SECOND PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (of THREE) 2008
Tuesday 7 October 2008
Thursday, October 9, 2008
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
SECOND PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (of THREE) 2008
Tuesday 7 October 2008
Location: Belmont University- Nashville, Tennessee
Subject: various (because of the format of this debate)
Moderator: Tom Brokaw- of NBC News
Format: so-called "Town Hall Meeting": undecided voters make up the audience-- the moderator chooses the audience member who will address his or her question directly to the candidate the moderator also indicates- in addition, there will also be a handful of questions chosen by the moderator from those submitted via the Internet: 2-minute response by each candidate, beginning with the candidate to whom the question is directed; optional 1-minute "discussion extension" at the discretion of the moderator. Debate to last no longer than 90 minutes all told.
Scoring for 'The Green Papers' by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON TheGreenPapers.com Staff
Explanation of 'The Green Papers' Debate Scoring System
Question from someone in the audience to Senator Obama: With the economy on the downturn and retired and older citizens and workers losing their incomes, what's the fastest- most positive- solution to bail these people out of economic ruin?
Obama responds: I think everybody knows now we are in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and a lot of you, I think, are worried about your jobs, your pensions, your retirement accounts, your ability to send your child or your grandchild to college. And I believe this is a final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years- strongly promoted by President Bush and supported by Senator McCain- that, essentially, said that we should strip away regulations, consumer protections, let the market run wild, and prosperity would rain down on all of us. It hasn't worked out that way and so, now, we've got to take some decisive action.
Now, step one was the rescue package that was passed last week: we've got to make sure that works properly and that means strong oversight- making sure that investors, taxpayers are getting their money back and treated as investors. It means that we are cracking down on CEOs and making sure that they're not getting bonuses or golden parachutes as a consequence of this package...
But that's only step one. The middle class needs a rescue package and that means tax cuts for the middle class: it means help for homeowners so that they can stay in their homes; it means that we are helping state and local governments set up road projects and bridge projects that keep people in their jobs. And then- long term- we've got to fix our health care system, we've got to fix our energy system that is putting such an enormous burden on families. You need somebody working for you and you've got to have somebody in Washington who is thinking about the middle class and not just those who can afford to hire lobbyists.
McCain: You go to the heart of America's worries tonight: Americans are angry, they're upset, and they're a little fearful.: it's our job to fix the problem. Now, I have a plan to fix this problem and it has got to do with Energy Independence. We've got to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much: we have to keep Americans' taxes low- all Americans' taxes low: let's not raise taxes on anybody today. We, obviously, have to stop this spending spree that's going on in Washington... We've got to have a package of reforms and it has got to lead to reform, prosperity and peace in the world and I think that this problem has become so severe, as you know, that we're going to have to do something about home values.
You know that home values of retirees continues to decline and people are no longer able to afford their mortgage payments. As President of the United States, I would order the Secretary of the Treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes- at the diminished value of those homes- and let people be able to make those payments and stay in their homes. Is it expensive? Yes.
But we all know, my friends, until we stabilize home values in America, we're never going to start turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy and we've got to give some trust and confidence back to America. I know how to do that, my friends and it's my proposal- it's not Senator Obama's proposal, it's not President Bush's proposal- but I know how to get America working again, restore our economy and take care of working Americans.
Moderator: Obviously, the powers of the Treasury Secretary have been greatly expanded- the most powerful officer in the cabinet now. Hank Paulson says he won't stay on: who do you have in mind to appoint to that very important post?
McCain: You know, that's a tough question and there's a lot of qualified Americans but I think the first criteria would have to be somebody who, immediately, Americans identify with- immediately say 'we can trust that individual'.
A supporter of Senator Obama's is Warren Buffett: he has already weighed in and helped stabilize some of the difficulties in the markets and with companies and corporations- institutions- today. I like Meg Whitman: she knows what it's like to be out there in the marketplace: she knows how to create jobs. Meg Whitman was CEO of a company that started with 12 people and now 1.3 million people in America make their living off eBay: maybe somebody here has done a little business with them.
But the point is: it's going to have to be somebody who inspires trust and confidence because the problem in America today, to a large extent, is that we don't have trust and confidence in our institutions because of the corruption on Wall Street and the greed and excess and the cronyism in Washington, D.C.
Obama: You know, Senator McCain and I have some fundamental disagreements on the economy, starting with Senator McCain's statement earlier that he thought the fundamentals of the economy were sound. Part of the problem here is that, for many of you, wages and incomes have flat-lined; for many of you, it is getting harder and harder to save, harder and harder to retire. And that's why, for example, on tax policy: what I want to do is provide a middle class tax cut to 95 percent of working Americans- those who are working two jobs, people who are not spending enough time with their kids, because they are struggling to make ends meet.
Senator McCain is right that we've got to stabilize housing prices but underlying that is loss of jobs and loss of income. That's something that the next Treasury Secretary is going to have to work on.
Scoring-- Round 1:
A close one. Both candidates, after all, answered the original question (in however a roundabout way)-- Senator Obama intending to build on the recent Financial Rescue Plan with his middle class tax cut proposal, Senator McCain planning to shore up the home loan market through a buy-up-bad loans program. Whatever the merits of each policy, each man presented- in admittedly simplified "sound bite" form- the principal manner in which they each would hope to- more or less- "bail out" the average American who finds himself or herself in dire economic straits. McCain lost this round- albeit only slightly- in the so-called "discussion extension" when he implied he might consider a person advising (however informally) Senator Obama on economic matters for Secretary of the Treasury (yet McCain was, at the same time, attacking Obama's economic proposals themselves- most notably, the middle class tax cut!). Obama 10, McCain 9.
Question from someone in the audience to Senator McCain: Through this economic crisis, most of the people that I know have had a difficult time and, through this bailout package, I was wondering what it is that's going to actually help those people out.
McCain: As you just described it- "bailout", when I believe that it's "rescue": because of the greed and excess in Washington and Wall Street, Main Street is paying a very heavy price- and we know that. I left my campaign and suspended it to go back to Washington to make sure that there were additional protections for the taxpayer in the form of good oversight, in the form of taxpayers being the first to be paid back when our economy recovers- and it will recover- and a number of other measures. But, you know, one of the real catalysts- really the match that lit this fire- was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: I'll bet you you may never even have heard of them before this crisis.
But, you know, they're the ones that- with the encouragement of Senator Obama and his cronies and his friends in Washington- that went out and made all these risky loans, gave them to people that could never afford to pay back and, you know, there were some of us that stood up two years ago and said 'we've got to enact legislation to fix this- we've got to stop this greed and excess'. Meanwhile, the Democrats in the Senate and some members of Congress defended what Fannie and Freddie were doing: they resisted any change.
Meanwhile, they were getting all kinds of money in campaign contributions: Senator Obama was the second highest recipient of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money in history- in history! So this rescue package means that we will stabilize markets, we will shore up these institutions- but it's not enough: that's why we're going to have to go out into the housing market and we're going to have to buy up these bad loans and we're going to have to stabilize home values, and that way, Americans can realize the American dream and stay in their home.
But Fannie and Freddie were the catalysts- the match that started this forest fire. There were some of us that stood up against it: there were others who took a hike.
Obama: First, let me tell you what's in the rescue package for you: right now, the credit markets are frozen up and what that means, as a practical matter, is that small businesses and some large businesses just can't get loans; if they can't get a loan, that means that they can't make payroll; if they can't make payroll, then they may end up having to shut their doors and lay people off- and if you imagine just one company trying to deal with that, now imagine a million companies all across the country; so it could end up having an adverse effect on everybody and that's why we had to take action- but we shouldn't have been there in the first place.
Now, I've got to correct a little bit of Senator McCain's history, not surprisingly- let's, first of all, understand that the biggest problem in this whole process was the deregulation of the financial system. Senator McCain, as recently as March, bragged about the fact that he is a deregulator: on the other hand, two years ago, I said that we've got a subprime lending crisis that has to be dealt with. I wrote to Secretary Paulson, I wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, and told them this is something we have to deal with and nobody did anything about it. A year ago, I went to Wall Street and said we've got to re-regulate and nothing happened and Senator McCain, during that period, said that we should keep on deregulating because that's how the free enterprise system works.
Now, with respect to Fannie Mae, what Senator McCain didn't mention is the fact that this bill that he talked about wasn't his own bill- he jumped on it a year after it had been introduced and it never got passed. And I never promoted Fannie Mae: in fact, Senator McCain's campaign chairman's firm was a lobbyist on behalf of Fannie Mae- not me... But, look, you're not interested in hearing politicians pointing fingers: what you're interested in is trying to figure out how is this going to impact you? This is not the end of the process- this is the beginning of the process and that's why it's going to be so important for us to work with homeowners to make sure that they can stay in their homes.
The Secretary already has the power to do that in the rescue package but it hasn't been exercised yet and the next President has to make sure that the next Treasury Secretary is thinking about how to strengthen you as a home buyer, you as a homeowner, and not simply think about bailing out banks on Wall Street.
Moderator: Are you saying... that the American economy is going to get much worse before it gets better and they ought to be prepared for that?
Obama: No, I am confident about the American economy but we are going to have to have some leadership from Washington that not only sets out much better regulations for the financial system. The problem is: we still have a archaic, 20th Century regulatory system for 21st Century financial markets- we're going to have to coordinate with other countries to make sure that whatever actions we take work.
But, most importantly, we're going to have to help ordinary families be able to stay in their homes, make sure that they can pay their bills, deal with critical issues like health care and energy and we're going to have to change the culture in Washington so that lobbyists and special interests aren't driving the process and your voices aren't being drowned out.
McCain: I think it depends on what we do: I think, if we act effectively, if we stabilize the housing market- which I believe we can, if we go out and buy up these bad loans, so that people can have a new mortgage at the new value of their home- I think if we get rid of the cronyism and special interest influence in Washington so we can act more effectively. My friend, I'd like you to see the letter that a group of Senators and I wrote warning exactly of this crisis: Senator Obama's name was not on that letter.
The point is that we can fix our economy: American workers are the best in the world- they're the fundamental aspect of America's economy; they're the most innovative... we're the best exporters, we're the best importers. They're most effective- they are the best workers in the world- and we've got to give them a chance. We've got to give them a chance to do their best again and they are the innocent bystanders here in what is the biggest financial crisis and challenge of our time- we can do it.
Scoring-- Round 2: A tough one to score: there was quite a lot of "who shot John?" in this exchange ("I called attention to the coming of this crisis two years ago" "No, I did- you didn't", that kind of thing). Problem is: not all that much attention was paid to actually being specific in answering the original question by either candidate-- Obama did try to explain how the Financial Rescue Plan might relate to the ordinary American but he found himself defending against McCain's charges of his being part of the "cronyism" that itself led to the crisis. Neither candidate wanted to be the one to have to tell the American voter that, yes, things might well get worse before they get better-- to be fair, no President (let alone presidential candidate) wants to have to be the one to tell the American People that the economy downright sucks: neither is going to at all evince any overt lack of faith in the American economic system to bounce back. McCain ended up losing this round by sinking into far too many platitudes- I mean, how many ways can it be said that the American worker is the best in the world? Further, his evidently off-the-cuff notion that "we're the best importers" as well as the best exporters didn't at all help his cause either (for, in that very concept known as Balance of Trade, you'd rather be a better exporter than importer any old day!) But, in truth, neither man came out of this round looking all that well, actually: Obama simply didn't come off quite as badly as McCain did. Obama 10, McCain 9.
Question from someone in the audience for Senator Obama: How can we trust either of you with our money when both Parties got us into this global economic crisis?
Obama: Well, look, I understand your frustration and your cynicism- because, while you've been carrying out your responsibilities- most of the people here- you've got a family budget: if less money is coming in, you end up making cuts. Maybe you don't go out to dinner as much, maybe you put off buying a new car. That's not what happens in Washington- and you're right: there is a lot of blame to go around.
But I think it's important just to remember a little bit of history: when George Bush came into office, we had surpluses and now we have a half a trillion dollar deficit annually; when George Bush came into office, our National Debt was around $5 trillion- it's now over $10 trillion: we've almost doubled it. And so, while it's true that nobody's completely innocent here, we have had- over the last eight years- the biggest increases in deficit spending and National Debt in our History and Senator McCain voted for four out of five of those George Bush budgets.
So, here's what I would do: I'm going to spend some money on the key issues that we've got to work on. You know, you may have seen your health care premiums go up- we've got to reform health care to help you and your budget. We are going to have to deal with energy because we can't keep on borrowing from the Chinese and sending money to Saudi Arabia- we are mortgaging our children's future: we've got to have a different energy plan. We've got to invest in college affordability- so we're going to have to make some investments, but we've also got to make spending cuts and what I've proposed- you'll hear Senator McCain say 'well, he's proposing a whole bunch of new spending', but actually I'm cutting more than I'm spending- so that it will be a net spending cut.
The key is whether or not we've got priorities that are working for you as opposed to those who have been dictating the policy in Washington lately and that's mostly lobbyists and special interests- we've got to put an end to that.
McCain: I can see why you feel that cynicism and mistrust because the system in Washington is broken and I have been a consistent reformer. I have advocated and taken on the special interests- whether they be the big money people by reaching across the aisle and working with Senator Feingold on Campaign Finance Reform; whether it be a variety of other issues, working with Senator Lieberman on trying to address climate change. I have a clear record of bipartisanship.
The situation today cries out for bipartisanship- Senator Obama has never taken on the leaders of his Party on a single issue- and we need to reform. And so let's look at our records as well as our rhetoric- that's really part of your mistrust here. And now I suggest that maybe you go to some of these organizations that are the watchdogs of what we do- like the Citizens Against Government Waste or the National Taxpayers Union or these other organizations that watch us all the time- I don't expect you to watch every vote. And you know what you'll find? This is the most liberal big-spending record in the United States Senate.
I have fought against excessive spending and outrages, I have fought to reduce the earmarks and eliminate them. Do you know that Senator Obama is proposing $860 billion of new spending now? New spending! Do you know that he voted for every increase in spending that I saw come across the floor of the United States Senate while we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks? He voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark projects- including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?
I think you have to look at my record and you have to look at his, then you have to look at our proposals for our economy- not $860 billion in new spending- but for the kinds of reforms that keep people in their jobs, get middle-income Americans working again, and getting our economy moving again. You're going to be examining our proposals tonight and in the future- and Energy Independence is a way to do that, is one of them. And drilling offshore and nuclear power are two vital elements of that and I've been supporting those and I know how to fix this economy and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and stop sending $700 billion a year overseas
Moderator: There are new economic realities out there and everyone in this hall and across this country understands that there are going to have to be some choices made. Health policies, energy policies, and entitlement reform... which of those will be your highest priority your first year in office and which will follow in sequence?... Health care, energy, and entitlement reform: Social Security and Medicare-- in what order would you put them in terms of priorities?
McCain: I think you can work on all three at once... I think it's very important to reform our entitlement programs. My friends, we are not going to be able to provide the same benefit for present-day workers that present-day retirees have today. We're going to have to sit down across the table, Republican and Democrat, as we did in 1983 between Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill. I know how to do that: I have a clear record of reaching across the aisle, whether it be Joe Lieberman or Russ Feingold or Ted Kennedy or others- that's my clear record.
We can work on nuclear power plants- build a whole bunch of them, create millions of new jobs. We have to have all of the above- alternative fuels: wind, tide, solar, natural gas, clean coal technology- all of these things we can do as Americans and we can take on this mission and we can overcome it. My friends, some of this $700 billion ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations!
As far as health care is concerned: obviously, everyone is struggling to make sure that they can afford their premiums so that they can have affordable and available health care- that's the next issue. But we can do them all at once- and we have to do them all at once: all three you mentioned are compelling National Security requirements.
Obama: We're going to have to prioritize, just like a family has to prioritize. Now, I've listed the things that I think have to be at the top of the list. Energy we have to deal with today because you're paying $3.80 here in Nashville for gasoline and it could go up. And it's a strain on your family budget, but it's also bad for our national security because countries like Russia and Venezuela- and, you know, in some cases, countries like Iran- are benefiting from higher oil prices. So we've got to deal with that right away- that's why I've called for an investment of $15 billion a year over 10 years.
Our goal should be: in ten year's time, we are free of dependence on Middle Eastern oil- and we can do it. Now, when JFK said we're going to the Moon in ten years, nobody was sure how to do it- but we understood that, if the American People make a decision to do something, it gets done. So that would be priority number one. Health care is priority number two because that broken health care system is bad not only for families but it's making our businesses less competitive. And, number three, we've got to deal with education so that our young people are competitive in a global economy.
But just one point I want to make: Senator McCain mentioned looking at our records- we do need to look at our records: Senator McCain likes to talk about earmarks a lot- and that's important: I want to go line by line through every item in the Federal Budget and eliminate programs that don't work and make sure that those that do work work better and cheaper. But understand this: we also have to look at where some of our tax revenues are going. So, when Senator McCain proposes a $300 billion tax cut- a continuation not only of the Bush tax cuts, but an additional $200 billion that he's going to give to big corporations, including big oil companies, $4 billion worth- that's money out of the system.
And so we've got to prioritize both our spending side and our tax policies to make sure that they're working for you- that's what I'm going to do as President of the United States.
