McCain Tries Harder But Suffers Devastating Loss in Final Debate

John McCain deserves an A for effort but suffered a devastating defeat in a debate he needed to win to get back into the race. The debate, occurring on the eve of McCain’s most important television appearance of the week as he faces David Letterman tomorrow, was the last time McCain would have a chance to make his case against Obama to a national audience. McCain was more aggressive, but Obama ultimately won by repeatedly bringing the debate back to the issues whenever McCain attacked. Once again, Obama came out of the debate looking sound on the issues and appearing presidential while McCain came off as a funny little man who is out of his league. For Obama to have accomplished this in all three debates was an impressive turn around considering McCain’s previous advantages on experience.

The polls show that for the fourth time the Democratic candidate was the big winner in the debate, which should provide a wake up call to Republicans that they are out of touch with the beliefs of the American people. CBS News and Knowlege Networks found in a poll of uncommitted voters that Obama won 53 percent to 22 percent. CNN’s polling found that Obama won 58 percent to 31percent. Obama won by an even greater margin, 59 percent to 24 percent, on who can better handle the economy. Favorable opinion of Obama rose from 63 percent at the start of the debate to 66 percent at the end while McCain’s favorables dropped from 51percent to 49 percent. Even the focus group at Fox believe that Obama was the winner.

McCain made numerous factual errors on the issues and, perhaps even more seriously, was seen to be repeatedly blinking, rolling his eyes, and making funny faces. Marc Ambinder points out that science has demonstrated that eye movements matter and have been predictive in previous elections. Was McCain sending out messages to his base in Morse code when blinking, such as “Obama is a terrorist” and “I will reverse Roe v. Wade”?

McCain repeated his usual distortions of Obama’s tax plan as he brought up Joe the Plumber. The real implications of Obama’s tax plans can be seen here. Most plumbers clearly fall in the range where they come out far better under Obama than McCain.

If Joe the Plumber were to wind up paying more taxes under Obama, it would only happen if he were to make profits of over $250,000 per year, in which case the claims that Obama’s tax plans would prevent him from buying a business simply make no sense. It is also Obama’s health care plan which would make it easier for Joe and other small businessmen  to afford health care coverage for employees. Regardless of who Joe ultimately votes for, it is notable that the union which represents plumbers has endorsed Obama writing, “Obama will help us keep existing jobs and work to develop new, higher paying jobs here in America, reform our health care system, fix our ailing schools and make sure that the pensions of our retirees are safe.”

In the second question Bob Scheiffer asked, “Both of you have said you want to reduce the deficit, but the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget ran the numbers on both of your proposals and they say the cost of your proposals, even with the savings you claim can be made, each will add more than $200 billion to the deficit.” One problem in the phrasing of this question is that, while correct that the plans of both candidates will increase the deficit, John McCain’s promised tax cuts would result in a far greater increase in the deficit than Obama’s plans.

McCain repeated  claims such as that he knows how to reduce spending but he remains vague on specifics. He makes it sound like earmarks are the total problem, but ignores the fact that Sarah Palin obtained far more money in earmarks per capita than any other state. Once again he attacked Obama for the funds on what he erroneously describes as an overhead projector for a planetarium. The Adler Planetarium has explained the value of the actual device purchased and further explanation of the scientific benefits of the equipment can be found here.

McCain repeated his unsubstantiated charges that Obama has never stood up to the leaders of his party. Obama responded with actual examples:

First of all, in terms of standing up to the leaders of my party, the first major bill that I voted on in the Senate was in support of tort reform, which wasn’t very popular with trial lawyers, a major constituency in the Democratic Party. I support charter schools and pay for performance for teachers. Doesn’t make me popular with the teachers union. I support clean coal technology. Doesn’t make me popular with environmentalists. So I’ve got a history of reaching across the aisle.

Obama’s support for ethics reform, both in the Illinois legislature and the Senate has also not been popular with all party leaders. Obama moved directly from this to a refutation of a false charge from McCain on his tax policies and a reiteration of the argument that on economic policy McCain has not differed from George Bush as he has on a handful of other issues:

Now with respect to a couple of things Sen. McCain said, the notion that I voted for a tax increase for people making $42,000 a year has been disputed by everybody who has looked at this claim that Sen. McCain keeps on making.

Even FOX News disputes it, and that doesn’t happen very often when it comes to accusations about me. So the fact of the matter is that if I occasionally have mistaken your policies for George Bush’s policies, it’s because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush.

Now, you’ve shown independence — commendable independence, on some key issues like torture, for example, and I give you enormous credit for that. But when it comes to economic policies, essentially what you’re proposing is eight more years of the same thing. And it hasn’t worked.

