Having a few hours tonight that I can perform my civic duties and also knock out a blog post, I decided to start a continuous post on tonight's presidential debate between Senator John McCain from Arizona and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.
As I see or hear anything worth commenting about, I'll update the thread.
9:01 pm: CNN is using that Voter-O-Meter device again, where remote uncommitted viewers in Ohio push buttons like Pavlovian dogs every time they hear something they like.
9:04 pm: Obama initially dodges the question about specific policies to improve conditions for people on fixed incomes. He then offers some feel-good, non-specific policies like "tax cuts for the middle class" and "fix our health care system."
9:07 pm: McCain is equally vague about details, and oddly ties energy independence into the mix about his plans to address the financial crisis. McCain did break with his earlier dismissals about renegotiating mortgages of those in foreclosure.
9:09 pm: McCain sounded a little terse in his attempt at humor when telling Tom Brokaw: "Not you, Tom," in response to a question about who he might name as Treasury secretary.
9:11 pm: Both Obama and McCain suggested that Warren Buffet might make a good Treasury secretary, though I doubt Buffet would take such a job.
9:12 pm: McCain wasted a minute patting himself on the back for his botched "suspension" of his campaign during the bailout bill, evading the question by the audience member, and then launched into a rambling tirade about "Obama and his cronies." Ineffective response.
9:14 pm: Obama directly addressed the audience member, Oliver Clark, and explained why he voted the way he did on the bailout bill, which was to address the frozen credit markets. Much better at answering this question, though the ending of his answer wasted time on defending McCain's accusations about Obama and connections to Fannie Mae.
9:17 pm: Obama was much smoother and more analytical than McCain on the response to the question about whether the economy will get worse.
9:20 pm: The audience member Teresa Finch asked a pointed question about how either candidate could be trusted with taxpayers' money, since both parties got the country into the mess. Obama mostly stuck to his talking points, while pointing out that President Bush inherited a budget surplus and taking Bush to task for a lack of leadership. McCain pushed his reformer and maverick image, while also describing himself as someone who has a record of working in a bipartisan fashion. McCain was effective early in the response, but got bogged down in statistics, and listing a bunch of organizations people should go to in order to see the voting records of both candidates.
9:24 pm: McCain keeps referencing energy independence, which is odd given the fact that gas prices have been falling. I think he is trying to move the discussion away from the sputtering US and global economies, which of course have been working against him.
9:26: pm Obama is doing a much better job of time management than McCain. He has finished almost every answer with time to spare for a succinct and catchy closing remark. McCain keeps running over the answer time, and has ended a few answers sounding incomplete.
9:30 pm: McCain - in response to a question about sacrifices - keeps hammering home his fights against earmarks and waste, which did not seem to resonate well with those remote uncommitted Ohio voters. Obama, however, did worse with his Rudy Giuliani impersonation in channeling 9/11 to response to this question. His worst answer yet.
9:33 pm:Whoa - Obama's calls for a Peace Corps-style approach to America's problems spiked high on the Vote-O-Meter. I thought this was a snoozer, but it seemed to do well with the button-clickers. Another big spike when Obama said that the wealthy should not get tax cuts, while McCain's snarky comment that pinning down Obama on policies is like "nailing Jello to the wall" caused a large dropoff in approval. In short - it seems like when McCain goes on the attack, people get turned off, because his comments about specific tax cuts brought a spike for him.
9:38 pm: Obama and McCain trade lies and half-truths about each other's tax policies, and neither really scored any points. McCain promised to answer the question about Social Security and Medicare, but spent most of his time claiming he is the king of bipartisanship, that Obama has never been one who worked in a bipartisan fashion, and that Obama voted 94 times to raise taxes. Snoooooze - McCain's worst answer so far.
9:44 pm:Even a likely McCain voter in my house is getting tired of McCain's overuse of the phrase: "My friends."
9:47 pm: Obama's calls for investment in energy research seemed to resonate well with the remote viewers, while McCain's answers were a near-constant flat-line of neutral responses.
