The Commonwealth Comment

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debating the Debate

Last night the nation got a its first look at the presidential candidates going head to head on the same stage. I watched the debate with Carole Simpson and the rest of my Road to the White House class from Emerson.

After enjoying some pizza and listening to the Bill from Capitol Hill lament about his hoping to someday be a law, we finally got to the action. The first debate between Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Barack Obama (D-IL) took place at "Ole Miss" in Oxford, Mississippi and was moderated by PBS' Jim Lehrer.

Overall I was pleased with most of the substance both candidates presented. Each sought to draw sharp contrasts between their policies for the voters and succeeded. There was, in my view no real clear cut winner. That being said, if national security and foreign policy are supposed to be John McCain's strongest topics, a tie with Obama wasn't good enough to win this election.

McCain was clear and at times quite strong hitting Barack Obama on his stance on Russia's invasion of Georgia, the war in Iraq, and the possibility of raising taxes. McCain also came across as almost condescending toward his Democratic counterpart calling him "naive" and saying he simply "doesn't understand" some of the complex issues facing the country and the people. McCain's anecdotes in an attempt to connect with voters at times seemed scripted and ingenuine.

Besides his actual words, McCain's body language also stuck out dramatically. He looked at Barack Obama only twice throughout the entire evening, when they shook hands at the beginning and end of the debate. When Obama would be on offense McCain would stare straight ahead with an nervous, awkward smile, almost refusing to acknowledge the other senator's presence. He came off as smug and seemingly looking past Obama and toward the Oval Office. A strategy that may prove to be fatal for his White House bid.

Barack Obama started off the strongly giving a four point plan for the proposed bailout of Wall Street. At times he seemed very irritated with McCain and spoke directly to him calling him out on everything that has gone wrong with the War in Iraq including the complete lack of WMDs. It was during these heated times Obama was at his best. His expertise doesn't lie in the topic of national security and foreign policy, but the junior senator proved he could hold his own against the self-proclaimed maverick.

Overall I wasn't thrilled with the debate's setup or moderation. Formal style doesn't allow the candidates an opportunity to talk to and connect with voters. Mr. Lehrer had difficulty keeping the candidates both on topic and within his time restrictions, and his questions were unimaginative for the next president of the United States. It came across as poorly planned, stiff lectuirng.

The Vice Presidential candidates will meet for their only debate on October 2nd in St. Louis. It will be interesting to see the untested Sarah Palin go toe to toe with the experience Joe Biden, especially after she's been manhandled in sit down interviews with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric.

McCain and Obama will meet again on October 7th in Nashville for the second of three debates before the voters head to the polls on November 4th.


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