You call this a debate?
By Chuck Muth
First, a “Where’s Waldo?” question: Where’s the fighting John McCain candidate from 2000 who promised to “beat Al Gore like a drum?”
Tonight’s debate made my blood boil and I think it’s time the American public said, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” No, I’m not talking about either of the candidates. I’m talking about the debates themselves.
Every election cycle we get these stale, scripted glorified press conferences where the “rules” are determined by the candidates’ campaigns, not the voters who want to hear what they have to say. And according to the “rules,” the one thing the candidates aren’t ever seemingly allowed to do is…debate his or her opponent. Hello?
Wouldn’t it have been great if last night there had been a “Butch Cassidy” debate. McCain on one side and Obama on the other. McCain approaches Obama saying, “First, let’s go over the rules.” Obama responds, “Rules? There aren’t any rules in a presidential debate.” And then McCain kicks him right in the family jewels! Priceless. Now that’s a debate I’d pay good money to see.
Seriously, though. These “debates” are literally a verbal fight between two people who want to be the leader of the free world. And they’re afraid to openly debate with their opponent without “rules” and “one-minute” responses? W…I…M…P…S!
Frankly, I’m ticked off at even the notion that the debate is limited to just 90 minutes. Let the candidates stand there for as long as it takes. Sure, set a 90-minute “goal,” but if there’s still “stuff” to talk about after 90 minutes, then it’s overtime baby! Extra innings. If the major networks don’t like it, tough. We don’t need the major networks any longer. We have cable. We have satellite. We have the Internet. What we don’t have is a free-for-all debate of ideas and philosophies between the two candidates.
The moderator shouldn’t be someone who “controls” the game, but rather referees it. Keeps it from getting out of control and blows the whistle on obvious fouls or delay of game rhetoric infractions. But otherwise, let the players play. Let the candidates ask each other questions. Let them follow up. Let them challenge each other. Let them – dare I say it? – debate. For an office this important in a world this complex, it is insane for Americans to continue accepting these scripted press conferences. The Presidential Debate Commission should determine the dates and locations of the debates, as well as the referee/moderator…and that’s pretty much it. If the candidates want to sit in our Oval Office, let ‘em earn it.
And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Remember…the whole point of these political debates is to win the election, not win the debate. Obama has “Big Mo’.” McCain is behind. Therefore, McCain needed to win tonight. And win big. Obama only needed to still be standing. Obama didn’t make any mistakes. Obama maintained the status quo. So McCain didn’t win. Therefore, by definition McCain lost.
After watching tonight’s debate, it all boils down to this: if the election on November 4th is about the economy, Obama wins. If it’s about national security, McCain wins. If the election were to be held tomorrow, say hello to President B.O. The only good news for McCain is that the election isn’t being held tomorrow…and there’s still one more debate to go.
And that’s why not winning tonight’s debate may be another straw, but it hasn’t yet broken the camel’s back. If John McCain comes out breathing fire in the final debate, he’s got a shot. No one will remember debate number two. They’ll only remember the last and final debate before they head to the polls. So McCain is not down for the count yet. But he does have to throw a Hail Mary pass next week.
And by the way, this new McCain idea of “stabilizing the housing” market by having the government buy up bad mortgages and then refinance them at artificially created prices will (a) confuse casual voters who haven’t got a clue to what he’s talking about, and (b) tick off the conservatives who do. As a trial balloon, that one was made of lead.
Speaking of ticking off conservatives, when will Republicans ever learn? Do you remember how George W. Bush bragged in 2000 about his ability to work with Democrats and reach across the aisle as governor of Texas? He promised to change the “partisan culture” in Washington. Yeah, look how well that turned out. And now John McCain is running on exactly the same platform; that he, unlike Obama, will “reach across the aisle.” What’s the old saying? “Fool me once, shame on you…”
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of hearing about “energy independence.” I want to hear about $2.50 a gallon gasoline.
