finally: a semi-interesting debate

For the fourth and final time this election season, here's my (rather belated) post-debate analysis. Ben Smith published Obama's accidentally leaked talking points at Politico, but there was little of importance--or even of interest--in them except for the reminder of McCain's promise to "whip [Obama's] you-know-what" during the debate. That didn't happen, because--despite Bob Schieffer's excellent moderation--that dynamic a performance is beyond McCain's capabilities.

He said that the American people are "hurting and angry," but his continual grimacing and eye-rolling indicated an even greater degree of pain and anger on his part. McCain complained about Obama's eloquence (saying "I admire so much Sen. Obama's eloquence" when discussing offshore drilling, and "Just again, the example of the eloquence of Sen. Obama" when talking about the health-of-the-mother exception to abortion restrictions), but doing so had the effect of highlighting his own debating shortcomings.

McCain repeated so many debunked talking points (such as Obama's "much higher taxes" and his "present" votes) from the previous debates that I sometimes wondered if CNN was playing a blooper reel. McCain also trotted out business taxes:

"The fact is that businesses in America today are paying the second highest tax rate of anywhere in the world. Our tax rate for business in America is 35 percent. Ireland, it's 11 percent." (see my comments on the first debate here)

and the Adler Planetarium:

"Sen. Obama has asked for nearly $1 billion in pork-barrel earmark projects, including $3 million for an overhead projector in a planetarium in his hometown." (see my comments here and the FactCheck rebuttal here)

(Perhaps McCain should receive an "environmentalist of the year" award for recycling all that garbage...)

He flung plenty of new mud as well, as when he asserted that "The catalyst for this housing crisis was the Fannie and Freddie Mae that caused subprime lending situation," but he was wrong. My short answer is here; but Barry Ritholtz at Big Picture provides a longer response from a much more informed vantage point:

For the non-partisan, non hacks amongst you, for the policy makers and academics and economists who are truly interested in how this came to pass, and what we can do to fix it, the bottom line remains: The CRA was irrelevant to the current crisis, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were mere cogs in a very complex financial machine, with many moving parts.

But the primary cause of the mess? Not even close . . .

Parroting another right-wing talking point, McCain also claimed that ACORN is "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." That claim was widely anticipated, and was something that I rebutted (pre-butted?) before the debate.

McCain remarked to Obama that "I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago," and that was the best line of the evening for either candidate; I'm sure his speechwriters were glad that he didn't mangle it. (Obama had an ad up yesterday morning juxtaposing McCain's claim with his Bush-friendly voting record.)

Trying to deflect culpability for his own campaign's lack of civility, McCain complained about these remarks made by John Lewis:

Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.

As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy.

McCain whined that "John Lewis' comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale" and praised his rallies as "legitimate criticism of Senator Obama's record and positions," asserting that Lewis' remarks were "outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate."

No, the comments were designed to quell the violent rhetoric of your audiences--unless shouts of "kill him" are the height of dialogue that the GOP can now muster. During the debate, McCain commented: "I hope that Sen. Obama will repudiate those remarks, perhaps not having read even the first sentence of the Obama campaign's statement:

Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies.

Obama's retort to McCain that "I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply" was spot-on, and forced McCain back to discussing the campaigns themselves rather than comments made by least until he brought up Bill Ayers. [My comments on the Ayers exchange are here; this post is long enough already...]

By the time Bob Schieffer wrapped things up, we had heard a great deal about "Joe the plumber." Here's a little more information to help round out his fifteen minutes of fame:

Obama's original talk (nearly 6 minutes long!) with Joe Wurzelbacher is here. In this CBS post-debate interview, Joe parroted McCain's "speaks eloquently" meme, claimed "I'm middle class, I can't have my taxes raised any more," and then admitted that he wouldn't fall into the $250K+ tax bracket anyway...which would mean his taxes would not increase.

As noted by Martin Eisenstadt (h/t: Crooks & Liars), Joe may have a deeper connection with McCain than merely being a registered Republican:

Turns out that Joe Wurzelbacher from the Toledo event is a close relative of Robert Wurzelbacher of Milford, Ohio. Who's Robert Wurzelbacher? Only Charles Keating's son-in-law and the former senior vice president of American Continental, the parent company of the infamous Lincoln Savings and Loan. The now retired elder Wurzelbacher is also a major contributor to Republican causes giving well over $10,000 in the last few years.

The ads from both camps will get increasingly negative in the remaining weeks, more accusations will fly, and the poll numbers may predict anything from an Obama landslide to a tortoise-and-hare finish for McCain. Try to not get discouraged by any of that, though: democracy is not a spectator sport, and this election is too important to sit out.

CNN has the transcript

FactCheck has--of course--done some fact-checking

McCain's lie counter
now stands at 156, up from 52 a month ago.



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