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Debate Liveblogging - 10.15.2008

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 9:59 PM EDT

DEBATE LIVEBLOGGING....Finally. Our last presidential debate. After the last debate a reader emailed to warn me against being so grumpy, and I'll try. After all, I don't turn 50 for another few days yet. So on with the show!

Wrapup: I know I'm partisan, but McCain seemed completely out of his depth tonight. He was flitting from point to point all night without ever putting together a coherent argument, and then grabbing miscellaneous attacks from the rolodex in his head whenever some bright idea popped into his mind. His energy level was weirdly erratic, tired at times but then suddenly perking up whenever he got annoyed by something and remembered some zinger that he wanted to fire off.

McCain also interrupted a lot, and when he did he seemed clearly upset. That really didn't sound presidential. I'm sure McCain thought he was "scoring points" all evening, but his points were disjointed and often inappropriate. I really don't think this kind of thing goes over well, especially when it's sustained for 90 minutes.

Finally, McCain's facial expressions were truly bizarre. He went from angry to annoyed to smug to laughing to grumpy to grinning and then went through the cycle all over again. It was very, very weird.

As for Obama, he was fine. He didn't break through in any way, but he didn't need to. He held his own and that's probably all he needed.

UPDATE: CNN insta-poll says Obama won the debate 58%-31%. CBS poll of uncommitted voters says Obama won 53%-22%.

In the CNN poll, McCain's unfavorables went up four points after the debate. I'm not surprised. The CNN panel seems to think that McCain showed a lot of "energy," but I just don't think it came across that way most of the time. I think it came across as jumpy, seething, and, yes, erratic. Not good.

10:25 – McCain's plastic grin is totally weirding me out.

10:23 – Now McCain is talking up vouchers. Whew.

10:21 – This is the second time Obama has dissed teachers unions. I guess that's his version of a Sister Souljah moment or something.

10:19 – McCain is promoting charter schools but not vouchers. What kind of conservative does he think he is?

10:17 – I haven't really been watching the audience-o-meter during this debate. I guess I'm already bored with it. But everyone sure loves Obama's education plan!

10:14 – Who is McCain looking at while Obama is talking? He really seems like he's exchanging looks with someone in the audience. It's weird.

10:11 – McCain frequently talks in a sort of code. Obama just mentioned the Ledbetter case, and when McCain's rebuttal came up he very quickly said something about "statute of limitations" and "trial lawyer's dream" and then immediately moved on. But did anyone watching know what he was talking about?

10:09 – Now a strong defense of Roe v. Wade from Obama. Obviously he thinks this is a winning stand.

10:07 – I think McCain just said he'd be willing to nominate a judge who supports Roe v. Wade but then ten seconds later said he wouldn't. But I'm not sure.

10:06 – The average cost of a healthcare plan is $5,800? Maybe for an individual it is, but McCain's $5,000 tax credit is for an entire family. After that misrepresentation McCain then moves on to a spiel about big government big spending you should choose your own plan yada yada yada.

10:05 – Back to Joe the Plumber! Enough!

10:02 – Obama's discussion of McCain's plan started out slow, but improved when he just made a straight comparison of $5,000 and $12,000.

10:00 – McCain is now going on about fines and single-payer. I don't think most people know what he's talking about.

9:58 – Obama's response on healthcare is pretty effective. He told a very coherent story in just a minute or two. McCain, in response, is jumping from one unrelated point to another. It's like a completely random collection of healthcare points lifted in random order from his website.

9:55 – Now McCain jumps from the Colombian trade agreement to Obama wanting to sit down with Hugo Chavez. Then suddenly Obama is Herbert Hoover. I'm suffering from whiplash listening to him

9:51 – McCain is bashing Obama for opposing the Colombian trade agreement. Then he rattles off some stuff about Obama never traveling south of the border and Colombia being our best ally in the war on drugs. This does not strike me as an effective line of attack. Joe the Plumber just doesn't care.

[UPDATE: A friend whose husband is a plumber emails to say that plumbers do indeed care about Colombia. "Chuck says that his local has been diligent about informing the members about the murders of union organizers in Colombia." I stand corrected!]

9:47 – McCain thinks Canadian oil is OK. Good to hear! Then he jumps suddenly to a weird attack related to NAFTA. McCain seems completely unable to mount a coherent statement on a single subject. He just flits from attack to attack.

9:45 – McCain responds with a rambling, irritable attack on Obama for always wanting to increase spending. Lame.

9:43 – Obama managed to turn a question about Sarah Palin into an observation that we should increase spending on autism research but we can't do it if we have an across-the-board spending freeze. Pretty slick.

