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September 26, 2008

Comments

I can't score this from an undecided voter viewpoint, so I guess I'll have to wait to see what the polls say. I was personally disappointed with the results, I had hoped to see Obama score more points against McCain than I heard tonight, but maybe that's because I tend not to count a point scored on something which to me seems so obvious as to barely merit discussion.

I thought McCain repeatedly throughout the debate made mischaracterizations of Obama's prior statements and positions, or favorably shaded the context of his own record, in ways which while not being outright lies, walked up very close to the line between lies and normal political spin and double talk.

It seemed to me that Obama was far too deferential towards McCain, and spent too much of his time working at playing defense trying to clean up the viewer's impression of his (Obama's) record in a followup coming on the heels of something fishy that McCain had just said.

Also, McCain adroitly used the topic time limits to sneak in some mischaracterizations right at the end of each topic, effectively shorting Obama of a chance to rebut them in detail. It seemed like Obama was more frequently the debater asked a question first, and McCain was more frequently given the last word on a given topic, which gave McCain a structural advantage. I could be wrong - I'd have to go over a transcript to see if it actually happened that was or if this was just a subjective impression.

McCain on the other hand was on the offense for most of the debate, and seemed to have set some sort of objective to use the phrase "he clearly doesn't understand" as many times as possible in the debate to create by force of pure assertion (rather than by marshalling facts in detail) an impression in the mind of the viewer that McCain is the expert and Obama the novice. I think McCain did a good job of using that rhetorical technique repeatedly throughout the debate. I wish I knew whether the casual viewer is influenced by this "just because I say so" style of argument or not - clearly McCain invested a lot of effort into using it.

So Obama was too passive and did not take the fight to McCain as aggressively as I would have liked, like a tennis player who is always volleying and never serving.

I also thought that Obama was not as successful as I would have liked at tying McCain to the Bush administration. McCain painted an outrageously exaggerated potrait of himself as a long time critic and opponent of the Bush admin - an low information voter could be forgiven for forming the impression that McCain had spent most of the last 8 years in the Democratic party rather than in the GOP, as if he was Joe Lieberman somehow.

McCain showed up and talked all about himself as McCain 2000, not the McCain of 2005-2008 who has been sucking up to the neocons and the theocons ever since he decided he was next in line to run for the GOP nomination, and Obama let him get away with it.

Obama needs to run against Bush's heir, not a guy who constantly sidesteps every criticism by declaiming his independence from the GOP. I wanted Obama to stop and ask McCain directly: "so John, has the Republican party done anything right in the last 8 years that you support and agree with? And if not, why have you remained in that party?"

In Obama's defense, it may be that their strategy in this debate (given that foreign policy was seen as McCain's strength) was to minimize differences with McCain and not commit any major gaffes, so as not to create any issues which could be used as talking points to score big gains in the polls. Perhaps they were playing a rope-a-dope strategy here. If playing defense was what they were aiming for, then they got what they wanted.

I hope he is much more aggressive going after McCain in the next debates, and doesn't let McCain get away with running as if the was the Bush admin's biggest critic when the record doesn't merit it.

Pt. II:

But understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war.

SEN. MCCAIN: Senator --

SEN. OBAMA: And so -- so John likes -- John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003. And at the time, when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shi'a and Sunni and you were wrong.

SEN. MCCAIN: (Inaudible) -- Senator Obama --

SEN. OBAMA: And so if the question is of judgment, about whether or not --

SEN. MCCAIN: Senator Obama doesn't know what --

SEN. OBAMA: -- whether or not -- if the question who is best equipped as the next president to make good decisions about how we use our military, how we make sure that we are prepared and ready for the next conflict, then I think we can take a look at our judgment.

MR. LEHRER: We got a lot a lot on plate here --

Continued in Pt. III.

Pt. III:

SEN. MCCAIN: I'm afraid -- I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy, but the important -- I'd like to tell you, two 4ths of July ago I was in Baghdad. General Petraeus invited Senator Lindsey Graham and me to attend a ceremony where 688 brave young Americans whose enlistment had -- had expired were reenlisting to stay and fight for Iraqi freedom and American freedom.

I was honored to be there. I was honored to speak to those troops.

And you know, afterwards we spent a lot of time with them. And you know what they said to us? They said, "Let us win." They said, "Let us win. We don't want our kids coming back here." And this strategy and this general, they are winning.

Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq.

SEN. OBAMA: That's not true. That's not true.

