Yawn: Obama-McCain Debates 2 and Transcripts

With the economy bottoming out in the U.S. and more people
than ever losing their homes, their chance at attending college, and
their jobs, it would seem that last night’s election debate would have
been a deal breaker.  After all, it was pitched as a Town Hall Meeting
wherein, by definition, audience members would be able to ask any of
the questions on their minds.

Unfortunately, the audience was picked over well in advance
of admission and their questions were pre-approved by the moderator Tom
Brockaw. Audience questions were also subservient to emails, also hand
picked by Brockaw, and Brockaw’s own “follow up questions.” The result
was a heavily mediated forum in which the audience was a limited and
controlled group.

Secondly, the format of Town Hall meetings is generally one
in which a moderator walks through the audience soliciting questions in
real time and making limited comments or clarifying questions. In the
case of last night’s debate, Brockaw had his own questions ready to go
in advance. The questions seldom reflected points of clarity or
synthesis. Worse, claiming format agreements, he consistently denied
Barack Obama the right to respond to blatant half-truths and misleading
statements by McCain. Not only did he open the door for McCain to mock Obama’s
inability to stick to format, but Brockaw himself criticized Obama when both men were guilty of going over time.

McCain took every opportunity to make snide comments after
Obama spoke. At one point he even walked in front of one of the cameras
parallel to Obama making disparaging hand gestures and faces at the audience while
Obama spoke. He received no reprimand from Brockaw for his behavior and
no sanction for violating the agreed upon format. Not only
did he distract and disparage during and immediately after many Obama’s
answers, but he also packed his answers with 1/2
truths, untruths, and exaggerations whenever he was the second speaker
knowing that the format would prevent Obama from correcting any of the
misinformation.  Then, when Obama finally did refuse to be silenced by the
moderator or mocked for working his objections into his next answer,
McCain and Obama had a heated exchange about the format.

OBAMA: Tom, just a…
BROKAW: Sen. McCain…
OBAMA: … just a quick follow-up on this. I think…
MCCAIN: If we’re going to have follow-ups, then I will want follow-ups, as well
BROKAW: No, I know. So but I think we get at it…
MCCAIN: It’d be fine with me. It’d be fine with me.
BROKAW: … if I can, with this question.
OBAMA: Then let’s have one.
BROKAW: All right, let’s have a follow-up.
MCCAIN: It’d be fine with me.
OBAMA: Just — just — just a quick follow-up, because I think — I think this is important.
BROKAW: I’m just the hired help here, so, I mean…

Brockaw’s final comment was more offensive than McCain’s tone (which
was aggressive and underscored by McCain actually walking up on Obama before going to sit down and growl the rest of the exchange from his seat).

I’ve seen all of the debates and reported on most, and I have never seen this kind of melt down before. I have a lot of respect for Brockaw as a news anchor but this overly engineered debate and the clear manipulation of the format by McCain deeply diminished my view of all of them. It is a moderators job to hold both candidates accountable for the same or similar behavior so that no one takes advantage and the American people receive as fair an exchange as possibly. More over, I expect a moderator to allow time for corrections. If s/he
is unwilling or unable to allow those corrections to come from the
other candidate, then as Moderator it is his or her duty to provide
that information so that as much truth as possible reaches the American

Obama was guilty of sending barbs into
the fray every chance he got.  Relying heavily on talking points, Obama
peppered most of his answers with direct attacks on McCain’s record.
While it is important to draw distinctions between the two candidates
and to make sure those distinctions are clear enough for the audience,
the repeated attack format of his answers was decidedly off-putting and
took away from his time to answer important questions about the economy
and foreign affairs.

McCain’s behavior was childish. It was regularly
undiplomatic and unbecoming a potential world leader. Obama bordered on
the churlish. And Brockaw was clearly neither objective nor fair in his moderation. Worst of all, the result of all three men’s behavior was a
debate that was insulting in the face of serious economic and foreign
problems effecting everyone in this nation.

The One Liners

Both candidates tonight got off some quotes that will likely stick.

In discussing taxes, job creation, and health care Obama
responded to McCain’s repetition of the lie that Obama intends to tax
small business owners with:

The Straight Talk Express lost a wheel on that one

And it most asuredly did. McCain repeated the fear of
“raised taxes” “taxes on small businesses” and other similar half and
un-truths to avoid addressing his own spending and tax plan that
includes $300 billion in tax breaks to the rich with no similar breaks
for the middle class and the poor. McCain also spoke repeatedly about
checking their voting records, which I strongly encourage as well, but
avoided mentioning that if you do you will see that McCain has voted
against tax relief for people in hurricane disaster zones, against
mortgage relief for people facing foreclosure, against more regulation
of banks and lenders, and against aid to small farmers. (see my
previous post for links on his record). This is hardly the record of
someone whose policies will bail out the N. American people but as long
as he continues to claim we will all be bankrupt by Obama taxes, he’s
hoping you won’t notice.

