Friday's unique free-form debate format offered the best insights so far into the vast differences, values and style of Barack Obama and John McCain, and how they would approach the challenges that only a president can decide. It was the stunning contrast in personal behavior, not their answers, that was most revealing.
Given the time spent on the economic crisis, Jim Lehrer had time for only five "lead" questions on national security--on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, and homeland security. Other major issues will have to await later debates. But there was enough time for many intense and revealing exchanges. With a command of both the facts and the underlying issues, and a reassuring manner, Obama convincingly passed the key test of the debate--is he qualified to be Commander-in-Chief? But the real insights came in the revelations about the way each man thinks under pressure, and the way they interacted.
First, note a recurring pattern: With the exception of Iraq, where the disagreement began with Obama's opening sentence, Obama usually began by laying out broad themes, often mentioning instances of agreement with McCain--frequently using phrases like "John is absolutely right"--before going on to stress their differences. This is unusual, and part of what makes Obama a unique leader; I do not recall any previous major party candidate in a debate volunteering so many instances of common ground with his opponent. McCain's response struck me as odd and even ungracious; he has often proclaimed he would work across the partisan divide, but he undermined his own claim by completely ignoring Obama and his comments. Instead, he attacked Obama repeatedly, using phrases such as "Senator Obama just doesn't understand. . ." at least ten times.
The manner in which each man approached problems was strikingly different. McCain understandably emphasized his own personal experiences, but almost never made clear what he thought was the larger purpose of policy. Each problem was treated on its own, and McCain's proposed policies were invariably confrontational. John McCain's world focuses almost entirely on threats. Obama usually agreed with McCain on the nature of these threats, but his proposals for action were more insightful, sophisticated, and comprehensive, and, unlike McCain's, included the use of diplomatic and economic and moral power.
These striking differences were not simply debate tactics; they highlighted differences between the two men that are in their DNA. One is the product of the brawling traditions of the United States Navy, and survival under unimaginable conditions in a Hanoi prison. John McCain has prevailed in life not by seeking common ground (ironically, the most notable exception was his historic voyages of forgiveness to Vietnam). What has kept him energized (and alive) is his enormously combative style, which he proudly calls "maverick," and his quick, sometimes pre-emptive attacks on opponents. It is not a criticism to say that he is a gambler; he said so himself in his memoirs and in the debate.
Although Barack Obama articulates his positions in a calm, methodical, and understated way, he is clearly just as tough as McCain, or he would never have come this far in life, against unbelievable odds. But he thinks about how to solve problems in a manner much more conducive to successful governance than McCain. While he made clear he is ready to use military force if necessary, his life and career embodies the search for common ground between peoples of different backgrounds, different races, different points of view. During the debate he often emphasized the non-military aspects of American power--including diplomacy backed by American muscle, the restoration of respect for the nation, and the direct link between America's economic strength and its national security.
Astonishingly, McCain had virtually nothing to say on any of these issues--yet these are the tools that must be precisely balanced and deployed with skill if the nation is to regain its leadership position in the world.
This difference was reinforced by the much-noted failure of McCain to look in Obama's direction or address him directly during the debate, and by the grim looks that left many viewers with the impression McCain was just plain angry.
The overall effect was exactly the opposite of what McCain hoped to achieve: Obama showed that he could handle the frontal assaults of an aggressive and seasoned senator-war hero in the very area McCain was perceived to be strongest. Obama offered the larger vision for the nation--and a reassuring sense he would approach issues with the seriousness they required. The gambling, brawling style of John McCain has its attractive side to Americans, but it is not what we need in the White House in these troubled times.
George Will: Palin Is Not Qualified
Famed conservative columnist George Will told a gathering of Senate aides on Monday that Gov. Sarah Palin is "obviously" not prepared to assume the presidency if necessary, two event attendees told the Huffington Post.
Appearing at a Senate Press Secretaries Association reception at the Cornerstone Government Affairs office, Will offered a harsh assessment of John McCain's running mate.