SEN. MCCAIN: They just passed an electoral -- an election law just in the last few days. There is social/economic progress, and a strategy -- a strategy of going into an area, clearing and holding, and the people of the country then become allied with you. They inform on the bad guys, and peace comes to the country, and prosperity. That's what's happening in Iraq, and it wasn't a tactic. It was a strategy --

MR. LEHRER: Let me see --

SEN. OBAMA: Jim, this is a big --

SEN. MCCAIN: -- and that same strategy will be employed in Afghanistan by this great general.

SEN. OBAMA: Jim --

SEN. MCCAIN: And Senator Obama, who after promising not to vote to cut off funds for the troops, did the incredible thing of voting to cut off the funds for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SEN. OBAMA: Jim, there are a whole of bunch of things we got to answer.

First of all, let's talk about this -- this troop funding issue, because John always brings this up. Senator McCain cut -- Senator McCain opposed funding for troops in legislation that had a timetable because he didn't believe in a timetable. I opposed funding a mission that had no timetable and was open-ended, giving a blank check to George Bush.

We had a difference on the timetable. We didn't have a difference on whether or not we were going to be funding troops.

We had a legitimate difference. And I absolutely understand the difference between tactics and strategy. And the strategic question that the president has to ask is not whether or not we are employing a particular approach in the country, once we have made the decision to be there. The question is, was this wise?

We have seen Afghanistan worsen, deteriorate. We need more troops there. We need more resources there. Senator McCain in the rush to go into Iraq said, you know what; we've been successful in Afghanistan; there is nobody who can pose a threat to us there.

This is at a time when bin Laden was still out. And now they've reconstituted themselves. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself acknowledges, the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there. But we can't do it if we are not going to give Iraq back its country.

Now, what I've said is, we should end this war responsibly; we should do it in phases. But in 16 months, we should be able to reduce our combat troops, put, provide some relief to military families and our troops and bolster our efforts in Afghanistan so that we can capture and kill bin Laden and crush al Qaeda.

And right now the commanders in Afghanistan as well as Admiral Mullen have acknowledged that we don't have enough troops to deal with Afghanistan because we still have more troops in Iraq than we did before the surge.

SEN. MCCAIN: Admiral Mullen suggests that Senator Obama's plan is dangerous for America.

SEN. OBAMA: That's not the case.

SEN. MCCAIN: That's what -- that's what Admiral Mullen said. And I --

SEN. OBAMA: What he said was a precipitous withdrawal would be dangerous. He did not say that.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, that's what Admiral Mullen said, was --

SEN. OBAMA: That's not true.

SEN. MCCAIN: And also General Petraeus said the same thing.

Osama bin Laden and General Petraeus have one thing in common that I know of: they both said that Iraq is the central battleground. Now, General Petraeus has praised the successes, but he said those successes are fragile. And if we set a specific date for withdrawal -- and by the way, Senator Obama's original plan they would have been out last spring, before this surge ever had a chance to succeed.

And I -- and I'm -- I'm -- understand why Senator Obama was surprised and said that the surge succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. Didn't exceed beyond mine --

SEN. OBAMA: Well --

SEN. MCCAIN: -- because I know that that's a strategy that has worked and can succeed. But if we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and adopt Senator Obama's plan, then we will have a wider war and it'll make things more complicated throughout the region, including in Afghanistan.

Then they went on to a question from Lehrer about Afghanistan. And, yeah, McCain said "so we make sure we don't ever torture a prisoner ever again."

The one time was when McCain accused Obama of voting against funding for the troops, and Obama replied that McCain had also voted against funding for the troops; Obama had voted against the funding bill with no timetable and McCain had voted against the funding bill with a timetable. But Obama made no general statement about McCain's dishonesty.

I thought that was one of Obama's strongest moments in the debate, because it showed that he wasn't going to be trapped by that "I was for it before I was against it" crap.

"Obama's experience is mostly in Chicago Public Schools via IL state senate and Chicago Annenberg Challenge, and his effectiveness can be judged on that."

Of course, this is nonsense. Obama's experience is as a State Senator from 1997 to 2004, as a U.S. Senator since his election in November, 2004, in his earlier years of work as a community organizer and civil rights lawyer, in his years as teacher of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, in his books, and one could thrown in his experience as president of the Harvard Law Review, and the rest of his life.

Hilzoy has well reviewed his experience in the State Senate, and as a Senator. So, yeah, all of that can be judged, and that's entirely fair.

Of course, DaveC and the crazy folks want to make up a lot of weird wacko stuff about Obama being some sort of Manchurian candidate programed by Extreme Commies, no matter that the only evidence they can find is, well, they use a lot of adjectives. So there must be something there. Because! They say so!

