Once again, our Mystery Debate Theater team of Tim Willette, Sir Andrew Kingsford, and Steve Rhodes got together to talk back to the TV with the outrage and insight that you’ve grown to love. Andrew brought a Connie’s cheese pizza and a six-pack Tyskie premium lager while Tim reported in via e-mail from his Wicker Park bunker, where he was nursing a knee injury and writing new death metal songs. Julia Gray, Jake Siska and Brian Rhodes contributed from our satellite offices out amongst “the people.” As always, this transcript is edited for clarity, length, comedy and sanity.
STEVE: This one is likely to be a snooze even if John McCain is desperate and needs a “game-changer.” What can he do, call Bill Ayers on his cell right there on the stage?
BRIAN: I keep hearing McCain needs a “game-changer” in tonight’s debate. Do you think he will choose the thimble instead of the race car?
TIM: SCHIEFFER: From Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, I am proud to welcome everyone to the third and final presidential debate of 2008. The first two debates covered foreign policy and domestic policy, respectively. Tonight, both candidates have agreed that they will focus entirely on character attacks and slander.
TIM: SCHIEFFER: Tonight we present the 49th and final presidential debate. I will divide the next hour and a half into nine minute segments, after which I intend to kill myself. You heard that right: I’m going to blow my brains out.
STEVE: Hofstra was founded by a lumber magnate. I’m not making that up. He was a magnate of lumber.
SCHIEFFER: Good evening. And welcome to the third and last presidential debate of 2008, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. I’m Bob Schieffer of CBS News.
By now, we’ve heard all the talking points, so let’s try to tell the people tonight some things that they haven’t heard.
STEVE: Like how Obama’s a Muslim.
SCHIEFFER: Let’s get to it.
STEVE: Obama’s wearing the tie McCain wore last time!
ANDREW: Maybe they got their lockers mixed up.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Would you like to ask him a question?
STEVE: I think I’ll just go straight into attacking him instead.
MCCAIN: I would like to mention that a couple days ago Senator Obama was out in Ohio and he had an encounter with a guy who’s a plumber, his name is Joe Wurzelbacher.
Joe wants to buy the business that he has been in for all of these years, worked 10, 12 hours a day. And he wanted to buy the business but he looked at your tax plan and he saw that he was going to pay much higher taxes.
You were going to put him in a higher tax bracket which was going to increase his taxes, which was going to cause him not to be able to employ people, which Joe was trying to realize the American dream.
STEVE: That’s because I don’t like plumbers.
MCCAIN: Now Senator Obama talks about the very, very rich. Joe, I want to tell you, I’ll not only help you buy that business that you worked your whole life for and be able – and I’ll keep your taxes low and I’ll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees.
OBAMA: Now, the conversation I had with Joe the plumber, what I essentially said to him was, “Five years ago, when you were in a position to buy your business, you needed a tax cut then.”
And what I want to do is to make sure that the plumber, the nurse, the firefighter, the teacher, the young entrepreneur who doesn’t yet have money . . .
STEVE: And every other demographic archetype I can think of.
OBAMA: . . . I want to give them a tax break now. And that requires us to make some important choices.
MCCAIN: You know, when Senator Obama ended up his conversation with Joe the plumber – we need to spread the wealth around. In other words, we’re going to take Joe’s money, give it to Senator Obama, and let him spread the wealth around.
I want Joe the plumber to spread that wealth around. You told him you wanted to spread the wealth around.
The whole premise behind Senator Obama’s plans are class warfare.
JAKE: Between their gardeners and their maids.
OBAMA: Number one, I want to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans. Now, it is true that my friend and supporter, Warren Buffett, for example, could afford to pay a little more in taxes . . .
MCCAIN: We’re talking about Joe the plumber.
OBAMA: . . . in order to give additional tax cuts to Joe the plumber before he was at the point where he could make $250,000.
STEVE: Most famous plumber ever! Shoot, somebody beat me to it.
MCCAIN: We need to encourage business, create jobs, not spread the wealth around.
STEVE: Let’s keep the wealth concentrated.
ANDREW: Keep it with the people who have experience with wealth.
SCHIEFFER: We found out yesterday that this year’s deficit will reach an astounding record high $455 billion. Some experts say it could go to $1 trillion next year.
