Final Debate Review

[ Posted Thursday, October 16th, 2008 – 17:49 UTC ]

Was it just me, or did last night's presidential debate sound like some sort of surreal game of Clue? "It was Joe The Plumber... in the auditorium... with a lead pipe."

Ahem. Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.

As usual, I don't really have much of an opinion about who "won" the debate last night, because I think such designations are inherently subjective. I can see both sides thinking their candidate "won" the night last night, in other words.

If you were a McCain supporter before the debate, you will likely still be supporting McCain and you will likely think your guy did a good job -- took the fight to Obama, strongly and forcefully made your points, and appeared more upbeat and emotional than during the first two debates. Your thoughts on Obama were likely to be that you felt he did a bad job -- long-winded, couldn't explain things McCain kept hitting him on, and grinning in a disrespectful way throughout the debate.

Likewise, if you were an Obama supporter before the debate, you will likely think your guy did a good job -- appearing calm and rational, answering the questions, refusing to point out what a ridiculous choice Sarah Palin was for a running mate, and addressing issues that average Americans care deeply about while rising above the nastiness of the campaign. Your thoughts on McCain were likely to be that you felt he did a bad job -- jerky, enraged, vicious little soundbites with no substance, demeaning to Obama with his grimaces and raised eyebrows and rolling eyeballs, and obviously clueless about what average Americans are going through.

So while I thought that both candidates likely shored up their base by their performance, I really have no clue what the truly independent voter took away from last night's debate. In other words, who "won" the debate. So instead, I'd just like to go through my notes on the debate, roughly in the order of the debate itself (I got my transcript of the debate from the RealClearPolitics website).


Overall, Obama had (for the most part) a good grasp of examples and numbers to back up his positions and attack McCain's positions. Voters may not remember these the next day, but being able to say "45% of blah blah blah..." gives off the impression that you know what you are talking about. In the first debate, Obama was a bit weak on this front, but he was solid last night, with the exception of misstating things once or twice. For instance, "I want to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of working Americans." This isn't exactly true -- Obama has promised not to raise taxes on these people, but he didn't really mean that all of them will get a tax cut, as some will see their taxes stay the same under Obama's plan. Also, Obama should have said "100 percent of your recent ads" instead of what he did say: "100 percent, John, of your ads -- 100 percent of them have been negative." But those a minor quibbles.

John McCain got his best line of the night in when he said: "Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago." This would have been a great overarching theme for his entire campaign... if he had brought it up about a month or so ago. In other words, I think it is "too little, too late" for McCain on this issue now. But I have to admit, it was a zinger of a line. Obama, to his credit, countered it admirably well with his answer, though, taking the sting out of it.

Obama had a good answer to the charge McCain has been making that "you've never stood up to your party's leaders." And, during his answer, he got his best line of the night out (talking about McCain's charge that he wants to raise taxes on people making $42,000 a year): "Even FOX News disputes it, and that doesn't happen very often when it comes to accusations about me."

McCain repeated an error he's been making all along last night. A good example is when he talked about Jack Kennedy running against Barry Goldwater -- the examples he uses when talking on a range of subjects are all from far in the past. Hoover, Kennedy, and all the rest of his long-ago references just reinforce the fact that McCain is (as he used to say) "older than dirt." Bad move on McCain's part, in my opinion. It's a subtle thing, but because he does it so often, he must not even be aware he's doing it.

Obama, over and over again, turned McCain's attacks against him into talking about the middle class and the problems that they face. John McCain (while seemingly obsessed with Joe The Plumber) seemed to try the opposite, and attack Obama every chance he could get, without trying to explain his own positions. McCain could likely have had better debates if he had focused on what he was trying to do for the middle class, but throughout all of them it has seemed like an afterthought to him. Maybe that's why his debate-prep team teed up Joe The Plumber, to try and put some sort of face on things. But if that's what they were hoping for, I think it backfired. Some guy whining because he's buying a business that is going to give him an income of over a quarter-million dollars a year isn't exactly the poster child for what's going on out there, even if he is a plumber.

This is one of the key reasons these debates aren't doing McCain any good in the polls, I think. That, and the fact that Obama just looks so presidential while McCain looks truly erratic. While it's before my time, the older pundits are already comparing his performances to Richard Nixon's debate with John F. Kennedy, which isn't exactly a good sign for McCain.

