Saturday, September 27, 2008

Live Blogging The First Obama-McCain Debate

Fuck, I’m late. Goddamn DHL. Long story. Alright let’s get started.

8:09 p.m. Obama looks quite stern and solemn talking about this economic crisis.

8:10 p.m. McCain tells us that he “hopes” that he’ll vote for this rescue plan. Way to commit yourself, bro.

8:11 p.m. I’m sorry, I know I’m biased and all, but only one of these guys looks presidential. The other one looks like a giant teddy bear you’d buy at a gift shop.

8:13 p.m. Lehrer is really trying to get the two to talk to each other in this classical debate format, and they’re struggling to break out of the mold of talking to the moderator rather than each other.

8:14 p.m. McCain tries to draw a connection between this financial crisis and government spending. A bit of a reach there; good to see he’s living up to his promise of not knowing anything about the economy.

8:16 p.m. Obama is coming out really conciliatory here. He’s beginning each answer with where he agrees with what McCain said, and then tries to highlight differences. Ah, nuance.

8:18 p.m. McCain tells us he doesn’t “want to go back and forth” with Obama on this spending issue. Of course not, it’s only a debate after all. He also informs us that he was called “the Sheriff” by someone on the appropriations committee. Ok, Sheriff.

8:19 p.m. Obama, after McCain rattles off some numbers: “I don’t know where John is getting his figures from.” Good times.

8:21 p.m. McCain brings out the first “my friends” of the night. About 17 minutes after I would have expected it.

8:22 p.m. I’m glad Obama directly responds to this nonsensical Republican claim that he will raise taxes. He clarifies that he will lower taxes for anyone making less than $250,000. Nice forceful point. He also brings up a little known point (well, little known outside the lefty blogosphere) that McCain is going to tax health benefits too. Read Bob Herbert’s column from a couple of weeks ago on this issue.

8:25 p.m. I love Obama’s little contemptuous smirk when McCain starts talking crap. I also love that he responds “That’s just not true.”

8:26 p.m. Lehrer actually uses the phrase “financial rescue thing.” And this is the moderator.

8:27 p.m. Obama is very impressive when he talks about the economy generally and the energy industry in particular.

8:29 p.m. This may sound a little mean, but do you think a guy McCain’s age can remain standing for an hour and a half?

8:31 p.m. Oops. Obama just called McCain “Tom” instead of “John”.

8:34 p.m. I have to say, this is a pretty even contest so far, in that neither candidate would have convinced supporters of the other to even think about voting for the other guy.

8:36 p.m. I love that in this country, McCain’s allegation of the federal government taking over healthcare under a President Obama is a bad thing. Obama responds with another one of those contemptuous smirks.

8:39 p.m. Moving on to Iraq. McCain claims “We are winning in Iraq.” Can someone please explain to me what “winning in Iraq” means? I don’t mean to ask this snarkily; I genuinely want to know the contours of “victory”.

8:42 p.m. Obama’s best little sequence of the night. He connects McCain to Bush on Iraq, brings up the fact that he opposed it from the start, and basically that he’s been right about everything regarding the unknown cost, the unknown fallout, and the unknown exit strategy. Can’t argue with that.

8:45 p.m. Obama is firing right now. He brings up the fact that McCain thought Iraq would be “quick and easy” and says “you were wrong”. He brings up the fact that McCain said the Americans would be “greeted as liberators” and says “you were wrong”. Really good one-two punch right there. He also takes away McCain’s “surge” talking point by saying that he’s confused about when the war began; he reminds him it started in 2003, not 2007.

8:51 p.m. Uh oh. Obama’s talking about a surge in Afghanistan and more troops in Afghanistan, and talking about cross-border attacks. I think I know where this is going.

8:54 p.m. I’m suffering from serious cognitive dissonance right now. McCain is my candidate? He’s certainly the one who sounds more reasonable on Pakistan and FATA. He talks about the importance of having the Pakistani population and leadership on America’s side. Of course, I don’t believe a word he says, but if I did, he’d be my guy, on this issue at least.

8:56 p.m. Wow. What a put-down. Obama tells McCain that he agrees with McCain on being prudent, but that coming from a guy who “called for the extinction of North Korea” and “sung songs about bombing Iran”, the claim isn’t so “credible”. Oh, snap!

8:58 p.m. McCain’s first Ronald Reagan reference. Almost an hour in; seriously destroying the over-under on that one.

9:00 p.m. A bracelet-off! Both candidates bring up bracelets they were given by mothers, one mother (to McCain) saying that her son’s death shouldn’t be in vain, and one mother (to Obama) saying that no other mother should have to go through what she’s going through. Both mothers presented a bracelet to their candidate to bring home the point.

