It seemed to me tonight that John McCain decided the best way to reach Americans was to stroke their egos; tell them things will be okay because Americans can do ANYTHING and remind them how great they are. Ronald Reagan made an art of telling Americans exactly what they wanted to hear, even when it was an outright lie. But it was comforting. People wanted to believe it. But McCain’s no Ronald Reagan, despite his admiration for the man. He may subscribe to many of Reagan’s policies, but he has none of the charisma and charm that got Reagan so far and started us down the misguided path that lead us to where we are today.
McCain appeared, at times, doddering and old. He had some strong-ish moments, but they were undermined by moments of confusion and a clear disdain and disregard for his opponent that is simply unattractive. He also felt a need to repeat accusations that Obama put to rest in the last debate. Like claiming Obama does not support nuclear power. McCain also seems to think that Obama not supporting the Troop Surge is some kind of trump card. Most Americans didn’t support the Surge! He’s telling them they were wrong, too! It’s an odd tactic given that the reason for the Surge was to clean up a mess created by George Bush and overwhelmingly supported by McCain. It really works against him to keep bringing it up. But this is one of the problems here. McCain has very little to go on. He talks about his record, but his record suggest he supported most of the causes of the current financial crisis and military crisis. And his suggested strategies for “change” is to continue those very same policies! I also find it odd that McCain thought the notion of NOT raising taxes, particularly for the 0.1 percent wealthiest Americans, was a good idea given the current economic crisis and the fact that we’re currently engaged in two very expensive wars. It doesn’t take a politician to know that someone has to pay for what’s happened here. Obama was right in talking about raising the taxes of those LEAST affected by this economic crisis, like Sen. McCain and himself, as Mr. Obama fearlessly noted.
Now we know I’m biased here, but Obama not only appeared more presidential to me, but his answers and solutions made so much sense and were about all the things that actually make America great; a way of thinking, a true desire to be a leader in the world and not an aggressor. For anyone actually listening–and I hope there were many–Obama outlined a path that could, if followed, return America to the country that people like Reagan and McCain talk about in imagery as they stroke our egos and appeal to our desires, but work against with every policy and every action.
But there are enough people out there who are still suffering from a form of Victim Mentality, something I talked about in an earlier post after the first debate. To invest yourself so deeply in someone or something, to put your trust in someone or something–a person, a government– to even invest your money into it, and then have all the facts point to a reality that you were mislead, lied to, deceived, betrayed in every way… For many people, this is too horrible a thought, too painful a notion to actually embrace. So, against better judgement, they fight even more ferociously in support of that which has hurt them. There is a need to believe it was not in vein, that what was promised IS real and that if they just stick to the path, see it through… I believe this victim mentality is largely to blame for George W. Bush’s reelection. In the face of all the proof, all the death, all the lies, enough people weren’t ready to admit to themselves that they had been taken advantage of, that someone had used and abused their deepest desires, wishes and fears and used those against them. Hopefully, four years later, more people have come to understand the truth, have learned to accept it, no matter how painful, and are ready to take action to right the wrongs that have been made and start the healing process. It will not be easy, and it places a great burden on Barack Obama to do right by the people that elect him, people who are now skittish and afraid to trust. But there is no chance of moving forward without trust. For those who trust McCain and continue to trust Bush, the healing will take a very long time. Perhaps, it will never happen.
As for the debate itself, the Town Hall format was always considered John McCain’s strength. He asked Obama several times to join him in earlier Town Hall format debates. Obama refused each time. And so John McCain’s opening remarks contained a cheap shot at Sen. Obama about this. It was a big mistake that set the tone for the rest of McCain’s evening. However, Barack Obama seemed clearly comfortable in this setting, more so than McCain who came across inauthentic, saying “my friends” far too often while trying to appear casual when, in fact, he appeared a little uncomfortable and “forced”. Not to mention condescending.
I will give Sen. McCain one credit, though. He never mentioned Ayers, Wright or Rezko.
If I had one criticism of the debate itself, it would be Tom Brokaw’s somewhat unprofessional behavior. He seemed to take the candidates talking over their time limits personally, instead of finding a way to adapt to the needs of the debate. His clear frustration and anger at both candidates created a tension that did not need to be there. He became condescending and clearly annoyed. I was also less-than-thrilled with his pick of questions. There are better moderators out there somewhere. Why can’t we use them?
Now let’s move on and see what the early polls are saying.
CNN focus group: Obama wins 54 percent to McCain’s 30.
NBC’s focus group of undecided Pennsylvania voters: Obama 60 percent, McCain 40 percent.
Frank Luntz’s focus group, over at Fox: undecided voters leaned towards Obama because of his position on health care.
CBS’s focus group of independents: Obama with 39 percent to McCain’s 27 percent, with 35 percent of the respondents saying it was a tie.
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling firm: undecideds leaning to Obama by a margin of 42 percent to McCain’s 24 percent.
