Judge: Ray D’Cruz
Scores: McCain 83 | Obama 80
Senator John McCain won the third presidential debate of the 2008 US election because he made the running while Obama was simply too passive. McCain scored the wins while making some mistakes along the way. Principally this was a tactical win.
McCain was tactically better in the discussion about the economy. While Obama’s opening comments about the economy were well made, McCain managed to turn the economic discussion into a tax debate. McCain cast himself as the low tax champion who could wield both hatchet and scalpel. He contrasted Obama as profligate. Obama’s attack on the McCain proposal to cut taxes for the wealthy was not as sharp as in the last two debates (missing the point that that opposition to this tax cut would create savings). His advocacy of the middle class and attacks on the current Republican president were also not as visible and well supported as previously.
McCain also turned the education discussion into a debate about vouchers. McCain’s DC vouchers example caught Obama off guard. It didn’t always work for him though. Some issues he twisted too far – such as trying to turn the discussion about negative campaigning (with some righteous indignation) into a defence of the military wives and veterans who attend his rallies. And also suggesting the negative campaign was due to Obama’s refusal to engage in town hall debates.
The discussion about the choice of vice president was a great example of the contrast between these two men in the debate. Others may comment about whether it is representative of their campaigns. Obama treaded around criticism of Sarah Palin’s experience to talk positively about Joe Biden (in tired and timid tones). McCain attacked Biden ferociously on his reputed strength, foreign policy. Obama stayed above the fray, McCain got stuck in.
On the detailed health discussion Obama was more effective, answering McCain’s charges very clearly while outlining a plan with precision and detail. McCain looked desperate while discussing Bill Ayres and ACORN. Obama handled each issue in turn clearly and convincingly. But ultimately, this was not a substantive issue for him, it was an issue to neutralise or negate. The same could be said of his defence of his voting record in the Illinois State Legislature on abortion.
Other issues were about even. Energy for example, saw both mention alternative, renewable energy supplies, but avoid certain issues (McCain silent on fuel efficiency, Obama silent on nuclear power). Free trade was an interesting issue but not decisive mainly because it was so messily debated by both.
The manner of both speakers provided a significant contrast. McCain was aggressive, boxer-like. McCain attacked Obama’s “eloquence” by suggesting viewers could not trust his words, twice taking issue with the wording of responses. He interrupted and interjected and once even declared himself the winner of an argument. His conviction was evident, but it was over the top at times, almost desperate. On the other hand Obama’s calmness bordered on indifference. Obama’s manner seemed to suggest he’d had the debate before and wanted to move on. That might be right, but here was a debate to be won. He couldn’t be bothered responding to jibes such as “spreading the wealth around” and “class warfare”. His opening and close were more authoritative but there was not enough variety in his manner, and it obscured some of his key messages.