Sep 26, 2008

M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I: a McCain / Obama liveblog

5:54 PST
Weather: Sunny, with children.
Mood: Pensive.
CBS Website: up and running.
Backup plan: KPLU, ca. 88.5
Perspective: Seventh-year debate coach and English teacher analyzes election rhetoric, body language, argumentation, and--this is far too ambitious, I now realize.

Jim Lehrer notes that the debate will be divided up into 9-minute segments, with 2-minute primary responses. Lehrer has selected the questions personally, and will hand them on a platter to the candidates, served up with hot, steaming platitudes.

Lehrer quotes Eisenhower on the relationship between the economy and the military to kickstart things. Wasn't he the guy who coined the phrase "Military-industrial complex?"

First question to Obama. Wall Street / Main Street is a nice rhetorical dig; McCain probably wishes he could've gotten there first. 1:30 in, and Obama's already going after his presumed opponent, President Bush.

McCain cribs the "Wall Street / Main Street" line. Knew it was coming.

McCain is looking at Lehrer; Obama directly into the camera. Obama's playing better on the television so far. (Somebody get McCain a glass of water, too.)

McCain's use of the Eisenhower anecdote comes across as sincere and sharp. Here comes the split screen.

This "talking to each other" thing that Lehrer is "determined" to achieve: profoundly weird, at least to this debate coach. We train debaters to not look directly at their opponents.

Okay, guys. Enough with the "Main Street" metonymy.

McCain calls earmarks "evil." Studying bear DNA isn't just impractical, it's diabolical!

McCain strikes closest first, going after Obama's earmarking. Obama's response is a deflection: sure, I've earmarked, but in a saintly way==no special interests--and McCain's tax plan is $300 billion. (Next to the bailout, though, even that seems small.) McCain comes right back, saying that $18 billion "may not be that much to Obama," but Main Street--that's you and me, right?--want to elect a Sheriff.

"Let's be clear" is Obama's pet phrase, in the same way that McCain loves "My friends."

McCain touts Ireland as a development haven? And here comes "my friends."

McCain scores the best adjective: "festooned," when describing an energy bill. Try all you want, Senator Obama, but you're not going to beat "festooned."

We're going to have to start giving these guys their own internet connections so they can look up the things they're asking us to look up. FactCheck is going to have a heyday tonight.

"It's hard to reach across the aisle that far too the left." McCain reaches out to the base; Obama smiles.

Every time McCain or Obama cites a number smaller than $700 billion--16, 15, any -teen billion--it seems tiny. "A billion here, a billion there," someone once said.

A delightful mixed metaphor from Obama: "The problem with a spending freeze, is you're using a hatchet when you need a scalpel."

"...the way you rule the country..." Lehrer's phrasing, referring to the changes in leadership a massive bailout might bring to either candidate, reflects the current conception of the chief-executive-as-king.

Obama goes after McCain's purported penny-pinching; McCain responds with a second go at the "Miss Congeniality" line. Plus, one good "maverick" begets another: Palin, who, though unnamed, apparently fits the appellation.

The Iraq War enters the building.

Who was wronger? Obama on the surge, or McCain on the entire conflict? Ouch: "Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy."

Tough to say who's winning this debate, to be quite honest. Each is landing a punch or two, but no one has a knockout yet. Stylistically, Obama isn't stuttering as much as he did back against Hillary Clinton, and McCain seems perkier than he was in the GOP debates.

McCain, on public military threats: "You don't do that--you don't say that out loud. If you have to do things, you do things."

Who is McCain squinting at?

Obama brings up McCain's choice in mid-60s surfer rock.

The bracelet battle. Is this gravitas or severe tackiness? Honestly, I think I might be becoming too cynical.

It's also a battle of condescension. Obama keeps calling McCain "John," and McCain keeps listing things "Senator Obama doesn't understand."

Proof that McCain isn't Bush III: he lists the French as potential allies in a "league of democracies."

I've lost count of the times Obama has declared, "Senator McCain is absolutely right," before immediately dispatching another of McCain's suggestions.

"What Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand..." Obama needs to come right back with a classic: "There you go again..."

Actual Kissinger quote:
KISSINGER: Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we -- we know we're dealing with authentic...

SESNO: Put at a very high level right out of the box?

KISSINGER: Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are -- what the outcome is that you're trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to.
One more thing Obama, in his naivete, doesn't understand: that Putin wears KGB contact lenses.

Some say that Obama doesn't have to win this to win--he just has to hold his own. So far, nothing's really stumped him. McCain has shown some weirdness--squinting, crazy blinking, and an insistence on pet phrases--so in a relatively equal pitched battle of arguments, a draw is a loss.

Lehrer ends on an interesting question: what's the likelihood of another 9/11?

Which is just one more opportunity, ultimately, for McCain to talk about what Obama doesn't understand.

So, the debate boils down to this:
1. McCain: Obama is naive.
2. Obama: McCain, you're getting the facts wrong.

McCain closes with an appeal to veterans based on his experience; Obama closes with a call to a renewed global presence, America as a "beacon on a hill."

I'm calling this a tie, which, because of Obama's relative inexperience, counts as a win.

Bob Schieffer says exactly what I did, including the lack of a "knockout," and that "Obama held his own." Thanks for visiting, Bob.

And then there was Bob Barr.

Dave Weigel writes,
If your drinking game code words were "doesn't understand," please see a doctor.
I'm sure it's not the first, or last, time McCain's driving folks to drink.

The debate is barely over, and the factcheckers have already descended. McCain appears to be penalized the most for running out-of-bounds with the ball. Even the Eisenhower anecdote (which was delivered quite well) was a stretch.


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