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Citizen Voices

Round Two: Yawn

Last night's presidential debate  was decidedly... unenlightening and boring. Although the town hall format could have brought something new to the table, the game remained virtually unchanged. McCain had a tough job to do, as he entered the debate nine points down in the polls by some reports. Many Americans are now scrutinizing Obama more closely in light of the view that he is the more probable future president, and this is something McCain could have capitalized on - but he didn't , at least not as much as he could have. Both candidates presented their positions rather well, but this is old news - especially when Obama seemed to avoid directly answering questions in favor of steering the debate towards prepped talking points. Important issues came up, but the responses given could have been directly taken from campaign speeches. In what turned out to be a highly conventional debate, we heard the candidates reiterate their positions on health care, taxation, Iran, Russia, and energy. There remained much divergence and some agreement. The economy and current economic conditions were understandably a time-consuming focus.

But despite the need to address the economy in light of significant changes that have taken place since the last time the candidates faced off, I think Tom Brokaw could have made some more interesting decisions regarding question choices. When citizens, and not journalists, are given the opportunity to ask the questions, fascinating issues are bound to come up - and we can get a unique insight into our politicians' characters and lives. In this debate, however, if you agree with Obama's positions, you probably felt like Obama won; likewise, if you went into it a McCain fan, you more than likely believed him to be the winner (case in point: both the FoxNews on-screen poll following the debate and the Drudge Report online poll declared McCain the winner). Did it do anything for the undecideds? I've made up my mind, so I can't be certain, but my guess would be that it didn't do a whole lot in terms of issues.

But maybe the spotlight wasn't on the issues. Maybe the goal was to see the next president being, well, presidential - a goal both candidates succeeded in. Obama was comfortable, said things a lot of people want to hear, and presented himself as empathetic. But as McCain repeatedly brought up, it comes down to rhetoric versus record . So keeping that in mind, and in light of this rather promising debate format that failed to live up to my hopes, I've assembled a list of my own questions, specifically for Senator Obama. Some of these contain issues that I wish McCain had brought up, and some require more than a two-minute response, so poor Tom needs to stop looking at the timer.


michael valentine from spring Valley
October 08, 2008 at 05:06 PM
Here is a question for Senator McCain as long as we are posing post debate questions. Senator McCain, you propose to tax employer provided health care benefits something that has never been taxed before, to pay for a tax credit of $5,000 for health care. This would hit the working middle class hardest. How is this not an increase in taxes and an assault on the working Americans? This new tax will cause more home losses. BTW, how many homes do you and Cindy have?

Matthew C. Scallon
October 08, 2008 at 05:11 PM
As one who's not voting for either one of them, I would have liked to see, just for a change of pace, a candidate from one of the other parties there. Since the audience were filled with undecided voters, and presumably open to suggestion, give them someone from behind the proverbial Door #3.

