First, let me just say that the format of tonight's debate was a disservice to American democracy because NBC and Gallup went out of their way to fill their ersatz "town hall" with the most checked-out, uninformed and disengaged "citizens" who remain "undecided" after eight years of George W. Bush, two foreign quagmires, and the worst economic meltdown in 70 years. Usually "town hall" meetings are made up of the most engaged and active citizens in the community. Not tonight. In October 2008, if you are still "undecided" -- I'm sorry -- you are either a cretin or a beast. Having said that, I believe it was clear tonight that Barack Obama has a far superior understanding of the moving parts of government and American society than John McCain ever had.
Obama's responses were substantive and grounded in a philosophy of governance that respects the rights of all American citizens and not just the privileged few. McCain is obviously wedded to the same old Milton Friedmanesque laissez-faire failed policies the Republicans have been ramming down the nation's throat for three decades as evidenced by his prescriptions on health care, energy, and "entitlement reform." McCain proved, once again, that he is running for Bush's third term. McCain accusing Obama of having "cronies" and "friends" on the board of Freddie and Fannie who are responsible for the current financial crisis is hypocritical and dishonest. McCain talks about American workers being "the best in the world," which is interesting since he has one of the worst voting records on labor union issues in the U.S. Senate. Again, hypocrisy and dishonesty. McCain used the same tired old Republican euphemisms for privatizing Social Security and health care. Nothing Obama said tonight was either hypocritical or dishonest.
It was brilliant of Obama to point out that even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has denounced McCain's health care scheme to tax benefit payments. Obama was the first to mention 9/11 and spoke eloquently and passionately about the unity of purpose the nation felt in those early months after the attacks and how we must regain that sense of purpose. McCain only offered his warmed over platitudes about "fighting" for this, and "fighting" for that, and "America is Great" and "David Petraeus" and "victory and honor" in Iraq and "earmarks" and blah, blah, blah.
McCain used the annoying term, "my friends," 21 times. He referred to the "Afghan freedom fighters," which, unfortunately included Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. His "spending freeze" (other than defense and veterans benefits) is the most regressive proposal of any candidate since Steve Forbes was hawking his "flat tax." McCain has stolen all of his material either from Hillary Clinton or from Obama.
But the really terrible part of this whole night was what was not said. Sarah Palin and John McCain have been using slurs and smears against Obama that are sliding very close to being racist or at least white supremacist. Sean Hannity has Andy Martin, a vicious anti-Semite, on his show slamming Obama. They are trying to turn up the heat and resurrect the idea that Obama is some kind of terrifying "Other," but McCain tonight dialed it down to appear "presidential," which he is not. McCain is NOT the "steady hand on the tiller" that he talked about twice during the debate. He is a shaky warmongering hand who has bad judgment: bad judgment on picking Sarah Palin, bad judgment on helping Charles Keating (and that's according to a Senate committee), bad judgment on the war in Iraq, and bad judgment on how to deal with the economic crisis.
We elect a president, in the best of times, who we "want to have a beer with." We elect a president in the worst of times who understands the challenges we face. Barack Obama understands the challenges of the 21st Century. John McCain does not.