My Reaction to the 2008 Obama/McCain Debates (1/3)

These are the first general election debates I was old enough watch as they occurred. Like everyone else my age, I was smitten with Obama and wanted him to win so as to lead us to glory again. Now that his Presidency is over, I can safely say I consider him a disappointment in many ways. He’s probably the single most polarizing president ever, not just in modern times but in all time. The overwhelming majority of Americans, whether they be Conservative, Liberal, whoever, like Lincoln, Jefferson Teddy Roosevelt and Washington. Everyone agrees Buchanan, Pierce, Harding and Andy Johnson sucked. Most people are too ignorant to history to have an opinion on the other nineteenth century Presidents. But you ask the liberals today and Obama is “THE GREATEST PRESIDENT EVER!” and “THE BEST DEMOCRAT SINCE FDR!” (That’s an actual headline my friends were passing around.) Meanwhile, the conservatives will tell you he’s “THE WORST PRESIDENT EVER!” and “A MUSLIM SOCIALIST LIBERAL ANTICHRIST.” It’s completely ridiculous on both sides.

No President who would allow his signature legislation become so butchered, neutered and pointless could ever be called great. Look at what FDR and LBJ had to put up with to get the New Deal, Second New Deal, Great Society and Civil Rights passed. He also failed to accomplish, or outright lied about, a lot of what he promised–like closing Guantanamo Bay for starters. Chris Hedges goes into how much more brutal Obama’s droning and anti-terrorism policies have been even than Bush II in his lectures. He expanded the Bush wars and signed NDAA. Obama was a terrible electoral/party leader who allowed the Democrats to lose a historic number of Congressional and local elections during his tenure. There is no comparison to his dismal party leadership and that of FDR who realigned the national electorate and set the stage for 40 years of left-wing dominance. But because Obama’s a Democrat and a young, attractive black guy who speaks well, nobody on the left cares about all of that.

I know the Republicans have fought Obama tooth and nail with unprecedented obstructionism, but he’s not the first to deal with a non-cooperation from the other party and, face it, he handled it less effectively than I’d expect from a “great president” supposedly on the same level as FDR. He could have used the bully pulpit to hammer home how ridiculous the Republicans were as opposed to playing nice all the time. He could have stacked the Supreme Court. He could have issued executive orders to resolve certain issues, like end prosecution for marijuana. He could have found a better DNC chairman and party apparatus to flip as many seats blue at all levels as possible. At the end of the day, Obama was a first term Senator—he wasn’t ready for the big leagues of Presidential politics and spearheading an entire legislative agenda. Pure and simple. Obama probably could have been a lot better as President down the road had he waited until he was older and got some more experience under his belt first. My assessment? Obama was an average Executive, who had the good fortune to be sandwiched between two men far worse than himself. The insanely polarized opinion about him is further proof of how hyper-partisan and echo-chambered the parties and their respective voters have become. There’s no room for nuance or neutrality in twenty-first century America.

Regarding McCain, I think that where Obama’s problem is he jumped into the Oval office too soon, McCain waited too long. From what I’ve heard others say, he would have been a great President had he won in 2000. Unfortunately, the Bush campaign ran some despicable ads against him, including the rumor that his adopted black daughter was the product of an interracial affair, so he lost. McCain became something of a sad figure from a bygone era during Trump’s campaign and administration. Watching his endorsement of Trump after he called McCain a loser is one of the most pathetic things I’ve ever witnessed. I am not trying to unduly disparage the recent dead but in all sincerity, why did McCain allow himself to be publicly castigated without standing up for himself? Like Obama, I think McCain gets a little too much credit from his own side and not enough from the opposing party. His “bomb Iran” song was shameful, but he’s far from the worst the post-Reagan Republican party has to offer.

Personally I can’t fault McCain too much for Palin. He wanted Joe Lieberman for VP but was overruled by his campaign staff. Lieberman is a Democrat and McCain thought choosing him would be a good gesture of how he reaches across the aisle to get the best people for the job. His campaign thought he needed a dark horse to take people by surprise. By going with a woman, they hoped to pick up Hillary supporters too. I can’t say if Lieberman would have swung the election for McCain, but it definitely would have made the race closer and the campaign less of a joke.

First Debate

I truly hate this moderator, Jim Lehrer. I hated him in the previous debates he moderated in, and I hate him now. He unnecessarily interrupts Obama to say “don’t tell me, tell him! I’m gonna get you two to talk tonight!” Like, dude…it’s the US electorate that the candidates are talking to, not each other. WE are the ones they’re winning over and who make the choice. What, is he hoping the two will convince each other to compromise their positions and hug it out or something? Why would they do that, they’re not trying to work together it’s a competition. What difference does it make whether they face each other when they talk or look into the camera? It’s not his job to dictate which direction or to whom a candidate speaks, that is a total violation of his position.

