The First Presidential Debate: Highlights


The first presidential debate was held September 26, 2008 at the University of Mississippi, moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS, with the main focus on foreign policy.

Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. (Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The Stats

In the News…

Candidate Soundbites

  • Full Transcript Download
  • On the Economy

  • OBAMA: So we have to move swiftly, and we have to move wisely. And I’ve put forward a series of proposals that make sure that we protect taxpayers as we engage in this important rescue effort.
    No. 1, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got oversight over this whole process; $700 billion, potentially, is a lot of money.
    No. 2, we’ve got to make sure that taxpayers, when they are putting their money at risk, have the possibility of getting that money back and gains, if the market — and when the market returns.
    No. 3, we’ve got to make sure that none of that money is going to pad CEO bank accounts or to promote golden parachutes.
    And, No. 4, we’ve got to make sure that we’re helping homeowners, because the root problem here has to do with the foreclosures that are taking place all across the country.
    Now, we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down.
  • MCCAIN: But the point is — the point is, we have finally seen Republicans and Democrats sitting down and negotiating together and coming up with a package….
  • MCCAIN: As president of the United States, I want to assure you, I’ve got a pen. This one’s kind of old. I’ve got a pen, and I’m going to veto every single spending bill that comes across my desk. I will make them famous. You will know their names.
  • OBAMA: Well, Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused, which is why I suspended any requests for my home state, whether it was for senior centers or what have you, until we cleaned it up. And he’s also right that oftentimes lobbyists and special interests are the ones that are introducing these kinds of requests, although that wasn’t the case with me…. Now, $18 billion is important; $300 billion is really important… And over time, that, I think, is going to be a better recipe for economic growth than the — the policies of President Bush that John McCain wants to — wants to follow.
  • MCCAIN: Senator Obama suspended those requests for pork-barrel projects after he was running for president of the United States. He didn’t happen to see that light during the first three years as a member of the United States Senate, $932 million in requests.
  • MCCAIN: Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate. It’s hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left….
  • MCCAIN: How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs…. I think we ought to seriously consider with the exceptions the caring of veterans national defense and several other vital issues.
  • OBAMA: The problem with a spending freeze is you’re using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. There are some programs that are very important that are under funded. I went to increase early childhood education and the notion that we should freeze that when there may be, for example, this Medicare subsidy doesn’t make sense.
  • MCCAIN: Well, I want to make sure we’re not handing the health care system over to the federal government which is basically what would ultimately happen with Senator Obama’s health care plan. I want the families to make decisions between themselves and their doctors. Not the federal government. Look. We have to obviously cut spending. I have fought to cut spending. Senator Obama has $800 billion in new spending programs. I would suggest he start by canceling some of those new spending program that he has.
  • OBAMA: John, it’s been your president who you said you agreed with 90 percent of the time who presided over this increase in spending.
  • MCCAIN: It’s well-known that I have not been elected Miss Congeniality in the United States Senate nor with the administration. I have opposed the president on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoner, on – on Guantanamo Bay.
  • On Iraq

  • MCCAIN: The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind. That’s the decision of the next president of the United States. Senator Obama said the surge could not work, said it would increase sectarian violence, said it was doomed to failure. Recently on a television program he said it exceeded our wildest expectations. But yet, after conceding that, he still says that he would oppose the surge if he had to decide that again today. Incredibly, incredibly Sen. Obama didn’t go to Iraq for 900 days and never asked for a meeting with General [David] Petraeus.
  • OBAMA: John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni and you were wrong.
  • MCCAIN: I’m afraid Sen. Obama doesn’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy…. And this strategy, and this general, they are winning. Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq.
  • OBAMA: That’s not true…. I absolutely understand the difference between tactics and strategy. And the strategic question that the president has to ask is not whether or not we are employing a particular approach in the country once we have made the decision to be there.
  • On Iran

  • MCCAIN: My reading of the threat from Iran is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it is an existential threat to the State of Israel and to other countries in the region because the other countries in the region will feel compelling requirement to acquire nuclear weapons as well. Now we cannot a second Holocaust. Let’s just make that very clear. What I have proposed for a long time, and I’ve had conversation with foreign leaders about forming a league of democracies, let’s be clear and let’s have some straight talk. The Russians are preventing significant action in the United Nations Security Council.
  • OBAMA: So obviously, our policy over the last eight years has not worked. Senator McCain is absolutely right, we cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. It would be a game changer. Not only would it threaten Israel, a country that is our stalwart ally, but it would also create an environment in which you could set off an arms race in this Middle East.
  • On Geoorgia and Russia

  • OBAMA: Well, I think that, given what’s happened over the last several weeks and months, our entire Russian approach has to be evaluated, because a resurgent and very aggressive Russia is a threat to the peace and stability of the region. Their actions in Georgia were unacceptable. They were unwarranted. And at this point, it is absolutely critical for the next president to make clear that we have to follow through on our six-party — or the six-point cease-fire. They have to remove themselves from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It is absolutely important that we have a unified alliance and that we explain to the Russians that you cannot be a 21st-century superpower, or power, and act like a 20th-century dictatorship.
  • MCCAIN: Well, I was interested in Senator Obama’s reaction to the Russian aggression against Georgia. His first statement was, “Both sides ought to show restraint.” Again, a little bit of naivete there. He doesn’t understand that Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia. And Russia has now become a nation fueled by petro-dollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government. I looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes, and I saw three letters, a “K,” a “G,” and a “B.” And their aggression in Georgia is not acceptable behavior…. Now, I think the Russians ought to understand that we will support — we, the United States — will support the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in the natural process, inclusion into NATO.
  • On Terrorism

  • MCCAIN: But I can tell you that I think America is safer today than it was on 9/11. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a long way to go. And I’d like to remind you, also, as a result of those recommendations, we’ve probably had the largest reorganization of government since we established the Defense Department. And I think that those men and women in those agencies are doing a great job. But we still have a long way to go before we can declare America safe, and that means doing a better job along our borders, as well.
  • OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think that we are safer in some ways. Obviously, we’ve poured billions of dollars into airport security. We have done some work in terms of securing potential targets, but we still have a long way to go.
  • MCCAIN: The consequences of defeat, which would result from his plan of withdrawal and according to date certain, regardless of conditions, according to our military leaders, according to every expert, would lead to defeat — possible defeat, loss of all the fragile sacrifice that we’ve made of American blood and treasure, which grieves us all. All of that would be lost if we followed Senator Obama’s plan to have specific dates with withdrawal, regardless of conditions on the ground.
  • OBAMA: Oh, there’s no doubt. Look, over the last eight years, this administration, along with Senator McCain, have been solely focused on Iraq. That has been their priority. That has been where all our resources have gone. In the meantime, bin Laden is still out there. He is not captured. He is not killed. Al Qaida is resurgent.

Bloopers / Humor

  • Check Point: The First Debate – NYT, The Caucus, 9-26-08
  • LEHRER: Say it directly to him.
    OBAMA: I do not think that they are.
    LEHRER: Say it directly to him.
    OBAMA: Well, the — John, 10 days ago, you said that the fundamentals of the economy are sound. And…
    MCCAIN: Are you afraid I couldn’t hear him?

