“Senator McCain is Absolutely Right”

The Debate Obama Needed, but not the Debate the United States Deserves

“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.

Kevin Zeese co-directs Popular Resistance and is on the coordinating council for the Maryland Green Party. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Erroll said on September 29th, 2008 at 12:44pm #

    Obama seems determined to show that he can be just as tough as McCain when it comes to foreign policy even if that means invading foreign countries who have never threatened the United States and a consequence slaughtering many innocent civilians, many of whom are children.

  2. Timber said on September 29th, 2008 at 12:47pm #

    This is a surprise?

    I listened to as much as I could (which wasn’t much, granted), and never even heard Obama debunk McCain’s most ham-handed lies, like the ones about American-based corporations suffering a competitive disadvantage from the tax rate. He never pointed out the number of corporations that either pay no taxes or get tax refunds, and didn’t point out that in Japan where executives get paid 20 or 30 times a typical worker, as opposed to the 300-400 times an American executive often recieves, Japanese corporations somehow manage to outcompete their American counterparts. Nor did he cite a statistic familiar to most DV readers, that somewhere between 1 and 5% of Americans and American corporations control from 75-90% of the wealth.

    When you look at the stable of Wall Street hacks that Obama has picked as his economic advisers, it should come as no surprise that he won’t discuss class inequality or criticize the “socialism for the rich” bailout plan proposed by the Bush cabal.

    Obama is change that Wall Street and the military-industrial complex can believe in, and as has been the case for 8 or 12 years, the Democrats’ only defense against criticism from the left is that the GOP candidate would be worse. They take no responsibility for allowing the political discourse in this country to drift further and further to the right over the past two decades due to their own cowardice and corruption, and they point to hysterical claims of Obama’s liberalism from the right as proof that he is a progressive. Outrageous.

  3. bozhidar bob balkas said on September 29th, 2008 at 12:52pm #

    most people believe and/or led to believe that politics exist apart from everything else that is happeninig in the universe.
    but also bad is the fact, that this aspect of our being is so narrow, so limited; w. firm boudaries of what is allowed to talk about.
    nat, parameters for asking questions is also set.
    but to obtain answers from nature; oh so stingy w. answers, we need to ask her an indefinate number of questions.
    nat, we can’t go on and on asking all the questions that pertain to our doings and the doings of the nature but we have no time for that.
    so, we can ask only the salient facts.
    but the question arises, who chooses and asks questions?
    sadly, up to now, only the ruling class puts questions to politicos; but, only if these lead to the answers that serves plutocrats, clergy, media, hollywood.
    u people can understand that i cannot listen listen to politicos or clergy. thnx

  4. Deadbeat said on September 29th, 2008 at 3:26pm #

    I listened to as much as I could (which wasn’t much, granted), and never even heard Obama debunk McCain’s most ham-handed lies, like the ones about American-based corporations suffering a competitive disadvantage from the tax rate

    That’s not completely accurate. Obama did correct McCain regarding the effective tax rate that corporations actually pay due to tax loopholes when McCain stated that corporation in the U.S. has the highest rate in the world.

    When you look at the stable of Wall Street hacks that Obama has picked as his economic advisers, it should come as no surprise that he won’t discuss class inequality or criticize the “socialism for the rich” bailout plan proposed by the Bush cabal.

    Here I agree with you. Standing next to Robert Rubin and Laura Tyson doesn’t build any confidence that Obama will fight Wall Street.

  5. Martha said on September 29th, 2008 at 3:59pm #

    Zeese asserts McCain talked over Barack. Actually they both repeatedly talked over each other. Which would indicate Zeese allowed his own likes and dislikes to color his perception. Equally true is Barack asked the moderator for help.
    The debate was an embarrassment and we don’t need to hear “Oh, mean McCain!” The two war hawks deserved each other and America deserves better. Vote Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader and say “NO!” to the nonsense.

  6. Erroll said on September 29th, 2008 at 4:16pm #


    Well said.

  7. same as it ever was said on September 29th, 2008 at 4:38pm #

    The Wall Street Bailout Bill:
    Bush McCain Obama et al.

    The Realignment Of American Politics:
    Anderson Baldwin Carter Choate Clemente Gonzalez Gravel Kaptur Kucinich McKinney Nader Paul Perot Sheehan Ventura

  8. Jerry D. Rose said on September 30th, 2008 at 8:54am #

    What could possibly demonstrate the “we agree” mentality of the Democratic and Republican parties than the outcome of yesterday’s vote on the bailout legislation? The New York Times and other establishment media characterized the situation as a “failure of leadership,” a failure of in the White House and Congress of both parties and both presidential candidates to bring the majority of the House around the view that the sky would fall unless the legislation were passed. To me it was more like a “success of democracy” as the “genius” of our Constitution decrees that every member of Congress must submit to the will of the voters every 2 years if he/she is to remain in Congress. Would that the party and media bureaucracies that determine who will participate in debates and how they are to be structured were so subjected to public accountability! Maybe if the Presidential Debate Commission and the networks were as responsive to public opinion, there would be some iota of hope that some of those “voices” (Nader, McKinney, Barr) that Zeese notes could make real “debates” out of obnoxious pissing contests. I’m happy to see that Kevin Zeese is “on the beat” in the electoral integrity issue, but really what “integrity” can there be in an electoral system in which alternative voices and policy alternatives are kept from the awarness of the people?

  9. bozhidar bob balkas said on September 30th, 2008 at 10:50am #

    both mccain and obama have embedded scripts in their respective brains.
    the questions to be asked and answered r also prewritten and memorized.
    some of the questions will not be put to either one of them:
    can one wage a war based on truth/fairness/prudence?
    is constitution an interpretative document?
    can it be understood? and if so by whom?
    will deception/lies by politicos to amers continue w.o. any penalty to liars?
    is it fair that US uses ab 20% of our resources?
    is it fair that US threatens first use of wmd?
    wasn’t the US the first to have used wmd against civs?
    is it wise to talk ab USA as the greatest country in the world while killing women and children?
    why not the same or similar medicare of many other lands? thnx
    isn’t cia the largest terrorist org?

  10. cg said on September 30th, 2008 at 7:04pm #

    Here’s the bailout bill the lizards voted on.
    Do you see anything about 700 billion dollars for wall street?
    Must be the “and for other purposes.”
    What sleaze bags.

    BILL TITLE: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide earnings assistance and tax relief to members of the uniformed services, volunteer firefighters, and Peace Corps volunteers, and for other purposes