The Final Debate

The final Presidential Debate of 2008 is tonight. I won’t be liveblogging it, but may chime in with reactions at some point.

This is McCain’s last real chance to pull it out. The polls are against him, and if Virginia swings to Obama he has almost no hope of winning. He has simply got to do more that just attack Obama over his questionable associations. He has got to ask the American people to trust him. The problem is that he’s lost so much ground that he may just be unable to do much to arrest his slide.

If I were McCain, I’d essentially ignore Obama. I’d not do what the GOP pundits are doing. He has got to show that he can lead in turbulent times. He has to give the American people some real “straight talk” tonight about what we face in the next few years and why it’s so important not to go down the wrong path.

This race was always going to be a tough one for the GOP. 8 years of being tied to Bush and an arrogant Congress has left the Republican Party intellectually moribund. The Republican Party has lost its way, and while McCain is not the sort of Republican who got the party into this mess, he’s stuck with the bill. We can whine all we want about how the media has been constantly covering for Obama—and had they done their job this race might be different—those complaints are totally worthless in terms of winning.

There’s so much ground for McCain to make up that it seems impossible for him to win. Then again, that’s been said of the McCain campaign at least once in this political season. The difference is that McCain can’t count on his competitors melting down to win. He’s going to have to give the American people a reason to vote for him. If he can do that, he still has a chance. If not, an Obama Presidency will be a fait accompli.

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder gives three bullet-points to consider tonight. I expect all three will be at play in the debate.

Spinning The Second Presidential Debate

My take on this debate: McCain was strong and substantive. If he were ahead, he would have done fine. But he’s not ahead, and what he had to do is strongly take down Obama. He played it safe, which is not what he needed to do. Objectively, McCain won. In the subjective world of politics, nothing changed, which gives the political advantage to Obama.

More spin as it comes in…

Stephen Green: McCain won, but not enough to matter. Sadly, that seems right.

On Fox, Fred Barnes attacks the format of this debate. I agree. This debate was far more boring than it should have, and that’s due to poor question selection on Brokaw’s part. So far, the best debate was the Rick Warren Saddleback event, and that was not an official debate.

Jim Geraghty agrees that this was a snooze-fest. Indeed, it was.

The biggest loser? Those of us who sat through this thing…

Debate 08 Part Deux

In just a few minutes, Barack Obama and John McCain will debate in Nashville for the second Presidential debate of 2008. I won’t be liveblogging, but I’ll chime in with reactions as they come. After the debate, expect the usual spin.

This is make-or-break time for McCain. He’s down in the polls (even though the polls are tending to massively undersample Republicans). The economy is in crisis, and he needs to show he can lead in a crisis. He needs to not only hit back against Obama, but position himself as a viable alternative. That’s going to be a tough job, but if McCain wants to win he’s going to have to do well tonight.

UPDATE: McCain FINALLY goes on the offensive on the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac issue. It’s about bloody time that he hit on that. He needs to tie Obama to the corruption in Washington tonight.

McCain also needs to hit back on Obama’s outright lie that deregulation is the promise. Europe is having the same problems we are, and they are heavily regulated. More regulations will cause the next crisis rather than prevent it.

UPDATE: I thought George W. Bush could only run twice, but apparently Sen. Obama thinks he’s running against him rather than the guy actually on the stage.

McCain needs to be running against Congress. Remind the people that a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress is a recipe for disaster. Americans don’t need more bipartisanship, they need a government that stops screwing everything up.

UPDATE: McCain needs to stop talking about energy. With gas prices dropping, that’s not the issue it was. McCain needs to hit on 3 things: 1) Corruption in Washington, 2) Corruption in Washington, and 3) Corruption in Washington.

Obama is full of blather, but unless McCain hits back, Obama will get away with it. He needs to hit back, and he needs to hit hard. He’s strong on substance, but that’s not enough for him to win tonight.

UPDATE: Watching Presidential debates is sometimes excruciating for me. Granted, I was never the greatest debater in the world, but if were me up there, I’d have taken Obama to the woodshed by now… why is McCain holding back?

UPDATE: McCain finally hits Obama on taxes, comparing Obama to Hoover. McCain is being substantive tonight, and if he keeps on the offensive he can win this. He’s got an uphill battle, but he’s doing well now. Not phenomenal, and perhaps not as well as he should, but well nevertheless.

Brokaw doesn’t let Obama respond–he’s doing what a moderator should.

UPDATE: Obama’s claim that only a few small businesses make more than $250K seems wrong.

