The audience at the second presidential debate/town hall meeting was, supposedly, made up of "undecided" voters. Anyone who is undecided less than a month before the election hasn't been paying attention and ought to be disqualified from voting at all. The questions were terrible, the answers worse.
Why were there no questions about the Supreme Court, abortion, or immigration; three extremely hot topics? There was nothing about Barack Obama's leftist friends, like William Ayers. Was Tom Brokaw trying to protect Obama on these important issues and associations?
Listening to the questions (and the answers) was like watching TV poker. A questioner made a bid on, say, the mortgage crisis or health care. What will the candidates do for me? Obama would make a bet that his proposal was best and McCain would raise him. Inexplicably, McCain called for a reduction in federal spending as one way to begin fixing the spiraling economy, while he simultaneously proposed $300 billion in new spending to bail people out of mortgages they cannot afford. Do we need "real estate agent" added to the growing list of things government does not do well?
In none of the questions from the "undecideds" (or answers from the candidates) was there a suggestion that people should do more for themselves and be encouraged and rewarded (lower taxes?) for making right decisions. In none of the answers was there a challenge for Americans to rise above their circumstances and rebuild what might have gone wrong in their own lives. We left accountability and personal responsibility at Oprah's altar long ago. There is no better example of our entitlement mentality than on an Oprah show a few years ago when she gave cars to women who needed them, only to have some of the recipients complain that they had to pay a tax on the vehicle. They thought Oprah (or General Motors) should have paid the tax on their free car.
To ask people to take charge of their own lives is now deemed "insensitive" and "uncaring." The government is your keeper, you shall not want.
Did anyone detect a hint of optimism in anything the candidates said? Why didn't McCain, especially, list the number of economic downturns and recessions that America has overcome? Why didn't he mention the sharp drop in the stock market after 9/11 and note how it came roaring back? It was the same with the savings and loan debacle in the late '70s and early '80s. This is America. We always come back. If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere; shining city on a hill; bootstraps; we shall overcome. Rather than wallow in misery (and those who lived through the Great Depression would have gladly swapped places with us if they'd had a time machine), modern politicians too often indulge the indolent and self-absorbed.
McCain missed a grand opportunity to call Obama's tax-and-spend plans "voodoo economics" (or would someone call that "racist," as House Banking Committee Chairman Barney Frank has called those who questioned Fannie Mae's loans to minorities whose income and credit worthiness would have disqualified them for loans in more fiscally responsible times?).
Why didn't McCain challenge Obama's promise to cut taxes for the middle class? As Jack Kemp and Peter Ferrara wrote in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, 20 percent of the middle class pay only 4.4 percent of all federal income taxes, while the bottom 40 percent of earners pay no taxes at all. To say that only "the rich" should pay more and that those who pay little or no taxes should get a check to make things "fair" is George McGovern redistributionism, even socialism. That economic model was soundly rejected in 1972 and in subsequent elections. McCain should propose ways to allow more people to become rich. We should reject Obama's plan to penalize those who have worked hard to become well off. That's real fairness.
Individual initiative, risk-taking, an entrepreneurial spirit and optimism are what built and have sustained America through many challenges over the last 232 years. Government can't produce those qualities in any of us. We must produce and renew them in ourselves. Maybe we'll hear some of that in the third and final debate, but with both candidates largely repeating what we've heard before, I'm not looking for vision, or soaring and substantive rhetoric.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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