“Senator McCain and I agree.” “I think Senator McCain would agree.” “Senator McCain is absolutely right.” Over and over, a dozen times in 90 minutes Senator Obama expressed his agreement with Senator McCain. Why was Obama agreeing with McCain? Was it a tactic to show his bi-partisanship, his ‘nice-guy’ personality and his ability to get along with political adversaries? Is this how Obama would govern?
Sen. McCain did not return the favor. As often as Obama expressed agreement, McCain snarled at Obama, talked down to him and called him naïve, ignorant, uninformed and mistaken. McCain would not even look at Obama. He seemed like someone who felt “I should not have to be debating this guy, this inexperienced new-comer — I’m better than him and should be given the presidency.” McCain talked over Obama whenever he tried to correct the record when McCain repeatedly misstated Obama’s positions. CNN reported that independent voters did not react well to the negative comments.
As a tactic Obama’s nice-guy strategy seemed to work. All the post-election polls showed Obama “winning” the debate by up to 14%. Voters saw Obama as better on Iraq as well as the economy. This is also being reflected in the tracking polls, the Gallup daily presidential tracking poll taken September 25-27 shows Obama leading McCain 50%-42%. The Rasmussen Report’s automated daily presidential tracking poll for September 28 shows Obama leading McCain 50%-44%. So, the approach served him well but did it serve the United States? Don’t we need a real debate on the critical issues the country is facing at this crossroads moment in U.S. history?
On what issues did they agree — Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, energy, Georgia, nuclear power, clean coal, the bailout — just some of the biggest issues we face. Even on Iraq differences were blurred as Obama made it clear his exit would be slow and cautious, a victory not a defeat.
Or, does Obama really believe that it was wrong of Russia to respond to Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia? Does he really believe that expanding the war in Afghanistan is the solution to that conflict? Or, that missile defense, that has not been shown to work, is necessary to protect the U.S. from North Korea and Iran?
If you are an American who wants to see a foreign policy based on militarism coming to an end, then you had to be disappointed with the first debate. If you don’t think the bailout of Wall Street and big banks is the right approach, you did not hear a viewpoint you could support. If you recognize that we live an interdependent world where we should be emphasizing working with other nations in a cooperative way rather than trying to be ‘independent’ on issues like energy, then you had no spokesperson in the debate.
This is a grave time for the United States: two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, shots exchanged between US and Pakistani troops, ongoing conflict with Iran and escalating conflict with Russia. Not only is all of this draining the US military and their families but it is also draining the US treasury at a time when the treasury is empty. Iraq alone is costing $10 billion a month — money we are borrowing from other countries the US is competing with.
On the foreign policy front the US would have been better served by a broader debate. Candidates who advocate a less militaristic foreign policy, bringing troops home from the more than 700 bases the US has around the world, or shrinking the US defense budget – currently as large as the whole world combined.
On domestic policy both candidates indicated their likely support of the bailout — something many Americans oppose. When there had been differences in the past, like on offshore oil drilling, Obama has taken the tack of narrowing those differences. Both candidates advocate for “energy independence” rather than stopping the use of carbon-based fuels. Surely, the reality of global climate change is a greater threat than al Qaeda. But these candidates talked about more domestic oil and so-called “clean” coal rather than carbon independence. They also both included nuclear energy as part of the solution, despite its immense cost, problematic waste and impact on nuclear proliferation. The truth is we need a carbon-free/nuclear-free energy economy. This is within reach but it will take leadership to get there — leadership we did not see in the first debate.
This is a time when Americans rank Congress and the president at embarrassing lows. Neither party is trusted by voters. Americans want change and new ideas, but the two candidates they are presented with are more similar than different and moving toward each other, narrowing their differences, as Election Day approaches.
The debates are one time when the vast majority of Americans pay attention to politics but they did not hear the range of policy options available to the problems faced by the country. They heard policy within the narrow range of options presented by two parties who are funded by big business interests. These business interests profit from the status quo so real change is not on the agenda for discussion — it is off the table as Speaker Nancy Pelosi likes to say about so many issues.
The flawed debate commission, which is controlled by the two parties, was designed to ensure that only their parties are included and the media goes along. This is a major undermining of the democratic process and undermines the intent of Freedom of Speech as candidates running for office are not heard and voters only hear narrow views. There are several third party and independent challengers in this election who are on enough ballots to theoretically win the election. The Green Party nominated Cynthia McKinney who served in Congress for ten years. The Libertarians nominated Bob Barr who served for eight. And there’s Ralph Nader, the independent candidate, who is universally recognized as a citizen activist who has had significant positive impacts on the direction of the country.
Without the attention of the media, particularly participation in the debates, these candidates have no chance for the American people to hear them. That means most Americans will not hear about single payer health care, a Tobin Tax on the purchase of stocks, bonds and derivatives, a reduction of the military budget rather than its expansion, a re-thinking toward Middle East policy, including Israel or how the U.S. can re-energize its economy, create hundreds of thousands of jobs by investing in a carbon-free/nuclear free energy economy, among other issues.
Americans need a real debate, not just a narrow “we agree” blurred distinctions “debate”. Debates with only the corporate-approved candidates will not advance the country toward the real change the people know is necessary. Government dominated by Wall Street and corporate interests will continue. Foreign policy dominated by militarism will stay the standard. The debate showed, more than anything else, that no matter who wins this election the country will stay on its current mistaken path.