Friday, September 26, 2008

First presidential debate held at Ole Miss -- McCain makes it to the event; Obama may have an edge

The first major debate of the 2008 presidential campaign did indeed take place tonight at Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) in Oxford, Mississippi, the home of legal thriller author John Grisham (with his personal “field of dreams”). John McCain did indeed make it down, having made “adequate daily progress” today in “no bailout left behind.”

Jim Lehrer moderated and chose the questions himself. From the audience’s viewpoint, Obama actually stood to the “right” of McCain. The debate was supposed to be about national security and foreign policy (McCain’s forte) but the first half hour dealt with the fiscal crisis.

On that subject, Obama referred somewhat to Ross Perot’s 1992 mantra, that “trickle down didn’t trickle.” McCain sounded a bit like Donald Trump, in saying that what mattered now was just to “negotiate.” Obama soon charged that McCain wanted to tax employer contributions to health insurance premiums, forcing them to drop it and forcing employees into the individual market, although that would use pre-tax dollars. Obama accused McCain of wanting to tackle federal spending with a “hathchet”, when he would use a “scalpel.” McCain talked about tax cuts but apparently never mentioned the term “middle class.”

On foreign affairs, Obama took a hard like and said that the United States should intervene in Pakistan if necessary. This was a reference to major media reports of the inability of the Pakistani government to control its own military in the border tribal areas. McCain said that this could be necessary, but “you don’t say it.” McCain said that a nuclear-armed Iran would represent an “existential” threat to Israel. It’s interesting to hear conservative politicians use that word (Giuliani also uses it). Obama made an interesting reference to the problem of suitcase nukes (partly because of a recent independent film sponsored by Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative) but agrees that Iran and North Korea can represent threats with scuds and missiles.

On the last question, McCain said that the country is safer now than it was the day after 9/11, but it had a long way to go. Obama said that no country can remain a secure world power sustainably if it does not have a sound internal economy.

There is a general feeling that the debate was pretty even, but because foreign affairs is supposed to be McCain's strongest area, the event helped Obama. Women favor Obama heavily now, men may favor McCain slightly.

Obama has said that he would provide tax cuts for 80% of Americans. Later he revised it to 95% of "working families" -- that is, families with children (presumably).

MSNBC has a video of the full debate here.

The CNN Transcript for the debate is here.

Note: It seems that cnn URL's require the "us" prefix now (Sept 27). If you get a DNS error on, try I'll track and see if CNN fixes this.

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