Brief Notes on McCain v Obama, Debate Three

Presidential Debate 3 is history. And once again, polling indicates Obama was the clear winner. Let me offer a few thoughts.

After seeing this debate, my main feeling is, “thank god they’re over.” This was the most heated debate, but I prefer discussions that are cool, calm, and substantive. Several times, I thought it was going to devolve into a “Crossfire” type verbal confrontation. It never came to that; but I bet the media was just salivating at the possibility.

And there was a reason this debate was heated: McCain and Obama actually talked to each other. In Debate 1, McCain wouldn’t even look at Obama. In Debate 2, the townhall format limited their interaction.

In this debate, they did go eye to eye, and neither guy blinked… almost.

It’s unfortunate for McCain that he just doesn’t project well on TV. I watched some of the debate on C-SPAN, which did a split-screen display of the two candidates. Obama seemed cool, serious and unperturbed. By contrast, McCain seemed to have a nervous, self-conscious smile during much of the debate, and several times, his facial gestures seemed contorted and bothered by ticks or blinks.

I literally feel bad for him. It’s unfair that his lack of a good game face hurts him in this visual medium. But as McCain himself has said, life can be unfair.

Having said that, this was his best performance by far. Again, MacCain’s willingness to engage in discussion with Obama, instead of just looking past him, made a difference. But it now seems like a case of too much, too little, too late… if only he had done that starting in the first debate.

The reference to “Joe the Plumber” is a clever ruse by the Republican Party. The idea is to paint JTP as an average American who’d be harmed by Obama’s tax policy.

But in fact, JTP is no average Joe. His complaint is that he’ll pay more taxes if his business income exceeds $250,000. That’s not an income typical of Joe Six Pack; in fact, only the top 5% of Americans earn that much.

Comparing the experiences of JTP with J6P is an apples to oranges comparison: JTP is rich; J6P is struggling and would certainly benefit more from the Obama tax plan than the McCain tax plan.

I don’t know if people got that. But I suspect that this will get figured out in the next few days or so. And JTP, enjoy your few moments of fame, such as they are.

The worst part of the night for me was the discussion, no, the bickering, over negative campaigning and unfair attacks. No real issues were addresseed, no profound insights were made, no hidden truths were uncovered. Just two guys arguing over who was worse than the other.

I did find it interesting that McCain, perhaps out of a moment of anger, said of Bill Ayers “I don’t care about that washed-up terrorist”…yet he immediately followed that by saying, “I want to know the full truth abut their relationship.”

But John, if you don’t care about Ayers, then why do you care to know more about his “relationship” with Obama?

Message to the McCain campign: polls show the vast majority of Americans people don’t care about Ayers. Find another line of attack… if you can.

I can’t understand why several members of the press/GOP thought that McCain’s “I’m not George Bush” statement was such a big deal. Maybe it seemed like that because McCain said it so forcefully.

But look. Of course people know McCain isn’t Bush. But most people also know or perceive by now that McCain has voted with Bush over 95% of the time the past few years. A major problem for McCain is that, despite saying he’s a maverick, he hasn’t shown where he’s different from Bush in any area that matters (or at least, that matters to people who aren’t Republicans or conservatives). For example, he’s still all in with the Republican belief that Roe v. Wade must be overturned.

It’s not enough for McCain to say he’s not George Bush. He needs to show how he’s different from George Bush. I don’t believe he made that case. But I’m glad the pundidts liked the compelling way he made his losing argument.

Let me say it again: Obama is unflappable.

I couldn’t identify a single game changer for McCain tonight. Once again, Obama showed he was knowledgeable, articulate, bright, and presidential… hardly the empty suit, wide-eyed radical, or “foreigner” that the Republicans have tried to portray him as.

McCain had promised a Republican crowd that he was going to kick Obama’s “you know what.” But after the deabte was over, his supporters were no doubt wondering, “what is the what that John McCain was talking about?”


Brief Notes on the Second Presidential Debate: Obama Goes to Town

As noted at DailyKos and the Huffington Post, Obama was the winner among all the post-debate polls/surveys/focus groups.

I thought McCain did better than the last debate, and he definitely did better on questions about the economy.

But Obama showed he could do well in the town hall meeting, a debate style which many said would favor McCain. McCain has been chomping at the bit over the idea of engaging Obama in this type of format… as they say, be careful what you wish for.

I thought Obama was much less professorial than he has been/could be. On an early question about the bailout, he explained with brevity that unless actions were taken, businesses wouldn’t be able to get loans; and if businesses couldn’t get loans, they might not be able to make their payroll. It was simple and to the point; people could get it (even if they don’t like it).

McCain didn’t wear a flag pin, Obama did. Does that means McCain isn’t patri… oh, forget about it.

I think Obama greatly benefits from the “expectation game.” Many whites don’t know what to make of a black candidate. And he was skewered early on by the McCain campaign as being nothing but a pop tart, comparable to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. But on stage, he is bright, articulate, knowledgeable, and easily a match for the POW/maverick. Obama’s very appearance and demeanor have laid to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of negative ads from the McCain camp.

Obama mentioned healthcare. That issue is a winner with the American people. But I don’t think there’s any way America can afford an expansive healthcare system. This will be a campaign promise he doesn’t keep.

McCain NEEDED to win this debate, among those outside his base. That didn’t happen. This guarantees that the negative campaigning will go through the roof. McCain’s only hope is to paint Obama as the worst person in the world, or to benefit from some international affairs/military crisis type October surprise. We’ll see.

