Last night, both the Democrat and Republican nominees for President of the United States, Barack Obama and John McCain, met face-to-face in a debate forum for the very first time. Both appeared energetic and prepared to engage in this rhetorical battle in front of thousands who were there and millions watching at home.
Both of these two met and exceeded expectations set forth by their respective campaigns. For Barack Obama, long term, this might be where the good news for him ends.
I say “long term” because of the raw transcript of the debate. There were a number of instances where Obama looked as if he was trying to be all things to all people. There were also moments where he showed his youth and inexperience in other areas.
First, when the moderator Jim Lehrer asked the candidates about scaling back the federal budget as to what each of the candidates would do as president, Obama never mentioned one area where he would freeze or reduce spending. Instead, he mentioned his support for increased funding for early childhood education. All told, the combination of the Paulson bailout plan combined with Obama’s four-year spending proposals would add an additional $1.5 trillion to the federal budget alone. He needed to show where his cuts were going to be, but he showed an instance where he was going to increase spending.
Meanwhile, McCain gave areas where he would reduce spending starting with his least favorite items on the budget, earmarks. Next, McCain went to eliminating the ethanol subsidies and by tighting the screws on defense contracts so that defense spending is more efficient.
Obama supporters might be fast to point out that he will eliminate $10 billion a month ($480 billion over four years) by ending the war in Iraq and eliminating the Bush tax cuts for those making $250,000 or more a year. For the 48 months that he would be president which would not even come close to covering the costs for his spending proposals, tax cut for the bottom 95% of wage earners, covering a projected $600 billion deficit in his first budget, and the Paulson bailout plan. Sacrifices will have to be made and they might most likely start with the proposed tax cut (a la Bill Clinton).
The second mistake by Obama was a reversal of his position on so-called dirty energy. John McCain has made the construction of 45 new nuclear power plants to provide energy and combat climate change along with support for clean coal and offshore drilling parts of his energy plan along with renewable energy, flex-fuel vehicles, and better fuel economy.
Prior to last night, Obama had previously expressed his desire to tax coal, natural gas, and place a windfall profits tax on the oil companies which even he admits would not produce another drop of oil. However, last night Obama got in to the mode of being all things to all people by advocating his support for drilling, clean coal technology, and nuclear energy. The Sierra Club cannot be happy about this.
Third, Obama was clearly on the defensive about unconditional negotiations with Iranian President Mahmoud “Adolph, Jr.” Ahmadinejad. A major mistake made here was the citation of former Secretary of State and McCain’s friend and advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger. Obama cited Kissinger as one of five former Secretaries of State who had advocated Presidential-level talks with Iran. The five include both of Bill Clinton’s (Warren Christopher and Madeline Albright) and James Baker, who served under Bush-41. McCain had said that Kissinger was not one of the five though Obama insisted he was.
After the debate last night, Kissinger said the following: “Senator McCain is right. I would not recommend the next President of the United States engage in talks with Iran at the Presidential level. My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Senator John McCain. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that any negotiations with Iran must be geared to reality.” Oops!
Fourth, there was a moment in the debate where John McCain and Barack Obama were comparing the bracelets they received from mothers who had lost their sons in Operation Iraqi Freedom. McCain gave the name of the soldier who was on his bracelet instantly without having to look. The same cannot be said of Obama who had to look at his to get the name. It might have been better for Obama to have not mentioned the name if it required him to take a look.
However, the biggest missteps by Senator Obama went under the radar because they were sprinkled throughout the debate. In all, there were eight instances where Obama expressed his agreement with Senator McCain. Within minutes, McCain’s campaign released a web ad (potentially a television ad in the future) showing where Obama agreed with McCain on responsibility and accountability, the earmarks process, and that business taxes are high. More could be made against Obama on the issues of spending cuts, the success of the troop surge strategy in Iraq, and that the world cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran.
Writing in the National Review, Byron York stated a prediction: “The next time McCain and Obama meet in debate, on October 7 in Nashville, start a drinking game in which you take a big swig every time Obama says, ‘John is absolutely right.’ I’ll bet you get to the end of the debate without ever lifting a glass.”
In all, Senator McCain won this round despite the curtailing of national security issues (the original topic of the debate) for three questions on economic issues. The night was largely on McCain’s turf thanks to national security, talks about government spending more than anything else, and the aforementioned missteps of Senator Obama. However, for McCain, thanks to Obama’s energy and exceeding expectations, the win was not by as wide a margin as some anticipated.