Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama lands heavy blows but no knockout punch.

I thought McCain looked slightly nervous at the start of the debate and - from the fact that he never looked at Obama's eyes as they welcomed each other - for the first time, I thought that there might be some truth in the rumours that McCain does not actually like Obama. It was, for example, notable that throughout the debate Obama referred to McCain as "John" whilst McCain would only ever refer to Obama as "Senator Obama". Indeed, it was notable for most of the debate that Obama acted as if he was having a conversation whilst McCain rarely ever looked in Obama's direction.

McCain tried early on to make a great deal out of the fact that Obama requested $932 million in pork barrel spending, but Obama was able to counter this easily by pointing out the enormous amounts McCain would like to give to the rich in tax cuts, reminding everyone that pork barrel spending amounted to a mere $18 billion. In effect, he was saying that McCain is making a big deal about a little matter whilst handing $300 billion to the same people George Bush looked after.

I think he could have hit these points even harder though.

McCain, always a man who will veer towards the dramatic to unsettle his opponent, displayed the kind of recklessness which has come to define his presidential bid by proposing a spending freeze. Obama can't have seen this coming but was quick to counter by saying that this was "using a hatchet where one needs a scalpel". Obama then pointed out that there are education projects that are currently underfunded and also brought up the amount of money currently being spent on the Iraq war. McCain countered with money that the US gives to country's that hate the US which eventually ends up in the hands of terrorists.

I found that exchange particularly enlightening. Obama appeared rooted in reality whilst McCain appeared to be wallowing in Republican talking points. For example, he didn't name any of the country's which hate the US to which this money was being given, nor did he offer any proof of US government money ending up in the hands of terrorists. Nor did he explain why, as his party has been in power for the past eight years, that they have allowed this situation to develop as McCain claims they have done.

This, for me, is the central problem which McCain faces each time he hits these talking points. His party have been in power for the last eight years, so he shares responsibility for all of their actions and inaction's. McCain appears to want to run against his own record, which strains credibility to say the least.

As Obama pointed out, "It's been your president, who you said you agreed with 90% of the time, who supported this orgy of spending. You voted for almost all of his budgets. To stand here and say that after eight years you're going to lead on controlling spending and balancing our tax cuts for middle-class families," Obama said. "It's kind of hard to swallow."

McCain responded with that stupid smirk, which is becoming his trademark, and a claim that he has never been voted "Miss Congeniality". When you've voted with Bush over 90% of the time, I think you've certainly been congenial to both Bush and to his policies. I thought this was a clear goal to Obama.

McCain also called for the building of 45 new nuclear power stations, which simply left me open mouthed. Is that a vote winner? Does McCain seriously think that this will be a popular proposal?

When the conversation moved to foreign policy, which we were told was McCain's strongest suit, the debate noticeably livened up with Obama scoring some of his heaviest hits of the evening.

Obama accused McCain of wanting to pretend that the Iraq war began when the surge began and argued that the war should never have been fought in the first place.

Obama landed heavy punches when he stated, "The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.

"You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni. And you were wrong."

It was a similar story when they discussed Pakistan. McCain attempted to say that Obama wanted to attack Pakistan, which was a lie that Obama easily blasted out of the water by reminding people that he wanted to go after bin Laden, not Pakistan.

Likewise, when McCain attacked Obama for voting against troop funding. Obama pointed out that both of them had voted against troop funding but that both of their votes reflected their positions on timetables rather than their belief on whether or not the troops should be funded.

At this point McCain started to look as if he was being deceitful and became noticeably patronising.

McCain tried to score points by showing off a bracelet which he wears which was given to him by the mother of a soldier who had fallen in battle. She asked that McCain make sure that he did not die in vain. Obama countered by pointing out that he also wore a bracelet given to him by a mother of a fallen soldier who requested that no other mother went through what she was going through.

Obama also scored by pointing out that McCain had said that the US could "muddle through" in Afghanistan at which point McCain's patronisation went up a couple of notches with him claiming that Obama "did not seem to understand" the issues they were debating.

McCain then ridiculously started talking about Iran and "another holocaust" regarding Israel when asked about how to deal with Iran.

