Presidential Debate Highlights, Round One

(Editor's Note: As the usual public service after major debates during the presidential campaign, this blog is providing video highlights of the salient moments from the first one-on-one debate between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. This debate was held at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi.)

by Rick Rockwell

After Sen. McCain (R-AZ) gave up on his position that there should be no debate before Congress dealt with the current economic crisis, both presidential campaigns came to Mississippi ready to discuss the issues. In a 97-minute discussion, moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS, both sides scored on various issues. The main themes of the debate included the economic crisis, the Iraq War, the Afghan War and international relations with Pakistan, Iran, and Russia. Other topics of national security and budget issues also crept into the debate. Immediately, some commentators latched on to the difference of style: Sen. Obama (D-IL) often addressed the cameras directly or McCain. McCain rarely looked directly at Obama or the cameras, instead directing his gaze to Lehrer or the audience in the hall. So the differences in the candidates were apparent, even beginning with body language. And now the video highlights after the jump....

Although the debate began like many of these affairs with the candidates repeating sections of their current campaign speeches, Lehrer managed to get both to stop using that tactic after the first 20 minutes or so, at least until the final moments. This opened the way to verbal sparring from both sides with a variety of jabs, some revealing Obama's inexperience in the Senate and others about McCain's shoot-from-the-hip temperment (including his song about bombing Iran).

The debate format allowed candidates to directly question and respond to each other without intervention from the moderator, and one of the first feisty exchanges came over which candidate had actually helped the oil companies more. Watch also as both candidates duck specifics about how the economic crisis will affect their promises and plans, although McCain did offer a broad outline of how to align the federal budget during the crisis.

Another heated discussion revolved around the thorny issues of relations with Pakistan and the conduct of the war in Afghanistan.

The vice presidential candidates will debate next Thursday, Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:
(The photo of Sen. Barack Obama campaigning in Philadelphia, PA in July is by Llima via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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knwmn said...

Obama won because he appeared more presidential. McCain seemed childish, always needing to have the last word. Obama was graciously willing to move on to the next question.

McCain seemed angry, scolding Obama, stating Obama was naive or didn't understand even when Obama agreed with McCain. This made McCain look foolish.

Obama was able to see the big picture linking China to Iran, a concept which befuddled McCain making it obvious McCain is a small thinker.

Obama by all accounts I have seen won this debate based on maturity, intelligence, and wisdom.

Rick Rockwell said...

Arguably, both McCain and Obama looked presidential (whatever that really means) in the debate. Commentators of all political stripes have pretty much declared it a draw, although polls are with your point of view.

But this underscores the problem in how we pick presidents. Does how someone looks tell us what they really think, how they will perform and how they will lead? It appears folks voted for the guy who has run this country into the ground because people liked him as someone they'd want to have at a barbecue (an actual polling question).

Also, the criticism of the debate tactics of both sides is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, McCain was condescending. But why have few commentators noted how Obama shook his head, made noises, and interrupted McCain with notes of "not true, not true" at various times (how gracious is that?). These are similar tactics to ones Al Gore employed against Bush in 2000... and Gore was roundly criticized for using them (although Obama didn't employ Gore's sighs... which given what we are living through... were more than appropriate).

Sometimes Obama did get the bigger picture. Sometimes he didn't. What concerns me, as always, is the very vague answers from both on very important points, something that Jim Lehrer underscored by trying to get specifics on the economic plans for the future.

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