Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Debate Part II: Rumble in Tennessee

Last night featured the second debate between Obama and McCain and although there has been a recent sharpening of attacks in the last few days between these candidates, last night was quite civil. Overall, we saw a repeating of a lot of the same positions and attacks that we saw in the first debate. However, there were several things that I think are important to note as we evaluate this debate. 

First, McCain clearly was doing well early on. The first two questions he hit out of the park. Even though his idea of having the government buy and renegotiate mortgages is already in the current bailout plan that passed last week, his presentation of it was well timed and delivered well. Also, it is interesting that if you had asked an alien to pick which party McCain was from based on those comments, I don't think you would have heard republican in response. This is important because it implies to win, McCain has to, in essence, have anti-republican proposals. 

However, that is where the good performance stopped for McCain. For the rest of the debate Obama consistently provided better answers to questions and rebuttals to attacks. The basic problem McCain faces is that even though he is not your typical republican, he is still tied to that party which, rightly or wrongly, is at the moment being held responsible for causing the current recession. 

Beyond what they said, McCain did three things during last night's debate that struck me as odd, and will probably be what most people will remember from this debate. First, when McCain was speaking Obama sat on his chair and appeared to be listening intently to what McCain had to say. He showed him respect and courtesy. But when Obama was speaking, McCain was walking around and was almost never facing Obama when he was speaking. His moving around was constantly picked up by the cameras. While I do not think McCain intended to be seen, his moving around appeared disrespectful. The tacit feeling that came across was that Obama was someone who listened to ideas, even ones he doesn't agree with, while McCain is only interested in giving his opinion and not what others have to say. I don't think this is actually true, but their nonspeaking actions seemed to communicate this last night.

Second, during Obama's follow up to McCain's attack of him on Afghanistan, McCain interrupted him to say "thanks" in response to a nice comment Obama was making about McCain, but this backfired in two ways. First, Obama was making a serious comment while McCain's interruption looked like he was looking for a laugh. His interruption made Obama look presidential since Obama ignored the interruption and continued in the same tone. Second, Obama was doing a very normal debate technique where you turn a complement into an attack. The result here was that McCain actually said "thanks" right as Obama was delivering the attack. So beyond the fact that McCain appeared rude for interrupting Obama, the timing of the events made it appear as if McCain was saying thanks and agreeing with Obama's attack. 

Third, during one of McCain's attacks on Obama he said that voters should just compare their records in deciding who to vote for. McCain said you have me or (and, then pointing at Obama) "that one". I am not sure what he was going for here, but that was about as close to a gaff as we we had last night. It was a very derisive attack that did not play well with voters in the room and probably not at home either. If you watch the playback of the debate when McCain makes that comment you seen some very uncomfortable shifting and body language by many of the voters in the town hall room. 

Overall, last night was a pretty clear victory for Obama in terms of both the information he spoke as well as how he carried himself throughout the debate. As a final example of how McCain misfired last night was after the debate. Typically at town hall debate candidates go around and talk to the uncommitted votes there, pose for pictures, etc. McCain did this for about 5 min and then left the room. Obama continued to chat with voters and pose for pictures. All of this was captured on TV before the commentators started their analysis. McCain yield a room of uncommitted voters to Obama and the public got to watch how they all responded to Obama, while McCain was no where to be found. This was the icing on the cake and spoke volumes regarding how the campaign is going.  

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