Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 7, 2008

A Slender Reed

As was the case with Sarah Palin last week, John McCain did himself some good by not crumbling, by being spirited, and by putting on a show. A bad performance would have ended the race tonight, and it doesn’t feel like that happened.

As was the case with Sarah Palin last week, John McCain did himself some good by not crumbling, by being spirited, and by putting on a show. A bad performance would have ended the race tonight, and it doesn’t feel like that happened.

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Re: The Mortgage Proposal

Count me as one of those conservatives who has a big problem with this idea. Most of the mortgages that are causing problems now were given to people who should not have been given them in the first place. They had lousy credit and little or no down payment and were really glorified renters.  Yes, there were predatory lenders who talked people into buying homes they couldn’t afford, but ultimately the borrowers were as much to blame as anyone.  This is populism run amok and will not help.

Count me as one of those conservatives who has a big problem with this idea. Most of the mortgages that are causing problems now were given to people who should not have been given them in the first place. They had lousy credit and little or no down payment and were really glorified renters.  Yes, there were predatory lenders who talked people into buying homes they couldn’t afford, but ultimately the borrowers were as much to blame as anyone.  This is populism run amok and will not help.

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The Mortgage Proposal

The one thing McCain really did do tonight for himself is introduce the proposal he should be selling hard for the rest of the campaign — the plan, originally floated by Larry Lindsey, to reset rates of adjustable-rate mortgages at a lower housing valuation in order to keep people in their houses, prevent foreclosures, and help the housing market find its floor so that the securities pegged to them can be properly valued. Ordinarily this notion of interposing the government into already-signed private contracts would seem unthinkable, but we are in unthinkable territory, and the plan itself, conceived by conservative economists, has the advantage of being a core approach instead of an ancillary approach.

Now McCain has to sell it. If he can. At least it gives him something to talk about.

The one thing McCain really did do tonight for himself is introduce the proposal he should be selling hard for the rest of the campaign — the plan, originally floated by Larry Lindsey, to reset rates of adjustable-rate mortgages at a lower housing valuation in order to keep people in their houses, prevent foreclosures, and help the housing market find its floor so that the securities pegged to them can be properly valued. Ordinarily this notion of interposing the government into already-signed private contracts would seem unthinkable, but we are in unthinkable territory, and the plan itself, conceived by conservative economists, has the advantage of being a core approach instead of an ancillary approach.

Now McCain has to sell it. If he can. At least it gives him something to talk about.

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The McCain Big Idea Dilemma

He needs to do something “big” to shift the focus to his ideas. This is obvious. But anything that smacks of a “big plan” invariably receives criticism from base Republicans, which the media is eager to over-report. Indeed, John Harwood immediately reported on CNBC that he was receiving “emails from Republicans” who hated McCain’s proposal to have Treasury intervene in the mortgage market. Or go read the responses to McCain’s answers in The Corner: fears of rising big government Republicanism are rampant again. McCain still has time to make a few big swings, but he has to accept the fact that he will not make the base happy.

He needs to do something “big” to shift the focus to his ideas. This is obvious. But anything that smacks of a “big plan” invariably receives criticism from base Republicans, which the media is eager to over-report. Indeed, John Harwood immediately reported on CNBC that he was receiving “emails from Republicans” who hated McCain’s proposal to have Treasury intervene in the mortgage market. Or go read the responses to McCain’s answers in The Corner: fears of rising big government Republicanism are rampant again. McCain still has time to make a few big swings, but he has to accept the fact that he will not make the base happy.

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Re: Debate Thoughts

Abe, I can agree with you on most of your substantive points, but not on Brokaw. I thought he was a lousy moderator. He kept trying to assert his authority, but the candidates ignored him. And why shouldn’t they?  Frankly, a lot of us are tired of the gigantic egos of Brokaw and his colleagues in the MSM. 

Abe, I can agree with you on most of your substantive points, but not on Brokaw. I thought he was a lousy moderator. He kept trying to assert his authority, but the candidates ignored him. And why shouldn’t they?  Frankly, a lot of us are tired of the gigantic egos of Brokaw and his colleagues in the MSM. 

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Could This Have Been Any Duller?

