Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Win, lose, or draw

Well, I didn't think I'd be awake at this point but the new medication I'm on for this lingering #$%^& cough (can anyone say "bronchial spasms" and "inflamed bronchial passages"? I can't because saying it makes me cough too much) knocked me out and then woke me up so I ended up watching tonight's debate through a prednisone buzz and can't fall asleep now. Woo hoo. I guess I should write up my notes and then take my cough medicine with codeine to knock me out again. Better living through chemistry. And I disavow any responsibility for anything wacky I say below...it's the medication talking (unless it's legitimately amusing and then I take full credit).

So here are some thoughts jotted down during tonight's debate between Barack Obama and John McCain...

Is Obama serious about AIG's execs going on a luxury retreat after the bailout? How dumb can these numbnuts be?

McCain's proposal to buy back bad home loans and renegotiate mortgages to new, lower value of homes. Is this another "Hail Mary" pass? I don't remember hearing this before. How does this fit in with McCain's avowed desire to limit government intervention in our lives? Should we have held off on refinancing our house? Probably not.

Wow, he's hit this mortgage renegotiation message on 3 straight answers. Still doesn't sound terribly plausible to me even after the third time but what do I know? Personally, I think having the Secretary of the Treasury become my mortage broker makes sense. And Fed Chair Ben Bernanke will shortly be available for personalized retirement planning.

Good question – what in the bailout will actually help me and other people I know?

Better answer – Obama steps in after McCain's discourse on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and attacks on Obama, and actually answers the audience member's question, riffing on the credit freeze and the ripple effect it has through companies, payrolls, and potential layoffs. I've got a friend or two with their own business and the credit freeze terrifies them - they depend on their line of credit to meet payroll when clients take their time paying the bill. Obama nailed this one. It actually made sense to me but I think it helped that I listened to a similar, excellent explanation this weekend on NPR's "This American Life".

Interesting question – how can we trust either of you with our money after both parties got us into this mess. As you might expect, the answer from both candidates is..."you can't trust the other guy!" Ouch, Obama started his response with "Look...", which makes it sound like its a mild scolding or he's exasperated.

OK, I'm getting tired of McCain's constant use of "my friends." I'm not the only one who has noticed this. Slate's Paul Collins actually examined this at the time of the Republican Convention.

Brokaw is riding them about taking too long on answers. It's amusing when he points out the timing lights, etc., but after two warnings, hasn't really reined them in.

Does anyone else think that the combination of that bright red floor and blue walls makes you feel like you're in a circus? Or is the red carpet so the bloodstains from shots McCain and Obama are taking don't stand out too much?

"Nailing down Obama's tax proposals is like nailing jello to the wall." What the hell does that mean? Is this the prednisone buzz talking or did McCain just say that? (Coming back to this after the debate - MSNBC just showed their live audience response tracking for when McCain said this and the Democrat and Independent viewer lines just plummeted like the value of my 401K over the last 2 weeks while the Republicans didn't even like that line very much.)

Obama doesn't seem to be willing to take any crap from McCain who keeps misrepresenting his tax policies and plans. McCain keeps trying to correct the record too but doesn't seem to have a defense or correction as often, instead relying on repeating claims about Obama, occasionally the one that O just shot down.

Oops, Obama missed an opportunity to skewer McCain on Mac's plan to tax your employer-paid tax benefits.

Ah, the solution to the Social Security issue is "easy" but no details from McCain. And the solution for Medicare...a new commission! Obama touches on some concrete steps to at least rein in Medicare costs and abuse. No details on Social Security either.

I wonder how are they playing with the home audience? Obama is very serious, not severe, and managing to avoid the professorial tone most of the time. McCain, as advertised, seems to like this venue – he's smiling more, walking over and leaning on railings, patting a veteran on the back when thanking him for his service. However, he's not smooth in his movements, sometimes appearing to lurch a bit. Did someone forget to lube his joints? However, I don't get the sense that he's winning over or connecting with the audience at the event. I see more people nodding thoughtfully as Obama speaks than as McCain does. I think this goes to the level of detail Obama is providing – not overwhelming but clear and usually concise.

Hmmmm...signals from the crowd? McCain just went wandering across the stage behind Obama as O is speaking. Mac is gesturing and making facial expressions like Cindy is on the other side of the supermarket and Mac can't tell if she wants him to pick up a cantelope or a honeydew.

Bang! Obama just nailed McCain on his plan to tax your employer-paid health care. McCain tries to come back with a claim that you'll get fined for not buying health care under Obama's plan but does not deny or even touch the tax claim, leaving it out there unrebutted. Is that a word?

I think McCain just made a joke about hair implants, health care and his receding hairline. I can't be sure...his delivery on jokes is awful but I think he was also going after Biden on that one. Oooo, going after a man's hair...low blow!

So does anyone care that McCain isn't wearing an American flag pin and Obama is? Or is McCain innoculated due to his military service and by association with that massive Christmas tree ornament Governor Palin was wearing at her debate?

Health care - right, privilege, or responsibility? McCain? It's a responsibility. Obama nails it by declaring forcefully that it's a right of all Americans, candidly describing his mother's travails with the insurance companies as she was dying of cancer in her mid-50s, and talking about child health care as critical. Ouch...just skewered McCain again, this time for Mac's vote against S-CHIP and children's health insurance.

I'm flagging a bit during foreign affairs. McCain is clearly more at ease now than he was during the economic questions though his answers are wandering a bit (do we really need the Teddy Roosevelt story again?) and he seems to be getting even testier. Obama is cool, calm, and presidential. He's direct and showing more fire when it comes to going after Osama and defending Israel than he was in his primary debates, I think.

OK, I can't take the "my friends" thing anymore. I want to jab a pencil in my ear.

I'm curious...McCain always says that when it comes to wars, he knows how to win them. When, exactly, did he get this experience and how has he ever actually demonstrated this? Same thing with his "I know how to get Osama bin Laden" and "I know how to fix Social Security." He must be keeping it a secret until he becomes president and can reveal his superpowers.

I think John McCain has a bit of a man crush on General Petraeus.

Closing question - what don't you know and how will you learn it? Obama hit some humor with Michelle in the audience (she can give you a longer list; I usually go to her when I need to find it out) and then talked about his upbringing, American dream, and the need to offer everyone that opportunity to learn and succeed. I wish he'd mentioned Joe Biden here and his experience as a resource, thereby making the contrast with Palin.

With the exception of the insipid "I don't know the future" comments, McCain's response to this question is forceful, patriotic, and personal ("I know what it's like when your comrades extend a hand and help you back up; I know what it's like when people around you don't give up hope."). It didn't really answer the question but it was a solid end to a final 30 minutes that McCain handled a bit better than the first 60.

Debate is over and Obama and Michelle are working the room, chatting with audience members, posing for photos. McCain and Cindy are nowhere to be found.

Hey, I just realized that I didn't hear "maverick" at any point? What's up with that? I expected McCain to have it written on his forehead with indelible marker. He also dropped that dumb "Miss Congeniality" line.

And how did it turn out? The "town hall" concept was weak. I was expecting more interaction with the audience, not this "Joe in seat C12, please read your index card, sit down, and be quiet" program. As for the debate itself, it was not a game changer – no blockbuster punches, no major screwups. McCain certainly presented himself more effectively than in the first debate though he seemed a bit desperate at times to scare people about Obama.

Obama came across, again, as very presidential, ducking some of McCain's punches and slapping back with a rebuttal when needed. Still, he could have connected a bit more with the audience. However, whether you agreed with their answers (or avoidance of) or not, they each seemed to handle it well. The 2008 general election debates now seemed to have hit upon a new strategy for debating: ignore the moderator and answer the questions you wish had been asked, not the one that actually was asked.

Overall, I think Obama won on substance and presentation. While it wasn't a knockout, he came across as informed, respectful, and in command. McCain certainly improved but still came across as a bit desperate and peevish at time. I think Obama took this one again. And realistically, even if you want to call it a draw, that doesn't help McCain reverse the trends in the polling. He needed to knock Obama off his game and really present a difference. I don't think it happened and Obama came out of it looking more presidential.

Oh, and I figured it out. The "my friends" thing must be a drinking game. Across America, overworked livers are crying out for universal health care.

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