It wasn’t exactly one of those cool debate watching parties (ugh), but our Mystery Debate Theater team once again convened via e-mail – due to poor planning and split baseball allegiances – to provide you with the nation’s very best debate commentary this side of David Gergen and Pat Buchanan.
The lineup: stalwarts Tim Willette and Steve Rhodes; rookies Julia Gray and Jake Siska; and a special brief appearance by a pal we inadvertently learned was watching the Cubs game instead.
As always, this transcript has been edited for length, clarity and comedy.
STEVE [watching CNN]: Is that a people dial at the bottom of the screen or John McCain’s EKG?
GWEN IFILL: The House of Representatives this week passed a bill, a big bailout bill - or didn’t pass it, I should say. The Senate decided to pass it, and the House is wrestling with it still tonight.
As America watches these things happen on Capitol Hill, Senator Biden, was this the worst of Washington or the best of Washington that we saw play out?
BIDEN: I think it’s neither the best or worst of Washington, but it’s evidence of the fact that the economic policies of the last eight years have been the worst economic policies we’ve ever had. As a consequence, you’ve seen what’s happened on Wall Street.
So the Congress has been put - Democrats and Republicans have been put in a very difficult spot. But Barack Obama laid out four basic criteria for any kind of rescue plan here.
STEVE: The first is to use the word “rescue” instead of “bailout.”
IFILL: Governor Palin?
PALIN: You know, I think a good barometer here, as we try to figure out has this been a good time or a bad time in America’s economy, is go to a kid’s soccer game on Saturday, and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, “How are you feeling about the economy?”
And I’ll bet you, you’re going to hear some fear in that parent’s voice,
JULIA: She got spiffy highlights so she can look debate-a-licious!
STEVE: And Joe Biden is wearing his hair plugs up tonight so people will take him more seriously.
BIDEN: Well, you know, until two weeks ago - it was two Mondays ago John McCain said at 9 o’clock in the morning that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Eleven o’clock that same day, two Mondays ago, John McCain said that we have an economic crisis.
STEVE: It was true if you were tracking Budweiser stock.
PALIN: John McCain, in referring to the fundamental of our economy being strong, he was talking to and he was talking about the American workforce.
JAKE: What American workforce?
STEVE: The one telecommuting from India and China.
IFILL: The next question is . . .
STEVE: About my new book.
IFILL: . . . to talk about the subprime lending meltdown.
Who do you think was at fault? Was it the greedy lenders? Was it the risky home-buyers who shouldn’t have been buying a home in the first place? And what should you be doing about it?
PALIN: Darn right it was the predator lenders.
STEVE: I love the whole Marge Gunderson thing.
PALIN: One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let’s commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars. We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings and we need also to not get ourselves in debt. Let’s do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card. Don’t live outside of our means. We need to make sure that as individuals we’re taking personal responsibility through all of this. It’s not the American peoples fault that the economy is hurting like it is, but we have an opportunity to learn a heck of a lot of good lessons through this and say never again will we be taken advantage of.
BIDEN: Well Gwen, two years ago Barack Obama warned about the subprime mortgage crisis.
STEVE: Tony Rezko tipped him off.
BIDEN: John McCain, while Barack Obama was warning about what we had to do, was literally giving an interview to The Wall Street Journal saying that I’m always for cutting regulations.
TIM: “Literally.” Take a drink!
IFILL: Governor, please if you want to respond to what he said about Senator McCain’s comments about health care?
PALIN: I would like to respond about the tax increases. We can speak in agreement here that darn right we need tax relief for Americans so that jobs can be created here. Now, Barack Obama and Senator Biden also voted for the largest tax increases in U.S. history. Barack had 94 opportunities to side on the people’s side and reduce taxes and 94 times he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction, 94 times.
Barack Obama even supported increasing taxes as late as last year for those families making only $42,000 a year.
BIDEN: The charge is absolutely not true. Barack Obama did not vote to raise taxes. The vote she’s referring to, John McCain voted the exact same way. It was a budget procedural vote. John McCain voted the same way. It did not raise taxes.
PALIN: I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also. As mayor, every year I was in office I did reduce taxes. I eliminated personal property taxes and eliminated small business inventory taxes and as governor we suspended our state fuel tax. We did all of those things knowing that that is how our economy would be heated up. Now, as for John McCain’s adherence to rules and regulations and pushing for even harder and tougher regulations, that is another thing that he is known for though. Look at the tobacco industry. Look at campaign finance reform.
STEVE: Let’s go to the fact-check. From the New York Times:
“Mr. Obama voted twice this year in favor of a budget resolution that would have allowed the tax cuts that President Bush pushed through Congress in 2001 and 2003 to expire at the end of 2010, as the original law mandated. But that, by the definition of the Congressional Budget Office and other tax experts, does not constitute a tax increase.
“The resolution, if not accompanied by other tax changes, envisages an increase in taxes for an individual earning $42,000 a year who has no dependents and owns no real estate. But it would not apply to a family. Indeed, estimates are that a family of four making as much as $90,000 would not see a tax increase.”
IFILL: Senator Biden, you proposed raising taxes on people who earn over $250,000 a year. Why is that not class warfare?
BIDEN: Well Gwen, where I come from, it’s called fairness.
PALIN: I do take issue with that redistribution of wealth principle that seems to be espoused by you.
Now you said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that’s not patriotic. Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you’re not always the solution. In fact, too often you’re the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper. An increased tax formula that Barack Obama is proposing in addition to nearly a trillion dollars in new spending that he’s proposing is the backwards way of trying to grow our economy.
STEVE: Biden looks like he wants to put her through a wood-chipper.
IFILL: Governor, are you interested in defending Senator McCain’s health care plan?
PALIN: I am because he’s got a good health care plan that is detailed. And I want to give you a couple details on that. He’s proposing a $5,000 tax credit for families so that they can get out there and they can purchase their own health care coverage. That’s a smart thing to do. That’s budget neutral. That doesn’t cost the government anything as opposed to Barack Obama’s plan to mandate health care coverage and have universal government run program and unless you’re pleased with the way the federal government has been running anything lately, I don’t think that it’s going to be real pleasing for Americans to consider health care being taken over by the feds. But a $5,000 health care credit through our income tax that’s budget neutral. That’s going to help. And he also wants to erase those artificial lines between states so that through competition, we can cross state lines and if there’s a better plan offered somewhere else, we would be able to purchase that. So affordability and accessibility will be the keys there with that $5,000 tax credit also being offered.
JAKE: And then Americans can use the money to go to Canada and get care there.
BIDEN: Gwen, I don’t know where to start. We don’t call a redistribution in my neighborhood Scranton, Claymont, Wilmington, the places I grew up, to give the fair to say that not giving Exxon Mobil another $4 billion tax cut this year as John calls for and giving it to middle class people to be able to pay to get their kids to college, we don’t call that redistribution.
STEVE: Fact-check, please, because this figure will be repeated many times tonight. From Factcheck.org:
“The ad’s claim that ‘McCain wants to give [oil companies] another $4 billion in tax breaks’ is also somewhat misleading. McCain is not proposing any special tax breaks for the oil industry. What he’s proposing is a reduction in the corporate income tax rate for all companies. The $4 billion figure that Obama and many Democrats have constantly repeated recently is their estimate of the amount by which oil company taxes would be reduced should this proposal be enacted without any additional offsets, such as closing of existing preferences or ‘loopholes’.”
BIDEN: Now, with regard to the health care plan, you know, it’s with one hand you giveth, the other you take itDo you know how John McCain pays for his $5,000 tax credit you’re going to get, a family will get?
STEVE: Yes, but we’re sure you’ll tell us anyway.
BIDEN: He taxes as income every one of you out there, every one of you listening who has a health care plan through your employer. That’s how he raises $3.6 trillion - taxing your health care benefit to give you a $5,000 plan, which his Web site points out will go straight to the insurance company.
