David Rodeback's Blog

Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Life Among the Mormons, and Other Stuff

Previous Post          Printer-Friendly Version          Next Post


Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Notes on the Second Presidential Debate

No knockout punches. No remorse for spending nearly a trillion tax dollars on a pork-greased bailout. One guy watching got a bit cranky, I'm afraid. ('Twas I.)

I watched the second presidential debate last night, a couple of hours after it actually occurred. (CNN's video stream was practically useless. The one at ABCNews.com was much better.) There were no knockout punches; both candidates had their moments, I suppose, and neither lost ground with supporters. Senator Obama seemed more inclined to abuse time limits than Senator McCain did. Tom Brokaw, for his part, did a good job running the show. Some questions came from the audience, some from the Internet. Brokaw selected them all, and he added his own questions in a few cases to focus the discussion.

No Ponytail Guy

One of the happiest things I can say about this town hall-style debate is that there was no Ponytail Guy. Do you remember Ponytail Guy from the 1992 presidential race? (Do you remember 1992?) Here is John Dickerson's description of him in Slate:

"Ponytail Guy" is the term some in political circles use to refer to Denton Walthall, who asked a question in the second presidential debate in 1992. A domestic mediator who worked with children, Walthall scolded President George H.W. Bush for running a mudslinging, character-based campaign against Bill Clinton in 1992. Referring to voters as "symbolically the children of the future president," he asked how voters could expect the candidates "to meet our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it, as opposed to the wants of your political spin doctors and your political parties. ... Could we cross our hearts? It sounds silly here but could we make a commitment? You know, we're not under oath at this point, but could you make a commitment to the citizens of the U.S. to meet our needs -- and we have many -- and not yours again?"

Since we now know that George H. W. Bush was about to lose the election anyway, I think -- retroactively -- that he should have answered Ponytail Guy as follows:

Mr. Walthall, thank you for your question. I don't want to wait for the election to start meeting your needs; some of them seem more urgent than that. Clearly they include the need for someone to tell you to stop whining, to use the spine God gave you, and stop selling your freedom for government handouts. And here's ten dollars for a haircut. Keep the change.

All right, all right. I'll get back to the actual debate. Once again, I don't intend to offer a summary. You can watch the debate or read the transcript at your leisure. I'll just note some highlights -- or at least some things that elicit a response from me.

The Nuclear Test

I'm pleased to announce that both candidates in the debate passed the nuclear test. They both pronounced nuclear as "nuclear," not "nucular" -- and definitely not "new-kee-uh" as President Carter did.

By the way, Senator McCain presented nuclear power as a major component of any plan to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and to reduce greenhouse gases. Senator Obama claimed to favor nuclear power as one component of his plan, but he seemed half-hearted about it. Still, for him that's progress.

Said and Unsaid, About the Economic Crisis

Senator McCain was far too eager, I thought, to promise us that the federal government will buy all those bad mortgages. (Hey, Senator, that's my tax money!)

In an effort to show that he, too, foresaw the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac debacle and warned against it months or years ago -- as John McCain did in the Senate, with actual legislation, which his colleagues ignored -- Senator Obama offered this insight into how he can think he has accomplished things in the Senate, when many observers think he has not:

Two years ago, I said that we've got a sub-prime lending crisis that has to be dealt with. I wrote to Secretary Paulson, I wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman [Ben] Bernanke, and told them this is something we have to deal with, and nobody did anything about it. A year ago, I went to Wall Street and said we've got to reregulate, and nothing happened.

Memo to Senator Obama: Sir, Senators accomplish things -- change things -- by proposing, promoting, and passing legislation, not by writing letters to officials that don't work for them. Were you away running for president the day they covered that in orientation?


A Ms. Teresa Finch asked, "How can we trust either of you with our money, when both parties got us into this global economic crisis?"


Maybe this is a good time for this cranky report: When the debate was over, I thought about it for a while. This morning, I thought about it some more. By the time I got to work, I was seriously considering not voting for either candidate -- neither the very liberal one masquerading as a moderate nor the very moderate one masquerading as a Republican. (Voting for Obama was never really a possibility, anyway. Too liberal, too slimy, too lost without his speech writer.)

I'll finish this thought later. Meanwhile, back to the debate.

Missed the Boat

In discussing the coming entitlement crisis -- as in more commitments to more people than current workers will be able to fund -- Senator McCain made more sense than his opponent, but both missed the boat. A key to keeping this crisis manageable will be solid economic growth. To some extent, we can grow our way out of the problem, but I fear this basic economic insight is lost in the partisan rhetoric.

How's that Again?

Senator Obama has vocally opposed the war in Iraq for years, and has spent his share of time parroting the empty liberal platitudes about finding no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and about Iraq having nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. Last night, he articulated a doctrine which could justify the Iraq War on other grounds, but I'm sure he wasn't thinking of that application. I've been asking for years, how many mass graves do we have to find in Iraq before the invasion is justified?

Here are Tom Brokaw's question and the first part of Senator Obama's answer:

BROKAW: Sen. Obama, let me ask you if -- let's see if we can establish tonight the Obama doctrine and the McCain doctrine for the use of United States combat forces in situations where there's a humanitarian crisis, but it does not affect our national security.

Take the Congo, where 4.5 million people have died since 1998, or take Rwanda in the earlier dreadful days, or Somalia.

What is the Obama doctrine for use of force that the United States would send when we don't have national security issues at stake?

OBAMA: Well, we may not always have national security issues at stake, but we have moral issues at stake.

If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in?

If we could've stopped Rwanda, surely, if we had the ability, that would be something that we would have to strongly consider and act.

So when genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us.

And so I do believe that we have to consider it as part of our interests, our national interests, in intervening where possible.

I'm sure he would deny that this could apply to Iraq; it's a political necessity that he do so. But it seems self-evident to me.

"A Certain Zen-like Quality"

. . . is what Tom Brokaw said the last question had: "What don't you know, and how will you learn it?"

Neither candidate did it justice. They just used this last question to give closing statements. (There was no separate period reserved for these.) Oh, well.

Finishing the Thought

Earlier I noted that I was tempted not to vote for either candidate. In the end, I'm sure I'll reason that character matters, and that John McCain, at least, has actually sacrificed something meaningful for his country, whereas Barack Obama has mostly just sacrificed the truth. And though John McCain hasn't been a particularly effective maverick these last few decades in the Senate, he doesn't seem to be completely cartilaginous. So it's McCain-Palin for me, and may God have mercy on my country.

Previous Post          Printer-Friendly Version          Next Post


Bookmark and Share