The Final Debate — Who Disappointed
A day late and a couple of billion dollars short, but here’s my thoughts on who disappointed during that final debate and why:
Bob Schieffer. Particularly the moral equivalency implicit in this question:
“Both of you pledged to take the high road in this campaign yet it has turned very nasty. Senator Obama, your campaign has used words like ‘erratic,’ ‘out of touch,’ ‘lie,’ ‘angry,’ ‘losing his bearings’ to describe Senator McCain. Senator McCain, your commercials have included words like ‘disrespectful,’ ‘dangerous,’ ‘dishonorable,’ ‘he lied.’ Your running mate said he ‘palled around with terrorists’...”
Please. Barack Obama’s negative ads focus on what’s wrong with John McCain’s proposed policies, and are mostly truthful. John McCain’s negative ads (and stump speeches) focus on what's wrong with Barack Obama, and they are mostly outright lies and innuendo. There is no equivalency. Everyone with an open mind knows who’s muddying the waters. McCain’s camp has even admitted that that’s their strategy. Why should journalists pretend otherwise?
I’ve said it time and again: Objectivity is not stupidity. This should be a journalistic mantra. Wake the fuck up.
The answers to the “running mate” question. Overall, of course, Barack's my guy, the smartest, most inspiring presidential candidate I’ve seen during my lifetime. And I know he’s preternaturally calm, and that’s part of the reason he is where he is. But when Schieffer lobbed that softball to him about running mates, and why his was better than the other, he should’ve smacked it out of the park. I mean out of the park. Instead, he turned even more factual, more logical. Drove me crazy. I mean, c’mon. At least bring up the fact that Sarah Palin doesn’t even do press conferences, that we’re in the unprecedented situation of possibly electing someone to the second-highest office in the land who hasn’t talked to the press yet. He doesn’t have to say it’s fascist, which it is. He just has to say it’s undemocratic, which it is.
I was also a little disappointed that he didn’t take John McCain more to task for McCain’s response to Schieffer’s above question. Which brings me to...
John McCain. Yep. After everything we’ve seen from his campaign, how could he disappoint me more? Yet he managed to do it. Kudos. The first time was here:
One of [those negative attacks] happened just the other day, when a man I admire and respect — I've written about him — Congressman John Lewis, an American hero, made allegations that Sarah Palin and I were somehow associated with the worst chapter in American history, segregation, deaths of children in church bombings, George Wallace. That, to me, was so hurtful.... I hope that Senator Obama will repudiate those remarks that were made by Congressman John Lewis, very unfair and totally inappropriate.
OK. McCain’s campaign implies that Barack Obama is a Muslim, a terrorist, “evil,” and when John Lewis calls him on it, McCain has the nerve to be affronted?
But it’s more. If you’d asked me five years, 10 years ago, to name someone who was a hero to me, someone alive and whom I didn’t know personally, I would’ve named John Lewis. He grew up poor in Mississippi. He wanted to be a minister and used to preach to the chickens as he was feeding them in the morning. He wound up going to college in Nashville and became one of the leaders of the 1960 Nashville sit-ins, which was the first protracted, organized effort at direct action — confronting an unjust law rather than simply ignoring it — of the civil rights movement. He was one of the leaders of the Freedom Rides, and was among those attacked in Montgomery, Ala., by a white mob who objected to the integrated Greyhound bus in their midst. (There’s a famous photo of him, with Jim Zwerg, a white student from, I believe, Wisconsin: Zwerg has his bloody fingers in his mouth (checking his teeth?), while Lewis looks, well, preternaturally calm, despite the blood splattered on his suit and tie.) He was the first president of SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and he was among the speakers during the March on Washington in August 1963. If memory serves, he even argued with the March’s founders because he wanted to use the term “black” rather than “Negro” but the founder’s thought that too radical. For the past 30 years, he’s represented his district in Georgia in the U.S. Congress.
So when John McCain began dragging John Lewis’ name through the mud on national television, I had to restrain myself from battering my own television in anger.
Sen. McCain: There’s a reason John Lewis has equated you with some of the worst aspects of the civil rights movement. Look to yourself.
Then there was that moment, near the end, during the abortion back-and-forth, when McCain used air quotes around “health of the mother.” I’m not a woman but even I was offended. Can’t imagine how women felt.
The mainstream (corporate, idiotic) media. To me the debate was no contest. One guy was cranky, the other was calm. One guy was petty, the other guy had a largeness of spirit. One guy tried to keep us divided, the other tried to bring us together. (Check out, for example, Barack’s answer to the abortion question.) Even on a superficial level: One guy was red-eyed, blinking, with an unnatural smile, the other guy was handsome, cool, with a natural smile. No contest.
The polls afterwards indicated it was no contest. Voters preferred Barack Obama overwhelmingly, by the biggest margins in any of their three debates.
And yet the pundits. Ah, the pundits.
Are they in some kind of vacuum of stupidity? Are they straining for objectivity? Do they want to make more of a contest out of this presidential race? Do they want to give one to poor John McCain? Because they didn’t see it. Either they missed it, or they pretended reality was something other than what it was.
So much of the press, even a day later, was about how John McCain “went on the attack,” and “made the debate about...” blah blah blah. They couldn’t get enough of “Joe the Plumber,” yet another ignoramus John McCain has dragged onto the national stage. Here’s a guy, not even a licensed plumber, who owes back taxes, and who, in every interview I’ve heard, reiterates Republican talking points. He almost feels like a plant. He complains that Barack Obama’s tax plan would raise his taxes. It won’t. In fact, he’ll probably get a tax break. And yet “Joe” still won’t admit it. He says Barack tap-danced around the issue “almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr.” He said this to Katie Couric when she called him Thursday morning. He said it on national TV. People at CBS laughed when he said it.
Jesus Christ. How much more stupid can we get?
But for all that disappointment, it was still the debate I wanted. Barack looked good, McCain looked bad, and we’ve got less than three weeks to go.