I've been voting in Presidential elections for nearly 30 years, and always a straight Democratic ticket. Lord knows, the DNC has given me some doosies to vote for – probably why we've won so few of the last 10 contests. Whoever eventually wound up in the White House, I usually felt like it didn't matter. I did not exist for them. That is until 1992, when I got to vote for Bill Clinton. Even though I was certainly a lot less political then, I just had a sense that this was the first candidate who actually cared about me or what mattered to me.
Now, when I watch candidates speak to voters, I adopt Ani's 'who gives a crap-o-meter' regarding their rhetoric and their policies. Unfortunately, Democrat though he claims to be, Senator Obama, with his ceaselessly aloof and dispassionate behavior, leaves the 'who gives a crap-o-meter' pointing in the low single digits.
Likewise, Senator Obama's past voting record, his flip-flopping on so many important campaign promises, and his sidling up to Bush's policies, leave me feeling like I am watching nothing but a spin-meister, no matter how much the media lauds him or gives him 'style' points. How bizarre that McCain, the maverick Republican, came across as more connected to the American people and more empathetic to their concerns in last night's debate.
According to many news sources I checked, the debate produced no clear winner. The news media's bias notwithstanding, both pundits and bloggers alike kept looking for some sort of "knockout blow" by McCain to change the dynamic of the race. I honestly don't know what they expected. How about if he said this:
Senator Obama , you are an duplicitous, unrepentant liar who has spent the last 20 years associating with criminals, radicals and divisive, dangerous individuals. You don't have an original thought in your head. You don't have the savvy or experience to do this job and you couldn't stick to a policy or find loyalty to an idea or a person to save your soul.
Would that have done the trick? Fortunately, the crafty McCain was smart enough not to fall into this trap in a town hall setting. He would have been termed 'desperate' had he started in on all the Bill Ayers stuff – leave that to the campaign trail, and Gov. Sarah-'cuda' Palin to point out. I'm sure they'll be hammering Senator Obama on his associations for the next 27 days non-stop and keep him just off balance enough.
Last night, McCain needed to accomplish several goals
• Tie Senator Obama to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
• Point out the sharp difference between rhetoric vs. record.
• Show he's got a grip on how to help our faltering economy.
• Remind voters he's the guy with the foreign policy bona-fides who will not make naïve mistakes.
• Be calm, cool and collected in the midst of a very difficult time for Americans both at home and abroad;
oh yeah, and…
• Show he actually gives a crap about the American people – not just about winning.
From various pundits' statements I read – he damned well did the job.
Commentary Magazine's Daniel Casse:
"McCain is delivering tight, crisp, and extremely effective answers. Every answer has a similar structure: (a) I care about this issue (b) I've stood up against Bush/special interests on this issue (c) Obama has never taken a stand, never acted on this (d) so let's compare records."
He scored points right away letting voters know that Obama was tied to the Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae debacle, whereas McCain co-sponsored a bill to provide stricter oversight. McCain warned of this crisis in 2005. Very interesting that Obama's opening remarks on the financial crisis brazenly placed blamed on John McCain while ignoring the fact that Obama and other Dems did not want regulations of Fannie and Freddie.
Balz, Kornblut, Abromowitz of the Washington Post weighed in:
McCain played the role of the aggressor throughout the 90-minute debate…"I have a clear record of bipartisanship," he said. "The situation today cries out for bipartisanship. Senator Obama has never taken on his leaders of his party on a single issue."
McCain statement was a good reminder to voters that he was willing to put country first by suspending his campaign in an effort to get the rescue bill passed, while Obama was content to declare "Congress will call me if they need me" and all of America got to watch one of Obama's biggest champions, the unpopular Nancy Pelosi, insult Republicans in order to sabotage the bill's passage – playing politics with people's livelihoods. Nice, Nancy — you get a ZERO on the 'who gives a crap-o-meter.' Obviously Nancy and Barack don't give a crap about you or me if they were playing shenanigans like this.
Most important, ABC's Charlie Gibson pointed out McCain made the one new proposal of the night:
McCain used the debate to promote another approach to solving the economic crisis, saying he would have the government buy up bad mortgages and renegotiate them at the current lower housing values, thereby allowing struggling homeowners to remain in their homes. He argued that until the housing markets stabilize, the economy will continue to falter, and he sought to use the idea to demonstrate his independence from the Bush administration.