Both of you have said you want to reduce the deficit, but the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget ran the numbers on both of your proposals and they say the cost of your proposals, even with the savings you claim can be made, each will add more than $200 billion to the deficit.
Aren’t you both ignoring reality? Won’t some of the programs you are proposing have to be trimmed, postponed, even eliminated?
STEVE: That’s the next president’s problem.
MCCAIN: I would have, first of all, across-the-board spending freeze, OK? Some people say that’s a hatchet. That’s a hatchet, and then I would get out a scalpel, OK?
OBAMA: An across-the-board spending freeze is a hatchet, and we do need a scalpel.
STEVE: Maybe we should elect a doctor.
OBAMA: Earmarks account for 0.5 percent of the total federal budget.
STEVE: Add it up and pretty soon it’s real money!
OBAMA: There’s no doubt that the system needs reform and there are a lot of screwy things that we end up spending money on, and they need to be eliminated. But it’s not going to solve the problem.
STEVE: Toemarks, on the other hand, those are the real killers!
OBAMA: We’ve got to take this in a new direction.
STEVE: Let’s take it in an old direction – like solvency.
OBAMA: Senator McCain voted for four out of five of President Bush’s budgets.
MCCAIN: Yes. Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.
JULIA: I am not President Bush, but I did play him on TV.
OBAMA: First of all, in terms of standing up to the leaders of my party, the first major bill that I voted on in the Senate was in support of tort reform, which wasn’t very popular with trial lawyers, a major constituency in the Democratic Party.
MCCAIN: An overwhelming vote.
ANDREW: And at the last Democratic picnic, there was no pepperoni.
STEVE: Is McCain blinking Morse Code? Red October, if you intend to defect, one ping only!
OBAMA: Now, you’ve shown independence – commendable independence, on some key issues like torture, for example, and I give you enormous credit for that. But when it comes to economic policies, essentially what you’re proposing is eight more years of the same thing. And it hasn’t worked.
STEVE: Good on torture, bad for America.
SCHIEFFER: We’re going to move to another question and the topic is leadership in this campaign. Both of you pledged to take the high road in this campaign yet it has turned very nasty.
Senator Obama, your campaign has used words like “erratic,” “out of touch,” “lie,” “angry,” “losing his bearings” to describe Senator McCain.
ANDREW [little girl voice]: I’m sorry.
SCHIEFFER: Senator McCain, your commercials have included words like “disrespectful,” “dangerous,” “dishonorable,” “he lied.” Your running mate said he “palled around with terrorists.”
ANDREW [little girl voice]: Because they’re against me!
SCHIEFFER: Are each of you tonight willing to sit at this table and say to each other’s face what your campaigns and the people in your campaigns have said about each other?
MCCAIN: Well, this has been a tough campaign. And I know from my experience in many campaigns that, if Senator Obama had asked – responded to my urgent request to sit down, and do town hall meetings, and come before the American people, we could have done at least 10 of them by now.
When Senator Obama was first asked, he said, “Any place, any time,” the way Barry Goldwater and Jack Kennedy agreed to do, before the intervention of the tragedy at Dallas. So I think the tone of this campaign could have been very different.
And the fact is, it’s gotten pretty tough. And I regret some of the negative aspects of both campaigns. But the fact is that it has taken many turns which I think are unacceptable.
One of them happened just the other day, when a man I admire and respect – I’ve written about him – Congressman John Lewis, an American hero, made allegations that Sarah Palin and I were somehow associated with the worst chapter in American history, segregation, deaths of children in church bombings, George Wallace. That, to me, was so hurtful.
And, Senator Obama, you didn’t repudiate those remarks. Every time there’s been an out-of-bounds remark made by a Republican, no matter where they are, I have repudiated them. I hope that Senator Obama will repudiate those remarks that were made by Congressman John Lewis, very unfair and totally inappropriate.
So I want to tell you, we will run a truthful campaign. This is a tough campaign. And it’s a matter of fact that Senator Obama has spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history. And I can prove it. And, Senator Obama, when he said – and he signed a piece of paper that said he would take public financing for his campaign if I did – that was back when he was a long-shot candidate – you didn’t keep your word.
