Judge: Ray D’Cruz
Scores: Obama 84 | McCain 78
Senator Barack Obama won the second presidential debate of the 2008 US election.
Obama was stronger than Senator John McCain over a wide range of issues. On the economy, Obama explained the bailout persuasively and outlined his plan for the middle class. McCain did not effectively defend his proposed $200b tax cut for wealthier individuals and businesses. This allowed Obama to attack the trickle-down notion, focus on the middle class and look responsible for having $200b of expenditure to cut. McCain instead promised a spending freeze that was undermined by exceptions and inconsistent with other spending promises.
Obama was strong on health with a national coverage program. McCain had a tax credit to talk about which Obama challenged effectively. McCain’s anti-government rhetoric in this part of the debate seemed at odds with his quest for greater government oversight of economic and financial matters.
The environment question was decisively won by Obama. His optimistic “opportunity” response covering alternative as well as traditional energy made McCain look limited as he focused mostly on drilling (despite the large gap between US oil reserves and consumption that Obama pointed out). A ruffled McCain could only refer to Obama as “that one” in follow up questioning.
Foreign policy was a closer contest, but Obama did better on the issue of Pakistan. McCain criticised Obama’s imprudence for saying he would go after bin Laden even if located in Pakistan, declaring that instead he would walk softly but carry a big stick. The point was significant because it went to the heart of McCain’s charge that Obama lacks by comparison experience (and wisdom). Obama attacked his opponent in rebuttal by reminding the audience that McCain wanted to “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”, “annihilate Korea” and proclaimed “next stop, Baghdad”. McCain responded feebly.
Issues such as American peacekeeping, Israel and Iraq and Afghanistan were about even in the debate. Both speakers were able to disagree without anyone winning the issues. McCain was clearer than a tentative Obama on Russia, and clever in his response to the “yes/no” question “is Russia the evil empire?” McCain explained why and yes/no answer would be unwise in the circumstances.
The speakers failed a basic relevance test on a few occasions (McCain ignoring the bailout question to talk about Obama being friends with Freddie and Fannie, Obama ignoring the entitlements question to talk about McCain tax cuts and both ignoring the closing question to make their prepared concluding remarks. This reflected the absence of a formal opening and close as well as a lack of rebuttal opportunity (speakers using following question to address past issues or correct misrepresentations).
It was a good debate in terms of manner. Both speakers spoke well, engaging well with the questioner, moderator and the audience. McCain did get seem to get irritated from time to time and “that one” remark may linger as an example of this. Obama stayed clear and calm and his responses were well structured.
Both speakers closed strongly: Obama invoking the American Dream while McCain invoked his American duty. This neatly summarised the debate: Obama argued more on policy (multi-level responses and detail) while McCain focused on personality (no “on the job training”, I know how to do that”, “I know how to catch bin Laden” etc). It had the effect of making Obama look like he had more ideas on issues such as the economy, environment and health. It was a good win for Obama.