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My two cents on last night's snoozer at Ole Miss:  Judging it simply on the basis of their debate performances, I have to say that I thought Obama and McCain were pretty even.  Obama did well on certain questions -- those relating to the economy, those relating to Iraq, and the exchange on striking at militants in Pakistan.  McCain also had several good moments, most impressively his discussion of issues relating to Russia. 

But there was a reason why Obama scored well in all the post-debate polls.  (Except, of course, the Faux News interactive poll which had McCain winning by a margin of, like, 82-18.  Either the thing was rigged, or Fox News literally is only watched by conservative Republicans who still love George Bush and believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist sympathizer.  Either way, that result was utterly ridiculous.)  First, Obama seemed energetic; he looked at the camera and he looked at John McCain; his answers, particularly early on, when the TV audience was still engaged, were crisp and well-organized.  By contrast, McCain looked ticked off the whole time; he rarely spoke to Obama or the camera; his responses tended to ramble a bit and too many of them either harkened back to the past or became a list of the various places he had visited as a Senator.  He did manage to play up his experience, at times very effectively, but his repetition of the "Senator Obama doesn't understand" attack sounded snarky, even patronizing.

More to the point, McCain needed a game changer.  He needed to beat Obama soundly.  And not only did that not happen, but, as I mentioned, all the reputable polls had him losing.  Obama has opened up a small but statistically significant lead in the race, largely on the basis of McCain's bizarre behavior this past week, and his confused statements on the economy the week before.  Even if they tie in every debate, that's to Obama's advantage at this point. 

And finally, Obama seemed Presidential last night.  I thought so, poll respondents thought so, most of the pundits thought so.  In many ways, Obama's task last night was similar to Ronald Reagan's task going into his 1980 debate with then-President Jimmy Carter.  People knew that they didn't like Carter anymore, but they were afraid of Reagan.  The Carter campaign had tried to make him seem untested, reckless, a dangerous choice.  Reagan performed well in that debate, coming across as even-tempered and, yes, Presidential.  Skip forward 28 years, and that's what we had last night.  The McCain campaign has tried to make Obama seem like a dangerous choice.  They've attacked his alleged inexperience, and they've tried to imply, in all sorts of ways, that he is too different, too exotic, too much an elitist, to be an effective President.  But what people saw last night in Obama was a man who is young, but clearly intelligent, well-versed in the issues of the day, and reassuringly strong and direct in the way he states positions.  All this is not to say that McCain didn't seem Presidential, too, but the assumption has been all along that McCain is, if nothing else, experienced enough to be President.  There were doubts about Obama, and I believe that last night he went a long way toward putting such doubts to rest.  There are a lot of moderate Democrats and independents who don't want four more years of Republican rule, but who have been unsure of whether Obama is a safe alternative.  This first debate might well pull many of them into Obama's column.

So, my verdict:  A draw on substance, but a victory for Obama on style, and in many ways that was just what he needed.

As for this week's BOW (Buffoon of the Week) Award, I'm not going to bother giving the award to any of the McCain-Palin people.  It's not that they don't deserve it.  I mean, where do you want to start?  McCain's ludicrous and transparent campaign ploy in the middle of the week?  He didn't actually suspend his campaign, and he didn't go back to Washington or threaten to skip last night's debate out of some sense of bipartisanship or "Country First" mentality.  He did it to change the dynamic of a race that is quickly getting away from him.  And he failed miserably.  Then there was the revelation earlier this week that the lobbying firm of Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, has been on retainer with Fannie Mae all this time, earning a monthly payment of $15,000 through August 2008, while at the same time the McCain campaign has been running these misleading ads trying to link Obama to Franklin Raines, the former head of Fannie Mae who is now under investigation.  And there was Sarah Palin's train-wreck-of-an-interview with Katie Couric, earlier this week, in which Palin repeated and elaborated on (in a fashion) her claim that Alaska's proximity to Russia gives her expertise in foreign policy.  I like Paul Begala's reaction to this best.  Begala, a Democratic consultant and regular CNN contributor said, (and I'm paraphrasing), "I can see the moon from my backyard, but that doesn't make me an astrophysicist."  There was also the odd spectacle of Palin meeting with foreign heads of state at the UN and the McCain campaign trying to get the press to cover it, but refusing to let them ask Palin any questions.  Any one of these things could have been enough to earn the McCain-Palin campaign yet another BOW Award.  But I'm a little tired of giving them the award, and all of you are probably sick of reading it.

