Third Presidential Debate

Posted by Katherine | October 17, 2008 – 2:34 pm
Cartoon of third debate
Mccain, Joe the plumber, Obama
[Mike Licht, / Flickr]

Watch or read the third presidential debate here, if you missed it on Wednesday night.

A lot of bloggers seemed relieved — to put it mildly — that debate season is now over. Here, with equal relief, is a last post-debate roundup.

On the so-glad-they’re-over front, Roland Charlemagne from Political Times explains that it’s the post-debate punditry he can’t stand:

So the debates are over.. Thank God. I honestly don’t know if I could stomach another body language expert or facial expression analyst telling me what the candidates were really thinking. Here’s what they were thinking “I want to be President I hope I don’t fuck up”. But I digress.

Charlie Bertsch lives in Tuscon, likes basketball and many forms of music, and pines for the Bay Area. He thinks the body language may be the only useful thing to come out of the debates:

If I have to hear either Barack Obama or John McCain hammer their talking points six inches beneath the ground again, I might not be be able to resist the urge to break things. […] I am increasingly numb to being outraged by the candidates going through the motions. […] At this point, going on body language actually seems less superficial than responding to the tetra-packed issues.

McCain’s facial expressions certainly got a lot of play in the blogosphere, and it generally wasn’t positive.

Overall, many bloggers seemed to feel McCain arrived with energy and Obama started off slightly flat footed — though interpretations of where things went from there diverged considerably. Beyond the Polls gives this overall summary:

Obama often seemed slightly flustered, wordy, and a bit annoyed, struggling to articulate complicated policy ideas against McCain’s clean-edged attacks. But make no mistake: Obama held up his end, as in the other debates, by refusing to let any punch go unanswered and by insisting on giving straight answers, even if they were complicated and took time. […]

In the final analysis, despite all of McCain’s attacks, Obama defended himself well, without losing his cool. Visually, he was undeniably in command, from start to finish. He was relaxed and confident, but serious and engaged. And throughout the debate, Obama seemed somehow more attuned, more attentive, to the serious tone of the country in crisis, and more aware generally of the appropriate tone for a candidate to adopt when proposing plans for getting a vast country out of a very complicated mess. McCain seemed focused almost exclusively on attacking Obama and tarring him as a straight-line liberal, which in many ways he surely is. But he seemed uncomfortable and still flailing when making affirmative proposals for how he would go forward as president.

Rob from agreed that Obama was his “usual calm, reserved, eloquent, flexible self” but thought McCain outmatched him:

Was I watching a different debate than the rest of America last night? I must have been, because I think John McCain won. It’s lonely out here. […]

John McCain came out firing on all cylinders; he was animated, mentally agile, and fiesty, even. He gave the detailed answers that his debate performances have sorely lacked thus far, and each answer was pointed and terse.

Roland Charlemagne (quoted at the top of the post) also likes McCain, but after debate number three has reservations about how he has run his campaign:

McCain is a good man. He would make a great President as well, (can you hear the but coming) BUT, he is a man who has lost his way. His campaign has shown him being pulled in differnt directions trying to establish messages to placate and satisfy disparate and heterogeneous […] groups of supporters.

And while I understand and in many ways admire the great effort being employed to bring together differing opinions under a banner of commonality, I would much rather see the principled man of 2000, running with a clear singular message that converts followers of outmoded ideologies to new ways of thinking.

Jay McDonough at swimming freestyle was also somewhat mystified by McCain’s apparent strategy of playing to the traditional Republican base:

Polling indicates both candidates are doing a very good job at securing their respective party’s votes; leaving the all important independents as the voters who will likely decide the winner. Last night Obama was clearly playing to those independent voters; his answers to questions on abortion and education were concilliatory and pragmatic and not full of Democratic Party dogma. McCain on the other hand seemed to be working all night, inexplicably, at securing Republican votes; attacking Obama’s tax plan as a “redistribution of wealth” and making some odd comments about those crazy Democrats and their obsession with a woman’s “health” when considering abortion rights.

Onto a couple of those issues. Taxes came up in all three debates. Here, probutcool group blogger Sarah Jaffe, a journalism student, suggests that both candidates ought to rethink their math:

This might be an excellent time for both candidates to put aside tax-cut rhetoric in favor of some—dare I say straight talk?—about taxes, what they pay for, and how in a time of crisis some of us might have to prioritize. Do we want health care, or lower taxes? Do we want jobs, or lower taxes? Do we want decent schools, or lower taxes?

Unlike taxes, abortion hadn’t come up in either previous debate. Lots of bloggers jumped on McCain’s use of “pro-abortion” (rather than “pro-choice”) and were taken aback by his air quotes when he talked about maternal health risks. Michael from the Chicago area, though, honed in on Obama’s answer. (Obama has inspired him, at 54, to his first-ever political donation). Although Michael is not in favor of abortion if a pregnancy isn’t due to rape or incest, he feels strongly that the decision is a personal responsibility. He liked the tone of Obama’s answer because it departed from the entrenched positions that Roe vs. Wade is “either the best thing the Supreme Court has ever done, or the worst decision it’s ever made.”

In essence, he said that abortion is a deeply personal, moral decision that must be made with the assistance of family, friends, clergy and whomever else a person relies on for guidance. In short, it is not something that should be legislated, but should be the responsibility of the individual in conjunction with their support mechanisms (which can, of course, include God). […]

Given any cross sample of the American population, you’re going to find a vast difference in the moral beliefs. While one can argue that rape, inest, murder, etc., are also reprehensible, I think that, by and large, those offenses are considered offenses against society, not moral offenses. Whether or not abortion is acceptable to a particular person depends on many factors, not the least of which is whether life begins at the moment of conception or not. […]

It’s one thing for the religious organizations and churches to teach their congregations and followers that abortion is wrong and leads to eternal damnation… for the government to make that decision for us impedes our religious freedom… which, by the way, includes the freedom to NOT believe in ANY religion, deity or afterlife… what do you do with THAT group?

Finally, Bob Schieffer seemed to attract the most praise of any of the debate moderators for his questions, for trying to make the candidates answer them, and for maintaining the overall momentum.


  1. One Response to “Third Presidential Debate”

  2. Hey thanks for the mention. Great article. Love the site. Going to add you to my resources section.

    By Roland Charlemagne on Oct 20, 2008

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