Saturday, September 27, 2008

McCain's Tactics Expose Unsuccessful Strategy at Debate.

As anyone who has made up their mind already about who should be the next US president should be able to admit, it is awfully difficult to analyze a debate with a large portion of objectivity. That's why I have a bit of hesitation about declaring a "winner" in last night's event. I think the best way to assess the performances is to consider what the expectations were for each candidate before they stepped up on stage. The McCain campaign's initial efforts to make the subject of the first debate "foreign policy" was telling. Clearly they believe that this is McCain's strength, and I don't think you'd find many impartial observers that would suggest that the GOP candidate hasn't put his focus on overseas issues throughout his career.

On the other side, there was a lot of talk about Obama's lack of experience in world politics, and therefore an accompanying expectation that this would not be his strongest in this series of three presidential debates. Obviously his opponents expected an easy win for McCain. That's what makes the responses after last night's contest so notable. I was hard-pressed to find anyone claiming that McCain had won a significant victory, despite his supposed strength on foreign policy issues. To be fair, the first 40 minutes or so incorporated discussion about the crisis on Wall Street, and how it effects national standing. There is no one (except for perhaps his campaign) claiming that this is a particularly strong suit for John McCain. But still, the "more experienced" candidate should have had a distinct advantage, given the theme. If he did, he failed to fully capitalize on it.

I find it telling that several major media sources came out and called the debate in Obama's favor (including Time Magazine and The New York Times). Meanwhile the CNN viewer poll "had Obama winning overall by a margin of 51-38. Even more problematic for the McCain/Palin ticket, a CBS poll found that thirty-nine percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate thought Barack Obama was the winner. Twenty-four percent thought John McCain won. Thirty-seven percent saw it as a draw. While the conventional wisdom says that the initial reaction to debates can change over a few days, it's going to be hard for the Right Wing media machine to spin this to McCain's advantage. They will likely just cite "liberal media bias".

Unfortunately for the political dialog in this country, a lot of Americans make their judgments on superficial criteria. I suspect that this (for a change) will also hinder the perception of John McCain. His campaign tried to make the case that Obama looked defensive by agreeing with his aggressive opponent on a number of issues. While they suggested that this made Obama look "weak", the approach may end up making the Illinois senator look less "extreme" and more open to bipartisan diplomacy- which has been a big part of the strategy all along. On the other hand, I thought that the attack-dog version of McCain came off as more peevish than decisive (partially because he refused to look Obama in the eye). There have already been comparisons to the 1960 debate between Nixon and Kennedy. I wouldn't be surprised if that narrative reference sticks to this one.

As far as the specific content of the arguments presented by each side, there was nothing new for the informed viewer. Obama tied McCain to Bush's disastrous presidential agenda, and directed attention to the Arizona senator's unstinting commitment to a very unpopular war. McCain called out Obama on his opposition to the surge and continuously repeated the talking point that his opponent "just doesn't understand". I did find McCain's references to his record as not being the "Miss Congeniality" of the Senate puzzling. And his attack regarding Obama's supposed confusion over "tactics" and "strategy" was not only condescending, but flat-out wrong (I found it surprising that someone with an undeniable history in the military would screw that one up).

Overall, I can't see how anyone could come to the conclusion that this debate will be viewed as an asset for McCain in this race. This was his opportunity for an "early" knock-out punch on his chosen ground, and he failed to deliver it. Contrary to the claims of the McCain/Palin ticket, Obama came across as reliable, unflappable, and "presidential". Now the question of McCain's stamina rises to the forefront. He's behind and has to mount some sort of comeback. He's employed a few stunts that have largely fallen flat. Next up we have the confrontation between Palin and Biden, and the nation will be watching to see if McCain's running mate will be able to reverse the growing questions of her capabilities. That should garner a huge audience.


NOTE: If you are interested in reading an analysis of the various "misrepresentations" delivered in the debate, this site is a relatively unbiased one.

