Debate Thoughts

October 8, 2008

The debate tonight — an analysis.

Here’s the Transcript

McCain was on offense much of the time. Ahead of time, this is a plan I would have thought of in a positive light given the poll numbers and the belief that Obama doesn’t do well when forced into a corner. Tonight, however, I thought Obama performed rather well. All he really had to do was appear stately, promote his understanding of the issues, and enhance a the public’s perception of him as a leader. He would be able to accomplish this if McCain appeared too petty or too aggressive. In the end, I think this was a close debate, leaning slightly toward McCain, especially when viewed through the lens we had coming into the evening: that Obama has a clear polling advantage and an advantageous economic situation.


McCain’s response to the insurance question was very good.  He challenged Obama to describe the size of the “fines” included in his health care plan. When Obama didn’t provide the answer, McCain called him on it. Very aggressive.

Foreign Policy and Interventionism Regarding Rwanda, Darfur, Somalia, etc.

This was a very broad question, one which will trigger various responses from different listeners. Obama had the first answer and gave a very appealing emotional response to what is admittedly an emotional question. McCain’s response was both optimistic and rational. It was an exceptionally good response to a question that is difficult to answer second.

He offered a very notable insight on the limits of our ability to improve a situation and cited Somalia as evidence. Probably the most impressive answer of the evening from McCain (along with the Pakistan remarks).

Will You Bomb Pakistan?

I don’t like hearing this question asked. What exactly do you want the candidate to say?

The question presupposes a hypothetical target in a very fragile country but doesn’t discuss the reliability of our intelligence or any current political considerations. I think Obama gave the concise and effective answer, though it wasn’t necessarily specific.  It included the term “encourage democracy.” For my money, though, McCain provided the answer I think all candidates should be giving. If Pakistanis are listening to that debate…what are they thinking? We want them to cooperate with us, don’t we?


My opinion: Our relationship with Russia for the past decade has been one of missed opportunities. Things were better in 1998 than they were in 2008. We’ve always known that they could elect a nationalist who would curtail their political progress. Sure, enough…it happened. Meanwhile, we’ve been expanding NATO into their backyard, opposing their foreign policy concerns, and criticizing them very publicly. All we have for them now is flamboyant rhetoric.

Concerning the debate: Consider what Russians are thinking when they watch this debate and when they read the headlines tomorrow. You can bet that the question of most interest to them isn’t the one about the Peace Corps. This doesn’t even need media spin. “Do you think that Russia under Vladimir Putin is an evil empire?”

More opinion: The correct answer, if I may suggest one, is to highlight the fact that there is nothing in the Russian DNA that would make that country an “evil empire.” Also, make the point that you are not interested in fomenting trouble between two nations that should be seeking better relations. McCain very barely spoke to that effect, but neither candidate was able to put a positive spin on the topic.


Usually McCain does rather well in a town hall format. He forfeited much of his advantages and decided to go on the attack on a night that probably would have witnessed a non-aggressive opponent. McCain remained on the issues, which certainly helped his case and mitigated the risk of seeming excessively divisive. Obama was well composed and neutralized much of this as well.

McCain made some typical McCain moves: pacing, chuckling, and tossing in some odd jokes. We accept it, though — he’s like that uncle you can’t really criticize…

Unfortunately, these debates are very often about style (or maybe the color of Nixon’s jacket). In that regard, Obama displayed his comparative advantage and kept a good countenance and composure throughout the event.

What Don’t You Know?

Every candidate should be prepared for this one (and certainly is). Both responses were good and , though similar, exactly what should have been said. Both of them, however, devolved into a monologue about their respective backgrounds. Personally, I’m not interested in an emotional sales pitch from a presidential candidate, especially when time is at such a premium. Keep talking about the credit crisis.  Perhaps more annoying is that this is one of the first things that the ABC analysts wanted to discuss afterwards.


Media Bias for McCain

August 17, 2008

Blog in the headlines, concerning media concern for McCain:

So Why Do Americans Still Believe John McCain?

Although some of these points would appear to be valid (circa February 2000), it really is hard to draw a comparison with the racket Obama has going.

Consider the gap in coverage between the two.

Obama and the Big Awl Biness

August 10, 2008

Due to a lull in the campaign action, I’m here to rifle off some thoughts on these energy policies.

First of all, Paris Hilton has a balanced and generally agreeable plan. I think both candidates would admit some support for it.

Obama is being absurd

An energy rebate for families paid for using windfall oil profits? Is he going to tax the profits of the Saudi royal family?

People in the media continue to point fingers at the supermajor oil companies for price gouging. They cite their “record profits,” which are, of course, in the billions. Numbers like that…just…sound so large! Sometimes you’ll even hear a politician refer to their record “profit margins.” Of course, profit margins can be expressed as either a percentage of revenue or as an absolute number. Which do you think is their favorite?

Let’s do a quick financial check on Exxon-Mobil, as of today.

profit margin: 10.17%

operating margin: 15.72%

Pfizer has numbers of 18.52% and 31.15%, respectively. Why aren’t drug companies being attacked? (Because it would be counter-productive to attack them also, would be my answer). Is it because they sell something that is “good?” For what it’s worth, Altria makes 21.38% and 35.99%, respectively.

The average profit margin for many large cap companies is somewhere around 8-9%. The oil sector has generally been achieving 9-10%.

NEWS FLASH: The price of OIL is going up. Oil is the major component of gasoline. Therefore, the price of gasoline is going up. Oil companies are paying more for oil and they are charging more for gasoline. Does this not make sense? When these politicians and talking heads quote oil profits they use absolute numbers. They have record profits, revenues, and costs. The dollar value has simply gone up (as the dollar itself withers).

Another fact: 0.05% of Exxon-Mobil is held by insiders. That’s incredible! Meanwhile, 53% of this company’s shares are held by institutions (typical Americans). When Exxon-Mobil makes a profit, so do a ton of retired Americans and anyone else saving for retirement.

Over 13% of Microsoft is held by insiders. Over 36% of Lee Enterprises is held by insiders.

McCain is Being Absurd

But selling tire gauges is at least an attempt at being funny. I don’t find this energy rebate to be entertaining.

Trusting the Candidate

May 12, 2008

It seems as if Barack Obama will indeed be the Democratic candidate for president in 2008.

We are faced with a choice between two very different Senators; however, I will argue that they are both mysterious. Each of them will be a leap of faith, to a certain degree.

We don’t know much about Barrack Obama. Not only has he spent a very short time holding a federal office, he hasn’t cast any particularly telling votes, as many have already noted. If elected, he will have sold himself to the American people as someone who can be trusted despite this. Is it risky? Perhaps. We can pay for it if we aren’t careful. I would argue that we did in the case of John F. Kennedy. He couldn’t handle Cuba had his (and every other American’s) life depended on it. We found ourselves in the very awkward Bay of Pigs controversy and (possibly because of that) locked in the Cuban Missile Crises with a junta of Soviets who thought our president was weak and incapable.  Perhaps it’s unfair to make this comparison. It remains a fact that Barack Obama has had a very short public career and has said rather little.

On the other side of the aisle we have John McCain. During his rather long public career he has proven himself to be rather unpredictable. Some of his enemies (on the right and left alike) claim that he is very much a party man and that he has made a noticeable shift toward that image in the past eight years. His history, however, indicates that he is not your run-of-the-mill Republican.

America seems to misunderstand the executive’s role in our government. I’ve long thought this. Our media and our pundits drone on and on about a president’s view on a particular issue or his past feelings on something or other. We know the president has little law-making ability without a complicit congress, so why do we hang up on these things. Much more important is his ability to act as a political unifier, an ambassador, the manager of a cabinet, etc. Of course, you can’t predict these things during a campaign season. If there’s no personal history to observe, it’s always a leap of faith.

In either case, this will be an interesting upcoming decade.

Howard Dean on Military Service

March 29, 2008

Pretty good:


“While we honor McCain’s military service, the fact is Americans want a real leader who offers real solutions, not a blatant opportunist who doesn’t understand the economy…”


“Who would you rather have in charge of the defense of the United States of America, a group of people who never served a day overseas in their life, or a guy [Kerry] who served his country honorably and has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star on the battlefields of Vietnam?”

Expectation Bias

February 22, 2008

If you were to ask the average American if the mass media have a responsibility to the voting public, you would likely hear an affirmative answer from most. Just what that responsibility is, however, and how we should interpret it, is quite unclear.

Last Night’s Democratic debates were conducted, as they usually are, as a series of questions from the news media, from minds and pens that are somewhere behind the cameras, deciding which questions should be asked. The “town hall” concept is clearly an exception to the standard practice. Of course, someone has to moderate the discussion — and the media can serve to interpret the market of ideas and interests that stir the electorate. Do they?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Experience Factor

February 20, 2008

Senator McCain is beginning to consolidate efforts against his likely rivals, with Senator Obama as the target of what has seemingly become his new stump material.

Eloquent but empty…

The debate over experience has thus far been confined to the Democratic primary, which — although it doesn’t seem resonate well with voters in these turbulent times — has been quite an intriguing comparison. It is interesting to note that Clinton has been a U.S. Senator for only four years more than Obama. He began his term in the Illinois Senate in 1997, four years before Clinton took her first elected office. Her claims of experience, results, and change-that-works seem to be heavily reliant on her non-elected time as an organizer and First Lady.

The two of them have notably short public records.

It will be interesting to see how well McCain, with twenty-six years as a federal politician (and the baggage that comes in tow), will be able to present this issue.