Read Stephen's bio and previous columns


September 29, 2008

The First Debate, Blow-by-Blow


So 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.


It 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 debate history.


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 done.


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 you try.”


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.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # SS122. Request permission to publish here.

Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Bob Franken
Lawrence J. Haas
Paul Ibrahim
Rob Kall
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Gregory D. Lee
David B. Livingstone
Bob Maistros
Rachel Marsden
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Jamie Weinstein
Brett Noel
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
Cindy Droog
The Laughing Chef
David J. Pollay
Business Writers
D.F. Krause