10/15/2008 09:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Liveblogging the Debate

Stuck in a hotel room in Florida, I will be live blogging the debate. The pregame consensus is that he must do something dramatic. The age issue works against him. He's battling the sense that he's lost a step and is erratic against the younger more glamorous challenger. This may be his last chance for a game-changer, but most commentators feel that Bob Scheiffer faces a real uphill battle against George Stephanopoulos.
And they're off....

8:05. It's the Brokaw Pete Peterson question.

8:06 Senator McCain addressed Senator Obama by name! Sadly, it looked rehearsed.

8:07: Fannie and Freddie caused the subprime mess? First factchecking moment.

8:08: Note the "fundamentals of the economy were weak," dig. I think the contenders believe middle-class homeowners might be important. Obama notes the giveaway to banks point.

8:10. The plumber question. Obama's tax plan is killing Joe the plumber--not kidding--making more than $250,000/yr.

8:11. Obama suggests that this plumber's been watching too many McCain commercials. Joe must have wireless given our financial advantage at this point. This from WikiAnswers:

In May 2004, median hourly earnings of pipelayers were $13.68. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.05 and $18.69. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.19, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $25.07. Also in May 2004, median hourly earnings of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters were $19.85. The middle 50 percent earned between $15.01 and $26.67. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.62, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $33.72. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters in May 2004 were as follows: Natural gas distribution $23.86 Nonresidential building construction 21.55 Building equipment contractors 19.85 Utility system construction 18.29 Local government 16.30

Joe is one hell of a plumber.

8:15: Deficit spending: Bob forgot to add that McCain's plan adds $1.3 trillion to the deficit over a decade. Obama just did Scheiffer's job in explaining that $700b bailout is not a net increase in the deficit. My readers have now fallen asleep due to my 52nd invocation of the--altogether--nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Sadly, there is no political percentage in reducing deficit. NOTE THAT BOB SHEIFFER DIDN"T MENTION CUTTING DEFENSE OR RAISING TAXES TO LOWER THE DEFICIT... Wait--McCain mentions cutting defense and ethanol. One point for him. In general Obama is doing very well.

8:20: Earmarks again. He keeps ragging on the overhead projector at the Adler Planetarium. They're not exactly showing powerpoint on the thing.

8:23: McCain: "I am not President Bush." First obvious soundbite. I feel bad for McCain for inheriting Bush's mess. But Bush was just the captain of the team. McCain is the better man, but wants to captain the same team.

8:25: Obama notes that on the core issues on economy and Iraq, McCain and Bush are quite similar. He also responds to the $42,000 thing. McCain notes climate change, earmarks, torture, Medicare, but doesn't get to the core critique.

8:27: What will McCain say to Obama's face (and vice-versa)? McCain blames Obama for the tone of "both campaigns." McCain goes after John Lewis, public financing pledge. "We will run a truthful campaign." Interesting curveball.

8:30: Obama cites poll that 2/3 of Americans believe McCain is running a negative campaign, No one can say the obvious: That McCain is running a negative campaign because he's behind and he has to, and Obama is spending a lot of money because he's been able to raise it. Obama notes the knuckleheaded staff quotes from McCain staff that they will lose if they talk about the economy. Amazing.

8:36 Almost talked about health care. Instead of listening to them blather about John Lewis, read David Garrow's wonderful book Protest at Selma. McCain stands up for supporters. He forgot about the palling around with terrorists remark.

8:37: Ayers=ACORN destroying the fabric of democracy. "Mr. Ayers is the centerpiece of Mr. McCain's campaign." Not the place here, but I will just say that Mr. Ayers could have prevented a lot of this nonsense if he expressed greater contrition for his past crimes.

8:39: ACORN seems so irrelevant outside the echo chamber of cable TV.

8:40 Great mention of Biden, since McCain of course can't cite Palin.

8:41 McCain is trying to hit hard here. Winds up a negative attack with a return to the theological touchstone of tax cuts.

8:42 The heads up question comparing running mates. I forgot what they were just talking about. Obama has no need to even mention Palin.

8:45 Re: Special needs families and autism. See my previous obsessive posts. Especially the one about Michael Savage. Obama hits autism funding. Good critique of the scalpal. He really should hit Medicaid.

8:48 McCain keeps talking about Obama raising people's taxes. Sheiffer tries to keep things moving on foreign oil. Good old Alaskan oil kills the planet just the same. Someday politicians and the public will support a gas tax. Every policy wonk in both parties knows that this is needed. Go Greg Mankiw!

8:52 Free trade conversation. After the election, we progressives will be fighting about these issues. We must find a way to keep an open trade posture while attending to the distributional problems globalization creates. I worry we will do something stupid in reaction to our current difficulties.

8:55 Obama has a pretty good answer on Columbia, Peru, and Detroit. We still need a gas tax. Everything else is mostly blather. CAFTA is a good thing, but McCain shouldn't invoke Hoover.

