That said, McCain did himself some good. He introduced a very un-Republican idea: the government will buy mortgages and help buyers renegotiate and stay in their homes. He made his case on taxes — that Obama has a record of raising taxes and that any tax hikes in a recession are a bad idea. He also made some headway in explaining his own healthcare plan and the costs of Obama’s. And every moment spent on energy policy — stressing the need for domestic oil production — is a winner for him.
On foreign policy, Obama ironically seemed stronger than he did on domestic policy. He called for crushing al-Qaeda and, surprisingly, for using force in Darfur (did he mean this?). It was McCain arguing for restraint and tempering out actions to insure that we can affect a positive result when we risk troops. McCain did come on strong when it came to Afghanistan, stressing that the surge (which Obama never supported) will succeed there under General Petraeus’ tutelage.
The most decisive moment on national security occurred at the end where McCain bonded with a chief petty officer questioner and pledged to support Israel in defending itself against a nuclear-armed Iran, taking a jab at Obama for his willingness to meet with Ahmadinejad who labeled Israel a “stinking corpse.” Obama once again came back with a subdued defense of diplomatic efforts, and again offered a defense of his plan for direct talks with the Iranians, although he did not name Ahmadinejad personally.
Surprisingly for such a polished orator, Obama fumbled at the end, and seemed at a loss to answer a fluff question about what he doesn’t know (well, considering his self-regard we could have predicted that would throw him for a loop.) He rambled and bobbed, finally ending with a bland “change” plea. As for McCain he gave a compelling wind up — analogizing to his time of captivity to express his strength, empathy, and faith in his fellow Americans.
Was there a clear winner? No, but each did what he needed to do. McCain did sound fluent on domestic matters and for the first time made a clear connection between Obama and the Democrats who took Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s campaign donations and looked the other way when it came to regulation. On foreign policy, Obama did not appear overwhelmed, albeit not up to McCain’s level of expertise. For a candidate ahead in the polls, Obama likely will breathe a sigh of relief that he will not lose ground because of this.
However, there was one funny gaffe of the night: Obama excoriated McCain for suggesting we should be able to buy health care across state lines and said that corporations did that — fleeing to low regulatory states where “they get away with murder.” On Senator Joe Biden’s watch? Oh my stars!
The real loser: the format, and the questions were deadening and dull. Perhaps serious times deserve a serious discussion but it shouldn’t be boring and conventional. Unfortunately, it was.