Post-debate thoughtdown

Slept between the last post and this. Just took a shower and sat down at the computer. Here’s my brain dump before I move on to projects where I can make more of a difference.

1) Both these guys are dull. The McCain of the Straight Talk Express and Dunkin’ Donuts with press buddies is gone, replaced by a cranky old bastard. Obama is Kerry with better speechwriters. The difference is in vector. Obama is young and can learn on the job. He also has a managerial hauteur, substantiated by a campaign that is amazingly well-organized and effective at every level. I don’t doubt that he’ll manage the country well. Not so sure about leading the country, though. He’s no Reagan, but he’s a bit of a Clinton, in the sense that he’s smart, articulate and at least kinda warm up close. To me the most important fact about the debate was that Barack and Michelle stayed and worked the crowd. John and Cindy split. It’s not smart for Elvis to leave the building while the Beatles are still on stage. Not when the audience is voting on both.
2) Clinton excepted, Republicans since Nixon have been better at connecting with ordinary folks. Nixon’s “moral majority” resonated with the voting majority, and helped create the red state base that still stands. McCain should have been connecting last night, but didn’t do very well at it. Not as well as he should have, anyway. Obama, dry as he is, does come across as empathetic. And he talks empathy better than anybody since Lyndon Johnson.
3) McCain’s “that one” line was peevish and nasty, and will become a grass roots slogan for Obama. Forgotten will be the point that McCain made, about how the two voted on something. (What was it? I don’t remember, and on that rest my case.)
4) I cringed every time I heard McCain say “my friends”. It should create warmth, but sounds insincere.
5) Obama needs to work on his brain cramps. It seemed like there was a moment in every one of his answers when his mind siezed and he lost his flow. I suspect he’s been working on not saying “um” all the time, and not saying “and” when he means “um.” Whatever it is, he needs to get past it. I’m guessing Obama’s younger than Jimmy Carter was when Carter took lessons to overcome a lifelong mumbling problem.
6) The pandering was predictable, but the gratuitous and misleading simplifications got to me. When Obama talked about “borrowing money from China and giving it to Saudi Arabia,” I wanted to throw something at him. Likewise when McCain talked about “victory” in Iraq when misapplication of that very concept is one reason we got into the mess in the first place. And Obama’s stuff about going after Bin Laden is wacky. Listen to this edition of Fresh Air. It’s an interview with Robert Baer, author of The Devil We Know. In it Baer lays out a calm, rational and constructive approach to Iran and Middle East powers and politics. The reason I bring it up is that it makes sense — yet it fits into neither candidate’s narratives (although it’s in better alignment with Obama’s willingness to “negotiate with enemies”). Also because Baer, a CIA operative for two decades, says Bin Ladin is dead. If tha’s true, it inconveniences both candidates’ narratives.
7) The best question from Brokaw was about health care: Is it a right, a privilege or a responsibility? McCain said it was a responsibility (of individuals, not government), and talked up free market economics. Obama said it was a right, and talked essentially (seemed to me) about socializing the system. Neither made me feel better, but both revealed extreme differences in where the two come from.

Obama won, but not by a huge margin. The difference is between future and past. McCain looks like Bush, cont’d. I don’t think he will be, unless he vacates the office and Palin takes over, which is a frightening prospect. Still, that’s what he represents. Obama does represent Change, and something more: purge — the need to flush out the last administration and bring in a new one. I think more people want that than don’t.

If Obama wins, the best thing he can do is bring in Bill & Hillary as transition team advisors. They learned a lot of stuff the hard way, and Obama’s gonna need all the help he can get.

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  1. Richard Reeve’s avatar

    I listened to the first hour switching between a dozen am radio stations as we do not get very good reception in our valley. Thanks for your take aways. I too was getting irked by “friends” and thinking that Obama kept tripping up. McCain’s claim that Freddie and Fanny were the cause of the current economic situation seemed particularly ludicrous.

    Regardless of who ends up in the White House next year, my sense is that they will need to rewrite their plans and abandon their campaign promises. They will find there’s nothing left in the cupboard.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Always much different on radio. Agree on McCain’s Fannie & Freddie. It was all a set-up to tar Obama for his having taken campaign contributions from them. But simplifications by both of them pissed me off.

    And yes, campaign promises are disposable and will be disposed of.

  3. Tom Matrullo’s avatar

    Where exactly are Bill and Hill, especially Hill? This is the time when she should be out there kicking Palin up and down the highway.

  4. Michael Stern’s avatar


    I agree generally with your assessment that these guys were boring and pandered and oversimplified. I agree that the “my friends” tic did not serve McCain well and that Obama seemed to trip over his tongue. When the debate was over, two substantive issues remained with me, neither to McCain’s credit:

    1. McCain said he would freeze federal spending, and that he would have the treasury buy every bad mortgage in America. It’s possible that this was just a cynical combination of lies, but it sounded more to me like McCain forgot what his platform was.

    2. He has a secret plan that would catch Bin Ladin and he hasn’t shared it with President Bush or the military? I guess America fell for Richard Nixon’s secret plan to end the war in Vietnam in 1972 and McCain was hoping the same trick would work again. It sure fell flat with me.

    Other thoughts —

    The “That one” comment didn’t bother me. To me it sounded inelegant but not racist or even inappropriately dismissive. It was less patronizing than Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again.”

    The format was a mixed blessing for McCain — he did well with voters one-on-one, but he looked weak standing next to Obama, who is taller and younger and healthier and more handsome, and who dresses much, much better.

    Are there really undecided voters left in America?

  5. jonathan peterson’s avatar

    At this point, all Obama has to do to win the Presidency is not scare the white people.

    Obama may not have won that many points in the debate, but he absolutely SHATTERED McCain in what mattered – his likability was rated 40 points higher than McCain’s after the debate. You just saw a calm, nice, black man with a muslim name look like someone you’d much rather have over to dinner than a WASP war hero. That didn’t happen on accident.

    Similarly Palin, is best ignored. She’s doing nothing more than feeding Rush O’Hannity red meat to the true believers to increase turnout. If you engage with her, you depress turnout in the middle and your base is already on board 100%.

    Short of a drastic game changer, this election is DONE.

  6. Steve Garfield’s avatar

    Excellent thoughts! Thanks for sharing. I tweeted a link to this post.

  7. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Did either of them address the Derivatives & Credit Default Swap markets? These elephants in the room are big enough to suck up all of the money on the planet, at last year’s value, and have been growing at about 100% annually!
    It’s a 0.25 Quadrillion dollar problem, that’s going to implode in about 24 hours when Lehman Brothers assets actually have a price put to them, and the derivatives of those prices are then expected to be paid with real money.
    Want to learn more? This American Life covered in in crystal clear detail last Friday… spend an hour, and be enlightened…


  8. pauly’s avatar

    It’s funny, but both of the This American Life episodes that covered this topic (the other one is episode 355) made this subject all a lot more – I don’t want to say understandable” – maybe semi-comprehensible than anything else I’ve seen/read/heard.

  9. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Pauly, you’re right. Those TAL pieces are the high lucidity mark in a flood of blather about the crisis.

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