Well, tonight was the second Presidential debate. This debate comes amid an increasing nasty campaign. Interestingly, Cindy McCain went as far as to say that Barack Obama has run the nastiest campaign ever. Strong words.
I personally found the debate to be pretty boring. They both failed to provide anything new or interesting; the debate rules also stifled what could have been a rousing debate. Even Tom Brokaw added to the inanity of the spectacle. Instead, I thought that the debate was essentially a repeat of the first, only the candidates were able to stretch their legs and walk around. I guess that allowed us to see the difference in their age, but it really did not add to the substance of the debate.
Barack Obama won the debate. Narrowly. Clearly, this format was well suited for John McCain, yet he did not win the debate, which he desperately needed to do. His answers were erratic and lacked coherence; McCain could barely contain his contempt for Obama; and he was quite nasty in some of his condescending side comments (particularly when he referred to Obama as “that one”). At the end of the debate, he would not shake Obama’s hand (nor did Cindy McCain shake the hand of Michelle Obama) and he quickly exited the stage because he could not stand to be in the presence of Barack Obama. McCain needed to win this debate to change the dynamics of the race and to give his campaign a shot in the arm. Instead, the race has not changed at all by this debate, which is bad news for McCain.
But this is also good news for Barack Obama. Though Obama seemed a bit uncomfortable in this format and tended to come across as defensive (or whiny), his comments were very focused. He seemed to be empathetic to the suffering of the American public, which he has struggled with throughout the campaign. His most successful tactic, however, was his repeated attempts to connect McCain to Bush. This goes to the heart of the question of McCain’s judgement and his ability to produce any change.
In the end, John McCain came across as someone who spent a lot of time before the debate preparing his remarks regarding the economy. He did a surprising good job in that discussion, but Obama was still better at connecting with the middle-class. Unfortunately, for McCain, he seemed unable to appear strong on foreign policy, which is his strength. Obama bested him in that, as well. McCain was simply repeating the attacks that he had been leveling at Obama over the past few months, but Obama was brilliant in his ability to deflect those attacks and turn them on McCain.
The most memorable moments for me came from Obama. Firstly, Obama fought back against McCain’s assertion that Obama was naive or didn’t understand foreign policy by saying: “Well, you know, Sen. McCain, in the last debate and today, again, suggested that I don’t understand. 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 Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are setting up base camps and safe havens to train terrorists to attack us. That was Sen. McCain’s judgment and it was the wrong judgment. When Sen. McCain was cheerleading the president to go into Iraq, he suggested it was going to be quick and easy, we’d be greeted as liberators. That was the wrong judgment, and it’s been costly to us.”
The second moment came when Obama cited his mother’s experience, in the final months of her struggle against cancer, fighting the insurance companies that wanted to deny her service. That, to me, not only demonstrated that he personally understands the frustration we all feel about the state of our health care system, but it also showed that he was making a sharp contrast between his plan and McCain’s plan.
John McCain left no impression upon my mind about his performance tonight. Instead, I come away feeling like he was mean and condescending. Sure, he was great at connecting with people in the room who were already leaning towards him, and he did well at coming across as being at ease, but he failed to express his views. Instead, he spent the entire time attacking Obama, instead of building up his own policies.
In the final analysis, Obama won the debate, narrowly, but it does not change the dynamics of the race, which spells trouble for McCain, but is great news for Obama.