Thursday, October 16, 2008

Instant Analysis – The Final Frontier

I’ll be live-blogging tonight’s debate between Barack Obama and John McCain from Hofstra University. It gets underway at 9:00 p.m. EDT, so once it starts, I’ll be inserting my thoughts every so often.

The format tonight is a roundtable setting with the candidates and moderator Bob Schieffer sitting at a table like a Sunday morning talk show. That way no one can get up and wander around the stage like they’re looking for their coat or their car keys, I suppose.

All the pundits are saying that someone — Bob Schieffer or John McCain — just has to bring up William Ayers, the aged hippie-turned-college professor who engaged in stupid and dangerous things when Barack Obama was eight years old. Of course, the Obama campaign has been daring, if not goading, Mr. McCain to bring him up, probably because Mr. Obama has a “you’re no Jack Kennedy” zinger ready to go. And the conventional wisdom is that if Mr. McCain or Mr. Schieffer doesn’t bring him up or that Mr, McCain blows it off with a dodge like “it’s a question of character, not patriotism,” then all the bravado and bluster from the surrogates and Sarah Palin will prove that Mr. McCain is either too timid to face Mr. Obama with the charges, or he has no control over his own running mate and what she says. Neither of those are recommending factors for leadership.

Actually, the only way that Mr. McCain could possibly extricate himself from this corner is to say something along the lines of an acknowledgment that the campaign rhetoric got overheated and that on behalf of himself and his campaign, he apologizes. It will have the veneer of sincerity, it will be a dramatic move on the same level of his “suspending” his campaign, and for the moment it would deflate the situation. Of course it would be a steaming pile of bullshit and it would piss off the hard-core wingnuts because they would see their maverick caving on their only remaining thread of hope to destroy the Obama juggernaut (in spite of the fact that it’s not working). But what else has he got? Call him a commie-pinko-faggot-Muslim-Arab-terrorist on live TV?

Just so you know, I’m watching this on MSNBC. Certainly not unbiased, but they have a flair for the dramatic. Also, Michael J.W. Stickings is live-blogging over at The Reaction — in between his checking on the Canadiens-Bruins hockey game. (Michael is a Canadian, after all.)

Keith Olbermann just pointed out something: this is — thank Dog — the last election debate for another, oh, three years. Small favors, indeed.

– Okay, here we go. The candidates are in the wings and I’m already tired of hearing what the candidates “must do.” How about just show up?

– “Good evening, I’m Bob Schieffer. I’ll be your waiter tonight….”

– McCain says we’re hurt and we’re angry Okay, we’re hurt and we’re angry. No shit, Sherlock.

– McCain makes it sound like he just tripped over the economic crisis like he had no idea how he had anything at all to do with it.

– So far both the economic plans sound like a pecker contest: “Mine’s bigger than yours.”

– McCain talks to Joe the Plumber and gets the Obama plan wrong.

– Joe the Plumber, your fifteen minutes are here. Look for the t-shirt on Cafe Press before morning.

– Nice parlay from Joe the Plumber to Exxon-Mobil by Obama.

– What about the deficit? How will you cut it? Obama is edging closer to actually naming programs that he might cut… but doesn’t actually name one. A “culture of ethics and responsibility.”

– McCain is going back to the housing/mortgage issue, which was the question before last. Hello? And where did energy independence come from?

– McCain: Again with the spending freeze? And another secret plan to cut the budget? Why is he keeping it to himself? Why didn’t he share it with the rest of us before all of this shit hit the fan? Again with the “overhead projector”? That howler has been debunked already, but he’s sticking with it.

– Can you balance the budget in four years? McCain: Sure. How? Attack Obama, that’s how.

– First zinger of the night from McCain: “I’m not President Bush. If you wanted to run against him, you should have run four years ago.”

– Nice comeback: “If I mistake your policies for Bush, it’s because your economic policies are the same.”

– Note to McCain: if all you’ve got is bragging about the five percent of the time you’ve gone against the Bush administration, that’s going to get old.

