Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Instant Reax

I’m never a very good judge of how the spectrum of fellow citizens judge these debates. In the first Bush-Gore debate in 2000, I completely missed Gore’s impetuous bad behavior (sighing, etc) that so put off a lot of viewers, though I did pick up instantly on his James Lee Witt FEMA howler because of the puzzled react shot of Bush on the split screen. "Ah," I thought, "Gore just made up something." And in fact that did turn into the "exaggerator" theme of the next few days.

But overall in that debate I thought Bush was miserable. So I was surprised last night at how good a debater McCain was; much much better than Bush. I guess he was this good in the primaries; I skipped all of those. But I agree with everyone else that he was very weak on the economy, and so the next debates may not go as well. Why, oh why, are Republican candidates so incapable of fighting back against the liberals’ class warfare tactics? Is there some kind of deep rope-a-dope on this I don’t get?

Obama was good, too, but not as good as McCain at being persistently aggressive. Neither man made any obvious big mistakes, though both made a few small ones. None likely of any consequence. Obama came close to falling into Kerry’s 2004 trap of a "global test" for U.S. action, but he never used a clear phrase than can be hung around his neck.

There was one small point that I suspect most people missed or didn’t fix on--Obama’s mention at the end of his Kenyan father. What was he trying to do with this? I have a hunch that the Obama campaign has some polling or focus group data that suggests this aspect of Obama’s story needs to be handled or used in a certain way, though I’m not sure he accomplished this last night. Was he trying to say in a very very subtle way that "I’m so unlike other black American politicians like Jesse and Rev. Al that I’m barely even from this country?" It has me scratching my head. Maybe it was nothing.

Discussions - 12 Comments

Many people in foreign countries look at the USA as a land of opportunity. Barak's dad like many generations of immigrants saw the chance to improve his lot in life and got on the boat.

Barak thinks that George Bush and the neo-con's bad policy decisions have diminished the standing of America in the minds of allies and potential immigrants alike.

Barak is second generation. Where in the world does an immigrants son contend to be ruler? If Barak wins, he restores hope to countless foreigners and our allies feel as though diplomacy and reason are back in the White House.

Good of you to catch this point. He did not do well enough with this to impress the voters.

I'm not sure if there is any deeper meaning behind the use of mentioning his father, but the immediate purpose of the use in the debate was to highlight the idea that foreign perception of the United States is important. The context in which he mentioned his father, as constantly trying to apply to colleges in the United States because he believed in the American Dream; a country where any man can improve his circumstances by way of his own hard work, regardless of color, family, national origin, or status of birth, was to show that this dream was once perceived throughout the world. I believe he was implying that this has not been the case since 2003. I do not think it was very effective.

Obama's closing mention of his father and the promise of America as a way to highlight the poor opinion that the rest of the world now has of America was the aboslute last thing Obama needed to do, esp. after McCain's effective closing ode to his commitment to America's veterans and therewith Americans in general. Here is McCain: "I've been involved, as I mentioned to you before, in virtually every major national security challenge we've faced in the last 20-some years. There are some advantages to experience, and knowledge, and judgment... I know the veterans. I know them well. And I know that they know that I'll take care of them. And I've been proud of their support and their recognition of my service to the veterans. And I love them. And I'll take care of them. And they know that I'll take care of them. And that's going to be my job. But, also, I have the ability, and the knowledge, and the background to make the right judgments, to keep this country safe and secure. Reform, prosperity, and peace, these are major challenges to the United States of America. I don't think I need any on-the-job training. I'm ready to go at it right now."

Then came Obama: "You know, my father came from Kenya. That's where I get my name. And in the '60s, he wrote letter after letter to come to college here in the United States because the notion was that there was no other country on Earth where you could make it if you tried. The ideals and the values of the United States inspired the entire world. I don't think any of us can say that our standing in the world now, the way children around the world look at the United States, is the same. And part of what we need to do, what the next president has to do -- and this is part of our judgment, this is part of how we're going to keep America safe -- is to -- to send a message to the world that we are going to invest in issues like education, we are going to invest in issues that -- that relate to how ordinary people are able to live out their dreams. And that is something that I'm going to be committed to as president of the United States."

"children around the world"? "message to the world"? Does Obama honestly think that what's keeping the 16% Undecided Voters from favoring him--doubts about his commitment to what the world thinks of us? The *American* voter disappeared at precisely the moment Obama needed to be closing the deal. It's precisely his cosmopolitanism that makes folks wonder about his professed love of this country. Moreover, it may not help Obama to cite a father who was not a very good one to him or his mother. (I highly doubt Obama will be mentioning his father again in any speech, and certainly not in either of the remaining debates.)

