The financial crisis and recession indicators have dominated the front, middle and financial pages for a year. Neither candidate wanted to say anything technical that could be construed as directly influencing the Congressional debate and negotiations about TARP. Clearly, McCain has been warned about seeming obstructionist. And Obama was told to remain above the fray so as not to be tainted by any sign of intimacy with Wall Street's shiny suits.
Both candidates were uncomfortable yet content to project themselves as less knowing than anyone except the average know-nothing. Did they stick to the scripts drummed into them by their respective coaching teams, or each lose the plot somewhat and stumble off-message? So long as matters are knife-edged on Capitol Hill (where both candidates are returning to directly) it seems that neither would seek publicly to influence the debate. Instead of seeing this issue as the slug-fest quick route to winning on Nov.4 they may have both learned or been told or taught that the best thing to do with toxic matters is quarantine them and keep well clear. Obama mentioned the word "responsibility" more than once in place of where he might have said "change" and must have listened to PM Brown's UN speech (or read it, since it may not have had US teevee airing, but Brown was talking to Obama's biggest campaign contributors) announcing the new Era of Global Responsibility. Responsibility may be the new catch-phrase term of enlightened politics?
On the economy (not a separate issue) they both tried (total contrast to banking crisis) to be seen as savvy and wise for all their years, experts even, on tax & spend budgeting. They both interpreted the economy to merely mean Federal spending and taxes. McCain seemed to think the only essential might be freezing all spending bills except for the military and veterans while cutting waste such as paying for studies of the DNA of bears in Montana so that business taxes could be cut (to compete with those of Ireland) and that something must be done about dependency on foreign oil! Obama countered twice by saying McCain is absolutely right, but... and that he cares about helping the middle class and he will take a scalpel to work not a hatchet and no, he did not vote for whatever increases McCain says he voted for, repeating twice "that's not true" (so there!) but believes in personally scrutinising each line item, line by line, and that McCain's idea of tax cuts just means giving $billions to big oil.
No mention by either candidate of key words such as unemployment, inflation, deficit, recession. It was like asking two non-executive directors about business prospects who turn out to be only versed in the need to cut costs. And this too was their angle on the financial crisis; yes, a deal if it is matched by cost-cutting. Obama accepted the idea that TARP's $700bn would constrain spending on essential social programmes. McCain wants to protect the military budget at least because the War in Iraq is being won. Obama says the war is not being won... er, that's it?