It’s a breath of fresh air how the dialogue has shifted to the economy, this being right after the financial crisis, as opposed to the terrorism and “HOW WILL YOU KEEP US SAFE??!!?” of 2004. It’s sad listening to Obama talk a big talk about stopping Wall Street, putting people ahead of corporations and giving all Americans affordable coverage here on the campaign trail. Then in office we got the bailout, the TPP and his healthcare bill has been a big disappointment to a lot of people. The ACA might have been a great stepping stone to Single Payer but he let the Republicans and Joe Lieberman gut the public option which was its entire purpose to begin with. Now, all it does is force people to buy private insurance, often with higher costs and lower coverage than they had before. It’s a flawed compromise, and in no way a left-wing bill—it’s the Republican plan from twenty years ago, enacted by Romney himself in his own state of Massachusetts.

Obama also talks about tax loopholes that allow corporations and rich people to pay less in taxes than average people—but as far as I know, he never did anything about it as president, and I can now confirm Democrats have been talking about this since the ’60s with zero progress. The Panama Papers revealed it was even worse than we the public had thought for years, with nary a word on that from Obama. McCain’s rebuttal about “talking the talk vs walking the walk” is totally on point, especially in hindsight. McCain calls attention to Obama’s voting record where he sided against what he claims to stand for during the campaign, which is another fair criticism.

It’s also worth noting that during this phase of the debate, McCain attacks Obama as being “the most liberal person in the Senate” just like Bush did to Kerry the previous cycle. I have to wonder first off if those accusations are true, because that’s quite a coincidence how literally every single new nominee is “the most liberal ever.” And even if it is, why don’t the accused wear it like a badge of honor? Even here in 2008 Obama was too scared to embrace the name and say some iteration of “I am, and that’s what America needs.” That kinda says it all.

They both raise valid points regarding Iraq. Obama is right to assert that we never should have invaded in the first place. McCain is right that once we went in, we had to finish the job. That wasn’t the popular thing to say in 2008, but in hindsight he was totally right—just look at ISIS and the mess it is now, and will probably continue to be for the foreseeable future.

In comparison to everything else, this is a minor issue but McCain loses some respect from me with that “the person I admire most—Ronald Reagan” soundbite. I’m sick of all the Reagan fawning on the Right. I hoped that a supposed maverick would break that annoying trend, but I guess not. It always sounds so forced when the Republicans do this, and it’s totally unnecessary.

I guess it was warranted considering the times, but I dislike how the focus for so much of the debate is on foreign policy, and the Middle East especially. “What will you do about Afghanistan, what will you do about Iraq, what will you do about Pakistan, what will you do about Iran, what will you do about Russia?” It’s really frustrating. I wish one candidate would just say “why do we have to do anything about XYZ country? Leave them to their own problems and let’s focus on ours. Specifically, I’d like to start with the rising income inequality…”

ASIDE: On this point, I remember once in my high school US government class in 2011 we were all talking about which side America ought to get involved with during the Libyan civil war. I was literally the only person who raised the question “why do we have to get involved on ANY side? Why does their war have to be our problem?” I really loathe this neocon mentality a lot of Americans, and especially our leaders, seem to have. I hate how it’s NEVER questioned. It’s not our place to insert ourselves into every other country’s domestic affairs, at least not in the context of warring or playing kingmaker with their governing factions. This is especially so when our own domestic issues are going so terribly.

McCain looks pretty silly hyping up how Iran is imminently going to possess a nuke, and using Patraeus as his source for all his ideas, considering what happened to him. I also think he’s wrong to give Obama so much flak for how he (Obama) would sit down with the leader of Iran without preconditions. That’s how you get progress. You sit down and hear the other side out. We make peace with our enemies, not our friends, and frankly I think it would have been a stretch to call Iran an enemy anyway. Trying to act like you’re so much better than the leaders of Iran or anywhere else that they have to conform to your demands 100% of the time is ridiculously arrogant and potentially dangerous.

The 2016 primaries in both parties with the focus overwhelmingly on domestic issues and policy is a direct blow back from all these years (2000-2012) where the debate topics centered on geopolitical chess and neocon nation building. People are sick of it, and rightly so. That warmongering outlook has brought us nothing but trouble.

1 Comment

  1. As much as I disliked everything about Obama, He was clearly from our current perspective the lesser evil when compared to McCain. I didn’t watch the debates, but can see from your analysis that they both were big liers. McCain we now know to be a supporter of ISIS seems to have lied constantly about foreign policy. While Obama clearly a tool of the financial elites seems to have lied consistency about financial policies. Too bad these two evil clowns were the best the major political parties offered up that year. In the past it seems that politicians were usually flawed but in this election it seems to me that both major candidates were legitimately evil men. With only their own self interest a heart. You did a good job analyzing an evet that probably would probably have made me sick if I had watched it.

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