Success and tenacity go hand in hand.
Dave Cunningham / October 8, 2008
Last night’s debate was great fun to watch if you are supporting Obama, but not quite as good for McCain. Obama was his usual steady, confident, focused self. He was in command of his talking points. He was subtle, yet effective, when on the attack. But poor John McCain seemed to be all over the place. Although there is no question that he understands much, his presentation, combined with his erratic pacing the stage left him looking confused, tired and uncomfortable.
By my count, there were a total of 23 questions asked, coming from the Town hall participants, the Internet and from Mr. Brokaw, himself. Unlike Gwen Ifyl, moderating the VP debates a few nights earlier, Brokaw took control of the direction and tenor of the debate. Of the 23 questions, 12 were directly his own. At one point in the debate, he said, “Since the rules are pretty loose here, I’m going to add my own to this one. Instead of having a discussion.”
Obama had another good night. Responding to criticism from McCain, Obama was deferential and direct. Instead of choosing the well trod road of avoidance, he stepped up.
“Well, you know, Senator McCain, in the last debate and today, again, suggested that I don’t understand. It’s true. There are some things I don’t understand. I don’t understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, while Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are setting up base camps and safe havens to train terrorists to attack us.” And later:
“Now, it is true, though, that I believe that we should have direct talks — not just with our friends, but also with our enemies — to deliver a tough, direct message to Iran that, if you don’t change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences.”
On taxes, Obama chose to appeal to middle class voters with “what I want to do is provide a middle class tax cut to 95 percent of working Americans . . . .” This was a populist message that resonates well with middle class voters.
Speaking about healthcare, he offered attractive possibilities. “If you don’t have health insurance, you’re going to be able to buy the same kind of insurance that Senator McCain and I enjoy as federal employees. Because . . . nobody will be excluded for pre-existing conditions . . . .” This also appeals to the base.
On the economy, Obama cast blame on the administration, noting that “When George Bush came into office, our debt — national debt was around $5 trillion. It’s now over $10 trillion . . . . And Senator McCain voted for four out of five of those George Bush budgets.”
On the attack, Obama continued to weave his criticisms seamlessly into his prose, while hitting hard at Senator McCain:
“I wrote to Secretary Paulson, I wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, and told them this is something we have to deal with, and nobody did anything about it. A year ago, I went to Wall Street and said we’ve got to reregulate, and nothing happened. And Senator McCain during that period said that we should keep on deregulating because that’s how the free enterprise system works.”
“Senator McCain proposes a $300 billion tax cut, a continuation not only of the Bush tax cuts, but an additional $200 billion that he’s going to give to big corporations, including big oil companies, $4 billion worth, that’s money out of the system.”
“Now, when Senator McCain is proposing tax cuts that would give the average Fortune 500 CEO an additional $700,000 in tax cuts, that’s not sharing a burden.”
Then came the knockout punch. “Senator McCain, this is the guy who sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That I don’t think is an example of “speaking softly.”
The Town Hall format was supposed to play to McCain’s strengths, his ability to connect one-on-one with the people. Equally, it was supposed to hurt Obama as it would take him away from his strength as an orator. But as with much that has happened in the McCain camp in recent days, these predictions proved false.
On the current housing crisis, McCain could have hit a home run with his commitment to homeowners to
“order the secretary of the treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes — at the diminished value of those homes and let people be able to make those — be able to make those payments and stay in their homes.”
This was new. It was news. It was good news! He should have pounded it harder. Instead it seemed lost in the many other issues of his debate.
Then, it was probably not a good idea for McCain to remind us of the debacle and media circus when he said, “I left my campaign and suspended it to go back to Washington . . .” This was widely viewed as a poor strategic move on his part when he did it. This was an unnecessary reminder.
Later in the debate, he risked insulting the intelligence of a questioner when commenting about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he quipped, “I’ll bet you, you may never even have heard of them before this crisis.” Yes, Senator, we have heard of them before because we have mortgages on our homes. Oops! I guess you don’t have those kinds of problems.
McCain’s muddled response to a question about American workers, again, left him looking confused when he said,
“They’re the most innovative. They’re the best — they’re most — have best — we’re the best exporters. We’re the best importers. They’re most effective. They are the best workers in the world.”
Maybe he’s been taking cues from Sarah Palin’s speeches.
It was painful to watch this great patriot and public servant as he seemed to pace aimlessly, shifting direction with each new thought. John McCain, more than most of his colleagues, has pushed for greater fiscal responsibility in government. He initiated and supported the unpopular “Surge” in Iraq when his fellow Senators were running for cover and the results show that he was correct. This evening’s Town Hall was his preferred format. But none of this worked for him. Maybe next time!
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, after watching the debate and re-reading the entire transcript this morning, it’s easy to see who won. Although Obama looked presidential and McCain, a little clumsy with his “I’m one of you” charm, the person in charge, who came across as the father figure on stage was Tom Brokaw. He kept it interesting. He pushed the process forward with energy and authority. He made it the best of the debates so far.
The winner is Tom Brokaw!