Round two: As boring as it gets

Oct. 9, 2008, midnight | By Alisa Lu Monica Wei | 13 years, 10 months ago

Empty arguments lead to full-bodied yawns

With Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) gaining crucial momentum heading into the month before Election Day, Senator John McCain (R-Ari.) needed a strong showing in this week's debate. After last Thursday's showdown between their running mates drew a record-breaking audience, sparks were expected to fly at the town hall debate. With the stock market sinking faster than it did in the Great Depression, the candidates, particularly McCain, needed to make a statement. Unfortunately, the only word to describe this debate is "lackluster." The format, the points and the candidates themselves came nowhere close to matching the action of the battle between their second-in-commands. Read below for our individual reflections on the candidates' comments on the issues and our overall impressions.

With the economy being the main focus of the debate, both candidates spoke extensively about the budget, taxes and the middle class and answered numerous questions on the economy from moderator Tom Brokaw and audience members.

Obama promoted his plan to give tax cuts to 95 percent of the American people and explained that he would not try to impose economic restrictions on small businesses. After attacking the economic policies implemented by President Bush, he promised more government oversight on the bailout plan. He also stressed the importance of alternative energy and the need to shed American dependence on foreign oil in getting the economy back on track.

McCain introduced a $300 billion plan that would give the government power to buy the mortgages of families who cannot pay them to reduce foreclosure - a plan that would use the power granted to the government by the $700 billion bailout package that passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate. He also supports an across-the-board freeze for non-vital programs.

Alisa says: This is the issue that has trumped all others in the past month with the financial market meltdown and rightly so. Listening to the candidates speak, I realize how much this situation favors the Democratic ideology. De-regulation and privatization are cornerstones of the Republican platform, but the country seems more ready to move towards socialism than capitalism in lieu of recent events.

Consequently, both sides argued for policies that would increase spending, government oversight and, of course, the federal deficit. Neither candidate offered an explanation of how to pay for these programs, although both did say they would cut "wasteful spending" and "eliminate programs that don't work." But doesn't every politician make those claims? They would have been smart to spend more time on the specifics of their plans instead of pointing fingers, drudging up old quotes and claiming they were the original whistle blowers on the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac situation. Neither candidate is Sherron Watkins or Jeffrey Wigand, the whistle-blowers for Enron and the tobacco industry, respectively, so please stop playing the blame game and start talking about how the plans will work.

Monica says: Both candidates did excellent jobs of telling the American public what they want to hear - that our economy will eventually improve, no worries. Obama went on a brief spiel, pointing fingers at the current president and deriding McCain for supporting the deregulation policies of our current administration. Similarly, McCain pointed out that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's risky stock decisions were supported and even encouraged by Democrats. Both also made vague proposals of government spending to aid the ailing economy but if you say the economy will improve, tell me what you'll do instead of telling me to vote for you because it's the other guy's fault.

Both candidates were asked to describe their doctrines on foreign policy and their approaches to terrorism and the lingering effects of the Bush doctrine. In addition, both were questioned on the effect of the economy on foreign intervention.

Obama spoke of genocide in any area as a crime against all humanity and said that the U.S. must work with allies to provide aid in foreign countries and fight genocide. He proposed setting up a no-fly zone over Darfur in an attempt to "help mobilize the international community and lead." He stated that finding Osama bin Laden and crushing al-Qaeda is the nation's top national security threat and that the invasion of Iraq diverted critical attention from this issue. He supports sending more troops to Afghanistan, as American bases in that area have lately been subjected to increased aggression from the Taliban.

McCain continues to uphold the belief that the U.S. "is the greatest force for good in the history of the world." Like Obama, he said that the U.S. should do all that it can to prevent genocide, while recognizing our limits. He declared that the best way to resolve the issue of al-Qaeda in Pakistan is to gain the support of the Pakistani people, so that they will cooperate with the U.S. and turn against the Taliban. He believes the U.S. needs to double the size of the army in Afghanistan, but also work carefully in diplomacy with the people of Afghanistan.

Alisa says: Not surprisingly, what was once the hottest topic has taken a backseat to the economy. Still, it was quite interesting to see that despite the prevailing anti-war sentiments in this country (and especially in the Washington, D.C. area), both candidates did not oppose the idea of taking action in Pakistan or Afghanistan if necessary. Rather, Obama slammed the invasion of Iraq specifically, not the overall war-hawk attitude of the nation. McCain, meanwhile, enunciated his support of the surge and pulling out of Iraq only when the war is "won."

Frankly, both candidates need a crash course in any Advanced Placement class where they can learn to ATFQ. Not surprisingly, the claws finally came out when McCain pointed out Obama's lack of experience by saying, "we don't have time for on the job training," and Obama continuously tried to tie McCain to the increasingly unpopular Bush.

Monica says: In response to the question on the effect of the economy on foreign intervention, both candidates succeeded in not answering the question. Obama rattled off numbers and concluded that the current policy of Bush (which McCain supported at one point, as Obama pointed out) is ineffective, again manipulating his response to solidify that he is running against some kind of evil "McBush." McCain used this opportunity to make a crack about Obama's rhetoric, and a series of biting snaps went back and forth. But amidst the finger-pointing, what it really boils down to is that both candidates are pushing for more troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and efforts to make relationships better with these two countries. Neither candidate stands out regarding this issue, and more mud was thrown than policy explained.

Energy seemed to be a favorite topic for Obama, who often went on tangents about oil and the environment when answering other questions. He advocated his support for off-shore drilling as a temporarily solution while alternative energy resources are being researched. He tied the issue of alternative fuels to relieving the dependence on foreign oil and the economy more than to the environment. He also encouraged American innovation in this field to help the economy and the American car market.