Contrast Obama's closer with McCain's, and you can see readily why folks consistently say that McCain is more trustworthy and reliable on foreign policy and the more fitting commander-in-chief: "I know the veterans. I know them well. And I know that they know that I'll take care of them... And I love them. And I'll take care of them. And they know that I'll take care of them. And that's going to be my job." Devastating for Obama. A grown man saying "And I love them" was the knockout blow; made you forget (almost) the opening segment on the economy. At least Obama had the quick wit not to try to match that ode to military fidelity and valor (I agree his earlier "I too have a bracelet" comment was juvenile).

Steve, you ask about McCain's weakness on the economy. I agree with you about the apparent weakness. But I think everything McCain says must be understood in the light of his strategy (or tactic, I forget which, like Obama). The strategy is aimed at so-called independents. McCain can't take a stronger line that seems too much like Bush, or for that matter too "conservative" or Republican. He can't, for example, raise the problem of the coming massive tax increases which are among the greatest reasons the economy is stalling -- because he would have to defend Bush's program and also because he himself voted against them.

If I were in his place, I would talk about the mortgage credit crisis being due mainly to the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, given teeth by the Clinton Administration, and the 1992 bill under which HUD has imposed affordable housing quotas on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I would mention, for example, that because of those quotas, the GSEs wrote high risk mortgages amounting to as much as a TRILLION DOLLARS in 2005 alone, and certainly more in 2006 and 2007. I would also mention that BO took more lobby money from the GSEs than anyone else in Congress bar none, in the last 3 years -- over $31K annually!
McCain knows all this, but I believe his determination is not to make independents uncomfortable, so he evades this.

Polls tell us that he is having good success in keeping independents' support for himself and away from BO. So we should continue to look for him to speak more to that middle group in coming debates. We may hope of course that Gov. Palin follows a different strategy against Biden.

Steve, on your last point: My husband (who is hardly as political as I am) picked up on that too. He was very offended by it. Obama mentioned his father in order to suggest that people from the around the world no longer look upon our country as a place of goodness and freedom. As if a person in Kenya today would not want to come here as a student because we are viewed to be such an evil and terrible place. (As we happen to know a few folks in Kenya who, in fact, would die to come here we both got a good chuckle out of that one. And seriously, does he forget about what was going on in Kenya just last winter?) It was a pretty snotty thing to say and demonstrative of the character of sort of folks who inhabit his very limited universe. I'm not sure if it will have the sort of wide recognition that it should have. But it was telling. (As was the lame-o bracelet story he brought up and Peter S. mentions . . . he could barely even remember the dead soldier's name, of course.)


Julie has nailed it I think. What I heard with Obama's closing was that America is not a good place anymore--a losing argument if I ever heard.

Isn't Obama's life story a legitimate counterexample to his own degrading of America as a land of opportunity?

Yes, Obama's life story is a legitimate counter-example, best seen in his justly famous 2004 Democratic Convention keynote address. Alas, running as a Democrat in the past few decades requires that the candidate say America is doing terribly unless we put more Democrats in charge to fix everything. In short, Obama is walking a tightrope between emphasizing how much he (and his wife, for that matter) was able to accomplish in this great land of opportunity, and stressing all the troubles with this country that need a major Democratic (read: BIG GOVT) fix.

Yes, he barely remembered the name...until he did remember the name. What kind of a comment is that? McCain called the new president of Pakistan by the wrong name (it's Zardari, not "Kardari"). That could arguably be a case of someone barely even remembering a name. Is that of any import? Not really, but it's definitely less correct in point of fact.

Watch it again. He stumbled all over the point. If he's wearing the bracelet it should be more familiar to him than that.

Paul: Others picked up on that stumble too. That link will take you to the video in question and even more biting commentary about it.

This is still a non-issue for me. I don't care about anyone's bracelets and the accompanying stories. These are complete distractions that candidates stoop to when they have nothing substantive to say--like a human interest piece taking up valuable news time. A pox on both their houses for mentioning the dumb things and then trying to one-up the other. All in all, these guys stumbled over all sorts of things, and seizing on this versus that doesn't get us anywhere.

Well . . . now I see that we agree, Paul. BTW, my overall impression of the entire debate was this: bad talk radio. Full of cliches and beside the point distractions. McCain did not engage Obama on the central point in the beginning and Obama did not engage McCain on the central point at the end. Nothing of any substance was learned in this debate. McCain was correct in his initial instinct not to go. He should have stuck to his guns.

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