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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama-McCain I:
Day of the fight metaphors

For weeks now the first presidential debate between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain has been promoted by the mainstream media with a barrage of pugilistic metaphors. CNN announced its coverage with graphics meant to recall those classic fight-night posters, all stars and swollen red & blue typography. We were put in mind of the classic fisticuffs of the past: Louis-Schmeling. Ali-Frazier. Kennedy-Nixon.



What finally happened last night at the Gertrude C. Ford Center, on the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., was something both more and less titanic than any of those classic contests. True enough, the stakes are insanely high; there’s no bigger purse than the presidency of the United States, especially this campaign year, and both Obama and McCain brought their respective A games to the challenge.

But this was no Thrilla in Manila. In some ways it wasn’t even a Thrilla in Oxford. What unfolded on a Friday night was a contest that, in the narrow hermetic context of a 90-minute debate, pitted two seemingly evenly matched fighters in a battle for the biggest prize there is. But there were telling elements of surprise. The presumably wily old veteran, McCain, gained instruction — a polite way of saying he got schooled — by his younger, gamer, hungrier challenger. The veteran threw a multitude of punches, and some of them registered.

But Barack Obama won this first debate on at least a TKO, and possibly a flat-out KO. That’s not just a partisan reflex, it’s also the consensus of a raft of post-debate snapshot polls conducted among independent voters and on-the-fence Democrats, surveys that showed Obama won by double-digit margins.

McCain made a comment about the current financial crisis that could just as well serve as the epitaph for his floundering presidential campaign: “A lot of us saw this train wreck coming.”

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Obama’s clear win had two components. First: Obama came, well, ready to rumble. The Democratic nominee was cool, sharp and generally unflappable, and stood toe to toe with McCain on matters of foreign policy and national security, capitalizing on the growing consensus that his has been a campaign grounded in policies, not personalities, and consistent in its message. Obama won because he won.

Second: Obama also won because McCain took an active role in his own defeat. McCain made numerous gaffes, throwing rhetorical punches that had nothing behind them. And McCain lost on style points, never really looking like the champion — or the Maverick® —he’s made himself out to be.

Since this fight was McCain’s to lose, let’s look at how he lost it:



McCain made the error of reminding viewers and voters of the character issue that’s dogged him throughout his 25 years in the Senate. “I didn’t win Miss Congeniality in the United States Senate,” McCain said twice, thus reminding people of his fundamental character flaw: a volatile, impetuous personality that’s been his interpersonal hallmark on Capitol Hill, a style that’s yielded more downside than upside throughout the primary campaign.

McCain left another flank exposed — in a vulnerable place Obama never exploited — when the Arizona senator went off on his role as the sheriff of the Senate, stamping out earmarks and other wasteful pork-barrel spending. He loudly expressed his opposition to such earmarks as the state of Montana receiving $3 million in taxpayer money for the study of bear DNA, obviously never mentioning the $256 million in earmarks that his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, sought for a variety of reasons, including studies of the mating rituals of crabs and the DNA of harbor seals.

◊ ◊ ◊

On the issue of the Iraq war, McCain had what may have been his best moment when he said that it does no good for Obama to go on recounting his initial opposition to the war. By effectively saying “we are where we are,” McCain attempted to make a virtue of pragmatism. This kind of expedient practicality, a common sense McCain uses when it’s convenient, is of course in the service of a war that wouldn’t have been waged had the Republican administration McCain has championed been more pragmatic in the first place. This is a matter of judgment McCain failed at — a shortcoming reflected in the first-blush polls.

McCain apparently doesn’t even know his trainers that well. On the delicate matter of dealing with Iran in its drive toward nuclear capability, McCain retreated to his tough-guy stance on absolutely not meeting with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions. Obama tagged him soundly last night when he said that, in fact, Dr. Henry Kissinger, one of McCain’s senior advisers, supports meeting Ahmadinejad without preconditions. This policy-by-autopilot suggests that McCain’s foreign policy, such as it is, is more at the mercy of political reflex than geopolitical reality. Hardly a nuanced position.



And on the elements of style, McCain was an utter disaster. Throughout the debate McCain looked pained, evasive, petulant, peevish, even downright contemptuous of his challenger. He didn’t even look Obama in the eye. Not once. Standing at the podium, McCain grimaced and twisted, squinted and squirmed like a man in need of going to the can. He looked tough, even angry at times, but he didn’t look presidential — a stark contrast with the genial, gracious Obama. It was a performance that surely registered subconsciously with voters, at a purely emotional level, and it didn’t suggest confidence or capability. He might as well have been Bush #41 looking at his watch in the 1992 debate with Bill Clinton.

