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The Second Presidential Debate: Wooden Carts and Candidates

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The Second Presidential Debate: Wooden Carts and Candidates

On hand at the aftermath of long and bloody skirmish, General George Patton (George C. Scott) looks across a still smoking battlefield and, referring to war, declares, “I love it. God help me, I do love it so.” Just before uttering that famous line of dialogue, Patton tells an aide with certainty that he knew the Germans were going to lose. His aide seemingly unconvinced, Patton adds “The carts,” and points out the primitive wooden carts employed by the German army to move their wounded and supplies in lieu of mechanized vehicles that a lack of fuel has rendered useless.

I had my own “wooden cart” moment a week before the Vice Presidential debate. Given the factors that strongly favor Democrats in November, I was always doubtful that John McCain could beat Barack Obama. But the closeness of the polls still left room for hope.

My epiphany occurred when I tried to get a McCain lawn poster from a local campaign office here in Michigan. I was told that because they were out of signs, I had to go on a waiting list. A waiting list? I wondered exactly when these signs would come in (December?). A GOP friend of mine, more familiar with Michigan campaign operations, told me that because of McCain’s limited funds, it made more sense to spend money on TV ads rather than yard signs.

That’s when I knew McCain was going to lose.

I said as much in my post on the Biden-Palin debate.

Going into Tuesday, McCain’s only hope was to act like a sharp district attorney and get Obama to break down on the witness stand. Unfortunately for McCain, courtroom confessions just happen in the movies. At the end of A Few Good Men, Col. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) only had to answer “yes” and “no” to Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise). Yet, somehow, the battle hardened Marine Colonel implausibly falls into the military lawyer’s carefully laid trap. After screaming that great line, “You can’t handle the truth, ” he incredibly confesses to everything short of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

I take it back, that tactic did believably work once. Queeg’s breakdown in The Caine Mutiny didn’t strain credulity because the captain was nuts. However, McCain, was the one who came off like the shell-shocked naval officer. Town hall debate formats were supposed to be McCain’s sweet spot. But that was belied by his rambling performance. McCain’s angry tone was like that old guy on the block who’s always yelling at the neighborhood kids for walking on his newly planted fescue. He impatiently chewed the scenery as he moved about onstage, often getting uncomfortably within the three foot comfort zone of town hall audience members. Obama’s demeanor, more restrained, evoked the Fred MacMurray character from The Caine Mutiny.

Tom Brokaw proctored this debate by selecting audience members who nervously asked banal questions or read other questions filtered from an estimated six million Internet submissions. His protestations about Obama and McCain going over time and not following format sounded like an impatient substitute teacher trying to deal with an unruly junior high math class.

Speaking of math, there was a lot of it recited in Nashville. Both candidates spit out different and conflicting statistics to demonstrate that they were more in command of the cure to heal America’s ailing economy. I, frankly, got lost in most of it. The only bombshell to be dropped was McCain’s announcement of a 300 billion dollar plan to empower the federal government to renegotiate shaky mortgage loans. I somehow imagined his former Communist captors passing out high-fives when they heard that one. In an unintentionally awkward television moment, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, a paraplegic, channeled Chris Matthews and remarked that McCain’s proposed plan caused a thrill to run down his leg (in a bad way).

While playing it safe, Obama sometimes got lost in his own answers and came up with some noteworthy opinions. At one point, he said that he was “confident about the American economy.” I wasn’t sure how much different that view was from McCain’s earlier declaration that our economy’s fundamentals were “sound.” While discussing health care, Obama went on to seemingly accuse Delaware, Biden’s home state, of being a haven for greedy, dishonest credit card companies because of their “loose laws.” Finally, I was struck by the fact that the Democrat didn’t rule out unilateral military actions against Pakistan and left open the possibility of an aggressive defense of Israel without UN Security Council consent.

In one exchange that reminded me of the Saturday Night Live “Jeopardy” skit, Brokaw asked each candidate to prioritize the following issues: health policies, energy policies, and entitlement reform. McCain rushed forward to say that he’d solve all three. Obama listed his order as: energy, health care, and education.

All that said, I don’t agree with those who found the debate boring. It was quite entertaining, in a flaming car wreck sort of way. God, I love it so.


Note: The Smoking Gun had this report on the guy who hacked into Sarah Palin’s email account:

OCTOBER 8—A Tennessee man has been indicted for hacking into the e-mail account of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. David Kernell, 20, was charged with illegally accessing Palin’s Yahoo! account “by researching and correctly answering a series of personal security questions,” according to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. A copy of the indictment can be found below. After accessing Palin’s account, Kernell, pictured at right, allegedly changed its password to “popcorn” and made screenshots of the account’s directory as well as certain messages, photos, and “other personal information.”

Am I the only one who found it hysterically funny that a guy named “Kernell” would use “popcorn” for his password?

Matt Maul is author of the blog Maul of America.