The second presidential debate in Nashville, TN played out much like the first debate. Republican John McCain focused on character and leadership, while Obama talked about issues and policy. In an election year where Americans want change and a new direction, McCain missed an opportunity to America exactly what he would do if elected president, while Obama took another step towards the White House.
One of the most telling exchanges of the debate occurred when moderator Tom Brokaw asked the candidates to prioritize between health care, energy policy and entitlements. McCain gave a one line answer, then launched into talking bipartisanship and energy, “I think you can work on all three at once, Tom. I think it’s very important that reform our entitlement programs. My friends, we are not going to be able to provide the same benefit for present-day workers that we are going — that present-day retirees have today. We’re going to have to sit down across the table, Republican and Democrat, as we did in 1983 between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill.”
He continued to talk about things that had nothing to do with the question, “I know how to do that. I have a clear record of reaching across the aisle, whether it be Joe Lieberman or Russ Feingold or Ted Kennedy or others. That’s my clear record. We can work on nuclear power plants. Build a whole bunch of them, create millions of new jobs. We have to have all of the above, alternative fuels, wind, tide, solar, natural gas, clean coal technology. All of these things we can do as Americans and we can take on this mission and we can overcome it.”
In contrast, Obama answered the question, “We’re going to have to prioritize, just like a family has to prioritize. Now, I’ve listed the things that I think have to be at the top of the list. Energy we have to deal with today, because you’re paying $3.80 here in Nashville for gasoline, and it could go up. And it’s a strain on your family budget, but it’s also bad for our national security, because countries like Russia and Venezuela and, you know, in some cases, countries like Iran, are benefiting from higher oil prices. So we’ve got to deal with that right away…Health care is priority number two, because that broken health care system is bad not only for families, but it’s making our businesses less competitive. And, number three, we’ve got to deal with education so that our young people are competitive in a global economy.”
Obama won this debate because except for announcing that he wanted the government to buy bad mortgages, most of McCain’s answers were almost word for word the same as the first debate. McCain’s performance and demeanor tonight were much better than in the first debate, but he offered little that was new, absolutely no insight into his policy or how he would govern.
Surprisingly, McCain needed a game changer but stuck to the same game plan that lost him the first debate. The character and leadership issues are not working for him, so this was his chance to show that he can lead on the economy, and he failed. Obama stuck to what has been working for him in the past three weeks, and frankly Obama is looking more like a president while McCain comes off as a partisan senator. At worst, others may view this debate as a draw, which is as good as a loss for John McCain.