Once again the Mystery Debate Theater team gathered at HQ to perform its somber duty of putting a presidential debate into the proper context through deft analysis, biting wit and high-quality talking back to the TV. Sir Andrew Kingsford arrived with four Heineken talls and a Red Baron pizza (opting for “four kinds of fake cheese instead of the three kinds of fake meat you get on the Supreme”) purchased at 7-11 and Steve Rhodes cracked open a Goose Island Harvest Ale. A steady rain kept Tim Willette at home, contributing via e-mail, along with contributors Julia Gray and Jake Siska. As always, this transcript has been edited for clarity, space, and comedy.
TIM: So, the first debate was about foreign policy, and the next one covers domestic policy. What’s the subject of the third one? A Siskel and Ebert-style review of the previous two debates?
JULIA: All I know is I wanna sit on Wolf Blitzer’s lap.
STEVE: Let’s watch it on C-SPAN. The feed is purer.
JULIA: Chris Matthews is looking particularly ruddy tonight. He needs a more neutral shade of lipstick.
STEVE: It was hard to switch to this from Street Patrol and American Jail.
JULIA: Do you think it’s pervy that I want to sit on Tom Brokaw’s lap too?
BROKAW: Good evening from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. I’m Tom Brokaw of NBC News. And welcome to this second presidential debate, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
ANDREW: He’s got a wobble to his voice.
STEVE: He sounds like Katherine Hepburn.
BROKAW: We’re going to have our first question from over here in Section A from Alan Schaefer.
QUESTION: With the economy on the downturn and retired and older citizens and workers losing their incomes, what’s the fastest, most positive solution to bail these people out of the economic ruin?
OBAMA: Step one was a rescue package that was passed last week. We’ve got to make sure that works properly. And that means strong oversight, making sure that investors, taxpayers are getting their money back and treated as investors.
It means that we are cracking down on CEOs and making sure that they’re not getting bonuses or golden parachutes as a consequence of this package.
TIM: I’ve always wondered: wouldn’t true “golden parachutes” be deadly? Gold is really heavy.
OBAMA: And, in fact, we just found out that AIG, a company that got a bailout, just a week after they got help went on a $400,000 junket.
And I’ll tell you what, the Treasury should demand that money back and those executives should be fired. But that’s only step one. The middle-class need a rescue package. And that means tax cuts for the middle-class.
ANDREW: You know what’s gonna fix it? Chaaaaange.
MCCAIN: I have a plan to fix this problem and it has got to do with energy independence. We’ve got to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much. We have to keep Americans’ taxes low. All Americans’ taxes low. Let’s not raise taxes on anybody today.
STEVE: Look at his tie. He just came from candy striping at Nashville General.
BROKAW: The powers of the treasury secretary have been greatly expanded. The most powerful officer in the cabinet now. Hank Paulson says he won’t stay on. Who do you have in mind to appoint to that very important post?
STEVE: Charles Schwab?
MCCAIN: I like Meg Whitman, she knows what it’s like to be out there in the marketplace. She knows how to create jobs. Meg Whitman was CEO of a company that started with 12 people and is now 1.3 million people in America make their living off eBay.
STEVE: She can show Sarah Palin how to be more effective selling off surplus government items. Plus, I think she now owns that piece of toast that looks like Jesus.
OBAMA: Well, Warren would be a pretty good choice.
STEVE: Why don’t we just make Warren Buffett the president? We could have a Western White House in Omaha.
BROKAW: We’re going to go now, Senator McCain, to the next question from you from the hall here, and it comes from Oliver Clark, who is over here in section F.
STEVE: Section F sucks!
QUESTION: Well, Senators, through this economic crisis, most of the people that I know have had a difficult time. And through this bailout package, I was wondering what it is that’s going to actually help those people out.
MCCAIN: You know, one of the real catalysts, really the match that lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I’ll bet you, you may never even have heard of them before this crisis.
STEVE: I think I used to be candy at Fannie Mae.
MCCAIN: But you know, they’re the ones that, with the encouragement of Senator Obama and his cronies and his friends in Washington, that went out and made all these risky loans, gave them to people that could never afford to pay back.
