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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Analysis: Obama, McCain defy stereotypes in debate
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain tried to rectify perceived shortcomings and played against type at key moments in Tuesday's presidential debate, but neither seemed to change a campaign dynamic that favors Obama for now.
McCain, the anti-tax conservative, proposed the night's only new government program: a $300 billion plan to help beleaguered homeowners, which might have made Franklin Roosevelt proud.
And Obama, the supposed neophyte on foreign policy, chided the older Navy veteran for his flippant remarks about Iran, forcing McCain into a somewhat sheepish explanation.
While the two nominees challenged each other testily at times, there was no mention of Bill Ayers or Charles Keating, whose long-past transgressions have fueled bitter accusations between the two camps in recent days. And despite the economic crisis rocking the nation, the debate became far livelier when it switched from domestic to foreign issues — much like their first debate 11 days ago.
McCain, sorely needing to convince voters that he can fix the faltering economy, produced the evening's only surprise. He called for using $300 billion of the recently enacted $700 billion financial rescue package to "immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America" and renegotiate them "at the diminished value of those homes," thus saving borrowers from foreclosure and eviction.
"Is it expensive? Yes," said McCain, who spent much of the 90-minute forum calling for cuts in spending and taxes. But "until we stabilize home values in America," he said, "we're never going to start turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy."
The legislation that Congress approved Friday allows but does not require the Treasury Department to buy troubled mortgages directly. Obama said previously the idea should be studied, and his campaign said McCain's proposal was not new.
If McCain one-upped Obama on the domestic front, Obama seemed to get the better of him in a discussion of whether the United States should violate Pakistan's sovereignty if that's what it takes to kill al-Qaida terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. McCain quoted Theodore Roosevelt, who said, "Talk softly, but carry a big stick."
But Obama "likes to talk loudly," McCain said. "In fact, he said he wants to announce that he's going to attack Pakistan. Remarkable."
Obama shot back: "Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. ... If Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down bin Laden and take him out, then we should."
He continued: "Now, Sen. McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I'm green behind the ears and, you know, I'm just spouting off, and he's somber and responsible."
McCain smiled and said, "Thank you very much." But the smile faded when Obama said: "This is the guy who sang, 'Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,' who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That, I don't think, is an example of speaking softly."
McCain acknowledged that he once modified a Beach Boys song, at Iran's expense, at a town hall meeting.
"I hate to even go into this," he said. "I was joking with an old veteran friend, who joked with me, about Iran. But the point is that I know how to handle these crises."
On several occasions, McCain said major challenges are easy to overcome, without offering details for doing so.
"I'll get Osama bin Laden," he said. "I'll get him. I know how to get him."
As for a huge social program with long-term financing problems, McCain said, "It's not that hard to fix Social Security."
Democrats and Republicans have to "sit down together across the table," he said. He did not suggest what they might say at that table.
Obama, meanwhile, seemed to see innovations in energy use and production as critical to economic success at home and diplomatic advances overseas.
"We're going to have to come up with alternatives," he said, with the U.S. government "working with the private sector to fund the kind of innovation that we can then export to countries like China."
"Energy is going to be key in dealing with Russia," which exports oil, Obama said. "If we can reduce our energy consumption, that reduces the amount of petrodollars that they have to make mischief around the world."
Dependency on foreign oil, he said, is "bad for our national security, because countries like Russia and Venezuela and, you know, in some cases, countries like Iran, are benefiting from higher oil prices."
McCain likes the give and take of town-hall forums, and he managed to fire off a few zingers. "Nailing down Senator Obama's various tax proposals," he said, "is like nailing Jell-O to the wall."
But the tall stools on stage were better suited to Obama's lanky frame, allowing him to rest easily and stare with seeming bemusement when he felt McCain was stretching the truth.
Taking issue with a description of his tax plans, Obama said, "You know, Senator McCain, I think the 'Straight Talk Express' lost a wheel on that one."
Charles Babington covers national politics for the Associated Press.

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