Friday, October 03, 2008

Veep Debate: No 'Demolition Derby' for Palin -- But Biden Wins It Anyway


Palin Meets Expectations, But Still Falls Short With Often-Evasive Answers to Questions -- And Her Failure to Defend McCain From Biden's Attacks Over Deregulation of Wall Street

Joe Biden and Sarah Palin

Vice-presidential hopefuls Joe Biden (Democrat) and Sarah Palin (Republican) shake hands at the beginning of their much-anticipated vice debate at Washington University in St. Louis Thursday night. It was their first-ever face-to-face meeting, and it provided few, if any, memorable soundbites. (AP Photo)


(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Friday, October 3, 2008)

=================
FRIDAY NEWS EXTRA
=================

By JOHN F. HARRIS and MIKE ALLEN
Politico.com

ST. LOUIS — Millions of Americans were watching Thursday night’s vice-presidential debate waiting for a demolition derby moment — another crash by GOP running mate Sarah Palin, another serving of raw material for the writers at "Saturday Night Live."

By that standard, she got out alive, though there were white-knuckle moments along the way: questions that were answered with painfully obvious talking points that betrayed scant knowledge of the issue at hand, and sometimes little relevance to the question that had been asked.

But recent days have given John McCain’s team little reason to suppose that not-that-bad is good enough. The Republican ticket’s sliding polls and narrowing electoral map gave it a different imperative in her showdown against Joe Biden. That was to alter the trajectory of the race in a way reminiscent of how Palin first enlivened Republicans—it seems long ago now—when she joined the ticket in late August.

Absent new polling, there is little reason to think she cleared that bar in St. Louis.

AND THE WINNER IS: BIDEN, HANDS DOWN

To the contrary, it is hard to count any objective measures by which Biden did not clearly win the encounter. Palin looked like she trying to get people to take her seriously. Biden looked like he was running for vice president. His answers were more responsive to the questions, far more detailed and less rhetorical.

On at least ten occasions, Palin gave answers that were nonspecific, completely generic, pivoted away from the question at hand, or simply ignored it: on global warming, an Iraq exit strategy, Iran and Pakistan, Iranian diplomacy, Israel-Palestine (and a follow-up), the nuclear trigger, interventionism, Cheney's vice presidency and her own greatest weakness.

Asked which is a greater threat, a nuclear Pakistan or a nuclear Iran, Palin seemed to be stalling, or writing a term paper, when she said: “An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider.”

Biden was crisper, with a dose of realism: “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be very, very destabilizing. They are more than — they are not close to getting a nuclear weapon that's able to be deployed.”

Biden relentlessly and clearly delivered a specific message he had been assigned to hammer home: McCain-Palin would be four more years of Bush-Cheney. Biden mentioned President Bush more than a dozen times.

"Look, past is prologue, Gwen," he said at one point. "The issue is, how different is John McCain's policy going to be than George Bush's? I haven't heard anything yet."

NO MAJOR 'GOTCHA' GAFFES BY PALIN, BUT SHE STILL STRUGGLED

By contrast, Palin was in much more of a survival mode, barely delivering on her advisers' hopes that she would be aggressive with Biden, throwing gaffes and policies back at him. For the Alaska governor, it was policy as a second language — adequate, but not enlightening.

She twice referred to the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, as "McClellan." Biden did not correct her.

Washington power lawyer Robert Barnett, who helped Biden prepare, said viewers would come away with the sense that Palin "is a nice person, an interesting person but not a qualified-to-be-the-president-of-the-United-States person."

Biden, he said, "was anecdotal, was a little bit emotional" and showed "professionalism, preparation and knowledge."

Of course, there is long experience at this point showing that it is the subjective measures—-who strikes more voters as more appealing, more genuine, more plausible—on which these encounters turn.

On this ground both candidates had their moments.

PALIN FOLKSY, BIDEN ASSURED

From the moment she blew a kiss as she walked onstage, the Alaska governor was folksy and spunky, dropping a “bless their hearts” here, a “God bless ‘er” there, and “darn right” – twice. She showed a cheerful confidence that must have been hard to muster after the humiliating coverage of her amateurish interviews with Katie Couric of the “CBS Evening News.”

