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Friday, September 26, 2008

First Presidential Debate-Live Blogging Tonight at 9 PM

George Wenschhof

The much ballyhooed grandstanding by Senator McCain about suspending his campaign and not attending the debate so he could concentrate on the financial crisis gripping Wall Street, is over for now, and McCain will participate.

It will be televised on CNN and MSNBC beginning at 9:00 PM ET. Also, check your local cable listings.

It is perhaps apropos that this first presidential debate will be held at the University of Mississippi. This debate will be between Senators McCain (R) and Obama (D) who is the first African-American to be nominated as the presidential candidate of a major political party. It was 1962 when the University of Mississippi admitted James Meredith as their first African-American student touching off riots.

PBS Jim Lehrer will moderate this 90 minute debate. The earlier agreed upon theme and topic area is foreign policy and national security. However, expect Lehrer to use one or two of the segments to discuss the current economic situation facing Americans.

The debate will be divided into 8 "ten minute segments". Each segment will introduce a different subject. The first five minutes of each segment will consist of Jim Lehrer introducing the topic and a two minute response from each candidate. The next five minutes of each segment will be an open discussion on the issue by both candidates.

The national polls and electoral vote continue to show a close race between the candidates with Senator Obama receiving a bump in the last week due in part to the worsening economic conditions in the country. The undecideds continue to number up to 8% so how the candidates perform in the three presidential debates and one vice-president debate will be critical to the final outcome on Election Day.
At the Saddleback Church Forum where the candidates appeared separately, McCain was more direct and to the point while Obama performed well, he probably spoke too long with his answers and looked too relaxed. Look for the standard answers from McCain - He supported the surge when everyone was against it - he will be critical of Obama for not agreeing to it's success. He will say he will follow bin laden through the gates of hell but he will get em.

Obama will point out the Bush administration did not keep their eye on bin laden with their insistence on invading Iraq and because of that Al Qaeda has actually experienced a resurgence around the world. He will speak of the need to engage world leaders in the problems we face today and the importance of restoring the respect of the U.S. around the world. I suspect he will also provide shorter and more direct answers to the questions.