Perhaps it was an effort to be “serious,” but instead it was a bore. From Obama’s perspective he didn’t — other than insulting his running mate’s state — make any big gaffe. He survived with no stratches. From McCain’s point of view even the Luntz focus group liked him on economics. He is doing his best to be proactive and demonstrate interest and concern on domestic policy. His healthcare presentation was surprisingly impressive. On foreign policy he once again dominated but the amount of time devoted to that topic reflects the degree it has receded in importance.

Perhaps it was an effort to be “serious,” but instead it was a bore. From Obama’s perspective he didn’t — other than insulting his running mate’s state — make any big gaffe. He survived with no stratches. From McCain’s point of view even the Luntz focus group liked him on economics. He is doing his best to be proactive and demonstrate interest and concern on domestic policy. His healthcare presentation was surprisingly impressive. On foreign policy he once again dominated but the amount of time devoted to that topic reflects the degree it has receded in importance.

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Debate Thoughts

Tonight’s debate provided a remarkably crystalline portrait of the two candidates. Barack Obama is a mellifluous caregiver, beautifully reassuring folks that their suspicions and resentments are registering in the halls of power. In this role, he need not get too specific because he’s not dealing with specific gripes. He’s there to let people know that burdens will be “shared” in a more “fair” manner, nevermind how that will be accomplished.

John McCain believes that America is a force for good, and is willing to stake a lot (too much?) on this principle. Moreover, he has decisiveness behind him. But there’s not much popular strength in data. Sure, he had names for the Secretary of Treasury question, but Obama could echo popular gripes and point at a vague light at the end of the tunnel.

It should be noted that this debate, coming at the height of election mudslinging, was admirable issue- and policy-oriented. Doubtless, that makes for a bunch of “dud” reviews, but it’s also probably a welcome change for a lot of us. And credit where it’s due: Tom Brokaw was excellent. 

Tonight’s debate provided a remarkably crystalline portrait of the two candidates. Barack Obama is a mellifluous caregiver, beautifully reassuring folks that their suspicions and resentments are registering in the halls of power. In this role, he need not get too specific because he’s not dealing with specific gripes. He’s there to let people know that burdens will be “shared” in a more “fair” manner, nevermind how that will be accomplished.

John McCain believes that America is a force for good, and is willing to stake a lot (too much?) on this principle. Moreover, he has decisiveness behind him. But there’s not much popular strength in data. Sure, he had names for the Secretary of Treasury question, but Obama could echo popular gripes and point at a vague light at the end of the tunnel.

It should be noted that this debate, coming at the height of election mudslinging, was admirable issue- and policy-oriented. Doubtless, that makes for a bunch of “dud” reviews, but it’s also probably a welcome change for a lot of us. And credit where it’s due: Tom Brokaw was excellent. 

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Game Changer Game Changer Game Changer

It’s astonishing how quickly a cliche takes hold everywhere all at once. As I flip around, I have now hear six different people say “McCain needed a game changer and tonight wasn’t a game changer.” Someone put a fork in this phrase. It’s done.

It’s astonishing how quickly a cliche takes hold everywhere all at once. As I flip around, I have now hear six different people say “McCain needed a game changer and tonight wasn’t a game changer.” Someone put a fork in this phrase. It’s done.

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Townhall Format

This was a lousy format for everyone.   Bill Kristol just made the point that a real Townhall, unlike the Brokaw version, might have produced some interesting questions that would have allowed the characters of the candidates to come through. Interestingly, the last question (which I called wackey) showed McCain to make the important point that no president knows what he’s going to face, which is precisely why character is so important.

This was a lousy format for everyone.   Bill Kristol just made the point that a real Townhall, unlike the Brokaw version, might have produced some interesting questions that would have allowed the characters of the candidates to come through. Interestingly, the last question (which I called wackey) showed McCain to make the important point that no president knows what he’s going to face, which is precisely why character is so important.

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By The End of the Debate…

…we’ve all forgotten that McCain made a substantive proposal at the beginning of the debate about direct federal intervention into the mortgage market.

…we’ve all forgotten that McCain made a substantive proposal at the beginning of the debate about direct federal intervention into the mortgage market.

