Thursday, October 16, 2008

That's a Wrap

Well, I’m glad that’s over. When I think about the three presidential debates now in the books, I have to agree strongly with Ross Douthat, who wrote:
When John McCain castigated Obama for declining his invitation to do town-hall debates, and remarked that “we could have had ten of them already,” I suddenly had an image of thousands of political junkies going mad from the repetition and Van Goghing their ears somewhere around debate number seven.
I thought the third debate was the best for a few reasons, but I’m also really grateful that extended back-and-forths about Joe the Plumber and special-needs families and hatchets vs. scalpels are done for this cycle. Whatever their differences in proposing policies, I feel pretty secure that Obama and McCain are both pro-plumber, sympathetic to special-needs families, and that neither, thankfully, will actually wield a hatchet or a scalpel in the halls of the White House.

Bob Schieffer was terrific. Let’s hear it for a moderator who displayed smarts, guts, and firmness. Brokaw had been an improvement on Lehrer and Ifill, but Schieffer showed how it should be done.

I thought both Obama and McCain answered the Supreme Court question well. McCain chose to speak out against litmus tests, and he emphasized that he had voted for the confirmation of Ginsburg and Breyer despite not agreeing with their ideology. For most of that answer, this was the McCain who can speak with authority about his lack of rabid partisanship. A few of his other answers also reminded me what I like about him, which is quite a bit.

To be unbiased about it, both candidates had their moments of distortion and lying. When Obama insisted that 100% of McCain’s ads have been negative, well, that’s just not true. And when McCain defended his more character-based ads by saying that Obama has been running negative ads about McCain’s healthcare plan, well, that’s not equivalent. Of course Obama is going to be negative about some of McCain’s plans, and vice versa.

But I thought Obama still held a considerable advantage in temperament and levelheadedness. I really believe McCain is trapped by his campaign at this point, and since it is his campaign, I can’t feel terribly sorry for him. When he said he didn’t care about a “washed-up terrorist,” I believed him. I don’t think that John McCain, under the influence of truth serum, would give a flip about Bill Ayers. The issue -- as it pertains to Obama -- is mostly absurd. Ayers, depending on your viewpoint, is some combination of contemptible and pathetic, but Obama’s dealings with him have been no more (and often less) than Ayers’ relationship with some prominent Republicans. In any case, I thought Obama’s answer last night was terrific:
Forty years ago, when I was 8 years old, (Ayers) 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. . . .

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, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me.
This morning, I heard a discussion of last night’s debate between Brian Lehrer, a New York City radio host, and Ray Suarez of PBS. Lehrer asked Suarez if he felt that some of the McCain campaign’s rhetoric about ACORN and terrorism was really meant to serve as a racist implication. (The question wasn’t leading; Lehrer’s a good, balanced host.) Suarez’s answer was smart. He dismissed the idea that the average American has enough knowledge of ACORN to make any kind of strong association with it -- it’s too inside baseball. Then, more pertinently, he said the Ayers issue is less about associating Obama with terrorism as it is about trying to equate him to the 1960s and its culture wars. He said this was difficult because Obama seems “so far removed from that.”

And I think that’s what this election is coming down to, the fact that, to paraphrase myself, the best answer to some of the more extreme concerns about Obama is . . . Obama. Of course, you can never fully know someone through their public persona, but what about him hasn’t seemed rational and open-minded and presidential? This isn’t to say he’ll be a perfect representative of the people, but it makes it awfully hard to see him as a loon, which is how the more aggressive elements of McCain’s campaign are trying to portray him. And if he’s not a loon, and if the opposition is intent on convincing you he is, what does that say about the opposition? I think that’s one reason (along with increased exposure to Obama and the general, cyclical political-tide problem of being Republican these days) why voters seem to be moving in Obama’s direction.


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