Biden offered a fluent, self-assured performance of the sort that can not be especially hard for him after two presidential campaigns, 35 years in the Senate, countless appearances on Sunday morning programs. People impressed by references to legislation, or citations of his record in world hot spots from Bosnia to Darfur, got these in spades.

But Biden also had the evening’s most powerful emotional moment, when he responded to an exchange about how well the candidates relate to the struggles of ordinary Americans by recalling his first wife and daughter—killed in an automobile accident shortly after his election to the Senate in 1972.

Biden seemingly choked up as he said: “Look, I understand what it's like to be a single parent. When my wife and daughter died and my two sons were gravely injured, I understand what it's like as a parent to wonder what it's like if your kid's going to make it.”

But the past couple weeks have offered little evidence that political theatrics—so important in many elections—are what most voters are looking for in the current circumstances, with an economy on the brink and a global financial crisis threatening to push it over.

VP DEBATE LIKELY TO ACCELERATE OBAMA'S MOMENTUM

The debate did nothing to arrest – and may even have helped cement – a gradual but unmistakable turnabout in the race, with Barack Obama gaining in polls and momentum and McCain losing ground in must-win states. The financial meltdown has put a new premium on competence, and Palin did nothing to show she is ready to be in charge.

After Obama wrapped up the Democratic nomination in June, the Republican knock against him was supposed to be that he was too exotic and too risky.

But in the months since, Obama chose a Washington fixture in Biden, and McCain chose a little-known and little-tested maverick from Alaska. McCain suspended his campaign and elbowed his way into sensitive financial bailout talks, with little to show for his efforts, while Obama kept his distance and made a show of consulting with Robert Rubin and Warren Buffett. Obama and Biden both offered somewhat subdued debate performances that showed technical command of policies.

In many ways, the Obama-Biden campaign has taken ownership of the play-it-safe vote, and the McCain-Palin team has become the more unpredictable and potentially risky choice.

The Obama campaign got a good laugh out of her answer about when nuclear weapons should be put into play: "Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be-all, end-all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period."

The "be-all, end-all" is already a punch line around Washington.

BIDEN APPEARED MORE AT EASE, PALIN MORE NERVOUS

Asked about the role of the vice president, Biden was comfortable, after discussing the issue with the boss, to say: "I would be the point person for the legislative initiatives in the United States Congress for our administration."

Palin's answer was more abstract, and obscure: "We have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation."

And she had at least a couple harp-seal-on-the-ice moments, as when she wandered into this sentence when trying to rebut a point Biden had made on energy: “That is not so, but because that's just a quick answer, I want to talk about, again, my record on energy -- your ticket's energy -- ticket also. I think that this is important to come back to, with that energy policy plan, again, that was voted for in '05.”

But if there were some moments that seemed ripe for mockery, there were also many that showed Palin’s skill in taking debates out of the realm of Washington arcana and to a kitchen-table vernacular.

Sometimes that vernacular came with a sharp edge, as when she lectured Biden about a proposed timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, “Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq, and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that’s for sure.”

[But given the deep unpopularity of the war, that might not have been what most Americans wanted to hear, either.]

CHANNELLING REAGAN -- 28 YEARS AFTER HIS ELECTION

She was more folksy when she talked about taxes, and even seemed to be channeling Ronald Reagan, the supreme example of a politician who connected to voters even while making Washington elites cringe with his shaky grasp of policy detail.

“Now you said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic,” she told Biden. “In the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that's not patriotic. Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper.”

If Palin had cleared the expectations who were rooting for or praying to avoid a nationally televised splat, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said she had met his team’s expectations almost exactly.

“We’ve said all along that she’s a very talented politician; she proved that again tonight,” said Plouffe. “But she’s selling a failed product.”

# # #

Volume III, Number 61
Friday News Extra Copyright 2008, Capitol News Company, LLC.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.









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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Military Sharply Refutes Palin Over Remark About Russia in TV Interview


NORAD Spokesman Disputes Alaska Governor's Shocking Assertion in Interview With CBS News Anchor of Russian Warplanes Flying Over Her State, Adding to GOP Fears of a Disastrous Showing Against Biden in Tonight's Vice-Presidential Debate; Calls Mount Among Conservatives for Palin to be Dropped From GOP Ticket

In this image taken from video and provided by CBS, Republican ...