Historians’ Comments

  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian on “Obama strategy unexpected”: To save my life, if I had to quote to you a line from the last 90 minutes, I’d have a hard time. And that’s pretty unusual, if you think of presidential debates.
    And, you know, what surprised me was this. I thought that Barack Obama was fully credible, and nuanced, and sophisticated, fully credible as a commander-in-chief tonight.
    But, you know, he was in a position where he could have attacked John McCain on three of the things that are very tough for a presidential candidate, an unpopular president of your own party, an unpopular war, and an economy that is going south very fast and has yet to be fixed.
    Yet despite all of that, for a lot of this debate, John McCain was repeatedly on the offensive and, to some extent, Obama was on the defensive. I was surprised by that.
    In terms of strategy, we’ll see what works. But oftentimes in debates, if a candidate does go on the offensive, it does tend to work. That’s what Kennedy did in 1960. It’s what Ronald Reagan did in 1980. And it is what Bill Clinton did in 1992.
    So I think, you know, you can certainly question the strategy, but those were two potential commanders-in-chief out there tonight. – PBS, Newshour, 9-26-08
  • Alan Brinkley on Last Night’s Debate: I doubt the first debate will make a decisive difference. There were no “There you go again” moments and no terrible blunders. Both candidates stuck to their talking points, and there was nothing very new about the debate other than the opportunity to contrast the two men more vividly than has been possible before. On the substance, I think Obama won, but not by much. He had a crisp and effective answer to the key question about the economy. McCain floundered and ended up talking about earmarks, as if he were running for the Senate. On the war, while I think Obama was correct in what he said, McCain seemed more confident.
    But substance, as we should know by now, has never been the chief determinant of how the public evaluates debate. From John Kennedy to Al Gore, most debates have been more important for style than substance, and for likeability than intelligence. And that is why this debate seems to me to be something close to a wash. McCain on the whole looked confident and avuncular. Obama seemed intelligent and articulate. McCain sometimes appeared too a ggressive and angry, and Obama sometimes was too cool and professorial. Fortunately for McCain, his “suspend the debates” stunt–which could have been portrayed as (and in reality was) an embarrassing failure–seemed to play no role in last night’s debate. But I do think that barring some startling turnaround in the next few weeks, the economy will continue to dominate the campaign–and McCain remains the weaker candidate on that issue. – The New Republic, 9-27-08
  • Richard Norton Smith on “Past debates show pitfalls, opportunities”: “Obama has to put people at ease that if a call came in at 3 o’clock in the morning that he would know what to do, and that’s not a terribly high bar to cross,” said Richard Norton Smith, a presidential historian at George Mason University. “A draw will not only be perceived as a victory in public terms — for the rest of the campaign it will focus the campaign on domestic issues.” – Politco, 9-26-08
  • Julian Zelizer on “John McCain: I’ll be at the debate — Obama and McCain to face off Friday night in Mississippi”: The first and most important thing that people judge is always how the candidates appear and their physical demeanor rather than what they actually say. – NY Daily News, 9-26-08
  • Chad Israelson on “Obama, McCain Take Center Stage”: “People like a winner and if someone emerges tonight and really does well, it can be the kind of thing where the other person never really catches up,” says RCTC History Professor Chad Israelson. –, MN, 9-26-08
  • David Sansing on “The Choice of Ole Miss to Host Tonight’s Debate Sends a Message to the World: Here We Go Again” “I think what we have here is really a confluence of two lines of history, where you have a new Ole Miss, a postracial Ole Miss, and you have a postracial black candidate running for president,” said David Sansing, professor emeritus of history at the university. “Nowhere in America could these two forces reinforce each other as they do here at Ole Miss.” – Stop the ACLU, PA
  • Gil Troy: The Debates: Sweat the Small Stuff, It Can Sway the Election: So I, like most of my fellow Americans, will watch these debates on two levels. I will really, really try to follow the sometimes extremely technical exchanges. This will be particularly important this year because both candidates have responded to the recent financial meltdown with superficialities and demagoguery. I would love to hear a more detailed and substantive discussion between them, so I can learn about how they understand the Wall Street chaos and what they plan to do about it. Moreover, having just written a book on the importance of moderation, “Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents,” I will be hoping to hear signs of centrism (in fact, student volunteers from McGill will be monitoring the debates on our website to assess how moderate the various statements are)….
  • Reviewing the presidential debates since 1960 – CNN, 9-25-08

The week that was….

  • September 26, 2008: 7 subpoenaed Palin aides fail to show up for hearing into her possible abuse of power … Georgian president thanks Biden for flying to Tblisi to show support during Russian invasion … Groups want Texas governor to extend voter registration deadline in Ike-hit counties … – AP, 9-27-08
    First presidential debate is on as McCain agrees to participate … Biden meets Georgian president without reporters during opening photo opportunity … David Letterman commiserates with Paris Hilton over McCain ‘disses’ … Palin says she will donate money from those implicated in federal corruption probe – AP, 9-26-08
  • September 25, 2008: Democrats, some Republicans question the impact of McCain’s intervention in bailout talks … Alaska legislators say McCain campaign moving on ‘many fronts’ to stall Palin probe … With agreement between Congress and administration unfinished, debate prospects questionable … – AP, 9-26-08
    McCain optimistic at news of agreement in principle, no change in debate status … Palin defends claim that living so close to Russia makes for foreign policy experience … Biden chokes up at Pa. rally recalling Steelers’ kindness during tough time for his family … Palin kept donations from tainted Alaska politicians, including one she urged to step down – AP, 9-25-08
  • September 24, 2008: Obama, McCain make political moves on crisis even while saying politics should play no part … Palin says US could be facing another Great Depression if Congress doesn’t act … Sarah Palin received blessing in 2005 to keep her free from ‘witchcraft’ – AP, 9-25-08
  • September 23, 2008: Days before debate on foreign affairs, Biden says McCain often wrong about security issues … McCain seeks bailout opinions from Romney, business executives while in New York … Poll finds 18 percent of voters are up for grabs, economy the key to getting their support … Obama making big push to flip reliably Republican Indiana, while McCain camp stays low key … Source says Freddie Mac paid $15,000 a month to lobbying firm of McCain campaign manager – AP, 9-24-08
    Palin meets her first world leaders in a tightly controlled diplomatic debut in New York … Obama says Wall Street bailout must protect Main Street, stands by tax-cut plans … McCain says his support for bailout would be contingent on five principles … Obama begins three days of debate preparations … Poll: Obama’s backing from Clinton supporters stuck at same levels as in June – AP, 9-23-08
  • September 22, 2008: Obama says massive financial bailout probably would delay his spending initiatives … Poll: Obama’s support from former Clinton supporters stuck at same levels as in June … Clinton says Democratic win in 2008 should be obvious, given GOP policies … For Palin, meet-and-greet time with world leaders at UN session in NY – AP, 9-23-08
    Obama pledges deep cuts in spending to fix economy … McCain calls for greater oversight of proposed financial bailout plan … Stars of ‘American Chopper’ surprise McCain with a motorcycle – AP, 9-22-08

September 22, 2008: The Economy, Wall Street Dominate the Campaign

The week that was….

