Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why Obama ended up winning the first debate


Actually, I thought the debate was pretty much a draw. There was hardly anything memorable in it, although it was truly a breath of fresh air to listen to a debate between two presidential candidates who focus on issues and solutions, and seem to know more or less what they are talking about. But by now I've learned that I often respond to different things than many other voters. Who I personally think won the debate doesn't really matter. What matters is what other people think. And apparently, most people polled seem to think that Obama clearly won.

Aside from all this, Obama won the debate for two reasons.

First, he's ahead. Because he's ahead, he doesn't have to win outright to succeed; McCain has to produce a game-changing moment. McCain did not do that. Indeed, if anything McCain seemed to be spending much of his time annoyed at Obama, refusing to look at him or confront him directly, trying as much as possible to avoid blowing up in anger. He succeeded at that. What he did not succeed at was changing the momentum of the race. Hence Obama wins.

Second, Obama won the debate because this election has largely been a referendum on whether the Democrats and Obama are up to leading the country after the failures of the last eight years. Obama is not a known quantity to many voters. They need to establish some comfort level with him; they need to believe that he is sufficiently cool headed in a crisis that he won't do something rash or foolish. In this sense, Obama is in much the same position as Ronald Reagan was in 1980. Carter tried to portray Reagan as loony, out of touch and dangerous. He succeeded for a time. However, Reagan demonstrated by the end of the campaign, and particularly at the presidential debates, that even if he wasn't as well prepared as Carter on some issues, he was not frightening at all. Once Reagan did this, he began to break away from what had previously been a very close race.

I think something like this has been happening in the past week or so, as the economy has dominated public concerns (an area in which McCain admits he is not very well-versed and in which Obama is far more trusted). The effect of the first debate was to portray Obama as cool headed, thoughtful, prepared, and able to think well on his feet. That is to say, he came across as competent and reasonable, even if you disagreed with what he said substantively.

In contrast, McCain's antics in the past week or so have tended to paint him as increasingly less cool headed, more apt to panic in a crisis and far more of a high stakes gambler.

Look at his recent behavior: His choice of Sarah Palin who he barely knew; his statement that the economy is fundamentally sound followed by a quick 180 turn to the assertion that the economy was headed for a great depression if we do not act immediately; his suspension of his campaign (which turned out not to be very much of a suspension at all); his attempt to get Obama to cancel the first debate which increasingly seemed like a desperate stunt; his interference (whether intentional or not) with negotiations in Washington; and his quick about-face and his agreement to debate after it became clear that no deal on the bailout was forthcoming and that he would be blamed if he didn't show up to debate. All of these actions make McCain look at turns incautious, confused, unprincipled, panicked and incompetent.

The effect of the last week, and Obama's cool demeanor (the New York Times even ran an egregious story complaining that Obama was too cool and level headed) all helped to portray Obama as prepared for the Oval Office. McCain's basic goal in the campaign has been to prove that Obama was dangerous, that he was a risky bet, that he was not reliable. In the past week, however, McCain has systematically undermined this strategy; he has unwittingly done as much as any one could to portray Obama as a safe bet, at least as safe as McCain himself. It is an astonishing display of strategic incompetence, one for which Obama will probably forever be greatful. Because McCain has, against his own interests, repeatedly made Obama appear steady, reliable, and prepared for the Presidency, Obama won the first debate.



The CNN poll was nearly 3-2 Dem, which they claim reflected the viewership of the debate. Given that partisans on each side think their guy "won," the CNN results that Obama "won" are predictable given the sample.

We won't get a good read on the effect of the debate until Thursday when the tracking polls have three weekdays to check. (Weekend polling misses a lot of conservatives).

Neither of the candidates made a large gaffe which would be apparent to the average undecided voter. Although, vets in the blogosphere have been howling about Obama's cheap "i have a bracelet too" stunt where he had to check the bracelet (which his campaign undoubtably purchased for the debate) to even recall the name of the soldier he was supposedly honoring, the damage should not be significant because Obama lost the vets a long time ago.

It will be interesting to see how McCain's far greater knowledge mixed with a rather aggressive approach sells compared to Obama's better erudition and empathetic platitudes. If the current polling, such as it is, is correct, it appears that McCain unsurprisingly appealed primarily to men and Obama to women. Daddy and mommy parties redux.

Why the heck are we talking about winning and losing a debate? This isn't a game. If "winning" means persuading people to vote for you, that'll depend as much on the voters as on the performance. A reporter from Entertainment Tonight asked me this morning who I thought won (I'm in Oxford), and I said I thought it was a silly question. I'm surprised to find the same sort of thing here.

