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Second Presidental Debate - Open Thread

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given mccain's turn in the campaign strategy this week (the ayers stuff and his explicit promises to "take the gloves off") i'd expect mccain to take a couple cheap shots at obama's past and for his language to be more confrontational of what he's characterizing as "big lies" about his voting record. i'll be most interested in whether obama fights fire with fire or tries to claim the high ground ("sen. mccain wants to talk about a guy who lived in my neighborhood. i wanna talk about the economic crisis"). i don't think agression will play well for either candidate with voters who haven't already decided, so i'm hope obama keeps it clean. i also expect, given the new strategy, mccain to say more things that are patently absurd. should be entertaining.

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I have a sinking feeling that we will be hearing some of the personal attacks that the campaigns have used against each other the past few days. Like the Obama-Ayers relationship and McCain and the Keating 5.

 

Although I hope Obama doesn't go there and instead focuses on his policies.

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excited for this one. :) hopefully obama with his high polls in battlegrounds will have more confidence to deliver a knockout blow to mccain.

there's also a pretty good article on slate suggesting mccain's negative campaigning might backfire in a townhall debate:

 

http://www.slate.com/id/2201439/pagenum/2/

In advance of Tuesday's town-hall debate, both candidates have apparently decided to have a cleanse. Before facing questions from an audience of undecided voters who say they don't like negative campaigning, Obama and McCain are engaging in an orgy of it.

 

Which candidate is hurt more by the negativity? If voters don't penalize negativity, do they penalize hypocrisy? Will McCain's tough but fair questions about Obama's truth-telling and qualifications be overshadowed by the new surge of lower-road attacks on Obama's character and associations? Normally, there'd be a delay (even insta-polls take a few minutes) before we knew what undecided voters make of all this. But Tuesday night's debate may allow us to test their reactions to the race in real time—especially if the Ponytail Guy shows up. Or, since he probably won't, maybe we should call him Son of Ponytail Guy.

 

"Ponytail Guy" is the term some in political circles use to refer to Denton Walthall, who asked a question in the second presidential debate in 1992. A domestic mediator who worked with children, Walthall scolded President George H.W. Bush for running a mudslinging, character-based campaign against Bill Clinton in 1992. Referring to voters as "symbolically the children of the future president," he asked how voters could expect the candidates "to meet our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it, as opposed to the wants of your political spin doctors and your political parties. ... Could we cross our hearts? It sounds silly here but could we make a commitment? You know, we're not under oath at this point, but could you make a commitment to the citizens of the U.S. to meet our needs—and we have many—and not yours again?"

 

It did sound silly: a father-president dandling a nation of children voters on his knee. But instead of challenging the paterfamilias premise, the candidates took his pain seriously. Walthall didn't scold Bush by name, but as the camera shot over his shoulder (showing us his ponytail), Bush could be seen growing annoyed. The question was addressed to all the candidates, but Bush was the candidate running the character-based campaign. He had answered a previous questioner by making the case for why Bill Clinton's character should be an issue. So it was obvious Bush was the target of the Ponytail Guy's criticism.

 

On Tuesday night, we'll get to hear from some of this campaign's swing voters—the rules of the debate guarantee their participation—as undecided voters pose questions to the candidates in the town-hall debate.

 

It might be a snooze-fest, full of earnest questions and foggy bromides. But with the spike in negativity coming just ahead of the meeting, there is a chance that one of the two candidates will have to face a question about the harsh tone.

 

There's been a lot of talk recently about Joe Six-Pack. How will he vote? What does he want? One thing we know: You don't want Joe Six Pack calling you out. Questions from regular voters are hard enough for politicians to handle—they can't be ignored as easily as journalists' questions—but as the campaign turns ugly, the candidates have to worry about questioners passing judgment.

 

Son of Ponytail Guy will have a lot of material to work with. The McCain campaign started the latest round of negative ads, reacting to the candidate's falling position in the polls by raising questions about Obama's connections to William Ayers, a remorseless '60s radical. Sarah Palin joined in by trying to reignite the controversy over Obama's former pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and defining Obama as a fringe American. Obama responded by reminding voters of McCain's involvement in the Keating Five scandal. By the end of the day, McCain had called Obama a liar.

