Let me start by saying I had trouble concentrating on the debate at first. I found the Big East match up of UConn at Louisville much more interesting than the start of the debate. My thoughts on why – both candidates were tiptoeing around the economic questions so as to not “upset the market” or be able to be held responsible for anything.
The Ford Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Mississippi was a wonderful location for the debate. We all knew it would take place, regardless of previous statements by any candidate. You don’t have this kind of money put into an event – especially when the country is teatering on a definitive recession – and then bail on it. Jim Lehrer of PBS was the moderator of this first presidential debate of the 2008 campaign. He started off the debate by quoting President Eisenhower, “We must achieve both security and solvency. In fact, the foundation of military strength is economic strength.” This quote allowed Lehrer to pull the economic problems at home into a debate set to focus on foreign policy.
As I watched the first half hour of the debate, flipping to ESPN to catch the UConn-Louisville football game when the candidates bored me, I thought the format intriguing but not truly conducive to getting out policy information. In thinking back, I really think it was that neither wanted to say anything too definitive on the economy as that would either hold them to something in the future or would send markets into reaction if a bailout was not reached before Monday morning. Lehrer seemed frustrated, at first, that the candidates were not interacting with each other the way he wished. Unfortunately, there seemed to be times, once the candidates got use to the format, that Lehrer had difficulties controlling the debate.
Lead questions ranged from whether the candidates supported the financial recovery plan to the lessons of Iraq to Afghanistan to the threat from Iran to Russia to safety/national security after September 11, 2001.
Neither candidate, though pressed considerably by Lehrer, would give specifics of how the Wall Street bailout program would effect his future should he be elected. A lot of people I spoke to found this initial bit about the economy – though a necessity as how could the two meet at this time in history and not discuss the economy – annoying. Neither candidate would answer the question outright. Both just used previous pieces of stump speeches and moved on. No new ideas were offered. No answers were given.
Obama made some small gaffes as he took his lead from his vice presidential candidate and made comments regarding Roosevelt being president during the Great Depression. McCain used the same old lines. He has to find a speechwriter that can give him a few new ones as I don’t think Congress is a scholarship-beauty pageant and there is no Miss Congeniality.
When pressed on Afghanistan, Obama offered some hard numbers by saying he would send two to three brigades in to help. McCain offered a more overviewed approach, tying Afghanistan in with the tribal areas of Pakistan and Pakistan itself in his initial answer. Obama came to that party as an afterthought.
All in all, the only thing I could say was that both candidates showed up. I don’t think either did anything to help his campaign during this debate. I don’t think either did anything to hurt his campaign either. On to the next one.