And then you’re going to have to replace a $12,000 - that’s the average cost of the plan you get through your employer - $12,000 plan, because 20 million of you are going to be dropped.
So you’re going to have to replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you just give to the insurance company. I call that the “Ultimate Bridge to Nowhere.”
STEVE: And Biden Bingo players everywhere take a drink.
PALIN: I want to go back to the energy plan, though, because this an important one that Barack Obama, he voted for in ‘05.
Senator Biden, you would remember that, in that energy plan that Obama voted for, that’s what gave those oil companies those big tax breaks. Your running mate voted for that.
You know what I had to do in the state of Alaska? I had to take on those oil companies and tell them, “No,” you know, any of the greed there that has been kind of instrumental, I guess, in their mode of operation, that wasn’t going to happen in my state.
And that’s why Tillerson at Exxon and Mulva at ConocoPhillips, bless their hearts, they’re doing what they need to do, as corporate CEOs, but they’re not my biggest fans.
JULIA: In fact, she put them on eBay.
IFILL: So, Governor, as vice president, there’s nothing that you have promised as a candidate that you would take off the table because of this financial crisis we’re in?
PALIN: There is not. And how long have I been at this, like five weeks? So there hasn’t been a whole lot that I’ve promised.
STEVE: On the other hand, my running mate is screwed!
IFILL: Last year, Congress passed a bill that would make it more difficult for debt-strapped mortgage-holders to declare bankruptcy, to get out from under that debt. This is something that John McCain supported. Would you have?
PALIN: Yes, I would have. But here, again, there have been so many changes in the conditions of our economy in just even these past weeks that there has been more and more revelation made aware now to Americans about the corruption and the greed on Wall Street.
We need to look back, even two years ago, and we need to be appreciative of John McCain’s call for reform with Fannie Mae, with Freddie Mac, with the mortgage-lenders, too, who were starting to really kind of rear that head of abuse.
It is a crisis. It’s a toxic mess, really, on Main Street that’s affecting Wall Street.
TIM: We propose tearing up Wall Street and drilling for oil there. It’s a toxic mess.
IFILL: Senator Biden, you voted for this bankruptcy bill. Senator Obama voted against it. Some people have said that mortgage- holders really paid the price.
STEVE: They’re just a bunch of whiners.
BIDEN: Well, mortgage-holders didn’t pay the price. Only 10 percent of the people who have been affected by this whole switch from Chapter 7 to Chapter 13 . . .
STEVE: So only 10 percent paid the price?
BIDEN: . . . it gets complicated.
STEVE: I didn’t even understand it, but the MBNA lobbyists assured me it was the right thing to do.
BIDEN: But here’s the deal. Barack Obama pointed out two years ago that there was a subprime mortgage crisis and wrote to the Secretary of Treasury.
STEVE: He didn’t send an e-mail? It’s a lot faster.
PALIN: I want to talk about, again, my record on energy versus your ticket’s energy ticket, also.
I think that this is important to come back to, with that energy policy plan again that was voted for in ‘05.
When we talk about energy, we have to consider the need to do all that we can to allow this nation to become energy independent.
It’s a nonsensical position that we are in when we have domestic supplies of energy all over this great land. And East Coast politicians who don’t allow energy-producing states like Alaska to produce these, to tap into them, and instead we’re relying on foreign countries to produce for us.
TIM: Once we get off energy, I fear . . . trouble.
STEVE: Yes, that actually is here expertise. That and the four-on-three power play.
IFILL: Let’s talk about climate change. What is true and what is false about what we have heard, read, discussed, debated about the causes of climate change?
PALIN: Yes. Well, as the nation’s only Arctic state and being the governor of that state, Alaska feels and sees impacts of climate change more so than any other state. And we know that it’s real.
I’m not one to attribute every activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man’s activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet.
JULIA: What does she know about cyclical climate change over millions of years? To her, the Earth was created 5,000 years ago.