9:48 pm: Tom Brokaw is really getting pissy about the candidates not sticking to the time limits. McCain told Brokaw to wave his arm when time was getting low.
9:50 pm: McCain referred to Obama as "that one," which sounded weird. There may be some backlash on that, which could be seen as disrespectful.
9:53 pm: Audience member Linda Trella asked a terrific question about whether health care should be a commodity - I almost cannot believe this question was allowed on the air. Obama stuck to his talking points and never answered this critical question, focusing instead on systemic efficiency, pre-existing conditions, and the problems with McCain's tax-credit plan for health care. McCain also dodged the answer, and discussed some arcane specifics about efficiency, while blasting Obama for promoting "government getting involved" in health care. Too bad - this important question needs to be front-and-center: should health care really be a profit-based commodity?
9:58 pm: Whoa, pinch me - Brokaw asked them the health care question again, pointedly: "Is health care a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?" McCain dodged the question again, suggesting it should be a "responsibility" but that there should be no government mandates. Obama came out and said health care should be a right, and his answer really caused a favorable spike with the remote viewers.
10:01 pm: McCain is finally getting some positive response from Ohio voters in talking about the US as a peacemaker, and that his judgment on national security has been strong. His numbers dropped when he started attacking Obama's credentials on national security. Strangely, when Obama attacked McCain's votes on Iraq, the Ohio voters were highly positive. McCain seems to be in a real bind here: he needs to attack Obama's credibility in order to defuse the effects of the economic crises - which favor Obama - but when he does attack Obama, his support falls.
10:05 pm: Obama made some sensible points about the limits of US peacekeeping abilities and working with allies. McCain spent the first half of his answer defending his Iraq vote, which was a mistake - he would have been better off ignoring Obama's barbs - which came two questions ago - and instead focusing on his own credibility.
10:10 pm: On the question of Pakistani sovereignty and the war on terror, Obama laid out the terms by which he would "kill bin Laden and crush al-Qaeda" by breaking Pakistani sovereignty. McCain instead spent most of his time attacking Obama for "announcing an invasion" before essentially saying the same thing as Obama.
10:14 pm: Obama gets in a zinger about McCain's recklessness with "bomb-bomb-bomb Iran" and "annihilating North Korea" and "Next: Baghdad." McCain had to go on the defensive and explain these goofy comments, and this was a flat-out smackdown by Obama.
10:17 pm: On Afghanistan, Obama set out high expectations about holding Karzai and the Afghanis accountable. McCain instead used most of his time to attack Obama for not supporting the surge, and again this attack failed to resonate with the remote viewers.
10:21 pm: McCain's answers on the situation with the Russians was one of his strongest. Obama wisely deferred to McCain on this one, and just offered a few modifications on McCain's rather hawkish skepticism about Putin and Russia. Unfortunately, Obama was too wordy on this answer, and his tie-in of energy to Russia was probably too complicated for most viewers to follow.
10:25 pm: On the prospect of committing US troops to defend Israel if attacked by Iran: McCain said that he would not wait for UN Security Council before he acted,and then spent time attacking Obama "sitting down with Iran." Just like before, his positive ratings with the viewers evaporated once he started attacking Obama. Obama's response initially ignored McCain's barb, and he focused on geopolitical specifics. When he finally made his case for diplomacy, Obama's numbers were quite positive.
10:32 pm: "What don't you know and how will you learn it?" Obama largely avoided this question, except for a self-deprecating comment about how Michelle Obama would have a "longer list." McCain answered the question directly, focusing on the uncertainties of the modern world. I thought this was McCain's most heartfelt answer, and he received high marks on the Vote-O-Meter.
Final analysis: Neither candidate made any major gaffes, and voters got a better idea of the policy differences between the two candidates. The remote viewers seemed to provide more favorable responses for Obama than McCain, and McCain will have to figure out how to attack Obama without facing voter backlash. I give a slight edge to Obama in the debate over McCain, especially since Obama's few direct attacks on McCain were bullseyes, while McCain attacked Obama so much that any direct hits he made got obscured in rhetorical overkill.