In humble attempt at casting this in the tradition of Socrates, a (slightly altered) quote:

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Debate #1: McCain Won't Even Face His Challenger

For all of McCain's supposed experience, his errors on Iraq--among other policy issues--are glaring. What was just as obvious at the debate was his unwillingness to admit this; further, he wouldn't even look at Obama as he was challenged on it:

I couldn't find a clip that went beyond that point where Obama stopped above, but McCain didn't answer any of those charges Obama challenged him on with Iraq (you can watch the full debate here to see for yourself). But let's analyze this a hair deeper: the invasion of Iraq has been considered by many, such as Richard Holbrooke, former UN Ambassador under Bill Clinton, as the "worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam; and McCain voted for it, so surely it is not too much to ask for him to face his challenger on the issue (not to mention actually addressing Obama's charges). But no, he simply tries to weasel out of it, saying that the next president won't have to decide about whether it was right to go into Iraq. Obama has put it well in the past, using an analogy of a bus that goes off the road into a ditch; surely we need to look at getting the bus out, but even more fundamentally we need to decide what went wrong in the first place. How can we avoid having it happen again? And more specifically, should we look at whether the bus driver was responsible? If so, perhaps he should get the hell out of the driver's seat and stop putting children (or to extend the analogy, the world) at risk.

As I mentioned, you can watch the full debate video here (and I urge you to take the time). If you do, you'll see that McCain almost never looked at Obama during the entire debate--where's the courage in that? I should note that the debate moderator specifically explained at the beginning of the debate that the candidates were to directly engage with each other, and to speak directly to one another. Thus, the fact that McCain wouldn't look at Obama over the entire debate comes across as cocky and weak if you ask me. Dialogue is so key, and in my opinion is the fundamental ingredient to working out a problem and seeing the humanity in one's opponent (not to mention how important it is for the American public to hear both sides of an argument in order to cast an informed vote).

I also saw a good deal of sloppy thinking on McCain's part. For example, he attempts to claim that earmark spending is a problem while not admitting the vastly more important financial calamity (and inequality) brought about by Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy (which McCain supported and promises to continue); out of the blue he proposes a blanket spending freeze while not admitting that there are crucial areas of funding that this would overlook--to name only a few, funding would stop for early childhood education, cancer research at NIH, infrastructure rebuilding to avoid more Minnesota bridge collapses, etc., etc. There is obviously plenty of other debate analysis out there, so take a look and see what you think, but again, I urge you to balance it out by actually watching the debate for yourself.

Update: Another good point on the debate, as highlighted in this Obama ad:

Also, if you want to plan to watch the debates, here's a schedule of them (there are three left, including the VP debate this coming Thursday; you can also find a handy overview on how to host one here on Obama's site).


Anonymous said...

Voting for going into Iraq was widely supported, and the decision to go in was not a debacle nor shows a lack of judgement... lest everyone forget there has been some good that has come from taking Sadam out or power, and except anbar/fallujah most of the provinces are peaceful... however, it has been the gross mismanagement of the war that has been the issue. The Bush administration had no exit strategy and have had problems overcoming cultural boundaries. Had the war been managed properly, maybe we would not be talking about this mess. But now the question is, since we are still there, who can bring in the reins and end the war without losing Iraq to another dictatorship or terrorists. So who has the more experience to take on the task at hand? Obama seemed to agree with McCain alot during the debate and Obama always comes back to his pre-war judgement in voting against Iraq invasion. Well, we cannot change that we are in Iraq and if we pull too fast more Iraqis will die and Iran will be empowered. This is my conundrum, is McCain too much like the Bush Admin in how he will continue to war? But Does Obama have any military/foreign policy experience. I know that McCain will never make a decision to use troops lightly (pow experience) vs. Obama's very liberal record.

Brendan O'Connor said...


I appreciate the comments, but have to disagree. Yes, there were many that voted for the invasion of Iraq, but there were 156 out of 535 members of Congress who voted against it. That matters, and adds up to more than 1 of every 4 opposing it.

And respectfully, just because you say that it doesn't show lack of judgment does not make it so. Judgment by its very nature is characterized by making decisions based on the careful weighing of competing factors and judging correctly--this, indeed, is what more than 1 of every 4 members of Congress did, along with Obama. I've argued in a few posts--here, here, and here --that the reasons for opposing the war were available to all who supported it, and therefore reflect one of two things: 1. bad judgment and lack of care and discretion on the part of the supporters; and/or 2. a willingness to go into war even when it is not the last resort or an act of self-defense. Both are unacceptable to me and yeah, it's a high bar, but so is the idea of running our country.

