Well, we’ve now been through a second presidential debate and I’m not really willing to call this one one way or another, mostly because I know I’m biased and am not sure if Obama actually did win or if I’m only seeing that because I already favor the candidate. There are points that I think both had a good handle on it, and points where both fell through. But, since I’m an unabashed liberal, I think you know where my focus will likely be.

As Keith Olbermann pointed out, it’s strange to think that the town hall format favored John McCain going into it considering it’s a format that makes him shuffle around like a doddering old man. He needs to learn to relax his shoulders, because this is the oldest he’s seemed since he was doing his wheeze/laugh about all the fish swimming around oil rigs in the ocean. He was an “In my day…” comment from Mr. Magoo out there. Why, again, did we think this format was a benefit for McCain? Was it simply to lower expectations for Obama?

That aside, let’s look at some of McCain’s major gaffs hidden as policy initiatives during the debate:

1. The suggestion that the government will buy bad mortgages and negotiate them down to reasonable levels. I have a couple of points on this, the first being, “Didn’t we just do that?” We paid investment banks almost a trillion dollars. Does that fall into the category of “free money,” or did we actually buy something? According to John McCain, “free money.” Barack Obama was the only one of the two who said that the American people should get a return on their investment. Again, I argue that the government should have an equity share in every company it bailed out and its votes should go toward forcing these institutions onto a more responsible track.

My other point on this is that I feel like John McCain is desperately searching his pockets for his “Maverick” card. He is actually pissing off his party by essentially suggesting further Socializing the mortgage industry and I have a feeling he’s going to see his party base start to back off a little because of it. Of course, when McCain does find his wallet, he’s likely to find that expired Maverick card and nothing else as he apparently plans to pay for everything with fairy dust and revenues from the Tickle Me Sarah adult toy. But that’s another point altogether.

2. What will you fix first, Sen. McCain? Everything!

That’s right, when asked what he would prioritize first, second, and third among health policies, energy policies, and humanitarian reform, Sen. McCain apparently would do them all at once. While juggling flaming torches, no less.

This is a guy who apparently couldn’t run a presidential campaign (well, technically he didn’t really stop anything) while wandering aimlessly around Washington trying to get involved in fixing the financial crisis when he wasn’t on any of the committees that would have given him the ability to do something and when the President did him a solid by calling an entirely pointless meeting, sat there silently for forty minutes. And he thinks he’ll be able to take care of three of the largest problems facing Americans today all at the same time.

There are some things in his favor on this. He doesn’t have to worry about finding a way to bring our troops him from Iraq until…I’m not sure what he’s waiting for. Victory? Some sort of nebulous idea of when we’ve won? When there are no longer people willing to blow themselves up to kill others? When nobody is ever afraid any more? I’ve always been curious how you win a war against a group of criminal sociopaths (or concept, for that matter)with no country by invading and occupying for indefinite periods other countries. We have to stop treating al-Qaeda like a nation and start treating them like what they are: an international criminal syndicate. You don’t send the military after most criminals, you send the police who use entirely different tactics. More on that metaphor in another post.

Back on topic, the only thing John McCain has said he wants to do with Medicare is destroy it. In order to pay for his idiotic health plan which involves taxing health care benefits as income and paying a $5,000 tax credit to (guess who?) insurance corporations, John McCain will either have to raise taxes, which he won’t consider, or make some cuts. In this case, McCain advisor and personal hero Douglas “John McCain Invented the Blackberry” Holtz-Eakin has told reporters that McCain plans to cut $1.3 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid. His proposed cuts will not allow Medicare to keep pace with inflation and enrollment increases over the next ten years for either program, resulting in cuts to benefits, eligibility, or both. So, it shouldn’t be too difficult for John McCain to deal with health reform while doing other things. How hard is it to simply dip your hand in the tiller? Of course, he didn’t say this during the debate. Instead, Sen. McCain suggested…a commission! Like his solution to the economic crisis when it first hit, John McCain wants to pay people to talk about what’s wrong with Medicare and Medicaid, hopefully long enough for him to take all of their funding away.