 

In town-hall debates, the questions from the crowd can easily be turned into "moments" that journalists cling to for weeks. We're always looking for vignettes that allow us to tell a larger story. A "moment" by a swing voter is particularly valuable. The questioner, after all, is representative of a worried nation (even if very few of us have ponytails). It's not just the journalists who obsess, though. Voters see themselves in other voters—particularly those defined by television anchors as independent-minded—and tend to repeat these moments to their friends.

 

In 1992, the moment symbolized the disconnect between Bush and the electorate: He wanted to talk about character, while America was pleading for solutions. The president compounded his problem when he inartfully handled a woman's inartful question about how the "national debt" had hurt him personally. (Bush was also caught looking at his wristwatch twice during the evening.) Clinton knew how to take advantage of the moment. "I worked 12 years very hard as a governor on the real problems of real people. I'm just as sick as you are by having to wake up and figure out how to defend myself every day. I never thought I'd ever be involved in anything like this."

 

And while there are risks for Obama, of the two candidates, John McCain has the most to be worried about from this year's Ponytail Guy. Like Bush, he is a Republican candidate on the defensive about his ability to handle the problems regular folks face while also raising issues about his opponent's character and judgment.

 

McCain has gotten more aggressive in recent days because the landscape is looking bleak for him. Obama has a strong lead in the national polls and surveys in early battleground states. Obama has a commanding lead in Iowa and New Mexico, states that Bush won. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota—states John Kerry won where McCain has the best chance—poll averages have Obama ahead by more than five points. McCain's got to do something to change the dynamic.

 

Tuesday's debate is one of the last chances McCain will have to make his case in front of a big audience. But his aides know that it might also be the toughest venue to make the anti-Obama case. Depending on how McCain responds, criticism can very easily be turned by his opponent into evidence that McCain lacks the temperament for the job. Obama is running an ad that labels McCain erratic, and Obama aides responded to McCain's liar charge by calling it an "angry tirade." The message is sinking in. In a focus group organized last week by pollster Peter Hart, the biggest concern voters of all persuasions had about McCain was about his temperament. McCain knows he has to be on his best behavior during the debate.

 

The 41st president's run-in with Ponytail Guy left such a mark that it haunted his son throughout his campaigns. I remember watching a town hall during the 2000 campaign in which George W. Bush consistently refused to call on a man waving from the middle of the crowd like he was trying to flag a rescue plane. Bush pretended not to see him but let on afterwards that he'd seen him and avoided calling on him for fear of creating a moment. In 1996, when Bob Dole was given the chance to attack Clinton's character in a town-hall debate, he demurred, saying the debate should be about the issues.

 

This year's campaign shows how partisans on both sides go after the journalists who ask questions they don't like. During the Democratic primaries, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, and George Stephanopoulos were all savaged for the questions they asked and how they asked them. Last week, Gwen Ifill was attacked for a book she hasn't written about a subject she isn't addressing.

 

"Real" people (by which I mean people who don't do this for a living) who are asking the questions may be harder to rough up. Or maybe not. On Tuesday night, if Son of Ponytail Guy asks a question, he can rest assured that he will receive a thorough going-over in the blogosphere. So I suggest all prospective questioners Google themselves, make sure they're on good terms with their co-workers, and wipe clean their Facebook page. If they don't—or even if they do—they could become the story very quickly.

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I have a sinking feeling that we will be hearing some of the personal attacks that the campaigns have used against each other the past few days. Like the Obama-Ayers relationship and McCain and the Keating 5.

 

Although I hope Obama doesn't go there and instead focuses on his policies.

The Keating Five will be mentioned, which sucks. No one cares (just like no one cared about Palin and Troopergate), it's a ridiculously old (just like Biden and Plagiarism), it lets the McCain campaign easily tie Obama to old attack politics, and it will hurt Obama in Ohio (where being compared to John Glenn will never be seen as a bad thing). And McCain's already articulated and presented a response to it -- he claims the Keating incident led him to become the corruption-fighting senator he is today. And that no one still cares about old, old scandals.

 

Oh, and did I mention that no one cares?

