Saturday, September 27, 2008
Rumble at Ole Miss
The following are my initial impressions of the Presidential Debate that occurred between Barack Obama and John McCain. I'm writing it from memory, less than an hour after the debate, without referring to notes or transcripts, so take it for what it is worth.
I make no claims to objectivity, but it seems to me that last night's debate in Oxford, Mississippi, between Barack Obama and John McCain was clearly an Obama victory.
McCain came into the debate at a clear disadvantage, a good share of it his own making. His political stunt of "suspending" his campaign earlier in the week, allegedly to forge a solution to the financial crisis that is threatening this country's economic future, and his indecision about even participating in the event made him look confused and frantic.
And, in the end, he relented. He "blinked," as it were. That made him look weak.
Obama, on the other hand, in the lead up to the debate has seemed a steady hand at the helm. Obama's objection to postponing the debate, arguing that the nation needed to hear from the two candidates at this critical time, seemed measured and rational. Further, his reluctance to inject himself into the debate over the Wall Street bailout showed a sensitivity to the delicate nature of the negotiations that are currently underway. (And, in fairness, Obama probably doesn't want to get too closely identified with any ugly legislation that those negotiations are likely to produce).
As far as the debate itself, it was billed as a foreign policy discussion, but in light of the current headlines, emcee Jim Lehrer spent the first half hour querying the candidates about the bailout. Each candidate put forth the same arguments with which we have become familiar over the last few months: tax policy, Iraq strategy, policy toward Iran, Pakistan, Russia. But, it seems to me that in these debates, the policies and the positions that each candidate advocates matter less than does the personal perceptions that each gives off.
And this is why I think Obama won. McCain came across as aggressive and condescending. He repeatedly used the phrase: "Senator Obama doesn't understand..." He never once looked directly at Obama, even when he addressed Obama directly. That made him seem devious and furtive. I can't imagine that that will sell with Middle America which is still under the illusion that there is a level of decorum in politics.
On the other hand, Obama came across as gentlemanly. He frequently acknowledged McCain, saying "John's right about that," or "Senator McCain and I agree on that." And Obama landed some good shots when he pointed out that McCain had been utterly wrong with his pre-Iraq invasion remarks about Americans being "greeted as liberators," and that the war would be "easy." Further, Obama subtly and repeatedly associated McCain with the Bush administration, which, in today's political environment is lethal.
Well, initial polls conducted by CNN indicates that the viewing public thought Obama won as well. The numbers I saw had it Obama 52%, McCain 38%. Hmm...could that ratio be a precursor for November?