Scoring-- Round 3:
Senator McCain well scored Senator Obama by answering Obama's "I'm going to spend some money on the key issues that we've got to work on" with his own "Do you know that Senator Obama is proposing $860 billion of new spending now?" and it was rather hard to reconcile Obama's idea of what one might term- since he himself used the analogy of Americans shooting for the Moon now nearly four decades ago (interestingly, where not also ironically, this debate was being held on the actual 40th Anniversary of the launch of the very first successful manned flight of the Apollo Command and Service Modules, this being Apollo 7)- an 'Apollo Project for Energy' with his own recognition of the need for serious spending cuts. McCain, however, hurt himself somewhat in this round by his reference to the 'overhead projector' for a Chicago planetarium: I wondered, at the time, if the idea here was that most of the audience might envision an ordinary overhead projector found in most classrooms while I was attending junior high school during that same Apollo 7 mission (in which case: yes, $3 million would be altogether exorbitant), rather than the quite complicated, computerized devices that are used to project the Heavens onto a planetarium's ceiling-- true enough: one can reasonably argue about a.) the cost even of these devices and b.) whether the Federal government should even be paying for this (though, supposedly, a public planetarium is intended to make Science- in this case, the science of Astronomy- that much more accessible, particularly to young people)-- but, at the same time, McCain's specific complaint had much of the air of something of a "cheap shot". I also wondered if McCain's notion that "you can work on all three at once" was, in essence, something of a belated response to Obama's claim that "a President has to be able to multitask" back when McCain briefly suspended his campaign and nearly came close to scuttling the very first Presidential Debate when the Financial Rescue Package was being considered a couple weeks back. In the main, though, Obama won this round only because his notion that "We're going to have to prioritize, just like a family has to prioritize" sounded somewhat more pragmatic than McCain's notions including, among other things, as regards nuclear power plants, "We can build a whole bunch of them, create millions of new jobs". Fair or not, Obama's responses came off as more reflective: McCain's, on the other hand, were too often a bit too much in the "cheerleading" department, where not also the "wishful thinking" department. Obama 10, McCain 9.
Question via the Internet for Senator McCain: Since World War Two, we have never been asked to sacrifice anything to help our country- except the blood of our heroic men and women. As President, what sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American dream and to get out of the economic morass that we're now in?
McCain: I'm going to ask the American People to understand that there are some programs that we may have to eliminate: I first proposed, a long time ago, that we would have to examine every agency and every bureaucracy of government and we're going to have to eliminate those that aren't working. I know a lot of them that aren't working: one of them is in Defense spending, because I've taken on some of the defense contractors- I saved the taxpayers $6.8 billion in a deal for an Air Force tanker that was done in a corrupt fashion. I believe that we have to eliminate the earmarks and sometimes those projects- not the overhead projector that Senator Obama asked for- but some of them that are really good projects, will have to be eliminated, as well and they'll have to undergo the same scrutiny that all projects should in competition with others.
So we're going to have to tell the American People that spending is going to have to be cut in America and I recommend a spending freeze that- except for Defense, Veterans Affairs, and some other vital programs- we'll just have to have an across-the-board freeze. And some of those programs may not grow as much as we would like for them to- but we can establish priorities with full transparency, with full knowledge of the American People, and full consultation, not done behind closed doors and shoving earmarks in the middle of the night into programs that, sometimes, we don't even know about until months later.
And, by the way,.. we can attack health care and energy at the same time. We're not rifle shots here- we are Americans. We can, with the participation of all Americans, work together and solve these problems together. Frankly, I'm not going to tell that person without health insurance that 'I'm sorry, you'll have to wait': I'm going to tell you Americans we'll get to work right away and we'll get to work together- and we can get them all done, because that's what America has been doing.
Obama: You know, a lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11 and where you were on that day and, you know, how all of the country was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us, not only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified country and President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American People, he said, "Go out and shop"- that wasn't the kind of call to service that I think the American People were looking for.
And so it's important to understand that, I think, the American people are hungry for the kind of leadership that is going to tackle these problems, not just in government, but outside of government and let's take the example of energy, which we already spoke about: there is going to be the need for each and every one of us to start thinking about how we use energy. I believe in the need for increased oil production: we're going to have to explore new ways to get more oil, and that includes offshore drilling- it includes telling the oil companies that currently have 68 million acres that they're not using that either you use them or you lose them: we're going to have to develop clean coal technology and safe ways to store nuclear energy.
But each and every one of us can start thinking about how can we save energy in our homes, in our buildings- and one of the things I want to do is make sure that we're providing incentives so that you can buy a fuel efficient car that's made right here in the United States of America- not in Japan or South Korea, making sure that you are able to weatherize your home or make your business more fuel efficient and that's going to require effort from each and every one of us.
And the last point I just want to make: I think the young people of America are especially interested in how they can serve and that's one of the reasons why I'm interested in doubling the Peace Corps, making sure that we are creating a volunteer corps all across this country that can be involved in their community, involved in military service, so that military families and our troops are not the only ones bearing the burden of renewing America. That's something that all of us have to be involved with and that requires some leadership from Washington.
Moderator: President Bush, you'll remember, last summer, said that "Wall Street got drunk." A lot of people now look back and think the Federal Government "got drunk" and, in fact, the American consumers "got drunk". How would you, as President, try to break those bad habits of too much debt and too much easy credit- specifically, across the board, for this country: not just at the Federal level, but as a model for the rest of the country as well?
Obama: Well, I think it starts with Washington: we've got to show that we've got good habits because if we're running up trillion dollar debts that we're passing on to the next generation, then a lot of people are going to think 'well, you know what?- there's easy money out there'. It means- and I have to, again, repeat this- it means looking at the spending side but also at the revenue side: I mean, Senator McCain has been talking tough about earmarks- and that's good!- but earmarks account for about $18 billion of our budget.
Now, when Senator McCain is proposing tax cuts that would give the average Fortune 500 CEO an additional $700,000 in tax cuts, that's not sharing a burden and so part of the problem, I think, for a lot of people who are listening here tonight is they don't feel as if they are sharing the burden with other folks. I mean, you know, it's tough to ask a teacher who's making $30,000 or $35,000 a year to tighten her belt when people who are making much more than her are living pretty high on the hog and that's why I think it's important for the President to set a tone that says all of us are going to contribute, all of us are going to make sacrifices.
And it means that, yes, we may have to cut some spending, although I disagree with Senator McCain about an across-the-board freeze: that's an example of an unfair burden sharing- that's using a hatchet to cut the Federal budget: I want to use a scalpel so that people who need help are getting help and those of us- like myself and Senator McCain- who don't need help aren't getting it. That's how we make sure that everybody is willing to make a few sacrifices.
McCain: Well, you know, nailing down Senator Obama's various tax proposals is like nailing Jell-O to the wall: there has been five or six of them and, if you wait long enough, there will probably be another one. But he wants to raise taxes. My friends, the last President to raise taxes during tough economic times was Herbert Hoover and he practiced protectionism as well, which I'm sure we'll get to at some point.
You know, last year up to this time, we've lost 700,000 jobs in America: the only bright spot is that over 300,000 jobs have been created by small businesses. Senator Obama's secret that you don't know is that his tax increases will increase taxes on 50 percent of small business revenue. Small businesses across America will have to cut jobs and will have their taxes increase and won't be able to hire because of Senator Obama's tax policies. You know, he said- some time ago, he said- he would forgo his tax increases if the economy was bad. I've got some news, Senator Obama: the news is bad.
So let's not raise anybody's taxes, my friends, and let it be very clear to you I am not in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy: I am in favor of leaving the tax rates alone and reducing the tax burden on middle-income Americans by doubling your tax exemption for every child from $3,500 to $7,000, by giving every American a $5,000 refundable tax credit and go out and get the health insurance you want rather than mandates and fines for small businesses, as Senator Obama's plan calls for. And let's create jobs and let's get our economy going again and let's not raise anybody's taxes.
Scoring-- Round 4: Senator McCain seemed to have rather missed the mark in his initial response to this one. The question was clearly referring to personal sacrifice, yet McCain talked mostly about government programs that would have to be sacrificed: in this regard, Senator Obama much better picked up on the tenor of the question in both his initial response and then during the so-called 'Discussion extension'. McCain came back somewhat towards the end of the latter by well scoring Obama on taxes but he never really ever got around to the issue of just what personal sacrifices he might expect the ordinary American to make-- quite odd for a candidate with the campaign slogan 'Country First'. Obama 10, McCain 9.
Question via the Internet for Senator Obama: It's about huge unfunded obligations for Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs that will soon eat up all of the revenue that's in place and then go into a deficit position:... Would you give Congress a date certain to reform Social Security and Medicare within two years after you take office? Because, in a bipartisan way, everyone agrees that's a big ticking time bomb that will eat us up maybe even more than the mortgage crisis.
