September 27, 2008


Beyond Ideology, a Generational Clash (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 9/27/08, NY Times)

Mr. Obama was not particularly warm or amusing; at times he was stiff and almost pedantic. But all he had to do was look presidential, and that was not such a stretch. Mr. McCain had the harder task of persuading leery voters that he can lead the future because he is so much part of the past.

Except that, outside the editorial offices of the Times, polls show that people are comfortable with the idea of John McCain leading the country and thought that Senator Obama would win the debate. Just showing up isn't enough when you're supposed to deliver the Sermon on the Mount every time you speak.

‘Senator McCain Is Absolutely Right…’: Barack Obama plays Mr. Nice Guy — and loses — in the first debate. (Byron York, 9/27/08, National Review)

A candidate determined to appear congenial might do that once, or even twice, but Obama did it eight times:

“I think Senator McCain’s absolutely right that we need more responsibility…”

“Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused…”

“He’s also right that oftentimes lobbyists and special interests are the ones that are introducing these…requests…”

“John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country, and he’s absolutely right…”

“John is right we have to make cuts…”

“Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families…”

“John — you’re absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent in what they say…”

“Senator McCain is absolutely right, we cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran…” [...]

But Obama’s problem wasn’t just saying “John is right” too many times. He also let McCain control the discussion even when — especially when — the conversation turned to issues that play to Obama’s strength. The debate was scheduled to focus entirely on foreign policy and national security, but for obvious reasons moderator Jim Lehrer devoted the first half-hour to the current financial crisis. Polls show Obama with a pretty big lead on economic issues, and yet McCain was able to turn the discussion — ostensibly about the $700 billion bailout proposal — into an extended examination of federal spending and earmarks, two issues about which McCain has strong feelings and a good record. When McCain pointed out that Obama had asked for $932 million in earmarks — “nearly a million dollars a day for every day that he’s been in the United States Senate” — Obama answered weakly that yes, the process has been abused, “which is why I suspended any requests for my home state, whether it was for senior centers or what have you, until we cleaned it up.” Not his best moment.

When the debate came around to the topic of the evening, McCain outshone Obama on topics like Russia and Pakistan while hitting him over and over for his comments, made in earlier Democratic debates, that he would meet Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “without precondition.” On Iraq, the two men fought to a draw, with McCain arguing that Obama was wrong on the surge and Obama arguing that McCain was wrong on the war. It seems unlikely they will change anyone’s mind about that.

The bottom line was that Obama did well enough, but McCain did better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 27, 2008 8:06 AM
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