Debate 08: 90 minutes in history on Belmont’s stage
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Debate 08: 90 minutes in history on Belmont’s stage

The culmination of months of preparation came to a head Tuesday night at Belmont’s Curb Event Center as Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain met for a town hall-style presidential debate. Belmont was on a big stage, with early Nielsen ratings showing that about 7 percent more viewers watched the second debate than the first one at Ole Miss Sept. 26, but both audiences fell short of the 70 million that tuned into the vice presidential debate. In Nashville, however, the town hall event was “must-watch” TV, no matter what one’s party affiliation.

NBC’s Tom Brokaw moderated the debate and described his role as “not just a journalist, but… a citizen.”

The candidates fielded questions from an audience comprised of local undecided voters selected through the Gallup Organization as well as from people who submitted questions via the internet.

The answers to each questions were to be limited to two minutes with a one minute follow up, though the time constraints were pushed by both candidates despite Brokaw’s repeated admonishments.

The first question of the night was decided by a coin toss and went to Obama. Like many of the questions to follow, it had to do with the economy.

Obama outlined his plan involving making sure the rescue package works properly, enacting tax cuts for the middle class, and fixing the health care and energy situations. McCain’s answer focused mainly on energy independence, cutting spending in Washington, stabilizing home values and creating jobs.

Brokaw used the one minute discussion period to ask who each candidate would appoint to replace treasury secretary Hank Paulson. Both floated Warren Buffet’s name.

Economic issues dominated the next four questions from the participants as well as from Brokaw.

When the economy had been all but exhausted, Brokaw asked Obama and McCain to prioritize health care, energy, and entitlement reform. Besides the economy, entitlement programs were another frequently discussed topic. McCain’s view was that all three could be handled simultaneously saying, “we have to do them all at once.”

Obama on the other hand put energy at the top of the list followed by health care and education instead of entitlement reform. Brokaw followed up shortly after, asking if either would impose a deadline on congress to reform entitlement programs within two years. Neither answered in the affirmative with regards to the deadline.

Next, talk turned to environmental issues. McCain hit hard on nuclear power, citing his experience with it on Navy ships saying “nuclear power is safe, it’s clean, and it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

Obama’s plan made nuclear power a part of the solution along with “investments in solar, wind, [and] geothermal” options.

After another round on health care, as in if it should be treated as a commodity or if it is a right, privilege, or responsibility, foreign policy finally came up.

One particular point of contention between the candidates had to do with Pakistan and what the U.S. would do if Osama bin Laden’s location was nailed down but the government was uncooperative with the U.S.

“We will kill bin Laden; we will crush Al Qaida,” Obama said, inviting rebukes from McCain for “telegraphing” a threat to Pakistan.

The exchange was one was several moments when the candidates traded swipes. McCain earlier said that pinning down Obama’s tax policies was like trying to nail jello to the wall, while Obama remarked that the Straight Talk Express had lost a wheel.

Both tried to address the other’s previous comments. McCain said that Obama will not acknowledge that the surge worked. Obama brought up McCain’s comments from the first debate that he didn’t understand anything by saying what he didn’t understand was the situation in Iraq, among other things.

After discussing Russia, the last question of the night was, in Brokaw’s words, “zen-like.” Peggy from New Hampshire asked, “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?”

Neither candidate really addressed the question but did go into some biographical information about themselves. Obama joked that his wife might be better suited to answer the question. McCain stated, “What I don’t know is what the unexpected will be.”

With that, Brokaw brought an end to the debate and reminded the audience of the next debate at Hofstra University, then saying “Good night everyone, from Nashville.”

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