And i also have to disagree with the idea that McCain would not go into war somewhat lightly, as your point uses faulty logic--every POW does not necessarily equal a cautious enough individual to make a decision about whether to go into war or not. Surely it can help, but i think McCain has demonstrated that it has not made him cautious enough--for god's sakes, he joked about bombing Iran! He literally sang his little song, joking about the idea of bombing a country ( If that's not treating war lightly, what is it??

And again i take issue with your logic that some good has come out of our invasion of Iraq ("taking Sadam out of power" in your words) and therefore it is justified (in essence that is what you have said). On that basis we should take out the leader of a whole list of countries right? Why not? Words matter, and that justification you used is not sufficient in my view.

Of course i agree that the war has been mismanaged, but we should always talk about why we invaded a country and whether or not it is justified; i believe that is a dangerous statement to suggest that it would be okay to not talk about a war that was based on faulty premises if it was “managed properly.”

I also think the experience question you bring up is a misleading one in this case, as i wrote some about here when Hillary attempted to use it (not to mention b/c Obama's "experience" involves judging correctly about not going into a war on premises that were shown to be false, which has also cost us billions of dollars each month, and many, many American, Iraqi and other lives (as Obama also predicted it would); McCain's "experience" on the other hand involves just the opposite).

And if you are still out there, whoever wrote those, i would call you to task on that fear-based, totally illogical last statement: "I know that McCain will never make a decision to use troops lightly (pow experience) vs. Obama's very liberal record." Frankly, what the hell does the fact that Obama has voted liberally have to do with being willing to use troops lightly??? I'm not sure i'll be willing to leave a comment up here again like this and take the time to respond if you or others are willing to use fear-based statements like that which appear to purposefully mislead.

Anonymous said...

1. I am undecided about my vote. I do lean more right than left, but trying to talk about the issues without bias. I like that you are adamant, but your bias will not let you concede anything, you seem a little angry.
2. 25% not supporting the war is not more significant than the 75% who supported it (Biden/Clinton). Hindsight is always 20/20 right? In 2006 Obama said, "I'm always careful to say that I was not in the Senate, so perhaps the reason I thought it was such a bad idea was that I didn't have the benefit of US intelligence. And for those who did, it might have led to a different set of choices." Lets talk judgment: friends, pastors, partial birth abortion...
3. Your high bar for running the country and Obama's lack of experience has to bother you.
4. God forbid a pres. candidate be funny. Anyone who takes his Bomb Iran song literally is using the fear tactics that you claim I used. Shame on you for using the fear based statements to make your point. And if Iran had a nuclear weapon pointed to Israel, I would hope any president would bomb Iran. Obama has also said that a nuclear Iran would be a game changer.
5. None of us will ever know what McCain went through as a pow, that has to give him an advantage on using troops than Barack Obama with no experience. The point of this presidency is what should happen with Iraq/Afghanistan in the present circumstances. All we hear is how Obama was against the war when he wasn't even in the congress.
6. How many people died under Sadam Hussein? You perverted my point of the good coming out of Iraq. Did you miss the point that the majority of the provinces are peaceful? Words absolutely matter, do you remember the celebration of the Iraqis when the Sadam regime ended? Talk to some troops coming home and ask them if what they accomplished was a mistake. Has Obama as sub committee chairman visited Iraq or Afghanistan? No. Had any hearings? No. And how many times has the US been attacked by terrorist since 9/11?
7. My statement about Obama's very liberal record meant that I am worried that he won't use troops at all! That may be good news for pacifists. I do believe that if elected, Obama will be the most liberal president ever, which scares me. Lets cut the BS, McCain's vote for Iraq War in 2002, does not mean he uses troops irresponsibly. If we left Iraq and pulled out, that would be irresponsible, and you must concede that many more Iraqis would die if there was a power void in Iraq. You are using logic from six years ago. What happens NOW in Iraq/Afghanistan is what matters.

I'm tired might be rambling, hope it makes sense.

Brendan O'Connor said...

Hello again, and apologies for the delayed response, knew i wanted to take a min. to reply eventually though. Some responses point by point w/yours:

1. I'd say you're being generous calling me a little angry, i'm actually a lot angry. This flippin war, the upside down approach to economics and any basic sense of fairness, the mishandling of one thing after the other--all those affect people, seriously affect people; should I laugh, smile, what? There’s what some call “righteous indignation,” and that’s where I find myself. You say “your bias” but don’t give any support for it.