9:03 p.m. Again, so far, this is a pretty even contest. On to Iran. McCain, for some reason proudly, claims that he’s proposed a “league of democracies”. Who exactly thinks that any meaningful action can be taken on any global issue without Russia and China?

9:06 p.m. Obama connects Iran’s rising influence to Iraq, and importantly brings up my Russia and China point: you can’t do fuck-all about Iran’s nukes without those two. (He didn’t say “fuck-all”).

9:08 p.m. McCain can’t pronounce “Ahmadinejad”. Well, it’s better than not being able to pronounce “nuclear” isn’t it?

9:11 p.m. Oh, man. Obama brings up the fact that McCain’s adviser Henry Kissinger, among four other recent secretaries of state, have endorsed his strategy of meeting with leaders of Cuba, Syria and Iran without preconditions. Made him look pretty stupid there.

9:16 p.m. Excuse me, but since when did Henry Kissinger become some sort of foreign policy guru? Why does his agreement or disagreement with one candidate’s ideas matter? Has he ever been right about anything?

9:18 p.m. McCain’s strategy seems to be simple: keep insisting that Obama “doesn’t understand” important issues, or in other words, paint him as naïve, and too young. He’s doing his best, but I don’t know how much those charges will stick given that Obama’s been right about most every foreign policy issue in the last 6 years.

9:20 p.m. Will someone please explain to John McCain that it was Georgia – not Russia – that was the aggressor state last month? Please? Oh, well. We are all Georgians today.

9:23 p.m. Obama’s excellent in connecting neutral issues where both candidates largely agree, and connecting it to an issue where he’s clearly dominant. In this instance, he connects Russia’s rise to a lack of energy independent in America. Very sound debating strategy.

9:25 p.m. Talking over each other and bickering now. Last five minutes.

9:28 p.m. Blah blah blah. I feel like I’ve heard all this stuff before.

9:29 p.m. I exhale very deeply every time Obama mentions “Pakistan”. Why am I getting increasingly concerned about this?

9:32 p.m. These last few minutes have highlighted the two candidates’ strategies. Obama wants to continually associate McCain with George Bush, and McCain wants to continually paint Obama as naïve and someone who doesn’t “get it” (and talk about earmarks and pork-barrel spending). On the whole, I think Obama has been more successful than McCain, but I also think that greater success is because Obama’s general campaign has been about that one single issue, whereas McCain is yet to decide on a single narrative against Obama and seems to be more ad-hoc in his criticisms.

9:36 p.m. You want to hear a roomful of groans? Just have McCain bring up his POW-ness.

9:38 p.m. And that’s that. As I said, pretty even contest. Two more debates, but what I’m REALLY looking forward to is the vice-presidential debate.


Rabia said...

a few things:
1. It was a really good debate
2. What you say about Georgia being the aggressor: it shows a real problem that Obama has that he couldn't even HINT at this without sounding Jimmy Carterish, or whatever. The consequence is that he sounded like he agreed with McCain far too much regarding Russia. Same goes for his categorical refusal to accept the possibility of Iran having nukes. That just ended up reducing their whole disagreement on Iran to that nonsensical debate about talking without preconditions to Ahmedenijad because the dems are basically too chickenshit to stray too far from the republican line.
3. Did you hear the part about Pakistan where McCain basically said you can do shit in FATA but you can't do it out in the open?

asfand said...

Not to mention when he talked about 'opposing torture'. Is that sort of an implicit acceptance that the US does torture? :o

Anonymous said...

Obama's hawkish attitude towards pakistan is very disturbing. I can't understand somebody whose been here, whose mother lived here for a few years and has friends here would have such a viewpoint. I just keep hoping he's being extra hawkish, because ppl constantly throw at him that he's Al-qaeda and pro-islam and all that, but in reality he's not like that.

goc said...

My take on the Obama appearing Hawkish thing:

1) Its a US presidential election. This is McCain's "weakness" in his policy on the war on terror and Obama is hammering it home and using it to appear presidential which in the US equals hawkish.If it means making us Pakistani's feel queasy ... so be it. We don't vote.

2) I think Obama tried to clarify his stance a little bit. He was specific about certain scenarios where he supports strikes into Pakistan. Not perfect, but not much different from what is going on.

On the OTHER hand, what did you make of McCain's "points" on the Pakistan issue?

First, Rabia I definitely caught that moment. He said it twice in fact, a president does not come out and SAY that he's gonna violate an allies border. The emphasis was on the say. So basically under McCain they will keep on attacking across the border then denying they ever did then say it wont happen again 5 hours before they do it again. Under Obama, it appears (if he truly does intend to be this hawkish which the optimist in me doubts) it will be an official policy position. I mean, if I am going to be knifed I would rather be told "hey I am about to knife you" as opposed to being knifed in the back. It also makes it a little bit easier to negotiate over such transgression if the US acknowledges that it actually happened.