And you know, there were some of us that stood up two years ago and said we’ve got to enact legislation to fix this. We’ve got to stop this greed and excess.
Meanwhile, the Democrats in the Senate and some — and some members of Congress defended what Fannie and Freddie were doing. They resisted any change.
Meanwhile, they were getting all kinds of money in campaign contributions. Senator Obama was the second highest recipient of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money in history – in history.
OBAMA: Well, Oliver, first, let me tell you what’s in the rescue package for you.
STEVE: But first tell me, are you a contributor?
OBAMA: Now, I’ve got to correct a little bit of Senator McCain’s history, not surprisingly. Let’s, first of all, understand that the biggest problem in this whole process was the deregulation of the financial system. Senator McCain, as recently as March, bragged about the fact that he is a deregulator. On the other hand, two years ago, I said that we’ve got a sub-prime lending crisis that has to be dealt with.
I wrote to Secretary Paulson, I wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, and told them this is something we have to deal with, and nobody did anything about it.
STEVE: I can’t believe no one responded to my letters!
OBAMA: I never promoted Fannie Mae. In fact, Senator McCain’s campaign chairman’s firm was a lobbyist on behalf of Fannie Mae, not me.
But, look, you’re not interested in hearing politicians pointing fingers.
STEVE: Nor in the smears I’ll make later, so just disregard everything I say! And when my commercials pointing fingers come on, change the channel!
BROKAW: Senator McCain, in all candor, do you think the economy is going to get worse before it gets better?
STEVE: Yes. But fortunately Americans can take comfort in an ice cold Budwesier.
MCCAIN: My friend, I’d like you to see the letter that a group of senators and I wrote warning exactly of this crisis. Senator Obama’s name was not on that letter.
STEVE: He wrote a different letter. Maybe they crossed in the mail.
MCCAIN: We can fix our economy. America’s workers are the best in the world.
TIM: Shouldn’t we have a contingency plan just in case we aren’t?
JAKE: If we are the best workers in the world, then why are all the jobs overseas? Maybe we need to become the worst workers in the world and get the jobs back.
BROKAW: We’re going to continue over in Section F, as it turns out.
STEVE: Geez, this set is brutal. I guess they’ve already started re-possessing the good furniture at Belmont University.
TIM: The weather guy comes out later to use the blue screen.
BROKAW: Senator Obama, this is a question from you from Theresa Finch.
QUESTION: How can we trust either of you with our money when both parties got us into this global economic crisis?
OBAMA: We’re going to have to make some investments, but we’ve also got to make spending cuts. And what I’ve proposed, you’ll hear Senator McCain say, well, he’s proposing a whole bunch of new spending, but actually I’m cutting more than I’m spending so that it will be a net spending cut.
STEVE: What has he proposed cutting?
ANDREW: The T-ball budget.
STEVE: Look to your left and look to your right. By this time next year only one in three will be able to send your kid to college here.
MCCAIN: And so let’s look at our records as well as our rhetoric. That’s really part of your mistrust here. And now I suggest that maybe you go to some of these organizations that are the watchdogs of what we do, like the Citizens Against Government Waste or the National Taxpayers Union . . .
ANDREW: The NRA.
MCCAIN: I have fought against excessive spending and outrages. I have fought to reduce the earmarks and eliminate them.
ANDREW: I’ve been around long enough I’ve fought everything!
MCCCAIN: Do you know that he voted for every increase in spending that I saw come across the floor of the United States Senate while we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks?
He voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark projects, including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?
STEVE: An overhead projector? They don’t use PowerPoint?
BROKAW: There are new economic realities out there that everyone in this hall and across this country understands that there are going to have to be some choices made . . .
TIM: And remember, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
BROKAW: . . . Health policies, energy policies, and entitlement reform, what are going to be your priorities in what order?
MCCAIN: The three priorities were health . . .
STEVE: Speak up, sonny!
BROKAW: The three – health care, energy, and entitlement reform: Social Security and Medicare. In what order would you put them in terms of priorities?
