McCain v. Obama Townhall in Tennessee: Live Blogging the 2nd Presidential Debate

5:57 Pacific Time: Before this gets started, my guess is that McCain will do poorly.

5:58 I think that Obama unnerves him, and while McCain is good in these “townhall” venues when he is alone, I suspect that standing alongside Obama will make him uncomfortable, and it will come across to the viewers.

6:00 pm. Tom Brokaw presides. He’s wearing a red tie and does not have an American flag on his lapel.

6:03 pm. Out come the candidates. Obama looks loose. McCain stiff as Lurch.

6:08 pm. Back and forth on the economy has been a total wash—simply an exchange of familiar talking points.

6:09 pm. Perhaps the first gaff of the night. Brokaw asks who each candidate might have in mind to replace Paulson as treasury secretary. McCain speaks first and suggests Meg Whitman—who had a golden parachute—and a mixed corporate record. Again, that might have been a gaff.

610 pm. Obama talks about Warren Buffet—but he says that others are possible. Obama also says McCain thought that the economy was sound. Obama pitches his middle class tax cut to 95% of Americans. These are all familiar talking points.

6:17 Frankly, both Obama and McCain are boring me.

6:18 McCain strikes me as a bit more passionate.

6:18 McCain gives his standard “American workers are the best” platitudes. Again, we are more than fifteen minutes into this debate, and little more than familiar talking points are being exchanged.

6:26 Obama offers his priorities in this order: (1) in ten years we can be free of Middle East oil; (2) we can address health care for all Americans; and (3) we need to focus on education. I think that it is interesting that Iraq did not make the top three. When McCain was asked to prioritize, he didn’t play. He wouldn’t prioritize.

6:28 Obama brings up oil tax cuts for the rich. Again, I really don’t hear a single thing from either candidate that is not simply a rehearsal of talking points repeated a gazillion times on the campaign trail.

6:29 Brokaw is asking good questions, but the candidates simply fall back on their rote talking points.

6:29 Brokaw asks a “sacrifice” question. McCain suggests eliminating some defense programs and earmarks. He recommends a spending freeze. McCain uses a wierd phrase. He talks of the congress “shoving earmarks in the middle of the night.”

6:31 Obama, in response to the “sacrifice” question, brings up 9-11 and says Bush’s response at that time was to tell Americans to “go out and shop.” Obama suggests that the American people are hungry for idealism. He suggests that we can save energy in our homes and businesses—and make cars more fuel efficient. He also talks briefly about the Peace Corps.

6:37 Still a total wash at this point. A boring debate—with both sides rehearsing talking points.

6:42 McCain talks about Obama’s “rhetoric” v. his “record.” McCain hammers on the dangers of higher taxes; Obama hammers on the injustice of tax cuts given to the rich.

6:43 Mccain gets a climate change and green jobs program question. He says he disagrees strongly with George Bush on environmental issues. He accuses Obama of being against nuclear power. He talks about increasing American jobs through energy development projects.

6:45 Obama says we can create five million jobs through environmental programs. He compares green energy programs to the computer as an engine for economic growth. Obama says he favors nuclear energy. He says that in 26 years of being in congress, McCain voted 23 times against sustainalbe energy programs. Obamaalso said that we can’t drill our way out of the problem of energy dependency on the Middle East.

650 Obama does his health care spiel. Sooo boring.

656 Brokaw asks if health care is a privilege, a right, or a responsibility? McCain says it is a responsibility. Obama says it is a right. Probably Obama scored with independent voters on that one.

6:57 Obama almost has a moment of passion, recalling his mother’s cancer at age 53, and fighting with insurance companies in the last months of her life. He said it was wrong for her to have been in that position so near to her death.

7:00 The first hour seems to have generated zero change in the dynamics of this race.

7:14 Obama is asked about Pakistan and sounds good on this. He reminds the audience of McCain’s “Bomb Bomb Iran” song. But these are, again, standard talking points.

7:30 The debate is over. A total wash. No major gaffs. Not much more than a reciting of talking points. Perhaps valuable to those not paying attention until now. If you are philosophically liberal, Obama did fine. If you are philosophically conservative, McCain did fine. If you’re in the mushy middle, you’re probably still in the mushy middle.

7:45 My guess is that, because Obama’s on the ascendancy in the polls, that a slight majority will give him a “victory” on being polled concerning the debate. The perception, a few days from now, is that Obama won—or at least reassured voters that he is a calm grown-up. I think the lack of passion, however, may dog him a bit. The other news from this debate will be that McCain lost yet another opportunity to fundamentally change the dynamics of this race.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to McCain v. Obama Townhall in Tennessee: Live Blogging the 2nd Presidential Debate

  1. I felt that both did well but OBAMA WON the debate! OBAMA DID A BETTER JOB IN getting his ideas out there for people to see and understand. McCain sounded like Bush.

    Obama was articulate and smart about his well reasoned answers. I would prefer Obama at a table with world leaders discussing the many serious issues which the world faces.


    Vote OBAMA!

  2. santitafarella says:

    I think Obama “won” also, on points. So does Andrew Sullivan. But if you’ve been following the campaign, almost nothing was said tonight that hasn’t been part of each candidate’s rehearsed talking points over the past month or more.

  3. ALPruitt says:

    Personally I have already made up my mind, but I watched the debate anyway. I would have given anything to be able to sit in on that meeting and to be able to comment. I get tired of them telling us what the other one is going to do or not do. Most of the time they don’t answer the questions. Basically ,one of these candidates has the experience to lead our country, he has my vote.

  4. linda says:

    It’s interesting that all the pundits and critics say that they want more substance..more specifics, especially on the economy, but, let me tell you–if either of them gave us the full truth, there would be hell to pay. The last time that type of honesty happened was when Walter Mondale said he would probably have to raise taxes and we all know how well that turned out for him. People say they want more information/want the truth but then don’t have the attention span to listen. We usually get what we deserve.

  5. santitafarella says:


    your walter mondale observation is astute.


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