And, while it's mostly "inside the Beltway" stuff, I truly believe that all this talk about ACORN is the Republican Party teeing up their excuses for why they are going to get hammered in the upcoming election -- from the Oval Office down to lowly House members. About twelve seconds after the election returns start coming in, look for right-wingers to be all over the cable news complaining that the election was "stolen" from them. Anyone who remembers Bush v. Gore will be rolling around on the floor laughing at this, but at this point, it's kind of all they've got. McCain certainly didn't hold back last night, describing ACORN as an organization "who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." Subtle, eh? Gosh, McCain must think our democracy's fabric is pretty fragile. Too bad McCain himself has ties to ACORN in the past, but that will conveniently be forgotten.

Bill Ayers momentarily got the spotlight, as was expected. Obama's answer was pretty good, especially the use of Ronald Reagan's name. And his closer was perfect: "And I think the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me."

McCain tried throughout the debate to paint Obama as a typical tax-and-spend Democrat, but I really don't think it worked, as a lot of the times it seemed this was his "safe corner" which he would retreat to when he didn't have anything else to say.

McCain's first verbal stumble came when talking about Sarah Palin, when he called her a "bresh of freth air," but then he immediately corrected himself, so it didn't do much damage. A bigger gaffe (which he repeated later) was that he appeared to suggest Sarah Palin's baby had autism rather than Down Syndrome. Or maybe he was just lumping all "special needs children" together, you can read it either way.

Obama, true to form, resisted taking the bait on whether Palin is qualified to be president or not. He's too classy to take such an easy shot as that.

McCain's feistiness even led him at one point to correct the moderator, which astounded me. And his constant demeaning of Obama's "eloquence" fell pretty flat to my ears, coming off as disrespectful and taunting. But maybe it seemed different to others, I don't know.

Is Colombia really the largest importer of American agricultural products in the world, as McCain stated? Something I haven't seen fact-checked yet, but which somehow rings untrue to me. But I could be wrong, which is why I'd like to see someone dig into it, personally.

On health care, I don't know why Obama doesn't make his central point the fact that he's going to do something about being refused insurance over "pre-existing conditions." This is a HUGE issue, and Obama's on the right side of it, which is why it should be front-and-center in his health care arguments. The best way to do this would have been to turn to McCain and say, "John, I tell you what, I'll pay you the $5,000 your plan offers -- out of my own pocket -- and I challenge you to go out on the open market and buy some health care. You probably couldn't find any, or at least nothing close to what you've got now. Then maybe you'll understand what Americans with 'pre-existing conditions' go through out there." Alas, since this was the final debate, Obama now has no chance to do this.

One of Obama's best moments was when McCain tried to say Obama would fine small businesses, and he turned to the camera and said "I'm happy to talk to you, Joe, too, if you're out there. Here's your fine -- zero. You won't pay a fine, because..." McCain then interrupted Obama with an incredulous "Zero?!?" I thought McCain was going to have a heart attack or something from his facial expression. This was McCain's weakest moment of the night, as it made him appear confused about the facts of Obama's plan. He obviously has been saying stuff out on the campaign trail without doing his homework, and it showed.

This, too, was where McCain became almost incoherent for the rest of the night. His answers, sounding like they were delivered through gritted teeth, were (dare I say it) Palin-esque. He strung together talking points (although not into complete sentences) and looked like he expected to be patted on the head for doing so.

One example was when McCain stepped on his own line. He meant to sneer at Joe Biden for getting a hair transplant (as he did in the first debate, I believe, although it could have been the second). But what he actually said was: " Cadillac insurance policies that have to do with cosmetic surgery and transplants and all of those kinds of things." Now, hair transplants sound frivolous and if your insurance pays for them, you do have gold-plated Cadillac insurance. But just "transplants" doesn't really ring the same. I hope if I ever need an organ transplant my insurance pays for it, and I don't think my insurance is exactly gold-plated. But, to be fair, that's not what McCain was trying to say, he was trying to stick a knife in Joe Biden. He just couldn't quite get it out right.

And right after this, the funniest gaffe of the night, when McCain called Obama "Senator Government." Come to think of it, the title would probably be pretty funny to a Republican crowd, but McCain wasn't being clever, he just couldn't get out what he wanted to say and goofed. He did immediately correct himself again, to his credit.

McCain lost millions of women voters with his responses on Roe v. Wade. First he said he wouldn't impose a litmus test on judicial appointments, then he flip-flopped and described his litmus test in detail. Bob Schieffer directly asked McCain whether he would appoint judges who had a history of being for abortion rights, McCain answered: "I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test." Up until that point, McCain was actually sounding reasonable and even a bit noble -- he would only consider qualifications, not ideology. But then he blew it at the end by saying that anyone who didn't agree with his ideology would, by definition, be unqualified.