It's got as much connection to reality as the stuff thrown at McCain by Bush in South Carolina in 2000. (After all, Obama has two black children!)

ThatLeftTurnInABQ: I tend to agree.

DaveC,

I almost understand your point, but i really don't yet know what McCain's real experience in foreign policy is. He talks about visiting countries, but he tends to be mostly militarily oriented which is not the same as foreign policy. He has never had a leadership role that I know of in real foreign policy decision making has he. Correct me if I am wong, I wuld like to know.

Also, since judgement is really the important thing, what judgements or decisions has McCain made relating to foreign policy that would vindicate the estimate that he has good judgement? Don't say the surge, because the jury is still out on that.

McCain said "...so we never have to torture prisoners again."

Tacitly admitting we torture prisoners. Curious.

I noticed that too - if Obama had wanted to emphasize rather than minimize differences with McCain, that would have been something to pounce on, and perhaps even pivot into the explosive issue of investigations of possible war crimes and the legal cuplpability of top Bush administration officials.

That may be too "left wing" a position to run on and win with in a very close US election.

I felt like we saw the conservative/centrist side of Obama tonight, not a progressive Obama.

Also, Obama defense of investing in American moral authority and soft power rather than using military force came into the debate too late and he did not define it very well - it was expressed indirectly rather than as a broad overarching theme. I want to hear him stand up and explain to an audience who are concerned about our security how important a factor our moral standing is, as a force multiplier and as something which helped to win the Cold War for us far more than Reagan's SDI. Talk about how the Helsinki accords helped to shake the Soviet Union as much as or more than any missiles did.

That to me is one of the rationales for Obama's "talks without preconditions" stance - an American President who wields the sort of moral authority we used to enjoy can use direct contacts with other heads of state as an positive asset in pushing our agenda and values, rather than worrying about how we may get taken advantage of. Nobody is afraid of negotiations when they are negotiating from a position of greater authority - only the weak are afraid of talks which don't come with a guarantee of success.

Also, is it just me, or did McCain throw Ronald Reagan under the proverbial bus when bragging about how he (McCain) was opposed to sending the Marines to Beruit?

Foreing policy specialist McCain claimed that Pakistan was a failed state before Musharraf. WTF?

Another missed opportunity by Obama - McCain talking about veterans should have led to a forceful pivot into the Webb GI bill: "veterans don't need just words, they need action. You were missing in action when they needed you on the Webb GI bill".

"Foreing policy specialist McCain claimed that Pakistan was a failed state before Musharraf. WTF?"

That's certainly defensible. Pakistan had a coup attempt in 1951, and successful military coups in 1958, 1970, and 1999. That's arguably hardly the record of a successful democracy. It may not be a "failed state," but it hasn't been a terribly successful democracy.

TLTinABQ, only in a round about way. The troops were already in Lebanon when McCain went to Congress. He voted to ge them out after the bombing of the Marine barracks. So in a way he lied. Th next question will be if much is made of it.

Interesting that Nate and Sean @538 liveblogging came away with a much better impression of Obama than I did, and link to a CBS poll of 500 uncommitted voters that scores it as an Obama win by a fair margin.

I may be grading on a curve, judging the candidate that I support more harshly. I thought that Obama left many opportunities on the table for really digging into McCain, but maybe that isn't what the uncommitted voters are looking for.

I want partisan red meat, whereas they may instead be looking for somebody who looks presidential and that may translate as being less partisan and more solid and steady. If so, then I can see how Obama scored well. He did a good job of coming across as unflappable.

If we are lucky, this may be like 1980, where late undecided voters who were unsure about the challenger Reagan came out of the debates feeling that he had crossed a threshold of acceptability, and that what Obama needs to do in these debates is to cross that threshold (rather than tearing down McCain). If Obama is accomplishing that goal now with these voters, that is good news.

I think the deal with foreign policy is not whether we agree with other countries and entities, but how th US responds to the opposition, sometimes violent and dangerous opposition, from those who disagree with us. So it still boils down to how much of a threat are the non-sovereign Al Qaeda strongholds, countries that support Wahhabi expansionism, Iran and various HizbAllah initiatives, a belligerent and opportunistic Russia, more isolated problems like North Korea, Cuba and Venezeuela.

Wheter Germany and France and Great Britain approve of what we do is not so much of an issue. Even less of a concern is the approval rating that the USA gets from its enemies.

This transcript is now complete.

Y'know, DaveC, without quibbling with your phraseology, or depth, I don't actually disagree with anything you said there.

