Old man in a cage
October 8, 2008 | Go to any zoo and you'll see animals pacing back and forth in their cage. That's what John McCain reminded me of in last night's debate. When he smiled it was forced with clenched teeth, and any hint of bonhomie was belied by the anger in his eyes. For all that the "town hall" format was supposed to be McCain's forte, he did not look at all happy to be there. And he didn't hang around afterward — while Barack and Michelle Obama stayed about 15 minutes and chatted with audience members, McCain and Stepford Wife left as soon as the closing formalities were over.
McCain tried to throw another surprise into the debate by declaring that he would order the secretary of the treasury to buy up bad mortgages and renogotiate them. Obama, to his credit, did not bite. Probably he understood that the bailout plan just approved authorized the treasury to do just that. But if John McCain didn't read the bailout plan when it was three pages, he probably didn't read it after it grew to 400 pages.
To be sure, McCain didn't level his most scurrilous charges explicitly, as Sarah Palin is doing on the campaign trail, but he did a good job of implying that Barack Obama is untrustworthy, naive, unpatriotic, and not "one of us." They are playing with fire. A few more remarks from the dais about "palling around with terrorists" and from the crowd to "kill him" (antecedent unclear) could set off some really ugly scenes in the streets, and somebody could get hurt or killed. And it might not be Obama!
Back to the debate. It wasn't one. Under the rules negotiated between the two campaigns, an audience member could ask a question submitted in advance and be seen asking it but not listening to the answer. The question would be followed by two minute answers, followed by a one minute discussion. (A one-minute discussion?!?!) The result was a stifled, contrived event bearing little resemblance to either a debate or a genuine town meeting. Brokaw's attempt to enforce these rules led to the only real debate of the evening (about the rules).
Obama did a much better job of relating to the people and the questions, while McCain spouted his same old lines. Asked how he would prioritize reforms in view of the weakening (collapsing) economy, McCain insisted he would do it all. Obama ticked off his top priorities in 1-2-3 order. Asked what the bailout package would actually do for all the people struggling in this economy, McCain corrected the questioner, indicating that the preferred term was "rescue" not bailout, then launched into his standard analysis of the crisis:
There was no mention of decades of Republican deregulation and non-regulation that unleashed the dogs on Wall Street.
Although McCain took care to end his answer by looping back to the questioner ("Americans, like Alan, can realize the American dream and stay in their homes") the whole long response missed the point of the question: What's in it for us? And I doubt that Oliver was reassured by being called Alan.
By contrast, Obama went straight to the point: "Well, Oliver, first let me tell you what's in the rescue package for you."
And so it went through the evening. There was a very revealing moment late in the debate when Brokaw asked, "Quick discussion. Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?"
McCain answered that it was a responsibility "in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen." He went on to say that his plan would ensure that. But since he went on to say that he was opposed to "mandating" health care for everyone, it's unclear just what he meant and whose responsibility it is.
Obama seized the moment to quickly assert that healthcare is a right, and "in a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can't pay their medical bills -- for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they're saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don't have to pay her treatment, there's something fundamentally wrong about that." Bingo!
I was terribly amused to learn — for the umpteenth time — that McCain knows how to solve practically every problem known to mankind.
Forgive me for asking, Mr McCain, but if you know how to do all these things, why haven't you done them? You've been in Washington for 26 years and your party has controlled the White House and Congress for many of these years. If you know all these things, don't you think you should tell someone?
Last updated on Sep 9, 2016