Debate, round two

The inherent question the mainstream media and indeed the candidates themselves posited before TuesdayâÄôs presidential debate âÄî the second of three âÄî was whether the White House would be won through honest debate or misleading and at times utterly untruthful attacks. John McCainâÄôs campaign in the days preceding the debate made clear its method in winning what is arguably one the most significant elections in decades would go negative, as McCain and running-mate Sara Palin attempted to link Barack Obama to 1960s Weather Underground founder William Ayers and meanwhile misleading voters on his record. But âÄî perhaps due to sound moderation by Tom Brokaw and the town-hall setting âÄî candidates sparred over issues and recordâÄî with no certain victor. The candidates, peppered with specific questions about the economy, provided more specific answers perhaps than ever before. One of the most apparent contrasts was health care reform. Brokaw asked whether health care is a privilege, right or responsibility. McCain said it was a responsibility while Obama said it was every AmericanâÄôs right, and both delved into their respective plans, which largely contrast by party lines. McCain, moreover, surprisingly proposed to buy bad mortgages âÄîperhaps a politically expedient sound bite âÄî while Obama rightly attacked McCain on his record of deregulation. If there was any point in the debate where McCain faltered, it was on the economy, as he fell back on his apparent maverick appeal, deterring him from going into specifics. Indeed, in true nonconformity, McCain once again argued for a âÄúspending freeze,âÄù except on defense, veteranâÄôs affairs and âÄúother important programs.âÄù Meanwhile, Obama, perhaps wanting to look strong on national defense, argued again to go after Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan if the country wasnâÄôt willing. McCain, for a Republican, offered himself as a calm leader in times of crisis, arguing against crossing into Pakistan. Most significantly, however, the candidates broke the prevailing story-line leading up to the debate that they would go negative. We urge them to remain as civil throughout the campaign.