The moderator and the audience have asked some extraordinarily good, insightful, and deep questions tonight (as well as a couple of duds). The candidates have flatly refused to answer any of them.
Paraphrased based on my memory of the question:
Q: 'What does this $700 billion bailout do for the little guy?'
Nothing at all directly. It may help keep the economy a whole from derailing, which would be good for the little guy as well as the big guys.
Neither candidate wants to say, "It wasn't designed to help the little guy," so we got two dodges. Sadly, this was the least evasive answer of the night.
Q: 'Should health care be a commodity?'
This is a fascinating question, and one I was very sorry that both candidates dodged completely. It's a fundamental issue, and I would like to know what they both think about it. A 'no' answer calls for a European-style system whereby health care is instead considered a right, which we make arrangements as a society to provide for that right to be met. A 'yes' answer is compatible with a market system.
If the answer is yes, as I think it is, it is not only because many people have spent time and money becoming health care providers -- whether doctors, paramedics, nurses, etc. This is an issue, because the government would be seizing their means of making a living if it declared health care a noncommodity: all "commodity" means is that there is something you can buy or sell.
The more important reason, though, is that the market regulates the amount people spend on a commodity. If you take it out of the market, you regulate the supply by law instead. You tell doctors and other health care providers, "You will provide as much as is demanded, and we will pay you what we decide to." So fewer people become doctors, until you have to mandate that, too.
Furthermore, the government's resources become increasingly devoted to health care. Supply is limited by the number of doctors, etc., but demand for health care is essentially unlimited. I could go to the doctor every time I get a cold, or think I might be getting a cold. I could ask for a prescription of Tamiflu just in case. I don't, because of the copay.
If it's my right to receive that health care, then the government has to provide me not with the same level of service I currently get, but a much higher level. Me and everyone else.
Q: 'We all recognize that things are going to be tighter. Prioritize entitlement reform, health care, and energy policy as first, second, and third most important.'
This was an outstanding and direct question from the moderator. McCain flatly dodged it ("I think we can do all three") and Obama followed him. The proverbial tar and feathers should be applied here to both of them.
This is the question that has now been asked in all three debates: 'If you find you won't be able to keep your campaign promises, which ones are you really going to do, and which ones will go by the wayside if things are too tight?' It's a tremendously important issue, and one I'd like to see pushed. McCain came closest to answering it, by reminding people of his spending freeze plan, but that's still not an answer to the particular question (although based on the answer he did give, I'd estimate his priorities as: 1) Entitlement reform, 2) Energy, 3) Health care). Sen. Obama's answer was even less direct, just a recitation of his health care talking points and his energy talking points (which bled into his non-answers to the other questions).
Q: Best question of the night. 'How can we trust either of you, given how badly your parties have both behaved up to now?'
McCain almost answered this one, by pointing people to watchdog agencies that would show he was committed to bipartisanship, whereas his opponent voted with his party every time. True enough, although the real question wasn't about who will work with the other party. If both parties are so bad they cannot be trusted (which seems largely beyond dispute), bipartisanship is not the same virtue as if there are good ideas on both sides (which is less clear).
Instapundit and Brendan Loy spoke to this today:
[I]t's hard to argue with this: "It isn't just that McCain and Obama are flawed candidates; it's that there aren't really any better alternatives. Who would you rather see up there? Hillary Clinton? Mitt Romney? John Edwards? Mike Huckabee? Joe Biden? Sarah Palin? Nancy Pelosi? John Boehner? Harry Reid? Mitch McConnell? George W. Bush? John Kerry? Dick Cheney? Al Gore? Please. Our political class is totally failing us, almost as much as we're failing ourselves."This is the hope people have for Gov. Palin, who at least is a complete newcomer -- real fresh blood. My suspicion is that we'll see a whole lot of incumbents turned out this year, whatever the polls say about it now.
Yes, the political class isn't attracting the best talent in the nation. It's not even attracting the second-best.
Q: Second best question, from a seventy-something lady: 'Since WWII, Americans haven't been asked to sacrifice anything for the good of the nation, except the blood of our heroic troops. What will you ask?'
Best answers of the night. Sen. McCain actually raises the prospect of cutting social programs and entitlements. Sen. Obama says he'll double the Peace Corps and volunteer programs for the youth. He tries to talk about the civilian expeditionary force concept, but doesn't really know how to phrase it. Pity.
Q: 'What about climate change?'
I can't believe we're still talking about global warming, but apparently we are.
Both candidates reiterate their energy policy talking points.
Most of the night, actually, was talking point hell. For those of us who are following these issues intensely and watching them with people who don't, that is very frustrating ("Obama just said clean coal! Do you know..." "Shh!" "McCain said he voted against the new tanker! Why..." "Shhh!").
The funniest moment of the night was when the moderator, after several warnings, took them both to task for not keeping their answers to the one minute required. Sen. Obama -- having just a few minutes earlier told a questioner that he knew they weren't there to see politicians pointing fingers at each other -- actually stood up and pointed his finger at McCain.
I don't know who won in the mind of the average voter. I am reminded of our discussion of who would be a good VP pick, when Cassandra asserted that one of her standards was, "Who would make a good standard bearer in 2012?" I said then that I didn't see anyone on the slate I'd want to be thinking about in 2012. Gov. Palin is better than I expected, but I hope we'll see a complete turnover between now and then. I'd still believe that our country needs to ask some of those good men who have done so well in Iraq and elsewhere to step up to the task. Sign me up for the Mattis in '12 ticket.