Thursday, October 16, 2008

McCain-Obama's Final Snoozer

Afraid of overeating once again, I was reluctant to go to my friend's house at 11 pm last night.
The presidential debate had started an hour before the conclusion of the first days of Sukkot, with their Sabbath-like restrictions on car-riding, lightswitch-popping, phone-talking and of course, anxiety provoking television-watching.

My husband turned on the remaining fifteen minutes of TV sparring once the holiday ended, but I had to shuttle our daughter back to her sorority, so missed it. But the event was to be replayed at 11 pm, so we trekked in the pouring rain to our friends', my husband dutifully absorbing the program for his work, me because I'm a glutton for punishment.

The last debate made me into a glutton. For chocolate, because I found the only cure for my anxiety about John McCain's performance in that one, pardon the TownHall reference, was to shovel chocolate chips into my mouth. This time, with last Tivo's gnawing discomfort fresh in my gullet, I was too upset even for Godiva.

As the program opened, and I listened to the inarticulate ramblings of my candidate, I cringed. He fumbled for words, he came up with very strangely constructed sentences. He blinked a lot. And through much of it, a split-screen showed a smirking, smiling, chuckling Obama.

Then Obama answered that first question about his plan for the economy. He looked straight into the camera and outlined points one, two, three. He wasn't perfectly cogent, either, but better than McCain. And as the answers continued, there were far fewer moments where he had to share that split-screen.

Then, there was Joe the plumber. Joe, aka Sam Wurzelbacher, who during an Ohio campaign stop challenged Obama that he would pay more taxes under the candidate's plan, was mentioned 26 times in the debate, becoming a celebrity, an icon for the hard-working entrepreneur who, as owner of a blue-collar business, was succeeding but stymied by intrusive tax demands. Despite the gruff, tough-guy image he's portrayed in YouTubes and articles during his fifteen minutes of fame, the idea of a risk-taking American Dream-chasing "regular guy" named Joe resonates with anyone who's considered starting his own business, or who struggles to build his enterprise into something big and successful.

McCain used Joe effectively: "You know, [how] Sen. Obama ended up his conversation with Joe the plumber -- 'we need to spread the wealth around.' In other words, we're going to take Joe's money, give it to Sen. Obama, and let him spread the wealth around. I want Joe the plumber to spread that wealth around."

Great concept. Poor delivery. And Obama kept hammering that notion that he'd give 95% of workers a tax cut. We've covered this before--he wants to give the 40% who already pay NO taxes a government check. But when they weren't talking about entrepreneur Joe, they both sounded gobble-de-gooky. Obama just looked more confident spouting his mumbo-jumbo.

The talk got downright smarmy when CBS moderator Bob Schieffer asked about cut-throat campaign ads. McCain felt hurt by unfair racist implications of Congressman Bob Lewis; Obama emphatically and wrongly repeated that McCain's ads were 100% negative. This was an uncomfortable interchange, with McCain clearly aggressive and pushing but Obama calmly though defensively responding. Especially the Bill Ayres and ACORN questions, which to me backfired when Obama spun the issues like dreidls.

Much of the conversation was the same old same-old. The two are nearly identical in their energy plans and goals. They both use similar platitudes about education, with Obama supporting charter schools and McCain supporting those and vouchers. Obama slipped in his $4,000 per year college tuition credit which would require a whole other administration for the "community service" required of students who get it. McCain let that go, and ante'd a program that would let former military become teachers without any training. From where I sat, both guys wanted government expansion into a field that should be locally controlled.

And the conclusion? I nearly fell off my seat when, after McCain's insistence that the last eight years were no good and that he'd be a maverick, reformer and changer, Obama stuck to his script and decried "the same failed policies and the same failed politics that we've seen over the last eight years." We know your mantras.

The big difference was McCain's feistiness and combativeness, his willingness to accuse Obama. But the calm, almost mocking response was just the right posture to meet the affronts. In the end, McCain came off looking better than he had in the other encounters, and Obama held his own. Polls the day after showed the candidates within two or three percentage points.

Watching the interchange was nerve-wracking because of McCain's inarticulate phrasing, but at least when I got home at 12:30 am, I didn't head straight for the candy cupboard. I was way too full of Sukkot festival meals for nibbling, and too tired of the political sparring to do more than go to sleep.


  1. Now you know what arm-chair quarterbacks go through every Sunday!

  2. Ruth Anne, that's why I'm not a sports fan. BTW, thanks for posting the McCain Al Smith YouTube on your blog.

  3. Fair point on the Ayres spin. Bill Ayres is not himself a significant national figure.

    The accusations against Obama do not address the issues of the moment, but they do speak to the more lasting issue of Presidential character.