So this week, I'm going to give the BOW to Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden.  Biden watchers everywhere know that this was inevitable, given Joe's penchant for saying stupid things.  Joe had a busy week.  He went off on guns at a rally earlier this week, basically saying that Barack Obama didn't want to take anyone's guns or infringe on anyone's Second Amendment rights.  But he got a little carried away and wound up phrasing it in such a way as to seem to suggest that if Obama tried to take away Joe's hunting rifles, Joe was going to shoot him.  I swear, that's how it sounded.  I can't imagine that the Secret Service was pleased.  But that wasn't the comment that won him the BOW Award.  Later in the week, while talking about the current crisis on Wall Street and criticizing John McCain's response, Biden referred back to the stock market crash of 1929 by saying, "When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, 'Look, here's what happened.'"

Okay, for starters, Roosevelt wasn't in office when the market crashed; Herbert Hoover was.  Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and didn't take office until March 1933.  And second, there were no televisions in 1929.  I mean, it's a great story; it's just totally inaccurate.  So this week's BOW Award goes to Democratic VP nominee Joe Biden, for just one of several recent gaffes.  Take a BOW there, Joe.  You've earned it.  And then just keep on being you.  This is why we love ya....

Comments

( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
madkestrel
Sep. 27th, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
There was also the odd spectacle of Palin meeting with foreign heads of state at the UN and the McCain campaign trying to get the press to cover it, but refusing to let them ask Palin any questions.

Did you see the coverage of the Pakistani president saying how "gorgeous" Palin was, and asking for a hug in a bit of a sideways way? That was not a compliment. In Zardari's culture, women who go about uncovered are harlots, pure and simple, and him telling her how she looks with reporters listening was akin to an American man telling a pretty woman that he wants to f^%k her in front of everyone.

He was probably laughing about it after her handlers led her away. Saying that to her was his way of pointing out how little he respected her.

davidbcoe
Sep. 28th, 2008 03:28 pm (UTC)
It was an odd, embarrassing moment no matter what the subtext -- I'm not versed enough in Pakistani culture to comment beyond that. Thanks for the insights. I'd love to know if others saw it the same way.
sizztheseed
Sep. 28th, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
Not at all. Pakistan has a ruling elite which is more europeanized and western educated than not, many of whom spend decades out of the country and traipse through for the occasional political stunt. Think 18th century France. Zardari is a pampered, spoilt rich boy grown up in an atmosphere of tolerance and a sense of superiority over the unwashed masses. He thinks he's being suave and debonair, and instead, he's coming off as an ass. He honestly believes he was paying her compliments and being engaging. Think "creepy uncle from the swinging seventies."

It was actually an appropriate meeting: two sheltered and intellectually incurious minds meet in an artificial environment in an attempt to convince the world of their competence. In a funny way, it reminds me of Dubya's inappropriate touching moment with Chancellor Merkel.

Here's a good Op-Ed on the story from Wajahat Ali of the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/27/pakistan.sarahpalin
davidbcoe
Sep. 28th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link and for your take on the meeting. Fascinating to think of these two needing each other so in order to bolster their political creds.
crazywritergirl
Sep. 27th, 2008 11:03 pm (UTC)
I agree. You just gotta love Joe because he's out there trying. He doesn't stay to a scripted (and stupid) message, but says whatever comes to his mind. For once, I'd love to see a presidential candidate lean on the podium, shake his or her head and say, "You know, we got one helluva mess here, folks. And here's what I intend to do about it."

Maybe someday.


davidbcoe
Sep. 28th, 2008 03:30 pm (UTC)
I think that the Obama campaign welcomes that unscripted spirit, because while they know that Biden will say stupid stuff, they also know that on the big points he's going to get it right. Notice that the McCain campaign is terrified of giving Palin the same leeway.
kmarkhoover
Sep. 27th, 2008 11:50 pm (UTC)
I thought McCain edged out Obama on substance at first, but then Obama got in several good shots on what was perceived to be McCain's strength: Foreign policy. There's little doubt, however, McCain lost big time on style.
davidbcoe
Sep. 28th, 2008 03:33 pm (UTC)
>>There's little doubt, however, McCain lost big time on style.<<

Right, Mark. And in these debates, that seems to be more important. That may or may not be a good thing. I don't think that either candidate had much of an edge on substance; a case can be made that they're both qualified. But as soon as McCain loses his edge on that ground, he loses the race.
hedwig_snowy
Sep. 28th, 2008 06:39 am (UTC)
Yes, politicians are the brightest peas in the pod. Biden isn't the shiniest lamp on the street. Compared with Palin he's Einstein and Hawkings combined. He does have the problem of speaking before he thinks. All that being said, the BOW award should go to Senator McCain for his pandering toward Veterans during the debate when he has done nothing, NOTHING, for Veterans.

