Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Two For Two

Barrack Obama won last night’s debate, not because he K.O.ed John Mccain (he didn’t), but because in order for McCain to have been declared the winner, he needed to gut his opponent and leave his entrails all over the stage floor. And that never remotely happened.

This morning, nearly all the polls, including those polls that gave the last debate to McCain, agree — Obama was the victor by a healthy margin.

Going in, many were wondering if McCain would continue with his highly inflammatory personal attacks, designed to distract from the economic issues that are cutting his presidential hopes to ribbons. (Although Obama can claim some of the high road for not slinging the first barrage of mud, he did come off as disingenuous when he made sure to land a personal jab at McCain’s expense and then turned around to say, “But you’re not interested in us pointing fingers at each other.”) However, McCain wisely decided last night was neither the time nor the place for such an attack. Although McCain declared to his supporters last week that the gloves were off and Obama was in for a bruising come debate night, that bruising never happened. Like a sweaty Richard Nixon squaring off against a tanned and boyish John F. Kennedy, McCain seemed tired and worn out next to Obama, someone who is exhausted in body and mind and senses inevitability nipping at his heels.

Obama was more relaxed, more confident, more presidential by every metric possible. As Arianna Huffington said, “He was centered where McCain was scattered. Forceful where McCain was forced. Presidential where McCain was petulant.” Though the town hall format favored the Republican, McCain was awkward, ill-at-ease, and tripped over his words throughout the night. He paced the stage like a caged animal and still refused to look Obama’s way much of the night. And though it’s not his fault, McCain infirmities were emphasized by his constant movement. Instead of making him seem dynamic, it had the opposite effect of emphasizing Obama’s fluidity. Though McCain was friendlier and more engaging (the Navy veteran moment was nice), Obama’s aloofness actually showed a greater poise and control.

Where McCain seemed desperate (you know you’re anxious when you attack your opponent’s running mate’s hair plugs), Obama had an almost permanent bemused smile on his face. McCain is a terrible self-promoter. It’s an unenviable job, to be certain, but McCain does it with all the subtlety of a bull in a china closet. While McCain talked about everything he’s done in the past, Obama spoke about everything we will achieve together in the future.

The economy, naturally, ruled the night. Aside from a new proposal to rescue home owners, McCain had nothing new to say. His biggest gaffe, in so far as the economy was concerned, happened early on when he stated that Warren Buffet, the most admired financial guru in America, wholeheartedly supported his opponent. Somewhere backstage, his campaign manager was hitting his head against the wall.

Borrowing from language he’s used before, Obama contrasted the country’s uphill economic battle with Kennedy’s bold and some said reckless decision to put human footprints on the moon. We all know how that turned out. Obama was equally inspiring when he compared the new jobs that will be created under new energy to those that drove the technological boom in decades past. Obama’s response to the question of citizen sacrifice was sublime. He managed to cite the need for more people shouldering America’s burden without darkening the country’s already fragile tone.

The most interesting point of the evening came when the discussion turned to foreign policy. Instead of the usual debate about who’s tougher, it was an argument over who’s more cautious and diplomatic. Perhaps the day of Bush cowboy diplomacy is really over.

McCain, who is supposed to be the foreign affairs expert, seemed disjointed and muddled when talking about issues abroad, while Obama, a Democrat mind you, struck a confident, assured tone, even going so far as to say, “We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al Qaeda.” When McCain questioned his recklessness in discussing military intervention in Pakistan, Obama fired back with, “This is the guy who sang ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.’”

In their first debate, McCain’s constant refrain was that Obama “just didn’t understand.” Last night, Obama turned the phrase back on McCain, saying, “It’s true. There are some things I don’t understand. I don’t understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.” While McCain continued to hammer Obama for not admitting to being mistaken on the surge, he still won’t admit to being mistaken on the war that made the surge necessary in the first place.

McCain sounded ridiculous when he again cited that the White House was no place for “on the job training.” Perhaps it wouldn’t have rung so hollow had he not chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate. If there was ever a time that 3am phone call commercial made sense.

The worst moment of the night came, however, when McCain peevishly referred to Obama as “that one,” a cold jab that, while I am confident wasn’t intended to be racist or dehumanizing, nevertheless came off that way.

In the end, Obama’s summation, like the stirring closing argument in a courtroom movie, hit the mark dead center. McCain no longer trails in just the polls, he has fallen woefully behind in what some have dubbed the plausibility gap. With each day and certainly with each debate, McCain seems to shrink in stature while Obama grows ever more presidential. Another week or so of this and it’s just a waiting game.


Blogger Grinth said...

A few thoughts:

I didn't feel Obama did nearly as well as you. At times his answers were off the mark and I often felt he occasionally stumbled over his answers much like McCain. I was actually surprised at the drastic gap in the poll numbers, not that I put much stock in those.

Both candidates spent too much time trying to undermine the other rather than answering the question and often both candidates didn't really answer the question so much as just repeat their campaign stump speeches.

