Elizabeth Gunto, staff writer
Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain had their first televised debate on Friday evening. Obama stressed his overall vision for the country, while McCain’s main theme for the debate was his experience. McCain portrayed Obama as an overspending liberal who unnecessarily taxes, and Obama said that McCain was just another George Bush. Moderated by PBS’s Jim Lehrer, the debate focused intensely on the state of the economy, especially in regards to the proposed $700 billion package for struggling banks. Both Obama and McCain said that it was unfair for tax money to bail out Wall Street, but something must be done.
“The option of doing nothing is simply not an acceptable option,” said McCain.
Obama said that the $700 billion bailout was the “final verdict” of the past two terms of a Republican presidency, to which McCain replied that Obama had requested millions of dollars for pet projects when he was an Illinois senator.
When Lehrer asked Obama how he would respond to the economic hole left by the $700 billion package, he responded he would continue to work on the issues that he feels are important, such as improving health care and energy independence, but go slower on these projects. When asked the same question, McCain said he would cut spending and stop “pork barrel” expenditures, meaning politicians’ expensive pet projects. He said he would veto any pork barrel project regardless of whose project it is.
The two candidates also argued over foreign policy. Obama said that McCain had been wrong about Iraq by thinking the war would be over quickly and by stating that America was winning the war when American troops were actually failing to secure Iraq. He also said the war in Iraq was a distraction from Al-Qaeda troops that were regrouping in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
McCain accused Obama of being naïve and inexperienced. He said that the U.S. military was succeeding in Iraq because of the “surge,” when 30,000 extra American troops went to Iraq in 2007. McCain said that he was concerned that Iran is a threat to US forces in Iraq, and he wants to set up a “league of democracies” to implement sanctions against Iran. Sanctions are currently blocked in the United Nations because of Russia’s opposition. McCain also criticized Obama for saying that he would meet with Iranian leaders without establishing preconditions. Obama stated that he would meet with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with preparations, not preconditions. Obama pointed out that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, an important McCain adviser, has supported meetings without established preconditions.
When the moderator brought up the subject of Russia and Georgia, Obama discussed his vision on the issue, while McCain played up his experience with war.
Analysts say the first debate is a draw. A Rasmussen poll put Obama six points ahead of McCain at 50% to McCain’s 44%, while a Gallup pole that was published on Sunday put Obama at 50% to McCain’s 42%.