McCain v. Obama II: The Empire Strikes Back

By David Swanson

The first debate after the great foreign policy debate, which focused almmost exclusively on war, shifted to a discussion devoted in large part to foreign policy and specifically war. But it began with some other topics.

8:55 p.m. This can’t be good. PBS aired a program on the evolution of dinosaurs just prior to the debate, showing no consideration for the widespread belief that, yes, John McCain is a dinosaur and that his running mate believes he walked the earth together with humans.

9:01 Pundits get the first and last word and begin by saying almost nothing. Obama has to not be “too professorial.”

9:02 Brokaw says Gallup chose 80 uncommitted voters from Nashville. Are people who don’t know who to vote for and live in Nashville representative of the whole country? Is Gallup? Is General Electric’s Brokaw? We shall see.

9:04 Obama got the first question, on the economy, blamed Bush-McCain, praised the Bush-Paulson-McCain-Obama-Pelosi-Reid bailout. Then he said the Treasury Dept should get money back from AIG and the executives there should be fired. But why say that AFTER voting for and badgering colleagues for the ripoff.

9:06 McCain says energy independence, says he doesn’t want to raise taxes (but for the first time refrains from lying that Obama wants to raise people’s taxes), and he denounces spending (which he’s voted for). He says that as president he’d buy up mortgages (without any approval or even consideration of Congress or the Constitution). He seems pretty half-hearted.

9:08 Brokaw asks McCain whom he would appoint new Czar of the Treasury. McCain names Obama-supporter Buffet and names Meg Whitman of Ebay to “inspire trust and confidence” (Is that what Ebay does for you?)

9:10 Obama says Buffet too (so, we can vote for either candidate and get the same Money Czar?). Then Obama stresses consideration for middle class (but he’ll never manage to say middle class as many times as Biden, despite his refusal to ever mention the poor or the working class).

9:11 Good second question from person in the room: How does this so-called bailout help people who actually need help? McCain has no answer but does claim he stood up to Fannie and Freddie while Obama was their bought servant.

9:13 Obama claimed the so-called bailout prevented layoffs across the country. More accurately, he went on to stress McCain’s deregulatory history and his own history on subprime crisis, and he said McCain’s campaign chairman’s firm lobbied for Fannie Mae, while he – Obama – didn’t. (McCain had accused him of voting with Fannie Mae, not lobbying for it.)

This crowd looks drugged or terrified. They’ve been trained not to react to anything. Model Americans really.

9:18 Theresa Finch: “How can we trust either of you with our money when both parties got us into this financial crisis?” Good question. Obama cited Clinton surpluses and Bush deficits. Talked up health care and energy and college affordability (none of which he has major plans for), and spending cuts. Obama promises to cut more than he increases, and of course he’ll do so without cutting the military – in fact while increasing it dramatically.

McCain says he’s a bipartisan who works with Lieberman (who belongs to which party, again?) McCain recommends rightwing anti-tax organizations. McCain attacks Obama’s alleged spending plans as if Obama had not just spoken. But it’s hard not to listen, with Obama clearly trying to run as both a progressive and a reactionary at the same time.

9:24 McCain has to have questions repeated to him and write them down. And he still can’t give a sensible answer. Obama says we need to address energy because — this is his reason why this is a priority — because what we’re paying for gasoline is benefitting Venezuela and Iran. Would he prefer to harm Venezuela and Iran? Why not focus on energy because, say, we’re destroying the planet we live on, or because people can’t afford the price of gas or heating oil, or because we’re fighting wars with GE weapons to gain control of oil.

9:28 Here’s a great Shock Doctrinal question: how would you ask Americans to sacrifice? McCain amazingly again said the only sane thing that could be said: we’ll have to cut military spending. But then, again, he said that we’d have to make cuts everywhere except in the military. He said both of these things in the last debate too. Is this what makes his face twitch?

9:30 Good god, we’re a half hour into this and it feels like six hours. Obama is denouncing Bush’s post 9-11 call to go shopping. Obama spoke up for off-shore drilling. He now does McCain’s job for him, allowing McCain the freedom to ramble incoherently on other topics. Obama said we’d all need to change how we use energy, and expand the peace corps and other voluntary service.

9:33 Brokaw: how do you stop going into debt? Obama promised to cut spending but also not to give McCain’s tax cuts to the rich. He tried to compare $18 billion in earmarks to $300 billion in McCain’s proposed cuts, but forgot to say $300 billion. Oops.

9:35 McCain jumped right into claiming that Obama wants to raise taxes. He couldn’t think of anything honest to say.

9:37 Brokaw claims Social Security and Medicare etc. will soon eat up all money in the country. Brokaw demanded a date by which each candidate woudl fix the “ticking time bomb” of Social Security. Obama declined to challenge this horseshit and returned to his tax plan – pointlessly, since McCain will lie about it again exactly as if he didn’t hear a thing, which possibly he didn’t. Now Obama got around to saying $300 billion, but he forgot to go back and say $18 billion. It would have fit in very well for Obama to call for removing the cap on Social Security taxes, but he did not.

9:40 McCain gave one of those answers that will play well on the Saturday Night Live recreation of this debate without the script writers having to change anything. He said he’d get the smartest people (from Enron?) together in a room and have them do some smart thinking.

