November 10, 2008: The Obama Transition & Historians Weigh in on the Moment

POLITICS & PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION WATCH:

Barack Obama before his news conference on Friday. (Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times)

Stats:

  • A Breakdown of the Obama Vote:
    • 66 percent of voters under age 30.
    • 66 percent of Hispanic voters.
    • 68 percent of first-time voters.
    • 95 percent of Black voters.
  • A timeline of the Obama campaign – Newsday
  • Get to know the Obamas: Bios of Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha – Newsday

The Headlines…

    President-Elect Barack Obama Transition office: http://change.gov/

  • Obama Team Weighs What to Take On First – NYT, 11-9-08
  • Economy won’t stop Obama’s priorities, aides say – AP, 11-9-08
  • Obama already holds bully pulpit He’s moving fast to build his governing team, but wants to avoid endorsing the policies of President Bush, whom he visits Monday. – Christian Sciene Monitor, 11-9-08
  • Obama to use executive orders for immediate impact: President-elect Obama plans to use his executive powers to make an immediate impact when he takes office, perhaps reversing Bush administration policies on stem cell research and domestic drilling for oil and natural gas. – AP, 11-9-08
  • Transition, too, for Michelle Obama to first lady – AP, 11-9-08
  • Quotes by clergy members about Obama’s election – AP, 11-9-08
  • Obama likely to tap fresh faces, old hands – San Fransico Chronicle, 11-8-08
  • Like Lincoln and FDR, Obama faces nation in crisis – AP, 11-8-08
  • Palin Calls Criticism by McCain Aides ‘Cruel and Mean-Spirited’ – AP, 11-8-08
  • Obama, in His New Role as President-Elect, Calls for Stimulus Package – 11-7-08
  • President-elect Obama assembled his economic team Friday and soberly told the nation that strong action is needed to confront “the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime.” In his first news conference since being elected Tuesday, Obama called on Congress to extend unemployment benefits and pass a stimulus bill. But his more ambitious remedies, he said, must wait until he takes office Jan. 20. – AP, 11-7-08
  • Byrd will voluntarily give up chairmanship – AP, 11-7-08
  • Live Blogging the Obama News Conference – NYT, The Caucus, 11-7-08
  • Obama to center stage, promises action on economy: Inheriting an economy in peril, President-elect Obama warned on Friday that the nation faces the challenge of a lifetime and pledged he would act urgently to help Americans devastated by lost jobs, disappearing savings and homes seized in foreclosure. But the man who promised change cautioned against hopes of quick solutions. AP, 11-7-08

Political Quotes

  • John Podesta on Fox News Sunday: “Across the board, whether it’s national security; the economy; the senior leadership that will manage healthcare, energy, and the environment, [Obama] intends to move very quickly.” – Fox News, 11-9-08
  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urges GOP to move beyond ideology: The governor told CNN’s John King that Republicans should not “always just say, ‘This is spending. We can’t do that.’ No, don’t get stuck with that. We have heard that dialogue. Let’s move on.” Schwarzenegger says it is important for his party to regroup and support spending on programs Americans want. – “I think the important thing for the Republican Party is now to also look at other issues that are very important for this country and not to get stuck in ideology,” the governor said in an interview broadcast on CNN this morning. “Let’s go and talk about healthcare reform. Let’s go and . . . fund programs if they’re necessary programs and not get stuck just on the fiscal responsibility.”….
    They should not “always just say, ‘This is spending. We can’t do that.’ No, don’t get stuck with that. We have heard that dialogue. Let’s move on.”…
    “I was touched by it,” he said. “Democrats and Republicans should do everything they can to help this man and his administration to be successful.” – LA Times, 11-9-08
  • Obama Apologizes for ‘Seances’ Remark: “President-elect Barack Obama called Nancy Reagan today to apologize for the careless and off-handed remark he made during today’s press conference. The President-elect expressed his admiration and affection for Mrs. Reagan that so many Americans share and they had a warm conversation,” said Stephanie Cutter, transition team spokeswoman.”In terms of speaking to former presidents, I’ve spoken to all of them that are living,” Mr. Obama said, before zeroing in on that fact that he had been asked whether he had spoken to living people. “Obviously, President Clinton — I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any séances.” – NYT, The Caucus, 11-7-08
  • President-Elect Barack Obama’s First News Conference: Transcript
    We are facing the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime, and we’re going to have to act swiftly to resolve it….. A new president can have an enormous impact. I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead.
    Immediately after I become president, I will confront this economic challenge head-on by taking all necessary steps to ease the credit crisis, help hardworking families, and restore growth and prosperity. Some of the choices that we’re going to make are going to be difficult. It is not going to be quick. It’s not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in.” But he said he was confident the country could do it. I think that the plan that we’ve put forward is the right one, but obviously over the next several weeks and months, we’re going to be continuing to take a look at the data and see what’s taking place in the economy as a whole.
  • Robert Byrd “Byrd will voluntarily give up chairmanship”:
    To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. Those Biblical words from Ecclesiastes 3:1 express my feelings about this particular time in my life…. I have been privileged to be a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee for 50 years and to have chaired the committee for ten years, during a time of enormous change in our great country, both culturally and politically. I have learned that nothing is quite so permanent as change. It is simply a part of living and should not be feared.

