McCain's Questioner Responds

You'll no doubt recall this exchange during Tuesday night's debate.

Oliver Clark: Well, Senators, through this economic crisis, most of the people that I know have had a difficult time. And through this bailout package, I was wondering what it is that's going to actually help those people out.

John McCain: Well, thank you, Oliver, and that's an excellent question, because as you just described it, bailout, when I believe that it's rescue, because -- because of the greed and excess in Washington and Wall Street, Main Street was paying a very heavy price, and we know that.

I left my campaign and suspended it to go back to Washington to make sure that there were additional protections for the taxpayer in the form of good oversight, in the form of taxpayers being the first to be paid back when our economy recovers -- and it will recover -- and a number of other measures.

But you know, one of the real catalysts, really the match that lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I'll bet you, you may never even have heard of them before this crisis. [...]

(Emphasis mine.)

This response marked John McCain's first of several forays into his now patented tone of condescension during the debate (and actually, less remarked is that McCain later called Oliver by the wrong name.) In fact, the rudeness contained within this one line was so memorable that it inspired a wave of questions for Oliver Clark, to which he has now responded on his Facebook page. First Read has it:

How did I feel about Sen. McCain stating "You probably never heard of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before this."

Well Senator, I actually did. I like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent person. I have a bachelor degree in Political Science from Tennessee State, so I try to keep myself up to date with current affairs. I have a Master degree in Legal Studies from Southern Illinois University, a few years in law school, and I am currently pursuing a Master in Public Administration from the University of Memphis. In defense of the Senator from Arizona I would say he is an older guy, and may have made an underestimation of my age. Honest mistake. However, it could be because I am a young African-American male. Whatever the case may be it was somewhat condescending regardless of my age to make an assumption regarding whether I was knowledgeable about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Very charitable, Oliver.

But the tone with which McCain responded to Clark was only part of the problem with McCain's response and, as Joe Klein rightly points out, was simply a microcosm of McCain's larger problem at these debates and why Obama is smoking him in every one.

The difference between them was made clear in the second question of the debate -- a fellow named Oliver Clark wanted to know how the Wall Street bailout would help his friends who were in trouble. McCain's answer was all over the place and obscure in a classic Washington way; he detoured into blaming Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac and pointing his finger at Obama and "his cronies" for supporting those two incomprehensible institutions. Obama, by contrast, brought the bailout home in simple language: "Well, Oliver, first, let me tell you what's in the rescue package for you. Right now, the credit markets are frozen up, and what that means, as a practical matter, is that small businesses and some large businesses just can't get loans. If they can't get a loan, that means that they can't make payroll. If they can't make payroll, then they may end up having to shut their doors and lay people off."

I don't think McCain has answered a single question with that sort of clarity in these debates. He answers with oblique gestures -- raising totems like General Petraeus and Senator Joe Lieberman as proof of his bona fides -- or attacks on targets (like "liberalism") whose relevance has evaporated during the past eight years. Even when it comes to national security, his alleged area of expertise, McCain has difficulty explaining himself. His waffling about whether to cross the border into Pakistan for targeted strikes against al-Qaeda leaders was both foolish and incomprehensible: if the Pakistanis are our allies, as he insisted, why are they protecting the terrorists? Obama, by contrast, answered with simple declarative sentences: "We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al-Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national-security priority."

And think, McCain wanted 12 of these throughout the year. Hell, maybe Obama should have taken him up on it.

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