McCain’s big one liner for the night was also a direct hit, but may ultimately impact both campaigns:

We don’t have time for on the job training

McCain’s barb directly targeted Obama’s foreign policy
knowledge and raised the spectre of some of his past comments about use
of limited nuclear strikes, Pakistan, and the war in Iraq. It reminded
many of their initial fears about Obama being qualified, a cornerstone
of the McCain campaign until the VP announcements. Obama has admitted
to having less foreign policy experience than others but he has also
chosen a running mate with extensive and unquestioned experience in
foreign policy and has also been educating himself through interaction
with world leaders, review of existing policy, and behind the scenes
briefings with potential cabinet members. Unlike the overnight cramming
of Palin, which trickled out in oddly paired soundbites and circular
“reasoning,” Obama has actual national level service, actual work on
bills and acts, and a growing foreign policy portfolio. More than that
he has the respect of global leaders, who have invited him to speak,
sit down with them, and expressed their own hopes that he is the new
president. McCain and Palin have no similar global report. We have
already seen what 8 years of animosity and lack of respect between US
leadership and global leaders has done.

Where this barb will be most damaging to the McCain camp,
is in the recent memory of Palin’s interviews and debate performance.
Her experience, particularly in foreign affairs, is so appallingly
lacking that McCain’s statement about job training should clearly come
back to bite them.

Obama’s overall point on the economy:

Prosperity is not just going to trickle down. We’ve got to help the middle class.

This underscored his entire argument throughout the night
that you can vote for an extension of the same policies that have put
us in this mess or you can vote for actual change. He backed this with
bulleted econ, energy, and health care plans discussed below.

While McCain’s response was that he is a new administration
of “reformers” his answers to the questions of economy, energy, and
foreign policy align with the current administration’s policies, while
his health care policy is new.

McCain’s econ quotes are below as are the critique of them. Particularly interesting was his:

Frankly, I’m not going to tell that person without health
insurance that, “I’m sorry, you’ll have to wait.” I’m going to tell you
Americans we’ll get to work right away and we’ll get to work together,
and we can get them all done, because that’s what America has been

This comment directly contradicted his statement about
medicare – or rather his lack of a statement about it when asked, since
on both the issue of medicare and social security he switched the
subject to bipartisanship – and that he was going to frieze all
spending except on the military. How can we reform and regulate health
care if we are not spending anything on it? His plan calls for a tax on
benefits and a state to state competition but who will regulate that
competition to ensure fair coverage if we are spending no money on
regulation? The key phrase seems to be “I’m going to tell you” which is
different than “I’m going to actually do.”  There was a lot of
“telling” in McCain’s answers tonight as you can see from review of the
transcripts pasted at the bottom of the next section of this post.

Key Points

Since most of the debate was sound bites we’ve all heard
before, there was very little substance to pass on. Here are some of
the things that stood out for me:

Speaking about health care, both candidates were asked whether Health Care was a Privilege, a Right, or a Responsibility.

  • McCain said Responsibility and stressed the idea of “big
    government” interfering in people’s ability to choose their own plans
    and take responsibility for finding their own care with his deregulated
    cross-state health plan supported by taxing health care benefits and a
    $5000 credit
  • Obama said Right and pointed out McCain’s vote against CHIP
    (children’s health care plan) and earlier the response to his plan by
    the Chamber of Commerce that said McCain’s plan would result in an
    “unraveling” of the American Health Care system. Obama’s plan includes
    regulating insurance fraud, cutting waste, no exclusions for
    pre-conditions, allowing people to keep the plans they already have if
    they like them, giving 50% tax breaks to small businesses who provide
    insurance so that they can afford to provide it, and ensuring that all
    children and all uninsured are covered through a similar government
    sponsored insurance to the one’s Congress now enjoys.

In discussing foreign affairs, both candidates were asked about Pakistan, Russia, and Genocide:

  • McCain – prevent genocides when we can make “beneficial impact” and

    you have to temper your decisions with the ability to beneficially
    affect the situation and realize you’re sending America’s most precious
    asset, American blood, into harm’s way.”

    (this ignores his
    own vote against needed equipment for troops to keep them safe that
    Biden brought up, his vote to privatize veteran’s health care, and his
    vote for continuing perpetual war policy of the Bush administration);
    Pakistan is an ally and needs to be worked with to provide incentives
    to border towns to not harbor Al Qaeda; Russia under Putin is returning
    to a KGB past, supports Georgie and Ukraine as NATO members – which
    would commit us to fighting Russia if they invaded again

  • Obama – prevent genocides through global efforts – supporting
    existing international troops and peace keepers, provide leadership in
    the call to act, help with tactical support where needed

    when genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening
    somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us.”

    borders have become a critical location for the war on terror b/c of
    Bush policies supported by McCain to move the war effort largely out of
    Afghanistan and to Iraq, need to redirect effort, hunt down Bin Laden
    and Taliban regardless, insist Pakistan go after militants, have
    democratic leadership for the people; Russia – need to provide concrete
    assistance to all of the satellites now but also anticipate problems
    for the future (mentioned his own warnings about the Russia-Georgia
    conflict before it happened) and be stronger on our own energy policies
    to defang Russia’s attempts to amass suppply lines.

