Let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning. With John McCain trailing in the national polls by anywhere from five to fourteen points, and with his electoral college prospects putting him at anywhere from a 2:1 to even a 3:1 disadvantage, McCain needed to knock Obama flat on his ass in order to have a chance at winning the election. And he didn’t. In fact, he didn’t even come close. To be fair, this was McCain’s best debate performance thus far. He was more aggressive than the first debate, and he didn’t wander around the stage in a daze like in the second debate. He even got his creepy reptile tongue under control – for the most part. The problem was that Obama was also on top of his game tonight, and after being stymied by the Phony Town Hall format of the second debate, Obama seemed eager to go toe-to-toe with McCain. This was a very aggressive Barack Obama, and he cut exactly the right figure tonight. He hammered McCain on his mischaracterizations without coming off as a jerk or (if you’re a jackass Congressman from Virginia) “uppity”.
McCain vowed to bring up William Ayers and ACORN at this third debate and he made good on that promise. I’m sure the base was atwitter with excitement. To be honest, so was I. I’ve grown tired of hearing about Big Bad Bill Ayers, and Obama took the opportunity to shoot the comparison down. He even did so without resorting to a Keating Five remark. It would have been within the scope of the discussion, but it also would have validated McCain’s fearmongering to compare the two relationships. The truth is that most people either didn’t know about Bill Ayers, or else they had some vague idea of who he was. McCain didn’t make the case thoroughly enough to damage Obama before he slapped the issue down. I thought from the very beginning (when Hillary floated the concept) that it was a losing tactic. McCain probably could have pushed back and inflamed the issue, but as soon as he met with resistance, he backed down. For a moment, just for a moment, I almost felt sorry for pre-defeated John McCain. Then he did that creepy tongue thing and my pity turned back into disgust.
As for the ACORN business, that remained unresolved. I’d have liked it if Obama had asked McCain who gave ACORN’s keynote speech in 2006 (hint: That Other One), but I think he honestly just didn’t want to dwell on the subject. It was part of his technique of not going tit-for-tat with accusations that left McCain looking like the candidate focusing on non-issues. It didn’t help Johnie Boy any that he described a couple hundred phony voter registrations as “perpetrating the greatest fraud” against democracy. With the $700 billion clusterfuck on Wall Street fresh in our minds, and an illegal, unnecessary war in Iraq that went from lasting six weeks to six years, all under the auspices of the Republican party, McCain really should have better checked his language. His exaggeration was Obama’s gain.
I’ll give McCain credit though, he tried to hit a classic Rovian note – by playing the outraged victim of smear attacks himself. But like every other part of his campaign, it was a shaky premise with no follow through. And he failed to address Obama’s counter-accusation that McCain’s own running mate, Sarah Palin, says Obama “pals around with terrorists” on an almost daily basis. It was there that McCain shifted from Rovian rope-a-dope into stuttering deafness. It was his emergency fallback position throughout the night. Whenever Obama refuted his position or brought up an inconvenient fact, McCain simply restated his original position without reaction. The public has seen that batch of stupid for the past eight years in our current President. We’re bloody tired of it.
Pro-Tip: The trick to a successful rope-a-dope, John, is being tough enough and tenacious enough to withstand your opponent’s attacks until he wears himself out with over-eager aggression. Truthfully, you don’t have the stamina to pull it off, and Obama is too clever to go off on a nasty tear during a debate.
Truly, though, the highlight of the evening, and the moment that most people will remember, was McCain’s deer in headlights moment. I swear, it was Palin-esque. The short of it is that McCain either misunderstood Obama’s health care plan or he figured he could lie about it without being called out on his inaccuracy. Obama wasn’t having it, though, and considering how the night progressed up to that point, I’m surprised McCain had the balls to try for such an obviously fraudulent claim. Realisitically, I think McCain was genuinely shocked at Obama’s response. I don’t think he had any idea about the exemption for small businesses. It was sloppy debating on McCain’s part, and it made him look uninformed and just plain stupid. Ah, to hell with that. It made him look Sarah Palin Stupid.
And speaking of Sarah Palin Stupid, it must have taken every last ounce of willpower Obama had, when asked why he thought Joe Biden would make a better Vice President than Sarah Palin, not to burst out laughing in Bob Schieffer’s face. At first, I thought he was going to pussy out and take the super-high-road. For the most part, that’s what he did, by talking up Biden and more or less leaving Palin’s inadequecy as an unspoken truth. But right at the end of his response, Obama expressed confidence that Biden could lead the country if, heaven forbid, something were to happen to him. It was an innoccuous and even self defferential comment, but it was also deadly clever. Because unspoken in the pregnant pause before John McCain began his response, everyone watching the debate had the same thought. “What if something were to happen to McCain?” And I can assure you, the non-stupid majority of America isn’t buying a ticket for that logic train.
And if there is one guy I never, ever want to hear about again (though we all know I will), it’s Joe The Fucking Plumber. Both Obama and McCain were guilty of constantly, endlessly, laborously taking every economic issue they had to discuss and turning it into a refferendum on Joe The Plumber’s very own personal financial situation. There is no annoyance scale capable of scoring my hatred for the phrase “Joe The Plumber”. It’s worth at least ten “My Friends”s, and perhaps as many as fifteen “You Betcha”s. Truly, it was the hokey, hackneyed lowlight of the entire debate. I certainly didn’t expect, going in, to hear Joe The Plumber’s name referenced more often than Ayers, more often than Sarah Palin. It just didn’t make sense.
At least, not at first. I mean, the whole tedious, hokey process of relating every last scrap of economic information to the life of Joe The Plumber just struck me as out of place. It seemed to trivialize what was otherwise a very important discussion – and to be honest, Joe The Plumber wasn’t even a very good “everyman” because his income is far higher than the national average and even substantially higher than most small business owners. And yet both Obama and McCain continued, relentlessly and unerringly, to treat Joe The Plumber as if he was not just a metric to judge their economic plans but the only applicable standard by which to gauge the economy. Suspiscions ablaze, I did a bit of digging into this Joe The Plumber guy and what I found, quite frankly, shocked me. . .