[Click here for the brief back-story on this group liveblog in D.C. for an upcoming PBS documentary.]
Allrightythen, I’m situated in a lovely townhouse in Washington, with the leading lights of the liveblogosphere surrounding me (or at least tonight’s leading lights): Quin Hillyer (blogging for American Spectator), Leslie Carbone (liveblogging on Twitter), Laura Clawson (for Daily Kos), Lynette Long (who provided the venue for tonight…thanx, Lynette!), and Mary Beth Ellis (of Blonde Champagne), with our documentary host: historian, author, and snappy dresser Rick Brookhiser. Looking around, I think I’m the only one who doesn’t write for a living, at least in part. Fantabulous. Pray I don’t embarrass myself.
(Roundup from Instapundit, plus reactions from Power Line, Hot Air, Miz Michelle, Gateway Pundit, The Anchoress, and Ann Althouse. Don’t forget to check out the work of my fellow Hamiltonian livebloggers linked up top!)
Blow-by-blow liveblogging with after-debate discussion for the cameras (plus a follow-up from a previous post) below the break.
9:05 Tom Brokaw breathily introduces the candidates. Same tight fake smiles as last time.
9:06 First question, bald man with a drawl. Goes straight for the economy, wants to know what the fastest solution to the financial crisis is. Obama starts with a thank you and an immediate shot at Bush. Accuses him and McCain of excessive deregulation, which I hope McCain calls him on. Lots of CEO bashing. Goes into tax cuts for the middle class (waiting for the 95% figure…will he dare McCain?). He doesn’t.
9:09 McCain steps out from behind the podium, which Obama didn’t do. Goes straight to the questioner. Obama is kicking himself, no doubt. Wading out into the audience, goes into energy independence, but now does a roundabout segue into mortgages. He wants Treasury to buy up home mortgages directly and renegotiate. (Takes a second to point out that it’s not Bush’s idea.)
9:11 Brokaw asks who each would have to take over as SecTreas. McCain says “not you, Tom.” Says Obama has suggested Buffett, but suggests Meg Whitman, who has been reported as a McCain fave for that slot if he wins since Palin got the VP nod. Lurches into rant on cronyism and corruption on Wall Street before Brokaw cuts him off.
9:13 Obama weakly suggests (surprise!) Buffett. Goes back to McCain’s “fundamentals are sound” sound bite. And THERE’S the 95% tax cut figure! Please, McCain, say something if you can. Brokaw tells them both to confine their answers to a minute or so. (Obama is still not going more than three feet from his stool.
9:14 Next questioner asks about the bailout. McCain corrects him to say “rescue” (oh, please). Reminds everyone that he left his campaign to go back and negotiate (is it a good idea to remind them?). And here he comes on Fannie and Freddie: “with the encouragment of Sen. Obama and his cronies…” That should stick. Says he pushed for reforms while Dems blocked them. Hits Obama on FM/FM donations. Ouch. Goes back to proposal for Treasury to buy up home loans.
9:15 Interesting…rules don’t seem to allow any time for rebuttal. Not crazy about that myself.
9:17 Obama is taking time to “correct” McCain anyway. Hits him on deregulating again, and says he wrote to Paulson about FM/FM. Wonder whose narrative will carry the day? They can’t both. Obama says he “never promoted Fannie Mae.” Anyone who points to his campaign donations is going to shred him on that.
9:19 Brokaw: Is the American economy going to get much worse before it gets better? Obama: No, but we need leadership. Help ordinary families stay in their homes, make sure they can pay their bills (??…would like to hear him flesh that out). McCain answers “depends on what we do.” Of course, if we follow his proposals, then it’ll be fine. Says he and a number of other senators sent out a long letter warning about this collapse: Obama’s name is not on it. “Strongest economy in the world,” yadda yadda.
9:21 New questioner, asks haltingly, “How can we trust you with our money when both parties got us into this crisis?” Remember what I said earlier about grandstanding. Obama hits Bush again. So far nobody has said people should live within their means, the way Palin did last week. Says there’s “plenty of blame to go around,” which I guess is as close as he gets. “Mortgaging our children’s future,” yadda yadda. Says he’s cutting more spending than he’s proposing for new spending, which must be news to everyone.
