Like many of you I watched last night’s debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. My assessment is that McCain turned in a more solid performance- at least initially- than he has in any other debate.
Now, don’t get me wrong, he didn’t actually say much of anything. Nonetheless, he started more aggressively and energetically, challenging Obama rather than simply pandering to the voters. And initially it actually seemed to be working. Obama was slightly taken aback by the change in tone. Yet, as time went by, Obama adapted and responded to each new accusation with a firm, clear rebuttal. Moreover, he came across as a leader trying to tell his citizens the truth, rather than a politician. Consider, for example, his answer to the question about a timeline to energy independence when he resisted the urge to parrot McCain’s absurd “within four years” line and admitted that we could achieve significant independence with ten years of determined effort. He had the chance to join his rival in offering fairy dust and he chose not to.
McCain, on the other hand, dealt very poorly with this adaptation by Obama. As in the Biden-Palin debate, I think the McCain camp was hoping to bait Obama into making the election personal. Yet, every time McCain tried, Obama rebutted the claim and then turned his attention firmly back to policy. Over and over we watched the cycle play out- McCain attacked character, Obama rebutted, Obama turned to policy. All the protestations of the McCain camp to the contrary, it was almost impossible not to see that the McCain campaign is not now, nor has been for some time, about issues. And in a turn of events that surprises even me, I’m forced to agree with Christopher Buckley:
John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, “We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us.” This campaign has changed John McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget “by the end of my first term.” Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he have been thinking?
All this is genuinely saddening, and for the country is perhaps even tragic, for America ought, really, to be governed by men like John McCain—who have spent their entire lives in its service, even willing to give the last full measure of their devotion to it. If he goes out losing ugly, it will be beyond tragic, graffiti on a marble bust.
My father-in-law thinks that Obama needs to start attacking McCain more aggressively but, really, I think that’s wrong-headed. Obama has a significant lead, he’s run a good campaign, he’s talking about issues… why on earth should be dip even more deeply into negative territory than he has already? Despite my distaste for his politics and policies, McCain has given this nation a great deal of service, and I am pleased to see Obama granting him some small measure of the dignity that the McCain campaign won’t grant itself.
And now that I’ve had my rant, what do y’all think about the debate?