October 08, 2008 at 08:14 PM
Jessica, The answers to your questions are easily available, you have proven yourself more than thorough and tough minded when writing about topics that interest you. But I don't think these are real questions - they're mild swift boatish assertions. Sarah Palin has been employing more bloodthirsty versions on the campaign trail - an attempt to divide and divert. The facts are available to those who are interested. Here are a few facts Im willing to stand by - can you refute them? 1. The "most liberal" crown bestowed by the National Journal is based on a formula devised by a single person. McCain could not be rated by this formula because....He did not cast a vote often enough in 2007 on the critical issues. Typicall the "most liberal" label is used as a generalized smear instead of engaging on specific issues. No on the war in Iraq would be counted as a "liberal" decision. 2. The William Ayers controversey is dead on arrival. Ayers was appointed to the board you refer to by its benefactor Walter Annenberg - A Ronald Reagan republican and pal. So if the Gipper were alive today we could probably paint him with the same "palling around with terrorists brush." This is a swift boat talking point and frankly, not worthy of informed, intelligent debate. 3. The implication here being that Barack Hussein Obama is no friend of Israel...Answering a vague hypothetical about a non-specific attack on Israel would be foolish - even McCain advises against "showing your cards". Israel might not want our troops involved, might not need them or might need them. But creating a situation where Iran sees attacking Israel as a no-win situation seems a reasonable and prudent approach for a commander in chief with an over stressed military and an economy in crisis. 4. Several fact check organizations have explained the use of the "present" vote in the Illinois legislature as a widely practiced tactic to block legislation, to create coalitions and to reach across the aisle. Hillary tried this tact and it didn't wash then or now. For those interested in facts and truth - the mystery behind the "present" votes is no mystery, just another aggressively pushed talking point. 5. McCain's campaign manager was Fannie Mae's chief DEREGULATION lobbyist for five years at 30grand a month - his last payment came in AUGUST of 2007! Obama like most in congress accept money from lobbyists - it sucks. But McCain is in bed with one of the architects of this financial mess. This one should be taken off the McCain talking points as it is just plain embarrassing. 6. You have a point here. Obama and McCain are not the first or last politicians to promise something they can't deliver. "read my ips, no new taxes..." comes to mind. But more worrisome is your reliance on sources like Dick Morris, Fox News Polls or the Drudge report. If polls are at all reliable - they must be scientific. There are more than a few around - and ALL of the scientific polls have Obama winning the debate. The rise of MSNBC as a left wing Fox is a troubling development in the trend toward relying news sources that tell us what we want to here.

Jessica Jondle
October 10, 2008 at 01:38 AM
Chris, Oh, interesting. I wasn't thinking about Obama in relation to being a friend of Israel at all - or trying to make implications. I think, aside from a comment he made that Jerusalem would remain the capital of Israel (a status few countries recognize) and would remain undivided and then his correction less than 24 hours that the issue of Jerusalem would be up to the parties involved, he has been clear enough about being a friend of Israel. My own stance on Israel differs significantly from that of the current administration, but even so, I certainly don't think it should be "wiped off the map". But since my own views aren't at stake here and my friendship won't do the Palestinians an ounce of good vis-a-vis this election, let me just state that what I was actually more curious about was Obama's thoughts on Iran, given statements that he would like to meet with Ahmadinejad without preconditions. The fact that the question involved Israel was a bit lost on me, in my mind I just heard "If Iran attacked one of our allies..." You're right, though, Israel certainly plays a role in this election. There are some powerful pro-Israel lobbyist groups that granted, may have limited influence in a runaway, but play an important role if the election is close.


October 10, 2008 at 03:11 PM
Jessica - The "no friend of Israel" implication was not yours, apologies, but it has certainly been the implication of those working the Barack Hussein Obama angle in Florida via emails and whisper campaigns to sway the Jewish vote...A more direct response to question #3 - from an Obama supporter - would be that we KNOW the perpetrators of 9/11 and their ilk are on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan - going after them is not a hypothetical. Responding to an extreme hypothetical regarding a nonspecific attack would be foolish - I don't think Obama has a policy contradiction here. Not sure what you mean about the Israel lobby and a runaway election.... Obama did say he would sit w/enemies w/no preconditions during the Primaries - he has since made clear, as have most outside the neo-con camp, that this would initially mean lower level diplomatic meetings. This fact has again become a distorted talking point.... And in the fact-checking myself category - Walter Annenberg did not appoint William Ayers to the charitable board - he funded the board (and presumabley had influence on its membership.) In all sincerity, did you find my fact based responses persuasive/incomplete/inaccurate - are your questions still unanswered?

