Thursday, December 25, 2008

My grades for 2nd Presidential debate

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 16th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Its 7:30 in the morning here in New Delhi, India and I am sitting in my room watching the US Presidential debates live on satellite TV. This town hall style debate will soon be over and all I can tell you is that nothing that was said here tonight has come as a surprise to me or probably any other American voter watching this second of three Presidential debates. So why am I or any other voter bothering to watch these debates?
I’m interested in seeing how each candidate performs and how they respond to the questions posed to them. Some undecided voters may be hoping to hear or see something from one of the candidates that will either resonate with them or turn them off so they can make a decision about who to vote for or against four weeks from now. Everyone else is cheering the candidate they support and hoping his opponent makes a serious mistake. That is why the style of the candidates in these debates matters so much more than the substance of their responses. This isn’t necessarily the way we should judge a debate, given the sharp differences of opinion between the candidates on many major domestic and foreign policy issues, but it has become the reality of American politics today.
So now I will begin to discuss my impressions about both candidates beginning with the Republican Presidential nominee, Senator John McCain. To begin with, Senator McCain’s disdain for his opponent, Barack Obama, was very palpable throughout the course of the debate, at one point referring to his opponent as “that one”. Stylistically speaking, I don’t acting contemptuous helps someone win over undecided voters, so I viewed his scornful attitude as a negative for McCain’s overall performance.
On the other hand, McCain was the only candidate who actually proposed something new in the way of policies he would pursue if he was elected so I saw that as a plus for him. McCain said that the US Treasury should buy up the United States’ bad sub-prime mortgages, renegotiate the interest rates those homeowners are paying and bring some stability to the US housing market in the process. This is not a new idea since it was proposed in an article published a week earlier in the Wall Street Journal and was also suggested by Barack Obama in a speech he delivered more than a month ago. But John McCain failed to provide any details about his proposal which, as I understand it, is already well within the power of the US Treasury Secretary to implement thanks to recently passed legislation to deal with the home mortgage loan problem.
Still it was the first and thus far only original economic suggestion Senator McCain has offered American voters, who are understandably very concerned about the current state and direction of the US economy. But as for any other real substance in his responses, McCain had little to offer beyond his campaign slogans and equally vague suggestions that he would cut pork barrel spending to deal with the deficit and that we should cut taxes for everyone, including those who are making millions of dollars a year.
For this reason I gave John McCain a grade of B- for the substance of his remarks, a combination of a B+ for his only new suggestion and a C for him continuing to espouse ways to deal with the ballooning budget deficit that simply don’t add up.
While it was obvious that John McCain is very much at home with the town hall question and answer debate format, he largely negated the stylistic advantage he brought to this debate my continuing to refuse to look at his opponent just as he had done in the first debate. He was very comfortable approaching audience members who had questions to ask him and calling them by name, often touching them on the arm or shaking their hands. But once the debate concluded he didn’t bother to shake Obama’s hand or stick around to talk with those same audience members, leaving Barack Obama alone on the stage after the debate, to chat with the audience and try to get them to vote for him.
So the grade of A I was initially going to give John for the style he displayed, deteriorated to a C by the time the debate was over thanks to his scornful manner and quick exit, thus leaving John McCain with a C+ as his overall mark for the evening.
Senator Barack Obama did not appear real comfortable with the town hall debate format at first as he stood in the center of the stage while listening to his initial questions from the audience. But Senator Obama seemed to warm up as the evening progressed and began walking over to those asking questions and addressing them more directly as John McCain had been doing throughout the debate and then hanging around afterwards to talk with the audience some more. In fact I noticed that Obama made a beeline to a likely McCain supporter, a retired Navy Petty Officer whose hand McCain had shaken before answering his question, and engaged him in a discussion. For this reason I upped my final style grade for Obama from a C+ to a B.
There was nothing new as regards the substance of Senator Obama’s responses to questions. He gave reasonably concise and substantive responses to roughly half of the questions but became a bit long winded whenever he was trying to avoid answering others. While Obama continued to make a stronger case than McCain regarding why he would do a better job as President addressing America’s foreign and domestic problems, I had to give him a B for substance and a B for his overall debate performance.
Overall, this was not the game changing debate performance McCain needed to close the slowly widening gap between him and Obama in public opinion polls with only four weeks left before Election Day.

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