  • September 20, 2008: Presidential candidates raise personal records and jointly spend more than $90 million in August … Still without a bridge, Alaska town gets its ‘road to nowhere,’ thanks to US taxpayers … Obama criticizes McCain on lobbyists, Social Security; McCain says Obama using scare tactics … – AP, 9-21-08
  • September 19, 2008: McCain says Fed shouldn’t bail out failing financial institutions … Obama backs ‘broad authority’ to deal with credit, no details … Investigator: Palin probe to conclude before election … Biden calls for end of ‘cowboy mentality’ on Wall Street … Poll: When it comes to watching football, more would hang with Obama than McCain — by a nose – AP, 9-20-08… Investigator: Palin probe to end before election, but without witnesses who refused to testify … McCain, aides defend idea of private Social Security accounts amid Wall Street turmoil … New CD featuring songs from Kanye West, John Mayer and others to benefit Obama campaign … – AP, 9-20-08
  • September 18, 2008: Palin’s husband joins witnesses stonewalling probe of charges GOP VP nominee abused power … First Clinton, now Palin out of NYC rally; organizers say no American politicians coming … Barack Obama on the ballot in Brazil; Is the Democrat keeping his options open after November? … AP, 9-19-08…. Amid financial turmoil, McCain says he would fire SEC chairman … Obama mocks McCain’s call for fire SEC chairman, says vote out Republicans in November … Biden calls McCain’s economic answers ‘the ultimate Bridge to Nowhere’ … Palin: Biden will bring experience, sound bites to vice presidential debate … Michelle Obama says don’t vote because ‘she’s cute’… – AP, 9-18-08
  • September 17, 2008: Opposed to taxpayer bailouts, McCain says govt. ‘forced’ to propose $85 billion plan for AIG … Obama pitches voters on economy in national ad that cites a campaign of ‘petty’ distractions … Top Clinton fundraiser and member of Democratic platform committee backing McCain over Obama … McCain operatives flock to Alaska, head off embarrassing disclosures about Palin – AP, 9-18-08
  • September 16, 2008: Obama raises about $9 million in Hollywood with Barbra Streisand’s help … Economic crisis suddenly dominates presidential campaign, leaving pigs, lipstick behind … Sarah Palin to speak to Katie Couric of CBS News. – AP, 9-17-08… Economic crisis suddenly dominates presidential campaign, leaving pigs, lipstick behind … McCain adviser says GOP ticket doesn’t have the business experience to run a major company … McCain campaign keeps Palin far from prying eyes and reporters’ questions … Women’s rights groups back Obama … Obama taps Barbra Streisand to sing at big-money fundraiser in Beverly Hills – AP, 9-16-08
  • September 15, 2008: McCain calls for a commission to study economic crisis; Biden says GOP policies are to blame … McCain campaign releases Palin administration e-mails in seeking to quell ‘Troopergate’ … Obama taps Barbra Streisand to sing at big-money fundraiser in Beverly Hills … No gaps in political ads; outside groups add their voices to presidential contest – AP, 9-16-08 Obama, McCain blame policies, greed for Wall Street troubles … McCain acknowledges Obama didn’t really call Palin a pig, defends campaign ad anyway … Obama says McCain offers nothing new on the economy from President Bush … Biden: Ex-reformer McCain practicing ‘Karl Rove’ politics … Palin lays out her role in McCain administration, says government too often is the problem – AP, 9-15-08

The Stats

  • McCain, Obama in tight race as debates loom – CNN, 9-21-08
  • Poll shows McCain, Obama in dead heat in key states – Kansas City Star, 9-21-08
  • September 21, 2008: Poll: McCain’s slight edge in Florida may hinge on economy The poll, taken Sept. 14-17, when Wall Street turmoil dominated world and national news, gives McCain a narrow lead over Obama — 47 percent to 45 — with 7 percent undecided. The poll’s margin of error was 3.5 percentage points. – Miami Herald, 9-21-08
  • September 19, 2008: Poll: People prefer Obama over McCain as teacher People picked the Democrat over Republican John McCain to catch a game with by 50 percent to 47 percent, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll released Friday. Asked which they’d choose to be their child’s teacher, Obama was the choice by a more decisive 55 percent to 44 percent, including a markedly stronger performance by the Illinois senator among whites. –
  • September 19, 2008: Whites — who have favored Republican John McCain throughout the campaign season — say they would rather watch football with him than Democrat Barack Obama, 55 percent to 43 percent, according to a recent AP-Yahoo News poll.
  • September 18, 2008: Polls Show Obama Leads McCain on Message of ‘Change’ – PBS Newshour, 9-18-08
  • September 18, 2008: A Gallup Inc. daily tracking poll taken Sept. 15-17, put Obama ahead of McCain among registered voters nationally, 48 percent to 44 percent. – Bloomberg, 9-18-08

In the News…

Campaign Bloopers

  • Biden said Thursday that paying more in taxes is the patriotic thing to do for wealthier Americans. . . . “We want to take money and put it back in the pocket of middle-class people,” Biden said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America…. It’s time to be patriotic . . . time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut.” – Sept. 18, 2008
  • McCain BlackBerry Easily Connects With Gore Internet – WaPo, 9-17-08

Historians’ Comments

  • Frank Stricker on “Race and the union vote”: Frank Stricker, a history professor at California State University and a union expert, says race is a key to what alienates segments of the labor movement, especially in Ohio and west of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. Stricker says that other than people not voting for a black candidate, a couple of factors — such as Obama’s cultural style and pro-choice stand — do not sit well with culturally conservative union members. – Town Hall, 9-21-08
  • Larry Sabato on “Race and the union vote”: University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato is blunter: “There’s no question that race is at the heart of Obama’s problem with blue-collar white union members. You’d have to be pretty naive to think otherwise.” Sabato explains that, normally, today’s severe economic dislocation would send union members flocking to the Democrats’ nominee. “Well, they are not flocking. McCain is their kind of guy. His biography and maverick nature are appealing.”
    “Approximately a quarter of all American households say there is a union member in the home,” Sabato explains. “They are much more Democratic than average, but in GOP landslide years like 1972 and 1984, a majority has voted Republican.” Sabato says that a third or more union members consistently vote Republican for president, despite their union leaders’ recommendations. – Town Hall, 9-21-08
  • Joseph Crespino on “Emory Faculty Share Election Views”: Associate Professor of History Joseph Crespino said the state of the economy, the War in Iraq and America’s role in the world are important issues the candidates should address. “There’s been so little discussion of issues as of late. I think the economy is the big issue and hopefully the candidates will get back to that more in the closing weeks of the campaign.”
    Crespino said although he thinks McCain is an American hero and an honorable man, it will still be a challenge for him to distance himself from the Bush administration. He also said that it was surprising McCain was able to secure the Republican nomination, considering he had a long history of being alienated from the religious base of his party. In terms of the Democratic nomination, Crespino said Obama has been a remarkable candidate. “Just the fact that he could win the nomination from Hillary Clinton is just a remarkable achievement given all the Clintons have meant to the Democratic Party for the past 15 years,” he said.
    Crespino said Palin has given McCain a huge boost and has re-energized his supporters. “Palin has totally thrown this race for a loop”, Crespino said. “Clearly she’s energized supporters, but how many new supporters she’s brought, I think, is still unclear.” Crespino said Biden was a very smart choice as Obama’s running mate because they make a compelling twosome that balances the other’s weaknesses. Given Palin’s impact, Crespino said, the vice presidential debate is going to arguably be even more closely watched than the main candidates’ debates.
    Crespino, on the other hand, is less sure. “I am just a very fascinated observer and as I’m telling all my friends, it’s hard to get a lot of work done because I’m always watching election coverage and keeping up,” he said. – Emory Wheel, 9-18-08
  • Harvey Klehr on “Emory Faculty Share Election Views”: Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History Harvey Klehr said a big issue is national security and foreign policy and deciding “who is the candidate best able to protect the United States’ national interests and deal with the threats we face both from terrorism and hostile regimes abroad.” With these issues in mind, Klehr said Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin make a great ticket, especially because of McCain’s national security experience. “I think both he and Palin are reformers who have demonstrated their willingness to take on their own political party and I think they will have the ability to help navigate the country during the next four years,” he said. – Emory Wheel, 9-18-08
  • Patrick Allitt on “Emory Faculty Share Election Views”: Goodrich C. White Professor of History Patrick Allitt said there has been a lot of fanatical enthusiasm for Obama during the primaries, when his main job was to make himself look as different as possible from his predecessors. “A lot of people I know completely lost their minds over Obama and they acted as though he was at least the equal of the second coming of Jesus,” he said. “But now, of course, he’s got to appeal to at least 51 percent of the electorate, so he’s trying to make himself look as unremarkable as possible.” Allitt said Obama is now trying to depict himself as an ordinary politician. “So for people who are Democratic enthusiasts, it must be bitterly disappointing to hear him saying all these deeply monotonous and conventional things,” he said. Allitt said the choice of Palin was interesting because it suggests that the Republican party “felt as though they had to do something fairly drastic if they were going to stand a chance in the election.”
    Allitt said he is not an American citizen and is watching the election with more detachment than most people he knows. He said he finds the media’s constant election coverage “almost unendurable.” “I virtually never watch or listen to the news because all that you get is election talk — it’s not news, because nothing is happening, nothing’s happened for months,” he said.
    Allitt said the rest of the world would prefer Obama to win because they regard him as much more sympathetic to the interests of the global community and diplomatic commitments. He said there is a lot of resentment toward President Bush’s “high-handedness” and “the damage he’s done to [America’s] international credibility, which has been made worse by things like Guantánamo and prisoner abuse.” “So I do think the outgoing Bush administration has got a dreadful reputation abroad and that therefore, symbolically, it would probably be a good thing for the Democrats to win to restore American prestige and credibility,” Allitt said. Allitt predicted Obama will win because there is an equilibrium cycle in American politics, and that over a long-term period, what tends to happen is that one party dominates until the pendulum swings back and the other party gets its turn. – Emory Wheel, 9-18-08

