Saturday, September 27, 2008

First Presidential Debate:Finance & Foreign Affairs

I watched the entire debate last night, but purposely did not watch the pundit's comments afterward. Nor, have I heard any commentary on the debate before writing this blog.

I am not primarily interested in who won the debate --
whatever that means. Of course, there are lists of debating points one can use, but the reason for these debates is to see the candidates responding to questions about important national and international issues with which they will have to deal once one of them wins.

Which candidate appears to be the President we need for the next four years? That's the answer we are looking for, and the debates are only one means of helping us make this tremendous decision.

In the back of my mind, I was tuning into items like these:

• The quality of the solutions offered to each problem presented: how perceptive, how detailed, how "nuanced"
• The ability to express the ideas presented in a way that shows intelligence, coherence, and clarity
• The skill and adeptness when required to rebut the objections or criticism given by the other candidate
• The presence of mind and temperament each person showed
• The directness and focus of each response versus a sense of the candidate wandering around, avoiding the issue, or finding some way to respond without doing so effectively and to the point
• Any personal qualities displayed during the debate which seemed to the viewer what the nation needs now

My general personal appraisal is that Barack Obama's ideas were more specific, delivered more clearly, and in detail -- showed more thought and knowledge, and, in general were more of what our nation needs at present.

McCain seemed to offer in his answers much less in the way of solid specifics expressed with clarity. He referred to himself two or three times as a "maverick". We all have heard that McCain has received this label at times. However, is it justified, and is it significant? To go against the crowd, one's peers, etc. may be very praiseworthy, may be. Several times Senator McCain said that he was never known as Mr. Congeniality. And many times --- he claimed to be a spending cutter: earmarks, pork, government waste. However, I can recall very few specifics given. Now, all the behavior mentioned in this paragraph I felt was a type of camouflage -- hiding his inability to clearly and in detail to give thoughtful reponses. They were wheel spinning. Caught for lack of words (or ideas), but trying to salvage the day.

Although, and to his credit, McCain did not pull out the "war hero" card because whether he was or wasn't or how much of one he was or wasn't -- has little if any affect on my vote for him as our national leader.

Another behavior of McCain that bothered me -- which I also felt was a way to avoid honestly, accurately, and effectively answering questions about foreign policy was his frequent reference to such things as --- his knowing Dr. Kissinger for 30+ years -- yes, and we're good friends. General Petraeus is a superb general and we know each other well. Why did not Obama go to Iraq and see the situation on the ground as he had? (And I might add make a number of spoken mistakes about Iran and the Shia - Sunni situation as McCain. In fact, on one occasion, Joe Lieberman after McCain's repeated misstatements had to whisper the correct version in his ear.)In addition, McCain pointed out to the audience that the young president of Georgia is a good friend of his. McCain talked about his visit to Georgia -- and how he had walked around and sized things up.
(Yet, when Obama went on an international tour not too long ago, and drew hundreds of thousands of young Germans to his speech in Berlin -- McCain made light of it as inappropriate and meaningless.)

Now, if you think of all of the above --- what does it add up to? Do you feel that Senator McCain in his Senate career (1987 til now) has demonstrated foreign policy acumen by being friends with this person or that person, or having visited here and there. I wanted to see his foreign policy sharpness in the debate. He said in the debate that he could judge people in person and when he looked in Putin's eyes -- he could see KBG written written there. Really!

McCain's solution to the financial crisis. The three main factors causing this financial mess are these (IMO): the Iraq War -- eventually its total cost will be three trillion dollars; the tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans who didn't need them, and don't deserve them; and to the attitude, primarily of the GOP during the past eight years (although Clinton and Reagan played their part) of giving our revered financial institutions great freedom to do what they wanted and how they wanted with little or no oversight and regulation, with lack of transparency -- in the hope that the wealth generated by these free and loose gamblers would be beneficial to the common good of the Republic. Totally and foreseeably an unbelievable error in judgment, but true.

When Obama was asked about this crisis, he expressed the need for much greater oversight, scrutiny, regulations from the federal government of Wall Street. He also said that the Iraq War and its hemmoraghing of taxpayers' funds must end as quickly as possible. That the wealthiest Americans -- those with incomes overe $250,000 a year must have a tax hike. That the $700 billion dollar first aid kit for Wall Street's richest and finest -- must have strings attached -- including the prohibition of excessive executive salaries and the fabled golden parachutes.

McCain seemed to me to wander around the bailout and the financial crisis. At one point he seeme stuck like a needle on a 78 rpm vinyl planner --- claiming that he was reknown for being a budget cutter. Everyone knows this about him. He is famous for this. There is some truth in this but the reality is not quite up to the rhetoric. He said that he would go through every department of government and reduce their expenditures or, and if appropriate eliminate the division. Well, this sort of talk we routinely hear from politicians, perhaps more frequently from Republicans, who despite the talk and image building have inflated government and the deficit during the terms of office of Reagan and the two Bushes -- far more than the "spendthrift" Democrats.

Around this point in the debate, Obama spoke in response. He said that there were certain departments of government that actually needed greater funding: education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Now, this was a high point of the debate to see one candidate speak the truth -- when it could be easily misused or misstated by his opponents. This shows wisdom, courage, and honesty. BTW -- what does American need right now more than anything: Wisdom, Courage and Honesty.

I disagreed with both candidates about their apparent misreadings of Russia. They felt there was a resurgent, aggressive, imperial Russia on the rise. They pointed to Georgia and Russia's intervention in South Ossetia. This is terrible misunderstanding of Russia's actions, the provocations that led to it and our part in the whole thing. We don't need another "bete noire" internationally. I plan a blog on this subject, so I will let it go there.

Obama, I believe, was absolutely correct in saying as he did several times that we should have finished our military activities in Afghanistan where the Taliban and al Qaeda were present --- before taking our "eye off the ball" and invading Iraq. And, in fact Iraq was a terrible decision leading to loss of life on both sides, the increase of terrorist activities throughout the world, the movement of some al Qaeda factions into Iraq, the fueling of Sunni/Shia strife, the tarnishing of our international image. Yet McCain still thinks Iraq was and is a good idea. And his fixation that whenever the U.S.A. enters (or creates) a military conflict --- the only acceptable outcome is victory. There is already an attempt to frame "victory" in such a way that when we finally leave Iraq (if we ever do) --- we can massage our national "ego" and say: "We are still # One.We are Top Dog. We are Winners!"

Epilogue: IMHO -- the debate clearly showed that Obama may make the kind of President that we have needed for many years. He showed in this debate calmness, sharp and deep knowledge of the situations raised -- honesty, courage, and humanity. McCain, IMHO, seemed confused at times, wandering. avoiding the issue with asides and anecdotes, offering little of significance in dealing effectively with our actual problems. He kept his cool. I will give him that, but little else.
The abilities McCain does have, IMO, have been negatively affected by age.

P.S. While in the blogosphere yesterday, I came across this comment by some blogger. I copied it and now I paste it in here. (This comment is in reference to an interview recently of Obama by the Press.)

- Complete, coherent sentences.
- A logical sequence of ideas, developed in a series of statements.
- A clear, concise explanation of complex issues.

I realize that now-a-days we consider it a good day when our dear President gets through a sentence (of sorts) without three major grammatical errors, but Obama's interview shows us that it could actually be different. We could have a leader who is capable of constructing a sentence in the English language. In fact, I have a dream that one day - one day in January, to be precise - we will.