After Sen. John McCain announced he would not attend the presidential debate last week until a bailout deal was reached, many people, including the two nominees, began throwing around the phrase "The next president of the United States will have to" more and more frequently. He will have to multi-task, be willing to engage in talks and, most importantly, answer to the American people.
But as I watched the debate, I couldn't help but think the American people weren't necessarily getting answers, and I felt a bit short-shrifted.
"As president, as a result of whatever financial rescue plan comes about and the billion, $700 billion, whatever it is it's going to cost, what are you going to have to give up, in terms of the priorities that you would bring as president of the United States, as a result of having to pay for the financial rescue plan?" Jim Lehrer asked the two nominees.
I watched Obama list his priorities for health care, education and energy. I watched McCain express the need to get rid of ethanol subsidies and cost-plus contracts. I didn't see, however, the men answer the question. We are on the brink of a devastating economic crisis, and neither of the candidates would name one pet project they would give up in lieu of a proposed multi-billion-dollar bailout plan.
Obama and McCain are intelligent men, but it seems that, like many political figures, they danced around a direct question to avoid losing face. Those pet projects are initiatives that make each of the candidates stand out from the other; they helped them win their respective party's nomination. The American public fell in love with these two candidates based on what they said they would do if elected president. So, why in the face of Jim Lehrer and millions of American viewers should they hypothetically abandon them for a plan that Congress hadn't even passed, yet?
Because, despite the U.S. House rejecting the initial $700 billion plan, there will inevitably be another.
As of now, our economy is headed for disaster. It might not seem real at the moment, but I'd like to think that our next president would look ahead to the future and make some sacrifices because it is inevitable. The economy isn't going to fix itself. When McCain or Obama gets to the White House in January, he will have to answer that question to the American public. So why wait?
Lehrer re-phrased that question three times before he finally gave up, moving on to foreign policy topics. What a trooper.
In this segment of the debate, the American people got a few vague answers, but we also began to hear downright lies. As McCain tried to trump Obama in experience and competence every chance he got ("Sen. Obama doesn't seem to understand"), he let a few white lies slip to make himself look good.
While discussing how to address Pakistan should the country become a problem in aiding terrorist groups, McCain said, "I don't think that Sen. Obama understands that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power." But he didn't stop there, and went on to say that "everybody who had been around then" knew it. McClatchy News later reported this to be false, pointing to Pakistan's democratically elected government when the country's former president came to power in 1999.
The failed state reference could have been a misjudgment in terminology; I'll give McCain that. But when Obama later referenced Henry Kissinger's stance on meeting with hostile countries like Iran without preconditions, McCain vehemently disagreed.
"What Sen. Obama doesn't seem to understand that if without precondition you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a "stinking corpse," and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments.
My friend, Dr. Kissinger, who's been my friend for 35 years, would be interested to hear this conversation and Senator Obama's depiction of hisof his positions on the issue."
According to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, this was not true. She should know; she and four other former secretaries of state, including Kissinger, agreed that there should be no preconditions in the talks.
So how would McCain not know what his own adviser and friend of 35 years thought about the subject? I can only speculate that he panicked and decided to put his own selfish motives above letting America hear the truth from one of its leaders.
Following the debate, I described my frustration over the debate to a friend, who replied: "Well, they're politicians."
I started to shrug my shoulders and say, "I know; that's what they do," but I stopped, because that's a crutchone that too many politicians have used for too long. There's a clear line between discretion in the interest of protecting Americans' safety, and convolution in the interest of protecting politicians' job security. In the last few decades, there has been a trend toward the latter in American government, and frankly, it's why we are here nowbecause government representatives stopped holding themselves accountable to the people they represent.
I challenge McCain and Obama to trade their rhetoric for hard answers. Rhetoric has its place, but as the window closes in on the November general election, Americans want to hear what the next president of the United States is going to do. We don't want to hear the same sound bites we've heard on the campaign trail; we want to hear an honest, candid American man talking to other American men and women about what's important to us.
At the Oct. 7 town-hall debate in Nashville, Tenn., Obama and McCain can redeem themselves. I only hope they put away their masks and genuinely provide American voters with real answers, real honesty and real sportsmanship.
The next president of the United States will have to have these qualities to govern a prosperous America.
Well, Maggie, let's see how things go tonight with the town-hall style since Joe Six-Pack and John Latte will be the ones asking the questions.