McCain-Obama Debate 3: The Surreal Edition

Like many, I had my fill of debate politics with the Brockaw debacle
and was in no mood to see which man “balled up” over the mud slinging
these past few weeks when the economic crisis and the war are still
happening. And yet, I am glad to have not missed this one. (you can watch it at the bottom, and download the transcript from the link near the end of the post)

(artist: Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune. co 2008)

Bob Schieffer returned us to what debates should be: even-handed, tough
questions, with time for follow up and clarification from the
moderator. He called both candidates out when they did not answer the
questions, he interrupted distracting snark (not all snark – both Obama
and McCain got off an eyeroll unchecked & Mccain consistently interrupted Obama, with Obama interrupting more near the end of the debate) and he kept an important balance between the issues that
matter, like the economy, and the social issues, like the behavior at

So why am I calling this the “surreal edition”? There were several moments in the debate when I wondered how much cognitive dissonance McCain expected the N. American people to swallow in one sitting. Consistently throughout the debate, McCain raised an issue, Obama answered it, and then McCain kept going as if he had not. Here are some examples of what I mean:

Moment One:

McCain accuses Obama of wanting to raise taxes on small businesses making it impossible for them to pay employees

And what you want to do to Joe the plumber and millions more like him is have their taxes increased and not be able to realize the American dream of owning their own business.

Obama responds that he would cut taxes for 98% of small businesses

The last point I’ll make about small businesses. Not only do 98 percent of small businesses make less than $250,000, but I also want to give them additional tax breaks, because they are the drivers of the economy. They produce the most jobs.

McCain Responds by repeating that Obama is going to raise “Joe’s taxes”

Who — why would you want to increase anybody’s taxes right now? Why would you want to do that, anyone, anyone in America, when we have such a tough time, when these small business people, like Joe the plumber, are going to create jobs, unless you take that money from him and spread the wealth around.

Moment Two:

McCain ignores the comments coming from his campaign in a question about “taking the high road” and instead claims to be deeply hurt by all the “nasty things” Obama’s camp has said about him. Demanding a repudiation of recent comments, claiming no such repudiation was made, and that he has repudiated all comments from his camp.

And the fact is, it’s gotten pretty tough. And I regret some of the negative aspects of both campaigns. But the fact is that it has taken many turns which I think are unacceptable.

One of them happened just the other day, when a man I admire and respect — I’ve written about him — Congressman John Lewis, an American hero, made allegations that Sarah Palin and I were somehow associated with the worst chapter in American history, segregation, deaths of children in church bombings, George Wallace. That, to me, was so hurtful.

And, Sen. Obama, you didn’t repudiate those remarks.

Obama responds by pointing out both he and Wallace said the analogy went too far but that McCain and Palin’s rallies have included ongoing insinuation that he is a terrorist (the emphasis on his middle name for instance), that he “pals around with terrorists,” and that he is “not our kind of people” all of which have reignited islamaphobic sentiments and encouraged egregious displays of bigotry at the rallies including the unchecked jeers from the crowd about him being a terrorist and/or wanting to “kill them.”

I mean, look, if we want to talk about Congressman Lewis, who is an American hero, he, unprompted by my campaign, without my campaign’s awareness, made a statement that he was troubled with what he was hearing at some of the rallies that your running mate was holding, in which all the Republican reports indicated were shouting, when my name came up, things like “terrorist” and “kill him,” and that you’re running mate didn’t mention, didn’t stop, didn’t say “Hold on a second, that’s kind of out of line.”

we immediately put out a statement saying that we don’t think that comparison is appropriate.

And, in fact, afterwards, Congressman Lewis put out a similar statement, saying that he had probably gone over the line.

McCain ignores the facts of both the Congressman incident (a comment about climates of hate that were in fact present and was repudiated by both the Congressman and Obama) and the Palin incidents (stirring up hatred through the implication of terrorism in the Obama camp and then saying nothing to the people chanting Obama is a terrorist, crying out “kill them,” or attacking black cameramen). Instead he takes this moment to champion his supporters:

Let me just say categorically I’m proud of the people that come to our rallies. Whenever you get a large rally of 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 people, you’re going to have some fringe peoples. You know that. And I’ve — and we’ve always said that that’s not appropriate.

