Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

First debate: Obama dominated on foreign policy, but needs to punch more on the economy

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Originally published on on Fri, 09/26/2008 – 11:56pm

We had a debate tonight. Woooo!!

The pundits will have their say on “Who won” and “Who lost.” That’s not my concern; I’m more focused on what I saw that others might have missed.

The pundits seemed to think Obama did well on the economy portion of the evening, and waited to see on the foreign policy section. But Obama hit several home runs during the foreign policy parts, and lost focus on the economy part.

Obama did well in explaining more specifically what the bailout should have. Unfortunately, the audience was left wondering where McCain stood, and there wasn’t much focus on Jim Lehrer to get him back on it. After all, the Republicans are holding up a bailout bill, yet the MSM won’t press them on what they want.

But McCain came back with earmarks, and dominated the discussion. At this point, McCain was driving the agenda, and when McCain was in control, Obama didn’t look good.

McCain was focused on the $932 million earmark figure from Obama. I have no idea whether the figure is accurate, or what those earmarks really were for (senior center??). Would have been nice if Obama had mentioned that McCain’s hands aren’t completely clean on this issue. A casual viewer would have assumed that McCain never took an earmark ever.

Obama did do a great job pounding home the $300 billion in McCain tax breaks for wealthy corporations and individuals.

One nice thing, and McCain has been consistent on this since the Iowa caucus: eliminate ethanol subsidies. For once, the maverick hat fits. But McCain lost Iowa, and even though it needs to happen, one of the candidates, preferably Obama since he is from the Midwest, should step up and offer to overhaul U.S. farm policy.

But on ethanol and earmarks, McCain repeated the phrasing of threatening to veto any spending bill with earmarks “and you will know their names.” Obama also said he would go through lines in the budget.

Since we have two sitting Senators running for president who may not know this, but the President DOESN’T have the power to go through lines in a budget. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, two sitting governors when they ran for president, promised the same thing. As things stand now, the President CAN’T do that.

If McCain actually became president, we would never have a spending bill — ever. But the conventional wisdom isn’t to mention this. For once, I’d love to see a presidential candidate tell the truth on this: “As president, I wouldn’t have the power to do this, but I would work with Congress to reduce these earmarks.” I love awarding points for honesty.

Yes, Obama had the facts on his side. But could he be pithy?

— on the budget, accused McCain of using a hatchet instead of a scalpel.

— working with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) after McCain mentioned him. McCain has been whining about Obama not crossing the aisle. Coburn is really far to the right. Oh, and worked with Dick Lugar (R-IN).

— not dealing with Russia by looking into eyes

— can’t view everything through the lens of Iraq

— telling McCain that he likes to pretend the war started in 2007 when it started in 2003

— also had a bracelet from a fallen soldier

Back to foreign policy, Obama at least twice made reference to 21st century vs. 20th century. This is a golden nugget that should see the light of day. Building on Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century, it was a great way of Obama showing the vision of the future vs. McCain being stuck in the past. Obama needs to use that in his speeches, and bring it back to the debates. It’s not about age (but it is), it’s about vision for the future.

As for Jim Lehrer, he tried to get the two to talk to each other. Obama was more comfortable with this, and sometimes (usually the right time) would look into the camera.

But even McCain fans had to be horrified at watching their candidate not look at Obama or the camera. Did McCain realize the debate was on television?

Lehrer didn’t throw any curveballs: Vietnam/Iraq, Iran, Russia, Afghanistan. But no Israel-Palestinian questions? No questions on how we should regard countries as friends vs. enemies, e.g., snubbing Spain just because it pulled out of Iraq. No “where are the new trouble spots coming”? And no North America questions. Disappointing, but not surprising.

Some final nuggets:

— what the hell was the League of Democracies? McCain proposed something out of the Saturday morning cartoon lineup from the 1970s. We have the UN and NATO, thinking that Great Britain, France, and Germany will change their minds on sanctions against Iran if we just give a new name to an alliance.

–McCain was allowed to get away with saying that the vets were on his side. Someone, please, check the record. It’s not true.

–One thing that is true and McCain admitted to it: we torture. Nice admission. Wonder if the Bush team will back him up on that.


Written by democracysoup

September 26, 2008 at 11:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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