Blogging a debate is a very interesting and new experience for me. Instead of just sitting back I actually paid closer attention and took notes, and consciously tried to set aside my more partisan thought filters to take the experience in. Which served me well in the cause of overcoming CNN’s attempts to bestow ADD on me. The “squiggly lines” tracking live voter reaction, a mechanism I still find vaguely disturbing, were bad enough. At the second debate they threw on live grading from some of their talking heads. Thankfully no further infernal innovations were unveiled, but the overall effect makes it impossible to focus and turns CNN into a classier version of G4. Dear editors of CNN: May I please have 5 minutes in which to form my own opinion before being carpet bombed with ancillary analysis? The screen is so cluttered with various forms of running commentary that drawing coherent information from the people we’ve actually come to watch is nigh impossible.

On to the actual substance of the debate. The first point that really caught my attention was McCain’s claim that he opposed the conduct of the war in Iraq, a claim that seems to ring with something less than truth given how much effort he’s expended both trumpeting the surge and attempting to nail Obama for his opposition of same.

On Bob Scheiffer’s invitation to fisticuffs: I’m not sure how productive dragging the candidates into Mortal Kombat is. Yes its good to make them face up to their attack ads in person, but at the same time it smacks of trying to touch off a bareknuckle boxing match to satisfy the desires of an audience crying out for blood. Once again our media industry hearkens back to ancient Rome, but whether this says more about the state of the Republic or Human Nature can be debated endlessly.

On repetition: It is true that repetition is the core of political messaging and that anything told often enough automatically becomes the truth. However in this context I find the assertions coming from McCain to be far more tiresome. My own biases aside I honestly feel Obama has done a better job of responding to McCain’s most common line of attack, “He’ll Raise Your Taxes”, by explaining (repeating) what his tax plan actually is. While McCain and Bush are indeed two different men and, to a lesser extent, politicians, McCain’s voting record and the sheer degree of policy continuity between the two makes his attempts to refute Obama’s assertions that “He’s 4-8 More Years of Bush” also ring hollow. This is especially true after McCain missed an excellent opportunity, while being questioned about judicial nominations, to remind the public about his instrumental involvement in the bipartisan Gang of 14 that successfully prevented the rewriting of Senate debate rules and was fought over, drumroll please, judicial nominations.

On Education: McCain’s stated position is to use vouchers to encourage competition amongst schools and thereby motivate public schools to shape up. While competition sounds good this way, it is untenable when the implication is that public schools who fail to shape up will perish through lack of adequate funding, especially in a situation where in many areas there are already too few teachers and/or classrooms to go around. If a failing public school is the only option for education in an area the answer is not to plunk down a charter school that will likely only benefit those capable of affording it, vouchers or no, but to improve public schools. Especially in light of the Reckoning, we have already seen how disastrous privitizing social security would have been. Privatized healthcare, at least in its current form, is failing millions of people despite how much we spend on it. Someone needs to explain to me how education is suddenly going to be the model in which privatization is going to work.

Moment of the Evening: After spending 3 debates needling Obama on his position that businesses that fail to provide health care coverage to their employees would be fined, McCain finally received an answer. Obama said there would be no fine, and while I believe this tied into his earlier statement that small businesses would be exempted from certain coverage requirements is still a very big policy hole. however instead of seizing on this to criticize Obama, McCain spent about 10 seconds looking as if he’d been physically slapped.

Moment of Clarity: On the abortion issue, I’m going to take a moment to voice an opinion shared by many of my friends, especially those of the catholic persuasion, and is the cause of much political anguish and frustration for them: the hypocrisy of advocates of a so-called “culture of life” which apparently applies only to the abortion issue. While many pro-life conservatives claim to subscribe to this culture and therefore claim that, in some form or another, those who disagree with them subscribe to a “cult of death” in not opposing abortion, they seem content to allow prisoners on death row to be sent to their fate, sternly if not with an air of active glee. This is what I, and most people I know, resent about this conception of a culture of life: you cannot claim to support all life and then turn and point to prisons and say “except THOSE lives.” This is one of those positions where it truly is all or nothing.

Verdict: Obama wins his third victory of the status quo. Republicans will be more adamant about giving this round to McCain, though this probably has more to do with the amount of the red meat which they’ve been so desperately begging for he’s finally thrown them than actual performance. Regardless, McCain has lost his last chance for a real breakthrough before a live audience of millions. Snap polls are already bearing this out:CNN, CBS, and Politico all have Obama declared the victor to the tune of 58-31, 53-22, and 49-46, respectively. In short, the GOP remains quite doomed.

~We’re all in this Together