Debate: Liveblogging

I will try to liveblog this, even though I have no idea whether I’ll be any good at it.

9:03: Where do they stand on recovery plans?

9:06: Obama: I think he looks good: collected, forceful. States principles; ties current problems to Republican philosophy.

9:07: Though on reflection, he didn’t say where he stands on the specific packages; just principles.

9:08: McCain seems to me more rambling, but folksy. I don’t like this, but some people seem to. And why was it McCain who mentioned Kennedy first?

9:10: McCain apparently commits to voting for the plan.

9:12: McCain talks about Eisenhower, and the need to hold people accountable. Obama agrees. But says: not just when there’s a crisis.

9:14: Lehrer: are there fundamental differences about what McCain would do vs. what Obama would do to get us out of this crisis?

9:15: McCain: his answer goes on about earmarks and pork-barrel spending. I have no idea what this has to do with the present crisis.

9:17: Obama: earmarks are a pretty small part of domestic spending. McCain’s tax cuts for the rich are much, much bigger. His own tax cuts, for the middle class, would do more for economic growth.

9:20: McCain goes on and on about Obama’s earmarks, and the corruption of the system. Obama: eliminating earmarks alone will not get the economy back on track. It’s a continuation of the past eight years.

9:21: McCain: Business taxes: too high. Now he’s back on earmarks. Again.

9:22: Obama: I will cut taxes on everyone making $250,000. Business taxes: low on paper, but there are so many loopholes that it’s actually lower. McCain doesn’t want to eliminate these loopholes; just shovel more tax cuts to people.

9:24: McCain: Obama has voted for bills that have earmarks. Plus, he has voted to raise taxes on people making $42,000/year. Sigh.

9:26: New question: what will you have to give up because of financial rescue plan?

9:28: I’m going to stop summarizing for a moment. I think Obama is being basically clear; if he has a weakness, it’s moving through too many points. It’s as though he’s reading a very crisp outline, very quickly.

McCain, by contrast, is rambling, but in an aggrieved sort of way.

9:30: McCain, unlike Obama, promises an actual cut: ethanol subsidies. Also, reforming defense spending. He’s in his element there, although I have no idea how his use of defense spending jargon will go over with people.

9:34: McCain: a spending freeze on everything but veterans, defense, and — darn, I missed it. Obama: no, some programs are underfunded. Somehow or other, McCain has gotten onto nuclear power. How is a mystery.

9:36: Out of nowhere, McCain says that Obama’s plans will hand control of health care over to the federal government. (Huh?) Talks about cutting spending.

9:38: McCain has been consistently saying: look at our records. Obama: look, all this spending has occurred under a President you agreed with 90% of the time. You have voted for his budgets. McCain: people know me.

9:39: Question: what are the lessons of Iraq? McCain: the war was mishandled; now we are succeeding. Had we lost, the consequences would have been dire.

9:42: Obama: the question is whether we should have gone in there at all. I said no, for various reasons, including the fact that we had not finished the job in Afghanistan. Now, things are bad. We took our eye off the ball. Lesson: we should not hesitate to use military force to keep us safe, but we should use it wisely.

9:44: McCain: The surge has worked. And “incredibly — incredibly — “, Obama did not go to Iraq.

9:44: Obama: “John likes to pretend the war started in 2007.” Cites McCain’s mistakes. I think this was quite effective.

9:46: McCain: Obama doesn’t know the difference between strategy and tactics. Also: he will not acknowledge the success of the surge.

9:47: McCain says Obama voted to cut funding for troops. Obama says: we both voted against funding bills that had things we disagreed with.

9:48: I think McCain came close to losing his temper.

9:50: New question: more troops to Afghanistan? Obama: yes.

9:51: Obama brings up Pakistan.

9:53: McCain says he will not repeat mistake of abandoning Afghanistan. (Me: I thought he did that. In 2003.)

9:56: Back and forth about what Obama said about Pakistan. Obama brings up various threats McCain has made.

9:57: Obama talks Pakistan. In my judgment, he’s quite astute.

9:59: McCain says Obama doesn’t understand Pakistan. Them for some reason, he goes over his entire history of war votes. He sounds earnest and sober. I have no idea what the point is.

