10/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Obama-McCain Debate: Lingering Mysteries

Why did Obama, superior in intellect and character, jab lightly and otherwise play rope-a-dope rather than delivering decisive blows to McCain's inviting jaw? Here are two among a half-dozen samples of opportunities foregone:

1. McCain: We have got to get spending under control.

Obama [what he could have said] "I sometimes wonder if John remembers that he, a lifetime Republican, is running on the Republican ticket. The explosion of spending to which he refers is the product of three presidencies, all Republican. Ronald Reagan led the way: By his 4th year in office he had succeeded in tripling the annual budget deficit. George H.W. Bush made Reagan look like a piker, managing by his third year to add almost $200 billion to Reagan's worst deficit. Then, after Bill Clinton drove down the annual deficit from the roughly $400 billion in Bush the father's last year to under 20 billion in Clinton's last year and scheduled to fall to zero under Al Gore, Bush the son took us to heights his father could not ascend, from Clinton's 18 billion to George W. Bush's $596 billion and in only three years.

"Perhaps John is confusing today's Republican Party with the party that existed 60 years ago, when John was in his adolescence, before radicals, billionaires and Lobbyists of the radical right took it over. He may want to run and hide from the Bushes, but he still wraps himself in the mantle of the first big spender, Ronald Reagan. If he is serious about getting spending under control, about not morgaging the future of our nation and our kids, he should re-register as a Democrat."

2. McCain: We have got to clean up the sleaze in Washington and Wall Street.

Obama [what he could have said]: "The lust for profits, what some might call 'greed', is the motor of our capitalist economy. That lust works for all of us as long as it is carefully monitored by a competent, elected government. Otherwise powerful individuals and corporations will use their power to manipulate market forces in order to increase their profits at the expense of the average working man and woman. Republicans seem committed to helping them exploit the rest of us. They help those who need no help (until like now the result of their uncontrolled greed explodes in their faces) by financially starving our regulatory agencies. They do it by disparaging government and thus trying to discourage able and idealistic people from joining the regulatory agencies or remaining once they are there. They do it by switching Internal Revenue Service auditors from checking on the tax evasion schemes of the super-rich to knit-picking the returns of the average American. They do it by failing to close down off-shore money-laundering centers for the super-rich. De-regulation has been transformed by the Republican Party into no-regulation and what we have gotten is sleaze.

What is John's answer?: He will fire Chris Cox, the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. But why single out Cox, a former Republican Congressman. He is no more than a typical Republican, a champion of the rich and powerful, eager to let them get on with the business of exploiting our great free-enterprise system. Like John throughout his long political life, he is just a typical Republican-type de-regulator. It is just a bit late for Cox or John to reinvent themselves as the enemies of sleaze. For sleaze is what happens when a political party's reigning philosophy is to look the other way."