The WALTHER REPORT
By Tony Walther
I just got finished watching the first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama.
My immediate reaction is that on substance it was a draw.
On style, I give it to John McCain. And that is not to say I support him. In fact I have not.
Also that is not to say that I did not think Obama handled it well. He did a good job and made his points, but so did McCain.
And one thing I noticed is that as a listener you get caught up in the yes I did, no you didn’t conflict and you have no way to instantly verify the truth of what each man said.
McCain never stumbled, except maybe once on the name of Iran’s president, Ahmadinejad — and who wouldn’t? And even then he made a mocking gesture, as if he did it on purpose out of his own rightful disdain for that crazy and dangerous man, and as is his style, he was to the point, he was blunt, and he was confident (well maybe arrogant is a better word).
I don’t recall that Obama stumbled, necessarily, but he did seem to be on the ropes momentarily a few times.
The startling thing about it all was, in my view, that for the most part both men seem to basically agree, with their only differences at times being in how to arrive at something, if that makes sense.
Although the debate was officially on foreign policy, about the first half was on economic policy, which moderator Jim Lehrer said fit, because he said that the debate was on “foreign policy and national security” and that economic policy was part of national security.
Neither man would commit to whether he supported a particular version of the $700 Billion Wall Street rescue plan. Both agreed that a plan must include help for those on Main Street as well as Wall Street and that Wall Street executives should not be rewarded for their failures with bonuses after getting government help when they were the ones who made the disastrous investment decisions in the first place.
In talking military issues, McCain took advantage of the fact that he is a veteran and was much older and even bragged that he was much wiser. At one point toward the end, he charged that Obama was not up to handling things. In fact, on foreign policy, McCain was outright condescending many times, even though, both men seemed to agree for the most part.
The debate was contentious at moments, but for the most part civil.
And now my wife comes in and tells me that the television commentators were amazed at how knowledgeable McCain showed he was in foreign affairs, names, places, people (just think how Sarah Palin would have done – it’s scary). I think going in, although it was expected McCain might have some advantage on foreign affairs, it was thought that he was not going to be a good debater.
Well that was wrong. He made his points forcefully and well.
McCain in what I thought was reminiscent of Richard Nixon said something to the effect that under his leadership we would have, well I wrote down his exact words, he said about Iraq: “We will come home with victory and honor.” I recall that Nixon always said we would only have “peace with honor” in Vietnam. Interestingly, McCain poignantly noted that he had seen “an army in defeat” in Vietnam (he of course was a POW and Navy flier) and that he would not let that happen again.
Obama called for more attention to the war in Afghanistan.
I’m not going to go over the debate point by point here.
But now that I have written this much, I think I will say I kind of went into watching the debate thinking and hoping Obama would, well, clean McCain’s clock. He didn’t. McCain was prepared.
Here’s another thing, toward the end, McCain assured listeners that he “loves” veterans and they know “I will take care of them.” ( Now I have read where he has voted against some veterans benefits. One time he said he voted against a bill because it would have given too much incentive for military personnel to leave the service with the war still in progress.)
Obama was at his weakest – my opinion – in his closing. He told of his father from Kenya, the father from whom he got his name. Hey it’s a good story, but this is America and I am sorry, although we embrace the melting pot, you just don’t talk about places such as Kenya and mention you have a strange sounding last name (he already spends a lot of time convincing folks he’s not Muslim) when you’re running for president of the United States (and my apologies to the good people of Kenya).
One more thing, with the present financial uncertainty, I looked for Obama to throw a knock-out punch, since a lot of what has happened has been the result of activities on the Republican watch (McCain Republican, Obama Democrat). But that did not happen. McCain deflected the blows quite effectively by criticizing the current president, George W. Bush, and others. In an oft repeated line by McCain, he said: “The Republicans came to Washington to change government, and government changed them” (He’s a maverick, he says). McCain criticized both Republicans and Democrats and Obama included for massive over spending. McCain even said he’d reduce defense spending by cutting out what I recall him referring to as “cost plus” projects, giving an example of one I think in which he said started out as $4 million but wound of being $40 million or was in $400 million, well you get the idea.
Leher forced Obama into a kind of admission that he would not be able to enact all the social programs or reforms he might want to because of the current economic crises, but Obama noted that the important thing is that he has a priority for them as money permits, nonetheless.
Typically McCain accused Obama of wanting to raise taxes and Obama in turn accused McCain of wanting to cut taxes on the rich. And we all know that Republicans typically want to cut taxes on the wealthier folks and Democrats see the need for taxes to finance what people want government to do.
Okay, even though I am not a McCain fan, I am going to go out on a limb and say that he won the debate (even though the two basically agreed on things, except for the basic difference between Republicans and Democrats on taxing the so-called wealthy).
P.s. Now my wife comes in and tells me that the instant polling is giving the win to Obama. Well, that’s good, I guess, but I also guess I don’t see things the way others do. Or it could be the public wants change and came ready to listen to the new guy. Works for me.
P.s. P.s. And another thing, Obama at least eight times (according to a New York Times count, and I thought it was more) said “John (McCain) you’re right,” maybe not such a good rhetorical device in a debate, unless followed by some ironic point, and they weren’t. I think the McCain ads are already out with Obama admitting (seemingly) that McCain was right.