6:57 PM: Good evening everyone! I'm jumping on the blog to quickly let you know that, after the positive response from the last live blog, I will be giving it another go tonight for the Town Hall Meeting. So tune in to ABAUM'S WORLD and keep refreshing for that spicy political commentary you've come to know and love. See you at nine!
8:50 PM: I am at the apartment of fellow Penn Law Student Nikki Sachdeva, who has generously invited several other students to join her in her lovely apartment in my building to watch the debate. We've just turned on CNN, where the talking heads are doing their best to fill space before the main event. In case you've been living under a rock for the past week, let me set the political stage for you for this debate. John McCain is sinking in the polls faster than the Titanic (and is almost as old!). His anemic response to the economic crisis has made Americans wake up again to the issues in this race, and that is boding well for Obama, who has had much more measured and consistent answers to how he will address the many challenges facing our nation, including the economy. As a result, John McCain and Sarah Palin have spent the week trying to distract the American people from the issues by pulling the Bob Dole "where's the outrage?" line, dredging up old stories about Ayers Wright et. al. in order to try and smear Obama and make him seem like a dangerous choice for Commander in Chief. Tonight, we will be keeping a high alert for attacks from McCain, as he has promised to "take the gloves off," and also analyze how Obama responds to these expected attacks. According to the pundits, the stakes for McCain couldn't be higher; 28 days out from the general election, Obama enjoys leads by a comfortable margin in both the national and state polls. Will McCain be able to make any serious inroads in this debate? Or is the race, as Howard Wolfson recently argued, already essentially over? We'll find out in just a few minutes. As Wolf Blitzer just said, "this should be an exciting night!"
9:00 Blitzer is explaining how this zany town hall format is going to work. Personally, I think these are always a lot of fun, although reports have said that the questions have been pre-screened (boohoo) BUT you never know what people might say on live television. OK, here comes Tom! Best part about this introduction: we at home can be as obnoxious as we want, unlike those in the hall. Point taken, Tom.
9:04 I love this first questioner! Look at the sheen on that skull. Of course the first question is about bailing out Main Street, no Wall Street. Predictable, Obama is tying the downturn to the deregulatory hands off approach of Bush/McCain. Obama's steps to recovery: 1. make the bailout work for the American people will vigorous oversight; high scores for his attack on AIG's recent $400,000 spa getaway; 2. tax cuts for the middle class; 3. long term fixes on healthcare and energy.
McCain: he has a plan too, and it has to do with energy independence. Let's not raise taxes on anyone. Let's stop spending spree in DC. McCain also scoring high marks here. Starts talking about home values. He says he will have the treasurer buy up the homes and renegotiate... this idea not going over as well with the undecideds. McCain tries to put a little emotional oomph behind his "creating jobs" line. And he tries to distance himself from Bush. I think it was a pretty effective opening speech from McCain.
9:09 Treasury Secretaries! McCain: Whitman. Obama: Warren Buffet who by the way supports me. OH I think Obama looks a lot better on this little question. Kristen-Elise would like you all to know that Obama just got a haircut.
9:11 What is the bailout going to do for me?
McCain: this isn't a bailout, it's a rescue! I suspended my campaign (HAHAHA) to go back and fix stuff in DC (actually he got the negotiations off track and contributed to further chaos). Also, I know you never heard of Fannie and Freddie before this crisis (I guess we're all to stupid to know about the two biggest mortgage guarantors in the country). McCain is dipping into th negatives with this speech. Again he's pushing this idea that the government will buy up these mortgages.
Obama: What's in it for you Oliver? Loans for small businesses. Now he's going to correct McCain's history. The problem was the deregulation of the financial system, when McCain was bragging in March that he is a deregulator! Meanwhile, Obama was prescient years ago about regulations. Good job by Obama drawing this important distinction on regulations between he and McCain. I like that Obama looks directly at McCain and says - your people lobbied directly for Fannie Mae. He's not afraid to confront McCain head on, unlike McCain who seems to never look at Obama.
9:17 Obama is doing a great job of continuing to push his message, which has been consistent throughout this entire campaign. McCain is getting much lower marks in his discussion of the economy, and I think this is because people don't think he has credibility on this issue.
9:20 Tying the George Bush budgetary issues around McCain's neck is like a giant anchor that is dragging him down; recall that a new poll this week put Bush's approval rating at 24% (the second lowest of any president in history).
I'm not sure how much credibility we should give the CNN independent voter meter, but overall in the first twenty minutes of this debate, Senator Obama is scoring much higher. McCain keeps talking about this earmark and spending stuff, but people don't care about that. They want to know about what McCain is going to do to fix the economy, not the small potatoes (relatively) of earmarks. This whole line of attack just isn't selling.
9:24 What are your highest priorities out of these 3: social security, healthcare and energy? McCain ducks ranking; instead, he says we can do all three! We can have that commission on entitlements, invest in energy, and... no answer about healthcare.
McCain is trying to sound energetic; he knows people see him as old and cranky, so he's making a smart choice to try and sound bold and optimistic.
