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Posted by on Sep 27, 2008 in Economy, Politics | 17 comments

McCain v Obama: A View From the Fence

From my position on the fence, I’ve really been looking forward to tonight’s debate. In spite of having followed both Obama and McCain for months, there’s something clarifying about hearing their visions in a direct (and mostly polite) format, and there’s really no replacement for observing them side-by-side.

So let me start by saying that while there were some odd moments, there were no major deal-breakers for me. There were a couple of things, though, that struck me about John McCain’s performance tonight.

That “what Senator Obama doesn’t understand” line, for instance, was obviously the theme McCain was going for. But he used it almost by rote, and it surfaced so often that it became transparent… and thus self-negating. Ham-handedness doesn’t play well at this level.

Also — did anybody else feel as if they were listening to a job applicant a few times when McCain was talking? Particularly toward the latter stages, he seemed to take an odd tone — an overt “selling himself” note — and it was jarring.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, came across with more consistence. If his goal tonight was to present himself as someone with the gravitas, depth, and focus to stand as a credible presidential candidate, then he was extremely successful. No, he doesn’t drop names with the same facility as McCain does, and he can’t claim decades of direct involvement with these countries. But he displayed a firm grasp of the issues, and I thought the vision of his foreign policy came through clearly.

Considering this topic is considered to be McCain’s forte, one might have expected a clear mastery over Obama, but that wasn’t the end result at all, and I suspect Obama’s performance tonight will go over very well with the independents and undecideds.

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  • elrod

    You’re still on the fence after all you’ve said the last few days 🙂

    I think Independents have responded in polls the way you lay out. McCain’s tone was condescending. It was a lot like Gore in 2000.

  • LOL!! Yes, I’ve come down pretty hard on McCain the last few days. I’m too tired, to talk policy tonight, but at least one of the issues that has me on the fence came up tonight. I have a few bones to pick, yet, w/ Obama…


  • Zyg

    I am visually impaired and since we were at a friends house for the debate, I listened to the debate instead of watching the debate. On the way home I told my wife that it sounded like McCain did not want to be there. All his answers sounded wooden and contrived. Even his personal stories came across as sound props, with little feeling or sincerity.

    P.S. Listening to this debate, I would say that in stare down with Putin, McCain would blink and Obama would not.

  • StockBoySF

    I liked Obama’s t towards McCain. Obama looked at McCain much of the time and more importantly Obama said quite a few times, “McCain is right….”.

    I do not think McCain looked at Obama once while they were on the stage and when the shook hands at the end McCain didn’t look at Obama and appeared to want to throttle Obama.

    McCain talks about being able to reach across the aisle and making deals, but McCain could not look at Obama (much less look him in the eye) nor McCain did not once admit Obama was right on something (or even suggest that they agreed on something). One of the basic tenets of negotiating with others is looking them in the eye. Another tenet is to try to find common ground in negotiations and work from there.

    McCain is proud of the fact that he wasn’t voted Miss Congeniality in the Senate, but that just tells me he doesn’t try to get along with others. When I look at McCain’s performance in tonight’s debate (and there are other examples) then it’s pretty obvious that not only does he not get along with others, but he probably negotiates from the same position as Bush does, “My way or the highway”. I really do not want a president with such an attitude. We’ve seen what happens when a president forces his view on the country and on the world.

    Even though Obama got in some good digs at McCain (and vice versa) Obama was clearly trying to find some common ground whereas McCain would have been happier debating with Fidel Castro.

  • pacatrue

    I did think one of McCain’s strongest moments in the debate was when he listed all of the decisions he’s been involved with over the years. It’s critical because McCain’s weakness has been the judgement to go to war with Iraq. By listing the broader context of things he’s gotten right over the many years, it goes right at that critique of his judgement.

    Another thought. Several have mentioned the transparent “Obama doesn’t understand” bit and I agree. Obama’s repeated work to attach McCain to Bush was also a transparent political talking point as well and it frequently fell hollow to me.

    Is McCain suffering from Hillary disease in which he just doesn’t think he should have to debate this upstart junior senator after all his years? It could be a killer if he doesn’t get over that.

  • greenschemes

    As a socially but even more fiscally conservative I would like to say that I do not think the Republicans deserve to be in office. I think every Republican in the house and the senate should be voted out.

    That this should be A bloodbath to equal all bloodbaths. I will not vote for Obama. His campaign is running lie after lie as reported by the NY Times who we all know is in bed with Barak Obama and the Democrats. The Good senator who promises to be above the fray only means that he will be above the fray while he sends forth his minions to do his dirty work while performing Howard Hughes type tin foil experiments where he lives.

    He is a mirror Image of George W. Bush. Mr. Bush sends forth his minions to pound the opposition unmercifully with whatever will stick while he himself remains quiet and aloof.

    But all that Aside. It is time to expunge the country of Republicans who have gotten lost on their path to glory.

