Wednesday, October 8
Victory on Points for Obama
By Lola Adesioye,
Guardian.co.uk, October 8, 2008
Town hall meetings have been feted as the arena in which John McCain excels and so it was expected that he would breeze through last night's presidential debate in Nashville. As it turned out, however, McCain's prowess was slightly overrated as Barack Obama proved that he too can fare very well in a town hall environment.
On the basis of the dramatic economic events that have taken place since the last time McCain and Obama came face to face, McCain was under the most pressure to impress, in order to bridge the polling gap that has opened up between himself and his opponent. While he wasn't bad, he certainly wasn't brilliant enough to give him any significant advantage over Obama. Post-debate polls are already showing that Obama – who appeared more composed and collected than McCain and displayed a real sense of knowledge and gravitas – is well ahead.
Considering the different physical setting of the debate – including the candidates' ability to move around and engage directly with the audience – Obama's and McCain's stylistic, body language and generational differences were much more obvious tonight, and will no doubt play a much larger role in determining who voters believe won the debate.
The ability to connect with voters was important for both candidates and in that respect McCain was physically clearly at ease with the audience. Whilst not quite as folksy as Sarah Palin, he often addressed the audience using the somewhat forced expression "my friends" and went to some lengths to repeat the names of the individuals who had asked questions, standing closer to them than Obama and even shaking hands with one. Making McCain appear amiable, this was a tactic that will no doubt go down well with Republican voters.
However, McCain's physical closeness was at odds with a disconnect revealed not only by his jokes about needing a hair transplant (which was met with silence) or the obvious disdain directed towards Obama – who he at one point addressed as "that one" – but also by his statement that members of the audience may never have heard of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before last week – highly unlikely considering that they are two of America's largest mortgage providers.
Obama, although physically more distant from the audience, did an excellent job at connecting in a more down-to-earth, in touch and less forced way than McCain by making clear references to the experiences of middle class people, and directing his key points on issues back to their specific and practical impact on average Americans. On healthcare, for example, he shared his own experience – one that is not uncommon in America - of how his mother, dying from cancer had to "spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies" over whether they would pay for her treatment. (...more)
Anyone who says that Obama is unable to square up to McCain was certainly proven wrong. McCain insisted – as he has done for some time and as Sarah Palin did in her debate with Joe Biden last week – on repeating his misrepresentation of Obama's position on taxes. But Obama – when moderator Tom Brokaw would allow him the opportunity to rebut McCain's points – fought back, laying out exactly where McCain was incorrect.
More vigorously than ever, Obama also delivered some excellent smack-downs to McCain. On McCain's assertions of Obama's apparent naiveté he asserted: "Well, you know, Senator 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-Qaida are setting up base camps and safe havens to train terrorists to attack us." On McCain's suggestion that Obama is, as Obama himself put it, "spouting off", he said: "[McCain] is the guy who sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," who called for the annihilation of North Korea. I don't think that is an example of speaking softly."
McCain, who repeated the motto "record over rhetoric" several times, delivered some optimistic rhetoric of his own, declaring – somewhat bizarrely - "I'll get Osama bin Laden, my friends. I'll get him. I know how to get him." Of course, he didn't quite divulge how he would do that.
Overall, John McCain was not bad, but – unfortunately for him – he just wasn't great.