On the Campaign Trail….

  • McCain Says New York’s Cuomo Possible Replacement for SEC’s Cox – Bloomberg, 9-21-08
  • McCain says Fed should stop government bailouts, Sept. 20, 2008

    “A strong dollar will reduce energy and food prices. It will stimulate sustainable economic growth and get this economy moving again.”

  • Obama Pushes Domestic Agenda to Boost Economy, Sept. 20, 2008
  • McCain Offers New Choice: ‘Country First or Obama First’

    “People like Senator Obama have been too busy gaming the system and haven’t ever done a thing to actually challenge the system. Thats not country first, that’s Obama first.”

  • Obama at Bethune-Cookman University, September 19, 2008

    “There’s only one candidate who’s called himself ‘fundamentally a deregulator’ when deregulation is part of the problem…. So let me get this straight. He wants to run health care like they’ve been running Wall Street. Well, Senator, I know some folks on Main Street who aren’t going to think that’s a good idea…. Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

  • McCain on Obama and the Economy, Sept. 18, 2008:

    McCain now says the economy is in crisis. But he says Senator Obama and the Democratic-led Congress are partly responsible. “My opponent sees an economic crisis as a political opportunity instead of a time to lead. Senator Obama isn’t change. He is part of the problem in Washington,” McCain said.

  • Bill Clinton: ‘Mistake to Underestimate’ Palin “She is an instinctively effective candidate with a compelling story. And I think it was exciting to some that she was a woman, that she is from Alaska…. I think that you know, I disagree with them on many issues and that’s why aside from my party affiliation I would be for (Barack) Obama and (Joe) Biden anyway. But I get why she has done so well. It would be a mistake to underestimate her. She has got — her intuitive skills are significant.”
  • McCain Says He Would Fire SEC’s Cox If President, Sept. 18, 2008: “The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president, and in my view has betrayed the public’s trust. If I were president today, I would fire him.”
  • Obama mocks McCain’s call to fire SEC chairman, Sept. 18, 2008

    “I think that’s all fine and good but here’s what I think. In the next 47 days you can fire the whole trickle- down, on-your-own, look-the-other way crowd in Washington who has led us down this disastrous path. Don’t just get rid of one guy. Get rid of this administration,” he said. “Get rid of this philosophy. Get rid of the do-nothing approach to our economic problem and put somebody in there who’s going to fight for you…. This comment was so out of touch that even George Bush’s White House couldn’t agree with it when they were asked about it. They had to distance themselves from John McCain…. Everywhere you look, the economic news is troubling. But here’s the thing for so many of you here in northern New Mexico and for so many Americans — this isn’t really news at all. Because you’ve been going through hardships for a lot longer than Wall Street has. Here’s what I also know. This is not a time for fear, it’s not a time for panic. This is a time for resolve and it is a time for leadership.”

  • Obama picks up about $9 million in Hollywood, Sept. 16, 2008:

    “I’m skinny but I’m tough. I’m from Chicago and we don’t play. Just keep steady…. If we can cut through the nonsense and the lipstick and the pigs and the silliness, then I’m absolutely convinced that we are going to win… The reason I’m calm … is I’ve got confidence in the American people. I really think they want to see us do better. It’s about those who will never see the inside of a building like this…. It’s reminded people that this is not a game. This is not a reality show, no offense to any of you. This is not a sitcom.”

  • McCain said at a rally Tuesday in Vienna, Ohio, Sept. 16, 2008 “He talks about siding with the people — siding with the people — just before he flew off to Hollywood for a fundraiser with Barbra Streisand and his celebrity friends.”
  • Hillary Clinton to ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, aboard the “Good Morning America” Whistle-Stop Express, Sept. 16, 2008 “A lot of people are missing the boat here.” Palin has generated a great deal of interest, Clinton acknowledged, but added, “That’s not a good enough reason to vote for that ticket. There’s a lot of talk in the country about who are you for in this election, but that’s not the right question. The right question is, who is for you.” Clinton suggested that the McCain-Palin team doesn’t understand “the struggles you face.” “So I don’t think it’s inconsistent for a lot of people to say well hey, that’s exciting, what an exciting pick, and still say, but that’s not the ticket for me and my family,” she said.
  • Palin touches familiar territory in first stops, Sept. 14, 2008

    “I reminded people there that government is not always the answer, in fact, too often government is the problem. So, we’ve got back to basics.”

September 15, 2008: McCain takes a slight lead, as Ike slows the campaign

The week that was….

