McCain – Obama Townhall Debate Instant Reaction

About an hour into the debate, I’m bored to tears. Neither candidate has said anything I haven’t heard before and they’re just reciting canned speeches that are often tangentially related to the questions being asked. Neither are adhering to the rules and Tom Brokaw is exasperated but not doing anything about it.

Barack Obama and John McCain Townhall Debate Photo Courtesy YahooNews

Barack Obama and John McCain Townhall Debate Photo Courtesy YahooNews

Thus far, though, it’s a win for Obama in that he hasn’t made any significant errors and McCain hasn’t done anything that’s likely to close ground with undecided voters.

UPDATE:  McCain’s answer on the use of force was far superior to Obama’s.  He’s set forth a doctrine that’s distinct from both Obama and George W. Bush and the neocons.

Both gave strong defenses of somewhat different positions on Pakistan.  I don’t know that either score any big points, though.  Obama’s continued pronounciation of it as pok-E-ston probably doesn’t help him much with undecideds.   McCain’s Nixonian “I have a plan” but “I’m not going to telegraph my punches” likely didn’t,  either.

McCain’s recognition of the service of the Navy Chief was a good moment for him,  although not one likely to make much difference in the campaign.

Overall, this was McCain’s best debate performance.  It’s conceivable that he won it on “points.”  The  bottom line, again, though, is that Obama went toe to toe with him and didn’t clearly lose.  That’s a win given that he went into the debate with a lead and that McCain’s hoping to win based on superior seasoning.

Update (Steve Verdon): I was listening to the debate and was surprised that a question about the unfunded liabilities associated with Social Security and Medicare came up. Amazingly I thought Obama fumbled badly here. He completely dodged the answer and ended up rambling on about $100 billion in tax breaks to CEOs as if $100 billion will do much to address the funding short fall of trillions and trillions of dollars. Obama was woefully unprepared for that question, IMO. Obama babbling on like an idiot about his tax policy was a complete dodge. Then a few minutes later Obama described out he’d increase spending on health care and most likely the growth rate of health care expenitures. Brilliant.

McCain’s answer was only marginally better, just a fail vs. epic fail. McCain gave some nonsense answer about setting up a commission to look at the problem and come up with a solution. He did note that the problem with Social Security was somewhat manageable, but that Medicare was the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, US Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    Is it my imagination or is McCain dropping some of his G’s?

  2. James Joyner says:

    He’s just reg’lar folk.

  3. anjin-san says:

    McCain is tilling ground he has already covered. He is more coherent on national security, Obama on domestic issues. I keep getting interrupted, but I have not seen a serious gaffe or a punch that staggered the opponent from either man.

    A tie is a win for Obama, especially given the focus on the economy. And that issue will not be leaving the front page any time soon.

  4. Bystander says:

    Somebody PLEASE form a viable THIRD party that can give us some straight talk!!!

    Enough already …

  5. Rich Gardner says:

    I think McCain needed more red meat to win this debate. He was too nice/metrosexual (note: I watched the CNN coverage).

    However I don’t think Obama’s script realizes how bad the economic situation is. A bistro I was at this afternoon has a 30% reduction in revenues the past 3 weeks (I know the owners)and has had to lay off staff.

    Tie

  6. just me says:

    I thought this one was boring too. It was a talking points rehash for the most part.

    I also think it was distracting how they kept going over the allotted time and Brokaw had to reign them in on it repeatedly.

    I think the last half of the debate McCain did far better, but this may be due as much to the fact that I agreed with him on it and not Obama as much as what was actually said. Obama just came across as out of his element when it came to foreign policy stuff.

    Obama also didn’t really answer the last question, which I thought was interesting and I thought McCain nailed, because he answered the question and turned into a net positive for him.

    Overall my vote is “boring” but I think McCain was a clear winner for me at least-and he did by far better than he did in the other debate-although I didn’t watch that entire debate.

  7. Chuck says:

    McCain landed good points like punches , while O’Bama sniped at his comments and answered with shadowy facts and campaign rhetoric. McCain had his own rhetoric also, but it comes across with the ring of truth because he is more transparent than O’Bama, who hides both in the rhetorical shadows, but also in the shadows of lack of open-ness and personal history. even after all these months of campaigning, we don’t know who,(really) Barack O’Bama is , and what his life has been about… selah!

  8. Michael says:

    My take is that while McCain probably won this, on the strength of his foreign policy answers, it is ultimately too little too late. He needed a home-run, but be bunted. It keeps him in the game, but he’s still losing.

