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September 29, 2008
The First Debate,
at last the candidates convened, for the first debate of the general
election season, after without a doubt the strangest pre-debate week in
the history of politics.
was, after all, the first general-election presidential debate in which
the whether the debate would actually take place was in question up
until hours beforehand. It was a foreign-policy debate amid the worst
economic crisis in a generation, coming after several days of a
different major bank folding seemingly every day.
But the debate took place after all. Now, a real-time diary of what took
place Friday night:
9:03 p.m.: The first question is about the financial crisis. Barack
Obama goes through proposals, before blaming “eight years of failed
policies, supported by John McCain.” McCain praises bipartisanship,
referring to “failures on Main Street,” which makes it sound like he is
saying Main Street failed.
9:16: McCain tells an earmarking horror story about $3 million to study
the mating habits of bears in Montana. Now that numbers like $700
billion are being tossed around in regard to the bailout, $3 million
doesn’t sound like that much, does it? And how can McCain, or any other
candidate, say they would “probably” support the bailout, while
complaining about how an earmark that’s a small, small fraction of that
is a huge outrage?
9:26: A good question about whether Obama’s plans will have to be
“delayed” due to the financial crisis. It’s sort of an
impossible-to-answer question, so he talks about energy independence and
health care instead.
9:29: McCain trots out the “most liberal senator” lie. Really? Then he
comes out against ethanol subsidies, which probably lost him Iowa.
9:32: McCain calls for a “spending freeze” on everything but veteran
affairs and defense, a proposal he has never made before and did not
make when Jim Lehrer asked the question the first two times. I think he
made up the idea on the spot.
9:38: Obama nails McCain for supporting Bush’s eight-year “orgy of
spending,” thus marking the first use of the word “orgy” in presidential
9:39: First mention of Iraq, 39 minutes into the foreign policy debate.
It’s the standard Iraq debate – Obama was right about the war, McCain
about the surge. Obama gets in a great line about how “the war didn’t
start in 2007.”
9:56: After McCain says “you don’t do that!” about Obama’s vow to go
after Bin Laden in his cave, Obama wisely brings up McCain’s vows for
“extinction” to North Korea and “bomb bomb Iran.”
9:58: McCain goes through his position on various wars over the years,
mentioning the first Gulf War and Bosnia and Kosovo but conveniently
skipping over the Iraq War.
10:07: Obama calls Israel “our stalwart ally.” Did you hear that, e-mail
forwarders? Obama called Israel a stalwart ally.
And he’s not a Muslim, either.
10:08: McCain complains about Obama wanting to “legitimize” Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, in the process severely mangling Ahmadinejad’s name. Then
he goes out of his way to say “Ahmadinejad” two more times before he’s
10:13: McCain says meeting with Ahmadinejad would “legitimatize” his
comment that Israel is a “stinking corpse.” So, now by meeting with
someone you’re implicitly agreeing with everything they’ve ever said?
McCain and Obama are meeting right now – does that mean all of Obama’s
views are McCain’s and vice versa?
10:19: McCain gets in a good line about seeing into Vladimir Putin’s
eyes and seeing “KGB.” But how many average voters remember Bush’s
quotes? That was about 500 Dubya blunders ago.
10:32: The candidates essentially draw on the Al Qaeda question, until
Obama gets in the salient line about the past eight years of Iraq being
the focus of everything, and he calls for a “broader strategic vision.”
10:36: Obama paraphrases Bill Withers: “In America, you can make it if
The Verdict: Both men performed well, with no major gaffes, but I give
the slight edge to Obama. He sounded authoritative, stood his ground and
– unlike certain candidates this year – didn’t come off as
deer-in-the-headlights when asked intricate questions. Overall, neither
man scored any kind of knockout blow, and I can’t imagine this debate
will change many people’s minds.
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