McCain's Contempt for Obama Showed Last Night
By Rogers Cadenhead
Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 11:06 AM
I thought both candidates were strong in last night's presidential debate at Ole Miss, but I'd give the edge to Barack Obama because he had more to prove and John McCain showed so much contempt for his opponent, a trait that's as attractive on him as it was on Al Gore in 2000. McCain avoided eye contact with Obama the entire debate and didn't express a single moment of good regard towards him, even when touting the importance of bipartisanship in solving the Wall Street banking crisis.Seven times last night, McCain dismissed Obama with the claim that he didn't understand something, capping it off with his statement that "I honestly don't believe that Senator Obama has the knowledge or experience" to be president.
It's hard for me to judge, given my high opinion of Obama, but I don't think McCain helped himself with the sneering dismissal of his opponent, particularly in light of Obama's historic achievement as the first African-American nominee of a major party. If Joe Biden demonstrates even one-tenth as much disregard for Sarah Palin in Thursday's vice presidential showdown, she could answer every question with a fumbling "I'll get back to ya," point out that she can see Russia from her house, and still win the night.
Because this was the foreign policy debate, Obama needed to show a command of international issues worthy of a president and demonstrate the strength to lead the military, and I think he accomplished both. His assertion that the war in Iraq has distracted the country from more important priorities elsewhere, particularly in Afghanistan, is persuasive. Although it doesn't get a lot of attention, the failure of President Bush to keep his promise to capture or kill Osama bin Laden demonstrates our slipshod pursuit of the "war on terror" and undercuts Republicans on national security.
Obama was the only one on the stage who seemed to care that Bin Laden has evaded capture for seven years and Al Qaeda is resurgent in Afghanistan and the lawless border region of Pakistan. In one of his most effective attacks, Obama took McCain to the woodshed over this:
... it is not true you have consistently been concerned about what happened in Afghanistan. At one point, while you were focused on Iraq, you said well, we can "muddle through" Afghanistan. You don't muddle through the central front on terror and you don't muddle through going after bin Laden. You don't muddle through stamping out the Taliban.
I think that is something we have to take seriously. And when I'm president, I will.
Obama's right on the facts here. McCain said in 2003 that we could "muddle through in Afghanistan" as part of his justification for the Iraq War.
According to the transcript, Bin Laden was mentioned seven times during the debate, and six of them were by Obama. The only mention by McCain was in agreement with the terrorist leader! "Osama bin Laden and General Petraeus have one thing in common that I know of, they both said that Iraq is the central battleground," said McCain, justifying a U.S. military presence in Iraq he shows no desire to end.
McCain was better in debate than he's been in his drain-circling campaign, where his flair for drama queen antics nearly made him the first no-show at a presidential debate, but I don't think he achieved what he needed to change the dynamics of a race he's currently losing. As conventional wisdom settles around the first debate, I expect it will be viewed like Kennedy/Nixon in 1960 and Reagan/Carter in 1980, a debate in which the unproven challenger proved himself worthy of the office he seeks.
Too bad Obama didn't have the presence of mind to call McCain on the claim that "Pakistan was a failed state" when Musharraf took over. Musharraf overthrew a democratically elected president in his coup, because that president (unpopular though he was) had the temerity to fire Musharraf as head of the army. That would have made quite an impact if Obama had been able to pull that out of his hat on the spur of the moment.
I wonder how many viewers picked up on the fact that McCain wants to arbitrarily limit all discussion of Iraq to the period beginning with the surge, which has the coincidental benefit of keeping McCain's inital errors of judgment from being part of the discussion? Obama mentioned those misjudgments only once, and in passing.
In fact, isn't it odd that McCain seems to always want to start discussions at the point where his errors are out of the picture? Iraq? "Let's begin with the surge, which I advocated, leaving out the initial misjudgments about the need for and consequences of invading in the first place."
My record as an honest fighter of corruption? Let's start with some military contracting oversight, and be sure to include my hearings about corruption in the Interior Department, leaving out my role in the Keating S&L fiasco."
Back to the point--I thought Obama did a better job, but that's going to be subjective, depending on how each individual viewer defines a "good job." Those who think that simple statements and simple solutions show strength and determination will probably think McCain won, as will those who saw his physical discomfort on stage as signs of caring and fiestiness. Those who prefer depth, nuance, and analysis will probably think Obama won, as will those who saw McCain's physical discomfort on stage as signs of instability/immaturity.
Racists will obviously think Obama lost, of course, and poke around for specifics on which to hang that opinion.
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