Archive for October 3rd, 2008

My Favorite Answer

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Thank god that’s over.

By the time my wife and I started watching the debate last night, just after 11 p.m. EST (Tivoed), I’d fairly well convinced myself it would be a debacle for the Dems.

It wasn’t — mainly because Biden did exactly what he had to do: He kept the focus on McCain, McCain’s ties to Bush, and Obama’s plans to raise up the Middle Class.

And he was uncharacteristically disciplined.

Perhaps nowhere was this more clear than when Palin twice flubbed the name of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, calling him “Gen. McClellan” instead of David McKiernan. Biden somehow managed to hold his tongue and not correct her — which would have been the debacle that neurotic democrats everywhere were expecting. He left it to the media to correct, showing great political instincts.

Make no mistake. If I’m scoring this debate politically (and, really, what else matters?), it’s clear Palin won. The front page headlines in the Akron Beacon Journal this morning, which tell you everything you need to know about how this is playing where it matters, are:
“POINTS OF ATTACK: Palin stands her ground against Biden, sparring on Iraq, economic crisis, energy” and;
“Palin succeeds, considering low expectations; Alaska governor gets past nonsensical answers, shows confidence.”

Nevermind that. And forget the “who won on points” argument.

The lead story, when I turned on CNN this morning, was not the debate, but the House, which was expected to vote on the bailout. The next story was on the jobs report, and the news was even more bleak than most predicted. The U.S. lost 159,000 jobs in September, the biggest loss since 2003. CNN reported that the U.S. has lost 2.2 million jobs in the last 12 months.

When Palin spoke about jobs yesterday, she spoke about tax cuts. “We need tax relief for Americans so that jobs can be created here,” she said.

Right. Because that strategy has worked so well the past eight years. Which part of 2.2 million jobs lost didn’t you pick up on, Gov. Palin?

Meanwhile, Biden spoke of creating jobs by investing in innovative energy solutions. “Barack Obama believes by investing in clean coal and safe nuclear, we can not only create jobs in wind and solar here in the United States, we can export it,” he said. Later, he added that Obama’s energy policy would seek to create 5 million new jobs — a worthy priority, even if a difficult goal to reach.

Frankly, I thought Biden parried very well yesterday.

Palin kept trying to say Obama would “kill” jobs by raising taxes, but when she claimed Obama had voted to raise taxes 94 times, Biden immediately called her on it, nothing that by that same reckoning, McCain has voted “477 tiimes to raise taxes.”

It’s about time a Democrat had the acuity to throw that cheap, unfounded attack back in the face of the GOP. If you are in government long-enough, and you are a sensible lawmaker, you will — of necessity — vote to raise taxes. Reagan’s 1982 tax hike was the largest peace-time tax hike in American history. More followed in 1984 and 1987.

On the flip side, Biden spoke clearly and forcefully to counteract Palin’s false claims about Obama’s supposed tax hikes: “No one making less than $250,000 under Barack Obama’s plan will see one single penny of their tax raised whether it’s their capital gains tax, their income tax, investment tax, any tax. And 95 percent of the people in the United States of America making less than $150,000 will get a tax break.”

For the record, the NY Times fact checkers today had this to say about Palin’s false claims:

In addressing the issues of taxes, Governor Palin has made claims about Senator Obama‚Äôs policies that are not correct. … the McCain campaign months ago abandoned its argument that Mr. Obama favored a historic tax increase. It did so after tax analysts and other economists debunked the claim, saying that nothing contemplated by either party comes anywhere near the tax increases put into effect to fight World War II. Ms. Palin, however, revived the charge.

But my personal favorite answer last night had little to do with taxes, jobs, or the economy. My favorite answer was one I’ve seen quoted nowhere. It hasn’t even been referenced by the multitudes of pundits I’ve seen. And, yet, it may reflect one of the most salient issues in this election.

It came when Gwen Ifill asked about bipartisanship. “How do you change the tone, as vice president, as number two?”

Palin’s answer started with the obvious and veered into the nonsensical. “You do what I did as governor, and you appoint people regardless of party affiliation, Democrats, independents, Republicans,” she said. But most administrations do that. Clinton did that. He appointed a Republican, William Cohen, as his secretary of defense. It’s important, sure, but clearly not enough. The Clinton years, from the outset right up through impeachment, were among the most rabidly partisan in history.

