As the wives walk on stage and the candidates shake hands, some final thoughts:
As expected both candidates talked about the economy and taxes a lot. As before no moment stood out that would really sway voters.
In terms of what voters were looking for, I think that they got a pretty good portrait of what each candidate would be like in the Oval Office. McCain dueled using details and minutiae to make his points — sometimes to his detriment. Obama, on the other hand, was more concerned about the big picture, answering some specifics but dedicating most of his time to themes. In this way, it did look a bit like the Arizona senator was trying to win the battles, but was letting the war slip away.
This point was particularly evident during the exchanges over spending. McCain repeatedly brought up ear markers and the importance of being fiscally responsible. Yet, economists of every strip agree that the U.S. is going to need to increase spending to ensure that the economy can rebound. In this sense, I don’t know if McCain did what he needed to which was alayed voters’ number one concern: the economy.
In terms of declaring a winner or a loser, I would say it was the moderator’s night. Of the four hosts, Bob Scheiffer asked the most provocative questions about issues that have yet to get much attention — most notably on abortion and education. He gave the candidates their allotted time without badgering them about time and asked good follow-ups. A splendid night’s work from the CBS man.
And with that I’ll leave it to the pundits and spinners. Was this worth the viewer’s time? I do hope so.
McCain goes first, and calls for a new direction for America. Make healthcare and education affordable and available. And again with the spending. And he brings up trust (that’s where the Bill Ayers/ACORN issue comes up).
The freshman senator from Illinois talks about difficult times and the economic troubles. He then links his opponent to Bush — without explicitly saying so — then promises to work on the behalf of the middle class.
And that is it.
Last question of the evening: education.
You can tell that the years of war have changed the American psyche, because both Schieffer and Obama talk about education as a national security issue.
Obama talks about his $4,000 tax credit for students who want to volunteer. Interesting that he hit McCain for offering a small credit for something that is too expensive (healthcare). This is particularly interesting because banks, who offer a lot of the student loans out there, are now seizing up.
McCain calls education the “civil rights issue of the 21st century.” Strong answer from McCain here. Both candidates say that there should be more competition in public schools and bad teachers need to get the sack.
McCain is again talking about reform, and really touts the importance of vouchers. Obama disagrees.
First mention of any Roe v. Wade, the founding abortion case.
McCain says that there is no litmus test to a Supreme Court appointment. Obama agrees, but says that it was a correct decision.
So far this election has stayed away from social conservative issues. An interesting exchange here. McCain is really trying to win the battles; Obama again reaches for the Change message.
Obama is trying to appeal to voters here.
McCain just said that he would give a $5,000 tax credit. My room mate is a doctor, and he quickly snapped that that will pay for about “two days in an ICU.”
McCain again brings up Joe the Plumber, as they trade blows about Obama’s “punishment” for healthcare. And then it turns into a debate about Big v Small government.
Energy independence. I would like to know what they even think that means.
McCain says that the U.S. can end its dependence on Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil, and instead use the host of different energy sources: clean coal, wind, hydro … No explanation of how they would be funded, since they are not profitable to be self-sustaining — especially with the falling price of oil, now at $75 a barrel.
Obama says that 10 years is the span needed to become “energy independence.”
They then go off into NAFTA. Free trade and globalization are dirty words right now. McCain tries to link free trade to the wider diplomatic issues using Colombia as an example: the war on drugs, etc. These are small nigglings right now, since the real issue and the reason that jobs are going over seas is China and India. I really think there needs to be more talk about these two countries.
Obama then talks about “green jobs” as the way create jobs.
About halfway through, I saw that McCain is talking about specifics more than Obama; but it seems like nit-picking.
Question: Which VP candidate would be the best President should the unthinkable happen?
The Democrat says that his running mate, Joe Biden, fights on behalf of the middle class, and that he shares Obama’s core values.
The Arizona senator says that Palin is a reformer, and talks about his #2’s experience with special needs children.
Obama has to be careful about attacking here. He talks about the need for more funding. McCain attacks Biden’s strength saying that he was wrong on many of the big issues here — before turning back to spending issues.
Mr. Schieffer is asking great questions: now its the negative campaigning.
The two are really trading blows here, and both seem rather laissez faire about the negativity. This might be good TV, but I don’t know if this is swaying any middle class voters.
Obama seizes on the fact that the question is really about changing the nature of politics. (Never mind his own attack ads on his rival.)
Bill Ayers, the 1960s domestic terrorists, and ACORN have now come up. Obama strongly repudiates both allegations. He then talks about who he gets policy advice from, and its quite a list: Warren Buffet, Joe Biden, etc. Sounded like a change message.
This is the question I most want answered: given the economy, what will the candidates cut to bring the budget back in line.
Obama says that he will cut programs that don’t work and add ones that you do. He is really dodging the question, but keeping it positive. He listed a number of reforms, including energy, but didn’t name a single program that he would give up. Bit of a shame really.
McCain is getting excited. He talks about freezing spending, and then goes into specifics. Talks a lot about ethanol subsidies, before verging into an attack on Obama. I’d like to hear more about this, given that Americans are increasingly queasy about globalization.
McCain whips out a line saying if Obama wanted to run against Bush, he should have run four years ago. Then more talking about spending. I don’t know if spending is really going to do it for McCain tonight. It needs to be about the middle class, not Washington spending scuffles.
Obama says that on “economic issues” McCain would simply be another four years.
Bob Schieffer asks for more than just talking points, and inquires about both candidates new economic proposals.
McCain begins by appealing to the middle class by saying that he would address the mortgage issues, rather than the Wall St. banks. No attack on Obama there.
Obama comes out strongly, enumerating the points of his short-term plan and then talks about the need for long-term solutions as well.
The two then trade jabs about taxes — and Joe the Plumber. McCain is talking about taxes, particularly business taxes. I don’t know if that is a good idea given the public’s antipathy for big business right now.
Bob, the moderator, promises to ask follow-up questions to ensure that the conversation is lively. The candidates are on stage, and take a seat.
A few thoughts before we get started. With an appropriate degree of foreboding, I wanted to quickly say, in response to Joshua Keating’s reposte on FP Passport, I understand that there are too many talking points and catch phrases in today’s politics. No doubt there will be a lot more of both tonight. But I still do think that these debates are meaning full, if only because the serve to inform voters about what to expect from the next administration. To call tonight’s proceedings a debate is a misnomer; it’s more of an interview. The American people now get to see the applicants side by side for the final time.
So we are about to get started, the eagle is in place and the lights are on. Let’s see what happens
Mark C. Partridge, Contributing Editor