McCain discussed the environment and, specifically, his disagreement on the issue with the Bush/Cheney administration. He encouraged an increased use of nuclear energy and the development of new technologies such as battery-powered cars. When asked by Brokaw, he stated that a state-funded project to research alternative fuels is "appropriate," but should be privatized when the project reaches the productive stage.

Alisa says: Such an interesting topic, such boring answers. Frankly, I didn't get one whiff of a plan from either candidate except that both are for off-shore drilling while developing new technologies. McCain did talk a bit about a government-funded project before veering off and throwing more accusations on energy at Obama. I shocked that Obama did not talk more about this topic, considering it's often a cornerstone of both the Democrats' and Obama's agenda. This is, after all, the future of the planet. I can almost guarantee the economy is going to suffer if the coastal United States is completely flooded and becomes uninhabitable.

Monica says: I am consistently amazed by how the two candidates can talk so much (constantly chided by Brokaw for going over time) and say so little. McCain supports nuclear energy, which Obama opposes, and the U.S. should develop new environmentally friendly technologies - because we really are the best! He stressed that other countries, including many in Europe, depend on nuclear energy. But the basic fact is that the waste that generated by nuclear energy greatly outweighs the benefits. Where would we put the radioactive waste?

Obama, on the other hand, said that energy should be the U.S.'s top priority, but failed to give any detail whatsoever regarding how. His justification for a lack of explanation was simply that when John F. Kennedy declared the U.S. would put a man on the moon, he had no definite plan, but it was done. Disappointing, Obama. But he did briefly touch upon clean coal technology and safer ways to store nuclear waste, both of which will be crucial, so he wins points back.

This debate was the first debate using the town hall format, which consisted of questions coming directly from audience members. But as the debate went on, the format drastically evolved. Brokaw started to ask more questions himself than the audience members and neither candidate adhered to the time limits agreed on by both parties. In addition, Obama at one point interjected a rebuttal, causing McCain to ask Brokaw for time to rebut Obama.

Alisa says: The biggest loser of the night by far was the format of the debate. The point of a debate is for the two candidates to argue the issues, and this format did not allow for that at all. Questions were followed by a "discussion," which was, in reality, another question Brokaw posed. The traffic light system that informed the candidates about the time they had left was completely ignored. It seems like the candidates were trying to respond to the other's comments, but had no real opportunity to do so; instead, they used the next question as rebuttal time. A proposed benefit of this format was that it supposedly allows for more interaction between the candidates, but neither candidate seized the opportunity last night.

Monica: This type of debate supposedly allows for more audience interaction, and the two candidates did take advance of the open space. Although McCain seemed at times threatening when he walked to the audience, once he stopped pacing, he was fairly relaxed and at ease. Obama seemed comfortable, as he usually does at public gatherings. This format supposedly gave McCain an edge, but his performance was merely on par and showed nothing special.

The main highlight of this town hall debate style is that the atmosphere was less rigid - at least the two candidates looked at each other occasionally, an improvement from the first debate in Mississippi, during which McCain never made eye contact with his rival. I would say that McCain's biggest stylistic problem is his terrible habit of addressing the audience as "my friends," a half-hearted attempt to relate to his fellow Americans that only seems condescending.

Obama's brilliant rhetoric, which makes him an amazing speaker, hurts him in the rigid time constraints of debates, as he does not have to time to gain momentum in his speech. This type of debate is supposed to increase interaction between the candidates and undecided voters, but both candidates went way over time, and at some points it seemed like Brokaw participated more than the voters, asking his own questions and steering the debate in his own direction.

Alisa says: Both candidates were decent and neither made enormous gaffes, but they weren't spectacular either. Both candidates did their fair share of circumlocution and veering from the question asked, but that's to be expected in any political debate. Often, the debate became a bit boring after candidates hit the same point three or four times.

With Obama gaining momentum in the polls, McCain really needed to annihilate Obama in this debate to take back the momentum one month before the election - which he did not do. Though McCain supposedly had the advantage in this debate because of his comfort with town hall meetings, this format was so oddly constructed that neither candidate shined. Had the field been equal coming into this debate, I would have thought it was essentially tied. But Obama had the lead beforehand, and because he did not make any significant mistakes and succumb to McCain's attacks of being clueless on the issues, Obama came out on top. McCain was not horrible, but sometimes seemed hostile, like when he referred to Obama as "that one." Overall, I don't think this debate changed much in the race. Maybe the next debate on Oct. 15 will be more decisive.

Monica says: This debate was essentially a rehash of the first debate in Mississippi. Neither candidate was outstanding and the debate evolved into both pointed fingers and pointless accusations. Both candidates were equally guilty of being quick to point out their opponent's past mistakes, but McCain became clearly flustered and angry by some of Obama's jabs, including the one regarding McCain's old "bomb Iran" song.

In contrast, Obama held his cool despite McCain's comments regarding his lack of experience and accusations of talking big but having no action. But still, in a time when our nation is on the verge of fighting two wars in a dismal economic situation, this debate was severely lacking. McCain and Obama were pretty evenly matched in lack of actual content or concrete plans, and this debate likely made no change whatever on the undecided voters it was supposed to sway.

Last updated: May 4, 2021, 12:57 p.m.

Alisa Lu. Alisa is an (almost) junior in the magnet, which is not a good thing, since it means she will be looking like a zombie for the next few years. While not obsessing over school, she can be found on reading sappy stories and then … More »

Monica Wei. Monica is an unfortunate piece of fruit that has been suspended in a gelatin cup. Okay, not really, but sometimes she feels like one. Monica the strawberry chunk enjoys reading, sitting in trees and watching the clouds go by. She thinks that anything tastes good … More »

Show comments


No comments.

Please ensure that all comments are mature and responsible; they will go through moderation.