Utne Blogs > Politics

Presidential Debate Fallout, Take Two

 by Hannah Lobel


Tags: Politics, Election 2008, Barack Obama, John McCain, debates, townhall, economic policy, home mortgages, Reason, Rooflines, FactCheck.org, New America Media, Ezra Klein, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Andrew Sullivan, Talking Points Memo,

Was it a “game-changer”? Did McCain “take the gloves off”? Did “Main Street” rule over “Wall Street”? Is there another hackneyed expression we could judge this debate by? Here’s some cliché-free post-debate analysis rounded up from the blogosphere.

First, here are the numbers on who "won" from CNN and CBS News. Now, let’s move onto actual policy matters.

Reason’s Matt Welch is not pleased with McCain’s new and rather vague mortgage buy-up plan:

"I would order the Secretary of the Treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes, at the diminished value of those homes and let people make those, be able to make those payments and stay in their homes," McCain said. "Is it expensive? Yes."

Is it yet another McCain Hail Mary pass in a campaign that will soon be remembered for nothing but? Also, yes. And it was the latest indication in a grim season for free marketeers that there is no corner of American life that leading politicians aren't eagerly lining up to nationalize.

The plan has been latched onto by pundits as the freshest policy proposal from last night’s debate, but as Rooflines notes, FactCheck.org explains why it’s actually pretty stale (as in Obama and the bailout have both been there already):

McCain proposed to write down the amount owed by over-mortgaged homeowners and claimed the idea as his own: “It’s my proposal, it's not Sen. Obama's proposal, it's not President Bush's proposal.” But the idea isn’t new. Obama had endorsed something similar two weeks earlier, and authority for the treasury secretary to grant such relief was included in the recently passed $700 billion financial rescue package.

Meanwhile, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, writing over at New America Media, wonders if we’ll ever get to hear from the candidates about some other issues:

Okay, we now know for the umpteenth time that Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain will cut taxes, provide affordable health care to everyone, drill for more oil, expand nuclear power use, end global warming, rein in the Wall Street fast buck artists, take out Osama Bin Laden, and end the war in Iraq either by withdrawal or victory. And yes we know that both have had a tough family upbringing, and therefore they know what working people have to go through.

These themes have been rehashed and reworked so many times that we can recite them in our sleep. But what we don’t know and certainly haven’t heard in the debates is what Obama and McCain will do about failing urban public schools, the HIV-AIDS pandemic, their view of the death penalty, the drug crisis, how they’ll combat hate crimes, shore up crumbling and deteriorating urban transportation systems, and what type of judges they will appoint to the federal judiciary and to the Supreme Court....

The result is that the only thing the 50 to 60 million viewers who have tuned into the two debates know about these equally vital public policy concerns can only be gleaned from canned snippets from their speeches on the campaign trail, or more likely by going to their campaign Web sites. For most, that’s not going to happen.

Indeed, probably not. But why bother with such matters when there’s the “that one” hubbub to delve into. I think a commenter on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ live blog captures the appropriate response rather succinctly:

Oh, no he didn't == "That one"????

Ezra Klein at the American Prospect parses it a wee bit further:

I didn't think the moment came off as racist. Rather, it was tone deaf. It was Grandpa Simpson. It was cranky. Which fits it into a narrative connecting the first two debates. In both, McCain's most memorable tics were exhibitions of contempt for Barack Obama. in the first encounter, he couldn't bear to look at Obama, and he used "What Senator Obama doesn't understand" the way other people use "um." In the second, he dismissed him in the language a busy mother uses for her third child, as if he couldn't be bothered to recall the youngster's name. But the youngster is the leading candidate for President of the United States. And McCain is doing himself no favors by acting unable to treat his opponent with respect. It's bad form in general, but it's particularly unhelpful for McCain, who has put a lot of energy and political capital into developing a reputation as respectful towards his political competitors.

And speaking of Homer’s elder, Andrew Sullivan had some good advice via his live blog of the debate:

Memo to McCain: don't talk about Herbert Hoover. The Abraham Simpson problem.

I’d add a few more off-limits geezer flags to that list: his need for hair transplants or arcane terminology like “tillers.” I’m not taking shots at the guy for being old, but I am saying that any undecideds out there who are a wee bit wary of Sarah Palin ruling the country don’t want to be reminded of the fact that McCain is getting on in years—a fact driven home most glaringly last night by the visual of McCain pacing aimlessly about the floor during some of Obama’s answers.

To wrap things up, Josh Marshall captured my debate mood best on his live blog when, half-an-hour in, he noted:

This debate's so boring I don't even know what to tell the staff to upload to youtube.

Even if I weren’t an Obama supporter, I would be thanking the man for shunning McCain’s proposal to do ten townhall debates. I can’t imagine anyone sitting through one, let alone ten, reruns of last night. Thank heavens there’s just one more debate to go.