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11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama is a good speaker about any subject. Problem is he resemble George W Bush in that he doesn't have any real experience. He repeated stammered when he spoke which surprised me. McCain did better than I expected because he isn't talker; he is from the generation of doing. He showed more respect to Obama than Obama showed McCain even though McCain is much older and and is a senior Senator.

McCain is getting the same treatment by the media that Gore received because they are just not very interesting even though they have the advantage of experience.

Obama has more in common with Bush than McCain does. NO SUBSTANCE.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The analysis of your perception as to who won the debate leaves me questioning your perception and objectivity. Obama clearly has an economic plan and a time table to bring the troops home from Iraq with dignity. McCain's love affair with Bush is the same old rhetoric and his theatrical stunt to suspend his campaign backfired because the House and Senate did not need his help. Furthermore with his history of health challenges he is a heartbeat away from expiring and the sheer utter terrified thought of having Palin in the White House with her unskilled, unexperienced self has me seeing a nightmare and the whole country crashing down to the ground.

At least Obama has a plan and does not use scare tactics.

4:20 PM  
Blogger HAPPY IN NEVADA said...

Obama did a fine job; McCain was an old tottering angry man who still wants to win 'his' Viet Nam war any way he can. He's a war-monger; a cheat - a greedy creature with no morals.

Obama spelled out CLEARLY what he proposed on each question asked; McCain just kept saying that he thought Obama didn't understand, when it was MCCAIN WHO DIDN'T UNDERSTAND OBAMA!

Palin is equally as stupid and confused as old fart John - if you want the country totally 'shredded', vote for them.

If you want a chance at least, to turn things toward the better, vote Obama now that we can't have Nader......

5:29 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

What's particularly interesting is that the second poster replied with virtually the same exact response I might have left to the first poster. The ironic thing is that the second comment wasn't directed at the first, but rather at my original post. I moderated them at the same time.

My response to the first reader "anonymous"- Comparing George Bush to Obama is a non-starter. I don't believe that there is a single informed political observer in the world that would agree with you. Did you watch the debate? Obama did not "repeated (sic) stammered when he spoke". I suspect (from this claim) that you didn't actually tune in, but rather opted for some commentary from a right wing pundit after the fact. It's a shame that so many seem incapable of forming their own opinions for themselves.

Additionally, even the conservative pundits and blogs are crowing about the fact that McCain didn't respect his opponent. As they pointed out, how many times did Obama state his accord with McCain, and how many times did it happen in reverse? The very least one expects from someone in a debate is that an opponent looks at him/her when he/she is speaking. That's just basic courtesy. Obviously this was another political tactic, but I believe it will backfire on the McCain campaign

Finally, the media is giving McCain rough treatment because his campaign won't give them access. They don't want the media asking McCain, or especially Palin, questions of substance. Gore passed up no opportunity for media coverage. He invited it.

If you didn't learn from last night that Obama is completely focused on the substance of the issues (unlike McCain who ducked, dodged, weaved, repeated talking points, and attacked with misleading statements and outrigt lies), then you have obviously backed McCain from the start. There's no reason to try and hide that fact.

anon #2. I agree with most of what you wrote in your comment. Didn't you realize that I was intentionally trying to be more objective although I favor Obama? If not, then I guess I accomplished my objective.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Lexuses71 said...

After watching this debate, I can say my take aways were 1) McCain
is a rude, snide, arrogant old obnoxious Bushite who showed Obama
no respect as even a Senate colleague, while Obaba showed nothing but class, with crisp laser beam retorts, agreed where MCain 's perspective had some merit (which is what reaching across party lines is really all about); 2) McCain never mentioned the middle class and the devastating impact the current
economic crisis is having on many of us; 3) While MCCain certainly knows a lot about foreign affairs, OBama surprised many by having a sharp, pointed perspective himself, and this was supposed to be McCain’s strength; 3) That simple body language, sneers & silly chuckles McCain displayed and his lack of even being
willing to look at Obama directly (rather than out the corner of
his eye) said a lot about his supposed 'character', especially to voters on the fence (and even
some Repubs who were disgusted) were those of an old man who hates
his opponent on a personal level. MCCain confirmed he is totally
out of touch (or just doesn't care) with domestic issues. He's
pro-rich. He truly represents more of the same last 8 yrs. And his
bad temper was seething just below the surface last night, that
was easy to see. He loves to play the "emote" card when all else
fails, falls back on 1950's gibberish and war hero crap, then
mixes lies into factoids to diminish Obama. Obama called him on
several issues, especially the Iraq war and did it quite well. I'm not saying (to be fair) McCain didn't get some good points into
the discussion (from his persepctive), but overall, McCain proved to many watching he is
not the candidate for the future of America. He's simply Bush III. A knee-jerk reactor who has extreme viewpoints-and Sarah
Palin is now the GOP joke, it's all over the Internet. I read
several blogs as people's candid responses are quite revealing,
and many have now gone over the fence towards the Obaba/Biden
ticket after last night. MCCain needs to get a towel and sit
down....HIS pork belly is cooked.

6:08 PM  
OpenID thechairman66 said...

If you didn't learn from last night that Obama is completely focused on the substance of the issues (unlike McCain who ducked, dodged, weaved, repeated talking points, and attacked with misleading statements and outrigt lies), then you have obviously backed McCain from the start. There's no reason to try and hide that fact.

If that's what's considered substance, than I am truly afraid for this country.

But I think you miss the point. Debate, and campaigns largely, aren't about substance they're about communication.

Obama without a doubt had better content than McCain, but people don't process content well. They need a message, an overall narrative. McCain gave one, not that it was any good. Obama didn't.

Obama made points, McCain delivered a message.

The area McCain did lose in, was the expectations game. His ploys before the debate backfired and wound up raising his expectations while lowering Obama's.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you. This late in the game both my husband and I had already decided. Early on we were interested in McCain. Both of us are Independent voters. We watched both the Democratic Convention and the Republican Convention. Obama in our opinion served the country's needs best. Mitt Romney would have been a better VP pick for McCain. Joe Biden as VP made sense for Obama. In the end, the economy was the number one issue.

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Idiot said...

I thought the debate was fairly close with neither really knocking the other out. Right now, my fear of Sarah Palin even having the remotest chance of getting into the White House is enough to override any thing positive about McCain himself. I used to be fairly neutral on the man, but if Sarah Palin is the type of judgement he has......I'm scared to death!

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:43 PM  
Blogger myhouseof6 said...

i enjoyed the comments immediately after the debate, people were saying it was a clear mccain win.
after the liberal media has gotten together again they are declaring obama the victor. shocking. if republicans can pull this off it will be a miracle because they are fighting such an uphill battle with the media.
he came across very "coached" and not personable at all to me.
i am totally biased of course, but i thought it was a pretty easy mccain knockout, he was so at ease and could speak with such experience.

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boths sides of our life long Republican families are jumping ship and voting for Obama. He by far is better qualified for the job in every way, McCain's policies are all flawed and a continuance of the failed ones that got us in this mess to begin with. McCain's policies will kill the Middle Class because his tax breaks only help the richest people. While Obama only wants to tax the wealthiest people. The policies McCain supports have already hurt the 'average' American tremendously. Obama also has a MUCH better Defense/International Policy. If you have a disagreement with someone you sit down and discuss it, you don't punish/repremand that person into submission like McCain implies. We don't want our children dieing in some senseless war because old man McCain has some personal scores to settle from back in the day that are still eating at him. He is to unstable to run this country. Word is already out that it's o.k to abandon our party and vote for Obama. My family will put our money on the man who went to Harvard and has a level head on his shoulders...Obama.

1:20 AM  

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