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Just a Few More Thoughts on the Debate

As I've mentioned in this space before, once upon a time, before I was a writer, even before I got my Ph.D. in history, I worked in political consulting.  It was a great experience, and I still view campaigns as a consultant might.  So I spend a good deal of time during campaigns thinking strategy and trying to come up with responses to the other side's attacks. 

Since Friday night, I've been thinking that Obama needs an answer for John McCain's "Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand..." attacks.  I'm not sure that the attacks helped McCain that much; they came off as obnoxious and patronizing --  snarky, I called them yesterday.  But I also don't think that Obama should let them go unanswered for another 90 minutes.  And you know that McCain will repeat the attacks in the debates to come.

So here's my suggested response:

"Senator McCain keeps trying to tell me what I don't understand.  What he doesn't seem to understand is that I don't measure my grasp of an issue by the degree to which I agree with him.  There are lots of Americans who disagree with the Bush-McCain strategy in Iraq, who disagree with the Bush-McCain approach to Afghanistan.  It's not that these Americans don't understand the issues.  It's that they simply think Senator McCain is wrong, just as I do.  Haven't we had enough of this approach?  Do we really need four more years of an Administration that is so convinced of it's own infallibility that it can't get anything right?"

Yeah, something like that.

One more thing that warrants comment in the wake of Friday's debate.  I keep reading comments from people on the right who are arguing that McCain won the debate because, in part, Obama said several times "John is right..." or "Senator McCain is right..." as if acknowledging that an opponent is right about something is a sign of weakness.  They point out, correctly, that McCain never said that Obama was right about anything, and instead attacked all of his answers.  I believe these folks (including the McCain campaign) have completely misread the public mood.  One of the reasons Obama did so well in post-debate polling the other night is that he was likable.  He didn't come across as angry or mean-spirited.  He came across as poised and reasonable.  Americans are sick and tired of partisan bickering, and McCain, who claims to be a different kind of politician, who claims to be able to reach across party lines to get things done, showed himself to be deeply partisan and intolerant of views that differed from his own.  Obama's willingness to recognize his points of agreement with McCain didn't lose him the debate; it helped him win it.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
jamietr
Sep. 28th, 2008 03:56 pm (UTC)
Obama said something very similar to your suggested response on Face the Nation this morning.
davidbcoe
Sep. 28th, 2008 09:50 pm (UTC)
Well, cool. Nice to know that they're on top of this stuff. And nice to know as well that sometimes I actually know what I'm talking about.
hedwig_snowy
Sep. 28th, 2008 04:31 pm (UTC)
"I keep reading comments from people on the right who are arguing that McCain won the debate because, in part, Obama said several times "John is right..." or "Senator McCain is right..." as if acknowledging that an opponent is right about something is a sign of weakness."

They really can't believe that that's a reason to think McCain won the debate right? Tell me they have something else...

Agree 100% with your reasoning and the way it was seen by undecideds. McCain was arrogant and we've had enough of that for the last 7+ years...
davidbcoe
Sep. 28th, 2008 09:56 pm (UTC)
It wasn't the only evidence they presented to prove that McCain had won. They thought he showed greater command of the issues, was more aggressive, had Obama on the defensive much of the time. But they definitely listed "Obama said McCain was right 5 times" as part of their proof.
hedwig_snowy
Sep. 29th, 2008 02:51 pm (UTC)
Greater command of the issues is relative and on which issues? The things I've been reading say that the Iran section was a positive for McCain but that's only if you think "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb *insert current enemy here*" is a positive foreign policy.

Aggressive: McCain certainly was arrogant, dismissive, and rude. I guess they're used to their 'leaders' being belligerent.

Obama wasn't defensive, he was explanatory. He wasn't perfect but considering that most of the debate was on McCain's (supposed) strong issue, they might want to consider that actually thinking through current Foreign Policy rather than spitting out campaign trial rhetoric might be a bit more Presidential.

I am not a fan of McCain's stand on issues and, except for his disgusting flip-flop on the torture bill, I don't think of him as the enemy but as a political opponent - that must be destroyed! :). A conservative friend (and other's) ask why isn't Obama much further ahead? I ask, "Would the GOP even be in this if they hadn't nominated someone who they could try and pass off as centrist/mavericky?" The reason why people are considering McCain is because he has been passed off as a Non-Republican Republican. People are realizing this to be false and the polls show that (Thanks Sarah!) but we rarely ask why a war hero with a very small streak of individuality in 26 years in the Senate isn't ahead of the upstart with the funny name. Three words: George W. Bush.
jp_davis
Sep. 28th, 2008 10:18 pm (UTC)
Great response, I must now go watch my Tivo'd version of Face the Nation to see what he did say.

I heard a Republican strategist Friday night echo the "John is right" talking point, basically saying that it showed Obama was on the defensive. This is emblematic of the main issues I've had with the Republican party for the past 15 years: Never Agree With Your Opponent. He Is Always Wrong. Never Find Common Ground. Never Show Any Weakness. Obama saying that McCain was right on some points just shows that Obama is intellectually honest and is trying to build bridges, while McCain, in the time-honored Republican tradition, tries to tear them down.

Not to belabor the point, but I think the chickens are coming home to roost on this strategy with Sarah Palin. Imagine if, when asked about Palin's foreign policy experience, rather than saying she can see Russia from her house, they had just said, "yes, that's a weak point, but she more than makes up for it with her experience in energy and as an executive." Of course, I disagree with the latter thoughts, but I bet you the foreign policy issue would have dropped, and she wouldn't now be the laughing stock of the world for it.
davidbcoe
Sep. 29th, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
Great point re. Palin's experience. You're right -- a little intellectual honesty can go a long way. But somehow the right has come to equate any acknowledged imperfection as weakness. No wonder our nation is in such a mess.
fionagh
Sep. 29th, 2008 03:08 am (UTC)
Great points! My esteem for Senator Obama as a philanthropist and politician rises every day. Alas that I won't be able to get to a copy of Face the Nation.
markwise
Sep. 29th, 2008 04:48 am (UTC)
I thought McCain won myself. He appeared to have a clear and concise answers to the questions and he came off as intelligent and authoritative.

Obama to me looked to funble and bumble his responses too much. His answers would often begin with, "Uhm...uh..." His obvious arrogance also came off as patronizing in the least. His dead eyed stare came across as unemotional and uncaring. He looked like a cow chewing on cud.
davidbcoe
Sep. 29th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
>>I thought McCain won myself.<<

You were in the minority, my friend.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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