These are some of his supporters at rallies:

(outside the rally – representing multiple people not just a single “fringe” person)

(outside the rally, people claiming Obama is a terrorist – something we all know Palin implied repeatedely – and claiming that rape victims should die, Obama supporters should die, and a whole slue of other derogatory comments about everyone from the queer community to liberals)

(Interviews with supporters after Palin’s speech in Ohio – including references to him as a “Negro,” and comments about fears of the “blacks taking over”)

(inside the rally- the “kill them” comment was not recorded. Neither Palin nor McCain repudiated at the time or immediately following as the story broke)

(Inside the rally – McCain asks “who Obama really is” and the crowd can be heard to say “terrorist” as well as other inaudible insults. McCain pauses, but says nothing to repudiate them)

These are some of the t-shirts his supporters have attended rallies wearing, and still been let in:

This shirt is part of a line of offensive shirts designed by McCain supporter, Apollo Braun, pictured in the
slave t-shirt above. (Complain here: 212-726- 8075) Braun claims he is simply reflecting the opinions of “many middle class Americans” with his line. He is clearly reflecting some of the McCain supporters, since as I said, some of these shirts have made it into rallies unchecked.


This second t-shirt was made and sold in Marietta Georgia by Mulligan Sports bar. The t-shirt creator said there was a resemblance between the cartoon and Obama and he liked the cartoon, not that it was racism. (Still want to complain about these shirts: write here Mulligans Sports Bar: 698 Roswell St SE Marietta, GA 30060). It showed up at rallies as well as at the RNC. People were asked not to sell them at the RNC and no shirts were worn during the convention. People did wear them, unchecked, at other rallies however according to witness report. And they inspired the “Hussein Obama” monkey at the McCain rally in the video above. (The man peeled off the Obama sticker before entering the rally after becoming wary of the cameras on him, but he took both sticker and monkey inside unhindered by security, some of whom saw him waving the monkey, with sticker still on head, outside.)

Several McCain supporters have also been seen wearing this or similar buttons in line for rallies, none of these people were turned away at the door nor asked to remove their buttons:

We already know about the effigy incidents which McCain has not commented on nor repudiated either. These incidents were not done at rallies but rather, on school grounds.

These are the people McCain is praising. They are hardly the insignificant number that McCain implies when he calls them “fringe.”

No similar death threats have been issued by Obama supporters against McCain. Perhaps because neither Obama nor Biden have been running around inciting xenophobia and racism on the campaign trail.

One correction from McCain, to a little old lady who called Obama an Arab, a few days before the debate and after his numbers dipped does not negate the number of times both he and Palin used incendiary language tinged with racial code to discuss Obama and his potential presidency. So many from the left and the right have seized on this moment in the campaign as if it somehow erases the hatred that Palin in particular stirred up during the latest stint of the campaign trail that I find myself wondering why. Is it the “good person” syndrome? the fear of doing something racist oneself and then never being able to live it down (to which I say, if you make a mistake, own it and we will all move on, but if you invest in a policy of stirring up xenophobia or racism, yes there are consequences for that and you deserve them)? or what?

And if McCain takes exception with anything, then it should have been the Obama supporters who manufactured the “Sarah Palin is a Cunt” t-shirt. I saw the image yesterday and now cannot find it. These t-shirts were meant to highlight McCain’s own use of the word to describe his wife and thus draw attention to the sexism in the McCain camp, according to the manufacturer (whose name has also been taken off the internet apparently). This is a considerably different intent than those of the t-shirts and buttons above.

That being said, there is also a different version of the shirt being sold at cafe press that has no similar commitment to raising awareness about McCain’s own use of the term and instead calls Palin both a “cunt” and a “tart”

As we learned from the campaign I started against other offensive campaign shirts on cafepress this summer, Cafepress does not monitor what it sells and won’t do anything about these products without considerable mobilization. You can however complain here.

The bottom line is that the political shirt did not have the commentary on it so it could be easily consumed as a sexist comment against Palin while the other shirt clearly is a sexist comment.McCain has a right to be upset about both of these shirts as a result. Instead of focusing his attention on a needed critique of sexism, McCain simply referred to them at the end of his ongoing complaint about being implicated in racism.

In fact, some T-shirts that are very … unacceptable.

McCain says he is hurt because his campaign rallies were compared to white power rallies in the civil rights era. Here’s the thing, those rallies incited ordinary Americans to see black people as inferior and to stop their social, economic, and political aspirations by any means necessary.  In stirring up hatred, they encouraged people who went on to bomb buses, shoot at college kids from their windows and from behind police cars (stationed there for that purpose), and to beat black women, men, and white allies in the streets, killing several of them with zero consequence. Is McCain going to go out and hurt black people? No. Is he encouraging the dehumanizing techniques necessary for others to do it? Yes. Is he ignoring existing dehumanizing behavior amongst his supporters? Yes. (One correction does not a repudiation of hatred make.)

While McCain maybe hurt by the comparison, these videos illustrate exactly what the Congressman and several people in the McCain press corp commented on last week and what Schieffer’s question was meant to get him to address. He not only failed to do so, he actually championed these people and demanded that none of us criticize their behavior again …

Moment Three

McCain: Immediately following his praise for his supporters and his claims of repudiation of racism amongst them (look at the tape, no repudiation), he goes into an attack about Ayres and ACORN claiming that the American people need to know about these connections.

Yes, real quick. Mr. Ayers, I don’t care about an old washed-up terrorist. But as Sen. Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship.

We need to know the full extent of Sen. Obama’s relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.

Obama responds by explaining the exact relationship in very clear terms. Ayres and Obama sat on a Board for educational reform with Republicans and Democrats 30 years after Ayres was involved in the Weather Underground. And Obama represented ACORN in a bid to get voters registered at the DMV but had nothing to do with voter registration.

Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago.

Forty years ago, when I was 8 years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan’s former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg.

Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of The Chicago Tribune, a Republican- leaning newspaper.

Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House. So that’s Mr. Ayers.

ACORN is a community organization. Apparently what they’ve done is they were paying people to go out and register folks, and apparently some of the people who were out there didn’t really register people, they just filled out a bunch of names.

It had nothing to do with us. We were not involved

The only involvement I’ve had with ACORN was I represented them alongside the U.S. Justice Department in making Illinois implement a motor voter law that helped people get registered at DMVs.

McCain responds as if Obama has not been completely clear, repeating that we need to know the relationship.

It’s the fact that all the — all of the details need to be known about Sen. Obama’s relationship with them and with ACORN and the American people will make a judgment.

McCain also completely ignored a key issue with ACORN, it hires people in good faith to do a specific job – register voters. If ACORN were working for Obama, why would they intentionally hire people who used obvious false names and false addresses to register people? Who is more likely to benefit from registering Mickey Mouse on Disney Lane as a Democrat? The Republicans who can call the entire registration into question or the Democrats who look like idiots?

Worse, this voter fraud issue is a real one being mobilized by Republicans to disenfranchise poor whites, African Americans, and whole districts that usually vote Democrat. I’ve already written about the Republican strategy to challenge the votes of anyone who was foreclosed on and lost their house in Michigan. Now the Republicans have forced through
a bill to say that all of the new registrations in Ohio have to be hand checked and any discrepencies have to be tossed – including a transposed number in a driver’s license or someone who lives on an Avenue being written down as living on a Street, etc. These are common tactics being used in all of the battleground states right now by Republicans. And there are several books I pointed you to in my last post about voter fraud that show that these were common tactics in the last two elections as well. Many of those books were written by Republicans involved in the effort to disenfranchise the American people.

