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Fight Night!

Scoring Obama-McCain, round by round.

11:50 PM, Sep 26, 2008 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Round 1: Where do you stand on the Paulson bailout plan?

Obama says that Main Street was suffering long before Wall Street and that we have to move swiftly and wisely. Also, he says that he's put forward proposals to make this plan work better, most importantly to make sure we bail out the deadbeats who are being foreclosed on, too, and not just the Richie Riches at Lehman. Oh, and by the way and Bush and McCain caused this whole thing.

McCain opens by saying that he wishes Ted Kennedy all the best, signaling that he believes Sarah Palin has brought the GOP base onboard for good. He then points to the bipartisan nature of the modified Paulson package. And says that this is only the end of the beginning of the financial crisis. Neither guy answered the question, prompting Lehrer to re-ask.

On redirect, Obama says he can't say whether he's for it or not because he hasn't seen the details. But that it's important to remember that he warned of the crisis two years ago. Which kind of leaves one wondering why, if he knew that the "worst economic crisis since the Great Depression" was coming down the pike, all he did was write a letter to Paulson instead of acting to head it off.

McCain says that he is going to vote for the bailout and then talks about how important it is to hold people accountable for their actions. This is a close one since neither guy conveys any deep understanding of the situation or insight into the solution.

Round to Obama

Round 2: Are there fundamental difference between your two approaches to the crisis?

McCain goes right after spending, hitting his reform theme and blaming Republicans for their earmarks, out of control spending, and scandals. It's like he's daring Obama to be harder on the GOP than he is.

Obama says that earmarks are bad--though not as bad as "the special interests"! But Obama maintains that McCain's tax cuts for evil corporations and the rich are a worse source of waste than earmarks. Standing traditional supply-side economics on its head, Obama says he wants to grow the economy from the "bottom up."

The two then go back and forth on McCain's business tax cuts, culminating in McCain pointing that the U.S. business tax is 35 percent, Ireland's is 11 percent, and that lowering business taxes is one of the ways you keep businesses in America and create jobs. When Obama challenges this, he says that all of the "loopholes" actually make business taxes too low--suggesting that he'd like to make the U.S. less hospitable to businesses. Then McCain hits Obama for talking and not doing. Obama looks peevish.

Round to McCain

Round 3: As president, what will you give up to pay for the $700 billion bailout?

Obama says, quite nonsensically, that he's going to give up foreign oil by turning to wind, solar, and alternative fuels. He then goes on to talk about all the other things he is going to spend money on. If you were at all concerned that Obama's "no new taxes" pledge might not be written in stone, he isn't setting your mind at ease.

McCain says that we have to get spending under control and that he'd examine every agency of the government. Then, just throw an elbow at Iowa voters, he says that the first thing he'd do is cut the ethanol subsidy. Also, in an attempt to drive Michael Goldfarb from his staff, he singles out the DDX program in a long list of government waste that he'd go after.

When asked again what he would give up, Obama ducks the question, saying, again, that he will invest in ending our dependence on foreign oil. Not to pick nits but technically, that's new spending. Lehrer seems perturbed.

McCain then goes on the offensive saying we ought to consider a spending freeze (minus defense, entitlements, and veterans affairs). Thinking he has an opening, Obama pounces, saying that he wouldn't endorse a spending freeze because there are lots of under-funded programs that need more money from the federal government. It's not clear how this is helping reassure people that he won't raise their taxes.

Round to McCain

Round 4: What are the lessons of Iraq?

McCain says that you need to be mindful that strategies can fail and that flexibility is important. He says that we're winning in Iraq and that we will come home with victory and honor and a newly-minted ally in the region. He gives Gen. Petraeus and the troops all the credit.