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Terry Cassel: Oxford Debate
Oxford Town Revisited
The McCain Obama Debate
by Terry Cassel

Bob Dylan in the '60s

"Oxford Town, Oxford Town
Ev'rybody's got their
heads bowed down
The sun don't shine above
the ground
Ain't a-goin' down to
Oxford Town

He went down to
Oxford Town
Guns and clubs followed
him down
All because his face
was brown
Better get away from
Oxford Town"

from "Oxford Town", Bob Dylan

here was substance, there was attitude, there were stark differences of opinion, but both candidates emerged unscathed. The first presidential debate of the 2008 campaign between Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama took place this past Friday evening, September 26, on the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS. As I watched television shots of the surrounding community in the runup to the debate, I recalled a childhood visit to the school.

Growing up in the Sixties in northern Florida, I had opportunities to travel to many of the college campuses in the Deep South, and "Ole Miss" was certainly one of the most beautiful. The grounds were covered in lush green grass and punctuated with stately structures built originally in the middle of the 19th century. The common areas were thick with loblolly pines and magnolia trees dripping with Spanish moss. But when I was very young, an event in Oxford spurred my interest in politics, and began my engagement in political activism.

James Meredith, flanked by federal marshals, entering the University of Mississippi, 1962

On September 30, 1962, white rioters killed four bystanders and hundreds were injured in a violent demonstration against the court-ordered integration of the university. James Meredith, a 23-year old black student, was blocked from entering his classroom building by the governor and university officials. When the rioting and mayhem began, the Mississippi Highway Patrol just stood back and watched. President Kennedy quickly ordered U.S. Marshalls to the scene to restore order and mobilized the U.S. Army in case more drastic intervention was needed. Meredith went on to graduate with his degree from Ole Miss, and integration began in earnest throughout the South.

Recently voted one of the top six college towns in America by USA Today, Oxford has come a long way since that day 46 years ago. Before 1962 no black person could walk freely on the Ole Miss campus, and now the nation's first African American candidate for president has been welcomed to debate there.

Oxford, Mississippi

With a population of just 19,000, Oxford is a quintessential small southern college town, and it is a center for the arts in northern Mississippi. Bookstores and art galleries grace the tree-lined streets. Opera, the symphony and live theatre are ever present. But poverty and inequality still trouble most of rural Mississippi.

William Faulkner grew up in Oxford and called it home. Best-selling author John Grisham has a home there and attended the Ole Miss Art Center. The Meredith incident inspired Bob Dylan to write the memorable ballad "Oxford Town" more than 40 years ago.

But in 2008, Oxford has made a new place for itself in history - as host of the season's first presidential debate. Sparring over Iraq and the financial crisis, both Senators stayed close to their campaign rhetoric. As issues emerged, however, their opinions and policy stands became secondary to their physical presence on the stage. Each appeared ready to be president, but each presented the starkly different personalities they would bring to the job.

This was our third opportunity to see McCain and Obama in the harsh light of serious presidential consideration. The first was dissecting their decision-making processes and rationales for picking their running mates, and the actual selections of Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. The second was in their divergent responses to the economic crisis as it intensified in the days leading up to the debate. In the shadow of what might be the greatest financial crisis ever to strike at America's heart, McCain's behavior was generally considered erratic, while Obama was thought of as more cautious. And in Mississippi we saw their characters as they might perform on the world stage.

McCain and Obama at the Oxford debate

McCain was expected to be on steadier substantive ground with regard to the debate's thematic focus, foreign policy, and Obama was perceived to be the better orator. After a difficult week, and trailing in the polls, McCain had to restore confidence that he could maintain equilibrium in a crisis. McCain proved to be resolute and determined, and Obama showed he was smart and unflappable. But while they traded points on substance, they clashed more deeply on style.