8:58 Health care costs vs. coverage. Obama says the obvious. It gives him a chance to recite his plan. That's great for him since McCain has a lame alternative. Yup McCain is giving bromides about electronic medical records, wellness, obesity, etc. Never gets to coverage, since the McCain plan doesn't address this issue. JOE THE PLUMBER came up again, now sweating under capital gains tax increases. McCain says that single-payer plan is Obama's objective. On the substance this is nutty, but may be politically effective.

9:03 Obama notes that Joe the Plumber wouldn't be fined because he has a small business. Dumb mistake by McCain. Obama obviously knows a lot more about healthcare than McCain does. He pivots to McCain plan. I think this is good for Obama.

9:05 McCain is responding to the critique of his healthcare plan by saying "Joe. Congratulations. You're rich." McCain says 95% of Americans will profit from his plan. A complicated issue, but McCain is shifting people into the cheaper, but less extensive and far more troubled nongroup insurance market. Tom Buchmueller, Sherry Glied, Anne Royalty, and Kathy Swartz have a great analysis of these issues in Health Affairs. I think Obama is killing in this section of the debate.

9:08 Roe v. Wade: A great opportunity for Obama. Obama should note the reactionary Republican party platform's stance on the Supreme Court. Most scary line: "We've made progress." That same platform opposed the UN convention on the rights of women and the rights of the child.

9:10 Sheiffer asked whether McCain would nominate someone who supports Roe v. Wade. McCain says "no."

9:12 Obama gets to raise the Ledbetter case. McCain elides the answer by playing the trial lawyer card. McCain seems determined to lose the women's vote by talking about partial birth abortion. I hate those CNN squiggly lines, but wow the genders are diverging on that one.

9:16 I think the longer they talk about abortion, the faster Obama's stock will rise on INTRADE. Obama is hitting unplanned pregnancy and adoption, maxing out.

9:17 The tone of McCain in talking about pro-abortion is jarring. But props to the McCains for adopting.

9:18 Education. Again Obama is playing on home ground.

9:21: Education as the civil rights issue of the 21st century. I think civil rights is actually the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Private schools are such a tough issue for us in the liberal intelligensia. A topic for another day. Props for McCain for praising Teach for America. I teach many graduates. I bet Obama wins among Teach for America folks 80-20 or more.

9:25 DC vouchers. A good point for McCain. But then he said "frankly." McCain mentions Head Start. Janet Currie, Duncan Thomas, and my colleague Jens Ludwig have done great work on this. Let's pray for the school head there.

9:27 The autism point again. Nothing about how to care for people with autism when they leave school.

9:28 Obama knows many specifics on vouchers. McCain looks bad when he is sarcastic. Did you know that socialist economists such as Oskar Lange were intrigued by vouchers?

9:30 McCain gives his valedictory. I do admire his service and the best in his career, despite many low points in this campaign.

9:33; Scheiffer quotes his mom to end the debate. They should keep the squiggly lines for Wolf Blitzer and the other commentators. That may be cruel.

CNN commentary
9:35 Amazing. Bill Bennett thinks McCain won! McCain on offense. Obama flat, professorial. Begala thinks Obama won--no he thinks McCain won the first 30 minutes. Why do they ask these surrogates?

9:37 Gergen suggests McCain was too angry. None of them are talking about what was actually said. I think Obama did well because Americans agree with him more than they agree with McCain on healthcare, education, abortion, Supreme Court.

9:43 I'm done with CNN. Thank you for reading my liveblog.

9:54: jag99 notes the obvious, important point. McCain keeps talking about autism. This is the guy who supported President Bush's veto of SCHIP.

10:02 Oh no! I see my entry on the main page. the intro is a joke about Bob Scheiffer! What they do to my material.....

10:08: A few recovering wonk points: Head Start raises a tough set of issues. The program was enacted with amazing speed in 1965, in part to quickly channel resources to young African-American children essentially excluded from political representation. That first summer, the program served more than 500,000 kids. James Patterson's America's Struggle Against Poverty is a great starting point to learn about this.

In many ways, 1965 was the greatest year in the history of American social policy before Vietnam and the civil rights backlash shattered things. Head Start remains arguably the most successful remnant of the Great Society's community action programs. Head Start programs are implemented in a highly decentralized way that makes them politically impregnable, but that also freezes in stone some serious quality problems. Evidence suggests that Head Start works much better for low-income white kids than it does for many children of color--in part because it is totally unrealistic to expect Head Start to innoculate kids against everything else in their' lives and in their subsequent educational trajectory that challenges academic development.

The voucher debate also merits greater discussion, and more attention to actual data. I don't see this as a liberal-conservative thing. We do Medicaid and Food Stamps as voucher programs. In principle, we could do education, too, If someone could show me good evidence that low-income kids do better under a voucher system, I'd favor this. I wish more conservative foundations would put their money where their mouths are to finance good experiments that deal with the many, many practical obstacles to such a system. If we oppose vouchers, we have to do a much better job managing public schools. Yes they are under-funded. Many are also poorly managed and get poor support from parents and the entire community.

11:20: Final word about Joe the Plumber. Jonathan Cohn notes that the Obama health plan would be much better for Joe than McCain's would be.