9:43 Climate change and green jobs? Good question for McCain. McCain said the solution is nuclear power, and he can prove it because he was on a ship that used nuclear power. There you have it. Q.E.D. He could even see Russia from that ship I’m sure.

9:45 Obama said 5 million new jobs could easily be created in a green energy economy with investments in solar, wind, geo-thermal, and nuclear. Obama just said he agreed with McCain, but he hadn’t said that previously tonight (unlike the previous agreementfest) and in this case he said it sarcastically – he agrees with McCain that for 30 years Washington’s done nothing, but McCain’s been there for 27 of those years.

9:47 Brokaw: should we fund a Manhattan Project for green energy or 100,000 garages? McCain said both, and then said he opposed a Bush-Cheney energy bill because of pork, but “that one” (pointing to Obama) voted for it. McCain went ahead and said drill, drill, drill, despite Obama having said it for him.

Is anybody else sick of these guys after only a debate and a half? Who can face four years?

9:50 Should health care be treated as a commodity? Good question for Obama. Presumably the alternative would be to treat it as a human right. If he answered the question, Obama came down on the side of yes, a commodity, but he wants to make it a cheaper one for some people. He then, just like last time, criticized McCain’s plan for giving money to people and then taxing them, resulting in no help.

McCain said we can impose efficiencies by putting health records online, etc. Huh? McCain said Obama would fine businesses and families for not providing health coverage, and defended his own proposal as choice, not “mandating things on people.”

Brokaw follows up with a vaguer question than the one not answered: is health care a privilege, a right, or a responsibility? McCain says a responsibility and repeats his nonsense. Obama says health care should be a right and tells his mother’s story. He says his plan is not mandates, etc., and that McCain voted against Children’s Health Insurance Program funding. Obama describes McCain’s position on health care as deregulation.

9:59 McCain asks for the size of fines Obama would impose on people, exactly as if Obama hasn’t said a word.

10:00 McCain says we are peacemakers because we have gone to all four corners of the world and shed American blood “usually” for somebody else’s freedom. He says the military is the greatest force for good. Here he stresses words like “good,” and gets passionate about his favored myths. The question was about economic constraints on military action around the world.

10:01 Obama gives a prepared response based on the last debate and it makes sense: McCain says I don’t understand: your’re right, I don’t understand how we ended up going into a nation that had nothing to do with 9-11, etc. Then Obama goes on about the cost of the occupation despite having repeatedly voted for the funding.

A moderator who spoke for the majority of Americans would ask about the funding of these wars, not to mention the funding of the so-called bailout, not to mention the influence of the health insurance companies and the possibility of single-payer health coverage. Poor people might be mentioned, or labor, or even trade and the damage of WTO and NAFTA. We might hear about presidential power abuses, prosecution, impeachment. We might hear about the PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act, the long-time prisoners of Guantanamo ordered released by a court today. I’d like these men to promise not to pardon Bush-Cheney and gang or to honor self-pardons. Instead we get this:

10:04 Brokaw wants to know which countries we’ll invade. Obama and McCain say little new.

10:08 Should we ignore the Pakistani border and go in as we went into Cambodia from Vietnam? Great question to Obama. He refuses to answer it, which tells you what his answer is. In fact, after babbling for a while he says Yes we should ignore the border and the law and go in if we’re going after bin Laden. “We will kill bin Laden.” So much for the rule of law.

McCain predictably and redundently refuses to answer the question by saying that you shouldn’t announce your plans, which tells you what his answer is.

Didn’t we already endure the foreign policy debate? Isn’t this foreign policy?

Obama insists on repeating what he said: If Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down bin Laden and take him out, we will. And McCain sings about bombing Iran, etc., etc.

McCain insists on repeating himself on principle.

10:16 Brokaw moves on from Pakistan and Afghanistan to … Afghanistan. G.E.: we bring all debates around to war. But there is also light … at the end of the tunnel – less than 15 minutes left in this charade.

10:19 Now Brokaw asks about a new cold war with Russia. McCain repeated his comments from the last debate and even pointed out that he was doing so. Obama has lost track by now whether he’s repeating himself from earlier tonight or from last time.

You know who’s got the most riding on this election: producers of caffeinated beverages.

10:23 Brokaw: Is Russia an evil empire? (Is this a cartoon show?) Obama said “they’ve engaged in evil behavior.” McCain said “maybe.” McCain said it’s in our energy interests to confront Russia. (Pretty damn honest, though not quite what G.E. was looking for.)

10:25 If Iran attacks Israel, will you fight back or wait for UN approval. McCain said he would certainly jump right in. He claimed Iran was aquiring nuclear weapons, which is denied by a U.S. national intelligence estimate. He claimed an Iranian nuke would destabilize the entire Middle East, without mentioning Israel’s hundreds of nukes. He dredged up the by now deadly boring BS about whether Obama would meet with Iran. Obama refrained from saying “I agree,” but stood up and agreed with McCain. He eagerly brushed aside the United Nations and the rule of law, but he did admirably stress working to avoid crises in the first place.

10:29 The last question is beyond cartoonishness: “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?” I don’t know why I watched this debate, and I’ll try to learn it by searching for the articles and books I might have read that would have taught me better.