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First Presidential Debate: Exercise In Futility, Part 2

This is Part 2 of the analysis of Friday night’s Presidential Debate.  Part 1 [1] was posted on Saturday.

Iran

Lehrer asked for a “reading” of Iran by the candidates.  Are they a threat?  Both candidates made it very clear that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran was not acceptable.

McCain did a good job of highlighting both the big risk against Israel, and the risk to the entire region if Iran has nuclear weapons.  McCain also pointed out again the need for thoughtfulness in diplomacy when dealing with countries whose leaders are as evil and wicked in their comments against America and her allies, specifically Israel.  He pointedly criticized Obama for making just such comments.  McCain also promoted his “League of Democracies” as a method for unifying democratic nations in fighting against evil and terrorism.  Best line: “And Senator Obama is parsing words when he says precondition means preparation.”  That was perfect.  The whole time listening to Obama I was frustrated by either his stupidity or intentional manipulation of words.  Worst line: “I’m not going to set the White House visitors schedule before I’m president of the United States.”  This was in answer to the comment from Obama regarding our need to be able to meet with our [foreign] friends.  By this point, McCain was getting frustrated and this response made it show.  It helped a little that he ended it with “I don’t even have a seal yet”.

Obama was very smooth but lost so much credibility in this section that it amazes me he’s not apologizing for being outright deceptive.  Although he agrees (and frankly, opposing Iran is far too populist to fight) with the premise that Iran must remain non-nuclear, he continues to promote a very bad statement about meeting face-to-face with Ahmadinejad.  This was just a wrong-headed statement, and he should retract it.  Bad thing about politics, your campaign manager will quit if you ever admit to making a mistake.  So, he trumps up every piece of information he can manufacture to support this blatently bad idea, and says (or insinuates) that Kissinger agrees with him. Obama has no leg to stand on, and ends up admitting (tacitly) his deception.  Barack did make and interesting case for seeking a broader alliance to deal with Iran, but McCain also made a similarly strong case (based particularly on Russia’s attempts to stall any Security Council action) to keep the work between democracies.  Best line: “I reserve the right, as president of the United States to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I think it’s going to keep America safe.”  That actually sounded presidential, is inarguable, and is one of the few things he’s said that makes me think he could be a leader.  But it will take more than that.  Worst line: “Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who’s one of his advisers, who, along with five recent secretaries of state, just said that we should meet with Iran — guess what — without precondition.”  As alluded to above, the statement is true, but deceptive.  Every person who heard this thought they heard that Kissinger stated that the President of the United States should visit with Ahmadinejad.  But of course, he said no such thing.  And when McCain said “Dr. Kissinger did not say that he would approve of face-to- face meetings between the president of the United States and the president — and Ahmadinejad. He did not say that.”, Obama simply said “Of course not”.  McCain caught him red handed trying to pass off a lie to the American People.  Hopefully, most people caught  that.

Russia

This question was “How do you see the relationship with Russia? Do you see them as a competitor? Do you see them as an enemy? Do you see them as a potential partner?”.  Both candidates have very similar views on the risks we face with a growing militaristic Russia, who is already showing her willingness to start gobbling up border states.  The conflict in Georgia underscores both the desire to acquire more land mass and take, by force, critical energy infrastructure to which Russia has no reasonable right.  It’s unfortunate that this segment degraded into an interruption match between the candidates, part of my reason fot the title I used (“Exercise in Futility”).

Obama of course used this opportunity to underscore the importance in supporting democracies and ensuring that countries have access to NATO membership.  He also showed where his key differentiator in this area is: his inability to consider standing up to other countries who will not work toward a reasonable peace.  His comments eschewed an interminable desire to negotiate (remember Neville Chamberlain?), which will leave us in an undesireably defensive position with our enemies again some day.  Best line: “Over 26 years, Senator McCain voted 23 times against alternative energy, like solar, and wind, and biodiesel.”  McCain never got a reasonable chance to contradict this statement, and now millions probably think he’s anti-alternative.  Anyone with any political knowledge knows the statement is meaningless… if McCain voted against a heavy spending bill that was out of control, everything on the bill was “voted against”.  But the line works because it’s accurate and well-times, although misleading.  Worst line: “I’ve got to make this point, Jim.”  This was where this segment just started to fall apart, and was the most frustrating for anyone watching as both candidates kept trying to interrupt each other.  I can’t blame either one, but in the end, Obama never made his point.  I wish he had.

