McCain Scores, but Can’t Keep the Momentum

Oct 16, 2008 By Paul Burka

This was a debate out of the past, one that centered on familiar issues–taxes, spending, health care, education, abortion, litmus tests for judges. It was about ideology, left versus right. The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the economic crisis, but only the first two questions dealt with it.

The rules for tonight’s debate

Oct 7, 2008 By Paul Burka

This is from my favorite web site, It represents outtakes from a longer piece by Lynn Sweet of the Chicago-Sun Times about the negotiations between the two camps for the debate. I recommend Sweet’s article. Readers will find it informative. Sweet points out that the…

McCain slipping in Texas?

Oct 3, 2008 By Paul Burka

I was looking at, which has polling data for every state, and I noticed the last two polls for Texas: ARG 9/15 McCain 57 Obama 36 Rasmussen 9/29 McCain 52 Obama 43 That is a net swing of 12 point to Obama in two weeks in the reddest of…

Who won the debate?

Sep 28, 2008 By Paul Burka

Can I vote "present?" It was hard to score. One of the factors in a presidential debate is gaffes. There were none. Another is body language. (Remember Al Gore's eye-rolling performance in the first debate of 2000.) Both candidates maintained their discipline, McCain moreso than Obama, who was too visibly eager to start his rebuttals. I give McCain the edge here, though with an assist from CNN, which seemed to focus more on Obama when McCain was talking than the reverse. This was supposed to be a foreign policy debate, but the economic crisis was uppermost in everyone's minds, and the early focus was on the economy generally and the bailout package specifically. Obama clearly won round one with a crisp opening statement: four things that the package had to accomplish. First, assuring more oversight of the financial system. Second, providing a chance for taxpayers to get their money back as housing regains its value. Third, preventing the money from being used to enrich CEO's with higher salaries and golden parachutes (good luck). Fourth, saving homeowners from foreclosures. He ended by saying, "We also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most [well off], and somehow prosperity will trickle down." McCain never sounds comfortable talking about economics, except when the subject is small ball: earmarks, pork barrel, "excess and greed in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street," his "fundamental belief in the goodness and strength of the American worker," his intention to "veto every single spending bill that comes across my desk " It's attitude, not policy. Obama responded, "Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused, which is why I suspended any requests for my home state, whether it was for senior centers or what have you, until we cleaned it up....But let's be clear: Earmarks account for $18 billion in last year's budget. Senator McCain is proposing -- and this is a fundamental difference between us -- $300 billion in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the country, $300 billion. Now, $18 billion is important; $300 billion is really important. And in his tax plan, you would have CEOs of Fortune 500 companies getting an average of $700,000 in reduced taxes, while leaving 100 million Americans out. Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused, which is why I suspended any requests for my home state, whether it was for senior centers or what have you, until we cleaned it up....So my attitude is, we've got to grow the economy from the bottom up. What I've called for is a tax cut for 95 percent of working families, 95 percent....And over time, that, I think, is going to be a better recipe for economic growth than the policies of President Bush that John McCain wants to to follow." The next exchange exposed a weakness in Obama's debating style. McCain focused on Obama's comment about earmarks, suggesting that Obama represented the Washington view that "It's only $18 billion." Obama responded, "John, nobody is denying that $18 billion is important. And, absolutely, we need earmark reform. And when I'm president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely." I think Obama should have moved on. His lawyer's instinct told him that he couldn't let McCain's point go unanswered. But he could have, and should have, ignored it. Instead, he let McCain put him on the defensive. This happened to Obama time after time in his debates against Hillary. In the Texas debate (it might have been Ohio), she pounded him on not just renouncing the support of Louis Farrakhan; she insisted that he "reject" it. She dangled the bait and Obama swallowed it: He meekly said, okay, he rejected it. One of the worst things you can do in a presidential debate is be defensive. It doesn't look presidential. This was just a small exchange, but it is instructive. Obama was killing McCain on economics, but McCain was able to get inside his head and make him defensive. McCain's instinct is honed by his military experiences, and he never takes a defensive posture. He made no attempt to defend his $300 billion in tax cuts. He attacked: "Now, Senator Obama didn't mention that, along with his tax cuts, he is also proposing some $800 billion in new spending on new programs. Now, that's a fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama. I want to cut spending. I want to keep taxes low. The worst thing we could do in this economic climate is to raise people's taxes." Heres another example: MCCAIN: We had an energy bill before the United States Senate. It was festooned with Christmas tree ornaments. It had all kinds of breaks for the oil companies, I mean, billions of dollars worth. I voted against it; Senator Obama voted for it. OBAMA: John, you want to give oil companies another $4 billion. MCCAIN: You've got to look at our record. You've got to look at our records. That's the important thing.... If "Never let your opponent put you on the defensive" is Rule 2 of presidential debating, Rule 1 is, Ignore what your opponent says and get your message out. McCain understands this much better than Obama. That's not his problem. McCain's problem is that (1) his message isn't very good, at least on economics, and (2) He's not the best at delivering it. Plus, he's getting bad advice. Suspending his campaign and contemplating missing the debate are actions contrary to his central message that he is a leader and he makes the tough decisions. I am going to skip the discussion in which moderator Jim Lehrer tried to get the candidates to say which programs they might postpone or eliminate in order to pay for the bailout. Both Obama and McCain pitched their appeals to the bases of their respective parties. Obama turned the question to his advantage by talking about his priorities for programs he would KEEP: energy independence, health care, education (science and technology in particular), and rebuilding infrastructure; his cuts would come from ending the Iraq war. McCain said he would eliminate the ethanol subsidy and get rid of cost-plus military contracts. His main proposal was a spending freeze on all programs except defense, veterans, and entitlements. He concluded by saying, "A healthy economy with low taxes ... is probably the best recipe for eventually having our economy recover. This is about as clear a difference in the philosophies of the two candidates, and their parties, as you can get.

McCain’s strategy: lunacy or genius?

Sep 25, 2008 By Paul Burka

My first reaction to McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign and forego the debate due to the economic meltdown was that it was an awful move. My second reaction was the same. The country is facing a crisis and McCain, who just ran a TV spot saying, “I’ve tackled tougher…