Historians’ Comments

  • Michael Beschloss: Presidential Historian: President Obama will face critical early decisions: Obama will quickly have to decide if he’s going to tackle the economy with a single-minded focus or puruse the agenda he and the Democrats laid out during the campaign, Beschloss said.
    “I can’t tell you what way he’ll go,” said Beschloss,recently named NBC News’ presidential historian.”In one year we will know the answer.”
    Beschloss said the greatest presidents made decisions they knew would be unpopular, citing George Washington’s decision to sign a treaty with Great Britain shortly after the Revolutionary War and Abraham Lincoln’s siging of the Emancipation Proclamation at a time he faced a tough re-election challenge. – The Jersey Journal, 11-9-08
  • Allan J. Lichtman “Americans will be looking to Obama to transform their country”: “I think the potential for Obama to be a transformative president is very great,” said Allan J. Lichtman of American University, author of several books on presidential history…. “Strike when you still have the mandate,” Lichtman said, citing Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. “Think big. Experiment. Don’t govern from the middle.”… “I think it’s riskier to opt for the middle of the road,” Lichtman said. “We remember … the bold presidents.” – Kansas City Star, 11-9-08
  • Gil Troy “Americans will be looking to Obama to transform their country”: “The crisis increases the chance for a transformative presidency,” said author and presidential historian Gil Troy….
    Troy: “Working against him are inexperience, a potentially arrogant Democratic Congress, and a series of foreign and domestic challenges that could crush him.” Kansas City Star, 11-9-08
  • John Baick “Obama’s campaign inspires U.S., but how long will it last?”: “Will they stay involved? Become town councilmen? Join their school boards? That will be the test,” said history Professor John Baick of Western New England College. “That happened with Kennedy. If it happens again, then you have a real movement. If not, you probably don’t.”…
    Historian Baick says the young people who voted for President Kennedy made a difference because they stuck around. They became part of the “political culture.” “We did not see that with either President Bush or President Clinton,” he said. But, Baick said, the Obama campaign already has made progress by directly communicating with this generation. “He has created, in 20 months, a new generation of networked and politically active people,” Baick said. “It will be normal for them to be involved in politics. They are getting e-mails and text messages from Barack Obama. That’s their normal.” – Arizona Republic, 11-9-08
  • Douglas Brinkley, the best-selling author and professor of history at Rice University “Historians, too, call Obama victory ‘monumental'”: “Monumental … a major shift in the zeitgeist of our times.”…
    Brinkley, the historian who edited the private White House diaries of Ronald Reagan, agrees that Tuesday’s vote marks “the beginning of a new era” in American politics not seen since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1932, or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in 1964. With Obama’s lopsided victory, and the wave that swept more Democrats into both houses of Congress, “a chapter has been closed on the Reagan era, meaning the days of rolling back the Great Society are over,” he says. “A new kind of progressivism will now be taking root.” “A Great Society ‘light,”‘ Brinkley postulates. “It won’t be quite as ambitious and sweeping as Lyndon Johnson’s, but it will probably focus on one or two big things, such as universal health care and major incentives for ‘green’ business.” — USA Today, 11-9-08
  • Joan Hoff, a former president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency in New York City “Historians, too, call Obama victory ‘monumental'”: “I can’t think of another election where the issues were two wars and a crashed economy. There just isn’t any historical precedent for this.”….
    In a globalized world with many newly emerging powers, “We may have to downsize our estimation of ourselves,” Hoff says, “and along with it goes a downsizing of our economic and military power.” That would mean the end of a “Cold Warrior” mentality that has existed in the White House since Harry Truman. Will Americans grasp such thinking? Will other nations? Ultimately, how Obama handles this will be, Hoff says, “what will really make this election unprecedented.” — USA Today, 11-9-08
  • James McPherson, the renowned author and professor emeritus of history at Princeton University “Historians, too, call Obama victory ‘monumental'”: “It’s an historic turning point … an exclamation point of major proportions to the civil rights movement that goes back to the 1950s.”…
    “Whether an Obama victory means that it will close the book on the Reagan era — I think it may be true, but I think it’s too soon to conclude that,” McPherson says. — USA Today, 11-9-08
  • Doris Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, historian and political commentator: “The racial milestone will be much larger than we’ve even imagined in the course of these last couple of years,” says Doris Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, historian and political commentator. Compared with other milestones that students of history read in American textbooks — Booker T. Washington causing a national uproar for having lunch at the White House with Teddy Roosevelt, Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial after being barred from Constitutional Hall, Joe Louis knocking out Nazi Germany’s Max Schmeling for the heavyweight boxing crown — the concept of an African-American holding the nation’s highest office “is just enormous,” she says. –
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin “Harsh Words About Obama? Never Mind Now “: The presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said she was hard-pressed to find a similar moment when the tone had changed so drastically, and so quickly, among so many people of such prominence. “I don’t think that’s happened very often,” Ms. Goodwin said. “The best answer I can give you is they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, and they recognize how the country saw this election, and how people feel that they’re living in a time of great historic moment.” – NYT, 11-9-08
  • Catherine Allegor “Michelle Obama blazes a new trail”: “This is an incredible rebirth of her life,” said Catherine Allegor, a first ladies expert and a history professor at California’s Claremont McKenna College. “I think she’s only limited to her imagination.” “If she said, ‘I’m going to fight against gender inequality,’ some people wouldn’t like that,” Allegor said. “So she says ‘working mothers’ and everyone’s OK with it.” Chicago Tribune, 11-9-08
  • John Sides “On Historic Day, Political Scientists Take the Long View”: “The models were correct in that they predicted an Obama victory, a Democratic victory, and that’s what resulted. So in that sense, given the state of the economy, given the popularity of the incumbent, you’d expect a Democrat to win,” said John Sides, a professor of political science at George Washington University. For all the talk about Hillary Clinton’s supporters shifting over to John McCain, for example, or McCain losing support within the Republican Party, both candidates ended up with roughly equal support within their parties. “We live in an era of very strong party loyalty, and this election is really no different,” Sides said. – Inside Higher Ed, 11-5-08
  • Taylor Branch disputes NYT’s rosy view of Obama’s election: “It’s a great milestone,” but it’s not an “explicit achievement or accomplishment in race relations in the lives of everyday Americans….I hope we don’t get into a tailspin where everyone calls this the racial promised land.”…”I am thrilled to tears. The resonance of it to me is enormous.” – NPR, 11-5-08
  • Manning Marable “Obama Sails To Sweeping, Historic Victory”: “It’s possible that he will be the reverse Reagan,” says Columbia University historian Manning Marable. Like Reagan, Marable says, Obama is a charismatic leader whose appeal transcends partisan politics. He says Obama has built his support on a “three-legged stool” made up of African-Americans, Hispanics and young voters of all races. – NPR, 11-5-08
  • Richard Norton Smith and Peniel Joseph Historians Answered Your Questions on Obama’s Win, 2008 Campaign:
    Sen. Barack Obama will become the country’s first black leader after a campaign season that broke records and saw female candidates break new ground. Historians Richard Norton Smith and Peniel Joseph answered your questions on this historic election. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
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Post Election News & Analysis: The Obama Presidency

POLITICS & PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION WATCH:

Election Result Snapshot:

    Google News Results

  • Barack Obama: 364, 53% 64,643,455
  • John McCain: 162, 46% 56,903,815 — 47%
  • Barr 0% 494,102 Nader (I) 1% 667,416
  • Nader 1% 667,416
  • Senate: 35 seats contested
    Democrats: 57, 18 won, +6
    Republicans: 40, 14 won
  • House: 435 seats contested
    Democrats: 254, +20
    Republicans: 173

Doug Mills/The New York Times

President-elect Barack Obama, who went for a morning workout on Thursday in Chicago, plans a news conference on Friday.