McCain did a great job of reminding the American people that Obama has no record of being a tax cutter.

And bravo to McCain for pushing nuclear power. That’s the truly “progressive” strategy for energy independence.

UPDATE: On the Obama tax plan, even a (financially) conservative estimate is that it would effect nearly 500,000 small businesses. We can’t afford to lose 500,000 more jobs in this country. We can’t afford to lose any more jobs in this country.

UPDATE: Note that in every answer, Obama says that it’s one of the biggest issues. Every answer is paint-by-numbers.

UPDATE: McCain is speaking to small business owners, which is a smart move for him. He’s actually doing a fair job of connecting with the audience, which helps him. Obama’s too-cool-for-school demeanor doesn’t play as well with this format.

McCain should watch his time, though. He’s tending to go long when being short and punchy would be to his advantage.

UPDATE: Obama: health care is a right. No, it isn’t. Unless you want to say that you have a right to the hard work of others. That kind of attitude is antithetical to the very ideas that this country was founded upon.

UPDATE: Obama repeats the same line of BS about Iraq and terrorism. One of my biggest fears about Obama is that in order to show how “tough” he is, he’ll send troops into Pakistan. If that happens, the chances of him provoking World War III is scarily high. If McCain was smart, he’d hit back hard against Obama’s fundamentally mistaken worldview.

UPDATE: Obama: “If we could have stopped Rwanda…” Actually, Senator, we could have. But the same timid Democratic foreign policy you espouse prevented us from doing anything.

UPDATE: As a public service, I’m seriously considering writing a debating manual for politicians. They need one.

McCain hits back on the surge. He’s right on that, but he needs to hit even stronger. What he needs to say is that this is about judgment. Obama does not have the right judgment, and McCain does. McCain’s problem (and Obama’s as well) is that neither knows how to frame their responses.

UPDATE: Ms. Hamm has a very astute question about Pakistani sovereignty. And Obama talks about how Iraq is somehow involved. That answer is bull. If we had never gone into Iraq, it would make no difference. Bin Laden was in Pakistan sometime around December of 2001, long before Iraq.

McCain really needs to call Obama on his B.S. Again, his lack of killer instinct is letting Obama win by default.

McCain hits Obama using Teddy Roosevelt—which is a smart move. He needs to hit on a rather critical point—PAKISTAN IS A NUCLEAR POWER.

UPDATE: If Pakistan is unable or unwilling to take out Bin Laden then we should? Which means that we should—since Pakistan has no way of doing that.

If McCain were smart, he’d ask Obama if capturing Bin Laden is worth the threat of nuclear war. I would love Bin Laden’s head on a stick, but not at the cost of a nuclear exchange over Kashmir.

UPDATE: With a few minutes left, this debate isn’t changing the game. McCain is winning on substance, but he’s not doing enough to get over Obama’s supplicant press. He needed to take down Obama a peg, and so far he’s not done it. Even though Obama is light on substance, he looks just credible enough. McCain needed to cast doubt on Obama’s capability to be President, and I just don’t think he has.

The reality remains: Obama is wrong for this country. His policies are naive at best and dangerous at worst. But McCain needed to make the case tonight, and while he gave us a glimmer of that, he just didn’t do enough.

This race could change, and McCain hasn’t hurt himself. That would be fine if McCain were ahead, but he’s not. Winning on substance tonight isn’t enough to really help McCain.

UPDATE: The retired Navy chief asks a great question, and McCain has a great response. The way he shaked his hand was a nice touch.

Again, however, McCain is strong on substance, but he just isn’t drawing the contrast between himself and Obama.

Obama’s tepid treatment of the questioner comes off as aloof to me. This format really works for McCain—but he just hasn’t been as effective as he should in using the format to his advantage.

Obama’s blathering again, but unless McCain calls him on it, he’ll get away with it. Sadly, that seems to be the story of the night.

UPDATE: Obama had a strong finish, even if the words didn’t mean a damn thing.

McCain’s also had a strong finish. What’s interesting is that only now he talks of his POW experience, and only through allusions. “I believe in this country.” He daes. I’m not sure Obama really does.

A strong finish for McCain. But again, not as strong as it could have been.

VP Debate Thoughts

Joe Biden is losing this thing for Obama. He is coming off as a pretentious jerk.

Palin is not at all as polished as Biden, but she’s coming off as authentic. She doesn’t have full command of the debate, but she’s not just making things up like Biden has been all night.