    No one in their right mind can possibly believe that our country does not require regulation and guidance. No one. Other then those who wanted to rape the American Public for their own personal gain.

    No one in their right mind can possibly believe that our government should grow exponentially bigger and bigger all the while borrowing and borrowing to pay their bills.

    No one can possibly believe that the price of oil can some down 1/3 from 148 dollars per bbl to under 100 dollars per bbl and yet gasoline only drops 40 cents or 1/10th. The oil companies are gouging us because they have an administration and a GOP backing that will allow them to do so.

    Not even Obama believes he can spend 250 billion dollars in new social programs.

    Look the bottom line is this. I am a fiscally conservative Republican. Yes I am still a Republican. But the bottom line is simply this. The GOP has allowed the markets to be deregulated and in 80’s and the Savings and loans went bust.

    Now in the 00’s we have deregulated the housing and wall street and they are going bust. The GREED that abounds overrules good sense. We need fiscal integrity. Fiscal responsiblity and the GOP has failed this test twice.

    Fool us once. Shame on Us. Fool Us twice Shame on Them. Fool us three times. No. Its not going to happen. The GOP needs to go back to the drawing board and refigure out what it is they stand for and get their sheet together.

    Thank you for your time.

    • greenschemes,

      I can’t count how many people I know who align with you ideologically, who feel the very same way. I live in a very “red” area within an even “redder” state, and although I hear a great deal of negative reaction to Obama, it is nearly always tempered by even stronger negativity toward the Republicans.

      There were many things I could have said in this post last night but didn’t. pacatrue articulated one of them, and you’ve alluded to another: During the economic portion of the debate, I heard enormous complexity and multi-level proposals from Obama. As I’ve written before, I think he would gain greatly by an honest, and direct, acknowledgment that he’s not going to be able to do many things. Last night, he came very close to hitting that mark (though he fudged far more than I like).

      On the economy, McCain sounded very one-dimensional in comparison. Since I believe, fundamentally, that “less is more” when it comes to government, I’m inclined toward the Republicans on the economy. But McCain’s solutions sounded very much like more of the same last night, with the added earmarks fillip. It may be that the GOP economic model is simply not up to modern complexity, and needs a complete overhaul to incorporate some reality.

  • pacatrue said: “Obama’s repeated work to attach McCain to Bush was also a transparent political talking point as well and it frequently fell hollow to me.”

    Agree! I meant to say something about that, too, but I was sooooo tired last night that I couldn’t hold my thoughts together. Further — CNN’s audience reaction gauge dipped each and every time either candidate used those types of campaign trail tactics.

  • GeorgeSorwell

    I have to say, I don’t agree that Obama’s effort to tie McCain to Bush was mere politics. Bush is the current Republican President, McCain is the current Republican nominee to succeed him.

    They’re both Republicans. The tie between the two is built in.

    Why anyone wants to deny this obvious connection is a mystery to me. Though I see that denial all the time, especially in people who aren’t happy with Bush (to put it mildly) but have all sorts of nits to pick with Obama.

    In fact, I had the opposite reaction. I would have liked to see Obama spend more time emphasizing the connection between McCain and Bush. Maybe Obama feels it’s a waste of time to convince people of the obvious.

    For me, the most telling moment of the debate came when McCain talked about the 35% tax rate on US corporations as if our corporations actually paid high taxes. When Obama made the (once again) obvious point about the complicated loopholes built into the system, McCain had no answer. Of course he had no answer. But that will never stop him. It is–it seems to me–an often-used Republican tactic (or is it a strategy?) to choose some accurate fact and use it as a shield against actual truth.

    I’m sure this characterization will offend some readers. And I’m sorry for that. I recognize that what seems obvious to me is not necessarily obvious to everyone–and that it might not even be actually true. I have my own biases and blind spots. And in saying so I have given everyone who cares to refute me the (obvious) means to do so with addressing anything substantial I have had to say.

    But I would like to add one further impression. When things are going well for Republicans, the triumphalism is out of proportion with the achievement. (Think of these two words: Mission accomplished.) But when things go poorly for Republicans, suddenly both sides are equally bad. And so, Republicans let themselves off the hook. Easy as that.

    Look at where we’ve come as a country since the year 2000.

    Honestly, I could pick plenty of nits with Obama myself. Obama is just another politician. (There you go: see how self-refuting I am.) But I look back over the last eight years and see disaster after disaster. I see a Herculean clean-up necessary. Even if I thought McCain had the skills and temperament necessary for that job–and I don’t think he has either the skills or the temperament–it would be hard for me to vote for him.

    Just how badly do Republicans have to perform before they’re discredited?

  • ringo3khan

    I shouldn’t comment; I didn’t waste my time watching the debate. I watched the Astro’s instead. I’m sort of with green schemes on this. The big loser in this election will be the people. The structural problems with this government and it’s financial system are way too huge for any one person to correct. Continuing on down the Republican path with only deepen and broaden the problems and I don’t seen quality ideas or leadership coming from the Democrats and I’ve been wondering of late if the problem for the Democrats isn’t the “big” tent problem. In trying to appeal to both those on the far left and those in the center, they’ve stretched themselves to the point that their party resembles a food fight in Grand Central Station at a time when we truly need the brainiest to come to the fore to lead with good ideas. Even if I were the brainiest, I’d be put off by that scene and would probably give up and go home.

  • GeorgeSorwell

    And I’d like to add, I totally understand what Greenschemes is saying. I’m kind of there myself.

    I’ve voted for more Democrats than Republicans over the course of my years as a voter, but I always found Republicans to vote for in each election.

    Until 2006.

    In 2004, I voted to re-elect my Republican Congressman. He proceeded to rubber-stamp everything George W Bush put before him. Occasionally, he’d open his mouth and a little rueful rhetoric would come forth. Maybe he thought he was throwing people like me a bone.

    Elections are blunt instruments. But elections are the only accountability moment we have.

    In 2006, I voted a straight party-line ticket.

    In 2008, I’m voting a straight party-line ticket. John McCain is probably the Republican I would have been most likely to consider voting for–under normal conditions.

    Instead, I look back at the Republican leadership we’ve had and I see very little besides disaster. Two expensive, poorly managed wars. Tax-cuts in time of war. The institution of the largest entitlement program since the 1960’s, even though we also had two wars and tax-cuts. Swift-boating politics. Swagger without substance.

    And since 2006, when that utopia of divided government fell into place, we’ve had gridlock. Gridlock. Grid…lock.

    Where’s the accountability?

    So now I’m totally in the tank for Democrats.

    Seriously, I’m as tunnel-visioned as any “gun rights voter”. I’m as easily taken for granted as any so-called “values voter”. You’d think I was one of those people who thinks torture is the answer.

    Oh, yes. I’m in the tank. And I don’t like it there.

    So help me out, Republicans. Apply some accountability.

  • CStanley

    George, by your own admission McCain is among the few in the GOP who does attempt to apply accountability. How are Republicans supposed to apply the accountability when our party has nominated the kind of guy who will do so but you refuse to give him a chance?

    As for me, I’m looking at the flip side of the accountability issue; Pelosi and Reid are not the kind of politicians that ought to be leading Congress with a president from their own party (just as Frist and Hastert needed to be checked as well.) And Obama seems WAY too conciliatory to the left wing of his party.

    • StockBoySF

      CStanley, “And Obama seems WAY too conciliatory to the left wing of his party.”

      I don’t quite agree with that… Obama is more hawkish than many Dems will acknowledge and Obama did shut down the 527s as soon as Hillary suspended her campaign back in June. I think it was the first thing he did. I’m sure would have loved to have kept their 527 open.

      I think Obama as prez. is probably going to be considered more of a moderate than a liberal because Obama will compromise on various issues (which means signing moderate legislation). But I concede that I may very well be mistaken on this. This isn’t something I have a clear feeling on.

  • Interestingly enough, I have the impression that many people are more worried about Congress’ politics (i.e. Pelosi, et al), than they are concerned about Obama’s.

  • CStanley

    That’s pretty much my feeling, Polimom, and it’s why the various past associations of Obama do matter to me. It would be like someone who has serious concerns about the influence of the religious right, and the way such a voter might feel about McCain seemingly becoming closer to the leaders of that movement instead of chastising them like he did in 2000.

    Besides, I’ve pretty much always been one to recognize that Congress really matters a lot more than the presidency in many ways- or at least that each president is a different type of president depending on whether he enjoys support of Congress or if he’s blocked by them. I could much more easily accept an Obama administration with a GOP Congress than with a Dem majority, particularly with the current leadership.

  • Jim_Satterfield

    The past associations of Obama, CS? Which associations are you speaking of? Can you say Keating 5? What about John McCain being against regulation on businesses until just a few weeks ago in spite of the fact that the disaster that deregulation has caused was already quite visible?

    The problem with the claim that it is Congress that is so much more important is that we have in fact seen with the Bush Administration just how much damage can be done to the country solely by the office of the President by appointing political cronies and people who really don’t believe in their job because of their disdain for government. It’s one of the reasons that I don’t think modern Republicans can contribute anything to running the government. They look down on it too much to really be interested in making it work.

  • GeorgeSorwell

    CStanley said:

    George, by your own admission McCain is among the few in the GOP who does attempt to apply accountability.

    I would like you to show me where I said that.

    Because it seems to me that the closest thing to that I said was this:

    John McCain is probably the Republican I would have been most likely to consider voting for–under normal conditions.

    Not very close.

    So I’m probably missing it. Please point it out to me.

    Or, please, stop misquoting me. Stop almost-but-not-quite-quoting me.

    Stop putting your words into my mouth.

    We’ve been around and around many times on your tendency to do this, C Stanley.

    Thank you.

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