The presidential town hall debate on Oct. 7 produced daylight fireworks. That is, it was fun to watch for a little bit, but you pretty much didn’t see anything. The debate produced no knockout blow for either candidate, at least not overtly. This ultimately meant a win for Barack Obama. He cruised to another debate win just by showing up, but that is not to say he didn’t articulate his positions well.
Much of the debate was slow paced, partly due to moderator Tom Brokaw, who would bring the candidates back to the boring debate rules whenever the candidates stepped out of the format and began to attack one another. The questions from the audience lacked any spontaneity or passion. There was no cheering, hardly any laughter and most of the audience members had quasi-zombie looks plastered on their faces. I’ve seen more life at a 65-and-over bingo game.
One of the fundamental differences expressed during the debate between the candidates was health care. When asked if health care was a privilege, a right or a responsibility, John McCain answered it was a responsibility while Obama said a right. Obama made the point that in a country as wealthy as America, it is fundamentally wrong that people are going bankrupt because they can’t pay medical bills. He argued that people should not be turned away from insurance because of a pre-existing condition.
Whether one agrees with Obama or not, it is hard to argue against his plan for universal health care. McCain’s proposal of giving people tax credits didn’t really seem to fit the urgency that the healthcare crisis demands. His basic answer was more deregulation, and that position isn’t sitting too well with most Americans right now.
On matters of foreign policy, McCain tried to tie down Obama with traditional talking points. He kept pounding the point that Obama was reckless for announcing that he wanted to attack Pakistan. McCain said with his administration he would “speak softly, but carry a big stick” a la Teddy Roosevelt. However, Obama countered that it wasn’t an example of speaking softly when McCain sang “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Prior to Obama making that retort, McCain had said “thank you” to Obama’s comments about people perceiving McCain as somber. I think McCain would like that “thank you” back.
The majority of viewers agreed that Obama won the debate. According to a poll done by CNN/Opinion Research Corp after the debate, 54 percent of viewers gave the debate to Obama while only 30 percent did so for McCain. Those are not even the most telling numbers. According to the same poll, 54 to 43 percent of viewers thought Obama was a stronger leader than McCain. Obama also won amongst the key Independents, 54 to 28 percent. Later polls, like the CBS poll, reported similar sentiments from viewers.
It isn’t difficult to see why Obama won again. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann said it best when he concluded that for much of the debate McCain looked like an angry old man who kept yelling, “Get off my lawn!” That is essentially the problem for McCain, and the fact that he wishes to continue the Bush administration’s failed policies. For most of the debate McCain was on the attack by making snide comments. Whenever Obama was getting ahead in the debate, it seemed like at any moment McCain was going to yell, “Dennis!” It’s not McCain’s fault that he’s old. It’s his mother’s fault.
In all seriousness, there tends to be two types of old people: Ones we look up to and ones we make fun of at family parties. McCain runs the risk of cementing his place in the latter category if he continues to appear mean, angry and disrespectful of the younger Obama.
Obama won by 32 percent in the “who seemed more intelligent” category, so McCain must treat him as a person who has the right to debate him. As a consolation prize, McCain did win the “who seems more like a typical politician” category by 16 percent, and that’s rather unfortunate for a decorated war hero. Barring some catastrophe or an unexpected “race” vote, I think “this game’s in the refrigerator: the door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard and the Jell-O’s jiggling!” to quote the late Chick Hearn.
Jaye Estrada is a third-year biology major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.