I wanted to ignore the debate, but it's one of the few times I get to spend time with my spouse, so I listened and enjoyed good company. And as expected, I got thoroughly annoyed by it all. I must apologize for including snippets from the conversation here, but some of the remarks were just too indescribably weird to be believed without a direct quote. Like the McCain statement that requiring nuclear plants to be safe is the "extremist" position. This guy wants to be President.
To me Obama is a bedrock moderate, a centrist and a middle-of-the-roader to the core, despite the way his candidacy is portrayed as a radical departure or a progressive breakthrough for democracy or a history-making step up for "minorities." So I was not shocked or disappointed, and in fact, I was once again impressed with Mr. Obama's demeanor, which is more "Presidential" than that of any candidate, or any President, for that matter, I've ever seen. As a steady "hand at the tiller," (in McCain's phraseology) I don't think America has ever had a more likely helmsman for our foundering Ship of State. Whether that will help or not in the anticipated series of natural and man-made disasters scheduled for the near future is an entirely different question. I doubt it. But I'm cultivating my inner curmudgeon.
In stark contrast to Mr. Obama, the barely-articulate McCain still managed to insert a tone of suspicion and fear reminiscent of the infamous Senator McCarthy, if not Torquemada, before finally subsiding into sputtering incomprehensible ravings. Obama was gentle and forebearing beyond any reasonable expectation, allowing non-sequiturs, insinuations of terroristic intentions, and overt mendacity to pass without remark, apparently trusting in the basic good judgement of the remaining undecided voting public to work it out. Of course the NPR commentators appeared to try very hard not to appear to take sides. McCain made them earn their pay. If ever a man were vying for runner-up, that was McCain.
If you had been scratching your head about the RICO lawsuit brought last week by a Republican group against the nonprofit GOTV organization Acorn, all is now revealed. It was a classic "echo chamber" ploy, in which an accusation is brought solely for the purpose of being available--while still "news"--for McCain to convert into some kind of "smoke where-there must be fire" beneath Obama's irreproachable respectability. From the transcript (words McCain dropped, in his passion to warn America of Obama's true threat, added by me for sense, in brackets):
MCCAIN: "Yes, real quick. [Regarding] Mr. Ayers, I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist. But as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship. We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy. The same front outfit organization that your campaign gave $832,000 for 'lighting and site selection.' So all of these things need to be examined, of course."
"Front outfit organization?" For what, the terrible cause of voter registration? Leaving aside the insidious, insinuating, Inquisiition-like "we need to examine the full extent" tone, McCain really did say this: "...Senator Obama's relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."
Especially in the context of a question on "negative" campaigning this hardly seems "Presidential". It seems more like the helpless flailing of a drowning man.
Bob Schieffer, who is older than at least one of the contestants and probably wiser than the other, asked: "Would each of you give us a number, a specific number of how much you believe we can reduce our foreign oil imports during your first term?"
McCain said: "We can eliminate our dependence on foreign oil by building 45 new nuclear plants, power plants, right away. We can store and we can reprocess. Senator Obama will tell you, in the--as the extreme environmentalists do, it has to be safe."
When Obama followed McCain's answer with a fairly straightfoward and detailed response, also covering inequitable trade agreements with poor labor protections, McCain tried to convert the word "eloquence" into a synonym for "cover-up":
MCCAIN: "Well, you know, I admire so much Senator Obama's eloquence. And you really have to pay attention to words. He said, we will look at offshore drilling. Did you get that? Look at. We can offshore drill now. We've got to do it now. We will reduce the cost of a barrel of oil because we show the world that we have a supply of our own. It's doable. The technology is there and we have to drill now."
This terrible "eloquence" of Obama's seemed to trouble McCain to the point where he lost the power of intelligible speech. After Obama responded to Schieffer's question about abortion, suggesting that common ground might be explored in the area of preventing unwanted pregnancies, McCain returned to this concern:
MCCAIN: "Just again, the example of the eloquence of Senator Obama. He's health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, "health." But, look, Cindy and I are adoptive parents. We know what a treasure and joy it is to have an adopted child in our lives. We'll do everything we can to improve adoption in this country. But that does not mean that we will cease to protect the rights of the unborn. Of course, we have to come together. Of course, we have to work together, and, of course, it's vital that we do so and help these young women who are facing such a difficult decision, with a compassion, that we'll help them with the adoptive services, with the courage to bring that child into this world and we'll help take care of it."
This debate addressed "negative" campaigns, but that is the wrong word. "Misleading" would be a better word to distinguish the ads and slogans and speeches that so insult and embarrass Americans in these times. If it is "negative" to point out that McCain was deeply involved in the Keating scandal that cost taxpayers several billion dollars, it is still not misleading, and such information is quite appropriate and necessary when we are selecting our national leadership. By assigning all such campaigning to the same category of "negative" the media and the candidates collude in maintaining a sort of omerta, a zone of silence around matters of recorded history that should certainly be relevant to a candidate's qualifications. The Acorn suit is misleading. The question of McCain's health records is negative, but of critical concern. The Ayers Connection is misleading and negative. McCain's marital history is negative, not misleading, but perhaps of questionable taste, but what it reveals of the man's character should make it fair game. Negativity is a non-issue. False advertising is a big, big deal, despite the media-supported cynicism that maintains it's just election season theatrics.
At this point, should McCain be adjudged the winner of the White House, somebody will have a lot of explaining to do. Exit polls were blamed last time around when, for the first time ever, they were different from the purported outcome. Voting machine fraud was clearly demonstrated, but never legally pursued. If the exit polls are still conducted despite their impaired reputation when the administration managed to suppress the real hanky-panky that went on, this time they will be backed by a very broad popular movement in support of Obama that dwarfs what grassroots support McCain can show. Then the mandate will be thinner than even Bush's after his track record demonstrated his real character.
If Americans are really that dumb, those of us who write about these things will have to explain why we bother. It is just plain embarrassing. Surely the Republican Party could have found somebody to run against Obama who could at least match him in education and intelligence, and not another stumbling puppet who can only mouth the same tired talking points aimed at banking on the worse "angels of our nature." But the Republicans have always been pragmatists, and never visionaries. They tend to do things that work to their strategic advantage, if not to the general improvement of life for the rest of us.
All in all, the debates have served only to increase my anxiety about the future that, as we are constantly reminded, hangs in the balance. And "the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression" has not even started to show up for most of us yet. Where are the breadlines, the chestnut-vendors, the hoboes, the thirty percent unemployment? Where are the Wall Street window-jumpers? What is going to happen when the food supply chains break down, as they inevitably must?
Here's what I think terribly likely: martial law. I've said it for years now, I believe Cheney and Bush are not going to "go gentle into that good, good night." Those who have destroyed so much, and slaughtered so many, to get so powerful, cannot be expected to just meekly hand over the keys to Obama and say "good luck." The stakes are unimaginably high. We are in for a very interesting, and very desperate time.