It’s official. This US Election matters to me more than it should. But then again, that’s exactly it — these things should matter more to more people, but that’s a topic for a whole other time.
Last Friday’s debate between Obama and McCain went down the way people least expected it: it went down as you would expect. McCain was McCain, Obama was Obama. Both were railing at the other with their usual talking points. It really wasn’t a debate. Or if it was, it’s as big a debate as you could get between an apple and an orange, a Mac and a PC, a Marvel and a DC. They threw their punches but it didn’t really matter. The Democrats had their debate, the Republicans had their debate too. Of course, the post-campaign spin from both camps would claim victory, as is the case when it comes to a tie.
The only question is how much a tie it was. Were they both good? Were they both bad?
I agree that neither completely answered the question on what spending project they would give up on given the $700 billion bailout. But that is only because they can’t see that far into the future. They are policy makers and so I’ll have to give this point to Obama. (The media just didn’t get their soundbite really). In responding to what he’ll give up, he reiterated his priorities but expressed that he was non-commital: he had to see the language first, he had to know how much they would raise by time the budgetary process begins. Obama isn’t a mere politician, he is the thinking man’s technocrat and a leader that can remain cool, calculating and rational under pressure. Granted, the debate format isn’t friendly to someone who thinks too much, but then I just have to say that he’s come across more confident than ever.
McCain’s response to the economic question ended with him muttering “spending freeze”. It remains how far that will take him and how that will be spun. Nonetheless, I have to recognize that when it comes to foreign policy, McCain has some advantage — but not by much. It’s rather puerile to bring up that he couldn’t pronounce the name of the President of Iran — it’s Ahmadinejad — but there is no excuse to say the President of Pakistan’s name completely wrong — it’s Zardari, not Kardari. (Wrong spelling is wrong, right John?) And at times it’s impressive to rattle off Russian cities and capitals, but when it comes to calling Pakistan a failed state (this is a loaded technical term in political science, very much like “preconditions”)in 1999 then some judgment has to be called into question.
Nonetheless, debates are all about image and perception. McCain has long been acknowledged to be superior when it comes to foreign policy experience and this debate does not change that. What has changed however, is Obama emerging as a credible commander-in-chief. He has shown a steely cool judgement in foreign affairs. While I agree that he has to polish his stance on Iran a little bit more (he’s on the way) and that he could have hammered McCain on his “League of Democracies” idea further (shades of League of Nations, anyone?), he has shown that he can go toe-to-toe with McCain on his home turf.
Just one problem in this whole debate: Where was China in all this? The greatest “threat” to the United States is not militaristic but economic. Obama goes on often about protecting American jobs from being shipped overseas — so I still wonder what his China and India policy will be like. But if his whole perspective on foreign policy is consistent, then the America he leads will be one that welcomes the rise of Asia as an opportunity, not a threat. Yet as a policy, this remains to be seen.
The objective observer in me recognizes how this debate is a draw. Nonetheless, the partisans in all us know where we stand. What matters now are the independents. I am not surprised that a lot of them remain undecided; this debate may be a draw but that doesn’t mean that the two candidates are the same. Above anything else, this debate is a study in contrasts.
Obama and McCain are yin and yang. Of all their contrasts, the assessment I agree with most is that they represent an America at the crossroads of two generations. One is from the America that has always been there: strong, triumphant, and takes pride in longevity and experience. The other is from an America that is just being born: cosmopolitan, global, and takes pride in diversity and change. What makes this election so close is that these two paradigms present equally valid ways of dealing with the present economic crisis, the lingering wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the standing of America at home and abroad. Thus, this isn’t about partisanship anymore, it’s about leadership. Who has what it takes to live out the vision of America they present?
I am not an American so my opinion really won’t matter. Nonetheless, this debate has shown me the qualities I’ve been looking for — qualities I’ve seen long since. The beauty of a democracy is that the Americans can get to share what they see too; the tragedy of a democracy is that I don’t get to.