Did no one else notice McCain repeatedly losing the thread of his own argument?
"The point is" he repeated, over and over, and every time it was a tell -- you could see he'd forgotten how to link what he'd just said into the thought he'd started with, or had forgotten the initial thought and had to sieze on a new one. Lots of his paragraphs were incoherent jumbles of assertions. I expected half the lawyers on the Net to mention the disconnected McCain, the not-even-making-sense McCain.

But I don't see this mentioned anywhere. Is it just me?

"Bart" DePalma:

Although, vets in the blogosphere have been howling about Obama's cheap "i have a bracelet too" stunt where he had to check the bracelet (which his campaign undoubtably purchased for the debate) to even recall the name of the soldier he was supposedly honoring, the damage should not be significant because Obama lost the vets a long time ago.

Newsflash fer ya, "Bart": Veterans organisations give Obama far better marks than McInsane.


It will be interesting to see how McCain's far greater knowledge mixed with a rather aggressive approach sells compared to Obama's better erudition and empathetic platitudes.

"Knowledge" versus "erudition". That's a tough pick ... unless someone is unknowledgeable as to the meaning of the words. Leave the big words to the pros, "Bart". ;-)


The viewership for the first McCain/Obama debate looks like it will fall substantially below the first Bush/Kerry debate.

Not good nows for McCain, who needed folks to see the contrast in qualifications between he and Obama.

This may be a function of the fact that the first debate fell on a Friday, when most folks have better things to do. The next debates are on Wednesday and Thursday.


"the bracelet (which his campaign undoubtably purchased for the debate)"

Wrong. Obama was given the bracelet months ago by the mother of the soldier it memorializes. See


I stand corrected.

In that case there is no excuse for Obama not to know Sgt. Ryan Jopek's name. Then again, Obama is not honoring Jopek's service or sacrifice by working to ensure the success of this sergeant's efforts. Instead, Obama is merely using the bracelet as a prop to undermine the sergeant's service and sacrifice. Thus, if the success of Sgt. Jopek's work is meaningless to Obama, why should he bother to remember the man's name?

Please, Bart. It was a little tacky but pretty effective. And Obama won big. See the polls of undecided voters.


Hell, Obama could not even honor the only wish of Sgt. Jopek's mother. From your link:

"I wanted him to know my son's name for one thing, for when he's commander in chief," Mrs. Jopek said...

Come on, guys. Do you really expect a candidate under the pressure of a nationally televised debate to come up immediately with every minor fact? And I bet that Sgt. Jopek's mother would be more than satisfied if Obama can reduce US casualties in Iraq, whether or not he always has in mind the name of her son, who, after all, Obama never knew.


Obama muffed a pre-planned rebuttal of Mr. McCain's stump speech argument that he is honor bound to do his part to secure victory so that the solider whose bracelet he wears did not die in vain.

This was actually part of a pattern of Obama's failing to have a command of the facts and not limited to this single debate gaffe.

How many times did McCain play the senior policy maven and give an exposition of facts only to have Obama say "I agree with John" because he was unable to muster a contrary exposition of facts and policy? I believe the it was around 8 times. Indeed, the McCain campaign put out an ad this morning having fun with this.

The reason I had hoped that this debate would have received wider coverage is that the debate exposed how inexperienced and green Mr. Obama is at this time.

:::scratching head:::

Are the Obama campaign's internal polling showing something other than a positive reaction to Mr. Obama's debate "win" last night? They are running a rather realistic commercial showing a 51 to 49% McCain win in November followed by disclaimer saying it does not have to be that way and begging people to register and vote.


All it shows, Bart, is that they want to galvanize the base into remembering to vote. Not anything about their internal polling. It would've been more effective if they had Sarah Bullwinkle in there, but I guess there wasn't any footage that would've worked.


You're spinning in an obviously disingenuous way. First, ALL the post-debate focus groups had Obama winning -- including Fox's.

Second, nobody is upset about Obama's remark about the bracelet -- indeed, I rather liked the "I have a bracelet too, John" response, defusing the right's "we're the only true patriots" insulting and stupid talking point.

Finally, practically every major poll shows Obama ahead and pulling away. If you're worried about "weighting" issues, check out Scott Rassmussen's poll (as you probably know, he's a Republican that takes weighting seriously): Obama ahead by six today, for the second straight day.

The election isn't over, but Obama has a lead. What's surprising is how panicky McCain has gotten about this. Maybe the reports about how godawful Palin has been in debate prep are true.


Google the bracelet incident. The video is all over the web and comments about the incident are in the press as well as the web.

I have no doubt that much of Obama's base could care less even if they noticed. As I posted before, the outrage is largely limited to the side of our cultural divide that provides most of the men and women to the military, and maybe one mom on the other side who thought that Obama might actually give a second thought about her son as a person.