Democrats should be going door to door in Florida telling people about that plan. And likely are.

Regarding Entitlement reform, John McCain apparently doesn’t think it’s that difficult. “Look, it’s not that hard to fix Social Security, Tom,” McCain said during the debate, “It’s just tough decisions.” What are those tough decisions, though? He wouldn’t actually say. His solution seems to be, as he said it twice, getting his hero Ronald Regan and and his hero Tip O’Neill to sit down and talk with one another. Or some West-coast conservative and East-coast liberal. Or maybe just have somebody talk about…something. Again, he wasn’t really clear on this as he immediately went into attack mode after waxing nostalgic about wasting time discussing Social Security instead of fixing it, accusing his hero Sen. Obama of never going against his party.

The worst part about McCain’s answer is not that it’s possible that he’ll deal with all three by killing two to save one, it’s that his answer lacked balls. I remember when the question was asked thinking to myself, “Wow, I’m glad I’m not running for president, because that’s a really tough question.” You are almost guaranteed to alienate some group by answering at all. John McCain had to answer first, a highly unenviable position that I wouldn’t trade him for all the tea in China, but instead of taking a stand, he wussed out. So afraid of offending any of his dwindling base and even more dwindling pool of swing voters, he gave a safe answer that I feel made him look weak. That McCain’s personal hero Sen. Obama came out and actually made a choice looked even worse for McCain, raising questions of whether, as president, he’d be willing to make people mad to do what’s best for the country. Granted, I have no doubt intellectually that he’d be able to do that; most of his policies make me mad right now. But his unwillingness to actually make a statement really came off poorly for McCain in this respect.

Since I’m feeling gracious, I do want to mention where I felt that John McCain’s hero Sen. Obama failed, and that was in respecting the debate format. Neither of them really listened to the timing warnings, but Obama needs to learn that you can’t always respond to everything whenever you want. “Can I just respond to that, Tom?” No, Senator, you can’t. I know you’re frustrated, I know John McCain stubbornly insists on accusing you of things that are demonstrably false over and over again, I know you’d like to clear up the record. You can’t. Save it for the campaign trail. This is necessarily the drawback of a formal debate: somebody has to go first and somebody has to go last on every question, and the somebody who goes last, if they’re a smart debater, uses that advantage to make claims that you can’t respond to. It’s the nature of the beast, deal with it and accuse him of being senile and unable to understand your words when you speak on the next question.

Of course, Sen. McCain’s hero Sen. Obama couldn’t have gotten away with this if Tom Brokaw, a wonderful journalist and John McCain’s hero, actually moderated the debate. Tom, tell them to shut up when they run out of time. I know it’s difficult, but it’s your job. When a candidate asks, “Can I respond to that?” the answer is “no.” That way you don’t also have to give the other candidate equal time. If they want to duke it out and just have an argument, they can go on a Sunday talk show and do it. You’re here to run an organized debate, and damn it, it’s important that you keep a rein on those two. They’re both running for president and, almost by necessity, are both overpowering personalities. You can do it next time, Tom. Just keep your chin up and ask Jim Lehrer how it’s done.

So, as the McCain campaign continues to spiral into oblivion, so much so that even the clueless Gov. “I Read Every Newspaper” Palin (John McCain’s favoritest hero) must have noticed by now, and attempts by the McCain campaign to link Obama to John McCain’s most despised hero William Ayers and thereby to terrorists and terrorism (didn’t see that plot coming) are simply not working, we see this debate as what it was: a decent way for John McCain to stay in this race. For the past couple of weeks I’ve held the quiet opinion that maybe John McCain is a Maverick still. He’s going to stick it to all of his heroes in the Republican party that have treated him with such disdain for years now by running the world’s worst campaign and making sure they lose control of the White House at the very least. That’ll show them. Unless one of these despicable and desperate ploys actually does work. Then I can only imagine how Maverick McCain will have to screw up this country to get people to vote Democrat in 2012.