McCain shows a solid ability to communicate the Russian situation and a preparedness to stand up to Putin.  He sounds consiliatory to the point of recognizing there are new factors, new rules, new challenges since the Cold War, but maintains the best and strongest position: we will work with you, but we will stand by out allies.   Best line: “By the way, I went [to Georgia once, … and there was a huge poster of Vladimir Putin, and it said, “Vladimir Putin, our president.  It was very clear, the Russian intentions towards Georgia. They were just waiting to seize the opportunity.”  This really helped solidify the both the fact of Russia’s intent on dominating their neighbors, and McCain’s experience and direct involvement in foreign affairs.  Worst line: “No one from Arizona is against solar.”  I didn’t get it.  Who said anything about Arizone before this point?

Another 9/11

And Lehrer’s last question was whether we will have anoth 9/11.

Again, both candidates had essentially the same message: a lot of good improvements, but we still have a long way to go. This segment degraded into a rehashing of Iraq, which helps Obama’s point that Iraq has become too big a priority over other interests.

McCain makes a good statement about the work that has been done (which he was very involved in since he’s been in the Senate the whole time), and the areas that need work… he does not oversell our national safety, but doesn’t push a scare agenda either.  Best line: “Senator Joe Lieberman and I decided that we needed a commission, and that was a commission to investigate 9/11, and find out what happened, and fix it.And we were — we were opposed by the administration, another area where I differed with this administration.”  Without a doubt, taking any and every opportunity to distance himself from Bush right now is going to be helpful.  Aligning himself with Lieberman, while Independent still considered a Democrat, also helps.  Worst line: “And we’ve got to — to make sure that we have people who are trained interrogators so that we don’t ever torture a prisoner ever again.”  This is probably the most emotionally charged position that McCain takes, and defintely draws attention from the center and left.  Without a doubt there is a line, but it continues to concern me that we become so tame in our interrogation techniques that we don’t get the kind of critical intellegence we need to protect our country.  I understand McCain’s position, and I just think it’s wrong.

Obama is stuck taking potshots and creating some fear where it probably doesn’t belong.  He really agrees with McCain, but wants to differentiate himself.  Best line: “We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world because we have viewed everything through this single lens.”  This statement is certainly true for many people, is without a doubt a critical point.  We do need to be focused on the entire world stage, even if we do have to spend years in a war.  Worst line: “There has never been a country on Earth that saw its economy decline and yet maintained its military superiority.”  Lacks credibility when you look at Cold War Russia, World War II Germany, and others.  I don’t know where he gets this, and it sounds like he just made it up.

Conclusion

As I said at the start, a fairly even outing for the two.  Another reason for the title: at times it was very difficult to see how the two differentiated themselves from each other.

Best and Worst lines of the night:

Obama Best Line: “Now, we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down.  It hasn’t worked. And I think that the fundamentals of the economy have to be measured by whether or not the middle class is getting a fair shake. That’s why I’m running for president, and that’s what I hope we’re going to be talking about tonight.”  Sets up a clear message that McCain is Bush, and that we can expect the economy to continue to sour under McCain.  For undecideds, the middle class getting a fair shake is going to be very attractive, even though it’s absolutely the worst measure of an economy.

Obama Worst Line: “I’ve got a bracelet, too, from Sergeant (looks at the bracelet) – from the mother of Sergeant Ryan David Jopeck, sure another mother is not going through what I’m going through.”  Playing catch up on this stuff never looks good, and having to look at the bracelet made it appear he was reading the name.  Lacked credibility and sincerity.  The follow up to this appears to be that the family of Sergeant Jopek specifically asked Obama to stop wearing the bracelet and was shocked that he was using the bracelet as a campaign issue.

McCain Best Line: “Well, the first thing we have to do is get spending under control in Washington. It’s completely out of control. It’s gone — we have now presided over the largest increase in the size of government since the Great Society.  We Republicans came to power to change government, and government changed us. And the — the worst symptom on this disease is what my friend, Tom Coburn, calls earmarking as a gateway drug, because it’s a gateway. It’s a gateway to out-of-control spending and corruption.  And we have former members of Congress now residing in federal prison because of the evils of this earmarking and pork-barrel spending.”   This is definitely McCain’s wheel-house.  This is great and sells very well conceptually.  It will be better if we can see it actually happen, and McCain seems like the one who will do it.  Obama never really admits that that earmarks are a problem, but only says that earmarks have been “abused”.

McCain Worst Line: “It’s well-known that I have not been elected Miss Congeniality”.  He used this phrase twice, which was twice too many for me.  There’s a dozen better ways to say you’re a maverick, and subtly linking in Palin just doesn’t work, and grates on my nerves.

Read the transcript of the debate [2].