Who you expect to argue with you, though, and speak up in favor of worrying about "the approval rating that the USA gets from its enemies," I'm not clear.

Of course, not letting well enough alone, I might point out that countries and peoples are far more complicated than entities that can simply be divided into binary categories of "enemies" and "friends." Countries have interests more than they have friends, as the saying goes, and we also try to turn enemies into friends. Most Iranians like the U.S., and that's something to build on. How we deal with the Iranian government is another matter, but seeking their "approval" isn't something I'm aware of anyone speaking up for.

On "Wheter Germany and France and Great Britain approve of what we do is not so much of an issue," I'm kinda all "wha?" about. But last I looked, yes, those were "friends" of ours, certainly allies, insofar as countries have them.

Obama let him off the hook on torture. I wish there had been a torture question, but there weren't really any questions, were there? I missed the first 30 minutes or so, but I would have asked "Sen McCain you voted for a torture compromise that allows military interrogators to be temped into the CIA should circumstances appear to warrant torture, and the CIA is not under the Army Field Manual, and therefore torture is broadly possible. How do you feel about this loophole and what do you think about waterboarding specifically?"

Cricket time.

Wheter Germany and France and Great Britain approve of what we do is not so much of an issue. Even less of a concern is the approval rating that the USA gets from its enemies.

Do you truly believe that?

I was a part of the initial invasion of Iraq, and had our enemies not believed they would receive fair and just treatment at the hands of U.S. forces, the fight would have been immeasurably more difficult. From men and women I served with, the account from the first Golf War is similar.

How our enemies perceive us is critically important to their ability to recruit people on the margins, and the more widespread goodwill towards U.S. foreign policy is throughout the rest of the world, the smaller the recruitment pool for those who wish to do us harm.

Soft power is an enormous political tool. Perhaps a brief wiki brush up on the term would be in order.

Correction: Gulf War


Wheter Germany and France and Great Britain approve of what we do is not so much of an issue. Even less of a concern is the approval rating that the USA gets from its enemies.

That seems to me like an anti-internationalist attitude with roots in the paleocon disdain for the UN and going back further with roots in the pre-WW2 isolationist attitudes of the right in this country.

We didn't even win the Cold War against the Soviet Union without allies, and today our share of global GDP is less than it was in the 1950s, and our financial services industry is in a most literal fashion surviving only by the good graces of foreign countries and their central banks, who could deal a devastating blow to American power if they wished to.

IMHO your vision of a US which can protect itself primarily using hard military power is very naiive and takes a very limited view of the threats which we face.

YMMV, reasonable people may disagree about tactics in pursuit of common goals, etc.

I was a part of the initial invasion of Iraq, and had our enemies not believed they would receive fair and just treatment at the hands of U.S. forces, the fight would have been immeasurably more difficult. From men and women I served with, the account from the first Gulf War is similar.

This is an immensely important point. Moral authority is a force multiplier.

If you want an example which is more distant from the present and hence less embroiled in the controversies of today, go read the historian Niall Ferguson's account of the role prisoner surrender played in helping the allies to win WW1 in the closing months of 1918 in his book The Pity of War.

Right to the end the Germans were inflicting more KIA and WIA on the Western Allies than they were receiving in turn, by a large margin - the Allies were losing the battle of attrition by those measures. What caused a collapse of the German effort was a shift in the percentage of soldiers who, expecting decent treatment and a good meal, were willing to surrender rather than fight on.

10:01: Obama: President must make strategic judgments, and make them wisely. We took our eyes off the ball in Afghanistan. You have not consistently been concerned with Afghanistan.

I dislike John McCain. And I dislike his idea about how to win the war in Iraq. for him, the word strategic is critical as we saw tonight.

As is brought extremely well in recent issue of the Atlantic, McCain thinks that we could have won the Vietnam if we had only used the kind of counter-insurgency strategy that Petraeus is using, supposedly, in Iraq.

Specifically, the counter-insurgency involves sending troops into neighborhoods to become part of the milieu, not to attack and retreat as Westmoreland did.

It is very important to McCain that we affirm Petraeus because in so doing we affirm McCain father.

Tonight, we learned that McCain want to employ that strategy in Western Pakistan.

he is one scary man.

What I meant was that the US doesn't necessarily have to get formal political approval on the broadest scale, the UN or even the EU, and even if there are disagrements in particular US policies, for our allies, this is a normal state of events.