The Headlines…

  • Obama speaks with 9 world leaders: President-elect Obama accepted congratulations from nine presidents and prime ministers Thursday, returning calls from world leaders who reached out after his presidential victory. – AP, 11-7-08
  • Palin lays low as interview requests pile up: Gov. Sarah Palin hadn’t been back home in Alaska for a full day and her staff had begun fielding requests Thursday for postelection interviews, including from Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and others. AP, 11-7-08
  • Obama’s choice of Emanuel shows switch in tone: Barack Obama is signaling a shift in tactics and temperament as he moves from candidate to president-elect, picking sharp-elbowed Washington insiders for top posts. – AP, 11-6-08
  • Palin gone, anything but forgotten: GOP vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin returned home in defeat to Wasilla, Alaska, on Wednesday night – leaving behind eyebrow-raising tales about towel-clad appearances and internal campaign feuds. – San Francisco Chronicle, 11-6-08
  • Among Democrats’ Leadership Questions: What to Do With Lieberman?: As election returns in Oregon gave Democrats a sixth new seat in the Senate, Democratic leaders on Thursday began to confront some of the crucial personnel questions that would shape the next Congress, including the fate of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut after his ardent backing of Senator John McCain for president. – NYT, 11-6-08
  • Tough Election Leaves GOP In Dire Straits: Politico: Republican Party Seen As Increasingly Out-Dated, In Its Worst Shape Since Rise Of The Conservative Coalition – Politico, 11-6-08
  • Rahm Emanuel Accepts Chief of Staff Post: President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday afternoon that he selected Representative Rahm Emanuel, a fierce and consummate navigator of the capital’s political terrain, as his chief of staff because he has “deep insights into the challenging economic issues that will be front and center for our administration.” – NYT, 11-6-08
  • Bush Wants to Ensure a Smooth Transfer to Obama: President Bush and Barack Obama on Monday will hold their first substantive talks about the nation’s daunting priorities as the transition to a Democratic administration accelerates. Bush, soon to return to Texas after two terms in office, ordered employees on Thursday to ensure a smooth transfer of power to Obama. The transition is a delicate dance in which the White House keeps the president-elect in the loop, and even solicits his input, but the decisions remain solely the president’s. – AP, 11-6-08
  • Breaking Down Obama’s Cabinet Contenders As Obama Prepares To Fill Key Cabinet Roles, CBSNews.com Looks At The Names Generating The Most Buzz In Washington – CBS News, 11-6-08
  • Obama Unveils Presidential Transition Team As Congratulations Pour In, President-Elect Begins Process To Build Cabinet To Help Deal With Challenges At Home And Abroad: President-elect Barack Obama Wednesday announced that his presidential transition team will be led by John Podesta, who served as chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, campaign advisor Valerie Jarrett, and Pete Rouse, who has been Obama’s chief of staff in the Senate. CBS/AP, 11-5-08
  • Obama picks Clinton alum Emanuel chief of WH staff: President-elect Barack Obama pivoted quickly to begin filling out his new administration on Wednesday, selecting hard-charging Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff while aides stepped up the pace of transition work that had been cloaked in pre-election secrecy. – AP, 11-5-08
  • Obama aims for smooth transition: Democrat Barack Obama put aside the victory celebrations on Wednesday and began crafting a White House team to help him lead a country mired in a deep economic crisis and two lingering … Reuters, 11-5-08
  • Great expectations: Obama will have to deliver: Over and over, Barack Obama told voters if they stuck with him “we will change this country and change the world.” They did, and now their expectations for him to deliver are firmly planted on his shoulders. Many supporters greeted his victory with euphoria. – AP, 11-5-08
  • McCain starts mapping out a new role in the Senate: Before resting from the grueling presidential race, John McCain began discussing with senior aides what role he will play in the Senate now that he has promised to work with the man who defeated him for president. One obvious focus will be the war in Iraq. After two years spent more on the campaign than in the Senate, McCain will return as the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. – AP, 11-5-08
  • Minnesota Senate race heads into automatic recount: A slugfest for nearly two years, Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race headed into a new round Wednesday as the campaigns girded for an automatic statewide recount to determine whether Republican Sen. Norm Coleman’s bare lead over Democratic challenger Al Franken would stand. – AP, 11-5-08
  • Daley celebrates a peaceful rally GRANT PARK | ‘It was a homecoming … a baptism’ – Chicago Sun-Times, 11-6-08
  • World reaction to Obama victory: Elation – LA Times, 11-6-08

With Mrs. Laura Bush, the Vice President and Mrs. Cheney and Cabinet secretaries looking on, President George W. Bush addresses his staff Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008, on the South Lawn of the White House. Said the President, "As we head into this final stretch, I ask you to remain focused on the goals ahead. I will be honored to stand with you at the finish line." White House photo by Eric Draper

With Mrs. Laura Bush, the Vice President and Mrs. Cheney and Cabinet secretaries looking on, President George W. Bush addresses his staff Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008, on the South Lawn of the White House. Said the President, “As we head into this final stretch, I ask you to remain focused on the goals ahead. I will be honored to stand with you at the finish line.” White House photo by Eric Draper

Political Quotes

  • President-Elect Barack Obama: I announce this appointment first because the chief of staff is central to the ability of a president and administration to accomplish an agenda. And no one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel.
    Michelle and I look forward to meeting with President Bush and the First Lady on Monday to begin the process of a smooth, effective transition. I thank him for reaching out in the spirit of bipartisanship.”
  • Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff, Obama Administration: Now is a time for unity. I will do everything in my power to help you stitch together the frayed fabric of our politics, and help summon Americans of both parties to unite in common purpose….
    Like the record amount of voters who cast their ballot over the last month, I want to do everything I can to help deliver the change America needs. We have work to do, and Tuesday Americans sent Washington a clear message — get the job done.
    I want to say a special word about my Republican colleagues, who serve with dignity, decency and a deep sense of patriotism. We often disagree, but I respect their motives. Now is a time for unity, and Mr. President-elect, I will do everything in my power to help you stitch together the frayed fabric of our politics, and help summon Americans of both parties to unite in common purpose.
  • Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour: With the selection of Rahm Emanuel [as White House Chief of Staff] I think Sen. Obama is sending a strong signal of partisanship. He’s a hardball player if there ever was one. That doesn’t say much to me about this ‘post-partisan’ presidency.’
  • The House minority leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, said in a statement: This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the center.
  • President George W. Bush: Earlier this year, I promised that I would sprint to the finish. I am keeping that promise, and I know I have given some of you a good workout along the way. As we head into this final stretch, I ask you to remain focused on the goals ahead. I will be honored to stand with you at the finish line.
    We face economic challenges that will not pause to let a new president settle in. This will also be America’s first wartime transition in four decades.