And I think the American people understand it hasn’t worked. We need to move in a new direction.

For the most part Bob Scheiffer did an excellent job in bringing out differences between the candidates, and did the best job as moderator of any of the debates this year. Besides my objection to the second question above, I had more serious objection to his next question when he made a false equivalency between McCain’s dishonest smears and Obama’s tough criticism of McCain. This has been a problem with the media throughout the campaign when they have talked about negative campaigning. The real question isn’t being negative but being honest and being relevant. There is a tremendous difference between negative comments from Obama on McCain’s actual positions and McCain’s smears which have been both dishonest and over irrelevant matters such as people Obama has had minimal association with.

McCain claimed that, “Every time there’s been an out-of-bounds remark made by a Republican, no matter where they are, I have repudiated them. I hope that Sen. Obama will repudiate those remarks that were made by Congressman John Lewis, very unfair and totally inappropriate.” McCain is wrong on both counts. He has not repudiated every out-of-bounds remark. For example, when has he repudiated his own running mate’s claim that Obama has been “palling around with terrorists”? Obama has also said all he needed to say about John Lewis’ comments when his campaign released this statement several days ago:

“Senator Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.  “But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night, as well as the baseless and profoundly irresponsible charges from his own running mate that the Democratic nominee for President of the United States ‘pals around with terrorists.’

“As Barack Obama has said himself, the last thing we need from either party is the kind of angry, divisive rhetoric that tears us apart at a time of crisis when we desperately need to come together. That is the kind of campaign Senator Obama will continue to run in the weeks ahead,”

McCain complained, “So the fact is that Sen. Obama is spending unprecedented — unprecedented in the history of American politics, going back to the beginning, amounts of money in negative attack ads on me.”  McCain is playing games with numbers here as Obama is gong to wind up spending an unprecidented amount on all types of adds this year. While virtually all of McCain’s ads have been negative, Obama has had a combination of positive ads about his positions and negative ads which criticize McCain’s positions. Obama’s negative ads on the positions are far different from the dishonest smears which characterize virtually all of McCain’s ads.

McCain still tried to excuse his dishonest campaign on Obama not agreeing to his plan for a series of town hall meetings. Obama was never under any obligation to allow McCain to set the course of the campaign, and this is provides zero justification for McCain to resort to a series of dishonest smears.

Obama responded to the smears by debunking the smears, describing the type of people he would really associate with as president, and pointing out what these baseless attacks really say about McCain’s campaign:

In fact, Mr. Ayers has become the centerpiece of Sen. McCain’s campaign over the last two or three weeks. This has been their primary focus. So let’s get the record straight. Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago.

Forty years ago, when I was 8 years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan’s former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg.

Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of The Chicago Tribune, a Republican- leaning newspaper.

Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House. So that’s Mr. Ayers.

Now, with respect to ACORN, ACORN is a community organization. Apparently what they’ve done is they were paying people to go out and register folks, and apparently some of the people who were out there didn’t really register people, they just filled out a bunch of names.

It had nothing to do with us. We were not involved. The only involvement I’ve had with ACORN was I represented them alongside the U.S. Justice Department in making Illinois implement a motor voter law that helped people get registered at DMVs.

Now, the reason I think that it’s important to just get these facts out is because the allegation that Sen. McCain has continually made is that somehow my associations are troubling.

Let me tell you who I associate with. On economic policy, I associate with Warren Buffett and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker. If I’m interested in figuring out my foreign policy, I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden or with Dick Lugar, the Republican ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or General Jim Jones, the former supreme allied commander of NATO.

Those are the people, Democrats and Republicans, who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House. And I think the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Sen. McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me.

Not only did Obama only have limited association with ACORN, but the Republican attacks on ACORN are greatly exaggerated, and represent a far less serious problem than Republican efforts at voter suppression. The attacks based upon Ayers have repeatedly been debunked. The real irony of these attacks is that McCain also has ties to both Ayers and ACORN, along with other past associations which are far more meaningful than those McCain has attacked Obama over.

Scheiffer next asked, “Why would the country be better off if your running mate became president rather than his running mate?” Obama was wise not to directly attack Sarah Palin. Everyone who has any degree of rationality already knows she is not qualified. McCain then hurt his credibility further by attacking Biden’s qualifications while defending Sarah Palin.

McCain attacked Obama for saying “I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs will require some additional funding, if we’re going to get serious in terms of research.” Coming out in opposition to spending money for special needs children will play well only with McCain’s far right supporters. McCain also repeatedly made statements about Sarah Palin’s experience with special needs children by claiming she has a child with autism, but Trig has Down’s syndrome, not autism.

