McCain Plays It Cool, Doesn’t Change the Game
Sen. John McCain came into the second presidential debate tonight in Nashville in a position of weakness — trailing nationally and slipping in the swing states. He was looking for what the pundits refer to as a “game-changer,” a big win that stops Sen. Barack Obama’s forward momentum and recasts the race in more favorable terms.
McCain was cool and soft-spoken, the grumpiness that reportedly has his campaign staff fretting was left behind. After refusing to even look at Obama during the first debate, and then denying it, McCain went out of his way to look at opponent throughout the debate. The town hall format — his favorite — allowed McCain to interact with the audience, and he didn’t hesitate to walk right up into the audience and speak directly to the questioners.
A few notes:
Despite the fact that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s attacks on Obama for his connection to William Ayers have been grabbing headlines for the last few days, McCain made no mention of Ayers. In fact, throughout the last few days, McCain has yet to mention Ayers, preferring to leave those attacks to Palin and his surrogates.
Although McCain spoke extensively about his work to reduce earmarks, he never repeated his frequent claim that he has never once requested a single earmark or pork-barrel project for his home state. I haven’t heard him say it in a while, so perhaps he’s abandoned this claim. That would be good, considering it’s not true.
Responding to a question about how he would “fix” Social Security and Medicare, McCain devoted his entire answer to Social Security, saying future recipients would probably not receive benefits at same level as current retirees. He also said he would get to discussing Medicare, but never did. This is very convenient, considering one of his own advisers reportedly said McCain’s health plan would require deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid in order to be “budget neutral.”
McCain again repeated the claim that Obama has voted 94 times for higher taxes, which FactCheck.org called “inflated and misleading.”
He twice said the United States needs a “steady hand at the tiller” in confronting foreign crises. I would refer readers to Matt Welch of Reason‘s analysis of McCain’s frequently uncool hand.
Finally, in answering the final, zen-like question, “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?” McCain responded, “what the unexpected will be.” Very true. He didn’t indicate how he will learn it, but presumably the linear progression of time will take care of that.
So, how did McCain fare? Overall, it was probably a draw. There wasn’t a clear win on either side. Will tonight’s performance be shifting the polls tomorrow? Not likely — and because McCain came into the debate desperately needing a decisive victory, with just one more debate remaining, the lack of one would constitute a defeat.