So if we are going to talk about who is, as McCain puts it:

maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.

then we have to talk about the party most responsible for the fraud. And yes, I think we should also look at ACCORN again in this context and ask ourseleves if we are really so naive as to believe a liberal organization would intentionally hire people who would commit voter fraud exclusively on the Democrat voters registered or if the same people who disenfranchised so many in the past two elections infiltrated the ACCORN workforce? We have to ask ourselves, if a party that has consistently disenfranchised people and is filing suits across this nation in battleground states to do the same this election is supporting our nation and its democracy or tearing it down.

Moment Four

McCain brings up the fine for small businesses for not providing health care that he brought up last debate

Now, Sen. Obama, I’d like — still like to know what that fine is going to be, and I don’t think that Joe right now wants to pay a fine when he is seeing such difficult times in America’s economy.

Obama says there is no fine

I just described what my plan is. And I’m happy to talk to you, Joe,
too, if you’re out there. Here’s your fine — zero. You won’t pay a
fine, because… as I said in our last debate and I’ll repeat, John, I
exempt small businesses from the requirement for large businesses that
can afford to provide health care to their employees, but are not doing

McCain repeats there is a fine

Now, Joe, you’re rich, congratulations, and you will then fall into the category where you’ll have to pay a fine if you don’t provide health insurance that Sen. Obama mandates

These moments were all so ridiculously out of step as if McCain and
Obama were sitting in separate sound proof rooms answering the
questions. Obama clearly answered McCain’s accusations and yet McCain
continued to act as if he had not throughout the entire debate. McCain consistently ignored facts presented by both
McCain and Schieffer and lied about both his campaign (the repudiation
stuff above) and Obama’s campaign (taxes, enmeshment with ACORN, health
plan, etc.). (In fairness, Obama also ignored Schieffer’s report that neither would balance the budget.) All of these moments left me wondering how much cognitive dissonance McCain thought the N. American people could take before they cracked and saw right through him.


(artist: Grondahl, Standard Examiner co. 2008)

And then there were the childish moments that typified the difference in the campaigns:

McCain: Nobody likes taxes. Let’s not raise anybody’s taxes. OK?
Obama: Well, I don’t mind paying a little more.

McCain is promising a lot of economic quick fixes like buying up mortgages at their previous worth, not raising taxes, and balancing the budget in 4 years. These sound great until you think them through. First, buying mortgages at the price the houses were before the crisis not only means American tax payers are footing the bill for more money than the assets are worth so are the homeowners who will have to pay back the full mortgage. The only one who benefits in this scenario is the bank, who has already taken enough from us as it is. Second, McCain never mentions that he wants to cut taxes for corporations and the money has to be made up somewhere, the somewhere will ultimately be you, me, and Joe the Plumber. All though I am not a math genius I am clear enough to know that the trillion dollars of debt we will inherit from Bush cannot be done away with in 4 years by cutting 4% of the excess budget in Congress (earmarks only make up 4% of the government spending). But don’t take my word for it, look at the numbers from real math geniuses who were part of the non-partisan review of both Senators’ economic plans. According to Schieffer, neither budget will fix the problem in 4 years.

Obama’s answer on the other hand, points to his commitment to getting the US back on the right track by centering hard working N. Americans and their welfare over that over corporate greed and continuously disproven trickle down economics. The tax increase for the 5% includes Congress and that means it includes Obama. He is willing to make a sacrifice so that working class people facing foreclosure or bankruptcy do not have to shoulder the burden.

Comments not to Forget

Best Debate Moment? I try to pick out ones for both sides as I did in the past presidential and VP debates. Unfortunately, this time they almost all went to Obama:

Obama: Now with respect to a couple of things Sen. McCain said, the notion that I voted for a tax increase for people making $42,000 a year has been disputed by everybody who has looked at this claim that Sen. McCain keeps on making.

Even FOX News disputes it, . .  .