PALIN: But there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don’t want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?
As governor, I was the first governor to form a climate change sub-cabinet to start dealing with the impacts. We’ve got to reduce emissions. John McCain is right there with an “all of the above” approach to deal with climate change impacts.
STEVE: Wasn’t the “all of the above” approach why he did so poorly at the Naval Academy?
BIDEN: Well, I think it’s clearly man-made. And if you don’t understand what the cause is, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a solution. We know what the cause is.
STEVE: The solution: Kill man.
BIDEN: John McCain has voted 20 times against funding alternative energy sources and thinks, I guess, the only answer is drill, drill, drill.
STEVE: I think that’s T. Boone Pickens. But he also says that misses the point. You can look up his plan on the Internet.
PALIN: Barack Obama and Senator Biden, you’ve said no to everything in trying to find a domestic solution to the energy crisis that we’re in. You even called drilling - safe, environmentally-friendly drilling offshore as raping the outer continental shelf.
JULIA: I wonder if that shelf will have any options should it get into “trouble.”
IFILL: Do you support gay marriage?
BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.
STEVE: Does that leave the door open for gay atheists?
IFILL: You both have sons who are in Iraq or on their way to Iraq. You, Governor Palin, have said that you would like to see a real clear plan for an exit strategy. What should that be, Governor?
PALIN: I am very thankful that we do have a good plan and the surge and the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that has proven to work, I am thankful that that is part of the plan implemented under a great American hero, General Petraeus, and pushed hard by another great American, Senator John McCain.
I know that the other ticket opposed this surge, in fact, even opposed funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Barack Obama voted against funding troops there after promising that he would not do so.
And Senator Biden, I respected you when you called him out on that. You said that his vote was political and you said it would cost lives. And Barack Obama at first said he would not do that. He turned around under political pressure and he voted against funding the troops. We do have a plan for withdrawal. We don’t need early withdrawal out of Iraq. We cannot afford to lose there or we’re going to be no better off in the war in Afghanistan either. We have got to win in Iraq.
And with the surge that has worked we’re now down to presurge numbers in Iraq. That’s where we can be. We can start putting more troops in Afghanistan as we also work with our NATO allies who are there strengthening us and we need to grow our military. We cannot afford to lose against al Qaeda and the Shia extremists who are still there, still fighting us, but we’re getting closer and closer to victory. And it would be a travesty if we quit now in Iraq.
BIDEN: Gwen, with all due respect, I didn’t hear a plan.
STEVE: I did – it’s to b.s. our way out!
BIDEN: Barack Obama offered a clear plan. Shift responsibility to Iraqis over the next 16 months. Draw down our combat troops. Ironically the same plan that Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq and George Bush are now negotiating. The only odd man out here, only one left out is John McCain, number one. Number two, with regard to Barack Obama not quote funding the troops . . .
TIM: I’m paraphrasing, I’m not quoting without attribution here!
BIDEN: . . . John McCain voted the exact same way. John McCain voted against funding the troops because of an amendment he voted against had a timeline in it to draw down American troops. And John said I’m not going to fund the troops if in fact there’s a time line. Barack Obama and I agree fully and completely on one thing. You’ve got to have a time line to draw down the troops and shift responsibility to the Iraqis.
We’re spending $10 billion a month while Iraqis have an $80 billion surplus. Barack says it’s time for them to spend their own money and have the 400,000 military we trained for them begin to take their own responsibility and gradually over 16 months, withdrawal. John McCain - this is a fundamental difference between us, we’ll end this war. For John McCain, there’s no end in sight to end this war, fundamental difference. We will end this war.
PALIN: Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that’s for sure. And it’s not what our nation needs to be able to count on. You guys opposed the surge. The surge worked. Barack Obama still can’t admit the surge works.
We’ll know when we’re finished in Iraq when the Iraqi government can govern its people and when the Iraqi security forces can secure its people. And our commanders on the ground will tell us when those conditions have been met. And Maliki and Talabani also in working with us are knowing again that we are getting closer and closer to that point, that victory that’s within sight.