Perhaps I should have been more clear. UNDECIDED voters don't care about the bracelet remarks. Partisans like yourself, increasingly desperate and panicky in the face of pretty consistent bad news for the McCain campaign, can try to whip up yet another faux-outrage trivia point among the increasingly diminishing number of hard-core republicans. Whatever gives you comfort in these hard times: you obviously can't take comfort in, say, polls.

The good news is that the stupid, insulting talking point meme you are trying to use --Repubs care about the military, Dems don't -- is dead. Nobody's buying it, outside the echo chambers of the far right. But feel free to keep flogging it, just like you guys did in 2006.


The rather cruel irony that Mr. Obama appears to be gaining traction on the mortgage issue, for which his party is primarily to blame and about which Obama has offered nothing useful, has nothing at all to do with his abuse of a fallen soldier and his family in a cheap stunt during a debate.

Indeed, it is interesting to note that Sgt. Jopek's family has been demanding that Obama stop wearing the bracelet and using their son as a political prop.

Of course, as you note, Mr. Obama's character or lack thereof isn't an issue among his supporters and to take him to task for such is simply to stoke "faux outrage...

Jack, yes, I agree. but I think that time will tell that Obama won on the substance, in particular on what to do with Western Pakistan.

McCain advocated sending in forces--to be fair it wasn't clear whether those forces would be US or not, although from the context it was American.

in short, McCain implied he wanted to extend the surge to Western Pakistan.

he's nuts, the original police state advocate (which is why he's also applauding Mexico's recent strategy of using federal troops on the streets of Tijuana to fight drug violence).

As is brought out in The Atlantic, he is emotionally wedded to this idea that had we integrated our forces in the villages of South Vietnam to such an extent that the villagers would have felt safe to snitch on the PRC, rather than attack the village and split, we would have won.

Obama won the debate because there is no way Americans want to employ that strategy in Western Pakistan.

Doing so requires getting permission from the Pakistani government or destroying them.

the Pakistanis will not give us permission, and the American people will not give McCain permission to knock out the Pakistan government.

god, what a mess.

So we're back to attacking and spliting. All that's left now is for Obama to admit they we may very well have to return to some part of Iraq.

Barak should say unequivocally that there is no place he will not invade to destroy a transnational terrorist network that threatens us.

Google the bracelet incident. The video is all over the web and comments about the incident are in the press as well as the web.

Well, if your sole source of "news" is Freeperville, LittleFreepGoofballs, The Limbaugh Litter, and InsHannity....


Indeed, it is interesting to note that Sgt. Jopek's family has been demanding that Obama stop wearing the bracelet and using their son as a political prop.

I note that Sgt. Jopek's mother gave Obama the bracelet. The article quotes only Sgt. Jopek's father, a supporter of the war and divorced from the mother, as saying what the mother wants.


Wait, Arne, it's better than that!

To pile insult onto injury here, the Mother doesn't even want to force the issue of telling Obama to stop exploiting her son because she wants to see him win the election.

So according to Bart's (wingnut) cite, Sergeant Jopek's mother does NOT wish to stop Obama from memorializing her son. And according to this source, Sgt. Jopek's mother, in so doing, is "piling insult onto injury"...

Wingnuts in wingnutville.


Now you are simply lying about basic facts, and it's bizarre that you think you won't be exposed. First, I never said anything like Obama's supporters didn't care about character.

Second, and more importantly, you're lying about this faux-outrage issue. See below. My comment: I understand you are frustrated as you see your candidate slipping down and close to out. Don't be such a poor loser.

Soldier's mother ``ecstatic'' about Obama's bracelet
By DINESH RAMDE | Associated Press Writer
4:28 PM CDT, September 28, 2008

MILWAUKEE - The mother of a Wisconsin soldier who died in Iraq says she was "ecstatic" during Friday's debate when Senator Barack Obama mentioned the bracelet she gave him in honor of her son.

Tracy Jopek of Merrill told The Associated Press on Sunday she was
honored that he remembered Sgt. Ryan David Jopek, who was killed in 2006 by a roadside bomb.

She criticized Internet reports that suggested Obama exploited her son for political purposes.

She acknowledges e-mailing the campaign in February asking that Obama not mention her son in speeches or debates. But she says Obama's mention on Friday was appropriate because he was responding after
Senator John McCain said a soldier's mother gave him a bracelet.

I must say I’m surprised. I watched most of it live, and what I saw was, despite the occasional very good answer, Obama largely reacting to vicious, patronising attack after vicious, patronising attack (peppered with lies) by McCain. That he fended them all off was one thing, but it did leave him looking painfully defensive in a debate where there were open goals going in.


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