Sunday, September 28, 2008

Notes from the weekend - debate edition

If you have been hiding under a rock for the past week, you may not know that there was a minor altercation between our presidential candidates on Friday night. You may also have missed the news that one of the candidates tried to scuttle the whole damn thing under the guise of this little economic crisis we've had going on. Well, the little gambit didn't work; the maverick gambler played his bluff and lost. He arrived in Oxford, Mississippi, with a slight snark following in the media coverage.

{On a side note, the location of the debate is, itself, remarkable. Ole Miss was a campus that required National Guard intervention for integration to happen.}

So, yes, the debate happened. The Impolitic household took in another parent and child for the evening, and the first graders tore up Banana's room whilst the parents drank wine and beer and tried to follow the meanderings between Senators Obama and McCain. Loosely put, here's what I saw:
  • Both candidates played to their supporters. In general, Obama was more forward-looking and more specific in his answers, but really both did their best to stick to talking points even when Jim Lehrer tried to pull them into more engaging territory.

  • McCain looked tired and seemed the less-prepared of the two. His efforts to land attacks against Obama turned ad hominem and snide. In fact, when he tried to begin with the standard, tired attack of the Democratic candidate as a tax-and-spender, Obama deftly argued back with specifics about his proposals and effectively took the wind out of the attack.

  • Obama seemed better prepared, and generally navigated the proceedings with a far more presidential demeanor. When asked to engage McCain directly he obliged, even when it was clear that McCain would not even return eye contact.

  • McCain spouted some fascinating lines. His reference to SDI (Reagan's Star Wars program) was bizarre and seemed anachronistic given current issues. We had to rewind his phrase "not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning" twice to parse what he meant. His reference to a pen for vetoes recalled Bob Dole's awful debate performances, particularly when he paused and said, "Well, this pen is kind of old." It truly was a head-scratcher.

  • Obama held his own on the foreign policy sections of the debate. Particularly good was the moment when he pointed out that McCain kept referring to the surge—as though the war had begun in 2007, not 2003.

  • Though some friends have criticized the format, I appreciated Lehrer's effort to push the debate into a more discursive model and to resist hewing firmly to a script.

UPDATE: This Old Pen