Edge to Obama In Close 1st Debate

McCain may not have wanted to debate, but he didn’t perform as poorly as I thought he would.  That said, he didn’t win the debate.  Nor was he masterful, as Bill Bennett claimed.   McCain sounded annoyed most of the time.  His best moment came when he criticized Obama’s support for earmarks.  Obama countered that 18 billion in total earmark spending in the federal budget is insignificant compared to McCain’s 300 billion tax relief plan for the wealthy.  He never denied the 900 million earmarked for the state of Illinois, though he did mention that some of the dedicated funds went to fund Senior Centers.  As if ashamed, he said he no longer requested earmarks.  McCain rejoined that Obama only stopped his requests for earmarks after he declared his candidacy.  I don’t know why Obama didn’t go after Palin’s record of earmarks, but he dropped the point and lost the argument.  McCain used the refrain “Senator Obama doesn’t understand”, a number of times, but far from making Obama appear inexperienced, this rhetorical device simply made McCain sound cranky.

Obama on the other hand, did try to find common ground with McCain and did say a few times that Senator McCain is “right” and that he agrees with John, but he also said that McCain was wrong several times during the debate. One of Obama’s better points came when he questioned McCain’s judgement on his initial support for the Iraq War and the prediction that it would be a cake walk.  Obama also argued effectively that McCain’s emphasis on Iraq was taking away from the effort in Afghanistan.  I also think his defense of dialogue with Iran, (at whatever level, not necessarily at the Presidential level) which five other Secretaries of State have supported, including Henry Kissinger, McCain’s advisor, deflated McCain’s position that such an approach would be dangerous.  Though Kissinger denied saying he favored top level discussions with Iran, Obama never said that only the President should talk directly with Ahmadinejad.  What Obama said was that dialogue can be constructive at any level.  Conditionalizing talks means diplomacy is not an option.  If diplomatic solutions are not desired, anything can happen, and in my judgement, this is when the situation becomes dangerous.  Maybe the single best moment for Obama came when he pointed out that corporations take advantage of tax loopholes to avoid paying the 35% tax rate McCain claims should be significantly lowered.  Obama argued that he’d close those loopholes to raise revenues to pay for programs like Health Care.

McCain mentioned his hero again, Ronald Reagan.  He admires a former President I believe was one of the worst of the 20th century.  Obama should have pounced on the reference, but let it go.  See my previous post  Reagan – McCain’s Hero, No Hero of Mine

And what was the deal with McCain’s reference to an old pen?  He said “I’ve got a pen, (and he held up what looked to be a sharpie) this one’s kind of old”. I think the idea of using a sharpie or a dry erase pen to veto spending bills amused McCain and he had a sort of, well, not senior moment, that would be unfair, but let’s just say a private joke, that only he understood.  Bizarre, but he won a point with me for humor.

I don’t think there was a clear winner in this one.  McCain performed well, but did not deliver a damaging blow.  Obama performed well, but not well enough to persuade undecided voters.   I give Obama a slight edge.

Obama: B

McCain: B-

A CNN/Opinion Poll showed that 51% of viewers surveyed thought Obama did the better job.  Among women polled, 59% gave Round 1 to Obama.  Read the 1st Presidential Debate Transcript and judge for yourself.