September 27, 2008


The Debate: The Prime Minister and the President (David Ignatius, 9/26/08, Post Partisan)

Barack Obama was running for prime minister and head of government in Friday night’s debate. He spoke with the precision of a parliamentary debater during question time. He had a three-point program for everything, but he didn’t deliver many memorable lines or offer the grace notes of leadership. When asked point-blank for his stand on the bailout plan, Obama gave a judicious non-answer: “We haven’t seen the language yet.”

John McCain was running for president and head of state. He was channeling Ronald Reagan, with all his talk about the evils of federal spending and government meddling with the health care system. He seemed almost to be emphasizing his age and gravitas.

The main difference being that prime ministers are chosen by elites while presidents are elected by the people.

Advantage: experience (Chicago Tribune, September 27, 2008)

As the debate shifted to national security issues, McCain demonstrated why many voters see this as a strong area for him. He's been involved for decades in deciding whether the U.S. engages militarily in hot spots such as Somalia, Lebanon and Bosnia—and it shows. His cautious words about the careful use of power indirectly addressed the fear of some Americans that he'd be a trigger-happy president. Similarly, Obama's pledge to add troops in Afghanistan and his forceful language on terrorist breeding grounds in Pakistan addressed the fear of other Americans that he'd be a weak commander in chief.

On Iraq, Obama spoke repeatedly about his opposition to initiating that war. But he didn't directly respond to McCain's key points—that a surge-enabled victory in Iraq will leave this country with a stable ally in a bad neighborhood, and that the next president has to decide not whether to enter Iraq but how to leave in a way that best serves America. Obama gamely noted that he had chosen Sen. Joe Biden, a specialist in foreign affairs, as his vice presidential candidate.

The bulk of Friday night's debate took place on the turf McCain knows best: foreign affairs and military endeavors. That showed. Obama spoke capably on one topic after another; McCain, who has traveled to numerous crisis locales and joined in more foreign policy debates, spoke with more fluency and experience.

As one TV talking head said afterward, McCain spent the night on offense; Obama found himself playing more defense.

Sen. Obama, You're No Muhammad Ali (Howard Fineman, 9/27/08, Newsweek)
I know Ali and senator: you are no Ali.

For whatever reason (I think there are several, personal and strategic), you either don’t know how to or can’t be a closer. You can’t finish with the kind of flurry that drops your foe to the canvas. You didn’t do it to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and, at least Friday night here at Ole Miss, you didn’t do it to Sen. John McCain.

But here’s the question: Is a devastating puncher who we want in a president? Is that who we want in our next president?

Well, maybe not. Maybe we’ve had enough pugnacity for a while. Maybe George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have given pugnacity a bad name. Maybe voters want a more peaceable style. Maybe right now they want an open hand, not another closed fist.

That’s the only reason I can think of why most of my colleagues (and, apparently, judging from the instant polls of viewers) decided that Obama had “won’” the debate here in Oxford.

On debating points--and if campaigns are boxing--McCain won. He was the sneering aggressor. He had Obama backpedaling for much of the night on foreign policy. Obama, for his part, missed several chances to counterattack, especially on the economy. Obama’s answers were strewn with annoying “ums” and “ahs” as he played for time to calibrate the least-damaging response.

Can Obama Counterpunch His Way to the White House?: In last night's debate, Barack Obama refrained from going after John McCain, and left viewers looking for a soundbite disappointed. Will this strategy work? (HAROLD MEYERSON, September 27, 2008, American Prospect)
If it had been a VFW convention, John McCain would have won last night's debate in a walk. He'd been there. Knew the pain of a defeated American army. Knew Kissinger almost before Kissinger knew English. Knew Eisenhower had composed a resignation letter in case the Normandy invasion had failed. Knew about Ike's resignation letter even though it never existed: Eisenhower wrote a letter accepting all the blame in case the invasion failed, but made no reference whatsoever to resigning.

But who cares? When it helped him and when it didn't, McCain provided the better theater in last night's debate.

More importantly, McCain punched and Barack Obama counter-punched through much of their first debate.

Verdict on Obama: Mealymouthed, Pathetic (ROBERT DREYFUSS on 09/27/2008, The Nation)
If, God forbid, foreign policy had to be the deciding factor in choosing between Barack Obama and John McCain, then last night's terrible showing by Obama would make me a Ralph Nader voter in a heartbeat. Obama's performance was nothing short of pathetic, and only a Democratic-leaning analysts and voters with blinders on could suggest that Obama won the debate. More important, he utterly blew a chance to draw a stark contrast with John McCain on America's approach to the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 27, 2008 3:06 PM
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