Obama, McCain Argue Over War, Taxes In First Debate

In a faceoff that returned again and again to judgment, John McCain portrayed himself as a battle-tested elder running against a naive rookie, while Barack Obama suggested the Republican is a hothead who made the wrong choices on the Iraq war, corporate taxes and more.

Now they take the themes from an intense first debate back to the campaign trail, looking for some edge in a tight presidential race. With 38 days left, McCain is headed for Washington and the dispute over a Wall Street bailout, while Obama plans to visit Republican-leaning states where the Democrat thinks he can make inroads.

The debate presented a huge opportunity for the candidates to deliver their message to millions of Americans — or make an embarrassing blunder.

Interest in Friday's debate was amplified by suspense about whether it would even take place. McCain had said he wouldn't take part unless the financial crisis was resolved, then reversed course and decided at the last minute to participate without a deal.

McCain, 72, frequently referred to his age and experience.

Sometimes he joked — at one point he waggled his eyebrows and quipped that the moderator didn't think he could hear the question — and other times he went out of his way to mention the foreign countries he has visited and the years he has spent on Capitol Hill.

"I have a long record and the American people know me very well," he said.

But Obama, a 47-year-old serving his first term in the Senate, challenged McCain frequently and offered himself as someone who can be trusted to make sound choices.

Obama noted that he opposed invading Iraq, while McCain supported it. He said McCain has voted with the unpopular President Bush 90 percent of the time. He argued McCain backs corporate tax breaks and lax regulation that have contributed to the Wall Street economic crisis.

"We have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain," Obama said.

Obama sought to connect with voters who might have doubts about a relative newcomer to national politics, a black man with an exotic name and background. He talked often about the struggles of ordinary Americans — "the nurse, the teacher, the police officer who, frankly, at the end of each month they've got a little financial crisis going on."

In a long exchange with McCain over the Iraq war, Obama tried to avoid being seen as soft or reluctant to use force when necessary.

An early opponent of invading Iraq, he stressed that his position was prompted partly by worries that it would distract from hunting down Osama bin Laden, and he said withdrawing from Iraq now would free up resources to re-energize that hunt.

Obama suggested McCain might overreact to national emergencies, noting that the Arizona senator has talked about "extinction" for North Korea and joked about bombing Iran.

McCain accused Obama of seeking to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" in Iraq. He said the "surge" of U.S. troops has reduced violence there and withdrawing would destabilize the country and the entire region.

Asked what lessons he had learned from the long war, McCain said, "that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict."

On Iraq and many other issues, McCain said Obama was naive, experienced, confused. He criticized Obama for saying he would meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without precondition. "This is dangerous. It isn't just naive; it's dangerous," McCain said.

The two bickered at times, talking over one another and throwing accusations of twisted words and false statements. But Obama sometimes acknowledged agreements with McCain — concessions that might reinforce Obama's claim to be a politician who can find common ground and reduce confrontation in Washington.

The stakes were high as the two rivals walked on stage. The polls gave Obama a modest lead and indicated he was viewed more favorably than his rival when it came to dealing with the economy. But the same surveys show McCain favored by far on foreign policy.

The candidates stood behind identical wooden lecterns on stage at the performing arts center at the University of Mississippi for the first of three scheduled debates with less than six weeks remaining until Election Day. The two vice presidential candidates will meet next week for their only debate, and Obama and McCain each put in a plug for his own running mate.

But there was a difference: Democrat Joe Biden made the round of post-debate television shows. NBC and CNN said they invited McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has granted only three interviews since joining the ticket a month ago, but she declined.

Moderator Jim Lehrer's opening question concerned the economic crisis. While neither man committed to supporting bailout legislation taking shape in Congress, they readily agreed lawmakers must take action to prevent millions of Americans from losing their jobs and their homes.

Both also said they were pleased that lawmakers in both parties were negotiating on a compromise.

Neither could offer specifics about how the potential $700 billion price tag of a Wall Street bailout might affect their ability to implement all the campaign promises they've made.

McCain jabbed at Obama, who he said has requested millions of dollars in pork barrel spending, including some after he began running for president. As he does frequently, the Republican vowed to veto any lawmaker's pork barrel project that reaches his desk in the White House.

McCain said a freeze on most government spending was worth considering, except for veterans, defense and "some other vital issues."

Obama said the problem with that was that some programs needed more money. He mentioned early childhood education as an example.

"The problem with a spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel," he said.

The presidential hopefuls are scheduled to debate twice more, at Belmont University in Nashville on Oct. 7 and at Hofstra University in Hempsted, N.Y., on Oct. 15.