All in all, this is a slaughter. Not necessarily because of what Palin is doing, but because Biden is coming off so badly.

McCain definitely made the right pick. Palin isn’t a polished Washington insider, which is precisely why she’s doing so well against Biden.

UPDATE: This isn’t a debate, this is a slaughter. Palin is walking all over Biden. Give that woman some time to develop experience, and she’ll be the first female President of the United States, and she’ll do an amazing job.

UPDATE: So Biden changed his mind from following the Constitution in selecting judicial appointments, to violating it through ravenous partisanship.

Those rumors about him stepping down tomorrow? They seem far more likely tonight.

UPDATE: Final thought before all the spin: Palin just wiped the floor with Biden tonight. It wasn’t even close. Biden had his moments, but there’s a reason why his presidential runs went over like lead balloons. Biden was pure Washington, Palin was pure Main Street. She performed brilliantly with a deck stacked against her, which for someone who has never done this before is quite a feat.

UPDATE: Frank Luntz’s focus group on Fox (which usually leans Democratic) seems to have LOVED Palin. By a huge margin. Her bit about personal responsibility lit up the dials. She was a hit with undecided voters. Luntz thinks that this will cause a huge movement in the polls. I think he’s right.

If McCain can capitalize on this, he can win.

UPDATE: CNN’s panel seemed to be roughly split between Biden and Palin. Which, correcting for media bias, means that Palin won convincingly.

Biden made some major gaffes. His position on judicial appointments was completely against the Constitution. He got basic legal issues wrong. Lawyers note those things. Joe Biden may be a nice guy in person, but he was terrible tonight. He came off as arrogant and meandering. Palin dodged some questions and clearly had some gaps in her knowledge. The difference is that knowledge about the world can be learned and developed. Having the ability to reach out to Americans in their own vernacular is a unique gift. Palin did what she had to do tonight, and she went far beyond the expectations placed upon her.

Reacting To The First McCain/Obama Debate

Here’s my take: in the economic section, Obama very narrowly won. On the foreign policy section, McCain won. In the end, the dynamics of this race won’t change. McCain didn’t do what he needed to do to take Obama out, but Obama didn’t do anything to take down McCain either. McCain had the best lines of the night, especially on talking to Iran. However, the foreign policy part of the debate was overshadowed by the economic parts, which gives the narrowest advantage to Obama.

Overall, the quick reaction from the punditocracy seems to be that McCain knocked Obama off balance. To an extent, that’s right. In retrospect, I may have to revise my opinion of this debate…

Bill Kristol thinks that McCain got under Obama’s skin. I’m going to have to watch parts of this debate on YouTube again… I saw some of that, but perhaps not liveblogging the debate caused me to miss some crucial details.

Over at The Corner, the contributors are saying that McCain won. I don’t see this as a clear win, but I could see this as a narrow McCain win.

At NRO’s Campaign Spot, some data that independents weren’t wooed by Obama. I think that Obama’s demeanor hurt him, even though he did well at the first part of the debate.

I consider Megan McArdle to be one of the most lucid Obama supporters out there. And she has a lot of good things to say about McCain tonight. That’s probably a sign that Obama didn’t win.

Another Obama supporter, Ann Althouse seems pretty harsh on Obama as well.

I think that as much as Obama “won”, he won by not totally losing. This wasn’t a game changer, but I’m starting to think that McCain probably won on points, especially looking at the reasonable Obama supporter’s reactions.

If you think that the prediction markets are any guide, then McCain won tonight, as Obama’s “share” price went down throughout the debate. Then again, Obama still retained his lead.

Frank Luntz on FoxNews and his focus groups give an edge to Obama.

In the end, McCain probably did win the debate, but Obama didn’t lose, which still gives Obama the lead. Still, remember 2004. Kerry won the debate, but ended up losing anyway. Looking back, I do think that McCain got under Obama’s skin, and it showed. There are two more debates to go, plus the Palin/Biden dustup. This race ain’t over, not by a longshot…

Liveblogging The Presidential Debate

I will be doing my customary liveblogging of tonight’s Presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi. This will be a major event in the campaign, and while the subject is ostensibly to be foreign policy, expect that the debate will be predominantly about the state of the economy. As always, analysis and reaction to the debate will follow.

UPDATE: 7:50 PM The debate will begin shortly. Right now, the conventional wisdom is that McCain is at the disadvantage. That’s probably correct, but the question remains whether that will be the case at the end of the night.

