Archive for October 8th, 2008

A Boring Debate

Although it appears that Barack Obama won this debate to go 2-0 in the Presidential debate circuit, more importantly John McCain didn’t do what he had to: break out and make a difference.  The polls:  CNN Obama 54 McCain 30, and CBS Obama 40 McCain 26, the rest a draw.  To be sure, the CBS poll was only uncommitted voters, while CNN’s poll was anyone who watched the debate.

First, though, I was bored.  I really disliked the format of the debate, and thought both candidates were too cautious.  John McCain is more comfortable in town hall formats, but he usually is in a friendly town hall, with laughs, applause and supporters on hand.  He seemed a bit uncomfortable in what must have seemed like an empty and silent town hall.  His zingers appeared awkward, whereas in usual town hall settings he’d have been able to play off a crowd.  He did try to project energy.  I could empathize with him at times.  When I teach and the subject is boring or the class seems unconnected, I get more animated and energetic, and I could tell that McCain was trying to inject that kind of enthusiasm in his performance.   It didn’t work, and in fact may have backfired, as Obama looked more Presidential and in control.

Also, Obama may have benefited in both debates from low expectations.  A lot was said about him ‘needing a teleprompter,’ and being too professorial (that’s an insult?!)  Yet the polls seem to show him as being more likable and better able to communicate his ideas.  He passed the “sans teleprompter” and likability tests.  Every one knew he could give lofty speeches, but while he’s no Bill Clinton, he seemed more than adequate at connecting with an audience.

Is it over?  On CNN last night David Gergen noted that we still don’t know the impact of race.  For instance, Sarah Palin attacked Barack Obama for associating with William Ayres, a guy Obama got to know as an education reformer in Chicago, who was supported by Mayor Daley and once labeled Chicago’s “Citizen of the Year.”  Later Obama found out that Ayres had been a terrorist in the 1960s.  So Palin comes around and says Obama is “palling around with terrorists.”  If Obama was white, that attack would be laughable — it’s not even guilt by association, it’s guilt by association four decades later (and where does she get the plural anyway?)!  But as a black man the subtext is “he’s strange,” and that might have some kind of resonance.

I think it’s over.  I think Obama has this won.  I base that on a number of factors.  First, McCain is a weak candidate.   He looked old last night, and didn’t present himself especially well.  Second, the economic conditions are being blamed on the GOP, and McCain can’t erase the “R” next to his name, no matter how much he wants to paint himself as a maverick.   Both parties share blame for this mess — as do we, the American people — but the GOP has had most of the power in recent years and the Presidency.  They also have been more rosey about the economy moving forward, some even accusing the Democrats of ‘talking down’ the economy.  McCain advisor Phil Gramm said Americans were ‘whining.’  Third, Obama has a large edge in cash on hand, meaning he may be able to outspend McCain by 2-1.  That’s big.  Fourth, at this stage for a candidate to make up a 6 to 9 point edge is very, very difficult (though if you’re a Republican take heart, Zogby has Obama up by only 3 — that is do-able).  Only Gerald Ford in 1976 has quickly made up a large deficit (and he ended up losing).  Ford, though, was an incumbent.  Finally, the Obama campaign — and Obama himself — is very disciplined and professional.  He is unlikely to make the kind of mistakes Gore and Kerry made, or that McCain has made in this campaign.

In fact, it could even be a Democratic blow out in this election, winning large majorities in the House and Senate.  However, last night on CNN they polled their focus group on who they would vote for if they had to vote.  This group had declared Obama the winner in both debates, and Biden in the VP debate.  But they tended towards McCain if they had to make a decision now.  This suggests that the undecideds are more likely to go for McCain, some needed good news for the GOP candidate.

So while my gut instinct says that this race is essentially Obama’s to lose, there are bits and pieces of evidence Republicans can grab on to in order not to give up home.   The debates so far have been predictable, have not altered the race, and seem only to demonstrate how unwilling the candidates are to go into risky specifics.   They know that every sentence will be analyzed and even partial sentences can be taken out of context and used against them.  McCain’s one apparently new idea — to have the government somehow buy back mortgages and renegotiate them with banks — was ill defined and seemed at odds with his call for a spending freeze.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve board, after a night which saw Asian markets fall off a cliff, and European markets see steep declines, has worked in concert with other central bank to lower interest rates and try to inject some life into global credit markets.  More on that — the truly important story — in my next blog entry.

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