Give John McCain The Edge In Presidential Debate

Posted on October 7, 2008

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John McCain won the debate, I thought, but it was far from a decisive victory.

The economic portion of the debate was anticlimactic. Both candidates were underwhelming, considering the magnitude of the economic crisis.

McCain proposed that the government immediately buy bad home loan mortgages and adjust them to reflect lower real estate values. His proposal undoubtedly will have appeal to homeowners struggling to pay the mortgage.

McCain closed strongly on foreign and military policy. He was forceful and attacked Barack Obama throughout, not personally, but on the issues, particularly taxes, health care, and Pakistan.

McCain’s worst moment was when he seemed condescending toward a young African-American questioner, suggesting that the man probably didn’t know about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. McCain also stumbled on Social Security. He said it would be easy to fix Social Security, but didn’t give any specifics.

We saw a mostly confident McCain, antagonistic toward Obama, but friendly toward the audience. McCain displayed his experience, knowledge and patriotism, especially in the second half of the debate. However, his assertion that he could take on all challenges at once, without prioritizing, seemed overconfident. Nonetheless, I imagine the voters approved of his optimism and confidence in America.

Barack Obama did not hurt his campaign in any significant way. I thought he spoke effectively many times, but he seemed chagrined and thrown off balance by McCain’s attacks. Obama seemed to be more often on the defensive.

I think Obama succeeded only partially in making his case that the country needs revenues to pay for programs. But he did explain that most Americans would receive a tax cut, under an Obama administration, and only those earning over 250,000 would see a tax increase. And Obama got in the dig that McCain would give corporations and CEOs a big tax cut.

Obama complained that McCain was trying to portray him as “green behind the ears,” but Obama did appear less experienced next to McCain. On the other hand, many observers thought that McCain looked old.

Obama said repeatedly that things will be different when he is president, that America needs change. But the Obama change theme did not come through strongly enough.

No new ground was broken on Iraq or Afghanistan. Both candidates spoke effectively on Russia and Iran.

I doubt that McCain’s showing in one debate was anywhere near strong enough to turn the election around. I think that if McCain continues television attack ads, and Sarah Palin continues nasty personal criticism of Obama, there will be a voter backlash that will blunt any advantage McCain takes out of this debate. — Bernie Hayden

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