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Verdict: Rope-a-Dope

Despite the clumsy rules, the faux town hall setting, and Brokaw’s miserable efforts to raise his profile as moderator, this was, as a pure debate, a good evening for McCain. In the majority of exchanges, he gave a crisp answers, restated the question to put Obama on the defensive, and then pounded away on Obama’s record. On a few questions — like his statement on a foreign policy doctrine — Obama shined. But for the most part, he sat back, rarely responding to McCain’s blows, but never falling down. He played Ali to McCain’s Foreman. His last answer about preparing for the unexpected was more poetic than McCain’s solid, emotional effort. But one has to wonder, at this point, if McCain needs more than good debating points and solid hits. I agree with those who said he really has to roll out a bigger, more ambitious economic plan — and he failed to do that tonight. CNBC just put up the fact that the Seoul markets are down 2.6%. Neither candidate knows what to do about the global financial meltdown. But tonight, McCain needed to show that he had a better plan.

Despite the clumsy rules, the faux town hall setting, and Brokaw’s miserable efforts to raise his profile as moderator, this was, as a pure debate, a good evening for McCain. In the majority of exchanges, he gave a crisp answers, restated the question to put Obama on the defensive, and then pounded away on Obama’s record. On a few questions — like his statement on a foreign policy doctrine — Obama shined. But for the most part, he sat back, rarely responding to McCain’s blows, but never falling down. He played Ali to McCain’s Foreman. His last answer about preparing for the unexpected was more poetic than McCain’s solid, emotional effort. But one has to wonder, at this point, if McCain needs more than good debating points and solid hits. I agree with those who said he really has to roll out a bigger, more ambitious economic plan — and he failed to do that tonight. CNBC just put up the fact that the Seoul markets are down 2.6%. Neither candidate knows what to do about the global financial meltdown. But tonight, McCain needed to show that he had a better plan.

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McCain Keeps It Close

The takeaway from this debate may be that it will prevent Obama from running away with the election; McCain put in a performance strong enough to keep the floor from falling out under him.

The takeaway from this debate may be that it will prevent Obama from running away with the election; McCain put in a performance strong enough to keep the floor from falling out under him.

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Last Word

What’s going to happen here and abroad, that’s what none of us know, McCain says.  A good answer, but I wish he’d made more of a case for why actual experience matters. 

What’s going to happen here and abroad, that’s what none of us know, McCain says.  A good answer, but I wish he’d made more of a case for why actual experience matters. 

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Is Obama Just Running Out The Clock?

The last softball question sends him rambling into a defense of America — and then explains how bleak things are. Now he’s back to change. A mess of a closer.

The last softball question sends him rambling into a defense of America — and then explains how bleak things are. Now he’s back to change. A mess of a closer.

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He Knows It All

Obama really struggles to come up with an answer to this wacky “what don’t you know” question.  Now he’s back to giving us his resume, just regular old Barry, who was on food stamps but went to the best schools in the world.

Obama really struggles to come up with an answer to this wacky “what don’t you know” question.  Now he’s back to giving us his resume, just regular old Barry, who was on food stamps but went to the best schools in the world.

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Style

McCain is much stronger in this section of the debate.  He clearly comes alive when the subject turns to foreign policy. Obama on the other hand is programmed. He is calm, confident, and articulate, but passionless.  He also sounds like he’s giving a lecture.  I don’t think it works in this setting.

McCain is much stronger in this section of the debate.  He clearly comes alive when the subject turns to foreign policy. Obama on the other hand is programmed. He is calm, confident, and articulate, but passionless.  He also sounds like he’s giving a lecture.  I don’t think it works in this setting.

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We Will Not Allow Iran to Have a Nuclear Weapon

Obama is now on record. So, when Iran gets a nuclear weapon under his presidency, he will…do nothing.

Obama is now on record. So, when Iran gets a nuclear weapon under his presidency, he will…do nothing.

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Obama is babbling…

absolutely babbling about Russia and Georgia. A pile-up of words. The most substantive part of his response was to say that he agreed with McCain.

absolutely babbling about Russia and Georgia. A pile-up of words. The most substantive part of his response was to say that he agreed with McCain.

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Evil Empire

Obama was shaky here.  McCain had a better answer: maybe. Again he displays that he knows this stuff, whereas Obama is a neophyte.

Obama was shaky here.  McCain had a better answer: maybe. Again he displays that he knows this stuff, whereas Obama is a neophyte.

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Obama on Russia

On this question, Obama seemed to be genuinely flailing. He stuttered, agreed with McCain, mentioned former Soviet states, talked about 21st century challenges, then talked about Afghanistan. A complete punt.

On this question, Obama seemed to be genuinely flailing. He stuttered, agreed with McCain, mentioned former Soviet states, talked about 21st century challenges, then talked about Afghanistan. A complete punt.

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