The issue of what to do about Iran, with an anti-everything-USA govt and a populace that wants to be be less theocratic is pretty tricky Iran has elections, and theoretically this could be changed by a popular vote, if only candidates were not summarily thrown off the ballot.

http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2008/09/debate-liveblog.html#comment-132419264>Incertus at 11:29 nailed one of the things that struck me. I could see Obama getting a little pissed over the accusation, but he was just so cool about it. Moments like that are what make me proud to have him as my nominee.

9:47: McCain says Obama voted to cut funding for troops. Obama says: we both voted against funding bills that had things we disagreed with.

This was a strong moment for Obama -- an un-Kerry moment, in fact. I just checked the videotape: Obama specifically said that McCain voted against a bill to "fund the troops" because it had a timetable, whereas he (Obama) voted against a funding "a mission without a timetable". The argument, said Obama, was over timetables, not funding.

Imagine if Kerry had said, "I voted for the $87 billion before the Republicans insisted that it had to be borrowed money." That argument was about taxes, not "funding the troops".

Obama did not press the point enough, for my taste: Republicans always pretend that the argument is something other than what it really is. That's how people of bad faith try to win arguments, and they have to be called out for it every single time. But even one time is a good start.

--TP

Regarding the issue of strategy vs. tactics which was a bone of contention in this debate, it seems to me that the two candidates are using the term strategy to talk about two different levels of abstraction.

For McCain "strategy" means a high level view of the means whereby we are attempting to win the war in Iraq - not the low level tactics, but a 30,000 ft. view of what we are doing in terms of how many troops we deploy, what missions they are given, what weapons, training and tactics they have to use, etc.

For Obama, "strategy" is more about goals rather than means. He is using it to refer to a larger view - who are our principle enemies / threats, and where are they located? Once those questions have been answered correctly, then it is more up to the military to find the correct means for defeating them.

If what McCain is talking about is strategy, then what Obama is talking about might be called grand strategy. Also, I think McCain has a much more military-centric view of the role of the President as CiC, as if the President was a Napoleonic figure, whereas Obama's view is more one of the President as the specifically civilian head of the military delegating some of the lower level strategic/tactical decisions to the Sec. of Defense and the JCS.

McCain almost seems to want to be the Chairman of the JCS instead of or in addition to being the POTUS.

My views are I'm sure colored by my being a partisan supporter of Obama, but I think Obama's view here is better grounded in Amercian history. Our two greatest wartime Presidents were Lincoln and FDR, and they were also the only two since the Revolutionary War to face actual existential threats to the US (as opposed to the potential threat faced by Cold War Presidents via the nuclear arsenal of the Soviet Union).

In both cases I think you can make a pretty good argument that Lincoln and FDR adhered more to Obama's vision of the President directing strategy by setting overall goals and priorities and then delegating the implementation of the those to career military officers.

For example, the single most important strategic decision made by FDR during WW2 was to designate the European Axis as the main focus of our efforts and direct most of our resources into that region rather than into the Pacific against Japan. That was a strategic decision in the same sense Obama uses the term when talking about how we took our eyes off the ball in Afghanistan with regard to Bin Laden and AQ, by invading Iraq.

McCain's description of the Surge in Iraq as a strategy is more closely analogous to the sort of decisions made by Secretary Marshall and the theater commanders in WW2, such as where the D-Day invasion would take place, and how much resources to devote to strategic bombing vs. ground forces, or the decision to reinvent convoy tactics during the Battle of the Atlantic after very high losses were sustained by our side in the early phases of that struggle.

The other area where I think McCain is using bad analogies is with Vietnam. We often hear arguments about whether we could have won in Vietnam as if we should judge that conflict in isolation, ignoring that the Vietnam war was one part of a much longer and larger conflict - the Cold War - which we won despite the setbacks suffered in SE Asia. We lost the battle and won the war, and I think a strong argument can be made that the success we enjoyed in the later stages of the Cold War during the 1980s was made possible by a redeployment of resources which would have been sunk into Vietnam unproductively if that conflict had continued for another decade.

The claims that Ronald Reagan "won the cold war", even taken at face value, very conveniently ignore the fact that Reagan was able to face the Soviet Union with the luxury of an economy and a military which were not being dragged down by the burden of an expensive and bloody conflict in Vietnam which would have continued into the 1980s if the right wing opponents of "surrender" had been able to have their way on the issue of withdrawl.

The analogies with Iraq and the larger GWOT are so obvious as to be staggering.

So to me the biggest "lesson of Vietnam", apart from "don't get sucked into a bad war you can't win", is that sometimes you have to lose a battle in order to win the wider conflct which it is merely a part of, if by doing so you are able to more effectively redeploy resources to your advantage which can tip the balance in the larger conflict, and if the conflict in question is global in scope then even a full fledged war (like Vietnam or Iraq today) has to be looked at as a battle only and not the entire conflict.