In talking about rebuilding trust in the economy:

  • McCain – focused on his “reformer” status and bi-partisan work
    (none of which he cited, but does have), claimed Obama has “never voted
    against party” which is not true, said you could check his record from
    non-partisan sources and then mentioned conservative think tanks as
    places to look, claimed he fought pork belly spending (which on some
    occassions he did and others not), and mentioned the importance of off
    shore drilling. None of which in my mind really gave a concrete answer
    to the question of trust. Later he also said that the government needs
    to buy the bad mortgage loans to keep people in their houses and
    implied Obama would not support that, Mccain’s record shows that he
    voted against tax relief to people facing foreclosure as well as aid to
    small farmers that would have prevented farm foreclosures as well.
  • Obama – Dems had no deficit, Republicans created biggest deficit
    in N. American history and McCain voted with Bush 4 out of 5 times (I
    really wish fact checkers would give us a thumbs up or down on this
    number because I don’t have time to go over all the votes and see if
    this is true or exaggeration). Government regulation of the bail out
    including forcing AIG to pay back the $400,000 of bail out money they
    just spent on a lavish junket and later he also pointed out that the
    bail out gave needed funds to small
    businesses who cannot make payroll or other overhead without it. His
    plan to restore the economy: 1. energy independence – includes all
    forms of safe energy, new technology investment and investment in green
    jobs, relocating innovative car construction to the US, and exporting
    energy as we start to develop new sources, 2. college affordability –
    his work for aid program, 3. net spending cuts – tax increases for the
    wealthy, end to tax breaks for companies that ship jobs and production
    overseas, end to tax loop holes for corporations, increased tax
    deductions for 95% of the American people.

In talking about their priorities, specifically with regards to Health
Care, Energy, and Entitlements (Social Security and Medicaid):

  • McCain – in one breath said that retirees could no longer expect
    the same packages as before and, later, that he would frieze all
    government spending except on the military and va benefits (which he
    has voted against in the past – see previous post) while promising

    “we can do ’em all at once”

    even scarier was his idea about nuclear power plants

    “build a whole bunch of ’em.”

    Is it me or was there no plan there? no realistic prioritizing? How are
    we going to pay our rent/mortgages, feed our families, rely on secure
    employment and health care, if he plans to fireze spending on
    everything but the war? Isn’t that similar to what is going on right
    now with $700 billion going out of our budget to the war, $700 billion
    going to banks, and none coming to the average people?  McCain’s
    perverse hope that in this economy when we need independence, social
    programs, and health care, he expects us all to ignore that based on
    the repition of “we can do ’em all at once”? It’s insulting and
    offensive in these current hard times.

  • Obama – we have to prioritize at the national level the same way
    that families do at the individual level b/c of the economy we are
    inheriting from Bush, Energy is at the top of his list with $15 billion
    spent on green jobs, green technology, and energy independence over 10
    years ultimately subsidized by selling of our energy products on the
    world market and the bump to the economy from increased employment,
    creation of a youth corp of volunteers that expands the Americorp idea
    (ie some funding for college for service here) to rebuild
    infrastructure and economy

The transcripts: read here


If all we are going to get is soundbites, barbs,
and unequal moderation from debates I am no longer interested in
watching them. It seems clear to me, especially from this shoddy
effort, that we are faced with a basic choice:

  • a president who will continue the unending war in the Middle
    East, give tax breaks to the rich and not the working class and poor,
    cut all government sponsored social programs (children’s health care,
    early childhood education, social security, medicare, etc.), privatize
    veterans health care, cut women’s reproductive health care, and
    deregulate health care in general, and put someone who is clearly
    clueless about foreign affairs, involved in one of the largest pork
    belly spending scandals in the news and who uses her office to punish
    people who disagree, a heart beat away from running the nation


  • a president who has clearly outlined an economic plan, energy
    plan, and health care plan that centers working families, creates jobs
    and independence, and ensures coverage for everyone, who has voted
    against war but is also committed to stopping terrorists directly
    targeting our nation and preventing genocides that demean all of us as
    human beings, and who will be supported by a VP who has a long history
    of bipartisanship and foreign policy experience as well as passing
    important legislation to protect women from domestic and sexual
    violence in this country and recently around the world

There doesn’t seem to be much else to say. Even the candidates are
saying nothing new. It’s time to either actually get some “straight
talk” or for us to vote.


  • artist: Matson. strip: Roll Call. Co. 2008
  • all quotes come from the debate transcripts posted above
  • artist: Ben Sargeant Co. 2008


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