When discussing free trade, McCain once again strayed from the actual issues by attacking Obama’s support for negotiating with enemies without preconditions. Once again I wonder if McCain even understands what preconditon means in diplomacy. I also wonder if McCain realizes that our allies and five previous secretaries of state have agreed with this principle as opposed to continuing George Bush’s policies.

As in the last debate, McCain still thinks he is campaigning against Hillary Clinton when he tries to make an issue out of mandates. McCain was also wrong about Obama’s plan when he said, “Obama wants to set up health care bureaucracies, take over the health care of America through — as he said, his object is a single payer system.”  Obama reviewed some facts about the differences in their health care plans:

I exempt small businesses from the requirement for large businesses that can afford to provide health care to their employees, but are not doing it.

I exempt small businesses from having to pay into a kitty. But large businesses that can afford it, we’ve got a choice. Either they provide health insurance to their employees or somebody has to.

Right now, what happens is those employees get dumped into either the Medicaid system, which taxpayers pick up, or they’re going to the emergency room for uncompensated care, which everybody picks up in their premiums.

The average family is paying an additional $900 a year in higher premiums because of the uninsured.

So here’s what we do. We exempt small businesses. In fact, what, Joe, if you want to do the right thing with your employees and you want to provide them health insurance, we’ll give you a 50 percent credit so that you will actually be able to afford it.

If you don’t have health insurance or you want to buy into a group plan, you will be able to buy into the plan that I just described.

Now, what we haven’t talked about is Sen. McCain’s plan. He says he’s going to give you all a $5,000 tax credit. That sounds pretty good. And you can go out and buy your own insurance.

Here’s the problem — that for about 20 million people, you may find yourselves no longer having employer-based health insurance. This is because younger people might be able to get health insurance for $5,000, young and healthy folks.

Older folks, let’s healthy folks, what’s going to end up happening is that you’re going to be the only ones left in your employer-based system, your employers won’t be able to afford it.

And once you’re out on your own with this $5,000 credit, Sen. McCain, for the first time, is going to be taxing the health care benefits that you have from your employer.

And this is your plan, John. For the first time in history, you will be taxing people’s health care benefits.

By the way, the average policy costs about $12,000. So if you’ve got $5,000 and it’s going to cost you $12,000, that’s a loss for you.

Last point about Sen. McCain’s plan is that insurers right now, the main restrictions on what they do is primarily state law and, under Sen. McCain’s plan, those rules would be stripped away and you would start seeing a lot more insurance companies cherry-picking and excluding people from coverage.

As Jane Bryant Quinn and The Commonwealth Fund have pointed out, the benefits from McCain’s tax credit would not keep up with inflation, costing most people more in the long run.  The more serious problem with McCain’s plan is that it would force more people into purchasing from in the individual market, where it is far more costly to obtain coverage for those who are older or who have medical problems.

Just as McCain opposed spending on special needs children, McCain disparaged insurance coverage for transplants. In a bizarre comment on health care, McCain even lumped together transplants with cosmetic surgery. At least McCain didn’t bring up hair transplants this time.

Among other ironies of the debate, McCain again tried to compare Barack Obama to Herbert Hoover, when Republicans such as Bush and McCain are clearly the politicians playing Hoover’s role. McCain also tried to shift the blame for years of Republican control of government on two years of Democratic control of Congress.

McCain again got his facts wrong when he accused Obama of voting against the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Breyer. Breyer was nominated by Bill Clinton, before Obama was even in the Senate. McCain was totally inconsistent in saying, “I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test.” This clearly sounds like he is making abortion a litmus test. Regardless of whether he intended to do so tonight, McCain has made such promises to the religious right in the past. McCain’s disdain for concerns for the health of the mother will alienate moderates. Hopefully this will serve as a wake up call for Hillary Clinton’s supporters who are now thinking of voting for John McCain.

McCain revived another debunked line of attack on Obama with his present votes in the Illinois legislature. Besides, this is a weak attack coming from someone who has missed 64% of the votes during this session of Congress.

McCain talked of improving education but in 1994 he proposed “doing away” with the Department of Education. He  called education the civil rights struggle of the 21st century, but he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1990.  In 1983 McCain voted against creating the Martin Luther King holiday. McCain’s support for education is not likely to be any stronger than his support for civil rights or for funding to assist special needs children.

McCain tried harder in this debate to confront Obama but only wound up appearing more negative as he failed to make any meaningful points to counter Obama’s views. Obama was smarter to avoid being as argumentative as McCain and instead portray himself as a calm leader ready to lead in a crisis. Obama now ends the debates with a strong lead in the polls, more money to spend on ads to defend his lead, and a better ground game for election day.

Be Sociable, Share!

No Comments

8 Trackbacks

Leave a comment