Which means that stubborn refusual to end any military conflict on any basis other than unambiguous victory, as McCain would have us do, is bad strategy. Obama's broader strategic view is more relevant than McCain's narrower one to the wider conflict against terrorism today, and McCain has failed to learn the right lesson from Vietnam because he sees it purely from a military viewpoint and not in its larger Cold War context which a more civilian minded President should be able to do.

Obama's experience is mostly in Chicago Public Schools...

Just a minor nitpick. The University of Chicago is a private school, not a public school.

Not that not having the details right means that you don't know what you're talking about.

The other area where I think McCain is using bad analogies is with Vietnam. We often hear arguments about whether we could have won in Vietnam as if we should judge that conflict in isolation, ignoring that the Vietnam war was one part of a much longer and larger conflict - the Cold War - which we won despite the setbacks suffered in SE Asia. We lost the battle and won the war, and I think a strong argument can be made that the success we enjoyed in the later stages of the Cold War during the 1980s was made possible by a redeployment of resources which would have been sunk into Vietnam unproductively if that conflict had continued for another decade.

I can't give you all that, TLT.

The critical point in this debate is that McCain thinks that if we do as Westmoreland did and as the Commanders before Petraeus did, we will lose Iraq.

For McCain, the failed strategy is going into hot spots, win a battle, and withdraw. He is hammering Obama because he thinks Obama's timetable amount to just that.

but it is McCain who doesn't get it, although he's getting there, as we can tell because he brings up the spectre of having to return to Iraq.

For Obama, we may damn well have to return to Iraq. and for that matter, we may have to go repeatedly into any space in which a material threat lurks.

Obama is effectively arguing that we should be prepared to do that from now until. And he's right.

McCain, on the other hand, is locked into this antiquated mindset that if we don't get the ticker tape parade, we lost.

But there are two major problems with his strategy, even on its own terms: (1) it costs too much and (2) no self-respecting nation will suffer it over the long haul.

What bugs me is that as a nation, we evidently still can't handle hearing that Irag had changed so significantly--with the mosque bombing, and the Awakening--that the surge walked through an open door.

when that fact sinks in, i.e. that the Iraqi Sunnis turned on AQ, then we can leave, and, if the violence resumes, (1) it's not AQ or (2) it is AQ and it's Shi'ite problem.

But we can leave, for now, anyway.

ThatLeftTurn: "So Obama was too passive and did not take the fight to McCain as aggressively as I would have liked, like a tennis player who is always volleying and never serving."

I suppose Obama's gentlemanly, patient debating style is how they teach it at Yale and Harvard.

But in the rough-and-tumble of a presidential politics, it seems too reserved and detached and allows a fighter like McCain to get in far too many unchallenged points.

Obama should have pushed McCain on the torture admission, on the spending freeze, on his 90 percent support of the Bush Administration.

Instead, Obama is almost debating as if he is the popular incumbent -- which, in a sense, with the Bush Administration so unpopular, he is.

McCain knows this. So he tries to shake up the apple cart as often as possible. It works. But in a time of war and economic disaster, maybe too much so.

One final point before I get ready for work:

Both Obama and McCain were engaging and sharp when the debate turned to foreign affairs.

But what concerned me is both men came off as fairly clueless -- almost useless -- when Lehrer continually pressed them on the long-term effects of the Bailout Crisis and getting the economy healthy again.

Translation:

For those of us living paycheck to paycheck, neither candidate gave me any sort of reassurance or confidence in them. That's why I don't think this debate will move many undecided voters.

Short McCain: More George Bush.

Short Obama: A laundry list of programs we won't be able to pay for.

"9:15: McCain: his answer goes on about earmarks and pork-barrel spending. I have no idea what this has to do with the present crisis."

Seriously? I can understand not being up to date on the specific earmarks people are trying to put into the bailout plan, but just on first principles you should be able to figure out that they're trying it.

I'd say that something they all agree is an emergency can't be done without payoffs, And Dodd plans a http://volokh.powerblogs.com/archives/archive_2008_09_21-2008_09_27.shtml#1222499614>huge one.) demonstrates something about the fundamentally dysfunctional nature of our political class.

Of course, the idea that McCain would actually DO something about that problem is a hoot...

