Debate One - Appetizing, But Ultimately Unfulfilling

Discussion in 'Congress' started by The BKP, Sep 29, 2008.

  1. The BKP

    The BKP Grand Inquistor

    Jul 15, 2008
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    Resisting the temptation to engage in the insta-analysis of pundits chained to the 24 hour-a-day Internet/satellite channel news cycle, I wholeheartedly believe that with time comes perspective. With the first presidential debate now three days behind us and our initial visceral reactions having given way to more reasoned and objective analysis, let’s take a look at how the candidates and the nation fared.

    Moderated by PBS Newshour host Jim Lehrer, the debate – originally scheduled to focus on foreign policy and national security – opened with a discussion on proposals for a $700 billion governmental bailout package targeted at the ongoing economic crisis.

    With neighborhoods plastered with foreclosure signs, stock exchanges behaving like manic depressives and a cold, deeply rooted sense of fear settling across the nation, one might expect Senators McCain and Obama would take the opportunity of a primetime nationally televised debate to share not only how they proposed to address the current crisis, but also their greater economic vision for America’s future. While one might reasonably expect that, if that was the reason they tuned in Friday evening, they were sadly disappointed.

    Resorting to sound bites and prior statements gleaned from their standard stump speeches, McCain and Obama offered nothing new on the economic front. Eschewing any substantive discussion of the bailout package’s components or the circumstances that led the American economy to its currently ponderous and precarious precipice, the two presidential hopefuls quickly became mired in an exchange over the perils and impact of $18 billion in Congressional earmarks. Trading barbs over Obama’s $900+ million in earmark requests and McCain’s support for tax breaks for Big Oil, the two displayed a striking lack of urgency or more than cursory concern over an issue that may well determine the course not only of their potential administrations but the country itself.

    While both men failed to adequately address the ongoing economic crisis, McCain’s disappointing response is compounded by his actions in the days leading up to the debate. After initially suspending his campaign, then proposing to suspend Friday night’s debate followed by assertions he would not attend unless a comprehensive package was completed beforehand, McCain failed to demonstrate an awareness of the gravity of the crisis or the leadership to address it that he had courted earlier in the week.

    With more likely voters trusting Obama than McCain to deal with the economy by a 9 point margin leading up to the debate, the Republican nominee squandered a golden opportunity to allay concerns over his command of economic issues and cut into his opponent’s dominance in this crucial area.

    Moving on to the previously scheduled focus on foreign policy and national security, McCain and Obama covered issues from a resurgent Russia and its recent invasion of Georgia to America’s ongoing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan; the connection between domestic oil production, foreign imports and the economy to potential diplomatic discussions with Iran and how to best pursue Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribally-administered hinterlands of Pakistan. Again, beyond exchanging verbal jabs and restating previously established positions, the two offered nothing new.

    Though the evening failed to produce any iconic moment that will live on in the pantheon of presidential debates – be they zingers or gaffes – it did provide both candidates with a measure of success.

    With cool, aloof, detached and professorial all being adjectives used to describe his performance in previous debates, Senator Obama displayed a newfound passion; if only when defending himself in the face of McCain’s repeated attacks. In addition to this, the Democratic nominee made great strides in his quest to appear substantive and presidential.

    Having been maligned as nothing more than an empty suit that could deliver only pre-scripted remarks and speeches, Obama demonstrated an ability to think on his feet. Much like Reagan in 1980, his performance Friday evening has allowed people to visualize him in a presidential light; perhaps for the first time for many. At the end of the evening there was no doubt that the junior Senator from Illinois was a man of substance worthy of sharing the stage with his Republican opponent, many years his senior both in age and experience.

    With Senator Obama’s assertions that he “just doesn’t get it” or is “out of touch” raising concerns over his age and mental faculties; having taken a drubbing in the polls from the recent spate of dire economic headlines and suspending his campaign in dramatic fashion to focus on negotiations over the $700 bailout plan, as well as the original focus of the debating centering on what is considered to be his policy strong suit, the stakes and expectations for Senator McCain were considerable.

    Though joining Obama in failing to substantively address the ongoing economic crisis or explain the rationale that compelled his earlier actions of the week, McCain demonstrated a mastery of foreign policy and national security born of decades of experience in both its implementation and development. In the process, he laid to rest any doubts over his mental acuity.

    Sharp and persistent, the Republican nominee aggressively assailed his opponent, turning Obama’s own previous attacks on McCain against the Democrat by repeatedly insisting he “just doesn’t understand" critical questions of national security. In contrast, he portrayed himself as the candidate best suited to lead the United States in the face of the myriad of issues confronting it on the world stage.

    Though many commentators have maligned McCain for his admittedly rigid and tense body language, one must keep in mind that due his war injuries his range of physical motion and ability to appear at ease is substantially impaired in comparison to that of his opponent.

    Nonetheless, the Arizonan’s lack of congeniality at both the evening’s onset and closing, as well as his unwillingness to look directly at Senator Obama during the debate, betray the core of his approach to campaigns and opponents. Ever the naval officer, McCain views political campaigns as war and his opposition as the enemy. While he may respect them – perhaps only grudgingly- in the end the objective is to defeat them and seize victory. Pleasantries and sociability have no place on the battlefield or in McCain’s quest for victory and history.

    Though neither candidate could clearly be labeled the loser or winner, in the end the American electorate found itself with two relatively evenly matched and capable candidates for its consideration.

    Having demonstrated their experience in and acumen for national security respectively, the nation now looks for the two presidential contenders to display equal, if not greater command of matters closer to home. With the country hungry for leadership and answers to the ongoing economic crisis, McCain and Obama will need to provide something considerably more substantial than the standard fare of appetizing, but ultimately unfulfilling sound bites and platitudes in their remaining two meetings.

    The time has come to dispense with the hors d’oeuvres and move on to the main course, faithful readers. Stay tuned for further updates as events warrant and the menu changes along with the latest headlines.

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