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Debate Three - A Disappointing Final Course

Jul 7, 2008
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Over the past several days I’ve been repeatedly asked where my analysis of the third and final presidential debate was. Initially chocking the delay up to my desire to avoid the pitfalls of insta-analysis, as time went on the thought began to creep into the back of my mind that perhaps I had contracted a nasty case of writer’s block.

How could this be, I wondered. Surely someone as opinionated and verbose as me had something to say about Wednesday night’s final faceoff between Senators McCain and Obama.

At the very least I should be able to describe the scene and characterize the encounter.

And then it hit me.


As Americans face the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression; with trillions of dollars in value having been lost in the financial markets over the past year; our economy having lost over 750,000 jobs since January; as hundreds of thousands of families teeter precariously on the brink of foreclosure and bankruptcy; with millions uninsured; our borders remain a porous, unsecured joke and our nation expends precious blood and treasure in the heart of Mesopotamia and Central Asia, Senators McCain and Obama were disappointingly unremarkable in their final joint appearance before the nation prior to the Election.

Once again offering up warmed up leftovers from their respective stump speeches, the two brought nothing new of substance to the table.

Though both have agreed in the past that we face the most daunting economic crisis in generations, there was no sense of urgency or even an acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation beyond Senator McCain’s recognition that Americans “are angry”.

As we face a federal budget deficit that will quickly approach a staggering $1.5 trillion when the bank bailout and a proposed economic stimulus are included, the evening was again descending into petty bickering over a $3 million planetarium projector and $18 billion in Congressional earmarks.

While the two presidential hopefuls took turns alternately defending and pandering to Joe the Plumber, there was no discussion of the impact that the additional hundreds of billions of dollars each candidate’s health care plans would add to the federal deficit would have on him and his neighbors - Dave the Fireman, Cindy the Waitress, Bob the Builder and Jane the Teacher.

Though having assailed his opponent on the campaign trail for his association with former domestic terrorist and radical Leftist William Ayers, Senator McCain demurred when offered the opportunity to take him task mono-a-mono. Likewise, after weeks of his campaign pushing stories questioning Sarah Palin’s qualifications to sympathetic members of the media, Senator Obama responded in Clintonesque fashion; stating that it would be up to the American people to decide if she was in fact ready to be vice president.

Ironic that Former President Clinton gave a similarly dispassionate and solely constitutional response when queried about Senator Obama’s own qualifications for the presidency this past summer.

Having portrayed themselves respectively as a bold visionary leader for the future and a tested and seasoned warrior able to captain the ship of state through treacherous waters, Senators Obama and McCain offered neither the calming reassurance nor the inspirational motivation of leadership.

Sacrificing the maverick moniker and eagerly embracing his status as underdog, McCain turned in what was easily his best performance of the debates. Punctuated by his admonishing Senator Obama that he was not George Bush and if he wished to run against him he should have done so four years ago, it’s impact was diminished by his repeated awkward facial expressions.

Though the Republican hopeful was engaged and aggressive without the bitterness that undermined his previous debate efforts, his performance would have served him better had he delivered it in the first meeting of the series. Had it been the overture from which he launched into the remaining two forums -instead of his finale – this may well have been a far different race.

Though earnest and energetic, McCain failed to demonstrate the commanding and confidence-inspiring presence born of experience that is the foundation of his candidacy.

In contrast to his self-styled image as a bold, visionary leader, Senator Obama opted to emphasize appearance over substance. Cool, confident and thoughtful, the junior Senator from Illinois sought to reinforce his presidential image.

Every carefully calculated response was geared towards avoiding any impression of rashness. Remaining cool in the face of McCain’s attacks and refusing to take the bait of moderator Bob Schieffer’s queries, Obama signaled that he is content with playing prevent defense based on the strength of his current lead in the polls and his overwhelming advantage in available funds.

However disappointing it may be to many, having done so previously on his way to clinching the Democratic nomination, it should come as no surprise to serious political observers.

What is so striking about Senator Obama’s decision to run out the clock on the election is that it is a staple of old school politics; hardly what one would expect of a candidate whose mantra and platform is summed up in the word “change”.

In the end Senator McCain walked away from the debate retaining his status as the underdog in the race; an admittedly energized one, but an underdog nonetheless. Likewise, Senator Obama retained his status as frontrunner while reinforcing his presidential image along the way. In essence, little had changed over the course of the three meetings between the two presidential aspirants.

Reinforcing this impression is the fact that after three long and tedious courses, the American electorate warily heads off towards Election Day still desperately hungering for some sense of leadership from these two men; one of whom will take the Oath of Office and assume its burdensome and lonely weight come next January 20th.

I don't suppose there's any chance we could order ala carte is there? At least for dessert, maybe?

Nah, I didn't think so either.

Same as it ever was, faithful readers. Same as it ever was. Stay tuned for further updates as events warrant and the clock ticks off the closing minutes of Campaign ’08!
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