I do not envy Jim Lehrer.’ Moderating a presidential debate is a difficult task. Attempting to get two individuals to address one another directly when they cannot even make eye contact is close to impossible.’ Lehrer spoke of his intentions to encourage a direct dialogue between Senators McCain and Obama saying, ‘I’m just determined to get you all to talk to each other. I’m going to try.’
‘ ‘ ‘ Considering that the evening’s debate was to focus primarily on foreign policy and national security, Lehrer also attempted to include the current economic crisis, saying that foreign policy issues ‘by definition include the global financial crisis.’
‘ ‘ ‘ Personally, I had hoped that the topic of foreign policy would be swapped for the later debate topic of domestic policy, giving more weight to the very salient American economic crisis of the moment.
‘ ‘ ‘ Maintaining the previously planned debate focus of foreign policy allowed the candidates to dance around the awkward internal financial discussion. Neither candidate appeared willing to answer this sensitive question directly. This is somewhat understandable, as an agreement has yet to be reached in Washington about how to handle this issue.
‘ ‘ ‘ However, a discussion of the initial financial proposal put forth by Treasury secretary Paulson and the Bush Administration would have been illuminating. Lehrer certainly tried to engage the two nominees in this dialogue. Sadly, for Lehrer it was like trying to herd dyslexic cats.
‘ ‘ ‘ In fact, Lehrer’s first eight questions, some rephrased in a desperate attempt to get a straight answer, all pertained to the American financial debacle:
1.’ ‘ ‘ ‘At this very moment tonight, where do you stand on the financial recovery plan?’
2.’ ‘ ‘ ‘All right, let’s go back to my question. How do you all stand on the recovery plan? And talk to each other about it. We’ve got five minutes. We can negotiate a deal right here.’
3.’ ‘ ‘ ‘But, I mean, are you — do you favor this plan, Senator Obama, and you, Senator McCain? Do you — are you in favor of this plan?’
4.’ ‘ ‘ ‘Are there fundamental differences between your approach and Senator Obama’s approach to what you would do as president to lead this country out of the financial crisis?’
5.’ ‘ ‘ ‘As president, as a result of whatever financial rescue plan comes about and the billion, $700 billion, whatever it is it’s going to cost, what are you going to have to give up, in terms of the priorities that you would bring as president of the United States, as a result of having to pay for the financial rescue plan?’
6.’ ‘ ‘ ‘But if I hear the two of you correctly neither one of you is suggesting any major changes in what you want to do as president as a result of the financial bailout? Is that what you’re saying?’
7.’ ‘ ‘ ‘One of you is going to be the president of the United States come January. At the — in the middle of a huge financial crisis that is yet to be resolved. And what I’m trying to get at is how this is going to affect you not in very specific — small ways but in major ways and the approach to take as to the presidency.’
8.’ ‘ ‘ ‘Before we go to another lead question. Let me figure out a way to ask the same question in a slightly different way here. Are you — are you willing to acknowledge both of you that this financial crisis is going to affect the way you rule the country as president of the United States beyond the kinds of things that you have already — I mean, is it a major move? Is it going to have a major affect?’
‘ ‘ ‘ Using each of these questions as a platform to jump into other topics of discussion the candidates said little that strayed from their usual talking points.
‘ ‘ ‘ While many news outlets claim that the two men ‘clashed,’ ‘sparred,’ and ‘battled’ there were very few surprises. I might even go so far as to call the debate anticlimactic. The candidates’ performances rather than their viewpoints became the subject of discussion.
Their presentations will no doubt continue to be ripped apart and scrutinized by talking heads, pundits, and analysts until the next debate. But according to my score-card, nobody won last night. As no one directly addressed the most pressing issue facing the American people, the economy.