It was a dull, repetitive affair. There was little said that wasn't said last week. Most of the "Town Hall" questioners had nothing original to contribute. One had a particularly challenging question -- whether healthcare should really be a commodity -- which both candidates promptly ducked. They touted their different plans and criticized one another without addressing the larger issue, since that would mean discussing the possibility of a single-payer policy. Senator Obama did well, nonetheless, by discussing ways in which the existing system was dysfunctional or unfair. Bringing up his own mother's final struggle with cancer may have been tasteless, but commentators will probably praise him for doing it, since it was a way to "connect" with ordinary people. Overall, sometimes Obama gave the more detailed, direct and relevant answer, and sometimes Senator McCain did. Sometimes Obama forgot to answer the original question at all, as when some fatass asked if the U.S. should intervene militarily should Iran attack Israel. That brought up another round of recriminations over Obama's willingness to negotiate with rogue leaders and McCain's blithe bloodthirstiness about bombing Iran. On Pakistan McCain is still determined not to understand Obama's position, and Obama remains understandably unwilling to determine that his policy on cross-border raids is not much different from President Bush's.
McCain seemed to be playing more to the independents this time. He even dared mention a time when he defied Ronald Reagan, and this was meant to show McCain's moderation on military commitments, since he opposed the deployment of Marines to Lebanon in 1983 and predicted the consequences fairly accurately. He has, of course, endorsed more risky ventures since then, and still defends the "surge," but doesn't dare defend the initial decision to invade Iraq. All he had to do, of course, was to bring up that insane league of democracies idea again to give this part of the debate to Obama by default.
Obama was intellectually dishonest when he insisted repeatedly that our economic crisis was only eight years in the making, as if just because Bill Clinton left the country with a surplus it had to be Bush who planted all the seeds of doom. Anyone who bothers investigating the subject knows that deregulation was well underway before Dubya arrived on the scene, and that, as one questioner noted, both parties are to blame for the crisis. On the other hand, McCain surely overstepped in suggesting that Obama was personally responsible for the crisis by somehow encouraging Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make risky loans. Once deregulation was accomplished, those institutions did quite well giving themselves and their employees incentives to issue loans. Obama is probably constrained in his analysis by an unwillingness to offend the Clintons by questioning their legacy, while McCain's credibility as a savior is nullified by his dogmatic supply-sideism. He may think it makes him a paragon of fairness, but McCain should realize that "Let's not raise taxes on anyone" is not what most people want to hear at this point. Most Americans, I think, want to see a certain class of people pay, in one form or another, but while McCain eagerly joins the chorus of condemnation, he can't seem to imagine doing more than utter sharp words.
Before the show, I'd heard some people suggest that tonight was "make or break" for McCain. That's absurd. Too much can happen in these volatile times for the election to be decided tonight. Both candidates remain viable after the debate, which I thought Obama won mainly because McCain's answers tended toward canned dogma. Obama was little better but just enough, though polls may yet say otherwise. The whole event should really have given people more reason to explore other options,but for me to say that probably reads like canned dogma by now.