Despite months of discussion of race and gender in this historic election, the real contest now seems to be one of generational divide. McCain, at 72 would be the oldest man ever elected to a first term. Obama is one of the youngest ever, at 47, to win a party's nomination. On the stage, a decisive, tough, cranky John McCain contrasted sharply with a thoughtful, graceful, polished Barack Obama. At times it seemed McCain was playing the role of aging patriarch of a powerful family, unwilling to let go of the reigns of control, and Obama playing the eldest son, feeling ready and eager to take charge and to take the family in a new direction.

Emotionally, McCain continually condescended to Obama, saying he "doesn't understand", calling him "naive", even "dangerous". Obama, despite the fact McCain refused to face or address him directly, looked at and spoke to McCain, often crediting McCain on issues. McCain, grumpy and grimacing, and Obama, smiling and engaging, are probably the reason a majority of people polled over the 48 hours following the conclusion of the debate felt McCain was "mean" and that Obama "won" the debate. It was a visceral reaction, not based on what the men said but more on how they said it.

Neither candidate committed a gaffe, and neither delivered a knockout punch. It showed that John McCain has a better than expected grasp of economic conditions that threaten America and that Barack Obama has the capacity to lead and be Commander-in-Chief. But this encounter was just the beginning, the opening round of three such meetings between these two candidates. There is much more to come, including a much-anticipated clash between vice presidential candidates.


Terry's Feedback

Feedback on "Campaign Pain: 2016"

The worst about both contenders has not yet come forth. Perhaps a Mexican standoff behind the scenes.

I think the best scenario is a rapid transition to Prez Kaine, with the Democrats sufficiently chastened to try and locate their roots.

Worst case, four years of embarrassment by whomever wins, but that might allow the reformers in the Democratic Party to have a chance to take it back from the bankers. And if it's Trumpville, there's a lot of powerful people in the shadow government who keep Trump in the road. I suspect Pence will be running much of the show.

If this choice isn't a wakeup call to the country, then what can be said. Will the Canadians build a wall?

When the kings stopped the Popes from being able to pass inherited wealth to their children, it was because they knew something of how dynasties accumulate power and wealth.

On the other hand….

– Keith, Washington DC

* * * *

I've been following this stuff with escalating concern. I'm convinced that Trump is a fascist, pure and simple. And now we're at that familiar place where people in the establishment – politicians, law enforcement officers, military people, businessmen – see the fascist succeeding, so they're jumping on board and jettisoning democratic principles, which they probably never believed in in the first place. But now someone is giving them permission to publicly embrace autocracy. Scary.

– Bill M., San Diego, CA

* * * *

I understand and share Terry's frustrations, but Terry might take note of WikiLeaks revelations of the name-calling against Bernie and the distortions of his positions so carefully calculated by the Clinton campaign and coordinated with the DNC.

Without which, Bernie might be mopping the floor with Trump right now, with no lurking devices requiring bleach and hammers.

Never mind revelations of off-record parties with key media figures the Clinton camp aimed to have convey their negative images of Bernie. For a great example of how loud the media drumbeat was, read Thomas Frank's Swat Team in Harper's, on the WaPo treatment.

And, in other revelations, as they contemplated how to knife Bernie's reputation, the Clinton camp was figuring how to elevate Trump to be the nominee as an easy opponent.

So, regarding the campaign ugly Terry describes so well, how much credit do we award and where?

Going around, coming around.

Ah, well. The curse of interesting times.

All hail President Kaine.

– Tony, Pittsburgh, PA

* * * *

Thanks for this issue. political stuff? "...racist and misogynistic fury from the right."

Thankfully, though, it will be sort of over soon, for better or worse.

– Chris, Boise, ID

* * * *

Thanks, Terry, for your take. As you know for a long time I've been keeping one eye on the financial markets expecting a bigger disaster than 2007-2008. I've avoided following this presidential campaign for the many reasons we have communicated to each other over the years. However, these new email revelations coming from both Wikileaks and the FBI I believe will have a serious impact on this election and the financial markets.

