First presidential debate a draw

The first presidential debate between Senators Obama and McCain took place on Sept. 27. Moderator Jim Lehrer of The NewsHour on PBS wasted no time getting to the difficult questions.

“Where do you stand on the financial recovery plan?” he asked Senator Obama within 30 seconds of the start of the debate.

Obama responded quickly and efficiently, calling our current straits “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

He outlined the four most important prongs of his proposed solution to the crisis: oversight (“$700 billion … is a lot of money”), recompense (“We’ve got to make sure taxpayers … have the possibility of getting that money back”), prioritizing (“None of that money is going to pad CEO bank accounts”) and helping homeowners.

“This is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies,” Obama said.

McCain’s assessment of the economic crisis focused on increased loans to businesses rather than government bailout and a shift in energy policies, eliminating dependence on foreign oil.

“This isn’t the beginning of the end of this crisis. This is the end of the beginning,” McCain said.

When pressed about specific plans for regenerating the economy, McCain focused heavily on cutting what he called “out-of-control spending and corruption,” while Obama proposed tax cuts for 95 percent of American families.

The senators disagreed harshly over certain aspects of McCain’s plan.

“John, you want to give oil companies another $4 billion in tax breaks,” Obama said. According to McCain’s Web site, the $4 billion is part of McCain’s proposed reduction in corporate tax rates from 35 to 25 percent.

Lehrer asked the senators about their priorities, namely, what they might be willing to give up in the midst of financial hardship.

“How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs?” asked McCain.

“The problem with a spending freeze is you’re using a hatchet where you need a scalpel,” responded Obama, going on to name early childhood education and energy independence as major components of his economic plan.

On the subject of lessons learned in Iraq, McCain said, “you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict,” but added that the United States had clearly succeeded in Iraq.

Obama responded by saying that the real question was whether we should have invaded in the first place.

He concentrated on the United States’ failure to find Osama bin Laden, and the need to ensure Pakistan’s cooperation in searching for bin Laden.

As Obama spoke firmly about the possible use of military force in Pakistan, so McCain spoke about Russia, when the debate turned to the country’s actions in Georgia.

“I looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes,” said McCain, “and I saw three letters: a K, a G, and a B.”

The most vehement disagreement of the night occurred when Obama mentioned his willingness to engage in direct diplomacy with countries the United States has previously snubbed.

“If we can’t meet with our friends,” Obama said, “I don’t know how we’re going to lead the world in terms of dealing with critical issues like terrorism.”

“So,” laughed McCain, “we sit down with Ahmadinejad, and he says, ‘We’re going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,’ and we say, ‘No, you’re not’? Oh, please.”

Later that night, a CNN panel, which included John King, David Gergen, William Bennett, and Campbell Brown, called the evening a draw.

Possibly to be added as a sidebar:

 Vice presidential debate: 9 p.m. Oct 2, moderated by Gwen Ifill and focusing on domestic and foreign policy

 2nd presidential debate: 9 p.m. Oct 7, moderated by Tom Brokaw and focusing on questions raised by audience and internet participants

 3rd presidential debate: 9 p.m. Oct 15, moderated by Bob Scheiffer and focusing on domestic policy