I'm a long way away, here in Australia, and I had to change stations early to watch our national football grand final, but I have to say I was a little disappointed in Obama's performance. He seemed hesitant, and way too deferential. It seemed a good touch that he kept calling McCain "John" (I didn't hear a single "Barrack" from the old codger). I was waiting for McCain to lose it, which seemed about to happen a couple of times, but he came across as downright dismissive and arrogant. I don't know how that plays out with US voters, but we just got rid of our last Prime Minister and his government for exactly that reason. There seem to be so many holes in McCain's policy platform that Obama could have driven a truck through, but he didn't. No knockout blows either way. For the sake of the planet, I hope the US polling is accurate, and holds up until November.

On the gloriousness of the surge and its wonderful gloriousity, there is some dispute, though mainly confined to non-politicians and non-pundits and other peons, but anyway, some think that there might be other reasons violence came down. Like ethnic cleansing

I didn't watch. I can't stand the stress. Having read what efveryone else has to say about it one thig strikes me: the questions were cnsistantly decent. It wasn't full of self indulgent media gotchas, the focus was on issues, the moderator didn't try to make himslef the star.

I how that alll of the debates are like that. Maybe the media learned something frm the debacle of the last Obama/Clintin debate.

"more isolated problems like North Korea, Cuba and Venezeuela."

I'm sorta wondering exactly why Venezuela is our problem. Cuba, maybe, chiefly because it's right on our doorstep, plus our commitment to democracy (snicker). Venezuela seems to suffer from having a bunch of rich people on the one hand who never did anything for the poor and a lefty egomaniac currently in charge who equates the cause of the poor with his own power. Not sure why that's something our government needs to get involved in, aside of course from our commitment to democracy (snicker).

To those who are bothered that Obama didn’t give McCain a hard enough time on torture etc.: please consider the possibility that swing voters may not be excited about the same issues as you. The objective is to build on his lead and this poll suggests that he did what he wanted to do.

TTL's 11:25PM comment is a good summary of my overall reaction as well.

I just looked at the poll Kevin linked to.

Those results are astonishing to me. It may be that more Democrats watched the debate, so if they just sampled debate-watchers, without any weightings, they got a bad sample.

LeftTurn: "I may be grading on a curve, judging the candidate that I support more harshly."

I do the same thing.

For a lot of voters, this was probably their first major exposure to Barack Obama, so the fact that he was presidential, reasoned and diplomatic was a nice change of pace to what they've seen of George Bush the last eight years.

Bernard: on reflection, I think Ezra gets it right:

"I hold John McCain's foreign policy in rather low esteem. It is wrong, yes, but just as bad, and maybe more dangerous, it is profoundly immature. It is a foreign policy built upon perceived slights, personal grievances, and pride. It is a foreign policy that would risk great power conflict because Putin didn't pass the potatoes quickly enough at last year's G8 luncheon reception. The fact that he didn't accidentally declare us at war with China this evening struck me as something of a victory.

But that is not the broader media perception of John McCain's foreign policy. He is a Respected Voice. His authority is assumed. Admired. And starting from that baseline, the debate must have looked quite different. If you thought McCain the only candidate in the race able to talk confidently and fluently about foreign affairs, you were disabused of that notion tonight. Many in the media, it seems, held that notion. But for McCain, decades of experience, both as a soldier and a politician, did not translate into a measurably superior grasp of international relations. For him to fulfill his own public promises and carefully cultivate persona, it needed to.

The expectations game is both unaccountably consequential and unsettlingly opaque. The line of competence each candidate must clear is invisible. It is not set simply by the campaign e-mails on the day of the event, but by the silent accumulation of impressions over a period of years, even decades. But Obama clearly -- and to my mind, unexpectedly -- won the contest tonight. Or, at the least, McCain lost it. If you walked into the event already disillusioned with McCain's grasp of international affairs -- as I did -- his performance seemed a slick cover for substantively deficient ideas. But if you entered the evening with an innate respect for McCain's firm grasp on international relations, his effort was jarring: A functional performance by a candidate who had promised far more."

Hilzoy: I made mention of this upthread. But it must have been maddening trying to react -- yet not overreact -- to the debate while liveblogging.

This is what drove me crazy in my past life as a sportswriter: writing and analyzing while a game was going on.

Actually, I was happy to see that my comment about McCain showing outright contempt for Obama was not an overreaction. The pundits on TV went big with that late last night and this morning.

"more isolated problems like North Korea, Cuba and Venezeuela."