Obama: We're going to have to take on entitlements and I think we've got to do it quickly: we're going to have a lot of work to do, so I can't guarantee that we're going to do it in the next two years- but I'd like to do in my first term as President. But I think it's important to understand we're not going to solve Social Security and Medicare unless we understand the rest of our tax policies and you know, Senator McCain, I think the 'Straight Talk Express' lost a wheel on that one.
So let's be clear about my tax plan and Senator McCain's, because we're not going to be able to deal with entitlements unless we understand the revenues coming in: I want to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans- 95 percent. If you make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year, you will not see a single dime of your taxes go up: if you make $200,000 a year or less, your taxes will go down. Now, Senator McCain talks about small businesses: only a few percent of small businesses make more than $250,000 a year- so the vast majority of small businesses would get a tax cut under my plan. And we provide a 50 percent tax credit so that they can buy health insurance for their workers because there are an awful lot of small businesses that I meet across America that want to do right by their workers but they just can't afford it: some small business owners, a lot of them, can't even afford health insurance for themselves!
Now, in contrast, Senator McCain wants to give a $300 billion tax cut- $200 billion of it to the largest corporations and a hundred billion of it going to people like CEOs on Wall Street: he wants to give average Fortune 500 CEO an additional $700,000 in tax cuts. That is not fair- and it doesn't work. Now, if we get our tax policies right so that they're good for the middle class- if we reverse the policies of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place and that Senator McCain supported- then we are going to be in a position to deal with Social Security and deal with Medicare because we will have a health care plan that actually works for you- reducing spending and costs over the long term- and Social Security that is stable and solvent for all Americans and not just some.
McCain: Hey, I'll answer the question. Look, it's not that hard to fix Social Security: it's just tough decisions- I want to get to Medicare in a second- Social Security is not that tough. We know what the problems are, my friends, and we know what the fixes are: we've got to sit down together across the table; it's been done before. I saw it done with our wonderful Ronald Reagan- a conservative from California- and the liberal Democrat Tip O'Neill from Massachusetts. That's what we need more of and that's what I've done in Washington.
Senator Obama has never taken on his Party leaders on a single major issue. I've taken them on: I'm not too popular sometimes with my own Party, much less his. So Medicare, it's going to be a little tougher: it's going to be a little tougher because we're talking about very complex and difficult issues. My friends, what we have to do with Medicare is have a commission- have the smartest people in America come together, come up with recommendations, and then- like the Base Closing Commission idea we had- then we should have Congress vote up or down. Let's not let them fool with it anymore: there's too much special interests and too many lobbyists working there. So let's have the American People say, 'Fix it for us'.
Now, just back on this tax: you know, again, it's back to our first question here about rhetoric and record. Senator Obama has voted 94 times to either increase your taxes or against tax cuts- that's his record. When he ran for the United States Senate from Illinois, he said he would have a middle-income tax cut: you know he came to the Senate and never once proposed legislation to do that? So let's look at our record- I've fought higher taxes, I have fought excess spending, I have fought to reform government.
Let's look at our records, my friends, and then listen to my vision for the future of America- and we'll get our economy going again and our best days are ahead of us.
In the interests of conserving time, there was no 'Discussion extension' in this round.
Scoring-- Round 5: Here McCain finally wins a round-- but it wasn't at all a good win. Like he said, McCain answered the question itself (Senator Obama used his response time to answer McCain's claims about his tax policies in the previous round). The problem is: McCain fell into that "cheerleading" shtick- "we'll get our economy going again and our best days are ahead of us" and the like. His answers to the enduring (where not also intractable) tangle of Entitlements seemed not all that far removed from Ross Perot's "I'll open the hood, just see what's wrong and fix it" from 16 years ago. Nevertheless, a win is a win is a win... still, at least to this point in this Debate, Senator Obama seemed to be the one more wrestling with how to do the things he would still want to be able to do should he be elected President in less than a month's time. McCain 10, Obama 9.
Question from someone in the audience for Senator McCain: We saw that Congress moved pretty fast in the face of an economic crisis: I want to know what you would do within the first two years to make sure that Congress moves fast as far as environmental issues like climate change and green jobs.
McCain: Look, we are in tough economic times- we all know that and let's never forget the struggle that Americans are in today. But when we have an issue that we may hand our children and our grandchildren a damaged planet, I have disagreed strongly with the Bush Administration on this issue. I traveled all over the world looking at the effects of greenhouse gas emissions- Joe Lieberman and I- and I introduced the first legislation and we forced votes on it. That's the good news, my friends: the bad news is we lost- but we kept the debate going and we kept to this issue, posing to Americans the danger that climate change opposes.
Now, what's the best way of fixing it? Nuclear power. Senator Obama says that it has to be safe or disposable or something like that. Look, I was on Navy ships that had nuclear power plants: nuclear power is safe, and it's clean, and it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. And I know that we can reprocess the spent nuclear fuel- the Japanese, the British, the French do it- and we can do it, too. Senator Obama has opposed that. We can move forward, and clean up our climate, and develop green technologies, and alternative energies for hybrid, for hydrogen, for battery-powered cars, so that we can clean up our environment and, at the same time, get our economy going by creating millions of jobs.
We can do that- we as Americans- because we're the best innovators, we're the best producers, and 95 percent of the people who are our market live outside of the United States of America.
Obama: This is one of the biggest challenges of our times and it is absolutely critical that we understand this is not just a challenge- it's an opportunity: because, if we create a new energy economy, we can create five million new jobs- easily- here in the United States. It can be an engine that drives us into the future the same way the computer was the engine for economic growth over the last couple of decades- and we can do it.
But we're going to have to make an investment: the same way the computer was originally invented by a bunch of government scientists who were trying to figure out- for defense purposes- how to communicate, we've got to understand that this is a National Security issue as well. And that's why we've got to make some investments and I've called for investments in solar, wind, geothermal.
Contrary to what Senator McCain keeps on saying, I favor nuclear power as one component of our overall energy mix, but this is another example where I think it is important to look at the record: Senator McCain and I actually agree on something- he said, a while back, that the big problem with energy is that, for 30 years, politicians in Washington haven't done anything. What Senator McCain doesn't mention is he's been there for 26 of them and, during that time, he voted 23 times against alternative fuels- 23 times! So it's easy to talk about this stuff during a campaign but it's important for us to understand that it requires a sustained effort from the next President.
One last point I want to make on energy: Senator McCain talks a lot about drilling- and that's important- but we have 3 percent of the world's oil reserves and we use 25 percent of the world's oil. So what that means is that we can't simply drill our way out of the problem and we're not going to be able to deal with the climate crisis if our only solution is to use more fossil fuels that create global warming.
We're going to have to come up with alternatives and that means that the United States Government is working with the private sector to fund the kind of innovation that we can then export to countries like China that also need energy and are setting up one coal power plant a week. We've got to make sure that we're giving them the energy that they need or helping them to create the energy that they need.
Moderator: Should we fund a "Manhattan"-like project that developed a nuclear bomb to deal with global energy and alternative energy or should we fund 100,000 garages across America, the kind of industry and innovation that developed Silicon Valley?
McCain: I think pure Research and Development investment on the part of the United States Government is certainly appropriate: I think, once it gets into productive stages, then we ought to, obviously, turn it over to the private sector. By the way, my friends, I know you grow a little weary with this "back and forth": it was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies- billions for the oil companies- and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one! (pointing to Senator Obama) You know who voted against it? Me!
I have fought, time after time, against these pork barrel bills that come to the floor and they have all kinds of goodies and all kinds of things in them for everybody and they buy off the votes: I vote against them, my friends; I vote against them. But the point is: also, on oil drilling- oil drilling offshore now is vital so that we can bridge the gap. We can bridge the gap between imported oil- which is a National Security issue, as well as any other- and it will reduce the price of a barrel of oil because, when people know there's a greater supply, then the cost of that will go down- that's fundamental economics.
We've got to drill offshore, my friends, and we've got to do it now, and we can do it- and, as far as nuclear power is concerned: again, look at the record. Senator Obama has approved storage and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
Scoring-- Round 6:
A strange round to have to score. This time, in his initial response, Senator Obama fell into that same "we can do it!" 'cheerleading' mode for which I have been criticizing Senator McCain in this Debate so far. McCain was the only one of the two candidates who participated in the follow-up "Discussion extension" and, since Senator Obama did nothing to at all to jump in here and claim his equal share of "discussion" time, McCain gets the round. But this round did have its stranger moments for the Republican nominee- such as McCain referring to Obama as "That one!" much in the manner of a class's regular teacher warning a substitute teacher to "watch out for that one who sits over there in the corner!". As with the previous round, a win is a win is a win-- but it was not at all a good win. McCain 10, Obama 9.
