Presidential Townhall Debate Cheat Sheet

Here’s another quick summation for those who couldn’t bring themselves to watch. Honestly, I think you were the lucky ones. This debate was excruciating even during the liveblog, which usually increases the heh-factor of these things. (Incidentally, in case you missed it my Vice Presidential debate cheat sheet is here.)

Missing from this debate: immigration, abortion, guns, courts, voter fraud. There were no questions about those topics and the candidates didn’t bring them up on their own initiative.

The following table is in the order in which the questions were asked. The typical format was for a question to come from the audience (pre-screened, of course) or by email (read by Brokaw), which is then answered by the candidates in turn, and then for Brokaw to ask a “one-minute follow-up”, which is then answered by the candidates. Several times the candidates would go over their alloted time. Often, Brokaw tried to rein them in, mostly without success. Obama, especially, kept trying to interrupt to get the last word in questions where McCain, by rights, should have had the final answer. I have included the most egregious interruptions and cross-talk below because I expect that’s going to be mentioned around water-coolers in the next day and this way you can act like you know what’s being talked about.

I have tried to be fair in cutting each candidate’s responses down to a manageable size (not always successfully). I used the candidates’ own language as much as possible, but have paraphrased occasionally. The candidate who got to speak first on each question is marked with a ‡ symbol. A rush transcript of the debate is at CNN; watch out, at the time of this posting it isn’t entirely accurate.

Issue Question Obama McCain
Economy I
What is the fastest way to help people in these economic conditions?

[From TB:] Who would be your treasury secretary?

‡It’s Bush’s fault, deregulation’s fault, CEO’s fault. But we’re going to put the focus on the middle class. [This is the same answer Biden gave last week to a similar question; I only had to remove Biden’s prefatory “neither.”]

Warren Buffet would be a good choice, but there are others out there, too. Prosperity is not just going to trickle down. We’ve got to help the middle class.

We need to keep taxes low and get energy independence. We will stabilize markets and shore up these institutions, but it won’t be enough. I would order the secretary of the treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at new values.

‡Warren Buffet is already helping. I like Meg Whitman, who has proven that she can create jobs.

Bailout How will the bailout package help people?

[From TB:] Is this going to get worse before it gets better?

Credit crunch is going to cause businesses to fail to make payroll. They will have to shut their doors and lay people off. That’s why we had to take action. The biggest problem in this whole process was deregulation. The “rescue package” is only the beginning of the process.

‡No, I am confident about the American economy. But we have an archaic regulatory system trying to deal with 21st century financial markets. We have to change Washington so the voices of ordinary Americans will be heard.

‡I fought for congressional oversight in the bailout to protect taxpayers. But, one of the real catalysts that lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with the encouragement of Sen. Obama and his cronies and his friends. This rescue package will stabilize markets and shore up these institutions. But it’s not enough.

It depends on what we do. We must act effectively; we must stabilize housing. We can fix our economy, because we’re the best. We gotta give the American worker the chance to do their best again.

Trust in Government How can we trust either of you when both parties got us into this financial crisis?

[From TB:] What are going to be your priorities and in what order: healthcare, energy, and entitlement reform?

‡When Bush came into office we had surpluses, now we have deficits. It’s his fault more than the Democrats’. Senator McCain voted for four out of five of those Bush budgets. We’ve gotta reform healthcare. We’ve gotta deal with energy. We’ve got to invest in college availability. I’m cutting more than I’m proposing to spend.

At the top of the list: energy, we have to deal with that today. In ten years, we should be free from Middle Eastern oil. Healthcare is priority number two. Number three, we need to reform education.

I have been a consistent reformer. I have taken on special interests. I have fought to reduce earmarks. Obama proposes $860 billion in new spending. He voted for every increase in spending that came across the Senate floor. He voted for a $3 million planetarium projector.

‡Work on all three at once. We are going to have to sit down and reach across the aisle to get this stuff done. On energy, we have to have “all of the above.”

I want to just remind you one more time about time. We’re going to have a larger deficit than the federal government does if we don’t get this under control here before too long.
Sacrifices What sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American dream and get us out of this economic morass?

