Claire and I watched the debate last night between Barack Obama and John McCain and, in general, thought that both men did well, with Obama doing a bit better, in expressing themselves and their vision for leading the country. Obama was a bit clearer in how he would handle the current economic mess, while McCain stuck to vowing to eliminate earmarks; a good start, but not much of a solution. On the other hand, the right answer to the question of how the economic crisis will affect either man’s plans as President is: “Well, pretty much everything I’ve been promising is now off the table. Sorry.” Nobody was willing to say that, however.
I want to note something that relieved me, which was McCain’s vow to outlaw the use of any sort of torture in our interrogations. His running mate said some criminally stupid things about Obama wanting to coddle terrorists during her inauguration speech, but it’s no surprise that McCain understands the worthlessness of information gained during torture. Torture is a tactical failure and a moral cancer; it puts our troops at risk and hands a propaganda victory to our enemies. It is very reassuring to hear that both candidates will outlaw torture if elected President, especially at a time when we’re finding out that the sitting President has authorized these practices.
In terms of foreign affairs, the two men were closer allied than they wanted to admit. The “time frame for withdrawal from Iraq” that Republicans bashed Obama for calling for has now been called for by the Iraqi government as well. And because the surge has gone better than expected (realism here seen as unpatriotic), McCain’s bluster about “losing” if the United States leaves Iraq to the Iraqis is beginning to sound delusional. Lastly, it’s hard to believe that either man would differ greatly in dealing with Iran or Pakistan if elected.
If Obama did well enough to “pass muster” in the debate, McCain wasn’t so far behind him. The main problem he had was that it’s clear that he despises Barack Obama. His attempts to repeat the claim that Obama “just doesn’t understand” were somewhat effective, until Obama spoke and demonstrated that he did understand whatever topic was at hand. McCain already gave up “foreign policy experience” as a talking point by electing a novice as VP, so he had to keep quiet on that, while Obama was free to make “judgment” a talking point, a good strategy given McCain’s bizarre and alarming diva posturing over the last few weeks.
Throughout, McCain was reduced to grumbling sullenly as the young hotshot demonstrated a semblance of gravitas that he lacked himself. Whenever Obama would give an answer and McCain would chuckle derisively or make snide comments, I was reminded of Hillary Clinton doing the same things during her debates with Obama; it didn’t work for her either.
I have a sense that the world is in the process of historical change- one could argue that the 21st century is just now beginning. I am doubtful that Obama is really the agent of change that he claims to be. But it’s hard to listen to McCain rehashing Reagan’s talking points and not hear the fading voice of the twentieth century.