Historians’ Comments

  • David Greenberg “Landslide? Not Exactly: While 2008 represents an unmistakable repudiation of contemporary conservatism, Obama didn’t redraw the electoral map.
    The advent of America’s first black president inexorably calls forth the word historic. Uttered so frequently last evening, as it will be in the days ahead, the adjective would have been drained of meaning but for the palpable momentousness of Barack Obama’s election. Gone was the pretense of post-racialism; revealed was liberal America’s pride in the often-unsung progress toward equality and toleration achieved in the civil rights movement’s aftermath…. TheDailyBeast.com, 11-5-08
  • Alonzo Hamby “President-Elect and Champion Campaigner Obama”:
    ….Yet I am struck that so many different people see different Obamas….
    From my point of view, the transformation of the Daley organization into a 60s Popular Front, with room for Weathermen bombers, old Black Panthers, and Israel-haters are revelatory of the moral confusion of post-Vietnam American liberalism.
    Who IS the real BHO? I’m damned if I know, but I feel that I can only take him and his record at face value. No one can deny, however, that he ran a helluva of a campaign and is as charismatic a figure as we’ve seen in American politics for a long time. Let’s hope for the best. HNN, POTUS Blog, 11-5-08
  • Gil Troy “The Obama-McCain “Return Night” Reconciliation: Lasting Hope or Fleeting Moment?”:
    On Thursday, in Georgetown, Delaware, the losing and winning candidates from the various contests around that state will assemble for Return Day. In a ritual tracing its roots to 1791, voters and politicians will hear the official electoral returns and make nice, no matter how bitter their campaigns may have been. In addition to parading together down the main street in antique automobiles, the rivals will bury a ceremonial tomahawk, quite literally burying the hatchet. Late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, President-elect Barack Obama and Senator John McCain mounted their own version of this reconciliation ritual, offering a magnificent display of the grace, civility, and patriotism that could heal America, even during these painful times. – HNN, 11-5-08
  • Richard Norton Smith and Peniel Joseph Historians Answered Your Questions on Obama’s Win, 2008 Campaign:
    Sen. Barack Obama will become the country’s first black leader after a campaign season that broke records and saw female candidates break new ground. Historians Richard Norton Smith and Peniel Joseph answered your questions on this historic election. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK, University of New Hampshire “An ‘evolution’ of U.S. democracy”:
    I think it’s an incredible moment in the history of this country, one of the more important moments we have seen ever.
    And that is because this election has resolved a moral contradiction that runs through the interstices of our history from its very founding.
    The founders were not able to deal with the issue of slavery and created a republic based on a set of values and beliefs that were denied to African-Americans through more than two centuries.
    And through segregation, after the Civil War, it was followed by segregation, the Jim Crow laws. And that moment — I think we’ve put a punctuation mark on a very important and rather shameful chapter….
    PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • PENIEL JOSEPH, Brandeis University “An ‘evolution’ of U.S. democracy”:
    Well, certainly I think we all agree at this roundtable that this election shows the evolution of American democracy. As historians, we realize that that evolution is not always a linear progression.
    So during the reconstruction era, for instance, we had the first generation of black elected officials, and then that time ended because of Jim Crow segregation. The civil rights movement became a second reconstruction, so to speak.
    And now, 40 years later, I think many African-Americans are thinking of this as a potential third reconstruction. But white Americans and Latinos have joined them, as well, so this really speaks to the potential, in terms of democratic progression for the nation. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University “An ‘evolution’ of U.S. democracy”:
    You know, 50 years later, we don’t think of John F. Kennedy — the first thing that comes to mind is not the first Catholic president.
    Clearly, it loomed much larger in November 1960 than it does 50 years later. And if 50 years from now, the most important thing about Barack Obama was his race, that would give me real pause, and it would suggest that his presidency, which ultimately is going to be about other things than race, was less than successful. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: “An ‘evolution’ of U.S. democracy”:
    And, you know, in a way, that is what happens when there is success in breaking a barrier.
    You know, one reason we don’t think of John Kennedy so much as a Catholic is because, by breaking the barrier, people didn’t notice those things anymore.
    The second Catholic on a national ticket after Kennedy was William Miller, on with Barry Goldwater in 1964. No one even mentioned it, you know? And I think that will happen, the same thing with the second African- American on a national ticket after Barack Obama. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK “Hopes and concerns”:
    I think what we’re seeing is a tremendous feeling on the part of the public that what they responded to was the sense of hope that was being offered.
    This was ridiculed at times in the campaign. But every social movement that has amounted to anything in American history was based on that kind of idealism and some powerful leadership, a figure, as well, that the greatest ones have been trans-historical, who were able to capture that mood and articulate it.
    And the shifting of generations evokes 1960, as well. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH “Hopes and concerns”:
    Franklin Roosevelt once said that, since our founding, we have been engaged in a permanent peaceful revolution, a revolution that he defined as being all about, ultimately, democratic inclusiveness. And that’s very much a part of the essentially optimistic, hopeful nature of the American people.
    I was struck by those comments. And last night, people feel good. People could have been very angry in this campaign, and certainly there was anger.
    But, you know, Barack Obama notably did not run as an angry candidate. Reagan-esque style, he really did appeal to our sense of possibility. Maybe not optimism, because it’s a tough time to be optimistic, but he clearly laid the groundwork for, in effect, a unity government after a period of considerable division. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • PENIEL JOSEPH “Obama’s challenges ahead”:
    Well, I think domestically we have to go back to FDR. And FDR talked about freedom from fear in 1932, freedom from want, talked about a new social contract with the body politic.
    Certainly. And by 1940, we were faced on the eve of the Second World War, at least the United States’ involvement in that conflict.
    Certainly, in 1960, John Kennedy faced a changing world within the midst of the Cold War, but I think what Obama is facing is unprecedented in a way. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS “Obama’s challenges ahead”:
    Well, you know, another part of this is that, you know, a political scientist would say we had a lot of the ingredients yesterday for high turnout, high intensity: two candidates with big differences on the major issues; and also an election where we really are at a crossroads on economic policy, social issues, national security.
    But I must say I must have been too jaded, because I would have said probably — and I would have been wrong 48 hours ago — that, you know, people have a sense that the system isn’t working and they won’t turn out in those numbers, numbers that approach 1908, 1960, years of very high turnout.
    But the other thing is that, you know, look at Obama. You were talking about optimism and hope. Look what kind of a leader he is.
    There was a potential in the last two months for a demagogue of the kind of Huey Long of Louisiana, to just start an angry campaign, “These horrible people on Wall Street are stealing your money, and the government is paying them off, and why are oil prices so high, and arms merchants got us into a war in Iraq, and oil, and all this stuff.”
    A leader could have gone very far with that kind of an angry appeal; none of that with Obama.
    So the result is that, elected as he is by a decent margin, he’s coming in with an appeal that is almost entirely positive. And I think that says very good things about this country. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH “Obama’s challenges ahead”:
    Well, not only positive, but almost post-ideological. I mean, the really remarkable thing, here is someone who in many ways — let’s face it — is a product of the civil rights revolution, who is a product of the ’60s.
    Certainly a beneficiary, absolutely, but who was very much a product of those times, and yet who’s been very explicit in making clear his desire to turn the page on our unhealthy, cultural obsession with the 1960s. And in a sense, he’s almost a post-boomer president. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • PENIEL JOSEPH “History’s lessons on expectations”:
    Well, I think the Obama campaign has talked about the first 100 days and reading books about FDR’s first 100 days to see how he would respond if he gets into the White House.
    I think when we look at somebody like Bill Clinton, there were high expectations, and the first year was kind of rocky. He got caught up in gays in the military and Whitewater instead of policy implications.
    So in terms of managing expectations, I think it’s going to be difficult, based on the 63 million votes — this is the most in American history — but based on the campaign and the discipline of his campaign, I think he’ll be able to manage it….
    Well, the 63 million for a Democrat. This is the most a victor has gotten in American history. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS “History’s lessons on expectations”: A blessing because he can call on those people and say, “You elected me to do A, and B, and C. I’m asking you for sacrifices that may be required to achieve those things. You people have to come among with me on that.”
    But, you know, here, again, Obama benefits from having read history. In that speech last night, he said, “You know, I may not do everything in my first year or even my first term.” You sort of think that he may have read John Kennedy’s inaugural, where he said, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days, 1,000 days, life of this administration.”
    Occasionally it does really help when a president has read some history. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH “History’s lessons on expectations”: And echoes of Dr. King. “We may not get there.”…
    Well, I mean, the classic — I mean, Herbert Hoover went into office the most popular man in the country, deemed to be an economic wizard.
    That didn’t — that didn’t sustain itself….
    But what I believe, the inauguration, this is going to be the most exciting inauguration since Andrew Jackson. And the irony is, you know, Jackson ushered in a new era of, quote, “democracy,” very limited. It included basically white men.
    But, nevertheless, it was a profound shift from the well-bred and well-read who had governed the nation before Jackson.
    They had enormous expectations. They formed an army, a new politically potent army, and he sustained that, and he transformed the party, and he transformed the country.
    That’s a tall order. But, clearly, there was that same sense of excitement. And I think, in this case, it transcends narrowly partisan loyalties.
    As I say, there’s a real feeling in this country today of almost universal pride. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK “History’s lessons on expectations”: I think that every president has a difficult job sustaining the momentum and meeting the expectations. But the great presidents rise to their historical moment.
    It may be a terrible moment. It may be a war; it may be a horrible depression. But the public, I think, is chastened. They understand what we’re up against, and they’re looking for leadership.
    If they provide leadership, even if they don’t have all the answers and the solutions, that will carry them. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • David Greenberg: McCain Ran the Sleaziest Campaign in History?: ….But unlike those exaggerations, the line about McCain threatens to stain a man’s name for history. And when viewed without partisan blinders or presentist lenses, the charge doesn’t hold up. Indeed, it says more about today’s political culture, which has grown unusually high-minded, and the emotions that Americans invest in presidential elections, which are unfailingly intense, than it does about McCain himself…. – Slate, 11-5-08
  • Allan Lichtman, presidential historian, American University “Latest : Historic win, Canada AM”: Allan Lichtman gives us his reaction to last night’s historic win. He also provides analysis of Obama’s election campaign strategy and the future of American politics – CTV, 11-5-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University “Political History Takes New Course in ’08 Election”: Oh, sure. There’s the history you make for the first time and there’s the history that you revisit.
    Clearly, in terms of what is unprecedented, the headline about this is, come January, we will have our first African-American president or our first female vice president. That’s the headline. And it’s a pretty impressive headline.
    Beyond that headline, however, when you begin to ask what is motivating people, in terms of voting, I think you can look at a number of elections in the past which are basically about the economy. And I think, for the last six weeks, that’s certainly been what has been driving this more than anything else.
    It feels a lot like 1980, when there was clearly a desire on the part of most people for something other than the status quo, but the challenger, Ronald Reagan, had to convince a majority of the country that he represented a safe alternative to the status quo. – PBS Newshour, 11-4-08
  • PENIEL JOSEPH, Brandeis University “Political History Takes New Course in ’08 Election”:
    Certainly. The idea that the United States, 43 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, could actually have a major party nominee be an African-American is extraordinary and unprecedented.
    After signing the Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965, Lyndon Johnson famously said that he was giving away the South, basically, for a generation. And except for a blip in 1976, when Carter won every southern state except for Virginia, that’s basically held true in two-person presidential elections.
    So the idea that an African-American, as all polls suggest, may become the next president is certainly historic and unprecedented. – PBS Newshour, 11-4-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian “Political History Takes New Course in ’08 Election”:
    Once, yes, but it hasn’t been enough. You know, I mean, first of all, it shouldn’t have taken until 1920 nor should it have taken until the end of the Civil War for African-Americans to get the vote.
    Our founders were terrific, but this is a good night to remember, as wonderful as we think they are and admire them for all sorts of reasons, these were people who did not consider African-Americans fully human, considered them mainly slaves, and also never conceived of the idea that women would be an important part of our political culture.
    This night is a triumph in those terms, too. – PBS Newshour, 11-4-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH “Parallels to the ’30s”:
    Well, the difference, of course, is that you had this slow-motion train wreck. I mean, you’d had three years in which the American people had been marinated in despair. And, basically, millions of them had given up hopes.
    They had lost their homes; they’d lost their jobs. And they were un-American, in the sense that they had lost that most American sense of optimism, that the future is our friend.
    So Franklin Roosevelt, who, by the way, as you know, was written off by a lot of journalists and would-be pundits in the ’32 campaign as an amiable lightweight, nevertheless won simply because he wasn’t Herbert Hoover.
    And the fact that he promised an experimental, innovative kind of government to a people who were tired of a government that appeared frozen in indifference, the difference, of course, is now — to be sure, people all year long have been saying the economy is the number-one issue, but it’s only in the last six weeks that there’s a sense of panic about the future….
    Yes, what happened in 1980 was people — Americans always believe the future is going to be better than the present. In 1980, there was a disconnect. People questioned that. And that was made-to-order for Ronald Reagan. – PBS Newshour, 11-4-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS “Parallels to the ’30s”:
    I think ’32 will do, because, you know, ’32 was, as Richard is saying, as we’ve suggested, a huge economic problem. But the thing about this year is we’re not just at a fork in the road on our economic system. We’re at a fork in the road also on national security. That rarely happens.
    ’32 was a big economic election; 1940, Franklin Roosevelt was running against Wendell Willkie, who was saying, “Don’t help the British. Let’s stay out of what would become World War II.” Now you’ve got a time when both of these issues are combined in one year.
    You know, all of us, I think, as historians tend to think that you can only see something as historic in retrospect, but anyone tonight who’s going to say that the next president is not going to have an enormous effect over how this country changes on both of those fronts I think is kidding themselves. – PBS Newshour, 11-4-08PBS Newshour, 11-4-08

Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman is not sure which direction he is going in the Senate leadership.

The Vice Presidential Debate: Highlights

The Vice Presidential Debate: Highlights

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN 2008 WATCH: THE VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

The first and only vice-presidential debate was held October 2, 2008 at Washington University in St. Louis. It was moderated by Gewn Ifill of PBS, the debate covered a wide range of issues, including pressing domestic issues, such as the economy and foreign policy, including Iraq and Iran.

Debate
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Gov. Sarah Palin at the debate in St. Louis. (Photo: James Estrin/The New York Times)

The Stats

  • CBS Poll: More Uncommitted Voters Saw Biden As Winner: 46% Joe Biden, 21 Sarah Palin, 33%, tie – CBS, 10-2-08
  • Debate poll says Biden won, Palin beat expectations:
    CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll: Joe Biden won 51% to 36% Sarah Palin, 11% tie, 2% neither
    Expectations: 84% said Palin did better than expected and 7% said worse, while 64% said Biden did better than expected and 14% worse.
    Palin beats Biden on likability, 54-36
    87 percent say Biden is qualified for job, 42 percent say Palin is – CNN, 10-2-08

In the News…

Candidate Soundbites

  • Full Transcript
  • On the Economy / Bailout Bill

  • BIDEN: I think it’s neither the best or worst of Washington, but it’s evidence of the fact that the economic policies of the last eight years have been the worst economic policies we’ve ever had. As a consequence, you’ve seen what’s happened on Wall Street.
    If you need any more proof positive of how bad the economic theories have been, this excessive deregulation, the failure to oversee what was going on, letting Wall Street run wild, I don’t think you needed any more evidence than what you see now….
    Yes, well, you know, until two weeks ago — it was two Mondays ago John McCain said at 9 o’clock in the morning that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Two weeks before that, he said George — we’ve made great economic progress under George Bush’s policies.
    Nine o’clock, the economy was strong. Eleven o’clock that same day, two Mondays ago, John McCain said that we have an economic crisis.
    That doesn’t make John McCain a bad guy, but it does point out he’s out of touch. Those folks on the sidelines knew that two months ago.
  • PALIN:….The barometer there, I think, is going to be resounding that our economy is hurting and the federal government has not provided the sound oversight that we need and that we deserve, and we need reform to that end.
    People in the Senate with him, his colleagues, didn’t want to listen to him and wouldn’t go towards that reform that was needed then. I think that the alarm has been heard, though, and there will be that greater oversight, again thanks to John McCain’s bipartisan efforts that he was so instrumental in bringing folks together over this past week, even suspending his own campaign to make sure he was putting excessive politics aside and putting the country first….
    John McCain, in referring to the fundamental of our economy being strong, he was talking to and he was talking about the American workforce. And the American workforce is the greatest in this world, with the ingenuity and the work ethic that is just entrenched in our workforce. That’s a positive. That’s encouragement. And that’s what John McCain meant.
  • On the Lending Meltdown

  • PALIN: Darn right it was the predator lenders, who tried to talk Americans into thinking that it was smart to buy a $300,000 house if we could only afford a $100,000 house. There was deception there, and there was greed and there is corruption on Wall Street. And we need to stop that…. One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let’s commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars….
    I would like to respond about the tax increases. We can speak in agreement here that darn right we need tax relief for Americans so that jobs can be created here. Now, Barack Obama and Senator Biden also voted for the largest tax increases in U.S. history. Barack had 94 opportunities to side on the people’s side and reduce taxes and 94 times he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction, 94 times….
    I’m still on the tax thing because I want to correct you on that again. And I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor. And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also….
  • BIDEN: So what you had is you had overwhelming “deregulation.” You had actually the belief that Wall Street could self-regulate itself. And while Barack Obama was talking about reinstating those regulations, John on 20 different occasions in the previous year and a half called for more deregulation. As a matter of fact, John recently wrote an article in a major magazine saying that he wants to do for the health care industry deregulate it and let the free market move like he did for the banking industry….
    The charge is absolutely not true…. Number two, using the standard that the governor uses, John McCain voted 477 times to raise taxes….John McCain said as early as last December, quote — I’m paraphrasing — “I’m surprised about this subprime mortgage crisis,” number one.
  • On Taxes and Healthcare