Palin is "obviously not qualified to be President," he remarked, describing her interview on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric as a "disaster."
Will did state, according to a second source, that Palin has received rough treatment from the media; arguing that the Alaska Governor would have been "skewered" by the press if she had made some of the same gaffes as Sen. Joe Biden has in recent weeks. But his sympathies only extended so far.
Will has already been critical of the other half of the Republican ticket, calling McCain's handling of the financial crisis "un-presidential" just one week ago. And in offering his take on Palin, the longtime Washington scribe becomes the latest in a list of respected conservative figures who have now soured on the Palin pick.
Last week, Kathleen Parker of the National Review penned a column calling on the Alaska Governor to be dropped from the ticket. New York Time's columnist David Brooks and former Bush speechwriter David Frum have also expressed their doubts about Palin's capacity for the vice presidential post.
Will, who did not return requests for comment., had also been previously critical of McCain's choice of Palin, writing a week after it was announced: "The man who would be the oldest to embark on a first presidential term has chosen as his possible successor a person of negligible experience." One week ago, meanwhile, Will penned a blistering op-ed about McCain, accusing him of practicing "fact-free slander," holding a "Manichaean worldview," and "characteristically substituting vehemence for coherence."
Pebble's LAT story getting traction! Palin Claimed Dinosaurs And People Coexisted
The LA Times reports:
Soon after Sarah Palin was elected mayor of the foothill town of Wasilla, Alaska, she startled a local music teacher by insisting in casual conversation that men and dinosaurs coexisted on an Earth created 6,000 years ago -- about 65 million years after scientists say most dinosaurs became extinct -- the teacher said.
After conducting a college band and watching Palin deliver a commencement address to a small group of home-schooled students in June 1997, Wasilla resident Philip Munger said, he asked the young mayor about her religious beliefs.
Palin told him that "dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time," Munger said. When he asked her about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin said "she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks," recalled Munger, who teaches music at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and has regularly criticized Palin in recent years on his liberal political blog, called Progressive Alaska.
The idea of a "young Earth" -- that God created the Earth about 6,000 years ago, and dinosaurs and humans coexisted early on -- is a popular strain of creationism.
Though in her race for governor she called for faith-based "intelligent design" to be taught along with evolution in Alaska's schools, Gov. Palin has not sought to require it, state educators say.
In a widely-circulated interview, Matt Damon said of Palin, "I need to know if she really think that dinosaurs were here 4000 years ago. I want to know that, I really do. Because she's gonna have the nuclear codes."
The Questions for Perot about McCain and Gambling
Yesterday's New York Times front-page investigative story about John McCain's long time ties to the nation's gambling industry ("For McCain and Team, a Host of Ties to Gambling"), jogged my memory about an unsettling bit of information I was given by Ross Perot in 1995.
In November 1995, my wife and fellow author, Trisha, and I, interviewed Perot for several days for an unauthorized biography (Citizen Perot: His Life & Times, Random House, 1996). During one of our conversations, outside of the 'on the record' taped interviews, Perot discussed with us how he had utilized private investigators to uncover information about other people. Perot never used, from what I could determine, any of the personal details he assembled about others. Rather, he was merely a collector of information, never knowing when it might come in useful.
I discussed this with my editor, Bob Loomis. Without independent reporting, much of it was no more than informed gossip. Perot had passed along personal details about Barbara Walters family, Clinton chief of staff Leon Penneta, and business tycoon Peter Ueberroth, someone Perot had seriously considered as a vice-presidential candidate in his own 1992 presidential run.
From our interviews with Perot about the Vietnam POW/MIA issue, it was clear there was no love lost between Perot and a number of public officials who opposed his efforts to keep looking for soldiers he believed had been left behind and were alive. On Perot's most disliked list was George Herbert Bush, who as Reagan's vice-president had shut the door to any further government probe on the matter. Richard Armitage, George W. Bush's ex-deputy Secretary of State, had earned Perot's eternal animosity because of his conclusion that there were no MIAs left in Southeast Asia. And the final person to earn Perot's enmity was John McCain, who as a decorated war hero, and then Senator, had also closed the door to any further MIA investigations.