Now, you said regarding Senator McCain’s military policies there, Senator Biden, that you supported a lot of these things. In fact, you said in fact that you wanted to run, you’d be honored to run with him on the ticket. That’s an indication I think of some of the support that you had at least until you became the VP pick here.
You also said that Barack Obama was not ready to be commander in chief. And I know again that you opposed the move he made to try to cut off funding for the troops and I respect you for that. I don’t know how you can defend that position now but I know that you know especially with your son in the National Guard and I have great respect for your family also and the honor that you show our military. Barack Obama though, another story there. Anyone I think who can cut off funding for the troops after promising not to is another story.
BIDEN: John McCain voted to cut off funding for the troops. Let me say that again. John McCain voted against an amendment containing $1 billion, $600 million that I had gotten to get MRAPS, those things that are protecting the governor’s son and pray god my son and a lot of other sons and daughters.
He voted against it. He voted against funding because he said the amendment had a time line in it to end this war. He didn’t like that. But let’s get straight who has been right and wrong. John McCain and Dick Cheney said while I was saying we would not be greeted as liberators, we would not - this war would take a decade and not a day, not a week and not six months, we would not be out of there quickly. John McCain was saying the Sunnis and Shias got along with each other without reading the history of the last 700 years. John McCain said there would be enough oil to pay for this. John McCain has been dead wrong. I love him. As my mother would say, god love him, but he’s been dead wrong on the fundamental issues relating to the conduct of the war. Barack Obama has been right. There are the facts.
IFILL: Secretaries of state Baker, Kissinger, Powell, they have all advocated some level of engagement with enemies. Do you think these former secretaries of state are wrong on that?
PALIN: No, diplomacy is very important. First and foremost, that is what we would engage in. But diplomacy is hard work by serious people. It’s lining out clear objectives and having your friends and your allies ready to back you up there and have sanctions lined up before any kind of presidential summit would take place.
BIDEN: Can I clarify this? This is simply not true about Barack Obama. He did not say sit down with Ahmadinejad.
STEVE: Yes he did.
PALIN: I’d like to just really quickly mention there, too, that when you look back and you say that the Bush administration’s policy on Afghanistan perhaps would be the same as McCain, and that’s not accurate.
The surge principles, not the exact strategy, but the surge principles that have worked in Iraq need to be implemented in Afghanistan, also. And that, perhaps, would be a difference with the Bush administration.
Now, Barack Obama had said that all we’re doing in Afghanistan is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause.
That’s not what we’re doing there. We’re fighting terrorists, and we’re securing democracy, and we’re building schools for children.
STEVE: So they’ll desks to hide under when we air raid their villages.
BIDEN: The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge - the surge principles used in Iraq will not - well, let me say this again now - our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan.
He said we need more troops.
STEVE: Um, anybody else see the problem here?
PALIN: Oh, yeah, it’s so obvious I’m a Washington outsider. And someone just not used to the way you guys operate. Because here you voted for the war and now you oppose the war. You’re one who says, as so many politicians do, I was for it before I was against it or vice- versa. Americans are craving that straight talk and just want to know, hey, if you voted for it, tell us why you voted for it and it was a war resolution.
And you had supported John McCain’s military strategies pretty adamantly until this race and you had opposed very adamantly Barack Obama’s military strategy, including cutting off funding for the troops that attempt all through the primary.
And I watched those debates, so I remember what those were all about.
BIDEN: I never supported John McCain’s strategy on the war
PALIN: I beg to disagree with you, again, here on whether you supported Barack Obama or John McCain’s strategies. Here again, you can say what you want to say a month out before people are asked to vote on this, but we listened to the debates.
I think tomorrow morning, the pundits are going to start do the who said what at what time and we’ll have proof of some of this.
STEVE: Huh, no sign of it here.
BIDEN: And so that - that - that . . .
STEVE: That’s all, folks.
* Mystery Presidential Debate Theater #1