Palin moved on from there to a non sequitur:

And even in my own family, it’s a very diverse family. And we have folks of all political persuasion in there, also, so I’ve grown up just knowing that, you know, at the end of the day, as long as we’re all working together for the greater good, it’s going to be OK.

But the policies and the proposals have got to speak for themselves, also. And, again, voters on November 4th are going to have that choice to either support a ticket that supports policies that create jobs.

You do that by lowering taxes on American workers and on our businesses. And you build up infrastructure, and you rein in government spending, and you make our — our nation energy independent.

So, to recap: the way to combat partisanship is to be like Gov. Palin’s family and, also, cut taxes.

Biden, meanwhile, in one of his finest moments in the debate, answered the question by way of a personal anecdote:

I have been able to work across the aisle on some of the most controversial issues and change my party’s mind, as well as Republicans’, because I learned a lesson from Mike Mansfield.

Mike Mansfield, a former leader of the Senate, said to me one day — he — I made a criticism of Jesse Helms. He said, “What would you do if I told you Jesse Helms and Dot Helms had adopted a child who had braces and was in real need?” I said, “I’d feel like a jerk.”

He said, “Joe, understand one thing. Everyone’s sent here for a reason, because there’s something in them that their folks like. Don’t question their motive.”

I have never since that moment in my first year questioned the motive of another member of the Congress or Senate with whom I’ve disagreed. I’ve questioned their judgment.

I think that’s why I have the respect I have and have been able to work as well as I’ve been able to have worked in the United States Senate. That’s the fundamental change Barack Obama and I will be bring to this party, not questioning other people’s motives.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve struggled often to reconcile my passion for the Obama-Biden ticket with my deep and abiding sense that we absolutely must find ways to respect those with whom we disagree. (See my blog post: “Why I Like John McCain.”) Just a few days ago, I wrote of my personal battle against arrogance and self-righteousness, even smugness (How could you not see that I’m right?), as this campaign heads into the home stretch.

What Biden gave us last night is nothing less than a tool to achieve a less partisan America.

Don’t question the motives of the neighbors across the street who have the McCain-Palin sign on their lawn. Assume they have perfectly good and valid reasons for being pro-life; for wanting to “drill baby drill”; for believing the war in Iraq was a just cause. Instead, as Biden learned, make the case for a different direction by questioning their logic, their facts, their fundamental judgments.

If you read “The Audacity of Hope,” if you listen to Obama, you’ll see he has the same approach. This is what attracted me to his candidacy initially, and it is one thing that’s remained a constant throughout this race.

During the first debate, Obama repeatedly said “You’re right, John”; he doesn’t question McCain’s motivations — he’s not threatened by McCain — so he’s free to agree when they hold a belief in common. Obama repeatedly says he “Honors McCain’s service to this great country” — even as it has started to give many Democrats agita. And, during the Democratic Convetion, Obama’s refrain was: “It’s not that John McCain doesn’t care. John McCain doesn’t get it.” In other words: it’s not that we question his motivations — of course he cares. We question his judgments.

Contrast this with the way John McCain talks about Barack Obama.

Consider, for example, McCain’s refrain — repeated recently at the Republican National Convention: “I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me.”

In other words: Obama is motivated by personal ambition, a desire for greatness, not love of country.

Or, remember what McCain said of Obama in Rochester, New Hampshire, in July (and repeated many times since): “Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.”

Again, McCain is saying that Obama is motivated first and foremost by political ambition. He just wants to win — and he’s willing to have troops die and America lose a war, if that’s what it takes.

McCain seems incredulous that, given his record of reaching out across party lines — and given Obama’s thinner resume in this regard — people don’t see him as the candidate of bi-partisanship.

He remains remarkably oblivious to the fact that by constantly questioning Sen. Obama’s motivation — when even a solid majority of voters don’t doubt it — he is clearly and unequivocally undermining his own claims that he will be able to rise above partisanship when it counts.

McCain quipped at the debate that it’s hard to reach across the aisle from so far to the left. Yet McCain couldn’t bring himself to even look across the stage at his opponent in an election.

Why? Because he questions Obama’s motivations.

Twenty-six years in office, and John McCain still hasn’t learned the crucial lesson in bipartisanship that Mansfield taught Biden.

It’s the judgments, stupid.