The second debate

Tuesday night’s supposedly “town-hall-style” presidential debate was close enough to a tie to represent a missed opportunity for Republican John McCain to reverse Democrat Barack Obama’s current surge in the polls.

That surge is largely attributable to Democrats’ success in blaming — erroneously — the current financial meltdown on “eight years of failed Republican economic policies” and “excessive deregulation” of the banking industry.

The Arizona Republican came back strongly in the last half hour of the debate, which dealt mostly with foreign policy. His emotional “close,” asking for the opportunity to serve his country one more time, was also stronger than Sen. Obama’s tired call for “fundamental change” after asserting his “credentials” of having been “raised by a single mom” who “once had to apply for food stamps.”

Sen. McCain — more’s the pity — seemed determined to prove himself as much a big-government “meddler” as his opponent, abandoning free-market principles to declare he would order his secretary of the treasury “to buy up all those bad mortgages and renegotiate them” … turning Uncle Sam into presumably the biggest and most generous “landlord” in history.

Cost? Scores of billions.

Somewhere, Robert A. Taft and Barry Goldwater are turning in their graves.

Still, Sen. Obama was not to be outdone in the department of spending promises, vowing to create jobs by “helping state and local governments set up road and bridge projects,” at which point he would move on to “fix the energy system” and “fix the health-care system.”

Cost? Unimaginable.

Sen. Obama said it’s necessary to spend $150 billion over 10 years to develop alternative energy technologies, contending that’s “the same way the computer was invented by a bunch of government scientists who were looking for a better way to communicate.”

What? Government scientists may have invented the rudimentary bombsight and torpedo tracking mechanical “computers” of World War II, but it was free enterprise — a hundred guys working in their garages — that gave us the laptop computer and Silicon Valley as we know it. Which government agency was it, precisely, that invented the “mouse”?

Neither candidate would answer a simple question about whether “health care is a commodity.” Of course it is. Doctors sell their services; drug firms sell their medicines; someone has to pay for that. Sen. Obama replied that “health care is a right” — a doctrine that can eventually lead only to a bureaucrat holding a gun to a doctor’s head and requiring him to treat a patient for free.

Sen. McCain did not loudly refute that dangerous collectivist doctrine, though he did get his Democratic opponent to admit he would require parents to provide their children with health insurance coverage or else pay a fine.

No one but an idiot believes we will see anything but a vastly larger and more expensive federal government under either of these two candidates, though Sen. Obama’s spending priorities are certainly the most jaw-dropping, as he vows to nationalize the health industry and pour $150 billion in tax subsidies into developing alternative energy sources that can’t make it in the free market.

In normal times, America would not seriously consider placing in the White House a dreamy-eyed big-spending liberal with only two years experience at the national level and no experience in foreign policy, no experience meeting a payroll at a hot-dog stand, no experience in the military.

But these are not normal times.

John McCain held his own Tuesday night. But to launch an October surge, he needed to do more than that.

This race is still Barack Obama’s to lose.

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