Jim Leherer of PBS is the moderator tonight.

UPDATE: 7:55 PM The economy will probably dominate this debate, even though it is supposed to be about foreign policy. The Obama people think that will help him.

UPDATE: 8:00 PM The debate is about to begin. Leherer is at his table, but the candidats have not yet taken the stage.

UPDATE: 8:02 PM Jim Lehrer is giving the ground rules. The global financial crisis will be on the agenda. The candidates are taking the stage.

UPDATE: 8:03 PM Lehrer begins by quoting Eisenhower and the first questin is on the economy. Obama is first to answer.

He’s already falling into the trap of winding up to the answer. But his main points are fairly clear. The problem is that four points is a bit much. Of course, he goes after Bush.

UPDATE: 8:05 PM McCain mentions Sen. Kennedy. Which is nice, but he needs to be stronger.

McCain’s answer is good, but it’s not as strong as it could be right now. He seems to be endorsing much of the Republican plan.

McCain’s energy is down. This doesn’t help him on the age issue.

UPDATE: 8:08 PM Neither really answered the question. Lehrer, doing a good job as moderator, calls them on it. Obama goes right back to blaming Bush. The problem is that unless McCain does something, Obama will get away with it.

McCain’s statement about foreign oil was out of place.

UPDATE: 8:10 PM McCain’s point about accounability is very good. But he needs to be making this point more forcefully.

Obama’s message is clear: Bush is at fault. What is McCain’s message? He needs to find it fast, or he’ll end up getting steamrolled.

Lehrer wants more interplay between the candidates. That would be good.

UPDATE: 8:13 PM McCain needs to be stressing his experience right now. Don’t agree, distinguish.

So far Obama is treading water, and so is McCain. That gives the advantage to Obama, however.

UPDATE: 8:14 PM McCain hits on spending. Good. He needs to hit that point strongly all night. His energy picked up when he talks about spending. He’s getting into the groove, and now he’s going on the offense. He’s doing better, but is it better enough?

UPDATE: 8:17 PM Obama hits back on taxes. And again, the comparisons with Bush.

Obama’s attack was good, but McCain’s response was good. Hitting back on spending was also a good move. The clash tonight is really picking up.

McCain needs to portray Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal. He’s close, but he needs to make the contrast clear.

UPDATE: 8:20 PM Obama is on message. McCain is also finding his message. I think that Obama has a narrow edge, but I think McCain’s message is resonating.

The problem with this whole discussion is that taxes doesn’t have much to do with the situation at hand. Lehrer should try to keep this debate more focused.

Obama’s message on tax simplification is a strong one. But it’s not as though that he’s got much credibility on cutting taxes.

UPDATE: 8:25 PM McCain finally stresses the value of his record. That helps him. He’s trying to get under Obama’s skin, which is the smart strategy.

UPDATE: 8:26 PM Lehrer gets back to the original question. Lehrer is very hands-off tonight.

His question about how to pay for the bailout is a smart one.

Obama immediately strays from the topic. He may be a lawyer, but no advocate could get away with this in an oral argument. Why don’t we have federal appellate judges moderate these debates? That would be interesting…

UPDATE: 8:28 PM McCain talks about cutting spending. He says he would eliminate ethanol subsidies. Oh well, he wasn’t going to win Iowa anyway.

Now he’s going on defense spending. This is a smart move on his part. Defense spending is out of control. He’s painting himelf as a reformer, but he could be more forceful.

Obama: I’ll spend more. McCain: I’ll spend less. Obama’s answer was a complete tangent from the question. Lehrer, to his credit, seizes on this.

Call me formal, but I don’t like this first name basis thing.

UPDATE: 8:31 PM Obama mentions the Obama-Coburn bill. Which, to his credit, was a very good bill.

Lehrer wants an answer. McCain proposes a spending freeze. That’s a good policy.

Obama wants to spend more. Lehrer is hitting him harder on this issue than McCain is.

McCain goes for nuclear power. Good for him. Very good for him. But could he be more ambitious than 2030?

UPDATE: 8:34 PM Lehrer wants a simple answer to a direct question. McCain’s spending freeze was an answer. Obama just keeps going back to how much more he wants to spend. McCain should hit back on that.

“As President, I would have to make some tough decisions…” Well, duh. That’s not an answer.

UPDATE: 8:36 PM McCain hits Obama on spending. I would have loved for him to say that government-run healthcare would be another Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Sadly, he didn’t hit on that point.

