Friday, September 26, 2008

Impressions from the Presidential Debate

Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

Disclaimer: I didn't really watch the debate. I listened to about 20 minutes of it on the radio while driving home from work. Then caught probably another 15-20 minutes of it driving around with my family as we made a half-hearted effort to get to "Ballet in the Park" (yes, I was completely ignoring my family...) which we inevitably ditched because we were both late (thanks to me) and intimidated by the crazy popularity of the event and the lack of facilities to accommodate that popularity, especially parking... So, our yearly tradition has now ended...

But back to the debate. When John McCain and Barack Obama won the nomination I was pretty excited. Excited because those were my two favorites from each party. Before I threw my support behind Obama around last December, McCain was actually on the top of my list. So, how often is it that you can seriously say yes, this year I will pick the best of two goods.

But then the campaign began, and McCain's presidential campaign turned into the McCain train wreck capped by the disastrous Palin VP pick. Quick diversion here, but in the VP debates next week, the strategy is obvious. Biden needs to debate Palin like she's John McCain, and just let Palin hang herself by herself. Did you see her interview with Katie Couric? It was devastating. Palin is the anchor that is sinking the McCain's candidacy (when he's not sinking it himself with his over-reactions and crazy talk about campaign suspensions). There is absolutely no precedence for this.

And its all McCain's fault. For one, you don't make stupid arguments like in defense of Palin's lack of foreign policy experience saying that because Alaska is close to Russia, Palin is ready to take over the Presidency if something should happen to McCain. That's an insane argument, obviously. And when Palin tried to explain that argument to Couric, it was absolutely obvious even Palin doesn't believe it.

I'm a firm believer that you have to be basically who you are. Authenticity is important, and Palin would be doing better if McCain and company never tried to play up her experience and just accepted Palin for what she is. Unfortunately, what she is is someone completely unready for the Vice Presidency.

Anyway, back to the debates.

I've grown used to presidential debates being pretty light weight affairs. Candidates stuck repeating the same stupid talking points, afraid of specifics, both just hoping to score points with great one-liners.

The primary debates were different, this debate was different.

Also, one more thing. People, for some reason, believe McCain is a bad debater. I watched many of the primary debates on both sides, and I felt McCain won most of his, and I never felt Obama won any of his. At best Obama held his own. But through the primaries, Obama showed consistency and discipline and got better.

Tonight was the best I've ever seen (actually heard) from him. He showed energy and concisenesss in his answers...

McCain was good too. Although I read later that McCain never once looked at Obama, seemed a bit edgy and irritable, while Obama looked directly at McCain while addressing him and seemed overall better composed. I missed pretty much all of this from the radio.

But this debate really explained the differences between the two candidates clearly:

McCain as president will mainly carry forth many of Republican (Bush's) principles but will do it better and more ethically than Bush. I really believe this is true. McCain's foreign policy will largely be a continuation of Bush's, but where Bush basically let Cheney run the show behind closed doors, McCain would be the architect and executer. So, more of the same, but more of the same, only better.

McCain's domestic policy would also be very much Republican oriented but definitely a departure from Bush. Where Bush emphasized "compassionate conservatism" which meant an expansion of government to promote conservative values such as No child Left behind, etc, McCain's campaign would largely be about cutting govenment waste and corruption and not much else.

His most notable line in the debate (and surprising) was that in response to the current finanical crisis, McCain would consider a complete government spending freeze on everything but the most essential government functions, defense, veterans (and under his breadth entitlemens, that would be social security, medicare, medicade), so basically a freeze on all but 99% of the government expenditures. Unrealistic and a litle crazy, but and indicator of where he's at. End pork, end earmarks, end corruption. McCain will be the crusader against all that is evil with this government.

Obama, of course, wants his presidential theme to be about "bottom up" growth. Where the tax system is changed to benefit low and middle class earners. Where government spending is targeted at low and middle class earners - early childhood education, college education affordability (grants, student loans), health care. Where much more of this is paid for by the top 1-5% o the wage earners (tax increases on earners making > $250K, tax hikes on capital gains from 15 to 20 or so percent).