Let's see how this first debate goes - feel free to add your own comments by clicking on "comments" at the end of this post. I will begin live-blogging close to the start of the debate right here in this post.
Well I'm back and it is about to start. A quick update on Senator Ted Kennedy - he suffered a mild seizure earlier tonight and was taken to the hospital and released-a change in medication is thought to have caused the seizure. It was reported he wanted to get home so he could watch the debate.
Jim Lehrer explains the rules and says the audience will remain quiet during the debate, First question-how do you stand on the financial recovery plan? Obama is first - protect taxpayers, oversight needed, taxpayers have opportunity to get money back, no excessive pay to CEOs, help homeowners, result of 8 years of failed policies of Bush administration supported by McCain.
McCain - feeling better tonight after seeing Republicans and Democrats working together. Transparency, accountability, loans to businesses instead of government-
Lehrer - back to the question, do you favor the plan? Obama - have not seen the plan - is optimistic - the main question is how did we get here? We did not set up a 21st century regulations. Lehrer asks McCain - yes I will vote for the plan-we have lost accountability.
lehrer is trying to get the candidates to speak to each other but they continue to address him with their answers.
next question what would you do as president to lead us out of this situation - McCain - out of control spending must stop, earmarks must end-he will veto spending bills. Obama has asked for 932 million in earmarks. - a zinger which will be picked up by the media. This is a fundamental difference.
Obama, earmarks do need to be brought under control. McCain proposing 300 Billion in tax cuts to the wealthist in the country. We need to grow the economy from the ground up - is proposing tax cuts for the ordinary Americans.
McCain - I want to cut spending, not increase taxes - Obama stops him here - look at your tax policies that continue to aid the wealthy.
Obama - 95% of Americans will receive a tax cut, those who make more than $250,000 will see a tax increase. McCain offers a 5000 tax credit on health care but he plans to tax it. McCain continues as Lehrer tries to move on - says Obama voted for a energy bill that favored oil companies, he voted against it. McCain begin a silly laugh.
next question - whatever rescue plan is approved, what will you have to give up in your proposals? good question. Obama - need to have a energy plan to create independence in ten years from foreign oil, universal health care, need to invest in education and make sure college is affordable, need to rebuild our infrastructure - need to eliminate programs that do not work.
McCain - need to cut spending - Obama has most liberal voting record in the Senate - need to eliminate cost plus contracts and replace them with fixed cost contracts-criticized some defense spending.
Lehrer comes back with what will you have to cut out? He is trying hard to get them to answer the question. The truth is neither will be able to do everything they are proposing due to the economic problems we are facing.
McCain - would propose a spending freeze except for certain vital programs, need to quit sending money to countries that do not like us very much, proposes nuclear power to create jobs. Lehrer again - will you admit the financial crisis will affect what you both are proposing. Obama says no doubt difficult decisions will have to be made. McCain does not want to give health care to the federal government. Obama to McCain - how can you say that you will control spending after you have supported President Bush 90% of the time.
New question #4 by my count - what are the lessons of Iraq? we can not have a failed strategy that can cause you to fail - here we go with the surge support statement - we are winning in Iraq and will come home with honor.
Obama - first question is whether we should have gone in the first place, we haven't finished the job in Afghanistan and not caught bin laden, spent over 600 Billion, lost too many lives, Al Qaeda is stronger than ever. Lesson to be learned is to use our military wisely and we did not in Iraq.
McCain comes back to the surge he supports and Obama has never admitted has worked. Obama - violence has been reduced - a tactic to resolve 4 years of mismanagement of the war, you said you knew where the WMDs were, etc. and you were wrong. McCain - Obama doesn't understand difference between a strategy and a tactic. McCain - great general in Petraus. Obama comes back with I understand the difference between strategy and tactics and we should never had made the decision to invade Iraq. We need to focus on Afghanistan.
Question #5. - Afghanistan - should more troops be sent and when. Obama - yes, situation is getting worse due to our lack of available troops. Comes back with the invasion of Iraq and ignoring Afghanistan was a strategic mistake. Bush administration has given Pakistan 10 Billion with no results or cooperation in battling the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
McCain, I've been to the mountainous region of Waristan - sp? We need a new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is important ally - accused Obama of threatening to attack Pakistan. Obama comes back with McCain's "Bomb Bomb, bomb, Iran statement. He said he would attack inside Pakistan against known Al Qaeda or Taliban if Pakistan did not. Hey, that is happening now by the Bush administration.
Question #6 - What is your read of a threat of Iran to the US? McCain - if they acquire nuclear weapons they would be a threat to Israel. He has proposed a league of democracies - could together affect Iranian behavior. Talks about Iran's involvement in Iraq. Obama - the war in Iraq has strengthened Iran - our policies over the last 8 years has not worked. We need tougher sanctions and we need to engage in negotiations. McCain says Obama would sit down with these leaders without preconditions. Obama, as President, I would reserve the right to meet with anyone at anytime. Quotes former secretary of states including Kissinger who agree with him. Also cites North Korea where after we stopped negotiations, they increased their nuclear programs. McCain is doing his silly laughing again - Obama mentions McCain said he would not meet with our ally Spain. McCain says Obama position of meeting without preconditions is dangerous. McCain mocks Obama - here we go ...
Question #7 - how do you view Russia today? - Obama - their actions in Georgia not acceptable - they must leave South Ossetia and Abkhazia. McCain - disappointed in Obama's first statement of showing restraint. He had looked into Putin's eyes and what he saw was KGB. Said the war in Georgia was over a pipeline and energy. US will support inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO. Obama accuses McCain of voting against energy bills. McCain- obama opposed off-shore oil drilling. They get into it with both talking over each other.
#8 - what are the chances of another 9/11 - McCain - he along with Lieberman created a 9/11 commission which created reforms which many have been passed into law. Continue to increase our intelligence capabilities and work with our allies. We are safer than we were but we still have a long way to go especially along out borders.
Obama - we have not done enough in terms of safety of transit and ports. We need to focus on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We need to restore America's standing in the world. McCain - Obama doesn't get it - his specific withdraw date in Iraq would lead to an increase in Al Qaeda. Obama - this administration and McCain has solely been focused on Iraq - while Bin laden is still on the loose, we have weakened our capacity of influence around the world due to our single focus on Iraq - have ignored China, have ignored our veterans, next president needs to have a broader vision. McCain - he doesn't believe Obama has the ability to lead in this area. I'll keep this country safe - I don't need any on the job training. Obama - his father was from Kenya looked up to the US - we need to restore this confidence in our country.
Well, debate number one is over. Lehrer tried hard to get the candidates to answer the questions asked but was not always successful. The first three questions were related to the economy and neither candidate answered the question pertaining to which of their proposed programs might you have to give up due to the tanking economy. Obama did a little better with the first three questions than McCain but McCain held his own with his call for reduced spending and eliminating earmarks - however McCain did not say specifically where he would cut spending other than in the contracting method used by the military.
In regard to the foreign policy questions, McCain stuck with the Republican theme of I can keep you and your family safe. While Obama hammered home the mistake of invading Iraq and ignoring Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It did not appear as though either candidate clearly won this debate so I would view it more of a draw. McCain had a nervous laugh that was uncomfortable to watch and he mostly seemed to be talking to the lectern he was standing behind while Obama looked more presidential. Both campaigns will now put their spin out and the "talking heads" will begin their take on this debate. My view is this debate was not a game changer for either candidate.
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