STEVE: From most boring to least?
MCCAIN: I think you can work on all three at once, Tom.
STEVE: Insert Obama multi-tasking joke here.
MCCAIN: My friends, some of this $700 billion ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations.
STEVE: Like that giant AIG cell.
OBAMA: We’re going to have to develop clean coal technology . . .
JAKE: What the [expletive] is clean coal?
STEVE: It’s coal they wash before using.
OBAMA: Energy we have to deal with today, because you’re paying $3.80 here in Nashville for gasoline . . .
STEVE & ANDREW: [laughing and gasping and pointing so hard at the transparency of it that we can’t even get a good line off . . . except, nice staff work!]
OBAMA: Now, when JFK said we’re going to the moon in 10 years, nobody was sure how to do it, but we understood that, if the American people make a decision to do something, it gets done.
STEVE: Except when it comes to preventing our economy from collapsing. Our devising a sensible college football playoff system.
BROKAW: Senator McCain, for you, we have our first question from the Internet tonight.
STEVE: [McCain:] From the Internet? What is it?
[Brokaw:] Oh, that’s a big computer system with a lot of tubes, but that’s not important right now.
BROKAW: A child of the Depression, 78-year-old Fiora from Chicago.
Since World War II, we have never been asked to sacrifice anything to help our country, except the blood of our heroic men and women.
STEVE: That’s not true. Jimmy Carter asked us to turn the heat down, Ronald Reagan asked us to sacrifice our morals, and George W. Bush asked us to suspend our disbelief.
BROKAW: As president, what sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American dream and to get out of the economic morass that we’re now in?
MCCAIN: I believe that we have to eliminate the earmarks. And sometimes those projects, not – not the overhead projector that Senator Obama asked for, but some of them that are really good projects, will have – will have to be eliminated, as well.
STEVE: The Adler will sell out this week just from people wanting to see the $3 million overhead projector.
BROKAW: Senator Obama, as we begin, very quickly, our discussion period, President Bush, you’ll remember, last summer, said that “Wall Street got drunk.”
A lot of people now look back and think the federal government got drunk and, in fact, the American consumers got drunk.
How would you, as president, try to break those bad habits of too much debt and too much easy credit, specifically, across the board, for this country, not just at the federal level, but as a model for the rest of the country, as well?
ANDREW: I’d raise the drinking age to 35.
STEVE: Audience wardrobe provided by The Gap.
ANDREW: It’s casual Tuesday.
BROKAW: The next question does come from the hall for Senator McCain. It comes from Section C over here, and it’s from Ingrid Jackson.
QUESTION: I want to know what you would do within the first two years to make sure that Congress moves fast as far as environmental issues, like climate change and green jobs?
ANDREW: Kill old people. Soylent Green is people!
BROKAW: Next question for you, Senator Obama, and it comes from the E section over here and it’s from Lindsey Trellow.
QUESTION: Senator, selling health care coverage in America as the marketable commodity has become a very profitable industry. Do you believe health care should be treated as a commodity?
OBAMA: We have a moral commitment as well as an economic imperative to do something about the health care crisis that so many families are facing.
MCCAIN: What is at stake here in this health care issue is the fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama. As you notice, he starts talking about government. He starts saying, government will do this and government will do that, and then government will, and he’ll impose mandates.
STEVE: Let’s make health care a utility and cable-TV not.
BROKAW: Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?
MCCAIN: I think it’s a responsibility, in this respect, in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen, to every family member.
OBAMA: Well, I think it should be a right for every American.
STEVE: McCain thinks it’s a right too – the right to watch other people die because they can’t afford health care.
OBAMA: And when Senator McCain says that he wants to provide children health care, what he doesn’t mention is he voted against the expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program that is responsible for making sure that so many children who didn’t have previously health insurance have it now.
Now, the final point I’ll make on this whole issue of government intrusion and mandates – it is absolutely true that I think it is important for government to crack down on insurance companies that are cheating their customers, that don’t give you the fine print, so you end up thinking that you’re paying for something and, when you finally get sick and you need it, you’re not getting it.
