April 12, 2024

Presidential Debate Review

Here are my comments about the first McCain/Obama debate:

Obama:  “although we’ve heard a lot about Wall Street, those of you on Main Street I think have been struggling for a while, and you recognize that this could have an impact on all sectors of the economy.

And you’re wondering, how’s it going to affect me? How’s it going to affect my job? How’s it going to affect my house? How’s it going to affect my retirement savings or my ability to send my children to college?”

I’m not sure that Obama has a clue what Main Street is thinking.  Because we know that we’re getting screwed by our so-called leaders, whether we allow the bailout to happen or not.  And we don’t believe in Washington’s ability to solve the problem that we – all of us – created.

Obama:  “we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down.

It hasn’t worked. And I think that the fundamentals of the economy have to be measured by whether or not the middle class is getting a fair shake.”

Fair shake?  What is that, exactly?  And who says we’re not getting it?  Does the middle class have the opportunity to give its children the best education in the world?  Do we have the opportunity to live in homes and shop in supermarkets that are the envy of the world?

Of course we do.  It’s ludicrous to say that the American middle class hasn’t had the most opportunity of any middle class in human history.  But we’ve bungled those opportunities by settling for mediocre government-run school and may have ruined our future by completely mis-managing our finances.

When exactly is someone with the moral authority to be heard – if there is such a person in this country – going to stand up and tell us the hard truths that we know and refuse to acknowledge?

McCain:  “have no doubt about the magnitude of this crisis. And we’re not talking about failure of institutions on Wall Street. We’re talking about failures on Main Street, and people who will lose their jobs, and their credits, and their homes, if we don’t fix the greatest fiscal crisis, probably in — certainly in our time, and I’ve been around a little while.

But the point is — the point is, we have finally seen Republicans and Democrats sitting down and negotiating together and coming up with a package.

This package has transparency in it. It has to have accountability and oversight. It has to have options for loans to failing businesses, rather than the government taking over those loans. We have to — it has to have a package with a number of other essential elements to it.”

Loans to failing financial companies?  No, I don’t think so.  Far better to buy the bad loan portfolios outright and manage them as a investment that happens to be owned by the people.

That may mean making some unpleasant decisions such as evicting some “homeowners” who have little or no ability to repay loans, even on favorable (unprofitable) terms.  Can a government agency find the courage to do that?  I doubt it, myself, but taking ownership of the bad loans allows direct action to be taken.  Giving public money to collapsing banks, on the other hand, is like peeing in the ocean.  Where the money goes, no one will know.

Obama:  “there are folks out there who’ve been struggling before this crisis took place. And that’s why it’s so important, as we solve this short-term problem, that we look at some of the underlying issues that have led to wages and incomes for ordinary Americans to go down”

If we’re going to go there, let’s at least tell the truth.  We spend much more money on our education system than any other comparable nation and are getting poor results.  Young American workers are by-and-large less capable and less motivated than foreign counterparts.  And our businesses are burdened by higher corporate tax rates than in all western nations save one.  The world has become a more competitive place and we’ve failed to keep up.  That’s a fact and it’s directly responsible for our relative decline in wealth.

Obama:  “the nurse, the teacher, the police officer, who, frankly, at the end of each month, they’ve got a little financial crisis going on.

They’re having to take out extra debt just to make their mortgage payments. We haven’t been paying attention to them.”

Better questions would be, “Have they been paying attention to themselves?  Have they invested in their own education?  Have they invested in their own marriages?  Have they made appropriate financial decisions based on their income and future ability to maintain it?”

In many cases the answers are no, no, no, and no.  And that’s the government’s fault?  No.

McCain:  “I have a fundamental belief in the goodness and strength of the American worker. And the American worker is the most productive, the most innovative. America is still the greatest producer, exporter and importer.

But we’ve got to get through these times, but I have a fundamental belief in the United States of America. And I still believe, under the right leadership, our best days are ahead of us.”

Productivity and innovation are subjective terms.  American industry as a whole is very inventive; however, much of this comes from the upper echelons.  Joe Sixpack does not enjoy the competitive advantage that educated workers have over foreign workers.  Spend a day in an American public school and you’ll understand how little the up-and-coming generation understands the notion and importance of raw economic competition.

McCain:  “Senator Obama didn’t mention that, along with his tax cuts, he is also proposing some $800 billion in new spending on new programs.

Now, that’s a fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama. I want to cut spending. I want to keep taxes low. The worst thing we could do in this economic climate is to raise people’s taxes.”

Obama:  “absolutely, we need earmark reform. And when I’m president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely.

But the fact is that eliminating earmarks alone is not a recipe for how we’re going to get the middle class back on track.”

Again in Obama’s mind it’s the middle class that needs to be helped by government.  Why?  We’ve had every opportunity we could reasonably ask for to help ourselves.  If we valued financial stability, we could have lived within our means and not gambled on doomed real estate schemes.  We could have saved more and spent less.  We could have forced real reform onto a broken public education system.  But we didn’t care.

