McCain Did the Right Thing

Washington Matters

McCain Did the Right Thing

The pundits and the instant polls say last night's debate went to Obama or was at best a tie for McCain, who needed a big win to reverse Obama's momentum. But a better way to look at it is that McCain did the right thing in ignoring backers and advisers, including Sarah Palin, and refusing to go negative and nasty.

Sure, there were some digs and criticisms -- and maybe the format made it impossible to go on the attack the way Palin has in recent days, but it's clear that McCain decided the country wanted and needed more than a down-in-the-gutter debate. He began on a positive note -- championing a plan to help distressed homeowners avoid foreclosure. You can argue that he didn't explain it well and that it's not really new (as The Washington Post and the New York Times did today), but it was an idea, a plan, a recognition of the need to address this crisis seriously, and it set the right tone for the debate that followed, even if that tone wasn't consistent.

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There was still much to be unhappy about in the debate. Neither candidate answered the tough questions: Will it get worse before it gets better? How will you adapt your spending and tax plans to the changing situation? What priorities will you set? And what sacrifices will you ask the American people to make? But there were many substantive answers to serious questions on health care, energy and foreign policy. Those of us following the campaign every step of the way may have heard it all before, but a lot of voters are only now getting involved.

To take it a step further, here's a proposal for the next debate -- or for adding a fourth presidential forum. Let's ask each candidate to make a 20 minute statement that specifically outlines the concrete steps he will take in the first 100 days to restore confidence and put the economy and financial markets on a stronger footing. Insist it include a budget outline, a real set of priorities, a fiscal recognition that the government is deeply in debt and a call on Americans to make specifically defined sacrifices. Follow it with a 20-minute period in which each candidate questions the other on the specifics outlined and follow that with a panel of economists questioning each candidate on whatever has been proposed.