Obama countered by pointing out that the Iraq war, which McCain supported, had done more to strengthen Iran than any other factor. Obama also pointed out that not talking to other nations has not resulted in success in the US's dealings with Iran or in North Korea; that Ahmadinejad was not actually the leader of Iran and that Kissinger, a McCain advisor, was also calling for negotiations with Iran, as was the Bush regime. McCain attempted to make false distinctions at this point about presidential meetings etc, but I thought he came across as overbearing and deceitful in the way he constantly set out to misrepresent Obama's position.

McCain's talking points were exposed as the empty rhetoric that they are. McCain then set out to portray Obama's viewpoint as, "not only naive but dangerous" but by this point he was flogging a dead horse as he was actually wrongly framing Obama's argument, and actually arguing for the Bush administration's policy of never engaging with other country's until they agreed to give you what you want in advance. This policy has been a resounding failure over the past eight years which makes McCain's wish to continue it appear obtuse.

I was slightly disappointed that Obama allowed McCain to get away with the lie that Russia invaded Georgia and that Russia were the aggressors here as even Colin Powell has recently refuted that lie.

The debate closed with Obama talking of restoring America's reputation in the world and McCain telling us that he was once a POW.

All in all the debate appeared to me to lean towards Obama in as much as he was able to defuse all of McCain's attacks on what McCain appears to think of as his strongest suit; foreign policy. Obama landed much stronger punches than McCain landed although, admittedly, there was no knockout punch. But, having listened to both of them, it is inarguable that McCain is offering more of Bush's policies and that, despite all his talk of change, there is no meaningful change on the McCain table.


The Obama campaign have released some facts to refute some of McCain's claims:

McCain: “Senator Obama said the surge could not work, said it would increase sectarian violence, said it was doomed to failure. Recently on a television program he said it exceeded our wildest expectations, but yet after conceding that, he still says that he would oppose the surge if he had to decide that again today.”


Obama Said That With A Surge, “We Might See Some Improvement In Certain Neighborhoods” But That It Won’t Change The Underlying Dynamic. Obama said, “I don’t think there’s been any doubt that if we put U.S. troops in that, in the short term, we might see some improvement in certain neighborhoods because the militias are going to fade back into the community. That’s one of the characteristics of what we’ve seen. The problem is that we don’t see any change in the underlying dynamic which is Shia militias infiltrating the government, Sunni insurgents continuing the fight, that’s the essence of the problem and unless we say that we’re going to occupy Iraq indefinitely, we’re gonna continue to see problems.” [WQAD, 3/11/07]

Obama Said the Purpose of the Surge Was to Allow Iraqi Leaders to Reconcile, But they Were Not Reconciling. Obama” “The stated purpose of the surge was to enable Iraq’s leaders to reconcile. But as the recent report from the Government Accountability Office confirms, the Iraqis are not reconciling. Our troops fight and die in the 120 degree heat to give Iraq’s leaders space to agree, but they aren’t filling it. … This only underscores the point - the solution in Iraq is political, it is not military. Violence is contained in some parts of Baghdad. That’s no surprise. Our troops have cleared these neighborhoods at great costs. But our troops cannot police Baghdad indefinitely - only Iraqis can.” [Obama Speech, 9/12/07]


McCain Supported The Administration’s Military Strategy For Iraq, Saying Only 100,000 Troops Would Be Needed. Tim Russert: “Today, the front page of The Washington Post, ‘War Plans Target Hussein Power Base. Scenarios feature a smaller force, narrower strikes,’ calling for 100,000 rather than the 500,000 we used in the Persian Gulf War, and not taking out power dams and electric grids, but focusing on Saddam and his Republican Guards. Is that what you see?” McCain responded, “Yes…And I believe that this strategy is based on one fundamental fact: Saddam Hussein is dramatically weaker than he was before. And what Iraq-in 1991-what Iraqi soldier is going to die for Saddam Hussein if he thinks he’s on his way out? And so from everything I can tell, that seems to be a very good strategy, and I think we’re going to take great advantage to the precision of our weapons that can be delivered from the air.” [NBC, Meet the Press, 9/22/02]

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