Our view: Tell us why we should vote for you

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama spent the first 40 minutes of Friday’s presidential debate discussing the nation’s financial crisis – the worst in U.S. history since the Great Depression.

Moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS’s “NewsHour” immediately reassured audiences that the event, advertised as dealing with “foreign policy and national security” would, by definition, include the global financial crisis, something that has been on everyone’s mind for the past few weeks.

Obama pretty much stated the obvious when he said viewers, especially college students, are wondering how the financial crisis is going to affect them.

“How’s it going to affect my job? How’s it going to affect my house? How’s it going to affect my retirement savings or my ability to send my children to college?” Obama asked.

Obama also did a good job of outlining the priorities to keep America going, combat future crises like this and keep us safe in the global community. He had a few more specific points than McCain about dealing with the crisis, such as providing more oversight and helping homeowners, but neither candidate gave much detail. Both expressed support for Congress’ financial package.

The candidates did not engage each other, even though they were often prodded to do so by Lehrer. At one point, he admonished Obama to speak directly to McCain.

We think this does voters a disservice. This is one of the few chances the candidates have to publicly meet and yet they stuck to what appeared to be scripted answers. This is ironic considering McCain was so obsessed with getting Obama to accompany him at town hall meetings with unscripted questions from voters, which Obama did not agree to do.

For example, when asked what he would give up after the financial crisis, Obama focused on describing things that need to be done, such as investing in science and technology and fixing health care. It was moments like this that made it seem like the candidates were relying on oft-repeated platforms.

Many people decide based on what they see at the debates, and yet both also spoke over voters’ heads. McCain focused on cutting government spending and described earmarks, funds for specific projects, as a “gateway drug” to out-of-control spending and corruption.

McCain suggested freezing government spending on everything but veteran’s affairs, defense and entitlement programs. This is probably a hard sell with most college students.

The candidates also bickered over Iraq, Iran, Russia and North Korea – all important issues, but difficult to put in terms average voters will understand. Their positions needed to be stated, but with the economy and other domestic issues dominating the debate, foreign affairs probably won’t decide the winner of the election.

We hope the candidates will better engage each other and the voters in future debates.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.