Last night, Sen. John McCain replaced "my friends" with "Joe the plumber," talking about Joe some 21 times. Joe is now so famous, he's appeared on his local news, a segment which was played on MSNBC's Morning Joe today. I gather talking about Joe the plumber was supposed to endear McCain to the middle class, like when Gov. Sarah Palin talked about Joe Sixpack. But sorry to say, John, you lost again. A CBS poll had Sen. Barack Obama winning the debate 55% to 22%. Aww, say it ain't so, Joe!
Now, to hear some of the political commentators (i.e. David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, et al.) talk, McCain won the debate. They usually qualify it by saying "on points." I don't know what debate they were watching, but it wasn't this one. They said McCain was passionate, aggressive (in a positive way), that he brought it to Obama. But about Obama, they said he was too calm, seemed to be resting on his lead. Huh? So if a candidate is controlled and talks about the issues calmly and intelligently, he's resting on his lead? They must have expected Obama to jump around in his chair and get all fired up. Frankly, I don't think that would serve any candidate well. The American voting public doesn't want or need a hothead for president. On Morning Joe today, someone mentioned that Obama was smiling often as if he were laughing at McCain. Again, what debate were they watching? Yes, Obama smiled, but it's called being friendly. What a concept. Much better than scowling at McCain, or doing as McCain did during some of Obama's responses, which was to just write on his notepad or stare at moderator Bob Schieffer instead of focusing on Obama as he spoke. Or maybe they would have preferred the eye roll, which McCain employed several times last night. Much more mature.
Maybe Obama should have been condescending like McCain. "I admire so much Sen. Obama's eloquence," McCain said. He pointed to Obama's eloquence more than once during the debate, which seemed to be his way of saying Obama is uninformed and has to cover up for it with words (too bad McCain's own running mate doesn't have eloquence). But Obama was much more than just eloquent. He had a good grasp on the issues and detailed what his solutions would be, just as he had in the other debates. In the first debate, I thought McCain conveyed his stance on issues well, but in the last two debates, he's fallen apart. He no longer looks like someone who knows what needs to be done and will do it. The eye rolls, the sighing, the condescension. It was almost as if McCain didn't realize he's down in the polls.
A few issues that came up during the debate stuck with me, and those are the ones I want to address in this post. I think by far, this debate was the best one of the three in that both candidates engaged more with each other and were more detailed in their responses, mainly because Schieffer asked follow-up questions or let the candidates do so.
Corporate taxes. McCain said that American businesses pay the second highest tax rate in the world at 35%. Ireland pays only 11%. Why Ireland? Your guess is as good as mine. But McCain failed to mention that those same American businesses get quite a few tax breaks due to loopholes, to the point that some corporations pay no tax at all. McCain also failed to mention that there are many other differences between the U.S. and Ireland when it comes to corporate taxes. Still, taking all that into account, U.S. corporations aren't creating jobs at home. Obama has said he will give corporations tax breaks if they keep jobs in the U.S., but penalize them if they ship jobs overseas. Obama will close the tax loopholes. So McCain's notion that paying the second highest corporate tax rate in the world is the problem is not on point. Maybe he should move to Ireland.
Oil. When McCain repeated his oft-used statement, "We have to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much," I was able to repeat the line right along with him. Why? Because he's said it in each of the three debates. I am starting to think he repeats it in his sleep. Unfortunately, it's not true. Do we need to work on energy independence? Yes. But the notion that we need to do it because we're buying all our oil from overseas is misleading. This from an Associated Press article: "The United States spent $246 billion in 2007 for all imported crude oil, a majority of it coming from friendly nations including neighboring Canada and Mexico. An additional $82 billion was spent on imported refined petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel and fuel oil. A majority of the refined products come from refineries in such friendly countries as the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, Trinidad-Tobago and the Virgin Islands." McCain scolded Obama for saying he will go after Osama bin Laden in Pakistan if the Pakistani government won't, or wanting to renegotiate free trade agreements, because McCain said that you just don't say those things out loud. Yet, McCain has no problem referring to allies like the U.K. as "countries who don't like us very much." Now, I know that's not the country he's talking about, but the fact remains that a third of our oil comes from Canada, Mexico and the U.K. They like us. We like them. Why is McCain dissing that by repeating a false claim?
The Spending Freeze. We've heard McCain talk about an across-the-board spending freeze more than once. Of course, the plan changes depending on the day. Sometimes there are exceptions to the freeze. Sometimes the exceptions get expanded to include more programs. Sometimes, like last night, it's just a freeze with no exceptions (although I'll give McCain the benefit of the doubt that he just forgot to mention the exceptions last night). But then during last night's debate, McCain kept talking about things we need to spend money on, and a few times Obama even called him out on those statements. How can we have a freeze but spend money? McCain talked about helping parents who have special needs children. He talked about taking care of the children of mothers who might look to abortion. Family service departments across the U.S. are strapped. Where will the money come from to take care of the children McCain wants born? He talked about education programs, like Head Start and vouchers. Money, money, money. Yet, McCain also told Schieffer, in all seriousness, that he will balance the federal budget in four years. Not will try. Will. McCain said he knows how to "save billions of dollars in defense spending. I know how to eliminate programs." Really? Then why haven't you shared this knowledge with others so our debt didn't continue to rise? It reminded me of his claim that he KNOWS how to get Osama bin Laden. Well, by all means, John, share.