– Okay, here we go with the nasty campaigning question. McCain: it’s all Obama’s fault because he wouldn’t sit down with me. And here comes the John Lewis excuse. “We will run a ‘truthful’ campaign.” Now he’s accusing him of lying about the public financing. Call the wahh-mbulance.

– Obama is very cool in his response: get back to the issues.

– Okay, Mr. McCain, the reason Barack Obama is spending “unprecedented” amount of money is because he’s raised a shitload more money than you have. And again Joe the Plumber? Jeez, get a room.

– McCain is interrupting? Wow, Obama’s really getting to him. “I’m proud of the people who come to our rallies.”

– McCain just brought up Ayers and ACORN. Here it comes…

– Obama: John, your campaign is obsessed with Ayers. Here’s the Ayers story clean and straightforward: he served on the same board of a foundation with Ayers and a bunch of Republicans — shady characters all — and explains the ACORN connection: I was their lawyer once.

– McCain seems completely flustered; he brings up “raising taxes” out of the blue.

– Biden vs. Palin: who’s better to take over? Obama: Biden has the experience and the depth of knowledge. McCain: Sarah Palin is a “freath of bresh air.”

– Hearing McCain saying that Joe Biden doesn’t have the foreign policy experience to be president is tonight’s winner of the Irony Prize.

– McCain looks like he knows he’s losing and is throwing in everything he’s got. The desperation is just palpable.

– The energy independence talking points and free trade. Blah, blah, blah… and McCain’s dithering is getting creepy. And all he is doing is playing defense. Ask the Miami Dolphins how that’s working for them.

– Every time McCain brings up one of his red-meat talking points, Obama smiles.

– Oh, please someone tell John McCain not to mention Herbert Hoover as if he remembers his administration.

– Health care: Obama’s plan isn’t universal single payer, and it’s not all insurance company candy. John McCain’s solution: the $5,000 health care credit. That wouldn’t cover a sprained ankle. Trust me. And again with Joe the Plumber? Jesus, guys, get a room.

– Did McCain even listen to Obama’s plan? And call did he call him “Senator Government”?

– Good question about nominating a justice who disagreed with you on Roe vs. Wade. McCain: no litmus test (but he won’t appoint someone who disagrees with him on Roe vs. Wade…) and now he’s about to remind us of the Gang of Fourteen and say he voted for Ginsberg and Bryer. Oh, that’ll go over well in the Orcosphere. Obama says he thinks Roe vs. Wade was rightly decided and that women have a right to privacy in the Constitution (see Amendment Nine) and he will appoint judges who will take real life circumstances into account.

– McCain: the “health of the mother” in the abortion issue is an “extreme” position? WTF??

– Education: Okay, now they’ve got my attention. Obama: he’s talking about higher education and tax credits. McCain: schools of choice? Does he know that every dollar given to a charter school is one less for the public schools? And if “throwing money at the problem doesn’t work,” what the hell are you talking about charter schools? Obama: he’s buying into the charter school line. (Trust me, there’s less than meets the eye with them, and there’s a lot of room for corruption and misuse of funds.) Good answer on the unfunded mandates; NCLB is a prime example.

– McCain and vouchers: Dumb answer. They don’t work.

– Closing statements: McCain looks completely freaked out. He’s stumbling, he’s repeating himself, he’s practically begging the audience to pay attention to him. It all comes down to “vote for me to save my family’s honor.” In other words, it’s all about him.

– Obama is calm, cool, and talks about everyone working together. He’s closed the sale.

– Interesting coda after it was over: McCain told Obama, “Good job! Good job!” It’s like he knows it’s over.

First thoughts: Obama has mastered the calm and cool demeanor, and it’s a stark contrast to McCain’s barely-repressed anger, and every time McCain tries to look like he’s in control he gets that Frank Burns-on-crack look. I think they tied on points, but Obama won overall on everything else.

I’ll be back in the morning with some final thoughts. Yours are welcome in the comments.