Question from someone in the audience for Senator Obama: Selling health care coverage in America as a marketable commodity has become a very profitable industry. Do you believe health care should be treated as a commodity?
Obama: Well, you know, as I travel around the country, this is one of the single most frequently asked issues that I get: the issue of health care. It is breaking family budgets- I can't tell you how many people I meet who don't have health insurance. If you've got health insurance, most of you have seen your premiums double over the last eight years and your co-payments and deductibles have gone up 30 percent just in the last year alone- if you're a small business, it's a crushing burden- so one of the things that I have said, from the start of this campaign, is that we have a moral commitment as well as an economic imperative to do something about the health care crisis that so many families are facing.
So here's what I would do: if you've got health care already- and probably the majority of you do- then you can keep your plan if you are satisfied with it: you can keep your choice of doctor. We're going to work with your employer to lower the cost of your premiums by up to $2,500 a year and we're going to do it by investing in prevention, we're going to do it by making sure that we use information technology so that medical records are actually on computers instead of you filling forms out in triplicate when you go to the hospital- that will reduce medical errors and reduce costs. If you don't have health insurance, you're going to be able to buy the same kind of insurance that Senator McCain and I enjoy as Federal employees. Because there's a huge pool, we can drop the costs and nobody will be excluded for pre-existing conditions, which is a huge problem.
Now, Senator McCain has a different kind of approach: he says that he's going to give you a $5,000 tax credit. What he doesn't tell you is that he is going to tax your employer-based health care benefits for the first time ever. So what one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away. He would also strip away the ability of States to provide some of the regulations on insurance companies to make sure you're not excluded for pre-existing conditions or your mammograms are covered or your maternity is covered and that is fundamentally the wrong way to go.
In fact, just today, business organizations like the United States Chamber of Commerce- which generally are pretty supportive of Republicans- said that this would lead to the unraveling of the employer-based health care system. That, I don't think, is the kind of change that we need. We've got to have somebody who is fighting for patients and making sure that you get decent, affordable health care and that's something that I'm committed to doing as President.
McCain: You really identified one of the really major challenges that America faces: co-payments go up- costs go up, skyrocketing costs, which make people less and less able to afford health insurance in America and we need to do all of the things that are necessary to make it more efficient. Let's put health records online- that will reduce medical errors, as they call them. Let's have community health centers, let's have walk-in clinics, let's do a lot of things to impose efficiencies.
But what is at stake here in this health care issue is the fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama. As you notice, he starts talking about government: he starts saying 'government will do this and government will do that', and then government will and he'll impose mandates. If you're a small business person and you don't insure your employees, Senator Obama will fine you- will fine you! That's remarkable! If you're a parent and you're struggling to get health insurance for your children, Senator Obama will fine you.
I want to give every American a $5,000 refundable tax credit. They can take it anywhere- across State lines. Why not? Don't we go across State lines when we purchase other things in America? Of course it's OK to go across State lines because, in Arizona, they may offer a better plan that suits you best than it does here in Tennessee. And, if you do the math, those people who have employer-based health benefits, if you put the tax on it and you have what's left over and you add $5,000 that you're going to get as a refundable tax credit- do the math!- 95 percent of the American People will have increased funds to go out and buy the insurance of their choice and to shop around and all of those people will be covered except for those who have these gold-plated 'Cadillac' kinds of policies: you know, like hair transplants-- I might need one of those myself!
But the point is that we have got to give people choice in America and not mandate things on them and give them the ability. Every parent I know would acquire health insurance for their children if they could. Obviously, small business people want to give their employees health insurance- of course, they all want to do that. We've got to give them the wherewithal to do it: we can do it by giving them, as a start, a $5,000 refundable tax credit to go around and get the health insurance policy of their choice.
Moderator: Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?
McCain: I think it's a responsibility- in this respect: in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen, to every family member. And with the plan that I have, that will do that. But, government mandates, I'm always a little nervous about. But it is certainly my responsibility; it is certainly small-business people and others, and they understand that responsibility: American citizens understand that, employers understand that.
But they certainly are a little nervous when Senator Obama says 'if you don't get the health care policy that I think you should have, then you're going to get fined'. And, by the way, Senator Obama has never mentioned how much that fine might be- perhaps we might find that out tonight.
Obama: I think it should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can't pay their medical bills- for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they're saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don't have to pay for her treatment, there's something fundamentally wrong about that. So let me just talk about this fundamental difference:
Number one, let me just repeat: if you've got a health care plan that you like, you can keep it- all I'm going to do is help you to lower the premiums on it. You'll still have choice of doctor, there's no mandate involved. Small businesses are not going to have a mandate: what we're going to give you is a 50 percent tax credit to help provide health care for those that you need.
Now, it's true that I say that you are going to have to make sure that your child has health care, because children are relatively cheap to insure and we don't want them going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma and, when Senator McCain says that he wants to provide children health care, what he doesn't mention is he voted against the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program that is responsible for making sure that so many children who didn't have previously health insurance have it now.
Now, the final point I'll make on this whole issue of government intrusion and mandates: it is absolutely true that I think it is important for government to crack down on insurance companies that are cheating their customers, that don't give you the fine print, so you end up thinking that you're paying for something and, when you finally get sick and you need it, you're not getting it.
And the reason that it's a problem to go shopping State by State: you know what insurance companies will do? They will find a State- maybe Arizona, maybe another State- where there are no requirements for you to get cancer screenings, where there are no requirements for you to have to get pre-existing conditions, and they will all set up shop there. That's how in banking it works: everybody goes to Delaware, because they've got pretty loose laws when it comes to things like credit cards. And, in that situation, what happens is: is that the protections you have, the consumer protections that you need, you're not going to have available to you. That is a fundamental difference that I have with Senator McCain: he believes in deregulation in every circumstance- that's what we've been going through for the last eight years: it hasn't worked and we need fundamental change.
Scoring-- Round 7: A close one. There were certainly a fair share of contradictions on both sides: Delaware may have loose banking regulations, as Obama said- but, of course, that's also the home State of Senator Obama's running mate and I don't think Joe Biden would totally dislike something that provides such clear economic benefit to Delaware. Senator McCain, meanwhile, decried Obama's idea of- or so McCain claims- fining those who fail to provide health insurance for their employees, yet- at the same time- he considers health care to, indeed, be a responsibility. In this regard, I found McCain's notion that "Obviously, small business people want to give their employees health insurance- of course, they all want to do that" rather curious: for I've worked, in my time, for any number of small businesses that, assuredly, did not see providing health insurance for their employees as necessarily all that "obvious" (indeed, in at least one case, we- the employees- fought [and rather hard at that] to unionize in response- at least in part- to just such a negative attitude towards health benefits on the part of our employer!) and I have had more than a few friends and acquaintances who either own- or, at least, had once owned- small businesses in which so providing health insurance for employees was not exactly of the highest priority (not that any of these employers within my own social circle are/were at all bad people, by any means-- but the notion that a desire to so provide health insurance is/was so "obvious" as to lead McCain to here say "of course, they all want to do that" seems, to me, to be altogether naive). In such a context as I have just described, Senator Obama's positions come off as, once again, the more pragmatic and reflective, whatever their actual merits might really be. Obama 10, McCain 9.
Question from someone in the audience for Senator McCain: How will all the recent economic stress affect our nation's ability to act as a peacemaker in the world?
McCain: There's no doubt that History shows us that nations that are strong militarily over time have to have a strong economy, as well and that is one of the challenges that America faces. But, having said that, America- and we'll hear a lot of criticism; I've heard a lot of criticism about America and our National Security policy, and all that, and much of that criticism is justified- but the fact is: America is the greatest force for good in the History of the World. My friends, we have gone to all four corners of the Earth and shed American blood in defense, usually, of somebody else's freedom and our own.
So we are peacemakers and we're peacekeepers- but the challenge is to know when the United States of America can beneficially effect the outcome of a crisis, when to go in and when not, when American military power is worth the expenditure of our most precious treasure- and that question can only be answered by someone with the knowledge and experience and the judgment- the judgment to know when our national security is not only at risk, but where the United States of America can make a difference in preventing genocide, in preventing the spread of terrorism, in doing the things that the United States has done- not always well- but we've done because we're a Nation of Good.
And I am convinced that my record- going back to my opposition from sending the Marines to Lebanon, to supporting our efforts in Kosovo and Bosnia and the first Gulf War- and my judgment, I think, is something- a record- that I'm willing to stand on. Senator Obama was wrong about Iraq and the surge, he was wrong about Russia when they committed aggression against Georgia and, in his short career, he does not understand our National Security challenges. We don't have time for "on the job training", my friends.