9:23 McCain: Anti-cynicism. “System is broken,” yadda yadda. Says he’s not part of the problem because he has a clear record of bipartisanship, and Obama has never taken on the leaders of his party on any issue. Records over rhetoric. Most liberal, big-spending record in the Senate. $860B in new spending (Obama is smiling tightly). Goes into Chicago-bound pork. Back to energy independence, offshore drilling, and nuclear power (he pronounces it right).
9:24 Prioritize health, energy, entitlement reform, says Brokaw. McCain doesn’t accept the premise; says you can work on all three at the same time. Now the talking points: we’re not going to be able to provide the same safety net for the next generation. New nuke plants, alternative fuels, new tech, take them all on at the same time. “We can do them all at once, and we have to do them all at once.” Obama: We’re going to have to prioritize. “Energy we have to deal with today.” Wants to invest $150B to make us energy independent in 10 years. (Does anybody buy that? It probably doesn’t help that Al Gore started that meme.) Sticks education in there, just for good measure. Goes into govt efficiency, wasteful spending, earmarks, and corporate welfare. Hits oil companies just so he can say he did.
9:31 Question from a kid: what sacrifices will you ask Americans to make? McCain says eliminate programs that aren’t working. Hits defense contractors, says he got rid of a lot of corrupt ones while in the Senate. Back to earmarks again. Proposes a spending freeze, excluding defense and veterans’ programs, across the board. The reaction lines running across the bottom of the screen shows the undecided voters are falling asleep.
9:34 Obama: “A lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11.” All of us are chuckling at that one. (“Really? Nine-what?”) Says we all need to think about how we use energy. Says we need to talk about offshore drilling, which he’s been blocking, of course. Now moves to conservation, with incentives for fuel efficient care, weatherized homes, etc. Talks about doubling the Peace Corps, segues into his volunteer corps (sounds a little too mandatory).
9:36 Brokaw asks how we will ease the run on bad debt and easy credit. Obama says Congress needs to watch what it does with its money first, to lead by example it sounds like, which is pretty lame except he needs a segue into corporation-bashing and earmarks. Disagrees with the across the board freeze.
9:38 Nailing down Obama’s policies “is like nailing Jello to a wall,” says McCain. Hits him on protectionism. Says his tax increases will increase taxes on 50% of small business revenue, even though small biz job creation is down. Hits Obama on the opening he left open when he said he’d put off his tax increases if the economy is bad (“Got news for you…the news is bad.”). Goes on to $5,000 tax credit, which Obama tries to respond to by grabbing extra time but Brokaw cuts him off.
9:40 Brokaw: “Would you give Congress a date certain to reform Medicare within the next two years?” Obama: we’re going to have to take on entitlements. (Well said, Senator.) “Straight Talk Express” lost a wheel” (he’s been waiting to use that one, clearly). Goes to the 95% figure again (why has McCain not said anything about that?). Says McCain wants to give a tax cut to the largest corporations (man, he really does hate corporations, doesn’t he?). “Policies of the last eight years,” yadda yadda.
9:43 McCain: “Social Security’s not that tough.” Footage is being shot, and I can’t hear the TV. “Medicare is going to be a little tougher.” Hits Obama for promising a middle-class tax cut during his Senate campaign, says he hasn’t once proposed it since he got there. Ouch. “Best days are ahead of us,” yadda yadda.
9:45 Next question, to Senator McCain; questioner asks about environmental issues and green jobs. McCain takes the opportunity to separate himself from Bush, link himself to Lieberman. Says he pushed vor votes, though the votes lost, but keeping debate going. Pushes nuclear energy again, says Obama has opposed it. Ticks off a laundry list of green techs; “we can do that,” “we’re the best innovators,” yadda yadda. Obama: “This is one of the biggest challanges of our times.” Says green revolution can boost our economy as hard as the computer did. Says it’s a national security issue as well. Says he favors nuke power “as one component of our overall energy mix.” Hits McCain for voting umpteen times “against alternative fuels.” Confuses “oil reserves” and “oil resources” AGAIN…gawd, that’s a big pet peeve of mine.
9:50 Brokaw complains about going overtime again. Quin: “Shaddup, Tom.” Mary Beth congratulates Quin for saying the most cogent thing all night. McCain takes time out of next question to talk about last energy bill; last one was loaded down with “goodies” and pork, and he voted against it; says Obama voted in favor. Goes into offshore drilling and nukes again.