  • BIDEN: The middle class is struggling. The middle class under John McCain’s tax proposal, 100 million families, middle class families, households to be precise, they got not a single change, they got not a single break in taxes….
    And then you’re going to have to replace a $12,000 — that’s the average cost of the plan you get through your employer — it costs $12,000. You’re going to have to pay — replace a $12,000 plan, because 20 million of you are going to be dropped. Twenty million of you will be dropped.
    So you’re going to have to place — replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you just give to the insurance company. I call that the “Ultimate Bridge to Nowhere.”
  • PALIN: Now you said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that’s not patriotic. Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you’re not always the solution. In fact, too often you’re the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper. An increased tax formula that Barack Obama is proposing in addition to nearly a trillion dollars in new spending that he’s proposing is the backwards way of trying to grow our economy.
    …But a $5,000 health care credit through our income tax that’s budget neutral. That’s going to help. And he also wants to erase those artificial lines between states so that through competition, we can cross state lines and if there’s a better plan offered somewhere else, we would be able to purchase that. So affordability and accessibility will be the keys there with that $5,000 tax credit also being offered.
  • On Campaign Promises

  • BIDEN: The bottom line here is that we are going to, in fact, eliminate those wasteful spending that exist in the budget right now, a number of things I don’t have time, because the light is blinking, that I won’t be able to mention, but one of which is the $100 billion tax dodge that, in fact, allows people to take their post office box off- shore, avoid taxes. I call that unpatriotic. I call that unpatriotic.
  • PALIN: I want to go back to the energy plan, though, because this is — this is an important one that Barack Obama, he voted for in ’05. Senator Biden, you would remember that, in that energy plan that Obama voted for, that’s what gave those oil companies those big tax breaks. Your running mate voted for that….
    There is not. And how long have I been at this, like five weeks? So there hasn’t been a whole lot that I’ve promised, except to do what is right for the American people, put government back on the side of the American people, stop the greed and corruption on Wall Street.
    And the rescue plan has got to include that massive oversight that Americans are expecting and deserving. And I don’t believe that John McCain has made any promise that he would not be able to keep, either.
  • On Energy

  • PALIN: We’re circulating about $700 billion a year into foreign countries, some who do not like America — they certainly don’t have our best interests at heart — instead of those dollars circulating here, creating tens of thousands of jobs and allowing domestic supplies of energy to be tapped into and start flowing into these very, very hungry markets.
    Energy independence is the key to this nation’s future, to our economic future, and to our national security. So when we talk about energy plans, it’s not just about who got a tax break and who didn’t. And we’re not giving oil companies tax breaks, but it’s about a heck of a lot more than that. Energy independence is the key to America’s future….
    Yes, Senator McCain does support this. The chant is “drill, baby, drill.” And that’s what we hear all across this country in our rallies because people are so hungry for those domestic sources of energy to be tapped into…. I was surprised to hear you mention that because you had said that there isn’t anything — such a thing as clean coal. And I think you said it in a rope line, too, at one of your rallies.
  • BIDEN: Well, I think it is manmade. I think it’s clearly manmade. And, look, this probably explains the biggest fundamental difference between John McCain and Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and Joe Biden — Governor Palin and Joe Biden.
    If you don’t understand what the cause is, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a solution. We know what the cause is. The cause is manmade. That’s the cause. That’s why the polar icecap is melting.
  • On Same Sex Marriage & Benefits

  • BIDEN: Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple….
    No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that.
  • PALIN: Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that’s sometimes where those steps lead….But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties…
    Your question to him was whether he supported gay marriage and my answer is the same as his and it is that I do not.
  • On Iraq

  • PALIN: And Senator Biden, I respected you when you called him out on that. You said that his vote was political and you said it would cost lives. And Barack Obama at first said he would not do that. He turned around under political pressure and he voted against funding the troops. We do have a plan for withdrawal. We don’t need early withdrawal out of Iraq. We cannot afford to lose there or we’re going to be no better off in the war in Afghanistan either. We have got to win in Iraq….
    Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that’s for sure. And it’s not what our nation needs to be able to count on. You guys opposed the surge. The surge worked. Barack Obama still can’t admit the surge works.
  • BIDEN: Gwen, with all due respect, I didn’t hear a plan. Barack Obama offered a clear plan. Shift responsibility to Iraqis over the next 16 months. Draw down our combat troops. Ironically the same plan that Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq and George Bush are now negotiating. The only odd man out here, only one left out is John McCain, number one. Number two, with regard to Barack Obama not quote funding the troops, John McCain voted the exact same way. John McCain voted against funding the troops because of an amendment he voted against had a timeline in it to draw down American troops. And John said I’m not going to fund the troops if in fact there’s a time line. Barack Obama and I agree fully and completely on one thing. You’ve got to have a time line to draw down the troops and shift responsibility to the Iraqis.
  • BIDEN: But let’s get straight who has been right and wrong…. John McCain was saying the Sunnis and Shias got along with each other without reading the history of the last 700 years. John McCain said there would be enough oil to pay for this. John McCain has been dead wrong. I love him. As my mother would say, god love him, but he’s been dead wrong on the fundamental issues relating to the conduct of the war. Barack Obama has been right. There are the facts.
  • On Iran and Pakistan

  • PALIN: An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider. They cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons period… And an issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naivete and goes beyond poor judgment. A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous because leaders like Ahmadinejad who would seek to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the earth an ally like we have in Israel should not be met with without preconditions and diplomatic efforts being undertaken first.
  • BIDEN: Now, John and Governor Palin now say they’re all for — they have a passion, I think the phrase was, a passion for diplomacy and that we have to bring our friends and allies along. Our friends and allies have been saying, Gwen, “Sit down. Talk. Talk. Talk.” Our friends and allies have been saying that, five secretaries of state, three of them Republicans. And John McCain has said he would go along with an agreement, but he wouldn’t sit down. Now, how do you do that when you don’t have your administration sit down and talk with the adversary?
  • On Israel

  • PALIN: Israel is our strongest and best ally in the Middle East. We have got to assure them that we will never allow a second Holocaust, despite, again, warnings from Iran and any other country that would seek to destroy Israel, that that is what they would like to see. We will support Israel. A two-state solution, building our embassy, also, in Jerusalem, those things that we look forward to being able to accomplish, with this peace-seeking nation, and they have a track record of being able to forge these peace agreements.
  • BIDEN: Gwen, no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden. I would have never, ever joined this ticket were I not absolutely sure Barack Obama shared my passion.
  • PALIN: But for a ticket that wants to talk about change and looking into the future, there’s just too much finger-pointing backwards to ever make us believe that that’s where you’re going. Positive change is coming, though. Reform of government is coming. We’ll learn from the past mistakes in this administration and other administrations…. That’s what John McCain has been known for in all these years. He has been the maverick. He has ruffled feathers. But I know, Senator Biden, you have respected for them that, and I respect you for acknowledging that. But change is coming.
  • On Nuclear Weapons & Afganistan

  • PALIN: Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period…. Now, Barack Obama had said that all we’re doing in Afghanistan is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause. That’s not what we’re doing there. We’re fighting terrorists, and we’re securing democracy, and we’re building schools for children there so that there is opportunity in that country, also. There will be a big difference there, and we will win in — in Afghanistan, also….
    Barack Obama was saying we need more troops there. Again, we spend in three weeks on combat missions in Iraq, more than we spent in the entire time we have been in Afghanistan. That will change in a Barack Obama administration.
  • BIDEN: Look, we have spent more money — we spend more money in three weeks on combat in Iraq than we spent on the entirety of the last seven years that we have been in Afghanistan building that country. Let me say that again. Three weeks in Iraq; seven years, seven years or six-and-a-half years in Afghanistan. Now, that’s number one. Number two, with regard to arms control and weapons, nuclear weapons require a nuclear arms control regime. John McCain voted against a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty that every Republican has supported.
  • On Foreign Wars, etc..

  • BIDEN: With regard to Iraq, I indicated it would be a mistake to — I gave the president the power. I voted for the power because he said he needed it not to go to war but to keep the United States, the UN in line, to keep sanctions on Iraq and not let them be lifted. I, along with Dick Lugar, before we went to war, said if we were to go to war without our allies, without the kind of support we need, we’d be there for a decade and it’d cost us tens of billions of dollars. John McCain said, no, it was going to be OK.
  • PALIN: Oh, yeah, it’s so obvious I’m a Washington outsider. And someone just not used to the way you guys operate. Because here you voted for the war and now you oppose the war. You’re one who says, as so many politicians do, I was for it before I was against it or vice- versa. Americans are craving that straight talk and just want to know, hey, if you voted for it, tell us why you voted for it and it was a war resolution… .I beg to disagree with you, again, here on whether you supported Barack Obama or John McCain’s strategies. Here again, you can say what you want to say a month out before people are asked to vote on this, but we listened to the debates.
  • On Education

  • PALIN: Say it ain’t so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education and I’m glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? I say, too, with education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving. Teachers needed to be paid more. I come from a house full of school teachers. My grandma was, my dad who is in the audience today, he’s a schoolteacher, had been for many years. My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here’s a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.
  • BIDEN: I hope we’ll get back to education because I don’t know any government program that John is supporting, not early education, more money for it. The reason No Child Left Behind was left behind, the money was left behind, we didn’t fund it.
  • On the role of the Vice-President

  • PALIN: Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we’ll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.
  • BIDEN: And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there’s a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.
  • On the Candidates’ Achilles heel

  • PALIN: But it wasn’t just that experience tapped into, it was my connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills? About times and Todd and our marriage in our past where we didn’t have health insurance and we know what other Americans are going through as they sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out how are they going to pay out-of-pocket for health care? We’ve been there also so that connection was important…. People aren’t looking for more of the same. They are looking for change. And John McCain has been the consummate maverick in the Senate over all these years…. We have got to win the wars. We have got to get our economy back on track. We have got to not allow the greed and corruption on Wall Street anymore….Change is coming. And John McCain is the leader of that reform.
  • BIDEN: You’re very kind suggesting my only Achilles Heel is my lack of discipline… Others talk about my excessive passion. I’m not going to change. I have 35 years in public office. People can judge who I am. I haven’t changed in that time…. I understand, as well as, with all due respect, the governor or anybody else, what it’s like for those people sitting around that kitchen table. And guess what? They’re looking for help. They’re looking for help. They’re not looking for more of the same….Look, the maverick — let’s talk about the maverick John McCain is. And, again, I love him. He’s been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people’s lives.
  • On Bipartisanship

  • BIDEN: I have been able to reach across the aisle. I think it’s fair to say that I have almost as many friends on the Republican side of the aisle as I do the Democratic side of the aisle….
    I have been able to work across the aisle on some of the most controversial issues and change my party’s mind, as well as Republicans’, because I learned a lesson from Mike Mansfield. Mike Mansfield, a former leader of the Senate, said to me one day — he — I made a criticism of Jesse Helms. He said, “What would you do if I told you Jesse Helms and Dot Helms had adopted a child who had braces and was in real need?” I said, “I’d feel like a jerk.” He said, “Joe, understand one thing. Everyone’s sent here for a reason, because there’s something in them that their folks like. Don’t question their motive.”
  • PALIN: Now, Barack Obama, of course, he’s pretty much only voted along his party lines. In fact, 96 percent of his votes have been solely along party line, not having that proof for the American people to know that his commitment, too, is, you know, put the partisanship, put the special interests aside, and get down to getting business done for the people of America….
    You do what I did as governor, and you appoint people regardless of party affiliation, Democrats, independents, Republicans. You — you walk the walk; you don’t just talk the talk. And even in my own family, it’s a very diverse family. And we have folks of all political persuasion in there, also, so I’ve grown up just knowing that, you know, at the end of the day, as long as we’re all working together for the greater good, it’s going to be OK.
  • Changing View & Closing Remarks

  • BIDEN: And so that — that — that was one of the intellectual changes that took place in my career as I got a close look at it. And that’s why I was the first chairman of the Judiciary Committee to forthrightly state that it matters what your judicial philosophy is. The American people have a right to understand it and to know it….
    You know, in the neighborhood I grew up in, it was all about dignity and respect. A neighborhood like most of you grew up in. And in that neighborhood, it was filled with women and men, mothers and fathers who taught their children if they believed in themselves, if they were honest, if they worked hard, if they loved their country, they could accomplish anything. We believed it, and we did. That’s why Barack Obama and I are running, to re-establish that certitude in our neighborhoods. Ladies and gentlemen, my dad used to have an expression. He’d say, “champ, when you get knocked down, get up.” Well, it’s time for America to get up together. America’s ready, you’re ready, I’m ready, and Barack Obama is ready to be the next president of the United States of America.
  • PALIN: …But on the major principle things, no, there hasn’t been something that I’ve had to compromise on, because we’ve always seemed to find a way to work together. Up there in Alaska, what we have done is, with bipartisan efforts, is work together and, again, not caring who gets the credit for what, as we accomplish things up there….
    I want to assure you that John McCain and I, we’re going to fight for America. We’re going to fight for the middle-class, average, everyday American family like mine. I’ve been there. I know what the hurts are. I know what the challenges are. And, thank God, I know what the joys are, too, of living in America. We are so blessed. And I’ve always been proud to be an American. And so has John McCain. We have to fight for our freedoms, also, economic and our national security freedoms. It was Ronald Reagan who said that freedom is always just one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream; we have to fight for it and protect it, and then hand it to them so that they shall do the same, or we’re going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free. We will fight for it, and there is only one man in this race who has really ever fought for you, and that’s Senator John McCain.

