And the first debate winner is... the American People
Both presidential nominees and the American people failed to follow the typical script for the first presidential debate on Friday night -- to all their credit. Usually, an hour-and-a-half of policy talk ends up being reduced to a four-word slam, a grimace, a gaffe, a gesture. This time, the debate about the debate, the analysis of ninety minutes of foreign and domestic policy talk, ended up being about the ninety minutes of foreign and domestic policy talk.
This news was particularly welcome because both candidates’ behavior was disappointing in the two weeks leading up to the debate. During the week of the financial meltdown, as Washington insiders ranging from the former Wall Street titan Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson to the crusading liberal Congressman Barney Frank cooperated with each other seeking a bailout, the candidates acted ridiculous. Here was a leadership opportunity for both Barack Obama and John McCain. Either of them could have risen to the challenge, offering a thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis of the problem – and proposing a creative solution to the troubles of both Wall Street and Main Street. Instead, both offered simplistic, idiotic, demagogic postures scapegoating Wall Street -- and the other guy.
Both needed to start with some risky, bipartisan criticism. Democratic Senators such as Chris Dodd and Charles Schumer, who happily took millions from lobbyists and bankers to protect Wall Street’s and the two Freddies’ interests, are as responsible for the lax federal oversight as the most ideological anti-big-government Bushies. Had either candidate pointed out the sinners in his own party as well as in the other party, had either then worked with the financial whiz kids surrounding each campaign to present a bold solution, the American people would have cheered enthusiastically. Instead, both abdicated, allowing the leadership and statesmanship to come from the White House, the Federal Reserve Bank, and Capitol Hill.
By week two, when both helped improve the bailout package, Senator McCain stood out as a particular bumbler. Attempting to appear bipartisan, he announced he was suspending his campaign and wanted to cancel the debate to avoid playing politics at a time like this. Obama wisely held his ground, insisting on showing up for what could have been a ninety-minute televised freebie on all the major networks. There was no reason why McCain could not take time at 9 PM on a Friday to address the American people. American democracy puts a premium on sticking to its quadrennial presidential electoral timetable. If Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt could run for reelection during the Civil War and World War II respectively, John McCain could show up to debate. Fortunately, for his sake and for history, McCain came to his senses, hid behind the figleaf of “progress” on the bailout talks, and showed up.
The results were impressive. While neither delivered a memorable line or a knock-out punch, both acquitted themselves honorably. John McCain was dominant, especially in the second, foreign-policy-oriented, half. He showed he was vigorous and fast on his feet, not at all the plodding septuagenarian he appeared to be during the summer. Barack Obama was equally impressive, refusing to concede or be cowed by McCain’s body blows. In fighting the older, more experienced foreign policy expert to a draw in the debate devoted to foreign policy, Obama repeated John Kennedy’s accomplishment in simply sharing the stage and appearing to be the equal of his better-known and more experienced rival Richard Nixon in 1960 (although in that case, Kennedy and Nixon actually were peers; it was just Nixon’s eight years as Vice President that set the two apart so dramatically).
The American people gained by watching such a substantive discussion by two clearly talented candidates during a crisis. It was instructive to see where the candidates agreed as much as where they disagreed. Both candidates’ horror at the thought of a nuclear Iran, their criticism of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, their concern over the excesses of Wall Street, demonstrated a common “Main Street” sensibility. The two candidates’ clashes, particularly about the Iraq war, revealed that the American people have a clear and significant choice to make in November. Here, McCain was particularly strong, having been vindicated by the surge. Obama faltered, trying to repudiate the Iraq invasion without disrespecting the troops.
The first debate may not have ensured a victory for either candidate but it may have helped Americans realize that regardless of who wins in November, the new president will be smart, sincere, and ready to lead.
comments powered by Disqus
Arnold Shcherban - 10/1/2008
One outstanding characteristic of American folks is their tremendous patience to the two domestic parties' constant partisan blaming, resulting in the refusal to hold those two parties accountable for their deadly economic, social, and political sins, the patience that has no parallel in the contemporary world of nations and polar opposite to Americans' radical intolerance to the sins of the foreign governments/nations.
This characteristic (stemmed from the individualism, religiosity, i.e. ignorance, and the "free" media propaganda bombardment) creates perfect ideological atmosphere for the blaming game, in which the only loosing party is the same doped majority who is so tolerant to the two-party crooked policies.
Mr. Heuisler is the crusading right-wing (in tougher times such ideologues become fascist collaborators) anti-democratic attack-dog barking at the so-called American liberals, while both creeds have just one thing in mind - GREED (for other folks money.)
Bill Heuisler - 9/30/2008
Barney Frank killed a bill in 2005 that would've precluded the financial scandal. He said don't "fix something that isn't broken." He, Rep. Waters and Rep. Meeks defended Franklin Raines' job in running Fannie Mae.
Frank, chairman of House Financial Services Committee,spent the last few years ridiculing Alan Greenspan, John McCain and other Republicans who sought more regulation for Fannie Mae.
Fannie's market-distorting schemes have made Franklin Raines more than 90 million dollars in 6 years.
Your Crusading Liberal was more interested in Taxpayer-backed mortgages to low-income people than in making sure they could pay back their debts. Now Fannie Mae has failed. Now Frank is lecturing those same Republicans and trying to cover his own part in the scandal.
Lorraine Paul - 9/29/2008
All that the surge achieved was standing by while one side 'ethnically cleansed' the other. Why can't American politicians, who, one would expect, are briefed on these matters, not know more about what is going on in Iraq than I do. Well, we all know why...they don't want to frighten the horses!!!
I fear for the American people, but I also fear for the rest of us more...we didn't vote for this venal, corrupt and greedy administration. As many are now saying...they have had nearly eight years to perfect their corruption. I doubt it will matter as to who is elected, it seems as though we will be the ones paying the price.
Lorraine Paul - 9/29/2008
You noticed that too, Mr Shcherban.
Arnold Shcherban - 9/29/2008
<...the new president will be smart, sincere, and ready to lead.> (?)
The conclusion that unambigiously contradicted to the large part of the debate's analysis submitted by the author.
- Historian James Harris says Russian archives show we’ve misunderstood Stalin
- The Invisible Labor of Women’s Studies
- Lincoln University historian mourns decision to abolish the history major
- Hamilton College conservative historian questions diversity requirement
- Historians on Donald Trump: A Huge Hit on Facebook