Senator John McCain insisted that he and Senator Barak Obama should go on the road for a host of town hall meetings to discuss the issues in a rational and open way. He was lucky that Obama did not do that. Based on the Nashville debate, one can see very clearly that McCain is just not up to that pace.
Town meetings are supposed to encourage an honest dialogue between the candidates and a small group of representative citizens—the very essence of romantic democracy. But usually it involves opinionated and ill-informed people expressing themselves, often with too long with personal questions in front of a televised audience that is growing quickly bored at home. People have lost a sense of embarrassment and so they will say any damn stupid thing that comes to mind. “I don’t trust either of you, why should I vote for you.”
But McCain believes that his blunt, erratic style is entertainment, and that it was proven in those town meetings that he carried important states for the nomination. Obama has a reputation for being tongue tied in front of small groups, but eloquent in front of huge groups. As a professor, he was probably weak in seminars but great in the lecture hall. So goes the conventional wisdom.
But that did not happen. First the moderator, Tom Brokaw, who is clearly over the hill, kept complaining about time limits being exceeded. Why can’t you guys tell us if you favor using air strikes against Iran? Sixty seconds please. Luckily, nobody was listening to the retired journalist who is making even Meet the Press boring. Second, the camera shots could not focus easily on the candidates who tended to roam around the circular stage. One would have thought it was Falstaff at the Globe.
Obama looked thin, young, crisp, and engaged. He could wrap his lanky frame around the high chair and looked interested as McCain moved on. But McCain looks frail especially from the back due to the war injuries in his shoulders. He seemed very gray if not white, and a bit angry that he has had to go through all this nonsense for a job that he thinks is rightly his. Whether it’s his or not, I was just glad that I was not propped up for an hour and half answering every banal question with “I am glad you asked me that.”
I am not sure who said what. I think Obama said that the economy was collapsing under the GOP, and McCain said that Obama was going to raise my taxes because he is a liberal. But neither could answer how they were going to stop the freefall in the stock market, deal with foreclosures on a massive scale, help improve educational standards, and get us out of the morass called Iraq. They both insisted that we should fight to the death in Afghanistan, even though the British commander there said that the Allies are losing. Is this the next Vietnam? And both sounded like we needed to go to war for Israel unconditionally. Does Israel really need to be the battleground for the next Middle East war?
I still do not understand Obama’s convoluted medical plan: but it will cover children and not adults, even though children need medical care less frequently. And McCain thinks that government medical care is bad for us—except for himself since he has been on a similar government medical plan all of his adult life. While he attacked deficit spending, he proposed a $300 billion bailout for people’s mortgages, exactly what we want to hear after the $700 billion out for the rich on Wall Street. Oh, excuse me it was really for Main Street…which they haven’t cared about for seven years.
McCain’s people tell us that Obama is cozy with a weary professor of education who was a terrorist during Vietnam; Obama claims that he was only seven when he was doing his anti-war attacks on innocents. Still, knowing his history, why dally with this guy? By the way, why did the University of Illinois hire this aging yuppie radical in the first place, –and to teach urban educational reform. Is that the best out there in Chicago? You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, said Bob Dylan. And McCain keeps calling himself a maverick, a new Teddy Roosevelt, but he has abandoned the very issues he was a maverick on in order to appeal to the fundamentalist GOP base. That was too bad, I kind of likely the old John McCain. You were right on immigration, on taxes, on election reform, on terrorism, on Lebanon. Now they have made you into Bush III. And Obama should look at Hillary’s public policy statements from the campaign; they are really better thought out that his own.
As for the town meetings, forget them. Let us go back to the old Lincoln-Douglas debates—no moderator, no audience questions, and tough responses for a couple of hours and then on to the next town.
Hear Dr. Riccards talk about the television show The View and partisanship in the media. Listen>
Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.