Bob Loomis and I decided that I should not report Perot's personal details about these men and women, with two exceptions. Regarding Ueberroth, I wrote in Citizen Perot that one Perot campaign insider had concluded that "Ueberroth was the perfect match," but that "Perot and Mort Meyerson (Perot's top business executive at EDS) personally made inquiries about him and eventually opted for a stand-in candidate."
And as for Armitage, Perot's information was so detailed, including even surveillance photos of Armitage in supposedly compromising situations, I did report it. And Armitage was generous in giving me extensive interviews that helped explain the background and put into context Perot's one man war on him.
I am only reporting now Perot's rumor/information about McCain because of today's New York Times story. Perot told me that McCain had a gambling problem and he had uncovered details that McCain was bailed out in the late 1980s from a big gambling debt by his wife, Cindy.
If true, it raises a question as to whether McCain's gambling might ever have put him in a situation where he was pressed to repay his debt through Senatorial favors.
An enterprising reporter has to ask Ross Perot if he will acknowledge what he shared with me 14 years ago, and if so, if he will now provide the evidence to back up the assertion. Perot hasn't talked to me since I published my unauthorized biography, so unfortunately, I am not the person to ask. And some reporter should ask McCain, directly, if he has ever had a gambling debt that his wife had to pay off. American voters have a right to know.
First rule of thumb in presidential politics: if a GOP operative is saying it, it's not true.
That's why I'm disinclined to put much credibility in the WSJ's article today about GOP fears that Palin won't be able to pull off the Thursday debate.
The article doesn't feature a single GOP operative speaking in Palin's defense. Meanwhile, the article cites several examples of Plain "flubbing" mock debates, whatever that means.
Those leaks have to be coming from McCain-land. You never see that kind of stuff coming from a campaign unless it's planned, and their plan couldn't be more obvious. They are playing pre-debate spin wars, and they are doing it big time, workign feverishly to lower expectations for Palin's performance.
I'll give them some credit: they have done a great job of lowering expectations. They've made lemonade out of the CBS interview lemon, and it just might pay off in some small degree.
While there is always a chance Palin could gaffe during the debate, it's far more likely that she will do just fine, in large part because the debate's format is so rigidly structured (a fact that should also benefit Joe Biden, who is a gaffe-monster himself).
But even though they've managed to lower expectations, they haven't really dealt with the fundamental problem that they face, which is that at a time when the McCain campaign needs a game-changing moment, the best they can hope for in the debate on Thursday is that it isn't a calamity.
Fortunately for them, it probably won't be a calamity, but even if Palin wins the debate it won't mean much for the campaign. Remember Lloyd Bentsen's demolition of Dan Quayle in 1988? Take a look:
I'd be surprised as anybody if Palin won the debate as thoroughly as Bentsen did in 1988, but we all know what happened in 1988. (Similarly, if Biden wins like Bensten it won't change much.)
On the other hand, if Palin turns in a debate performance worthy of James Stockdale in 1992 (Ross Perot's "what am I doing here" running mate) McCain would suffer real demage, damage that no amount of pre-debate spin can counteract.
Again, a repeat of Stockdale 1992 probably isn't in the cards.
Most likely, on Friday morning we'll probably be looking at a race that's fundamentally unchanged. If it is changed, however, it won't be a good thing for McCain.
WASHINGTON — If John McCain is elected and goes on to win a second term, there's as much as a one-in-four chance America could see its first woman president _ Sarah Palin.
It's actuarial math.
The odds highly favor either McCain or Barack Obama completing a first term in good health. After that, McCain's odds still are still fairly solid, but his chances of dying or being in poor health go up faster than Obama's, mainly because of his age.
An Atlanta actuarial company specializing in individualized estimates of life and health expectancy has run the numbers for McCain, 72, and Obama, 47. The firm, Bragg Associates, calculated the odds of the candidates dying in office, adjusted for their known health problems.