I'm sorta wondering exactly why Venezuela is our problem. Cuba, maybe, chiefly because it's right on our doorstep, plus our commitment to democracy (snicker). Venezuela seems to suffer from having a bunch of rich people on the one hand who never did anything for the poor and a lefty egomaniac currently in charge who equates the cause of the poor with his own power. Not sure why that's something our government needs to get involved in, aside of course from our commitment to democracy (snicker).

the short answer is that they're mavericks. : )

(1) Venezuela is convinced that McCain will engage them militarily, somehow.

so they are signing commitments with the Russians to do a number of unprecedented things in the hemisphere, such as buying huge stocks of weapons, which the McCain is also upset by.

but we learned in the debate that Obama's FP team is putting Chavez on their agenda too. I hope they understand that Chavez is just worried about McCain. Their is bad blood between those two.

Most recently, the Russians just extended a huge loan to the Venezuelans, a billion or two, to buy more weapons. (Maybe Gary can find it in the NYTimes for you.)

As far as evidence goes, the Colombians found a FARC laptop, which evidently connects Chavez to FARC, so McCain is liable to use it as a pretext, saying We are the ones responsible for the Hemisphere's security.

You've heard it all before: "My fellow citizens, tonight, along with our allies in the region, I've authorized a..."

(2) And to the extent that our security depends on Oil, as the Ms of all Ms's Palin says it does, then note that the other day Venezuela signed a contract with China to supply China with what Venezuela might have sent our "thirsty" markets. As a result of the deal, their oil exports to China will triple over some relatively short time. pretty staggering, actually.

and one other threatening implication is that China, supposedly, will be financing three refineries in the Hemisphere.

Right now, Venezuela has to send its oil to the U.S., Texas, I think, to have it refined for export.

If they can take the U.S. out of the loop altogether, they will have gone a long way toward getting out from the "imperialist yankee." And then we're back to that domino theory again, the if-then statements drama-queen McCain loves to rattle off.

Biases be known: I'm against a hostile policy of any kind toward Cuba.

After a night of reflection, I have some thoughts, particularly in terms of whether or not Obama went hard enough at McCain.
Thought one is that I think Obama did better than in any of the denbates against Clinton. There was far less hesitation, erong and ahing. Much smoother, though still not as much as I would like him to be.

Secondly, I actually think Obama handled the surge questions well. He didn't try to argue that the surge wasn't a success, aminly because I think that would be viewed by a lot of the nation as naive because most people adctually think it has been. But he made very clear that it was only a tactic used as part of a greater strategy which has not been accomplished yet. And he was right on the tactic/strategy issue whereas McCain was wrong.


Thirdly, this was really a trial balloon type of debate for Obama. The key for him was to come off as in control of himself, not getting rattled and not making any major gaffes. In that he was successful.
McCain may feel he did well, and in some respects he did, but he had to make major positive movement and he didn't. In the area where he was supposed to wipe the floor with Obama, he din't.

An his constant and repetitive "He doesn't understand" basically was thrown back at him, because each time he did so, Obama showed that in many respects he had an even better understanding than McCain.

Conclusion, basically a draw which then becomes a win for Obama. The town hall will be the next one, and Obama does well in those type of settings as does McCain. The last debate, I think, is where Obama will come prepared to show just how little McCain really understands the economy. But by then his lead will be way up there and it will be the final last gasp of the McCain campaign.

Did any of the networks talk to Palin?

Two words: undisclosed location.

I felt like we saw the conservative/centrist side of Obama tonight, not a progressive Obama.

To be honest, I think that *is* Obama. IMO he's not, in fact, all that progressive.

I think what you see is not "triangulation", it's who he is.

I don't really have a problem with that, I think it means it's that much more likely that he'll be able to get stuff done if he's elected.

Debate comments:

I thought it was a good debate. There were no bonehead questions, no talk about flag pins or who is more "likeable". Most of what we heard from the candidates was more or less on point. You got a decent idea of what each of them was about, and what we might expect if they were elected.

Obama's not a tremendously polished debater, but I thought he did fine. Most of all, he didn't let McCain get under his skin, but he also didn't take crap from McCain, and I think both of those things will serve him well with folks who are on the fence.

I look forward to the next one.

Thanks -

Regarding American exceptionalism.

And conservative verdicts on Palin.

"Seriously? I can understand not being up to date on the specific earmarks people are trying to put into the bailout plan, but just on first principles you should be able to figure out that they're trying it."

Seriously, what the heck do earmarks have to do with the collapse of the banking/mortgage system?

This is like responding to the imminent failure of the electrical system in your house by saying you need to put some mosquito repellent on yourself. It might be nice to get rid of the mosquitos, but how will it help you keep your electric power going?

"Having read what efveryone else has to say about it one thig strikes me: the questions were cnsistantly decent."

Of course they were; it was Jim Lehrer.

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