Second, what was that little comment about Pakistan being a failed state and Musharraf stepped in and saved us? huh? I mean im no fan of Mian Nawaz but ...

On the downside, I am flipping between US news outlets (MSNBC, CNN and FOX "news") and they have all bought this Pakistan is dangerous memo. I mean yeah shit is going down at home, but I am not looking forward to the "scrutiny" I have experienced in the past whenever mainstream American's start taking an interest in Pakistan. It gives me heartburn.

goc said...

Also, I think the most brilliant line of the night, that has gone completely unnoticed in most media and blogs but I think it captures the essence of the difference between McCain and Obama:

Obama: "A spending freeze is using a hatchet when you need to use a scalpel."

Brilliant! It captures the difference in governance style, the way they decide on and explain positions, and the long-term vs short-term effectiveness of their policies.

Ahsan said...


I think Obama's hawkishness on Iran is a political ploy. I fear his hawkishness on Pakistan is not.


McCain has had a long and complicated history with regard to torture. He was against it before he was (quietly) for it. For someone who himself was tortured, I get the feeling that this too is simply a political position, and that he would do something (shut Guantanamo?) early on in his presidency to show that he doesn't think it's right, or useful.


I don't think having visited a country makes you more dovish toward it. Didn't Rumsfeld go to Iraq in the 80s? I think Obama is very, very serious about continuing this policy of "if they can't, or don't, we will". I have been planning on writing a post on this issue for a while but have kept postponing it, but hopefully I will get my thoughts organized enough in the coming days to get one out.


Yeah, I caught the "well, as long as we don't say we're fucking them, it's cool" line from McCain. As I told the friends I was watching it with, McCain wants to rape Pakistan, and Obama merely fuck it. (This was my equivalent of your being-stabbed-in-the-front vs. stabbed-in-the-back analogy. I like yours better).

And yeah, the scalpel line was brilliant. I've often thought that Obama is too intelligent and erudite to be a politician, much less an American one.

bubs said...

I don't think I've ever laughed as hard as when McCain said "The average South Korean is three inches taller than the average North Korean."

goc said...


I was too confused to laugh. I am saving my laughs for the VP debate, feel like I will need them.

Ahsan said...

One thing that I noticed but forgot to include in the post was this: did you guys notice that Obama kept calling McCain "John" but McCain kept calling Obama "Senator Obama"? I feel like Obama was trying to show he wasn't as junior (i.e. inexperienced) as he's been portrayed; calling McCain by his first name was, I think, an attempt to make it seem like he could talk to McCain on very equitable terms. McCain calling Obama "Senator Obama" needs less of an explanation, because in debates, people usually use the person's title and last name so it wasn't anything out of the ordinary.

goc said...


My theory is he can't pronounce Barack repeatedly without stumbling.

Ahsan said...

I think this is an excellent point from Andrew Sullivan:

The one aspect of these events that many seem to ignore is the racial and gender dynamics. Obama's style against McCain was much tougher and crisper and more forceful than with Clinton. The reason, I think, is that Obama was canny enough not to fall into the Lazio trap with Clinton - with his only slip-up being the "you're likable enough" quip. With McCain, he could be more alpha male, as he was. But Obama is also a black man against a white man. So he must also be very careful not to get angry and to stay cool and calm. He has to do that to avoid the "angry black man" trap. But then he cannot afford to seem weak either. You realize how hard a balance that is for ninety minutes?

Obama has to walk through a racial minefield all the time.

No one in American political history has ever managed to pull it off as smoothly as he has so far. I know what it's like in a tiny way having a stereotype hang over you - hence my acceptance that the word "hysterical", for example, will always be more consistently deployed against a gay man than a straight man. But I'm not a pol and don't mind being defined that way by those more interested in identity than argument. Obama has no such luxury. He needs the votes.

He was respectful to McCain but also more confident looking him in the eye. He was forceful without appearing angry. He was calm without seeming professorial. Because he makes it look relatively easy doesn't mean it isn't actually extremely hard.

Lindsey said...

While I watched the debate with you and we all seemed to agree that it was a relatively even match, on second thought, I've decided that Obama won. Both candidates frequently went off issue, cited unpersuasive statistics (without providing enough context), and failed to answer the questions. But at the end of the day, all Obama had to do was prove that he was equally capable of addressing difficult foreign policy problems as McCain (given his lack of experience). Combining this with the fact that he was able to clearly articulate his tax policy and bring up McCain's voting record on Iraq, I think I'd call him the winner. Even so, I doubt his 'victory' was decisive enough to change the polls in any meaningful way.