McCain then dug his hole even deeper. Talking about fair pay for women, he dismissed the Lilly Ledbetter cause by saying it "was a trial lawyer's dream." He tried to hit Obama again on late-term abortion, but Obama answered back with the facts. Obama said he opposed late-term abortion laws which were unconstitutional because they didn't have an exception for the health of the mother in them. This is actually a solidly mainstream position. There are a lot of people who don't like abortion, but making it illegal even when the mother's health is in danger is considered by most Americans as an extreme position. McCain's answer was where you could hear millions of women voters leaving the McCain team:

Just again, the example of the eloquence of Sen. Obama. He's health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, "health."

To drive the point home with a sledgehammer, he made "air quotes" with his fingers when he said the word "health."

Wow. I mean, just... wow.

Here's a clue, John -- when the numbers are in on Election Day, and they show you lost women voters by an overwhelming amount, that right there is the reason why. And ACORN won't have a thing to do with it.


-- Chris Weigant


13 Comments on “Final Debate Review”

  1. [1] 
    kevinem2 wrote:


    Just a few things...Colombia, not Columbia. I kept muting my TV and missed the Kennedy-Goldwater part. Were you pointing out that they never ran against each other or did McCain actually say that? If so, that's a pretty strong argument that McCain's memory is shot. As an 11 year old Canadian during the 1964 election, even I would have known that was wrong. Anyhow, sorry about the nitpicking, I enjoyed the post as usual.

  2. [2] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    "Zero" was the defining moment of the night. McCain has been confusing Obama's health care plan with Hillary's. As you say, the lack of homework showed -- for eleven seconds of jaw-hanging shock on McCain's face. It was the most damaging moment of the evening...especially since "Joe the Plumber" was supposed to be McCain's new comeback strategy.

    Speaking of "Joe," his name isn't Joe. It's Samuel. And he's not a plumber, he's in no position to buy a business, he's got family connections to McCain via the Keating Five scandal, and he was a setup from the start. The October Surprise has been carried out with Bush-like incompetence. Check it out:

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    John McCain may have stumbled over one attempt to stick it to Joe Biden, but...

    One of his statements, in this regard, practically jumped out of the TeeVee...and hit me right smack between the eyeballs! Senator McCain said that Joe Biden was dead wrong on Iraq...and foreign policy and national security...etc. etc. and then said he came up with “a cockamamie plan to divide Iraq into three countries”...all of it UNCHALLENGED by ANYONE!

    I believe those were the only words spoken on foreign policy - in fact, it happened so fast I wasn’t sure what hit me or if I was just having a mini waking nightmare.

    I’ll tell you what...If John McCain really believes that Senator Biden has been wrong on Iraq, foreign policy and national security, and that the Biden strategy for promoting a sustainable political settlement based on federalism and Iraq's constitution is about "dividing Iraq into three countries" then, on that basis alone, John McCain is truly unqualified and unfit to be the next POTUS.

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:


    If so, that's a pretty strong argument that McCain's memory is shot.

    Yea... And Joe Biden thinks that JOBS is a three letter word.. So, I guess Biden's analytical ability is "shot", right??


    he's got family connections to McCain via the Keating Five scandal,

    Yea... And Obama has "family connections" to Cheney. So???

    Come on, people! You guys sound so petty and childish. Grow up already...


    Anyone who remembers Bush v. Gore will be rolling around on the floor laughing at this, but at this point,

    Actually, it has me remembering the 2006 Elections when Dems were screaming DIEBOLD months before the election... And I am not laughing, I am shaking my head sadly...


  5. [5] 
    BLaws wrote:

    Is Columbia really the largest importer of American agricultural products in the world, as McCain stated? Something I haven't seen fact-checked yet, but which somehow rings untrue to me. But I could be wrong, which is why I'd like to see someone dig into it, personally.

    calendar year 2007, measured in terms of value in US$:

    World Total 89,907,538,204
    1 Canada 14,003,843,443
    2 Mexico 12,703,911,353
    3 Japan 10,104,053,574
    4 European Union 8,770,156,617
    5 China 8,313,857,408
    6 South Korea 3,517,712,913
    7 Taiwan 3,112,112,657
    8 Egypt 1,801,450,233
    9 Indonesia 1,541,886,706
    10 Turkey 1,488,891,146
    11 Russian Federation 1,328,541,016
    12 Colombia 1,221,724,921
    13 Hong Kong 1,167,847,169
    14 Philippines 1,112,163,369
    15 Thailand 869,590,833

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    Something I alluded to before in another thread..