Obama says energy has to be dealt with today as both a domestic and foreign policy issue. He wants us to be free of middle eastern oil in ten years, just like JFK wanted to send people to the moon. Love that analogy! Then healthcare, and then education (which Tom didn't even mention, but Obama is smart to put it in, because that's very important to the future of our country and to voters).
9:28 What sacrifices will you ask Americans to make?
McCain: Some programs may need to be eliminated. Smart for McCain to talk about cutting defense spending - there's an issue even I agree with. Even good projects will need to be cut. Once again, McCain is calling for a spending freeze. Here's a good question: how is a spending freeze consistent with the government buying up all these mortgages, as McCain as said several time he wants to do?
Obama: Bringing up 9/11... where is this going? Bush squandered the opportunity to unite Americans after 9/11; Americans were looking for a greater CALL TO SERVICE than just "go out and shop." Americans want to be inspired to do more. I'm going to ask you all to conserve. He's talking about the efforts we can do to help. The takeaway here: notice that Obama has shuffled to the center on energy; he's not talking about renewables, but about increasing conventional supplies here at home. Its a smart political move, even if its not what people concerned about climate change like myself really want to hear.
I am so happy Obama is pumping service here!! As a former AmeriCorps alum, I am so glad to see Obama putting national service on the national stage here at the debate. Thank you BO!
Obama is employing the "hatchet/scalpel" argument again, and I think it is very intelligent, because it demonstrates his understanding that the very richest in this country need to sacrifice a little too. He's able to talk about the unfair policies favoring the rich without looking like a class warfarer.
McCain attacks Obama's tax policy. I'll post the fact check here as soon as it comes as because this was a very unskilled attack on Obama's tax policy.
9:37: Obama: "I want to provide a tax cut for 95% of Americans." If you make more than $250,000 a year, your taxes will go up. If you make less than $200,000 a year, your taxes will go down. Most small businesses will get a tax cut. Meanwhile, Senator McCain wants to give tax cuts to the very rich. It isn't fair and it doesn't work!
I think Obama is the first Democratic candidate since Bill Clinton who has found a clear and compelling way to explain Democrat's progressive tax policy. It sounds smart, fair, and does not sound like class warfare.
Notice that when McCain talks about fixing Social Security, he just says "we will have a bipartisan commission," but gives no answers. He does the same thing on Medicare. McCain gives a minute long answer that doesn't actually say anything.
Summary of McCain's answer: Commission, Commission, Attack Obama.
9:43: "Obama says is has to be safe for disposal or somethin' like that." Yeah, that crazy Obama, wanting to make sure nuclear waste is safely stored! That Whacko!
9:45 What's amazing is that McCain and Obama can both give the same speech essentially - this one now about energy independence and global warming - and Obama makes it sounds like the better speech. Halfway through this debate, I think Obama looks cool, collected and very intelligent, and while McCain is holding his own, he undoubtedly looks like the weaker of the two men.
Tom Brokaw keeps complaining about the breaking of the time limits. No surprise there.
9:48 This is such a strange demeanor McCain keeps showing. "you know who voted against him? that one!" People here think McCain sounds pretentious, especially with this "my friends" line over & over again. Might there even be a bit of a racist tinge behind that kind of statement? It is extremely undignified, to say the least.
9:52 I feel like eyes are glazing over a bit on this whole discussion of healthcare; the question is if healthcare should be treated as a commodity, and Obama doesn't answer it outright. However, Obama does do a good job of contrasting his plan with McCain's.
McCain's answer is to put medical records online? What is he talking about?
9:53: Message from my friend Stephen: "This election is over"
9:55 He sounds like he's talking down to the electorate about health care. Every single one of his lines is going up at the end, making him sound edgy and nervous. It seems like, 55 minutes into this debate, McCain is starting to realize that he's losing this debate and it is making him sound terrible.
9:56: Obama on Healthcare: It should be a right! YES! Thank you Obama! Great job tying his own mother's death from cancer and problem with pre-existing conditions to the problems millions of Americans are facing today.
9:59 The first discussion of foreign policy tonight. Wow. Just another proof of how much economic and domestic issues have become the dominant issue in this election eclipsing big issues like Iraq and terrorism.
10:01: Interesting that as McCain attacks Obama's judgment on Iraq and Georgia, McCain's favorability on foreign policy pummets.
Obama: Yep, there are things I don't understand: I don't understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or 9/11! This is very smart. It was this line of attack, using his prescience on Iraq, that was instrumental in helping Obama beat Hillary in the primary, and it is going to do the same for him in this election against McCain. As I have always argued, Obama's early opposition to the war is a tremendous strength for him that gives him immediate credibility in discussions of foreign policy. What's amazing is that here, on foreign policy, the issue John McCain is supposedly strongest on, Obama seems stronger than at almost any other time this evening. Watch this again here:
10:04: Obama takes an interventionist tone on the humanitarian intervention question, but qualifies it by saying we can't be everywhere all the time, which is why it is so important for us to work with our allies. I am so glad we're talking about Darfur again; Obama discusses the pro-active steps we could (and he will) be taking as president to stop this genocide.
10:11: "My hero is Teddy Roosevelt..." He just said it was Reagan!
