Saturday, September 27, 2008

Quick take-aways

By Carol Gee

If you have an interest in my "take" on the first presidential debate of 2008, here are a few preliminary thoughts:
  • Economic and foreign policy: rather unspecific about the Wall Street bailout, but starkly differing on foreign policy. McCain tended to use slogans, Obama was more specific. Obama reminded people that it is still McCain who "wants to give more and more to those with the most," proposing $300 billion in tax cuts for the rich. Understandably, neither wanted to be very specific about the current economic crisis, however.

  • Personal interactions: to McCain Obama was the enemy to defeat; to Obama McCain was "John." Moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS soon gave up trying to get the two men to actually engage with each other, however. Obama was quite willing and did so on occasion, but McCain refused coming across as rude and dismissive.

  • Behavior-wise: the contrasts were pronounced with Obama erect and looking around the room, and McCain crouched in his fighting stance. Obama was engaged and firm, but with the ability to smile, even laugh, and meet McCain's eyes (as Chris Matthews pointed out). McCain was combative, disrespectful and agitated throughout, though he did smile often. It seemed to be a sarcastic and angry smile about Obama, however.

  • Now vs. then: Obama projected the present and future; McCain seemed stuck in the past. For example McCain's proposal for a "League of Democracies" resembled the old League of Nations. Obama pledged to restore U.S. standing in the world, and shift our major military efforts to confronting al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  • Where in the world: The two men would seem to have contrasting arenas of day to day focus. The United States people would not get much of McCain's attention, except for corporate leaders. Obama wants to refocus some of the nation's attention to here at home. McCain used heroic occasions to impress his listeners -- Eisenhower's two letters before Normandy, for example -- and then resorted to name-dropping of world leaders, though he cannot say Ahmadinejad. Obama used specific policies, stating where he would reset the balance between military and domestic spending, "investing" in America's crucial needs. McCain would deeply slash most federal non-military spending to restore fiscal balance.

  • It is still about Iraq: to McCain it is all about Iraq, to Obama it is about a wider world. The war in Iraq was their dividing line, with McCain expecting "victory" and Obama signaling an end to the U.S. occupation. McCain revealed himself to be thoroughly Neocon. Obama came across as firm and willing to engage militarily, but preferring to try much more diplomacy first.

  • Who won the debate: the instant polls seemed to show Obama "winning" the highest approval from listeners, though traditionally there were probably more Democrats tuned in to the debate. If foreign policy was once considered Obama's "short suit," that is no longer the case. McCain desperately needed to win this debate and that did not happen; his chances diminish as time passes.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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