Debate analysis: Both men improve, McCain wins on points

posted at 11:00 pm on October 7, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The second presidential debate goes into the record books, and this time both men managed to stick closer to their game plans.  Barack Obama rid himself of the “John is right” tic that appeared in various forms almost a dozen times in the first debate.  John McCain gave a much more focused response on economic issues.  In the end — literally, in this case — McCain prevailed on his strength on foreign policy and national security.

Obama improved from the first debate.  He kept his voice even and didn’t get as rattled.  Last time, Obama’s voice kept pitching higher when McCain attacked him, and he spent most of the evening defending himself.  This time, Obama stuck to his own agenda, only getting flustered once after a McCain attack, and stumbling when Tom Brokaw shut him down, invoking the debate agreement between the two camps.

McCain also improved, most clearly in the economic debate.  This time he hammered Obama on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and challenged the assumption that “deregulation” caused the financial crisis.  He looked more confident and spoke more clearly on that subject, and didn’t get nearly as deep into populist blather as in the first debate.  On health care, he offered a strong endorsement of free-market principles and providing choice to consumers.  (In fact, I think both candidates did very well on health care, with Obama and McCain making the clearest pitches for their approaches than on any other subject.)

McCain did somewhat better on entitlement reform than Obama did.  Unfortunately, the question came as more of a follow-up than a separate topic, but McCain offered details and substantive proposals, while Obama talked about spending even more money on a series of new entitlements.  McCain also used that to underscore his credentials as a bipartisan agent of change, and noted that Obama has none at all.

Coming into the last 30 minutes, though, I thought the debate was more or less a draw.  That’s when Brokaw turned the debate to foreign policy and national security, and McCain simply outclassed Obama.  Despite the nearly two weeks between the debates, Obama still couldn’t offer a coherent policy on Russia.  He stuck to general themes, and more than once tried to invoke Iraq on completely unrelated topics.  McCain, on the other hand, had extensive knowledge of the subjects and gave detailed answers that demonstrated Obama’s superficial knowledge — to the point that Obama complained that McCain thought he was “green behind the ears”, a flub that will no doubt live in ridicule for the next couple of days.

Brokaw did a solid, professional job as moderator.  I didn’t think Brokaw would do poorly, and I failed to catch any obvious bias in his moderation.  I thought the town-hall format was a joke, though.  Brokaw and his team selected the questions ahead of time and chose the participants, and in the end it just looked like Brokaw had outsourced some of the moderator duties to guest voices.

McCain won, but he didn’t score a knockout by any stretch of the imagination.  Is this a game-changer?  I think not.  It may help narrow the gap a little, but I think the two men are pretty evenly matched in these debates.  I wouldn’t expect a knockout in the last debate, either.


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So here’s the deal. I’ll forget my plan to have YOU give ME your taxes if YOU forget subsidizing those who don’t deserve it with MY TAXES. Which BTW was my point in my original post which seems to have gone over your head.

You want to send someone your own money, fine. But DON’T COMMIT MY MONEY! LET THE FREE MARKET WORK! DON’T INTERFERE USING MY TAXES!

Mr_Magoo on October 8, 2008 at 11:49 AM

Like I said in another thread, this is our cost for voting in idiots, and allowing congress to screw up the housing market. Think of the bailout money as the payment. Or, think of it as payment to mercenaries to fight on our side (vote) against a worse candidate.

Vashta.Nerada on October 8, 2008 at 1:32 PM

Think of the bailout money as the payment. Or, think of it as payment to mercenaries to fight on our side (vote) against a worse candidate.

Vashta.Nerada on October 8, 2008 at 1:32 PM

Good metaphor.

Speaking of “payments,” is Obama’s push on health care his attempt to buy back Hillary supporters? It’s not really a big issue right now — no more so than Iraq — so why push it?

‘Seems to me the PUMAs will not be won over by that — they fundamentally despise Obama and his followers. Are there really very many non-PUMA Hillary supporters who aren’t already tipping to Obama because he’s the Democrat nominee?

Y-not on October 8, 2008 at 1:39 PM

I must have been watching a different debate last night because the one I saw was actually painful to watch “my friends.” Damn if McCain isn’t throwing this election away. He looked and sounded lifeless, no passion, speaking in his grandfatherly soft voice. And repeating nothing but the same old lines over and over, and returning to the “my friends” deal at least two dozen times.
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He needed to come out pissed and red in the face, and nail Obama down to his terrorist ties, and at least a trillion dollar spending plan and socialized medicine. McCain wasted every opportunity he had. What is wrong with his handlers? Unless he’s overriding them, they’re running an obligatory campaign now. If he could pull out completey like in Michigan, he probably would.
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There is no tomorrow for McCain and Sarah Palin will be a waste of a talented politician. Hell, CNN actually ran a story yesterday about how Obama has been lying about his relationship with Ayers. But did McCain utter a single word about it. The only way McCain can win now is an all out character attack from now to the finish. Period!
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I’m so disappointed that this campaign has turned out to be another Dole vs. Clinton. Our VP candidate is the only one with any balls to attack those weasels.

stacman on October 8, 2008 at 1:58 PM

From Politico – Clair McCaskill and Mitt Romney:

McCaskill was stepping out of her chair at the end of an MSNBC interview, and Romney was up next. She and a staffer unplugged her various wires, and she handed Romney the earpiece the guests use to hear the host.