Debate

Gov. Sarah Palin and Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke as their families gathered on stage after the vice-presidential debate. (Photo: James Estrin/The New York Times)

Historians’ Comments

  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Well, I think in one way, and that is, you know, we saw Adlai Stevenson distance himself from the unpopular Harry Truman in ’52. And Hubert Humphrey tried to do that with LBJ in 1968. But Sarah Palin put both of them in the shade tonight. She left George W. Bush way behind in the snow. You would think that there was almost no connection between them, especially because, on one of the rare occasions when Joe Biden essentially tried to say, “This is the president of your party,” and she said, “You know, Joe, you’re looking backwards. Say it ain’t so.”
    And I think the result of that was, you didn’t have a candidate who was trying to defend a lot of the Iraq war, as unpopular as it is, or even some of the president’s decisions that may have led to this economic crisis.
    And the result was that this was sort of an argument by her relentless that was not too different from a lot of the Republican presidential campaigns all the way back to ’72. “The Democrats will give you high taxes. They’re too weak.”
    I thought that she went almost over the line in saying that Biden and Obama, if elected, would raise the white flag of surrender. I think that was really not of the stature of a potential vice president….
    Well, and both of them were probably helped by the rules, the McCain side that was worried that Sarah Palin, if you had longer answers and, as you know better than anyone, Jim, these were rules that were different from the ones that you operated under last week, much more clipped answers, much less sort of interaction between the two candidates.
    And so there was not a gaffe on either side. And I think both sides were relieved.
    But I didn’t think that they really looked equal tonight. I think she got through without saying something that would damage her in the way that some of these interviews that she’s done with Katie Couric and others have done during the last week.
    But I think Biden gave the sense of someone who’s a little bit more human, a lot more willing to confess human error. His was sort of, “You know, here I am, warts and all.” I think that’s appealing in a public figure. – PBS Newshour, 10-2-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University: Sure. Well, I agree with David. I think, in a sense, that she obviously surpassed expectations if you thought that Tina Fey basically had set, you know, the threshold.
    I think the biggest change that will probably occur as a result of this evening, I think you will hear those voices on the right, particularly conservative intellectuals, who have been calling publicly for her to get off the ticket, I think that will go away. There is no doubt that Sarah Palin’s name will be on the ballot on November 4th.
    Beyond that, I have to tell you, you know, we’re all understandably spending a lot of time talking about Governor Palin. Joe Biden had a difficult job, in some ways, going into this. Remember Vice President Bush 20 years ago with Geraldine Ferraro.
    Remember going into this debate, everyone was speculating about, would he be condescending? Would he talk down to her? Would he make her a sympathetic figure by, you know, inadvertently? Would he be too long-winded? Would he make gaffes?
    And the fact is, I think he turned in a solid performance this evening. So, on balance, I’m not sure this is really a game-changer. – PBS Newshour, 10-2-08
  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK, University of New Hampshire: Well, I think it may have been; it may not have been. We’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out.
    But what’s fascinating to me was that, in 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was asked how she could be commander-in-chief during the vice presidential debate when she had no military experience.
    And, furthermore, wouldn’t it be likely that the Soviets might take advantage of her, were we to have a woman president or vice president? Wouldn’t this somehow weaken the powers of the office to have a woman holding it?
    And she answered in a very straightforward way. And throughout that entire debate, she never made reference, really, to her gender.
    Tonight, we heard a debate being waged here in which Governor Palin repeatedly referred to being a mom, to soccer games, to parents, to third-graders, to hockey moms, and to her own children, to her family.
    And in that 25-year period almost that has gone by, it’s an enormous sea change, it seems to me, in the politics of gender. I would wager that, if Geraldine Ferraro had said these things in 1984, that she would have been criticized for calling attention to her role as a mother and relying on that as a kind of expertise.
    Tonight, I thought Governor Palin raised these issues repeatedly as qualifying her in some special way for the office that she aspires to hold.
    …I found it a little bit folksy for my taste, but the voters, of course, will decide. I thought that what we were hearing was a kind of populism in which the implication was that complex problems are not very complex and that common sense is really a qualification that she holds, like many other Americans, that will help solve the problems the nation faces. – PBS Newshour, 10-2-08
  • DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN (presidential historian)From October 2 broadcast of PBS’ Charlie Rose: I didn’t really see any gaffes, nor were there many Tina Fey moments, or what might come on Saturday Night Live. The only one might be when she asked what might trigger a nuclear war, and she went into, “A nuclear war, that’s the be-all and the end-all. That’s bad. A lot of people, gone.” I can see them using that as a moment, but other than that, no, they both handled everything pretty well…. Oh, and there was McKiernan versus McClellan, the name of the general in Afghanistan. – Nedia Matters, 10-2-08
  • Douglas Brinkley “Presidential historian discusses vice presidential debate”: “What she’s good at is about Alaska politics, gas and oil issues, energy issues, and now national issues, so you don’t want to minimize that,” says Brinkley. “But clearly she’s somebody who is not a global thinker in a time of a global economy and a time of a global war on terror, and she has to prove… in this debate tonight that she is a quick study, that she’s got good judgment.” – CbS News7, 10-2-08
  • Allan Lichtman on “At High-Stakes Debate, VP Candidates Face Unique Challenges”: “She has really got to show that she has an understanding of the economy and an understanding of the world,” American University professor Allan Lichtman said. “She should be herself, she shouldn’t hold back (against Biden), but she has got to show that she has substance there.”… “He can’t appear to be overbearing and bullying, but he can be tough,” Lichtman said. “He cannot emit one of his famous gaffes,” Lichtman said. – Fox News, 10-2-08
  • Douglas Brinkley on “At High-Stakes Debate, VP Candidates Face Unique Challenges”: “Let her be a voice of something different,” historian Douglas Brinkley said. “‘I may not have been in Washington, I don’t have the world experience, but my judgment’s good and my heart’s in the right place’.” – Fox News, 10-2-08
  • Peter Kastor on “US braces for VP debate as Palin’s star wanes”: “It’s make-or-break for her in the sense that, in a three-game series, her record so far is one and one: the convention and the interviews,” said Peter Kastor, Washington University history professor, “This could be what seals the deal. If she does extremely well or extremely poorly, obviously it will be the debate that people say defines Sarah Palin’s candidacy.” Washington University history professor Peter Kastor told AFP. – AFP, Time (UK), 10-2-08
  • Julian Zelizer – DEMOCRATS SHOULD IGNORE THE PALIN-BIDEN DEBATE: “Everyone will be watching the Biden-Palin vice presidential debate. This is an eagerly awaited event, with predictions that Americans will tune in high numbers to see whether Palin can handle the tough questions and if Biden puts his foot in his mouth, once again. Democrats need to be very careful. When Senator McCain introduced Governor Palin as his running mate, Republicans completely knocked Democrats off their message. The Democratic Party had just come off a very strong convention and a historic speech by Senator Barack Obama. Yet the introduction of Palin created a media frenzy around her, distracting reporters from the main contest, and giving Republicans a chance to regroup and to rebound in the polls…..
    ….Tonight’s debate, in certain respects, comes at perfect time for Republicans. Whatever happens, Americans will be watching Palin not Obama. Democrats should stay focused on the themes from this week, rather than encourage reporters to spend the next week talking about the gaffes or intelligence of Palin. In the end, this is a contest between McCain and Obama, and about Bush’s record over the last eight years. When Republicans shift to other issues, they do better. When forced to confront the main issues, they have struggled. – Huffington Post, 10-2-08
  • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich – Uneasy Twins: “For the past few weeks the nation has been engaged in a truly bizarre debate over who is better qualified for the presidency — Barack Obama or Sarah Palin. It doesn’t matter that he is a candidate for president, she for vice president. Or that he won his party’s nomination through a hard-fought primary that energized millions of new voters and raised America’s standing abroad. Suddenly, in the first weeks of September, he was last year’s celebrity, she the new star. Plucked from obscurity in Alaska, she was the new Obama even though no one outside her home state had ever checked her name on a ballot. Black man. White woman. The only possible basis for comparison is that neither Barack Obama nor Sarah Palin is a white male….” – Huffington Post, 10-2-08
  • Great Moments In Veep Debate History: “Who Am I? Why Am I Here?” – The Hotline Political Network, 10-1-08

The First Presidential Debate: Highlights

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN 2008 WATCH: THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

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. – KAALtv.com, 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 www.themoderometer.blogspot.com 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 6 & 7, 2008: On the Campaign Trail

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN 2008 WATCH:

CONVENTION ROUNDUP

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. – Salon.com, 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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