The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

16 October 2008

McCain Holds His Own During Tense Presidential Debate


Opposing Talkers Worry About Their Own Candidates

Did you really believe the final presidential debate of 2008 would be fun to watch? After a miserable political season featuring a creepy, yet smooth-talking cult leader running against a wildly inept campaigner, every ugly twist and turn has provided another reason for the average American to reach for the anti-depressants.

Certainly, Wednesday night's showdown did little to change that sentiment, even if John McCain did finally take the belated opportunity to put Barack Obama on the defensive. Even the mainstream media agrees with that assessment.

Ahead of the event, Rush Limbaugh tried to get his listeners mentally prepared, telling them to "expect the worst." In recent weeks, Limbaugh and other talk hosts have been increasingly critical of McCain's seemingly weak campaign strategy, with the former telling his audience that the Arizona senator would have to be "dragged across the finish line."

But one liberal talker is also concerned about potential snags that could cost his candidate the presidency. More on that below.

First, from Wednesday's Rush Limbaugh show:

RUSH: Go in there thinking the worst and you can't help but be happy at the end of the day 'cause it's not going to be that bad.

CALLER: Well, I'll tell you one thing I want to tell you, I've been listening to you and, you know, you've really been out there really trying to keep everybody motivated because we've been having our ups and downs all --

RUSH: Here's the thing out there, Rebecca. This is the bottom line. This is a referendum on Obama. You've just said it. I know you want leadership from our candidate, but you're going to have to provide it yourself. How many times have I told you we are going to have to drag this campaign across the finish line?

CALLER: Well, what you know then, this is what I'm going to keep doing. I am talking to everybody I know, and I know the people who listen to your program are good people, patriots, citizens who work hard, working people, wonderful people in this country, they're doing the same thing. I mean I go to the Columbus market, I have a stand there, in Columbus, New Jersey, and I can't tell you how many people I've gotten into conversations with and I'm talking to my kids, I'm talking to my grandkids, I'm talking to my Jewish aunt in Florida and telling her, you know, all this stuff and that's how we're going to do it, and if you keep helping us, I think that's the only -- I'm going to keep doing it even though I'm frustrated.

RUSH: Well, good. Understand here we're all going to have to be self-starters in this. We're all going to have to be individual leaders among the people that we know. I'll take care of leadership here from the Golden EIB Microphone, but it is what it is. You have to face the reality of it.

Now, we've heard Senator McCain, he said he's going to whip Obama's-you-know-what, he's going to bring up Ayers and all that tonight. Good. I'm looking forward to it, I want to see how it happens. I wish he hadn't telegraphed it. A marketing plan is something to be executed, not bragged about, because then you give people a defense against it, but we'll see. But, look, the debates are not going to decide anything, they're not going to decide anything. I knew this after the first one, I knew it again after the one last week, and there's going to be three weeks after this debate, and unless something highly unusual happens here tonight, the debate is not going to be the final determining factor.

But beyond all that, I know, folks, that Rebecca is voicing every one of your fears, every one of your frustrations, every one. I know it. And what it tells me is what a golden opportunity we have had here for leadership at the elected level. Had there been that leadership, the American people will respond to leadership every time, and our side hasn't had a whole lot of leadership, unless, of course, your number-one issue is earmarks, and then of course you're happy as you can be.

Certainly, it wasn't disappointing for McCain's increasingly- concerned supporters. He did place Obama on the defensive for the first time in memory, confronting him on his ties to anti-American radicals and fringe groups connected to voter fraud rings. But it will take many years for conservative Republicans to forgive their moderate wing for successfully maneuvering him into position as the party's nominee.

Nonetheless, it isn't all bad news for McCain's supporters, either. Obama now suffers from a smug overconfidence that was on full display during the debate. He's so sure that he'll win that he's already planning for his first 100 days in office. That's dangerous.

Another problem for Obama is that his victory strategy depends on a continuation of the economic doom-and-gloom that has boosted his candidacy to this unlikely point. Should Wall Street begin to stabilize by election day (and there are many reasons to believe that will be the case), he may be left fumbling around for another issue to carry him to victory.

Finally, continued attacks by the McCain campaign against Obama's tax-and-spend philosophy may give voters second thoughts about his suitability. As seen in the debate, that issue does seem to unnerve Obama, forcing him to make awkward references to Fox News and other side-stepping methods.

Though you won't hear many on the left admitting that Obama could still be vulnerable, Air America talker Lionel told listeners on his Wednesday program that a diversion of attention away from the Wall Street collapse "could be catastrophic" for the Illinois senator if it brings the debate back to issues that favor McCain.

Lionel also worried aloud about the loose cannon factor that had Rep John Lewis (D-GA) employing a wildly counterproductive race card strategy.

Don't expect many on the left to listen to Lionel's concerns, however, they're too busy planning victory celebrations and jockeying for positions in his presidential cabinet.

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