I think McCain’s anti-spending campaign will help him. Obama’s silly little lines against Bush are transparent. That’s what the Democrats want him to say, but McCain handled his response well. I don’t think that the whole McCain = Bush line works as well as they think. McCain is not Bush, and the differences are stark.

UPDATE: 8:39 PM Lehrer asks him about the lessons of Iraq. It’s a good question, and a softball for McCain. His answer is strong, even if his speaking style is not the best.

Obama’s response is predictable. The Democrats want to refight 2003 all over again. McCain needs to hit him hard on the Afghanistan issue. Can the American people trust Obama to tough it out in Afghanistan? It will be a tough fight, and Obama is opening himself up on this issue, and McCain should go after him on it.

UPDATE: 8:42 PM McCain hits him back on the surge issue. This is about judgment, and Obama’s judgment in the last two years has been wrong. Even if he was right then, that doesn’t mean that he has the judgment to lead.

Obama has to admit that the surge worked. Obama just set himself up for a smackdown by thinking that McCain supported the 2003—07 policy. He was one of the toughest critics of that strategy.

Obama’s rate of speech really increased in that last answer. That seems to be a tell with him.

So far, McCain seems to be narrowly winning this part of the debate. Selling opposition to the war now is not easy as it was two years ago.

McCain did a smart thing by tying the victory in Iraq to winning in Afghanistan. He needs to hit that harder.

UPDATE: 8:47 PM Obama wants to refight the past. He’s clearly on the defensive right now, which does not help him. However, McCain needs to hit him on the Afghanistan issue.

For all the talk about McCain’s temper, Obama seems really testy right now. McCain hasn’t walked away with this, but he comes off with more credibility here.

UPDATE: 8:50 PM The next question is about Afghanistan. Obama repeats the lie that there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before th
e war. McCain should call him on it.

Obama is doing fairly well here. His pronunciation of “Pakistan” is more correct, but it seems odd for an American to use it.

McCain talks about Pakistan. He needs to remind the American people that Pakistan is a nuclear power, and we don’t have the leverage.

He hits on how we need to apply the lessons of Iraq to Afghanistan. His answer is strong here. This is a reverse of the first half hour. Now Obama is treading water. Neither candidate has won, and neither has lost. McCain needs an advantage though, and so far the dynamics of this race have not changed.

UPDATE: 8:56 PM Obama’s response is fairly strong, but completely nondescript.

McCain talks about the Lebanon issue. He’s reinforcing his judgment on the issues, but it seems out of place here. Then again, Obama hasn’t made the case here. McCain should remind the country that his son is in the military.

McCain has the gravitas advantage here.

“I’ve got a bracelet too.” Gag me with a spoon. Obama’s logic here is silly. Yes, U.S. troops will have died in vain if we leave Iraq in tatters.

McCain’s attack on Afghanistan is right: Iraq and Afghanistan are linked, and not in the way Obama says they are.

UPDATE: 9:03 PM The next question is about Iran. McCain pushes a League of Democracies. This is one of my personal favorites. That’s an interesting tactic for him to take.

McCain takes a hawkish line on Iran. That’s exactly the line he needs to take.

Both candidates confuse the Iranian Revolutionary Guards with the former Iraqi Republican Guard.

Obama’s answer is basically a “me too” to McCain. If Obama thinks that we can get sanctions through with Russia and China, he’s an idiot.

Obama goes for the “direct democracy” line. That was stupid.

UPDATE: 9:08 PM McCain goes after Obama on speaking to Ahmadinejad. McCain’s energy level on this question is high. His answer is strong here.

Obama’s response about not inviting Ahmadinejad over for tea is cute, but his logic is completely wrong. Talking without preconditions does not mean what he apparently thinks it means.

Obama is basically agreeing with McCain, but doesn’t understand that he is. McCain would not talk to Iran unless they stop threatening Israel. Obama seems to agree. That is a precondition, Sen. Obama.

UPDATE: 9:12 PM McCain gets in a good line about not having a seal yet. Nice.

McCain’s doing well here, and Obama keeps trying to interrupt. That doesn’t play well, I don’t think.

And still Obama doesn’t know what the phrase “without preconditions” means. If Obama wants to run on a platform of talking to Iran, go ahead.

McCain just had the first strong moment of the debate. Too bad he didn’t get to that earier. Could this help him? Probably not, but it could hurt Obama to a small extent. Security-minded voters already support McCain, and Obama has done nothing to change that tonight.