And when you looked into the camera in a debate with Senator Clinton and said, “I will sit down and negotiate with John McCain about public financing before I make a decision,” you didn’t tell the American people the truth because you didn’t.
And that’s an unfortunate part. Now we have the highest spending by Senator Obama’s campaign than any time since Watergate.
OBAMA: Well, look, you know, I think that we expect presidential campaigns to be tough. I think that, if you look at the record and the impressions of the American people – Bob, your network just did a poll, showing that two-thirds of the American people think that Senator McCain is running a negative campaign versus one-third of mine.
STEVE: So my ads are working.
OBAMA: I would love to see the next three weeks devoted to talking about the economy, devoted to talking about health care, devoted to talking about energy, and figuring out how the American people can send their kids to college. And that is something that I would welcome. But it requires, I think, a recognition that politics as usual, as been practiced over the last several years, is not solving the big problems here in America.
STEVE: And if it takes politics as usual to make that point, so be it!
MCCAIN: You’re running ads right now that say that I oppose federal funding for stem cell research. I don’t.
ANDREW: As long as it doesn’t use stem cells.
MCCAIN: You’re running ads that misportray completely my position on immigration. So the fact is that Senator Obama is spending unprecedented – unprecedented in the history of American politics, going back to the beginning – amounts of money in negative attack ads on me.
OBAMA: I mean, look, if we want to talk about Congressman Lewis, who is an American hero, he, unprompted by my campaign, without my campaign’s awareness, made a statement that he was troubled with what he was hearing at some of the rallies that your running mate was holding . . . I do think that he inappropriately drew a comparison between what was happening there and what had happened during the civil rights movement, and we immediately put out a statement saying that we don’t think that comparison is appropriate.
And, in fact, afterwards, Congressman Lewis put out a similar statement, saying that he had probably gone over the line.
The important point here is, though, the American people have become so cynical about our politics, because all they see is a tit-for-tat and back-and-forth.
STEVE: And he’s tat one.
MCCAIN: Let me just say categorically I’m proud of the people that come to our rallies. Whenever you get a large rally of 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 people . . .
ANDREW: . . . and you involve alcohol and hot dogs, anything can happen!
MCCAIN: . . . you’re going to have some fringe people.
There’s a lot of things that have been yelled at your rallies, Senator Obama, that I’m not happy about either. In fact, some T-shirts that are very . . .
OBAMA: John, I . . .
MCCAIN: . . . unacceptable.
STEVE: Like “Abort Sarah Palin.”
OBAMA: And what is important is making sure that we disagree without being disagreeable. And it means that we can have tough, vigorous debates around issues. What we can’t do, I think, is try to characterize each other as bad people.
STEVE: Like calling them liars?
MCCAIN: Yes, real quick. Mr. Ayers, I don’t care about an old washed-up terrorist. But as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship.
OBAMA: Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago. Forty years ago, when I was 8 years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts.
STEVE: To his face?
OBAMA: Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House.
STEVE: I will not turn to the one of the leading education reformers in the country for advice because of acts he committed when I was eight years old!
OBAMA: Now, with respect to ACORN, ACORN is a community organization. Apparently what they’ve done is they were paying people to go out and register folks . . .
ANDREW: . . . and they got a little overzealous. That’s what happens when you only pay people minimum wage.
OBAMA: . . . and apparently some of the people who were out there didn’t really register people, they just filled out a bunch of names.
MCCAIN: You launched your political campaign in Mr. Ayers’ living room.
OBAMA: That’s absolutely not true.
STEVE: Um, er . . .
STEVE: And bongs.
JULIA: And a pit in the basement where he keeps his, ahem, “projects.”
MCCAIN: And it’s not the fact – it’s not the fact that Senator Obama chooses to associate with a guy who in 2001 said that he wished he had have bombed more, and he had a long association with him. It’s the fact that all the – all of the details need to be known about Senator Obama’s relationship with them and with ACORN and the American people will make a judgment.
And my campaign is about getting this economy back on track, about creating jobs, about a brighter future for America. And that’s what my campaign is about and I’m not going to raise taxes the way Senator Obama wants to raise taxes in a tough economy.
STEVE: But I am going to audit the hell out of Bill Ayers!
SCHIEFFER: Why would the country be better off if your running mate became president rather than his running mate?
ANDREW: Because he steals the best speeches on the planet!
MCCAIN: Well, Americans have gotten to know Sarah Palin. They know that she’s a role model to women and other reformers all over America. She’s a reformer. She took on a governor who was a member of her own party when she ran for governor. When she was the head of their energy and natural resources board, she saw corruption, she resigned and said, “This can’t go on.”
She’s given money back to the taxpayers. She’s cut the size of government. She negotiated with the oil companies and faced them down, a $40 billion pipeline of natural gas that’s going to relieve the energy needs of the United – of what they call the lower 48.
She’s a reformer through and through.
STEVE: She even tried to reform the state trooper corps!
SCHIEFFER: Let’s talk about energy and climate control.
MCCAIN: Climate change.
SCHIEFFER: Climate change, yes.
ANDREW: He’s even beating the moderator!
OBAMA: But nothing is more important than us no longer borrowing $700 billion or more from China . . .
STEVE: And sending it to Saudi Arabia.
OBAMA: . . . and sending it to Saudi Arabia.
STEVE: God, it’s been a long campaign.
OBAMA: Senator McCain mentioned NAFTA and the issue of trade and that actually bears on this issue. I believe in free trade. But I also believe that for far too long, certainly during the course of the Bush administration with the support of Senator McCain, the attitude has been that any trade agreement is a good trade agreement. And NAFTA doesn’t have – did not have enforceable labor agreements and environmental agreements.
STEVE: Neither does FISA.
OBAMA: And when it comes to South Korea, we’ve got a trade agreement up right now, they are sending hundreds of thousands of South Korean cars into the United States. That’s all good. We can only get 4,000 to 5,000 into South Korea.
STEVE: That’s because all their roads only have two lanes.
MCCAIN: Right now, because of previous agreements, some made by President Clinton, the goods and products that we send to Colombia, which is our largest agricultural importer of our products, is – there’s a billion dollars that we – our businesses have paid so far in order to get our goods in there.
Because of previous agreements, their goods and products come into our country for free.
STEVE: Packed in coffee grounds.
OBAMA: We can create 5 million new jobs all across America, including in the heartland where we can retool some of these plants to make these highly fuel-efficient cars . . .
ANDREW: And DeLoreans like in Back to the Future.
SCHIEFFER: Given the current economic situation, would either of you now favor controlling health care costs over expanding health care coverage?
OBAMA: We’ve got to do both, and that’s exactly what my plan does . . . This will cost some money on the front end, but over the long term this is the only way that not only are we going to make families healthy, but it’s also how we’re going to save the federal budget, because we can’t afford these escalating costs.
SCHIEFFER: Senator McCain?
ANDREW: Kill the uninsured!
MCCAIN: Now, my old buddy, Joe, Joe the plumber, is out there. Now, Joe, Senator Obama’s plan, if you’re a small business and you are able and the guy that sells to you will not have his capital gains tax increase, which Senator Obama wants, if you’re out there, my friend, and you’ve got employees, and you’ve got kids, if you don’t get- adopt the health care plan that Senator Obama mandates, he’s going to fine you.
Now, Senator Obama, I’d still like to know what that fine is going to be, and I don’t think that Joe right now wants to pay a fine when he is seeing such difficult times in America’s economy.
STEVE: After tonight, Joe doesn’t have to worry about the plumbing business much anymore. I think he just signed a three-year deal with NBC.
OBAMA: And I’m happy to talk to you, Joe, too, if you’re out there.
STEVE: He’s watching the Phillies game. You can never get a plumber when you need one.
SCHIEFFER: Senator McCain, you believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned.
STEVE: Just the Roe part, not Wade.
OBAMA: Nobody’s pro-abortion.
STEVE: That’s not true. Tim is. He thinks all babies should be aborted.
SCHIEFFER: This concludes the final debate. I’m Bob Schieffer of CBS News, and I will leave you tonight with what my mother always said – go vote now. It will make you feel big and strong. Good night, everyone.
* Mystery Presidential Debate Theater #2
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* Mystery Debate Theater 2007 – 2008: From the primaries to Saddleback Mountain.