  • September 13, 2008: As Hurricane Ike lashes Texas, Obama cancels on ‘SNL’ and asks supporters to help the victims … Pelosi says McCain’s choice of Palin as running mate was “poor judgment” … Moose-hunting Republican from Palin’s hometown casts crucial vote to subpoena her husband … Palin’s return to Alaska brings reality of national campaign, stirs opinions back home … Once a Clinton critic, Palin heaps praise on her and says Obama must regret not choosing her … Hunter Biden, son of veep candidate, quits work as federal lobbyist. – AP, 9-13-08
  • Steve Fenn/Reuters, via ABC)

    John McCain appeared on “The View.” (Photo: Steve Fenn/Reuters, via ABC)

  • September 12, 2008: McCain takes slim lead over Obama in AP-GfK poll, helped by whites and views of experience … In spite of past statements, Palin says she has never disputed human impact on climate change … Obama campaign sharpens attacks against McCain in memo and ad … McCain campaign seeks to downplay Palin’s book incident, hoping to nip online controversy … Groups question whether McCain broke 9/11 pledge not to air ads; company says no evidence. – AP, 9-12-08
  • September 11, 2008: Palin declares readiness for high office as she takes small step out of protective bubble … Biden says 9/11 showed world what it means to be an American … Palin: “I didn’t hesitate” when McCain offered spot on Republican ticket … Former GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee calls Palin a ‘cocky wacko’ … Bill Clinton predicts Obama will defeat McCain ‘pretty handily’ … Poll: McCain gains support in 2 swing states. – AP, 9-11-08….
    On 9/11 anniversary, McCain and Obama ask citizens to take on best qualities of Americans … Obama health plan follows where some states have struggled … Poll: McCain gains support in 2 swing states – AP, 9-11-08
  • September 9, 2008: Obama says Bush plan to increase Afghanistan force is too slow and not enough … Obama promises twice the money for charter schools … Report: Palin’s expense statements shows she tapped state travel allowance while at home … Biden says McCain doesn’t understand that economy is in tough times … Former NY Mayor Ed Koch endorses Obama … Gore to give keynote at Iowa Democratic dinner… AP, 9-9-09
    Obama embraces charter schools, ouster of bad teachers in bipartisan approach to education … At Chicago fundraiser, McCain talks up new running mate, who helps raise $4 million for GOP … Obama says Palin as mother, governor, moose hunter may be cool, but she’s just another politician. – AP, 9-9-09
  • September 8, 2008: Palin: Obama shouldn’t ‘go there’ when talking about earmarks … Obama talks about the economy in Michigan … No dustup with Palin in sight as Clinton asserts the election is about issues … Bush, Cheney say Palin would be a good veep, praise her speech as “superb” … Biden says Obama administration would make middle class top priority … Obama drops daughters off for first day of school… AP, 9-8-08
    ABC News’ Gibson lands first interview with Palin since she was named McCain’s running mate … Biden says he looks forward to Oct. 2 vice presidential debate against Palin in St. Louis … Poll: McCain gets big post-convention bounce over Obama in national survey. – AP, 9-8-08

The Stats

  • September 12, 2008: Drawing Even The new NEWSWEEK Poll shows McCain and Obama deadlocked McCain is now tied with Obama among registered voters nationwide, 46 percent to 46 percent – Newsweek, 9-12-08
  • September 12, 2008: Whites lift McCain to slim lead over Obama in poll – AP, 9-12-08
  • September 11, 2008 – Palin Boosts McCain In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll Finds; But Obama Leads In Two Of Three Battlegrounds — FLORIDA: McCain 50 – Obama 43; OHIO: Obama 49 – McCain 44; PENNSYLVANIA: Obama 48 – McCain 45 – Quinnipiac University, 9-11-08
  • September 8, 2008: McCain leads Obama 49 percent to 44 percent among registered voters in a new Gallop Poll.
  • Palin Lifts McCain’s Support – WSJ, 9-9-08
  • Polls: After Palin Push, McCain and Obama in Dead Heat – PBS Newshour, 9-9-08

In the News…

  • Obama Raised a Record $66 Million in August – NYT, 9-14-08
  • Republicans fault both campaigns for negative ads – AP, 9-14-08
  • Gibson-Palin: Ratings Hot Despite His Chilly Start – WaPo, 9-13-08
  • Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is defending the nearly $200 million in federal earmarks she has sought as Alaska governor. She also tried to explain why she was for the infamous Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. – AP, 9-12-08
  • Obama, feeling heat from McCain, hits back hard – Miami Herald, 9-12-08
  • In First Big Interview, Palin Says ‘I’m Ready’ for the Job – N”YT, 9-12-08
  • Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,left, and Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., share a moment of silence at the reflecting pool during a commemoration ceremony in New York, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008. (AP Photo/Peter Foley, Pool)

  • McCain, Obama put politics aside to mark Sept. 11 – AP, 9-11-08
  • Driver-in-Chief: What Does the Next President of the United States Drive? – Forbes Autos, 9-11-08
  • McCain, Palin Draw Big Crowd in Va. – NYT, 9-10-08
  • Democrats’ advice for Obama: Tie McCain to Bush – AP, 9-10-08
  • JIM DEMINT: Yes, Palin Did Stop That Bridge – WSJ, 9-9-08
  • Final score of the day – Politico
  • Voters Give Voice to Palin’s Appeal – WSJ, 9-9-08
  • McCain camp: Obama’s ‘lipstick’ remark disgraceful – AP, 9-9-08
  • Obama puts heat on Palin as she boosts GOP ticket – AP, 9-9-08
  • McCain, Palin criticize Obama on earmarks – AP, 9-8-08
  • Obama accuses Republican rivals of dishonest – AP, 9-8-08

Campaign Bloopers

Historians’ Comments

  • Steve Haycox on “In Alaska, Sarah Palin hired friends, hit critics hard”: “She is bright and has unfailing political instincts,” said Steve Haycox, a history professor at the University of Alaska. “She taps very directly into anxieties about the economic future.” “But,” he added, “her governing style raises a lot of hard questions.” – NYT, 9-14-08
  • Gil Troy on “The More Things Stay the Same”: The candidates of 2008 seem to agree about one thing — we need a change. Sen. Barack Obama is campaigning for “Change We Can Believe In,” having defeated John Edwards, who cried “Join the Campaign to Change America,” and Hillary Clinton, who insisted that she was “Ready for Change.” Now, Obama’s rival, Sen. John McCain, has warned “the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second crowd: Change is coming.” … – WaPo, 9-14-08
  • Cheryl Heckler on “WHAT DO WOMEN VOTERS WANT? ‘They can and will make the difference in this election,’ one activist says”: “This election may tell us alot about female voters,” said Miami University Professor Cheryl Heckler, who specializes in presidential history. “Up until now we’ve been talking about how the youth have been influencing the vote. It’s very possible that there’s been a silent group of women conservatives who might really come out and have a big influence on the McCain side because of (vice presidential candidate Sarah) Palin.” – Middletown Journal, OH, 9-14-08
  • James Durham on “What if Obama, McCain tie?” – The Wichita Eagle, 9-14-08
  • Carol Gold on “Female voters view Palin with mixed reactions”: The denial of support for Palin from a women’s political caucus shouldn’t be a surprise, according to Carol Gold, a history and women’s studies professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks. The right for women to make personal choices about reproductive health is a cornerstone for many women’s groups.
    “Long-term, this is really very good for women,” Gold commented. “It’s good to see women up there at a national level being taken seriously as candidates, not as women.” Gold was surprised to see some polls reporting that Palin is gathering support among white women in spite of the governor’s anti-abortion position.
    “I’ve always thought, as a historian, that the first woman president would probably be very conservative,” Gold said. A conservative woman would probably get support from some radicals, she said, while a radical candidate would likely not generate support among conservatives. – Fairbanks Daily News Miner, AK, 9-14-08
  • “Buckets of Warm Piss”: A History of Vice Presidential Picks – Tufts Observer, 9-15-08
  • Byron York “Mad about Sarah”: “Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, wrote that Palin’s “greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman” and denounced “the Republican Party’s cynical calculation that because [Palin] has a womb and makes lots and lots of babies … she speaks for the women of America.”

