Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To Debate Or Not Debate....

Watch The First 2008 Presidential Debate

The First Debate
NY Times Editorial

The first presidential debate could not have come at a better time. We were afraid that the serious question of picking a new president in a time of peril, at home and abroad, was going to disappear in a fog of sophomoric attack ads, substance-free shouting about change and patriotism, and unrelenting political posturing.

The debate was generally a relief from the campaign’s nastiness. Both John McCain and Barack Obama worked to strike a more civil and substantive tone. And Americans could see some differences between the candidates on correcting the regulatory disasters that led to the Wall Street crisis, on how to address the country’s grim fiscal problems and on national security. There were also differences in the candidates themselves. Mr. McCain fumbled his way through the economic portion of the debate, while Mr. Obama seemed clear and confident. Mr. McCain was more fluent on foreign affairs, and scored points by repeatedly calling Mr. Obama na├»ve and inexperienced.

But Mr. McCain’s talk of experience too often made him sound like a tinny echo of the 20th century. At one point, he talked about how Ronald Reagan’s “S.D.I.” helped end the cold war. We suspect that few people under the age of 50 caught the reference. If he was reaching for Reagan’s affable style, he missed by a mile, clenching his teeth and sounding crotchety where Reagan was sunny and avuncular.

Mr. Obama has improved as a debater but needs to work on his counterpunch. Still, when Mr. McCain suggested that Mr. Obama was imprudent for talking publicly about attacking Al Qaeda sites in Pakistan, Mr. Obama deftly parried by reminding voters that his rival once jokingly sang a song about bombing Iran.

Mr. McCain came to the debate after one of the more ludicrous performances by a presidential candidate. With the markets teetering and Washington desperately trying to find a bipartisan solution, Mr. McCain tried to make the biggest question of the week whether he was actually going to show up for Friday’s debate.

Mr. Obama dominated the economic portion of the debate, arguing that the Wall Street disaster was the fault of the Bush administration’s anti-regulation, pro-corporate culture. He called for a major overhaul of the financial regulatory system. Mr. McCain stuck to his talking points, railing against greed and corruption. He showed little sign that he understood the fundamental failures in government illuminated by the market crisis.

Mr. Obama said that he would begin to address the country’s deep deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy, while cutting them for the vast majority of American workers. But he dodged the question of what programs he would have to sacrifice to help foot the proposed bailout’s $700 billion price tag. Mr. McCain dodged the same question with equal energy.

He clung to his argument that cutting Congressional earmarks — which amount to about $18 billion a year — and reducing waste and abuse would solve most of the country’s economic problems and allow him to continue President Bush’s catastrophic tax cuts.

It was disturbing to see that Mr. McCain seems to have learned nothing from the disastrous war in Iraq. He talked about recent progress there, which is indisputable, and his support for the troop surge that has brought down violence. But Mr. McCain still was talking about winning, rather than how he was going to plan a necessary and responsible exit. And he steadfastly refused to acknowledge that the decision to invade Iraq was an enormous mistake.

Mr. Obama offered no details on how he plans to get out of Iraq, but he offered an important truth when he said that the United States should never have invaded and can never win in Afghanistan as long as it is tied down in Iraq.

We didn’t hear nearly as much detail as we would have liked. But the debate was a move toward a serious discussion of this country’s many problems. Americans need to hear more of that, and less of the tactical sparring, before going to the polls.

The New York Times Copyright 2008

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