He has voted for Bush's torture policy. He didn't even vote for, but took credit for, the GI bill legislation, the DAV has him at 20 and Obama at 80 for Veteran's Issues...his dishonor is complete/ As a veteran I could not be more disgusted with his lack of support for the military and veterans despite his claims to the contrary.

Thank goodness the American people are catching on...

And, when the debate ended and Joe "stick his foot in his mouth" Biden was all over the air waves, where was McCain's Vice Presidential cnadidate??? That should tell you all you need to know about his campaign...

As for the debate, McCain needed to win it big, he didn't...it's over.
davidbcoe
Sep. 28th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
I agree with much of what you said here. I would have liked to see Obama attack a bit harder on the vets issue and on torture, since McCain's flip-flops on both have been so blatant. But he seemed to prefer staying on the moral high ground and that might have worked for him. If the race tightens up again, he'll have to attack more, but as long as he can hold this lead, he can afford to be gracious. The bottom line is, he came out of the event with his dignity and gravitas in tact. I'm not sure McCain did.

The only thing you said with which I disagree is that last line. Yes McCain needed a big win, and he didn't get it -- didn't even come close. But you can call me superstitious or paranoid or whatever, but it ain't over until the night of November 4th when Obama has his 270 EVs in the bank.
hedwig_snowy
Sep. 28th, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)
Good point about not getting complacent before Nov 5th (or after if the lawyers get involved), but there were 2 snapshot polls after the debate.

The conservatives have been pointing out the CNN poll and saying that there was a difference in the number of voters who self-identified as Republicans vs Democrats (higher Dems). True. But, CBS ran a poll with uncommitteds and the results showed Obama with a substantial win. We'll see how that plays out once people who saw it tell their friends and they realize that, like Reagan in 1980, Obama looked capable of being President and understood the issues.

McCain did fine (other than the Grumpy Grandpa act) but he needed to show a lot more and have Obama stumble pretty badly. It didn't happen. Will see how the VP debate goes and see if the McCain campaign goes into overdrive attack mode next weekend because it's all they have left...

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/09/27/opinion/polls/main4482119.shtml
davidbcoe
Sep. 28th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
I think the GOP complaints about the CNN poll were ridiculous. When you sample for something like this, you don't sample for the population at large; rather, you sample for the universe you're trying to understand, in this case the universe of Those Who Watched The Debate. Democrats are more engaged in this campaign cycle -- we've been seeing that from the start. It's not surprising that Dems made up a larger percentage of the viewership, in which case the sample should reflect that. If Dems are 40% of the electorate but 45% of the viewership (I'm making those numbers up) then you sample for Dems at 45%.
fionagh
Sep. 28th, 2008 06:45 am (UTC)
I love that, when there's one week left 'til my wedding, I can come here and read about the debate and feel satisfied. I will of course be catching up on watching the debate after I get married on Friday. But thanks for these great blogs about stuff like this! ^_^

--Fiona
davidbcoe
Sep. 28th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
Sure thing, Fi. I hope the wedding goes perfectly, that the day is all that you want it to be and more. Nancy and I were married 17 years ago, and that day is still one of the three greatest of my entire life (along with the days my girls were born). I wish you the same, and also a lifetime of love, laughter, and joy.
fionagh
Sep. 29th, 2008 12:03 am (UTC)
Thank you from both of us! I think of y'all often when I think of happy couples. And I hope to be that happy for that long when I tie the knot. ^_^
jp_davis
Sep. 28th, 2008 10:36 pm (UTC)
I'm not going to belittle Joe's win, because that was a humdinger of a statement. At the same time, however, while I appreciate the fact that they're wracking up awards and we need a little new blood, I'm still holding with the Palin/Couric interview, for the sheer head-exploding garble of basically every single answer.
davidbcoe
Sep. 29th, 2008 12:32 am (UTC)
That interview was a total train wreck, no doubt. But then again, so was McCain's back and forth on the debate. They really didn't have a very good week. What a shame. :)
markwise
Sep. 29th, 2008 04:41 am (UTC)
I'm glad to see Biden finally earn one of these. He has been a gaffe machine since his selection. Overall, I think Biden was a very ppor choice in comparison to Clinton. I know Biden was meant to bolster Obama's experience, but he gave up a lot of other intangables to get it.

