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October 08, 2008

The Town Hall Debate: Terrible Format, Lost Opportunities

Lynn has given her take on last night's debate (see post below). I agree with her as far as the main result -- Obama came out ahead by looking and sounding more presidential, and McCain... well, he is a nasty S.O.B. and there is no way around that. In particular, I thought his dismissive reference to Obama as "that one" was insulting, offensive and disrepectful. McCain will rue the day YouTube was created.

However, in some important aspects, I differ with Lynn on Obama's ability to lay out the contrasts between his and McCain's policy plans, and in the amount of detail offered. While Obama eventually got into his rhythm and talked about some specifics, he did not start out strong at all. Like it or not, McCain has a way of communicating in short, understandable sentences. He may be lying through his teeth half the time, but his communication style is much more direct than Obama's. Despite the fact that we are now less than one month from election day, Obama still has difficulty breaking out of his laborious, professorial delivery, and because he took so long to get to the meat, he nearly ran out his clock without actually answering the questions throughout the first half-hour of the debate. Voters do not want a lecture, they want an answer and the candidates have two minutes to supply that answer. Get to the meat quickly.

Obama missed two important opportunites to make a stronger case for his positions on the home mortgage crisis and on health care. Here is where he needed to take McCain on:

He allowed McCain to bring up the idea of having the government buy up the bad mortgages and refinance them so that people can stay in their homes, while their mortgages -- though likely to be paid in full over a longer period of time -- would still get paid. This idea stems from the Homeowner's Loan Corporation (HOLC) that FDR instituted during the Depression. It helped about one million people keep their homes in the 1930's. It's a good idea and, incidentally, it's the idea Senator Hillary Clinton has been pushing since last spring. She wrote an op-ed about her plan for the current mortgage crisis in the Wall Street Journal last month. So why has Obama been so silent on HOLC over the past few weeks? It's a mystery to me. He should have been the first one out of the gate with it. Minutes after McCain made those debate comments, Obama's campaign team issued press releases foo-fooing them and saying the Treasury Secretary now has the authority to do the same thing. Well, sort of. The bailout gives homeowners the right to go to court and ask a judge to restructure the loans. The big problem is that Clinton was the one leading the charge on the issue, not Obama. He should have been a very vocal leader on HOLC. Especially since conservatives have gotten their panties in a bunch over McCain's statements last night. Conservatives hate this idea. To them, it smacks of irresponsibility and socialism. But McCain doesn't care because it makes him appear as the maverick, once again going against his own party on behalf of the American people. And, despite their displeasure, he'll still get the conservatives to vote for him. They have nowhere else to go.

The second missed opportunity came during the questions on health care. While Obama did point out that McCain's plan is not going to cover enough people and that the $5,000 per family tax credit will, at least in part, end up being negated when McCain taxes employees for their employer's health care costs, he didn't expose the newest, worst aspect of the plan -- that McCain is going to raid Medicare and Medicaid in order to pay for those $5,000 tax credits. I blogged about this the other day, hoping that Obama would seize on it during the debate. He didn't do it. If he had, millions of retirees on Medicare and lower-income folks on Medicaid would have been treated to the spectacle of McCain being nailed on it and then having to defend it on national television. It would have been re-played over and over on the news shows. How many voters in Florida would McCain have lost right then and there? I think this was the lost opportunity of the evening. It would have further helped to frame McCain as out-of-touch with the needs of real Americans, especially elderly Americans -- those of his own generation -- and yet, that opportune moment passed by without the necessary criticism from Obama.

The format for the debate was awful. It was not a true town hall. It was heavily monitored, the audience and the candidates seemed totally disengaged from each other, and Brokaw was an uptight moderator, more concerned with the clock than with the discussion. As a result, the event was boring and brought out very little new information. I certainly hope we see no more of these shams in the future. But, as many of us know, the sham debates exist because the parties have insisted on controlling every aspect of them. The fact that there is no longer a non-partisan sponsor of the presidential debates says it all.

Posted by shoephone on October 8, 2008 at 01:38 PM in Candidate Races, Media, National and International Politics | Permalink


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