Preface: I watched the debate on CNN, and listened to the post-commentary on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News, consider them my sources if you want.
So last night was the first Presidential debate, moderated by Jim Lehrer (who has has moderated 11 presidential debates counting last night, over 5 elections… 20 years of this stuff) on the topic of Foreign Policy. With the current economic crisis America finds itself in, he included topics on the economy. The debate was almost over before it began, with McCain claiming he wasn’t going to be at the debate in lieu of his having suspended his campaign because of the financial crisis. Then yesterday morning the McCain camp declared victory on the debate, before he even confirmed his attendance. All this led to the thought that McCain’s claims of putting aside his campaign because of his mantra “Country First” while searching for a solution to the economic crisis was nothing more then a dirty political tactic. Of course, you then have to consider that before McCain landed in DC, Democrats and the GOP had come to a fundamental agreement on the nature of the bailout. Then a few hours after McCain landed, the GOP pulled out. And reports leaked yesterday said members of the GOP bailed to make sure McCain would have time to be a part of the solution. That seems like a bit extreme to me though.
But the debate itself. Foreign policy is supposed to McCain’s expertise. His life experiences plus his general experience in Congress, and then his general mocking of Obama’s lack of experience specifically in foreign policy should have given McCain a clear lead in this debate. It was known economic questions were going to be added, and it was believed that Obama would have the advantage there. The McCain camp also berated Obama’s debating ability, in that he could read speeches with great eloquence when he had time to prepare, but slipped up when he had to think on his feet. Mind you, I agreed with that statement, until the debate. In the past, Obama’s ability to debate, think on his feed, were limited. His ability to give a speech has always been phenomenal. My opinion of this changed Friday night.
The debate started with the question on everyone’s mind: the economy. The candidates were given two minutes per topic, then five minutes to talk face to face. I heard two comments here from the various channels: Obama called McCain John through the night, and McCain never so much as looked at Obama. Both were called slights to the other side, though I must say it was Fox News that called Obama’s action of calling McCain by his first name a slight, and all three news stations commented that McCain never looked at Obama. Personally, I think Obama calling McCain by his first name put them on even grounds, and dropped any atmosphere of superiority or elitism. McCain never once looking at Obama or commenting directly to Obama (as Lehrer asked them to do) I thought was a slight. An interesting addendum, CNN just pointed out, when the two men walked on stage and shook hands, McCain barely gave Obama a glance there, quickly turning to the crowd. Does he not like looking at Obama?
The debate itself was interesting, and brought out more then a few thoughts about both candidates. Interesting statements included. McCain kept saying how Obama doesn’t understand, and Obama kept saying, “When I’m president…”. It makes me laugh a bit, because while they were discussion whether they’d meet with certain foreign leaders, McCain commented that he isn’t going to setup a visitors schedule for the White House yet, and yet he’s the person who says as President he’s ready to hit the ground running. He “doesn’t need any on-the-job training.” Are you telling me that the job of President of the United State of America is a straight forward job, that requires no more information then you have picked up as a POW and a senator? He says he’s ready to go on day one, and yet I feel like its Obama who feels confident in the job.
Both sides got their jabs in. But again, I really think Obama did better. Neither side really answered when they were asked if they’d support the bailout bill as is (fairly obviously, I think, why tie down their responses?) but Obama did do better in the beginning of the debate. McCain started out shaky, and improved as time went on. Obama was cool and confident through the whole thing. For someone with little foreign policy experience, Obama kept saying what he’d do, and McCain just seemed to show his age by talking about the past. He spoke about the bracelet he got from the mother of a KIA soldier, and how the mother didn’t want her son to have died in vain, which McCain translated as winning the war. Obama came back quickly by responding decisively: “Jim, let me just make a point. I’ve got a bracelet, too…”; Obama’s bracelet was received by a mother who didn’t want any other mother to go through what she went through. Sorry McCain, but just because you got a bracelet and one viewpoint doesn’t mean that’s justification for your ideology. Obama got more jabs in by coming back at McCain’s observance that Obama agreed the surge was working. I will admit, Obama should openly admit the surge has worked. Not the surge as in troop numbers, but the strategy behind the surge. It has done what it meant to accomplish. Obama responded by stating that McCain seems to think the war started in 2007 (the surge), when really, it started 4 years prior. But if the surge worked seems moot to me. Its as if you have an infected leg then pass out, and someone else has the choice of disinfecting it and cleaning the leg, cutting the dead tissue, leading to a longer, possibly more difficult recovery, but keeping the leg, or the choice of cutting off the leg, swift response that will lead to more precarious situations later on. If the person chooses to cut off your leg and you recover, I’m sure you’ll agree you recovered, but that doesn’t mean you think its the right choice.
One thing that really hit home with me was the question about if either candidate would sit down with the Iranian leaders. McCain’s stance was a stout no, that the President meeting with Iranian leaders would be paramount to justifying their actions. Obama said he would meet without precondition. Now Obama did screw up here a bit, switching his wording around between the President directly, and underlings then the President, and I’m not sure if he meant it the first time or if he wanted to correct himself to look better. But what I do know is Obama claimed that McCain may not even meet with the Prime Minster of Spain because they may not be aligned with us, and McCain had nothing to say about that. Whether it was because it wasn’t true or because it was, that’s a loss for McCain. The idea of speaking to someone with preconditions immediately means you think you are better then they are. If you want to lead the country, and the world, I believe you have to be willing to place yourself at their level. Or them at yours. Talking to someone does not mean you are vindicating their actions. It could quite well mean you want them to stop.
Overall, I think this debate hurt for McCain. He just came from a fiasco over the economic policy in DC (his suspension, threatening to not attend the debate, an early declaration of victory before even attending?), and was nearly even with Obama in the polls, with a slight lead. Foreign policy was his home term, his experience should have won him out. But instead, I think he was flustered through the event, didn’t show Obama the decency of speaking directly to him, put on a smug, “I’m better then you” attitude, and in the end lost the debate. From my viewpoint, he was acting like the adult speaking to the youthful counterpart, always saying, well you don’t understand, you don’t know, you aren’t ready. And even if he did just as well, tied for all intents and purposes, it was a loss for him. He needed a win to pick up and show the people of this country that his actions over the last few days weren’t him playing politics, but seriously working. He needed to wow the nation.
And instead, the news analysis after the show showed that more people were impressed with Obama then McCain. According to a CNN poll, 51% of people polled by telephone thought Obama did better on Friday, while 38% thought McCain did better. This poll was biased, with 41% of the respondents identifying themselves as Democrats, 27% as Republicans and 30% as independents. But even Fox News, a definitely Right news group, had a poll of 30 independents. Seventeen sided with Obama, and ten with McCain. The newscaster then had the audacity to say, “Were they watching the same debate we were?” I agree that left and right news groups spin media for their view points, but that was ridiculous. While CNN had a panel of nearly 10 evenly split between Republican analysts and Democratic analysts, Fox News was shooting down the idea that Obama did better. And in my opinion, he did.
If anyone out there is Republican and thinks McCain did better, please comment and tell me where. I’ve said it before: if I’m placed in a party, I’d be a Democrat, so my views probably hid some of what McCain said, so enlighten me.