Jessica Jondle
October 10, 2008 at 07:17 PM
Chris, Well, I get the feeling it may surprise you to learn that I have actually previously seen the arguments you present and my questions remain. A quick note on the worries you have over my sources - I check a wide range of sources. I recently began reading the print version of The Nation regularly, believe it or not. I read Al Jazeera's site for their perspective. I don't regularly check although I do occasionally watch the station, about as often as I watch CNN. Admittedly, I don't rely heavily on MSNBC - not necessarily due to any bias, but because there are only so many hours in the day! As for Drudge Report, it is only on extremely rare occasions that the site produces its own news stories - usually in the form of short, "developing" headlines. Drudge Report actually links to news stories provided by a variety of sources, including New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, local newspapers, and yes, the dreaded Fox News. It's much like Yahoo News or Google News in that sense - but catering to the conservative crowd (which is clearly why I like it - I'm partisan). So it gives me a quick launch pad to news stories from mainstream sources but with a conservative tone. Drudge Report often amuses me - oftentimes you can get a sort of "Doomsday" feeling from what it decides to headline in huge type - but it is one, not the only, source that I use. I always told my eighth graders - do not form an opinion until you read all perspectives. I hope I hold to that too. If you would take another look at my comments regarding polling, the reason I did NOT in fact, claim McCain the winner, was because that was not the case. What I was saying, which I though I conveyed, was that if you asked McCain fans, they would in fact claim him the winner, and that this was indicative by the (informal) poll on FoxNews (done through text-message response) and the (equally informal) one displayed on Drudge Report (done through the click of on-line visitors). Since watchers of FoxNews and viewers of Drudge Report are overwhelmingly conservative, this makes absolute sense as these were opinion polls that solicitated the responses of "consumers" of these news sources. You'll notice that I didn't refer to either poll as "official", nor do I see them as such. I see them as partisan opinion that is, well, partisan. And expected. Now, again, a close reading of my Bill Ayers question would reveal that I'm not even explicitly focusing on Obama's personal or professional relationship with the man, although I personally believe that the connection runs deep enough to be worrisome. But what I'm actually questioning is Obama's allocation of education funds. We are hurting as a nation when it comes to student math achievement in particular, but also reading and other areas. I believe education funds should be going towards a remedy for this, and not groups that have political aims. That was my question - perhaps I'll bring the Ayers issue up in a different way in another post, but where you may have been expecting to read a swift boat question, I actually think I had a legitimate policy concern. In terms of justification for voting "present", I have seen this as well. My question, I think, would be more specifically directed towards the particular bills in which Obama was the only one not to vote in approval. This may have not been clear, but I am actually quite curious about his inability to directly respond to questions regarding the victim protection bill. As for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, McCain wasn't lying when he said he warned of their policies a few years ago - I provided the link. While not defending all of McCain's actions (you'll notice that I'm not an enthusiastic cheerleader for the man, although I certainly will cheerlead for some of his positions, such as the pro-life position), I still stand by my question to Obama. I certainly appreciate your respectful rebuttals.

October 10, 2008 at 07:40 PM
I won't belabor the Ayers question beyond this - but questioning specific Obama educational policies through a Bill Ayers lens comes from left field - unless one wants at least a whiff of the swfit boatiness involved. McCain and Obama served with Duke Cunningham in the Senate - should we analyze their economic polices through the lens of that particular criminal? I mentioned your use of the polls because if you want to know who the American People as a whole thought "won" the debate, scientific polls are about all we have to go on. So far Obama 2-0, Biden 1-0. There is more than enough room for fair debate, for a sounding out of Obama versus McCain's policies. But voices like yours are being drowned out by truly odious elements of your party. If the election goes for Obama - I think your Party is going to undergo some seismic changes. The Palin camp and the WSJ/William Buckley camp are becoming increasingly strained bedfellows.

aaryn b. from By the sea
October 14, 2008 at 07:33 PM
If you're going to write further about the Obama-Ayers relationship, I do hope you plan to include mention/analysis of the mostly-unmentioned McCain-Liddy relationship; it's interesting that McCain has gone to the mat with the largely debunked Ayers connection when he has his a "domestic terrorist" friend of his own. (And of course, there's his relationship with Charles Keating which is telling.) I'm sincerely curious to know if these relationships are somehow more forgivable than Obama's loose connection with Ayers, and if so, why? As an aside, following the last presidential debate, MSNBC put up poll numbers that were collected via text messaging and --go figure!--they were almost exactly opposite of those FOX posted. These unscientific polls capturing the views of a self-selected group of voters (arguably of a certain generation) only serve to highlight that many of us hunker down into our preferred echo chambers. Otherwise, these polls are meaningless gimmicks that enable the respective networks access to propagandistic messaging/advertising.