  9. just me says:

    I agree that McCain didn’t hit it out of the park, and to be honest I am not sure McCain could change the polls even if he did-I am pretty sure barring some major, and I mean major mistake by Obama there really isn’t a lot McCain can do to win this election.

    it is Obama’s election to lose, and Obama just isn’t going to perform badly enough in any of the debates for them to change the game.

    I still think McCain was a clear winner of the debate-I just don’t think he is going to win come November. Time to hunker down and hope Obama only gets four years, and the democrats lose at least one house of the congress come ’10. I guess I can also hope that the bleeding of the GOP from congress won’t be too great come November, but I won’t count on that one either.

  10. just me says:

    Oh and one thing that bugged me about the questions-was how “me, me, me” focused they were.

    What is the government going to do for me? How is the government going to save me? blah blah blah

    Have Americans always been this selfish, or is it the questions Brokaw picked?

  11. Fence says:

    What the heck is McCain doing proposing to buy up mortgages and immediately sell them back at a loss? At least the Wall St bailout has a chance to make a profit. Uh, personal responsibility? Fiscal conservative? Steady hand on the tiller?

    Oh well, not to worry, now that this will be tagged as McCain’s idea, it won’t be much of a threat since he appears to be toast. Obama just watched McCain go three-and-out in the top of the 8th. Obama’s got a 4-run lead, two more innings to bat, and McCain is down to his last three outs.

  12. Get Real says:

    I think that “That One” won this debate (again). If Obama continues on this streak with his cool, calm, intellect persona, he will win this election.

    It’s too bad that McCain has nowhere else to go with his campaign but other than a smear rampage against Obama. Maybe he can’t have a challenging, progressive debate.

    http://PoliticEye.com

  13. James says:

    Obama won because McCain chickened out. The buildup before the debate was for the gloves to come off and to talk about Ayers and Wright. McCain didn’t do it. Maybe McCain was worried that Barack would bring up Keating Five in response? McCain’s losing and it’s late in the game, so he should have taken bigger risks.

    Congratulations to President Obama.

  14. just me says:

    James exactly where in the debate would Ayers or Keating 5 have fit any of those questions?

    Shoot those questions were terrible-probably because the questions were overly moderated. I would much rather have seen the commission pull in partisans-1/2 for Obama and 1/2 for McCain, screened the questions for appropriateness, and pulled names out of a hat. It at least would have made the debate more interesting and perhaps made the candidates answer a question with something beyond talking points and campaign stump speech slogans.

  15. rodney dill says:

    I found it interesting when questioned about the length of the current economic downturn, Obama said it wouldn’t be long as he had confidence in the economy… I guess he thinks the fundamentals are strong too… he has that and his bracelet.

  16. markm says:

    Is it me or were the questions that were selected terrible?. There was a small handful of questions that I have not heard on the stump. I assumed, because of the style of the debate that the there would be some questions from left field requiring non stump speech type answers. Hmmph.

  17. just me says:

    markm I think the reason they were so terrible is because they were too heavily sreened in how they were chosen.

    I would much rather have seen questions screened solely for appropriateness to the venue and drawn names out of a hat or let the candidates choose the questioners. I think Brokaw basically chose questions he would have asked if he was moderating the other type of debate, which turned both candidates on autopilot and resulted in very little new or interesting being said.

    Although I am pretty convinced at this point that in an Obama presidency the troops he pulls out of Iraq won’t be going to Afghanistan they will instead be going to Darfur.

  18. rodney dill says:

    McCain’s losing and it’s late in the game, so he should have taken bigger risks.

    If you do this too soon the media will have time to talk it to death and make it go away. The candidate with the most, best, and best timed October surprises will likely win.

  19. G.A.Phillips says:

    Somebody PLEASE form a viable THIRD party that can give us some straight talk!!!

    Tea party? I’m looking for some straight action.

  20. sam says:

    @ G.A. Phillips

    Tea party? I’m looking for some straight action.

    What kind of action do you have in mind, GA?

  21. G.A.Phillips says:

    I think that “That One” won this debate (again). If Obama continues on this streak with his cool, calm, intellect persona, he will win this election.

    remember what I was saying about clinging to their Oscar programs.

    how could you possibly think the One fool won this debate, because he is your favorite actor?

    It’s too bad that McCain has nowhere else to go with his campaign but other than a smear rampage against Obama. Maybe he can’t have a challenging, progressive debate.

    And yes you can smear bullshit and thats the point, lol but lets not talk about who this gimp is, lets have a progressive debate, it’s to bad a lot people that I thought had common sense around here and around other places seem to think the same silly way.

    blah I’m starting to hope this fool wins just to see what I knows gonna happen, happen. “it’s 0bama’s race to lose” lol thanks for all the help guys.

  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    What kind of action do you have in mind, GA?

    I’ll let you worry about that, boo!!! lol