Categorized | Politics

Obama and McCain Struggle to Stay on Point in Second Presidential Debate

BY FERNANDO GALLO//

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain met for their second presidential debate Oct. 7, and for the third time in three weeks the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater in El Cerrito was filled with people eager to see democratic discourse on the big screen. Veteran broadcaster Tom Brokaw moderated the debate and chose the questions for the candidates.

“The audience here in the hall has agreed to be polite and attentive – no cheering or outbursts,” Brokaw said in his opening. “Those of you at home, of course, are not so constrained.”

The viewers at the Speakeasy took those words to heart: They cheered, applauded, booed, hissed and laughed throughout the 90-minute debate. McCain’s entrance brought a series of jeers along with it, while Obama received a hero’s welcome.

The format of this debate was a town hall meeting, which many pundits and political observers said would benefit McCain. But viewer Robert Wilson said the format did not work for the Republican senator on this night.

“His more folksy style would usually do well with a town hall meeting,” Wilson said. “But probably because of the television cameras, I think he began to wander with a lot of his answers, instead of being folksy.”

The debate was held on the campus of Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Some of the voters in the debate auditorium stood and asked questions of the candidates, while other questions were selected by Brokaw from thousands of Internet submissions.

The economic crisis was once again a major topic during the debate, and the candidates clashed over the $700 billion bailout, taxes and spending cuts.

“I believe this is a final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years, strongly promoted by President Bush and supported by Senator McCain,” Obama said. “Now, step one was a rescue package that was passed last week…. But that’s only step one. The middle-class need a rescue package.”

“We’ve got to have a package of reforms and it has got to lead to reform prosperity and peace in the world,” McCain said. “And we’ve got to give some trust and confidence back to America. I know how to do that, my friends. And it’s my proposal – it’s not Senator Obama’s proposal, it’s not President Bush’s proposal.”

McCain continued to promote himself as bipartisan, citing legislation he had introduced with Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman (who caucuses with the Democrats) and calling himself a “reformer.”

“I have a clear record of bipartisanship. The situation today cries out for bipartisanship. Senator Obama has never taken on his leaders of his party on a single issue,” McCain said. “I have advocated and taken on the special interests.”

“He attempted to do what everyone wanted him to do: go after Obama,” said viewer Cedric Collins. “That failed, but just by virtue of him trying to do it, it’s going to give him a bump within his own party.”

Obama refuted claims by McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, that he wanted to raise taxes on the middle class, and again stressed the importance of alternative energy sources as he did in the first debate.

“I’ve called for investments in solar, wind, geothermal. Contrary to what Senator McCain keeps on saying, I favor nuclear power as one component of our overall energy mix,” Obama said. “He said a while back that the big problem with energy is that for 30 years, politicians in Washington haven’t done anything. What Senator McCain doesn’t mention is he’s been there 26 of them. And during that time, he voted 23 times against alternative fuels.”

Viewer Margo Noble said Obama was very effective in the town hall format.

“Obama kept his cool and he answered questions with factual detail and relevance,” Noble said. “It was very convincing.”

Brokaw was much more vocal than the moderators from the previous debates, repeatedly scolding the candidates for straying off-topic and giving long-winded answers. He reminded both senators about the rules of the debate several times, and had a couple of wisecracks at the candidates’ expense that drew laughter from the Speakeasy audience.

“All right, gentlemen, 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,” he said.

And then later, when Obama and McCain both talked over Brokaw in their efforts to get time to follow-up on previous statements, the former anchor quipped: “I’m just the hired help here.”

“You’re doing a great job, Tom,” Obama replied.

Noble said she did not care for Brokaw’s responses.

“I would have preferred that he be a little bit more serious instead of being cute in the way he approached it,” she said.

But viewer Alyssa Lindberg said she placed the blame on the candidates instead of the moderator.

“I wasn’t very impressed with the maturity of our presidential candidates,” Lindberg said. “(There was) a lot of pointing fingers, a lot of ‘oh, well if he gets to do this, well then I get to do this.’ It felt more like high school elections than a presidential campaign.”

Despite her disappointment with the candidates, Lindberg said the reaction of the crowd in the Speakeasy was entertaining.

“I liked it. I couldn’t have imagined a better place to see [the debate], just because it was nice to see the public reaction to what [the candidates] were both saying,” she said. “Definitely a very one-sided public reaction, but a public reaction nonetheless.”

Wilson, who also watched the vice-presidential debate at the Speakeasy on Oct. 2, said he enjoyed the environment inside the theater.

“I was hoping to hear the crowd’s reactions to a lot of issues,” Wilson said. “Of course, considering where we live, the crowd’s responses were pretty predictable. So that was enjoyable, but not really informative.”

The final presidential debate will take place on Oct. 15 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. It is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and will focus on domestic and economic policy.

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