Third presidential debate
Article added on October 17, 2008
Reemerging after a relaxing week in Venice, Italy, I
find the presidential race substantially changed: the American voters seem
to have decided that Barack Obama will be their next president. It is too
early to sell it as a closed deal, but John McCain has a steep uphill battle
to fight. There is still the
tiny hope that McCain - the underdog all along - will come back in the last
minute. Long live Harry Truman (1948)! But post-debate polls point to Obama
as the winner.
The third presidential debate
between John McCain and Barack Obama was the sharpest of the three exchanges
between the two candidates. Obama looked more eloquent and presidential, but
McCain had some good lines of attack.
John McCain had several good moments, first when introducing Joe
Wurzelbacher, the plumber. Obama responded seemingly well by repeating that
he would introduce tax cuts for 95% of Americans, ignoring that about one
don't pay taxes anyway. McCain should have highlighted that fact. Neither
the nurse nor the teacher will create jobs would have been another good
McCain got his second good line when he said that Obama's plan is
“to spread the wealth around”. To call it “class warfare” was over the top
because, in the viewers eyes, it may have undermined McCain's good attack.
At the beginning, as in the previous debates, Obama underlined that he and
McCain agreed on some points, e.g. the $700 billion rescue package. The
message to the voters was clear: you don't have to be afraid of me.
In times of crisis you want a calm, reassuring hand, not a maverick. That
clearly plays against McCain. Unfortunately, it is irrelevant that behind
Obama's cool there is a man not used to take decisions, who has not led any
important decision taken in the senate.
McCain had a good punch line against Obama when he said that Obama had
supported subsidies for ethanol, which McCain would eliminate once elected.
But he missed the occasion to point out all the other subsidies, e.g. to
farmers, he had opposed and Obama had supported.
Obama effectively punched back when he said that he opposes an
across-the-board spending freeze. He called it a hatchet and said we do need
a scalpel. Obama should have said that the mortgage and bank meltdown led to
a new situation in which government spending is not the biggest problem
anymore. On the contrary, in can be an asset, e.g. money spent wisely in
infrastructure projects which are needed anyway. If government cuts back
now, it will worsen the recession. The United States should cut spending where it
is unwise, and invest into the infrastructure of the future.
Obama correctly mentioned that earmarks only count for 0.5% of the federal
budget. McCain's fight against earmarks makes sense, but it will not balance
McCain had his best line of the campaign, the one that he should come
forward with months ago and then repeated on a weekly basis when he
Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush,
you should have run four years ago.”
Obama's subsequent examples of “I've
got a history of reaching across the aisle” were laughable. McCain should
have pounded Obama hard by saying that his slogan of “no
blue states, no red states” is empty rhetoric, even preposterous, because he
has voted 96-97% on party lines and has no substantial bipartisan record at
all. He is not centrist, but a man of the left.
Obama had a good line when he fought back: “if
I occasionally have mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's
because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on
tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a
vigorous supporter of President Bush. Now, you've shown independence -
commendable independence on some key issues like torture, for example, and I
give you enormous credit for that. But when it comes to economic policies,
essentially what you're proposing is eight more years of the same thing. And
it hasn't worked.” It is not entirely true, but it sounded fair and balanced
McCain tried to fire back with a list ranging from climate change, spending
and earmarks, torture, the conduct of the war in Iraq, Medicare prescription
drugs, imports, an HMO patient's bill of rights to the establishment of the
When it came to the dirtiness of the campaign, both candidates should have
kept quiet in shame.
Then, McCain brought up ACORN, which “is
now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter
history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” That was
way over the top. Obama forcefully and with good reasons opposed the ACORN
and Ayers allegations. McCain should have pointed out that Obama is not a
centrist and, therefore, his campaign slogans are bogus.
Obama could clarify what he did on the Annenberg board, sitting there with
Republicans. McCain should have attacked Obama not for what Ayers - or
Wright, whom he did not mention - said and did, but for the fact that Obama
comes from a left-leaning area in Chicago. He has no bipartisan record. He
is not above the Red-State, Blue-State schism, on the contrary, he reflects
it more than most other senators.
Obama said that his running-mate Joe Biden
“has some of the best foreign policy credentials of anybody”. What? That is why
he opposed the surge? That is why, in the debate with Palin, he invented the
nonexistent history of a successful Franco-American effort to drive
Hezbollah out of Lebanon? Sarah Palin has no foreign and security
experience, but Biden, the expert, is a ticking time-bomb, a loose cannon
“I believe in free trade.” That is why you supported subsidies for ethanol and
for farmers? Obama argued that NAFTA does not offer enforceable labor and
environmental agreements. But who is the world's number one energy
squanderer? The United States. McCain was right to point out to Obama's
opposition to the free trade agreement with Colombia. Obama rightly
responded that he supported the one with Peru, which was
“a well-structured agreement”. However, his “unfair trade agreements” claim is
Obama made it worse when going on to talk about
“loan guarantees to automakers”. He wants another $25 billion in loan
guarantees for Detroit's car makers, in addition to the $25 billion they
have already received.
In a free market economy you have the right to succeed and the right to
fail. Detroit's automakers have been incompetent and should go bust. Better
managed companies may buy up the failed companies and/or hire their workers.
Obama is the new master planner. He seems to dream not only of managed
trade, but also of a managed economy, with Obama as the re-distributor of
On the health care issue, I am unconvinced by both. Obama was correct
throughout his campaign that a high-tech Western economy such as the United
States cannot leave some 40 or 50 million people without health insurance.
The trick is to find a system that does not become a black hole in which
taxpayers pour money year after year, as happens in many European countries.
I would not want to rely on the public health care system in the United
Kingdom or in Italy. In my Switzerland, the system is very good, but
insanely expensive. In the city of Geneva, the health insurance is
subsidized for the poor. As a student, I
“profited” from the special system. But because of the subsidies, the health
insurance in Geneva was double the price of the one in the cheapest canton
(state in the U.S.) in Switzerland. In the end, the subsidy brought no net
gain for me. Even in the whole of Switzerland, spending is out of control.
Insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, hospitals, doctors and
irresponsible individuals drive the costs through the roof.
If you don't want children, you have a choice: best use the pill and a
condom. In addition, have oral sex, to name just one safe sex practice. Wow!
Regarding Roe vs. Wade, Rudy Giuliani fought for the middle ground in New
On the school issue, I am undecided. In Switzerland, the public school
system is excellent and dominant. In the U.S. the situation is different.
Private schools play a vital role. At the same time, public schools are in a
deplorable state. As for Obama's children, they go to a
$20,000 a year private school. The only one who had a public school
education was Sarah Palin, a teacher's daughter.
McCain remains the better of the two candidates. Both have the insane
handicap of lacking executive experience. Since Obama seems to be the
unavoidable next president, let's hope former secretary Rubin and others
tell him that free trade is what the world - the U.S. included - needs,
that the deplorable state of America's public finances will limit Obama's
big government ideas, that the One has no more Messiah moments, but comes
down to Earth.
To finish on an optimist note, candidates who looked strong became weak
presidents, and weak candidates became decent presidents. Let's HOPE that
Obama will CHANGE and fall in the latter category.