Let’s not forget what a huge advantage McCain had going into this debate:

How Obama Won the First Debate: What Americans Saw That the Pundits Didn’t

The early polls for the presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama are in, and the results are clear. Obama won the debate over McCain:
• CNN: Round 1 in debates goes to Obama, poll say: 51% of those polled thought Obama did the better job in Friday night’s debate, while 38% said John McCain did better.
• CBS Poll: Obama Boosted Most By Debate: In a survey of almost 500 uncommitted voters, 40% say Obama won; 38% says it was a tie; 22% say McCain won.
• Frank Luntz (Fox/RNC Pollster) Debate Focus Group Favors…Obama! The focus group consisted of undecided voters, half of whom voted for either Bush or Kerry in 2004. The majority said that Obama won.
• A Time magazine focus group of undecided voters thought Obama won the debate. 38% said Obama won, 27% said McCain won, and 36% said it was a tie.

Yet, many of the pundits felt than McCain was victor. Even on the progressive/pro-Democrat site, a lot of folks felt that Obama did not do well.

What did the American public see that the pundits and even the liberal die-hards did not? I think it’s a combination of the following.

It’s the economy, stupid.

First, understand this: going into the debate, a CBS poll of registered voters indicated that almost half of Americans believed Obama wanted to raise their taxes, while only one-third of them believed that McCain would do so. But in fact, the Obama plan would cut or freeze taxes for 95% of American families. So if Obama could simply educate people about the facts of his tax plan, that would be a big win for him.

Obama guaranteed himself of no less than a tie by talking up his tax plan right out of the box. In answer to the second debate question, he said that McCain’s plan will provide for $300 billion of tax cuts for the rich or businesses. And he further stated that his plan would provide provide a tax cut or freeze for people making under $250,000.

People got it: Obama is out to help the middle class; McCain is out to give tax breaks to the rich (including, by inference, wealthy Wall Street executives). That probably didn’t resonate with the punditrocacy, who either knew the true details of the Obama tax plan or didn’t care about those details. But for “ordinary” Americans, it made all the difference in the world.

People Get It About Iraq.

I myself don’t think Obama did a god job of countering McCain’s filibuster about the surge. I think that for every second that McCain talked about the surge, Obama should have talked twice as long about how the Iraq War was the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history, a $500 billion blunder that is bleeding our country dry.

But at the Lutz focus group, the strongest reaction the entire night came when Obama said McCain was wrong on the war, WMD, etc, etc. View this video clip to see for yourself.

Again: the people get it. They recognize that the Iraq War was a huge mistake. And all of McCain’s verbal gobbledygook on the surge is not going to erase that from people’s minds.

Obama Agreed Too Much? SO WHAT!?!

This is the clearest case of the pundits getting it all wrong. Chris Matthews of MSNBC threw a hissy fit that Obama “agreed so much with McCain.”

Can there be a sillier “issue” than this? Think about this people: if Obama agrees with McCain on certain things, then that also means McCain agrees with Obama on the same things… how is that a problem for Obama?

Americans don’t care about where the candidates agree; they care about where they disagree. Obama did the viewers a service: by not wasting time on false or petty disagreements, it was easier for viewers to see what the actual issues are between the candidates.

And even more, it may have helped Obama in an unanticipated way. Many people who saw the debate observed that McCain was condescending and sarcastic. That feeling was no doubt heightened by Obama’s willingness to voice agreement when it was appropriate to do so.

In other words: Obama showed gravitas; McCain showed hubris. As noted by Time in its write-up on their debate focus group of undecideds,

The audience did not like it when McCain went after Obama for being “naïve” or used his oft-repeated “what Senator Obama doesn’t understand” line. When the two clashed directly in the second half of the debate, with Obama repeatedly protesting McCain’s characterization of his statements or positions, the voter dials went down. Voters appear to have judged McCain too negative in those encounters and Obama more favorably.

That’s why I have to laugh at this post-debate McCain campaign commercial that says “McCain is Right” because Obama agreed with him several times during the debate. I guarantee, that will not resonate as much as this ad from Obama, titled the “Zero” ad, which observed that during the 90 minute debate, McCain never once used the words “middle class.”

These ads show the ongoing strategy of the two campaigns. The McCain campaign is trying to make this an election about personality and character; the Obama campaign is making this a campaign about issues, particularly the economy.

To the McCain folks, I say: good luck with that. Their problem is, McCain is accumulating a lot of baggage concering his own character:
• The press is taking the McCain campaign to task for its false and misleading campaign ads.
• In the Luntz/Fox focus group that was mentioned earlier, almost all felt that McCain’s faux campaign suspension earlier in the week was a political stunt and not a principled stand.
• Most voters think McCain chose Palin as his running mate to help him win in November, not because she is well-qualified for the job.

A theme is emerging: McCain is a “bad character” who will say or do anything to get elected. McCain’s dismissive and condescending attitude in the first debate certainly didn’t do much to make people feel better about him. Isn’t it ironic? In his attempt to win based on personality, McCain is making himself disreputable to the voters.

SO: was the debate a big win for Obama? No. But Obama had the lead in the polls before the debate, so even a so-so performance is good for him. Perhaps the McCain campaign can take solace in the fact that the pundits gave him a thumbs-up for his debate performance. But I think the Obama campaign is more than happy to get a similar gesture from the American public.

Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski seem to have it figured out: