Saturday, September 27, 2008

1st Debate Thoughts

Here are my thoughts after watching the 1st debate between McCain and Obama last night.

  1. It was good to see a debate structured to allow the candidates ample time to explain their positions beyond 30-second sound bites. I especially liked the way each candidate had an opportunity to speak directly to his opponent after the initial 2 minute back and forth. Much better format than each candidate just having a couple of minutes before the moderator started giving warnings on time.
  2. The demeanor of the debate matched the demeanor of the campaigns. Obama was smart, focused, relaxed, and in command of his facts. McCain was aggressive, testy, and at times dismissive of Obama's answers. I can understand when you don't agree with your opponent, but you don't need to be sarcastic and/or condescending in your responses, especially in this forum.
  3. Part of what Jim Lehrer tried to do was to get the candidates to talk to each other. Obama did this on occasion, although not as much as I would have liked, but McCain wouldn't look at Obama or address him directly all night. What was that about? Having been a trained interviewer/interrogator for 15 years, I can tell you that eye contact, or the lack of it, can mean several things. It could be fear (people and animals drop their eyes as a sign of submission), so maybe McCain was afraid of Obama. It might have been that McCain was either angry or afraid he couldn't control his emotions, so we wanted to remain detached. Or it could be the result of something I've noticed about McCain in the past - he tends to do best when facing an enemy, real or imagined, and I've seen him demonize the other side to set up the "me vs. them" dynamic that he favors.
  4. Obama had a very good grasp on foreign policy and world events, and I liked how to spoke holistically about the roles other issues played in the eventual world dynamic. For McCain, I heard a lot of discussion about winning, and I'm glad I didn't have the phrase "Senator Obama just doesn't understand" in any drinking game, because I would have been blotto by the midpoint of the debate.
  5. I detected an undercurrent of disdain or derision from McCain when he was challenged by Obama on issues or positions. It was almost like McCain thought his 26 years of experience exempted him from being challenged, and there was a whiff of "what's this new whipper-snapper know about any of this - I was making these decisions when you were still shooting hoops in high school" in the air.
  6. Obama did a good job of pointing out, and then reinforcing, his priorities - energy independence, tax cuts and an economic approach that would favor 95% of the population instead of the top 2%, and addressing the health care mess. McCain kept harping on tax cuts for all (he was careful to not provide details or demographics), earmarks (although cutting $18 billion in earmarks won't pay for his $300 billion in tax cuts), and drilling/nuclear as a fix for energy (again, we only have 3% of oil reserves but 25% of consumption, so that math doesn't work, and his $300 billion in tax cuts means he's going to have a hard time funding new nuclear plants, especially with the $700 billion financial bailout in the works and his commitment to spending $10 billion a month in Iraq for an undetermined amount of time). I found it interesting that McCain only mentioned "change" once during the entire debate, and never even uttered the term "middle class". Perhaps he doesn't realize they exist.
  7. McCain kept using the term "check my record" or "I have a long record" as a way for people to know where he stood, but he only did that when convenient. When Obama hit him with his legacy of tax cuts for the rich and corporations, deregulation, and trickle-down economics that have led to the current financial crisis, suddenly McCain was a maverick who didn't win Miss Congeniality from his party, but his record shows broad support for the GOP strategy. His claims of being a hawk on spending don't jibe with how he's supported the Bush administrations budgets and spending plans that have caused the massive growth in spending that McCain now claims he will reverse.
  8. One observation post-debate: listening to the talking heads weigh in with their opinions on what I had just seen (please, spare me), they all seemed to have superficial comments that I don't think would sway undecideds. Two things stuck out, though - first, Joe Biden was great in his summary and statement of position, and he seemed to be on every network. Where was Sarah Palin? I didn't see her anywhere, and that's disappointing. It's time to put her out there to do VP-level things. Secondly, this blew by me during the debate, but Keith Olbermann pointed it out - McCain mentioned better training our interrogators to extract needed information from terrorist so that we "never have to torture again". Say what? Weren't you the guy who said the US doesn't torture? Sounded like you just admitted we've been torturing folks, John. Thanks for the 411 on that.

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