And this exchange where Obama finally says what most of us have been thinking all along about Mccain’s claims that he would not have used attack ads and attacking speeches if Obama had just done what he wanted with Town Hall meetings:

McCain : It’s been a very tough campaign. And I know from my experience in many campaigns that, if Sen. Obama had asked — responded to my urgent request to sit down, and do town hall meetings, and come before the American people, we could have done at least 10 of them by now.

… So I think the tone of this campaign could have been very different.

Obama: The notion, though, that because we’re not doing town hall meetings
that justifies some of the ads that have been going up, not just from
your own campaign directly, John, but 527s and other organizations that
make some pretty tough accusations, well, I don’t mind being attacked
for the next three weeks.

Note, Obama never actually completes that sentence but the implication is clear. Town Hall Meetings are entirely unrelated to the decision to liken Obama to a terrorist that Palin engaged in for weeks nor to the decision to run attack ads for months that have information in them that are categorically false and disproven by even conservative pundits, as well as independent watch dogs.

Finally the economy quote:

McCain And, by the way, she also understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we’ve got to find out what’s causing it, and we’ve got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children.

Obama I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs will require some additional funding, if we’re going to get serious in terms of research. That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talk about.

And if we have an across-the-board spending freeze, we’re not going to be able to do it.

I’ve also just found out that Palin and the State of Alaska are being sued over the lack of services to autistic students in Alaska. See here for more info (htp 2LGAI). Not exactly an endorsement for Palin. However, Palin does have an autistic family member and also a differently-abled son and she has said that she is committed to advocating for differently-abled children in the White House. I have said before that if this is true, that I think it is an important part of their campaign and I would like the Obama camp to make a similar commitment (which they have not). As Obama points out however, McCain’s spending frieze would prevent any advocacy for differently-abled children. Further, McCain’s voting record against funding the Department of Education and SCHIP (extended Health Care for children) show that he is not putting forward a plan that would universally benefit differently-abled youth despite his and Palin’s verbal promises to the contrary.

McCain’s “One liner”:

Sen. Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.


Obama once again outlined his economic, energy, and health care plans clearly and with bulleted points. He also outlined his education plan beyond the college tuition issue to that of primary and secondary school education including a charter school plan. His plans require 10 years to come to fruition and don’t balance the budget. They do represent tax relief for 95% of N. Americans and 98% of small businesses. His support of charter schools is a plus and minus, plus because California charter schools have proven that you can have schools that target the most marginalized and help them build skills and resources for college. A minus because many charter schools around the country have failed to incorporate lower middle class and working class students, students of color, and especially special needs children in their plans as evidenced by the failures of many charter schools to help these marginalized students in New Orleans.

McCain offered a housing bail out plan, health care plan, and educational reform plan at the primary and secondary level but no real plan at the college level. His plans did not address issues of cost: the housing bail out over spends based on outdate assessment tools and that cost goes directly to consumers through taxes and through mortgage payments.  His health care plan gives $5000 then taxes the benefit and falls short by $7000 for the average insured person. His school plan includes vouchers which is supported by Republicans and some upper class democrats. Vouchers have been largely criticized for leaving the poorest children behind. He also supports charter schools like Obama.

Neither one did a good job of addressing the Supreme Court nomination issue beyond being honest about their pro-life vs. pro-choice stance. McCain did introduce some information about stem cell research and partial birth abortion earlier in the debate (when he was discussing attack ads during the Arizona football game) but these were not taken up by Obama and sanctioned for being off-topic at the time by the moderator.  While they were OT, I think it is too bad we did not get to them or the issue of immigration, which McCain also mentioned at the same point in the debate. I would have like to hear both candidates outline their policies on immigration, which they have not done in any of the three debates and discuss more fully their policies on women’s health (not just abortion but cancer – it is breast cancer awareness month after all – reproductive technologies and testing, etc.)

You can read the entire transcript for yourself here

And you can re-watch the debate below, in case you missed it.

Don’t forget to vote!!!!


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