Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Battle Royale - Debate No.2

Inspired by Megan McArdle’s post on the first debate, I thought a live blogging session on the McCain –Obama debate would be a different idea.

I’m blogging just as the debate goes live. This debate will be the defining moment to judge both candidates, coming as it does after the bailout package and the continuing market meltdown. America is going to ask some tough questions, and I hope for a spirited debate.

I spent the first half hour wolfing down some Upma for breakfast (my cooking today!) and some piping hot Assam tea. So I’m just going to jot down my impressions on the candidates for the first half, and then move on to specific questions.Its



He’s appearing extremely professorial in his replies and quite childish if I might say so in his repartees. He does not thank the questioner, and actually walks away from them to talk to the rest of the crowd. Way too much statistics than is required. I guess he believes that Mc Cain will fight back harshly and is quite charged up to hit Mc Cain where it hurts. It’s embarrassing to see him ask Brokaw whether he can reply to Mc Cain’s barbs – almost like primary school.

And lastly, he seems so focused with his answering that he’s upsetting the moderator with his line of talking. And the moderator is giving it back by making him wait, and giving McCain the upper hand. Obama seems to believe he can win absolutely, and he’s quite cocky with his answers. There is a lot of talk, but are there any specifics?


Shrewd fighter turned Mr. Congeniality on this show. Of course there are a lot of selective quotations that he makes to attack Obama. And Obama is quick to point it out as in the case of nuclear energy track record, where he contrasts MC’s support for nuclear energy with the record that shows he did not vote for alternative energy. But Mc smartly gives barbs, by bringing the point to his angle by slipping in his position to an earlier question. So he does not sound like he’s robbing time – which he is.

He’s smart enough to know that the economy has left him very weak, but strangely he’s holding his own on economic issues. This should have been his Waterloo. It’s beginning to look like Stalingrad.

Q: Ability of the USA to act as peace maker, when the economy is down.

MC thanks the questioner by agreeing that strong military needs strong economy. He believes that American dream is still alive. Good linkage to his vast experience in foreign policy and military matter. Goes back to the record – Bosnia, Gulf War, Russia, surge. This seems to be a recurring theme – Go back to my record! (Corollary – Obama does not have one to talk about!). He highlights the short experience of O and talks about no time for on-the-job.

O does not thank the questioner. He moves into negative territory immediately with Iraq. I think he’s being quite grave in his responses – is he trying to show he’s one with the American mood, and refute the criticism during the bailout discussion that he was too detached? Quickly, he highlights with the strain on the budget. He’s blunt – no economic power, no military adventurism.

Follow up: What will your doctrine be?

O doctrine – We will respond for non- natl security issue. He goes back to the holocaust, Rwanda about the moral obligation question. Says we’ll consider acting. Waxes philosophical, in saying we cannot be everywhere, cruelty is everywhere. Highlights Darfur. His view: Provide logistical issues - @ little cost.

MC – says O will bring them back in defeat, I will with honor. Says we must prevent genocide. But favors interaction based on the ability to be a beneficial influence, says it requires a cool hand. Highlights Somalia – Black hawn down ( for the uninitiated) . He differentiates between peacekeeping and peace making in Somalia. Says he’s been in these issues all my life. Securing the life of my men will be top priority.

Q: Should we respect Pakistani sovereignty.

O thanks questioner. The diff situation in Pakistan is because of hitting Iraq and the distraction. Bin laden escaped and now they are hitting us. P is the central front on terror. Urges end to Iraq move to Afghanistan and put pressure. No more cuddling with the dictator. Encourage democracy. Expand non-mil aid, insist they go after them. If OBL is in sight, and Pak is not able to pull the trigger we will.

MC thanks questioner. Quotes Ted rosevolt – talk softly but carry a bit stick. Quotes O –“ I’ll attack Pakistan”. Questions the naiveté of talking aloud, and insists that it has resulted in public opinion moving away from USA in Pak. Conveniently ignores the fact that Bush signed the decree in July (O lets it go !) Talks about the afghan war- slips us – “We pushed back the Russians” – is it the first declaration of US support to the mujahid by an American politician?

