Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debate - I

Hoping this one will end up published rather than saved as a draft...

I took my time and watched the debate videos on CNN, armed with a pad to keep score and jot notes. By my reckoning, Obama came out ahead, and this is how my reckoning worked:

I gave points in a candidate's favor if they answered the question directly. In many cases, neither one did, or it took awhile to steer them that way. The most difficult question was the one that asked which program expense they might be willing to sacrifice in the wake of the massive Wall Street bailout. Jim Lehrer had to ask that one at least three times before either candidate managed to come close to addressing it. Obama was the first to do so.

McCain spent a great deal of time reminiscing. He talked about World War II, Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan, and it was clear, at least to me, that he felt these Republicans of the past had all the answers. That was McCain's biggest problem, though not the only one.

Many observations have been made that McCain, known as a hot-head, was much cooler under fire than Obama this time around, and I agree. Obama got irritated, and he stammered more than a little. However, he did a good job of countering many of the specious claims and statistics with which McCain arrived well-armed. McCain cut Obama off in mid-sentence many more times than Obama cut McCain off, but Obama used this well one time when McCain seemed to be getting up a head of steam with percentages. That was very appropriate -- had Obama just stood silently and taken this, it would have made him look unnecessarily weak.

McCain knows more about Iraq and Russia than Obama. Obama knows more about Afghanistan and Pakistan than McCain.

Obama approached his statements from more of a technical POV than McCain, who went more for a folksy, populist approach -- no surprise there.

There were plenty of verbal gaffes. Obama started off saying "if the economy recovers," but caught himself immediately afterward and amended this to "if and when." McCain talked about an economic recovery package, intermixing "has" with "has to have."

McCain went more for slogans and sound bites, such as "this ... is not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning," and "We came to change government but government changed us."

Obama seemed to stumble on names such as "Jim" when he was clearly addressing John. I think he threw a "Tom" in there at one point. Another example of his tendency to get flustered during this debate, which I hope he'll have more under control the next time. However, he did a much better job at pronouncing "Ahmedinijad" than McCain.

Then Obama used some really unfortunate phraseology. He expressed a desire for the average American to have more money, and one of the things he wanted to make more affordable was for them to "fill up on this gas that is killing them." Um... I think he meant that the price is killing us, not the gas itself. Everybody knows what he meant, but that never stopped people who make a living twisting someone's words.

I gave a candidate points if they vocalized what I was thinking at the moment. McCain claimed he'd veto every spending bill. My thought was, "Really? Throwing the baby out with the bathwater." Obama countered (though not immediately, as he should have) that McCain was proposing to cut the Federal budget with a hatchet, when a scalpel would be more appropriate.

McCain's general focus was on national defense. Obama's was much more on the economy, with a particular emphasis on health care. He used the word "crushed" three different times to refer to the effect that the economy is having on average Americans. McCain once again went back to the military when he got specific about economic reforms, vowing to eliminate cost-plus contracts.

McCain again showed a bit of geographical fuzziness, including Afghanistan in "the region," when referring to Iraq.

McCain put forth an odd idea, which I would expect Obama to go after the next time they meet. Finding fault with the United Nations, he seemed to be saying that the traditional Allied nations (US, Great Britain, France) should form something that sounds like a mini-UN to put economic pressure on Iran, North Korea and other such "rogue states," thereby doing an end run around Russia and China. The idea may have some merit, but proposing it at this early point seems unwise.

This is by no means a neutral, unbiased critique -- I've been an Obama supporter since the beginning. But back in 1980, as Carter faced off against Reagan, I had to give Reagan the points in the debate, even though the thought of a Reagan presidency was (and still is) my worst nightmare. Reagan communicated more clearly and was easier to follow. This time, McCain probably did better in "form," but Obama walked away with substance.

I'll still be glad when all of this is over, but it's still fun to follow.


William Cooney said...

Thank you for your terrific blow by blow of the first presidential debate. There was so much detail it reminded me of myself when I start to tell someone about the round of golf I just played - only your verbiage was infinitlely more meaningful!

I didn't catch too much of the debate live (I couldn't find it live on the internet) and I was busy with a timely newsletter chore.

You succeeded admirably in restraining your favorable disposition toward Obama. It really wasn't revealed in your scorecard. I've caught a lot of the "talking heads" going on about this debate, and I'll be honest: Your observations seemed as astute as any I heard on the tube.

Your analysis actually help bring me up to speed a little on that first debate. I'm going to do all I can to catch the Biden-Palin debate Thursday. Yes, yes... I secretly want to see Ms. Sarah Subtle go done in flames. I think I understand the motivation in wanting a woman as running mate, but don't the Republicans have an Olympia Snow on their team? Politically much sexier, if you ask me. And a real heavyweight, I think.

My disillusionment has gotten the better of me the last 3 or 4 election cycles (Ralph Nader in each of them!), but this time I think I'm going to go where my heart really is, Left and Liberal. Obama appears more than ready.

Thanks again for the insightful Monday-morning quarterbacking on the debate. You've got me good and tuned up for the next one!

Volly said...

Without the Internet I couldn't have done it -- TV has ceased to be a medium that I can follow nowadays and remain awake.

I'm also looking forward to Thursday's VP showdown.

Thanks for the positive comment!