Debate No. 2: Bare Knuckles and Time Overruns

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The second of three presidential debates began with civil and earnest discussions of the economy.

Tom Brokaw told a Nashville and national audience he had chosen questions from tens of thousands submitted online and questions from the audience for the only town hall meeting-formatted debate of the season.

The candidates wore their politics if not on their sleeve, on their chests, with Barack Obama sporting a blue tie and John McCain a red tie with white stripes.

The questions were mostly about the worsening economy, which Obama called, without exaggeration, the worst economic times since the Great Depression.

He blamed it right out of the gate on the failed policies of the last eight years, which he laid at the feet of both President George W. Bush and McCain’s support of deregulation.

CNN’s real-time graph taking the pulse of uncommitted Ohio voters was riding the top of the chart with Obama’s first answer. McCain’s first answer saw the lines dip dramatically before raising the lines with talk of no new taxes. As he got going, he moved the lines up to Obama territory, but began to slip as he talked about stabilizing home values.

I have to say, the graph is distracting. I tend to zone out on the answers as I follow those wavy red and geen lines.

McCain grabbed the mike and started walking when asked who should run Treasary. He named Warren Buffet or Meg Whitman of eBay. Obama agreed that Buffet would be a good choice.

Brokaw had to remind both to keep their answers shorter per rules they had both agreed to.

McCain fired back at Obama, referencing the contributions to his campaign from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Obama hit back, branding McCain a deregulator.

One casualty of this financial meltdown is the invocation of "deregulation" as a good thing.

Broadcasters should probably search for a different term for their desire for the free market.

One interesting optical illusion of the flat-looking half red/half blue set is that in shots with one candidate closer to the camera than the other, it just looked like one man was actually much larger than the other. In one shot.

How can we trust either of you with our money when both parties got us into this economic crisis? one audience member asked. Barack Obama laid in on the Republican’s deficit spending.

McCain framed it as cynicism and mistrust of a broken system in Washington. Senator Obama has never taken on his party on a single issue, he said, showing some bare knuckle as he painted Obama as a big, pork-barrel spender. It seemed a bit off the point. McCain referred to money for an overhead projector for an Illinois planetarium, an issue that most people trying to salvage their life savings probably didn’t care about much one way or the other.

The two diverged on how they would prioritize key issues like healthcare and energy. Obama said he would prioritize, whle McCain said all had to be tackeld at once.

Brokaw for a second time had to warn them about taking too much time.

The first online question was not from a kid, but instead a 79-year-old depression-era questioner who essentially asked how we were going to avoid another depression.

"A lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11…" said Obama, which made me wonder who the rest of those folks were until I thought about it, and realized that millions of young children have no first-hand memory of that event.

He used the answer as a chance to point out that President Bush had encouraged us to go shopping. He said he would rather have everyone pitch in and find a way to serve their fellow citizens and the country.

As I said of the first debate, I wish they would dial down the supersaturated color of the set.

McCain bared knuckles again, saying trying to pin down Obama on tax proposals is like nailing Jello to the wall.

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