McCain sounds all over the map on his foreign policy discussions.
10:13: Making Obama sound like the one who would go after Bin Laden while he is the "somber and responsible one" doesn't really jive with his "bomb bomb bomb Iran," "let's destroy North Korea," "next stop Baghdad," loose canon-crazy faceness! McCain's outburst, "thank you!" sounds ridiculous, and then Obama shut him down. McCain just doesn't seem to get it.
Obama: to solve that problem, we need a responsible exit from Iraq so we can do what we need to do to secure Afghanistan.
10:18: Did McCain just say "Senator Obama is correct!" Shock of Shocks!
10:21 For better or worse, I just don't think people care very much about Russia, Eastern Europe, or any of these countries. Perhaps sadly, I think Americans are feeling very insular right now and care about what's going on here at home. It seems like eyes are glossing over a bit in the hall.
10:23: Yes or No: Is Russia and evil empire?
Obama: they've engaged in evil behavior, and they still have dangerous national impulses.
McCain: Maybe. And look at this, McCain again picking up on Obama's good point by repeating Obama's excellent line about energy. Smart move for McCain: adopt the smart positions of Obama. Maybe that will help him in the polls!
10:25: Israel! What happens if Iran attacks Israel? Would you support Israel in an attack, or would you wait for the UN?
McCain: I wouldn't wait for the UN... but now instead of answering the question, I'll talk about Iran.
Obama: (oh my god PLEASE do something to show support for Israel). SHIT! Obama baby, you took the bait; instead of talking about Iran, talk about defending Israel! Come on come on make those old bubbes and zeides in my home state know that you're gonna kick as for Israel!!!
Well, it isn't the answer I wanted to hear, but Obama's answers on Iran are scoring in the 80s with those Ohio independent voters. That's pretty great. And others here have made the good point that Obama's discussion about smart diplomacy is good policy AND good politics.
10:30 LAST question: What don't you know, and how will you learn it?
Obama: Most of the time I learn it by asking my wife. He doesn't really answer the question, and he's fumbling over his words a little here, but it is smart to try to create a personal connection with voters that downplays his "exoticism" and shows him as a product of the American dream that he wants to make more available to all Americans.
McCain: I don't know what is going to happen.
QUOTE: "We will be talking about countries that we hardly know where they are on the map." Is McCain admitting that he doesn't know where some countries are on the map?
Does McCain's slogan imply that Obama doesn't put his country first?
That ended on a funny/awkward note: Obama's in the way of the teleprompter? hahaha
Obama kicked ass tonight. Hands down, this was a win for him. I think the door is closing on any chance for John McCain to come back in this election. I believe we will see big numbers for Obama among viewers as the winner. A big bottom line is that this is no game changer; Obama will maintain his lead in the polls and is looking very strong going into the final weeks of this election.
POST DEBATE COMMENTARY:
Andrew Sullivan: "This was, I think, a mauling: a devastating and possibly electorally fatal debate for McCain... I've watched a lot of debates and participated in many. I love debate and was trained as a boy in the British system to be a debater. I debated dozens of times at Oxofrd. All I can say is that, simply on terms of substance, clarity, empathy, style and authority, this has not just been an Obama victory. It has been a wipe-out. It has been about as big a wipe-out as I can remember in a presidential debate. It reminds me of the 1992 Clinton-Perot-Bush debate. I don't really see how the McCain campaign survives this."
CNN POLL NUMBERS ARE IN and OBAMA HAS WON BIG TIME AGAIN:
Who won the debate?
Obama's Favorability/Unfavorability Rating
Before Debate: 60%
After the Debate: 68%
Before Debate: 38%
After Debate: 34%
Before Debate: 51%
After Debate: 51%
Before Debate: 46%
After Debate: 46%
McCain (R) 27
Obama (D) 39
Will Obama will make the right decisions on the economy?
Before debate: 54
After debate: 68
Will McCain will make the right decisions on the economy?
Before debate: 41
After debate: 49
MORE FROM THE CNN SNAP POLLS
Who expressed his views more clearly in the debate?
I said during the debate that it seems like McCain is all over the place; he sounds inconsistent, and it is hard to understand what he really believes. Obama, on the other hand, continued to be consistent with his message and the proof is here in this poll.
Who spent more time attacking his opponent?
Duh. The problem is that McCain is not leading with any of his own ideas, because his leadership is bankrupt. Obama made smart and devastating attacks, but they didn't seem like the focus of his argument, which is positive and future focused.
Who seemed to be the stronger leader?
This is devastating for McCain. Even until recently, this was one of the few areas where McCain had an edge. This poll demonstrates just how far Obama has come in proving to the American people that he is a strong leader.
Who was most likeable?
McCain's "my friends" line isn't cutting it anymore. Obama is showing a Clinton-like ability (Bill, not Hillary) to personally connect with voters. His personal story is authentic and compelling.
Who would better suited to fix the economy?
With the economy the overwhelmingly #1 issue in this campaign, Obama's huge edge here should be scaring McCain's campaign.
Who sounded more intelligent?
Because he did! Obama just sounded more coherent and fresher and more principled. John McCain sounded like a typical politician.