Obama's foreign policy is much more comprehensive, in my view, than McCain's. Where Bush and McCain have been focused on Iraq (I would say bogged down) and as a result have killed US credibility elsewhere, and have limited our ability to do anything else anywhere else, Obama wants to view the terrorists threats more comprehensively. Which means, of course, a draw down in Iraq, a beef up in Afghanistan, and a better focus on engagement with the world, both with our friends and with our foes.

McCain's strenght, of course, in foreign policy lies in his first hand experience. It's obviously his passion, and he's been doing it a long time.

Obama's experience, here, is weak. His politics largely is more academic than real-world (ten years as a Constitutional Law professor at the University of Chicago). And that's his style. He surrounds himself with experts, and his governing style will be collaborative and research based, for better or for worse.

With McCain, you get a highly effective and principled Senator who has run one of the most disfunctional presidential campaigns in recent memory. But, McCain is no light-weight. I'm not sure what kind of a president he would be, but I'm sure he would be better than our last one.

Brooks loves John McCain, and this article sums up why I loved him too.

Why McCain has been a great Senator, especially recently:

"His mood darkened as the Iraq war deteriorated, but his accomplishments mounted. I don’t think any senator had as impressive a few years as McCain did during this span of time.

He lobbied relentlessly for a change of strategy in Iraq, holding off the tide that would have had us accept defeat and leave Iraq to its genocide. He negotiated a complicated immigration bill with Ted Kennedy. He helped organize the Gang of 14 and helped save the Senate from polarized Armageddon over judicial nominations.

He voted against opportunist bills like the pork-laden energy package and the prescription drug plan. He led a crusade against Jack Abramoff and the sleaze-meisters in his own party and exposed corrupt Pentagon contracts."

Why McCain would be a bad president:

"No, what disappoints me about the McCain campaign is it has no central argument. I had hoped that he would create a grand narrative explaining how the United States is fundamentally unprepared for the 21st century and how McCain’s worldview is different.

McCain has not made that sort of all-encompassing argument, so his proposals don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. Without a groundbreaking argument about why he is different, he’s had to rely on tactical gimmicks to stay afloat. He has no frame to organize his response when financial and other crises pop up."

And its not just that he's too much of a Senator. It's also that he's being hamstrung by his party. As a Senator, he has freedom to be a maverick. He wins Senate elections over and over again without trying. People in Arizona love him, and no one really runs against him here.

But to win the presidency you need the base. And the base forced Palin on him. McCain wanted and should have chosen Joe Lieberman or one of the other front runners in consideration (not Romney). Someone he knows and likes, someone who could have enhanced his campaign. But his base wanted nothing to do with it.

You can see it in some of McCain's other ideas as well, especially in health care. I'm not sure if McCain even believes in his own plan. He put it out there in the debate. When Obama attacked its primary weakness, that employers would stop providing health care and force more people to go out in the open market to get it. And that's a problem, because unless people are brought in as a group, insurance provides will target the young and healthy where profits can be made and make it hard for older folks and more chronically ill folks to afford it, even with the tax credit McCain offers. And McCain basically ignored the attack.

The Republican party is the albatross around McCain's neck.

So McCain loses this election because he's too much a Senator whose running for President with Senator ideas. He loses because he can't free himself from a dysfunctional, corrupt party who care more about ideology than country.

Obama wins because he does have an over-arching message whose time has come. Obama wins because he is the man for the moment. Obama wins because he is a candidate not burdened by the past, a Democrat who can talk about foreign policy and military strength without appearing like he's pandering. A Democrat who can talk about faith and God with authenticity. A Democrat who can propose liberal ideas regarding education or health care with confidence and without shame.

Obama wins this election hands down. The VP debates next week will clinch it, exposing Palin for the gimmick she is.


Jaylee Draney said...

If you didn't listen to the entire thing, you might not have picked up on the fact that Obama kept referring to McCain as "John" and McCain referred to Barack as "Senator Obama". Jim kept trying to get the opponents to talk to one another during the beginning of the debate, but it just wasn't happening, and I think I heard the phrase "fundamentally different" about 400 times.

Sara said...

I noticed that, Jaylee. I kept wondering how it would sound to have McCain refer to Obama as Barack, but it never happened.