[From TB:] How would you break the habits of too much debt and easy credit?

Remember 9/11? All of the country was ready to come together to make changes and to make us a more unified country. But President Bush ruined that when he said “go out and shop.” Everyone should change energy habits. Create a volunteer corp all across this country so that military families and troops are not the only ones bearing the burden.

Fortune 500 CEOs should not be getting tax cuts. An across the board freeze is unfair burden-sharing. People who don’t need help shouldn’t be getting it. Obama tries to but in. TB doesn’t allow.

‡We must examine every agency and every bureaucracy in government and eliminate the ones that aren’t working. We need to eliminate earmarks. Earmarks should undergo the same scrutiny as other spending. I recommend a spending freeze except for defense, veterans affairs, and other vital programs.

The last president to raise taxes during tough economic times was Herbert Hoover (and he was a protectionist, too!). The only bright spot is that over 300,000 jobs have been created for small businesses. Obama’s tax increases will affect 50 percent of small businesses. I am not in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy. I want to leave them where they are right now and then give tax credits to the middle class.

‡Can I respond to that? I think it’s very important… [overruled].
Would you give Congress a date certain to reform Social Security and Medicare within two years of entering office? ‡I can’t guarantee we’re going to do it in the first two years. We’re not going to solve SS and MC unless we understand our tax program. [He’s returning to the previous question.] I want to provide a tax cut for 95% of Americans. If you make 200k or less, your taxes will go down. Only a few percent of small businesses make more than 200k a year. Therefore, the vast majority will get cuts. Social Security is not that tough. We know what the problems are and we know how to fix them. We just have to do it together. Medicare is going to be a little tougher because it’s a complex issue. We need a Commission, pull the smartest people in American come together and then force Congress to vote up or down. Not let Congress fiddle with it to death.

[Responding:] Obama has voted 94 times to either increase your taxes or against tax cuts.

Environmental Issues
What would you do within the first two years to address environmental issues like climate change and green jobs?

[TB asks:] Should we fund a “Manhattan Project” for energy or a hundred thousand garages like for Silicon Valley?

This is an opportunity because if we create a new energy economy it will be an engine that drives us into the future the same way the computer did in the last several decades. We can do it, but we have to spend money on it. I’ve called for investments in solar, wind, geothermal. I favor nuclear power as one component of our energy mix. We can’t drill our way out of the problem.

[Obama did not reply to TB’s follow-up, nor did it even look like he noticed the omission.]

‡Best way is nuclear power. It’s safe, it’s clean, it creates jobs. We can develop alternative energies for hybrid cars and battery-powered cares.

‡Turn it over to private sector. I voted against the pork-barrel bills with all kinds of goodies. Obama voted for the last one. I voted against it. Oil drilling offshore is vital so we can bridge the gap between imported oil.

Gentlemen, you may not have noticed, but we have lights around here. ‡I’m just trying to keep up with John. Tom, wave and I’ll look at you.
Healthcare Nationalization Should healthcare be sold as a commodity?

[From TB:] Healthcare in America: a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?

‡We have a moral commitment to do something about the healthcare crisis. If you’ve got healthcare already, then you can keep your plan if you’re satisfied with it. We’re going to lower premiums by spending money on updating to a paperless system. If you don’t have health insurance you’re going to be able to buy into a federal program that has no restrictions on pre-existing conditions. McCain will tax your health benefits.

It should be a right for every American. Something fundamentally wrong about people not being able to pay for healthcare. [TB has to ask Obama to be quiet so they can move on.]

Obama wants to use the government to impose mandates. If you’re a small business or a parent and you don’t provide health insurance to an employee or child, Obama will fine you. I want to give a $5,000 refundable tax credit for health insurance.

‡A responsibility. We should have affordable healthcare for everyone in America.

Foreign policy — Peacemaking How will all the recent economic stress affect our nation’s ability as a peacemaker in the world?

[TB asks:] What is the Obama Doctrine, what is the McCain Doctrine for intervention in situations where the U.S. doesn’t have national security issues at stake?