Republican vice- presidential candidate Sarah Palin (left) walks along the grounds of the United Nations with "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric prior to Palin's interview last Wednesday, in which the Alaska governor shocked viewers with a claim that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent Russian warplanes into U.S. airspace over Alaska. Palin's remark was sharply refuted late Tuesday by a spokesman for NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canadian defense organization -- plunging the McCain campaign into damage-control mode, sharply deepening perceptions that Palin isn't qualified to be vice president and heightening fears among Republicans that Palin could turn in a "disastrous" performance at tonight's debate with her Democratic rival, Joe Biden. (Photo courtesy CBS News via AP)



(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, October 2, 2008)

By SKEETER SANDERS


The credibility of Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin -- already damaged by a series of gaffes made during interviews with TV news anchors -- took a dramatic turn for the worse on Tuesday when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the joint U.S.-Canadian military organization, sharply disputed a stunning assertion made by Palin that Russian warplanes flew into U.S. airspace over Alaska.

The Alaska governor, in a much-publicized interview last week with "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric, stunned viewers when she said that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent warplanes across the Bering Sea into the skies above her state and cited her vigilance against the Russians as as one of her foreign policy credentials.

But a NORAD spokesman declared flatly that Russian warplanes never crossed over into American airspace at any time in the nearly two years since Palin took office as governor.

"To be very clear, there has not been any incursion in U.S. airspace in recent years," said Major Allen Herritage, a spokesman for the Alaska region of NORAD at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage.

Palin's latest gaffe -- revealed just two days before her face-to-face showdown with Biden -- could potentially have serious repercussions for the United States' already-strained relations with Russia and is likely to intensify calls from conservatives for GOP presidential nominee John McCain to replace Palin as his running mate.

Many Republican insiders are deeply worried that Palin could turn in a disastrous performance in Thursday night's debate and cause irreparable damage to the McCain campaign, which already is seeing support eroding as a result of the ongoing crisis in the financial markets.

PALIN'S ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON HER FOREIGN-POLICY CREDENTIALS SHOCKS VIEWERS

Asked last week by Couric to discuss her knowledge of foreign relations — in particular, her assertion that Alaska’s close proximity to Russia gave her international experience — Palin stunned both Couric and her viewers when she attempted to explain her interactions with Alaska’s Russian neighbor to the west and Canadian neighbor to the east.

"When you consider even national security issues with Russia, as Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It's Alaska," the Republican vice-presidential nominee told Couric.

It's not the first time that Palin has made a disturbing comment about Russia. In a September 11 interview with "ABC World News" anchor Charles Gibson, Palin suggested that it might be necessary for the U.S. to go to war against Russia if it again invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

To be fair, Palin was talking about a Russian invasion of Georgia after the former Soviet republic's admission into NATO, which Russia fiercely opposes. Under the North Atlantic Treaty, if one NATO-member nation is attacked, all NATO members are obligated to take retaliatory military action against the aggressor.

So far, there has been no official reaction from Moscow -- at least not publicly, perhaps reflecting an unwillingness by the Kremlin to say anything that could influence the outcome of the U.S. election.

Nonetheless, Palin's remarks on Russia and on other foreign-policy matters have set off loud alarm bells both inside and outside the Republican Party. They come at a particularly bad time for U.S.-Russian relations, already badly strained by the Russians' recent incursion into the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkahzia, which seek independence from Georgia.

DAMAGE-CONTROL BID BY MCCAIN CAMPAIGN FALLS FLAT

The McCain campaign moved swiftly into damage-control mode late Tuesday. Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, sought to clarify Palin's remark in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press. "Russian incursions near Alaskan airspace and inside the air defense identification zone have occurred," Comella wrote. "U.S. Air Force fighters have been scrambled repeatedly."

But NORAD's Major Herritage refuted that as well, declaring that no Russian military planes have flown even into that area, a buffer zone of airspace over the Bering Sea that extends beyond the 12-mile limit of U.S. territorial waters. Most nations have similar areas.

