As we are on a different time here in Europe, there is not much comment on yesterday’s debate in the papers yet. Only the Guardian’s Michael Tomasky and The Times’ Gerard Baker have commented as I am writing this, but they are both in the US and thus didn’t have to burn the midnight oil to watch the debate live. While Tomasky is a little skeptical, Baker reluctantly calls the debate for Obama. There will be more in Europe’s newspapers tomorrow or later tonight, if other developments don’t bury the discussion on the debate in a hurry. Could happen.
So, what did I think?
You won’t be surprised that I think Obama did the better job. At the beginning both were more or less eloquently avoiding a succinct statement on the ongoing bailout discussions. I was not surprised, this is an election campaign after all and I didn’t expect one of them to commit himself to a position. In a way this doesn’t matter anyway, because whatever deal they are going to agree upon in Washington, it will be most likely a done deal well before the election. So everyone who wants to, will be able to see what Obama and McCain voted for, respectively, and cast their own vote with that in mind. I did not understand the insistence.
The general principles on economy that Obama stated have been precise and well thought out and well delivered, if a little thin. McCain was a little flustered there.
When the debate finally went to the original script, foreign policy, McCain was obviously on firmer ground. He, however, never quite connected with the audience it seems. The “audience reaction tracker” CNN used, never showed much approval for what he said. Not the “Democratic” line, nor the “Independent” and not even the Republican line. Obama seemed to do better here, too.
And that doesn’t surprise me one bit. If what I felt myself is any indication, McCain lost this debate to his poor manners. See what I mean:
Listen closely to McCain here, some seconds into the tape he says something, that I’d translate as “Horseshit”. He looked as angry as he clearly was here many times and didn’t have much control. Twice I caught him looking grim and then, when he realized the cameras were on him, he switched on a smile. If Obama didn’t feel comfortable I didn’t realize it, he seemed perfectly at ease.
McCain was clearly angry and condescending. While Obama was pointedly respectful, maybe a little overly polite. Obama had the grace to acknowledge McCain’s merits. After an awkward moment at the beginning, he increasingly talked directly to McCain, tried to engage him, looked him in the eye and answered to his statements. McCain did nothing of the sort. He never once really looked at Obama, he reiterated that Obama, “doesn’t understand”, “doesn’t get it”. An obvious play with an Obama camp talking point turned upside down, just like they did with the “change” meme. I doubt it was effective, Obama too clearly had a firm grasp of the facts he presented.
Very noticeably, when McCain brought out his “experience” lines in that curious purring voice he uses for his excursions into personal history, the audience approval plummeted. This was too clearly a well-studied delivery of overused lines to be credible. It unbecomingly highlighted that McCain is definitely living in his glorious past.
The debate was not a firework of brilliance with fiery talk and witty exchanges, but on Obama’s part a solid show of presidentiality. On McCain’s part, not so much. There were no knock-out punches, I believe, but McCain would have needed one or two, so the debate clearly goes to Barack Obama.
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