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October 16th, 2008
10:16 AM ET

Round Three

Joe Klein
Time.com

"This really gets down to the fundamental difference in our philosophies," John McCain said, quite accurately, in the heat of the third presidential debate. "If you notice ... Senator Obama wants government to do the job. He wants government to do the job. I want you, Joe, to do the job," referring to a plumber Barack Obama had met on the campaign trail.

The job, in this case, was finding health insurance. And in years past, McCain would have had the better of this argument — it is the classic division between liberals and conservatives. But 2008 has proved to be a new and frightening moment for the American electorate, and having the government help in finding, and funding, health care doesn't sound like such a bad idea anymore.

McCain had a feisty debate, with some high points and a bit too much anger to make Americans feel very comfortable in his presence, but to a very great extent, his fate — like this election — was out of his control. This is simply not a good year to say, "Joe, take care of your health care yourself." It seems an impossible year for McCain's Reagan Republican philosophy.

McCain entered the third debate with Obama a chastened man. Half the Republican savants seemed to have given up on him; the other half were offering bad advice. Worse, he seemed to have realized — finally — the permanent threat to his reputation that his campaign had become. The moment of truth may have occurred at an Oct. 6 rally. "Who is the real Barack Obama?" McCain asked. "A terrorist!" a man bellowed. McCain seemed to wince, roll his eyes, retreat.

He didn't admonish the man, but the incident was unsettling, and several days later, at a town-hall meeting in Minnesota, he did begin to push back against the ugliness of his crowds. A woman said, "I can't trust Obama. He's an Arab," and McCain replied, "No, ma'am. No, ma'am, he's not. He's a decent family man — citizen — that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues."

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Joe Klein • John McCain • Raw Politics
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Judy

    It is amazing to read the comments, not only are we missing the point but we are talking as if Obama has already won the election. I am a middle class household and both my husband and I work. We can not afford more taxes, when you see what food, gas, and utilities have been raised in the past 2 years this will only hurt us "Joes" out there trying the best that we can to make it. I think that we have two evils to pick from and at least with McCain its the less of two evils. Sad to see America wanting to hurt the middle class. I really hope that people look at the big picture and see that it was not Bush who made these changes it was in fact a Demorcrative Congress. Sad place to live when no one can accept the facts. I am not proud anymore that our country really thinks that NObama is going to help us. He will only put me in the poor house.

    October 16, 2008 at 4:29 pm |
  2. Dyrell-West Palm Beach, FL

    Why wasn't John McCain wearing a flag pin? Should we as question his patriotism? McCain sure did in reference to Obama not wearing his.

    October 16, 2008 at 4:09 pm |
  3. JK in Seattle

    About the Taxes:

    I am a business owner with 20 employees and my business makes more than 250k a year. So if I am profiting well after all my employees' pays are paid out (including mine). I do not think that it is going to hurt so much after all. I pay a bit higher taxes, fine.... but think about this... this money goes to the public who are making less... but they in turn would increase their spending and that will increase my business... I think it will work... infact that will be like a lilttle rebate for more business. The economy will flourish. I dont mind doing that. I think I will vote for Obama after I thought about it a lot. I surely think this would be good.

    October 16, 2008 at 4:00 pm |
  4. Dave from Dayton, OH

    Unless I'm missing something, I've noticed a trend over the past three presidential nominee debates that John McCain and his supporters made such a big deal about way back in the primaries...he's not wearing his "I'm proud to be an American so I wear a US flag lapel pin to show it and Barack Obama does not" flag pin. Barack has clearly been wearing his for months.

    Interesting how McCain and his allies decry certain meaningless aspects of the race (like wearing a flag pin to show "patriotism"), then turn around and ignore such details....do as I say, not as I do?

    Just an observation...

    October 16, 2008 at 3:50 pm |
  5. DG

    I don't think it is possible to balance the budget and not raise taxes. Will this money magicly grow on a tree. if you sit down and write 700 billion or 1 trillion those are a lot of 0's. Example: 700,000,000and 1,000,000,000,000. What's the next digit going to be called,
    because the way we are going need it soon.

    October 16, 2008 at 3:50 pm |
  6. Larry

    Hey Joe, no not a ref to a guitar legend. What will the comedians have as material when obama is president; they can't do any obama skits or jokes or they'll be called racist.

    October 16, 2008 at 3:49 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    If Obama is elected as it looks like he will be, I hope he puts the same amount of zeal and organization into being sure government spending stays under control. As much as our deficit is at the moment we don't need for it to go any higher; hopefully, Obama will have the right formula of taxation and spending to do what we need as a country and to cut down on the deficit at the same time. I don't envy him the enormous task ahead.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    October 16, 2008 at 11:16 am |
  8. Sandra Tracy

    McCain was a mess last night! Contradicting, repetitive, and no clear answers from the man. I'm a registered republican and after watching last night's debate my vote is for Obama. He clearly stated what his plans were and didn't get off track...wish i could say the same for sen. McCain.And furthermore McCain who said he has corrected his party for their negativeness against Obama sure tried to bash Obama quite a bit last night either by saying he's a liar and refering to his friendships with a terrorist. What a disappointment McCain was last night!

    October 16, 2008 at 10:45 am |
  9. Sherrie

    Question:

    Tonight on the debate, I think I heard McCain say he wants to return the abortion issue to the states because he is a "federalist". Excuse me, when I studied history in 6th grade a "federalist", including George Washington, to a lesser extent, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, etc., believed in a strong central government because they feared the "masses". They were "Federalists". This was the issue in the election between John Adams & Thomas Jefferson at the beginning of the 19th century. – strong central government vs. states' government, as outlined in the 10th Amendment. Some of the states would not sign the Constitution until the individual & states' rights guarantees were put into place via the Bill of Rights.

    Secondly, we had the second of the these States' Rights fights in 1861-1865 – remember the American Civil War?

    From a quick search I see McCain has used this term before. It is an incorrectly used "buzz" word. Why hasn't anyone called him on that, or have they?

    Does none of the political commentators know any history, or don't they care? Sadly, I believe it to be more of the former.

    Enlighten me please....I'm always ready to learn.

    P.S. This isn't an election question. I'm not voting for either McCain or Obama – writing in my candidate of choice. I like neither of them!

    October 16, 2008 at 10:39 am |
  10. Joanne, Syracuse, NY

    I agree that these are different times...it cannot be politics as usual. Less government is a good thing; but not now, not in these times. Deregulation has gone too far, and jobs have been lost to countries that are not working with us but against us.

    Government's role is to turn the tide.

    It is no wonder Obama came out on top in the final debate.

    October 16, 2008 at 10:36 am |
  11. Cindy

    Give me a break Joe. Your leftist liberal agenda is extremely evident here.

    First of all you obviously have no clue as to what the republicans really are and think. Secondly McCain had Obama tongue tied so much in this debate he was stuttering all over himself. But yeah you left wingers refuse to see that huh!? Third, To say that Obama was head and shoulders above McCain on the issues is absurd! If Joe the Plumber...who is a normal middle class person, thinks Obama's plans aren't good do you think many more will? Come on Joe...get real! By McCain using Joe he really hit it home as to what the middle class has to look forward to if Obama wins...and it won't be pretty!

    And on a side note...if government run health care is so great Joe, then tell me and us all why most Canadians are now fighting to get privatized health care. And where they have privatized health care in Canada 95% of the citizens opt for it! Tell me Joe...why?

    Cindy...Ga.

    October 16, 2008 at 10:34 am |

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