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  • by Anonymous on Oct 1, 2008 at 08:21 PM
    No it is not great that you are voting for Palin
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Oct 1, 2008 at 11:55 AM
    Kitty, that is not a fact. First, I have posted facts from Fox, CBS, CNN, ABC and NBC. I do not got to moveon.org for anything. I don't trust Snopes either. I have notices several others posting from neutral sites and you still call it garbage. Truth is not garbage. Yet you have not established a credible fact to support your facts. Secondly, racist? Nice try, no, Obama is a liberal, a socialist from ties to people that scare the hell out of me. I would vote for Condy or Colin in a heartbeat, they are moderate "like me". I also wonder who has been telling us how to vote? This means your way or no way. Freedom is guarenteed in America under the current admin. I am not sure if it is under....your Obama. By the way, this democrat is voting for a woman for vp this year. Isn't that great? What a great leader she will be with John McCain. Obama or Kerry, they just don't get it and I approve this message.
  • by Kitty on Oct 1, 2008 at 07:39 AM
    To Obama Snake Oil, You don't even agree with your own candidate let alone your own party. If you agreed with your candidate you would not have so much to say. Not even McBush bashes US as much as you do on here do. YOU read every bit of trash on the internet and post it in here as the "unquestionable truth" It is people like you that feeds hate in America. It is people like YOU that keeps the BLACK\WHITE issue going buy passing it from generation to generation. I hope that one day people like YOU will become a thing of the past. YOU need to get a life and stop telling others how to live their life, including how they vote.
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Oct 1, 2008 at 06:21 AM
    I guess this is more of the same; Islamic ties, ties to Wright a racist, Pfleiger a racist, Ayers a terrorist and Rezio a felon. What strange bed fellows. More of the same; liberals don't care about his background, they ignore it. Yet liberals post the same old on this site: McBush, Bush lied, Bush started the war, Bush caused the mortgage crisis and Bush is in the pocket of big oil. Yet, not a single fact to support any of this so doesn't that make it a lie? Just because Obama quit his church doesn't mean I buy into it. This democrat is voting McCain and Palin. Sorry, they are the "cleanest" canidates. By the way, moveon is not a reliable source. If you did you would know that the democrats are why the mortgage crisis is here. You would know that Bush tried "repeatedly" to get congress to clean it up and you would know that Bill Clinton's security adviser convinced Bush and both houses to go to war. Its called facts.
  • by West of ktown Location: NC on Sep 30, 2008 at 07:00 PM
    Truth hurts , doesnt it?
  • by Reliable Source. on Sep 30, 2008 at 04:25 PM
    Does any one besides me notice how the republicans on here just question other peoples comments BUT never have much of an input? If they have a comment it is the same one they have used for weeks. They change a word or two and post it again "MORE OF THE SAME" That must be a republican thing "MORE OF THE SAME". If they said something once they have said it a hundred times. That is sad to say something over and over like that. Why do they post web sites for people to go read, we all have Google. We can all look information up for our self. I don't read much trash on the internet myself. I get my information from a very reliable source.
  • by West of Ktown Location: NC on Sep 30, 2008 at 12:41 PM
    Lavon, how do you figure that voting for Obama is in the best interest of this country. He doesnt have enough experience for such a big job.He doesnt have the morals for the job. Also, be really honest with yourself, ARE YOU REALLY 100 % SURE THERE ARE NO ISLAMIC TIES? Or are you just going on what you have been told just like the rest of us? Have you ever checked Obama's voting record? He didnt even vote in many of the issues because he was undecided.Is that the kind of leader we need , that is undecided when America is under attack, so does nothing. Wake Up!That Obama is in the best interest for this country is YOUR OPINION. And you know what they say about opinions.
  • by West of Ktown Location: NC on Sep 30, 2008 at 12:31 PM
    Lavon, I am not voting for obama, not because he is half black, but because he doesnt have the same priorities that I do. 1. He believes in abortion,2. He believes in gay marriages,3. As obama is a Democrat, I really dont feel thta he will have my best interest in mind.However, I would vote for Colin powell or Condeleeza Rice. Last time I looked they were more Black than Obama.Would you vote for either because they are Black?
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Sep 30, 2008 at 08:28 AM
    Hey Rick, are you going to confuse the liberals with the facts and truth? That system overload will make them go to moveon for guidance, you know, the religion. Most of us are aware of this. Now that the problem reached a climax, they don't want to get involved since it is an election year. They would rather blame it on Bush as the cause of all evils the democrats cause. We aren't supposed to be that smart, look up facts and truth. We are supposed to go to liberal web sites where we can get plenty of its not my fault and feel good. Its always Bush's fault, even Nancy Pelosi, tried to do that yesterday. This just shows how arrogant she is in time of emergency on mainstreet. There will plenty of new faces this year in both houses and the white house, Obama and Biden are not part of it.
  • by Rick Location: Greenville on Sep 29, 2008 at 10:15 PM
    All of your brainwashed Democrats, Lavon in particular, watch this video and see who covered up the pending housing crisis back in 2004 when Republicans tried to bring it to light. Democrats caused this with the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which caused the problems we're having now. Their CEO at the time, Frank Raines, was falsifying their records so he could get his bonuses. The Democrats are using their media outlets to slam Republicans when they had a large part in causing this all the while...and that's a fact. BWAHAHAHAHAWWWW!!!!! The video you need to watch is the one entitled Naked Emperor News. It is very enlightening and has actual footage from CSPAN. It even has your beloved Bill Clinton talking about the needed oversight for the companies in a recent interview. Don't cut if off early because you are finally hearing the truth, now. BWAHAHAHAHAWWWW!!!!! http://www.talk2rusty.com/rustytv.html
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