Saturday, September 27, 2008

McCain beats Obama in their first debate, in a close contest.

The Bush/Paulson/Frank/Dodd Bailout

If you define winning the debate in terms of winning over independent or undecided voters, it appears McCain won this general election’s first Presidential debate, but only slightly. The first portion of the debate, about the first forty minutes of what turned out to be a nine-six minute debate, was devoted to the bailout and related economic policy issues. The remainder was foreign policy.

On the bailout, it appeared neither candidate really wanted to talk about that in a thoughtful way. Both repeated, robotically, the principles, or portions there of, that are supposedly embodied in the bailout. If McCain really sought to infuse a new approach to the bailout, say, insuring the shabby financial assets instead of buying them, he should have said so. He didn’t.

Obama, if he really believed in the Bush/Paulson/Frank/Dodd approach of buying troubled assets at above market prices, should have said so more forcefully. He didn’t.

Earmarks and runaway spending

Instead, this portion of the debate, for McCain, was about repeatedly decrying the harmfulness of earmarks and runaway spending—and throwing in a jab or two at Obama’s efforts, as McCain sees it, to turn over healthcare decisions to the Federal government.

Tax cuts for the wealthy

For Obama, this segment of the debate was about arguing McCain supported 300 billion dollars of tax cuts for the wealthy and about tying McCain to Bush’s big spending policies.

The Bush-McCain differences

McCain scored points by reminding Obama of what he said everybody knows: McCain differs from Bush and his party on a number of key items, including big spending, torture, management of the war, etc. That is, McCain argued that Palin and he are mavericks. If you are an undecided or independent voter, you probably do agree with McCain that it is lame of Obama to try to tie him to Bush. Those two simply have disagreed, historically, on a number of major issues. For Palin-Bush, the jury is still out.

McCain and tax cuts

McCain never dealt effectively with Obama’s argument that McCain supported 300 billion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy, even when debate moderator Lehrer reminded McCain of his non-answer. McCain should have argued that he supports keeping tax cuts for all income groups: low, middle and high—as a way of promoting work, savings and investment. McCain could have argued that those high income tax cuts promote small business and jobs for people of all income groups. In this area, it is as if McCain does not understand the arguments his team makes daily on his behalf.

Obama and tax cuts

But, Obama, too, does not seem to know how to score points in the economics area. He should have highlighted McCain’s failure to answer about tax cuts for the wealthy and then gone on to argue that spreading the tax cuts more evenly would result in more consumer spending, more investment and more job growth.

Tax cuts and working class jobs

Strategy Group Obama team member Pete Giangreco needs to do a better job of teaching Obama that you can’t like employees without also liking employers. It is not trickle down economics to argue that tax cuts for some high-income groups result in business growth, which results in more jobs. That’s what the supply side revolution was all about. That revolution apparently by-passed Obama and the Harvard Law School.

In short, the bail-out/ economics portion of the debate was a plus for McCain on earmarks-spending and a plus for Obama on taxes (but not as much as it could have been for Barack). The portion dealing with oil companies, alternative energy, off shore driving and nuclear power was either a slight plus for McCain or a tie. When you net it all out for this portion of the debate, it’s a tie for independent-undecided voters.

Both McCain and Obama could benefit from some tutoring in economics. This reporter is available. He could instruct them simultaneously, doubling his salary.

Foreign Policy:

The Surge and Obama

McCain got a lot of mileage from the fact that Obama now sort of concedes that that the surge worked militarily, and to a lesser extent, politically, but still it was a bad policy, says Obama-- because the U. S. has to focus its resources on the War in Afghanistan and get out of Iraq. It is not a very convincing argument.

Obama’s stronger argument, both substantively and in terms of what the people in the U. S. seem to have concluded, is that the effort in Iraq was a mistake and simply wasn’t worth, ex post, the cost in terms of money, lives lost and severe injuries incurred by U.S. military personnel.

Obama’s thin resume

The above arguments notwithstanding, a long debate discussion of foreign policy highlights the lack of military or even national congressional experience by Obama and the depth of experience by McCain, as in a quarter of a century by McCain in the military and a quarter of a century in Congress. Obama’s infrequent and tardy visit to Iraq and his lack of diligence in holding subcommittee meetings to deal with Afghanistan were also hammered by McCain.

To the mainstream liberal media such as MSNBC’s Matthews, all of that experience paints McCain as an old man of the past-- implying an advantage for the forward looking Obama. To this reporter, it simply reinforces the argument that McCain, even if the country disagrees with him on Iraq, wins over the independents on his sturdiness as a Commander-in- Chief.

In short, the foreign policy edge for McCain last night gave McCain a slight win in the debate, in terms of winning over independents and undecideds. Also, McCain had a slight edge in style. Although much improved over his early primary debates, Obama continues to be stiff and tentative when debating Obama could use a new debate coach. Of course, the real test of who won will be when we see if either candidate gets a bounce up in the polls in the next few days.
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