9:52 Next question: “Should health care be treated as a commodity?” Obama says that is the question he gets most in his travels (add that to the list of “most frequent questions”). Says we have moral and economic imperative to “do something” (well said, Senator). Says he can lower premiums by as much as $2500 a year through prevention, etc. Hits McCain on taxing employer-provided health benefits. Says will eliminate rejection for pre-existing conditions. Finishes up without answering the question (the going trend in these things).
9:55 McCain: speaks to bureaucratic inefficiency, community clinics, etc. Hits Obama for overemphasizing governement’s role in health care: “Senator Obama will find ya!” Cute line. Says you have to be able to cross state lines for health care. Goes back to his health care credit, says “do the math,” and comes up with a 95% figure of his own…boy, those are really the going thing these days! The undecideds are not impressed.
9:58 Health care: privilege, right, or responsibility? McCain: responsibility. Says small businesses and families are nervous when hearing they’ll be fined if they don’t tow the government line. Obama: it’s a right. Ticks off a list of sob-story anecdotes. Says it’s true that you’ll have to provide health care for your child, because…well, they’re children. Says McCain voted against children. Waiting for him to say McCain voted against puppies. Goes to government role. Hits insurance companies for hiding traps in fine print (govt, of course, is the kingdom of fine print). Hits McCain on “deregulation” shibboleth again.
10:01 Rick is moving around asking the bloggers questions. Question on economic constraints of military interventionism. McCain asks if we can “hear the size of the fine.” Doesn’t get an answer. McCain talks about all the criticism America has taken, “but the fact is America is the greatest force for good in the world.” We are “peacemakers and peacekeepers.” Says we need to know how to pick our battles, and that can be done only by someone with experience and judgment to know. Mentions both genocide AND terrorism. Revisits his opposition of Reagan sending Marines to Lebanon. Obama was wrong about Iraq, the surge, and Russia/Georgia. “We don’t have time for on-the-job training. Obama says Iraq was wrong because they “had nothing to do with 9/11.” Was “cheerleading” for Bush. Hits Iraq for not paying for war with their surplus. Agrees with “greatest nation on earth” pabulum. Laments our loss of respect in the world and strain on alliances (whose hang-ups does that reflect badly on).
10:06 Brokaw asks Obama for “Obama Doctrine” on use of military force. Obama says genocide is actionable on our end (during the primaries said that genocide is NOT a jusitification for military action). Says we can’t be everywhere all the time, so it’s important to work with our allies. Brings up Darfur. McCain on “McCain Doctrine:” if we’d followed Obama’s advice, it would have been a wider war and increased danger for America. Would have brought our troops home in defeat. Revisits point on how our interventionism should be tempered with the ability to pick our battles; brings up both Somalia and Lebanon. Here comes Rick to talk to me on camera…gotta take a break…
10:12 Coming in on the middle of this question. Obama talking about how important ending the war is. Says Iraq is not the central front (despite what al Qaeda says). Did he just call Hamid Karzai a dictator? Oh, no, that was Musharraf. Boy, Obama’s an ungrateful ally, isn’t he? McCain wades in: idolizes Teddy Roosevelt. Leslie shudders; I say “That gets on your nerves, too?” Ah, I see now, the question is should we ignore a country’s sovereignty to get to al Qaeda? McCain says we need to get the support of the people first if we’re going to cross that line. Petraeus wants to go into Waziristan; ends with “speak softly and carry a big stick,” but misquotes. Obama wants follow-up, McCain says he wants follow-up if he gets follow-up.
10:16 Obama once again denies he called for invading Pakistan. Hits McCain for joking about bombing Iran, “next stop Baghdad,” etc. Says the reason we had no support in Pakistan is because we were supporting Musharraf. Says that will change when he’s President, even though Musharraf’s not there anymore. McCain says it’s not true to characterize him as a loose cannon, says the “bomb bomb bomb Iran” was a joke with a veteran. Says he wasn’t hitting Obama for saying he’d invade Pakistan in itself, but that he announced it over national TV (“telegraphing his punches”).
