First of all, this was so much better than the other two McBama debates. I only watched about five minutes of the second one (I did watch all of the first, to my regret), but I can still say with confidence: This was the best. The format totally rocked. Bob Schieffer totally rocked. It was AN ACTUAL DEBATE. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
I’ll leave discussion of style points to others, apart from noting that Obama is much, much better at nodding sagely while someone else speaks than McCain is. Not sure if this is a skill crucial to presidential success, although I guess it might help at G-7 meetings and the like. I’ll also leave ACORN and Ayers and Supreme Court appointments and all those mean things being said in negative ads to others. But I really liked McCain’s line about Sarah Palin being a bresh of freth air. He’s so right. She is a bresh of freth air!
So what did they say about the economy? You know, the usual stuff. Obama got the line “failed policies” in a few times. McCain said repeatedly that Obama would raise Joe Wurtzelberger’s taxes. (Which, sources in the Wurtzelberger family tell me, would be an outrage!)
In general, Obama did a good job of balancing laundry lists of swell things he’d do for you the voter with reasonably wise statements (“there’s no doubt we’ve been living beyond our means”) about our economic predicament. McCain was much more herky jerky and hard to follow, even when he was saying stuff I agree with. Which I guess is another style point. But it’s really hard to avoid them. There was a very Kennedy-Nixon feel to the debate, I thought. One guy was comfortable in the format, the other guy clearly was not. Actually, maybe it wasn’t the format but the role. McCain’s advisers clearly told him he had to be on the attack most of time. And to his credit, McCain is really bad at attacking.
But enough of that. Obama says he wants to cut taxes on 95% of Americans–those making under either $200,000 or $250,000 a year (he used both figures) and raise them on those who make more. McCain is worried that Joe Wurtzelberger’s plans to buy the plumbing business where he works in Toledo, Ohio, will be thwarted by this “class warfare.” It’s not a patently invalid argument. Well, calling it class warfare is invalid, but you can make a case for why higher taxes on high earners (and on capital gains) is bad economic policy. McCain never really made that case, though, except indirectly through the Wurtzelberger story. Which he brought up way too many times.
Also, it’s undeniable that McCain’s stance on tax policy puts him solidly in line with George W. Bush. “I am not President Bush,” McCain said. “If you want to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.” Obama pointed out, correctly, that while McCain had shown “commendable independence” over the years in the Senate, his campaign pledges on the economy amount to a continuation of the Bush approach. Which on the taxing side is definitely true.
On spending, McCain made the case that he’s going to be much tougher on that than Bush, who “presided over the largest increase in government spending since the Great Society.” What percentage of debate viewers do you think know what the Great Society refers to? What percentage think it sounds great? Obama pointed out that earmarks, McCain’s obsession, account for half of a percent of the federal budget.
On energy, I sort of wish I could just combine the two. They both said we could achieve energy independence within a decade, which is probably nonsense. I did find it charming that McCain said he was okay with being dependent on Canada, and Obama agreed. So no war with Canada in the next administration, no matter who wins. McCain argued, correctly I think, that our energy strategy has to include more offshore oil and gas drilling and more nuclear power plants. Obama was kind of mealy mouthed about those, but did make clear that there’s no way to achieve energy independence without dramatically reducing dependence on oil.
Finally, health care. Obama just listed all the great things his plan would do, but I’m no clearer now than I was before how exactly it will fit together and how it will reduce costs. McCain’s plan probably would reduce costs, but it would do so by forcing at least some people (probably a lot of people) to pay for medical insurance with after-tax dollars. But of course McCain wasn’t really willing to lay out the economics of that.
Oh, and McCain’s really fired up about free trade with Colombia, and he thinks it’s just appalling that Obama is less fired up. How many electoral votes does Colombia have again?
And finally finally: Tonight’s wines were a Mosen Cleto Campo de Borja 2004 and a Casa Castillo Monastrell 2006. Both highly recommended.
Update: Jay Newton-Small reports that the plumber’s name is Joe Wurzelbacher. McCain clearly said Wurzelberger. Obama could have totally nailed him on that, but failed to go for the jugular. Inadequate debate prep, I guess.