September 26, 2008
Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama left Capitol Hill briefly for the first presidential debate Friday night, but the economical crisis haunted the candidates throughout the evening at Ole Miss.
McCain repeatedly attacked the Democratic candidate’s lack of experience and far-left record, while Obama accused the self-described “maverick’s” positions as indistinguishable from “failed Bush policies.”
Although foreign policy was the official topic of the night, moderator Jim Lehrer devoted the first 40 minutes of the debate to the current economic crisis. Both candidates voiced support for potential legislation but said it was still too early to take an official stance.
McCain attacked Obama’s more than $900 million in earmark requests as evidence of Obama’s reckless spending habits that would continue even in economic downturn, while McCain pointed to his efforts against wasteful spending and for bipartisan consensus.
“Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate. It’s hard to reach across the aisle from that far left,” McCain said.
Obama retorted that McCain’s plan gave too many taxcuts to corporations and businesses, while ignoring the critical need for affordable healthcare and giving the working-class a break, Obama said.
“You voted for almost all of (Bush’s) budgets,” Obama said later. “To stand here after almost eight years and say you’re gonna lead on controlling spending … I think is just kind of hard to swallow.”
The evening’s theme undoubtedly favored McCain, who continually referred to “I’ve been there” experiences that Obama does not have. The newer senator was frequently forced to rebuff these attacks.
McCain sharply criticized Obama for opposing the surge in Iraq, while Obama repeated his position that the war never should have been undertaken. The candidates diverged sharply on whether Iraq was even the main issue at present, as Obama called for increased focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. McCain countered with the Bush motto that Iraq is critical to stabilizing the region, although agreeing on Afghanistan’s importance.
The two found no middle ground on policy with Iran, as Obama called for more face-to-face talks instead of isolating the country. McCain pushed for tougher sanctions against Iran’s “lousy government” and derided notions that the Iraq war has given Iran greater prominence in the region.
Lehrer also fielded questions on Russia’s changing relationship with the United States, and the country’s vulnerability to another attack like 9/11.
The two candidates will meet Oct. 7 for the next presidential debate. Sen. Joe Bidden and Gov. Sarah Palin will face off Oct. 2 for the vice presidential debate.