Telling story of bracelet of dead soldier. She promised his mother her son’s death would not be in vain.

10:01: Obama: President must make strategic judgments, and make them wisely. We took our eyes off the ball in Afghanistan. You have not consistently been concerned with Afghanistan.

10:02: I think Obama has gotten under McCain’s skin.

10:04: Question: Iran?

McCain: Threat to Israel, to the region. “League of Democracies”. It would help us to impose new sanctions. (How?)

10:06: Obama: The single thing that has strengthened Iran most recently is the war in Iraq. (Good.)

10:08: Obama says he doesn’t think we can do sanctions without engaging countries who are not democracies. Also, we need negotiations.

10:09: McCain: Obama wants to negotiate with Ahmedinejad, whose name he has trouble with. This somehow legitimizes them, and even implies that they’re doing the right thing.

10:10: Obama has a nice, sharp response. Brings up Kissinger’s call for negotiations without preconditions. Explains what preconditions are. Pointed.

10:12: Obama brings up Spain. (*giggles*)

10:13: I am clearly, undeniably biassed. So I cannot assess how McCain’s repeated “what Senator Obama doesn’t understand” stuff would go over with an undecided voter.

10:15: Testy, testy…

10:17: New question: Russia. Obama: Russia’s actions in Georgia are unacceptable. We should make that clear. But no return to the Cold War. We need to cooperate on e.g. loose nukes.

10:19: McCain harps on Obama’s naivete again. Energy. Pipelines. Places “where I have spent significant amounts of time.”

10:20: McCain really is a lot more coherent on foreign policy than on other topics. I really disagree with him, but he’s pretty clear.

10:24: Obama brings it round to energy, and says that you have to “walk the walk, not just talk the talk” on alternative energy.

10:26: Question: what are the odds of another 9/11?

McCain: much less. 9/11 commission, and his role in creating it. (Bipartisan, reaching across the aisle…)

We have to have trained interrogators, so that we never torture a prisoner ever again.

Good for McCain.

10:28: Obama: we have done some things, but not enough on hardening chemical plants, on ports, etc.

Obama said we need missile defense. Ugh.

We need to focus on al Qaeda, not Iraq.

Also: how we are perceived matters for fight against terrorism. He wants to restore our image abroad. Gives McCain credit on torture.

10:31: Obama, who has (I think) been needling McCain, was just quite gracious. McCain responded with another ‘Senator Obama doesn’t get it.’

10:33: Obama: we are still too focussed on Iraq, and it was weakened us. Plus, it costs money we need elsewhere.

10:34: McCain, somewhat out of the blue, says that Obama lacks the experience and judgment he needs. “We have seen this stubbornness before, in this administration.”

10:35: Obama: his father, who thought of America as a beacon when he was in Kenya. He wants to restore that.

10:37: McCain: when he came back from Vietnam, he worked to get POWs back. He knows how to heal the wounds of war.

McCain had a stronger close, I think.


I thought it was close. A lot, I think, will depend on how McCain struck people: to me, he was annoying and dismissive. Will it work? It didn’t on me, but I’m not, um, normal.

Chris Matthews just made the same point, which makes me want to rethink it: “will his obvious contempt” turn voters off?

Signing off…


Actually, not quite signing off: on reflection, I think that the “story” out of this (and I haven’t read around yet) is likely to be McCain’s saying that Obama doesn’t have the experience or the judgment to be President. I suspect that was a mistake, not just because it was (imho) over the line into incivility, but also because it just begs for commentary about McCain’s having voted for the war in Iraq in the first place.

I also think that McCain’s calling Obama inflexible was a mistake: I don’t think Obama comes off that way, and it seemed like enough of a stretch that it might have undermined McCain’s credibility more generally.

Obama, I thought, missed a few opportunities. The most important, I thought, was when McCain said he would never repeat the mistake of abandoning Afghanistan. The response “But John, you did: back in 2003, when you voted to take our focus away from Afghanistan in order to wage a war of choice against a country that had not attacked us” was just begging and pleading to be made. He was also, I thought, a bit tense.

As I said, close. But this was supposed to be McCain’s strong debate, remember.

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