Obama: Well, you know, Senator McCain- in the last debate and today, again- suggested that I don't understand. It's true: there are some things I don't understand. I don't understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, while Osama bin Laden and Al Qa'eda are setting up base camps and safe havens to train terrorists to attack us- that was Senator McCain's judgment and it was the wrong judgment.
When Senator McCain was cheerleading the President to go into Iraq, he suggested it was going to be quick and easy- we'd be greeted as liberators: that was the wrong judgment and it's been costly to us. So one of the difficulties with Iraq is that it has put an enormous strain, first of all, on our troops, obviously- and they have performed heroically and honorably and we owe them an extraordinary debt of gratitude- but it's also put an enormous strain on our budget. We've spent, so far, close to $700 billion and- if we continue on the path that we're on, as Senator McCain is suggesting- it's going to go well over $1 trillion. We're spending $10 billion a month in Iraq at a time when the Iraqis have a $79 billion surplus- $79 billion!- and we need that $10 billion a month here in the United States to put people back to work, to do all these wonderful things that Senator McCain suggested we should be doing but has not yet explained how he would pay for.
Now, Senator McCain and I do agree this is the greatest nation on Earth: we are a force of good in the world- but there has never been a nation in the History of the World that saw its economy decline and maintained its military superiority. And the strains that have been placed on our alliances around the world and the respect that's been diminished over the last eight years has constrained us being able to act on something like the genocide in Darfur because we don't have the resources or the allies to do everything that we should be doing. That's going to change when I'm President but we can't change it unless we fundamentally change Senator McCain's and George Bush's Foreign Policy- it has not worked for America.
Moderator: Let's see if we can establish tonight the 'Obama Doctrine' and the 'McCain Doctrine' for the use of United States combat forces in situations where there's a humanitarian crisis but it does not affect our National Security. Take the Congo- where 4.5 million people have died since 1998- or take Rwanda in the earlier dreadful days or Somalia. (to Senator Obama) What is the 'Obama Doctrine' for use of force that the United States would send when we don't have National Security issues at stake?
Obama: Well, we may not always have National Security issues at stake but we have moral issues at stake. If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in? If we could've stopped Rwanda- surely, if we had the ability- that would be something that we would have to strongly consider and act. So when genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world, and we stand idly by, that diminishes us and so I do believe that we have to consider it as part of our interests, our national interests, in intervening where possible.
But understand that there's a lot of cruelty around the world: we're not going to be able to be everywhere all the time- that's why it's so important for us to be able to work in concert with our allies. Let's take the example of Darfur just for a moment: right now, there's a peacekeeping force that has been set up and we have African Union troops in Darfur to stop a genocide that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. We could be providing logistical support, setting up a no-fly zone at relatively little cost to us, but we can only do it if we can help mobilize the international community and lead and that's what I intend to do when I'm President.
Moderator: Senator McCain: the 'McCain Doctrine', if you will.
McCain: Let me just follow up, my friends: if we had done what Senator Obama wanted done in Iraq, and that was set a date for withdrawal- which General Petraeus, our chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, said would be a very dangerous course to take for America- then we would have had a wider war, we would have been set back, Iranian influence would have increased, Al Qa'eda would have re-established a base. There was a lot at stake there, my friends, and I can tell you right now that Senator Obama would have brought our troops home in defeat: I'll bring them home with victory and with honor and that is a fundamental difference.
The United States of America is the greatest force for good, as I said- and we must do whatever we can to prevent genocide, whatever we can to prevent these terrible calamities that we have said 'Never Again!'- but it also has to be tempered with our ability to beneficially affect the situation: that requires a cool hand at the tiller- this requires a person who understands what the limits of our capability are.
We went in to Somalia as a peacekeeping organization: we ended up trying to be peacemakers and we ended up having to withdraw in humiliation. In Lebanon, I stood up to President Reagan, my hero, and said 'if we send Marines in there, how can we possibly beneficially affect this situation?' And said we shouldn't. Unfortunately, almost 300 brave young Marines were killed. So you have to temper your decisions with the ability to beneficially affect the situation and realize you're sending America's most precious asset- American blood- into harm's way and, again, I know those situations: I've been in them all my life and I can tell you right now the security of your young men and women who are serving in the military are my first priority right after our Nation's security.
And I may have to make those tough decisions- but I won't take them lightly. And I understand that we have to say 'Never again!' to a Holocaust and 'Never again!' to Rwanda- but we had also better be darn sure we don't leave and make the situation worse, thereby exacerbating our reputation and our ability to address crises in other parts of the world.
Scoring-- Round 8:
A close one. Although we were here more in Senator McCain's "ballpark"- Foreign and Military Policy- than Senator Obama's, Obama more than held his own and there was one glaring contradiction where McCain noted that "we are peacemakers and we are peacekeepers" yet, later, complained about how Somalia devolved into a peacemaking operation from one devoted to peacekeeping (first of all, doesn't this then suggest how difficult it is to actually reconcile the two roles?-- second, wasn't Somalia originally a humanitarian mission that then devolved into peacekeeping [the very reason our troops began hunting for the minions of Somali warlords was to actually keep the peace as much as, if not more than, making it?). Obama 10, McCain 9.
Question from someone in the audience for Senator Obama: Should the United States respect Pakistani sovereignty and not pursue Al Qa'eda terrorists who maintain bases there or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies like we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War?
Obama: We have a difficult situation in Pakistan: I believe that part of the reason we have a difficult situation is because we made a bad judgment going into Iraq in the first place when we hadn't finished the job of hunting down bin Laden and crushing Al Qa'eda. So what happened was: we got distracted, we diverted resources, and ultimately bin Laden escaped, set up base camps in the mountains of Pakistan in the Northwest Provinces there. They are now raiding our troops in Afghanistan, destabilizing the situation: they're stronger now than at any time since 2001 and that's why I think it's so important for us to reverse course because that's the central front on Terrorism.
They are plotting to kill Americans right now- as Secretary Gates, the Defense Secretary, said: the war against Terrorism began in that region and that's where it will end. So part of the reason I think it's so important for us to end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan, put more pressure on the Afghan government to do what it needs to do, eliminate some of the drug trafficking that's funding terrorism.
But I do believe that we have to change our policies with Pakistan: we can't coddle- as we did- a dictator, give him billions of dollars and then he's making peace treaties with the Taliban and militants. What I've said is we're going to encourage Democracy in Pakistan, expand our nonmilitary aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants. And, if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out: we will kill bin Laden, we will crush Al Qa'eda- that has to be our biggest National Security priority.
McCain: You know, my hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt: Teddy Roosevelt used to say "talk softly, but carry a big stick". Senator Obama likes to talk loudly- in fact, he said he wants to announce that he's going to attack Pakistan. Remarkable! You know, if you are a country and you're trying to gain the support of another country, then you want to do everything you can so that they would act in a cooperative fashion. When you announce that you're going to launch an attack into another country, it's pretty obvious that you have the effect that it had in Pakistan: it turns public opinion against us.
Now, let me just go back with you very briefly: we drove the Russians out- the Afghan freedom fighters drove the Russians out- of Afghanistan and then we made a most serious mistake: we washed our hands of Afghanistan; the Taliban came back in, Al Qa'eda, we then had the situation that required us to conduct the Afghan war.
Now, our relations with Pakistan are critical because the border areas are being used as safe havens by the Taliban and Al Qa'eda and other extremist organizations and we have to get their support. Now, General Petraeus had a strategy, the same strategy- very, very different, because of the conditions and the situation- but the same fundamental strategy that succeeded in Iraq and that is to get the support of the people.
We need to help the Pakistani government go into Waziristan, where I visited- a very rough country- and get the support of the people and get them to work with us and turn against the cruel Taliban and others. And, by working and coordinating our efforts together- not threatening to attack them, but working with them- and, where necessary, use force- but talk softly, but carry a big stick.
Obama: Just a quick follow-up, because I think this is important... Look, I want to be very clear about what I said. Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan- Senator McCain continues to repeat this: what I said was the same thing that the audience here today heard me say, which is- if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down bin Laden and take him out- then we should. Now, that- I think- has to be our policy because they are threatening to kill more Americans.
Now, Senator McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I'm green behind the ears and, you know, I'm just spouting off and he's somber and responsible... Senator McCain, this is the guy who sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," who called for the annihilation of North Korea- that, I don't think, is an example of "speaking softly." This is the person who, after we hadn't even finished Afghanistan, where he said, "Next up, Baghdad."
So, I agree that we have to speak responsibly and we have to act responsibly and the reason the popular opinion of America had diminished in Pakistan was because we were supporting a dictator, Musharraf, had given him $10 billion over seven years, and he had suspended civil liberties- we were not promoting Democracy. This is the kind of policy that ultimately ends up undermining our ability to fight the war on terrorism, and it will change when I'm President.
