Okay, it’s roughly midnight and I’m trying to erase all memory of tonight’s Georgia game, so let’s discuss last night’s presidential debate. If you’re remotely familiar with SEC football you’ll excuse all spelling and grammatical areas at this time. I’ll correct them in the morning.
My brass tacks take on Friday’s debate is that if you went in with a preference towards one of the candidates, you probably think that candidate won. McCain fans probably think McCain edged out a victory, and Obama supporters likely think the same about their guy. No major punches seem to have been landed by either side, and more importantly no major gaffes were made as well.
There were things worth noting. I thought McCain, on the whole, looked better than he had in most of his recent campaign events. He got off to a sluggish start but seemed to kick into gear after about 20 minutes, and if you watched him sleepwalk through some of his recent rallys you had to consider this an improvement. That being said, he seemingly refused to engage Obama at all during the debate, to such degree that he wouldn’t even make eye contact with the man. I felt it came off as petty at best, and somewhat dismissive and disrespectful to boot. NBC’s split screen caught him on numerous occasions doing his own version of the sigh that buried Al Gore. In McCain’s case though, it was more akin to an angry glare towards his own lectern, occasionally punctuated by a weird grin.
Obama came across as very composed, and managed to seem measured and professorial without edging towards aloof or haughty. He was more forceful than I’m used to seeing him, but tempered it with moments where he pointed out his agreement with McCain. This probably provides some ammo for the McCain campaign, but nothing major. I was surprised with how well he fared on foreign policy — if this debate was a litmus test for his chops in this area, he handled it adeptly.
On the economy, both hedged, and somewhat understandably. Pressed on the bailout package, neither was keen on giving a detailed or authoritative response that would pigeonhole them in on a position. I can’t fault either since, as Obama noted early, they’re still waiting on the specific language to emerge from the proposal. That having been said, I have one major issue with how they addressed the economy. Both candidates, cognizant of a financial crisis and aware that some form of bailout will occur, have not been forthright enough in adjusting their fiscal plans to accommodate what is known: that a massive expenditure is coming down the pike.
Yeah, I get that the specifics aren’t in yet. But as I noted earlier, McCain and Obama have to understand that the tax plans and pet projects that each lined out prior to the Wall Street meltdown will have to be adjusted, or scrapped, or otherwise altered to fit our new economic reality. Pressed on this matter, Obama mentioned clumsily that he’d have to back burner some of his plans, but then laid out a laundry list of spending programs he’d like to implement. It was not one of his better moments. McCain handled this only slightly better in that he didn’t answer a question about cutbacks with a wishlist of expenditures. But his obsession with earmarks is becoming comical, especially given that his running mate has asked for plenty and supported the earmark poster child, the Bridge to Nowhere. But even if that wasn’t the case, earmarks are a relative pittance of the federal budget — eliminating them looks great as a matter of principle, but does little actual good in the way of spending.
The bottom line is this: we are entering a new economic reality as a result of the mortagage crisis. The next president will not be able to afford the sort of tax relief or tax breaks that they would like to implement, and on top of that will have to make difficult cutbacks in areas that aren’t necessarily politically palatable. I would appreciate if one or both would start being upfront and honest about that. I realize I’m a crazy person for suggesting such a thing.
Like I said, you could probably argue that either or neither candidate won. My feeling is that if McCain didn’t gain any real ground, then in effect he lost a little. In other words, Obama held serve, and in doing so eliminated any remaining doubts about legitimacy — if he proved anything, it’s that it is ludicrous to suggest he didn’t belong on that stage with McCain.