UPDATE: 9:17 PM The question about Russia. Obama just said he supports NATO expansion. I guess Palin’s comments in that regard aren’t so dangerous now, since Obama just endorsed the same principles.

McCain comes out swinging. His line about Putin was great. His point about energy security is a good one. I also note that he used the familiar form of the Georgian President’s name. Something that serves as a VERY subtle reminder that he knows what he’s talking about.

Watch Ukraine. Indeed.

Obama is right. There isn’t much daylight between them, which makes Obama look like a “me too” candidate. Obama hurt himself on Iran, and he’s treading water here. McCain has the advantage here, but this election won’t be decided on these issues.

Obama has a great stage presence, which isn’t surprising. But McCain is at least holding is own. So far McCain has had the strongest moment with the talking to Iran bit, but neither candidate has drawn real blood.

UPDATE: 9:24 PM McCain gets a riposte on energy, and Obama keeps interrupting. I don’t think that helps him. “I have never objected to nuclear waste.” Quoting people out of context is fun.

Final question: how likely is another 9/11? McCain has the first crack. Again, he draws the contrast between himself and Bush.

Obama keeps glowering at McCain. His presence has been strong, but that kind of thing doesn’t look good for him.

Both candidate say we’re safer, but not safe. Which is true. Obama is right about chemical plants and ports. However, suitcase nukes may not actually exist. (Although they are possible in theory.) Nuclear missiles do.

Obama talks about us being disrespected in the world. B.S. If that were true, why have pro-American leaders replaced anti-American ones across Europe?

McCain comes out swinging on Iraq again. For once, I don’t think that the anti-war side is that strong. It never is when we’re clearly winning.

UPDATE: 9:32 PM Obama accues us of being “solely focused” on Iraq. Other than where we’re not. Obama is saying what his side wants him to say, which isn’t going to resonate with security voters. He goes back to the economy, which is more solid grond for him.

We’re not talking about losing this war? Actually, Senator Obama, that’s what you would have had us do.

McCain lays it on the line, and even compares Obama to Bush in his stubbornness. That’s the kind of tactical move he should have been making all night. Again, Obama has to overcome McCain’s credibility on these issues, and he just hasn’t been able to do that. The problem for McCain is that Obama does not need to do so to keep his lead.

UPDATE: 9:35 PM Does Obama really believe that the world doesn’t see us in the same light these days? And that investing in education will fix that?

McCain gets the last word in. His push for normalizing relations with Vietnam is a great story, and he should tell it more often.

The debate is over. Reactions to follow.

What McCain Needs To Say Tonight To Defeat Obama

John McCain will attend tonight’s Presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi.

McCain has an opportunity to take Obama out, and it looks like he is going to go for it. The way he can do this is to run against the “politics as usual” in Washington. His dangerous political gambit this week can pay off for him, but only if he makes it work tonight. That is his “must-do” for this debate.

Here is what he needs to say in his own words: the American people are sick and tired of politics as usual in this country. They are sick and tired of a lack of leadership from Washington. The choice to suspend the campaign was a necessary one because partisan politics has to come second and the country has to come first.

But moreover, he needs to go on the offensive. Here is what he can do to deliver the knockout punch. Republicans won’t like this, but it will help McCain win. The argument is this: for the last eight years we have had a political culture that put politics above country. Sen. Obama’s decision to carry on his campaign while the economy was collapsing was just like President Bush sitting back while the levees collapsed in New Orleans. President Bush said “heckuva job, Brownie.” Sen. Obama has Jim Johnson, one of the architects of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac disaster as his campaign advisor.

We don’t need another four years of politics first. When the country is in crisis, politicking is not the right response.

That will provoke Obama like nothing else. It may offend some Republicans, and it is somewhat unfair to President Bush. But McCain is not Bush and has to distance himself from the failures of the Bush Administration.

He can turn this whole series of events against Sen. Obama. He can make this debate a turning point. He can turn this into Obama’s Katrina, if he has the guts to do this. I know he does.

The question is will he?

UPDATE: Jim Geraghty thinks that agreeing to the debate was mistake as it undercuts McCain’s message. If a deal emerges today, perhaps not. It is a risky move, but that can be erased if McCain handles the aftermath well enough. Obama thinks he has the upper hand here, which means he’s going to go into this thing cocky. McCain needs to be able to turn that against him.

Don’t Shoot The Messenger

David Brooks defends ABC News from the attacks over last night’s Democratic debate:

I understand the complaints, but I thought the questions were excellent. The journalist’s job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question tonight did that. The candidates each looked foolish at times, but that’s their own fault.