And the reason that it’s a problem to go shopping state by state, you know what insurance companies will do? They will find a state – maybe Arizona, maybe another state – where there are no requirements for you to get cancer screenings, where there are no requirements for you to have to get pre-existing conditions, and they will all set up shop there.
That’s how in banking it works. Everybody goes to Delaware, because they’ve got very – pretty loose laws when it comes to things like credit cards.
STEVE: And a friend in Joe Biden!
BROKAW: Phil Elliott has a question for Senator McCain.
STEVE: Wasn’t he the cameraman in Groundhog Day? Maybe he wants to get on the road before the storm hits.
QUESTION: How will all the recent economic stress affect our nation’s ability to act as a peacemaker in the world?
STEVE: We will no longer be able to afford six-sided tables.
OBAMA: Well, you know, Senator McCain, in the last debate and today, again, suggested that I don’t understand. It’s true. There are some things I don’t understand.
I don’t understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, while Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are setting up base camps and safe havens to train terrorists to attack us.
BROKAW: Next question for Senator Obama, it comes from the F section and is from Katie Hamm.
QUESTION: Should the United States respect Pakistani sovereignty and not pursue al Qaeda terrorists who maintain bases there, or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies like we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War?
OBAMA: If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden; we will crush Al Qaida. That has to be our biggest national security priority.
STEVE: So . . . like Cambodia.
MCCAIN: Senator Obama likes to talk loudly. In fact, he said he wants to announce that he’s going to attack Pakistan.
OBAMA: Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. Senator McCain continues to repeat this.
What I said was the same thing that the audience here today heard me say, which is, if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down bin Laden and take him out, then we should.
STEVE: And if they are after a fugitive in California, they should can strike inside our country too!
MCCAIN: I’ll get Osama bin Laden, my friends. But I’m not going to telegraph my punches, which is what Senator Obama did.
STEVE: When you strike inside another country, you don’t talk about it. That way you won’t get impeached.
BROKAW: If either of you becomes president, as one of you will, how do you reorganize Afghanistan’s strategy or do you?
STEVE: We could bore them to death with fake town hall formats.
BROKAW: Senator McCain, this question is for you from the Internet. It’s from Alden in Hewitt, Texas.
How can we apply pressure to Russia for humanitarian issues in an effective manner without starting another Cold War?
MCCAIN: Now, long ago, I warned about Vladimir Putin. I said I looked into his eyes and saw three letters, a K, a G and a B.
STEVE: That’s funny, when I looked into his eyes I saw three cherries.
OBAMA: You know, back in April, I put out a statement saying that the situation in Georgia was unsustainable because you had Russian peacekeepers in these territories that were under dispute.
STEVE: He didn’t write a letter?
BROKAW: Over in section A, Terry Chary . . .
STEVE: Is leaving in disgust.
QUESTION: If, despite your best diplomatic efforts, Iran attacks Israel, would you be willing to commit U.S. troops in support and defense of Israel? Or would you wait on approval from the U.N. Security Council?
MCCAIN: What would you do if you were the Israelis and the president of a country says that they are determined to wipe you off the map, calls your country a stinking corpse?
Now, Senator Obama without pre-condition wants to sit down and negotiate with them, without pre-conditions.
ANDREW: Is that because our health care won’t cover it?
BROKAW: All right, gentlemen, we’ve come to the last question.
And you’ll both be interested to know this comes from the Internet and it’s from a state that you’re strongly contesting, both of you. It’s from Peggy in Amherst, New Hampshire. And it has a certain Zen-like quality, I’ll give you a fair warning.
She says, “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?”
MCCAIN: There are challenges around the world that are new and different and we will be talking about countries sometime in the future that we hardly know where they are on the map.
ANDREW: Like India.
MCCAIN: So what I don’t know is what the unexpected will be. But I have spent my whole life serving this country. I grew up in a family where my father was gone most of the time because he was at sea and doing our country’s business. My mother basically raised our family.
ANDREW: With a broken bottle and a dream.
BROKAW: That concludes tonight’s debate from here in Nashville.
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