Although not recognized internationally as America's to protect, NORAD does keep watch over the area. And, in fact, the Russians have conducted numerous air and naval exercises near the zone since 2006.

50-YEAR-OLD NORAD JOINTLY RUN BY U.S., CANADA SINCE COLD WAR

NORAD is a joint military organization operated by the Canadian Forces Air Command (formerly the Royal Canadian Air Force) and the United States Air Force that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty and defense for all of North America.

Founded during the Cold War as the North American Air Defense Command and best known for its vast network of radar stations designed for early warning of Soviet long-range bomber and missile attacks, NORAD -- which quietly marked its 50th anniversary in May -- is headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

At the end of the Cold War in 1991, NORAD altered its mission to cover counter-drug operations, especially the tracking of small aircraft entering and operating within the U.S. and Canada. Since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in September 11, 2001, NORAD returned to its original mission, altered to be on alert for aerial and missile attacks by terrorists.

NORAD is sometimes unofficially referred to as "Cheyenne Mountain," after its main operations center located deep beneath the Rocky Mountain peak.

Every year on Christmas Eve, NORAD enters the popular culture as the "official tracking network" of Santa Claus on his annual toy-delivery journey around the world -- a tradition begun in 1955 when a local Sears store in Colorado misprinted the phone number of its Santa Claus line and children, thinking they were calling Santa, erroneously called NORAD's predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) instead.

CONSERVATIVES UNHAPPY AS NEW POLL SHOWS PALIN BECOMING A LIABILITY TO MCCAIN

As Palin heads into her debate Thursday night in St. Louis with the senior senator from Delaware, the latest controversy over Palin's foreign-policy remarks is sure to intensify calls from conservatives for McCain to drop her from the ticket and choose a replacement running mate -- especially if Palin performs poorly in the debate.

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, a former Palin supporter, told Politico.com that the vice presidential nominee should step aside. Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing for the online edition of the conservative National Review, says “that’s not a crazy suggestion” and that “something’s gotta change.”

Tony Fabrizio, a GOP strategist, says Palin’s interview with Couric isn’t disqualifying, but is certainly alarming. “You can’t continue to have interviews like that and not take on water,” he said.

“I have not been blown away by the interviews from her, but at the same time, I haven’t come away from them thinking she doesn’t know [bleep],” said Chris Lacivita, a GOP strategist. “But she ain’t Dick Cheney, nor Joe Biden and definitely not Hillary Clinton.”

The Alaska governor needs to make a strong positive impression on voters, many of whom are expressing serious doubts about her readiness to be vice president -- let alone the presidency if the 72-year-old McCain were unable to complete his term.

A new Associated Press poll released Wednesday found that only 25 percent of likely voters believe Palin has the right experience to be president -- a sharp decline from 41 percent just after the GOP convention nearly a month ago, when the Alaska governor made her well-received debut on the national stage.

Palin retains a tremendous amount of support among rank-and-file Republicans. She draws huge crowds, continues to raise a lot of money for the McCain campaign, and state parties report she has sparked an uptick in the number of volunteers. But the Alaska governor has largely failed to draw much support from independents and has energized Democrats to work even more fiercely for Obama and Biden.

BOTH CANDIDATES HUNKER DOWN FOR DEBATE

The Alaska governor was due to arrive in St. Louis Thursday afternoon after spending several days sequestered in a so-called "debate camp" at McCain's retreat in Sedona, Arizona making what a campaign spokesman said was intense preparations for the debate.

For his part, Biden was doing his own intensive preparations near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, although he did travel to Washington -- as did McCain and his Democratic rival, Barack Obama -- for Wednesday night's Senate vote on the economic rescue package, which the Senate overwhelmingly approved, 75-25. All three voted in favor.

As for Palin's prospects, "the expectations are set so low for her, she could fake everyone out," said Scott Reed, who managed the presidential campaign of Republican Bob Dole in 1996.

Democrats, meanwhile, were doing what they could to dispel the notion that Palin is a sub-par debater. The Democratic National Committee e-mailed news stories to reporters describing her able performances in debates in 2006 when she ran for Alaska governor.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), one of Obama's most prominent surrogates, tried to lower expectations for Biden on a conference call with reporters. "My friend Joe Biden has a tendency to talk forever and sometimes say stuff that's kind of stupid," McCaskill said.

