Thoughts on the Debate, and This Week’s BOW Award

September 27, 2008

My two cents on last night’s snoozer at Ole Miss:  Judging it simply on the basis of their debate performances, I have to say that I thought Obama and McCain were pretty even.  Obama did well on certain questions — those relating to the economy, those relating to Iraq, and the exchange on striking at militants in Pakistan.  McCain also had several good moments, most impressively his discussion of issues relating to Russia. 

But there was a reason why Obama scored well in all the post-debate polls.  (Except, of course, the Faux News interactive poll which had McCain winning by a margin of, like, 82-18.  Either the thing was rigged, or Fox News literally is only watched by conservative Republicans who still love George Bush and believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist sympathizer.  Either way, that result was utterly ridiculous.)  First, Obama seemed energetic; he looked at the camera and he looked at John McCain; his answers, particularly early on, when the TV audience was still engaged, were crisp and well-organized.  By contrast, McCain looked ticked off the whole time; he rarely spoke to Obama or the camera; his responses tended to ramble a bit and too many of them either harkened back to the past or became a list of the various places he had visited as a Senator.  He did manage to play up his experience, at times very effectively, but his repetition of the “Senator Obama doesn’t understand” attack sounded snarky, even patronizing.

More to the point, McCain needed a game changer.  He needed to beat Obama soundly.  And not only did that not happen, but, as I mentioned, all the reputable polls had him losing.  Obama has opened up a small but statistically significant lead in the race, largely on the basis of McCain’s bizarre behavior this past week, and his confused statements on the economy the week before.  Even if they tie in every debate, that’s to Obama’s advantage at this point. 

And finally, Obama seemed Presidential last night.  I thought so, poll respondents thought so, most of the pundits thought so.  In many ways, Obama’s task last night was similar to Ronald Reagan’s task going into his 1980 debate with then-President Jimmy Carter.  People knew that they didn’t like Carter anymore, but they were afraid of Reagan.  The Carter campaign had tried to make him seem untested, reckless, a dangerous choice.  Reagan performed well in that debate, coming across as even-tempered and, yes, Presidential.  Skip forward 28 years, and that’s what we had last night.  The McCain campaign has tried to make Obama seem like a dangerous choice.  They’ve attacked his alleged inexperience, and they’ve tried to imply, in all sorts of ways, that he is too different, too exotic, too much an elitist, to be an effective President.  But what people saw last night in Obama was a man who is young, but clearly intelligent, well-versed in the issues of the day, and reassuringly strong and direct in the way he states positions.  All this is not to say that McCain didn’t seem Presidential, too, but the assumption has been all along that McCain is, if nothing else, experienced enough to be President.  There were doubts about Obama, and I believe that last night he went a long way toward putting such doubts to rest.  There are a lot of moderate Democrats and independents who don’t want four more years of Republican rule, but who have been unsure of whether Obama is a safe alternative.  This first debate might well pull many of them into Obama’s column.

So, my verdict:  A draw on substance, but a victory for Obama on style, and in many ways that was just what he needed.

As for this week’s BOW (Buffoon of the Week) Award, I’m not going to bother giving the award to any of the McCain-Palin people.  It’s not that they don’t deserve it.  I mean, where do you want to start?  McCain’s ludicrous and transparent campaign ploy in the middle of the week?  He didn’t actually suspend his campaign, and he didn’t go back to Washington or threaten to skip last night’s debate out of some sense of bipartisanship or “Country First” mentality.  He did it to change the dynamic of a race that is quickly getting away from him.  And he failed miserably.  Then there was the revelation earlier this week that the lobbying firm of Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, has been on retainer with Fannie Mae all this time, earning a monthly payment of $15,000 through August 2008, while at the same time the McCain campaign has been running these misleading ads trying to link Obama to Franklin Raines, the former head of Fannie Mae who is now under investigation.  And there was Sarah Palin’s train-wreck-of-an-interview with Katie Couric, earlier this week, in which Palin repeated and elaborated on (in a fashion) her claim that Alaska’s proximity to Russia gives her expertise in foreign policy.  I like Paul Begala’s reaction to this best.  Begala, a Democratic consultant and regular CNN contributor said, (and I’m paraphrasing), “I can see the moon from my backyard, but that doesn’t make me an astrophysicist.”  There was also the odd spectacle of Palin meeting with foreign heads of state at the UN and the McCain campaign trying to get the press to cover it, but refusing to let them ask Palin any questions.  Any one of these things could have been enough to earn the McCain-Palin campaign yet another BOW Award.  But I’m a little tired of giving them the award, and all of you are probably sick of reading it.

So this week, I’m going to give the BOW to Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden.  Biden watchers everywhere know that this was inevitable, given Joe’s penchant for saying stupid things.  Joe had a busy week.  He went off on guns at a rally earlier this week, basically saying that Barack Obama didn’t want to take anyone’s guns or infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment rights.  But he got a little carried away and wound up phrasing it in such a way as to seem to suggest that if Obama tried to take away Joe’s hunting rifles, Joe was going to shoot him.  I swear, that’s how it sounded.  I can’t imagine that the Secret Service was pleased.  But that wasn’t the comment that won him the BOW Award.  Later in the week, while talking about the current crisis on Wall Street and criticizing John McCain’s response, Biden referred back to the stock market crash of 1929 by saying, “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.'”

Okay, for starters, Roosevelt wasn’t in office when the market crashed; Herbert Hoover was.  Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and didn’t take office until March 1933.  And second, there were no televisions in 1929.  I mean, it’s a great story; it’s just totally inaccurate.  So this week’s BOW Award goes to Democratic VP nominee Joe Biden, for just one of several recent gaffes.  Take a BOW there, Joe.  You’ve earned it.  And then just keep on being you.  This is why we love ya….

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4 Responses to “Thoughts on the Debate, and This Week’s BOW Award”

  1. Alex Pendergrass said

    I, for one, am certainly not sick of reading about the McCain campaign’s consistent goofs and failures. But to each his own!

  2. Graham said

    Maybe he was referring to Franklin D. Roosevelt getting on a crystal radio set , or to be more precise a transmitter for people to listen to, on their crystal radio sets. 🙂

  3. davidbcoe said

    Don’t worry, Alex. I’ll be back at it next week. But I thought that giving the award to those folks again and again diminishes the impact a bit.

    Crystal radio, eh? I dunno. I think Joe just screwed up, plain and simple. Thursday night should be interesting….

  4. Brian said

    Perhaps because Im not so familiar with the specific dates of events in our nations history I thought I knew what Biden was talking about. In my mind I link the crash of 1929 with the Great depression that followed and lasted well into the 1930’s. The only thing I remember from High School history class regarding the depression was the “fireside chats” (over the radio)Roosevelt used to tell people about his new policies.

    That being said, even I knew that TV hadn’t been invented yet. Joe should probably learn to filter his head a little before speaking.

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