Ole Miss Recap
I’m not going to get into a lot of the particulars of tonight’s event. Tonight was supposed to be McCain’s strong suit, because of foreign policy. While I think Obama was weakest in the first half, when he allowed the bailout discussion to drift toward earmarks (which no one gives a shit about unless it causes corruption), I think he had the better overall debate performance. Obama seems confident, ready with answers, and presidential. McCain spent too much time trying to make jokes or recycle well-worn zingers, although he was confident too.
There were several verbal ticks I noticed, with Obama’s agreeing with McCain, or McCain saying Obama doesn’t understanding something. But the weirdest thing I saw was McCain never once tried looking at Obama when talking – was he afraid of seeing Obama’s facial expression or something?
But what did I hear from the debate that made me think Obama won? I heard a lot from McCain about what he had done in the past (in one exchange, he talked about Lebanon, the Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Somalia – all in the same response) without ever seeming to make an effective connection to the present. He even made attempts to explain he diverged from President Bush on X issues, without actually explaining what the differences were. And after tonight, I’m no clearer on what he wants to do as President in the next four years – the only thing I really heard on that score was cut spending (which he said repeatedly without giving many concrete examples and why it would help to make the cuts), and he mentioned he has a tax plan, but didn’t explain it.
McCain liked to talk about the past (and boy do I mean the past – he spent more time talking about Reagan, Russia, and the 1980s than he did about terrorism, Iraq or 9/11). And when he wasn’t talking about the past, he was making some negative remark about Obama.
And then there were the moments, mostly from McCain, where his response seemed disconnected from the question, or it took a while to see the point of his response (such as his long-winded rendition of foreign policy issues from the 1980s I mentioned above). For another example, early on, one response from McCain was about energy – but the question had nothing to do with energy.
Sure, they were both confident and had command of the issues. No major gaffes, and both had a lot to be happy about it. But when it comes down to measuring this, it was supposed to be John’s night in a walk, and it wasn’t. Obama looked presidential on foreign policy, his biggest weakness. Going forward, it doesn’t look like disqualifying Obama is even an option, much less McCain’s best path to victory. McCain is going to have to come clean and start offering a positive rationale for his candidacy, a true alternative to the frontrunner – and he can’t waste another debate talking about the 1980s and how he wasn’t Miss Congeniality in the Senate.