Tuesday, September 30, 2008

McCain-Obama I: The Flatliners

Last week’s Presidential debate reflected the current state of this nation: lackluster. Despite what the press claims that the debate was an Obama victory, in reality it was a prime example of gridlock in action. Both candidates offered nothing new. Both relied solely on campaign trail boilerplate rhetoric to score points although no one really scored a decisive victory. McCain needed to win more than Obama did. His failure to nail Obama decisively is why Obama is seen as the “winner”.

Problem is Obama is not particularly effective in debate. This has been noted before in press circles but seeing Obama debating for the first time I can see why. The word which came to my mind was “shaky”. His answers lacked the confidence or maturity that Obama’s three Democratic candidate predecessors (Clinton, Gore, and Kerry) possessed.

Considering Obama’s weaknesses one would have thought that McCain would have mopped up the floor with him but McCain didn’t do that.

The impression I got from watching the debate was that Obama’s and McCain’s antenna have been blunted by the long campaign and that both men were off their game.

Both candidates lost golden opportunities to score big time against the other. McCain’s lost opportunity came when moderator Jim Lehrer asked both candidates in view of the present economic crisis in America what programs would they sacrifice in response to coping with the problem? This was no idle query. It’s a good legitimate question and a good test of Presidential leadership and courage for both liberals and conservatives. Both men flubbed it; Obama, the worst. When asked what he would sacrifice, Obama failed to list one program he would be willing to cut. Instead he sidestepped the question. McCain, to his credit, did list a couple programs he would be willing to cut but he failed to see (and seize) the greater opportunity: Obama by failing to list one program he would be willing to sacrifice in a time of crisis left himself wide open to being tagged a free-spending liberal. McCain could have scored enormously with conservatives and moderates if he had seized on Obama’s omission and pointed it out to the crowd. His failure to do so cost him dearly. (I can’t imagine Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon letting Obama slide on that question. Even Mike Huckabee wouldn’t have let Obama off that easily).

A few minutes later Obama missed his own golden opportunity. Lehrer asked both candidates what the lessons of the Iraq war were for future Presidential candidates. McCain offered his staple defense of the war. Obama missed an incredible opportunity to articulate a cogent, potent criticism of the Iraqi war by demonstrating the recklessness, amorality, and dishonesty that motivated our invasion of Iraq and that condemned over four thousand brave American men and women to death. Instead he offered his standard political sound-bites. Obama had a golden chance to burnish his foreign policy credentials and offer America a new world vision and he failed miserably.

I was watching the CNN coverage of the debate and noticed the audience reaction meter throughout the debate. What struck me was the fact that the reaction lines never fluctuated. It reminded me of a hospital heart meter that was flat-lining and I realized that was the perfect metaphor for this debate: flat-lining because that’s what the debate was: slow, lingering death—another perfect metaphor for the present state of the Union.

If I had to advise both campaigns, I would offer the following things: for McCain’s campaign, I would advise Sarah Palin to play her role of Washington outsider to the hilt against Joe Biden. The first McCain-Obama debate merely reinforced the Capitol Beltway insider status of both men and the country’s collective disillusionment with both political parties. For the Obama campaign I would advise that Obama (when asked in the future what programs he would cut in a national crisis) be prepared to list one or two programs so he wouldn’t expose himself to the liberal tag. Bill Clinton did a much better job of evading the liberal tag in 1992 than Obama is doing now. Obama still has a lot to learn on that count.

What botherss me the most is the fact that either man will be our President in January and if what I saw at the debate represents the future then I am going very deeply concerned about our Nation’s future.

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