I watched the presidential debate tonight; here are my reactions.
First, what genius thought that it would be a good idea to have the debate on a Friday night? I’m a political junkie, debates are appointment viewing for me, but how many people is that true of? This schedule must have driven down the number of viewers pretty significantly.
That’s a pity for McCain, because he had a very good night. His forte is sounding strong and inspirational about foreign policy, and he sounded strong and inspirational tonight. Whatever one may say about McCain, he is an honorable man—and that integrity and fortitude showed tonight.
McCain sounded decisive and tough about foreign policy. He seems to have his foreign policy all mapped out; he knows exactly what he wants to do on this issue. (Possibly, foreign policy is the only issue McCain actually has mapped out; the rest of his policies are a confusing mixture of Goldwater libertarianism and Teddy Roosevelt progressivism). McCain always sounds good when talking about foreign policy, and he was no different tonight.
A few points about McCain’s debating style. First, I couldn’t help but notice that he blinks in time to every word. It’s very distracting. Second, he seems to have mastered the art of talking over his opponent—several times, Obama tried to jump in, but McCain relentlessly kept talking. On television, if two people attempt to talk at once, neither can be heard. McCain used that knowledge well.
As for Obama, he didn’t do badly. He did stutter a lot, which makes me wonder how someone who is a very good, very experienced public speaker can sound so bad at times.
Often, it seemed like Obama was trying to prove his competency to independents, appeal to the base, and hit McCain, all at the same time. It didn’t work. It often seemed—this was especially apparent on the foreign policy questions—that Obama was rambling and saying whatever points jumped to mind. Not that they weren’t good points, but Obama didn’t do them justice in his presentation of them.
It strikes me that Obama is handicapped from the beginning is a foreign policy debate. His policy is less war—and that’s a tough position to defend. Peace sounds good, but it also sounds weak. Even if Obama was right about Iraq (and he well may have been), it’s still hard to sound good when droning on about how if everybody had listened to Obama we wouldn’t have had to fight this mean, nasty war.
Obama told McCain he was right at least six times. You don’t think that will show up in ads? Oh, wait—it already has. Probably not the best choice of words for Obama.
McCain: "I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't know the difference between a tactic and a strategy." Semantics? Yes, but it makes Obama look inexperienced and naïve. And that’s what McCain needs.
McCain told what is probably his best story: the anecdote of the mother of a fallen soldier who asked him to wear a bracelet to remember her son, and to ensure that he did not die in vain. It’s an amazing story—when heard in person, it is incredibly moving. But when McCain told it tonight, Obama was ready. He responded “I’ve got a bracelet too, from the mother of…” then he looked down and read the name off his bracelet—apparently, it had slipped his mind. Granted, there could have been any number of reasons for this—he could have been unsure of the pronunciation, he could have merely been adjusting his cuff, he may have been looking at the bracelet for inspiration. But then, George H.W. Bush probably had plenty of good reasons for looking at his watch during the infamous townhall debate with Bill Clinton—and that incident still killed him. (Video at this link). This could do similar damage to Obama’s campaign.
Sarah Palin debates Joe Biden next week. Prediction: she will do very,very well. Some conservatives are worried that she is unprepared, simply because she didn’t do particularly well (or particularly poorly) in three interviews. That’s not overwhelming evidence. She will do fine.