McCain: Not true, not true! I have, obviously, supported those efforts that the United States had to go in militarily and I have opposed that I didn't think so. I understand what it's like to send young American's in harm's way. I was joking with a veteran- I hate to even go into this- I was joking with an old veteran friend, who joked with me, about Iran. But the point is that I know how to handle these crises and Senator Obama, by saying that he would attack Pakistan, look at the context of his words!
I'll get Osama bin Laden, my friends- I'll get him. I know how to get him. I'll get him no matter what and I know how to do it but I'm not going to telegraph my punches, which is what Senator Obama did, and I'm going to act responsibly, as I have acted responsibly throughout my military career and throughout my career in the United States Senate. And we have fundamental disagreements about the use of military power and how you do it and you just saw it in response to previous questions.
Moderator: Can I get a quick response from the two of you about developments in Afghanistan this week? The senior British military commander, who is now leading there for a second tour, and their senior diplomatic presence there- Sherard Cowper-Coles, who is well known as an expert in the area, both have said that we're failing in Afghanistan. The commander said we cannot win there- we've got to get it down to a low level insurgency, let the Afghans take it over: Cowper-Coles said what we need is an acceptable dictator. If either of you becomes President, as one of you will, how do you reorganize Afghanistan's strategy or do you? Briefly, if you can.
Obama: I'll be very brief. We are going to have to make the Iraqi government start taking more responsibility, withdraw our troops in a responsible way over time, because we're going to have to put some additional troops in Afghanistan. General McKiernan, the commander in Afghanistan right now, is desperate for more help, because our bases and outposts are now targets for more aggressive Taliban offensives.
We're also going to have to work with the Karzai government and, when I met with President Karzai, I was very clear that 'you are going to have to do better by your people in order for us to gain the popular support that's necessary'. I don't think he has to be a dictator and we want a democracy in Afghanistan- but we have to have a government that is responsive to the Afghan people and, frankly, it's just not responsive right now.
McCain: General Petraeus has just taken over a position of responsibility, where he has the command and will really set the tone for the strategy and tactics that are used and I've had conversations with him- it is the same overall strategy. Of course, we have to do some things tactically- some of which Senator Obama is correct on. We have to double the size of the Afghan Army, we have to have a streamlined NATO command structure- we have to do a lot of things: we have to work much more closely with the Pakistanis.
But, most importantly, we have to have the same strategy- which Senator Obama said wouldn't work, couldn't work, still fails to admit that he was wrong about Iraq. He still will not admit that he was wrong about the strategy of the surge in Iraq and that's the same kind of strategy of 'go out and secure and hold' and allow people to live normal lives and, once they feel secure, then they lead normal, social, economic, political lives- the same thing that's happening in Iraq today.
So I have confidence that General Petraeus- working with the Pakistanis, working with the Afghans, doing the same job that he did in Iraq- will again: we will succeed and we will bring our troops home with honor and victory and not in defeat.
Scoring-- Round 9:
Very close. But the problem is that- while Senator McCain didn't directly answer the question, one has to assume because he wanted to "talk softly" while ever holding the "big stick" behind his back- Senator Obama did. Therefore, the round goes to Obama- but not just because of that, rather because McCain emphasized that he, too, would take "get bin Laden" but one has to fairly wonder how, if bin Laden is on Pakistani soil and the Pakistanis cannot- or even will not- do it for us: in the end, a 'President McCain' would then have to do exactly what a 'President Obama' would then have to do (and what Senator Obama, as a presidential candidate, is already saying he might well have to do). To me, openly saying that "we might have to take out bin Laden and Al Qa'eda on Pakistani territory without Pakistan's express permission" seems much like letting the proverbial "cat out of the see-through bag" (who wouldn't be able to assume this?- certainly not the Pakistani government itself!): McCain spent far too much time and effort harping on this and Obama defended it at least well enough to win the round. Obama 10, McCain 9.
Question via the Internet for Senator McCain: How can we apply pressure to Russia for humanitarian issues in an effective manner without starting another Cold War?
McCain: First of all, as I say... we're not going to have another Cold War with Russia but have no doubt that Russia's behavior is certainly outside the norms of behavior that we would expect for nations which are very wealthy- as Russia has become- because of their petrodollars. Now, long ago, I warned about Vladimir Putin: I said I looked into his eyes and saw three letters, a 'K', a 'G' and a 'B'. He has surrounded himself with former KGB apparatchiks, he has gradually repressed most of the liberties that we would expect for nations to observe and he has exhibited most aggressive behavior, obviously, in Georgia.
I said before: watch Ukraine! Ukraine, right now, is in the sights of Vladimir Putin, those that want to reassemble the old Soviet Union- we've got to show moral support for Georgia; we've got to show moral support for Ukraine- we've got to advocate for their membership in NATO. We have to make the Russians understand that there are penalties for this kind of behavior- this kind of naked aggression into Georgia, a tiny country and a tiny democracy. And so, of course, we want to bring international pressures to bear on Russia in hopes that they will modify and eventually change their behavior.
Now, the G-8 is one of those but there are many others. But the Russians must understand that these kinds of actions and activities are not acceptable and, hopefully, we will use the leverage- economic, diplomatic and others- united with our allies and friends in Europe who are equally disturbed as we are about their recent behaviors.It will not be a reignition of the Cold War but Russia is a challenge.
Obama: Well, the resurgence of Russia is one of the central issues that we're going to have to deal with in the next Presidency and, for the most part, I agree with Senator McCain on many of the steps that have to be taken. But we can't just provide moral support- we've got to provide moral support to the Poles and Estonia and Latvia and all of the nations that were former Soviet satellites- but we've also got to provide them with financial and concrete assistance to help rebuild their economies: Georgia, in particular, is now on the brink of enormous economic challenges and some say that that's what Putin intended in the first place.
The other thing we have to do, though, is we've got to see around the corners- we've got to anticipate some of these problems ahead of time. You know, back in April, I put out a statement saying that the situation in Georgia was unsustainable because you had Russian peacekeepers in these territories that were under dispute and you knew that, if the Russians themselves were trying to obtain some of these territories or push back against Georgia, that that was not a stable situation. So part of the job of the next Commander-in-Chief, in keeping all of you safe, is making sure that we can see some of the 21st Century challenges and anticipate them before they happen. We haven't been doing enough of that.
We tend to be reactive- that's what we've been doing over the last eight years and that has actually made us more safe. That's part of what happened in Afghanistan, where we rushed into Iraq and Senator McCain and President Bush suggested that it wasn't that important to catch bin Laden right now and that we could "muddle through", and that has cost us dearly. We've got to be much more strategic if we're going to be able to deal with all of the challenges that we face out there.
And one last point I want to make about Russia: energy is going to be key in dealing with Russia. If we can reduce our energy consumption, that reduces the amount of petrodollars that they have to make mischief around the world- that will strengthen us and weaken them when it comes to issues like Georgia.
Moderator: Ronald Reagan famously said that the Soviet Union was the evil empire. Do you think that Russia under Vladimir Putin is an evil empire?
Obama: I think they've engaged in an evil behavior and I think that it is important that we understand they're not the old Soviet Union but they still have nationalist impulses that I think are very dangerous.
McCain: Maybe... depends on how we respond to Russia and it depends on a lot of things. If I say 'yes', then that means that we're reigniting the old Cold War; if I say 'no', it ignores their behavior. Obviously, energy is going to be a big, big factor and Georgia and Ukraine are both major gateways of energy into Europe and that's one of the reasons why it's in our interest. But the Russians: I think we can deal with them but they've got to understand that they're facing a very firm and determined United States of America that will defend our interests and that of other countries in the world.
Scoring-- Round 10:
John McCain regained his surest footing in this round. Barack Obama did quite well but, here, Senator McCain (as I pointed out when the very same issue came up during the First Presidential Debate) showed his better overall command of Foreign Policy. At the same time, McCain had a "hiccup" or two-- he was fairly definitive that our currently strained relationship with the Russian Federation would not at all lead to a second Cold War, yet- as in interpersonal relationships- it only take one of two parties to turn the proverbial "cold shoulder" and, thereby, precipitate a "freeze". A forceful United States of America- while necessary in the face of recent Russian actions- is not exactly going to be welcomed by Russia's leaders with the most open of arms! But, overall, McCain held the round. McCain 10, Obama 9.
Question from someone in the audience for Senator McCain: As a retired Navy chief, my thoughts are often with those who serve our country: I know both candidates- both of you- expressed support for Israel. If, despite your best diplomatic efforts, Iran attacks Israel, would you be willing to commit US troops in support and defense of Israel or would you wait on approval from the UN Security Council?
McCain: Thank you for your service to the country. I want to say: everything I ever learned about leadership I learned from a Chief Petty Officer. And I thank you- I thank you, my friend- thanks for serving.