Now Barack Obama thinks that new government programs will revive the middle class?  Not going to happen.  It’s government programs that cut the heart out of American workers in the first place by excising the need to provide value through their work in the marketplace.

Obama:  “Senator McCain talked about providing a $5,000 health credit. Now, what he doesn’t tell you is that he intends to, for the first time in history, tax health benefits.

So you may end up getting a $5,000 tax credit. Here’s the only problem: Your employer now has to pay taxes on the health care that you’re getting from your employer. And if you end up losing your health care from your employer, you’ve got to go out on the open market and try to buy it.”

McCain’s taxation of employer-provided health benefits is an abomination.  The plan offers $5,000 in tax credits for health insurance.  This isn’t bad if you have a good job, because your employer probably covers at least half of a family’s medical insurance.  Even so, there wouldn’t be much left over, to say nothing of those families whose employers offer little or no assistance with health insurance.  And then McCain would tax those companies who do?

It would be more honest to simply ban employer health care benefits since that would be the effect of McCain’s plan.  Just get rid of them and companies can add a bit to employees’ base pay.

This would not be such a bad option if health insurance itself were banished along with employer contributions.  Then people would realize that, yes, they must face the consequences of their eating, drinking, and smoking, as well as the relative quality of their DNA and living environments.  We’d be on our own and paying cash for medical care like our grandparents did but at least we’d know where we stood.

Obama:  “We have to fix our health care system, which is putting an enormous burden on families. Just — a report just came out that the average deductible went up 30 percent on American families.

They are getting crushed, and many of them are going bankrupt as a consequence of health care.”

Are they?  Medical cost increases are certainly not helping anyone, but that’s not what is forcing Americans to default on their home loans, not if we’re telling the truth.

Obama:  “The third thing we have to do is we’ve got to make sure that we’re competing in education. We’ve got to invest in science and technology. China had a space launch and a space walk. We’ve got to make sure that our children are keeping pace in math and in science.”

Yes, that’s very true.  But how does he propose to make them care enough to want to keep pace with people they’ve never met?  The competition is real but we don’t acknowledge it for what it is:  the end of American economic power, should we lose.

And it’s all about caring.  A dedicated American student/worker has no equal in terms of potential productivity.  One lacking in dedication is no better than a Chinese peasant working in the field.  Where is the moral center that instills the desire to excel to come from?  Certainly not from soulless, Godless public schools.

McCain:  “We have to have wind, tide, solar, natural gas, flex fuel cars and all that but we also have to have offshore drilling and we also have to have nuclear power.

Senator Obama opposes both storing and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. You can’t get there from here and the fact is that we can create 700,000 jobs by building constructing 45 new nuclear power plants by the year 2030. Nuclear power is not only important as far as eliminating our dependence on foreign oil”

Yes.  Renewable energy is great and we should pursue all forms of it until their viability is demonstrated one way or another, as ethanol has been shown to be a fool’s panacea.

But it’s hard-code nuclear and coal-based power plans that are going to have to do the bulk of the work for the next few decades, probably for the rest of my lifetime.  Considering it takes 10 years to get a nuclear plant on-line it’s a disgrace than no significant construction has been done on any plant since 9/11.

Obama:  “John, it’s been your president who you said you agreed with 90 percent of the time who presided over this increase in spending. This orgy of spending and enormous deficits you voted for almost all of his budgets. So to stand here and after eight years and say that you’re going to lead on controlling spending and, you know, balancing our tax cuts so that they help middle class families when over the last eight years that hasn’t happened I think just is, you know, kind of hard to swallow.”

That’s like a mallet between the eyes.  The Bush administration has been a disaster on so many levels.  On every level, really, except for having the fortitude to stick it out in Iraq, a place we never should have gone but once we went in, we owned the problem.  That’s perhaps the only major decision Bush 43 has made correctly since invading Afghanistan.

Spending?  He’s no conservative and has poisoned the Republican party with his inability to manage American taxpayer’s money.  McCain is tainted by association, even though I think his desire to cut spending is real enough.

McCain:  “I went to Iraq in 2003 and came back and said, we’ve got to change this strategy. This strategy requires additional troops, it requires a fundamental change in strategy and I fought for it. And finally, we came up with a great general and a strategy that has succeeded.”

“There is social, economic progress, and a strategy, a strategy of going into an area, clearing and holding, and the people of the country then become allied with you. They inform on the bad guys. And peace comes to the country, and prosperity.

That’s what’s happening in Iraq, and it wasn’t a tactic.”

McCain’s one and only true selling point is that he alone among presidential contenders was right about Iraq.  He does know how to make the hard decisions, there’s no denying it.  But that decision, right as it was, is in the past now.