I actually was glad McCain decided to go to Washington to try and help solve this problem with the financial markets. As Barack Obama said, this is a bad of a problem to threaten the economy since the Great Depression. If that were true, then the 2 senators need to go back and live up to their first duty, and vote in the Senate on fixing this issue.

Instead Barack Obama wanted to talk about it some more. He didn't want to get his hands dirty so he could sit back and complain and chastise instead of actually fix the problem. As he said, "They have my number. They can call me if they need me." as McCain was actually already there. Is this what we can expect from this guy as President? I hope not.
carolf
Sep. 29th, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
I might agree with you had McCain actually accomplished anything by going to Washington, but Senate members of his own party say he was less than useless. There are times when the president's presence is the last thing a crisis needs -- like at the scene of a hurricane.

I'd also be more impressed had McCain gone to Washington when he first said he would, instead of hanging around in NY for a while. And if he had actually suspended his campaign instead of just saying he would.

There have been various reports around that, while Obama did not go to Washington until forced to by McCain, he was working the phones. If so, then I approve.

The two most powerful political tools a president has is 1) the bully pulpit and 2) back scene influence. When you let others take some credit for good stuff, even if you had a large hand in it, they tend to be more likely to work with you again, in the future.

[clarification: I'm not saying Obama did the work on the bailout. I'm explaining why I see phone work as good as, if not better than, McCain's impulsive trip to DC.]

Last, but not least, I'd have been more impressed with McCain's decision to go help out if the crisis had been one he knew something about. By his own admission, economics is his weakest subject. Just what made him think he was indispensable to the bailout talks?

I've been very disappointed with McCain recently. In the 2000 election, while he was still alive in the primaries, I saw him as someone I could vote for, and was seriously considering.

Now? Even if I could trust his party, I just don't see him as my president.
davidbcoe
Sep. 29th, 2008 03:23 pm (UTC)
Come on, Mark. McCain's approach was entirely about ego, about making a national crisis about him, so that he could play the hero role again. And it completely backfired on him. As Obama said again and again, the last thing Congressional leaders needed was a direct injection of Presidential politics into what were at the time very delecate negotiations. So what happens? Congressional leaders, including several Republicans (most notably Utah Senator Bob Bennett, hardly a liberal) report that they're very close to a major breakthrough. But Bush has gone along with McCain's ploy and invited both Presidential candidates to the WH and as soon as the candidates arrive the negotiations fall apart. Just as Obama had predicted. Obama was showing leadership on this issue, but he did it quietly, without drawing attention to himself. When the Paulsen plan first appeared, Obama diagnosed its ills and put forward five recommendations for revision. Every one of his recommended revisions are now in the bill that's about to pass, along with one demand from the House GOP, and a compromise put forward Saturday night by Pelosi. McCain did nothing for this bill except get in the way. And it was entirely about his ego and his flagging campaign.
markwise
Sep. 29th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)
Actually word has it that Obama went to the joint meeting with the President and ran his mouth, causing the breakup that happened. The Democrats defered to him and he turns around and one of the first things he says is ,"So the problem here is the House Republicans." This caused the meeting to degenerate into he said / she said. Thanks for the leadership there Obama. By all accounts, if anything, McCain did not help nor hurt the negotiations.

What did not help was Nacy Pelosi's VERY partisan speech just before the House vote. Gee thanks, Pelosi....
davidbcoe
Sep. 29th, 2008 07:41 pm (UTC)
That's the first I've heard of ANYONE blaming Obama for things said in that meeting, and frankly I don't buy it. The GOP in the House has just sent the Dow crashing through the floor because their feelings were hurt? Give me a freakin' break! There's a reason why Congressional Republicans are going to get their butts kicked in November.
markwise
Sep. 29th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)
The DOW crash has been years in coming.

The "nuts in the sack" about Pelosi's speech was that she spent all weekend long talking about bipartisanship and uniting Congress, then she comes out and descides to stump for Obama. Talk about introducing Presidential Politics into it. She is the only one doing that.

davidbcoe
Sep. 29th, 2008 09:18 pm (UTC)
>>She is the only one doing that.<<

At some point I'll stop laughing....
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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