Edited by TheGreatInstigator

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I think that a lot more of the character of both candidates will be exposed. Not necessarily related to the mounting mudslinging, but more in response to the format. Since the topics are varied, it could easily get into some areas that are personal.

 

The last debate seemed to show that McCain was getting angry, and I expect that to happen again tonight.

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The last debate seemed to show that McCain was getting angry, and I expect that to happen again tonight.
No way. During a town hall, that's exactly what McCain will be trying his hardest not to do, even if it hurts his ability to answer a question effectively.

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Stabilize home values...Doesn't this mean more bad loans? It must, because the only way to gain value is to increase demand. Government action won't change home values. McCain is full of shit.

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McCain is full of shit.

 

"we need to stop this spending spree in washington"

 

20 seconds later...

 

"we need to buy up the mortages of the american people, yeah it's expensive but.."

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Obama begins, question is: "With the economy on the downturn, and loss of income, what's the fastest, most positive solution?"

 

Big O: This is a final verdict on the failed economic policies of Bush, which McCain supports. Must make sure strong oversight, and crack-downs exist on Wall Street and executives so that the bailout will work. Tax cuts for the middle class, must fix health care, energy, this puts a burden on the middle class.

 

McCain: This is the heart of American worries. He has a plan, it has to do with energy independence. Must keep taxes low on ALL Americans. We've put a 10 trillion dollar debt, 500 billion to China. The package must lead to reform and prosperity. We have to do something about home values, which are declining. Would order the Secretary of Treasury to buy up bad mortgages and negotiate new ones. Admits it's expensive. Unless we fix this, we won't turn things around. I know how to bring trust and confidence back to America- restore economy, take care of workers.

 

Discussion period: Who will go to the Treasury Department in your administration?

McCain: Tough question. Lot of qualified people, but the first criteria [sic] is that the Americans can support. Warren Buffet, Meg Whitman (CEO of Ebay). Must inspire trust and confidence. The problem is that we don't have trust and confidence.

Obama: Warren Buffet would be a nice choice. The key is making sure that the next Secretary doesn't follow a trickle-down paradigm. Part of the problem is that wages and incomes have flatlined, savings are harder. Wants to provide a middle class tax cut to Americans working two jobs. McCain is right about stabilization of housing; loss of income and prices is key.

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"I saw this coming two years ago."

 

John, I hate to break it to you, but that's like predicting the sunrise at noon.

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McCain, while making his rounds of the room, pauses to turn his back to the audience and address Obama. Huh?

 

Obama and his Fannie Mae/Freddy Mac friends are screwing over the economy. Obama "took a hike" instead of "standing up against" "Fannie and Freddy."

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"What is it about the bailout that will actually help the people?"

 

McCain: You say bailout, I say rescue. Main Street was paying a heavy price at the hands of Wall Street. I suspended my campaign. One of the catalysts was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Cronies of Obama in there were the ones that made risky loans. Some of us (me) stood up and suggested legislation that would stop the greed and excess. Democrats and other members of Congress resisted change, but were getting campaign contributions. Obama got the most from Freddie/Fannie in history. We'll shore up institutions, but it's not enough. Have to go into the housing markets and stabilize home values in order to realize the American Dream.

 

Obama: The credit markets are frozen. This means some businesses can't get loans, which means they can't get payroll, which leads to layoffs. This could devastate across the country. Must (not surprisingly) correct McCain's history. Deregulation was the biggest problem. McCain has recently bragged about his history of deregulation; I wrote to Paulson and Bernancke that the subprime crisis is something we have to do. Suggested regulations a year ago, but McCain kept on the deregulation train. Re: Freddie/Fannie, one of McCain's campaign managers was on the Freddie/Fannie chair. This is the beginning of the process. We have to work with homeowners, and the power John's talking about is in the package, but hasn't been used yet.

 

Discussion: Are you saying the economy is going to get worse before it will get better?

 

Obama: I'm confident in the economy, but we have archaic regulatory systems for modern markets. We need re-regulation. We need to help ordinary families with a lot of stuff, and need to change the culture in Washington.

 

McCain: Depends on what we do. If we stabilize the housing market by buying up bad loans, if we get rid of cronyism and lobbies, etc. We can fix this. USA USA USA. We have to give the people a chance to do their best again.

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