McCain would be the oldest president to begin a first term in office. By the end of a second term, Jan. 20, 2017, he would have a 24.44 percent chance of dying, compared with 5.76 percent for Obama, the firm estimates.
"Can either candidate expect to serve two terms in a healthy state? The answer is yes," says James C. Brooks, Jr., an actuary with the firm. "They're both in outstanding health for people of their age."
Illness is another issue.
Because chances of developing a serious ailment are higher for any person than are the chances of dying, Bragg used the candidates' medical information to estimate how many years of good health might be in store for each. After all, a debilitating illness could force a president to step down.
The firm estimates that McCain has a health expectancy of 8.4 years, while Obama can expect another 21.9 years of good health. The calculations are from January, 2009, covering two terms in office for either candidate. McCain, if he's like others in his age group, would have a cushion of just about five months.
But no one really knows. Actuaries like Brooks make statistical calculations for insurance companies, based on numbers culled from large databases. No matter how sophisticated, they can't predict anyone's future.
"There a randomness to it that we don't know," said Ron Gebhardtsbauer, who directs the actuarial science program at Penn State's Smeal College of Business.
For example, he said, "if McCain is president, he'll get the best health care in the world. I can't crank that into any of my numbers."
Health expectancy calculations, although relatively new, are becoming increasingly important as people buy long-term-care insurance.
"We've done thousands of these health expectancy calculations for financial planners," said Brooks. "People, especially those with high net worth, are concerned more about the risk of living too long than about what happens if they die prematurely. What if they need long-term care?"
The firm's estimates for McCain and Obama relied on medical information disclosed by the candidates. Bragg Associates has no partisan agenda, said Brooks: "We don't have a dog in this hunt."
He classified the Democrat as a smoker with minor upper respiratory problems, probably linked to his smoking. Obama announced in February that he was trying to quit smoking again, with the aid of nicotine gum.
"We don't consider you a nonsmoker until you stay quit for 12 months," said Brooks.
In the spring, the Obama campaign released a letter from the candidate's doctor declaring him to be in excellent health. He had very good cholesterol levels, his EKG was normal, his pulse was 60 beats per minute, and his blood pressure was an outstanding 90 over 60. Obama also exercises regularly.
But Obama has a family history of cancer. His mother died of ovarian cancer and his maternal grandfather died of prostate cancer. Obama's PSA screening test for prostate cancer showed no sign of abnormalities.
For the Republican, Brooks took into account a history of skin cancer, degenerative arthritis from his Vietnam war injuries, moderately high cholesterol, mild vertigo and that McCain is a former smoker who quit in 1980.
McCain allowed reporters to review eight years of medical records, more than 1,000 pages. They show that he is cancer-free, has a strong heart and is generally in good health. As a three-time melanoma survivor, his biggest health worry is a recurrence of that cancer. But he is closely watched by his dermatologist, and any future melanoma should be caught in time to be treated successfully. McCain maintains a healthy weight and blood pressure, and takes medication for his cholesterol.
Vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin have not released their medical records, although Biden has promised to. Biden, 65, had surgery 20 years ago to repair a life-threatening brain aneurysm. He was out of the Senate for seven months while he recuperated but says he's fine now. Palin, 44, a mother of five, gave birth earlier this year to a son, Trig, who was born with Down syndrome.
Unearthed Video: McCain Pushed Bush Iraq War Agenda Two Months After 9/11
Recently unearthed video shows that just two months after 9/11, John McCain was not only fully aware of the Bush Administration's Iraq War Agenda, but also that he actively helped make the argument for war.
In an interview broadcast November 28, 2001 on ABC News Nightline, McCain:
* Said that the Bush Administration would build a case for military conflict with Iraq, and expressed his support for such action
* Advanced false claims made by the Bush Administration about the threat of Iraqi WMD
* Connected Iraq with 9/11 by repeating the false claim that 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta had met with Iraq intelligence authorities in Prague before 9/11
Here's the video: