Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thoughts on the Debate

I wish Obama wouldn't start sentences with "John is right . . ." or some variation thereof. That's going to be a commercial for McCain if it isn't already. Nothing stops Obama from starting his sentences with "where I disagree with Senator McCain is . . ." However, it's certainly better than McCain's repeated and condescending use of "what Obama doesn't understand . . ." My friend Julia points out the interesting hypocrisy in this McCain tactic -- they want to label Obama an intellectual elitist -- but at the same time he doesn't understand foreign policy. Apparently, understanding foreign policy doesn't take a brain it takes gut instinct -- as in when Obama mocked the current President for "looking into the eyes" of Putin and McCain responds with "I have looked into his eyes and I saw three letters -- K-G-B."

It's like Stephen Colbert says: "Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now, I know some of you are going to say, 'I did look it up, and that's not true.' That's 'cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works."

Apparently McCain measures foreign policy like Stephen Colbert pretending to be an idiot. And what is it, exactly, that McCain thinks Obama doesn't understand? George Lakoff talks about how conservatives are drawn to the "strict father" model of the world. It seems McCain thinks we are the world's parent -- he describes Russia as "out of line" and thinks we need to punish countries who don't agree with us like they are petulant children. Unfortunatley, however, we aren't the world's parent and diplomacy, as Obama understands, often requires some nuance. However, I did like one aspect of McCain's proposals and that was the never-before seen "League of Democracies." I imagine, since we already have NATO and the EU, that the League of Democracies differs in that it includes Batman and the Green Lantern.

It was also interesting to see McCain gun for the Jewish vote. I think he dropped the "existential threat to Israel" line about 500 times. It's not surprising to see McCain use this tactict since his unflinching miltarism in support of Israel is also the source of Lieberman's dedication. Hopefully "the Great Schlep" has an effect and Jewish voters -- who like to criticize the right for one issue voting on abortion -- don't do the same thing with Israel.

Just as interesting as the things that were in the debate were the things that weren't. For example, McCain never said "middle class" and Obama is already slamming McCain for this. Seems like a winning tactic to me.

Another big part of every debate is body language -- people blame Gore for walking behind Bush in a debate (trying to show he was taller, I think) and coming off like a loser while Bush chuckled good-naturedly. Well, McCain certainly played the part of the grumpy old man (smirking, scoffing, refusing to look at Obama) -- and its making news. McCain's grumpiness will definitely help Obama. A few months ago an article in Slate talked about how Bugs Bunny (calm, cool politician) beats Daffy Duck (the angry politician). It's an interesting framework that certainly works for the elections that I can remember.

And what else wasn't there? McCain's VP. After the debate, Biden was all over the networks hyping Obama and Palin was nohwere to be found. This follows the recent trend of conservatives becomingly increasingly nervous about Palin's nomination. Kathleen Parker at the National Review writes an article about how bad Palin is, labelling her candidacy the "Palin Problem" and calling for her to step down and George Will, along with other conservatives, is getting sick of the anti-illectual bent of the Republican party. I think it's telling that Tina Fey's impersonation of Palin is so funny and yet she doesn't even have to change Palin's words half the time. There's a fine line between fear and hilarity -- if Palin doesn't get elected the good news is it will go down as the funniest VP pick of all time.


Anonymous said...

I thought you did a nice job covering the major points of the debate and are right in noting that Obama scored the scored better and more often than did McCain not only at the level of intellect and policy, but also of stature. Hopefully Biden can do the same thing on Thursday. He will be faced with something of the opposite of the challenge that Obama faced on Friday: while people were looking to see if Obama, despite is limited time in elected office, was "ready" to be president and he needed to come off as down to Earth (as opposed to being an aloof elitist (a la Gore or Adali Stevenson)), everyone knows that Biden knows the ins and outs of both Washington and foreign policy the difficulty will be whether he can convey that vast wealth of knowledge while maintaining a respectful tone toward Palin. Regardless of whether you think Palin deserves to be talked down to (I, for one, think she does), Biden needs to resist the temptation or risk eliciting sympathy for Palin. As this blog mentioned previously, Palin is someone people relate to and see pieces of themselves in. The average person does not know the ins and outs of foreign policy but likely still considers himself or herself capable of making (and expressing) foreign policy decisions--perhaps by listening to their gut and being sure never to blink. If Biden's attacks seem too mean spirited or smack of a know-it-all smugness, those who like Palin may sense that their own intelligence and judgment is being impugned as well and thus might respond negatively.

On a completely different note, I must say that while I thought Obama generally acquitted himself nicely I was surprised by his answer on the surge in iraq. Obviously this was a point where McCain felt particularly confident and where he could really press Obama and try to score some points by noting the differences in their respective stances on the surge. Obama answered McCain by trying to draw a distinction between a strategy and a tactic, a line of argument that in my view was ill-conceived. Rather than argue about the differences between a successful tactic in service of a failed strategy, I thought he should have opted for an answer that I thought he had used rather successfully in the debates during the democratic primaries. The argument ran something like this: Our military, is of course, the strongest in the world and given the right number of troops and the right military equipment they can achieve any military objective that it would be prudent for us to ask of them. But the problem in Iraq has moved beyond military objectives. What we have in Iraq is a social problem, not a military one. So of course the surge worked, it was a military objective carried out successfully by our brave men and women who are the best soldiers in the world. But that does not change the fact that the Iraq government has failed to meet all of its social and political deadlines. The government of Iraq this year is running at a huge surplus [I think its around 80 billion dollars, if i remember correctly], while American tax payers are paying millions of dollars a day and America's children are putting their lives at risk everyday. With the military objectives of this war largely complete its time for us to turn over the country to men and women of Iraq and to the government that they elected and to bring our sons and daughters home.

Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Just another example of how McCain came off as the grumpy old man.Watch McCain when Obama starts talkgin about Spain...

Anonymous said...