9:40 – McCain says we need to know the real truth about Bill Ayers but he himself isn't going to bring it up. No sirree. Jeebus. He's really lame at attack politics when he's face to face with Obama.

9:38 – McCain just can't seem to wipe that weird smug smile off his face while Obama is talking.

9:35 – Now McCain suddenly interrupts to say that he doesn't care about Bill Ayers but that Obama should address it anyway. ACORN too. Obama is obviously eager to have this brought up.

9:33 – Obama is now trying to bait McCain into bringing up Bill Ayers. Instead McCain is telling us that the people who come to his rallies are the most patriotic Americans around. Huh?

9:31 – McCain could hardly contain himself while Obama was talking about Congressman Lewis. Looks bad. Looks cranky and angry.

9:27 – Bob Schieffer just practically begged McCain to bring up Bill Ayers. But McCain isn't taking the bait.

9:23 – Obama giving "credit" to McCain for his position on torture, whether it's deserved or not, was a very good debating move. It makes him the alpha monkey at the table.

9:20 – McCain: "We can take a hatchet and a scalpel to the budget." Not only doesn't this make sense, it really, really doesn't make sense.

9:17 – On the other hand, McCain is just incoherent on the subject of program cuts. But then he changes gears and goes full bore for an across-the-board spending freeze. (Though he forgot to say "except for a bunch of stuff I don't want to freeze.") Then he's back to earmarks, including the projector for the planetarium in Chicago. Sheesh.

9:15 – Only 15 minutes in and already Bob Schieffer wants to know what programs we're going to cut since we're headed into a recession. Shades of Herbert Hoover. Unfortunately, Obama appears to be unwilling to fight back against this nonsense.

9:12 – McCain is lying about the corporate tax rate again. And he's doing it with the creepy smile he pastes on whenever he knows he's lying. (For the record: no, we don't have the 2nd highest corporate tax rate in the world. Our official rates are high, but there are so many exemptions in the corporate tax code that the actual rate is about average.)

9:11 – Is "Joe the Plumber" going to be the new "Joe Sixpack"?

9:09 – Now Obama is back to tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts. I guess that's politics, but I really hate seeing a liberal campaigning that way.

9:07 – What was with McCain's little eyebrow raise when he mentioned the name "Joe Wurzelbacher"?

9:06 – I've been less than thrilled with the fact that Obama has been campaigning so heavily on tax cuts, and I'm happy to see that although he's still doing it, he's also emphasizing other aspects of his economic plan fairly heavily too. That's the right place to be.

9:04 – Right off the bat, McCain is blaming Fannie and Freddie for the subprime crisis. What a douchebag.

8:59 – CNN has their squiggly lines again, of course, which are designed to measure the reaction of their focus group participants to the debate. But that's not good enough. In 2012 I want 30 volunteers watching the debate from inside an MRI machine to find out what they really think about the candidates.

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Debate III: The Live Blog

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 9:38 PM EDT

Hello internet! Nick and I are back with another liveblog — sadly, it's likely our last until election day. Tonight's key questions:

(1) Does McCain raise Ayers? If so, does he find a way to do it without crippling his reformer image and without making it appear he lacks the necessary focus on the economy?

(2) Will moderator Bob Schieffer ask John McCain about a report that broke this afternoon detailing cell phone towers the McCains had installed at their ranch (free of cost) by telecom companies under McCain's jurisdiction on the Senate Commerce Committee?

(3) Will the Dodgers or the Phillies prevail in sunny Los Angeles? Current score: Phillies 1, Dodgers 0. Ichabod Crane Cole Hamels is on the hill for Philadelphia.

Here we go...

8:58: Chris Matthews, wearing a sweater, is talking about how the candidates can persuade male voters by appealing to men's need to provide for their wives and children. He admits that this is an old-fashioned view of the American family.

9:04: McCain says Americans are hurt and angry. And they want this country to go in a new direction. I think he has to go stronger. I think he needs to break with the last eight years of Republican leadership cleanly and clearly. He adds that the catalyst of the economic crisis was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

9:06: Obama recites the new economic policies he unveiled Monday. You can see them here.

9:08: John McCain somehow knows Barack Obama's plumber friend named Joe, who wants to run a small business. He actually calls the guy "Joe the plumber."

9:10: Now Obama calls this guy "Joe the plumber." Officially the most famous pipe cleaner in America.

Top 5, October 15: New Music

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 8:48 PM EDT

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In this edition: apocalyptic hip-hop, sweeping indie-rock, an inevitable mashup, soaring electro-pop, and, uh, quirky Marxist lounge music, I guess.

