Just a Few More Thoughts on the Debate

September 28, 2008

As I’ve mentioned in this space before, once upon a time, before I was a writer, even before I got my Ph.D. in history, I worked in political consulting.  It was a great experience, and I still view campaigns as a consultant might.  So I spend a good deal of time during campaigns thinking strategy and trying to come up with responses to the other side’s attacks. 

Since Friday night, I’ve been thinking that Obama needs an answer for John McCain’s “Senator Obama doesn’t seem to understand…” attacks.  I’m not sure that the attacks helped McCain that much; they came off as obnoxious and patronizing —  snarky, I called them yesterday.  But I also don’t think that Obama should let them go unanswered for another 90 minutes.  And you know that McCain will repeat the attacks in the debates to come.

So here’s my suggested response:

“Senator McCain keeps trying to tell me what I don’t understand.  What he doesn’t seem to understand is that I don’t measure my grasp of an issue by the degree to which I agree with him.  There are lots of Americans who disagree with the Bush-McCain strategy in Iraq, who disagree with the Bush-McCain approach to Afghanistan.  It’s not that these Americans don’t understand the issues.  It’s that they simply think Senator McCain is wrong, just as I do.  Haven’t we had enough of this approach?  Do we really need four more years of an Administration that is so convinced of it’s own infallibility that it can’t get anything right?”

Yeah, something like that.

One more thing that warrants comment in the wake of Friday’s debate.  I keep reading comments from people on the right who are arguing that McCain won the debate because, in part, Obama said several times “John is right…” or “Senator McCain is right…” as if acknowledging that an opponent is right about something is a sign of weakness.  They point out, correctly, that McCain never said that Obama was right about anything, and instead attacked all of his answers.  I believe these folks (including the McCain campaign) have completely misread the public mood.  One of the reasons Obama did so well in post-debate polling the other night is that he was likable.  He didn’t come across as angry or mean-spirited.  He came across as poised and reasonable.  Americans are sick and tired of partisan bickering, and McCain, who claims to be a different kind of politician, who claims to be able to reach across party lines to get things done, showed himself to be deeply partisan and intolerant of views that differed from his own.  Obama’s willingness to recognize his points of agreement with McCain didn’t lose him the debate; it helped him win it.

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3 Responses to “Just a Few More Thoughts on the Debate”

  1. Frank said

    Yeah, I like that response. I’ll admit I came away from the debate with the opinion that I had witnessed a tie, but I had been pleasantly surprised by McCain’s performance. While I am still planning on voting for Obama, and convincing as many of my acquaintances to as I can to do so as well, I am not, after the debate, quite as afraid of a McCain presidency as I had been recently.

    You mentioned in your last post that Obama needed to pull a Reagan and seem likeable and non-scary. I think you made a good argument for that, and I think he pulled it off.

    However, to do so meant he had to let a few things go unanswered, and refrain from the withering responses he no doubt could have formulated in response to each of McCain’s unfounded attacks. He chose his battles well, anwering the “vote against funding the troops” charge brilliantly.

    BUT he did let things go unanswered, and he did defer to McCain out of politeness several times. In winning over independent moderates (who he needed to win), he had to give ammo to the wingnuts (who he doesn’t need to win), who edited out all the “buts” in his statements, as in “John is right, BUT…”

  2. davidbcoe said

    I can’t say that McCain’s performance made me feel better about the prospect of a McCain victory. He looked old — not a good thing if Palin is his veep. He talked about cutting taxes on the wealthy again and therefore running up our debt (our children’s debt) even further. He made it clear that he has no intention of leaving Iraq any time soon. In my opinion the man is a nightmare, and Palin is worse. I shudder to think what will happen to our country if they win.

  3. Alex Pendergrass said

    He looks sickly to me. *shudder*

    I liked your response for Obama. It read like I just might’ve heard him say it moments before.

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