wants to restrict trade and raise taxes? Maybe.

    10:00 p.m.: Two-thirds into a debate on domestic issues and not a single question on civil rights -- i.e., gay rights, abortion. Are these issues really less important that free trade with Colombia and Bill Ayers and ACORN?

    Sarah_palin_wink 10:03 p.m.: Taking a cue from his running mate, John McCain just winked at the camera while Obama was discussing McCain's health care plan. Did NRO's Rich Lowry feel any "little starbursts" bounce around his living room?

    10:07 p.m.: Finally, a civil rights question, about whether Roe vs. Wade is a litmus test for nominees to the Supreme Court. McCain just tied himself into knots saying he wouldn't apply a litmus test on abortion, and yet he would never appoint a justice who has publicly supported Roe. Obama's answer isn't anymore convincing, although he at least admits as much by saying that the Roe precedent "hangs in the balance" in the election. Maybe.

    10:14 p.m.: McCain's willingness to demagogue on abortion by claiming Obama actually opposes providing live-saving medical treatment for infants outside the womb during an abortion procedure is a new low. To me, this represents as clearly as anything else that McCain represents the past -- demagoguing and bumper-stickering divisive issues like abortion rather than trying to find common ground and adopting reasonable legislation.

    10:16 p.m.: The last question is on education; there will be nothing on gay marriage, even though the Connecticut Supreme Court and the ballot measures in California and Florida have put the issue front and center.

    Final thoughts: All in all, I thought McCain was more effective tonight than in either of the first two debates, and Obama's decision to stick to a prevent defense is a risky one. As a result, McCain actually managed to take two questions that should have been naturals for Obama -- personal attacks in the campaign and relative qualifications of their running mates -- and turned them to his advantage. On the other hand, the way McCain let his anger boil over on a couple of occasions was downright scary.

    Also, John McCain once again came off as arrogant as in the first debate, saying Obama "didn't understand" foreign policy issues. Tonight it was smirks and laughter and interrupting Obama, as well as never acknowledging the way Obama did that the tough issues before them were ones on which reasonable minds may differ.

    Debates rarely have the impact on elections that the pundits say they do, and this one is very unlikely to fundamentally change his fortunes. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if the post-debate polls show a much closer breakdown on "who won" the debate, perhaps even showing McCain won -- at least among undecided voters.


    Initial polling from CBS/Knowledge Networks suggests I was too generous to McCain. The undecided voters agreed by more than two to one (53% to 22%), giving the third and final debate to the Democrat.



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    1. Allan on Oct 16, 2008 3:35:26 AM:

      Some random thoughts:

      Bob Schieffer was the best of the debate moderators. Partly it was the format: sitting at a table forced McCain and Obama to interact directly with each other, something that Lehrer struggled and failed to make happen. And unlike Brokaw, Schieffer stayed out of the candidates' way and let them talk. But even though his brother works for Bush he didn't seem partisan, though he let McCain go on too long and have the final word too often. But to an Obama supporter, that's a feature, not a bug.

      McCain finally scored a line that will be played repeatedly - I am not Bush - though it's too little too late to change the outcome of the election.

      That sound you heard after McCain's mockery of "health of the mother" was the last few Hillary holdouts climbing aboard the Obama train.

      Speaking of Hillary, she was wonderful in a post-debate interview, talking about how she looks forward to working with President Obama.

      That's right. President Obama.

      Start practicing it.

    1. Andoni on Oct 16, 2008 7:25:58 AM:

      These debates are always frustrating for people like me (and probably you). We know the issues inside out. We've heard all the sound bites on all the issues many times. So when an issue comes up, we always think that the candidate should have said this, that or the other --- a more refined answer, a more detailed answer. However, the people these candidates (especially Obama) are trying to reach are mostly people paying attention for the very first time. Therefore the superficial, time tested, focus group tested sound bite works best on these people, rather than jumping deeper into a topic (to please me). If he did this it would lose people who haven't made up their minds, are now tuning if for the first time, and if the answer goes beyond the introductory sound bite, they would not know what the heck the candidate is talking about.

      Alas, that is the problem with American politics. The sophisticated people, the ones paying attention, have already made up their minds. All who are left, unfortunately, are those that are not conversant on the important issues of our day.

      BTW, John McCain goofed up Joe the plumber's last name. It's Wurzelbacher, not Werzberger. Certainly nothing most viewers would have noticed, but heck, if you are going pull a guy out of obscurity to make a political point on international TV, get his name right. Reminds me of George Bush.

    1. Tim C on Oct 16, 2008 8:20:36 AM:

      My partner and I couldn't figure out why McCain was working so hard for the little autistic children's vote. We didn't realize it was that important of a bloc.

    1. theGayEditor on Oct 16, 2008 1:10:13 PM:

      Since he was referring to Gov. Palin's child, he should have been discussing Down's Syndrome, anyway-- not autism. Yet another twist of the information to fit a half-baked message . . .

    1. theGayEditor on Oct 16, 2008 1:10:54 PM:

      Since he was referring to Gov. Palin's child, he should have been discussing Down's Syndrome, anyway-- not autism. Yet another twist of the information to fit a half-baked message . . .

    1. theGayEditor on Oct 16, 2008 1:11:01 PM:

      Since he was referring to Gov. Palin's child, he should have been discussing Down's Syndrome, anyway-- not autism. Yet another twist of the information to fit a half-baked message . . .

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