Thursday, October 16, 2008

READ: You Say Blah, I Say Blah

Perhaps the most frustrating element of the last debate (apart from watching John McCain twitch, smirk and roll his eyes) was how little the substance mattered since all the commentary before and after revolved around the candidate's demeanor. So much so that few people even noticed that McCain seems to confuse autism with Down's syndrome. I didn't either, at first.

So last night, instead of dissecting the debate right away, I played a little game with myself and I recommend that you play it, too. It's called "close your eyes and imagine." It's actually quite simple yet quite powerful. After the longest campaign in the history of the world, the 2 candidates are omnipresent; you can hardly go a minute without either hearing about them, reading about them or seeing them. However, we still think of them as candidates. So last night, I tried to forget about my biases, and my substantive policy views and tried to imagine what they would each look like as the President of the United States. How will they look addressing the American people especially in the time of crisis? How will they connect with world leaders especially those they don't like - and those they have offended in the past? How will they interact with those that disagree with them in the Congress - especially if both chambers end up being majority ruled by the other party? How will they deal with complex issues that transcend the simplistic dichotomy of left and right and that go beyond war and spending? After watching the candidates side by side in three debates, I cannot guarantee you who will do a better job with the economy or who will do a better job in Iraq. I do, however, have a fairly definitive answer who made me feel better during the "close your eyes and imagine" game. What was yours?

That said, why not have some fun with some highlights from the debate?

When asked about their VPs:

McCain: .. And, by the way, she [Palin] 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. That's an example of, I think, the kind of use of the scalpel that we want to make sure that we're funding some of those programs.

McCain: .. But again, I want to come back to, notice every time Sen. Obama says, "We need to spend more, we need to spend more, that's the answer" -- why do we always have to spend more? Why can't we have transparency, accountability, reform of these agencies of government?

This exchange, apart from showing McCain's confusion of various special needs, revealed the internal lack of logic in McCain's disdain for government spending as a concept and Obama jumped on it perfectly. You can't promise to invest in certain initiatives and promise not to raise spending at the same time. Also, I wonder how much self control it took for Obama not to criticize Palin even a little bit.
McCain: Joe wants to buy the business that he has been in for all of these years, worked 10, 12 hours a day. And he wanted to buy the business but he looked at your tax plan and he saw that he was going to pay much higher taxes. You were going to put him in a higher tax bracket which was going to increase his taxes, which was going to cause him not to be able to employ people, which Joe was trying to realize the American dream.
Since when does being in a higher tax bracket cause people to not be able to employ people and since when is buying a business the American dream? McCain again fails to make a concise, logical and compelling argument about why higher relative taxes in US motivate companies to look for cheaper places to do business which, in turn, reduces employment in the US. This alone could be his key economic motto. No need to mention class warfare non-sense, fairness of taxes and redistribution of income. Just stick to jobs and people will get it.
McCain: I admire so much Sen. Obama's eloquence. And you really have to pay attention to words. He said, we will look at offshore drilling. Did you get that? Look at.
McCain's arrogance in this one is only trumped by his silliness. "Look at" is about as good a guarantee as either one of you can give us about anything at this point. If he is truly so concerned about words, this is one of the lesser offenses in the debate.

McCain: I would have, first of all, across-the-board spending freeze, OK? Some
people say that's a hatchet. That's a hatchet, and then I would get out a scalpel, OK?
Actually, no. A "hatchet" would be if you instituted an across-the-board cut. A spending freeze followed by a scalpel has the same end result as using a scalpel. Once again, it's just words, but he himself said we need to pay attention to them.
McCain: I know how to save billions of dollars in defense spending. I know how
to eliminate programs.
I think I also know how to eliminate programs. You write a law that cuts a program, pass it in the house and the senate, sign it and voila! Ignoring for a moment him being unlikely to pass anything in a democratic house and senate, dare I ask what programs?