Asked to clarify her remarks, McCaskill said she meant them "affectionately."

The 90-minute televised debate will take place at Washington University in St. Louis, with PBS anchor Gwen Ifill serving as moderator. Ifill, who is black, has come under criticism from some conservatives because she is writing a book on blacks in politics, with a chapter on Obama.

# # #

Volume III, Number 60
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.








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Monday, September 29, 2008

Obama and McCain Both Flunk Test of Leadership in Nation's Economic Crisis


In Their First Face-to-Face Debate, Both Candidates Repeatedly Ducked Question on Whether They Supported or Opposed Bush Administration's $700 Billion Wall Street Bailout Plan; House to Vote Monday on Compromise Plan That's an Alternative to White House Proposal That Sparked a Massive Taxpayer Revolt

Presidential debate moderator poses a question to Democratic ...


Presidential debate moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS (center) opens Friday night's presidential debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford with a question to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (left) and Republican presidential candidate John McCain on where they stood on President Bush's proposed $700 billion Wall Street bailout. Neither candidate would directly answer the question, despite Lehrer's repeated attempts to get them to do so. The Bush proposal triggered a massive taxpayer rebellion -- and prompted Congress to adopt an alternative to the president's plan early Sunday after marathon negotiations. (Pool Photo by Chip Somodevilla via AP)


(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, September 29, 2008)

By SKEETER SANDERS


In the end, neither candidate scored a victory. In fact, both candidates badly flunked an opportunity to show real leadership in a real crisis.

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain clashed for more than 90 minutes Friday night in the first presidential debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, with each candidate displaying both their greatest strengths and their greatest weaknesses.

Obama put McCain on the defensive on the economy, while McCain put Obama on the defensive on foreign policy.

But neither candidate would answer the 700-billion-dollar question burning uppermost in the minds of most Americans: Where do they stand on President Bush's massive, taxpayer-financed bailout of Wall Street?

Debate moderator Jim Lehrer, host of PBS's "NewsHour," tried several times at the opening of the debate to get Obama and McCain to say whether they favored or opposed the president's bailout plan. But each time, both men refused to directly answer the question.

COMPROMISE REACHED ON ALTERNATIVE BAILOUT PLAN; HOUSE GOP STILL OPPOSED

Meanwhile, lawmakers on on Capitol Hill -- under fierce pressure from angry taxpayers just weeks before the November 4 election -- reached agreement in the wee hours of Sunday morning on an alternative to Bush's proposal to buy bad debt from ailing banks in a bid to stem the worsening credit crisis that threatens to bring the U.S. economy crashing down on itself and take much of the global economy down with it.

The House is scheduled to vote on the alternative plan -- which was quickly endorsed by the White House -- on Monday, with the Senate scheduled to vote on Wednesday. With passage likely, the measure is on track to reach Bush's desk for his signature by Wednesday afternoon.

The alternative plan -- reached after marathon negotiations that stretched far into the night on Saturday -- will still cost taxpayers $700 billion, but the money would be disbursed in stages: $250 billion to be issued when the legislation is enacted and another $100 billion if the president -- either Bush or his successor -- decided it was needed.

The remaining $350 billion would be subject to congressional review, according to a statement issued by House Speaker Pelosi's office early on Sunday morning.

Under the alternative plan, institutions selling assets under the plan would issue stock warrants giving "taxpayers an ownership stake and profit-making opportunities with participating companies," Pelosi's statement said. The plan also would let the government buy troubled assets from pension plans, local governments and small banks.

However, the compromise plan still faces fierce opposition by a group of about 40 conservative House Republicans who remain adamantly opposed on ideological grounds to any taxpayer money going to bail out Wall Street. House Republicans said Sunday afternoon they were still reviewing the plan.

While resistant House Republican leaders have agreed to it, many rank-and-file members still were balking and and are likely to vote against the plan on Monday. "We are not ready to say that a deal is done," said Representative Eric Cantor (R-Virginia).

