Economic Crisis Dominates Debate
McCain and Obama Differ Over Causes and Solutions
Wednesday, October 8, 2008; Page A01
NASHVILLE, Oct. 7 -- On a day when the stock market took another sharp plunge, presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama clashed repeatedly here Tuesday night over the causes of the economic meltdown that has shaken the country and offered sharply contrasting prescriptions for how to restore stability.
McCain played the role of the aggressor throughout the 90-minute debate, accusing his Democratic rival of favoring major tax and spending increases and of relying too often on big government programs to reshape the nation's health-care system. He said he would do more to shake up Washington and bring cooperation to the capital.
"I have a clear record of bipartisanship," he said. "The situation today cries out for bipartisanship. Senator Obama has never taken on his leaders of his party on a single issue."
Obama countered by accusing the Republican of favoring Bush administration policies that he said had helped put the economy in dire straits. Those policies, he charged, called for less regulation and were based on the belief that by letting markets run wild, "prosperity would rain down on all of us."
"It hasn't worked out that way," he continued. "And so now we've got to take some decisive action."
McCain used the debate to promote another approach to solving the economic crisis, saying he would have the government buy up bad mortgages and renegotiate them at the current lower housing values, thereby allowing struggling homeowners to remain in their homes. He argued that until the housing markets stabilize, the economy will continue to falter, and he sought to use the idea to demonstrate his independence from the Bush administration.
"It's my proposal, it's not Senator Obama's proposal, it's not President Bush's proposal," he said. "But I know how to get America working again, restore our economy and take care of working Americans."
The Obama campaign called the mortgage idea "old news," saying that a similar Treasury Department program is already underway as part of the economic rescue package and that Obama backed it.
Although economic issues dominated much of the debate, some of the most pointed exchanges were over foreign policy. McCain charged that Obama had been wrong on the "surge" of U.S. troops in Iraq and accused his rival of "talking loudly" by threatening to attack Pakistan. Obama accused McCain of getting his facts wrong and said it was McCain whose rhetoric was belligerent.
"This is the guy who sang, 'Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,' who called for the annihilation of North Korea," Obama said. "That I don't think is an example of 'speaking softly.' This is the person who, after we had -- we hadn't even finished Afghanistan, where he said, 'Next up, Baghdad.' " The debate came after two weeks of focus on the economy that has shifted the electoral map in Obama's favor. McCain was under pressure Tuesday to shake up the race with a dominating performance, but the likelihood is that, as sharp as some of the exchanges were, the contest may not change significantly as a result.
Obama has opened up a lead in national polls and in some of the most important battleground states. Last week, McCain pulled out of Michigan, a state he had hoped to convert to his column. In the past few days, new polls have shown Obama leading in Ohio, which is critical to the Republican's hopes.
Even McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, had said that it was time for the gloves to come off. Over the past few days, the McCain-Palin campaign has gone after Obama's character and pointedly questioned his association with William Ayers, who was once a member of a 1960s domestic terrorist group. But while he was aggressive, McCain steered clear of those kinds of personal attacks. Instead, he laid out his differences with Obama largely on policy grounds, and repeatedly questioned whether his rival has the judgment and experience to run the country.