    Juan Cole, professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan, wrote that Palin’s values “more resemble those of Muslim fundamentalists than they do those of the Founding Fathers” and asked: “What is the difference between Palin and a Muslim fundamentalist? Lipstick.” – The Hill, 9-11-08

  • American gladiators Two pumped to prove they’re picture of health – Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, IN, 9-9-08
  • Presidential historian Allan Lichtman, author of “The Keys to the White House” and other political books. on “American gladiators Two pumped to prove they’re picture of health”: “Sure, it reflects the superficiality of politics, but it also reflects a reality a modern president has to go through,” says Lichtman, a professor at American University in Washington. “Health and fitness of a candidate is a legitimate issue. The president is under enormous pressures and tensions. “And when you look at the two candidates, the electorate is bound to make (physical) comparisons. Robust health has been a positive image for a president for over a century.”… “Certainly, there are serious questions about McCain’s health, and he’s got to counter them,” Lichtman says. “He’s not as robust as Reagan was back then.” – Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, IN, 9-9-08
  • Robert Gilbert on “American gladiators Two pumped to prove they’re picture of health”: Projecting an aura of vigor, even if it has to be manufactured, is essential, according to Robert Gilbert, a historian at Northeastern University in Boston and author of a book on Calvin Coolidge’s depression. “Look at (Ronald) Reagan,” Gilbert says. “When he had his first debate with (Walter) Mondale (in 1984), he stumbled badly. The Wall Street Journal even ran an editorial questioning senility. But Reagan came back strong in the second debate. But I think everyone knows that during his second term he was not operating at peak capacity.”… While Gilbert says it’s more difficult today to keep health issues a secret, it still can be done. “I don’t think everything should be publicized,” he says. “Candidates and presidents have privacy rights like the rest of us.” – Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, IN, 9-9-08
  • Robert Huckfeldt on “American gladiators Two pumped to prove they’re picture of health”: Maybe not, but appearance often is reality in the political arena. Which is why it’s smart for McCain’s campaign staff to stress the Arizona senator’s energy level, says University of California-Davis history professor Robert Huckfeldt. “McCain’s people are always talking about how they can’t keep up with him on the campaign trail,” Huckfeldt says. “I don’t think it’s an issue for most voters. Voters think, as long as you can get out on the stump, you’re fine.” – Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, IN, 9-9-08
  • Health of candidates called a legitimate issue McCain and Obama are under scrutiny – Sacramento Bee, 9-7-08
  • Julian Zelizer on “Face-off ahead on offshore drilling ban It tops Congress’s agenda, now colored by lawmakers’ preelection calculus”: “It’s almost impossible to separate any vote or debate in Congress now from the election,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “For a legislator to go to Capitol Hill and try to remove the sounds and sights of Denver and Minneapolis is impossible,” adds, referring to the parties’ national conventions in those host cities. “All of the votes are calculated in terms of how they will affect Barack Obama, John McCain, and the congressional races.” – Christian Science Monitor, 9-8-08

On the Campaign Trail….

  • Campaign Adviser: Palin on Fey “She thought it was quite funny,” the adviser said in an email response to inquiries, “especially because the governor has dressed up as Tina Fey for Halloween.”
  • Obama’s Tone Sharpens as Party Frets, Sept. 12, 2008 “Our ads have been pretty tough. I just have different philosophy: I’m going to respond with the truth… I know there are a lot of Democrats and some independents and some Republicans who really want change and are getting really nervous because they have seen this movie before.”
  • Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) participated in a discussion on tax relief for middle class workers at the McConnell Center in Dover, NH September 11, 2008. Damon Winter/The New York Times

    Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) participated in a discussion on tax relief for middle class workers at the McConnell Center in Dover, NH September 11, 2008. Damon Winter/The New York Times

  • ‘The View’ Couch Not So Cozy for McCain, Sept. 12, 2008 “We politicians are never given to exaggeration or hyperbole. But the fact is, she’s a great person, a great governor, she’s the most popular governor in America, she understands energy issues which is a fundamental challenge…”

    “The Democrats have been in charge of both houses for the last two years,” Mr. McCain replied. Pressed, he added: “The Republicans, the Democrat party, even the independents. She’ll reform all of Washington.”

    Mr. McCain went on to say that Ms. Palin was “a reform governor,” had taken on and beat the incumbent governor of her own party, “she sold the plane, she fired the chef.”

    Ms. Walters noted that she sold the plane at a loss.

    “You wanted her to keep it?” Mr. McCain asked.

    “No,” said Ms. Walters, “I wanted her to get her money back.”

    Mr. McCain said that Ms. Palin “freed Alaska for the first time,” saying she “took government out of the hands of the special interests and the oil companies and the old-boy network and gave it back to the people of Alaska” and “that’s what we have to do in Washington.” But what exactly will she do?

    “The same thing,” Mr. McCain replied. “Break the old-boy network, the special interests that control our agenda in Washington.”

    “I’m the same person and I have the same principles, and the same issues whether it be spending, whether it be climate change, whether it be the war on Iraq, whether it be torture of prisoners – no matter what it is… I’m the same guy,”

    “Senator Obama chooses his words very carefully. Ok? He shouldn’t have said it… and this is a tough campaign.”

    “I know that she wants to stay in the Senate, but I will work with Hillary Clinton because I’ve worked with her in the past, we’ve traveled together, Barbara, you know that, we have a working relationship that’s of mutual respect and frankly, appreciation,” he said. As she comes back to the Senate, he said, “she will be one of the most influential and powerful members of the Senate. You got to work together.”

    Ms. Walters asking Mrs. McCain how many houses she owned.

    “You know something, that’s not part of this campaign,” Mrs. McCain replied. “We’re fortunate enough to come from a family, particularly my dad and mom, who worked very hard to give me the best that they could and we are fortunate to be able to live a good life and share and give to other people who are not so fortunate.”

  • ABC’s Palin Interview: She Didn’t Blink When Asked to Run

    Charles Gibson, the interviewer, asked her if she didn’t hesitate and question whether she was experienced enough.

    Donna Svennik/ABC, via Associated Press)

    Gov. Sarah Palin spoke with ABC’s Charles Gibson in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Photo: Donna Svennik/ABC, via Associated Press)

    “I didn’t hesitate, no,” she said.

    He asked if that didn’t that take some hubris.

    “I answered him yes,” Ms. Palin said, “because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink. So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”

  • Bill Clinton predicts an easy win for Barack Obama, Sept. 11, 2008

    Clinton was asked about the state of the race. He replied: “I predict that Sen. Obama will win and win handily.”

    The perked up Obama, who said: “There you go. You can take it from the president of the United States. He knows a little something about politics.”

    Clinton, without specifying, said he’s “agreed to do a substantial number of things” on behalf of Obama’s campaign. “Whatever I’m asked to do,” he added.

    Statement: President Clinton and Senator Obama had a great conversation in Harlem today. They discussed the campaign briefly, but mostly talked about how the world has changed since September 11, 2001.