2. What are you trying to say here with those numbers? So what if more supported than didn’t, that only says what we all know: bad judgment is more common than good often times. And you distort the truth in calling Obama’s judgment “hindsight”—he stood against it before, that’s called foresight. There’s a whole section on their website about this point you bring up of Obama’s willingness to say he might have had a diff. stance if he was in the Senate: But from that section, take a look at this longer excerpt from the NY Times in ’04, where he gets at the same point (it shows it’s humility more than anything else in my view):

"He opposed the war in Iraq, and spoke against it during a rally in Chicago in the fall of 2002. He said then that he saw no evidence that Iraq had unconventional weapons that posed a threat, or of any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
"In a recent interview, he declined to criticize Senators Kerry and Edwards for voting to authorize the war, although he said he would not have done the same based on the information he had at the time.
"‘But, I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports,' Mr. Obama said. "What would I have done? I don't know. What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made.'”
"But Mr. Obama said he did fault Democratic leaders for failing to ask enough tough questions of the Bush administration to force it to prove its case for war. ‘What I don't think was appropriate was the degree to which Congress gave the president a pass on this,' he said.”

3. My high bar for running the country is why I support Obama, first off; yes, there have been questions I’ve had of his experience, but he has sufficiently answered them, and what’s more, brought to light parts of his experience that go well beyond that of others, as indicated in the section I’ve done on his values: (though I also wrote a few times on the experience question:

4. I simply can’t respond anyway that will register with you if you think McCain’s joking about bombing Iran is funny; Obama’s and any others stand that they would be willing to use force has nothing to do with the atrocious—yes, atrocious—quality of someone who is willing to joke about bombing a country; the idea of ethics holds that there are lines and boundaries that, when upheld, reflect best the humanity that we as humans should seek to further, and there is no doubt in my mind that McCain crossed that

5. McCain being a POW does not “have to give him an advantage on using troops,” as anyone could be a POW, and would not thereby be better equipped than someone who has not been a POW to wisely use troops; and Obama has said much about Iraq and Afghanistan, just look at the many things said on the subjects all throughout his website and position papers online

6. The troops are not responsible for making a mistake or not, all they are asked to do is follow orders; the ones giving orders are the ones that are responsible for mistakes, and they made them. Yes I think some good came out of going into Iraq, but I think greater good would have been eventually accomplished by not going in on a larger scale (whether it be b/c of the use of funds at home and in other, healthier ways abroad or the use of troops in Afghanistan to get things done, etc.); and lastly, I would ask you to look into your questions before asking them, as there are plenty of good resources, including the first debate, that showed that it was the duty of the committee on foreign relations as a whole to hold hearings on Iraq and Afghanistan, not Obama as sub committee chairman

7. Obama is admittedly less liberal than many would like, as quoted in this NYTimes article (

“We’re fully for Obama, but we disagree with some of his stands,” said Tom Hayden, the 1960s activist and former California legislator, who helped organize Progressives for Obama. His group opposes the candidate’s call for sending more troops to Afghanistan, for instance, “because we think it’s a quagmire just like Iraq,” he said. “A lot of our work is trying to win over progressives who think Obama is too conservative.”

And if you mean you were worried about Obama using troops b/c of his liberal record, fine, but that simply wasn’t clear from your statement, you said:

“This is my conundrum, is McCain too much like the Bush Admin in how he will continue to war? But Does Obama have any military/foreign policy experience. I know that McCain will never make a decision to use troops lightly (pow experience) vs. Obama's very liberal record.”

And I disagree, I think McCain’s vote for Iraq does mean he used troops irresponsibly, for the reasons I’ve argued (namely that it was not considered a “continuing threat” and not an “imminent threat,” as members of Congress and Obama said, meaning McCain was not using them as a last resort). I may be wrong on that, but that’s my read of it. I won’t concede that many more Iraqis would die with a power void, I’m not sure what would happen; more specifically I guess, I’m not sure what would happen with the more specific scenario of what Obama calls for: removal of most troops gradually, based on conditions on the ground; talks with Iraq’s neighbors (as the bipartisan Iraq study group called for); a humanitarian surge; and lots of diplomatic pressure and work together w/Iraqi leaders.

Lastly, thanks for the comments, I appreciate the back and forth, and would just ask that you unveil yourself unless you have some fear of doing so, as the “anonymous” name makes it less personal, but more so it makes it feel as though i may be talking with someone who’s pretending to be undecided but is actually already decided for McCain (I’m sorry, your points are all against Obama, and many have been used recently by the McCain camp).