1. T.I. feat. Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil' Wayne – "Swagga Like Us"

Every great rapper working today? Check. A menacing electronic buzz reminiscent of nothing so much as the avant-garde synth soundtrack to '80s cult hit "Liquid Sky"? Check. Auto-tune turned up to "11," forcing the voices into unnatural, robotic stutters? Check. A so-hip-it-hurts sample loop from M.I.A's "Paper Planes," with her always-hypnotic voice providing the only organic counterpoint to the machines in this profoundly strange and apocalyptic piece of music? Check.

2. Margot & the Nuclear So & Sos – "A Children's Crusade on Acid"
At first, it seems a brief flirtation with backwards drums will be the only real reference to LSD-tinged psychedelia on this track from the Indiana combo. But then the simple piano chords suddenly give way to a huge, distorted bass noise, and lead singer Richard Edwards sings, "The children lose their minds/In such uncertain times." Plus it was featured in "One Tree Hill"! (mp3 from The Yellow Stereo)

Obama, Sure. But Will McCain Hit Your Xbox Too?

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 8:12 PM EDT

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As Jonathan Stein pointed out earlier, the Obama campaign is leaving no constituent behind. The campaign has purchased ad space in a slew of online Xbox 360 games, including Madden NFL 09 and Burnout Paradise, in 10 battleground states.

If the Obama ads nudge swing-state gamers to participate in early voting, will McCain then follow Obama's online lead?

Click here for one blogger's rendition of what McCain's Xbox ads might look like. Once he gets over that pesky case of technophobia, anyway.


Nichole Wong

Law and Order on the Trail

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 8:02 PM EDT

Tonight's debate on domestic policy will give the presidential candidates an opportunity to address a major domestic issue that hasn't received much attention from either campaign: Our country's skyrocketing incarceration rate and the sentencing policies, particularly for nonviolent offenders, that have contributed to it.

We've heard surprisingly little on this issue, considering Obama's legislative work on death penalty reform and Biden's nearly three decades of tough-on-crime cred (he created the job of "drug czar" during the Reagan administration and wrote the legislation imposing mandatory minimum sentences for possession of crack cocaine, a law he finally moved to overturn earlier this year). McCain's website indicates he supports more enforcement and stricter sentencing, but the details are vague.

The economy will likely trump all other domestic policy items tonight, but that's no excuse to ignore criminal justice in light of the quasi-recession. Cash-strapped states started rethinking their incarceration policies even before credit dried up. Now that they can't even get the money they need for regular municipal operations, maybe it's time to rethink them again.

Bursting the Bubble

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 6:52 PM EDT

BURSTING THE BUBBLE....Responding to Mark Thoma's post about asset bubbles and how to deal with them, Matt Yglesias says:

Part of the weirdness of the housing bubble was that even if you believed there was a bubble, there was relatively little you could do about it. You can't "short" housing in any easy way. And doing something like selling your house, and moving your family into a rental with the expectation of buying back into the market after the bubble pops involves huge transaction and search costs. Looking for a new place to live is a pain-in-the-ass and moving is both annoying and expensive. It's much easier for a person who thinks real estate prices will rise to become a speculative buyer than it is for someone who thinks real estate prices will fall to become a speculative seller. It seems to me that that mismatch was one of the driving forces behind the real estate bubble.

Actually, I think this is only narrowly correct. It's true that there were very few people like Mark Kleiman who were willing to sell their houses at the peak and move into apartments for a while in hopes of making money. Ironically, though, the same derivative market that turned the housing bubble into a global financial meltdown also provided investors with plenty of opportunites to make money by betting that the housing bubble wouldn't last. John Paulson famously did it by shorting CDO tranches and buying mispriced credit-default swaps. Andrew Lahde made a mint via leveraged shorting of ABX indices and other mortgage-related structured credits. Helen Thomas reports that Hayman Capital, Corriente Advisors, and Passport Capital also profited from betting against the housing market. Ordinary mortals could have done it by shorting stocks of home builders or perhaps by shorting REITs.

There were ways to do it. There just weren't enough people around smart enough to see the bubble for what it was and with the backbone to bet a lot of money that they were right about it.

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Anecdotal Evidence

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 6:04 PM EDT

ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE....Just got back from lunch with a conservative friend of mine that I hadn't seen for a couple of months. My guess is that he's never voted for a Democratic president in his life. Today, though, he dropped off his absentee ballot with the box marked for Barack Obama.