    Sen. Obama praised the work of the Clinton Foundation around the world and President Clinton applauded Sen. Obama’s historic campaign which has inspired millions around the country.

    They also spoke about what the next President can do to help make the economy work for all Americans, as it did under President Clinton, and ensure safety and prosperity far beyond the coming election. President Clinton said he looks forward to campaigning for Senator Obama later this month.

  • Obama Responds to ‘Phony Outrage’, Sept. 9, 2008

    “Enough!” Mr. Obama said, interrupting a speech on education to address the latest controversy in the heated presidential campaign. “I don’t care what they say about me, but I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and swift boat politics. Enough is enough.”

  • Biden says McCain reprising 2000 attacks, Sept. 9, 2008

    It’s my greatest disappointment….
    What really disappoints me is the very tactics used against him, they’re trying to use against Barack Obama now. It’s literally saddening. I didn’t expect it, I didn’t expect it. But I guess I should learn to expect everything….
    Swiftboating is not going to work this time, and the reason it’s not is No. 1, I’m going to smack ’em right square in the chops….
    Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States. Let’s get that straight. She is qualified to be president of the United States of America. She is easily qualified to be vice president of the United States of America, and quite frankly, might’ve been a better pick than me….
    I actually demanded, I actually, before I would accept the nomination, I insisted that I spend three hours with him. … I wanted to hear from his own lips that he understood and believed that this was such an incredible moment….

  • Obama, Dems sharpen personal attacks on Palin, Sept. 8, 2008

    “There’s no way you can dress up that record, even with a lot of lipstick.”… “You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It’s still going to stink after eight years.”

  • Barack Obama, Sept. 6, 2008:

    “But, you know, when you’ve been taking all these earmarks when it’s convenient, and then suddenly you’re the champion anti-earmark person, that’s not change. Come on! I mean, words mean something, you can’t just make stuff up.”

On This Day in History… August 28, 1968: Police and Protesters clash at the DNC

Documentary on the Chicago ’68 Riots – by Bonnie K. Goodman

On This Day in History… August 28, 1968: Police and anti-Vietnam War demonstrators
clash at Chicago’s Democratic National Convention…

Sources and Further Reading:

James E. Campbell, The American Campaign: U.S. Presidential Campaigns and the National Vote, (Texas A&M University Press, 2000)

Maurice Isserman, Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s,
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Frank Kusch, Battleground Chicago: The Police and the 1968 Democratic National Convention, (Westport, CT. Praeger, 2004).

Mark Kurlansky, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, (Random House, Inc., 2005).

Jon Wiener, Tom Hayden, Jules Feiffer, Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Eight, (New Press, 2006).

September 6 & 7, 2008: On the Campaign Trail



Republican Convention Roundup

Democratic Convention Roundup

The Stats

  • September 7, 2008: McCain leads Obama 48 percent to 45 percent among registered voters, by Gallup’s measure. McCain has so far earned the same convention bounce as Obama, though at a more rapid pace. – Politico, 9-7-08
  • McCain Camp to Leave Convention With $200 Million, Aide Says – AP, 9-6-08
  • John McCain speech draws record TV ratings: “Nielsen Media Research said a record 38.9 million TV viewers watched McCain accept the Republican nomination on Thursday, slightly more than the 38.3 million people who tuned in for Obama’s speech last week. McCain’s tally was believed to be the biggest commercial TV audience every for a single night of a U.S. political convention, Nielsen said.” – Reuters, 9-5-08

In the News…

  • Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has agreed to sit down with ABC’s Charles Gibson later this week for her first television interview since John McCain chose her as his running mate more than a week ago. – AP, 9-7-08
  • Barack Obama isn’t John McCain’s only opponent. Sometimes McCain sounds like he’s running almost as hard against President Bush and the Republican Party as he is against Obama, his Democratic rival for the White House. – AP, 9-7-08
  • McCain-Palin becoming Palin-McCain? – AP, 9-6-08
  • Candidates Launch 60-Day Dash to White House – 9-5-08
  • John McCain, Republican top gun at last The “imperfect” war hero steered clear of George W. Bush as he took aim at Barack Obama and tried to marshal his tarnished party. –, 9-5-08
  • Palin is catapulted into starring role – Financial Times, 9-5-08
  • McCain counts on character to clinch it – Financial Times, 9-4-08

Historians’ Comments

  • Susan Livingston on “Palin, family life: Is it really an ‘issue’?”: “I think her daughter’s pregnancy would have been an issue if Palin were running as a pro-life candidate and she had secretly sought an abortion for her daughter,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s an issue at all.” She also thinks some of the other topics that have arisen are irrelevant to the campaign, such as talk about Palin’s priorities as the mother of a special needs child. “I think that is between Palin and her husband, and they will decide about childcare,” she said. Questioning Palin’s experience isn’t sexist, Livingston said. That subject is fair game, but “some of the questions about her success as a mother are a little questionable,” she said. – Clarion Ledger, 9-5-08
  • Gil Troy “Republicans pull it off Against all odds, the GOP held one of its best conventions in decades”: McCain’s speech reinforced the message that Republicans are patriots who serve, especially in the military, and Democrats are doubters who dodge. But McCain also elegantly saluted Barack Obama and the Democrats as “fellow Americans,” saying: “that’s an association that means more to me than any other.” McCain also called for an end to the “partisan rancour” that characterizes so much of contemporary politics. He used his running mate to emphasize his maverick status as a Washington outsider – and as someone not responsible for the Bush administration’s failures. McCain’s speech offered an important balance to his running mate’s rhetoric. Underneath all Palin’s charm was an ugly, divisive call for Republicans to revive the Culture Wars of the last few decades. Her us-vs.- them message, though gift-wrapped beautifully, might help Republicans win in 2008 but is not what the United States needs. Politically, it helped compensate for George W. Bush’s historic lows in the polls, and the perception that Republicans have no fresh solutions to the problems that have appeared on their watch. But it was the equivalent of the lawyer with a guilty client pounding the table passionately to compensate for the weakness of his case…. The election remains too close to call and will inevitably be fought passionately, and at times, viciously. But perhaps, just this once, Americans can be proud that they have such talented people vying to be their leaders. Perhaps, just this once, they can follow John McCain’s cue, and appreciate the common ideals that unite these leaders and their fellow citizens, even amid the hurly-burly and hoopla of a presidential campaign. – Montreal Gazette, 9-6-08
  • Richard Norton Smith, Michael Beschloss, Peniel Joseph on “Historians Examine McCain’s Message of ‘Change'”: panel of historians discuss the strengths and weaknesses of John McCain’s acceptance speech and the GOP message of “change” in Washington. – PBS Newshour, 9-4-08 Download
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University: I think so. You know, it’s interesting. Clearly, the Democrats have no monopoly on hope and change, because the biggest change that occurred this week is this party has hope. This is a party that came in to St. Paul, if not defeatist, then, quite frankly, highly skeptical of its own chances. This was a party that came here not terribly unified, not altogether thrilled about its nominee. All of that, I think, has been transformed in the course of the last three days. You could feel it last night during Governor Palin’s speech. You can feel it tonight. It’s interesting the pivot away from George Bush. Senator McCain spent more time tonight apologizing for the last eight years than he did boasting about the last eight years. And, finally, we’ve talked several times about whether this was too biographical, whether there was a lack of specifics, particularly on economic issues….