Negative Attacks. I wasn't sure if Schieffer would bring up Bill Ayers. Some commentators said he would. I didn't think it was important to the debate. The issues were much more important. But to Schieffer's credit, he didn't ask specifically about Bill Ayers or ACORN, which I felt would be unfair. Why ask about that, but then not ask a pointed question about McCain's connection to ACORN, or the Keating Five scandal? Schieffer instead questioned the candidates on the negative tone of the campaign. McCain didn't talk about Ayers or ACORN -- at first. He blamed Obama for the negative tone of the campaign, saying this wouldn't have happened if Obama had agreed to those town hall meetings. This argument is weak. So the only reason McCain went negative is because Obama wouldn't do town halls? Town halls or not, Obama had already explained his relationship with Ayers and ACORN. It just wasn't good enough for McCain and his supporters. They wanted the smoking gun. They wanted Obama to come out and say, "Oh you're right, Ayers is my best friend. We hang out frequently. I think he's a great guy." Short of that, nothing would ever be good enough. When McCain finally did bring up Ayers and ACORN, he looked like someone who had been pushed into it. I think McCain came out with the accusations when he did because Obama's original response to Schieffer's question had been so even-tempered. I think McCain was angry that Obama still looked presidential and above the fray. "Mr. Ayers, I don't care about a washed-up old terrorist. But as Sen. Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of the relationship," McCain said. So he doesn't care about Ayers, but he cares? And again, the full extent of the relationship HAD been explained. It just wasn't good enough for McCain. I think Obama did a great job of once again going over his connections to Ayers and ACORN (and I noticed that still no one talked about McCain's connection to ACORN, hmm). And what was McCain's response? He STILL wanted to know all the details about Obama's relationship with Ayers and ACORN. Hey, numbskull, weren't you listening? Do we need to write it out for you? McCain also went on about Rep. John Lewis's comments and wanted Obama to repudiate them. In fact, he brought it up twice. But Lewis had already said he didn't mean to make a direct comparison between McCain and George Wallace, just to say that the tone of McCain's campaign could provoke violence. Lewis had amended his own remarks, so why did Obama have to kneel down before McCain and beg forgiveness? McCain also spoke about how he's proud of the people who come to his rallies, and he's "not going to stand for people saying that the people that come to my rallies are anything but the most dedicated, patriotic men and women." He mentioned a group of young women who were Military Wives for McCain, and the veterans who wear the World War II hats, that it is wrong to say that these people are saying something derogatory about Obama. Um, when did anyone say they were? I could care less about those people. It's the people shouting "kill him" or "off with his head" who are the problem. As long as it's not one of the Military Wives, then what's the issue here? That whole statement just made no sense. I think McCain was trying to say Obama was putting down ALL his supporters, not just the fringe, which he was not.
Education. A few things were said about education, but the one issue that made me laugh was McCain's insistence that vouchers are a good idea. He brought up vouchers in Washington, D.C., was condescending toward Obama on the subject ("And I'm frankly surprised you didn't pay more attention to that example."). Right, the D.C. example. Sure, it was good for the families who were able to get vouchers, but even McCain himself said there were 1,000 vouchers (actually closer to 2,000) for 9,000 parents who wanted them. So 8,000 kids got screwed. Perfect. The voucher program is good in theory, but not in practice. What about those 8,000 kids who don't get a voucher? Where do they go? Right back to the public schools, which weren't doing them any good in the first place. So yes, this is great for the children who get to partake in it, but unless you expand voucher program funding so that more kids have access (and where will you get the money with a spending freeze), it's not a solution. Still, even with expansion of the program, kids will be left out, and unless their schools are improved, we are still in the same boat as we are today.
Abortion. "But what ultimately I believe is that women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position to make this decision," Obama said. These are the only people who should have any say in a decision that involves what happens in a woman's life and with her body. Now, McCain touted adoption, citing his and Cindy's decision to adopt as proof of the joy it brings. I commend McCain and his wife for adopting their daughter, but they didn't adopt from within the U.S. What about the children who are already stuck in the system, who might never be adopted? The children placed in foster homes and beaten. The children in orphanages who have very little. Since 1970, adoptions have declined. But McCain said "We'll help take care of it." Meaning he'll, or the government (spending freeze, anyone?), will take care of those children born to mothers who would have had abortions? With what money? Where? Will McCain and Cindy adopt them all? No. Because anti-choice activists only seem to care about what happens to the baby up until birth. After that, the mother and baby are on their own. No money to take care of the baby, Ms. New Mom? Sorry, too bad so sad. Obama made a good point on this issue, saying that pro- and anti-choice activists can find common ground -- pregnancy prevention. He mentioned appropriate sex education, teaching kids that "sexuality is sacred." McCain, however, wants abstinence-only sex education. Great. Again, I ask, where are you going to put all these kids? Where will the money come from? McCain also made a snide remark about the health of the mother with respect to partial-birth abortion stating "that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything." I think the mothers who have been in situations where they had to choose between their health and their baby probably won't take kindly to that. They may not have wanted to go through an abortion, but had to in order to save themselves. A tough choice no doubt, and now John McCain thinks it's all just been "stretched by the pro-abortion movement."
The commentators have their opinions, but on every issue last night, Obama was on point. McCain made points, but he certainly didn't win on them. He often sounded angry and stilted. I didn't see passion. I saw a man who knows he's down in the polls and has no idea what to do about it. Maybe the commentators felt sorry for him. I know I did, for about a minute, until I realized he brought this on himself. And the statement of the night, according to some commentators, was when McCain said "Sen. Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago." Oh, it was a zinger, for sure. Wasn't about issues, but hey, why should the most important statement of the debate be about issues? However, Obama had a witty response: "So the fact of the matter is that if I occasionally have mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush." Take that, John McCain. You've been pwned.