McCain, Obama clash over economy, foreign policy
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White House hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain sparred over the economy and a host of foreign policy issues, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, during the first 2008 US presidential debate in Mississippi.
The first 2008 US presidential debate kicked off on a combative note at the University of Mississippi, with Republican candidate John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama sparring over their economic platforms.
After a tense 48-hour period of limbo, with McCain threatening a no-show due to the financial crisis, the economy dominated the first 30 minutes of the 90-minute debate.
Foreign policy and national security – the original debate topics before the financial crisis dominated national attention – were next on the agenda.
But whether it was the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or US relations with Pakistan and Russia, the tone of the debate was pugnacious.
Frequently interrupting each other and sometimes overriding moderator Jim Lehrer’s attempts to cut them short, the candidates put up a feisty display during their first chance to compare their respective platforms.
Throughout the debate, the 72-year-old senator from Arizona attempted to expose Obama’s relative inexperience and questioned his readiness for the top spot at the White House.
Obama, on the other hand, missed no opportunity to link McCain’s platform to the Bush administration’s policies, which, he said, were responsible for the current state of the economy and the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
Reporting from the University of Mississippi, FRANCE 24’s Armen Georgian said the two candidates excelled on different issues. “I would say that Barack Obama had a slight edge on the economy and McCain had an edge on national security,” said Georgian.
“McCain was pretty strong as commander-in-chief, chiefly because he brought everything back to his own experience,” said Armen. “On the economy, Obama was much more in attack mode. A strong point for me was when he turned to John McCain and said, ‘look, you voted for so many of the Bush reforms that actually expanded federal spending, so don’t stand here now and say we’re going to cut wasteful spending.’”
Adjusting economic platforms in the bailout era
With Congressional leaders tussling over a $700 billion financial rescue plan, Obama and McCain said they were optimistic that a solution for the financial crisis would be reached.
While rebel Republicans remain unhappy with elements of the bailout plan, McCain said he hoped to vote for it. But he added that the bailout would require a freeze on non-defense spending.
Obama, while conceding that the gigantic rescue plan would require some changes in spending priorities, maintained that some programs such as education and health care “are very important” especially since they are “currently underfunded.”
Noting that the US has one of the highest business tax rates in the world, McCain said he would lower business taxes to encourage economic growth.
For his part, Obama said US business tax laws are riddled with loopholes, which he tied to the policies of the Bush administration. Referring to McCain’s business tax cut, Obama said his proposals were “directed at those doing well and neglecting Americans who are going through a tough time.”
Lively exchanges on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Russia
When the debate turned to foreign policy, McCain declared that the current surge strategy in Iraq was working. “We are winning in Iraq and we'll come home. And we'll come home as we have when we have won other wars and not in defeat,” he said.
Obama, however, repeatedly noted that he had opposed the war in Iraq. It was the diversion of US attention and resources to Iraq, said Obama, which led to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. “We took our eyes off Afghanistan,” said the senator from Illinois.
When asked about the prospect of sending more troops to Afghanistan, Obama was categorical. “Yes, I think we need more troops in Afghanistan and I think we should send them as quickly as possible.”
McCain also attacked Obama’s willingness to talk with Iranian leaders without preconditions and criticized his Democratic rival of not being tough enough on Moscow during the Georgian crisis. “Russia is a nation fueled by petrodollars, run by a KGB apparatchik,” said McCain. “I looked in (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin's eyes and I saw three letters -- a K, a G and a B,” said McCain.
Friday’s debate was the first of three presidential debates in the run-up to the Nov. 4 election. McCain and Obama are set to face-off again Oct. 7 and Oct. 15. Their running-mates, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden are scheduled to debate Oct. 2 at the Washington University in St. Louis.