We may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall. Remember how George H.W. Bush toured flag factories to expose Michael Dukakis. It’s legitimate to see how the candidates will respond to these sorts of symbolic issues.

The middle section of the debate, meanwhile, was stupendous. Those could be the most important 30 minutes of this entire campaign, for reasons I will explain in point two:

Second, Obama and Clinton were completely irresponsible. As the first President Bush discovered, it is simply irresponsible statesmanship (and stupid politics) to make blanket pledges to win votes. Both candidates did that on vital issues.

Brooks is right on that. When Clinton and Obama did discuss substance, they didn’t help themselves. For one, Barack Obama admitted A) that capital gains tax cuts raise revenue to the government but B) he’d raise taxes on capital gains anyway. So the point of the tax system is no not to generate revenue, but to punish people for being successful? That’s exactly the sort of message that Democrats don’t want the American public to hear. It undercuts their own major policy arguments that the real purpose why the Democrats have an undying love affair with taxes is because government is chronically underfunded. Obama just admitted in front of everyone that he doesn’t care if a tax increase would reduce revenue, he’d still be for it. That’s a message that we’ll be hearing in GOP attack ads this summer.

Clinton doesn’t exactly have much to crow about either:

Both promised to not raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 or $250,000 a year. They both just emasculated their domestic programs. Returning the rich to their Clinton-era tax rates will yield, at best, $40 billion a year in revenue. It’s impossible to fund a health care plan, let alone anything else, with that kind of money. The consequences are clear: if elected they will have to break their pledge, and thus destroy their credibility, or run a minimalist administration.

The chances of either Democrat running a minimalist administration are roughly the same as Mira Sorvino showing up at my door holding a winning lottery ticket and plane tickets to Tahiti for two. It just isn’t going to happen. So how are the Democrats going to fund universal health care, more funding for virtually everything (except the military) and not raise taxes on more than just the “rich?” The good money is on “they won’t.” The only way to fund all these billions of dollars in goodies is by reaching into all of our pockets to do so.

Brooks sees electability as a problem for the Democrats, but he’s still bullish on Obama. To win the nomination, for sure it’s virtually sure to be Obama. But if Sen. Obama keeps floundering like this when being asked tough questions, all the sycophantic media coverage in the world won’t save him. It’s understandable why the Democrats are flocking to Obama—but at the same time perhaps they should be less quick to shoot the messenger and start taking a hard look at who Barack Obama really is.

How To Tell Obama Lost Last Night

By the hostile reactions from the usual suspects. How dare they ask serious questions about Obama’s past associations with Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers or his association with the radicalism of Pastor Wright! They should have been lobbing softballs about how “universal” Obama’s healthcare plan will be!

Over at The Campaign Spot, Jim Geraghty wonders if Hillary Clinton didn’t knock Obama off his pedestal. Fat chance of that. To most of Obama’s supporters, Obama is the nominee, and Hillary has no right to compete even though Hillary has an at least plausible chance at winning the popular vote and neither candidate can win without appealing to the superdelegates. The reaction to last night’s debate is what I though it would be: it isn’t that Hillary Clinton has been telling Democrats that Obama is going to get creamed in the general, it’s that Hillary should stand aside and let Obama get creamed in the general. Sen. Clinton came perilously close to making that case last night, but never quite went there.

To be honest, Republicans should be exceedingly happy if Obama gets the nomination. Hillary Clinton could win the states that the Democrats need to win to take the White House. Obama has a ton of charisma, but is hampered by a total lack of experience, plenty of skeletons in his closet, and a tendency to actually say what he thinks. Geraghty is right, Team McCain should be very glad that the Democrats are embracing Obama, because the more they fixate on him the less willing they are to see his flaws.

UPDATE: Mitch Berg takes a rhetorical brickbat to the debate.

The GOP Debates In Florida

Stephen Green suffered through tonight’s GOP debate, drinks in hand. I caught the first half hour of it, but decided that was enough. This part made my evening:

7:14pm To Romney: “Are these other jokers really tax cutters?” Again, Paul got stiffed. Again, Romney appears stiff. You know what bugs me about Romney? If his hair were even only slightly curly, you’d swear he was a Viagra-laced penis. The man is erect.

7:14.5pm Mormon Erectus. . . .

7:27pm Once you start to think of Romney as a six-foot-tall erect penis, you just can’t see him any other way. I mean, watch the guy with that in mind and tell me I’m wrong. “We’re the party of fiscal responsibility. Bulging, thrusting fiscal responsibility.”

Nobody else can turn such a deadly boring event into the perfect forum for some inspired dick jokes…

I did catch the first part of the debate, and as much as it sometimes pains me to say it, I’m starting to warm to McCain. I’m a currently uncommitted voter—I want some reason why I can support one of the candidates. John McCain, for all his faults (and they are legion!), gets it on the war. He gets it on spending. He’s reliably pro-life. I’m not convinced yet, but he’s the only candidate that gave me a reason to support him.

Romney (AKA Mormon Erectus) is more strongly conservative. What I like about Romney so far is that he’s a competent technocrat. He probably could do much to turn the government around. What I dislike him is that he’s a competent technocrat—and technocrats don’t tend to get elected in this country. He’s got some good ideas, but I honestly have trouble seeing him compete against Hillary and a lot of trouble seeing him against Obama. At the end of the day, do I want someone who’s closer to my beliefs but is less likely to win or someone with whom I have major disagreements but is right on some big issues?

What keeps me out of the McCain camp is that I don’t trust him on judges yet. And as a larval lawyer, judges are a top issue for me. McCain-Feingold was an unconstitutional piece of legislation that directly conflict with the most important form of speech in this country: political speech. A judge likely to see McCain-Feingold as constitutional is not a judge I want to see on the Supreme Court.

As for Rudy, I’d like to support him, but he’s toast. I’ve seen Rudy Giuliani speak more than once, and he’s damned good when he’s on. The problem is that he’s just not on right now. He’s dry and even when he’s got solid positions on the issues he just doesn’t inspire.

When Rudy tells the story about the burly construction worker giving President Bush a bear hug at Ground Zero, he brings the house down. Rudy Giuliani can communicate. What’s frustrating is that we’re not seeing it in these debates. Florida is Rudy’s firewall state, and I just don’t see him winning it. It’s too bad in way—I supported Rudy early on, and I still think he’s a smart and effective leader. He just hasn’t performed in this campaign. In some ways, he’s a lot like Fred. By ceding the early states he ceded the momentum needed to stay viable later on. His strategy had some potential, but now it appears to have not panned out for him.

Mike Huckabee: what more can I say? The guy is not prepared and not conservative. Did he really say that we need to add more lanes to I-95 to stimulate the economy? That fixing Florida gridlock is a key federal problem? That Saddam shipped his WMDs to Jordan?! What were they smoking in Iowa?

I will say this: Huckabee is on to something. There’s a lot of middle-class angst out there, some of it justified, some of it not. Whether or not it’s rational, the Republicans have to address it. Huckabee is doing that in a way that the other candidates are not. The other candidates needn’t follow his brand of silly populism, but it would behoove them to follow his lead in at least showing some simpatico with the middle class.

As much as I criticize Huckabee, I’d take him as the spokesperson for evangelicals above a Jerry Fallwell or a Pat Robertson. Even though he isn’t cut out for the Oval Office doesn’t mean that he’s politically irrelevant. The rest of the field shouldn’t be following his lead on policy, but they’d do well to pay attention to his rhetoric.

And then there’s Ron Paul. 80% right, 20% completely flippin’ bugnuts. What we need to do is scientifically figure out how we can remove the crazy anti-war conspiratorial Ron Paul from the libertarian Ron Paul and then you’d have something. Sadly, that isn’t possible. Instead we get a screeching paranoid who probably does more harm to the libertarian cause than good—and a cult-like peanut gallery that follows him around. I’m not sure who’s cynically using who, whether Paul is cynically exploiting the radical anti-war left or they’re using him to give themselves a forum. Either way, he’s ended up as a political bedfellow with 9/11 “Truthers”, John Birchers and isolationist paleocons. I’ll be greatly relieved when his irritating nasal whine and paranoid rhetoric goes away.

NBC had to try to make every question some silly “gotcha.” Moderate the debate, don’t try to push it. Charlie Gibson so far has done the best job, and no one else has come close. This wasn’t quite as bad as the Iowa debate, but it was close.

This uncommitted voter remains uncommitted, although McCain did move me a bit in the part that I saw. I doubt anything changed as a result of this debate, and the race seems to be a match between Romney and McCain with Rudy hoping to keep up.

The winner? Stephen Green for comparing Mitt Romney to a six-foot phallus. The loser? Anyone else who suffered through the whole insufferable debate.