But in a key concession to House Republicans, Democrats agreed to allow the government to insure some bad home loans rather than buy them outright -- a move designed to limit the amount of taxpayer money used in the rescue.

HOW THE ALTERNATIVE PLAN IS SUPPOSED TO WORK

In response to an overwhelming demand by taxpayers for strict limits on executive pay, no CEOs at participating companies could get multi-million-dollar severance pay -- known as golden parachutes -- while CEO pay that encourages excessive risk-taking would be strictly limited.

An oversight board of top officials, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, would supervise the program, while its management also would be under close scrutiny by Congress' investigative arm and an independent inspector general.

The program also calls for "meaningful judicial review of the Treasury secretary's actions," the statement said.

Finally, the government could use its power as the owner of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities to help more struggling homeowners modify the terms of their home loans.

There was no immediate comment early Sunday morning from either Obama or McCain, although both candidates were kept informed on the progress of the negotiations. But later, on the Sunday TV talk shows, both candidates cautiously endorsed the compromise -- although the McCain campaign shamelessly claimed credit for it.

Top McCain strategist Steve Schmidt claimed that McCain was partly responsible for the tentative agreement -- in spite of the fact that the GOP nominee said almost nothing during a contentious meeting with Bush and congressional leaders at the White House on Thursday.

Schmidt, appearing on NBC’s "Meet the Press" with chief Obama strategist David Axelrod, was quickly ridiculed by Axelrod for telling "a little bit of fiction."

Obama, asked on CBS’s "Face the Nation" if McCain deserved credit for bringing lawmakers together, replied "No," according to the Associated Press.

McCain himself contradicted his own strategist, saying on ABC’s "This Week" that congressional negotiators deserve "great credit" for the bipartisan deal. "It wasn’t because of me," McCain said. "They did it themselves."

Both candidates warned that regardless of what precipitated the crisis, failing to act to solve it was no longer an option.

IN DEBATE, CANDIDATES REFUSED TO TALK ABOUT CHANGES TO THEIR PRIORITIES IN WAKE OF BAILOUT

Both Obama and McCain refused to say during Friday night's debate how they would be forced to adjust their fiscal priorities as president once the revised bailout -- which will cost taxpayers $250 billion more than next year's entire defense budget -- is finalized by Congress and signed into law by Bush.

Would McCain postpone his promised tax cuts? He wouldn't answer that question. Would Obama curtail his pledge to increase funding for domestic programs? He wouldn't say, either.

When Lehrer pressed McCain on how he would deal with the economic crisis if he were president now, the Arizona senator turned the subject toward his insistence on curbing government spending, particularly some $18 billion on what he called "pork-barrel" projects.

"The first thing we have to do is get spending under control in Washington. It’s completely out of control," he said, before lacing into Obama for requesting $932 million in earmarks for his home state of Illinois. "That kind of thing is not the way to rein in runaway spending in Washington, D.C.," he said "That’s one of the fundamental differences that Senator Obama and I have."

Obama shot back by attacking McCain’s call for more tax cuts for the wealthy. "Let’s be clear: earmarks account for $18 billion in last year’s budget. Senator McCain is proposing — and this is a fundamental difference between us — $300 billion in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the country, $300 billion. Now, $18 billion is important; $300 billion is really important."

Yet Obama also refused to say whether he favored or opposed the Bush administration's $700 billion bailout plan for Wall Street, saying only that he was "optimistic" that Congress will reach an agreement on a compromise plan in the coming days.

MCCAIN AND OBAMA BOTH BLEW CHANCE TO SHOW REAL LEADERSHIP IN FINANCIAL CRISIS

For McCain, the mounting taxpayer outrage over the bailout's $700 billion price tag gave him a golden opportunity to once and for all prove his reputation as a "maverick" by openly breaking from Bush -- and at the same time shoring up his conservative credentials by joining the House Republicans in their fierce opposition to the plan.

McCain had that opportunity to do so during the summit meeting between the administration and congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday. But instead, he remained silent.

For Obama, the backlash against the bailout gave him a golden opportunity to clearly demonstrate that he was on the side of the middle class by coming out foursquare against the Bush administration's idea of the government relieving Wall Street firms of billions of dollars in bad debts with anywhere from $700 billion to $1 trillion of the taxpayers' money -- without any safeguards for taxpayers, help for struggling homeowners or any congressional or judicial oversight.