McCain: Sen. Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. I'm going to give a new direction to this economy in this country.
The commentators applauded this (He really needed to say that! was the line) as if (a) he said something novel (b) it mattered at this point. Hillary Clinton said it best "He's obviously not the same person" and I prayed to Gods of satire that she would just leave it at that; alas, she continued with "but he has voted with President Bush about 90 percent of the time."

Obama: .. the fact of the matter is that if I occasionally have mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush. Now, you've shown independence -- commendable independence, on some key issues like torture, for example, and I give you enormous credit for that. But when it comes to economic policies, essentially what you're proposing is eight more years of the same thing. And it hasn't worked.
Here Obama gets points not for stating why McCain is like Bush v 3.0 but because through all the antagonistic back and forth he manages to acknowledge something good in his opponent. He's tough yet graceful and gracious. He gives credit where credit is due.

McCain: And, Sen. Obama, when he said -- and he signed a piece of paper that said he would take public financing for his campaign if I did -- that was back when he was a long-shot candidate -- you didn't keep your word. And when you looked into the camera in a debate with Sen. Clinton and said, "I will sit down and negotiate with John McCain about public financing before I make a decision," you didn't tell the American people the truth because you didn't.
A reminder that is it possible for McCain to have a truthful and substantive criticism of Obama. Like one.

Obama: I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply.
Well put and a sharp contrast to McCain's insistence on Obama's repudiation of statements made by someone unassociated with his campaign.
McCain: By the way, when Sen. Obama said he would unilaterally renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canadians said, "Yes, and we'll sell our oil to China." You don't tell countries you're going to unilaterally renegotiate agreements with them.
Maybe right on substance but the condescending tone is hard to swallow.

McCain: Free trade with Colombia is something that's a no-brainer. But maybe you ought to travel down there and visit them and maybe you could understand it a lot better.
There are ways to look smart and more experienced than your opponent. This is not one of them. Again, when I close my eyes, how would this guy work with his opponents in the Congress?

McCain: .. as he said, his object is a single payer system. If you like that, you'll love Canada and England. So the point is...
Schieffer: So that's your objective?
Obama: It is not and I didn't describe it...
McCain: No, you stated it.
Obama: I just...
McCain: Excuse me.

Simply stated, that's a lie and huge embarrasment for McCain. And repeating a lie doesn't make it a truth or a smaller lie. It's still a lie. Done.
Obama: 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...
McCain: Zero?
Obama: Zero, 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 it.
Obama makes a strong substantive point and McCain's "Zero?" which starts out as another sarkastic jab, quickly transforms to disbelief. As in, he can't believe that he fucked that one up so badly.

McCain: Hey, Joe, you're rich, congratulations, because what Joe wanted to do was buy the business that he's been working for 10-12 hours a day, seven days a
week, and you said that you wanted to spread the wealth, but -- in other words, take Joe's money and then you decide what to do with it. 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, not the kind that you think is best for your family, your children, your employees, but the kind that he mandates for you.
Here I just gave up. McCain was either having a mental breakdown or he was trying to make a point that was so complex that I just didn't get it. Perhaps avoiding tripple sarcastic negatives would help clear that one up for all of us.

McCain: I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications.
Quite simple: McCain would not pick a supreme court judge based on their views. He would look at their qualifications. And someone of the view that Roe v. Wade was right is unfortunately just not qualified! Well done, John. It turns out you can have your cake and eat it too.
McCain: Just again, the example of the eloquence of Sen. Obama. He's health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, "health."
Yes, women, you and your, quote, health. It's about time you dropped it!

Obama: Well, we have a tradition of local control of the schools and that's a tradition that has served us well.

Finally Obama trips. If it has serves us well, why are talking about changing it?
McCain: We have to stop the spending.
Another one where words are just pure semantics. We have to stop the spending. Huh? Stop what spending and why? Is there any reason to say this other than that it sounds good?

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