There was another cosmetic issue, an omission that you can bet your mortgage won’t happen again: John McCain wasn’t wearing a flag lapel pin last night. Barack Obama was. Make of that what you will.

◊ ◊ ◊

McCain undercut his own efforts before the debate even happened. Never mind the screaming hubris of posting the announcement that MCCAIN WINS DEBATE on the McCain Web site hours before the debate. McCain’s pre-debate gambit of arriving in Washington to participate in the Wall Street bailout negotiations — parachuting in to break the impasse between lawmakers — was largely a waste of time, since McCain didn’t discuss the financial crisis in any meaningful terms beyond calling it “the greatest fiscal crisis probably — certainly — in our time.” Which doesn’t square with his calling the U.S. economy fundamentally strong just days earlier.

Robert Shrum, longtime Democratic op, offered an assessment in The Huffington Post right after it was over: “The debate was a crossroads. For two weeks, John McCain has lurched down a dead-end road on the economy, from happy talk about "sound fundamentals" to gloom about economic crisis; alternately out of touch, confused and self-contradictory; then desperately reaching for another stunt with his blundering, transparently opportunistic intrusion into the financial rescue negotiations which crimped his debate prep. He clearly could have used more.



“Barack Obama was crisp, reassuring and strong — in short, presidential, as he has been throughout the financial storm of the past two weeks," Shrum observed. "McCain was not as bad as he has been recently; but much of this debate was fought on what was supposed to be his high ground. As the encounter ended, Obama not only controlled the commanding heights of the economic issue — and he not only held his own on national security — but clearly passed the threshold as a credible commander-in-chief. McCain kept repeating that Obama doesn't 'understand.' But he clearly did.”

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, writing for HuffPost, saw it much the same way: “Tonight was a breakthrough for Senator Obama, who showed himself truly ready to be president. He responded knowledgeably, thoughtfully and confidently to the toughest questions on the economy, Iraq, and terror. Meanwhile, Senator McCain spent so much time attacking his opponent, he neglected to show how a McCain-Palin administration would differ from Bush-Cheney. As a result, Obama answered the threshold question about his candidacy; McCain did not.”

◊ ◊ ◊



The outcome of this debate, the first of a scheduled three fights, is likely to reinforce perceptions that people already have. There were no outright game changers last night.

As such, it’s a resounding defeat for Team McCain. They needed to shift the building narrative from one of McCain at the mercy of his own inconsistencies to one of McCain as the sober, sure-footed steward of the national security and the national economy. That didn’t happen.

Last night we finally got the necessary distillation of contrasts of not just two candidates but also two distinct world views, two distinctly different political personas. Tough vs. smart. Gambler vs. thinker. Brawler vs. statesman. The ringside judges — those same-night poll respondents — made it pretty clear who won last night. We’ll see whether the experienced fighter's learned anything the next time he answers the bell on Oct. 7, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

1 comment:

USpace said...

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Tomorrow's debate should be wild. McCain better take off the gloves. I’m sure Obama will fix all the problems perfectly. All progress is possible and positive if we just hope.

People should vote on the real issues and a candidate's true character and political leanings, not just a bunch of populist fluff.

People are hypnotized with Obamamania and his Obammunism. Good fodder for Obama posters here. Posters about him reflect this puppy dogs, doves and rainbows feeling. The Obama Utopia.

If Obamassiah doesn't get POTUS in 2008 and if he can stay pretty clean, do some good things as Senator, and then become Governor of IL, he could be unstoppable in 2012 or 2016. Scary stuff.

I would dearly love to see a Jewish, African-American woman as POTUS. It's not race or gender that makes it for me though. It's political beliefs that matter, and socialism is bad for everybody, (accept maybe those high in government or high-level academia) especially poor people, of all races. Obama is a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist, no thanks.

His 'Change', 'Hope' and 'Progress' mantras are actually somewhat self-mocking. Making your own Obama posters is totally addicting.
I laughed so hard I almost had a breakdown. LOL!

:)
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absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
pretend to be moderate

move towards the center fast
enrage your Left wing early

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absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
befriend a bomber

pushing for change at all costs
sacrifices must be made

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absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
only feel and hope

please force people to change
change can only be good

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absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
NEVER ELECT a woman

OR a minority
if they are Right of center

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absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
you must be a racist

if you vote for a white man
it can't be his politics

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All real freedom starts with freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech there can be no real freedom.
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Make Some Obama Posters NOW!
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Che Makes Money for Capitalists
.
Help Halt Terrorism Now!
.
USpace

:)
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