    Some of that doesn't sound bad for me, personally..


  7. [7] 
    BLaws wrote:

    I love this one...

    - Free speech and voting rights. A liberal supermajority would move quickly to impose procedural advantages that could cement Democratic rule for years to come. One early effort would be national, election-day voter registration. This is a long-time goal of Acorn and others on the "community organizer" left and would make it far easier to stack the voter rolls. The District of Columbia would also get votes in Congress -- Democratic, naturally.

    So they are nearly flat out saying that they support NOT allowing all people the ability to vote because it would not benefit them since they are in the minority for party support.

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:


    This is a long-time goal of Acorn and others on the "community organizer" left and would make it far easier to stack the voter rolls.

    So, you are saying that it's a GOOD thing that Democrats will be able to "stack" the voter rolls?

    Much like we are seeing ACORN do today at the STATE Level.

    OK, I admit it.. Maybe I am a dumbarse..

    We have situation where a Political Party is taking TWO separate and distinct actions.

    Action #1: Stuff or "Stack" voter registrations with hundreds of thousands of fake, phony and "dead" people.

    Action #2: Make it so that there are NO I.D. checks at voter stations.

    Now, I have been involved in LEO and Security for nearly a quarter century..

    But it doesn't take ANY kind of LE experience to realize that those two actions are the recipe for stealing an election.

    How can ANYONE who is logical and rational not make the connection??


  9. [9] 
    BLaws wrote:


    For someone who rails against people making hysterical, illogical, and non-factual arguments, you just posted something, that if anyone else posted you would have torn apart with 1000's posts.

    ACORN itself is not attempting to stack the rolls at all, a few lazy ass individuals are making bogus registrations to milk a paycheck. ACORN is REQUIRED to turn those false, or faulty, registrations in anyway. They do so by law, and flag them saying they are phony.

    Now, clearly the WSJ and you are implying that "stack the voter rolls" means something underhanded. But the reality is that the GOP has ADMITTED that keeping turn out and registrations down favors them due to most unregistered people are typically Democratic in nature, while Republicans are far more committed to registering and voting year after year.

    If we had 100% turn out, all legitimate voting in this country, the Republicans wouldn't win a national election. Which is why they try to suppress turn out and attempt to purge voter rolls.

    They've flat out admitted it quite a few times. And you are smart enough to know that.

  10. [10] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Anyone watch McCain and Obama at the charity fundraiser last night?

    Who knew Obama was good at stand up? He was hilarious.

  11. [11] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    BLaws -

    Too busy to answer everyone's comments now (it's FTP day, gotta get writing!), but just wanted to say thanks for debunking that Colombia thing. It just didn't pass the smell test when I heard it.

    I promise I'll come back later and address the rest of the comments, just wanted to say thanks for BLaws going above and beyond the call of duty here.

    Oh, and kevinem2, thanks, I'll correct it. That's what I get for overreliance on the spell checker!


  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:


    a few lazy ass individuals are making bogus registrations to milk a paycheck.

    How you can post that with a straight face is beyond me..

    One or two people in one or two states MIGHT be a "lazy ass" problem.

    Dozens of individuals in almost a DOZEN states is more of an institutional issue..

    Like I mentioned before if, instead of Voter Fraud, you had ALL these reports of vandalism to Dem Election offices, you people would be screaming about a co-ordinated effort by the GOP to sabotage Democrats.

    I DARE you to deny it... :D

    Hell, we had TWO (count them... TWO T W O) assaults on liberals 15 days apart by individuals who followed closely Right Wing "Hate" Radio and a whole HERD of Democrats were screaming about conspiracies and serial attacks on liberals and co-ordinated efforts by the GOP..

    TWO incidents, more than two weeks apart and Democrats country wide were screaming CONSPIRACY....


    Now, we have HUNDREDS of reports of fraud, all within 10 days covering ELEVEN states across the nation involving hundreds of people...

    And YOU want to claim, "Eh.. Isolated cases"....

    Seriously, you have GOT to be kidding me??

    You REALLY believe what you are posting???



  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    There are now 13 States where ACORN is being investigated for Voter Registration Fraud.

    I propose a contest..

    Let's see how many states it gets to, where ACORN is being investigated for Voter Registration Fraud, before ya'all concede, "Hmmmmm Maybe something untoward IS going on here...."

    I put my "bet" at 46 states.

    It's going to take Acorn Investigations in FORTY SIX different states before ya'all concede that there IS something amiss here...


Comments for this article are closed.