Judge: Omar Salahuddin
Scores: Obama 88 | McCain 77
Senator Obama won this debate by a considerable margin. He was better organised in his responses, better able to focus on the ways in which clearly stated policies addressed each of the key issues raised and better equipped to respond to efforts by Senator McCain to discredit these policies, sometimes on a fairly scurrilous and irascible basis. Senator McCain, on the other hand, seemed much less able to refer to specific ingredients in his own policies and their implementation that qualified them in answering direct questions from the moderator. Through his constant referral to ‘Joe the plumber’, he founded much of his rhetoric in a less credible anecdotal reference: a model that he, himself, sometimes contradicted.
While McCain opened with the “Mr. Angry” description of the status quo, Obama responded with a more cogent analysis of the demands levied by the emerging economic emergency. At this point, many of McCain’s interjected comments lacked the necessary relevance and seemed over-prepared. This condition was further exacerbated by a well-expressed (and calm) economic analysis of the economic (mortgage) crisis from Obama.
The ‘campaign ethics’ issues was a turning point in the debate for me. Obama engineered his response to this issue on the back of a clever concession in crediting McCain with having voted “…no to torture,” at the half hour mark. He handled continuing allegations over past associations with aplomb, while Joe the Plumber was cynically told that he could keep his wealth. McCain seemed much less able to successfully weave his arguments together at this point, whilst Obama seemed comfortable with his own plans and their sincerity.
Energy and Climate Change was another key issue for me. Obama responded much more strongly to the “Drill now!” (offshore) standpoint of McCain by rejecting the ‘within the first term’ condition imposed by the moderator and developing a much more coherent response, even pulling the debate back to the key element when McCain threatened to drag it off-track.
On Healthcare, Obama’s five point plan was cleverly underscored by remarks on the need for efforts to deal with diseases before they can become chronic (Obama was categorical, for example, on removing government subsidies for private health Insurance companies), while McCain seemed determined to give Joe (the itinerant plumber) $5000 to buy his own healthcare protection and trust that such a poorly examined ‘band-aid solution’ would serve (“Obama wants government to do the job – I want Joe to do the job”). This is where some of McCain’s analysis seemed simplistic and occasionally started contradicting other things he was saying.
Obama was rock-solid on Roe v Wade and the appointment of Supreme Court judges, while McCain seemed to be trying to engineer a body-swerve around efforts to get him to respond directly to the question. Obama was superb on education and his response to the problems in this sector. This was completed with useful arguments about helping parents to show more responsibility and funding educational initiatives that work, including the training of good, professional teachers.
In summary, McCain came out strongly and tried to seize the initiative, but quickly exhibited the weaknesses inherent in his own policies, which, in avowal, lacked clarity (in response), depth, applicability and innovativeness. Obama, on the other hand, displayed a greater level of sincerity and a willingness to face problems from the perspective of a clear need for change, and the basis upon which that change should occur.