10:19 How to reorganize Afghanistan? Obama: make Iraqi govt take more responsibility and move troops from there to Afghanistan. McKiernan is “desperate” (now that’ll go over well around the globe, won’t it?…talk about telegraphing punches…) Says we need a government “responsive” to Afghan people, which it isn’t now.
10:22 Subject moves to Russia. McCain recalls his lousy impression of Putin, says Russia’s behavior is unacceptable, pushes for NATO expansion into Ukraine (did he say Georgia too? I missed it…). Obama: resurgence of Russia is a central issue (well said, Senator). Says can’t just provide moral support (did he miss the part about NATO too?). Says we should anticipate some of these problems. Says he saw the Georgia situation coming in April. Says we rushed into Iraq; Bush and McCain “said bin Laden wasn’t that important”…WTF?? Question: Is Putin’s Russia an “evil empire” a la Reagan? Obama says it’s engaging in “evil behavior.” McCain says “maybe.” Says if he says yes, we’re reigniting the Cold War, if he says no then it’ll sound like their behavior isn’t a problem.
10:27 Question from retired Navy chief in the audience: would you commit troops in defense of Israel if Iran attacks Israel, or will you wait for U.N. approval? McCain gives a Navy shout-out, then says of course we wouldn’t wait for U.N. approval; Israel is our ally. Segues into Iranian nukes. Says Iran going nuclear would start an arms race throughout the Middle East. Hits Ahmadinejad for “wipe Israel off the map” remark, hits Obama for saying he’d meet unconditionally with him. Obama: “thank you for your service.” Says we can’t allow a nuclear Iran, and will do everything in his power to prevent it. Says U.N. can’t have veto power over our military options, but must do everything we can to prevent situation in the first place. Vaults backward into energy independence again, says Iran will have less money to devote to nukes if we don’t buy their oil. Hits Bush for refusing to talk to Iran and North Korea. (Later: McCain’s and Obama’s respective interactions with the Navy chief couldn’t have been more different. Obama was stiff and formal; McCain looked like he would’ve jumped up and chest-bumped him if he could have.)
10:32 Last question: “What don’t you know, and how will you learn it?” Livebloggers in the room are split on how stupid that question is (my vote is for “very”). Obama says his wife tells him what he doesn’t know. (Cute.) Goes into his family story. “Pass on the American Dream to the next generation,” yadda yadda. Paints a dire picture of America. Not a great way to end off his debate performance. Female undecideds liked it, though (Mary Beth looks at that and says “I am so embarrassed to have ovaries right now”). McCain: I know what it’s like to live in dark times; I know what it’s like to rely on others in tough times; a few more “I know what it’s like…” lines. I believe in this country (both focus group lines going up)…ends off with “put country first” slogan.
10:37 Debate’s over. Most of our livebloggers noticed how little Obama moved around, while McCain visited just about everyone there. Mary Beth says Michelle Obama wins the Best Dressed award. Everybody thinks the town hall format was killed by heavy strictures…you can’t have a freewheeling exchange with the audience when Tom Brokaw is telling you to hurry it up all the time. (Quin’s “shaddup, Tom” face is back on.) Rick leads the discussion toward comparison with Hamilton’s prolific journalism, and whether he’d be blogging now if he were alive today. I volunteer that he’d have multiple blogs, each one under a Greek or Roman pseudonym. Cameraman hops around getting reaction shots. Boom mike swinging around menacingly within inches of my skull; I consider myself fortunate to emerge from the gathering without getting myself brained…do boom techs take a safety course in that?
Mary Beth wraps up the evening with a satisfying coda by telling Rick the boots he’s wearing are slammin’. (They are. Rick Brookhiser knows his Mexican cowboy boots.)
UPDATE: I should point out that while there was the expected pandering and sappy sob-stories, there was in the end no real Son (or Daughter) of Ponytail Guy tonight. Brokaw probably would have smacked him or her down anyway for straying off topic. Couldn’t tell if there were any plants; I’ll leave that to the private-eye bloggers who somehow manage to find questioners’ whole lives online, usually on MySpace. Personally, I don’t think so; the only one who seemed overwrought in any real sense of the word was the woman who asked point-blank why she should trust either of them with her money, but seemed so upset she could barely get the words out. (And if she was a plant, I’ll let this one slide, since that was just about the only interesting part of a soul-crushingly boring debate.)