Viewers of the final presidential debate between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain on Wednesday night heard little that they had not heard before, nor did they learn anything they could not have learned from the first two debates.Viewers whose knowledge of the candidates came only from their baleful television advertisements were probably surprised to see that they could stomach being seated near each other.Otherwise, there was nothing new under the sun.Obama was self-possessed, rational and specific, while McCain was sarcastic, condescending and vague.On the other hand, McCain was funny and passionate and had a personality, while Obama was a professor giving the budgeting and implementation lecture in a policy analysis class.Whoever youve decided to vote for, chances are you made a break for the bathroom or reached for a beer when Obama was speaking and made it back for McCains turn.But, my friends, I have exposed the nub, and it is this: You have probably already decided who you are voting for, if you are voting at all (and you had better but thats another column), and nothing happened last night to change that.If there was a single moment of cognitive dissonance for you, a moment where you questioned the commitment you have already made to your candidate, it was certainly fleeting.So if you have decided on McCain, the phrase across the board spending freeze probably sounded like just the ticket for you.You probably havent given a thought to the fact that a tax cut in a budget already running a deficit is spending, and therefore simultaneously cutting taxes and freezing spending in January of 2009 is a physical impossibility.Nor are you thinking about the fact that McCain predicated his hatchet first, scalpel later spending plan on possessing a line-item veto so he can cut out pork.John McCain will never, ever, ever have a line-item veto.He can fight for it all day and all night; the Supreme Court has eliminated it, and Congress which loses power when there is a line-item veto will never take up the matter again, least of all for John McCain.They wont for Obama either, but he has a spending plan that doesnt require it. Here was McCains most egregious misdirection of the debate, though there were other competitors for that title.During the discussion about the negativity of the campaign, McCain addressed Gov. Sarah Palins comment that Obama has been palling around with terrorists by acknowledging that when you have 15, 20,000 people at a rally, you get some fringe people.Senator, your running mate is the fringe person who made that comment. McCains entire discourse on the matter of Obama, Bill Ayers and ACORN was disappointing.He asserted that we dont know as much as we should about how strong Obamas connections are to those fringe elements of his own, in an unfortunate echo of Sen. Hillary Clintons comment during the primary elections that Obama is not an Islamic extremist as far as we know.Making sideways suggestions that we may be about to elect a terrorist mastermind to the presidency didnt work for Clinton, and it wont work for McCain.Obamas careful, level and most importantly accurate response provided what should be the permanent end of this disgraceful conversation from both sides.Obama, you will note, did not mention Charles Keating, whose name should be much more frightening to Americans in todays environment than the willowy Ayers.For those few undecided or just those who are curious, the candidates had an opportunity to more specifically outline policy proposals when the debate turned to health care.This deserves a nutshell explanation from your devoted columnist. McCain will provide a $5,000 tax credit for people to seek their own health care plans but will tax their benefits.Obama will supply a buy-in program that will be an option for people with no health care from their employers, while requiring large employers tht do not currently provide plans to do so.Both involve plenty of trade offs, and neither is truly socialism nor truly free market. The issue boils down to this: McCain says the average health care policy costs $5,800; Obama says it costs $12,000.This makes all the difference in the world, but neither disputed the others numbers nor explained how they determined their own.Moderator Bob Schieffer missed an opportunity here.Nevertheless, the otherwise barely comprehensible health care discussion did give us my favorite verbal fumble of the entire campaign, when McCain inadvertently called Obama Senator Government.It may have been an accident, but I bet that one sticks.Near the end, Obama explained in his always measured tone, We cant say were going to do things and not provide concrete explanations for how were going to do them.Here we have a full and accurate summation of the difference between these candidates and their collective debate performances.You will vote how you like but sleep on those words before you do.
This story was written by C.G. Shields, The Daily Athenaeum