Senator McCain says I don’t understand. And it’s true. I don’t understand why we invaded Iraq. He said we’d be greeted as liberators that it would be quick and easy. The strains that have been put on our alliances have constrained our ability to react. We must fundamentally change McCain-Bush’s foreign policy.

‡We have a moral obligation to “strongly consider” intervening to stop genocides…where possible. There is a lot of cruelty around the world. We’re not going to be able to go everywhere.

‡America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world. We need someone in charge with the experience to know when to engage overseas. Obama was wrong about Iraq and Russia. We don’t have time for on the job training.

On Iraq, it’s a good thing that we went in there when we did. Obama would have brought our troops home in defeat. We must do whatever we can to prevent genocide, within the limits of our abilities.

Foreign Policy — Pakistan
Should the U.S. respect Pakistani sovereignty or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies like we did in Vietnam? ‡Bin Laden escaped and set up in Pakistan. Pakistan is the central front in the war on terrorism. We can’t let Afghanistan make treaties with the Taliban. If Pakistan is unable or unwilling to attack, we have to act. We have to kill BL and crush AQ.

I didn’t say invade Pakistan. I said if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down BL, we should. That has to be our policy. Senator McCain says I’m green behind the ears, but he sang “bomb bomb bomb Iran.” This isn’t a guy who speaks softly.

Walk softly; carry a big stick. If you’re trying to gain the support of another country, you shouldn’t announce that you’re going to launch an attack on it. Work with the Pakistani government. We need to coordinate efforts, not threaten. Where necessary use force, but talk softly.

I was joking about Iran. I’ll get OBL. But I’m not going to telegraph my punches.

I’m just the hired help. ‡I just want a quick follow-up on this. If he gets one, I get one.
[TB sez:] Senior British commander now leaving Afghanistan says we’re failing. How do you reorganize Afghanstan strategy? ‡We have to make the Iraqi government take more responsibility. Withdraw our troops from Iraq and put some of them in Afghanistan. General Petraus has just taken over responsibility for Afghanistan. We need the same strategy that worked in Iraq. Double the Afghan army, work with NATO.
Foreign Policy — Russia How can we apply pressure to Russia in humanitarian issues without causing another Cold War?

[TB asks:] Is Russia is a new evil empire?

I agree with McCain. We must provide moral, financial, and concrete support for the former soviet republics.

‡I think they have engaged in evil behavior.

‡There isn’t going to be another Cold War. Russia’s behavior is outside the norm. I warned about Putin. We have to show support for Georgia and Ukraine and get them into NATO. Of course we want to bring international pressures to bear on Russia in the hopes that it will change it’s behavior.

Maybe. If I say yes, it reignites the Cold War. If I say no, it excuses Russia’s behavior.

Foreign Policy — Israel and Iran If Iran attacks Israel, would you be willing to commit U.S. troops to support Israel or would you wait for U.N. permission? A nuclear Iran is unacceptable. I will do everything in my power to stop that from happening; I’m not taking military options off the table, but we should start with sanctions and economic pressure. ‡We obviously would not wait for the U.N. Security Counsel. Russia and China would probably pose significant obstacles. Our problem right now is that Iran continues on its course to gain nuclear weapons. We need to join with our allies to impose tough sanctions. We need a League of Democracies.
Zen-like Bullshit
What don’t you know and how will you learn it? ‡My wife could tell you and I learn by asking her. One of the things we know about the Presidency is that it’s the challenges you don’t expect that end up taking all your time. I come from hardship, but I was able to succeed. The question in this election is: are we going to pass on that same American dream to the next generation? We can’t keep doing the same things we’ve been doing for the past eight years. What I don’t know is what all of us don’t know. Unexpected things will happen at home and abroad. But I know dark times. It is my honor to serve. I’ll rest on my record .

And if you’ve read down this far…is there anything I can do to improve these debate cheat sheets? I really feel like I need to edit down their answers even more; the table is so crowded. But then you lose so much…

Suggestions are appreciated, though there’s only one debate left.


~ by Gabriel Malor on October 7, 2008.

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