As you know, all our debt is held by foreign countries. These countries hold trillions of dollars. If, for some reason, they lose confidence in our country they could sell all those dollars which will come back to our country and cause massive inflation.

If HRC loses at this point and Trump wins, I believe that could be a major enough event to trigger a loss of confidence in the financial markets and the selloff of the dollar. Once everyone's pocketbook is effected in this country, they will want to know how in the hell this happened and maybe then we can seriously change the corrupt, fraudulent system that has been foisted upon us.

– John Packer, Madison, WI

* * * *

Yes, this financial crisis you describe is a very real possibility. I think terrorism and climate change, already terribly affecting many millions of people worldwide, could have a powerful impact here as well. Frankly, I'm concerned that a mix of all of these is possible.

Regarding Trump, I agree with you. A disaster waiting to happen. This would speed up the clock on my estimated "generational" move toward change. Loss of confidence in the U.S by those who hold our debt could be swift. We've survived events like this albeit on a relatively smaller scale. My concern is the "perfect storm" of financial crisis, global environmental disaster and terrorists or rogue regimes with loose nukes.

You're right. As soon as all of us are affected, the out-of-the-loop wealthy as well as the struggling middle class and the very poor, heads may roll. A Hillary presidency only delays the inevitable.

– Terry

This could be the perfect storm.

However, when you talk about terrorists getting their hands on nukes, from my research that would be a planned event by the same international financial elite fascists that have been corrupting and controlling our government since the end of WWII. They would stage and use such an event to assert more control over a frightened population.

In order to make real change, we all have to see through the false propaganda they have smothered us with for the last seventy years. Please check out Operation Gladio and Operation Northwoods.

I know it's hard to believe humans could be so inhuman. But, unfortunately, history makes it very believable.

– John Packer, Madison, WI

Feedback on "The Sanders/Trump Outsider Phenomenon"

Hi Terry,

Good piece, plenty of unavoidable conundrums everyone will have a crack at sorting, if they can avoid the temptation to coma.

– Skip

* * * *

Skip,

I do enjoy your stuff. I appreciate your research and analysis as well as your references to other threads of interest. We’re both fans of Matt Taibbi and your style is reminiscent of his.

This thing about Bernie – I wish he could explain himself as well as you do. Reading your piece I’m nodding quietly in agreement (how else can you nod?). I support most of his ideas but I worry about his ability to carry them through. Some weeks back when he was asked how he plans to accomplish his proposals he responded he doesn’t know, he’s too busy running a campaign to think about it, he’ll figure it out once he’s president. Oof.

Well, whatever. Few of us have anything figured out ahead of time so let’s give him some slack.

It’s all down to Us versus Trump. And Trump is having one of his signature weeks. Rather, months. Dysfunction Junction. Ever since he emerged as the last clown sitting in the Republican clown car, each breathless moment in his surreal and self-absorbed campaign has Republicans twisting themselves into bigger and more complex ideological, moral and ethical pretzels. All this as Trump himself becomes more apoplectic, and dyspeptic, and apocalyptic.

Hey, how do we really feel? I hold way back on the flame throwing for TravelingBoy because I’d hate for my rants to bring the villagers storming the gates of my best bud Ed’s castle with pitchforks torches.

Like you, I await the wild ride this summer and fall that is only just beginning.

– Terry

Great article, Terry Cassel. Balanced and articulate. We have until Nov 4 to sift through the glitz and image-making and make a serious choice baaed on the candidates' intelligence, character, experience, and stances on major issues such as the economy, foreign policy, and energy independence. The election will soon be upon us. Let's hope that, between now and then, the debate turns serious.

– Norman, Madison, WI

* * * *

Thank you, Norman, and well said.

Let's also hope the campaigns will show some respect to the voters and stop
the incessant dishonest attacks. This time around, let's not allow the hate
speech and fear-mongering dominate the agenda. Americans are growing weary
of being treated like fools.

– Terry

Terry,

Thanks bro, for another illuminating piece. You never cease to surprise me. Especially appreciated the link to Sarah Palin addressing the Wasalia Assembly of God. May everyone I forward it to watch it beginning to end and draw the same conclusions!

Your Boitano Sister, Citizen of the World

* * * *

Hello Sister,

Thanks for your "worldly" support. I, too, believe there are definite conclusions most folks will draw upon viewing that video.

– Terry

Hi Terry,

Nice article and refreshing to read such an unbiased view of what could be a visit back to happier and less complicated times of the 1940's and 50's. Back to the cold war period and back alley abortions. At least I'll have less difficulty shooting wolves and moose from a helicopter. My only concern is that when she's making important decisions that will effect the planet, will she know if the little voice inside her head telling her to go to war with Russia, will be God's or just another voice in her head.

Steve, Topanga, CA

Nice article, gives the appearance of impartiality. The fact of the matter is that those who don't think a governor is ready to be vice president, would prefer to elect a community organizer for the higher office of president, whom few can articulate what his accomplishments, if any, really are. I am biased, since Gov Palin and I share a similar alma mater and Christian faith. And I was born in Anchorage, too. What most aren't saying who are opposed to her, is they just don't want a Christian or gun-rights advocate, or pro-life person in office, so they say things like "she has no international foreign
policy experience" when I don't recall the same group complaining about that lack of experience when governor Clinton ran for president. Or governor Reagan for that matter.But we shall see what we shall see. There are obviously different world views animating each party, and I respect that they are sincerely held by both. (I just hope my side wins) :)

Chris, Boise, Idaho

* * * *

Thanks, Chris.

You make a good point about the issue of experience, especially in a vice presidential nominee. Voters will define experience in different ways.

I recall the foreign policy inexperience of Govs Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush, Jr. all being debated prior to their elections. But the issue is arguably less relevant for a vice presidential nominee.

Al Gore and Dick Cheney, each with extensive government and foreign policy experience, became powerful and influential vice presidents, ready to step in as president at a moment's notice. There's no reason Gov. Palin must follow that mold. Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle were nominated, by Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush respectively, simply to shore up a political base. This is a legitimate role. That's all some presidents expect their vice president to do.

Terry


Thank you for wonderfully thoughtful words on Gov Palin, beginning with that quote from T.S. Eliot.You are much more generous toward the lady in question than I am; in fact, generosity is not what I feel I need to muster up to make a decision about her worthiness as a candidate. I think she is a cruel joke played first on women; second, on the Democrats; and third,on this too to gullible country. I wish Karl Rove had remained at home in Texas, retired, but the Republicans could never let a mother lode like that go dormant.Bitter am I? --- guess so --- and will be so disappointed if this country doesn't give obama a chance to shine in its own eyes again as well as the eyes of the rest of the world.

P.S. re my comment on your earlier article, realize it wasn't friendly to wish you a trip to Beirut – guess I was wishing you could visit the "old" Beirut for me!

Brenda, Richland, WA

* * * *

Brenda,

Many folks are unsure about Gov. Palin's readiness for the international stage. This includes quite a few Republicans I speak with as well. It is to be expected, inasmuch as she is virtually unknown outside Alaska and has only begun to be vetted by American voters and the press.

Over the next several weeks, as her handlers allow her to appear more often before the media, we may discover more about her. Meanwhile, the contest between McCain and Obama continues to heat up. Let's hope voters will cut through the lies and personal attacks and concentrate on the serious issues we face.

And, yes, I've never been to Beirut, but I know that at one time it was a safe, vibrant and beautiful cultural center.

Terry

Terry,

Good article. I see what you're saying about the majority of the nation not knowing who she is. Be that as it may, many are turned off by the current candidates whom we DO know. Several of my friends including myself have been disinterested with the campaign. Blame it on the mud slinging and that dirt thrown by the candidates and the media. Palin's surprise entry in the ring has actually revitalized many of us.

