The debate between the two men, one of whom seems likely to lead the United States for the next four years, bordered on interminable. Neither said anything new or even significant, nor did they say nothing in an interesting way. There was no free thinking, no fresh ideas. They were campaigners seeking, if not to hit the proverbial home run, then at least not make a major slip. Both did neither.
In typical sports reporting fashion, the commentators focused on who won or didn’t lose. The PBS commentators seemed to agree that McCain looked better than he had, and Obama looked as presidential as he had to. That underscored the fact that if any viewers on the fence were shifted, those who were concerned that McCain was dangerously senile found nothing to worry them, and those who worried that Obama might not be able to function as commander-in-chief had their concerns allayed.
Still, there were enormous gaps by the pair in telling us what we needed to know. As regards the economy, both failed to speak to the scope of the current crisis and how it would affect their campaign promises. They sounded like a broken record, refusing to answer a basic question: what do they see ahead of us that they didn’t a year ago.
Obama still seems to think that $250,000 is a middle class income. McCain still believes in the trickle down theory.
On foreign policy, McCain believes that the surge was the whole war, a point Obama tried to emphasize. Most Americans are fed up with the Iraq war and most now think we should never have invaded. What Obama might have asked to McCain’s insistence on our winning in Iraq was With more than 4,200 Americans killed, 30,000 wounded, Iran made stronger, Al Qaeda is stronger, and at a cost of $2 trillions, what has been accomplished? What is our victory?
Obama was focused on Afghanistan, and in some ways, that was right. But he thinks that putting a couple of brigades of American troops is going to fix that country, and nothing could be further from the truth. If that war is winnable – a questionable premise – it will take more than another 10,000 American soldiers. Ask the Russians who had over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan; or go watch “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
The two also sparred over Russia and the invasion of Georgia. Obama used the term “unacceptable” which sounded as foolish as when President Bush said it. Of course it was acceptable; Russia invaded and no one did anything about it. Neither mentioned the fact that the U.S. had egged on Georgia and that more than a 1,000 of our own highly-stretched forces were training Georgian troops only weeks before they launched their invasion of South Ossetia.
Ultimately, there was a stark difference between the two men, and it wasn’t about skin color, it was about age. The younger man showed that he was fully informed, both bright and thoughtful, if not quite smooth. The older man looked much older; he was smooth, mostly, but he is not only past his prime, he’s past this game.
It’s been almost two years since Obama told a colleague in New Hampshire at the outset of his campaign that he thought of himself as a place holder. Curiously, he was wrong. He’s the candidate. But McCain, who survived because the field of opponents were less than he, tonight seemed like a place holder.
Had he chosen Mitt Romney as his running mate, McCain’s role on the stage in Mississippi might have made some sense, but not with Sarah Palin standing behind him. With the economic crisis, with the world in crisis, America is looking for someone who is up to the task of leading the free world; not someone who will have to hand the job over to someone else.