Obama:  “Now, keep in mind that we have four times the number of troops in Iraq, where nobody had anything to do with 9/11 before we went in, where, in fact, there was no al Qaeda before we went in, but we have four times more troops there than we do in Afghanistan.

And that is a strategic mistake, because every intelligence agency will acknowledge that al Qaeda is the greatest threat against the United States and that Secretary of Defense Gates acknowledged the central front — that the place where we have to deal with these folks is going to be in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.”

Pakistan, indeed.  The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has perhaps doomed the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan by leaving only Islamic-oriented parties to fill the vacuum left by her death and Pervez Musharraf’s inevitable implosion.

We cannot start a war on the ground with Pakistan.  Not ever and certainly not after stretching our military thin on two fronts.  Now it may be too late to crush the terrorists lurking inside Pakistan.  It is not too late to secure Afghanistan’s borders to a reasonable degree, but that country effectively has a terrorist nation on its border because we failed to finish the job there while we had the chance.

Obama:  “No U.S. soldier ever dies in vain because they’re carrying out the missions of their commander in chief.”

That’s bullshit, frankly.  If those missions are pointless or the follow-up that’s required to ensure success is not forthcoming, any casualties taken would have been in vain.  4000 Americans have died in Iraq and their deaths will be pointless if Iraq becomes another Iran.  Or Pakistan.  That cannot be allowed to happen.

Obama:  “we are also going to have to, I believe, engage in tough direct diplomacy with Iran and this is a major difference I have with Senator McCain, this notion by not talking to people we are punishing them has not worked. It has not worked in Iran, it has not worked in North Korea. In each instance, our efforts of isolation have actually accelerated their efforts to get nuclear weapons. That will change when I’m president of the United States.”

I think that’s correct.  McCain likes to bluster about Ahmadinejad and the evil he’s perpetrating on the work and say that he’s not going to allow it, as if there’s going to be a duel at high noon.  But Ahmadinejad is only the public face of Iraq, not the real power in the country.  Think of him as a particularly nasty little brute of a PR flack fronting for the Islamic mullahs.  These people need to understand, at the very least, that we’re prepared to confront them in every hotspot of Islamic terrorism, in every major country and city around the world, just as we did with the Soviets during the Cold War, that their maniacal brand of evil will not be allowed to spread unchecked through the world and particularly not into Israel, the U.S.’s only true ally in the Middle East.

To do that we should meet with Iran and deliver the message clearly.

Obama:  “we also have to affirm all the fledgling democracies in that region, you know, the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Poles, the Czechs, that we are, in fact, going to be supportive and in solidarity with them in their efforts. They are members of NATO.

And to countries like Georgia and the Ukraine, I think we have to insist that they are free to join NATO if they meet the requirements, and they should have a membership action plan immediately to start bringing them in.”

Surprisingly aggressive for Obama to come right at the point like that.  But it’s absolutely the right thing for those countries and the world.  If Russia wants to go communist again that’s their business.  But they have no right to inflict their will on neighboring nations that are trying to foster democracy and freedom after generations under Soviet occupation.  They deserve our support and that of the other NATO countries, should they have the courage to provide any.  McCain understands this completely, so Obama’s sudden hawkishness is simply an admission of reality, in my view.

McCain:  “I can tell you that I think America is safer today than it was on 9/11. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a long way to go.”

I think it’s clear that we are safer from external enemies than we were on 9/11.  The record has proven that.  But we’ve given the federal government new and undesirable powers to reach that point and it’s imperative that challenges to these unconstitutional actions continue to be brought forward so that the current status quo does not become a permanent fact of life here.

McCain:  “Senator Obama still doesn’t quite understand — or doesn’t get it — that if we fail in Iraq, it encourages al Qaeda. They would establish a base in Iraq.

The consequences of defeat, which would result from his plan of withdrawal and according to date certain, regardless of conditions, according to our military leaders, according to every expert, would lead to defeat — possible defeat, loss of all the fragile sacrifice that we’ve made”

Obama:  “we’ve got challenges, for example, with China, where we are borrowing billions of dollars. They now hold a trillion dollars’ worth of our debt. And they are active in countries like — in regions like Latin America, and Asia, and Africa. They are — the conspicuousness of their presence is only matched by our absence, because we’ve been focused on Iraq.”

In the long view, Obama is undoubtedly correct.  But the truth is that it simply doesn’t matter.  We made a mistake, we broke Iraq, and we need to put it back together again.  We can do it, as has now been proven.  But the future will not take care of itself.  The Chinese can afford to wait us out; their advantage in terms of manpower gives them a certain luxury to do so.

Net-net, I’m reading the transcript thinking that Barack Obama got the better of McCain by a narrow margin, primarily by pointing out that, for all of our recent successes in Iraq, the world is more dangerous than it was 8 years ago and America’s place in it is, to the average observer, somewhat less secure than it was only a couple of weeks ago, before our national blinders came off.

Ironically, that’s all the more reason to vote for John McCain.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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