The US Election (1)
The pundits were saying McCain was trying to avoid the debate because he was behind in the polls. This is, of course, completely backwards. The candidate who is ahead doesn’t want anything that might change that, and so tries to avoid anything like a real debate. The candidate who is behind has nothing to lose, and hopes for an upset, as happened in ’60 when an unknown Kennedy looked very presidential, and a well-known Nixon looked shifty. No one really listened to the ‘debates,’ but the majority of viewers decided they were going to vote for Kennedy.
My guess: McCain wasn’t feeling well, but didn’t want to admit he was sick, just as in ’92, Bush, Sr. didn’t want to admit he was feeling ill, went he to a dinner while very nauseated, and threw up on the Japanese PM. So McCain said the debate must be postponed until
The usual pattern was that first term presidents ran for a second term, and, if the president was in his second term, the vice-president ran. (The last time this pattern was broken was in ’52, when the Republicans put up the wildly popular General Eisenhower, and the Democrats put up Stevenson as a sacrificial lamb.)
The party holding the presidency must try to convince the voters that things are great, that it was the policies of the president (and vice-president if it’s a second term) that made things so great, and that re-electing the party in the White House will keep things great. In ’32, a year much like ’08, the usual term for a financial disaster was a ‘panic.’ Hoover said that his wise administration had avoided a panic, and that the economy was just in a little depression. The term ‘depression’ stuck, and replaced ‘panic’ to describe a complete financial disaster. (So now the terminology is: if you have to tighten your belt, it’s a recession. If you don’t even have a belt to tighten, it’s a depression. If you don’t even have any pants to hold up, then it’s a panic.)
The party out of power tries to convince the nation that things are terrible, and that it is entirely the fault of the party in the White House that things are so bad.
Now, we have both the Democrats and the Republican candidate (but not the Republican party) in complete agreement that the US is in a crisis, and that the Republican president is responsible. This, at least, is new.
Obama says the nation is in crisis, and only new leadership can get the US and the world out of the crisis. McCain says the nation is in crisis, and only an experienced Navy hand can steer the nation out of these troubled waters.
And so they ‘debated.’ The US has had presidential debates for at least 150 years. Once, historians tell us, the candidates actually debated. Then debates fell out of fashion. Then, beginning with the ’60 election, the US has had something called ‘debates.’
In a debate, the moderator poses a question with two sides, and the debaters argue for opposite sides. The debate has openings, then rebuttals.
In the US presidential ‘debates,’ candidates and the moderator agree on a list of questions. A coin toss determines who will give the first answer to the odd questions and the second answer to the even questions. Both candidates then parrot their platform positions on each question.
This year, the moderator of the first debate, Jim Lehrer, asked the candidates to actually debate. They refused.
On each question, Obama’s position was always: we need new leadership; and McCain’s was always: we need experienced leadership.
Obama promised a solution to the financial crisis that would protect homeowners and the markets without rewarding the villains responsible for the crisis. Great solution, and Obama gave specifics about how he will accomplish this: by providing new leadership. Obama also said that a solution will require raising taxes on the rich, and cutting taxes for the poor and the middle class.
McCain likewise promised to solve the financial crisis with a solution that will be fair and equitable, and only McCain will be able to do this because he has the experience. And McCain will not raise taxes on anyone, because raising taxes would just exacerbate the crisis.
Obama sounded more confident and presidential at first, but, since they weren’t really saying anything I hadn’t heard before, I fell asleep. When I woke up, the pundits were saying that, as expected, Obama sounded slightly better than McCain at the beginning when the candidates talking about the economy and the financial crisis, and McCain sounded slightly better than Obama toward the end, when they talking about foreign policy, but I missed the foreign policy bit, so I’ll have to take the pundits’ word for it.