(That lack of any oversight, in this blogger's opinion, would be an unconstitutional breach of the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, as Article I of the Constitution gives Congress exclusive authority to control the federal purse and Article III gives the judiciary the power to settle disputes between the other two branches).

Obama, who also attended the White House summit, could have raised his objections to the bailout on precisely those grounds. But he, too, remained silent.

CANDIDATES RIP EACH OTHER, RATHER THAN OFFER SOLUTIONS

But that didn't stop Obama and McCain from tearing into each other over the economy. "We also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush -- supported by Senator McCain -- the theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most and somehow prosperity will trickle down," Obama said.

But rather than address the bailout question, McCain tore into Obama over budget earmarks, spending much of the first 20 minutes of the debate going after Obama for supporting the long-standing practice of congressional funding for special projects sought by members for their home states.

"The United States Senate will take up a continuing resolution tomorrow or the next day — sometime next week — with 2,000 [earmarks] — 2,000 — look at them, my friends," McCain said. "Look at ’em. You’ll be appalled. And Senator Obama is a recent convert [against earmarks], after requesting $932 million worth of pork-barrel spending projects."

IRAQ WAR, FOREIGN POLICY TAKE BACK SEAT TO TAXPAYERS' REVOLT AGAINST BAILOUT

While the two major presidential nominees clashed repeatedly on the Iraq War and on foreign policy -- which was what the debate was originally scheduled to focus on -- the economy was clearly on the minds of most Americans, as the crisis gripping Wall Street and the proposed bailout dominated the headlines for more than a week.

The refusal by either candidate to directly address the bailout was -- to say the least -- a disappointment.

But Obama and McCain are inevitably going to have to take a firm stand on the bailout -- one way or the other -- for Bush's bailout plan has triggered a massive nationwide outpouring of taxpayer outrage of a magnitude never before seen in modern American history.

Every member of Congress has been besieged with literally hundreds of thousands of e-mails, letters, faxes and telephone calls from their constituents outraged by the thought of 700 billion of their hard-earned tax dollars going to bail out the very Wall Street firms whose unbridled greed led to the financial crisis that the country finds itself in.

That outrage -- coming just five weeks before the November 4 election -- prompted a group of conservative House Republicans to balk at approving the bailout in a contentious meeting at the White House.

It's an outrage that has crossed ideological and party lines. Suddenly, liberals, moderates and conservatives; Democrats, Republicans and independents alike have something in common: Deep anger over the idea of hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money ending up in the coffers of Wall Street.

Loud, boisterous protests erupted in cities and towns all across the nation -- mainly by liberal-leaning college students and blue-collar workers -- against the bailout. At the same time, however, the switchboards of conservative talk radio shows have been lit up with angry telephone calls by listeners infuriated by the Bush administration's bailout plan.

And online message boards across the political spectrum have been flooded with so many anti-bailout missives that numerous boards crashed from the sheer volume of messages.

BUSH SINKS INTO WORST 'BLACK HOLE' OF DISREPUTE SINCE NIXON

That the Bush administration's Wall Street bailout plan has triggered such overwhelming public outrage, albeit for different reasons, by Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives alike is revealing of just how deeply isolated Bush is from the American people -- including his own Republican Party -- in the final months of his presidency.

Not since Richard Nixon -- who resigned from the presidency in disgrace in 1974 because of the Watergate scandal -- has America had a president who has fallen into such a deep "black hole" of disrepute.

That Capitol Hill Republicans told the president in no uncertain terms Thursday that his Wall Street bailout plan was anathema to deeply-held conservative Republican principles -- Even Senator Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky) publicly branded it "socialism" -- marked a rebellion by members of a sitting Republican president's own party much more fierce than that against Bush's ill-fated immigration reform plan.

At least one House Republican reportedly told Bush to his face, "Look, Mr. President, you don't have to face the voters again; we [membrs of Congress] do!" according to sources -- a pointed reminder to Bush of the immense pressure that members of Congress are being subjected to by their constituents to defeat the bailout, under threat of being voted out of office on November 4 if they don't.