So far, depending on who you decide to listen to, her accomplishments in the short term she has been in office is better than that of Obama whose records are good in paper but has lacked substance. She has an approval rating of 80% among her Alaskan constituents which is better than most gevernors. Obama seems to be riding on promises more than accomplishments. Even his colleagues like Sen. Kirk Watson, are at a loss as to what he has really done.

If you are impartial to evangelical Christians, then she is definitely NOT your (wo)man. Here is a clip of her giving glory to God after giving birth to her baby.

At least you know where she stands. Some candidates are more conscious of what people want to hear than what they really believe in.

Here's a link to a blogger with aprehensions similar to yours. Click here.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

* * * *

Peter,

Thanks for your insights.

The Constitution guides my own biases about the vice presidency. Ultimately, the only stated duty of the vice president, besides being the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, is to step in as president should the president be unable to complete his or her duties as Commander-in-Chief. Any other tasks are assigned by the president as deemed fitting.

It's an issue of governance, yet many presidents choose running mates whom they believe will help them get elected, not help them govern. Of course there are no rules. It's a personal choice.

Selecting a running mate is the first real presidential decision a candidate will make. With Sen. Biden and Gov. Palin as the choices, I believe we have the first clear window into the thought processes, wisdom and judgment of our two candidates for president.

Terry

I liked the article on Palin. It tries to be impartial. Actually, there is much to recommend Palin. For one thing, she has revitalized the Republican party.

My main concern is "CAN SHE BE THE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.? " Common sense tells me, (God Forbid!) that there is a big possibility that McCain may not be able to last his full term if elected. (Age, health) I do not believe Palin is qualified to be president.

Personally, I like McCain, and wouldn't mind if he gets elected. Between Obama and McCain, the citizens of U.S. have a good choice. Let the people speak. Here's the thing. I admire Biden too, and I believe he can easily step into the shoes of the presidency should something happen to Obama. I can't say the same for Palin. And after all, the main role of the VP is to be a stand-in for the presidency.

Henrietta, a US citizen residing in the Philippines

* * * *

Henrietta,

I appreciate your remarks. And I agree with you. I believe the country has a clear choice, and a good one, between Sens. McCain and Obama. At this point I also believe we have an even clearer choice between Gov. Palin and Sen. Biden.

Terry

Thanks, Terry, for letting me hop on your shoulders (in my imaginary travel, I'm light as a feather) and wander the streets of Istanbul with you. This mode of travel allows me to smell the smells, see the sites, as you describe, but avoid the crushing heat and humidity!

Most of all I enjoyed the wisdom of Mahir - his wonderfully simple declaration of being a Turk first and then a Muslim; his observation that Americans are children in this world. Only children could elect the biggest bully to its highest office and give him the keys to a closet full of horribly dangerous toys. One can only hope we'll grow up before we blow up.

Please travel to Beirut - another city I've always wanted to 'walk.'

Thanks for sharing.

Brenda Hughes
Richland, WA

I'm struck by how kind and civil the people were to you considering how much hostility (justified) that they have toward our government. It's refreshing to know that if Obama or Clinton becomes President he/she may be able to begin to heal these wounds and hopefully undo the Bush/Cheney damage and that because people of all faiths are good people, the damages don't have to be permanent.

p.s.

You make Istanbul sound like a great destination.

Roger Fallihee
Puyallup, WA


I so had to laugh at your conversation with Ali. Trying to be an open minded American abroad and having a political discussion can be a very frustrating experience. Now matter how open minded we can be, or how many points about our own country we willingly admit, it can be so tough getting others to do the same. They do seem to take any topic (such as the Armenian genocide) and just turn it back to us. "But what about all the bad things the US has done?" Yes, but...I already conceeded that. Can we talk about your country now? As I'm heading for uber-anti American Serbia in 3 weeks I'm going to keep your Istanbul experience in mind.

Ben Liu
Seattle, WA



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