"It's my proposal, it's not Senator Obama's proposal, it's not President Bush's proposal," he said. "But I know how to get America working again, restore our economy and take care of working Americans."
The plan, he said, would turn such mortgages over to the government, replacing them with "manageable, fixed-rate mortgages" for homeowners to reduce the chances of default. His advisers circulated talking points to Republican surrogates telling them to describe it as a "bold initiative" and to call it the "McCain Resurgence Plan."
ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "I thought Senator McCain started out very strong when he said we have to address this financial crisis by having a plan to buy up all of the bad mortgages in the country showed real compassion and empathy there..."
NBC's Andrea Mitchell: "[W]ith the economy in such a tail spin, [McCain] came armed with a new proposal to have the government buy up failing mortgages … That was a gutsy move."
Well, actually, I believe this was Hillary's plan – good move, John! And today, in the NY Times, the McCain campaign gives her credit for the same - better move, John!
Even Charles Krauthammer, no fan of Johnny Mac, thought "McCain won the first hour on domestic (issues)." Strange since Obama's ace in the hole is supposed to be the economic situation. McCain really hit Obama over the head about his tax proposals, so it could have been comments like this that did the trick:
"Nailing down senator obama's tax proposal is like trying to nail
jell-o to the wall" and "the last time a president raised taxes in an economic crisis like this was Herbert Hoover."
Ouch. McCain nailed Obama on the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. But this was the comment that had all the pundits' tongues wagging:
"There was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies. And it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one," McCain said, gesturing toward his rival. "You know who voted against it? Me."
They may be trying to make hay out of "that one" not sounding warm and fuzzy – but he got his point across. He also said it with a smile. If it sounds like McCain doesn't have a lot of respect for Senator Obama, well when a neophyte Senator keeps trying to outshine his opponent with pretty promises not matched by his actions, what do you expect?
According to WaPo:
Foreign policy occupied the last third of the debate, with the candidates clashing repeatedly on Pakistan and on their overall approaches to the use of U.S. military forces. McCain sharply criticized Obama's opposition to the troop surge in Iraq and his response to Russian aggression in Georgia, as he sought to sow doubts about his challenger's capacity to handle the commander-in-chief functions.
"In his short career, he does not understand our national security challenges," McCain said. "We don't have time for on-the-job training."
MSNBC's Pat Buchanan:
"I think McCain did come in with more heart and more fight. And I agree with you, he was the aggressor. He was throwing the punches. He did it in a better way than he did it last week when I thought he had won on points. Here he smiled. He looked at his opponent. He looked at Tom Brokaw. He talked to the audience, and he did it in a more calm fashion. And I think he clearly scored more points than Barack Obama did."
Another telling moment was described by The Politico's Jonathan Martin:
"McCain, taking a question from a naval retiree, gives him a pat on the shoulder and a firm handshake. 'Everything I ever learned about leadership, I learned from a chief petty officer,' says one old sailor to another. It was surely a moment that won a lot of nodding heads from vets all over the country."
When McCain shook the man's hand and said he appreciated his service, it came from his heart. Senator Obama walked over to the man, similarly thanking him for his service – another moment that had no resonance whatsoever. After the bracelet nonsense of the last debate, I would have thought Obama would find a way to be a little more genuine about addressing someone in our military. But there is still a fundamental disconnect between Obama's statements and any heartfelt conviction behind them. And that is always where he loses me. The trust issue. The 'does he really give a crap' issue. The 'what will he give away when I'm not looking cause it really doesn't matter to him' issue.
CNN's Bill Bennett said "The last comments [John McCain] made, I thought, were quite impressive and quite moving." Mr. Bennett is right. Senator McCain closing remarks were extremely moving.
Was the debate sort of boring otherwise, yeah. Is Obama a smoother speaker than McCain, sure. But what Senator Obama staccato style never ever communicates to me is the one thing we need in a President at this time more than ever: heart. Senator McCain's closing remarks about spending a lifetime serving his country and being lifted up by his comrades bespeak a gratitude and an allegiance and dedication to our country's principles that is undeniable and comes from a place of deep conviction. Likewise, every policy proposal, every idea that came out of his mouth last night may not have sounded like Shakespeare, but each one was concise, and spoken from a place of knowledge, caring and a record he could stand on. I never worry that McCain will flip flop at a crucial moment.
At the end of the day, whether or not we agree on all the issues, I trust McCain's experience and character to win the day more than I trust Obama's rhetoric.
Perhaps there was a winner after all.