By Calvin Palmer
John McCain was battling for political survival as he entered the third and final presidential debate with rival Barack Obama. One poll for CBS News and The New York Times gives Obama a 15-point lead; another for ABC News and The Washington Post gives Obama a 10-point lead.
With 19 days to go to polling day, the fight back has to start now if McCain hopes to emerge victorious. It was certainly a more aggressive showing by McCain and, at times, he forced Obama on the defensive.
In NFL terms, McCain needs touchdowns. Obama’s defensive strength only saw his rival score field goals and the clock is running down.
A large part of the debate focused on the charge of negative campaigning. McCain feigned hurt over the attack at the weekend by civil rights activist Congressman John Lewis who likened him and Sarah Palin to George Wallace for stirring up crowd hatred.
The honest response by McCain would have been that he deplored the comments made by some of his supporters, remarks calling Obama a “terrorist” and even shouts of “kill him,” and to have apologized to his opponent.
It is noticeable that since the remarks by Congressman Lewis, McCain has reined in his attack dog Sarah Palin.
McCain then went on to attack Obama for the biggest budget ever spent on negative advertising, conveniently forgetting his own ads that pose the question: “Who is Barack Obama?” and “What is he hiding?”
And throughout the debate, McCain attacked Obama’s record and threw in the Bill Ayer’s link, as well as the Acorn voting fraud allegations for good measure.
Obama calmly answered: “Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign, he has never been involved in my campaign, and he will not be in the White House.”
He went on to say that, as a lawyer, he represented Acorn once many years ago, and that Acorn was nothing to do his campaign.
Obama added that the people he associated with included billionaire businessman Warren Buffett, his vice presidential running mate Joseph Biden, Republican senator Dick Luger and former NATO chief General James Jones.
“Those are the people, Democrats and Republicans, who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House,” Obama said. “And I think that the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me.”
McCain had incurred a 15-yard penalty on third down and was forced to punt.
Apart from McCain’s flawed $300 billion home mortgage plan, his $5,000 tax credit for health care, the building of 45 nuclear power stations and drilling for offshore oil to make America energy independent, the details on other policies were just vague Republican idealogy.
Education was reduced to competition and choice, with mention of the voucher system. The reduction of the U.S. budget deficit was met with “I can do it,” but no mention of detail.
Further attacks on Obama came on the Colombia free trade deal. Obama pointed out that labor leaders in Colombia were the targets for assassination. That is a good enough reason but China’s human rights record leaves a lot to be desired and there is no question of America restricting trade with China. I think that was a McCain field goal.
Out of the three debates, Bob Schieffer of CBS News handled this one a lot better than Tom Brokaw did last week. He fairly judged when each candidate had made the point they wished to make and moved on to the next question. He could have been a little firmer in making sure that each candidate answered the question but both are politicians.
The debate was also notable for seeing Sarah Palin’s Joe Six-Pack being replaced by McCain’s Joe The Plumber, in real life Joe Wurzelbacher from Ohio who confronted Obama about his plans to tax small businesses and was met with the reply, “I think when you spread wealth around, it is good for everybody.”
McCain called this “class warfare,” a somewhat strange remark in a country that is supposedly a classless society. The divide in America is between “the haves,” the really wealthy people, and “the have nots,” who are generally referred to as the middle-class.
I am still puzzled at how McCain can claim to represent ordinary citizens. The Republican Party is and always will be the party of big business and for McCain to somehow suggest that he will treat big business with disdain is rather disingenuous on his part.
On the policy issues, Obama did go through the details of his proposals, spelling them out point by point. McCain advocated a spending freeze and then proceeded to say that more needs to be spent on special needs children, although in the process, while extolling Sarah Palin’s knowledge in this field, he somehow confused autism with Downs syndrome.
At times, Obama seemed to shake his head in disbelief or smile broadly at some of McCain’s rabid accusations. Ronald Reagan used the same technique during his presidential debates. It is not a technique I particularly admire but if it worked for Reagan, it might work equally well for Obama. How McCain must wish he had the skills of the “great communicator.”
Neither candidate managed to score a decisive touchdown; for all McCain’s attacks, Obama’s defense stood firm to edge the debate by the margin of a field goal.
After the debate, opinions were sought from six uncommitted voters from Virginia. When asked if they knew of anybody who would not vote for Obama because of his race, three put up their hands. When asked if it was possible people would not vote for McCain because of Sarah Palin, all six threw up their hands.
A CBS poll of 638 uncommitted voters gave victory in the debate to Obama by a margin of 53 percent to 22 percent for McCain.