PRESSURE BY BUSH TO GET BAILOUT PASSED BY CONGRESS BACKFIRES

Bush has exerted strong pressure on Congress -- including a nationally televised address on Wednesday night -- for swift passage of the $700 billion measure. But the president's strategy backfired, triggering instead the most massive taxpayer revolt in memory, far exceeding that which gripped California 30 years ago and led to voter passage of the state's tax-cutting Proposition 13.

What really caught the White House off-guard was an open rebellion against the Wall Street bailout plan on conservative talk radio, with talk-show hosts and callers alike denouncing the plan as an egregious betrayal of conservative free-market principles that are the bedrock of the Republican Party.

Rush Limbaugh, host of the nation's most popular conservative radio talk show, ripped into the bailout plan, noting that even liberal Democrats -- whom he regularly blasts with relish -- are uncomfortable with it.

"If this [plan] was so good, they [Democrats] should pass it. They should brag about it. They should take credit for it. But [even] the Democrats understand that this bill is dirty," said Limbaugh.

The Wall Street bailout plan puts conservatives "in a bind," according to Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. That it was proposed by a conservative Republican president -- who, by his own admission, would prefer the free market to sort itself out -- make the bailout even more distasteful.

"Either they [Republicans] swallow it -- violating free-market principles they hold dear -- or they oppose it and risk seeing confidence in the free-market system evaporate," Abramowitz told the Associated Press. "This is an ideological problem. If you are conservative and you believe in small government and the free market, [then] if you fail, that's your problem. That's the way the market is supposed to work."

SEEDS OF TODAY'S CRISIS WERE PLANTED WITH REPEAL OF DEPRESSION-ERA LAW

Truth be told, the Republicans planted the seeds for our current financial crisis in 1999, when the then-GOP-controlled Congress -- with the blessing of Democratic President Bill Clinton -- repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, a Drpression-era law that prohibited banks from owning other financial institutions, such as brokerage houses, insurance companies and mortgage lenders -- and vice-versa.

The practical effect of Glass-Steagall was to throw up a strict wall of separation between commercial Main Street banks -- which deal directly with the public -- and the Wall Street securities firms and investment banks, which are a world onto themselves.

It was the previous unchecked intermingling of Wall Street and Main Street into each other's business that contributed to the stock market crash of 1929 that plunged the world into the Great Depression.

The repeal of Glass-Steagall, which, in hindsight, Clinton should have vetoed -- combined with the total lack of regulatory enforcement by both the Clinton and Bush administrations -- paved the way for the financial firms, gripped by uncontrolled greed, to engage in the highly risky investment schemes, including sub-prime mortgages, that lie at the heart of the ongoing crisis.


POLLS: CONGRESS HAD TO ACT -- BUT NOT BUSH'S WAY

In a showing of how deeply unpopular Bush's bailout plan was, a new Associated Press poll released Saturday found that only 30 percent of Americans supported it. Forty-five percent were opposed, while the remaining 25 percent were undecided. The survey, conducted Thursday by Knowledge Networks for the AP, had a margin of error or plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

A similar Gallup poll released Friday showed that while a solid majority of Americans want Congress to do something to resolve the financial crisis, only 22 percent supported the Bush plan, while 56 percent favored an alternative. Eleven percent opposed any action while the remaining 11 percent were undecided. The Gallup poll was conducted on Wednesday and had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

COMPROMISE FLAWED FOR NOT RESTORING GLASS-STEAGALL ACT

There is little doubt that the alternative bailout plan reached by Congress is a vast improvement over the Bush administration's proposal. But in the opinion of this blogger, it doesn't go far enough. It still leaves in place the previous Republican-controlled Congress' repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.

That Depression-era law was passed precisely to prevent the very practices that have led to the current crisis.

Keeping Wall Street and Main Street separate from each other is absolutely vital to preventing a repeat of this crisis. The bailout plan, therefore, will work in the long run only if it includes the full restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act.

Otherwise, Congress will only be sowing the seeds for yet another economic crisis in the future.

(Additional reporting for this article provided by Reuters and The New York Times.)

# # #

Volume III, Number 59
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.






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