Let me say that we obviously would not wait for the United Nations Security Council: I think the realities are that both Russia and China would probably pose significant obstacles and our challenge right now is the Iranians continue on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons and it's a grave threat. It's not just a threat to the state of Israel- it's a threat to the stability of the entire Middle East: if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, all the other countries will acquire them, too- the tensions will be ratcheted up.
What would you do if you were the Israelis and the president of a country says that they are determined to wipe you off the map, calls your country a "stinking corpse"? Now, Senator Obama, without precondition, wants to sit down and negotiate with them- without preconditions! That's what he stated- again, a matter of record. I want to make sure that we put enough pressure on the Iranians by joining with our allies- imposing significant, tough sanctions to modify their behavior- and I think we can do that.
I think, joining with our allies and friends in a League of Democracies, that we can effectively abridge their behavior and, hopefully, they would abandon this quest that they are on for nuclear weapons- but, at the end of the day, my friend, I have to tell you again- and you know what it's like to serve, and you know what it's like to sacrifice- but we can never allow a second Holocaust to take place.
Obama: First of all, we honor your service and we're grateful for it. We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon: it would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists and so it's unacceptable and I will do everything that's required to prevent it.
And we will never take military options off the table and it is important that we don't provide veto power to the United Nations or anyone else in acting in our interests. It is important, though, for us to use all the tools at our disposal to prevent the scenario where we've got to make those kinds of choices and that's why I have consistently said that- if we can work more effectively with other countries diplomatically to tighten sanctions on Iran, if we can reduce our energy consumption through alternative energy, so that Iran has less money; if we can impose the kinds of sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline, even though it's an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined petroleum products- that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis: that starts putting the squeeze on them.
Now, it is true, though, that I believe that we should have direct talks- not just with our friends, but also with our enemies- to deliver a tough, direct message to Iran that, if you don't change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences; if you do change your behavior, then it is possible for you to rejoin the community of nations. Now, it may not work- but one of the things we've learned is: is that when we take that approach, whether it's in North Korea or in Iran, then we have a better chance at better outcomes.
When President Bush decided we're not going to talk to Iran, we're not going to talk to North Korea, you know what happened? Iran went from zero centrifuges to develop nuclear weapons to 4,000; North Korea quadrupled its nuclear capability. We've got to try to have talks, understanding that we're not taking military options off the table.
In the interests of time, there was no 'Discussion extension' in this round.
Scoring-- Round 11:
Senator Obama did well enough in this round to win it. He well defended his position of talking directly to potential adversaries (a serious "bone of contention" between the two presidential nominees in the First Debate as well as between the two vice-presidential candidates in their Debate a week before). Senator McCain touched upon his disagreement with Obama over this forcefully enough but chose not to overly emphasize it in his response, creating an opening allowing Obama to address this more fully (because there was no 'Discussion extension' [Moderator Brokaw was clearly trying to make sure that an even number of questions had been asked before the 90 minutes allocated to this Debate expired], Obama's defense of his position in this regard went unrebutted by McCain). Obama 10, McCain 9.
Question via the Internet for Senator Obama: What don't you know and how will you learn it?
Obama: My wife, Michelle, is here and she could give you a much longer list than I do and, most of the time, I learn it by asking her. But, look, the nature of the challenges that we're going to face are immense and one of the things that we know about the Presidency is that it's never the challenges that you expect, it's the challenges that you don't that end up consuming most of your time.
But here's what I do know: I know that I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for the fact that this country gave me opportunity. I came from very modest means- I had a single mom and my grandparents raised me and it was because of the help of scholarships and my grandmother scrimping on things that she might have wanted to purchase and my mom, at one point, getting food stamps in order for us to put food on the table. Despite all that, I was able to go to the best schools on earth and I was able to succeed in a way that I could not have succeeded anywhere else but in this country. The same is true for Michelle and I'm sure the same is true for a lot of you.
And the question in this election is: are we going to pass on that same American dream to the next generation? Over the last eight years, we've seen that dream diminish. Wages and incomes have gone down, people have lost their health care or are going bankrupt because they get sick; we've got young people who have got the grades and the will and the drive to go to college but they just don't have the money- and we can't expect that, if we do the same things that we've been doing over the last eight years, that somehow we are going to have a different outcome.
We need fundamental change- that's what's at stake in this election: that's the reason I decided to run for President and I'm hopeful that all of you are prepared to continue this extraordinary journey that we call America. But we're going to have to have the courage and the sacrifice, the nerve, to move in a new direction.
McCain: I think what I don't know is what all of us don't know and that's what's going to happen both here at home and abroad. The challenges that we face are unprecedented: Americans are hurting tonight in a way they have not in our generation, there are challenges around the world that are new and different and we will be talking about countries sometime in the future that we hardly know where they are on the map, some Americans. So what I don't know is what the unexpected will be.
But I have spent my whole life serving this country. I grew up in a family where my father was gone most of the time because he was at sea and doing our country's business- my mother basically raised our family. I know what it's like in dark times, I know what it's like to have to fight to keep one's hope going through difficult times; I know what it's like to rely on others for support and courage and love in tough times, I know what it's like to have your comrades reach out to you and your neighbors and your fellow citizens and pick you up and put you back in the fight. That's what America's all about.
I believe in this country- I believe in its future; I believe in its greatness- it's been my great honor to serve it for many, many years and I'm asking the American People to give me another opportunity and I'll rest on my record- but I'll also tell you, when times are tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller and the great honor of my life was to always put my country first.
Moderator: That concludes tonight's debate.
Scoring-- Round 12:
A difficult round to score. Although each candidate began by addressing the original question, they each turned their respective responses into- more or less- their "Closing Statement" (even though Closing Statements were not permitted in this Debate, as neither were Opening Statements). As one can see, from my scoring the recent Vice-Presidential Debate (where a Closing Statement was permitted), it has been my policy not to score Closing Statements (nor Opening Statements, where these have been permitted) since they are generally not in response to a specific question posed to the candidates. I have little, if any, doubt that the recounting of their respective biographies- by each candidate in this round- was well enough rehearsed- therefore, I can only judge their respective brief responses to the original question and their responses were, in effect, one and the same- that a President has to, by virtue of the Office, expect the unexpected. I'm going to, therefore, give this round to Senator McCain, only because Senator Obama so responding actually puts no little pay to his own comment, back during Round 10, that "we've got to see around the corners- we've got to anticipate some of these problems ahead of time". Sometimes, however, one simply can't "see around the corners" and that fact is precisely why- as Obama himself said- "it's never the challenges that you expect, it's the challenges that you don't that end up consuming most of your time" or- to use McCain's words- "what I don't know is what all of us don't know and that's what's going to happen both here at home and abroad... what I don't know is what the unexpected will be". McCain 10, Obama 9.
FINAL SCORE: Senator Obama- 116, Senator McCain- 112.
My main thought- when this Debate came to an end- was that Senator McCain was clearly more than a bit "off his game". Meanwhile, Senator Obama (whose "professorial" demeanor is thought not to work all that well in "Town Hall" settings such as this) pretty much held his own and even- significantly- managed to take a few 'Foreign Policy rounds' from McCain. Most of this, however, was McCain's own doing (where not undoing!), however (McCain more lost most of the rounds he did lose than Obama won them)-- by all accounts, the Republican ticket was behind in the best tracking polls leading into this Debate and, perhaps because of this, McCain was more on the attack (mirroring- to some extent- what his running mate, Governor Palin, had been doing during the Vice-Presidential Debate the week before): unfortunately, this seemed to result in at least a couple "awkward moments" on McCain's part, enough to cost him rounds in this Debate he might otherwise have won.
Before this Debate, I actually expected something similar to what we saw in the First Presidential Debate- that is: McCain winning, albeit by another narrow margin; that Senator Obama was able to take this Debate in my scoring system suggests, if only at first glance ("instant punditry" that has as good a chance as not of making me look foolish in my here so opining in a mere matter of days), that the continuing Financial Crisis is now taking a serious political toll on the McCain/Palin ticket-- for now, all the Obama/Biden ticket seems to have to do is pretty much "sit tight" and let the GOP standard-bearers flail about (for, in general, most of the attacks on the Democrats by either Senator McCain and Governor Palin out on the hustings of late seem to mostly be mere "preaching to the choir", nothing that is going to much attract Independent voters- even if they might be formally registered as voters of either Major Party- within that "bell curve" Center that will decide the upcoming Presidential Election, nor anything that might pry significant votes now trending towards Obama/Biden away from the Democratic ticket)...
but, as I type these very words, we still have not all that much less than four weeks- just slightly less than a mere two fortnights now- to go before the candidates will have to be quiet and it will be the American People who will then get to "speak" at the various and sundry polling places throughout the Nation... a lot can yet transpire between now and then!