Special Debate Edition
Taking a glance at the liveblogging and instant analysis by progressive media outlets of the first presidential debate in Oxford, Miss., one thing stands out: none of our bloggers saw a knockout victory overall, though both Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama each individually scored points on specific questions.As David Corn of Mother Jones explains it:
In talking policy, both men came across as knowledgeable. McCain truly perked up when he got the chance to discuss the strategic importance (as he sees it) of the Caucasus region. Obama demonstrated confidence in his ability to challenge McCain on the strategic importance of the Iraq war. But, indubitably, many viewers of the debate would score these exchanges in accordance with their preexisting opinions of the two candidates. As for those knotty undecideds, there was no specific assertion that an analyst could point to and say, "This is going to stir them."
After a lengthy opening discussion of the economic meltdown, the debate stayed true, for the most part, to its stated focus, foreign policy, which brought Iraq back to the campaign stage. John Nichols of The Nation summed it up like this:
A blistering economic crisis may be the all-encompassing issue of the moment. But the war in Iraq still defines the difference between John McCain and Barack Obama.
The Washington Independent's Ari Melber, writing from the scene, thought it played to Obama's advantage:
Sen. Barack Obama laced directly into Sen. John McCain during the first presidential debate on Friday, repeatedly telling McCain "you were wrong" on the key foreign policy issues facing the U.S. Obama blasted McCain for supporting President Bush's "failed" policies against Iraq and Al Qaeda, tweaked Republicans for failing to catch Osama bin Laden, and chastised McCain for saying the U.S. could "muddle through" in Afghanistan. Obama's tone was mostly cool and wonkish, but his sparring was more aggressive than his performance during the Democratic primary debates.
Tim Fernholz of TAPPED begs to differ:
On Iraq, it seemed that McCain got the better of Obama because the Democratic nominee failed to present some of his best arguments about the future of Iraq, instead choosing to focus on his correct judgment call at the start of the war.
Among the points Obama should have raised, wrote Fernholz, was the fact that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki supports Obama's timetable for withdrawal.
In the debate's second half, McCain claimed that prior to the coup d'etat executed by Pakistan's former Gen. and President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan was "a failed state." That was a new one on a lot of commentators -- unless what one means by "a failed state" is a democratically elected government prone to corruption, criteria one can now imagine our enemies employing to describe the U.S. as "failed" as well. Obama let this one slide.
At the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog, Hilzoy found others:
Obama, I thought, missed a few opportunities. The most important, I thought, was when McCain said he would never repeat the mistake of abandoning Afghanistan. The response "But John, you did: back in 2003, when you voted to take our focus away from Afghanistan in order to wage a war of choice against a country that had not attacked us" was just begging and pleading to be made. He was also, I thought, a bit tense.
Ezra Klein, whose blog lives on the site of The American Prospect, thought Obama got in a good one when Obama challenged McCain on the latter's comments, first reported on TPM, to a Miami radio interview, where McCain said he might not meet with Spain's President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose country is a NATO ally. Klein cites CNN commentator Bill Schneider saying that McCain simply misspoke during that interview, then reassesses:
Here's McCain's foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann: "The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and id'd him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview." I agree that McCain misspoke. But then his adviser turned his verbal slip into official policy. That's actually worse.
Grist's David Roberts and Kate Sheppard took on the task of fact-checking the candidates' assertions about energy policy. Here's Roberts:
McCain just nailed Obama on the 2005 energy bill, using it as an example of Obama's support for excess pork spending.
Ouch. Thing is, McCain didn't really vote against the bill because it had pork in it. But Obama did vote for it because of the pork for ethanol and renewable energy. It's a legitimate point, and it drew blood.
Sheppard looked at their big-picture energy positions, writing, "Obama said that ... 'we can't drill our way out of the problem.'"
Obama said that our plan should include "wind, solar, yes, nuclear, clean-coal" and hit on McCain for voting against renewables numerous times over his 26 years in office. He also noted that these energy sources "deal with the issue of climate change which is so important."
McCain also argued that one of the solutions to energy concerns should be more drilling: "Offshore drilling is also something that's very important, but it's a bridge ... it will help temporarily help relieve our energy problems." But economists, the Energy Information Administration, and the American Petroleum Institute all say that any effects are at least 10 years out. That's one long bridge.
Oh, yeah, and in case you haven't heard, John McCain has not been elected Miss Congeniality in the Senate, he thinks Barack Obama doesn't understand anything, he could not manage to look at Barack Obama once during the debate, and Barack Obama "absolutely agree[d] with John" a few times.
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