The final straw? Sarah Palin. "Can you imagine her actually becoming president?" he asked. I'll bet he's not the only one wondering.

Free the Debates!

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 5:48 PM EDT

What do Arianna Huffington, the founders of Craigslist and Wikipedia, Kos, the big wigs of MoveOn.org, the co-founder of RedState.org, and a number of internet pioneers all have in common? They are all part of something call the Open Debate Coalition, a group of folks left, right, and center who want to see the presidential debates and the commission that organizes them fundamentally reformed.

The Open Debate Coalition has three primary objectives: (1) Make raw footage of the debates part of the public domain, so that journalists, bloggers, and citizens can access it without concerns about a major network slamming them with a copyright suit. (2) Allow citizens to vote for questions in advance using the internet, so that town halls aren't conducted at the whim of a moderator. And (3) reform or replace the Commission on Presidential Debates, a group which declines to make information on its funders public and has not released the debate rules to which both presidential campaigns have reportedly agreed.

This is not a commission that holds itself to iron-clad ethics rules. Anheuser-Busch has sponsored the presidential debates in every cycle since 1996 — as a result, its hometown, St. Louis, has hosted at least one debate in all but one of the last five presidential elections. Reports the Center for Public Integrity, "For its $550,000 contribution in 2000, the beer company was permitted to distribute pamphlets against taxes on beer at the event."

While seeking sunlight is never easy, the Open Debate Coalition would be excused for thinking they have an ace up their sleeve: the support of presidential contenders Barack Obama and John McCain. Both candidates have written letters (here's Obama's; here's McCain's) expressing support for the coalition's ideals.

So far, no luck. But the members of the coalition aren't giving up — they see a future where debates bear no resemblance to the ones we have today, which, should anyone need reminding, are essentially identical to the ones held between presidential candidates 25 years ago. "2008 will likely be the last year that the Commission on Presidential Debates will exist as we know it," Adam Green, Director of Strategic Campaigns for MoveOn.org Political Action, told me. "In the future, voters will demand interactions with the candidates that are democratic, transparent, and accountable to the public."

Or, as Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum, told the Washington Post: "Hopefully, comparing the 2012 debates to those of 2008 will be like comparing a 5th generation iPhone to a bullhorn."

Devo Returns to Akron to Help the Democrats

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 4:26 PM EDT

mojo-photo-devo.jpgNew wave innovators and silly hat proponents Devo are coming together to play their first show in their hometown of Akron, Ohio in 30 years, and it's a fundraiser for the Democratic Party.

Over the years, the band has performed several times in Cleveland and at Blossom Music Center, but, by Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh's recollection, the band's show on Friday at the Civic Theatre will bring the band full circle as the theater was the setting of their final Akron concert in 1978. The show, called Duty Now for the Future — the title of Devo's sophomore album — will be a benefit for the Summit County Democratic Party. … "Ohio is in our blood," said Mothersbaugh, "you can take the boys out of Ohio but you can't take Ohio out of the boys.''
The band, which also includes Mothersbaugh's brother, Bob; brothers Gerald and Bob Casale and Josh Freese, is not touring, but Mothersbaugh said the election was too important to stand by and do nothing to inspire folks to get to the polls.
"I think our fans are like us in that they are pro-information and anti-stupidity,'' he said laughing heartily.

Devo members, in addition to being anti-stupidity and wearing those funny hats, have also been active proponents of the Church of the SubGenius, which in this day and age is probably considered a terrorist group, so it's probably best if Obama himself doesn't show up. But apparently the Black Keys and Chrissie Hynde might. Go, Ohio! Are there any direct flights to Akron from here?

Obama Is a Terrorist and I'll Vote For Him

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 4:18 PM EDT

I discussed ways McCain might get back in the race below, but if this report is to be believed, it's a lost cause. These were the reactions a Republican consultant got from blue collar types in the upper Midwest after showing them the nastiest possible anti-Obama ads:

54 year-old white male, voted Kerry '04, Bush '00, Dole '96, hunter, NASCAR fan...hard for Obama said: "I'm gonna hate him the minute I vote for him. He's gonna be a bad president. But I won't ever vote for another god-damn Republican. I want the government to take over all of Wall Street and bankers and the car companies and Wal-Mart run this county like we used to when Reagan was President."
The next was a woman, late 50s, Democrat but strongly pro-life. Loved B. and H. Clinton, loved Bush in 2000. "Well, I don't know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I'm sick of paying for health insurance at work and that's why I'm supporting Barack."

The consultant, who gave this account to Ben Smith over at Politico, called it "the two most unreal moments of my professional life of watching focus groups."