Now here’s one of those “fundamental” (yes, I’m sick of hearing that word in the debates, too) differences between the candidates which should have been allowed to play out. Obama said health care was a “right.” McCain said it was a “responsibility.” This gets to the very heart of the philosophical divide between both of these candidates and the political parties they represent. Voters need to understand the underlying belief system each candidate has about the proper role of government before you can intelligently evaluate their proposals. We didn’t get that tonight.
Ditto McCain’s embrace of Rep. John Shadegg’s (R-AZ) proposal to allow you and me to buy health insurance across state lines. That is a real, free market alternative to the current system which Obama opposes. And what he opposes about it is that one state might not mandate that insurance companies cover acupuncture and thereby offer cheaper policies – which means insurance companies will flock to such free-market states where the government doesn’t tell customers what coverages they have to have. This again gets to the core philosophical difference between Obama and McCain on the proper role of government. So naturally we couldn’t spend much time on it. Pity.
And I would have liked to see the candidates go at it longer over the very real and important question of whether or not the United States can/should cross into Pakistan in an effort to get the terrorists hiding out there.
McCain pretty much mischaracterized Obama’s position. Obama clearly is talking about a surgical raid or engaging in “hot pursuit,” not an “invasion” of Pakistan.
But Obama was being just as disingenuous by trying to narrow the question down to simply whether or not we were going in to get Osama bin Laden. For that, he said yes. But what if it wasn’t bin Laden hiding out in the Pakistani mountains? What if it was just some average, run-of-the-mill terrorist who hasn’t made the Top Ten list yet? What if this bin Laden wanna-be planned an attack which “only” killed, say, a dozen Americans instead of 3,000? Which terrorists would Obama pursue in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and which ones would he give free passage? Inquiring minds wanna know. Unfortunately, the “rules” of tonight’s debate didn’t allow for Americans to get the answers.
Ditto an excellent question on the United Nations. If Iran attacks Israel, would Obama defend Israel without U.N. approval. That question has a lot of relevance since waiting to get U.N. approval before going into Iraq allowed Saddam Hussein and his forces plenty of time to prepare for our military’s arrival with IEDs, booby-traps and ambush sites. Again, a deadly serious subject which the debate “rules” cut short.
Here’s something I picked up on that the McCain camp would be wise to highlight in the closing days of this campaign. When talking about the financial crisis, Obama proudly told the audience how two years ago he “wrote a letter” to somebody about it. There’s leadership, huh? And in talking about the Russian invasion of Georgia, Obama proudly declared, “I put out a statement.” Lovely. The man’s entire career is nothing but issuing statements and writing letters.
It reminds me of an old line from liberal comedian Robin Williams, talking about the fact that in England neither the criminal nor the policeman has a gun. So if you commit a crime, all the cop can do is say, “Stop! Or I’ll say ‘Stop!’ again.” With B.O. it’s going to be four years of telling the world’s bad guys, “Stop! Or I’ll issue another statement.”
The “debate” ended on a kinda weird note. I mean, the final question was just stupid: “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?” Good grief! And if you could be any kind of vegetable, what would it be? Gimme a break.
In any event, Barack punted the question with a political pander to his wife, saying she’d have a longer list of what the candidate didn’t know than he has. Ha-ha. He then proceeded to not answer the question.
McCain, on the other hand, nailed it. Just as two weeks ago nobody in the nation (other than, apparently, Hank Paulson) knew about the looming financial crisis, McCain pointed out that none of us knows what challenges will confront the new president. But he, not Obama, has the experience and maturity to handle those unknowns. That’s a solid campaign theme the McCain camp seems to have abandoned since tapping Sarah Palin as his running mate. It’s a shame, because it could be powerful.
And I don’t know about you, but I would have loved it if McCain had answered the question by paraphrasing former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: “There are things I know that I know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that I now know I don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things I don’t know I don’t know. So when I do the best I can and I pull all this information together, and I then say well that’s basically what I see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, I discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.”
And then Tom Brokaw’s head would have exploded.
I’d have paid good money to see that.
Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.