    My sense is the Republicans are very good at stagecraft. And I think the biography that we’ve heard all week long melded very nicely into the substance, if you will, of the speech. Sen. Obama is in for the fight of his life. – PBS Newshour, 9-4-08

  • PENIEL JOSEPH, Brandeis University: Absolutely. Three big things stand out to me about this week, Jim, first, God, guns, and country. Those are the resounding themes of this convention linked to biography and really linked to the pick of Sarah Palin. Second, Palin has successfully solidified McCain’s conservative base. And she really gave a speech last night that echoed Pat Buchanan’s 1992 culture wars speech, but she did it more elegantly. Finally, diversity, or lack thereof. This convention’s delegates are 93 percent white, 5 percent Hispanic, 2 percent black. This party has seemingly ceded the minority vote to Barack Obama and the Democrats, which may have real clear electoral implications. In 2004, George Bush got 14 percent of the black vote in Ohio and 56 percent of the Hispanic vote in Florida, two key swing states that got him re-elected. – PBS Newshour, 9-4-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Yes, it sure is. You know, it was a great speech, Jim, easily the greatest speech that John McCain ever gave. And you can see the difference between Tuesday night and tonight. This is a party with enormous intensity, especially after a very powerful speech by Sarah Palin last night. And the interesting thing is, about 10 days ago, John McCain by all accounts was intending to choose Joe Lieberman and go in a very different direction, which would have been to — you know, cause there to be a bridge to Democrats, try to go for independents, knowing that the group in this room probably would not have been as enthusiastic as they are tonight with the choice of Sarah Palin. The interesting thing is going to be whether he can augment this kind of intensity in the hall, in this party, in his base with the kind of independents in swing states he’s going to need to win the election….

    You know, when you look at these speeches, you know, the people who write them always looked at acceptance speeches of the past. And this one had references to other acceptance speeches by earlier nominees, but the ones that I found were all Democrats. Harry Truman, 1948, both he and McCain referred to a do-nothing Congress. John Kennedy, McCain talked tonight about getting this country moving again. And of all things, Al Gore in 2000, “I will fight for you.” I think one of the things that we would have expected perhaps least would be that John McCain would be quoting Al Gore. – PBS Newshour, 9-4-08

On the Campaign Trail….

  • Obama and McCain spar over Social Security – Reuters, 9-6-08
  • Sarah Palin criticizes Biden, Obama Sarah Palin: “Senator Biden can claim many chairmanships across many, many years in Washington. He certainly has many friends in Washington’s establishment. But most of his admirers, would not call him an agent of change. Senator McCain has called us a ticket of mavericks.”

    Obama: I know the governor of Alaska has been saying she’s change, and that’s great. She’s a skillful politician. When you’ve been taking all these earmarks when it’s convenient, and then suddenly you’re the champion anti- earmark person, that’s not change. Come on! I mean, words mean something. You can’t just make stuff up.

  • John McCain and Sarah Palin speaking to more than 10,000 supporters in suburban Detroit: John McCain: Again and again, I have worked with members of both parties to fix these problems. Senator Obama never has. That is why this ticket is the ticket to shake up Washington because Senator Obama doesn’t have the strength to do it. ‘He has never bucked his party on any issue, never. If you want real reform, if you want real change, send the ones who have actually done it…send a team of mavericks who aren’t afraid to go to Washington and break some china….

    Sarah Palin: True reform really is tough to achieve, but in short order, we put the government of our state back on the side of the people. I came to office promising major ethics reform to end the culture of self-dealing, and today that ethics reform is the law and that’s what we’re going to bring to Washington.

  • McCain RNC Speech Excerpts: ‘Change is Coming’

    “I’m very proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country. But I can’t wait until I introduce her to Washington. And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country- second Washington crowd: change is coming….

    The constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn’t a cause, it’s a symptom. It’s what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not you. Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That’s how I will govern as president. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not….

    I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here; I loved it for its decency, for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people.

    I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn’t my own man anymore, I was my country’s.

    I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.

    I hate war. It’s terrible beyond imagination.

    I’m running for president to keep the country I love safe and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has. I will draw on all my experience with the world and its leaders, and all the tools at our disposal–diplomatic, economic, military, and the power of our ideals–to build the foundations for a stable and enduring peace.

  • Palin RNC Speech Excerpts:

    From the inside, no family ever seems typical. That’s how it is with us. Our family has the same ups and downs as any other….

    This is America and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity….

    The difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick….

    Here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion; I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this great country….

    We don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening. We tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco….

    I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organiser, except that you have actual responsibilities….

    I got rid of a few things in the governor’s office that I don’t think our citzens should have to pay for. That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on E-bay….

  • Bill O’Reilly’s interview with Barack Obama on Fox News, Part 1

    O’Reilly: I think you were desperately wrong on the surge, and I think you should admit it to the nation that now we have defeated the terrorists in Iraq, and the Al Qaeda came there after we invaded, as you know. We defeated them.

    Obama: Right.

    O’Reilly: If we didn’t, they would have used it as a staging ground. We’ve also inhibited Iran from controlling the southern part of Iraq by the surge, which you did not support. So why won’t you say, “I was right in the beginning. I was wrong about that”?

    Obama: If you listen to what I’ve said, and I’ll repeat it right here on this show, I think that there’s no doubt that the violence is down. I believe that that is a testimony to the troops that were sent and Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated, by the way, including President Bush and the other supporters. It has gone very well, partly because of the Anbar situation and the Sunni awakening, partly because of the Shia military. Look–

    O’Reilly: But if it were up to you, there wouldn’t have been a surge.

    Obama: Look–

    O’Reilly: No, no, no, no.

    Obama: No, no, no–

    O’Reilly: If it were up to you, there wouldn’t have been a surge.

    Obama: No, no, no.

    O’Reilly: You and Joe Biden, no surge.

    Obama: Hold on a second, Bill. If you look at the debate that was taking place, we had gone through five years of mismanagement of this war that I thought was disastrous. And the president wanted to double down and continue on an open-ended policy that did not create the kinds of pressure on the Iraqis to take responsibility and reconcile.

    O’Reilly: But it worked. It worked. Come on.

    Obama: Bill, what I’ve said is–I’ve already said it succeed beyond our wildest dreams.

    O’Reilly: Why can’t you say, “I was right in the beginning, and I was wrong about the surge”?

    Obama: Because there’s an underlying problem where what have we done. We have reduced the violence.

    O’Reilly: Yes.

    Obama: But the Iraqis still haven’t taken responsibility, and we still don’t have the kind of political reconciliation. We are still spending, Bill, $10 to $12 billion a month.

The week that was….

  • September 7, 2008: Obama, McCain suggest changes in Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac … Republican vice presidential hopeful’s church promotes prayer to make gays straight … Presidential candidates plan joint appearance at Ground Zero to mark Sept. 11 attacks … – AP, 9-7-08
  • September 6, 2008: Pennsylvania Republicans want Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr off presidential ballot … Lawmakers putting Troopergate investigation on fast track, issuing subpoenas … Obama, still raising money, gets help from rocker Bon Jovi … – AP, 9-6-08
  • September 5, 2008: Obama says McCain and GOP are out of touch with middle-class struggles … McCain and Palin present themselves as eager reformers … Poll finds only 4 in 10 say Palin has enough experience to be president; number is higher for Biden … Subpoenas to be issued for Troopergate probe of Palin in Alaska … – AP, 9-5-08
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