Urges to get the support of the people and help them turn against the Taliban.

O talks about a follow-up, cutting into the schedule. This is becoming quite a pain actually. Mc is able to act the higher ground, and wins second follow-up once O talks. The result is that MC has the last word on everything! O tries to talk about similar rhetoric about NK. (But NK has never been a US ally, unlike Pakistan!)

(Aside – Tom Brokaw tries to restore order – O’s reply – “You are doing a good job Tom!” – quite condescending, reminds me of his “You are likable, Hillary” comment which led him to lose a primary (Was it Ohio or Penn State?))

MC’s response – “I am not going to telegraph my punches”! Good knockout attacks on O.

O talks about the afghan situation. Says will tell Karzai, you have to do better. He wants to have to have a democracy in Afghanistan. I don’t think he understands the Loya Jirga politics of the Afghans.

MC talks of his hero Petraeus in Afghanistan. Praises the surge and hits at Obama for still does not admitting to it. O lets it pass.

Q: Pressure on Russia:

MC: We are not having a cold war. But its behavior is outside of norms due of petro dollar. Hits out at Putin – talks about the KGB in his eyes and Russian stance in Georgia. “Watch Ukraine” – he says. Advocate their membership in NATO. He says again that negative behavior should attract penalties. Hopes this will modify behavior.

O: Russian resurgence is central issue. Will provide financial and “concrete” assistance – military? Mum on NATO membership. Says we should see around the corner – it comes back to MC’s experience! Talks about his note on South Ossetia. He makes the point that we have been reactive over 8 yrs, goes back to Iraq. He links Russia to oil spending.

Is Russia the evil empire ?

O: I think they engaged in evil behvr, have nationalist ideas.
MC: He makes a better, nuanced answer, and says it depends on our behvr. Yes- and it signals cold war. No – ignore behvr. (I think that’s a more realistic answer.)

Q:Israel – if Iran attacks Israel what will u do – War veteran

MC – Thanks the man for his service. Shakes his hand. He is emphatic in being unilateral in this scenario. Says R and Ch will be obstructive, goes to the pre-condition point of O and lambasts it. Says he will go with legal democracies. We can never allow a second holocaust.

O: Thanks the man for his service. We cannot allow them to get nuclear weapons as they will threaten the world. We will never take the war option off the table. Not give the UN veto option. Work diplomatically. Prevent them from importing gasoline – cost benefit analysis!

Final thoughts:

Obama is clearly somber here with contrasts his opportunities along with the current scenario today. Says we need change and he can provide it.

MC is a lot more optimistic in his views I feel here. Holds out the fact that the US can be innovative, and can go back to its earlier highs. Spoke of his bad-mortgage plan and says we can put the worst behind us. Ends with – “Times are tough, we need steady handed-ness.” (Look at my record and experience !)

First impressions:

I think both candidates gave it a great performance. Obama sounded more somber note, and wasted no time to go to the jugular MC was strangely chirpier, and went out of his way to be congenial. I reckon that must have got O to back off a little bit. It helped MC to get away from his economy Waterloo. The economy is clearly going to be an issue; MC said he would buy bad home mortgages in an effort to provide some kind of a new plan.
I found it interesting that Obama was unable to dislodge MC despite being on the higher ground today. Perhaps Obama believes the economy is going to do it for him?

On personality terms, MC sounds more likable while Obama appeared out of touch and was confident tending to condescending. On economic facts, O is superior primarily because MC was down. Foreign policy might not bring in the votes, given the US is focused on its own troubles.

Final Analysis:

In the short term MC will get a bump for sure, because he sounded a lot more confident. But if the economic problem drags on, people will forget MC’s optimism and elect Obama to power.