“I spit on this before I put it in,” she said to Romney, with a sweet smile.

UPDATE: Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom emails: “You should have seen what she did to the chair.”

UPDATE: McCaskill spokeswoman Maria Speiser says the exchange began when Romney said, “You don’t have an ear infection, do you?” and that McCaskill was joking back in response.

Vashta.Nerada on October 8, 2008 at 2:09 PM

He needed to come out pissed and red in the face

stacman on October 8, 2008 at 1:58 PM

I really disagree. He cannot afford to lose his temper. The Obama camp have been harping on how McCain is some kind of dangerous, loose cannon. They’ve pulled out guys who supposedly served with McCain and gotten them to say how out of control McCain was. They want people to believe he’s a volatile, grumpy old man.

Y-not on October 8, 2008 at 2:34 PM

In the debates and stump speeches, McCain points out Obama’s naiveté in wanting to negotiate with the world’s murderers “without preconditions”.

Obama seems to think that his charm, charisma, and being an all ‘round nice guy will make them all heel to his side and make the world into a global Disneyland.

McCain, too, in wanting to “reach across the isle” shows his naiveté because he also wants to negotiate with the Democrat Party, the acknowledged ‘enemy’ of the Republican Party going back to the time when they were called the Wig Party.

What we have here is a difference without a distinction.

In reality, the isle he speaks of is more like a chasm filled with snakes and alligators and using charm, charisma, and being an all ‘round nice guy “T’aint gonna make it happen McGee.”

In last night’s debate, watched by millions, McCain’s base anticipated that he would finally ‘take off the gloves’ as he and Governor Palin have been doing in their stump speeches as they’ve have been pointing out Obama’s many flaws, but to our chagrin his hands remained deeply ensconced in his pockets nary to utter a discouraging word against him.

With only four weeks to go until the election, I must question McCain’s and his ‘handlers’ judgment in not wanting to take advantage of the vast audience watching the debate to further amplify Obama’s lack of substance, as well as refusing to defend several negative assertions made by Obama about McCain.

Senator McCain, it’s time to stop being Mr. Nice Guy, because we know what happens to nice guys – they finish last.

pocomoco on October 8, 2008 at 3:08 PM

I really disagree. He cannot afford to lose his temper. The Obama camp have been harping on how McCain is some kind of dangerous, loose cannon. They’ve pulled out guys who supposedly served with McCain and gotten them to say how out of control McCain was. They want people to believe he’s a volatile, grumpy old man.

Y-not on October 8, 2008 at 2:34 PM

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I’m aware of the line he has to watch, but he needs to find some way to tell the voters they’re being stupid if they can’t see the light. It’s like, “What the hell is it you morons don’t understand??? He hangs out with terrorists, and may as well be considered one himself. Working for a terrorist to delivery money to schools in support of radical education. Teaching kids how and why to hate America. The same teachings of Rev. Wright, but of course we already know that during 20 years of sermons Hussein never heard him express hatred of the country. Kick his ass back to Africa, or better yet, chain him up to a hitch and make him a slave.”
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Bottom line is that he cannot win going the way he is. He’s dull and needs a spark. If not that take a page out of the liberal’s playbook and start stealing votes in tossup states.

stacman on October 8, 2008 at 4:05 PM

I’m aware of the line he has to watch, but he needs to find some way to tell the voters they’re being stupid if they can’t see the light.

Yeah, it’s frustrating, but I think he needs to leave that to Palin and some of his peppier surrogates (Rudy, Fred)… and of course the friendly media pundits. The media is so in the tank for O! that any show of emotion by McCain will be used against him.

Y-not on October 8, 2008 at 4:55 PM

The thought of him as president is enough to make one seriously look at other options. But even worse than Obama himself is his wife. She has racist stamped right in her forehead. She wouldn’t give a white the time of day.
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We’ll all be one step away from being forced to kneel on rugs and wash our feet at every street corner.

stacman on October 8, 2008 at 5:15 PM

Personally, I think McCain/Palin wins this election.
However, if Obama/Biden wins, we will survive (4) years as a country, but I don’t think the Democrat Party will survive. Democrats will rule all (3) houses, and they will mis-read their victory and shove a dose of Socialism/Big Brother down the American throats the likes of which we have never seen before. Americans will rebel, and shit will hit the fan with gusto.

An Obama Presidency will destroy the Democrat Party for 15-20 years minimum. America will suffer under an Obama dictatorship, but will survive to fight on for many years to come.

Keemo on October 8, 2008 at 8:01 PM

Personally, I think McCain/Palin wins this election.
However, if Obama/Biden wins, we will survive (4) years as a country, but I don’t think the Democrat Party will survive. Democrats will rule all (3) houses, and they will mis-read their victory and shove a dose of Socialism/Big Brother down the American throats the likes of which we have never seen before. Americans will rebel, and shit will hit the fan with gusto.

An Obama Presidency will destroy the Democrat Party for 15-20 years minimum. America will suffer under an Obama dictatorship, but will survive to fight on for many years to come.

Keemo on October 8, 2008 at 8:01 PM

I can’t help but think you’ve just finished a fine trout dinner——again! :)

Rovin on October 8, 2008 at 10:55 PM

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