Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama Won

No, I didn't write this before the debate, like McCain's people did his victory comment. To be honest, I was expecting them to be right. Obama has never been as good a debater as he is an orator: prone as he was to "uhs" and "ums", tripping over his sentences in a rush to get out his arguments, and a nasty tendency to look down his nose at his opponent instead of directly at them.

None of that was really on display last night.He looked directly at both Mr. McCain and the camera—which is more than I can say for McCain, who was clearly coached never to acknowledge Obama's presence with a straight look—and brought the powerful gaze that makes his speeches so arresting to the debate. He minimized the verbal tics. He made a few excellent points. And while he lost some opportunities to score hits, he scored a number of other ones, including this excellent reminder:

"You like to pretend like the war started in 2007 — you talk about the surge. The war started in 2003," Mr. Obama said. "At the time, when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong."
Nice work.

And most importantly, he looked conciliatory and gracious. The tendency to say "I agree with Senator McCain" was maddening to a partisan like me, but it makes sense: political debates are as much about building and reinforcing your image as scoring rhetorical points, and a truly combative, take-no-prisoners Obama is not what independents and many democrats are voting for.

Compare that to McCain, who gave a fine performance, but kept on saying "What my opponent doesn't understand is" when leading points and (more importantly) never looking Obama directly in the face. He was transparently coached for both; that's why I was so angry with Bennett, who was clearly also coached to respond on cue to McCain's own cues. But it made McCain look petty and dismissive: the kind of old man who is so set in his ways that he cannot believe that a younger one would have a better idea than his own. That is a fatal frame for Mr. McCain to put himself in. Experience is his strong suit, but the flip side of experience is stagnation and arrogance. That's what he displayed last night, "maverick" or no.

(By the way... never call yourself that, Senator. People who call themselves a mavericks are comedy relief, not leaders.)

So, yes, Obama won. Not handily, not completely, but he definitely won.

(Am I ever looking forward to Palin/Biden next week.)

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