Commentary: What McCain and Obama didn't say

John McCain answers a question as Bob Schieffer and Barack Obama listen.
John McCain answers a question as Bob Schieffer and Barack Obama listen. Charles Dharapak / AP

Two words were never uttered by either candidate or by the moderator during Wednesday night's 90-minute final presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama: Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those two words, those two wars, have cost a cash- and credit-starved nation a trillion dollars or so, and no one bothered to mention them. John McCain abstained from doing his Iraq "path to victory" dance. Barack Obama said we could save $750 billion by ending our dependence on foreign oil imports, but he said not one word about how we could save more than $100 billion a year by ending the war in Iraq.

Instead, the candidates spent a large chunk of time talking about their positions on Roe v. Wade and abortion, a subject that's been and ought to remain a matter of great interest only to a woman with an unwanted pregnancy. The other recurring theme, of course, was McCain's friend Joe the Plumber.

The two rightly focused a good deal of attention on the financial meltdown that's eating up the national treasury, the housing and jobs market and everyone's 401(k) and IRA stock market investments and retirement dreams.

But they said not a word about the two ongoing wars that have taken the lives of more than 4,500 Americans, wounded or injured more than 70,000 others and scrambled the lives of millions of Iraqis and Afghanis while grinding down our Army and Marine Corps.

The silence is incomprehensible, as though Franklin D. Roosevelt had done an entire Fireside Chat in 1944 without mentioning World War II.

There was a splendid missed opportunity for either or both candidates to declare victory in Iraq and announce a timetable for the swift withdrawal of most of the 140,000 Americans with boots on that bloody ground. Likewise, they could have said something about the rush toward defeat in the older and much-neglected war in Afghanistan and about the political and security meltdown in neighboring, nuclear-armed Pakistan, which together comprise the real central front in the war on terror.

Nor was anything said about the urgent need to repair and reinforce our military and where we might find the money to replace or rebuild the 40 percent of our planes, tanks, trucks, helicopters and Humvees that have been destroyed or worn out by non-stop use in the war zones, and where in the $500 billion Defense Department budget savings can be made in hard times.

Then there's the matter of the $750 billion bailout of Wall Street and the bankers, and where that money is coming from besides writing IOU's to China and running the printing presses at the U.S. Mint 24/7, cranking out and simultaneously devaluing the dollar.

Both McCain and Obama seemed to agree that President Bush and his merry band of Republican deregulators deserve repudiation and to demand a change in the way we've been doing business. But neither one talked about investigating any possible criminal behavior at the greedy root of the financial woes — the mortgage bankers who shoveled trillions of dollars worth of loans out the door without credit checks or due diligence and the gurus of high finance who rolled those bad loans up and injected them into the veins of the global economy. Both collected commissions and huge bonuses on transactions that were, to put it bluntly, bogus.

It may be true that in America no good deed goes unpunished, but where does it say that bad deeds likewise go unpunished? Where does it say that the pirates and thieves who've raped the economy and the taxpayer should ride off into the sunset with their saddlebags full of our gold?

For the last couple of weeks I've been in Australia, watching the world unravel from upside down. I got home in time for the final presidential debate, and everything still seems to be upside down.

I guess the good news is that the election will be over in three weeks and the Bush enterprise will disappear onto ash heap of history in just over 90 days. It's a fine mess he's gotten us into, Ollie.

For the two men competing to replace him in the White House, the only thing worse than losing might be winning - so bad, in fact, that neither one of them wanted to talk about some of the worst problems that await them.