Debate 3 Analysis or The Reaction of My Father

Posted by Mike Merritt in Election 2008 on

Basically, I think this debate was not much different than the last two.  There were some good points brought up by both sides, however.  John McCain did better in this debate that the last two, and made a good attempt at defining his economic stances, and calling on Obama to explain his connections.  Obama, meanwhile, remained the cool candidate he’s portrayed himself as in the previous debates, by not letting things get to him.

McCain took a new approach in this debate, on labeling Obama as a wealth redistributor, which is true if you look at it objectively.  He tried to make his case for limited government; however, I think that neither candidate can seriously claim they lead on the issue.  Especially not after Obama’s spending plans and McCain’s support of the mortgage buying program.  Neither has convinced me that they can effectively control spending.  While McCain’s more black and white “cutting spending” response, and Obama’s “we’ll cut the bad and make more efficient the new” sounds like great rhetoric, that’s what it is to me.  I’m not convined.  Both candidates will bring about greater government powers into the economic realm, perhaps necessarily, due to the economic crisis.  Neither will be able to push many of their spending programs because of it.  Most of their terms will probably be spent covering the crisis, without much time to do anything else.

Then we come to the campaign nastiness question, that turned into a 10-minute back and forth on connections with William Ayers and co.  Obama was largely on the defensive here, yet, he handled it exceptionally well.  McCain pounded him on these connections, and Obama more or less covered the questions without sweating them.  Millions of viewers got to see what could have turned out to be something potentially embarassing.  It turned out quite different.  I can’t blame McCain for bringing this stuff up since Scheiffer was the question asker.  But, it may not have helped him, since he was supposed to turn away from it.  More on that in a bit.

Finally, they had a pretty good discussion on education.  I think McCain brings up good points on vouchers.  For some reason, the Democrats seem to have an allergic response to them.  Yet, Obama is right that they cannot be used as a band-aid for the woes of the education system.  He also made a good point on making sure federal mandates are actually funded well.  McCain responded with something about reforming No Child Left Behind, but without specifics.  I wonder if he secretly agrees with Obama on proper funding, but just doesn’t want to upset conservatives.  I’m unsure since I don’t know more about it.

I did have an issue with McCain’s comments on Head Start.  I participated in a head start program in my town, and I think it helped me out quite a bit.  Perhaps I’m missing the point, though.  I haven’t followed the issue closely, so maybe a reader can outline the problems for me?  After all, I attended Head Start 18 years ago.  Back then, Bush 41 was still in office.

Now, after the debate, I got a little reaction from an undecided voter in my own house: my dad.  For a little background, he’s a registered Republican who voted for Bush twice, but hasn’t historically beholden himself to party lines.  I’m not sure how he’d label himself, but he’s been more moderate than not in my eyes.

Anyway, he hasn’t seen a full debate yet this year, due to a number of reasons.  He also hasn’t followed politics as much this year as in some years past.  So he came into this debate a relative newcomer.  He told me two striking things.

1) He thought McCain ended up looking like he was grasping for straws on the whole Ayers/ACORN 10-minute discussion.

2) He came out of the debate still not knowing enough about both candidates and their policies.  He pretty much said that he thought debates were useless for getting all the information, since both candidates end up lying a lot.

What’s striking about it is that after 20 months, he’s still not sure who to vote for, and the debate didn’t push him any particular way.  I’m wondering if this is a pattern with quite a few undecided voters who may not come into the election with a lot of information.  I think he’s right that a debate isn’t the place to go when you want in-depth information on a candidate.  We saw tonight that they clearly ended up covering fewer issues because of the “negative campaign” discussion.  They were some specifics, but more or less, it was a lot of stump speeching and talking points.

And that’s largely the problem with elections as a whole.  Who seriously has the time to go over every candidate record that may stretch for decades?  I mean, the best you can probably get an idea of how they’ve voted or where they stand, but that’s still not going in-depth.  So, you hope to turn to the candidate themselves for specifics, at least on the hot issues of the day.  Yet, they don’t give them either.  Not really.

So you end up like my father, unsure who to vote for, and disappointed that the candidates themselves don’t give specifics.  Obviously, none of this is new, but that it’s never changed at all in disheartening.  And it doesn’t look to change in the future.  It’s a bleak and pessimistic view, but there it is.

And so, we go forth from a debate that probably hasn’t changed much…again.  That doesn’t help McCain, unless he can turn some of the new speech he gave tonight into votes where they’ll count: the swing states.  He defintely has an opportunity to do it so long as it’s done right.  Whether or not it’ll make the difference remains to be seen.

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