SurveyUSA interviewed 741 debate watchers in the state of Washington: 54 percent thought Obama was the “clear winner” with McCain at 29 percent.
Even Bill Bennett, an American neoconservative pundit, politician, and political theorist who served as United States Secretary of Education from 1985 to 1988, was disappointed by McCain’s performance tonight:
It is widely considered that tonight’s debate needed to be a game-changer for McCain. It seems clear that it was not. So even for those that considered tonight’s debate a tie, it wasn’t enough to alter the direction of this election.
So what are others saying?
Katherine Q. Seelye of The New York Times:
Here, Mr. Obama has a star turn — on foreign policy, Mr. McCain’s supposed turf. Mr. Obama is more forceful than usual, and makes the hunt for Osama bin Laden his singular focus.
The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan:
This was, I think, a mauling: a devastating and possibly electorally fatal debate for McCain. Even on Russia, he sounded a little out of it. I’ve watched a lot of debates and participated in many. I love debate and was trained as a boy in the British system to be a debater. I debated dozens of times at Oxofrd. All I can say is that, simply on terms of substance, clarity, empathy, style and authority, this has not just been an Obama victory. It has been a wipe-out.It has been about as big a wipe-out as I can remember in a presidential debate. It reminds me of the 1992 Clinton-Perot-Bush debate. I don’t really see how the McCain campaign survives this.
National Review‘s Andy McCarthy:
We have a disaster here — which is what you should expect when you delegate a non-conservative to make the conservative (nay, the American) case. We can parse it eight ways to Sunday, but I think the commentary is missing the big picture…
…With due respect, I think tonight was a disaster for our side. I’m dumbfounded that no one else seems to think so. Obama did everything he needed to do, McCain did nothing he needed to do. What am I missing?
The Atlantic‘s Ross Douthat:
I’d call tonight’s debate a draw, which if the dynamic from the first debate holds probably means it was a big win for Obama… Obama was unruffled and consistent – change vs. more of the same, change vs. more of the same, rinse and repeat – and for whatever it’s worth the physical and generational contrast between the two men was very striking in this setting, and especially in the early going McCain seemed to me be showing his age as he delivered his answers. He improved as the night went on, but the vigor gap was palpable.
Taegan Goddard‘s Political Wire:
Tonight’s debate wasn’t even close. Sen. Barack Obama ran away with it — particularly when speaking about the economy and health care… Obama was more substantive, showed more compassion and was more presidential.
In contrast, Sen. John McCain was extremely erratic. Sometimes he was too aggressive (referring to Obama as “that one.”) Other times, he just couldn’t answer the question (on how he would ask Americans to sacrifice.).
The Huffington Post’s Robert Shrum:
The big story tonight: Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of President Obama. The “other,” as the Republicans labored to paint him, now comes across as reassuring, a strong and steady hand in a crisis, possessed of that grace under pressure that Americans prize in a president. Obama had it again tonight.
Slate.com’s John Dickerson:
The Winner: “That One.” After their second debate was over, both Barack Obama and John McCain shook hands with the Nashville audience of 80 uncommitted voters. Both were well-received. But Obama stayed longer, and with McCain out of the room, the affection from the swing voters increased. He was mobbed, patted, beamed at, embraced. One woman wiggled next to him. At one point, about 15 voters posed for a group picture like it was the last day of camp…These uncommitted voters wanted to be next to Barack Obama, and the adulation from the audience helps explain why he won the debate.
Salon.com’s Joan Walsh:
Barack Obama dominated this debate from the very first question John McCain fielded directly, when he condescended to the African-American questioner, a young man named Oliver, who asked how the $700 billion rescue plan passed last week would help the average American. McCain first implied that Oliver and other regular voters wouldn’t know that much about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, then went into the misleading Fannie/Freddie claims…
…Obama came up and broke down exactly how the rescue plan will theoretically (ignore the stock market) help the economy and American voters. Much of the rest of the night went like that. After rather inexplicably telling the audience that “energy independence” was the most important step the country can take to quickly solve the current economic crisis (when most experts agree energy independence will take decades), McCain a few moments later told moderator Tom Brokaw he couldn’t pick a priority among energy, healthcare reform and fixing entitlement programs. It was like he wasn’t tracking his own answers.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer:
“It’s apparent to say that Sen. McCain has some disdain, I think it’s fair to say, for Sen. Obama. That was very apparent throughout the course of this debate.”
Slate.com’s Fred Kaplan:
Finally, McCain’s baffling statement: “I’ll get Osama Bin Laden, my friends. I know how to get him. I know how to do it.” This is reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s secret plan to win the war in Vietnam—except that McCain belongs to the same party as the current president. If McCain knows how to do this, shouldn’t he have told George W. Bush?
Here are the results of Newsweek‘s Live Blogging poll:
So I’ll leave you now with a great Obama moment from tonight’s debate. It was one of many: