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Senator John McCain needed a game changer in the last presidential debate with Senator Barack Obama. Independent voters say it didn’t happen – and once again awarded the debate to Obama. Although McCain came out swinging, Obama’s strategy stayed the same: coolly and calmly explain each of his plans. Pepe Escobar argues this was pure theater; in the real world, the financial crisis rages, and none of the candidates really bothered to address in depth the seriousness of it all.

Story Transcript

Game over?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you want to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.


MCCAIN: —the guy who’s a plumber. Name is Joe. —Joe the Plumber. —Joe the Plumber. —Joe the Plumber. —Joe the Plumber. —my old buddy Joe, Joe the Plumber. —Joe the Plumber.

ESCOBAR: McCain has said, “I’ll whip Obama’s you-know-what.” Instead, there was no smack-down. Obama, for his part, talked straight to the middle class.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we haven’t yet seen is a rescue package for the middle class. And what I want to do is to make sure that the plumber, the nurse, the firefighter, the teacher, the young entrepreneur who doesn’t yet have money; I want to give them a tax break now. Ninety-five percent of you out there will get a tax cut.

ESCOBAR: McCain was more class-struggle.

MCCAIN: The whole premise behind Senator Obama’s plans are class warfare—let’s spread the wealth around.

ESCOBAR: They both want to eliminate programs that don’t work, but there was no talk of curbing the Pentagon’s budget.

OBAMA: There are some programs that don’t work at all, there are some programs that are underfunded, and I want to make sure that we are focused on those programs that work. And we’re going to have to embrace a culture and an ethic of responsibility, all of us—corporations, the federal government, and individuals out there who may be living beyond their means.

MCCAIN: I will balance our budgets, and I will get them, and I will reduce the—we can do it with this kind of job creation of energy independence.

ESCOBAR: How? Without taxation? McCain couldn’t help turning negative.

MCCAIN: This is a tough campaign, and it’s a matter of fact that Senator Obama has spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history, and I can prove it.


OBAMA: Your network just did a poll showing that two-thirds of the American people think that Senator McCain’s running a negative campaign versus one-third of mine. And 100 percent, John, of your ads—100 percent of them—have been negative.

MCCAIN: That’s not true.

OBAMA: A hundred—it absolutely is true.


ESCOBAR: And we have the numbers to prove it. And then negativity took over.


OBAMA: We can have serious differences about our heath care policy, for example, John, because we do have a difference on health care policy *[crosstalk]

MCCAIN: *We do, and I hope we talk about it.

OBAMA: —talking about it this evening.


OBAMA: But when people suggest that I pal around with terrorists, then we’re not talking about issues; what we’re talking about *[crosstalk]

MCCAIN: *Let me just say categorically, I’m proud of the people that come to our rallies.


ESCOBAR: They talked about [Bill] Ayers and ACORN until Obama deflected it all.

OBAMA: Mr. Ayers has become the centerpiece of Senator McCain’s campaign over the last two or three weeks. I think the fact that this has become such a important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me.

ESCOBAR: McCain could not defend Sarah Palin’s knowledge, experience, or wisdom. So—.

MCCAIN: Americans have gotten to know Sarah Palin. They know that she’s a role model to women and reformers all over America. She’s a reformer.

ESCOBAR: On foreign policy, McCain pinned down Joe Biden.

MCCAIN: I think that Joe Biden is qualified in many respects, but I do point out that he’s been wrong on many foreign policy and national security issues, which is supposed to be his strength. In Iraq, he had this cockamamie idea about dividing Iraq into three countries. We’re seeing Iraq united as Iraqis, tough, hard. But we’re seeing them—we’re now about to have an agreement for status of forces [SOFA] in Iraq coming up.

ESCOBAR: Wrong. The Maliki government does not want a SOFA; it wants the US out by 2011 at the most. Both sounded the same on oil.

MCCAIN: I believe we can, for all intents and purposes, eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and Venezuelan oil.

OBAMA: I think that in 10 years we can reduce our dependence so that we no longer have to import oil from the Middle East or Venezuela.

ESCOBAR: And then Colombia.

MCCAIN: So Senator Obama, who has never traveled south of our border, opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, the same country that’s helping us try to stop the flow of drugs into our country.

OBAMA: Actually, I understand it pretty well. The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders had been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there had not been prosecutions. And what I have said, because the trade agreement itself does have labor and environmental protections, but we have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn’t being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights.

ESCOBAR: In McCain’s world, Canada and England are four-letter words.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama wants to set up health care bureaucracies, take over the health care of America through—as he said, his object is a single-payer system. If you like that, you’ll love Canada and England.

ESCOBAR: So it took Obama to explain McCain’s plan to McCain.

OBAMA: Senator McCain, for the first time, is going to be taxing the health care benefits that you have from your employer. And this is your plan, John. For the first time in history, you will be taxing people’s health care benefits. And don’t take my word for it: the US Chamber of Commerce, which generally doesn’t support a lot of Democrats, said that this plan could lead to the unraveling of the employer-based health care system. All I want to do, if you’ve already got health care, is lower your costs.

ESCOBAR: Obama scored very high on education.

OBAMA: I believe that we can create a better school system. But there’s one last ingredient that I just want to mention, and that’s parents. We can’t do it just in the schools. Parents are going to have to show more responsibility.

ESCOBAR: So McCain attacked, Obama was flat, McCain got angry.

MCCAIN: Americans are hurting right now and they’re angry. They’re hurting and they’re angry. Look, Americans are hurting tonight and they’re angry.

ESCOBAR: And Obama, clear, calm, and crisp on education, health care, and taxes, he got what he wanted: a smashing victory with independent voters.

OBAMA: We’re going to have to invest in the American people again, in tax cuts for the middle class, in health care for all Americans, and college for every young person who wants to go.

ESCOBAR: So what? This is pure theater. Outside the bubble, the real world is exploding: the markets are plummeting; the recession will be a depression lasting as long as two years, with unemployment bound to reach nine percent; former comptroller general David Walker, he estimates that the US is in a $55 trillion hole—that’s $480,000 per each US household. And they’re talking about Ayers, abortion, plumbers, and swearing they will balance the budget?


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Pepe Escobar

Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.