Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama/McCain Debate

Since the Democratic Primary, I've come to believe that Obama is not a great debater in structured debate formats. At best, one could say he's a very uneven performer, I think; and so I worried for him tonight in his debate with John McCain, especially since the subject of the debate was on foreign policy, which is clearly John McCain's strong point.

So, how do I think Obama fared? I thought he did just fine. When I saw how natural, relaxed, comfortable, and willing to engage McCain on foreign policy issues without backing down and assuming a deferential or defensive stance, I breathed a sigh of relief. I think Obama came off as very able to stand with John McCain and to go toe to toe with him. Now, I also think John McCain performed well, too; but then I expected him to do so. But Obama didn't shrink from the challenge, nor did he ever concede the stage. In fact, in some respects, Obama looked more comfortable physically in this engagement: he looked at McCain, he smiled, he was composed, and he was conversational. He just seemed to be more comfortable in his skin more times than John McCain did. Or so I thought. Then again, I am an Obamaphile, so I was rooting for him and tend to see all the good about his performance tonight and can be unwittingly blind to the bad.

In essence, I think Obama posted a big win tonight -- not in terms of the debate itself, per se, but rather in terms of demonstrating a threshhold ability to stand and hang tough with McCain. McCain needed to knock Obama off-balance tonight; but that pesky Obama just wouldn't go down. He fought back. And with grace, ease, and charm.

In essence, I basically agree with James Fallows:

When the details of this encounter fade, as they soon will, I think the debate as a whole will be seen as of a piece with Kennedy-Nixon in 1960, Reagan-Carter in 1980, and Clinton-Bush in 1992.

In each of those cases, a fresh, new candidate (although chronologically older in Reagan's case) had been gathering momentum at a time of general dissatisfaction with the "four more years" option of sticking with the incumbent party. The question was whether the challenger could stand as an equal with the more experienced, tested, and familiar figure. In each of those cases, the challenger passed the test -- not necessarily by "winning" the debate, either on logical points or in immediate audience or polling reactions, but by subtly reassuring doubters on the basic issue of whether he was a plausible occupant of the White House and commander in chief.
Next comes the Palin/Biden debate. I cringe at the thought of it, more out of a sense of pathos for Palin, whom I expect to just be clobbered. But at least the "expectations" threshhold for Palin will be so darn low that there's no way that she can go anywhere but up with even a barely passable performance. Even just surviving the debate without a breakdown will be considered a plus for Palin. And so we move onwards and upwards.

Go Obama/Biden!


Schroeder said...

This is fun! I can't wait to see Palin's performance. She really should concede she's not ready for the job.

Anonymous said...

I thought McCain sounded emotional, confused, and weak. I really expected more from him. That said, Obama's performance was more lackluster than I'd hoped.

I don't know if I can watch the Palin/Biden debate. Seriously, I'd rather watch Dan Quayle debate Biden. That would be more of an equal match-up.

Eric said...

The Palin/Biden debate will depend very much on which Biden shows up. For all of Palin's doe-eyed political ineptitude, if she simply sits back and gives Biden plenty of rhetorical rope, odds are 50/50 that he will hang himself.

I missed last night's debate because we were at a music concert. Watching the news this morning, it looked to me like they both did a decent job, but hard to say who played better to undecided voters.

Anonymous said...

Biden's best strategy would be to essentially ignore Palin (judging from what we've seen of her so far, she will beat herself), and continually attack McCain and the "republicans" in every response (it's what he seems to do best).

And I think Fallows nailed it. This has nothing to do with scoring points, it was how good you looked on the field.