TOM BROKAW: Good evening from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. I am Tom Brokaw of NBC News. Welcome to the second presidential debate of this campaign season, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, AIG, and Dick Fuld’s compensation package. As you have noticed, this is the first ever debate to feature not only the two presidential candidates, but also a representative of middle America, Michael Scott of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Welcome, Senator Obama, Senator McCain, and Mr. Scott. (polite applause)
MICHAEL SCOTT: Tom, I would prefer that you address me as Senator Scott.
TOM BROKAW: (long pause)…Uh, okay, let’s get started. The first question is to Senator Obama. This from Oliver Clark. Oliver asks: Through this economic crisis, most of the people that I know have had a difficult time. How is this bailout package actually going to help these people out?
SENATOR OBAMA: Thanks Tom. Oliver, first, let me tell you what’s in the rescue package for you. Right now, the credit markets are frozen up and what that means, as a practical matter, is that small businesses and some large businesses just can’t get loans. If they can’t get a loan, that means that they can’t make payroll. If they can’t make payroll, then they may end up having to shut their doors and lay people off. And if you imagine just one company trying to deal with that, now imagine a million companies all across the country. So it could end up having an adverse effect on everybody, and that’s why we had to take action. But we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
SENATOR McCAIN: I’d like to jump in here. My friends, Oliver’s question is a good one. You know, the match that lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I’ll bet you, people like Allen and Mr. Scott here probably never even heard of them before this crisis.
MICHAEL SCOTT: (perplexed) …Who’s Allen?
SENATOR McCAIN: See? So, Fannie and Freddie were the match that started this forest fire. Some of us stood up against it. There were others who took a hike.
TOM BROKAW: Thank you Senator McCain. Mr. Scott, do you have anything to add?
MICHAEL SCOTT: Tom, again I would prefer it if you addressed me as Senator. And yes, yes I do have something to add. You know, I run a paper business out in Scranton, Pennsylvania. While Fannie and Freddie are out there lighting fires, guess who, or more importantly, what–is getting burned? That’s right: paper. And you know what will happen if these forest fires don’t get extinguished? No more paper. (McCain nodding somberly) Now, I’ve taken a hike before, don’t get me wrong. There are many beautiful trails outside of Scranton. But if we keep having these fires, what’s going to happen to these trees that overlook the trails? Whoa, big fire, (simulates fire with hands) Smokey the Bear can’t save us, ahhh–there goes the paper! There go the trees! There go the trails! Now I’m out of both a job and an enjoyable weekend hobby.
TOM BROKAW: …Right. OK, next question. Senator McCain, in all candor, do you think the economy is going to get worse before it gets better?
SENATOR McCAIN: My friends, we can fix our economy. Americans’ workers are the best in the world. They’re the fundamental aspect of America’s economy. They’re the most innovative. They’re the best–they’re most–have best–we’re the best exporters. We’re the best importers. They’re most effective. They are the best workers in the world.
TOM BROKAW: (confused) OK… Senator Obama?
SENATOR OBAMA: Part of the problem here is that for many of you, wages and incomes have flat-lined. For many of you, it is getting harder—
MICHAEL SCOTT: That’s what she said!
SENATOR OBAMA: (looking pissed) Excuse me?
MICHAEL SCOTT: Sorry, that’s just a thing I do, I–you know, OK, so seriously–the economy. I mean, I live a pretty good life. I don’t own 8 cars or anything, but I do own my own condo, I run my own branch of Dunder Mifflin, AND (pointing to stomach) I am a soon-to-be father.
TOM BROKAW: Congratulations, but we really need to get on–
MICHAEL SCOTT: (continuing) Now, do I want to raise my child in a country where America is #2? Where we’re sitting at home, looking up as Madagascar laps us in the recyclable paper business? No, no–that is not what I want for my child.
TOM BROKAW: Thank you Mr. Scott.
MICHAEL SCOTT: (wagging finger) Tom???
TOM BROKAW: (reluctantly)…Senator Scott. Let’s move on. Next question, Senator Obama: There are some real questions about whether everything can be done at once. Health care, energy, and entitlement reform–give us your list of priorities.
SENATOR OBAMA: Terrific question, Tom. We’re going to have to prioritize, just like a family has to prioritize. Now–
SENATOR McCAIN: (interrupting) Hey look, we’re not–we’re not–we’re not rifle shots here. We are Americans. And I think you can do all three at once.
MICHAEL SCOTT: (whispering) That’s what…
TOM BROKAW: That’s enough. We’re moving on. Our last question is from a hippie in New Hampshire. She asks: As president, how will you know what you don’t know and what will you do when you figure out that which you don’t know? Senator Obama, I’ll start with you.
SENATOR OBAMA: Tom, one of the things that we know about the presidency is that it’s never the challenges that you expect. Here’s what I do know: I know that if the economy continues to struggle, Mr. Scott over here is going to have a tough time keeping up with the mortgage payments on the condo he’s got. His firm may soon be facing the real possibility of having to let some people go.
We can’t expect that if we do the same things that we’ve been doing over the last eight years, that somehow we are going to have a different outcome. We need fundamental change. That’s what’s at stake in this election.
MICHAEL SCOTT: (looking fearful) Will there still be enough money for a Christmas party?
SENATOR McCAIN: My friends, there are challenges around the world that are new and different and there will be different–we will be talking about countries sometime in the future that we hardly know where they are on the map, some Americans. (Michael Scott nods emphatically)
When times are tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller and the great honor of my life was to always put my country first. And–and–you know who is going to raise our taxes and take away Christmas? That one. (points at Senator Obama)
MICHAEL SCOTT: (running from stage) Noooooooooooooo!!
TOM BROKAW: And that concludes tonight’s debate from here in Nashville. We want to thank Belmont University, the Commission, and the traffic light operator for tonight’s debate. There is one more opportunity for the talking heads to give their stump speeches: next Wednesday, October 15, with host Ryan Seacrest and musical guest Akon. Good night everyone.
(NOTE: All text in black is what was actually said, taken from the CNN transcript of Tuesday night’s debate.)