The Economy Is the Only Issue Left

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(Danville, California)

Barring any unforeseen events, election 2008 will come down to the economy, the economy, and the economy. That’s not to say it should; there are other pressing issues to discuss, but good luck getting them some attention.

The best question of Tuesday night’s debate in Nashville came not from moderator Tom Brokaw but from a woman in the audience. “How can we trust either of you with our money, when both parties got us into this crisis?"

She’s right. Blaming either party alone is not accurate. Republicans hold responsibility for pushing for too much deregulation and too much deficit spending. Democrats hold blame for pushing mortgage programs that put families into homes they simply could not afford, especially when their adjustable interest rates ballooned.

“It’s true,” Obama conceded. “Nobody is completely innocent here.” Obama is backed by former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines, who was Bill Clinton’s budget director. The Bush Administration is backed by many from Goldman Sachs, including the current Treasury Secretary, as well as other Wall Street firms. Both organizations share in the blame, too.

It bothers me that no one in Washington, D.C., seemed to see this crisis coming, which begs the question: If they didn’t understand the problem, how can they possibly know the solution? Right now it’s a $700 billion dollar question.

The best question that actually came from Brokaw in this town hall format was when he asked each candidate whom they might appoint Secretary of the Treasury.

“I like Meg Whitman,” said John McCain of the E-Bay founder, “She knows how to create jobs.” Obama countered that Berkshire Hathaway investment guru Warren Buffet was under his consideration. “Warren would be a pretty good choice,” said Obama. I had long ago predicted each candidate would start naming cabinet members in advance of the election, and this might be the start of it.

Taxes were on everyone’s mind last night. Obama pledged that anyone making under $250,000 a year would have their taxes cut under his plan. McCain said, “Let’s not raise anyone’s taxes.” Whether either plan is feasible will be up to Congress and perhaps the overall state of the economy at the time.

Obama criticized McCain for saying that the fundamentals of the economy were strong, though - in fairness - McCain said that months ago, before the current crisis. McCain, noting that his proposed national energy policy would go a long way to help fix the economy, stated, “Nuclear power is safe and clean and creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. Senator Obama opposes that.” Obama, who favors very limited offshore oil drilling, countered, “We have 3 percent of the world’s oil supply, but we use 25 percent of the world’s oil. We can’t drill ourselves out of the problem.”

While we all wait and watch what the markets will do each day, it's well worth watching what the candidates might do about the economy, if elected. Right now it trumps all other issues in this campaign.

The final Presidential debate is next Wednesday at Hofstra University in New York. Until then, I will be writing daily about the campaign at

Call It a Tie; Debate Two Was Pretty Even

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(Danville, California)

It could hardly have been closer. My final score for the debate was 14.6 for John McCain and 14.3 for Barack Obama. In essence it was a tie. The debate was notable for two things which were absent. It was widely predicted that McCain would attack Obama’s controversial associates, such as Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In fact, their names never came up. Nor did Sarah Palin’s. Again, it was widely expected that her readiness would be debated. Her name was never mentioned.

The Loyola Marymount Debate Score Sheets I use are pretty straightforward. The candidates are judged on four criteria: Clear; well organized; factual and relevant. So they were very close when they stuck to the question. If they wandered, they lost points.

For example, the candidates were asked to rank their issue priorities between energy, health care and entitlement programs. McCain ranked all three, but Obama ranked education and skipped the entitlement portion. Maybe he misunderstood the question, but he addressed an issue that simply wasn’t part of the question.

When another question focused on how to deal with entitlements, McCain talked about fixing Social Security. He said, “It’s easy,” and talked of the bipartisanship of Ronald Regan and Tip O’Neill on the same issue 25 years ago. But he offered no specifics on how it would be easy to fix. So McCain lost points there.

The LMU scoring system (as I interpret it) seems fairly objective on focusing on the issues raised in the questions. Where it is perhaps less clear is on the subtleties. For example, during a question on how they would handle Pakistan, Obama criticized McCain for singing a song at a town hall meeting, which went, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” McCain correctly pointed out - and the widely played video demonstrates - that the song was in jest. “I was joking with an old vet friend, who was joking with me about Iran.” So, taking a candidate out of context cost a debater points as well. It’s about the clarity criterion.

McCain, on the other hand, was hurt by his organization. He often stumbled when beginning his answers. He tried to quote Teddy Roosevelt by saying “Walk softly….talk softly….” By muffing the quote, it lost its impact. So he was docked points there.

I felt both men had excellent closing statements, and I scored them dead even. They were asked to address what they don’t know. “What I don’t know, is what the unexpected will be,” McCain said. “I do know what it’s like in dark times,” he added with obvious reference to his years as a Vietnamese POW.

“It’s the challenges that you don’t expect that consume most of your time,” Obama said in his answer. He spoke of his single parent mother, of the help his grandparents gave in raising him, and of the hard times, such as living on food stamps. “Despite this, I was able to go to the best schools on earth,” he added about his optimism for America. As I said, both closing statements by the candidates came from the heart and were personal. That scores well.

So ultimately who won? Well, McCain is behind in the polls, and he needed a stronger win tonight. With one more debate next Wednesday, he needs a bigger victory to reverse the trend.

The problem for McCain continues to be a sinking economy that so far shows no signs of bottoming out or of turning around. McCain put forth a unique idea tonight, trying to change the momentum. He suggested that the Secretary of the Treasury buy up all the bad home loans in the nation and renegotiate better terms for the homeowners, preventing foreclosures. “It’s my proposal,” McCain said. “It’s not Senator Obama’s proposal. It’s not President Bush’s proposal.”

Whether that idea resonates with voters remains to be seen over the next 28 days. I’ll be there watching and writing at

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