That being said, there were a couple points, for me, that swung the debate in Obama's favor. You already mentioned one, McCain referring to Obama as "that one". There was absolutely nothing to gain by using that phrasing and even if you would like to believe he simply misspoke it showed a fundamental lack of basic respect on McCain's part.

The other moment that stuck out was each candidates answer to how would they prioritize health care, energy and entitlement reform. Not only did McCain have to ask what the three issues were again, but McCain suggested all three should be worked on at once.

I don't care who is president there is no way to take care of all three things at once with the way our government works. I'll take just one to start, and then go from there.

Oh one last thing. It's admittedly nit-picky. I couldn't stand McCain's propensity to use the phrase "my friends". Seriously, you (or Obama) are not the audiences friend or my friend. Stop trying to pretend like you are. Interestingly, the frequency in which he would say "my friends" increased exponentially as the debates progress.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Hugh Hewitt said...

At an early point in the debate, John McCain scolded Obama for wanting to raise taxes in a time of deep economic uncertainty and shrinking growth. He reminded the audience that Hoover had done the same thing, and mentioned protectionism only to put it aside with the remark that surely the debate would return to the issue of free trade in a world where economic growth is crucial to every nation's rise.

McCain overestimated Tom Brokaw's talents. The debate never returned to a serious discussion of tax policy in the face of frozen credit markets or to a conversation about the need to keep the world moving towards one market and one rising standard of living. It never got back to the first principles of freedom and dynamic democratic capitalism's amazing strengths and benefits. McCain got in one very tough punch on the origins of the financial crisis in Freddie and Fannie and Obama and the Dems' complicity in it and promised more, but the rest of the bout was shadow boxing until it turned to foreign policy which, important though it is, isn't where the electorate is right now.

The argument about the disastrous economic policies being pushed by Obama must be made by McCain every day going forward even as the campaign continues to hammer Obama for his past judgment and future inclinations when it comes to allies and associates. Ayers-Rezko-Wright-Khalidi are part of a pattern that would certainly follow into the staffing of the vast federal establishment. The Daily Kos-Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party wants its pages from the Plum Book, and the Pelosi-Reid staffers have all got their Assistant Secretary offices picked out. The Left is planning for a huge sweep, and a big party, and...

Then what? Obama-Pelosi-Reid will not be able to resist the massive tax hikes that have lurked behind their every scheme for the past 28 years since Reagan wrested the government from the last group of statists. The unions have wanted protectionism since Bill Clinton signed on to NAFTA. The environmentalists want the sort of global warming regime that will not merely curb but positively punish economic growth, and the anti-nuclear reflex within the Democratic Party is so deep that while Obama can make a few noises about the need for new nuke plants, none would begin under his tenure. Obama said last night that we need new oil exploration off-shore. Does anyone really believe that will happen? Energy shortages would go from a predictament to a policy overnight.

High taxes, falling trade, declining energy use: These are the macro issues. At every level of the government, though, the young Ayers-Rezkos-Wrights-Khalidis would be working their magic on the micro issues, but without a House or Senate in the hands of a GOP majority to moderate their enthusiasms. When Bill Clinton roared into town with House and Senate majorities in 1993, he was a "New Democrat" inheriting a growing economy on the cusp of a technological revolution that would drive productivity forward at an amazing rate, and his early energies were expended on a vast health care scheme too complicated even for his own party. His tax hikes were modest, but he did no lasting legislative damage before Newt arrived to clamp down on the Democrats' worst instincts.

Obama is no centrist, and the Dems have gone much farther to the left since 1993, and the international economy is in the throes of a panic that everyone hopes eases soon but which could grow worse. International jihadism must sense this is a moment in which any strike they can muster would have enormous consequences for Western confidence, so we can only hope that the blows dealt al Qaeda in Iraq have crippled its reach for years to come, and that if he wins Obama will be so invested in his Afghanistan first rhetoric that he will be obliged to fight on that front for as long he is president and to allow General Petraeus control of the strategy.

But that "if he wins" is a real if, as the American people are clearly engaged and watching every minute of this drama very closely. The least consequential story of recent days is Obama's advertising advantage. It isn't an election that will be won on 30 second ads, not when the choice before us is all that anyone talks about when they aren't talking about the sudden shrinking of their retirement accounts.

Everyone wants their money back. They want growth back. They don't want to pay soaring taxes, and they don't want to pay $4 a gallon gas.

They don't want the financial estates that the Greatest Generation have accumulated over a lifetime of work to be transferred in bulk into the coffers of the government and not the grandkids.

They like Obama. I like Obama. Nearly everybody likes Obama.

But I don't want to put the country through Great Depression 2.0, and I don't want a vast army of academics and social engineers descending on D.C. with plans on how to remake America in their own extremist image.

The race is tight and very fluid because the electorate knows the enormous consequences of the choice before them even as McCain struggles to articulate it because McCain embodies it. Lefty pundits can't believe how easy he went on Obama last night, and are left with "That one" to chew over as an outrage against their beloved leader. Conservative pundits wanted McCain to press the choice on the country with much more clarity than he did and to demand of Obama specificty to the agenda they know he is carrying, but McCain only did that on a couple of occasions. McCain committed no blunders. All of his answers were correct (though some of the free market people grumble about the mortgage buy-up) and his foreign policy credibility was again on display. But they wanted a devastating attack because that is what we do all day long --argue the case. McCain wasn't arguing the case so much as referring to it.

McCain expects the country to get this. His 90 minutes was an extended reminder of his seriousness and the seriousness of the job and its difficulties. His surrogates will continue to hammer the unexplored side of Obama and what it would portend for an Obama Adminstration when it came to staffing, but McCain is going to keep making the one big point: This is no time for a rookie with big tax hikes, huge tariffs, expanding bureaucracies and a retreat and defeat foreign policy to take the helm.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Grinth said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Grinth said...

Darrell Hammond, "My friends" ... golden. SNL has found new life.

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Charles Krauthammer said...

Convicted felon Tony Rezko. Unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers. And the race-baiting Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It is hard to think of any presidential candidate before Barack Obama sporting associations with three more execrable characters. Yet let the McCain campaign raise the issue, and the mainstream media begin fulminating about dirty campaigning tinged with racism and McCarthyite guilt by association.

But associations are important. They provide a significant insight into character. They are particularly relevant in relation to a potential president as new, unknown, opaque and self-contained as Obama. With the economy overshadowing everything, it may be too late politically to be raising this issue. But that does not make it, as conventional wisdom holds, in any way illegitimate.

McCain has only himself to blame for the bad timing. He should months ago have begun challenging Obama's associations, before the economic meltdown allowed the Obama campaign (and the mainstream media, which is to say the same thing) to dismiss the charges as an act of desperation by the trailing candidate.

McCain had his chance back in April when the North Carolina Republican Party ran a gubernatorial campaign ad that included the linking of Obama with Jeremiah Wright. The ad was duly denounced by The New York Times and other deep thinkers as racist.

This was patently absurd. Racism is treating people differently and invidiously on the basis of race. Had any white presidential candidate had a close 20-year association with a white preacher overtly spreading race hatred from the pulpit, that candidate would have been not just universally denounced and deemed unfit for office but written out of polite society entirely.

Nonetheless, John McCain in his infinite wisdom, and with his overflowing sense of personal rectitude, joined the braying mob in denouncing that perfectly legitimate ad, saying it had no place in any campaign. In doing so, McCain unilaterally disarmed himself, rendering off-limits Obama's associations, an issue that even Hillary Clinton addressed more than once.

Obama's political career was launched with Ayers giving him a fundraiser in his living room. If a Republican candidate had launched his political career at the home of an abortion-clinic bomber -- even a repentant one -- he would not have been able to run for dogcatcher in Podunk. And Ayers shows no remorse. His only regret is that he "didn't do enough."

Why are these associations important? Do I think Obama is as corrupt as Rezko? Or shares Wright's angry racism or Ayers' unreconstructed 1960s radicalism?

No. But that does not make these associations irrelevant. They tell us two important things about Obama.

First, his cynicism and ruthlessness. He found these men useful, and use them he did. Would you attend a church whose pastor was spreading racial animosity from the pulpit? Would you even shake hands with -- let alone serve on two boards with -- an unrepentant terrorist, whether he bombed U.S. military installations or abortion clinics?

Most Americans would not, on the grounds of sheer indecency. Yet Obama did, if not out of conviction then out of expediency. He was a young man on the make, an unknown outsider working his way into Chicago politics. He played the game with everyone, without qualms and with obvious success.

Obama is not the first politician to rise through a corrupt political machine. But he is one of the rare few to then have the audacity to present himself as a transcendent healer, hovering above and bringing redemption to the "old politics" -- of the kind he had enthusiastically embraced in Chicago in the service of his own ambition.

Second, and even more disturbing than the cynicism, is the window these associations give on Obama's core beliefs. He doesn't share Rev. Wright's poisonous views of race nor Ayers' views, past and present, about the evil that is American society. But Obama clearly did not consider these views beyond the pale. For many years he swam easily and without protest in that fetid pond.

Until now. Today, on the threshold of the presidency, Obama concedes the odiousness of these associations, which is why he has severed them. But for the years in which he sat in Wright's pews and shared common purpose on boards with Ayers, Obama considered them a legitimate, indeed unremarkable, part of social discourse.

Do you? Obama is a man of first-class intellect and first-class temperament. But his character remains highly suspect. There is a difference between temperament and character. Equanimity is a virtue. Tolerance of the obscene is not.

3:46 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Hey Krauthammer-Levin-Gallagher-Hewitt,

Instead of copying and pasting the op-eds of people smarter and more literate than yourself, why don't you come up with an original idea of your own. Any monkey can call himself Bill Kristol!

5:10 AM  

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