High expectations greeted Barack Obama... would he do better than he had done against the innumerable debates against Sen. Hillary Clinton? would he be able to connect with a general election crowd, rather than the purely Democratic audiences from the primaries? would he be able to succinctly enunciate his views and plans for his presidency? would he be able to command a grasp of foreign affairs, the light-in-the-pants area of his albeit thin resume? would he be able to hold his own against the mix-it-up style of John McCain?
The expectations for John McCain were markedly lower since he had seemingly abandoned his campaign 72 hours ago in favor of "working" on the economy in Washington, DC. Since his strong suit was foreign affairs and the planned discussion at this debate was foreign affairs, he would be "in his element." And it is believed that he is a stronger debater than Obama, so combined with his experience and the relatively low expectations for his appearance, he seemingly had the upper hand.
The debate opened on the global economy and Jim Lehrer (the moderator) seemed perplexed as to how to rev up the energy and get these two guys engaged. There were tepid jabs, but no direct shots. The moderator practically had to beg them to ask questions of one another.
Things warmed up considerably when they went into the area of foreign policy and the War in Iraq. See excerpts of the debate coverage from CNN.com below:
For a while, it seemed like the debate might not even take place because McCain said he would not show up unless Congress came to an agreement on the government's proposed $700 billion bailout plan.
McCain said Friday that enough progress has been made for him to attend the debate, even though Congress has not made a deal.
Here's a snapshot of what the candidates said.
On government spending:
McCain said he would consider a spending freeze on everything but defense, veterans affairs and entitlement programs in order to cut back on government spending.
Obama disagreed, saying, "The problem is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel.
"There are some programs that are very important that are currently underfunded," Obama said.
He agreed that the government needs to cut spending in some areas, but he said other areas, such as early childhood education, need more funding.
McCain repeated his call to veto every bill with earmarks. Watch the candidates spar over earmarks »
Obama said the country "absolutely" needs earmark reform but said, "the fact is, eliminating earmarks alone is not a recipe for how we are going to get the middle class back on track."
On the bailout proposal:
Obama said that the United States was facing its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
McCain said he was encouraged that Republicans and Democrats were working together to solve the crisis.
Obama refused to be pinned down on whether he would support a $700 billion plan proposed by President Bush's top economic advisers, saying the final details of the proposal were not yet known.
McCain said he hoped to be able to vote for it.
On the likelihood of another terrorist attack:
McCain that another attack on the scale of the September 11 hijackings is "much less likely" now than it was the day after the terrorist attacks.
"America is safer now than it was on 9/11," he said, "But we have a long way to go before we can declare America safe."
Obama agreed that the United States is "safer in some ways" but said the country needed to focus more on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and restoring America's image in the world.
On relations with Russia:
Obama called for a re-evaluation of the United States' approach to Russia in light of the country's recent military action in the Caucasus.
"You cannot be a 21st-century superpower and act like a 20th-century dictatorship," he said.
McCain accused Obama of responding naively to Russia's invasion of neighboring Georgia last month by calling on both sides to exercise restraint.
McCain said he would support the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO.
McCain said Iranian nuclear weapons would be an "existential threat to the state of Israel" and would encourage other countries in the Middle East to seek nuclear weapons as well.
"We cannot allow another Holocaust," he said.
Obama agreed that the United States "cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran," calling for tougher sanctions from a range of countries including Russia and China.
McCain called for a new "league of democracies" to stand firm against Iran.
McCain said the next president will have to decide when and how to leave Iraq and what the United States will leave behind.
The Republican candidate said that the war had been badly managed at the beginning but that the United States was now winning, thanks to a "great general and a strategy that succeeded."
"Sen. Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq," McCain said.
Obama responded, "That's not true; that's not true."
He blasted McCain as having been wrong about the war at the start, saying McCain had failed to anticipate the uprising against U.S. forces and violence between rival religious groups in the country. Watch Obama tell McCain he was 'wrong' »
"At the time when the war started, you said it was quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were," Obama said, citing the key White House policy justifying the 2003 invasion.
"You were wrong. You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong," he said.
Read the entire CNN.com wrapup of the debate here and here.
Read the debate wrapup in the New York Times here and here.
Read the Baltimore Sun article about the Obama-McCain debate here.
Read the Washington Post article about the Obama-McCain debate here.
Read about Chris Rock talking politics on Larry King Live here.
plez sez: ninety minutes later and if you were an Obama supporter, you probably thought he won, and if you were a mccain supporter, you probably thought he won!
that's how close it was. whatever drew you to Obama as your candidate of choice was on full display this evening... cool, calm, calculated, cerebral, and pragmatic.
if you were impressed with mccain as a candidate, he would not disappoint this evening, as both men stuck to their assigned scripts and delivered. the only real difference was that Obama was far more combative and assertive than he'd been against hillary clinton. and Obama spoke with a certainty and clarity that had not been on display in previous debates during the primary season.
if you are an undecided voter... i cannot see anything tonight that would've swayed your perspective on either candidate, since nothing new was revealed, except Barack Obama has a far greater grasp of foreign affairs than most of the media gives him credit for. but if you are still undecided in late September (after more than 19 months of campaigning), then Obama's display of intelligence and approach to issues won't be a deciding factor in who you'll vote for... your decision will probably lean on something much more basic.
it was technically a draw, which probably did little to change the views of voters around the country.
it didn't escape the attention of plezWorld that for 90 minutes, John McCain never so much as glanced in Barack Obama's direction... he kept is eyes on either his talking points or the moderator! even when prompted to engage each other by the moderator, mccain refused to look Obama's way.
when they came out and shook hands, mccain couldn't look at Obama. after the debate, their wives came on stage and each couple went to opposite sides of the stage. after waving briefly, the Obama's - the class act that they are - walked hand-in-hand to the other side of the stage and exchanged pleasantries with the mccains. it appears that the mccains could've easily walked off stage without speaking!
this may be a hard fought political battle, but these two guys are colleagues in the US Senate... there is no need to be bitter and rude!