Sunday, September 28, 2008


by Mark Drucker

If the old axiom is true – what you say about others is often true of yourself – then John McCain lost his bid for the presidency in Mississippi. Barack Obama was a true master of ceremonies in this first debate, and he won it handily.

Post debate polls seem to support this notion. Voters felt McCain was condescending, grouchy, snarky and out of touch. Barack, they said, understood them, was more likable and had a sharp grasp of the issues. He shined on economics, held his own on foreign policy, and in fact, taught us much about the state of the world and how he intends to lead. “As President of the United States I reserve the right to speak to anyone I want anywhere in the world if I believe it will keep America safer”, he declared. Slam dunk. Case closed.

McCains’s strategy was to convince the public that Obama was some sort of naïve oaf, lacking a fundamental understanding of world affairs. The tactic: repeat, ad nauseum, “….my opponent doesn’t understand…” I didn’t count, but I’m sure he said it somewhere between five and eight times. We prayed Obama would finally go for blood. But let’s understand two things: First, that’s not his style. His counterpunch is always delayed and more thoughtful when it finally arrives. Second, no one has ever been able to expose McCain’s inner Hitler in a public forum. I suggest we stop hoping for it. He always pulls through in a debate. What McCain did do, to no avail, was to persist at chipping away at Barack’s [presumed] inexperience in hopes that he’d come undone – utter the big gaffe or expose some hidden dark side. But it didn’t happen. So if McCain thought he could outsmart the junior senator from Illinois - you know, the one who was president of Harvard Law Review and trained in making arguments in exactly this setting - then he underestimated the steel, the grit, the preparation, the grace and the very superior intellect of the man.

Know your enemy. Obama knows his, and he’s armed. Poised, steady, cool – he listened, he smiled and he hit back. He deflected McCain’s cheap shots, not by directly responding to the insult, but by presenting cogent, smarter, better foreign policy solutions with an alternate point-of–view, thereby persuading us that it is McCain who doesn’t understand the modern world. Obama spoke to the future. He put a different face on diplomacy and the fight against terrorism. McCain looked back. He referenced Reagan’s missile defense system, World War II and Vietnam. This probably worked well for the over-55 Republican viewers, but not too many others. Fortunately, they both had new bracelets.

John McCain needs to set conditions before agreeing to diplomacy. Barack Obama is willing to go and get conditions – make them, create them, negotiate them - face to face with the enemy if need be. I ask you: Who’s the real coward and who is the real warrior? Of the two candidates, which one doesn’t understand?

Obama didn’t take the bait. He didn’t hit back with zingers, and he didn’t recoil. By the end of the evening, the verdict was in. Despite McCain’s attempt at being the 'warm, fuzzy professor to the masses' who can devalue Obama’s seemingly weak grasp of the issues, Obama succeeded at completely deflating both McCain’s central argument and his ego. He was rewarded handsomely in the polls the next morning.

1 comment:

petehamptons said...

Mark: Unlike our GOP VP candidate, you have a way with words. Watching the debates was like watching a chess game. It was boring, but underneath it all, some great strategy. As a good observer, i think you called this one right: Obama did not take the bait and ended up looking like the intelligent articulate gentelman that we so desperatly need to lead our country.